"What He ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best, and most divine for us." Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Most Unusual Gift

Christmas is over and the gifts are unwrapped. Gifts such as jewelry boxes (with jewelry encased!), candies, and candles. Even a padded floor mat on which to stand while I'm baking. But I have to admit the most unusual gift I received -- probably in my entire lifetime -- was this one given to me by my parents.

Yes, this is a picture of the delivery room where I first saw the light of day. Now tell me, other than my brothers and me, who else on the face of the planet received such a Christmas gift this year? I'd lay my money on no one.

But what a great gift! Here is the place it all began for me. The place where, after hearing her voice for 9 months, I first lay eyes on my mother. The place where I first felt the touch of warm human hands -- those of Dr. Gallemore. The place where I felt my first tremor of cold. The place I first expressed my neediness with cries and wails. The first place I was humanly loved.

But more than just a picture, the snapshot my Daddy took a few weeks ago when the doctor's office was closing, was a spiritual reminder. Just as I don't remember when I was physically born in this small clinic birthing room, I also don't remember my spiritual birth. I was too young. Yes, there are mile-markers along the way, but nothing that says "this was the day." And as recently as this morning, I was thinking of what it would be like to remember that "coming to Jesus" moment. And then I remembered this photo. I can't remember that moment of physical birth either, but through the testimony and witness of my parents, along with the fact I am who I am today, I know it happened. The same goes with my spiritual birth. Through the testimony and witness of my heavenly Father and the Spirit and who He has made me today, I know it happened whether I remember it or not.

So this morning, I thank God for "silly" and most unusual gifts. Sometimes they are the ones that mean the most.

Just an ordinary moment...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Christmas Postlude

While still wearing my new lavender fleece pajamas Mom and Dad gave me last night, I poured myself a cup of coffee this morning, turned on the Christmas tree lights and nestled into my favorite recliner to read the last entry in my Advent/Christmas devotional booklet. This is what I found.

"And she wore the flannel bathrobe to church the very first Sunday after Christmas,
Because it was the prettiest thing she had ever seen, and the Lord deserved the best.
And because it was 1933, and she didn't have a bathroom."

Now I'm not sure I can wear my flannel pj's to church this morning, but I can take a moment and be thankful.

O God, You gave your very best. May we offer no less.

Just an ordinary moment...

Quote from Will Campbell's Brother to a Dragonfly.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Light in a Manger

David and I were leaving the sanctuary late one evening last week after our lengthy rehearsal for the Christmas Keyboard Praise program that was to be held over the weekend. Being the last two to leave, David said, "Grab the door while I turn out the lights. I don't like it in here when it's dark." And so about the time he hit the light switches, I opened the door to the hallway where the emergency lights remained on. As David rushed to where I was standing holding the door, I reminded him of a truth: darkness is a coward. It flees light. For, you see, when I opened that door, the dark of the sanctuary did not dispel the light of the hallway; the light overcame the dark!

Ah, is this not what we celebrate this Christmas day? We don't rejoice that there is no darkness or suffering in the world, unless, of course, we have our heads in the sand, for indeed there is. Turn on your TV any time of day or night and hear about poverty, racism, corruption, etc. What we do claim, however, is that some 2000 years ago, God set loose a light in a manger which makes that darkness cower.

If you can find no other reason to celebrate today, precious reader, then celebrate this: The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:5).

Merry Christmas to each of you for, indeed, the Light has come!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Gifts are Wrapped

It's the day before Christmas, and I'm ahead of schedule. Yes, this morning, all the gifts are wrapped and have been mailed or are just waiting here under the tree for their designated giftees to arrive. And the anticipation is about to kill me. Not because of what might be under the tree for me -- for at this point, there is none. (Okay, so I've looked.) But for what is under the tree for everyone else! I love the process of searching, buying, and wrapping. I love thinking about each individual whose name will go on that package. I love lavishing those I love at Christmas! No, you won't ever catch me buying "generically." Each gift is person selected. But as much as I love all of that, as much as I love finding the "perfect" gift, the best part comes when the recipient actually receives and opens that present.

We have a tradition at out house; even with the children grown, married, and coming home with spouses: only one gift can be opened at a time. All the presents are dispensed from beneath the tree, and then one by one, a gift is selected and all eyes are on the one opening his or her gift. And when they're through, the next person can open one. And around and around we go until all the gifts are laid bare and all the oohing and ah-ing is done. I'm not sure how the rest of my family feels about this little tradition, but it's special to me, because the individual unwrapping is the consummation of the whole process of the gifting.

This morning I've been thinking about all of this and I can't help wonder if God anticipated the Gift He would give. Did He have you in mind through the millennia? Did He have me in mind throughout the ages? Does He still anticipate the opening of the Gift each time it is presented to an individual?

Oh, how sad it would be for a gift to be left unopened on a shelf or in a closet or even under a tree after all the lights have been removed. But how much more unfortunate for God's precious Package to remain unwrapped.

John 3:16 reads, For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son ... Talk about a hand-picked gift from a lavish God. It's a Gift that defies description, that transcends superlatives, and exceeds our imaginative powers. It is the highest, costliest, most precious gift ever given. Let us join with the apostle Paul: "Thanks be to God for His indescribable Gift!"

