Sunday, November 29, 2009

What not to wear....

I admit it....I have no fashion sense. I would love it if someone would nominate me for the television show, "What Not To Wear." Yes, I will gladly be humiliated in front of millions of people if you will give me a makeover and show me how to shop for a whole new wardrobe.....

I can't be alone in this...otherwise the producers of the aforementioned show would run out of candidates for their makeovers! Plus, I recently had a conversation with an old friend on the difficulty of finding clothes that are appropriate and fit. (My fluctuating weight doesn't help in that department!) The place we feel this the most is when we are trying to get ready for church.

Church is the one place where you would hope that clothing wouldn't be an issue, but we live in the south.... I remember when I was little and my mom would try to get her little tomboy dressed for church in "appropriate" clothes. I hated it. The shoes were the worst. She always wanted me to wear my patent leather shoes (which had to be polished with a cold biscuit) and I always wanted to wear my tennis shoes, (which didn't even have to be clean!) We usually worked out a compromise. I'd wear that ugly scratchy dress she picked out, but I'd wear it with my tennis least sometimes she let me.

Come to think of it, little kids really know what it's all about. They feel like a princess, so they wear their princess dress. They mix their favorite Elmo dress with pokadot rain boots and a flower barrette. Oh, and don't forget the zebra striped umbrella to complete the mix. Red cowboy boots make perfect sense with a Sunday suit for a 3 year old. And while we make shake our heads in disbelief, nothing is more precious to us than the expression of love on that child's face. Must be kind of how God looks at us. When did we lose that?

Now that I'm older and picking out my own clothes, I find myself staring into the dark recesses of my closet and uttering the mournful, "I've got nothing to wear." Why is it so difficult to get ready on this one day of the week? I know the scripture says, "Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart." The problem is I'm going to church with other "mans and wo-mans". Sometimes those "wo-mans" can be downright picky! I usually try to avoid those folks. Unfortunately, I'm not able to avoid myself and I am the worst I know at picking myself apart!

I want to be more like Jesus and look at the heart....maybe that's where it all begins. Instead of staring into my closet trying to figure out what to wear, I should be spending my time looking into my heart. I could be spending time in His Word making adjustments and washing away impurities. Of course, I still have to get dressed, but perhaps instead of making sure my shoes are perfect for my outfit, I can make sure I've put on the shoes of the gospel of peace. Who cares what blouse I wear if I've put on the breastplate of rightousness! Purses....nope. I'll carry a shield of faith instead. I'll be a "sharp dresser" if I make sure I carry the Sword of the Spirit. Of course, no outfit is complete without a cute belt....mine could be one made up of truth that holds everything together. Oops...almost forgot the importance of a good hair day....mine will be perfect with the helmet of salvation.

So, for a while at least, don't be surprised if you see me coming to church in jeans and, of course, tennis shoes. I really don't mind if you look at me funny....I'm going to be working on learning to see you, and myself, as Christ does. Wow, we've never looked better to me!

1 Sam. 16:7b "...The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The story of the running dogs....

This morning I participated in the local Thanksgiving 5 mile run and as always, I had a Random Thought along the way.

While we were out there in the biting cold wind, I noticed one runner had his dogs with him How cool I thought! These were obviously dogs that were meant for speed...I thought at first they were greyhounds, but finally heard someone say they were "whippets". These were two very good natured dogs...with each other and people that is. They didn't like any other dog that came near them. It started early with a beautiful dog that come up to greet them and then continued all through the race. It didn't matter what kind of dog it was...exotic Siberian Huskies, Redneck American Bulldogs, Good 'ole boy labradors....they were ready to argue with them all. That's when the thought struck me. Here were two dogs that were the fastest things on the race course, and they were so busy arguing with other dogs they weren't really running.

The dogs' master really had his hands full trying to keep those dogs on course. They wanted to pick a fight with every dog they met...and there were lots of very friendly dogs on this course. Friendly didn't matter to them...and they let everyone around them know it.

Made me wonder how many times I have given my Master fits by arguing with those around me instead of "running the race"....I might get along with those who are like me, but I'm often too quick to judge those who are different, and in the process I stop running the race that is before me.

So, today at least, I'm going to try and focus on running the race God has given me. If you'd like to run're welcome to join me, but I'm not going to be distracted by our differences. I'm not going to give my Master fits.....I'm just going to focus on the finish and running with Him.

"They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." Mark 9:33-35

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sometimes I feel like that chipmunk....

Ever have one of those dreams that sticks with you for days? I don't mean anything scary...just something that you know somehow has a message in it. Two days ago I had a dream like that, so of course now you get to read about it.

