2018 – Forward

My one word for 2018 is forward.

My key scripture for 2018 is Philippians 3: 12-14 in the ESV version:

Not that I have already attained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Did you name your year?

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New Year’s Day 💝

I’m a Christian, and I spent some quiet time with the Holy Spirit early this morning, before anyone else was awake. This is my favorite thing in life–actually, it is my lifeline, but I neglect it in the busy mess. I find that I have to discipline myself, so I built a listening time, followed by a honest me time, into my quiet time method. I have to practice listening, shutting out everything else, and being real with Him about what is on my heart. The rewards far outweigh the effort, because this time can become intimate, and meet my deepest needs.

There is so much more, but I wanted to quickly leave you with the latest song that I’ve had on repeat at times in 2017, because this song’s artist is one of the things going in the box for 2018. I’ll be purging her from my playlist, except maybe when on a long drive and needing to stay awake, but more (hopefully) on that, later.

When I met my husband, I was only 15, but the first words out of my mouth when I first saw him were, “I would marry that man.” And even as I uttered those words to a friend (who claimed she saw him first) I wondered why I said them. But they came true.

There have been four decades of life in between that moment and now. That’s a lot of life…good, bad, beautiful and ugly. Those decades were filled with countless ordinary moments.

A reviewer for this song said it was about finding love in the ordinary things of life. But it spoke to me on a deeper level, about sticking it out through thick and thin. And that’s been the story of our marriage.

When we started out, the odds weren’t good for us. In addition to being young, I was also an emotional train wreck. And worse yet, I was not walking with God. But I quickly turned to God in the rough moments of marriage, tearfully reciting a laundry list of issues about my husband, until one day, I heard a still, small voice seem to say, in my mind, “Don’t come back to Me in prayer until you’re willing to pray for Me to change this marriage starting with you.”

Ouch. I didn’t think God understood my dilemma, but of course, He did, and perfectly.

In time, I was willing to pray that prayer, and in time, we made it.

And as the song says, I wanted my husband’s midnights, but the true love was found in those countless moments of cleaning up on New Year’s Day.

Not bottles, but life.

And finally, on repeat today, my favorite rendition of a classic melody for New Year’s Eve:

From me to you, happy new year, and may God bless you abundantly in 2018.

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The Day the Streak Died 🔥

It’s been about 2 months since my stepmom died, and I know this because of my Snapchat streak. This won’t make sense until I tell you a story:

Once upon a time, there was a fifty-something who decided to challenge herself, broaden her horizons and learn how to use Snapchat, the cool app only younger people were using. This adventure was unusual for someone her age, and it got her written up in the Wall Street Journal.

This fifty-something drug her daughter along on the journey, and together, they learned what a hot streak on Snapchat was. They cherished their hot streak, because it meant they had snapped each other every day for that many days, and shared even more miles of life together.

This past summer was hard for the fifty-something and for her daughter, too. There were sad, dark times for them both. But still, they kept their Snapchat streak going. They encouraged each other every day.

And then (suddenly and in one awful week) it became apparent that the fifty-something’s angel-in-the-shape-of-her-mom was going to die. Still, they encouraged each other. And on the day the angel did die, it occurred to the fifty-something that she had not sent her daughter a snap that day, so she went sadly into the backyard of her parents’ home and sent it. And she didn’t think anymore about it until the next day when she opened her Snapchat app and the streak was gone.

Once she thought it through, the answer to the mystery became clear. Mobile service at her parents’s house is spotty at best, and the snap timed out and never actually sent. So, the Snapchat streak died on the day her angel did.

As the sun peeked over the horizon the next day, the fifty-something and her daughter decided to start a new Snapchat streak. They call it the hope rising streak.

They still encourage each other every day.  And their new streak is still going strong.

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The End 

The Beginning…

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Supermarket Flowers 💐

Sometimes, I sort things out with my pen. And although the world feels strangely silent right now, I want to talk about the song, and how it rang out from the hush.

(I tremble as I type.)

This summer, I spent extra time with my step-mom, Carol. We go way back.

