Remember to Laugh

Written by: Ms. O

I…along with my two sisters…received a very sweet, touching email from our mom. It preceded our planned weekend together….a “letter of direction”….for us to read…and put into action. Her wishes?…for us to cherish the time we had together. For the first time…in 29 years….the three sisters would be together…in Nashville…for a whole weekend.

You see….in October of 1999…. my mom lost her sister…her only sister…the only sibling…to cancer. I know she was happy that her three daughters set aside time to spend together….which is no easy feat….but it also brought a wave of remembrance…sadness…for her. It was something she could not have…anymore. It was a “call to arms” for us.

There are five of us Shaw children…two boys…three girls. My sister Kay is the “eldest”…Carolyn is in the middle….and I am the baby girl. My brother is the baby of the family but I am the baby girl…something I hated growing up…but now…it’s sort of nice…being the youngest.

(L to R: Linda, Carolyn, Kay)
(L to R: Linda, Carolyn, Kay)

The three of us go to three different churches…live in different cities….have our own families. Two of us are divorced…one of us is a grandmother (nine times over) with the two other sisters sitting in jealousy. I wonder at times if we were not connected by blood…would we ever had the chance to meet….much less be as close as we are.

We share emails…text messages…Facebook posts…Instagrams…to keep up with each other’s lives. Modern social media makes it somewhat easy to stay connected…see pictures….and share “status updates”. Our lives are overly busy…too much so at times. Reading my mom’s email truly made me take stock in what we had to look forward to…as I panic-packed that morning.

Being together seemed almost surreal at times. We got to rehash our lives… add meat to the bones of what we share. I heard the sound of joy within our own families…the concern that can not be “seen” in our written words…hidden well by practiced smiles.

People that see us together commented that we share similarities. We all grew up with blonde hair and blue eyes. The eyes we have kept…the hair color with help.  We three love baseball…even though it is painful at times with the teams we choose. Our love of food is only surpassed by another commonality…one that I thank God for…our ability to laugh… a lot.

“Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.”  Genesis 21:6

Sarah…Abraham’s wife…had found herself in a situation beyond her understanding. She had prayed for a child…many many years…and eventually gave into the idea that it may not happen for her.  As God’s promise became reality for her…she laughed…with joy. I am sure it filled their home…and spilled out into the village.  Everyone around shared in this pouring out of emotion…this evidence of God’s faithfulness.

As it should be in our own lives…and is with me…and my sisters. Anyone walking by the house could most likely hear our laughter. Pity the pour soul who crossed our path in public. Perhaps they might have felt like they were intruding…maybe they are right. After years of living…and coming to grips with change…we have realized that it is laughter that will carry us through.

I feel like at times we are overcome by the “heaviness” of life…and it suppresses the natural neutralizer. All three of us have seen our share of pain…I don’t dispute that fact. Life happens. What I try to focus on is God leaning into our lives and asking us to lighten our “load” by releasing some tension…find His Presence to be the tickle that smoothes out the path that may be rocky at times…and remind us that He created laughter….for us. There are times that I think my sisters and I take up more than our share of laughter…and many will laugh in disagreement. One thing I do know…in absolute certainty…God was laughing with the “giggle sisters” this weekend…so joy-filled that we remembered to laugh…and laugh some more.

Amen and thank You God.

Ms. O

Dear Teenage Daughter, Compromise always comes with…

We have a triple amazing guest writer today. Wendy Scott was the speaker at Faith UMC’s Women’s Retreat last February, and she is one of the funniest, most awesome people that I know. She and I now belong to the same writer’s critique group, and when I read her most recent submission, I immediately asked her if we could post it here. Because you guys, I’m telling you…her parenting wisdom…I need it.

Here’s a quick snapshot of her background:

Wendy is married to a high school basketball coach; has three amazing kids; and she writes bible studies. (Seriously, you guys, I have a significant bias towards anyone who loves basketball AND writes bible studies.) Plus, she loves coffee and is a self-proclaimed sarcasm expert. I could not love her more.

