Saturday, December 2, 2017

Advent 2017 #2: Preparing for the King with an Humble Heart

An exciting thing happened this week, but it wasn't until last night that it finally seemed real. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I indulged in a flight of fantasy in my mind about how my future might change as a result. 

What I fantasized, I soon recognized, didn't really glorify God. It glorified me. Pride, not joy in the grace of God, took over for a few minutes and quickly engulfed me. 

As we know, pride does not sit well with God and, as soon as I recognized it, I was cut to the core. I repented. I apologized. I repented some more. "Lord, you've finally given me a piece of the desires of my heart, and I've already squandered it in my mind. Forgive me."

I meant it, too. I want to glorify God in everything, but it's so easy to head in a "natural," and wrong, direction. Scripture's clear about where pride will take us. Since it's not where I want to go, I must get rid of pride. Repentance isn't optional, and neither is embracing humility instead. 

When we allow sin (i.e. pride) to set our spiritual GPS, we end up where sin takes us. Wrong directions may seem fun for a while, but they aren't God's direction, and the end is never as good as the start. 

Praise God for the forgiveness and new beginnings that follow repentance.

Last night, I recognized pride, rejected it, repented, and received forgiveness. My new beginning was that simple. 

Every new beginning is that simple. 

In the last days, Isaiah wrote, God will have a "day of reckoning" with everyone who's proud and "lifted up." He'll be exalted and all the prideful people will be abased. 

Women who take pride in their beauty, their clothes, their jewelry, and their things will be stripped of all those adornments in which they've put their trust. Ladies, we may love all the trappings of beauty, but God doesn't. He wants beautiful hearts. 

None of us will get away with pride, and the consequences will be terrible.

We have two choices. Reject pride, embrace humility, and avoid the reckoning, or embrace pride until God takes us down a few notches and restores our humble heart. Which one of those two choices is most appealing? Yep. Humility from the start.

"The Lord arises to contend, and stands to judge the people," Isaiah wrote. (Isaiah 3:13) That won't be a fun time for anyone. There's good news, though. Even though "the eyes of the proud will be abased," (Isaiah 5:15) God will do a beautiful thing as He provides for those with humble hearts.

"But the Lord of hosts will be exalted in judgment, and the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness. Then the lambs will graze as in their pasture, and strangers will eat in the waste places of the wealthy." (Isaiah 5;16,17) 

God's not kidding around about pride. It has to go. This advent season, let's prepare for the coming of the King with humble hearts.
Please like and share to help extend our digital reach.

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Preparing for the King with an Humble Heart

If you feel led to partner with this ministry or help by year-end giving (US, Middle East, the digital world), here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841  

Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Advent 2017 #1: Getting Ready for Jesus

Despite more than twenty Decembers spent reading Isaiah, I'm still surprised by the power and the sharp-as-a-knife cut of the words. Today, I wept as I read the poignant first chapter. I whispered repentant apologies all the way through.

Isaiah had a divine vision, or maybe more than one. What he saw was deep and true. He couldn't hold back. He had to tell everyone what God had shown him.

(The Leanna paraphrase is coming up, but you'll want to read these verses for yourselves.)

"Listen up, world," Isaiah said. "We're breaking God's heart. He's cared for us like sons and we don't even know Him. We don't get Him at all, so we've done exactly what He told us not to do, and it's killing us. Yeah. Literally making us sick, just like He said it would.

"Look at what a mess we've made of our lives. Can't you see what devastation we've caused in our world? Our land? We didn't think we needed God, so we've thrown off His tender watch-care. We're devastated without Him. If He hadn't continued to give us protection we didn't want, we'd already be gone.

"Sure. We're still rich. We're still giving big offerings. We're still going to church like we always did. Our heart's not in it, though, and we know it, but we won't admit it. We're just doing religion because it's what we've always done on the Sabbath. 

This is not what God wants from us. He wants our hearts to change. Why not do what He says? Let's wash our hands and our hearts and turn back to Him now."

There's a lot more, of course, but these words set the theme for Isaiah and the theme of the Advent season. It's not merely a time of waiting. It's a time of preparation. 

More than six hundred years before Jesus' birth, Isaiah began his ministry of calling people back to God and preparing their hearts for the One to come. They needed time to get ready for Jesus, and we do, too. 

