Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: From Jesus Calling to A Praying Heart

Looking back at the tapestry of 2012, two important threads I see from the first day to this finale are Jesus Calling and A Prayerful Heart.

I bought the Jesus Calling daily devotional book for myself for Christmas last year after learning about it shortly after my Dad died in late October of 2011. Not long into the year, I bought the Facebook app that offered quick and constant access to the narrative and Scriptural reminders to trust God and to thank Him in every circumstance.

A Prayerful Heart was a Christmas gift from my niece. She lives in California, and we have only met in person once or twice, but she managed to give me a gift that enriched my spiritual development in a major way this year.

I don't yet have new devotionals for 2013. I know I will continue getting and reading daily emails from The Upper Room and also the cultural commentary the Denison Forum, which has a strong prayer focus. And I will continue to read two daily readings from 12-step devotionals.

A part of me feels anxious about not having something new planned and ready. One that I've thought of is My Utmost for His Highest, which I'm pretty sure I bought years ago and never read, although I have no idea where it is. Or maybe this should be a year to commit again to read through the Bible.

But the lesson I take from this year's spiritual journey is, since it is Dec. 31 and I don't yet know, then it is OK not to know or have a plan. One of the things I've seen over and over this year, including in its final weeks, is that my plans just seem to provide God an opportunity to show me a better way. But He also shows me that better way when I don't have a plan.

Not knowing need not be a problem. That's true with what I plan to do today -- and it's true with my plans for a new year, including what new disciplines I might feel inclined to undertake. It's true with what to do about nagging health and pain issues that have arisen in the past year, and it's true about long-term and ongoing issues such as indecision, selfishness and insecurity that manifest in strained relationships, lost opportunities and an uncomfortably cluttered personal environment.

What I'm trying to express is that it does me no good to think I must find the way to resolve any of these issues. What I'm learning over and over, reinforced multiple times in this past year, is that my role is to put God first, to seek Him, to love Him, to thank Him and to trust Him. The changes will flow -- and are flowing -- from that. It's simple but not easy. But it's a pathway I pray I will never leave -- and I do trust that it will lead me to be more generous and compassionate and loving, to God's glory.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas every day -- and an everyday Christmas

When my heart is grateful, everyday is Christmas. When my heart is grateful, I see gifts from God all around me. 

Sometimes the gifts include things that go as planned:

-- Mom's visit. 

-- the Christmas cantata. 

-- caroling.

-- Christmas shopping. 

-- Dec. 23 worship and Christmas celebration with my mom and all the family in Texas.

Sometimes the gifts materialize as things don't go as planned:

-- The forecast of a Christmas Day blizzard caused us some concern as we were packed up and prepared to head to Texas late Dec. 22. We had left plenty of food and water for our kitty, but what if we got stranded? How grateful I am that I could call, at that very last minute, members of our church who live in our neighborhood. They were available and willing to check on Bridget and also pick up our newspapers.  

-- The Christmas Day blizzard forecast eventually changed the timing of the gathering with my husband's family. We were still able to have that celebration, also in Texas, but a little sooner than planned. Then we raced back to Norman ahead of the storm. I was able to attend an amazingly spiritual Christmas Eve candlelight Communion service ending at midnight at my church.

-- Christmas Day for us, and for many others I know, ended up being, with just a dusting of snow, slightly white but mostly uncharacteristically quiet. More than once I thought, and later heard others say, it didn't seem like Christmas. 

That's pretty much what gave birth to these thoughts. Without the family gathering, it didn't seem like Christmas. But it got me to thinking more about what Christmas should seem like.  My heart was still filled with the warmth and joy of spending time with the bunches of loved ones in the family and also at church.  But now I had the gift of a chance to more deeply contemplate God's great gift of love through the birth of His Son, Jesus, Who would become the Savior of the world. 

And it reminded me that His gifts  of love and life and joy and peace and ever-present help are with me always. And there are so many other gifts if I will but look and see and accept. Another awesome aspect to God's gifts, whether on Christmas Day or everyday, is that these gifts actually grow as we share them. 

As this Christmas season and year wind down, my heart's desire is to stay aware of, grateful for and generous with God's gifts, to His glory. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Grateful for God's great gifts

At Christmas and always, i am grateful  for God's great gifts:








--Salvation through His son, Jesus Christ. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Start with one true sentence

This may be  just more random stuff. I'm still struggling to find words and time to express in writing.

Here's the deal: My mind keeps telling me that if I'm going to post something to a blog, it needs to be provocative or witty or compelling in some way. And many times I don't think I have that in me.

