Category Archives: Inspired

Thanksgiving Memories – All Good Gifts

2006 -- Nov -- Thanksgiving table

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. James 1:17

[Adapted from the Archives]

For most of 20 years, we lived in North Africa where a Thanksgiving holiday was a foreign concept. “Eid el Shukr” (“Feast of Thanks” in Arabic) was understood but not a day set aside. We, along with other expat Americans, brought Thanksgiving with us and invited our local friends into the experience. On the surface, American Thanksgiving has pretty much three constant components – food, family, and football.

Back in the States, the old traditions are changing and yet stay sweetly familiar. My Mom, who always laid out an incredible Southern-style feast on the kitchen counter at home in Georgia, is no longer with us. As with some of you, I’m sure, I miss her still every day and how she lavished love on us through these family times together. Our children are grown now and establishing their own traditions with more families and friends added into the mix. Each year, we find ourselves re-working our own traditions as well.

Thanksgiving is again, for us, all about food, family, and football…but there’s also another element…faith… I am grateful every day for the kindnesses of God and those he’s placed in our lives. Celebrating Thanksgiving allows us to put an exclamation point on being grateful. It’s not just about a table full of food, although food is clearly a focal point. Thanksgiving, even as a national holiday and not a religious one, focuses our sight beyond ourselves. There is an object in Thanksgiving beyond ourselves.

Over 30 years ago, a funky little Broadway musical was turned into a film – Godspell. It was an adaptation of the life of Jesus according to the Gospel of Matthew. At that time, I was in the season of life that young people pass through of searching out what exactly I believed. It wasn’t going well at that time. Praise God, He did not forget me during those days when I had all but forgotten Him. Watching the film Godspell was one of the occasions God used to wake me up. There’s a wonder and delight in the young followers of Jesus in the musical. It reminded me of what I had once with God…and what could be again.

All the songs in the musical Godspell are lovely. Composer and Lyricist, Stephen Schwartz, beautifully captured some of Jesus’ teaching and the depth of love and rightness between Him, His followers, and creation, in general. All Good Gifts, adapted from an old hymn, is one such song and is a pure and proper doxology of praise for Thanksgiving.

Worship with me.  [Here’s the YouTube video from Godspell to give you the melody.]

All Good Gifts*
We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land..
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand..
He sends us snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain…
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain…

All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above
Then thank the Lord, thank the Lord for all his love…

We thank thee then, O Father, for all things bright and good,
The seedtime and the harvest, our life our health our food,
No gifts have we to offer for all thy love imparts
But that which thou desirest, our humble thankful hearts!

All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above..
Then thank the Lord, thank the Lord for all his love..

I really wanna thank you Lord!
All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above..
Then thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord for all his love..

2011 November Thanksgiving Visits 010Food – Family Favorites in Mom’s Kitchen2011 November Thanksgiving Visits 012 a (2)

Football – on T.V. or out on the street with cousins and friends2010 November Thanksgiving in Georgia 204

Family – Time together…savoring every minute2011 November Thanksgiving Visits 015

Happy Thanksgiving…

Oh…just in case Thanksgiving is a struggle…and it isn’t all happy family fun…I pray you take courage and rein in your heart to remember that God sees and loves you. We can be a Thanksgiving blessing to each other…if you’ve read this far…you are a blessing to me. Wish you were at our table…maybe one day you will be. You are definitely welcome at God’s table.

YouTube Video – Take Courage – Kristene DiMarco

*Lyrics and Story Behind the Song – All Good Gifts (Godspell)

YouTube Video – All Good Gifts (Godspell 1990)

YouTube Video Clip – All Good Gifts (Godspell original cast 1973)

Wikipedia article on original hymn/lyric – We Plough the Fields and Scatter (1862)

Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart – Part 3 – Constancy

[Today’s blog is Part 3 of 3 – excerpts from a talk given at an ISBC Women’s Ministry Holiday Dinner with the theme: Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart. See Part 1 – Capacityhere; Part 2 – Caringhere.]

We’re talking about matters of the heart – the kind of character our Godly mothers, grandmothers, and great-aunts demonstrated…that we learned and want to pass onto to our children and grandchildren.

…which takes us to the last character trait to consider…for us in this generation, and for generations forward (when we will be considered vintage…but God isn’t).

Constancy

No matter how old we are, we have people in our lives who are constant. They are those we count on; those who always show up. No. Matter. What. They are faithful to God and faithful to us. Let’s just take a moment to think, even looking around us, at some of those dear women in our lives. Let’s remember those who aren’t with us anymore but who taught us how to be constant in our love and in our lives.

When we lived overseas, we were daily reminded of how only God could work the miracles that must be worked for people to receive the truth of the Gospel. Our neighbors were steeped in a very different worldview. They saw Jesus as a good man but the Saviour. The fact that we desperately need Him to restore us to a holy God was foreign to them.

Every day…every single day…God called us to show up with His love and His word…in those places and for those people. That constancy was tested every day because it would have been so easy just to stop showing up.

One of the verses from God’s Word that kept us going was Galatians 6:9 where Paul encouraged believers, saying, “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap a harvest if we do not lose heart.”Photo Credit: Pinterest

God has already promised us that His purposes are not thwarted; He will complete His work; He will finish what He started in us.

God calls us to keep showing up…following His example in our own lives.

This is how we get to “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). By showing up, time after time, with whatever gifts we have. We don’t have to be rockstars of any kind…we have a God who equips us to be exactly what is needed in any situation. Our constancy radiates His greatness. We can count on Him.

