Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas "Firsts"


The week between Christmas and New Year's is my favorite time of the season. With the excitement and joys of the preparation for and celebration of our Savior's birth behind me, I find the time I should have taken during Advent to reflect upon the meaning of that first Christmas when God's grace entered the world in the form of a helpless baby. No matter how many times I hear the story, each year I relish it with fresh perspective and wonder as if I am hearing it anew. In pondering the miracle of that first Christmas, it dawned on me that ours had been a Christmas of "firsts" where tradition and expectations took some surprising twists . . .

First first: Danny announced his official retirement from the
annual chore of assembling our Christmas tree. Giovanni accepted the challenge to set up the tree and he and I did most of the decorating of it and the living room. Thanks, kiddo; that was quite a job!

Second first: We celebrated Danny's and my Dad's birthdays together on the Saturday before Christmas (Danny's is on the 19th and Dad's is on Christmas Day). We had always held the party closer to Christmas in previous years, but choosing an earlier date proved to be much less stressful and a festive time was had by all.
Third first: Nicco showed absolutely no interest in the Advent calendar this year. I can recall when the boys would scrap and quarrel over whose turn it was to place the ornament on the tree!



Fourth first: I'm ashamed to admit it, but I hadn't made Christmas cookies or treats from scratch since Danny and I were married. This year, I chose not only to go the homemade route, but also to try two recipes I never have before: Grandmama Rose's decadent cream cheese sugar cookies and to-die-for cheese straws. Both demand an encore next year!
Fifth first: I have always wanted a Charlie Brown tree at Christmas, but never had one. Imagine my delight, then, when a friend surprised Danny and me with one as a Christmas gift! Such a lovely and unexpected present . . .


Sixth first: Snow on Christmas Day!!! This hasn't happened in Georgia with any accumulation since 1882. At long last, I can cease dreaming of a white Christmas because I've lived it!
Seventh first: This was my granddaughter, Virginia Rose's, first Christmas. I was certain she would find the lights on the tree and the sparkling ornaments entrancing, but there was absolutely, positively nothing that could have prepared me for this "first". As she sat with her mom and dad, I settled on the floor in front of her and presented her stocking. This was the look on her face!



Every object pulled from her stocking made her eyes light up and she reached eagerly for each one. Of course, her tiny hands guided each treasure to her mouth. As Nicco aptly noted, "Christmas for her is just one all-you-can-eat buffet."





These were our "firsts" this Christmas. If you and your family enjoyed some firsts, or simply have something about your Christmas to share, please leave a comment on the blog. I can't wait to read about what made this holiday special for you this year.

May your new year be filled with love, laughter, blessings, and "firsts"!


















Monday, November 15, 2010

Firm in the Faith

Ephesians 6:14-16 (NIV) Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

When I read this passage, I envision a Roman soldier, equipped for battle, standing firm and steadfast among the rank and file. The early Christians, living under Roman rule, were all too familiar with the image Paul evokes here, yet brilliantly alters to reflect what it means to "put on the full armor of God" (Ephesians 6:11). He is keenly aware that the enemy, Satan, is alive and well and eager to claim the souls of Christ's followers. There is a battle at hand, there is a war brewing, and Paul exhorts the Ephesians to be prepared in truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, and faith for the times that will try their souls and try to take them from the Lord.

One constant I have noticed as I strive to walk with Jesus is that every affliction or adversity encountered eventually leads me to a deeper, more profound spiritual revelation. While I trudge through the valley of the shadows, though, this is difficult if not impossible to remember as I wallow selfishly in my troubles, turning them over to God only to snatch them back like a spoiled toddler. It is in the midst of those moments when I most need to stop and take an inventory of my armor. Has the belt of truth been buckled? Is my breastplate tarnished with self-righteousness? Am I sharing the gospel of peace with others through prayer and witness? Is my shield of faith drooping woefully at my side? When Satan bids me dwell on my trials instead of counting my blessings, it's time to acknowledge the chinks and flaws I've allowed to blemish my armor and pray that God will mend it like new.

So, let me ask you - what does your armor look like today? Does your belt buckle need a bit of spit and polish? Is your breastplate shining and squarely in place? Are your feet ready to go and spread the good news? Is your shield held high and triumphant? If not, take the time to reflect and to pray that the Lord will heal any hurts you now suffer and surround you once more in His protective and loving armor and arms.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Strong Hands of the Father


John 3:35 - The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.

Our hands are such an integral and accustomed adjunct to our bodies that, unless they ache with overuse or arthritis, suffer dried, cracked skin, or require washing after enduring labor in the garage or garden or home, we scarcely notice them. We take for granted that in typing an e-mail, dusting the furniture, grasping the leash of our head-strong dog, or wiping away the tear of a child, our hands will perform for us without question. They are servants, obedient and unflinchingly pliant to the commands of our brains; it is often too easy to neglect their importance and functionality, to be grateful, through them, for the inimitable gift of touch.

When Danny and I first met in person after courting on E-Harmony for almost two months, my most vivid recollection of our date at Chili's was the feel of his hands when he reached for and held mine and, gazing into my eyes, said he wanted to see me again. I immediately registered the simultaneous strength and gentleness in his grasp and returned, what I hoped then, was the same. Our hands did more to communicate a mutual trust and optimism for what may lie in store for the two of us than anything else we said or did that day and, to this day, I still covet slipping my hand into his, feeling his warm, strong and comforting clasp that says, "I love you" without a word spoken.

