Sudden. Unexpected

Have you ever received that unwelcome, unexpected call that changed your life?

Or gotten the news you most feared, but never allowed yourself to believe would really happen to you? Have you ever arranged your life in perfect order only to have something out of your control shake it all to the ground? So often we are blind-sided. We didn’t see it coming. Should we have seen it coming? Sometimes, but sometimes not.

When I lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, a little bird had taken up residence, and laid her eggs in our backyard grill. It was a very clever spot for the bird, but a very inconvenient one for me. I love hamburgers, hot dogs, and grilled chicken. Grill cooking hardly feels like cooking at all.

But being an animal lover, I put the kibosh on all outdoor cooking until the birds were through with our grill. One, two, three weeks went by. Still no baby birds. Just five tiny white eggs with little brown speckles on them. I’m no bird expert, but I began to question if these eggs were going to hatch at all. I decided to give it one more week. Maybe these were slow hatchers.

I was going to say slow cookers, but considering where the nest was, I thought that would be in poor taste.

Every couple of days I would lift the grill lid and peer inside, and every day the mother bird would fly out, and leave the five eggs un-hatched inside. I was pretty certain that the eggs were duds, and were not going to hatch no matter how long momma bird sat there. Still, I didn’t want to have the blood of five baby birds on my hands, so I did a little research. That’s when I found out the bird living in my grill was a Carolina wren. I also learned the eggs were overdue to hatch by two weeks. Hmm.

I felt sure that the momma bird would soon figure out she’d been sitting far too long and give it up, but no. Every day I would check the grill, and every day there she was sitting, steadfastly, on her eggs. I tried to reason with her and tell her it was no use, but she wouldn’t listen. This was her task in life and she was committed. I had to admire her determination, but knowing it was all in vain, I felt sorry for her. I also felt sorry for me. I wanted a cheeseburger.

I gave it a few more days just to be sure, and finally removed the nest still holding the five eggs, from the grill. I know in the end I was doing us both a favor, but I still felt bad about it. I knew she would fly back to find her nest and find her eggs gone. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. She would have to fly in a new direction and find another purpose for her life. Her nest became my son’s kindergarten Show ‘n Tell.

Does that sound familiar? Has that happened to you before?

I’m not asking if you’ve built a nest and laid some eggs. I’m asking if you have ever been blind-sided. Have you ever been heading in one direction confident this is the right way for you, only to have something happen completely out of your control to change the course of your life? I’m not really talking about winning the lottery. Although I imagine that would surely change your life.

Instead, your husband suddenly says he doesn’t love you anymore. The medical tests came back positive after all. Your company is downsizing, and you find yourself without a job or a 401K. You lose your pregnancy to a miscarriage. Sudden. Unexpected. Change. It’s like you’re walking along and everything is fine when suddenly the sidewalk disappears from under you. You make like Wiley Coyote and hang there, suspended in midair; surprised at what just happened, but then gravity takes over and down you go. Love that gravity.

You find that you are dazed, stunned even. You think, “Wasn’t my life great just a minute ago? I’m pretty sure that was me.”

Why does it feel like the world is turned upside down? Things or people you counted on are no longer there for you. The future you thought was yours is now history. It was all so sudden, and completely out of your control. This change in your status was totally unexpected. Well, it was totally unexpected by you.

The Bible teaches that nothing comes to us without first going through God the Father. So while we were not expecting this life altering experience, He was. Nothing takes our Heavenly Father by surprise. Take the Apostle Paul for example. Before he was Paul the author of much of the New Testament, he was Saul the Christian persecutor. Saul suddenly found the sidewalk had disappeared from beneath his feet one day, too. Paul’s sudden life-altering event is recorded for us in Acts, chapter nine.

Paul, or rather Saul, had a great life. He was a Jew’s Jew.

He was a man with a mission. He knew what he was about. His life had purpose: direction. He was happily ridding the country of those who were following “the Way”. Persecuting and killing Christians was his primary purpose in life. It brought him joy and satisfaction right up to the day he was blindsided and his life was forever changed. On the road to Damascus, to bully even more followers of Christ, Saul was struck blind. He was literally blinded by the light. (For a moment lyrics from the Manfred Mann’s Earth Band bounce around in my head.)

