Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lost? Not Me!

I joke that everywhere I go off my normal route, I get lost. Actually, that’s not correct. I know exactly where I am. I just happen not to be in the right place. Roads in the Carolinas are notorious for not being adequately marked, nor do they follow any particular pattern. Despite the fact that I’ve lived here for almost 20 years, I still think I can “go around the block” to retrace my steps. That’s an old habit from living in Florida where the roads are marked numerically on square grids.
One day during spring break, Josh and I were going to the hospital to have lunch with James. After I dropped off my work, I discovered we had about 15 minutes to kill. No problem, I said, let’s run up to the library just a few blocks from the hospital. I couldn’t turn left out of the parking lot we were in due to heavy traffic, so I said, let’s “go around the block.” Ha! That was my first mistake. The second mistake was that I was driving our Ford Ranger instead of my minivan. Because I get lost so easily, I rely on the compass in my minivan. I guess that’s the pioneer and Indian moxie in my blood. If I’m truly lost and know the general direction I’m supposed to be traveling, I can usually find my way back.
After making several turns, convinced that we were getting closer to the library, I realized I was lost. Terribly lost. We were in a part of Anderson I’m not familiar with. Josh kept saying, “Turn around and go back.” I assured him it would make matters worse, because I had made so many turns I knew I couldn’t backtrack. Finally, a landmark—the Independent Mail newspaper building, which meant we were on the outskirts of town. But—I knew how to get back.
I started laughing. “Hey, Josh, you’ll never guess where we’re going to come out.” Sure enough, we ended up north of where we had started, after traveling south from our original position. He said, “You’re nuts, you know that?” Yep. I do. I reminded him he always has an adventure with me, and we had killed the 15 minutes.
If only I’d had my compass.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Are You Hungry?

Have you ever really been hungry? I remember as a child being hungry. Not malnourished hungry, but stomach-growling, longing-for-the-next-meal hungry. In our household of nine, we ate at meal times and there was enough for one helping. On rare occasions, when money wasn’t so tight, my mom would bake a pan of brownies or a cake, but that was usually for a birthday or special occasion. This got better in my teen years as my older siblings grew up and moved out, and I worked and had money of my own to spend. But we never had the overabundance of food that is available now. There were times I ate things I shouldn’t have just to stop the embarrassing grumbling of my stomach. Doing so never really made the hunger go away. When I got married 29 years ago, I weighed 103 pounds.
There’s an even worse hunger we can experience than physical hunger—spiritual hunger. A longing in your soul for the God-shaped void to be filled, as mathematician Blaise Pascal expressed it. Some seek to fill the void with things they shouldn’t, and each time they walk away still hungry.
C.S. Lewis once said, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
What are you trying to fill your emptiness with today? Come and dine at the Master’s table and walk away full!
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35

Thursday, May 19, 2011

While I'm Waiting

Waiting. Tom Petty sang about it. The Bible encourages doing it patiently. And most of us complain about it.
Let’s face it. Americans want everything now. Computers become obsolete the moment we purchase them because a faster one is on the horizon. Microwaves, instant messaging, rapid tax refunds, and fast food—it seems nothing requires waiting anymore.
Except life itself.
We wait at the doctor’s office and in line at the grocery store. We wait for payday, the weekend, vacation, Christmas, job promotions or raises, or the perfect mate. We wait for babies to be born, 5:00 to come every day, and dinner to be served. In my household, we are waiting for school to end!
Let’s face it—life is all about waiting, but we don’t wait patiently.
The book of Lamentations in the Bible often gets a bad rap for being depressing. However, when I’m in a holding pattern, its verses are comforting.
Lamentations 3:17-26 states,
         I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is, So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.” I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
         Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those who hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
Can I get an amen?  
God wants us to learn how to wait. More importantly, He wants us to wait WITH Him. As a friend once told me—live in the “yet.” We spend a lot of time in transition, in trials, in the valleys, and while we're waiting on God, He is waiting WITH us.
My sister Teresa is a good example of a person who waits with God. Her plane has been circling the airport for years waiting for the “all clear” to land. She’s a modern day Job without the body sores. I’ve caught glimpses of despair but never lack of faith, on her part. I’m not with her all the time, so I don’t know if she shakes her fist at God in low moments, but if I were a betting person, I’d bet against it. However, God can take our frustration and despair. He can take the “why me?”
I’ve watched and prayed with Teresa as satan has launched one attack after another, and despite the attacks, she has experienced spiritual growth. Recently, in His grace and mercy, God has granted her respite with answered prayer. In the midst of her troubles, a Christian man walked into her life. After being widowed for six years, Teresa is now happily married again. It didn’t make her other problems go away, but now she has a helpmate. Waiting has its virtues.
One of my favorite contemporary Christians songs is While I’m Waiting, by John Waller. The lyrics seem to pop into my mind when I need them most.
“I’m waiting on you Lord, and I am peaceful, I’m waiting on you Lord, though it’s not easy…I will serve you while I’m waiting, I will worship while I’m waiting, I will wait.”
Christian growth comes during periods of waiting, not in fulfillment. God’s timetable and solutions are perfect. Are you waiting for God to answer a prayer? My prayer is that you’ll experience and rely on God’s grace while you wait.
E-mail me with your prayer requests. Click on my profile on the right for contact information.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tough as Ketchup?

