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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I Want to Pray Like That

I sat with a friend last week over lunch, and after he said the blessing, I recalled just how much I want to pray like him when I grow up. His prayers are honest. They are real. And more times than I can account, it has been as if I were sitting in on a private and intimate conversation ... sometimes to the point of almost feeling embarrassed about it. 

Me? I have a tendency to be concerned about my words. Are they the right ones? Are they eloquent enough? Do they sound spiritual? And heaven forbid I leave out something or don't cover all the bases, "just in case," when praying for someone, so I pray ad nauseum. (Lord, help me!)

In the early days of our friendship, I would bow my head for my friend to pray ... and there would be nothing. I would finally raise my head a bit and peek open an eye just to see what he was doing ... or see if he was still even in the room. But, no, he was right there. Head bowed. Eyes closed. And I remember thinking, "This is odd. Maybe he prays silently for people." But as I learned, he was not praying, he was listening. Here was a man who knew and knows what intercessory prayer really is.

He knows that prayer is not asking God for what WE think that person needs. Nor is prayer trying to pry an answer out of His hands by using loud or large words. Rather, it is listening to the prayer the Holy Spirit is praying for that person and then joining Him in it. Ruth Haley Barton puts it this way, "It's being present to God on another's behalf." 

And so my friend would enter the stillness of prayer ... and just listen. Only then would he begin to pray out loud. Only then would he begin to speak those things he thought were on the Father's heart. Only then would he begin to hold me or whoever else he was praying for in the love and care and grace of God.

Just think how much freedom there would be in such praying. Freedom to not have to perform. Freedom to not have to manipulate God (as if we could). Freedom to not have to fix things in prayer. Freedom to be silent, for goodness sake, should we NOT hear anything. Freedom to speak what we DO hear. Freedom to just hold another in the grace of God before His throne. Words or not.

People need ... want .... our prayers. And we need to rightly give that to them. But how much more profitable those prayers would be if we would just be silent for a moment, like my friend, and listen.

Yep, when I grow up, I want to pray like that.

Just an ordinary moment...

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Power of Scent

I was standing in Wal-Mart yesterday selecting a photo album to use as a "Color" prayer journal (more about that another time) when my head and eyes jerked up in response to a smell. I really can't tell you what or who it was other than the aroma itself was sweet -- and strong. Obviously, someone had passed by that was wearing a fragrance that lingered long after they were gone. I learned quickly that smell cuts through thoughts, because one minute I was deeply engrossed in my purchase and the next, it wasn't even in my radar.

The power of scent. 

Did you know that smell is the most sensitive of the senses? According to Mirror e-magazine, we can remember with 65% accuracy what we smell after a year, but can recall with only 50% accuracy what we see after 3 months. But our noses are just as easily bored. Have you ever entered a florist or bakery that nearly took your breath away with the aroma, but by the time you left, you no longer smelled it?

Here are some more facts for those who might be interested. Typically, a woman's sense of smell is much stronger than a man's. (I heard just recently via John Tesh that the #1 turn-off for a woman is a man's body odor. I had to concur as I had just been on the treadmill at the gym next to man who had been working out for an hour.)

Speaking of exercise, our sense of smell is stronger after a physical workout. We can also smell things better in the spring and summer, due to the added moister in the air. We humans have 5-6 million odor detecting cells. But that's nothing compared to a dog who has about 220 million.

It is now not enough to go to a museum just to see the past come to life, you can now smell it, too. At the Jorvik Viking Centre, a stench is pumped inside to give visitors a true simulation of what the Viking era would have smelled like. Yes, you can experience the smell not only of a Viking village but a Viking toilet as well. Now that's something I've always longed to do.

The human brain can process roughly 10,000 smells in an area the size of a postage stamp. That's a lot of processing.

And have you ever put a new pair of shoes or leather jacket to your nose? So have I. Well, those particular smells make everyone happy. As does the new car smell ... which is why my friend Julie got disturbed when I brought french fries into her new sedan. (Again, Julie, I am SO sorry.) 

When we sleep, our sense of smell shuts down. We only smell the coffee or the bread baking AFTER we have woken up. And if we can't taste that bread, it's probably because our sense of smell is lacking and not our sense of taste as our smell sensor accounts for 75-95% of the impact a flavor has. Which leads me to share that people who cannot smell have a condition called anosmia.

