Retirement Is Not An Option; Plan To Finish Well

I have “retired” twice in my lifetime. I don’t plan to do it again.

Mailings from AARP have begun arriving in my mailbox, and I’ve been notified that this is the year I can begin collecting Social Security benefits. No, thank you.

By my optimistic estimations (backed up by statistical evidence) I still have 25 percent of my life before me. “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise” I plan to live to 80……and beyond.

Lest I appear foolhardy, let me tell you that I’m not in denial about my age. My body tells me every day that it is winding down, and my brain is close behind. My refusal to sign up for the American Association of Retired Persons has less to do with the name of the organization and its services than with philosophical differences. And considering the fact I expect to live at least another 20 years, hanging onto my Social Security fund is good financial planning (depending on what you believe about our nation’s fiscal health).

So I don’t plan to retire. Been there, done that — once when I left the newspaper business 22 years ago and again when I graduated my last home-schooled son two years ago. That’s enough retirement for one lifetime.

I intend to stay in the race. Just as a runner knows how many laps it takes to complete the race and keeps an eye on the white line in the track that says he is finished, I am numbering my days and narrowing my focus in these final laps toward the checkered flag.

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I have been working on a “manifesto” for finishing well — “a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives or views of an issue” (thank you, Wikipedia). So far, these are my intentions and motives. Perhaps they’re yours, too?

My Fourth Quarter Manifesto

  • To live intentionally. I wish I’d discovered this discipline about 40 years ago, but better late than never. Living intentionally means making decisions only after careful thought and learning to say “no” to things that will not impact God’s kingdom. It also can mean saying “yes” to new opportunities and adventures that may have been passed up in the past, as long as they contribute to the goal of finishing well.
  • To exhibit joy and gratitude. In the next quarter of my life, I want to live more joyfully and with more gratitude than ever. Each of us has so much for which to be thankful. Even the difficult and discouraging episodes in life have yielded benefit, if we take time to examine and celebrate them.
  • To cultivate an atmosphere of expectation and hope. Jean Fleming, author of the book “Pursue the Intentional life”, says this:

“What would it be like to live in an atmosphere of earnestness and exhilaration? Of enthusiasm and gameness? Of anticipation and readiness? What atmosphere will color the rest of my life? Will I live in eager expectation and hope or in something else — in apathy, in fear, in confusion, in anxiety, in hesitancy, in dread? Will my life be empowered and set aglow by unfading hope or drained away by parasites?”

  • To produce fruit. There is a very old orchard on our farm. Every year, the ground beneath the trees is covered with fallen apples. Even while they hang on the branches, the apples are inedible because they’re filled with worms or covered in scabs . One year, my husband decided to trim and spray a few of the apple trees. We harvested beautiful fruit that year and enjoyed it into the winter. As we age, our branches may become weak and they may need some tending, but God’s word says “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.” (Psalm 92:14) The fruit we are able to produce may change, depending on our strength and abilities, but if we stay attached to the living Vine, it can be pleasing and useful, perhaps even more than in our earliest fruit-bearing years.
  • To be a lifelong learner. There is so much I do not know! I feel I’m embarking on a new career with challenges and opportunities I could not have imagined in my younger years. As much as we are able, we should expect to continue to grow in skill and knowledge and to share what God teaches us with others. A dear woman in my church celebrated her 80th birthday recently. She still works part-time and is an important member of the church’s pulpit committee. She’s more than relevant in her “golden” years.
  • To love with abandon. Sometimes we’re too cautious about giving love away. We need to be discerning, but not stingy. There are so many in our world who need a touch or a gesture or simply a kind word. If I have it to give, it’s theirs.
  • To walk closely behind Jesus. I want to be covered in the dust off his sandals. I’ll look for Him and chase after Him and listen for His voice. It’s my prayer than some of Jesus will rub off on me.

This ought to keep me busy for the next two decades. I’m honestly hoping there’s more God will bring to my attention in this season of life if I don’t decide to retire and sit in wait for the gun to signal the final lap. Even if bedridden or made frail by a life that’s winding down, I want to be on my feet at the finish line. I intend to finish well.

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When What You Need Is God Straight-Up

I spent three days in the city worshiping and listening, then another three wishing I could be back in that place of joy and inspiration.

