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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]

Worship Wednesday – Finishing Strong – On the Anniversary of My Mom’s Glorious Homegoing

Mom pictures for website 012

We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed – always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 2 Corinthians 4:7-10

My Mom was a young 72 when she was diagnosed with cancer. We were overseas at the time, and I wanted so to be home with her. She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – supposedly “the best kind of cancer you can have”. Highly treatable. Long remissions. Often cured. Mom would die after 3 years of intensive, and sometimes experimental, chemotherapy. She never caught a break. Yet, she didn’t look at it that way.

Her journey with God in those days was other-worldly. The Mom I knew loved to serve people, and cancer would not stop that. She had grown up poor and with a dad who could be mean when he drank. She dreamed of college but it was never meant to be. Instead she became a student of life, and she never tired of that. She was a beautiful blend of Mary and Martha – wholly satisfied whether “sitting at the feet of Jesus” or serving the needs of those around her. I love that she was my Mom.

She taught me how to live…and she taught me how to die. We were home in the States when Mom’s cancer finished its course in her. She never spent a night in the hospital throughout those three years.  She stubbornly guarded her time at home and had the will and the support (of my Dad, family and friends) to endure from home…and there was God, holding her tight against the storm.

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Mom never prayed for healing, but we did. Mom prayed that this cancer, the illness and all that was part of it (including a devastating Shingles-related neuralgia), would bring glory to God. Her prayer was answered, and ours, ultimately, in Heaven.

Her dying took three days. If you had known my Mom, you knew a person that was all about life – helping and encouraging others, pointing them to God, determined, in faith, to make sense of what seemed utter nonsense. She continued to be about that until she went into a coma the last day. While she was awake that final weekend, I asked her (over and again) how she was. One time, I remember, she nodded a bit, and whispered, “I’m O.K.” It was her face that spoke volumes. Forehead lifted, blue eyes bright, an almost sunny expression. That “I’m O.K.” was accompanied by an almost delighted look of marvel…of wonder. Like, “Wow! I really am O.K.!” God was meeting her at the point of her greatest need.

Mom and I have always had amazing talks about the deep things of God and life. She told me one time that she envied us our certainty of His call to a life overseas. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard God speak so clearly to me,” she lamented. In the last days of her life, it came to me to ask her if she heard God speak to her lately. She answered right away, with that same look of wonder, “All the time!” If cancer had to be the instrument of such grace, then it became a gift to her.

Mom entered Eternity during the reading of 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 (see above). Her young pastor and his wife came unexpectedly that evening, rushing in, wide-eyed, as if on a mission. We brought them back to her room, and they sat with us, around her bed. She had been unresponsive all day. Her pastor opened his Bible and began reading. Mom had this sweet habit of knitting her forehead and shaking her head, in response to something that touched her heart. As he read, after being quiet and still all day, she knit her forehead and breathed her last. We all felt transfigured in that moment.

Today marks 13 years since Mom went to be with the Lord, and I miss her today and every day. She was so spent when she left us, yet gloriously whole at the same time. A bit of prose from Henry Van Dyke always comes to mind in thinking of her Homegoing.

Gone From My Sight by Henry Van DykeBlog - Mom's Homegoing

Photo Credit: Curt Ellis

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side, spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

Mom taught us how to live…and she taught us how to die. She “fought the good fight…finished the race…and kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7). For us, there is still a race to be run.

Thanks, Mom, for showing us how it’s done. See you at the Finish Line.

Mom pictures for website 014a

When it’s all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters:
Did I do my best to live for truth, did I live my life for You?
When it’s all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I’ve done for love’s reward
Will stand the test of time.

Lord, Your mercy is so great
That You look beyond our weakness
And find purest gold in miry clay
Making sinners into saints

I will always sing Your praise
Here on earth and ever after
For You’ve shown me Heaven’s my true home
When it’s all been said and done
You’re my life when life is gone.