As we begin our progress toward Christmas and our celebration of the birth of our Savior, we have time to get ready. Let's use the coming days to examine our hearts and prepare them for our Savior. 

Do we view God as a demanding tyrant or a loving Father? Are our acts of worship merely rote habit or the overflow of a grateful heart? Do we hide a heart full of sin behind the facade of religion or have we allowed God to strip away all the fake until only real faith and love remain?

Is our heart ready for Jesus? If not, we have time. Over the next few weeks, we'll prepare together. Today, let's ask God to help us see our hearts the way He sees them and understand Him the way He most desires. 

"Come now, and let us reason together," says the Lord, "Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be a white as son; thought they are red like crimson, they will be like wool." Isaiah 1:18 nasb
Please like and share to help extend our digital reach.

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Living With First Century Faith and Being Jailed for Jesus

If you feel led to partner with this ministry or help by year-end giving (US, Middle East, the digital world), here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841  

Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Living With First-Century Faith and Being Jailed for Jesus

The first time someone asked me to pray for his wife because he would be out of the country for a few days and "the terrorists are in and out of our village all the time," I was stunned. 

He's worried about terrorists? Really? 

Yep. He and his wife live in one of the most dangerous places in the world. When he travels, his concern is not that something will go awry at home and his wife won't know how to fix it. His concern is that she will be kidnapped by terrorists, tortured, raped, and killed, or worse. 

I met this sweet couple in person once. He told me about being beaten, as if it was the most normal event in the world. Beaten for the cause of Christ. I was amazed when his wife rejoiced as she shared how God had brought them through that hard time. 

This is a couple whose faith is first-century-real.

I thought they were unique, but I realized something shocking recently. I know quite a few Christians who are persecuted for their faith. I'm not referring to someone experiencing mild ridicule for being a Christian, although that can certainly be difficult, disconcerting, and discouraging. 

I know people who have been beaten and imprisoned for their faith, people who've lost everything for Christ, people who experience true persecution on a regular basis. 

Persecution didn't stop them from following what they believed God had called them to do, and, to be perfectly, and shamefully, candid here, I didn't understand. I wondered why they didn't go underground, why they didn't "play it safe." Wouldn't that protect the other believers? Wouldn't that somehow keep the cause of Christ going forward?

These brothers and sisters in Christ understand something I didn't. 

There is a time for prudence and caution, but hiding their faith wasn't what allowed the first century believers to take the gospel around the world. They ran for their lives, and shared their faith as they went. Sharing Christ when it was costly propelled the Good News from one city to the next, one nation to the next, one continent to the next. 

When God said go, they went. When He said speak, they spoke. When He said persevere, they persevered. When it was costly, they considered what salvation cost Jesus and they did what He did. They rejoiced in their suffering and they persevered.

That same kind of perseverance is happening around the world today.

When Jesus said "confess Me before men," He knew the price many believers would pay. They would lose everything - family, possessions, jobs, homes. Everything, except Jesus. In that moment, they would find He's enough. 

They still do. 

Consider the words of Jesus: "I tell you, whoever public acknowledges Me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God." (Luke 12:8 niv) Matthew says He also acknowledges those persecuted ones "before My Father." (Matt. 10:32) When, in the face of severe persecution, these believers confess their love of Jesus, He turns to God the Father and the angels in heaven and says, "He's mine. She's mine." 

In areas of persecution where Christianity costs everything you have, converts believe the gospel is absolute truth, worth living and dying for. The cause of Christ is all that matters, and it's evident in the way they share the gospel, the way they love, give, serve, pray, share. It's obvious in their unity. 

Their battle is not about how to make the persecution stop. It's about how to continue the work God has given them, despite the persecution. 

I'm in awe of their faith and their ability to go the distance, but I want to make their hard times stop. I want to write something passionate and push it viral so an outraged world can intervene to limit their suffering. 

I want to do something that makes a difference.

In moments of indignant passion, it's easy to forget I can do something that makes a difference. We all can. We begin to intervene through prayer. That's why many of us are up in the middle of the night, praying with believers on the other side of the globe. What does a few hours of lost sleep matter in comparison to one of brothers or sisters facing jail for Jesus?

If we are to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal. 6:2) and "remember the prisoners as though in prison with them," (Heb. 13:3), we will keep their circumstances fresh in our minds and in our prayers. We'll intercede consistently and with fervor. 

How should we pray?