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I invested hours reading and writing about a movie and book I never intend to consume, but which consumed me as I fretted over the pain and confusion they cause.

I joined in a revival that’s spreading through my community, and I rejoiced over lives changed and churches united.

And today, after all of this, I wandered the frozen valley that is my world — lost and empty and hungry and not knowing why.

Standing with the sun to my back and cold biting my cheeks, I spotted tiny footprints criss-crossing the snow. Rabbits show up at our house every morning, a half dozen or so, in search of food where they find little more than snowbanks and cold, hard earth. After their slippery journey from the underbrush to our yard, they gather beneath our copper beech tree for a sparse feast on seed pods, fallen during autumn’s shedding.

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Rabbit tracks to nowhere and everywhere. The primal search for food and filling.

Don’t I know just how that feels?

Every good and difficult thing that I choose in walking out this journey toward Christ and His filling feels like a sparse feast some days.

Not enough. Never enough.

But I make tracks and I do good things, good for others and for my soul. I dispute the distasteful and I embrace the beautiful. I stretch myself to join hands to love the lost, and I receive the prayers of a needy little old man in words I can barely understand.

I make tracks, only to find that I am still more than a little bit distasteful and lost and needy myself. And empty.

Shaking off the chill of my walk through winter, I realize this: I’ve been taking joy sideways.

All the good and important things that have been filling my days and my heart aren’t the straight-up food I need to fill this “God-shaped vacuum” in my soul. That phrase, one I’ve repeated often (attributed to the 17th century writer Pascal) actually reads like this:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself”

“…..in other words by God himself.”

I may be inspired by man’s words and by worship to our God, and I can feast on the satisfaction of pointing others toward His truth. I can even indulge in the goodness of work well-done and prayers well-intended.

But they are little more than joy taken sideways, when what I need is joy straight-up.

It’s the kind of joy I have known only when I spend time quietly in His presence, in conversation and worship that only He and I can hear.

I once painted these words from Psalm 16:11 on the walls of my house. They’re etched in the wall of that vacuum only He can fill:

You will show me the path that leads to life;
    your presence fills me with joy
    and brings me pleasure forever.

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What To Do With “Fifty Shades of Grey”

I watched The Grammy Awards on television Sunday night. About mid-way through, I saw my President encourage all of us to create awareness and help women out of violent relationships. His message was followed by a moving statement from domestic violence survivor Brooke Axtell and Katy Perry’s performance of her song “By the Grace of God”, which she admits is autobiographical and which alludes to suicidal thoughts because of abuse. In it, she sings these words:

“By the grace of God (there was no other way)
I picked myself back up (I knew I had to stay)
I put one foot in front of the other
And I looked in the mirror and decided to stay
Wasn’t gonna let love take me out that way.”

All this filled my TV screen as I was doing internet research for this blog on the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey”. (If you do that, be prepared for the web sites you’ll be offered as you search.)

I had to wonder, am I the only person who sees the sad irony in this very commendable Grammy performance coming days before the Valentine’s Day opening of a much-heralded, pornographic movie about sado-masochism and abuse?

Neither our President nor Katy Perry referred to the very obvious contradictory message displayed in the popular book and upcoming movie “Fifty Shades of Grey”. I only wish they had been so brave. In my opinion, what the producer of The Grammy Awards Show, our President and the performers did was to offer little more than a placating (though effective) gesture to those who believe “Grey” is glamorizing sexual violence.

Fifty-Shades-of-Grey

For anyone unaware (as I was until I did the research), “FSOG” tells the story of a man who seduces a young woman and lures her into violent sexual acts. His actions are justified because he was abused as a teen, and the story is all wrapped up with a redemptive outcome.

Opening on Valentine’s Day, it’s expected to be a sell-out.

A month ago, a young relative of mine proudly boasted in social media that she had her tickets for “Fifty Shades of Grey” reserved in advance. My heart broke for this intelligent young woman who has bought the hype.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. On Valentine’s Day, too many young couples will spend date night watching pornography. And they’ll come away believing this is love.