Last Sunday, I witnessed Danny's hands put to a new and different task: that of holding Virginia Rose, my granddaughter, and his adopted. He held her on his lap on our deck and gently tickled her abdomen; she promptly launched into gales of laughter and this Gammie snapped some priceless shots, one of which I've posted here. Her merriment was so contagious that we couldn't help but laugh with her and that made her chortle all the more. The same hands that could wheedle the laughter from this baby, I realized, were the same ones holding her firmly and securely, with loving kindness and genuine affection. How can we ever underestimate the power and potential of our hands?

The Lord, our Lord, has the wold world in His hands. Let him cradle you in His, let Him tickle you, let Him hold you close and wipe away your every tear. Use your hands for Him in this life, and may He grant you the strength and courage to do so at every turn. In the name of the Lord, a simple touch can become a miracle.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wait Upon the Lord

Psalm 130:6 - My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, yes, more than those who watch for the morning.


Waiting is difficult for most of us and, most of the time, we do so grudgingly. We wait at the grocery store, irritated that the person ahead of us picked up an item requiring a price check. We wait in snarls of rush hour traffic, frantic that we will be late for work or furious because we are so late getting home. We wait with pregnant anticipation for mountain getaway without technological frills to distract us and, by the end of the vacation, can't wait to pounce on our computers. In a society grown accustomed to instant gratification, neither waiting nor patience are desired virtues.

In my life, I am waiting to hear positive news about two things that I know in my heart of hearts God has led me to pursue. There are days when I wallow in my own dark doubts and insecurities: "Lord, was it really you pushing me toward these goals? Was it not your voice I heard? Yes? Then, why must I wait so long for something wonderful to come of this?" And then, there are days when I take joy in the watch, certain that all is God's time and hands and knowing He will bring the good work He began in me to fruition.

The darkest hour is just before dawn claims the old adage. Like the verse from Psalms quoted above, it reflects the void in our souls when we cannot feel God's presence in our lives yet, paradoxically, offers us the assurance that He, the light of the world, will shine on us once again if we, with the psalmist, will wait with patience and hope.

Psalm 27:14 - Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Let Your Voice Be Heard!

Psalm 37:7 - Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Never before has there been and, I pray, never again will be a time in this country's history when elected officials have so brazenly ignored the will of the people and our rights under the Constitution. The politicians have wrecked havoc with our deficit, have passed the health care bill that, according to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, "must be passed before we can see what's in (it)" (WHAT???), and have handed our children and grand-children a debt that is nigh impossible to pay. What we have endured with losses of homes, jobs, and economic opportunities have been due in large part to those in office who regard power, not legitimate legacy, as their utmost goal and driving force. The continued failures in the private sector hail more dependence on the federal government which is funded, in large part, by the high-achievers through taxes. Those on the government dole either can't or don't understand that the higher taxes go, these high-achieving creators of jobs will simply take their businesses to other countries more friendly to their agenda. When this happens, what happens to the poor, the middle class, in this country? What happens to the country as a whole? Politicians, up to this point, have certainly succeeding in their wicked ways and, worshiping the idols of power and control, have neglected the economic and moral health of our nation.

While we can blame the politicians all we want, the responsibility for our country's destiny lies ultimately in our hands; we, the people, must repent and return to the roots our founding fathers who so meticulously, with copious thought to the needs of future generations, gave to us our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. For whom did we vote in the past and for whom are we voting now? Who are we re-electing that just might not deserve another term because he/she has not been a good and faithful servant? Have we researched the candidates carefully before entering the polling booth? Are we more interested in "Dancing With the Stars" than knowing who is waltzing with our hard-earned dough in Washington? What are we going to do about it? Are we going to take a stand or will we simply stand by and sit this one out because "my vote really doesn't count"? It counts beyond measure because you are an American; if you think it doesn't, you are listening to the words of the enemy.

With this being said, before you take the first step or make one more decision, be still with the Lord, our God, and seek His council. If God is first and foremost in your life, then, evidently, the government must, of necessity, take a backseat. Jesus admonished us to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. As a child of God, you are not a puppet of a government that has strayed from the principles of its Constitution and its Judeo-Christian heritage. You have a voice. You are "We, the People". Listen to the voice of the Lord and let your voice be heard.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

En-deer-ing


Psalm 42:1-2 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When can I go and meet my God?

Our house is surrounded by a forest, so it is not unusual to observe the occasional deer traipsing through our yard. I particularly treasured a moment this summer when a doe led her frisky fawn up the trail in front of our house. I took great care to stand very still as they passed by, not wishing to startle them into flight that would prematurely curtail my enjoyment of this scene. After all, since I didn't have my camera handy, I had to rely solely on my mind's eye to capture the moment. Fortunately, that wasn't the case this past Saturday.