In that moment Saul experienced earth shattering, unexpected, sudden life change. In order to stop Saul right in his tracks and get his attention, God used a blinding light to extinguish Saul’s ability to see. You cannot persecute what you cannot find. God was not only interested in stopping the intended persecution of the Damascus Christians; He was interested in using Saul for His own agenda. Drastic times call sometimes for drastic measures.

We serve a drastic God.

Do you doubt this? Remember Sodom and Gomorrah? Noah and the flood? Jesus? Pentecost? Oh yes, we serve a drastic God all right. Throughout history God has used extreme measures when needed to get someone’s attention. Why would we think He has stopped doing that? Some of us just don’t respond any other way. We are so determined to continue down a path of destruction that the only way for our course to be changed is for God to get drastic.

Nothing was going to convince that little bird in my grill that her eggs were not going to produce baby birds for her to nurture. Would she have sat on them all summer? I’m not sure, but it was a possibility. Her motives were pure, but they did not change reality. Those eggs were not going to hatch, and if I was going to enjoy the benefits of my grill I had to take drastic measures. I believe God would rather not take drastic measures too, but He will do whatever is necessary to ensure that His will be done in us.

It is in those drastic, life-changing moments that we feel most out of control of our lives.

The nice, neat story we’ve narrated for ourselves receives an unexpected plot change that we didn’t author. It’s what sells suspense novels, but we’re not so crazy about it when we are the main character. When we feel most out of control we must remember that God is not. Think about it. The God of the universe has His hand on the very things that are causing our sudden life changing events. What a great comfort this should bring to us. Instead of fighting to regain control of the story, we should rest and wait for Him to author the next chapter.

I can’t guarantee many things, but I can guarantee that at some point in your life, drastic, unexpected change is coming.

Maybe it has already and you are struggling with what to do now. Well I can say with some authority that panic is never a good choice. I cannot come up with any time that panic served any person well. As I watched my Carolina wren return to the empty grill, she paused only for a moment before taking off to face the rest of her life. There was no obvious bird-freaking going on. As far as I know she didn’t return to my grill ever again. I was proud of her for handling it so well.

We can learn a lot from a little brown bird. When we are faced with sudden, unexpected life change we are also faced with a choice. We can allow panic to set in and collapse under the pressure we face, or we can rest in the knowledge that God is still God and He is still the best author of our lives. We may not know what the next chapter of our lives will bring, but we can find strength in the knowledge that God knows, and is working it all out for our good.