More than any of those “Favorite Reasons to Like Wendy A Lot”, Wendy challenges me regularly to live into deeper faith…to live as a mother, wife, and writer who doesn’t fit the world’s pattern. But she doesn’t just talk about what faith people should do…she’s the type of person that does it.


By: Wendy Scott

Dear Teenage Daughter,

Now that the initial sting is passed and the tears have dried, I’m hoping to better explain why I made you cry.

Sweetheart, right now your world is expanding at a rate that is intoxicating. New freedoms are constantly being made available to you to the point that you no longer expect to be told “No.” So today when I told you no, there was a shock of reality that caused great disappointment.

Though you might not believe it now, the goal of my life isn’t to make yours miserable. And while I don’t enjoy making you cry, I’m also not afraid to, either—especially when I’m confident that I’m protecting you from harm.

I know all of your friends are going to see that movie. I’m also aware that, technically, you’re old enough to be admitted. But being able doesn’t mean you should.

Young girls having slumber party and watching movies

You see, I did a little research. I read more than just the reviews written by the “professional critics.” I read the synopsis, so I know there are some really positive elements in the film. I also know it’s a really good story – one that does everything a really good story should. It makes one laugh and cry. It creates an immediate bond between the characters and the viewers. The viewers aren’t meant simply to watch the movie, but become deeply emotionally involved. And this is precisely where I begin to take issue – why I feel it’s not only inappropriate for you, but potentially harmful for you.

Though you probably can’t believe this to be true, you aren’t yet fully emotionally developed. You haven’t yet reached an age where your rational self informs your emotional self. Instead, you are precariously perched in a place where you’ve gained some control over your emotions, which makes you believe that you’ve gained full control over your emotions. The trouble is that, in this phase of life, you are particularly vulnerable to manipulation, especially when it comes in the form of a young love drama where the leads are played by extremely attractive actors who exhibit fairytale-like qualities.

As the leads in the film face premature mortality, he loves her so sacrificially, so extravagantly, that her cynical heart softens again to the idea of loving and being loved. The movie portrays every young girl’s dream to find a (hot) guy to see past all her faults, all that she believes makes her unworthy of being loved, and loves her into something beautiful.

So in this particular story, when the self-protective shell around her heart finally cracks, the two unwed teens express their love to one another…passionately…horizontally…in a bed. By this point, the (emotionally fragile) audience is so manipulated by the story that they not only excuse the blatantly immoral activity but almost welcome it, expect it, as if the two young lovers deserve the pleasure of sex because of their unfair condition, regardless of whether it is right or wrong.

kiss

I know. I know. You think I don’t want you to see this movie because I think that you will rush out and sleep with the first guy who treats you well. I think more of you than that.

But here’s what I do fear: compromise. I fear that in order to see this film you will have to suspend your convictions and what you know to be right.

I fear that, while it may be difficult to suspend your convictions this time, it will be less difficult next, and the next. I fear for you a slow descent in to captivity to sin, because this is how captivity to sin happens. Repetitive compromise, de-sensitivity, willing participation.

I know some of what lies ahead for you. I know that while you haven’t experienced much in the way of temptation, sexual or otherwise, you will. It’s coming. And when it comes, it will come with a vengeance. And when you face temptation, what I want for you is the ability to resist. What you practice NOW when the stakes are small is what will prepare you to accomplish THEN when the stakes are huge.

My love, don’t rehearse compromise, because if there is one thing I know, compromise always has a cost.

So while you are mine, even if it means I have to make you cry, no, you cannot go see that movie.

-Mom

I Am Woman, I Am Invincible, I am Tired

By: Gail Armatys

HeartSong Life Coach

I didn’t know it, but I was in need of a Calgon moment.