But I have to remember that for me, for now, the first role of the blog is the description from which the term comes: a web blog or online journal. It's a place where I write about things that were meaningful to me. It's for my record as much as anything.

Inspiration from Facebook Monday came morning, via The Writers Circle, quoting James A. Michener: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” (He didn't say every sentence had to have a verb.)

-- Preparing for Mom's visit. The miracle of the sleepable bed. As late as 5 p.m. Friday, and maybe 6, I was wondering whether Mom would have to sleep on the sofa sleeper in the living room instead of the bed in the front room. But I said a prayer and kept working at the front room. And somehow, before I needed to head to the train station at 8:30, I had the bed cleaned off and made, with enough space for her to walk on a vacuumed carpet! And I had time to clean the bathroom she would be sharing with the cat and also do some other things. I would have never thought all that possible at 5 p.m.

-- The carolers in the rain at the train station.

-- Mom willing to go to choir rehearsal, Gene's banquet and then to hear the cantata.

-- Dropping my phone and breaking the front glass. I don't have time to get it taken care of. Fortunately, it still works right now. But I'm aware of risks that I am taking that could leave me without my phone and mobile connection to so many things I've come to rely on.

-- Thinking I lost my credit card for the second time since September, in conjunction with buying gas. How relieved I felt to find it in that pocket. Yes, I prayed. Yes, I rejoiced when I found it!

-- Where to even begin this week. Remember the miracle of the sleepable bed.

-- Am I gaining weight? What am I going to do about it? Being aware is an important first step. Even a little extra weight brings along too many other problems that I just don't want to deal with. So -- why doesn't thinking of that keep me from grabbing one more bite? Even at Christmas, I don't want the problems that overeating bring. I pray for help and see that God can help me and is, through prayer and understanding people.

-- Reaction to Connecticut school tragedy. There really are no words. First-graders and their teachers? My first reaction: What is wrong with this world? I actually posted it, adding that it was a rhetorical question that I didn't really want people to comment on. For some reason, when I hit post, it did not show up. That's probably just as well. Even in the face of such a tragedy, God is God, and God is good, and He works through His people. I pray for all involved, which in one way or another is everyone in our society.

-- Response to my picture in the paper. I continue to be pleasantly surprised when people congratulate me after seeing a picture taken more than 10 years ago and that continues to show up in the paper in connection with a copy editing award I won earlier this year. One of the thoughts it brings: Yay, they still see the newspaper! Many of my friends no longer do.

-- The interconnectedness of things.

-- The scatteredness of things. I wrote that because I'm including a response I wrote but didn't post  to a Facebook comment about the choir's "lovely performance": I do hope and pray it was more than a performance. If it's not about the message, we are wasting our talent and breath. But I'm probably just drawing on memories of some past cantatas I've been involved with where part of the listeners' role was to extend grace to a struggling choir and pray for God's glory to rise above the noise (or lack thereof, sometimes!)!!!

Facebook summation of weekend: What a grand weekend for me! I love it when my Mom visits, and since she spent much of her time sharing along with me the fellowship and music of some of my favorite folks -- the Goodrich church choir -- well, that made it even grander. And we got to hear Gene give a talk, which we both found interesting. My only regrets: I didn't get a picture taken with Mom at our beautifully decorated church, and Gene woke up sick Sunday and was not able to attend church to hear the cantata.

Hope springs eternal, and I need that hope as I enter another week with more to do that I know how to get done. I will remember not only the miracle of the sleepable bed, but also the miracle of Christ's birth in a manger and God's great gifts of love. Joy to the world! The Lord is with us!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Motives, regrets, still learning, still sharing

This starts with notes jotted down during and after church, and continues with whatever comes ...

-- I regret missing the celebration of life at my church in Norman for a photographer whom I did not know personally, but who apparently touched the lives of many, many people I know and care about professionally and at church. But I had to think about my reasons for regretting not attending, considering that I don't think I knew him at all or his family very well, even though they attend the church. Were my reasons selfish? It seems so. I didn't know him. But I know many people who knew him. And it was at my church. Ultimately, the reason I didn't go is when it was the morning after my work shift that ended not that many hours earlier. But I still wish I had gone. I don't know how many times this will have to happen before I learn: Go. Be there.

