Outward Appearance

My Granny was a funny lady. There was not one ounce of pretentiousness about her. She didn’t wear make up, her wardrobe consisted of house dresses and work clothes for working on the farm. She wore sensible shoes, and probably never once went to the mall. She didn’t drive, on the road that is. She sometimes drove the farm truck to the field. Even the cows knew to give her a wide berth.

After she died, we found every nice piece of clothing (mostly pj’s and robes) we ever gave her packed nicely in her cedar chest. She never wore them. She was saving them. I’m not sure what for, but it was kind of funny to find them like that. All neat and well preserved. She had no use for them, really.

My granny laughed a lot. She found odd things funny. I guess that’s where I get it. She was also quite a bit superstitious. She didn’t walk under ladders, avoided black cats, and felt that men who parted their hair in the middle were lazy. Where in the world she got that last one, I will never know.

Her phone was on a party line and she was not above listening in to a conversation or two.

Neither was she shy about jumping into the conversation if she felt like it. She believed in midday naps, and would lie down with me in the heat of the day to encourage me to take one. She always fell asleep. I never did.

She sewed, quilted, crocheted, canned and cooked- three hot meals a day. She grew the best strawberries in Blount County. She never got in a hurry. She got up when she woke up- before the sun- and went to bed soon after the sun did.

She was afraid of some crazy things, and would never let me far from sight when I visited her and my Pawpaw on their farm for fear of some of those things happening to me. She loved me like crazy though, and hardly ever told me “no”. She let me help her make biscuits from scratch, shell peas, and make jelly. She let me help pick the vegetables from the field; except for the okra cause it would make my hands itch. I could feed the cows and ride the mule. His name was John.

My Granny died of cancer when I was just a teenager. I hate that. She would have loved my kids to pieces. A few years after she died, I grew concerned about whether or not my Granny knew Jesus. I knew a lot about her, but I didn’t know that. So I asked my mom who told me she felt sure that she did.

She said that as a girl, my granny went to church regularly, and that as adults my grandparents were just very private about their beliefs. She told me my grandparents didn’t attend church for a reason I found really sad. My grandparents didn’t own a fine car; all they had was an old farm truck. They didn’t have fine clothes. She wore house dresses remember? And my Pawpaw was never seen out of his overalls. (I used to wonder if he slept in them.)

They didn’t attend church because they didn’t feel worthy. Not in God’s eyes, but in the eyes of men.

I was saddened by that news. Sad that they would allow what people thought to interfere in their pursuit of corporate worship, and sad (and a little mad) at attitudes like that from within the church.

I’d like to say that those attitudes are long gone from churches of today. I’d like to say that. Church can often still look like fashion week. People worry more about the condition of their clothes than the condition of their hearts. Church is still often a place to see and be seen rather than a place to experience real worship and to hear God speaking.

I find that I easily slip into this foible myself.

I spend far too much time preparing my outer appearance for church, and far too little time preparing my heart for the worship experience.

I worry that my shoes match my outfit, and that I find just the right accessories to complete my look. I worry far less about whether or not my actions match what I say I believe.

I’ve heard it said before that we should offer our best to the Lord. Sure, but I really don’t think God is concerned that our wardrobe is beautiful, as much as he is concerned that what we offer from our hearts is beautiful.

I am convinced that God would rather see one old lady in a house dress that truly loves Him, and lives out her faith, than a whole truckload of fashionistas that show up just to see and be seen.

What do you think?

Balancing Act

I believe and trust in God for all things. I do. It’s just that its easier to say that when things appear to be going my way. It gets monumentally harder to hold to that position when things go haywire. When things are going to heck in a hand basket it is tempting to take control of things myself. (As if!)

I am trying to do better. As I hand more and more of my stuff over to Him to manage I find that my life gets easier and easier. But there’s a fine line in all this trusting in God for all things philosophy. I mean, how much, then, am I responsible for? Where exactly to my efforts cross the line into completely taking over?

I don’t think we are to sit and wring our hands always waiting for God to swoop down and save us from our situations. At the same time, if we jump in over our heads it likely won’t end well for us.

I think that’s where wisdom comes in. We may have lots of knowledge, but if we lack wisdom we will continue to struggle with this issue. Situations constantly arise that demand our attention; action from us even. But we must remember to let Him lead us as we go. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

I can see down the road of my life just a little ways right now, and there is potential for things to get a little haywire. For things to pan out in the way that I hope they will, He’s got lots to work out. I will confess that I am praying for extra measures of wisdom right now. Having lots of knowledge is really useless if I lack wisdom. I want to make wise choices and watch while I trust God in these things.