For three years, I worked with local youth to produce a drama about teen dating violence. We took the drama to local high schools, churches and youth groups and presented it in a public performance. Along the way, I heard stories from teens about ways they had been abused in dating relationships — mentally, emotionally, physically and sexually.

And now we, the supposedly responsible adults, are telling them that such abuse is excusable, even desirable, depending on the circumstances.

There are several ways we can work to counter the damage that will be done by “FSOG”.

  • Boycott the movie. Better yet, spend your money on a campaign to help women escape abusive relationships. Run by www.stoppornculture.org, the campaign’s Facebook page suggests making donations to domestic-violence shelters instead of going to see the movie, because “Hollywood doesn’t need your money; abused women do.” If you’re on Twitter, use the hashtags #50DollarsNot50Shades and #50ShadesIsAbuse to protest the movie.
  • Educate yourself. We need to be able to discuss the topic intelligently and learn how to combat the movie’s negative impact. Many others have crafted well-written instructions for overcoming the effects of this movie’s publicity campaign on those who won’t even see the movie — our children. Two excellent places to go for information are an article at www.movieguide.org by Michelle S. Lazurek and a series of articles on how to talk to our children about violent sex by Miriam Grossman at www.miriamgrossmanmd.com. For another woman’s perspective, visit www.bronlea.com. Another very informative piece is found at www.foxnews.com.
  • Talk openly with your children and grandchildren about sex. If they walk through a shopping mall, watch television or pick up a magazine, they’re going to see explicit sexual images. The ongoing conversation about this book and movie has added to the need to address the subject of sexual sin with our children and grandchildren. You have no choice but to meet it head on. (I plan to share more about this in a future blog about pornography.)
  • Support an alternative to “FSOG”. If you want to go to a movie next weekend, consider “Old Fashioned”, a romance about Clay, a former frat dude who meets a free-spirited young woman named Amber. He’s interested in her, but turned off by the modern mores of dating. He wants to date in an old-fashioned (read chaste) way.” (Source: www.cinemablend.com). The movie is purposely timed to compete with “FSOG” and is openly promoted as a Christian movie that “offers a romance where sex will wait until marriage and God is a crucial part of its hero’s journey. It’s an approach that (producer/director/star) Rik Swartzwelder realizes will limit the audience of his movie. But–he argues in Old Fashioned‘s preamble–it’s a movie he feels needed to be made.”

The worst thing we can do as moral individuals in a culture that glamorizes abuse is to deny the attitude exists. It obviously does. Turning our backs will not prevent this movie’s message from impacting our world.

I’m sharing these thoughts today at www.blessedbutstressed.com.

Copy and share the graphic below on social media and help spread awareness.

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Harper Lee’s ‘New’ Book Tells the Rest of the Story

I remember vividly the time I first read “To Kill A Mockingbird”. I was a high-school freshman and was assigned to read it for English. I finished the book then turned around and read it again.

A recently discovered novel by Harper Lee, author of “To Kill A Mockingbird”, will be released in July. “Go Set A Watchman” was penned 60 years ago, before Lee’s iconic novel, and reads like a sequel to what has become one of my favorite stories.

According to an interview with Miss Lee published on www.bbc.com, “Watchman” was originally turned down by publishers, who suggested the author instead draw from Scout’s memories of growing up in the south to create a very different book, “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

For those who may not have read “To Kill A Mockingbird” (gasp), it is set during the Depression and depicts racial prejudice from a child’s point of view. In “Watchman”, Scout has returned to Maycomb, Alabama from New York to visit her father, the lawyer Atticus Finch. Once there, “she is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.”

The publisher, Harper Collins, plans an initial printing of 2 million copies of “Go Set A Watchman”.

I believe strongly in the power of story to impact our worldview. “To Kill A Mockingbird” has done that for me, both when I read it as a 14-year-old (twice) and again as an adult. While I loved stepping back into this tumultuous time in the segregated South, I was more moved by the relationships in the story — between Scout and her brother, with their neighbor Dill, with their father and his with the black man accused of rape (Tom Robinson).