Lazy Daisies

They arrived in ones, two’s and threes. Twenty women all dressed up in their finery. They’ve been meeting like this for decades, once a month during the school year. During the school year because during the summer the kids are out of school, and meetings are difficult to plan around children and their summer activities. Except most are now grandmothers, and planning around their kids is no longer needed, but it’s the way they’ve always done it. It’s the Lazy Daisy Garden Club, and I attended their meeting this month for the first time.
Why? Well, it was my mother’s turn to hostess the meeting, and well… I didn’t have anything else to do. I’ve known most of these ladies my entire life. I went to school and church with their kids. Well, I went to church with some of their kids. The others went to the Baptist church. I was Methodist. I heard one lady say she’d give up these monthly meetings, but then she’d never see the Methodists.
There was chatter about how it’s time to plant phlox, trim your crepe myrtles (I made a mental note of that one), and cut back your roses. The meeting was then called to order by the president who called for the monthly devotion. A nice nondenominational devotion was read with a prayer to follow. Then old business was discussed. I am sitting there surprised that there was anything business-like to talk about.
The treasurer stood, and offered a report on their money. They have six hundred and some odd dollars in the kitty. It is from this meager amount that they go about doing the business of beautifying their community.
A lady stood and read several thank you notes sent to the club for their monetary donations to the town’s school libraries. Each school had received fifty dollars, and all had written flowery thank you letters. The ladies seemed pleased that their gifts were so well received.
Then the dollars were collected. Everyone handed over a dollar bill to the treasurer. Well, if they wanted to. Most did. It got their name in the drawing for the door prize brought by the member who had won it last month. They hauled in a whopping fifteen dollars. What passes for a door prize at a garden club meeting? Well, a watering can, of course.
Then the president called for the program. A lady stood, and talked to the group about recycling. Apparently if you recycle one ton of newspaper it saves seven trees and a gazillion gallons of water. We were all duly impressed. We learned that bags and fashionable purses were now being made from plastic bottles. Amazing. I’ll take two.
After the program concluded, it was time for lunch. On the menu: Chicken casserole, strawberry pretzel salad, green salad, and red velvet cake for dessert… and sweet tea. This is the south, after all! White tablecloths, pretty dishes, vases with cut flowers (Yep…daisies), and small favors on the tables.
There was a lot of chatter about kids and grandkids, who was ailing, and who was better. Complaints about how big the cake slices were, and compliments to the hostess for a great meeting.
Then in a span of a few minutes, with doggy bags in hand, they were all gone. I was left in the kitchen with my mom. We both heaved a sigh of relief. The dishes were washed, and we plopped down in the closest chairs. My mom said she might not hostess another meeting… But I know she will.
She’ll do it again for the same reason they don’t meet during summer. It’s just what they’ve done together for so long. They’ve walked each other through childrearing, empty nesting, loss of spouses, and having grandchildren. They know the good, bad, and the ugly about each other. They don’t talk about the bad or the ugly of course, but they all know about it.
Service to the community has been one of the Lazy Daisy Garden Club’s driving forces. From providing flowers to local shut-ins and planting flowers at local churches, to their support of the Turkey Creek Nature Center, they continue to leave their green-thumb prints all over town. Since its inception in 1952 right through today, they continue to take pride in this community.
They may differ on political or religious views, but they can all come together around friendship and flowers. I envy these ladies in a way. Their commitment has lasted for decades. How many of us can say that about our commitment to anything?
In a society where everything is disposable, they have managed to recycle this group over and over again into something that meets their needs and the needs of their community. May the Lazy Daisies long continue to impact each other and this city.

God Nods

I love to read, but I had stopped. I love to write, but I couldn’t seem to put any words together. I love to laugh, but things that usually made me laugh were causing me to cry. It was that last one that finally got my attention. I was beginning to think then that I might have a problem.
I was sitting in my new supervisor’s office, in training for a new job, when I noticed a white stain dribbling down the shoulder of her dark red polyester blouse. My mind could only wonder what sat on that shoulder, and deposited that stain. Her desk was littered with food. I saw a half eaten bag of pork rinds… honestly. And m&ms, and Twix candy bars. There was a large Coke cup on her desk. After a while, she opened a greasy brown bag, and pulled out a breakfast sandwich with bacon, eggs, and cheese on it. I swear this was a heart attack waiting to happen. Did I mention she was a nurse?
And then there was the wig.
I’m ok with wigs, really, but hers was a bit askew. She must have felt that it was, because she habitually adjusted it. For three hours I sat there with her while she tried to bestow her knowledge upon me between bites and wig adjustments. Now normally I would have been biting the inside of my cheek to keep a straight face. I find people funny, usually, and this lady was a riot. But instead of cracking up, I was breaking up. The ridiculousness of my situation overwhelmed me. I’m not just talking about this woman. I’m talking about my life.
The previous eight months had not been great. My husband had lost his job, and went without one for several months before finding another one in another state. After moving our kids across the country, we found the new job was a bust, and it had left our family feeling broken apart. Already feeling like gypsies, we decided to save our family, and move back home to Alabama. A great thing, except that employment opportunities for my husband and me were slim there. We were watching our bank account dwindle closer to zero each day. I had taken a job I had hoped to like, but didn’t. Desperation had filled me up to overwhelming.
Have you ever reached your limit? Have you wondered where your limit is?
I had wondered that. That day, sitting in that woman’s office, I had found mine. Driving home from work in tears, I had gotten to the very end of myself. I thought… “Okay, this is what despondent is. I am actually despondent.” I was a train wreck. I managed to get home, and stumbled into the house. My husband was waiting there for me, and met me with the greatest hug ever. It only made me cry harder.
Later that evening, after recovering somewhat, my husband and I had a long talk. I had to make some hard choices. I could either stick it out where I was, or I could quit. Quitting sounded crazy. My husband wasn’t working, and we had little money left in reserves. The field of nursing I am trained for is very specialized, and positions rarely open up. There was none to be had in the town we moved to.
We decided I would call in sick the next day, and use the time to devise a plan of escape. My husband called in reinforcements, and the next morning one of my best friends showed up at my door. She offered nothing but her love to me, but what a gift that was! She told me things I thought I already knew to be true. That God loved me, and had not forgotten me. I told her it felt as if He had. She said He did have a plan for this mess we were in. I just couldn’t see it. She told me she’d be praying. I knew she would be.
After she left, I got up, and logged onto my computer. An hour later I had discovered not one, but two jobs in my field of nursing that had not been there before! I was elated. I immediately applied for both. It was a glimmer. It was a nod from God.
Maybe He hadn’t forgotten me.
I quit my job on Monday, and interviewed for one of the others on Tuesday. By Thursday I had an offer. I accepted… of course! I also interviewed for the other position the following week, and was offered it as well. Yep. I accepted it, too!
I’m writing again, and I’m reading again. And the day that I could think of that lady with the wig and laugh, I knew I was back! I’m not saying all of our problems are solved. I’m still waiting to start both jobs, my husband still has not found a job, and our reserves are even closer to zero, but I have stepped back from despondent. I no longer believe God is distracted, or unaware of our situation. I needed a glimmer, and I got one, well, two.
The things my friend told me were true. God had not forgotten me, us. I had allowed my circumstances to cloud what I knew to be true. I had done what Peter did as he walked on the water to Jesus. I took my eyes off Jesus, began to notice my impossible circumstances, and started to sink. But just in the knick of time, Jesus reached out, and pulled me up. It didn’t even take all that much.
If you look at yourself and the word despondent comes to mind, please take heart.
I know where you are. I know how that feels, and there is nothing worse. All I can tell you is this. Pray first, and then make some hard decisions. The kind that demand you step out on faith. Lean on a strong friend in the faith, and look for that nod from God. It will come. It may only be a glimmer, but it will remind you that He has not forgotten you, that He does have a plan. You’ll find it won’t take that much to lift you up when you grab back hold of that hope you have in Christ.