A few years back, I discovered a Christian sister, by the name of Kara Tippetts. We never met but she wrote in her blog in such a way it was like receiving a letter from a dear friend. She wrote about her walk with God through a relentless cancer. Over the course of her diagnosis and treatment, she adjusted to a very different life. However, she continued to show up. For her family. For her friends. For all of us who watched for every report of her life and how God met her each step of the way. She modeled showing up…and emboldened those in her life to show up for her…in all that hard.

Photo Credit: Mundane Faithfulness

Just shy of her 40th birthday, she finished her race and went to be with the Lord. Leaving behind 4 sweet children and an adoring husband.

It was both terribly sad and gloriously beautiful.

In the last months of her life, she managed to write three books…three books!!! The last one was a dialog between her and her friend, Jill. By that time, it was all Kara could do to show up, the disease had so done its ill.

This is what she had to say about constancy…even in the hardest of situations…

“If God asks us to do something, then He’s also going to show up to carry us through it. And when we walk in community with one another, we will be kept.”

Photo Credit: Just Show Up, Kara Tippetts & Jill Lynn Buteyn

Completely cared for by God Himself.

He is faithful. His infinite capacity fills our small hearts; His perfect love magnifies the care we offer to others, His steadfastness gives us what we need to be constant.

In His strength and love, we become the women of that adage: “When her feet hit the floor, the Devil says ‘Oh no, she’s up!’” The evil one battles with us to fail…but we will not, with our eyes on God.

From Genesis through the whole of Scripture, we see the word “shield” and that God is our shield. Against any evil. When we take God seriously and put our lives wholly in His hands we become a force to reckon with – whether we’re 14 or 50 or 82. We will experience attacks from the evil one – he doesn’t want us to be successful as Christ’s image-bearers. We may even take friendly fire from other believers. It happens, and sometimes the enemy is us…but God take what was meant for evil and make it for good in our lives. We have His promise.

Photo Credit: FBC Mt. Pleasant

Hear the Word the Lord: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full of armor of God so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.Ephesians 6:10-11

 

Brent Curtis, a Biblical counselor and author of a favorite book of mine The Sacred Romance, wrote about how God demonstrates His own constancy when we show up for someone:

“God graciously showed me this several years ago while I was in the midst of an intense, three-year spiritual battle on behalf of a client.

One night, David (not his real name) called me on the phone at three in the morning, in the midst of painful spiritual torment.  We talked and prayed and I began to read from the Psalms.  Finally, I could hear by his deep breathing that he had fallen asleep.  As I lay on my dining room floor…something wonderful and strange took place.

In my heart, I heard a voice say, “Brent, forget about the battle.  You’re here with me now.  Rest.”  I looked up, actually expecting to see God in some way, or perhaps an angel.  What I did see was the light in the room change.  I find myself wanting to say it grew more distinct, almost more personal.  I only know I discovered that my hand was raised in the air in worship.  I didn’t decide to raise it.  I am not, by any means, an expressive person in the charismatic sense of the word.  It was simply as if there was no other appropriate response and my hand acted accordingly.  For several minutes I basked in what I can only describe now as God’s warmth and love toward me.  The epiphany ended with me reading the Twenty-third Psalm and others it seemed the Lord had chosen to assure me that I was not alone in the battle.”

When we live with capacity for Him, caring for others, and constancy in being there, we may, at times, come under attack, but we will never be alone.

The Old Testament prophet Zephaniah reminds us of this: “The Lord your God is among you, a warrior who saves. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will be quiet in His love. He will delight in you with singing.”

No matter what your situation…even when you feel God has been “too quiet” in His love…or you have been waiting such a long time for something…God’s love is constant, trust in that, and God is in the waiting, with us, Dear Ones.

[Special thanks for the ISBC Women’s Ministry and the opportunity extended to me to speak at their holiday dinner. The sweet beauty of the Vintage Christmas displays was surpassed by the faces and hearts of the women present. They would make their grandmothers proud. I was unable to get images of all the women so will leave you with a few more images of just some of the tables. Blessings.]

Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart – Part 1 – Capacity

This past weekend, I was privileged to speak at a women’s holiday event in Kingsport, Tennessee. 150 women gathered to bring in a vintage Christmas together. Photo Credit: ISBC Women’s Ministry, Facebook

The food was delicious, the company was old friend-comfortable, and the memories wrapped around us like a Tennessee quilt.

The Festival of Tables was amazing – designed by the women hostessing. Just a few of the table toppers shown below:

[Today’s blog and the next two – Part 2 and Part 3] are taken from the talk I gave that evening on “Vintage Christmas – Matters of the Heart”. The following are excerpts of the talk because some who couldn’t come wanted me to post. Though written for Christian women, there is much to apply to any of our lives.]

“Vintage” can mean something very different to each one of us, depending on our ages and life experiences.

Vintage…one day our grandchildren and great-grands will look way back to our Christmases and call them vintage. They will look back on us as the women of old in their lives – the grandmothers (and great-grandmothers) of their faith.

What do we see when we look back? What will they see when they look back?

When I look back to my growing up years, it’s my Mom and women like her who come to mind. Godly women – tirelessly serving their families, church and community and pointing us to Jesus.

In thinking about Vintage Christmases and matters of the heart, God has placed three character traits on my mind. Three qualities we probably saw in our Godly grandmothers and great-aunts.

Strong and steely traits that we can develop across a lifetime walking with God. These traits are all matters of the heart. We see them in the life and character of Jesus. As we wrestle with them in each season of our lives, we can hope to carry them forward to future generations.

The first is capacity defined as the maximum that something can contain or produce.

In every season of our lives, we have those moments or days of coming to the end of ourselves. We feel like we just can’t do one more thing. We are DONE. When I talk about capacity, it’s not about adding more stuff to lives that are over-packed or over-scheduled lives. God doesn’t call us to be Energizer Bunnies…until we burn out, or dry up, or give in to the busy.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Capacity isn’t just about getting a lot done. Nor is it, on the flip side, about shaking up those of us in seasons of life that have been downsized –  intentionally or unintentionally. Unless God is speaking into that…which He sure did with me.