In this dream, there was this little chipmunk. Cute little thing - sort of like Chip and Dale of the old cartoons. There was also this beautiful woman and she was holding a shotgun....the biggest shotgun I'd ever seen - more of a bazooka! She was calling out to this little chipmunk in the sweetest voice - "Come here little fella. Come on. Come here." All the while I was screaming at the poor little fellow at the top of my lungs, "Don't do it! Run! Get out of here! Run!!!!" That little chipmunk was just looking back and forth between the two of us, mouth full of chessnuts, trying to figure out which way to go. Then of course, I woke up.

This was one of those dreams that the minute I woke up, a thought came into my mind. "Not everything that calls out to you sweetly intends for you good and not everything that yells at you means it for harm."

Simple. To the point. It got me thinking. Of course, we all know about the lure of evil things like drugs and alcohol that call out sweetly and then destroy, but what about other things that I am more prone to fall victim to? How many times has the couch called sweetly to me to just sit and unwind while something inside  is screaming at me that I need to go for a run or, more importantly, turn off the tv and spend time with my family? How many times has my mind tried to tell me that I "deserve" some treat - just put it on credit, while my better judgement is screaming, "NO! Don't do it!" How many times have I succumbed to the urge to be sarcastic toward someone else when inside I know what is really called for is mercy and forgiveness and a kind word. How many times have I fought the battle of listening to gossip when I know what I need to do is walk away and pray? Please tell me I'm not the only one who is at least sometimes tempted by the "sweet" voice that means me harm.

Just like that chipmunk, I stand confused at times. Turning and looking back and forth between the sweet voice holding a shotgun and the crazy old lady yelling at me to get out of there! I may even see the shotgun, but I convince myself that it's not meant for me. Yeah, right. I know that as soon as my temptation gets a clear shot, she's gonna blow my head off! Yet still I stand there in the valley of decision. Why? That's a good question. Why?

"Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision." Joel 3:14
"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live." Deut. 30:19

For an interesting view of those "smooth words" that lead to death...check out Proverbs 7.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Like Thanksgiving Dinner

I love Thanksgiving. It is probably my favorite holiday...all the fun of visiting with family without the stress of buying gifts and juggling schedules. Thanksgiving is a time when family really comes together.

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving wasn't quite as special as it is now. My family was small and we didn't really plan a big meal for that day. My mother would bake a chicken and tell us it was a small turkey...we really didn't need a big bird. Thanksgiving day was pretty much like any other day....then I married a man who has a big family. Thanksgiving took on a whole new meaning!
Starting early in the day, the house is filled with people. Everyone is welcome and you just never know who will stop by. It was all pretty much a shock for someone like me who had never known the rowdy celebration of lots of relatives coming by. Still, it's part of what I've come to love about Thanksgiving.

That's where today's Random Thought comes in. I got to thinking that going to church on Sunday is a lot like Thanksgiving dinner. While we do worship (eat) alone during the week, there is something special that happens when we all come together bringing our offering to the table. There's the uncle that tells the same joke a hundred times, but everyone loves him for his ability to laugh at himself. There's the crazy old aunt that brings the rolls because she's really not a very good cook, (that one would be me). There are the cakes that are brought by those who are just learning to they are lopsided but loved because of the one who made them. There are the traditions you look forward to with each approaching year. Each person brings their special gift to the table...and should someone come empty handed - they too are welcomed simply because they are there. Together the celebration is more sweet. The people aren't perfect, but they are loved. The best part of all, is that our Father waits at the window to greet us, and when He sees us coming, He runs out to tell us "welcome home".

Yes, Sunday worship is a lot like those Thanksgiving dinners...the ones we knew, or at least wish we could have known. As a family, we learn and grow together and celebrate the life given to us by our Father God. During this Thanksgiving season, I pray that you will find a church home that you can call family...because while you can worship alone, there is something special when family comes together.

"Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Hebrews 10:25

Saturday, November 14, 2009

How do you honor a life?

Today I had the unique opportunity to attend two events honoring two very special people. Now, I doubt these two people have ever even met, but both have impacted the lives of hundreds, make that thousands, of people...

The first event took place early in the day as people of all ages gathered together at the local high school track to honor "Coach" Becky Ryder on her 65th birthday. The plan was for Becky to run for 65 minutes around the track while others came to join in the fun. In addition, this event became a fund raiser for the Oak Grove Track Team.