Just an ordinary moment...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Applying Make-up

It was Friday morning and I was rushing through my normal routine, my goal being to make it on time to my nephew and great-niece's Christmas program at their pre-school. There are always so many "ordinary moments" to be had at such and I didn't want to miss a one of them. Needless to say, the telephone rang twice while I was hurriedly putting on my make-up. I'm not sure I was even kind; short anyway. But before I could hardly sit down and finish the slathering of color, the front doorbell rang! No way, I wasn't answering this one. There was too much to do to get out the door on time to get to the program. And so I quickly completed the application and headed on to the next thing -- drying my hair.

But then I thought that maybe I ought to at least check the front door to see if the early morning intrusion was just the post lady; after all, I was expecting some Christmas deliveries and I thought I did hear her truck drive by moments after the doorbell rang. And so opening the door ever so slightly so no passerby would see my still wet head and bathrobe, I peeked out. And sure enough, there it lay. A box.

Normally, on such a hectic and bustling morning, I would have tossed it on the table and waited until I returned home to open it. But I noticed the return address was listed Chris and Lisa Seaton, sweet friends from Texas, and curiosity just got the best of me. The hair would have to wait a moment longer. And so I carefully ripped into the box and inside was a book. But not just any book.

This precious couple had taken excerpts from my blog and had them put in hardback book form and gifted me with this treasure. Of course, it didn't take any time for the tears to spill over the newly applied make-up and completely ruin every effort up to that point. So I let them flow, and through the sobbing, I muttered, "Lord, what are you saying to me?" And there in the mundane of life, in the hustle and bustle of the season, God stopped me dead in my tracks and spoke a word to my heart.

Is that not just like God? To invade the ordinary moments of our lives? Oh, indeed it is.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night, when suddenly ...

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph ...

And the invasion of all invasions as he spoke to Mary: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God."

Yes, God has a way of breaking into our ordinary moments, our mundane mornings, and turning them into something so extraordinary and heavenly that we cannot help but be changed by it.

All of a sudden my day became different. God had spoken to me. The press and hustle of the morning took on a different mode. I finished drying my hair and then sat down in front of the mirror once again to re-apply the make-up which had been washed by the flood. But this time, there was serenity and peace and stillness. God had broken through; He had invaded my morning.

Thank you, Lisa and Chris, for being his instruments. I treasure with all my heart the gift -- both the one you gave and the one you are.

Just an ordinary moment...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Word of the Day

Each morning there arrives to my inbox a "Word of the Day." Most of these expressions I've never heard or remember reading, which probably has more to do with my lack of vocabulary prowess than with the novelty of the word. Today's term was "billingsgate," and as usual, I looked at the definition and then read a couple of example sentences that employed the word. Billingsgate is a noun which means "coarsely abusive, foul, or profane language." It was no surprise that both examples related it closely to a sailor's vocabulary. Or more specifically, a "marine drill instructor" and "Mr. Mailer's soldiers."

As usual, I read it, tried to remember it, and then promptly forgot it. Until that is, I had to run a little errand this afternoon.

I've been a little dry with my blog topics lately. They're just not coming as fast as I'd like, so I asked the Lord this morning for a new post. Also, my computer has been on the defective side for several months now, making it less easy to post anything. So I took my electronic brain in last week and today they called to say it was ready. I left the glitch guys and was heading home. There I was stopped at a red light when the worst language I'd heard in a long time came blasting through my open car window on the passenger side. Some woman with a high pitched voice was calling somebody else a terribly inappropriate name. And it didn't stop there, she kept at it. I thought to myself, "Those poor children in that car. That must be so embarrassing." And then it hit me. She's yelling at me!!! Evidently, the woman was trying to back out of her parking space and I had pulled up and blocked her in. I was completely innocent -- for the moment. And so I just sat there, letting her rant and rave without daring to give her the satisfaction that I could hear what she was saying. Lands! Of course I could hear her. The entire inside of my car was filling up with odious language! And so I started getting tickled about it. I actually could have pulled up another space, and at the same time block another vehicle, but I figured the Lord might be wanting to work some patience in this woman, and who was I to stand in His way. So I just sat there in hers.

Oh, I know I should be branded for such wrongdoing, but it was just too funny once I realized I was the force behind her BILLINGSGATE!

I did deduce a couple of things though from this situation. One, she probably wasn't local because a local girl would have known not to park in that space. Traffic alone makes it difficult to back out. And secondly, she probably hadn't doused herself in the Word this morning or her else her words wouldn't have been quite so "billingsgating."

Yes, I can almost hear the apostle Paul now. Let no billingsgate come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Eph. 4:29).

Now that's a good word for the day.

Just an ordinary moment...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

#100 and a Little Reflection

Well, here it is: my one-hundreth post. It has taken me right at a year and a half to get to this place. Honestly, I really didn't know if blogging would be something I would enjoy or not -- or even be able to do on a consistent basis. And like I said in my first entry, I couldn't imagine anybody reading it other than my own mother. But nonetheless, here I am.

I heard it said tonight on TV (NCIS to be exact) that blogging is a personal journal. Not sure how "personal" it can be when there are potentionally thousands of readers out there who can click on it at random. We've certainly come a long way from the old lock and key diaries that we hid between the mattress and box springs. But as I look back on my entries, it is indeed personal. It tells some of my journey over the last 18 months. Some entries more personal than others.