I feel a bit like a gymnast up on a balance beam. I tried that once or twice years ago. I hope it ends better this time!

I remember back in elementary school, at least once every year our gym teacher would haul out the gymnastic equipment and force us all to give it a try. Uneven bars, vaulting horse, balance beam and mats. Thank God for the mats. The sight of that gymnastic equipment always struck fear in my heart and mind. I looked at it out on the gym floor and thought, “Now this is gonna hurt.” I suppose our gym teacher hoped against hope to discover the next Nadia Comăneci. I knew I was just going to bring to mind visions of Lucille Ball up there on that balance beam. I lacked the abilities required. (And the courage.)

Life is often a balancing act though. And life doesn’t always come with those nice thick mats to fall on. It tends to hurt when we fall. But fear of falling can paralyze a person, so I don’t want that. Rushing ahead of God can be disastrous, so I don’t want that either. It takes balance, and wisdom to follow, not lead.

But that means a willingness to give up what I want for what He wants for me. It also means being willing to be satisfied with the outcome. Whatever that is.

But a Vapor

“We are not physical beings with a temporary spiritual existence; we are spiritual beings with a temporary physical existence.” ~ Chris Hodges

This is a statement my pastor made two weeks in a row in his Sunday message. Why? Well, it is pretty profound. I guess he thought so, too, and figured it was worth repeating.

As a nurse, I work in an environment where it is easy to forget this. I am constantly focused on the physical health, or lack thereof, of the patients that I come into contact with.

I love my job. I am fascinated by the inner workings of the human bod
y. Take for example: the human kidneys. We have two, most of us do anyway, and without a lot of fanfare they go about the business of filtering out toxins and waste that our body needs to get ride of. Yet they do much more than that. They help to regulate, with striking attention to detail, our body’s fluid and electrolyte balances. For our bodies to continue to function, these levels must be keep in close check. The slightest variation, one way or the other, can throw us into a tailspin.

If I am not careful, I can let my attention to the physical overshadow the spiritual. It’s an occupational hazard, I guess.

This week I had the opportunity to focus on the spiritual part of one particular patient. It was a very moving experience for me. I wish I had the time and the liberty to connect with each and every patient in this same way. Tough diagnoses hit patients fast and hard. It’s as if the carpet has been snatched out from under them and they are left wondering what just happened.

After caring for her physical needs, I was invited back to speak to her spiritual needs. We talked about her diagnosis, her possible treatments, and her prognosis depending on what decision for treatment she made. Things were moving too fast for her. She wasn’t offered weeks to decide. Time was of the essence and she had been given just a few days to make her decision.

She was stuck, and being pulled in a few different directions. She needed clarity, focus, and hope. The spiritual part of her needed a rebooting. She was a believer and trusted her salvation to God, but I wanted her to remember there’s more to that relationship than salvation alone.

As I prayed over what to say to her, I was reminded of this Bible verse: 2 Timothy 1:17,

“God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and of a sound mind.”

She was understandably afraid of what was to become of her. But the last thing she needed to do was to make a decision out of fear. How often have we all said, I’m afraid if I do this or that, this will happen, or won’t happen.” What if every decision we ever made was made from a position of God’s power, His love for us, and a sound mind rather than out of our fear?

I have a few life philosophies that I try hard to live by. One of those being,

“Let’s not jump off that bridge unless we have to.”

It’s a very loose translation of the Bible verse that says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34 (Don’t expect to see “Stacey’s Loose Translation of the Bible” sitting next to “The Message” on bookstore shelves anytime soon.)

I don’t know what will become of this sweet lady. But I left her room after we prayed, believing she would be able to take her eyes off her circumstances and place them on the God of her circumstances. I believed also that she would be able to give each day back to Him, trusting Him for whatever she faced that day.

It is worth repeating:

“We are not physical beings with a temporary spiritual existence; we are spiritual beings with a temporary physical existence.”

Our lives here are but a vapor, a mist that fades quickly. As amazing as our physical bodies are, they are simply put- a temporary housing for the part of us that will live on forever. We focus so much of our lives on the physical part of who we are and sadly, let the spiritual part grow weak from lack of attention. A simple change in perspective is what we need to remedy this. We can do that, can’t we?

Life Giving Hope

It’s so gloomy this time of year. From mid-January till the first sign of spring towards the end of March, are hard months for a lot of people. I’d very much like to be transported to a sunny place during these long winter months. I’m not sure how people in serious winter climates can manage it. Cold winter weather does nothing for me.