Danny and I were watching college football that afternoon when a doe ambled into view. We watched quietly from our living room window as she proceeded to nonchalantly lick birdseed from the ground; I never knew deer liked birdseed. We chuckled as she, more than once, arched her neck toward the feeder and thrust her tongue in the aperture to procure more food. After several minutes of this, she calmly turned away and strolled leisurely toward a copious patch of English ivy where she promptly laid down to rest. Dissatisfied with the quality of the photos he had snapped through the window, Danny decided to risk a venture outside to see if he could manage some better shots. Moving slowly and deliberately so as not to alarm the doe, he crept as close as he dared and, this time, nailed some phenomenal photos. The one at the top of this blog is one of the best!

Danny was amazed at the doe's indifference toward his presence. Although not tame by any means, it was obvious to us that this deer was accustomed to humans, roaming the wooded neighborhoods as she did. She had never experienced a reason to be wary, cautious, or fearful of people. Luckily for her, the only shots she would ever encounter would be fired from a camera.

After resting for about an hour, the doe rose on her slender, elegant legs and sauntered down the forest slope toward the creek which runs through our neighborhood. The presence of this reliable water source sustains mammals and birds in abundance. Without it, they would be forced to live elsewhere and we would be deprived of the marvelous creatures that attest to the beauty and wonder of God's creation. He is present in it all and we can meet Him there any time we choose.




Thursday, October 14, 2010

Matthew 19:14 - Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

I had the delightful task this week of babysitting for my granddaughter, Virginia Rose. Her parents, John and Sarah, were gone for over four hours, so "Gammie" had quite a stretch of time to get better acquainted with her darling almost-three-month-old. Naturally, I doted on her every smile, her laughs and coos, and marveled as I watched her roll from her back to her stomach repeatedly, becoming frustrated only when she momentarily forgot how to extricate her arm from beneath her (I had to intervene a time or two). She has also learned to grab a particular ring on her play gym because it rewards her efforts with a variety of perky tunes. Music, most definitely, has a calming effect on her!

Not everything, however, was sweetness and light that afternoon. Virginia fights sleep with a ferocity that manifests itself in boisterous cries. The only way I found to soothe her was to walk the floor with her in my arms. She quieted especially promptly when I carried her outdoors where the trees, sky and wind held a particular fascination for her. As much as I coveted holding her, it wasn't long before my arms began to protest at the unaccustomed weight, and I was ever so relieved when her blue-like-Gammie's eyes closed at last and I could ease her into the seat of her swing for her much-needed nap.

By the time her parents arrived home, I felt like I was the one who needed a nap! I thought about other grandparents my age and older who, for whatever circumstance, are raising their children's children, and my heart ached for them. For even the most energetic of us, bringing up a second family, while being the right thing to do, would never be the easiest. The infant, toddler, child, teen are all, at their different stages, dependent upon the adults in the lives to nurture them, love them, and meet their needs. Observing Sarah and John with Virginia, I know she is one blessed little girl!

I, too, am blessed, and so are you. We have a Father in Heaven who loves us, cares for us, comforts us and, thank goodness, is never too tired or distracted when we need Him to hold us, speak to us, or walk with us. Come, then, before Him as a little child, wholly and completely dependent upon Him, leaning not on your own understanding but trusting in His. Therein is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Big Daddy

Luke 4:32 - They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.

This past week, Danny had a business trip to Savannah and I was fortunate to be able to accompany him. As I had never visited this historic town before, I was especially elated to be going there and eager to see and know more about Georgia's birthplace. Several of my friends had assured me that the trolley tours were not to be missed, so I booked one for the morning Danny was presenting at the convention (he's not the history buff that I am) and hoped the experience would give me the overview of Savanna's past and present I desired.

Full of Starbucks and anticipation, I waited anxiously at City Market for the first trolley of the day. The gaudily-painted orange and green vehicle pulled up promptly at 9:00 and I boarded exuberantly, taking an empty seat at the front to be sure I could catch every word the tour guide imparted. While she was friendly and personable, I found, to my chagrin, I had to strain above the growl and roar of the engine to understand what she was saying. This was certainly not the info-venture I had envisioned, but I was determined to make the best of it and willed myself to focus even harder on her words. Imagine my relief when she pulled into the parking lot of the Savannah History Museum and indicated that we were to board another trolley for the bulk of our tour. I disembarked readily and scurried toward the new trolley with renewed hope. It was crammed with folks, but a pleasant woman offered me a seat next to her which I gratefully took and, even more gratefully, delighted in the clear, resonant voice of our tour guide.

"I'm Big Daddy," boomed his introduction, "and I'm going to show you the sights of Savannah."

And, did he ever! Big Daddy not only knew the history of Savannah like the back of his hand, but also delivered the facts and folklore with indefatigable humor.

"Eli Whitney's original cotton gin is displayed right here in the Savannah History Museum. Anyone know what Eli's last words were? 'Keep your cotton-pickin' hands off my gin!'"

"And here we have the Washington cannons, affectionately known as George and Martha. Any guesses as to which one has the loudest report?"

"We're coming up on the I.R.S. building. Please note the tall, modern sculpture standing in front of it. We call it 'the shaft'."

I could go on, but you get the picture. We laughed a lot and we learned a lot. By the time the wondrous tour concluded, there was no doubt in my mind that Big Daddy was THE authority on Savannah history and I was awed by how much he had taught me in so short a time.