So as I thought about this 100th entry, I couldn't help but remember certain individuals from my past who have been instrumental in my personal faith journey. My spiritual guides, if you will. All pastors in their own right; men cloaked by God. So in honor of #100, here's my short list.

Dr. Billy Key. When I was a wee tot, Brother Billy would stand with his arms open wide at the front of the sanctuary and invite "all who would come" to receive Jesus. Because I was so young, my parents would literally hold me back each Sunday, until one day Brother Billy just plain told them, "If she wants to come, let her come." And they did. Thank you, Brother Billy, for opening your arms each Sunday morning at the end of the service and welcoming little children. Those few feet from the 2nd row to the altar was actually one huge step in my faith journey.

My daddy. He isn't an ordained minister, but he could have been. In fact, I use to travel with him on occasion when he did some lay preaching around south Georgia, so it's perfectly within my right to include him in this list. In fact, I couldn't tell my story without him. When I hit the age of accountability and sin became real to me, it was to my earthly daddy's lap I went and confessed every wrong I had ever done. (I've often said I sure was glad it happened when I was 10 and not 20!) I think God knew I needed flesh that night and so He let my dad sit in as proxy. Thanks, Daddy, for having a lap big enough to hold me and a heart large enough to forgive me. You made coming to my heavenly Father easy.

The Rev. Jim McIlrath. Jim invested in me as my youth pastor. He was educated enough to be called a minister; young enough to still be crazy. Jim called me Nance, still does, and he made me feel accepted in a climate where it was difficult for a young (over-weight) teenage girl to fit in. I knew I was always safe with him. Thanks, Jim, for picking me up and carrying me across the wet floor in the basement. It meant more than you'll ever know.

The Rev. Bill Kierce. Bill came to Vidalia to preach several revivals, and it was he who introduced me to the power of the Holy Spirit. Up until then, my spiritual walk had been anything but victorious. But Bill preached one night on forgiveness and the next evening on the baptism of the Spirit. A wall fell for me that warm April night in 1986. Thanks, Bill, for introducing me to this portion of the Godhead. My life was never the same again.

The Rev. Mark Nysewander. Several years later, Mark also came and preached a couple of revivals for us at Grace UMC. It was at the altar one night that Mark spoke over my musical ability, praying anointing on my hands. From that moment on, I felt something was different -- though unexplainable. Thanks, Mark, for being "out there," and for stirring the gifting in me by the laying on of hands.

The Rev. Bill Strickland. If anyone has ever held a crown over my head and encouraged me to grow into it, Bill has. For years, he has answered my endless questions with more questions making me search out answers and solutions for myself, and in the meantime, teaching me I don't have to have all the answers. He has expounded Scripture to me, has taught me the necessity of prayer, the virtue of patience and the power of corporate worship, and he was the first to help me see the holy in the ordinary. Thank you, Bill, for holding that crown above me. Your impact is beyond measure.

Dr. Leonard Sweet. While sitting in a pizza joint last year, this is the man who encouraged me to begin blogging in the first place -- and thus, here I am. But more than that, Len has expanded my thinking about ministry and about incarnating Christ in the world. God also uses him to edify me in a particular personal ministry in ways that no other has. Thanks, Len, for accepting this obnoxious lunch date and incarnating Jesus in my life. His love is shed abroad in you mightily.

Of course, there are more; so many more who do not wear the title of Reverend or pastor but who have made a huge impact on my spiritual life. My husband, for one. God is constantly tightening my spiritual braces and bringing me into alignment through him. My first women's Bible study leader, a particular Sunday School teacher, fellow choir directors, dear friends through the years, and the list goes on. Maybe that can be the topic of another post some day. But for now, these are among the top when it comes to milestones in my personal faith journey. We all have them, including you. Let's not forget to thank God for them, for it is through them, we have been shaped.

Just an ordinary moment...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Firm Foundation

We bowed our heads, closed our eyes, folded our hands and sang: God our Father, God our Father, we give thanks, we give thanks, for our many blessings, for our many blessings, Amen. Amen. What warranted this outburst of song was my 4-year-old nephew singing the blessing before we ate our lunch at Chick-fil-a last week. Or "Chick-a-lay," as he calls it. It was probably the longest moment he sat still during the entire hour or so we were there, for as soon as the last note of the "Amen" stopped resounding, he immediately scoffed down a chicken nugget and a waffle fry and headed to the play area.

Childhood prayers -- they are the foundation on which our present prayer life rests. Somewhere in our history, most of us were taught to pray. Maybe it was from a grandmother as we watched her rock back and forth in her rocking chair with her Bible open in her lap. Maybe it was from a Sunday School teacher who made prayers so simple or a pastor who used large words in long monologues. Or maybe like me, from my Daddy kneeling beside me at my bed. Everyone has a story, even if that story is not being able to remember.

Many of us who learned to pray as children memorized prayers. For me personally, it went like this: Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless ... and I would begin to name off everybody I knew. Mommy, Daddy, Chip, Thomas, Louis, Muh, and Gra, Mea and Bernie... and the list would go on.

As I continued to grow and attend worship services, the Lord's Prayer was added to my repertoire. I'm sure many of the words were mumbled at first and I certainly didn't understand every thing I was saying, but it made me feel like a part of the group. I became a part of the community. I belonged.