In fact, we go back 38 years or more, because that’s how long ago Carol and my dad got married and brought a rag-tag bunch of us together and started fighting for them to become a family. They fought hard, and no-one fought harder than she did.

One sunny day in July, Carol and I were having lunch at our favorite spot, and she became quite dizzy. The kind employees there knew us well, and they surrounded her, getting her water, asking how they could help.

(They were angels.)

Some of them sat with her, and some of them stood, and I steadied myself on the back of her chair and did what I sometimes do: I just talked to lighten the mood and pass the time. I was giving her time to sip and to recover, and I could see the worry on the faces around me.

I told stories, and they were funny stories of experiences with Carol. We laughed and she laughed and she slowly recovered, and we went on our way. But in the next week, I thought about those stories, and I had a new revelation.

(All of my stories are about her.)

When I say that, I mean no disrespect to my biological mother, who died in 1985, but fell ill in 1961. In many ways, she was unable to mother from my beginning, but of course, I loved her.

I’ve known for years that Carol was God’s gift to this mostly-motherless child, but this revelation was different.

(I struggle to explain in the stillness, but almost all of my stories are about her.)

Carol and I didn’t exactly start out well, because I was a confused mess, and that’s being generous, but long ago we melted into each other’s arms and we forgave and we accepted each other for what we were: mother and daughter. And I changed and became an almost totally new person. And she changed too, I think.

(This is just a tiny slice of the bigger story, which is, as always, a God one.)

This summer, I got to do ordinary things for my step-mom, which was an honor. But it was hard, and I didn’t want to do it, because of the pain.

(It hurt brutally to see her unwell.)

But years ago, I accepted that the hard is what makes it great, and although I hate pain, that line from a Tom Hanks movie helped me get up off the shower floor after my sister’s suicide and go on living. And my pastor recently reminded me that sometimes it’s supposed to be hard, and I needed to hear it.

Carol died last week. In fact, we just buried her a few, short days ago. And during her final demise, this Ed Sheeran song rose out the the dust like petals rising into the fall breeze and swirling away.

I loved the song, and I hated it, and its haunting melody floated above the room filled with flowers at her funeral. I played it on repeat in my driveway one night…the night I came home from the vigil at the end, went inside and hit play on T Swift’s new stuff and drug down the cooking liqueur to see how much it would take, and I don’t drink.

(It didn’t take much.)

But that night, the sweet, thick liquid that I usually make holiday chocolate mousse with, and that I had to ice and water down to swallow, served as medicine, and I danced with attitude and cried and tried to block the song out.

But the song wouldn’t be silenced, and I made my way upstairs, the last one to bed, and now, it is something I play on occasion to smile and to remember and to be thankful. And yes, of course, to cry.

(The song has meaning for me on so many levels.) 

That’s a tidbit our family’s story, and there’s so much more, about how God was sweet through it all, and harsh when I needed a Job-style dressing down, and so many things, but how in the end, He was what he Is.

(He was faithful.)

I’ll stop now and let you listen to the song.

Goodbye, my sweet Carol. You were an angel in the shape of my mom. You forgave me when I didn’t deserve it and you loved me like I was your own. 

And I’ll miss you.

 

 

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Walking Though the Fire 🔥

God is rocking me to the core of my existence, which (strangely) is a process I welcome. I’m just trying not to miss any memos.

I’ve learned that fire can be good, because the heat brings to the surface things that need to be dealt with. If I’ll take those things to God, and be honest about them, He skims them off and I’m that much closer to love, joy, and peace. If I don’t, even when the heat dies down, those things just settle back down in the muck. They don’t go away, and when things heat up the next time, there they are again, leering at me and at others. 

One thing I’m seeing in this period of fire is that a communication problem in our family culture has filtered down to our children and caused damage. I can’t, as a Christ-follower, let this spiritual disaster continue.

Of course, I can’t go back either, so there’s no need for despair. But I can address things from this point on, as far as I’m concerned, and as best as I can.

It’s hard. It hurts. And I hate pain.

But today, I say bring it. I want to get better in a way that helps the people around me and brings glory to the Lover of my soul, Jesus Christ. Without Him, I’d quite literally be dead. 

