A MOTTO TO INSPIRE

Don’t dislike me, but I’m one of those people who likes to make New Year’s resolutions. I guess because I have a tendency to forget things, I like to make a mental list every January to work on a few improvements.

Last year I created a catchy directive for myself, “Don’t put it down; put it up!” In fact, it was one of my first posts here on the blog. So how did that go for me? Since I’ve been in a decluttering mode for a couple of years, I’d say that motto served me well. I intend to keep using it until it has become truly habitual with me.

And now for 2017, I wanted something more along spiritual lines to help keep me on track where it matters most. It’s day seven into the New Year so I was happy when the thought came to me, “Focus on Forever”.

Last year’s motto inspired me to try and conquer stacks and bins of things. I like to do crafts of various kinds so I do tend to collect and accumulate artsy things for these projects. Maybe it didn’t seem a very spiritual motto but it was just what I needed to bring a little more order.

I’ve learned that God is the God of order. It would be impossible to be more organized than He is, so I’ve been trying to learn more about keeping an organized home. Believe me, for a wannabe artistic type, that is a big order! But it is so worth it to invest in making sure there is “a place for everything, and…”, you know how it goes, “everything in its place!”

Our nation has come through a most difficult year in many important ways. One cannot help but see how life and death are so unpredictable. I want to be a person who prepares for whatever lies ahead. In matters of eternity, I’ve been doing that for a long time already. Perhaps you have too.

More than just keeping my focus right, I long to be an inspiration to others who want their motivation to be linked to things that last. Home and family were the first institutions God gave us and will always be important. If we can organize ourselves in those areas, we can raise our vision to the places beyond.

When we were raising our family abroad, it was essential to me that our children identify with our homeland. I took family photos and seasonal decorations to help remind us of what was happening “back home”.

How much more should we now want to remind ourselves of our new citizenship in heaven, and of what is happening up there!

It’s so easy to let our earthly calendars dictate our activities and focus. We want to keep up with all the necessary appointments and events, after all. We should be especially protective of the holidays inspired by our Christian faith and when possible do a little research to regain any spiritual significance that may have been lost.

One of the ways I plan to keep my Focus on Forever is to ask myself if upcoming activities or events contribute to something lasting and meaningful, either in our inner growth and development or those of others near us. I pray to be especially sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration in the coming days.

Especially helpful biblical verses like this one,
“The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of
God lives forever.” 1 John 2:17 New International Version.

Would you like for your days to be a little more meaningful? I would love to hear what your ideas, questions and comments are as you too, “Focus on Forever”.

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EASTER & CHRISTMAS-EQUALLY IMPORTANT

Some Christians feel Easter should be celebrated just as much as Christmas, if not even more. While the birth of the baby Jesus was and is true cause for an all-out celebration, the whole reason He came that long-ago starry night was ultimately to die. For our sins.

When you think of what happened on Resurrection morning over 2,000 years ago, well, it really is an amazing victory against the sin that held the world captive. The spotless Lamb of God was willing for the hideous sins of the whole human race, from Adam to the last human being to ever be born, to be laid upon Him. Willing to endure abusive insults, unbearable cruelty and a tortuous death on the cross.

Christ Jesus was not just a martyr. He was the only possible sacrifice for all mankind of all ages. His death was more than just a crying shame. It was God the Son laying down His life that He might bring many to repentance.

Beyond all that, Christ Jesus rose in victorious radiant life from the cold, still paralysis of death. Resurrection brought the Godhead’s redemptive plan full circle. Mercy triumphed over judgment. Light triumphed over darkness. Jesus’ redeeming blood triumphed over sin. When He rose up from the tomb, He triumphed over death and hell.

We love to celebrate Christmas in our family. Whether setting up a nativity in the warm summer of Christmas in South America or stringing lights out in the cold temps of the Midwest, we sing the carols with gusto and gather to read aloud the wonderful Christmas story of that long-ago Babe in the manger.

This Spring I’ve been feeling the urge to celebrate Him as the Risen Lord. We have small gifts for all the family, just tokens really. But I felt it would elevate our Easter celebration to give a little something, like people often did in Bible times to show the joy of freedom.

There’s a saying we’ve all been hearing: Freedom isn’t free. Our soldiers lay their lives down to secure and ensure our nation’s freedom. Christ has done even more: His sacrifice secured eternal freedom from guilt, shame and sin. What is more, He purchased eternal life for us and a way for us to be present with Him in heaven.