Sure, memorized prayers can become rote. They can become routinely uttered in a mindless act. But they can also give us something on which to hang in times of pain, struggle, and grief. When words cannot be formed nor thoughts composed, a memorized prayer can say much. Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.

But as we move beyond our early teachings to discover a more personal prayer life and more "intelligent" utterings, we must not forget or minimize those lessons we learned while young. Lessons of faith, of trust, of simplicity. And so once again I found myself laying in bed last night with these words on my lips and a deep sense of gratitude in my heart: Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to take. God bless... And somewhere in the blessing, I drifted off to sleep grateful for such a firm foundation.

Just an ordinary moment...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Killing Worship

I've both heard and read recently that worship ought to kill us. But really now, how many of us truly experience that kind of worship on a normal Sunday morning?

I've been in need of a little different kind of worship lately myself -- not that I was looking for a death experience or anything, but just something that would stir me a little; fill a void maybe. And so I got up early Sunday morning and traveled up the road a piece to make an 8:45 service in another town. And what I discovered was far more than what I was expecting or anticipating. Now I must admit, the preaching was by far my favorite part. In fact, I was a blubbering fool throughout it. But the "preliminaries," for lack of a better term, started the whole ball of wax rolling.

The acolyte, for instance. If one was looking for decorum, he wouldn't discover it here. The little fellow swayed back and forth, jumped down the steps from the altar, and fidgeted the entire time he was standing. All I could think was, "O God, how You must delight in the activity of this child! I praise You!!!" And then I watched the face of Bob the Tomato as "she" swayed back and forth with her eyes closed entering into a worship that was far, far beyond her young years. And if that wasn't enough, they even sang my favorite hymn, just as if they knew I was going to be there! "Come, Thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace. Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise..." The Gloria Patri, the Lord's prayer. I was even able to make a bold affirmation of my faith. Yes, it was just about to kill me.

And then the choir stood to sing and the knife was raised. Because this was the early service, the Genesis Choir -- a choir made up of mostly senior adults -- filled the loft , and with the first chords of the piano, I knew what was to follow. "Shackled by a heavy burden; 'neath a load of guilt and shame. Then the Hand of Jesus touched me, and now I am no longer the same." Tears began welling even larger in my eyes, but nothing compared to when I looked and saw the very elderly gentleman seated to my left. I had noticed him earlier because of his inability to stand while the rest of us did. He just kept his place on the pew. But at this moment, his head was thrown back, his eyes were closed, and both of his feeble arms were raised to the sky. I heard the words of those singing but I could barely take my eyes off of him. It was pure, unadulterated worship. And when the choir sang its last note and silence fell upon the sanctuary, from the lips of that one whom Jesus had no doubt touched on so many occasions came the resplendent shout, "Glory to God!"

Yes! Just slay me.

An ordinary moment...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Early Morning Routine

Part of my normal morning routine is reading the obituaries. Actually, I don't really read all of them per se, I just see if there's anybody in there I know. I have often kidded that I turn to this section of the paper first thing because, one, if I find my name in there, I am NOT putting on my exercise shoes, and, two, I AM having a hot Krispey Kreme donut that has just come off the line.

But during this unusual practice, I often find myself saying things like, "Oh, Jesus, have mercy." Or, "Father, each name represents many hurting individuals. Comfort them." And sometimes, "Thank You, Lord, for a life well-lived." But this morning, something a little different happened as I scanned each listing. I think it was because there were some out-of-the-ordinary entries and so I tended to read a little more carefully. There was a well known octogenarian doctor from Macon as well as an unconventional lawyer who died way before her time. There was a middle-aged "caregiver," a school teacher, a nurse, and another who will be remembered in a service in the "Sanctuary of the Church of the Living God Gates of Heaven Full Gospel Ministries" by the "Overseer Apostle." Some listed a host of family members, two listed no one. Some "died," others "passed," one 96 year old "went home to be with her Lord," and one just plain "expired."

Some might say I'm morbid to begin my day with such. But am I really? Do we all not need to be reminded that we are immortal beings; that from ashes we come and to ashes we return? Do we all not need to be cautioned that there is an end to these days as we know it, so make the most of it. Do we all not need to be reminded that one day our names will also appear in bold above a column listing all of our achievements? And do we all not need to know that at the end of these days waits One who will either greet us with a "Well done, good and faithful servant," or a "Be gone for I never knew you." Quite honestly, when we stand before our Maker, it will not be because we had a list of achievements following our name nor because we were related to anybody special. It will be because we have personally put our complete faith and trust in the One and only One who matters. Jesus. Acts 4:12 says it this way, There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.

I'm not so sure reading the obituaries as a morning routine is quite so bad after all.

Just an ordinary moment...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sweet Daughter!!!

Twenty-one years ago today, the Lord blessed our family with a precious daughter/sister, and not one day has passed that we have not been thankful for His generous gift. She has brought such great joy as well as healing laughter to each one of us with her delightful sense of humor and playful spirit. Her wisdom and discernment in making sensible decisions has been beyond her years. She loves well and judges little, and her faith is marked by a testimony that lives itself out in the day-to-day.

Marynan, you are indeed that "fragrance of grace" which your name so beautifully implies. We have delighted in watching you grow to womanhood and evolve into a wife of noble character. But more than anything, we are grateful for the Godly woman you have become. Your love for Jesus is sincere and your praise of Him is real. It is our desire that you continue to make it your priority to seek and know your blessed Bridegroom, the Lover of your soul, for it is in doing so that He reveals Himself to you even more. Truly, "no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him."

