The Yellow Rose – My Lesson on Discouragement

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40

College years can teach us many lessons. And not just through lectures in history, biology or English, but life lessons. Lessons that impact the way we live, such as

Choose your friends wisely.

Be where you should be – whether at class at 7:45 a.m. or not at the bar at 3:00 a.m.

Choices have consequences.

One of the most helpful, life-changing lessons I learned in college was not in a lecture hall, but in my own bedroom during God’s “Life 101 Class.” I don’t remember all the details. I know I was alone in our little apartment on the campus of the University of Alabama. My roommates, three godly young women, had gone home for the weekend. For some reason I stayed on campus alone, which rarely, if ever occurred.

This particular weekend I found myself alone and depressed. It may have been over a guy or a class I was struggling with, I can’t recall. (That’s how depression is –  at the moment it seems like it will never change, but once we’ve gotten past it, we can’t always recall the “whys.”) All I remember were the desperate feelings of failure, isolation, and deep darkness. At that moment I felt life would never get better, nothing would ever change. I was overwhelmed and hopeless. Gloom had surrounded me; pessimism, despondency, and a myriad of negative feelings overwhelmed me.

alone-beautiful-bed-1907444.jpgThat day I struggled to perform. I hardly got out of bed for hours. I ate as a panacea. I was lost in the barrage of the Enemy’s fiery darts that assaulted my mind. Somewhere in the midst of the negative thoughts, a moment of clarity came over my mind. I realize now it was God providing a “way out” for me. But I had to choose to act on it. Scripture tells us that “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

In that moment of clarity I reached for God’s word. Once again I don’t remember much. I don’t remember what verses I read. But in my wanderings through the Word, I kept recalling a favorite elementary school memory verse from my 3rd grade Sunday School class: “Do onto others what you would have them do unto you.” It’s from Luke 6:31. I have no idea what version of the Bible it was from. I can’t locate that exact wording in any of my Bibles today, but that was word-for-word the way I had memorized it probably 10-12 years before that day.

As this mantra from scripture that I knew of as “The Golden Rule” ran through my mind repeatedly, it began to confront an issue I had. (God’s Word does that!) The issue that day was loneliness. I wanted someone to call me or check on me or show kindness to me in some way. I was wallowing in my loneliness and blues. As the verse played almost like it was on repeat through me mind, I suddenly saw a different meaning hidden within it.

I had always had a childish understanding of the verse thinking it meant “don’t hit your brother because you don’t want him to hit you” or some such thing. But suddenly I caught on the words “Do to others.” Do. Do. Not don’t. I wish someone would Do something for me. Do. Call me. Do. Take me out to eat. Do. Bring me a present.

Then came a realization – I had not done any of these things for anyone in weeks! I was told in scripture to Do what I wanted done to me, but I wasn’t doing.

I ceased my sniveling, sloppy crying, sat up from laying in bed, and started mopping my wet and snotty face on my sleeve.

If I wasn’t doing anything for anyone, why was I expecting anyone to do anything for me?

At that moment I made a decision. I would do one kind thing for someone. That meant getting my clothes on and stepping out of the apartment, out of my darkness, but I did it.

beautiful-bloom-blooming-133472Once again I don’t know where the thought came from, but as I rummaged through my brain for something kind to do for someone, a friend of mine came to mind. I knew she was The One. I knew she liked yellow roses. I knew I would like to get a flower from someone. So I put on some clothes, headed to Kroger, and bought one yellow, budget-stretching rose, (any extra is budget-stretching for a broke college student) and then drove to her apartment.

As I stood at her door waiting for her to answer, I realized I had a little smile on my face. Doing something for someone else gave me a bit of joy.

Then the door opened. She stood there with swollen eyes and no smile. In that moment I knew that she was as desperate and needy as I was. I tumbled into her tiny college apartment amidst a flurry of “What’s wrong?” “Are you ok?” etc. Her mood of the day matched mine: discouragement, worry, fear, loneliness, worthlessness… .