Cause for celebration! Worship in His house with the local body of believers. Proclaim “He is risen!” and answer “He is risen indeed!” Let your voice lift a song of praise for His life, death and resurrection. Drink in the message of His amazing grace.

Then bring in the savory glazed ham with all the trimmings! Gather loved ones ’round the table and enjoy the gifts that are food, friends and family. Pull out the stops and let your spirit soar. Know that you are precious to the God of the Universe. He purchased your salvation so that you might be free.

No matter what is going on in the world around us on this weekend, we have just cause to celebrate with abandon. Jesus is alive forevermore and He is the soon-coming all-victorious King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Hallelujah!

SERENITY: A DREAM OR A LIFESTYLE?

Several days ago I came across my old copy of Richard J Foster’s book Freedom of Simplicity. Our younger daughter had read one of his other books, Celebration of Discipline for a university assignment, and had shared it with me. We both liked it so much that I bought another of his books.

This book on simplicity has been added to my devotional reading most mornings, and I find it more of a delight now than when I first read it years ago.  Funny how that works! I’m at a totally different stage now, and ready to simplify, if not minimize.

Foster tells of an experience he had in an airport awaiting his flight. Wanting to make good use of free moments, he had tucked among his things Thomas Kelly’s Testament of Devotion.  His attention was immediately caught by the description of an over-obligated, strained lifestyle. A ray of hope came from the following words, ” We have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power. If only we could slip over into that Center!”

Watching raindrops splash against the airport window, Foster felt his own tears fall down, dripping onto his coat. He was aware of being in a holy place, an altar, just the chair he sat on, as he quietly asked God to help him learn to say “No” when he should.

As we have lived many years in South America, and consequently speak “Castellano”, I’ve often half jokingly told my overly busy English-speaking friends that I knew a helpful Spanish word they could use to assist them. “It’s No”, I said, spoken with just a little extra emphasis. Unfortunately they often proceed to tell me how there is no one else to fill their shoes and they feel they must comply.

When we belong to Christ, not only do we live in His grace, we also become partakers of His nature.  This is a mind-blowing concept to me but I believe it so firmly because His Word assures us of the fact: in 2Peter 1:4 we’re told how the Lord has “given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption of the world through lust.” (NJKV) Wow! God wants to become our divine Center.

It has taken me a while to realize that every opportunity which is presented to me is not necessarily something that God in His wisdom intends for me personally. Some individuals are higher energy than others.  Maybe it’s their metabolism or it could be that they were raised to avail themselves of each and every opportunity. They seem to thrive on lots of activity, and their calendar reflects it.

Others, like Foster himself, find they function best when they “alternate between periods of intense activity and of comparative solitude.” They may begin a project or  activity “like a house a-fire” but after intense involvement takes its toll, they begin to burn out.  Like the Lord, we need to learn to retreat and experience the refreshing of the Lord. As Foster points out, “Peter tarried in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner. (Acts 9:43 ). And along our journey we need to discover numerous ‘tarrying places’ where we can receive heavenly manna.”

So it is important we examine every request for involvement of our energies, finances and time. We need to remind ourselves that saying “yes” to one things may mean saying “no” to something else.  We definitely want what God has purposed for us, and fitted us to accomplish. The Bible says “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31b (NKJV). That should be our goal and our purpose.

As Easter or Resurrection Sunday approaches, may we be especially attentive to all the ways the Lord chooses to speak to us. May we allow Him to be the divine Center in our minds, our hearts and our schedules. May we endeavor to always say “yes” to Him, whatever He instructs us. And may we have His strength and grace when it is wisdom to simply say “no”.

 

WHAT IS A CHIVAREE?

In last week’s post I promised a look at our “CHIVAREE”, since we’re nearing our 55th wedding anniversary in a couple weeks. I wonder if the practice even exists anywhere these days. I haven’t heard of it in a very long time.

The term CHIVAREE comes from a French word, Charivari, meaning “rough music” and originating in the Middle Ages. It was a time of teasing or even taunting a newlywed couple, particularly if one party had been widowed and was remarrying too soon for propriety. Lots of loud music, banging on pots and pans, and noisy revelry was common.

The custom became so extreme that the Catholic Church ruled excommunication for following such practices. But by now it had already spread to Britain, from where it is believed it subsequently came to North America.

Also spelled “Shivaree” or “Sharivari”; to me, no matter how you spell it, this is one wedding folk custom I do not miss! I’m glad our daughters did not have to go through such “harmless fun”. Call me killjoy!

Meant to embarrass or even humiliate the newlyweds, CHIVAREE could involve simple fun, or get completely out of hand. “Okay, okay”, you say “but exactly what in the world is a CHIVAREE anyway?”