When I was a kid, the chance of snow thrilled me. I would hope for it, pray for it and wait. On the rare occasions that it did snow in my little Alabama hometown, an inch of snow might as well have been six feet. As a town, we shut down. No school for the kids, and no work for the adults. I’ve often called snow days God’s

“Forced Family Fun Days”

Everyone had a fire in the fireplace, and a steaming cup of hot chocolate in their hands. We’d pulled out everything we could find to use as a sled. No one owned a real sled. I don’t think anyone even sold sleds where I grew up. But that was okay. We turned garbage can lids, inner tubes, and cookie sheets into make shift sleds, and off we went.

The first snowman I ever made was only eight inches tall. It’s the best I could do out of an inch of snow.

Fun in the snow didn’t lessen as I grew older. I’ll never forget the snow day when my older brother woke me up early to show me it had snowed. A lot. There had to be at least three inches on the ground. (Wow) I was in high school at the time, and really preferred sleeping in, but he wouldn’t have it. He drug me out of bed, I got dressed, and we took off outside.

We jumped on his four-wheeler, and rode all over town taking in the winter wonderland the place had become. It was beautiful.

I was sure I was going to die.

Hanging on for dear life to the back of that four-wheeler while my brother did doughnuts in each of the three school yards in town, (probably his way of thumbing his nose at the public education he’d received there) pretty near scared me to death. (On second thought that was probably his intention all along… scaring me to death, that is.)

Thankfully I survived that snow day. I still think snow is pretty, but I’ll enjoy it from the inside looking out most of the time these days. I’m not a fan of being cold anymore. And if I’m not careful the gloominess of these winter days can really start to drag me down.

It’s then that I have to remember the hope of spring. I know that spring will come. It has come every year of my forty-three years. Never once have I had to go without it. It’s a hope I can cling to without a doubt. It gets me through these hard winter days.

Hope is a powerful thing. It’s a gift really. As Christians we have a kind of hope not offered to those who do not believe. The Bible tells us that “we do not mourn like those who have no hope.” (Thessalonians 4:13) Of course that verse is speaking specifically about those we have lost in death, but t really doesn’t matter what we mourn. Whether it’s missing the warm days of summer, or a loved one we have lost. Could be we mourn a broken relationship or loss of financial security. Whatever our desperate situation might be, because of Christ- we do not mourn without hope.

There have been a few times in my life where I have experienced hopelessness. It’s truly a lousy place to be. There’s profound sadness, and desolation there. Huge emptiness and loss. But I went there on my own. I chose to ignore the hope offered to me as a believer in Christ.

Proverbs 13:12
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Most of the time, when I have lost hope I have also lost the ability to see past my present circumstances. I find myself mired in the details of what’s gotten me down rather than trusting in the God that is bigger than my circumstances.

Hope is a commodity we should hold onto, not something we should trade in for attitudes that simply serve to keep us trapped in unhealthy places.

I know in my heart that God can make a way where there is no way. I don’t ever want to be heartsick and lost in hopelessness again. I want to stay full of the hope of Christ. I want to hold onto the ability to see past my circumstances, and know that as surely as spring will come again this year, that hope truly is life giving.

Heaven is For Real, Book Review

Heaven is for Real is the true story of a little four year old boy who had the great privilege of visiting heaven… briefly. This little boy’s father, Todd Burpo, tells the story. Now there are a lot of stories of people who’ve had near death experiences, and they are all quite similar in nature. So much so that some folks in medicine have decided to say that what they have experienced is just the body’s manner of shutting down, a final release of the body’s own endorphins, things like that. Sometimes those in medicine just insist on explaining away the things of God.

I’d like to see them explain away the story of Colton Burpo.

I was drawn to this story for a number of reasons. The first being that Todd Burpo is a Wesleyan pastor. Wesleyans are just middle of the road, straightforward, no nonsense Christians. You don’t generally see a lot of sensationalism coming from the Wesleyans.

Second, it took them years to share any of this story outside of their own family. See? No sensationalism. It even took Colton, who was just four years old, a couple of years himself to tell it all. Generally, he had to be asked, or was just innocently making conversation, whenever the details of his journey came to light.

And third, my son is in heaven. I want to know everything I can about where he is. I don’t ever want to have doubts about that. If I had any before, I don’t now that I have read this book.

Yet his book answers more than the question, “Is heaven for real?”. It answers questions like, “Does God really hear us when we pray?”. I believed that he does, but I couldn’t help reflecting on an experience in my own life as I read the story.

Years ago, months before our youngest son was born, my husband was hospitalized. On that night, my seven year old son woke crying from a nightmare. My husband, who had been awake with a bad headache, said he would get up and go see about him. After several long moments, when he did not return, I went to see what was going on.