We are undeniably blessed to call you our daughter, and we love you so very much. Happy birthday, sweet one!

Mom and Dad

Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised (Prov. 31:30).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Warming in the Sun

Wow, was anybody but me glad to see a little sunshine yesterday? I don't know what it's been like in your part of the world, but in mine, it has been rain, rain, and more rain. Even Saturday against all weather-related predictions of sun, it was ... rain. So you can imagine my delight yesterday morning on the way to church when there wasn't a cloud in the sky. And what if it was 40 degrees outside; the sun was out and it gave way to sheer pleasure on my part. Could I see the sun? Of course not. We all know to look at the sun is a dangerous thing. But feel it? You bet. Even amidst the sometimes blustery winds yesterday, I could sense the rays warming my body. And now as I sit here in my "sun room" and write, I can see streams of light coming through the paned glasses lighting up my chamber.

Just as we can no more look directly at the brilliance of the sun and retain our sight, neither can we look upon God and live. His glory is just too magnificent and holy for these earthly and immortal bodies to withstand. But the writer of Hebrews calls Christ the "radiance of God's glory." He was the ray that penetrated the earth's dark atmosphere and enables us to see and know something of the glory and splendor of God. In fact, He is the "express image of [God's] person." He is God's self-disclosure in every way.

So the next time you feel the warmth of the sun or see a ray of light breaking through the clouds, be thankful that God has chosen to make Himself known to you through His Son.

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gasping for Breath

Have you ever noticed what a wordy world we live in? My husband and I took a quick road trip to Chattanooga this weekend for a family wedding and I felt like I would suffocate before we arrived home. No, it wasn't due to his verbosity. If there's anything my husband is not, it's a talker. What created this choking sensation were the signs along the way. Signs that told me where to eat, where to sleep, where to shop, and where to "drop." Improvised placards of Peaches! Pecans! And apple pie! Wherever there was a thought, there was a sign. Sides of 18-wheeler trailers, bumper stickers, logos, large advertisements, and small posts. Work signs, speed zones, HOV lanes. This exit, that exit. Words which flickered off and on, moved slowly, danced, jumped, wiggled. Some whispered; others screamed. I realized I could hardly have one original thought of my own for reading all the billboards and signs plastered along the 450 mile round trip. At times, it took everything in me to keep my eyes focused on the natural scenery and not read the words flashing by me. I felt strangled by all the ... words.

Actually, this thing of words is really a quite new phenomenon. Think about it. Just over a hundred years ago, there were very few road signs. There were certainly no bumper stickers, no signs announcing the newest shopping area or billboards telling us which lawyer to hire. There was a time without all the advertisements that now cover whole cities with words that tell us which candidate to vote for or which network to watch. (And does anyone even remember when our shopping bags were only brown paper sacks and didn't sport the retailer's fancy logo?)

Now don't get me wrong. I love words. In fact, did you know that the average person speaks 45,000 words a day? No doubt, we women make up the average for what men don't use. And since my husband only uses about 100 a day himself, I feel as if I have a whole lot of averaging out to do. Words are wonderful. And they can carry such power. Yet in all their excessiveness, in all their overload, could it be that they've lost much of their positive creative ability? That truly they do go in one ear and out the other? Or as in my case today, become strangling?

Honestly, there was only one road sign truly worth reading today. It said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me -- Phil. 4:13." Ah, now there's a true word. His name is Jesus. John said it this way. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). I believe that is word enough. It alone carries power and creative ability. After all, did this Word not speak and the worlds were brought into existence? Is it not living and breathing even today? Does this Word not still speak?

In the meantime, what a relief it was when we finally exited the interstate and took the very short drive to home where very few signs littered the way. I finally felt as if I could breathe again.

Just an ordinary moment...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Watch the Groom

I attended the wedding of one of my son's very closest friends this weekend and in which he was honored to be a groomsman. From the beginning, it has been a storybook kind of romance and engagement. Luke's proposal to Drew even made it on national television! They were married late Saturday afternoon in a romantic outdoor setting at Massee Lane Gardens under huge pecan trees. The ground was sprinkled with rose petals and wild flowers graced the ends of the makeshift aisles.

The bridesmaids and groomsmen made their way through the canopy of trees, and the quickly-turned-shy flower girl was carried in by her father (a brother of the groom). And then, as if on cue, everyone's attention turned to the point of entry and to await the entrance of the beautiful bride. Everyone, that is, but me. I do what I always do. I turned and looked at the groom. Even when my own beautifully arrayed daughter walked through the doors last year to process down the aisle on her father's arm to her soon-to-be husband, I did the same thing. I took a second at that precise moment to look at her man waiting at the end of the aisle. For those who don't, they miss something very special. They miss the ravished look of the bridegroom. That first moment he sees his bride in all her array is quite possibly the most priceless part of the entire ceremony. Most take a quick deep breath, and almost all blink profusely as their eyes begin to water with tears never before expressed. Why? Because they are captured by their bride's beauty.

Oh, indeed, is it not every woman's dream to be captivating to the man she loves? To be beautiful beyond words? To take his breath away?

Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:27 that the believers are the radiant bride of Christ which He presents to Himself without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. And I believe the response of Christ is recorded in the Song of Solomon when the Beloved says to his bride, "You have ravished my heart. You have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes." Ravished! Captivated! Stolen! Made his heart beat faster!

I don't know how a man feels about that; but to a woman, it's everything!

Next time you're at a wedding, watch the groom.
Just an ordinary moment...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Laboring on the Rock

When I was much younger, I can remember spending my Labor Days raking leaves or helping in some type of yard work. When I insisted to my parents that it was a holiday, they always insisted the "labor" part meant work. Now that I'm older, I'm on to them. So when my husband said Saturday morning that he wanted to do a little fishing in a spot he found on the Towaliga River in Monroe County, I was all over it. So while he packed his rod and reel and tackel box, I packed my book bag with all my essentials and asked him to throw a beach chair in the bed of his truck.

I can't say I'm a real "woodsy" person; after all, I have this aversion to snakes and black bears. But he was able to drive me practically up to the river's edge, assuring me there were no bears. (Come to find out there are. He also forgot to mention the cougar -- and so I got a quick review about what to do should I encounter either.) But once I crossed over into "Eden," I forgot about what wild animals or slithering creatures might be lurking around the next bush.
The entrance to "Eden."


Within minutes, Sandy was off in the distance wading in the shoals and doing his thing -- fishing;
and I was doing mine.

Throughout the OT, God is portrayed as a large rock. For one: The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my saviour; my God is my rock in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the strength of my salvation, and my stronghold (Ps. 18:2).
One of the things I had included in my book bag was the Sunday School lesson I was preparing to teach the next day: Daniel 2 - which speaks of Nebuchnezzar's dream and Daniel's interpretation. The vision sports an alarming figure of a man that shakes Nebuchadnezzar to the core. It was a dream that covered the prophetic panorama of Gentile history from Nebuchadnezzar's reign unto the forthcoming reign of Israel's Messiah.

But the dream ends with what else but a rock that will smash this statue to smithereens. God's eternal kingdom that is more powerful than any other kingdom ever known or ever will be. The kingdom of Jesus Christ. In that day, every earthly kingdom will be carried away in the wind, and the rock that struck the statue will become a great mountain that fills the whole earth.

Can I just stop a minute and shout "Hallelujah!"?

Whereas I sat on a large slab of rock, there was a taller rock just to my right. But what was so interesting to me was the backside of that large rock.

1 Peter 2:4-5a reads, Come to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God's temple. He was rejected by the people, but he is precious to God who chose him. And now God is building you, as living stones, into His spiritual temple...

As I looked at those stones there that morning on the banks of the Towaliga River, I thought of the church, the believers, you and me, who not only rest on the Rock but are being built in His spiritual temple. Not a church made with brick or mortar, nor one we can enter and sit in comfortable pews, but one made of faithful men and women scattered everywhere who with power can smash this world's kingdoms to smithereens.

You and I are precious stones in the kingdom because the living Rock has said, "Come!"

A couple of very precious "stones" who went back with us the next week.

Just an ordinary moment...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Twitter Bug

Earlier in the year, at the suggestion of a friend who is a prolific reader and writer, I joined Twitter so I might follow his thoughts on matters of interest. You can imagine my son's surprise when after suggesting I get a twitter account so I could "keep up" with him, I told him I had had one for quite some time. It probably shocked him to know that his archaic mother wasn't completely in the dark ages. Of course, I never check my twitter account as it all comes directly onto my facebook page.

But what has been so interesting are all the notifications I've received from people "following" me. People I don't know. People who don't know me! I received another one just moments ago. And before I get all puffed up about it, this fellow is also following some 487 other poor souls as well. What's up with all of this? I've never "twittered" the first thought! So what are they "following," for crying out loud? It's a little silly if you ask me.

It's also a little scary, because in a way, I think it speaks loudly of our society. We blindly follow that which we do not know as well as that which is going nowhere: the most recent fad; the loudest voice; the newest "prophet." But the truth is that there is one Person and one Person only whom we should follow. His name is Jesus. In fact, He demands it. No less that 18 times in the four gospels do we hear Him say, "Follow ME." And within that context, and that context alone, we are to follow after those things which make for peace and that which is good. We are to follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness. We are to follow in His steps. The question might even be asked, "Would Jesus tweet?" Somehow I think He would. The name "Christian" ("little Christ") was given to believers in Antioch (Acts 11:26) because people saw in them the Christ they followed.

But 2 Timothy 4:3-5a speaks a strong word of warning to all this "following." Paul writes, For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear. They will reject the truth and follow strange myths. But you, keep your head...

Sounds like a good rule to "follow," does it not?

Just an ordinary moment...

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Hand of Blessing

Each night when my husband gets in from work, he makes his way to the backyard and lets our two dogs in: Gabe -- a beagle lab mix, and Rusti -- a red healer, and they are as different in personality as they are in color. In fact, we often joke that their personalities mimic mine and my husband's. Rusti is full energy -- and obnoxious. Gabe, being older, is very laid back and quite calm.

This evening while resting on the couch during Monday Night Football, Rusti came up to me and placed both paws squarely on my stomach and began licking me profusely. It's a habit of which I've not been able to break her. I proceeded to scratch her belly for awhile before making her get down. Moments later, Gabe approached, but instead of jumping up on me with both paws, he gently nudged his muzzle up under my hand until it was resting firmly upon his head. Patiently he waited for me to begin to stroke. And I did.