As I alluded to in a previous post, we did not experience it until the night of our wedding shower, which was actually a couple weeks after the wedding. The shower was given by family and friends of the church we attended in our small hometown.

I knew it was coming…and so did Mr E, who had prepared ahead and was in much better form than I was. In my own defense, I had grown up hearing about the more extreme cases of CHIVAREE, particularly that of my closest aunt and uncle.

Normally, there were some fairly harmless tricks played on the newlyweds, such as parading them around publicly and beating on pots and pans. The groom was expected to give out cigars or candy, but someone close to him was supposed to find his stash and abscond with it!

Then the couple would be teased and sometimes separated physically from one another while the party-goers would say they could not sleep together again until they coughed up the treats. There would be lots of noise and fun.

After we had eaten cake and opened all the gifts, our friends grabbed our arms and began to tease us and pull us out toward the street. I reacted, fearful and unsure of myself. I remember a sweet young married woman of the church whom I loved very much saying to me, “But, Carolyn, be a good sport; it’s just in fun!”

“Ohhh” I thought, “we’re not in the olden days. This is going to be okay; it’s just in fun.” Besides, Mr E was just laughing good-naturedly and going along with them. The first of many times in social situations where he has been my guide and good example.

Stories of a CHIVAREE ages ago, when my beautiful young aunt had gotten backed up in a corner by some intoxicated individuals, faded somewhat. She had pulled out what was called a straight razor to defend herself…and they relented and left her alone! She, like my father, was half Cherokee; and she was high-spirited and knew a thing or two. There would have been more than harmless teasing during that evening. But that was then…and this was now!

So I allowed them to plop me in the wheelbarrow, skirts and petticoats notwithstanding, and they made Mr E, good sport that he was, push me down Main Street. The local sheriff had been advised. He duly trailed after us with lights flashing and siren squealing. Family and friends followed afoot, marching loudly behind us right down the very middle of Main Street! It was surreal. We survived! I survived! And lived to tell the tale, as they say.

Have your family, friends or colleagues ever put you in an awkward situation you really couldn’t avoid? Have you ever felt uneasy, even somewhat threatened by social activities or events? Was there someone who spoke into your situation to help give perspective? Has anyone ever come to your rescue in an uncomfortable moment?

We are so blessed to know about the One Who has come that we might really live; without fear, without reproach. The Savior Jesus died that we could be adopted into His Father’s own household, the true family of God.

Here there is acceptance and belonging. Here there is forgiveness and joy. No tricks, no teasing or taunting, no need to feel uncomfortable or out of place. You needed worry that you know a certain protocol or belong to a clique that will help you get through the awkward times. Just amazing grace! May it be yours today, dear reader. Be abundantly blessed!

RED & PINK, CHAU! WHAT COLORS NOW?

It first started in a little garage apartment near Downtown Tulsa. Family and friends had given us a shower and a “Chivaree” (more about that old custom in a coming post!) A well-rounded mix of utilitarian items, such as pots and pans, including some new to me–Corning Ware, five bath rug sets,linens, dishes, and some wonderful decor pieces were now ours to use or abuse. Yes, abuse! What else could you call letting the same pan, but different potatoes, scorch over and over again!

I’ve always loved art in so many forms and drew my way through many a notebook during Study Hall while in my high school years. Not to worry–I still managed to pass! Anything artistic was “right up my alley”.

When we married, we joined a book club. You promised to order x number of books in a year and you got to pick a couple or more books free, just for joining. We ordered a dictionary and a book about interior decorating that I remember. I quickly accepted the challenge to make decor an expression of myself. Many years would pass before my spouse would feel comfortable voicing any style preferences. We simply didn’t think about it.

In the early 60’s, in Oklahoma, young college-age hubbies didnt’t get into decor that much. However, the minute Mr E saw the brightly painted turquoise bedstead and nightstands, he firmly announced his parents had a set in their attic more suitable by far for the new residents of “Haven O’er the Garage”(my title–I like to name things. There would be over 20 residences we would call home during this union!) It cracks me up that people today are painting furniture, and anything else they can think of, that very shade of turquoise!

It was so much fun to have our own little rented haven to decorate and set up just as we wished. Open built-in shelves in the living room were soon adorned with a few volumes and a pair of sweet china vases, having a Victorian gent on one vase and his corresponding Victorian lass on the other. A decade later I would take these to South America to adorn our home there. Rather sadly, they never made it back nor have I seen similar ones in the flea markets I’ve haunted over the years. I’d be pleased to think they still grace some shelf in a cozy setting ‘way south of the Equator!