What I found was disturbing.

My husband was behaving oddly, looking out the window as if someone was out there. Then he’d tell us to be quiet, that everything was all right. He repeated this several times. My son told me he’d been doing that for the last ten minutes. I tried to address my husband, but he could not seem to stop repeating the same actions and words. I sent my son to my room, and grabbed my husband by the shoulders. It was at that point that he looked at me and told me his head was killing him.

At three in the morning after getting my husband dressed, I ran to my neighbor’s house and rang their doorbell. With my three kids safely in the care of neighbors, I drove my husband to the hospital. After several hours of tests, the doctors told me Matthew had encephalitis. Encephalitis is the swelling or inflammation of the brain. I asked the neurologist for a prognosis. I will never forget her words.

“If he recovers, it will take months for him to be normal again.”

After he was settled into the ICU, I drove the five minutes home to shower and check on our children. My wonderful neighbor, Sharon, had taken the day off to keep them. Thank God for her! On that trip home, I had it out with God. Here I was alone- we lived far from family, with three kids and one on the way, and we had just launched a brand new church two months prior! What was going on? How could God let this happen?! I am sure those driving alongside me that day thought I was out of my mind. I was shaking my fist, yelling, pleading.

Later that afternoon, I was sitting by Matthew’s bed in the ICU. Every few moments he’d wake up and I’d ask him who I was. (He hadn’t known me for hours) His response was always, “Uh huh, yea, I know.” And then he’d pass out again.

That is until he knew. I’ll never forget this. He woke up, I asked him who I was, and he looked at me as though I was insane. His response was, “You’re Stacey… my wife.” He said it in a tone that implied I was the crazy one.

I jumped up and in about thirty seconds told him all that had happened over the last twelve hours. I even included his poor prognosis. In retrospect that was not the kindest thing. He was slightly overwhelmed. So I ran out to the nurse’s station where the doctor was sitting and said, “He just woke up and wants to know what’s wrong with him.” She looked at me as if I had two heads. She jumped up and said, as she ran to the room, “Encephalitis patients don’t just wake up and start talking like that.” I said, “Well, he just did.”

The doctors and ICU nurses were amazed. They had never seen anything like it. He was awake, lucid, still in some pain, but his prognosis had just taken a turn for the better. Much better.

Todd Burpo thought he might lose his son. Colton had a ruptured appendix that had been misdiagnosed as stomach flu and therefore had not been treated for five days. By the time Colton was on the operating table, things were grim. Todd found a room at the hospital where he would not be seen, closed the door, and had it out with God. He ranted, raved, and pleaded for his son’s life. And he did it in private. No one knew. (A fact important for the book.)

But Jesus knew. And so did Colton. While his body was in surgery, he saw his father in that small room pleading for him. He was with Jesus when he saw. Yep. Sitting on his lap. And after a time, Jesus told Colton he was sending him back. That he was answering Colton’s dad’s prayer to give Colton back to him.

I know our prayers are heard. I believe in miracles. The day Matthew came back to me, there alone in the ICU, I received a miracle… an answer to a prayer. But to know that Jesus saw me pleading for him in my car that day, that he took pity on me and with a touch, or whisper, or whatever, gave Matthew back to me is more real for me now than it was when it happened.

I don’t know the Burpos. I’m not getting anything in return for recommending this book, but I promise it will bless you. Go buy the book, Heaven is For Real, and I promise your eyes will be opened and you’ll shed more than a few tears. Do you know someone who needs to see Jesus as an up close and personal God? Give them the book.

Boring, Boring, Boring

I have discovered something the last few days of our Daniel fast.

It’s boring.

And I guess that’s the point. I am denying myself food that I really enjoy. I am telling my physical self to lay low so that my spiritual self can rise up.

So often I tend to cater to my physical self. I let it decide what I do or don’t do. When my physical self decides I am hungry, I eat. It says it wants chicken fingers, special sauce, fries and a coke with that wonderful crushed ice from Guthrie’s so that’s what it gets.

When my physical self tells me it’s too tired to go do something, anything, I sit instead of doing. Now it tells me it is bored with the food I am offering it. Well, la-ti-dah.

I learned a long time ago that I really don’t have to listen to my physical body. Ask anyone who’s ever worked night shift. You can manage on much less sleep than you think you can. I used to insist on eight hours of sleep a night. I got really uptight if anything tried to interfere with that regimen.

When you work night shift, ideally you come home from work in the morning and hit the bed. But what if your kid is home sick from school that day? Well, you tell your physical body that sleep for you will have to wait. I have gone thirty-six, even forty-eight hours without sleep. It can be done.