We sat on the couch. I handed her the rose. Tears flowed. From both of us. The rest of the afternoon was spent commiserating – misery really does love company. We moaned and whined and lamented to each other for quite a while. The crying eventually turned into the laughter-through-tears kind of emotion, and smiles crept into the room.

As I left later that day, my mood, and hers, had changed. We both felt loved and heard and needed. I think I had gone there with the rose hoping I could buy her friendship and she would sit and listen to my woes and make me feel better. And I did feel better. We both did. The Life 101 lesson I learned was that when we bless others we in turn are also blessed. When we obey scripture, real answers come from the Father for our problems. As we offer help to someone else, we are actually helping ourselves. This lesson has never left me. Even today some 35 years later, when I am feeling down, my go to question is “Who can I do something for, and what can I do?” Many lives have been impacted through the years, and my life has been rescued from depression and fear over and over.

We should not be surprised at this lesson. In Genesis 12:2-3 God says to Abram, “I will bless you; … and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you.” I believe that these words are just as much true for us today, because in Matthew 25:40 Jesus tells us, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ” When we do something to bless others we are doing something for our Savior and we will reap a harvest of blessing.

A challenge goes with this blog.

Before you go to bed tonight, find someone and do a small kindness for them.

 

Reflections of a Heart in a Handbag

We were seated in a circle, our bottoms in seats made of gray plastic and shiny chrome metal. There were ones with arms and ones without. I prefer the withouts; they have a bar across the bottom where I can rest my feet and turn my lap into a desk. I do not need the arms, they make me feel confined. We gather weekly to discuss the King and study His Word. We are intimately acquainted with one another. When you pray regularly with the same people, your heart gets knitted with theirs. Nothing bonds one soul to another like prayer.

She was seated diagonal and across from me; if I were seated at 12 o’clock in that chair circle, she would have been at 4 o’clock. She tends to like the arm chairs. She is older, has a beautiful smile, and always greets others with a kind word.

That particular morning we were discussing Myanmar. A country I was only vaguely familiar with. The Map Lover of our group was holding her hands in the air drawing imaginary places with her hands,

“If India is here, then Burma, Myanmar is here.” Many nodded their heads in recognition. I shook mine. Geography never has been my strength. I am more of a craft-kind-of gal. The Map Lover tried again to explain; clearly she saw a puzzled look on my face.

The 4 o’clock-no-arm-chair occupant placed her handbag in her lap. I thought she would pull out a crumpled tissue or maybe a mint. As I said, she is older and I doubted heavily chocolate-bar-1636220_1280there were any novelties of adventure in that bag. If it’d’ve been my purse she were holding, she could have reached in and pulled out a pen, a pencil, a permanent marker, a half eaten candy bar, a lint covered mint that lost its packaging, who knows when.

If she were holding my purse she could have pulled out a ziplock bag of change designated for drink and snack vending machines, a plethora of long ago expired coupons, a receipt or two that were at least half my height from that store that must pride itself on giving long receipts with lots of words and savings after the total.

If it were my purse, she could have pulled out a wallet so unorganized and bulging with random things that it garnishes comments every time I actually pull it out to pay, I rarely do that because it takes nearly 5 minutes to cram it back into my purse and something always falls onto the floor when I do so.

If she were digging around in my handbag, and not her own she could have pulled out a few pieces of makeup, a spoon fork thing (a spork), and 3 stray dollar bills.

She wasn’t holding my purse though, she was holding hers, and she carefully unfolded a piece of paper and said, “Here, I have a map of India.”

adult-book-business-297755She pointed and then moved her hand to the right and said “Here is Myanmar.” She passed it to the left and it made its way around the circle. When it got to 12 o’clock, my seat, I held it gingerly in my hands, the crease marks indicative of numerous unfoldings and refoldings. I rubbed my hands over the paper, made soft by time and use. I marveled at the names of the countries, some familiar, some not, and I knew in that moment why she had that map. How she was able to pull it from her handbag as naturally as if it were a tissue or other items found in the depths of a woman’s accessory for necessities.