Are you at your limit? Let me know. I will pray for the God Nod you need. Have you once known despondency, but now you have grabbed back hold of the hope you have in Christ? Share your experience here… encourage someone else…

Wrinkles on Both Ends

I turn forty-three years old this month. Wow. There was a time when I thought that was really old. Actually that was today. I took some time to look at my feet. Hey, it’s been winter. I have been neglecting them, because well, it’s been winter. Nobody sees my feet in the winter! Apparently not even me. But from the look of it outside, Spring is on its way, and that means sandals are just around the corner. That’s what got my feet the attention today. Up that close, I discovered that they need a pedicure.

Except, I don’t do pedicures.

I’m just not comfortable with someone else down there doing their thing on my feet. It’s just a little quirk of mine. I have some of those. So I whipped out my handy dandy home manicure/pedicure kit, and went to work. I sat on the potty, and dragged the clothes hamper over to hike my foot up on. Wow. With my foot that up close and personal, I could not deny it. Forty-three has arrived. These are definitely not the feet of a twenty year old. My feet have wrinkles. I didn’t know that was possible. This did not please me. I officially have wrinkles on both ends of my body.

A lot of my friends are already forty-three and then some.

I will not mention them by name. (You know who you are…) They all say it’s not so bad. What else should I expect them to say? “Don’t do it, Stacey, don’t turn forty-three!” Instead they say, “Forties are the new thirties.” Right. Tell that to my feet. Yet I think, “If I could be thirty again, would I do it? Or twenty?”

If I were honest about it, I would say no. If I had the benefit of what I know now, I would do some things differently, sure. Still, I am happy with where I am now. I am beginning to think that’s the tradeoff. There’s a certain sense of self that comes with the forties. A confidence that wasn’t there at twenty and thirty. It’s a feeling of centeredness, I guess.

Gone are the days of miniskirts and bikini swimsuits for me.

I care far too much for my fellow man to put them through that visual. Well, except that I find myself liking a swimsuit that has a mini skirt attached to it. Love those skirtinis! Isn’t it funny that when I had the body for a bikini I didn’t have the confidence to wear one, and now that I have the confidence to wear one I don’t have the body?