Building capacity means to look to God to order our days and to watch for Him to show up in our schedules and “chance” encounters.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve come through both a cancer diagnosis and a couple of cardiac emergencies that could have taken my life. Having half a lung removed diminished my physical capacity for awhile. Then moving into retirement diminished my other capacities even further. I felt old. In our previous work circles and in our church, whatever purpose or identity I had before seemed to fade with time and age. It wasn’t pretty.

Maybe you have experienced this sort of thing, whatever your age is. A situation where you have passion or desire to be a part of something but the doors seem to all be closed. When it seemed there was no way forward, I just settled into a slowed-down, lesser life.

In the middle of all this, the Lord in His great kindness, pretty much asked me, out right, “Is that it? You’re done?” I sure didn’t want to be done. With age and what seemed to be dwindling opportunity, life had become small for me.

Or did I do it to myself? Was I looking to people for opportunities to serve…or to God?

Now those of you with heavy academic loads, small children or big responsibilities in your work may not even be able to imagine this…but think with me a minute. Is our capacity such that God could show up and do as He wills in us…or are we pretty much maxed-out or turned-in?

Does God have our hearts? Or is our capacity dulled because He is more a tenant in our hearts rather than the Lord?

Is there space in our hearts He would fill if we didn’t already have them packed with other stuff?

Now, we all have responsibilities in life. For some, papers have to be written, babies must be fed, and payrolls managed…fill in the blank in your thoughts of where you have to show up every day…

What happens when we show up with our eyes on Jesus and the possibility of what He might do in and through us?

That realization from the Lord that “if I wasn’t done, then what?” started a spiritual journey for me… Last December, as part of a New Year’s resolution, and in response to our pastor’s challenge, I determined to make God’s voice the first voice of my every day. I’m a morning person, so quiet times before dawn may come easier for me than for some. Still for God’s to be the first voice does require me NOT to pick up the cell phone, or sit down at my computer, or turn on the TV news. In my season of life, there are no children to feed or to get schooled, so you with children have different challenges of making God’s voice first.

Whatever our challenges, it doesn’t change our great need of hearing Him speak truth and love into our hearts. Early. Every day.

When God did get first voice, He began helping me to clear out the clutter in my heart which changed the contents of my conversations and my calendar…Bit by bit, God added space to my life. Space to hear Him speak and to “interrupt” the rhythms of my day.

The discovery that I seemingly had more time wasn’t magic…it was God.

The visual below is so perfect of Christ flooding our heart with His love and all the good things God has for us, and in turn our hearts are cleansed, cleared of all the junk that distances us from Him, and then the contents of our hearts pour into others. Jesus talked to the religious leaders of his day about this very thing: “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”Photo Credit: HolyTrinityPTC

Another way to look at this is related to what we hold in our lives as treasure. Jesus taught us that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Photo Credit: Heather C. King

You can guide your heart with your treasure. Wherever you put your treasure or whomever you make your treasure, your heart will follow. Your treasure leads your heart.

This was so helpful for me because I had stored up quite a bit of self-absorbed treasure in recent years – my own significance being one part of that. Even wanting to be useful to God somehow had become an idol. That sort of thing just happens when we take our eyes off Him and onto ourselves. Right?

Days turned to weeks of God being the first voice each day in my life. I started doing life more in present tense with Him, listening for His voice through the day. Like a real conversation. Sometimes it would be a prayer; sometimes a complaint; just being in His presence. The barriers keeping life small seemed to start coming down. Such that, even when life was small, I was becoming more content. We keep our eyes on God, and He guides…sounds too simple, I know…but it has given the most mundane day or situation a sense of the divine.

The prophet Isaiah captures this so well when he says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it”. [Isaiah 30:21] Of course, we may not hear God speak audibly, but He will lead us just that clearly as we tune our hearts to His voice. We’ve all experienced that. To walk daily like this builds capacity…

Photo Credit: Francis of Assisi, Brainy Quote

We start by doing what’s necessary…this is sometimes where we stop…short.  If…we keep our hearts on the Lord, the necessary can open up to being a part of something only possible with God in it…and then…the impossible.

 If we are faithful to make a capacity for Jesus…He will fill that capacity with Himself.  “Make of yourself a capacity and I will make myself a torrent!” – Catherine of Siena

Photo Credit: Heartlight, Quotemeal

[Part 2 on Caring and Part 3 on Constancy]

5 Friday Faves – A Life that Matters, Factory Tours, Early Morning Habits, Elections, and Making Place

Happy Friday, y’all. How was your week? Mine was a bit different – not bad, or anything like that…but different. More introspective (if you can imagine)…quieter… If yours was more hectic and chaotic, I hope you can take a breath this weekend, re-orient your mind and heart, and refresh with those you love.

Here are five faves for this week:

1) A Life that Matters – Author and thought leader Andy Crouch is one of my go-to guys on how to have impact on a broken world. I read his stuff and then try to see this world through a lens he offers. Photo Credit: Christianity Today

He was guest on a podcast recently that again stirred my heart toward the possibility of making this a flourishing world. A world where everyone has the opportunity to be successful. Jessica Honegger is the podcaster and she is also the founder and CEO of Noonday Collections – a fashion accessory company that partners with artisans all over the world giving them opportunities to flourish through their own work.Photo Credit: Medium, Erika Ashley

On the podcast (so worth your time), Jessica talks about how cushioned we are by the bubble wrap we pull tightly around our lives. In ripping off the bubble wrap, we can discover something of a life that matters. Andy Crouch talks about a life of pilgrimage as a way to rid ourselves of the bubble wrap:

“I try to just constantly be planning to be in places that are going to be difficult for me, that I’m not going to have a lot of competence, I’m not necessarily going to have a lot to offer, but I have a lot to learn, and I trust that…I mean, for me as a Christian, that God is there in those places, in some way is willing to meet me in those places in a way that…I suppose God is willing to meet me every day, but that I’ll never find out about unless I take those journeys. So, that’s just a habit of my life now.”