Our children became another factor in my decor decisions. Although they spent many years both here and abroad, I wanted our home to always have some familiar flavor to it from “the States”. Someday we would return to visit family and supporting churches and I wanted our children to see somewhat familiar settings and styles. I dreaded that they should ever feel out of place in their own culture and nation. If only I could have made their various transitions trauma-free!

While living in that world, I always incorporated local art and crafts in our homes because we have love Latin America and its people so much. I wanted them, to feel our appreciation of our host country during the years we were there, and to feel comfortable and welcome in our home.

The third factor was and is seasonal/holiday decor. Thanksgiving Day, for example, is purely a North American Holiday, with Canada celebrating it on a different month and day. A few European nations have harvest festivals and it would seem a few other countries picked up similar customs due to contact with our service men. We have other unique holidays, as Labor Day, President’s Day, etc. And Latin Americans have their Independence Days, Saint’s Days and many others. Some like Easter and Christmas we share, though customs vary widely.

I wanted our family to continue to observe our holidays, even though we lived south of the equator and therefore Easter was in autumn, Fourth of July was in winter, Thanksgiving was in Spring and Christmas was full-on summer! Any seasonal decor with spring blossoms, chicks and bunnies for Easter, as well as autumn oranges and Browns for Thanksgiving, or reds and greens with snow-scenes for Christmas was just a little off with the seasons reversed.

Now we’ve lived Stateside several years, the children have children of their own, and I’m probably changing the decor for them…and a little bit for my hubby and me. God gave us seasons. I try to enjoy the seasons of my days as I have enjoyed the seasons of my life.

So, what now that the pinks and reds of Valentine’s Day are going back in their bin? What color shall we pull out of the hat? Why, “robin’s egg blue”, of course! I hear the birds chirping and warbling out my windows pretty often these days. They love that there’s water in the birdbath and seed in the feeders.

It’s time to bring out the cute little nests with tiny speckled eggs and feathery birds who will not take flight. They will behave as they ought, in a proper living area; will delight the youngest grandchild, who knows about pretend, and satisfy some latent longing for a mossy tramp through the woods this country heart has known…in this world…and my other one far, far away.

Love Covers…

There are just no two ways about it–I acknowledge that I am unusually blessed! Don’t know why, because I surely don’t deserve it, but, oh, how grateful I am!

Married to a fantastic man for nearly 55 years (in March), with whom I share three beautiful children and seven, soon-to-be eight (in May) precious grandchildren. They are our joy and our crown!

Have you seen that commercial about a little bandage they place on an owie? They say “Love covers.” They also show a couple sheltering their tiny baby with an umbrella. Again–“Love covers.”

Yesterday I had out-patient surgery to help me breathe better, and had to have general anesthesia. Of course one cannot do this alone. My amazing husband was my driver, and then morphed into my competent nurse!

His myriad abilities cover being head our home, founder of an amazing educational ministry, a stellar organizer, a gifted administrator, teacher, facilitator and mentor. And various times over the years he has donned the invisible garb of my very own private male nurse!

It’s general knowledge that patients can be a pain, present company included! Nevertheless, this amazing hubby of mine exhibits rare patience, makes allowances, and sympathizes time after time. I always know I am in good hands! I just know it! His love covers me.

And that brings to mind something I treasure about this incredible guy: he’s a man of integrity. He’s committed to me and also to our family. What rest it is to my heart and what security to my soul! He looks after us all! He prays for each of us. He keeps open communication, and regularly updates everyone as to our activities and situations.

This is not the first time Everett has taken on my care. Years back, our vocation took us to Montevideo, Uruguay, in a region far south, known there as the southern cone of South America.

We had a vehicle paid for by the youth ministry of Northern Missouri; a Peugeot, whose parts were manufactured in France but assembled in Uruguay. We had waited months for this car…and I was in a wreck that would have totaled it if living in the States, but Latin American mechanics are famous for their automobile restorations! Again, we waited…two months this time for our vehicle.

In the meanwhile, I began to suffer constant pain in my body after the accident. Now you have to know how scarey it is to be in a wreck in a foreign country! They tell me I speak good Spanish, but I was quite traumatized, trying to deal with all that this entailed.

I just remember being in the left turn lane on a small avenue which had tall shrubbery growing right down the center. I couldn’t see anyone coming, so I pulled out and then BAM! I am thrown forward into a complete stop. Suddenly I’m looking over to my left at a very small vehicle, which was resting on its roof with its four tires spinning wildly round and round! Was the driver alive? Was there a baby in the car?