Am I the only one who finds the new fast food Heinz ketchup packets annoying? I’m not Hercules, yet wrestling the tops off those packets takes more strength than my hands have, apparently. My other favorite is cosmetic products. Just when I get comfortable with a shade of lipstick or eye shadow, the manufacturer decides to discontinue it for a new, improved shade. Just once, I wish a corporation would leave products alone and quit trying to improve them.
People are different. Or at least they should be.
I don’t consider myself an open book. I’m a listener, not a talker. But I’ve met a few people in my lifetime who have tough exteriors. Turtle shell tough, in fact. Much like the ketchup packet, figuring out the “way in” is a challenge. No matter how much you try to crack their exterior, their packaging seems unbreakable.
In studying the Bible, a unique quality about strength is apparent. Real strength comes from God—not from the walls we create for ourselves. As we open ourselves up to God’s strength, joy becomes the other part of the couplet.
Psalm 28:7 states, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped, My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.”
Instead of putting effort into our product packaging, maybe striving for product improvement is where it is, after all. Let God be your strength and shield. The freedom you experience in your spirit will be immeasurable.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Two Michaels

I’ve always thought the essence of life is to love, laugh, and leave my corner of the world a better place than when I joined it. To this end, I live with urgency and the belief that longevity is not granted to everyone and is not guaranteed to me. Urgency—a motivator and a cross.
Maybe the true essence of life is greater than that. In fact, maybe it’s defined by those who come in and out of our lives, leaving their mark and making us better.
To pick up where I left off yesterday, the obituary of my friend Michael was what I expected. You see, Michael was a simple guy. I learned this in kindergarten. He reminded me somewhat of my Grandpa Curran, dressed simply but neatly, well mannered, and shy. They carried themselves similarly. For those of you who knew both men, you understand the analogy.
One of my earliest memories of Michael was in first grade when we would go to the library over in the big green schoolhouse. (Kindergarten and first grade were housed in a smaller building.) The library was on the second floor. Not to belittle the culture I grew up in, but we were mostly na├»ve country kids. Some of us had never seen stairs in real life. When we stood at the bottom of those stairs, Michael started crying. The amicable little boy who always had a smile on his face stood there, refusing to budge. We all stood behind him, single file, waiting for the teacher to do something—anything—to solve the problem. After all, she was the teacher, which put her just a step below God, right? We waited for what seemed like forever until she finally coaxed him up the stairs, and we followed along.
Unfortunately, we repeated the same ritual on the way back down. We eventually became seasoned veterans of those stairs, but it was an early sign that Michael wasn’t keen on what the world insisted he do or become. He did not want to be forced out of his comfort zone. But this was a little boy being raised by his grandmother because his parents were dead.
In third grade, Michael asked me to be his girlfriend. He was my friend, but I wanted no part of the whole girlfriend-boyfriend thing. After all, we were eight. I’m sure I hurt him, though he tried to be stoic about it. 
The high school years saw most of us scattered into cliques to which kids tend to gravitate. With Newberry and Archer elementary merging into one, it was easy to get lost in the crowd. I often passed him in the hallway or outside, but we weren’t close friends. Our worlds had grown apart.
Fast forward almost 20 years. Engrossed in my own life of raising children and working, life was hectic. We had moved from Florida to North Carolina and I lost touch with many old friends. One day my mom called. She had Michael’s address. He wondered if I’d write him. (This is the point where I’d like to offer encouragement. When someone makes a simple request, take the time to fulfill it.) I sat down and wrote him a letter and within about a week, I had a reply. I pulled the single sheet of notebook paper out of the envelope, and Michael’s schoolboy handwriting greeted me. He seemed happy. I believe he said he was working in a Wal-Mart warehouse, though almost ten years later, I can’t remember specifically. I wrote again and sent a Christmas card for a couple of years, but then we lost contact again. I occasionally got updates from my mom who saw him in Publix supermarket from time to time. Having relocated to South Carolina, I’d lost his address. I found him on Facebook about a year ago, but his page seemed inactive. By that point, his health was so bad, I’m not sure how much he utilized it, anyway. I messaged him a couple of times but never got a reply.
I could share some other things, but I won’t. He wasn’t the same after his grandmother passed. I prefer to think of Michael as my childhood friend, smiling and happy—and not his final years.
You might be wondering—Who’s the other Michael I alluded to in the title? When I scanned over the obituary page, two things struck me. Success is measured by your ability to pay for accolades at the end of your life. There were two Michaels, both age 45, both Florida natives, who passed within a day of each other. One obituary, Newberry, FL – Michael Wayne Frier, age 45, maintenance, passed away on April 28, 2011. This took a half inch to print. The other obituary spanned a seven-inch column. Their lives played out very differently. Some may say our Michael grew up disadvantaged, raised by his grandmother in a small, rural town, and chose to stay there. But something about him captivated my heart from the beginning. In my opinion, success is the ability to leave a lasting impression on those you leave behind.
Which leads me to my second observation. No matter how the world measures our successes, we all leave this world alone. And then God takes measure of us.
Godspeed, my old friend.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An Angel, Perhaps?