She is a prayer warrior, (those exact words were used to describe her just yesterday by the Map Lover). She has that map because she prays for those people who live in those far away places. People she has never seen and likely will not ever visit.

She is visual and I have no doubt as she is praying she places her hand over those places as she petitions the King on their behalf. She is a Promise Keeper and when she promises she will pray she does.

I ain’t even gonna lie… I had realization in that moment as I passed the paper to my left so it could make its way back to its owner, who just as carefully as she had opened it, closed it and put it back in her handbag. I pondered the contents of the heart reflected in my purse and the contents of hers, also reflected in her handbag. As the conversation moved on and the subject changed, I held back, pondering on the people I do not see or know personally and how the King has declared we are to go to all nations.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Not all can go, but all can pray and I was challenged to do that very thing. To pray for people I may not ever meet in places that I do not know. But knowing that matters not, for the King knows them and He loves them too.

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Pray without ceasing. 1 Thessalonians 5:17

 

Construction Zone: The Foundation

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 1 Peter 2:4-6

As we continue our series “Construction Zone,” we can’t move forward without taking a look at our foundation. Everyone who’s ever built a house or even seen one built is aware of the great time and measuring and care that goes into laying the foundation. It is no different with our spiritual house than it is with physical structures; we must carefully lay our foundation to have a strong house. As 1 Peter 2 reminds us, we are living stones being built up into a spiritual house, and Ephesians 2:20 tells us that Jesus Christ himself is the chief cornerstone.

You’re most likely familiar with the term “cornerstone.” Before the advent of poured cement, the cornerstone was that perfectly strong, perfectly hewn, and perfectly positioned boulder that was laid in the dug out earth to give strength and accuracy to the new structure being built. Jesus is that for us. He is our cornerstone in building our spiritual house that makes it a strong and well-built home.

As we construct our spiritual lives, we have to ask ourself first, “Am I built on the best cornerstone?” Some of us have built our lives on lesser cornerstones of family or a certain person or religion or even the unstable mud of money and possessions. Early on those things may have seemed to us as a teenager or young adult as The Thing that architecture-building-grass-280235would make our life perfect. And newly built structures all look equally perfect at the moment. Only after years of living on a faulty foundation do we find our lives looking like the leaning tower of Pisa or crumbling in shambles and having to be torn down and painfully started all over from scratch so to speak. An examination today of what your life is built upon will save you pain and confusion in the future. It’s better to find the termites early, by accident, than years later when the destruction is irreparable.

If we answered that above question with a firm, “Yes. My life is built on the Chief Cornerstone,” then the next question is, “How are you continuing to build?”

Jesus tells us a story about a couple of builders in Matthew chapter 7. You’ve probably all heard it and maybe even sung a little song about it as a kid, but have you thought about the application of it to your life? Here’s the story:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:24-27

Ladies, even if we acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Chief Cornerstone in our lives, we still have work to do. There is more to be built. The first choice is our choice of the foundation onto which we allow this cornerstone to rest. Is your Chief Cornerstone brick-215779_1280surrounded by the strong rock of hearing and obeying God’s Word or by the shifting sand of disobedience and lack of commitment to His Word? The rock of a heart that is committed to obey will choose to obey in the toughest storms and darkest hours of life. But the wishy-washy heart of those who hear God’s word and do not do them will lead to an unstable foundation that will shift and wash away when storms arise and times get tough, thus leaving an unstable home and life.

We tell our children, “Choices have consequences.” They do. Even for us as adults. Spend some time with your Father this morning and allow your “foundation specialist” to diagnose what is going on out of sight just below your floor. It may be time for some needed repairs before your structure crashes down around you. Build your foundation wisely!