The crowds were amazed by Jesus because he spoke with such authority. They were baffled as to its source, but we, as post-resurrection Christians, know the answer. Jesus' authority came from his Father in Heaven, his Abba, the one true and eternal "Big Daddy". Who's your "Big Daddy"?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On Being Generous

2 Corinthians 9:11 - You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

Generosity has been a Christian virtue from the earliest days of the church. Even in today's difficult economic times, those who are down-and-out can depend on church-based food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, job ministries, and even emergency monetary assistance. Recently, when one of the church-supported food banks in my community ran low on supplies, word was spread to all denominations in our area. Needless to say, the outpouring of food and financial donations was immediate and voluminous, and the food bank was up and running again in no time. Christians can be counted upon, time and again, to be cheerful, thankful givers.

That being said, you can imagine my shock and dismay when, following a friend's comment thread on Facebook, I read that around 100 church members descended on a restaurant for their Sunday repast and either tipped poorly or left nothing at all. Yes, I could conclude that with this large a crowd, service was probably slower than usual and, perhaps, some orders were confused. Even if this group had made a reservation, which, as I inferred from the waitress' comment, they had not, that is an unwieldy number for a restaurant to accommodate under any circumstance. If you have ever worked as a waiter or waitress, I don't need to tell you how much prep work must be done before the restaurant opens each day and after it closes each night and that you only earn half of minimum wage for all your hard labor; you depend on tips for your livelihood. It's difficult for me to believe that not one person in that church group understood this fact. What is far worse and immensely tragic is that these Christians came to have their hunger satisfied and their thirst slaked by servers, more likely than not, in need of the bread of life and the living water. Instead, they were left with a bitter taste in their mouths and a meager pittance toward paying their bills.

In a hurting and broken world in which sentiment against Christianity sadly grows, how do we communicate the love, grace, mercy, and redemption we find in our Lord Jesus Christ? By our actions and attitude, every day and in every way. Some Christians, like those mentioned above, dress in their Sunday best for church, but are content to be rag-tag the other six days of the week. How would these behaviors ever make others long for a personal relationship with God? Let us don our Sunday best every day of the week, taking the joys and blessings of the worship experience out into the world, letting our light shine upon all whom we encounter. Our actions and our attitudes should ever be a witness to the great gift we have in Christ Jesus. Indeed, by laying down His life for our sins, He has shown us the ultimate in generosity.

Are you willing, are you ready to be generous with His love?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Loving Our Enemies

Matthew 5:43-45 You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy'. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in Heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Where were you on September 11, 2001? If you are like me, you probably not only recall where you were, but also what you were doing, thinking, and feeling during those horrific moments nine years ago. The heinous acts of Islamic terrorists on that fateful day traumatized a nation in a manner not known before or since. It is an onerous memory that has daily lived itself out in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and reminds us that we do, indeed, have enemies who hate America with its Western values. And, lest you think it is only and extreme minority of Muslims who share this feeling, hark back to the cheering and celebrations in the Middle East as the people clustered around communal television sets to watch the Twin Towers collapse. That is one memory I wish I could erase.

With the recent controversy surrounding the proposed mosque at Ground Zero, the wounds inflicted on 9/11 have been opened anew. Proponents of the mosque argue that American opposition is evidence of their hatred and intolerance toward Islam; history reveals a different story. In the Muslim world, it has long been a tradition to construct a mosque where there was a great victory in war. To construct one at Ground Zero would translate to the entire Muslim world that the conquering of the United States has begun and inroads to bring down this despised country have been granted. Is this the message that we in America want to send to the world? "No!" according to the thousands of peaceful protesters who gathered recently in New York City to voice their concerns and convictions. For every single person in attendance, there are, more than likely, 100,000 Americans who agree with each one. Speaking for myself, I believe that Ground Zero is hallowed and sacred as it is the resting place for the almost 3,000 innocent men, women, and children whose lives were barbarically ended that day. The only appropriate structure to erect there is a memorial monument.

As if the Ground Zero mosque issue isn't enough to cause "bad blood" and misunderstanding, the Dove Worldwide Outreach Ministries in Gainesville, Florida, has announced their intentions to burn the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11. It is mind-boggling to think that this small congregation totaling 50 members has caused such an upheaval in Afghanistan that Muslims are burning effigies of the pastor and calling for the death of President Obama; it has even prompted a plea from General Petraus not to follow through with this as the ensuing anger could endanger the lives of American soldiers. The last I heard as I was writing this blog, the church has yet to change its mind. Not a comforting thought.

Jesus commands us to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you", not an easy task by any means. Our natural instinct as human beings is to dislike or retaliate against those who mean us harm and we've all known individuals for whom grudges are a way of life. So, how are we, as Christians, to accomplish this? I believe that before we can love or pray for an enemy, we must first pray to see as God sees. To Him, every individual is uniquely created in His image and is worthy to be loved by that very fact alone. If we can make that spiritual stretch, to acknowledge the individuals, though they are now enslaved by false doctrines, as God's children, we move in the right direction.

To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, prayer doesn't change God, it changes us. Jesus knew that by loving and praying for our enemies, they could no longer hold sway over our lives; we would be free to live our lives to the fullest and to enjoy the abundant life He promised us. Love always trumps the darkness. Let us, then, choose to love mightily that we might be the sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

How Might I Be of Service?