So I’m aware of where I’ve been, and looking forward to where I am going. I look back on my thirties and see my path as a wife, mother, and daughter. I will still be all of those things, but it will be different. My husband and I have survived much as partners together in this life. We have grown together through some really tough times, and we enjoy a very rich, loving, and close relationship. I look forward, excitedly, to how this most precious relationship will continue and grow.

My children can wipe their own…. noses now. A definite plus. They don’t need me for that kind of thing anymore. But they will need me for support and encouragement in decisions and choices they must make. I still call on my parents for advice, and to share what’s going on in my life, but I have learned to listen to their needs and concerns as well. While they both enjoy good health now, and I pray they will for a long time to come, I know they will come to depend on my brother and me more as the years go on.

The Bible teaches that there is a time for everything.

It actually says exactly that in Ecclesiastes Chapter Three. Now, on the whole, Ecclesiastes is not a book you want to read on a personally cloudy day because it says things like, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” I’m thinking a prescription for Prozac was in order there.

Yet nestled in the book, in Chapter Three, are a few verses that can put life into perspective for you if you are at a crossroads in your life. Verses 1-8 of chapter three say this:

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain,
A time to search and a time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to treat and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace.”

And there’s a time to turn forty-three. While the wrinkles, gray hairs, and saggy…things can be frustrating for sure. They seem to come with the territory. I can smear creams on the wrinkles, pull out the gray hairs (Or when that proves futile, I can cover them. Because I’m worth it!), and prop up the saggy things.

Forty-three also brings with it a few things to which I can look forward, and those are the things that I will choose to celebrate on my birthday this year. I can look forward to future knowing that good and bad, God will be with me. He will be with me, and that while I change all the time, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Now, let me put some lotion on these feet, and let’s go shopping for some new sandals!

Are you embracing your present, and looking forward to your future? What does that look like for you?

Marriable… a Book Review, Sort of

My husband recently spied a book on the clearance rack at our local bookstore that grabbed his attention. He picked it up, thumbed through it, and discovered a treasure trove of information inside. Fortunately he wasn’t interested in it for himself. It was a guide to dating. He bought the book, brought it home with the intention of giving it to our oldest son.

Unfortunately, on the whole, Americans do not practice arranged marriages. I say “unfortunately” because the older my kids get the more I wish we did. Okay, I understand the flaws in the arranged marriage system, and my support of it is tongue-in-cheek, but the alternative to arranged marriages is dating- another flawed system.

The book my husband brought home was titled, Marriable, and was written by married co-authors Hayley and Michael DiMarco. I have since read every word therein, and repeatedly thought, “Where was this book when I was dating?” A quick glance at the chapter titles lets the reader know this is no ordinary book about dating.

As a parent of teenagers, I cannot avoid the subject. I might rather put my head in the sand, or cover my ears while screaming, “La, la, la, la…!” But the matter of dating is inescapable. Unless I decide to barricade the door, and keep my kids under lock and key, that is.

The dating dilemma
I understand that there are many different views on the matter of dating, and each parent has to decide the when’s, how’s, where’s, and who’s to meet their comfort levels as parents. Yet I think we all must come to the conclusion that dating, whenever it happens, should lead to just one ultimate thing: Marriage. Sure, dating can be viewed as training ground for managing relationships, entertainment, and socialization but when you boil it all down, and remove the fluff, we allow our kids to enter into dating relationships for the ultimate goal of marriage; a goal that involves perhaps the most important decision of their lives.

How equipped are they to enter into this pursuit? Without adult help, your help as parents, they might not be as equipped as they should be. Let your nine-year-old join a baseball team, and you wouldn’t dream of letting them play without first having a fair knowledge of the game, good coaching, or without the very best equipment you can provide them.
Only a precious few little leaguers go on to be professional baseball players, but most novice daters go on one day to enter into the bonds of marriage. If you knew your nine-year-old was a future Rookie-of-the-Year, you would start him off with the very best coaching and knowledge you could provide. You would be there every step of the way to make sure he stayed on course, and avoided the many pitfalls of the game. Well, your novice dater will one day most assuredly go pro. Will they be ready? Will they be Marriable?

Back to the book….
In the book, the authors speak plainly about common things both guys and girls do that decrease their “marriability”. As I read the book myself, and reflected on my own dating history, I had to groan. I had been guilty of more than one of the things mentioned, things I definitely want my kids to avoid.