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Familiar Sounds

 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

I sat reading in the favorite 2nd Chance Store the Martins like to visit. It was a noisy place but I could make out the all too familiar albeit faint sound of Lego bricks, thousands of them being separated by small fingers. Thousands maybe millions of small building bricks being sorted. A giant plastic container of them being sorted like sand by tiny hands. Roving eyes looking for just the perfect half inch piece. It was a sound I learned to discern over time thanks to a Lego Lover of my own. From the time those building blocks were no longer considered a serious choking hazard prohibited by yours truly, my Boy has been playing with them.

I learned to store them in a plastic container years ago because lying scattered on the floor just was not an option. It would only take one time stepping barefoot on one of lego-708087_1280.jpgthose curse-word-inducing-devil-bricks in the middle of the night to compel one to purchase said plastic bins for storage. My Boy has likely spent the equivalent of years sorting said Lego Bricks in the very same manner. Plastic on plastic falling like gold doubloons through the hands of a searching and creative child.

Perhaps it was those hours of listening to the background music of childhood play that had attuned my ears to that sound. Immediately I was able to identify that noise as some unknown-to-me child repeated that same behavior in the giant 2nd Chance store. Despite the other noise of the some 23,000 square foot emporium I could pick out the sound and correctly identify it. I tend to tune things out, I had already tuned out chatter and post Christmas excitement, a PA system requesting specific shoppers to come to a specific location, and overhead classic rock, the kind spun on the retro vinyls like the store sells.

I was reading a good book and found myself in the presence of the Reformation. I had been transported back some 500 years and nothing had yet been successful in bringing me back to current day. That was until the sound of play made its way to my hearing. The voice of Jesus is much the same. John 10 talks of a Good Shepherd whose sheep are so familiar with His voice that they can recognize it and immediately discern it from other voices they hear.

That rainy night in the 2nd Chance Store was like that for me. I knew the sound of filtered plastic building blocks so well that when I heard it in the background, half a football field away, I could discern that noise despite the crowd’s chatter and rock and roll songs playing. I could discern that sound in the midst of chaos. I could pick that sound out because I knew it too well. I had spent years acclimating my ears to it. So much so, that I could hear it best.

When we know Jesus, The Good Shepherd’s voice, we can pick it out when we are being bombarded with the sounds of this world, the voices from all directions, all telling us something conflicting. When we know how He speaks, we can discern that above all else. We don’t learn that voice from an occasional conversation, we learn it from daily communication. I’ve got to be honest, I don’t always spend time getting to know His voice, listening to Him. I spend a lot of time talking but not near enough time listening. May I strive to become so familiar with His voice that I can pick it out of a proverbial 23,000 square foot 2nd Chance Store with the discerning accuracy of those plastic blocks on that rainy night.

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Happy Valentines Day to Every Woman!

On this day that celebrates romantic love we women can find ourselves sad, depressed, and feeling left out or “less than enough.” If we don’t proactively handle our thoughts as Philippians 4:8 tells us to, we may find ourselves flooded with feelings of loneliness, disappointment, and grief over what is not. Not there, not the way we wish it were, not perfect.

So today I tell you honestly: You are loved! You are enough! You are beautiful! You are treasured and adored! You Father in Heaven has a good plan for your life!

Instead of looking at romantic love today, let’s look at real love.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

Instead of looking forward with expectations of what you want to get, look with generosity to what you will give today.

Instead of focusing on what you expect to happen, give up those expectations and make a plan to shower love on friends or family or co-workers.

Instead of looking back with guilt or regret or a sense of loss, look forward to what your Father will make of your life in the days and weeks ahead.

Instead of desiring to get the roses, give the roses.

Instead of looking at what love you don’t feel you have today, look to The One who loves you just the way you are and His love that you do have this very moment.