Matthew 20:27-28 And whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

I am a huge fan of Clark Howard, the syndicated radio and television host who promotes saving money and avoiding rip-offs in these stressed economic times. Although I appreciate his sound and prudent advice, I appreciate even more the way in which he interacts with his callers. Often, when he greets one by name, he adds, "How might I be of service to you today?" This simple phrase at once invites and disarms the callers to divulge their needs and feel reassured that they will be listened to and appreciated for who they are aside from the problems they are experiencing. Clark treats each and every listener with unwavering respect and concern for their personal issues, offering answers or directions as the need arises, and is never judgmental of the person's character or former choices. For me, Clark Howard embodies the essence of perfect service as our Lord commanded of us, and accomplishes this on a daily basis.

What is keeping us from doing the same? Are we loving and serving at home, in the workplace, in our house of worship? Are we listening to and helping, or are we judging the hopeless, the downtrodden, and those in need? Are we being servants, or are we demanding that others serve us?

In this same train of thought, we can regard those elected officials that we send to both state and federal government posts when we make crucial voting decisions in November. Are we electing servants, representatives who will voice our concerns and convictions or are we electing politicians who are only interested in personal gain? Our Founding Fathers considered election as an honor, and opportunity to serve their constituents and despised strength in a central government. How far have we fallen from that tree of liberty? Not so far that we can't build a ladder to the tree-house and demand that our leaders be servants, first and foremost. We must do so for the sake of our land, our liberties, and the future of our children and grandchildren.

Our Lord, in all humility, washed the feet of his disciples. Practice humility in your daily walk and demonstrate this to others. Elect only those who would rather bathe your feet, weary from working, instead of taking your money to wash the feet of others who receive not with grateful hearts but with an attitude of entitlement.

Jesus asks every day: "How might I be of service to you?"

You answer: "Here I am, Lord, I am at yours."


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Who Would Throw the First Stone?

John 8:7 Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

When I heard the tragic story of the young man and woman, accused of adultery in a Taliban controlled region of Afghanistan, and stoned to death for their crime by members of this terrorist group, the scripture quoted above came immediately to mind. Jesus is teaching to the crowds in the temple when the Pharisees, eager to trip him up on some aspect of the law, bring a woman, caught in the act of adultery, before him. The Jewish law in Jesus' day demanded the punishment of death by stoning for an adulterer just as today's Sharia law demands when followed to the strictest letter by fundamentalist groups like the Taliban. The act of adultery, moreover, was forbidden not by a random law; it was one of the Ten Commandments. Pharisees, who followed the law unwaveringly, confronted Jesus with God's own words given to Moses on Mt. Sinai generations ago.

Repeatedly in the New Testament, we read that Jesus spoke "with great authority". This, certainly, must have been one of those moments. The Pharisees were an elite and powerful group in the Jewish community, more accustomed to chastising others than being chastised. When Jesus addressed them concerning the state of their own sinfulness, I can envision their initial shock, their instantaneous denial and, then, slowly but surely, under the penetrating gaze of this rabbi, they, one by one, acknowledged within their hearts the ponderous weight of their own sinful natures. The taut grips on the terrified woman's arm loosen then fall away. Stones roll from open palms and clatter along the temple floor. One by one, beginning with the elders, the Pharisees retreat without protest, abandoning the woman that, just moments before, they were intent upon killing. She now stands alone, still frightened and trembling, before Jesus.

(John 8:10-11) Jesus . . . said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."

What a paradoxical moment it must have been for this woman! She was at once absolved of her alleged crime yet given the impossible command to never commit another sin. How, she must have wondered, if this is something even Pharisees could not accomplish, could she, a simple woman, avoid sin for the rest of her days? Little does she know that the very man who showed mercy toward her would be the one to die on a cross for her every sin, large and small, covering them with his innocent blood "shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Book of Common Prayer)

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus declares he has come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Following the letter of the law without the love of God first in our hearts prevents them from showing mercy and forgiveness to friend and foe alike as Jesus would have us do. If we love the Lord our God and our neighbors as ourselves, we fulfill God's hope for us. Do we do this faithfully? I dare say that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Yet, our precious Lord is there to comfort us, encourage us, and, most importantly, forgive us when we ask Him in true repentance and humility. He is our Savior, our friend, and only advocate with the Father.

For the unfortunate couple in Afghanistan, there was no advocate, no voice of mercy in the crowd of over 100 men who brutally stoned them. Death was inevitable. It always is when the law is all you know.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I Love Being a "Gammie"!


From the moment I laid eyes on my granddaughter, Virginia Rose, she stole my heart completely and will hold it forever. In just two days from now, she will have graced our lives for one whole month. How amazing it is, when I look at this photo taken not two hours after her birth, to see how quickly and dramatically a baby changes in four short weeks. The following are a series of photos that reflect her "growing up".







Not quite one week old and already into the pacifier.











Nine days old and already peeking over Daddy's shoulder.










At two weeks, I'm loving my bath!














And, I'm trying to smile!














Three weeks old; got milk?















Pretty in pink at almost one month!




What a miracle you are, Virginia Rose. This Gammie loves you up to the moon and back!