[Pilgrimage is a good place to start, and I’ve begun ever so gingerly to make that a habit. Just yesterday I discovered an Islamic Center just 2 miles from my house…just scratching the surface of knowing my part of town.]

As these two talked through the podcast, they continued to focus on lives that matter…that make a difference. Issues like bias toward action, overcoming paralyzing fear, seeing that we are all creatives (made in the image of God), and that competitiveness is a diminisher of others.

“What do I most want? It’s to know that my life mattered, it’s to know that I participated in creating something very good, that I was ultimately who I was created to be. That is the reward, and nothing else. There’s nothing else on offer, actually, than God saying, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,’ at the end of our lives.” – Andy Crouch

“If I Could Inspire Any Movement, It Would Be a Going Scared Movement” with Jessica Honegger – Yitzi Weiner

Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing – Andy Crouch

Imperfect Courage: Live a Life of Purpose by Leaving Comfort and Going Scared – Jessica Honegger

Worship Wednesday – Up and to the Right with Andy Crouch – Deb Mills

2) Factory Tours– Don’t you wonder how things are made? When I would take trips home to see my folks, we would pass by a food company ( Suzanna’s Kitchen) where the fragrance outside matched their slogan: “the cooking that takes you home”. I always wondered how you could make large quantities of food well – to be packaged and sold in grocery stores and served in restaurants.

That would make a great factory tour.

This week I had a blast from the past when a friend posted the picture below of another local favorite: Edwards Baking Company.

Photo Credit: Facebook, Marc Merlin

When I was in college, we would pass by this factory, knowing how great the pies were, and wonder what it was like inside.

Something I want to do is take my grandchildren on a few factory tours while there are still people managing most of the manufacturing. Artificial intelligence is a great thing, worthy of a look-see as well, but I’d like the grands to see actual people making all things good for us…

Fun of Factory Visit Is Off the Pie Chart – John Kessler

29 Free Factory Tours Worth Checking Out – Erin Huffstetler

3) Early Mornings – Habits of early morning are intriguing and encouraging to me (helps to be a morning person, for sure). I’ve written before about  Ben Slater’s very doable routine (from his piece 5 Simple Daily Habits That Lead to Ultimate Success). Mind you, his daily habits aren’t all early morning but they are set on a foundation of starting early. They are:

  1. Wake up early.
  2. Exercise regularly.
  3. Focus, don’t multitask.
  4. Learn from mistakes.
  5. Make personal investments.

A friend of mine, as she and her husband discover new rhythms with an empty nest, has leaned into early morning rituals. Life-giving and mind-setting habits that help to order her thinking and actions through the day. Her habits are encouraging me in my own.Photo Credit: Kathryn Visneski

In thinking about this, I came across a piece by Carey Nieuwhof which gives perspective. The habits themselves can bring on bragging rights and, with time, turn into just talk and less walk. It’s good to remember not to beat up on ourselves when we don’t start the day thusly, but take each day as a gift to begin again. Wisdom:

“In an age where most people seem to be accelerating their talk more than they’re accelerating their walk, one of the best things you can do to increase your integrity is to humble your talk and accelerate your walk.
If you simply make your talk match your walk, the gap between who you are and who you want to be becomes smaller almost instantly.”Carey Nieuwhof

[I’ve written a lot about habits – see below – mostly because of preaching to myself. :)]

Monday Morning Moment – Notes on Chris Bailey’s Life of Productivity – DebMillsWriter

Monday Morning Moment – Make Your Bed Every Morning and Be Ready to Change the World – DebMillsWriter

Monday Morning Moment – Screen Time – Give It a Rest – DebMillsWriter

Monday Morning Moment – Understanding True Habit Change and Rocking Your New Year’s Resolutions – DebMillsWriter

4) Elections – We are days away from the US mid-term elections. I will be so glad when it’s done and settled and the American people have spoken. We are divided on issues, for sure. The politics of US elections aren’t anything to be proud of. Munch of the money that goes into campaigns could so be used in better ways. Too bad I didn’t save the many sleek political postcards we’ve received over the last weeks. They would have made a great pile, worthy of a fire on a cold Fall night. We are almost to election day, and the people will have their say.

I don’t usually point to political articles or interviews, out of respect to you and a desire to remain peaceable. We all have strong opinions most probably and they are better served with face-to-face dialogue. However…here goes. This week a podcast (like above) popped up on my social media feed, involving two people I didn’t know. Classical liberal Dave Rubin and libertarian Andrew Klavan.

Whatever your views, this interview meant a lot to me because it came from two persons who didn’t agree on everything but who were wholly committed to civility, dialog, and learning from each other.

My politics have shifted wildly as I’ve gotten older. I resonated with Andrew Klavan who commented: “I’m a conservative because I’m a liberal.” Pretty much sums it up for me today…awkward and uncomfortable as it is…

YouTube Video – Andrew Klavan and Dave Rubin: Left vs Right, Trump, and the Dishonest Media (Full Interview)

The A to Z of the Mid-terms – Sandra Rodriguez Chillida and Roland Hughes

5) Making Place – This is a new term for me. “Making space” is something that has been part of my chosen lifestyle for years – “making space at the table”, ” being inclusive”, “giving way”. Making place however is something much deeper.