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Some of us certainly remember the product and the commercials that began running in the 70’s. If you were born in the 80’s it could ‘ring a bell’ because you vaguely remember telling your mom you think she needs one of those moments. (Probably not a good move.) If you are younger than that, well it’s what you and Wikipedia might call ‘vintage’.

Calgon, a bath product, was supposed to make you feel like you were living in the lap of luxury – not a care in the world. The tag line was, ‘Take me away, Calgon’. And it was spoken as though the harried momma crying out these words knew a quiet bath with Calgon was the last, good hope for her life to go on. That moment in the tub, with the bubbles, the scent, the soft water – that was the Calgon moment!

A Moment of Another Kind

I’d been working on a project that had a self-imposed deadline. The more I attempted to accomplish the work, the greater the barriers, hurdles, obstacles, the devil and his pranksters – they all kept me stuck – one after another. Day after day, nothing I did or tried was working. Computers, ideas, those helping me.  Nothing was coming together.

My frustration was mounting but all the while, believing God would fill me in on the details, I managed to keep going. Trying a different route – a new way. I am good at persevering but the mountain I built and that was mine to climb kept getting steeper. I was starting to STRESS!

It’s become very clear to me over the years that while I do not stress much, when I do it manifests itself in a rather passive way as more of a physical, internal tenseness. Do you know what I mean?  I usually don’t take it out on the cat or the dog. The husband?  Maybe.  Well, this time – the husband – definitely.

In a one minute phone call that my hubby took time to make in order to see how he could help; I lost it.  Nothing directed at him.  But every tiny bit of frustration came blowing toward him – out of my mouth like a cannon.  BAM!

Funny thing. My husband knows about Calgon moments, and he also knew I needed one. He had hinted at it. Our dog probably knew it.  And the cat, well of course, cats are not only above everything but they know everything. So she knew it. I knew it, too.

In a moment, my frustration sprayed like shrapnel – brief as it was.  Thankfully, no damage was done. The apology was quickly given and well received. But it wasn’t over. I had basically just been loud for a few long seconds. The momentum of my project hadn’t changed…until God saw to it mine did.

God In Control

My special momentum – changing moment came in the form of a 24 hour flu bug with headache, nausea, and fever. I was made totally incapacitated for a day.  I hurt so badly that I couldn’t stress about anything.  There would be no work or frustration about the work not working.  I couldn’t control it.  I was finally in rest mode.  Made to be still.

This, my friends, was my Calgon, take me away, moment.  Not like the commercial at all.

Be still, and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalms 46:10

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Here’s the reality of it: God knew all about our need for Calgon moments long before Calgon began its advertising campaign. And, he knows precisely when to for much needed moments of rest if we don’t take the opportunity to do so ourselves.

As I lay feeling crummy with a cool rag on my head, body shivering, and head pounding, I slept. Interestingly enough, it was the best sleep I’d had for awhile. Not surprising though. That’s how our loving God works. He graciously gives us the freedom to make our choices, politely suggests and nudges, and when necessary allows some stress or pain in – or even lets us cause our own – until we come to a place where all we can do is rest…in him.

Stressful situations, decisions, issues – big or small, he knows what we need and resting in him is at the top of the list. We can even do it in the tub with a little Calgon. Just be still. Rest.

Thanking God For Our Calgon Moments

Oh, and one more thing. We may be familiar with the ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ part of Psalms 46:10.  Rarely, though, do we hear the end of the scripture.  ‘I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ Maybe what he is telling us is this:  Not only are we to take time to stop and rest in the knowledge that he is, after all, God but also that he is in control and on our side. And for that, we shall praise his name.

Purpose Prayer

Father, thanks for always being on the lookout for us.  For leading us and nudging us  this way and that – and for stopping us when all we really need is to rest and know that you are in control.  We praise you for that and for your love, grace, and mercy that take us away with you so we may know you more and come back refreshed ready to follow you in our journey.