And here's something for your next trip: Sheraton hotels smell like fig, clove and jasmine; Westin lobbies go for white tea while the Four Points venues smell of cinnamon.

And the most universally liked fragrance? Vanilla, of course ... because of its "calming properties."

But we don't have to know all that trivial information to know that the gift of smell is powerful. In a split second, through the venue of a hand or body soap, a flowering shrub, cigar smoke, even mildew, we can be transported to another time in space ... sometimes not even knowing how we got there or why that particular smell evoked some a powerful emotional response.

We all have them. There is a particular odor that sends me immediately back to 1969 when my house caught on fire. To this day, it still startles me as I feel a sickness rise in my stomach. When I smell a magnolia bloom, I am whisked away to my piano lessons in Macon. Just last week, I embraced someone and their fragrance stayed with me long through the night and caused me to remember them with much love and care. Recently, a young wife whose husband has been deployed since February told me that his clothes were beginning to lose their smell. I knew what she was talking about.

So let's embrace our sense of smell. It has the power to take us back to our childhood and closer to far-away loved ones, whether separated by distance or death. It can make us feel happy and comforted, keep us from danger or make bile rise in our throat. Yes, the power of scent cuts to the chase. It reaches down deep in us and tells us something.

Therefore, the next time your smell sensory talks to you, hear what it has to say. Bring whatever it is to this present moment, hold it, let it linger if necessary, thank God for it and then bless it. For in the making of that, our whole lives begin to be consecrated and take on a fragrance of their own. And sometimes, we just might find a little freedom from something that has bound us.

The power of scent. What an awesome gift we have been given.

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Cup Overflowing, 941-960

"The man who forgets to be thankful 
has fallen asleep in life." 
Robert Louis Stevenson

#941  a caring and kind nurse-practitioner: Julie Conway

#942  homemade applesauce made just for me by my #1 girl

#943  Debra Willis and the way she is always so thoughtful in the small stuff -- which really isn't small at all

#944  the sun bearing down on my face on a cool November afternoon

#945  a skittish squirrel with a large acorn in his mouth

#946  that Jesus welcomes sinners (Luke 15)

#947  my pastor Don Caulley calling to pray 

#948  both a husband and a friend driving me to get haircuts

#949  a surrogate daughter cleaning my house for me

#950  for Hope, Ruby and Tara -- pre-op angels

#951  a day slap-filled with gifts from my Father

#952  warm milk and honey ... at midnight

#953  silence

#954  a restful night

#955  that I can actually FEEL the prayers of the saints

#956  for all that God is teaching me about the Body of Christ

#957  for the skill of a surgeon's hands
Prepped and ready to go
#958  a prayer list -- and each request ultimately answered

#959  a daughter's care and joy

#960  and Adrianne -- the best little nursemaid God could have sent
Entertaining those in the waiting room, I'm sure,
with a shameless selfie on MY phone
Wake up! Laugh! And count...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Who's to Blame Now?

When my husband left for a 2 week mission trip to Scotland, I knew there would be a lot of things I would miss about him. But one thing for sure: I would NOT miss the dirt tracked in across my kitchen floor and the pieces of trash from the yard in our bathroom. I kid him that he will pass 2 outdoor mats in the garage, a boot brush at the steps, a floor mat inside the kitchen door and a small woven rug just before stepping from the breakfast room into the den whereupon he will wipe his boots. Yep. That's my man and after 35 years of marriage, I've discovered that there are some things you just can't teach a man to do. (Seriously, if wiping his feet is his worst vice, I really have nothing to complain about.) 

But I was looking forward to a little less .... maintenance.

And then it happened. This ...

How did this birdseed get into my bathroom? And there was not just one, but two! Surely I am not the guilty party! But who is? 

And then I started noticing the kitchen floor. Over a period of time: the pieces of diced celery I dropped while making the chicken salad. The small piece of spinach. The water spots I dripped on the floor and then I stepped in leaving a grimy soil. The chocolate morsel from MY brownie. And when I swept, just WHO brought in all that dirt? Tell me!