The book speaks to guys on being gentlemen in the twenty-first century, and what that looks like. Surprisingly, it looks very much like what being a gentleman has always looked like. Girls are cautioned throughout the book on not being desperate for male attention, thank you very much. If your daughter is texting or Face-booking my son (or someone else’s) twenty-five times in one day (it happens), perhaps she is behaving desperately, and could use a little help there. Young women of today have all but forgotten the fine art of playing hard to get.

I plan on having each of my kids read this book, in turn, as dating becomes an issue in their lives. I expect with chapter titles like “How being ‘Just Friends’ Is a Waste of Time”, “Desperate Lies Women Tell Themselves”, “Men Lie to Get What They Want”, and “Don’t Marry Your Best Friend Unless You’re Gay” they just might read it cover to cover, and will surely generate some interesting conversation.

Don’t let the chapter titles throw you. This book is written with Christian values and principles, yet it minces few words. I know my first son will read it under duress, so just in case he tries to skim, I have told him there will be a post-test. It’s mostly multiple choice, with a few fill-in-the-blank, and only a couple of essay questions…

If you are parent of a teenager navigating the world of dating, don’t let them go it alone. I’m not suggesting that a book should take the place of honest conversation with your kids, but a book like this one can be a great jumping off place for discussions to help insure that your child will one day be as marriable as they possibly can be.

Are you a parent of a teen wanting to date? Have you thought this through? What are your parental do’s and don’ts?for your kids?

Back in the Bible Belt

I grew up in the buckle of the Bible belt.
But I never really thought much about it until I moved away for eleven years, and then moved back. Things I used to take for granted, or never even took note of, sing out loudly to me now through the eyes of my children who did not grow up here.
My husband’s job and educational pursuits took us away to Charlotte, North Carolina. I had comforted myself with the idea that I was still a Southern girl living in another Southern town. I found out quickly that it just wasn’t so. Charlotte is a huge melting pot of people from all over the world. On my very first trip to the grocery store there, I passed a man on a cell phone speaking some foreign European-ish language I didn’t understand. I stared at him with my mouth gaping open, and it was then I knew I wasn’t in Kansas, er Birmingham, anymore.

Much to our amazement, in the birthplace of Billy Graham, we found there to be a large Christian-hostile population.
It was the first place I had ever experienced true discrimination due to my faith. There were many who didn’t want to have anything at all to do with God or the church. This posed a problem for us for a while, right up to the point that God gave us new eyes to see these people the way He did.

Suddenly, we were drawn to the very people that wanted nothing to do with us.
It doesn’t make sense, but we spent the next ten years of our lives figuring out ways to reach these people for Jesus. It meant we had to say goodbye to the traditional worship styles we had always known. Some didn’t understand this, but to reach the unreachable you have to go way out on a limb sometimes. We had to dip into modern culture, and show these naysayers that God, the Bible, and being a Christ follower was relevant to their lives. Following Christ didn’t have to be kept as a museum piece that did not speak, in meaningful ways, to them. We needed to show them that even through their doubt, and even their hostility, God was still pursuing them relentlessly.

It affected the way we raised our kids.
People we would once have shied away from, we suddenly sought out. We began to see random people at the mall, in movie theaters, and restaurants as people who needed Jesus. We actually invited sinners to church, and did the happy dance when they showed up. Did they have blue hair and a few tattoos? Even better. We wanted to hear their stories, and they were so surprised to find a pastor who didn’t condemn them for their past, but offered them a future in Christ just the way they were. We were given eyes to see their potential as Christ followers; what they could be if they turned their lives over to Him. As I said, this affected our children too, especially our oldest. Rather than secluding himself with only Christian friends, he took risks on kids we called “underdogs”. While we cautioned him to make sure his closest friends were believers, we encouraged his investments in others who were not.

It’s ten years later, and we have ventured back home to the Buckle.
I am surprised by the culture shock it has been for our kids. On my son’s first day of high school here, when asked about the day, he mentioned that he hardly heard anyone at school using foul language. Unfortunately, that was commonplace in the high school he attended in Charlotte. It had been a challenge to be around it, and not participate in it.
Here, most of my kid’s new friends attend church at least some of the time. Kids here openly label themselves Christian on Facebook. My kids have heard teachers defend their faith in the classroom, and have heard kids praying on their own at school. A small cross sticker on the spine marks books by Christian authors in the public library in town. There is a church on every corner. It’s all very different for them, and it’s been interesting to see them adjust. They look around for kids who don’t know Jesus, and are having trouble finding anyone who doesn’t at least claim Christianity.