 

Childish Whimsy: Puppies and Kittens

In women’s ministry we frequently read and discuss the stories of Mary and Martha presented in the Gospels. Sometimes I’ve felt proud of the woman I was and at other times I’ve felt judged by the lesson presented. There is great wisdom in studying these two women, each of whom had her own strengths and shortcomings.

But today we will view the principles of this story through a childish lens.

Here’s a little background to set up the article. When I was an elementary school child I thought that all puppies were boys and all kittens were girls. To me, the rough and tumble life of dogs seemed more like the boys I knew, while the prissy, picky catlike behaviors seemed more girlish. (Weird, I know. Don’t judge me.)

So let’s look at dogs and cats for a bit.

Dogs. Man’s best friend. Loyal companions. Rambunctious. Full of life. They come when  they are called, obey commands, and are happy just to be in their masters’ presence.

And then there are felines. They look at you when you call them as if to say, “How dare you disturb my repose?” They sniff at their food and turn up their noses, plop into your lap or onto your computer keyboard at the most inopportune times, and seem to exude an aura that all the world is about them. Cats are caught up in their surroundings. They are in charge and don’t always have the will to come when their master calls, nor do they do his bidding or find all their joy in just being his. Cats are out for number one. If what they want makes their master happy too, then good. But if not, so be it.

English languageday-2But dogs love and obey their master with their whole tail-wagging, tongue-hanging-out being. He is their joy and focus. All their life, their sheer existence is tied up in their master. He (or she) brings them joy. They follow him around, sit beside him or on his lap, and jump and lick and bounce around his feet the moment he gets home. The Master feeds them good things and takes care of their every need. Their whole desire is to be at their Master’s side; their life is intricately tied up with his. Dogs get it: they understand the “one thing” that they have been put on earth for.

This characteristic of dogs is very much like the most vivid lesson to be gleaned from the story of Mary and Martha: Jesus wants us to have a mind and heart focused on Him. In Luke 10 Jesus stated, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary.” Only one thing, Our Master. Is He all that is necessary to us today? Do we simply desire to be with our Master, to know Him and please Him? As women we wear many hats and are pulled in many directions. But to have our hearts firmly settled in Him is the only thing that matters. That alone will bring us peace and give us direction.

We see a very similar lesson in the Biblical account of Mary & Martha, as we can see through the lives of dogs and cats, a focus on the one import thing: the Master. So instead of bringing on thoughts of self-condemnation and judgment by asking if you are a Mary or a Martha, may I ask may I ask a rather innocent question, are you a cat or a dog at heart?

Construction Zone: Edify

The last several months our ladies ministry has prepared for a year-long study that focuses on building our homes and lives God’s way. We’ve started off in the book of Proverbs seeking to grasp what is revealed there about wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. At the same time, my discipleship group was finishing up an in-depth study of First Thessalonians.

As I was studying through 1 Thessalonians 5, I came upon verse 11. In the English Standard Version it reads:

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

Encouraging verse. Easy to glance over and tell yourself, “Oh I do that. I’m pretty encouraging.”

But the focus of the study that day was to do 4 things to gain more insight. To

1) observe 1 Thess. 5,

2) ask questions about it,

3) find cross references, and

4) use some Bible tools (concordance, dictionary, atlas, etc.) to find deeper meaning.

So I started with step one and began observing and asking questions about the scripture. My thinking followed a winding course that yielded some neat conclusions.

“Encourage” and “build up” sounded the same to me. You encourage someone to build them up, right? So I looked it up in a couple of other versions to see if it would shed some light on the meaning. And the KJV of verse 11 read –

“Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.”

Edify? Hmmm. Does that mean the same as encourage? I thought. I’d heard the word edify in church but had never really had it firmly defined in my mind. Surely it didn’t mean the same as encourage, because then Paul would be saying, “Encourage each other and encourage each other.” That sounded redundant. But sometimes scripture repeats something for emphasis, maybe it was just that.