-- On the other hand, I also struggled with not going to what I still consider the home church in Gainesville to see my great-niece as Mary in its Christmas pageant. I knew there would be pictures and possibly video, but those don't capture the special moments for a sweet little girl and her younger sister before, after and as they did their part to share the story of Christ's birth. But in this case, I can say "Go. Be there." still played out, but it had a different tune. I went instead to my church in Norman, where the children's "What Christmas Means to Me" program  blessed me in a special way, especially as I watched two precious young sisters who reminded me of my young great-nieces and their even younger cousin, and how sweet it is to watch them grow up learning the traditions of the church. The service also included baptisms of two equally precious little sisters. And to cap it all, our choir director sang an aria from "The Messiah" that likely will make anything the choir can do for its cantata next Sunday seem pale by comparison. Fortunately, it is not a competition. God can be glorified in all, and I believe He was and is.

-- Perhaps an even bigger capstone  to the worship service for me was what happened afterward. I had no thought of picking up an Angel from the Angel Tree ministry. I was just trying to find out if anything was left to buy from the youths' bake sale. But the person I asked thought I was asking about Angel Tree. I almost said, no, that's not what I was asking, but I caught myself, and quickly asked to see what they had. I ended up buying size 8 clothes for a 4-year-old girl who has at least one parent in prison. As I thought about that today, I couldn't even imagine what it would be like to be 4 years old (or any age, for that matter) and have a parent in prison. It brings tears to my eyes to realize how blessed I and my family are -- and yet I struggle with selfishness. I worry about giving too much and end up giving very little of my money or my time. Seriously. Sadly. And it's very hard to break the pattern. I'm grateful for one small step and praying for more progress in this area. (And -- I also found the bake sale leftovers and bought something to support the youths.)

My prayer is that God please help me not be selfish as I experience and share His blessings. And may I continue to grow and learn from missteps, trusting God to work all things for His great good.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Time to get ready -- and fear not

It's Advent. Many United Methodists as well as lots of Christians from other traditions use the period starting with the fourth Sunday ahead of Christmas as a time to reflect and prepare spiritually before Christmas, which at its heart is a celebration recalling God's great gift of His only Son, to save from sin the world's people, whom He created and loves.

Some years, I've been all in with daily devotionals (some of which used meditations that were written and shared by church members including myself) or other practices with an Advent theme.

This year, I really didn't think I would do anything extra for Advent. I recently took on a spiritual discipline that includes writing down each day a goal and also looking back at the day just passed to identify some service I did; some surprise from God; and two things for which I am grateful. This is supposed to be simple, but I've found it to be fairly challenging, especially trying to identify something I've done in a day that might be considered service. It has been a good exercise, though, and seems to be one more step toward clarifying what is important in my life from daily and longer-term perspectives.

Today is the ninth day of that exercise, and what I've seen so far is that it seems to be helping me go beyond what I might have done some other days. More than once I've had to stretch to identify something I would call service, and one day, I just said I couldn't identify anything. I mean, is having a good attitude at work really a service? But that's all I could come up with one day.

By the weekend, I was choosing to do things that just a few I days ago I wouldn't have bothered to do. Among them: socializing with two groups of friends, conversations with sisters and meeting my husband for a meal on Saturday. On Sunday, I went to a church meeting I hadn't known about in advance and really didn't want to take time to attend. But its timing seemed somewhat custom-made for me, and so I went, and I was blessed in unexpected ways.

This all comes amid some changes at work that don't affect what I do, but do affect some of whom I do it with. And change typically unsettles me. Plus, this week I'm on an unstructured vacation time -- lots of things "on my list," but nothing I have to get done -- which in the past has often ended up with me feeling lots of regret for wasted time and opportunities.  I was feeling my most unsettled Friday night and pretty much dreading the week ahead. But one step and decision at a time, I feel blessed. The hardest part will be accepting that whatever I do is enough. God truly tells me it is, but I'm not always a believer.

Back to Advent. I think this is probably covered in my new writing exercise, but for this period, I want to be sure and do at least one thing each day that I would not have done if not for this focus. Yesterday, it was the church meeting. Today, I hope it will be followup correspondence with two friends.

I need structure and guidelines and goals, and yet I feel apprehensive about not being able to live up to expectations when they are in place. But, again, I think of Advent, and Mary's response when she was told she, a virgin, would give birth to a son -- the son of God. Was she afraid? Maybe initially. But soon a song poured forth from her heart. (See Luke 1:26-55.)  And she has been blessed through the ages.

I don't think God has anything like that planned out for me, but I do think He has a plan. I continue to pray to humbly seek and trust and obey and praise Him, knowing that fear is overcome by faith (even though I may not realize that until I look back!).