You know. And so do I. And it was not my husband. Leave me alone long enough with no one else to blame, and sooner or later, I'm either going to have to be deemed crazy saying the infamous Christmas Elf on the Shelf did it or I'm going to have to own up to my own shortcomings and issues.

I was not shocked last week when I read the Washington Post article that said "many prefer electric shocks to solitary thoughts." Saddened, yes. Surprised, no. It went on to say, "People, especially men, hate being alone with their thoughts so much that they'd rather be in pain. ... When it became clear that people were desperate for distractions, the researchers gave them access to a device that would provide a small electric shock. Six of the 24 women shocked themselves, and 12 of the 18 men did so." 

We are not talking about a long period of time here, people. They were only to sit with their thoughts for 6-15 minutes! 

If I can get spiritual a minute, I think this is why we don't like to practice the discipline of solitude and silence -- the practice of just being with God and our self alone. Because when we get alone, distractions are eliminated and He begins to show us our true self. Mercifully so, I might add. Alone with God, we start becoming aware of who we are. And when it's just God and us, we have no one else to blame. Everyone else is on leave and out of the picture -- sort of like my husband for those 2 weeks. I could blame him, of course, but I would just be lying to myself and everyone for that matter.

This solitude starts out simple enough, but at a certain time, it begins to heat up a little bit. God starts getting in our business. Things that we have forgotten or suppressed, painful hurts and rejections, things that affect the way we do life today, begin to surface. Things for which you and I have blamed others for years. And the only recourse is to press that shock button or take responsibility.

And so here is what I want to say. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, husband, for all the times I have blamed you ... and it wasn't your fault. I'm sorry, friends, for all the times I acted childishly because I was stuck in my childish ways. And to You, God, I'm sorry that I do not take the time to be alone with you and to allow you to awaken Your presence in me so that I might be free.

Who are you going to blame?

Just an ordinary moment...

A Cup Overflowing, 921-940

When I look back over my life's journey, I can now see that things I once thought hindrances were actually gifts. Those things and situations (people included) which I thought inhibited my growth often turned out to be avenues to press me in closer. Is there any recourse other than thanksgiving?

#921  a cool night ride on the Agri-Lift with my man

#922  clouds ... and their amazing pattern and beauty

#923  that God is expressed through the whole realm of nature as witnessed at the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Atlanta -- including a bald eagle circling overhead

#924  hayride with my favorite little man
Burt's Pumpkin Farm
#925  apple season and a trip to Merciers

#926  the way little boys love trains 

#927  learning to live "slow"
Blue Ridge, GA
#928  162 years of friendship
Jeannie, Cathy (mother of the bride), me
#929  bed linens fresh from the dryer

#930  a long-awaited phone call

#931  cutest little Spiderman this side of Comic Con

#932  a cross in a doctor's office window that says, "I've gone before you."

#933  a husband by my side

#934  warm water and a good soak

#935  the journey and the gift of pain

#936  cookies left at the door that lets me know someone is thinking of me ... and cares -- this someone being Mary Ann Weik

#937  a groom's face when he kisses his bride for the first time ... sweeter than honey

#938  grace to make it through

#939  accompanying my brother Thomas singing The Lord's Prayer

#940  leg massages

Pure grace....

We All Came

I stood last night in a line that, with time, only grew longer. We were there all for the same purpose. We all came to offer something, anything, to the grieving family.

To express hearts of sorrow.
To convey words of encouragement. Of affirmation.
To voice messages of hope.
To share a story.
To offer an embrace.
To laugh a moment.
To shed a tear.
To speak a word of life and healing ... for broken hearts, for painful images.

Whichever and whatever was the most appropriate and natural for each individual, we all came.

We came with our own hurts, our own stories, our own griefs, our own painful lives and experiences. But we all came, bringing nothing but ourselves. Our own lives. Our presence. And for a short time, we were all united in a common cause. To join in the mourning. But also to celebrate in the life. 

We all came. And for a moment, midst all the multiple differences, we were the Body.

It's my prayer that the grieving family walked away last night as full of God's presence as I did ... all because we came.