Placemaking inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community. Strengthening the connection between people and the places they share, placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value. – Project for Public Spaces

Photo Credit: Project for Public Spaces

Our city, Richmond, Virginia, has much for us to see in terms of murals, green spaces, and neighborhoods. I’m not sure how much of the placemaking has been done by those most impacted by it. It surprised me to find out that the many murals painted on the peeling walls of city building were done by outside artists. They are an art display of sorts around the city, but they don’t really seem to make place for those of us who live here.

What if we ourselves took ownership in “making place” in our neighborhoods? What would we want to add to make our own home places more welcoming, more of who we are and what we want for our children?

Photo Credit: Place/Making

Photo Credit: Urban Bio

What Is Placemaking?

There you go…would love your comments…but mostly, would love you to just pull away and be with those you love, making place together.

Bonuses:

Stranger Things Meets Classical Guitar – Beyond the Guitar – Fits this week:

Daily blogging – not there yet. Oh, I’ve written over 600 blogs but not one every day. This Seth Godin article gives me hope:

The first 1,000 are the most difficult

Worship Wednesday – Take Courage – Kristene DiMarco

Photo Credit: Primo Bible Verses

“I lift my eyes to you,
the one enthroned in heaven.
Like a servant’s eyes on his master’s hand,
like a servant girl’s eyes on her mistress’s hand,
so our eyes are on the Lord our God
until he shows us favor.

Show us favor, Lord, show us favor,
for we’ve had more than enough contempt.
We’ve had more than enough
scorn from the arrogant
and contempt from the proud.” – Psalm 123:1-4

God’s Word is so rich…so real. It is, after all, God’s very word to each one of us. Even as the psalmist is speaking to the Lord, pouring out his heart to Him. His anguish. His fed-up-ness. God is already whispering the answers to the psalm-writer’s laments right into his weary dejected heart.

If you find yourself in a day where you are just done…remember that God isn’t.

Pull those beautiful eyes of yours up…away from the circumstances you find yourself in, away from those indifferent to your struggle, away from the burden weighing you down. Pull your eyes up to the Lord whose eyes are set on you.

Don’t let your peace be riddled with the holes of human arrows… sometimes even friendly fire. Remember His promise that “our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12).

No matter how great the enemy or how insignificant we feel today, God has prepared armor for us that will withstand any attack.

We stand, we keep our eyes on Him. The battle belongs to the Lord.

The Lord Himself fights for us (Exodus 14:14).

In the confusion and chaos of battle, or the silence and longing of standing on the sidelines…we sometimes reel fainthearted in our anxious thoughts. Then as the Spirit speaks truth to our hearts, clarity is restored. We take a breath. We lift our eyes back up to Him…as a servant looks to his good master for favor.

We wait…“He’s in the waiting…He’s never failing.” Stand, breathe, re-frame your thoughts toward Him… No matter what the world says, the truth is that He will finish all He has begun (Philippians 1:6)…in you and through you.

Worship with me to Take Courage by Bethel Music (Kristene DiMarco):

Slow down, take time
Breathe in He said
He’d reveal what’s to come
The thoughts in His mind
Always higher than mine
He’ll reveal all to come

Take courage my heart
Stay steadfast my soul
He’s in the waiting
He’s in the waiting
Hold onto your hope
As your triumph unfolds
He’s never failing
He’s never failing

Sing praise my soul
Find strength in joy
Let His Words lead you on
Do not forget
His great faithfulness
He’ll finish all He’s begun

So take courage my heart
Stay steadfast my soul
He’s in the waiting
He’s in the waiting
Hold onto your hope
As your triumph unfolds
He’s never failing
He’s never failing

Take courage my heart
Stay steadfast my soul
He’s in the waiting
He’s in the waiting
Hold onto your hope
As your triumph unfolds
He’s never failing
He’s never failing

And You who hold the stars
Who call them each by name
Will surely keep, Your promise to me
That I will rise, in Your victory
And You who hold the stars
Who call them each by name
Will surely keep, Your promise to me
That I will rise, in Your victory!

So take courage my heart
Stay steadfast my soul
He’s in the waiting
He’s in the waiting
And hold onto your hope
Watch your triumph unfold
He’s never failing
He’s never failing

So take courage my heart
Stay steadfast my soul
He’s in the waiting
He’s in the waiting
And hold onto your hope
Watch your triumph unfold
He’s never failing
He’s never failing!

He’s in the waiting…*

[Extended version of this beautiful song in video below]

*Lyrics to Take Courage – AZ Lyrics

Take Courage – Lyrics and Chords – Songwriters: Kristene DiMarco, Jeremy Riddle, Joel Taylor 

Story Behind the Song – Take Courage – Kevin Davis

Psalm 123:1-4 – a Matter of Where You Look – Philip W. McLarty

Monday Morning Moment – Respect & Civility – and the Lack Thereof – in the Workplace and Public Life

Photo Credit: Real Wellness Doc

In the summer of 2002, we returned home to the US from living in Cairo, Egypt for many years. I was surprised at the change in our culture. People passing each other didn’t make eye contact as much anymore. There was less acknowledgement in general. Once the cell phone (and especially the smart phone) became, not just en vogue but, normative, we became even more disconnected from people around us.

Then the humor at others’ expense escalated. As did impatience at others’ foibles and perceived differences (in traffic, at the ball-field, and in the workplace).

Respect had to be earned…not just given.

Tolerance is the public message, but genuine acceptance of another is altogether something else. On any side of the argument.

What do you take of all of this?

Is it possible to restore respect and civility in a culture? First, we have to know what that even means. When unkind habits become part of our lives, we don’t always know it’s happened.