I’m rarely stunned by generosity, but last Friday it happened. I’d chased rabbit trails all week in search of an obituary of an old friend in Florida and had about given up. At 4:00 on Friday afternoon, when everyone was watching the clock, ready for the weekend, an angel named Heather who works for the Gainesville Sun came to my rescue.
After a flurry of e-mails back and forth in which she explained the reason the obit wasn’t online was because the family didn’t or couldn’t pay for it, she offered to send it to me. I hated to type the line I was thinking but had to—would there be a charge? It would be lame of me to assume there wasn’t one—and I’ve been charged ridiculous prices in the past for copies of documents at other businesses.
No charge. Friday afternoon and Heather pulled the obit. And not just one.
I opened my mailbox today and there sat an oversized envelope from the Gainesville Sun. Four copies of the obituary page were enclosed. They weren’t printed off Heather’s computer. She had pulled the copies from the newspapers.
Tomorrow, I’ll share my feelings on how a person’s life can be summed up in three lines, but today I’ll bask in the generosity of someone who cared about what mattered to me.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Things Above

Life has a way of knocking us down. I’ve found this to be particularly true when life comes at me from all angles—except for the one above. This has everything to do with my focus, not God’s. While I’m busy changing hats of responsibility, the more overwhelmed I become, the more likely grumbling is to set in. Not where you can see or hear it—but in my soul. A vicious cycle ensues of dissatisfaction with the world around me, coupled with fallible humans who insist on being fallible humans. What else can we be?
One of my favorite Bible passages is Colossians 3:1-2, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
Or, as we say in the South, “Get over yourself.” This passage looks you squarely in the eye and refuses to let you blink. As soon as I redirect my mindset from the people and circumstances around me and fix my eyes only on God, life snaps back into perfect focus. My priorities become orderly. My soul is calmed.
While I’m under no illusion that life isn’t waiting around the corner to give me another swift kick in the derriere—purposeful living with my heart fixed above helps me get over myself.
What earthly problem has you down today? If you’d like me to pray for you, click on my profile to get to my e-mail link.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Entertaining Angels

Last week billions of people around the world tuned in to watch the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. No doubt, if any one of us had the chance to rub elbows with a member of the royal family, we’d be on our best behavior, serve them with our finest china, and basically accommodate them beyond our means.
Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I’ve ever entertained an angel. A few who weren’t, perhaps. And maybe that’s the gist of this verse. Entertaining angels is easy. It’s the strangers, co-workers, or friends with the little horns growing out of their head that try our patience.
The next time one of these little devils show up in your life, remember that “through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.” (Hebrews 13:15).
Praising God through his Son doesn’t change your circumstances, but it always changes the condition of the heart. And who knows? Maybe one day, you’ll find yourself in the presence of a real angel.
Give it a try!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Simple Words

I received news this week of an old friend's passing. Ironic how loss can stir up memories and the knowledge that even the simplest acts in life may have a profound impact on those around you.

Deuteronomy 6:5-7 states, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commands that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."

Simple words. Powerful message.

How does your words effect those around you? I pray that through this blog, my words will be an encouragement, a source of hope and strength to those who read them.

I want to hear from you, if you need a particular word of encouragement or have a prayer request.