What they are finding is quite interesting.
Before, it was the non-Christian hostility or apathy they had come to know, and figure out how to overcome. Here, it is the other way around. They are finding that all this religion can sometimes breed a judgmental outlook. There is sometimes little grace afforded those unfortunate people whose sin becomes public. Growing up, I knew I had been given the gift of mercy, but even so, I was still a closet finger-pointer. I’d judge how well I was walking the Christian faith by how poorly I thought others were. I expected people to clean up their act, and come to Jesus, but God showed me that folks have to come to Him first. Our pastor in Charlotte used to say that if you are a jerk, and come to Christ, you are then a Christian Jerk. It takes time to clean up life lived apart from Him.

I loved growing up in the Bible belt, and I am so happy to be back.
The environment is wholesome and comfortable. I am enjoying watching my kids figure all this out. Church is a part of the culture here, but they are learning, perhaps better than ever, it isn’t about going to church or a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s about a relationship with Christ where His love for you is separate from the good or bad deeds you do. Your value in Christ is not found in whether or not you take up space at a local place of worship, but rather your value is found in Him alone. Perhaps that’s the message they should share now. It’s the message of grace, really. Showing that to extend grace is just as important as to receive it.

Red Letter Days

Granted… some people have more of them than others.
But we’ve all had them. Some wish for more of them. Interestingly enough, the term is from medieval times. It is actually a church term. Special church days or festivals were written on the calendar in red ink. The academic world picked up on the practice and professors at universities like Oxford and Cambridge wore red or “scarlet” robes on special days. (Thank you Google) Some calendars are still made with holidays in red.

Red print tends to get our attention. My teachers always seemed to correct my papers in red ink. That certainly got my attention.

Think back to your most significant red-letter days.
Mine? Getting braces on my teeth. Getting braces off my teeth. Driving my first car. Passing my nursing board exam. Getting engaged. Getting married. Sitting in the front yard of my first house, and thinking “my yard, my trees, my house”. Holding my babies for the first time… the list goes on. Red-letter days.

What if you could have a total life retro calendar with all of your red-letter days printed in, well, red? All the way back to your birth. That would, of course be in red. The day you learned to sit up. Red. The day you spoke your first word. Red. The day you discovered pistachio chocolate chip ice cream at Baskin Robbins. Red. You get it, right? Take a ride down memory lane for a moment, and recall your own red-letter days. Go on… it’ll be fun.

What if God had a red-letter day calendar for you?
Would He mark it in red the same as you did? I wonder. I am suspicious that He might not. We tend to think of red-letter days as some of the best days of our lives. Those were wonderful days, when something terrific happened to us. I think God might color those red, too, but I also think He might color some days red that we might not consider.
The day you were fired from your job. The day they walked out of your life for good. The day you missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime. The day you lost it all. The day, when in your brokenness, you cried out to Him in desperation, anger, frustration, or longing.

Why would God color those days red on your calendar?
Those are the days we would just rather forget; push to the nether regions of our memories. I think those are the days when God rubs his hands together, and gets to work on us. It’s those turning point days in our lives, the days when we are at the end of ourselves and our own abilities, that God accomplishes His best in us. I think those are the days God would mark as red on our calendars.

I’ve had some days that God might color red on my calendar this last year that I would not. I’ll bet you have, too. Makes me wonder what He’s up to. Our lives are sprinkled with both kinds of red-letter days: the celebratory, party throwing kind, and the hard, frustrating, teeth gnashing kind.

I think the most mature of Christ followers learns to appreciate, even celebrate, both. I won’t claim to be one of those… not yet. But the Apostle Paul set the example for the rest of us to follow. Paul certainly had red-letter days of both kinds, and yet he recognized that in those hardest of days God was at work, and that His plan was being fulfilled in him. Whether free or imprisoned Paul learned to be content, and to trust in the God that ordered his days.