As I reached for a dictionary, I was reminded of the word edifice (like a big building). I wondered if the terms were connected or were from the same root word. 

I looked up the words edifice and edify in some online dictionaries. Edifice did indeed refer to a large imposing structure, concrete or abstract, and to a complex system of beliefs.

For the word edify the primary definition was an expected one: “to instruct and improve especially in moral and religious knowledge : uplift : enlighten: inform.” Its synonyms included, educate, illumine, inspire, and nurture, among others. 

But then the second definition, listed as an archaic definition, really grabbed my attention.

  1. archaic a: build b: establish

architecture-build-building-209266It comes from the Latin noun aedes, meaning “house”or “temple,” which is the root of aedificare, a verb meaning “to erect a house.”

Wow! How neat. My other study is on Homebuilders, and here in a random verse in 1 Thess. 5, God is bringing up the idea of building again.

So naturally I did a quick word study. I looked up the word in a Strong’s concordance and a Greek lexicon that told the original Greek meaning. (If you are unsure how to study your Bible in this way check out previous articles here and here.) The Greek word was Oikodomeō, which reminded me of a yogurt, however, the lexicon I was consulting defined it this way:

(a) usually signifies “to build,” whether literally, or figuratively;

(b) is used metaphorically, in the sense of “edifying,” promoting the spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or by example, suggesting such spiritual progress as the result of patient labor.

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defined it as: to be a house-builder, i.e. construct or (figuratively) confirm, and went on to further say…

a. properly, to build (up from the foundation): to build upon a foundation laid by others, to carry on instruction begun by others. (Luke 11:48)

b. contextually equivalent to restore by building, to rebuild, repair.

c. metaphorically, Since both a Christian church and individual Christians are likened to a building or temple in which God or the Holy Spirit dwells,  the erection of which temple will not be completely finished till the return of Christ from heaven, those who, by action, instruction, exhortation, comfort, promote the Christian wisdom of others and help them to live a correspondent life are regarded as taking part in the erection of that building… .

It’s the same word that’s used in Matthew 7:24 about the wise man who built his house upon the rock, and in Matthew 26:61 when two men claimed that Jesus said he was able to tear the temple down and rebuild it in three days, as well as in Mark 12:1 where it talked about a man building a tower. All of these uses of the Biblical word edify were about physical structures.

The huge revelation in that moment was that in God’s eyes we are building each other! Just as the builders across the street from me are putting together a house, you and I have a part in helping each other become a spiritually strong well-built house. We help build character and habits, spiritual understanding and homes and marriages! We are built up by others throughout our lives and in turn have a role in building others’ foundations on Christ. We need each other – we don’t need to be Lone Rangers!

Isn’t it amazing that our Creator gifts us with the ability to procreate and to be creative in our lives just as He is? Our wonderful Counselor allows us to counsel and encourage others. Christ Jesus calls us to be imitators of him, “little Christs,” Christians, living out life as He modeled it. And God the architect and builder spoken of in Hebrews 11:10, allows us to participate in that aspect of Himself as well! We get to build, to edify, alongside Him! Isn’t it amazing?

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(Dictionary definitions are from Merriam-Webster.)

Best Laid Plans…

Our routine was changed. Sunday morning would have to be altered a bit. An afternoon family outing would require us to be somewhere promptly at a specified time. We would have to be intentional about our worship. We are chronically late and we chronically run behind. I used to never be late, if I were late it actually meant I was on time. That was until I had children and a husband who moves at a slower pace than I.

I used to just leave him in the dust, be about my business and leave him to his own devices. I used to literally sit in the car and honk the horn incessantly until he finally made his way toward me. By the time he arrived I was aggravated at his insensitivity and he was annoyed with my impatience. That was until we both realized that if we were ever going to make this two becoming one marriage deal work we were both going to have to learn to give a little grace.