Monday, August 16, 2010

"God-incidences"

"What a coincidence!" We exclaim easily and readily when discovering that a co-worker was born in our hometown, or a neighbor shares the same birthday as ours, or a long-lost friend turns up at an event we are attending. Coincidences are, for the most part, fortunate occasions, ones that precipitate conversation, interaction, and leave us feeling we now know the other person involved in it better than ever before.

While we know that all our comings and goings are in the hands of our God, there are some coincidences that propel us toward a new and unexpected experience that will change our lives for the better. These, I like to call "God-incidences". I learned this phrase years ago from a wonderful church secretary at my previous home of worship and it struck me powerfully then and continues to do so. In fact, I now see all coincidences, large and small, as witness to His great love for us.

My latest "God-incidence" happened when I was praying for and communicating over Facebook with a good friend whose air-conditioning unit was on the blink and there wasn't money to fix it. When my friend and her husband successfully resuscitated the unit, she e-mailed me; my response was "Alleluia and Amen!" (You would respond this way, too, if you were living in "Hotlanta" where we haven't seen below 90 in weeks!). She posted back: "Did you know I always end my prayers with 'Amen. Alleluia'?" I was floored; no, I had no idea, but God certainly did, and this exchange has brought us even closer in our friendship.
Though this might seem like one of the small "God-incidences" that happen, it doesn't make it any less meaningful.

This does bring me, however, to want to share with you what I consider to be one of the largest "God-incidences" in my life: finding Danny. Yes, we "met" on E-Harmony, I having joined on a dare, and for him, as, what he imagined then, a last ditch effort, but we were, most definitely, brought together by God. This became more and more obvious to me as our relationship grew in love and as I watched other friends who tried E-Harmony becoming more and more frustrated with dead end "matches". As we learned later from each other, Danny and I did not take more than a passing interest in any of the other candidates and focused on each other almost immediately and within a very short window of opportunity. We had our first "live" date on October 18, 2003, and were married on April 2, 2005. Every day we have shared, whether rough or smooth, has been an infinite blessing to both of us. How else could I, living then in Norcross, meet a man living in Kennesaw unless God's intentions were in it?

Take a moment today to think about the many blessings you have experienced over the years. Were the people you met, the places you traveled, the career you chose, the person you married coincidences or "God-incidences"? When Jesus is Lord of your life and your will is to do the will of God, there are miracles around every corner. Don't miss out on your next "God-incident"!

Friday, August 13, 2010

When My Computer Went Down . . .

Our light and temporary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. II Corinthians 4: 17-18

I simply could not believe my eyes. There it was, leering at me viciously as it had done less than a year ago: the computer virus that latches on and won't let go. My spyware, as all other programs, were rendered useless in a matter of moments. My devastation was monumental.


Danny and Giovanni, my computer-whiz of a step-son, leaped into action. The good news was that they managed to "kill" the virus; the bad news was that, in doing so, my Windows XP died with it and I would have to wait for the delivery of Windows 7 to our doorstep before I could once again use my computer
. In the meantime I knew that I could check my e-mail and Facebook by waiting my turn for a computer, but my freedom to work on my novel or my blog, as it takes a concentrated block of time, were out of the question. If that wasn't bad enough, I realized that my beloved game of solitaire would never be the same. I deplore the Windows 7 version with a passion.

During the first two days after the crash, I found myself gravitating toward my customary seat in front of my computer only to check myself with reminders that it was incapacitated. It was through these moments that I came to realize that, perhaps, I had become too dependent on this marvelous machine and too addicted to a game that only wasted my time. This was definitely a wake-up call.

It took five days for Windows 7 to arrive. During this time of waiting, I tended to more chores, spent more time in prayer, read three novels, and generally enjoyed daily activities with more presence and enthusiasm. This inconvenience was only a temporary trouble and had nothing to do with the essence of me. I reflected, too, over the blessings so many Americans share in having computers, internet access, and all the conveniences these provide. I realized that I had been taking mine for granted. Now, I find that I thank God daily for the privilege I have been given as, through it, I can spread His word and spread my writing wings as He bids me to do.

And, solitaire? Oh, I've tried to like the new version, but I simply can't warm to it at all. I thank the Lord for removing this temptation from me. It allows me to use the time He has given to me more wisely and with fresh perspective. In my "light and temporary troubles", He stepped in and opened my eyes to His eternal glory.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Times of Trouble

Though You have made me see troubles, many and bitter, You will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth You will again bring me up. ~ Psalm 71:20

Troubles abound. Switch on the evening news, peruse a newspaper, or surf the seemingly unending internet news sites and you are sure to be flooded with the trials and tribulations of this world. If you are like me, you might say a prayer for the persons and places affected and leave their needs in God's capable hands; some tragedies are simply so overwhelming that you cannot internalize them lest you drown in a sea of despair.

But, how do you react when troubles are close at hand, when they strike a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, a family member? Do you mumble some meaningless words of empathy or sympathy and turn away? No, of course, you don't! You roll up your sleeves and plunge right in to offer help in any way they might need. In truth, when you do see the world's suffering, you are hoping that someone, indeed, many someones, are ministering to the afflicted in their own back yard, just as you would should the need arise.