I couldn’t find my new glasses which I had only begun to wear. Had I forgotten them at the house? Did that mean I was to blame? That I had not seen the car coming because of not wearing my glasses? (Only later someone found them in the door pocket where they had fallen in the impact. I had been wearing them!)

I exited the Peugot to see what to do next. Neighbors came to see also. One very kind woman urged me to walk uphill to her nearby house where I could call someone–Everett-(no cell phones yet)–he was working from the house that morning so I could take the car; to simply go around the corner to buy groceries. He called our friend from the States, who was also in Uruguay with her husband.

An officer arrived, as well as the friend from the States. I wept nervously and wrung my hands, exclaiming over the new car we had driven only a couple weeks. The gruff-voiced policeman endeavored to comfort me, assuring me the other driver had, after all, gotten out of his vehicle “on his own power” and appeared uninjured. As for the cars, “Son fieros, no más, señora!” “It’s just metal, ma’am!” No lives lost!

They did take him to a first aid station, just to make sure he was going to be okay. Meanwhile, I had to be driven to the police station to wait, accompanied by my friend…and the officer.

A matê cup and thermos had been found in the front console of the little car, so the policeman was convinced the other driver was distractedly poring hot water from the thermos into the matê cup, thus causing the accident. (Yerba mâte is made from leaves of trees grown in that region and prepared as a type of tea. The Uruguayans are avid mâte drinkers!)

Although it looked like he was the guilty one, I was the foreigner and so the one on whom they settled the blame. But I was soon released and our friend took us home. All in all, you can imagine how traumatic it was for me.

After that harrowing experience, and another long wait for the car to be repaired, I began to have pain in both arms almost all the time. The local British-Uruguayan doctor put me on Ibuprofen for what he said was osteo arthritis.

All that to say how supportive my husband was, and how he did his best to help fill in the gap when I couldn’t keep up with the heavier household work. Once he brought our daughter and me with him on one of his educators conferences in the States so I had a appointment and received the diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

It would be 12 years before I was divinely healed of that little-understood disease. Through it all, Everett’s love covered me and sometimes covered for me.

In years to follow, we have each had our surgeries, total knee replacements, and removal of a kidney for him; rotator cuff surgery and thumb surgery for me. Now it’s surgery to help me breathe better. I have to rest. I find I have to hold my head up or my nose bleeds. Never mind. He’s got me covered!

Does this sound like a fairy-tale? Most days it is! What feelings does it stir in you? Have you ever felt covered by someone’s love, someone’s protection? You can have, not just the feeling, but the actual experience!

The sacred Scriptures assure us that God wants to be a husband to widows, surround the childless in a home, and be Father to the fatherless and orphans. He cares for you! So deeply. Christ spilled His innocent blood to be the covering of your sin if you will just ask. And then He promises to cover you with his feathers as a mother hen covers her chicks to shelter and protect them.

Love covers. “And greater love has no man than this, that a man would lay down His life for His friends.” Again, “You are my friends if you do whatever I have asked you.” Let the “Lover of our souls” cover you. He longs to do just that!

Why I Love Valentine’s Day

My husband sometimes says we met at a Valentine’s party…which isn’t exactly true…but since we neither one remember when we first laid eyes on one another, it’s as good a time as any to remember.  

It was actually at a Backwards Valentine Social that our church gave for the young people, which was held at the small community center in town.  The premise was that the girls would help the guys with their chairs, their coats, etc, being the chivalrous ones instead of the guys.

Everett had been away at the university and had not seen me for a while.  But this night, he did see me!  Because I was the one who held his chair…& then pretended I would pull it out too far!  And when it came time to clean up, I grabbed the broom out of his hands!   And when it was time to put on his coat, I held the sleeve closed at the cuff!  Oh, yeah!  He saw me!  Perhaps for the first time, really saw me.  And he tells me now that he thought, “She is really a feisty little thing!”

Since he had been away a couple of years, he hadn’t known that I was finally coming out of my shell.  I have to say that I was only like this in the familiar safety of church-related functions.

At the high school he and I had attended, I was very shy and quiet; but the church was my oyster.  There I sang in choir, taught a Sunday School class & even sang in a trio did an occasional solo.

My older brother Wallace and I frequently went to area youth events, and soon Everett was going along with us.  In another few weeks, he and I had our first date.  So I’m sure you can readily understand that it would only be natural for me to love Valentine’s Day!  Especially since I ended up with the very best Valentine of them all!