In his outstanding book “Tell Me a Story”, author Daniel Taylor says this:

“Stories encourage in the listener an attitude of belief. We are perfectly happy for an ox to be blue, for a straw to be spun into gold, for one warrior to defeat a dozen (smiling to boot), for the sun to stop or turn to blood, for wise gnomes in other galaxies to have Einstein’s eyes and great wisdom. But these are mere details of plot. More importantly, we are, when under the spell of some stories, willing to believe that good is more powerful than evil, that death is preferable to dishonor, that perseverance pays, that truth is more than a word and justice more than a definition of the powerful, that love exists — if only in the cracks. And if we believe all this, and much more, while the story is being told, we do not abandon that belief entirely when we return to our own personal stories.”

Taylor captures precisely why it’s important to share stories, and why fiction can be a valuable way to say what we can’t about our own prejudices, fears, expectations,  experiences. Whether written as fact or fiction, well-told stories have the power to pull the reader into themselves to examine their own motives, emotions and mindset.

And in writing, the author does the same — even writers of fiction. No writer can deny that some small (or large) part of their own lives has seeped into the tales they share with the world. It’s been presumed that Harper Lee is Scout in “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

When asked years ago why she had never attempted to publish another book, the reclusive author told a friend:

“I did not need to write another book.

I said what I wanted to say in that book.”

Harper Lee’s “new” book actually completes the story she set out tell some 60 years ago. It turns out she had more to say, but she had already said it. And now we will know “the rest of the story.”

(Atticus’ quote image source: quotzee.blogspot.com)

When Storm Clouds Gather, Press On

I’d been watching for a window of opportunity all morning. The weatherman promised a ray of sunshine or two and I could really use it. After struggling through November and December, I was craving sun on my face. (God really meant for me to be born near a tropical beach. I just know it. Somehow, my parents didn’t get the message.)

It’s my desire to make the most of our Indiana winter so when that sun cast shadows across my office floor, I grabbed my coat and shoes and headed out the door.

After a morning at my desk, a brisk walk down our country road was just the thing. I made it to the halfway mark for my southbound trek then turned around to loop back, only to realize that while my back was turned, a brisk wind had whipped up menacing grey clouds on the northern horizon. I wasn’t sure I’d make it back to the house before snow or rain began to fall. Leaning into the wind, I pressed on, making the return trip in record time.

Isn’t life an awful lot like that sometimes?

Things are looking good and we’re on our happy way to a chosen destination when storm clouds descend, catching us off-guard. Suddenly our journey goes from a joyous walk in the light to plodding down a path toward darkness.

When the path looks more like a perilous upward climb than a straight and clear saunter, it’s easy to get discouraged and to want to give up.

The darkness of anger, disappointment, betrayal, spiritual and physical sickness — so many things can threaten to whip up an attitude of defeat. Some days, it looks as if God’s favor has been removed and the light of His presence is covered over by the gloom of this world.

A few beautiful young people in my life have been walking this path lately. It’s a journey I’ve made more than once myself, and I can feel their pain. My prayer for them today is that they will press on, that they will know this: the clouds will lift.

As suddenly as they appeared, they’ll shift. And they will move on. We don’t have the power to stop the roll of darkness through our world, but we God does. We must keep our faces turned toward Him and walk through the darkness to catch The Light.

Our instincts tell us to turn and run the other way. Or worse, to hit the ditch, hunker down and hide. But the bravest thing we can do is turn toward God. When we do that, when we lean in and say “Help me find the way through this!” we’ve taken the first steps through the darkness. And we’ll come out the other side stronger from having weathered this storm.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance, and perseverance must finish its work in order for you to be mature and complete.” James 1:2-4

In his book “Mere Christianity”, C.S. Lewis says this:
“What matters in life, is not what you achieve, but rather what you willingly endure.  We will all achieve various heights of achievement in life. In a very real sense it is irrelevant to God how much we achieve.  This is vitally important to remember.  We are saved purely by grace, there is nothing we can do to gain more favor with God.
 
No, the more interesting thing to God is our willingness to submit and to endure hard times. Just as we will all achieve different successes in life, we will all be handed different degrees of trials in life.  It is not helpful or useful to compare what others are given to endure.  Rather, what we each need to do is to submit our will, even when it means walking through a dark period in life.  What matters is our willingness to endure.”

 

Choose Your Traveling Companions Wisely: My Journey with O.C.