Troubles can make or break a person's faith. Before the time of my "troubles, many and bitter", I blithely considered myself to be a committed Christian, solid in the faith. When my husband, John, endured a freak head injury and died some days later, the foundation I thought I had laid upon the rock crumbled in the shifting sands beneath me. Although I still believed in God, I could no longer envision Him as a loving one. He had taken away my love and the step-father that my children adored; I was angry with Him and made no bones about telling Him so. My joy for life was buried with my husband.

There were countless and caring individuals who reached out to me in my grief and suffering and who helped me begin the arduous climb out of the pit I was in. For them, and for their love, I will ever be grateful. Yet, out of the ashes, two people rose head and shoulders above the rest, going above and beyond anything and everything I could expect; they didn't stay in Jerusalem, but walked with me down the long and sorrowful Emmaus road. These two women are, today, two of the dearest friends I'll ever know in this world; they are the sisters I never had and I treasure their presence in my life. It was, largely, through the love and understanding these two gave me, that I began and continued the healing process and was, at long last, able to realize that God had never once abandoned me in my time of trouble; He was ever at my side.

Through the years, we have stayed in touch, sharing both joys and tragedies with an implicit knowledge that each would find the grace of understanding and comfort in the other. With busy lives, we don't always find time for that phone call we know we should make so, imagine my surprise in getting a phone call from each of these women this past weekend. Both of my friends are going through extremely trying circumstances and I was so grateful to the Lord that He gave me ears to hear, the words to say, and a heart of compassion. As I hadn't heard from one of these women in many months, I was reminded of how long after John's death I waited to truly call on God in prayer. And, when I did, He listened lovingly as if I hadn't been gone but a moment.

My troubles, many and bitter, broke my faith, but as Christ's love was shown endlessly through my two friends, my faith was not just restored, it was renewed with the fullness of joy. Are you hurting? Are your troubles many and bitter? Or, do you know of someone who needs to feel the love of God shining through you?
Can you say, to quote a Facebook friend, "When things are at their worst is when I thank Him most?" I'm not sure I've come that far yet, but I've certainly come a long way in my walk with Him. How about you?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What Would You Have Me Do For You?

Luke 18:40-41 Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to Him; and when he came near, He asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?" He said, "Lord, let me see again."

Day after day, the blind man sits on the same corner near the temple, his alms bowl outstretched in soiled hands, his voice pleading with each passerby to show mercy upon him. He prays for the musical tinkle of coins in his bowl and listens for approaching footfall of human or beast before his cry goes before them. Some days are rewarding, others, barren, when his family comes for him as evening falls to guide him home, and the man acquiesces to their guiding touch, trusting in their love, wishing that he could do more for them.

"If only I had my sight," he says to his little nephew who guides him on this particular evening, "then, I would be of some worth to you and all whom I love."

"Oh, Uncle, you always say that," chides his nephew. "Don't you know that we love you just the way you are?"

"And, for that, I am grateful, dear Jacob, but I have spent so many years in this darkness and have been told by thoughtless many that the sins of my parents caused my blindness, I want only to see to prove that my parents, our lineage, were faithful to God and did nothing that would bring shame upon their household and that we prayed to our God always."

"Is that what you really want, Uncle Nathan, to be able to see again? Wouldn't you rather be rich instead?"

"No, no, for I am rich already in family and in the love of God. I want to see so I can see, and not just imagine, your handsome face, to meet your eyes looking at me, to not depend on the kindness of strangers to make my living, but to be the one who gives kindness to the less fortunate."

Jacob is quiet for several moments as they shuffle along the dusty road and turn down the lane that leads to home, their noses filled with the aromatic scents of evening meals being prepared in the houses they pass.

"Uncle," he asks, "do you think this Jesus that everyone is talking about could heal you? We heard today that He is on His way here tomorrow and should pass right by your regular post. If He comes by, will you ask Him?"

"Jesus, coming here?" Nathan exclaims. "Praise be to God! The Son of David, the Messiah, coming here? Are you sure?"

"As far as I know. I'll get you back to your place extra early tomorrow so you can ask Him to heal you when He passes by."

"Glory be to God! I will ask Him and ask boldly. Surely, the Son of Man will hear my cry. Oh, Jacob, dare I even sleep tonight?"

"It's dark whether you open your eyes or keep them shut. I guess that's up to you."

Nathan throws back his head in a hearty laugh and gives his nephew's hand an affectionate squeeze.

"You just wake me up, Jacob, and make sure I'm there to meet Him."

"I will," the boy giggles, "and, tomorrow, I'll stay with you just to be sure. I want to see this man, Jesus, for myself."

~

If Jesus were to stand before you at this moment and ask, "What would you have me do for you?", what would be your response? I am so envious of the blind man who knew exactly what he wanted without hesitation or second thoughts. Too often, I find myself longing for or asking God for things before I've prayed about them and listened for His answers. I know that it should be His priority list, not mine, His time, not mine, His will, not mine. I can't help but stand in awe of the boldness of this blind man who knew with conviction in his soul what he needed through God's redeeming love. Jesus saw the faith of this man and it was the faith that healed him.

May we, like the blind man, remember that Jesus stands before us, asking constantly, "What would you have me do for you?", and may we, as undeserving but beloved heirs, know that our prayers are answered even when it seems they are not, for our merciful Christ and our loving Father, through the Holy Spirit, are our audience of one.

Luke 18:43 Immediately, he regained his sight and followed Him, glorifying God.