Now, despite the fact that it still bothers me to be late (aka just be on time), I can compromise, and in doing so I’ve learned to communicate clearly the actual time we need to leave factoring in unexpected traffic issues, potty breaks, and forgotten things. This seems to work, some of the time anyway.

That particular last Sunday of the year I knew we could not revert to our normal plan. We would never make our destination on time. I devised a foolproof plan, Dad would do his thing (a long ago weekly commitment of playing in the worship band) and duck out early. I along with the children would do something altogether different. We would attend a favorite first service, albeit further from home, it is noted not to “run over” as much. We would worship with friends and meet Dad at the coffee shop promptly after our far from home nearer to our destination Church Service. At promptly 10:30, we would depart together, thereby ensuring our scheduled arrival on time.

As we prayed on the drive in, the kids and I thanked our King for different things and things the same as well. I told them that as I had prayed for our word for the year, the King had graciously given, and it was actually a phrase rather than a word. I giggled as I told them that He had imparted it through the Book of Acts. We have been studying it together this school year and the thought of carrying Acts with us into the next must have made me giggle. I wanted them to know I would be praying it and saying often through the coming year. Pay Attention

“Pay attention.”

“Huh?” almost at once the three of them questioned. Irony At its best I mused.

“Pay attention.” That’s our family is word this year.

In our world of perpetual distraction, when days go by I wonder how I’ve even made it to the end of it, time flies by at breakneck speed and it feels I’ve just had breakfast and it’s time to kiss everyone goodnight. I need the daily reminder to pay attention.

“Pay attention.”

As we arrived on campus, pulling in to see the constant, larger than life, picture of Grace, the Cross before us, the drizzle had become more steady and the clouds heavier. I commented on the choosing of a parking place and pulled into a spot I felt certain would guarantee us a ride on the dry bus. I never turn down curbside service even if it means afterward I have to walk a bit extra. Also despite being married to a meteorologist, I rarely know the weather or have a working umbrella. Again, irony at its best.

As I chose my space and pulled in my Martin progeny protested.

“Mom there are so many like way closer!”

“Mama where is everybody? I thought we were late.” I knew we were right on time, (I’ve intentionally set my car clock up a few minutes. They have yet to catch on and I’m not telling them. It aids my getting there on time cause.)

Admittedly I was puzzled though. Usually by this time those front row parking spaces had long ago been captured by the early-in-enough-time-for-two-cups-of-coffee-and-a-doughnut people.

I still hadn’t caught on as we opened the door and I hugged a beloved greeter friend, and she handed us one of the many worship guides she was distributing. Usually by the time we arrive most of those had already been dispensed. I still hadn’t caught on.
It wasn’t until we entered the worship center, few seats were occupied, we had our choice of seats, (that never happens I thought) and the praise band appeared to be practicing that I began to question how on-time-slash-early we actually were.

It was just as we settled into our choice seats that I looked at the long ago and just as forgotten email I received weekly outlining the events of the coming week. I had assumed it said what it should: this week would be good, it would be a great way to end the Old year and step into the next by coming to church, don’t forget year-end tax things. Business per usual.

As I opened my email, the subject line caught my eye. “One 10:00am service this Sunday” I literally laughed out loud.

I broke the news to my children, who for a moment thought I would make them leave. They loved worship here. How could I? I recalculated my painstaking plan and travel times. About that time they all began to contribute just how we might make it work. We were already walking toward the door when their pleas yielded results. I decided we would stay. Cheers reverberated in the mostly empty building. Charlotte leaned over and said, “Mama what was that word?”

“What word?” I said

“Pay attention.” she said softly in my ear.

Had I paid attention I would have known. Had I paid attention I would have known ahead of time that the timing might not work out as well as I had planned. As is customary with the King, He used that reversed tardiness to teach me to yield to Him and to pay attention even in the small things and as is always customary, His plans are better than my best laid ones and for His Word declares it so.

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9 ESV

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