I’ve invited a dear friend to travel with me through The New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes during 2015. He’s a spry Scotsman, still relevant in his old age and a long-trusted adviser.

In the journals I keep of our adventures, my traveling companion goes by the nickname O.C. — Oswald Chambers.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

I’ve had a crush on this wise fellow for at least a decade, probably longer. We first met when a friend called me up to share a nugget from his writings. I was challenged, curious, inspired. I wanted to get to know him better.

Oswald is a wordsmith of the highest order and I believe he has a Hotline to our Lord and Savior because every time I sit down to listen, O.C. has something profound to say.

Consider his words for today, January 20:

“Sometimes we are fresh for a prayer meeting but not fresh for cleaning boots!”

What?

O.C. quotes John 3:3, and it begins to make sense.

“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

And then O.C. explains:

“Being born again of the Spirit is an unmistakable work of God, as mysterious as the wind, as surprising as God Himself. We do not know where it begins, it is hidden away in the depths of our personal life. Being born again from above is a perennial, perpetual and eternal beginning; a freshness all the time in thinking and in talking and in living.”

If I am only “fresh” and obedient when called on to attend prayer meeting, what good am I? Freshness that comes from being born again equips me to worship while I do the dirty work  — like cleaning boots!

Today’s reading is so typical of my friend. He is a man of contrasts, a learned individual schooled in philosophy and the arts, but also possessing a great sense of humor

Hanging out daily with O.C. isn’t a substitute for time spent at the feet of Jesus. Rather, a visit from this sage pushes me closer to my Lord because his words always cause me to stop and think, and to hunger for a deeper understanding of the Word of God.

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Dear Oswald would have turned 141 this year, over a century after he crafted the sermons he would share in English Bible colleges and in YMCA huts in Egypt. Thanks to the faithful work of his wife, Gertrude, Oswald’s words live on today in the book “My Utmost for His Highest”. Eighty years after his collected sermons were first published, the devotional continues to be among the top 10 best-selling Christian books. I know I have purchased more than a few copies through the years to share with friends and family.

Here are some parting words from my dear friend O.C.

O.C.

 

Wonderstruck: The Brilliant Efficiency of a Walk in the Snow

I could have used my ancient elliptical trainer to log 30 minutes of exercise today, but the sun was shining and the temperatures have risen here in this Indiana valley, so I donned boots, gloves and parka, grabbed my camera and headed for the hills.

Tramping down a barnyard drive, walking toward the rolling bean field, it dawned on me how efficient this hike might turn out to be. The multiple benefits of a walk in the snow include:

  • Some much-needed exercise
  • A healthy dose of vitamin D
  • Time to think and pray without distraction
  • Inspiration from God’s creation at every turn
  • A few photos to share with you

Here’s what I captured during my brilliantly efficient walk in the snow.

Corn stubble soldiers, standing at attention
Corn stubble soldiers, standing at attention
A beautifully weathered fence post
A beautifully weathered fence post
A snow flower
A snow flower
A rusty work of art
A rusty work of art
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And another.
Red barns, blue sky. Perfect.
Red barns, blue sky. Perfect.
The birds have found our feeders.
The birds have found our feeders.

Returning to my warm kitchen, I picked up a beautiful book by a fellow nature-lover, Margaret Feinberg. Her words in “Wonderstruck” express my sentiments exactly.

“Admiring the beauty, I consider how many holy moments I’ve missed in the harriedness of life. Though God laces creation with eternal truths, all too often I pass them by unaware.

From the opening pages of Genesis, God reveals his nature — in nature. The story of creation broadcasts the distinctiveness of our God as the source of life. All-powerful, wildly creative, infinitely wise. God is the supreme ruler…….Creation divulges the goodness of God as he declares the good, good, good of creation.”

I’m thinking God would say I made efficient use of an hour spent walking in the snow.

When Parents Commit the Ultimate Act of Thievery

I read this story again — really for the very first time — and it sets me on my heels.

“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” Genesis 22:2

That a father would willingly offer up his son’s life? That he would lead this one he loved with all of his paternal heart to a site set aside for worship and for sacrifice, and lay the innocent down at his Father’s feet?

How did he find the strength?

It came to me then. Not as a shout or a sudden revelation, but in a voice so clear it could not be denied.