Thursday, July 22, 2010

Welcome, Virginia Rose!

Psalm 139:14 - I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

I thought nothing could top the birth of my own children, but nothing surpasses the joy of the first grandchild. Virginia Rose entered this world on July 21st at 9:29 a.m. not ten minutes after I let go of my daughter's hand while she endured labor, not called that for nothing! Just being there with her and for her with her husband for two hours before delivery gave me a whole new perspective on birth as both of mine were C-sections, the first, with labor, the second, without. My heart ached for my daughter as she endured the pain that even the epidural could not quell completely. I hid my tears until Danny and I were in the hallway, headed for the waiting room. How could I not be strong for my daughter? How could I not be fearful for her well-being?
We found comfortable chairs in the waiting room, not glad to be planted in front of Regis and Kelly as our minds and hearts were elsewhere and this distraction seemed unreal in the drama of the moment. We talked very little, watching the doors to the labor and delivery ward like eager hawks, anxious for the emergence of John and any news of the new arrival. Danny had only moments before suggested that I might wend my way back to the room when, gloriously, John burst through the doors, waving his camera ecstatically. As we ran to meet him, he shouted, "We have a girl!" As I saw her first on a digital screen, my eyes filled. When, only moments later, I was standing in her presence, I knew I was also in the miraculous presence of God.
I never claimed to have the most beautiful babies in the world; Daniel was overcooked and his head was misshapen, which did correct itself in a short time. Sarah, c-section and no labor, was perfectly formed. Yesterday, I gazed upon a baby who had gone through full delivery and maintained a perfectly round head and was opening her eyes before she was an hour old. I was immediately beside myself at her beauty: her tiny hands and feet with all ten digits in place, her well-developed lungs and vocal chords that wailed in protest at her first bath (we never saw this in the 80s!), her silky skin and blonde fluff of hair, her whiffling breath as she rested, to give Mom a break, in my arms.
As I gazed upon her, I recalled how much I had prayed for this new life and for the well-being of the parents who would be guiding her through the treacheries of this world, and I was overcome with a thankfulness that surpasses words. Virginia came into this world, in the words of Blake, trailing clouds of glory. She has touched all of our hearts and souls with the miracle that she is and recalled to us the miracle each of us is in the sight of God. She is, at this moment, as dependent upon the love and nourishment her parents provide as we should, if we are not already, dependent upon God's love, forgiveness, and grace given freely to us and that sustain our lives.
For, we "are all fearfully and wonderfully made". May we rejoice in the gift of new life and rededicate our lives to the One who makes all things new.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My blog seems not to favor paragraph formats when left to tis own

Starting Over

Psalm 13: 5 - But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.

Hindsight is 20/20 so the saying goes, and I found that to be more than true this week. The same day that I received a rejection letter from Peachtree Publishers about my novel, I was guided to a post that cautioned against ever sending an unrepresented manuscript to any publisher as it, most likely, would not even be considered. Although the letter was polite and assured me that my manuscript had been read in full, I did not trust this in the least. The blogs of literary agents read this week, however, have clued me into the mire that is necessary to slog through in order to convince someone that a book is worthy of publication. I would rather spend my days writing than selling my creation but, it seems, I must don another hat in order to make this dream come true.
Today, I began revising my first novel in earnest. To my surprise and, at times, chagrin, I realized that, yes, there were phrases that needed changes, passages that begged more explanation, and page numbers that had somehow forgotten how to align themselves. This was, indeed, a humbling experience, but one replete with the opportunity to be the writer that God expects me to be. I was gently reminded that, with the Lord, there are no shortcuts, no fairy-tale answers. It is in humility that we walk with Him and delight in and grow with His wondrous gifts that He has given to us. Micah 6:8, a verse on my Facebook page and one that should be emblazoned upon my heart, reads: He has shown you, oh man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Can anything more be asked of us? Indeed, are we capable of doing, even in our most resplendent of times, any more than these? He has acted justly toward me, pointing me in the right direction; He has shown mercy, forgiving me of all bad thoughts, words, attitudes for which I have asked forgiveness; He has humbled me by sending me back to the first novel to be a "critic from the outside, looking in". Hey, when you start thinking you're the cat's meow, you need to look around for the litter box! I know, for a certainty, that I am now cleaning out that litter box with a renewed faith.
My gift for writing is nothing less than a gift from God. In considering every talent in which God seeks to bless us, each takes endless hours of practice and commitment, toil and ardor, to reach that God-given goal. God never promises that this life will be easy, but Jesus assures us that His yoke is light and that we can cast all cares upon Him. What an incredible promise this is! When I sat down to write last summer, the only free time I had when not teaching, I would preface, verbally, each session with "How would you have me write today, Lord?" In the two summers preceding that, I wrote, but did not, necessarily, call upon Him for help. These are the chapters I am so engaged in redeeming at the moment. I do not expect much revision from the point when I allowed the Lord to "take the wheel", to be my guide, to help me fulfill the plans He has for me. Humbling myself to His will, I know, will make all the difference.
How have you humbled yourself unto the Lord today? How will what you do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next reveal to those around you the light of the Way? Your burden may be heavy, but His is light. Trust in the Lord's unfailing love.

My Prayer Corner

Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Do you have...