As I hobbled along the track with others, I was struck by the variety of ages and people who were there. Teenagers ran alongside children who ran alongside their parents, and in some cases, their grandparents. Everyone had a smile on their face and the joy of running could be seen with every step...even the painful ones. That's when the random thought struck...what a wonderful way to honor a life, by carrying on the torch. Coach Becky has inspired thousands of runners through the years, not just to run, but to live life to the fullest and enjoy every day. I don't think I have ever met anyone with a greater gift of encouragement than Becky. She has a gift for seeing in others what they sometimes cannot even see in themselves. She also has a gift for really enjoying life...not just sitting on the sidelines waiting for something to happen. The people who "ran" with her today were just a small sample of the many lives she has touched.

Tonight, I had the privilege of honoring another wonderful friend as he was surprised by his family with an 80th birthday party. Once again, I was almost in tears as I watched friends and family tell funny stories and precious memories of the difference Howard Myrick has made in their lives. I know personally, I have grown from watching his faithful walk with the Lord for the past 22 years I have had the joy of calling him friend. Those who were there tonight were a testimony of that walk. Why, even my children are a testimony of how he has touched those around him. Since both of my children are Bethany babies, without the work he has done with that organization, I have to wonder if that miracle would have even come to be were it not for his faithfulness. His life has touched the lives of others in so many ways....some that he will never know about this side of heaven.

Both these people were honored today for the way they have lived their lives, and it got me to thinking. How do you honor such a life? How does a person honor their father or mother or whoever it is in their life that has made a difference? Simply by continuing on the work and carrying the torch. Both Becky and Howard have "lit a fire" in the lives of so many people. They are changing the world around them in positive ways. We honor them, and others we love, by sharing what they have shared with us. It's not just a once a year thing....we do it every day - not just in the words that we say, but in the life that we live. That's how you honor a life.

So to Becky and Howard and many others in my life who have made such a difference, we honor you...not just with our words, but with the life we now live. Thank you for being you.

"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:3 - 6

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Saying grace...

Okay, I will admit that I am not big on saying "Grace" before meals. I have joked that I prayed over the groceries when I brought them into the house and that pretty much covered it.

Of course, at huge family gatherings I joined in on "blessing the food," and if one of the young children in the family wanted to say the blessing, we always stopped to hear their precious voices saying "God is great, God is good...." Still, I really don't make it a habit to stop and pray before my meals. Blame it on the fact that I eat in a cafeteria full of noisy students and only have 15 minutes to eat, or blame it on feeling uncomfortable bowing my head when others around me are not....

Truthfully, I try to live every moment of my life by my faith. Not praying at meals doesn't make me love God less or anyone else love Him more....but that's not really what this blog is about. It's about a random thought that I had today.

As I was riding to work, listening to the Christian radio station, I heard a mom talking about her little one saying "Grace" over the meal and chapping her little hands inviting God to join them. That caught my attention. Maybe I've been looking at meal time prayer all wrong. Maybe instead of some perfunctory habit of saying a memorized prayer, stopping to pray is actually inviting God to actively participate in my day. I can get pretty busy in a normal day...stopping to re-adjust my thoughts would be a good thing! Instead of waiting to the end of the day, I can check myself midway through the day. Sort of like checking in with the Father...making sure I'm still moving in the right direction. I know I love it when my kids "check in" with me. It is simply making that quick word or touch that helps keep us connected.

I know I probably won't start bowing my head in the cafeteria anytime soon, but I think maybe I will start taking the time on a more regular basis during my days to simply "check in" invite God to be a part of what is going on all around ask Him to help me see things through HIS eyes. I want to make sure I check myself on a regular basis to see if I'm "saying Grace".....those words of love that acknowledge that God is directing me. I guess it's not just "saying" grace - it's speaking it to a world that needs to know His love.

Knowing me, I'll need re-adjusting often. Since I pretty much eat all day long I should have lots of opportunities to invite God to do whatever needs to be done. Besides, I can't think of anyone I'd rather have lunch with!

"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." Rev. 3:20

Sunday, November 8, 2009

There I go...talking to myself again.

It's an old see someone talking to themselves and joke about it. The thing is, we all do it; talk to ourselves, I mean. I used to say I was just looking for some intelligent conversation, but the truth is, I'm looking for someone who will listen to me.

That's just it...we listen to ourselves. Sometimes we think we don't. We catch ourselves and what we are saying by the phrase, "Listen to what you are saying." But even when we think we AREN'T listening...we are. Our bodies and spirit are listening 24/7 to a surround sound of ourselves. We are constantly being affected by what we are saying. Makes it even more important to "be careful little mouths what you say."