“I ask you to do the same every day.”

In denial, I point out that I have never been tested in this way. So, God shows me the sacrifice He requires — no, deserves — because He has proved Himself worthy and trustworthy and good. And I see it there, how every day, with every breath, I’m asked to lay these sons-become-men of mine down and say

“Take them. They are yours.”

Just as He asks all of us who so blithely enter parenthood, not counting the cost in our own pain, fear and suffering, measuring only the joy of creating life in our own image. In the midst of the joy and the pain, God reminds us that He created them not for us, but for His kingdom. They are His.

I know I must lay them down, not one, not two, not even three. But four.

I am no Abraham. Many times I will commit thievery. I will pick them back up again and say:

“No. Not yet. Not today.”

In His kindness, God shows me all the ways in the past my “yes” has carried us to this place of surrender, to the altar of the world, to the knife that cuts and the blaze that burns.

God reminds me that I have all the tools for this ultimate sacrifice:

  • The knowledge that from the time they could listen, I filled their hearts with the Good News.
  • The weary feet to remind me that we have traveled together so far on the path God marked out for us.
  • The understanding that my love for them pales beside the burning passion of He who created them — Elohim. And He who provides and meets their every need — Jehovah-Jireh.
  • The assurance that He never ceases His chasing after them, eager to woo and win them.

And here, where I cannot stay and cover them, where I can no longer feed, shelter or nurture them, this is where I must finally surrender. This is where God asks me one more time to find the strength to bind them over to Him.

To sever the ties.

To finally cut the cord.

To trust.

It’s then I know what I’ve known all along — that God has provided a way.

Over there, in the tangle of this crazy life waits their substitute. But this time, it’s not for me to seize the sacrifice and drag it to the altar. I would be wrong to commit the ultimate thievery — to rob them of the choice to claim for themselves this way back to their Father who waits.

If I will remove my hands.

From a painting by the Venetian artist, Titian
From a painting by the Venetian artist, Titian

 

I’m sharing this post today for Thought-Provoking Thursday at 3D Lessons for Life. Please join me there for other thoughtful posts. Thought-provoking-thursday-banner_NEW

 

A Holy Fragrance: What Has Being with Jesus Done for You?

In the days when we were homeschooling our four boys here in the valley, we’d occasionally take a “field trip” with another homeschooling family. Sometimes our trip was just a visit to their house so the kids could play and we Moms could catch up on news or share time in the Word and in prayer.

We’d arrive home and a fragrance would follow us in the door — the distinctive scent of my friend’s Patchouli oil. It clung to our clothes, hair, shoes, my Bible, anything that had been with us during our visit. It even scented our car if we’d traveled somewhere together.

The lingering scent wasn’t the only evidence of time spent in the presence of this special family. Our hearts would be lighter, our countenance brighter and we moved through the rest of our day with the joy and strength that come from love shared. At the end of the day, even my husband noticed our improved dispositions and caught the scent, and he knew where we’d spent the afternoon.

I was reminded of that fragrance recently as I read about the first disciples of Christ.

“When the Council saw the boldness of Peter and John, and could see that they were obviously uneducated non-professionals, they were amazed and realized what being with Jesus had done for them!” Acts 4:13 (TLB)

The men had already performed a miracle in the strength of their Teacher (healing a man lame from birth) and the Council was eager to stop them from “spreading their propaganda.” But Peter and John would not be deterred in their mission to bring The Good News to the people of Jerusalem.

“You decide whether God wants us to obey you instead of him! We cannot stop telling about the wonderful things we saw Jesus do and heard him say.” vs. 19-20

When Peter and John were released from captivity and returned to their people, they shared what had happened. Immediately, the believers went to prayer. They asked God not just for protection, but for even more boldness to preach the Gospel!

“….send your healing power, and may miracles and wonders be done by the name of your holy servant Jesus.” vs. 30

They had been with Jesus and they wanted more of Him — more of his strength and boldness, more of his miracles — whatever the personal cost. God, in his wisdom, not only equipped the men to do his work, he left his mark on them so that they would be recognized as belonging to him. They looked and acted differently because they had walked with Christ.