It’s hard for us to deny ourselves anything these days. We buy into the lie that we deserve whatever it is we are wanting. “I worked hard today at work, I deserve to have that bag of M&Ms from the candy machine on my way out of the building.” (I actually have that conversation with myself.) But there are bigger, more lucrative things we tell ourselves we deserve. Some of those things end up costing us big both physically and emotionally.

Speaking of emotionally, our emotional self can get us into trouble, too. Our emotional self tell us we deserve to be happy all the time. Did you notice the Bible never says that once? Not once. What the Bible tells us is that we can be joyful in all things. Even the things that make us unhappy.

Sometimes we trade what is right for what makes us happy in an attempt to feed our emotional self.

Only in the end, the happiness fades and we still find we’ve made the wrong choice.

I’m only five days into this prayer and fasting thing. I may not make it without catering some to my physical self, but I hope to stick it out enough that my spiritual self can rise to the top for a change. I am feeding it as much spiritual food as I can right now. I want it to grow stronger than my physical self and my emotional self.

I want to be guided by the part of me that leans into God, wants to follow in His ways. I want to hear more clearly what it is He wants my physical body to do. I want to feel in my heart what He wants my emotional self to feel.

So boring food it is. What’s for breakfast? This nice trail mix bar full of… I’m not sure what… oats and barley and other grainy looking things. I just noticed there’s no chocolate chunks in there like I like….

Twenty-one Days

Well it’s the tenth day of 2011. Each new year seems to bring new opportunities, and a fresh start. We all vow to spend less money, exercise more, and eat better. We promise to lose weight and keep in touch better with family and friends. Some of us join the gym and others give church another try. And why not? A new year is like getting a do over. We get to start all over. It’s like someone whipped clean our slate and we get to leave the old behind in favor of a new and improved us.

We start off all energized and positive. At first. We might even do pretty well during January. But if we are honest, by February we have rationalized most of our good intentions away. Who has time to go to the gym anyway? Healthy eating takes too much time and preparation. I can’t manage that all the time. And church? What about church?

I don’t know about your church, but ours does a really neat thing during January. We spend three weeks in January fasting and praying for the upcoming year. It all started yesterday. I’m a bit nervous, if I can be totally honest. I’ve never been a part of a church this serious about spiritual things. And I didn’t grow up ever taking part in a fast, and this one is supposed to go on for, did I mention,

Twenty-one days?

I have tried to prepare my heart and mind (and stomach) for this fasting bit. We are going to give the Daniel fast a try. It’s based on the scripture that basically says that Daniel didn’t eat anything fun or tasty for twenty-one days. No bread, no meat, no chocolate or soda either. I love bread, and I am kind of fond of meat, too. But the chocolate and soda are giving me pause. Can I confess that I like chocolate and soda far more than I should?

Our church will soon celebrate ten years in existence and they have been fasting and praying during January for all ten years. In that time the church has grown to over 14,000 in attendance and has, in addition to its main campus, (built and paid for two years ago) five satellite campuses.

There just might be something to this starting the year off with prayer and fasting.

During this time we will ask for God’s continuing blessings upon our church, its leadership, and for its vision to continue to reach people for the Kingdom. But as a family we will be also asking for God’s continued blessings upon us. I hope to see God do some really amazing things in my family this year. I hope that He will use us like never before, grow us together even more as a family, and give us great adventures in following Him.

I’ll send my first son off to college this year, so I definitely want Him all over that. My second son will be getting his driver’s license… Yikes. Something I want God to be covering, for sure. My daughter will be starting high school in the fall, so I certainly pray he will be directing her paths there. My little one will still be nicely tucked under momma’s wing, but I want him to grow up in his relationship with and understanding of God throughout the year ahead. I pray for open doors of opportunity for my husband as he serves in ministry, and that he be allowed to use his gifts for God’s glory in amazing and unfathomable ways.

And me? Well I guess I hope the same for me. I would love to see this blog grow in readership, reach out and bless more people. (For God’s glory, not my own.) I want to stand with arms wide open and receive all it is that He has for me this year.

I also want to lose ten pounds and start to eat healthier. Perhaps this fast will have a practical side as well as spiritual. If you are like me, and aren’t’ used to the whole fasting thing, but it is sounding like something you might like to do for yourself, just come on! If you Google Daniel Fast I promise you’ll have more information than you can read. If you have done the Daniel Fast before, I could sure use your help. What DID you eat? How did you get through and honestly… did you make it okay without the chocolate?

Either way, I do pray God’s richest blessings upon you and yours this new year.