Lord I’ll live my life for You.

Lyrics & Music by Jim Cowan © 1999 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music

Mom pictures for website 003Mom’s Irises

YouTube Video – When It’s All Been Said and Done

Memory of Mildred Byrd McAdams

Her Children Arise and Call Her Blessed – Charles Spurgeon’s reflections on a Godly mother

Worship Wednesday – Greed, Gratefulness, & the Generosity of God

Blog - Tithing pic

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” – Luke 21:1-4

Years ago, an opportunity was afforded to me to teach at a very prestigious university. It would mean relocating to a new city, leaving family and friends, and taking a cut in pay. My current job had allowed me to live very well as a single woman, but I didn’t think a drop in salary would be that much of an adjustment. Unknown to me then was how much higher the cost of living was in the city where I moved. It wasn’t long after beginning life there that my finances were a mess. Running out of money well before the end of the month, I changed as much as I could to pull out of this situation. Eating oatmeal for dinner was one of my get-to-the-end-of-the-month strategies, and stopping giving money through the church was another. For the first time in my adult life, I didn’t tithe. It did not improve my situation.

During this time, there was this young graduate student I noticed at church who seemed to eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches. As we became friends, he told me that he, too, was challenged financially, living off of a graduate school stipend. However, there was a big difference. When he received his check each month, the first thing he did was write another check…his tithe to the church. Then he lived on the rest, frugally, until the next check came. If I hadn’t noticed his simple meals, which brought us into conversation about finances, he would never have commented on his own situation. It was what it was, and he was grateful.

I would one day marry this young man.

This story was not to put him on any sort of pedestal but to consider three spiritual principles at play here.

1) Greed – Growing up, we probably all heard our parents say, “There is a big difference between want and need.” Along with that, need can turn into greed, if we are not careful in managing our heart’s desires. Through that financial downturn, I experienced great clarity. It was a scramble, but I finally got past that season of debt, bounced checks, and not tithing. Tithing is returning back a portion of our income (10% or more) to the Lord, in obedience to Him, for the sake of others in need. God doesn’t need our tithe. I need the tithe. It is a stewardship of what God has given me – obeying Him in tithing, then obeying Him with the rest of my resources follows.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21

Where your treasure is measures where you heart is. Not only that, my husband will say, but you can use your treasure to lead your heart. When you invest your treasure (whether it’s the stock market or to BGR, for example), you are going to pay attention to what’s going on with it. Where we put our treasure is where we tune our hearts. As we remember the heart of God toward those who need Him and toward those with other great needs, the resources He gives us become an extension of His hand of love…as we release them. Somehow, in our obedience (even when our heart is not fully in it), God will change our hearts. Hallelujah!

2) Gratefulness – Our children grew up with VeggieTales. The Madame Blueberry video about thankfulness was one of our favorites. The moral of this cute story was that being greedy can make you grumpy (adult talk: never satisfied). Also, the song goes with the story that “a grateful heart is a happy heart”. There is so much more to life than “the stuff”. Being grateful is a condition of the heart that can be cultivated. There is, after all, so much for which we can be grateful.

3) Generosity of God – God is wholly and perfectly generous toward us. He even challenges us to test His generosity (Malachi 3:10). We have sure found Him faithful. There may be long and difficult times of financial leanness in life. However, as we let go of a tight-fisted control of our money and what we want to do with it, God moves. Not always in ways we may “want” (again, it’s a letting go of control), but in ways that will truly satisfy, changing our hearts to be more like that of Jesus’ heart.

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue. – 2 Peter 1:2-3

Share Your Story: Tithing – The High Calling

The Open Hands of the Gospel

Generous Giving: Questions about Generosity

Gratefulness and Tithing – Unlocking the Floodgates of Heaven

Tithing – Gratitude or Greed?

Generosity vs. Greed

Tithing, Giving, and Generosity

Be Generous with Your Master’s Money

Generosity Begins at Home