Just an ordinary moment...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sacred Murmurings

It used to be that I was annoyed by the whispering one often hears in church. You know, those moments that are supposed to be times of quiet reflection, of stillness, of thinking and contemplating but instead quite often turn into occasions to talk to one's neighbor.  And quite honestly, I like the reverence of the silence. It seems such quiet moments are profitable and appropriate.  But what I've come to expect and even anticipate is the talk that goes on during communion. The bread is passed -- and the whispering is heard. The cup is taken -- and the sound of mother's voices elevate. Yes, what one recognizes is the holy murmur of parents reverently and faithfully instructing their children about the bread ... the wine ... the body ... the blood.

Is there a more powerful sound in the sacred hour? Is there a more beautiful song that arises in that place? I'd be hard-pressed to fine one.

Just an ordinary moment...

A Cup Overflowing, 901-920

It has been said that when we give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, we make a place for God to grow within us. Isn't that a lovely thought?

#901  the creaking of a boat tied to the harbor

#902  a canine companion

#903  morning breakthrough

#904  blue

#905  thousands of birds taking to the morning sky above the Trent River -- and then there were none

#906  mid-morning snack ... the best carrot-raisin muffin ever

#907  moss-laden branches

#908  the weight of God felt on the grounds of Christ Episcopal Church in New Bern, NC

#909  new friends

#910  3 days of Sabbath

#911  one shaded parking space -- and it was available

#912  a big, fat cardinal sitting on my deck rail announcing that winter is coming

#913  that God controls the present, uncontrollable moments

#914  pine "helicopters" spiraling downward through the air

#915  sirens that break morning's symphony

#916  unexpected joys -- getting to take Jude (and his parents) to the parade and the GA National Fair!

#917  Sunday morning evidence that a little boy was here the night before

#918  my Daddy (83 years old today -- Oct. 8)

#919  that God is in the business of tearing down idols

#920  an evening spent with my favorite daughter = pure joy

Ordinary moments turned holy because the heart took notice...

A Cup Overflowing, 881-900

It has been months since I've posted my gratitude list. But I'm still counting. These particular numberings go all the way back to September of 2013. But in order to stay faithful to the task of counting to 1000 -- and recording them -- I list them now.

#881 early morning propped up in bed with a cup of coffee in my hand and the first sounds of the day awakening outside my window

#882  that God directs us in our praying

#883  a little boy re-united with his Fred (Yes, Fred was misplaced in Wal-Mart. How could we have ever had another nap time? But after much searching and a lot of prayer, we found him tucked safely on an end shelf. Whew!)

#884 the sound of geese on an early Friday morning

#885  long conversations with my middle child while the rest of the house sleeps ... and the way God gifts him with wisdom

#886  "at home" in Bible study once again with 29 wonderful women

#887  Jude's first boat ride

#888  a tinge of fall in the air that allows me to open the window to early morning

#889  bedtime and a new book: David and Goliath!

#890  quality time spent with my best girl

#891  finding a "broom fairy" had come and gone (undercover), leaving my front porch clear of cobwebs

#892  a hand on the back

#893  a new screened door

#894  a shade opened

#895  a Tinker Bell piano student

#896  first cotton of the season

#897  my husband next to me in church

#898  a steeple-dotted horizon

#899  morning quiet places

#900  an evening walk ... and a host of ducks

Just ordinary moments turned holy because the heart noticed ...

Is It a God Story?

I was at a retirement dinner recently for my husband, and as I began telling some of the ladies about our journey, one of them excitedly asked, "Is it a God story?" Indeed it is, and I told her so. A little while later, the same words resurfaced, and before the evening was done, they were spoken a third time: "It's a God story!" And honestly, each time the words were uttered, the same was true. It was truly a "God story," meaning that circumstances and situations had happened that only could be explained as God's intervening and orchestration. I knew what the woman meant and I agreed with her wholeheartedly. But since, I've been thinking: why do we limit a "God story" to just the phenomenal? To just extraordinary works and circumstances? To only those things we cannot explain?

If Paul's word to the Colossians is true, and it is, then Christ is ALL and in ALL. Speaking of Christ, Paul wrote that ALL things have been created through Him and for Him, and in Him ALL things hold together. Therefore, don't ALL things have the stamp of God on them? Is there not a Christ-touch and purpose in ALL things? In ALL facets of life? If so, shouldn't that warrant it being called a "God story"? Even those things we deem as little and insignificant?

I think it does.

Did you live and move and "be" today? Then what's YOUR God story?

Just an ordinary moment...