I really appreciate Rusti's enthusiasm and her willingness to be energetic in her "kisses" and "love" toward me, but sometimes it can be a little much and I just push her away. However, Gabe's gentle nudging and "pressing in" wins me about every time. I can't help but lovingly pet that black sheen.

So it got me to thinking: is my enthusiasm ever a little much for God? Does He ever grow weary of my affection? Surely not. I don't think He ever tires of either. But I wonder if sometimes He just wants to say, "Child, would you please just nuzzle in close and place yourself under my hand so that I might respond in love?"

Each day I pray that God would place His hand of blessing on my children's heads. Tomorrow morning, I plan to press in close myself, imagining that strong, protective hand -- and wait.

Maybe I can learn a thing or two from a dog after all.

Just an ordinary moment...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Something You'll Never Forget"

I first became acquainted with Lisa while standing in line at our Thursday night dinner at Richmond Hill United Methodist Church some 15 years ago. I liked her immediately. She was cute, had a great smile, was energetic -- and she loved talking about family. Ended up we had children the same age and who were in school together. Mary Beth and Robert were in 3rd grade, and Ginny and Marynan were in kindergarten at the time. And her oldest, Matt, was a couple of years older than my Charles. As for her husband, Gary, I learned he was a test pilot for Gulfstream; and a retired Navy pilot. I asked her how she dealt with such a "job" of taking off and landing on aircraft carriers, and her response stuck with me: "I imagine him going to work each day and sitting behind a desk."

Time passed and mine and Lisa's relationship grew just as did our children's. They went to summer camps together, they "hung out" at the Freemans on the river, they swam, played basketball, they sang in the children's choir, did youth, and more recently, spent 10 days on a mission trip in Costa Rica together. And in the meantime, Matt fulfilled his life-long desire and dream and left for the Naval Academy. In time, he earned his wings, piloted a C130, and settled into a life of serving his country in the United States Marine Corps.

Surely, on more than one occasion, Lisa must have imagined her son sitting behind a desk. But on Friday morning, August 7, 2009, Lisa and Gary got the visit that every parent fears and prays will never happen. Men in uniform showed up. Captain Matthew C. Freeman had been defending our country on a ground mission in the mountains of Afghanistan and, while gallantly leading his team under enemy fire, suffered a mortal wound at the hands of more than 80 insurgents.

Even as I write those words, I feel I must pause again and give reverence to such a heavy cost to this precious family...

When I told my dad that I would be attending the funeral service, he said, "That's something you'll never forget." And he was right. Riding through this bedroom community of Richmond Hill, one could feel the emotion that was hanging on every flag and expressed through every billboard. It was no doubt a community in deep grief for one of its own. The receiving line at the visitation stretched over three hours in length as friends and colleagues paid their respects. Even those who had no connection with the family or Matt waited their turn just because they "wanted to express gratitude for Matt's service and their condolensces to the family." It was an outpouring of community love and care.

Because we knew we had only seen a small portion of that outpouring the night before, Marynan, Todd, and I got to the church for the 11:00 service almost two hours in advance. By 10:00, the sanctuary was filled and guests were being directed to the overflow rooms. Our wait provided opportunity to reflect and watch. Soldier after soldier entered, many approaching the flag-draped casket and placing some small token of remembrance on its cover. At one point, an elderly man, bent with age, walked the aisle, and when directly in front of the casket, straightened himself to a state of attention, saluted, spoke a few quiet words, gave another salute, and then turned crisply on his heals to walk back to his seat. What a moment to remember.

Matt's bride of 3 weeks, weighted on her father's arm, led the family in the processional. The funeral service itself was perfectly tuned to Matt's personality. Pastors spoke of Matt's faith, a former teach spoke of his antics, and his uncle spoke of his love for his family. We sang Lord of the Dance, the Navy Hymn Eternal Father, Strong to Save, and a song of resurrection: He Lives. The RHUMC did a beautiful job with In Christ Alone; and then, of course, at the end of the service was the soul stirring sound of the bagpipes playing Amazing Grace.

As the flag-draped casket left the sanctuary flanked by pall bearers wearing air force, navy, sailor and marine attire, not one person was left untouched by the magnitude of the moment. Outside were not only 100 flag holding Patriot Guard Riders standing at attention and warding off any who might dare come as war protesters, but also numbers of people had gotten out of their vehicles to pay their respects, many giving their children a visual of the cost of their freedom. The pall bearers saluted one last time and the hearse and family drove away as the sky opened up and the tear-shaped rain drops began to fall.

It was indeed a service filled with faith and hope which only echoed Lisa's very painful words to me on that fateful Friday afternoon: "Matt's resting in the arms of God now." And indeed he is. He had placed his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ at an early age. How appropriate that his bronze start citation would read in part: "He fought with bravery and determination while demonstrating unwavering courage in the face of the enemy." By putting on the full armor of God, Matt lived out in the flesh what was true of his spirit. And whereas he could say with Paul, "To live is Christ," he was just as able to say with confidence and now with reality, "To die is gain."

Capt. Matthew Freeman, our family salutes you. You will not be forgotten.