When I spend time with Jesus, when I draw close to him, sit in his lap and turn my face to him so that I can hear his words, I come away with the fragrance of HIM clinging to my spirit.

I am still the same sinful, broken, imperfect me, but I’m saturated with the scent of the One who is without sin, who heals the broken and who is perfection. I am emboldened to share Jesus with others because I believe they recognize the source of my joy.

They are drawn to the scent of my Savior.

Of course, too long spent away from my Lord and the fragrance fades, the strength and joy are dimmed. Others might not even suspect who claims my heart.

In this bright beginning of another year, I have a renewed hunger to be in the presence of Jesus, to soak up his spirit so that others will know “what being with Jesus has done for ME.”

Join me in his presence and let the sweet fragrance of Jesus permeate your soul as you endeavor to spend time with him, gaining strength and boldness to go forth and do his work.

fragrance

(You can download a six-month Bible reading plan that will take you through the New Testament, from Acts to Revelation, and into Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes here: http://www.backtothebible.org/6-month-bible-reading-challenge)

 

When Staying “Frozen” Is Not An Option, Resolve to End Well

I read them all — those resolutions, the intentions, everyone’s “my word for the year” — and I came away with….

….nothing.

Zip. Zero. Nada.

The Christmas tree still twinkled from the corner and the warm glow of the holiday season continued to fill my home, but inside my heart, on the cusp of this new year, I was numb. Frozen.

frozenFor a solid week I wandered from room to room, going through the motions of creating a post-Christmas “normal” and attempting to make plans for the new year. But something wasn’t right.

I’m a “new day” kind of girl. I like nothing more than a fresh start, a clean slate, a brand new page on the calendar. But where was the inspiration? Why couldn’t I get excited about 2015?

I began to realize that my condition wasn’t just a holiday letdown, and it went deeper than the need to recover from the Christmas flu.

I was more than sad. I was becoming truly, seriously depressed.

SadWoman

I prayed and I slept. I ate chocolate and started a new novel. I watched a funny movie and went for a walk and stood in the sunshine and listened to uplifting music. I talked to my husband. I even CLEANED.

Nothing helped.

Then I visited my neighbor, and there in the noise and crazy confusion of a house filled with six adult children and a passel of grandkids, I found the cure for my malaise — people.

At my neighbors’ house, I hugged her visiting grown-up kids and played with her grandkids. We shared a cup of tea and we talked about books and knitting and food and college. And I rocked her youngest grandson to sleep.

Back in the quiet of my empty house, where a week earlier our own grown-up sons and their significant others had shared meals and laughter, I had an epiphany.

To be happy and healthy and sane, I need to be around people.

More than that. As I began taking stock of how I had spent the past several months and looked at what I had planned for the coming year, I found the other missing element that spells health for me — writing.

For all of October and November, I had written something nearly every day. 31 days of blogging and a couple thousand words of a novel had stirred my creative juices for two solid months. It didn’t matter that I worked at home alone most days. I was interacting with my own imagination and creating something I could share with others.

After Thanksgiving, my writing had stalled to a trickle.

With these fresh revelations, the iceberg that had been my frozen brain melted and my “resolutions” for the new year became clear:

  1. Spend more time with people
  2. Write daily

And my “intentions” for the new year? That list is a little longer. It’s borrowed from a Facebook post via my yoga instructor and it’s tacked up over my desk (you’re welcome to copy it and hang it on your fridge, too):

 

Intentions

In the midst of getting my feet back on the ground, another bit of inspiration was provided by one of my sons. In part, here is his heartfelt New Years’ Day message, posted (of course) on Facebook:

“To all of my loved ones, do something this year that you can look back on and feel good about. Create something that will last forever and make a change in the world. Happy New Year.”

Do something you can feel good about. Create something that will last. Make a change in the world. Simple, but profound.

And finally, as I searched for that one word to tag as a theme for the year, this one showed up at every turn:

presence

God’s and Mine. I look forward to celebrating His presence in the coming year and to being in His presence daily with a new Bible reading plan and intentional prayer. And I plan to be present in all the moments that make up this one life.

Because the truth is, while we’re beginning a new year, we don’t really get to “begin again”. The race is already underway. What we can do is resolve to end well. That chapter is yet to be written.