So for starters, I’m clinging for life to God, the Three-In-One, who is my only hope for any of it. (Picture a child holding on to Daddy’s leg.) And I’m stumbling along, often failing, but listening and learning and applying. I’ll try to remember to stop by here from time to time and share my lessons. 😄

One thing I know, dear fellow sojourners, is that in Christ, no matter what, we can do this thing called life. I just have to remember, doggedly, even when weaving through the smoke, that it starts with walking with Him, every day, just for the pleasure of it. And on that, I can’t ever give up.

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On repeat today, to help with my lessons: Say by John Mayer. I’ve always liked John Mayer’s music, even though I don’t usually listen to him much. But this song is one I keep coming back to, from time to time. His voice is gravelly butter, with a satisfying hint of drawl in his delivery. He’s an excellent guitarist and a good lyricist and songwriter. The teenager-for-a-few-more-weeks especially likes his newest stuff. 

“Even if your hands are shaking…and your faith is broken. Even as the eyes are closin’…do it with a heart wide open. 

Say what you need to say…”

 

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So Much…

Since an internal change 17 years ago, my call is to focus on my end of things in human conflict. This is incredibly difficult, but it’s my only hope and responsibility.  In this process, I am forced to face real truth. And sometimes truth about yourself hurts.

But if I don’t face real truth, the problem just gets worse. Eventually, it creates hatred, un-forgiveness and bitterness. These things can cause sickness, either of my body or of my mind, or both. And the worst part is that if I remain in this state, I also cause pain and damage to those around me. So for everyone’s benefit, and for God’s glory, I can’t let a spiritual disaster of this nature continue.

Today, as always, I realize I have so much to work on that it’s overwhelming. But submitting to the work yields results like love, joy, and peace. Why would I resist good things like these? Because I don’t like pain, and the work is hard. I don’t want to look in the mirror.

It’s painful to even type these words, but I type them to stretch myself and hold myself accountable.

Today, I’m thankful for this process, so I’d better stop typing and get busy. I have a lot of work to do.

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When You Grump At the Courtesy Caller

Well, I did it again. I went off for a week and had a whooping-good time, and got behind on my home budget system. Some of my bills went past due, and the fees started hitting and piling up.

Sigh.

Today, a bright-faced (she sounded bright-faced) courtesy caller from Charter Internet called to thank me for my recent payment, and to inform me that my new balance was $77.14 and would be due on the 28th.

Wait, what? My monthly bill is $64.99, and the balance sounded too high, but I was going from memory, so she started pulling up my account records, and I logged in, also. We sorted it out, but not before I told her how it sucked that they sock it to poor, innocent people who go out of town for a week and live life in the hamster wheel upon returning, and are just minding their own business.

Right.

I was courteous in tone, mind you, but in my heart, I was absolutely furious. And at that bright-faced caller, who is someone’s daughter or sister or wife or friend and who is just trying to make a living at a calling center.

Double sigh.

I quickly asked God’s forgiveness in my heart, based on Jesus’s sacrifice, and apologized to her, and she kind of stammered that she was just being, you know…courteous in calling. And she really was. She offered to call me near the 28th to remind me that my payment was due.

I told her thank you, that I had a system, but that I just got off kilter because of a trip out of town, coupled with crazy life. I told her all of this was certainly not her fault.

And to think that the only eternal thing I have dealt with this morning so far was that caller…

She wished me a good day, and I thanked her and wished her the same, and hopefully, we will both have one.

Here is the point: Yes, I have a system, but obviously, it needs improvement. And the only one who can do that is me. I’d better get started.

So why did I get angry in my heart at that cheerful caller, who was just doing her job? It doesn’t matter how courteous I sounded on the outside. I got mad at her because I was born with a sin problem on the inside. It’s my default button, every day. And before Jesus came to this earth to offer Himself as the solution to that problem, there was no answer.

Thankfully, now there is, and I know and follow Him. So the answer to my ugly problem is always just a prayer away.

Thank You, Jesus, for being my Answer.

18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.

Matthew 15: 18-19, ESV

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