Combat Heroes SPC Lowe and Captain Freeman

Funeral service coverage by WASV-TV news

Funeral service coverage by WTOC news

Afghanistan memorial service

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Moment of Reflection

I've been going through some old pictures lately, and whereas it's definitely not the first time I've seen these prints, it is the first time I experienced such a strange feeling. As I was thumbing through the album, it suddenly hit me -- "Hey, that's me. That body, soul, spirit ... personality ... DNA that is in each one of these pictures, is me!" I guess, up until that point, I had not really associated myself with that little girl. And it was the oddest sensation.

But the closer I looked, the more I could see me.

I still love to "preach" to anybody who will listen.

I still love to swing.

I still love to be treated like a lady.
I still have insecurity issues.
I still love Christmas -- and purses.
I still love trying on and finding the perfect shades.

I still love to dance.

I still love celebrating birthdays.
And I most definitely still love playing and worshiping at the piano.
Of course, then these two birds came along ... and that was all she wrote as far as pictures of Chip and me go.
But as I look back as these pictures, and others like them, more than anything, I'm reminded that even as a little girl, Christ was being formed in me. And truthfully, I cannot recall a time when I did not know Jesus nor love Him. And whereas I might not have lived every day to please Him, He has been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. But even more than that, Ephesians tells me that long before God laid down earth's foundation, He had me in mind and that He had settled on me as the focus of His love so that I might be made whole and holy. Long ago, He decided to adopt me into His family and make me His child for no other reason than it was His sheer pleasure to do so. Yes, God had His eye on me from the very beginning and had designs on my life for glorious living -- which fits all within His grand purpose and plan.

But this is not just my story. It's yours as well. He has identified you as His own, and you, too, are the apple of His eye. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus and the blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we have all been given full redemption as children of God. And by His grace, He has provided in large measure everything we could possibly need to live a life of purpose and bring Him praise and glory.

Take a moment to look back -- and give thanks.

Just an ordinary moment...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Place to Breathe

My sinuses have been playing havoc with me for the last month -- as have many to whom I've spoken recently. All the medication has seemed to have little effect, so I loaded up my trusty Explorer and headed for the sands of Tybee Island last week to see if the salt air might do me a bit of good.

After a quick lunch at Papa's Seafood and Barbecue -- which serves the best shrimp salad this side of the Mississippi (not to mention sweet potato fries) -- I headed for the water. My very special friend, Sally, insisted I use her parent's house for my little afternoon retreat. It could have been worse.

Here's a picture from the water.

And here's one from the balcony.
Not a bad place to clear one's head. Or to doze on a hammock -- which I did off and on all afternoon when I wasn't reading and resting on the swing or in the rocker with my feet propped up on the rail.

Song of Solomon 2:10 puts it beautifully: My lover spoke and said to me, "Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come away."

Yes, indeed. What a wonderful place to "come away" -- and breathe.

Just an ordinary moment...


Julie is a special breed when it comes to being a friend. The rarest kind. I remember the first time she walked into the fellowship hall for our Thursday night dinner at Richmond Hill United Methodist Church. I liked her immediately. But our relationship really began to flourish as we began meeting at the ballpark to watch our boys play baseball.

Julie and I "did" Sunday School and Bible study together. We enjoyed the same Koinonia group for several years, eating together monthly with our spouses in tow. Julie even taught me how to camp. When we pulled into the campsite that first afternoon, she said, "This is what you do." The girl pulled out two folding chairs and motioned for me to sit. She said, "We watch while the guys do all the work." Ah, yes. Friends for life!
I even experienced my first -- and only -- St. Patrick's Day Parade in Savannah with this dear friend. What a day to remember. We're proof that you can do the day without alcohol -- and enjoy it!
Julie and I have spent days at Universal Studios and nights evacuating hurricanes. We always find each other amid thousands of ladies at women's conferences. And just a few months ago, we found ourselves in Rome, GA during the coldest weather this part of the country has just about ever seen. She has even been a Mama to my middle child -- not only by leaving the light on for him at night, but by doing his laundry for months on end.

Julie is beautiful, gracious, generous, giving, and hospitable. She throws every bride a party and every new mother a shower. She rocks premi babies at hospitals and sits with friends who have lost loved ones. She has led numerous women's Bible studies, and not only is she a present force for her entire family, but she volunteers at youth events hosting 26,000 college age kids. She capsulizes a servant's heart and God uses her mightily on a daily basis.

Just before I left Richmond Hill, Julie showed up at my door one final time. As we were saying goodbye, the last thing she said was, "What am I going to do without you?" Well, dear friend, you've done just fine. In fact, I'd say you are very much esteemed among women and I am so honored to call you my friend.

A few more pictures:
Julie and Timothy (her baby) last week as we dined at Molly McPherson's in Richmond Hill.

John -- you're the man! I'll camp with you and Julie any day!

The kids at Universal Studios 10 years ago.

Julie and her "boys."
Matthew, John, Julie, Jonathon, Timothy

One last note on the boys:

Timothy is an awesome young man who becomes a Georgia Bulldog next Thursday -- leaving Julie and John as distraught empty nesters.

Matthew is finishing up his RN degree in Jacksonville, GA while his wife trains seals for the US government.

And Jonathon works for Shelley and Louie Giglio and tends to run out of gas in their driveway leaving him embarrassingly stranded.