Occasionally, I find myself in a real funk. I'm in a bad mood and there seems to be no good reason. The weather may have changed and it does play havoc with my body as I get older, or the stress of my bank balance getting low may put stress on my already weakened cheerful disposition, but truthfully, I have no good reason for my bad mood. If I am honest with myself, my bad mood may be a result of talking to myself again. I may not be doing it out loud, but I'm talking to myself all the same. When someone does something that I don't like, I may hold my tongue - which is a good thing, but inside myself I complain and argue with things I wish I could say. Oh yes, I'm constantly talking inside.

I have to wonder if others do this. I think they must because even in the Bible we have a record of the David saying "Why so downcast, oh my soul?" This isn't some new phenomenon that only crazy old lady teachers experience. It's human nature. We listen to ourselves....the key is to be careful of what we are saying. Change our focus. Speak words of life instead of the other kind.

When I fail, which happens quite often...stop saying negative things to myself. When I succeed, be careful of who I tell myself the credit belongs to. When life destroys my dreams, remember the one who can raise dry bones and speak new life into them. When my bank account gets low, remember that my Father holds me and every situation in the palm of His hands and has promised to work all things for my good and His glory. When others hurt me, I've got to trust that the Lord sees and fights my battles for me...and I must choose to let things go.

This is not an easy thing to do. It's much easier to fill my days with the influences of the world and its way of doing things. No one is forcing me to fill my life with negative things.  I choose what I watch on tv, listen to on the radio, and words that I repeat. It's pretty easy to go with the flow and do what everyone else is doing. It is a lot tougher to change direction and go against the flow. For some reason, as I typed this, I got the mental picture of lemmings all rushing toward the edge of a cliff. I'll bet going against that stampede is tough....but going with it is certain destruction.

So, for today at least, I'm going to watch what I'm saying to myself. I'm going to try to "be careful little eyes what you see, little ears what you hear, and little mouth what you speak." Like Psalms 42:5, 11, and 43:5 say, (which by the way shows me that I will have to repeat these things to myself OFTEN), "Why so downcast, oh my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God." Seems like it's gonna be a little tough to stay in a bad mood while I'm doing that.

"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer." Psalms 19:14

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I admit it....I hate change.

Okay, I admit it....I hate change. Oh, there are some areas I'd love to see some change in..for instance, the number on my bathroom scale - I'd like to see that change to a much smaller number. I'd love to see the amount in my checkbook change to a much greater amount. I'd love to see the amount of unmatched socks left in my laundry basket downright disappear! Unfortunately, I don't want to make the changes necessary for those things to happen....okay, I'm not sure anyone knows how to tackle the sock problem.

The point is, I am a creature of habit. I like to do things a certain way and like most people, I feel like my ways are best (that's why I do them that way.) It takes a lot of convincing for me to give up my old habits in exchange for new ones. Occasionally, all it takes is someone showing me a better way, but more often I have to be pulled kicking and screaming into a new way of doing things.

My students are reading a book right now about life during the Great Depression and it has me thinking. A lot of people went through really hard times then, and yet they not only survived, they came out stronger. Many were forced to make changes they didn't want to make, move from places they had no intention of leaving and many were forced to stay when they really wanted to go. Yet somehow, they grew. Some of our greatest examples of architecture came out of the years of the Great Depression. Movies that are today considered to be classics - made during the Great Depression. Many of the modern things we take for granted have their roots in that time period of change. Great creativity was born during this time of change.

Today, many are once again going through a time of change, and it's not necessarily change they were hoping for. All this got me to thinking about a story I once heard my pastor tell about what happens during autumn when the leaves begin to fall from the trees. They change colors - actually, the color that was there all along is simply being revealed. (Sounds like a lot of people I know - especially the one who looks back at me from my mirror each day.) Then slowly, these leaves let go of the tree...something old has died. That seems sad, and I'll admit it often is. However, there is a hope in the fact that those old leaves will be replaced with new growth. If the old does not fall away, the new can not come forth.
Now, I'm pretty sure that trees aren't out there moaning about the fact that the leaves they'd grown so accustomed to for the past year are now gone. It is a part of the process....not just in trees, but in me. Letting go of the way things have always been is a part of growth. I don't have to get rid of the things that make me who I am - my roots, I simply need to realize that the fringe parts aren't always going to stay the same. That which served me well for so long may have reached the end of its time.

Today's blog seems to have gone in a bit of a circle....sort of like life. I may not like it, but change is a part of that life....good change and change that is sometimes painful. Both are for my good if I will trust my Creator and His plan. I still hate change.....but knowing it's for a reason gives me hope.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11