Purpose Steps

  1. Recognize and write down what/who is stressing you.
  2. Ask yourself why the source of the stress affects you?
  3. Take time to be alone with God.  Rest. Be still.
  4. In faith, pray for wisdom, knowledge and breakthrough, releasing control of the situation to God.
  5. Praise God for answered prayer, that he is in control, and for Calgon moments.

Listen to Your HeartSong:

Click Here: Be Still My Soul (in You I Rest)/Kari Jobe 

Live the Song Written on Your Heart.

 

15 Days From Mess to Restoration

Written by: Vivian Wilson

After 15 days, but who’s counting, they finished (and on time I might add). It was a MESS! My daily routine was so interrupted I felt displaced in my own home.

OK. I’ll explain. Twelve years ago we added additional living space to accommodate my mother-in-law who came to live with us until she went home to be with the Lord two years ago. The drought we had two years ago caused the new part of my house to “settle” which caused some “cracks” to appear in the sheet rock.

Room Addition

So I hired a company to repair the walls. These men were skillful, faithful to arrive on time and work diligently all day. They did not rush through the job but took pride in their craft desiring to do a good job.. But in this process of repair it was necessary for them to move all the furniture away from the walls, remove all wall hangings, cover the floors with brown paper, and cover everything else with clear plastic. There was a fine coat of dust all over everything.

The area that they were working on was the part of the house in which I “lived”. So I moved upstairs. At first it wasn’t a big deal because I was glad the repairs were being done and I was looking forward to the finished work. But as the days wore on, I became more and more uneasy and unsettled because I stopped looking forward to the beautiful end result of the work in progress. I began to be consumed by my discomfort and inconvenience.

I didn’t want to sleep upstairs, I wanted to be in my own bed. I wanted to sit in my “blue chair” to have my quiet time and drink my coffee. I didn’t want to walk on dusty brown paper. I was tired of lifting clear plastic in order to get my clothes out of dresser drawers. I didn’t want to walk around ladders and furniture in my closet. I wanted my “normal” life back.

Isn’t this a picture of life as a child of God sometimes? Life can be “messy’. We go through difficult times; we are promised that we will have trouble.

John 16:33  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

There are times when it seems everything is out of place and not as it should be, times when we feel out of place. We experience times of inconvenience and sometimes grow weary of “adjusting” to circumstances trying to make the best of them.

But as always, we have a choice: we can focus on the “mess” or we can focus on the finished work. The truth is that as humans we all have “cracks”, we all are broken. But God is skilled at repairing brokenness and restoring his beloved children to wholeness.

Philippians 1:6  “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry ti on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.

This takes a while, (more than 15 days), but in the end we will be beautiful and complete. God is faithful and on time, using his time to complete his work perfectly.

I, on the other hand, wasted time that I could have been content.  But because I was focused on me, I was not content or at peace.  Next time, and there will be a next time, I pray I will remember this lesson. At the end of the 15 days the walls are beautiful and worth all of the inconvenience. I am sitting in my “blue chair” as I write this admiring my perfect walls.

The next time life gets “messy” I will put my hope in the Lord. I will remember this is part of the process to make me whole and complete, lacking nothing. And I will spend my time in grateful praise to my Maker, my Healer, my Restorer, and my Lord.

James 1:2-4  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

A work in progress,

Vivian

The familiarity of living

Written by: Ms. O

There is something so comforting about familiarity. Perhaps it is because we are very well versed in something…tied to “something”…that is brings an instant recognition. It takes seconds…and it washes over you.

I don’t need to look…I don’t have to have more than one bite…I don’t even have to finish the bite…I just know. Janet Gonser…a wonderful friend of mine….makes the absolute best cinnamon rolls I have ever had…in my life…period. It takes me forever to finish that first bite…I don’t want to rush it…I have to savor it…because it truly is…manna from heaven.