Let’s focus on incivility.  Just last week, I watched business consultant Christine Porath’s TED Talk on incivility. Her research with Christine Pearson on respect and civility was eye-opening for me. Incivility is edgy in its acceptance in our culture.

We are both shocked and even sometimes amused when people are abrupt, sarcastic or rude with others. This is dependent on our age, gender, and cultural background.

The problem with incivility is that it is contagious. It can infect a whole culture. Incivility, and disrespect, can move subtly to bullying.

Photo Credit: Patricia Bouweraerts, Martha Stout, WorkplaceStory

Author and podcaster Michelle McQuaid interviewed Christine Porath on “the cost of incivility”.  Following are my notes in brief from that podcast:

  • Incivility is defined as rude, disrespectful or insensitive behavior (whether or not the actor sees him/herself as being uncivil or disrespectful – it has to do with what the receiver hears or feels).
  • We are all biased. We may not know our behavior is uncivil. The only way we can know is to seek feedback…and truly listen to and consider constructive criticism.
  • Technology is a relationship distractor. It muddies civility. With our faces in our various e-screens, we miss verbal and nonverbal cues, make wrong assumptions, lose the tone and tenor of the conversation in front of us…and so on and so on.
  • The cost of tolerating such behavior in the workplace: performance, mental and physical tolls, personnel retention, cognitive tolls (memory, attention, creativity), and less help within a team or across departments (incivility breeds mistrust – collaboration and cooperation just don’t happen in such an environment).

Porath gives some excellent counsel on what can help in an environment that has become disrespectful and uncivil. Unfortunately, incivility is too often expressed by those with authority/power. The best organizational intervention, then, is to recruit for civility, coach and train toward civility and practice civility. Respect and civility have to be core values of the organization. See Bryan Cave Law Firm‘s Code of Civility below:

Photo Credit: Bryan Cave, Christine Porath

For us as individuals, Porath counsels to take the high road in regards to civility. Do what you can to effectually put the incivil person “in a bubble”. Then work on your own habits of respect and civility. Smile at people…genuinely, warmly, acknowledging them. Listen – tune in, invest, make eye contact. Build relationships with your team, especially those who report to you. Humbly reach out.

Porath also gave a shout-out to Adam Grant‘s advice along the same lines: to share resources and recognition; give credit; show gratitude; say thank you; share purpose and meaning. [She did the same thing she encourages us listening to do.]

Porath is the author of Mastering Civility: a Manifesto for the Workplace. Definitely on my to-read list now.

I took her quick and easy assess yourself survey and tried to be as honest and forthcoming as I could be. The result was 64 our of 100 points (“good” on her civility assessment). It surprised me – thinking it would be a higher score. Along with the number score she gives a great strengths and “things to focus on” determination and guide. Take the survey. Worth your time.

We can pull ourselves up and out of a culture that thinks it shows confidence to yell at people or that it’s ok to laugh at someone else’s expense. We have the power to rise above and to bring back health to our organization. One small respectful and civil gesture at a time.

The Cost of Incivility With Christine Porath

Assess Yourself – Christine Porath

The Price of Incivility – Christine Porath and Christine Pearson

Choosing Civility – 25 Rules to Live By – with P. M. Forni – Barb Schrader

YouTube Video – Civility: a Conversation with P. M. Forni

Monday Morning Moment – Your Company’s Secret Change Agents – with Richard T. Pascale, Jerry Sternin, and Chinese Philosopher Lao Tse

Photo Credit: Waggl

We have all encountered people in life who are bright stars in our universe. They aren’t necessarily those who climb the corporate ladder or win public office. However, in their own niche, in their own small place in a company or community, they are brilliant change agents, people making a difference and moving us to a better situation. Just by showing up.

[Please take the time to share in Comments your experience of such a person – either at work or in your family or friend space.

Organizational change is usually driven from top-down planning and execution. Occasionally, those changes are not received well by the company employees or organizational members. Ownership doesn’t follow and at some point the change fizzles into something altogether different.

Wouldn’t it be wisdom to create successful and sustainable change? What is missing from typical change orchestration? Is change planned in the isolation of the executive conference room or in the company of those most impacted by the change.

Business authors and educators Richard T. Pascale and Jerry Sternin wrote several years ago about the very environment where positive and impactful change takes place. Their piece is titled Your Company’s Secret Change Agents and was introduced to me by a friend in a huge time of change himself. I wondered if his own situation resonated with this piece.

Pascale and Sternin write about the power of positive deviance. it is defined below.

Photo Credit: Slideshare

Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.

Five basic steps serve as the backbone of the approach. The 5 D’s are:

  1. Define the problem, its causes and common practices, and articulate desired outcome.
  2. Determine presence of PDs,
  3. Discover their uncommon but successful behaviors & strategies through PD inquiries,
  4. Develop activities based on the inquiry findings
  5. Discern (monitor and evaluate) the results. – Positive Deviance Initiative

The Power of Positive Deviance – How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems – Richard Pascale, Jerry & Monique Sternin (Slideshare produced by Melih Arat)

Your Company’s Secret Change Agents – Richard T. Pascale and Jerry Sternin

The Power of Positive Deviancy – Jerry Sternin and Robert Choo

What Pascale and Sternin discovered was the essential component to change embraced by those impacted was the work done to find and learn from those “positive defiants” in the particular community. The practice of PD inquiry sorts out who those persons are and then discovers what they are doing well that others within the workplace or community aren’t. It’s not a judgment as much as a fact-finding mission.

“It’s easier to ACT your way into a new way of THINKING, than to THINK your way into a new way of ACTING”. – Pascale and Sternin

Too often we think our own personal expertise (knowledge) can move us and others to a changed attitude which would then impact practice. For sustainable change to take place (as in habit formation), we figure out what effective practice is and as we begin doing it, then our attitude changes and our knowledge grows. What are your thoughts about this?