When I hear the opening chords of “10,000 Reasons”…I go to another zone.  I am still listening…but it is more than hearing it…I am leaning into the words…the meaning…the pulling of my heart. It takes over my being…it is familiar…because it matches the calling of my soul…of what I want to live…daily. I can’t help but close my eyes…and live in to it.

There is something so all encompassing about the smell of the first cool front that rolls in…and I wait in anticipation for it to happen. What I love best is for it to come in during the night. In the morning I come to the back door….exhale all the air out of my lungs…swing open the door…and breathe in…literally…breath “it” in. The smell is so fresh…so crisp…so….Autumn. It never gets old…I can never rush it…it is a hesitation of love. It takes me back…I feel like I can still smell the leaves that fell off the tree in my front yard growing up in Delaware.

One thing…just one amongst many…that I love about Sunday mornings…is the familiar faces that come in. It is the gathering of God’s people…..my family by the blood of Christ…that makes me thank God that I can look left…right…center…and see someone that I have shared God’s love with. It is a touch of Heaven on Earth…and makes me glad I am part of that familiar.

Familiarity feeds the need to know that be are a part of something. It reminds us we are woven into the big picture…of memories that nurture us…and tie us to the past…as well as draw us into our future.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9

To know I belong to Him…to be reminded I am chosen…that He saw me and called me out of the darkness….. of my own making…that humbles me…never gets old. As I begin each day, I have my quiet time with God…that familiarity speaks to me…telling me those same Words of love…so that I am confident in whatever the day brings. In my joy…I feel HIS joy radiating through me…I can’t help but cry. When I am in the depths of sorrow…I am not allowed to feel alone…because of that fact…. I accept His familiar embrace.

I thank God that He wired me the way He did. I have triggers…that involve all my senses…just so that I am able to appreciate each and every gift from above. You are my familiar…Lord God Almighty…and I will ever praise You. Amen.

Because sometimes I’m just a fool, airing my own opinion

Written by: Amy Dalke

I have a tendency to judge people.

Which is not the most comfortable thing in the world for me to write on a blog. Especially on a church blog. I would prefer to tell you that I never act like I know all about the motives behind another’s behavior. Ever. Because Jesus talked about the speck in my brother’s eye and all that.

Yeah. Not so much.

Just this weekend, I really had a hankering to jump on a bandwagon, and run a person through the mud. Truth be told, I kind of wanted to throw them a verbal grenade on Facebook.

Woman using tablet pc

According to my own assessment, they were earning low marks on [my] Christian scoreboard, and I needed to let them know it.

Whoa. (Disgusting, I know.) That kind of attitude needed to come to a screeching halt before my mouth and my typing fingers took hold of it.

For starters, I don’t even know this person. We’ve never had a conversation. Not once have we sat down for coffee. (I don’t even know if he likes coffee.) (Which is hard to imagine, but whatever.)

My angry judgment of this person was based on speculation, opinion, and third hand information that circulated around the way he may or may not have handled a situation.

Since his way of handling it did not line up to my definition of “adequate” or “appropriate” or “right”, then I took it upon myself to determine what the quality of his  character must be.

I basically decided he was a jerk, because social media said so.

Interior Of An Empty Modern Courtroom

But on Saturday night, I realized something: I don’t know his story. 

Yes, I was aware of some facts, but only in part. And yet, the truth of a matter is more than loosely held bits of fact. The truth is not the sum of my opinion and your opinion.

In fact, when I don’t have full understanding of a situation, but I let my comments run amok anyway – then I’m just a fool airing my own opinion.

Proverbs 18:2: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

And wow, how often I play the fool’s part…

I am so thankful that our only true Judge is the one who sees every nook and cranny of our hearts. I know I’m a big time debtor to the grace of a God who doesn’t leave me in the hands of fault-ridden humans.

Aren’t we all? Not one of us would stand a chance.

When we receive the mind-boggling grace that God offers us in spite of our foolhardy ways, we are compelled to turn around and offer it likewise…to our neighbors; to our frenemies; and to everyone else in-between.

While our aim is certainly to seek justice and truth on behalf of the helpless, our angry words and mis-fired opinions might leave more of a mess than we intended.

Oh, to grace how great a debtor,

Daily I’m constrained to be…

Amy

Church Can Be a Beach Sometimes

Written by: James E. Thompson 

A couple of Sundays back I found myself sitting next to Missy at church. However, this church service was being held on the beach. We were in Destin visiting the Penningtons, and, as it was Sunday, we all went to church. We found out that a church held a service on the beach (it was just an added blessing that it happened to be a Methodist church).

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We were sitting on a white sandy beach that disappeared into bluish-green waves. There was a constant crashing of waves on the shore.  The sun was partially hidden behind clouds that hadn’t quite made up their minds if they were going to rain on us.  It was, well, awesome.  The speaker that morning was a youth intern who had asked her senior pastor for advice on the topic of her message. His reply was basically, “Does it really matter?  He was, in a funny way, reminding her that she will be standing before an amazing example of God’s creation. (I have a feeling he also reminded her to take up a collection).

So, as I was listening to the speaker, I couldn’t help but notice the other people on the beach.  It was hard not to notice them as they were passing directly behind where the cross, musicians, and audio equipment had been set up. I saw four groups of people:

  1. those who passed by with blinders on;
  2. those who seemed to be annoyed by our presence;
  3. those who were interested in what was going on but who were with others that fit into category 1 or 2; and
  4. those who joined us in worship.

Each group got me thinking.

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Group 1: These people had jogging/exercising that had to get done. It didn’t matter if the rest of us were worshiping God or sunbathing in Speedos.  They had a task to accomplish and our worshiping was not going to get in their way.

Group 2: These people made faces and seemed annoyed that they had to listen to a few minutes to our (off-key) singing as they walked by. Why should they have to hear such things? If they wanted to go to church, they would have!

Group 3: I felt bad these people. They seemed interested in joining us for worship, yet they were either unable or unwilling to express that interest to their companions. Meaning, they had a longing to participate but were going with the flow. And, that flow took them right on by.

Group 4: This category had one person in it. One lady who was walking by stopped and took a seat. She sang along and listened to the message.

At one time or another, I have been a member of all of these groups.

Group 1: I have sometimes put the emphasis on the “task” of being at church (on time) and have been less than Christ-like in “encouraging” my kids to get dressed and ready to go. “Where are your shoes?” “Why are you still not wearing shoes?” “Shoes, boy, shoes!” I put being “at church” above being a member of the church and reflecting Him in my actions.

Group 2: I have, on occasion, been put off by another’s worship of God in a setting that I was not expecting. It’s weird, but I have been annoyed by someone who has prayed or thanked God for something that I thought was minor or not worthy of thanking God. Really, James?

Group 3: I am guilty of not saying grace sometimes before a meal because I know I am with nonbelievers. Not only am I not giv[ing] thanks in all circumstances,” but I am wasting a chance to witness.

Group 4: I hope to be in this group more often than not. I want to take advantage of being with other believers, fellowship with them, and worship our God. In our lives, we will spend more time being a part of “the church” than we will be “in church”. [This statement does not apply to those on staff].

The whole experience reminded me of Matthew 18:20:

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

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Group 4 gets it. They get that we need not be in a building to worship and experience the presence of Christ.

In fact, one of the best examples of this verse is found in Luke 24. As the two men were walking to Emmaus they were talking and discussing the events after the resurrection. It was then that “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them.” He “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” A part of the story that I tend to overlook is the part where “as they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther.” The two men asked Jesus to stay and fellowship with them. And, Jesus did.

Wherever you and another member of “the church” find yourselves, worship Christ and he will be there….even the beach. And, even better, ask him to stay awhile.

JET