The authors quote 6th century Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu in simply and eloquently describing this process:

Learn from the people

Plan with the people

Begin with what they have

Build on what they know

Of the best leaders

When the task is accomplished

The people all remark

We have done it ourselves

Photo Credit: Brilliant Ink

I love when worlds converge giving greater import to what is happening. In recent weeks, I’ve been taking a course with Wendy McCaig, executive director of Embrace Richmond, instructing. The topic is Asset-based Community Development – (ABCD). It is very similar to positive deviance in setting out toward change.

ABCD is community and relationship driven. It’s not a more resourced agent coming in and trying to fix the problems of a workplace, organization, or neighborhood. It is a “working with process”. Like the PD inquiry, ABCD uses a methodology focused on listening – to individuals and to communities. These listening conversations are geared toward finding the positive deviants within that community…and seeking out their practices, attitudes, and particular knowledge.

What Is Asset-based Community Development? – Graeme Stuart

Something I ask friends and former colleagues (free-lancing as I am now) often, especially when they are struggling with a top-down decision- and change-making structure is “Who is thriving in your situation?” “What are they doing to thrive?” “What are you doing to add to or contribute to the health of your organization?”

Too often, we get tunnel vision regarding change; thinking we have no other option but to respond…or react. Like Pascale, Sternin, Lao Tse, and also Wendy McCaig…I know and believe in those secret change agents. If you don’t know any, search them out.

Or…become one.

Both/and really. Search them out AND become one as well.

[Do your bosses, your organizational leads, and yourselves a big favor…introduce them to your company’s secret change agents…those positive deviants in your lives.]

5 Friday Faves – Giving, Michael Jr., Classical Guitar Heat, Painter Karen Garner, and Fall

The week has drawn to a close. It’s Friday evening here…and I’m enjoying the quiet of an unfilled block of time. Hope you’re having a time of refreshing as well. Here are five of my favorite finds this week.

1) Giving – We have beggars in our city. It’s heartbreaking really. Often, they stand at busy intersections holding up cardboard signs. When the traffic light is green, I just buzz through, noting them but not having to confront need or the tension to respond. It’s when the traffic light is red, and I’m idling, essentially within reach of this person who has laid out his need very publicly. I know there is a charity that does more harm than good…so it’s not something I want to do. Don’t want to give wrong. Still I am driven to respond. A few years back, author Frank Sonnenberg wrote a compelling piece on giving. Fortunately, I discovered it via social media this week. It’s entitled: Giving: The Most Important Lesson in Life. It’s really a very simple message. Essentially, the message is to have an intention toward giving. We can learn to give well and appropriately…unless our hearts have grown hard from the enormous need around us. Don’t let it happen!

Giving: The Most Important Lesson in Life

2) Michael Jr. – One of our absolute favorite comedians is Michael Jr.

Photo Credit: Fathom Events

He is touring right now and also has a comedy film out – both entitled More Than Funny. He is just deeply engaged with his audience and with real life. One of the things he talked about in the film (saw it this week) is the whole setup to humor and its punchline. So meaningful how Michael Jr. talks about how life can be setup in order to deliver unexpected joy to other people. It’s our focus…do we operate in such a way that it’s all about us, or do we setup an environment where people can actually help each other intentionally? Odd to have such a meaningful message in the middle of a comedy act! So Michael Jr. [Watch this for the explanation of his “Be the Punchline”.]

Punchliners

3) Classical Guitar Heat – Nathan Mills of Beyond the Guitar has posted a couple of his classical guitar arrangements. One is the theme from the TV show Dr. Who.

The other is his rendition of the theme from the video game Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.

You don’t have to be an enthusiast of either show or video game to love these piece. Nathan brings the heat.

4) Painter Karen GarnerKaren Garner is a friend of mine…an old friend. We have known each other since teen-aged Karen caught the eye of a friend of mine at a youth retreat. They married; we went overseas. Most of our friendship we haven’t lived in the same city, but we are friends. She is a friend and an artist. Years ago I commissioned a work from her for a cancer center in Tennessee. Since then she has painted hundreds of pieces. Her art has been on our walls all these many years and through all the countries we’ve lived. She somehow infuses joy in her art; I’ve always loved it.Photo Credit: “For Pat, the Prince of Tides” – Karen Burnette Garner

Karen was interviewed recently and featured in this article. It’s a quick read and introduces you to Karen…and her beautiful work.

Art and Life with Karen Burnette Garner

5) Fall – This season is my favorite. The colors; the smells; the tastes. It’s the blissful in-between – after the long languishing summer and before the crisp cottaged winter. It’s the season of long walks and short days. Of an early morning fire in the fireplace. Of pink sunsets and fields of pumpkins. Of a myriad of hot beverages and pies we only eat this time of year. It’s Fall…and I love it. How about you?Photo Credit: Humbert Wolfe, AZ Quotes

Happy Weekend! Be gentle with each other…and yourself.

Bonuses:

Quote: “No matter what happens in your life, you can start over.”Keith AndersonPhoto Credit: Keith Anderson, Facebook

Exclusive Interview with Matt Maher – Alanna Boudreau

One of the bloggers I follow – Taking Route – has a series on making a home, as an expat, in various countries. These pieces are so fun…taking the needs of the family into account and blending both the beauty of one’s home country and that of one’s host country. The “global home” below is Kenya but there are 31 total homes to peruse – enjoy!

This Global Home | Day 5: Kenya

Diner Food – “Food that pleases since 1929” – Majestic DIner – a favorite diner in AtlantaPhoto Credit: Marc Merlin, Facebook

Worship Wednesday – I Am Broken at Your Feet – Alabaster – Rend Collective

Photo Credit: The River Walk

Within two days of Jesus’ crucifixion, just hours before, a woman would anoint his body for burial… Here is the strange and glorious account of that event:

 It was two days before the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a cunning way to arrest Jesus and kill him.  “Not during the festival,” they said, “so that there won’t be a riot among the people.”

While he was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured it on his head. But some were expressing indignation to one another: “Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they began to scold her.

Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me.  You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” – Mark 14:1-9

Our pastor Cliff Jordan’s sermon on Mark 14:1-11 brought this account alive again to us. [Listen to the podcast linked above.]

The woman who poured out her treasure – possibly all she had in the world – in worshiping the Lord – was no stranger to him. She was Mary, sister to Lazarus and Martha – friend and follower of Jesus.

Surrounded by the disciples at his host’s table, Jesus was enjoying the company of these men so close to him. Mary entered the room without ceremony and straightaway broke open an alabaster jar containing this expensive perfume. [That jar was like her security – equivalent to a year’s wages in that day – “compared to her love for Jesus, it was nothing”, Cliff preached.]

She would pour that extravagant oil over his head. She then took the dripping oil into her hands and rubbed it on his feet. Drying off the excess with her own hair. The men in the room took loud exception at what they considered her frivolous act…but not Jesus.

Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me.  You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

Two days later, Jesus would give his all on a cross. Beaten and bloody he would die…for us…holding nothing back. It was a Friday, and Passover. By the time his body was released to be buried, his followers had to rush, because of the late hour, laying his body in the tomb, wrapped but without anointing oils.

No worries. In the quiet of that Passover evening, Jesus’ body, caked with blood mixed with his sweat, the fragrance of Mary’s love offering must have remained…must have sweetened the stench of his death. He gave his all for us…she gave her all for him.

“Love is a laid-down life.” (Elisabeth Elliot) – We experience that in Jesus, those of us who know him. We see that in Mary.

Pastor Cliff asked the questions: “What is my alabaster jar? Where do we place our security? What can’t we imagine life without?”

I can’t imagine life without Jesus and knowing his love and his great gift of salvation. Everything else pales.

___________________________________________________________________________

From our years living in Egypt, we have kept two small alabaster votives. The light they emit is both enthralling and beautiful…so like the act of Mary’s giving all she had to her beloved Jesus.

Worship with me to Rend Collective‘s Alabaster.

I am broken at Your feet
Like an alabaster jar
Every piece of who I am
Laid before Your majesty

I will bow my life
At Your feet, at Your feet
My lips, so lost for words
Will kiss Your feet, kiss Your feet
Yeah

Oh, the gravity of You
Draws my soul unto its knees
I will never be the same, no
I am lost and found in You

And I will bow my life
At Your feet, at Your feet
My lips, so lost for words
Will kiss Your feet, kiss Your feet

Oh, I will bow my life
At Your feet, at Your feet
My lips, so lost for words
Will kiss Your feet, kiss Your feet.*

* Lyrics to Alabaster by Rend Collective

The AlabasterJar – The River Walk

YouTube Video – Alabaster Box – Cece Winans

Monday Morning Moment – a Comforting Reminder When Family Gathered – “Do the Next Thing”

Photo Credit: Francis J. Gavin, Kristian Dela Cour

This morning I woke weighed down with so much undone that needing doing. A week of travel, as delightful as it was, lends itself to a deep sleep on Sunday night and an early fretful waking on a Monday morning.

Do you have those awakenings? When your mind clears from sleep and you begin looking at the week ahead and think “How am I going to get it all done?” Or “How do I even do it?” Anxiety builds, and depression follows.

That’s how this morning started…and then the heaviness lifted with the simplest thought. A reminder I received just this weekend…a reminder that stirred sweet memories of a woman with huge influence on my younger years…writer Elisabeth Elliot.

On our trip to see family this past week, we had an evening with girl talk. Four generations of women around the dinner table, laughing, sharing, and remembering. [I know men do this, too – how else do they keep all those football, baseball, and fishing trip stories so fresh in their memories?]

In the course of the warm glow of that conversation, my dear sister-in-law, Stacie, reminded her girls of how she counseled with them through their high school angsty moments. She told us she used to  quote Elisabeth Elliot‘s own advice to her daughter, Valerie, when she was overwhelmed by life: “Do the next thing.”

[Stacie sounded just like Elisabeth Elliot as well…took me back to when I was her girls’ ages and first began reading Elliot’s books, including her husband Jim’s journals.]

Elisabeth Elliot died in 2015, but through her life she wrote many books that had huge impact on my life. From my teen years. Books that remain treasures today…http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Blog-Elisabeth-Elliot-Love-is-a-Laid-Down-Life.jpg

For years after, as a struggling mom with young children, I would tune into her daily radio shows – Gateway to Joy – listening to her “square-your-shoulders” walk-with-God counsel. Her manner was both tough and tender as she covered the real stuff of life and how we maneuver through it in the presence of God.

Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

This morning, in the cloud of confusion over where to even begin this week, God brought our dinner table conversation to mind. Hearing Stacie quoting Eliot in that no-nonsense voice of hers made me laugh then, and smile today.

Four little words that brought clarity.

“Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now…Do the next thing.Elisabeth Elliot

When You Don’t Know What to Do – (a tribute to Elisabeth Elliot) – Rhonda Quaney

On the Passing of Elisabeth Elliot – Love Is a Laid Down Life – Deb Mills

Love Is a Laid-Down Life  – a Slowing Down for a Season – Deb Mills

Photo Credit: Pinterest, AllysTruth

YouTube Video: Elisabeth Elliot: Suffering Is Never For Nothing