1) For God's will
2) For strength and endurance
3) For joy, despite the trial
4) For provision of food and comfort, even in prison
5) For provision for their families and for those family members to persevere and not  be embittered
6) For God's Kingdom to advance and His name to be glorified through the suffering
7) For opportunities to share the good news of Jesus wherever these persecuted ones find themselves 

Pray for the one who's beaten for the cause of Christ, the one who has lost everything, the one who is imprisoned or facing imprisonment, the mother and children who are on their own because their husband and father is in chains for his faith. 

We don't see persecution of this magnitude in our country, at least not yet. Our lack of trials doesn't relieve us of the burden of supporting our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering, however.

Instead, it compels us toward two actions. First, we, too, must live with first-century-faith of our own. Ready to live, suffer, or die for the One who purchased our pardon. 

Second, we must live with first-century-freedom that recognizes the imprisoned ones as family and responds with generosity and love.

Believers all around the world are suffering for Christ today. Their sacrifice behooves us to live for Him and pray for them. Today, let's do exactly that, and pray without ceasing. 

"Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body." Heb. 13:3
ps - I'm writing because of my deep concern about people I know who are persecuted and facing such terrible times. I can't share names or circumstances or even locations, but I hope you'll pray anyway. God knows... Thank you.

Please like and share to help extend our digital reach.

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Choosing Persecution and Other Hard Facets of Faith

If you feel led to partner with this ministry (US, Middle East, the digital world), here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 

Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Choosing Persecution and Other Hard Facets of Faith

Not long after Jesus, the God-man-wrapped-in-baby-flesh, arrived, persecution began. Herod, in a fit of fear and jealous rage tried to kill Him. By the time He began His public ministry, even Jesus' siblings opposed Him. The Pharisees tried to murder Him repeatedly, and kept at it until they finally succeeded on the cross.

As Christians, we follow a persecuted Savior, so persecution shouldn't be a surprise to us. But, at least in this country, it is. We're outraged by it. We want to make it stop. 

To be perfectly clear, Jesus wasn't outraged or surprised by persecution or opposition. He expected it. However, other than being carried to Egypt by his parents when Herod came after Him, Jesus did nothing to stop the persecution that came His way. 

He went to the cross as a lamb to slaughter. He took what His enemies dished out, so that He could offer Himself as a sacrifice for us. (Isaiah 53:1-12)

Our salvation was birthed in persecution.

The early disciples were chased around the world as they fled persecution. The fires of destruction meant to extinguish the church served as fuel to the flames of faith. 

The spread of the gospel was birthed in persecution.

Paul's words in Philippians stung me to the core this morning. ". . .since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me." Philippians 1:7 nasb

The church loved Paul and they kept in touch. They wrote letters. They sent people to provide for him. They sent gifts. They were a vital part of his life. 

Even those who weren't in chains participated as if they were a part of the suffering. They kept Paul in the forefront of their minds, their thoughts, their prayers. 

He appreciated their tangible assistance, but what he appreciated even more was their prayers for him. The people in Philippi were so closely connected to Paul, through their prayers, that they shared in his suffering. They participated with him. Those prayers for strength, comfort, and perseverance helped Paul continue his ministry through the letters he wrote, despite his prison walls. 

Our Scriptures were birthed in persecution.

Men and women throughout the history of Christianity have literally laid down their lives because of their faith. For them, following Jesus was the most costly decision they could have made. It was also the most eternally significant. 

The church was birthed in persecution. 

Early in my journey with Jesus, I sensed one question I couldn't get past. 

"Would you lay down your life for Me?" 

I had answered that question once before as a 21-year old summer missionary entering an area where soldiers had been actively fighting. It wasn't an easy question.

I didn't think it was a casual question, either. I thought it was a literal, will-you-be-a-martyr question. This time, I had a young son, which made the decision so much harder. Would I be willing to lay down my life for Christ if it meant leaving my son behind? 

I imagined a firing squad or a prison or beating, rape, torture. I prayed. I fasted. I searched the Scripture. I wept. 

It took me weeks to sort it out, because I knew my answer to that question would determine everything else in my life, and it did. 

Finally, one lonely night, I surrendered to whatever God chose to bring my way. Yes. I would lay down my life for Christ, I realized. I'd trust God with my son. For nearly twenty-five years, I thought that meant the possibility of torture and death, and it still may. In the interim, however, I've laid down the life I knew to follow the path God has laid out more than once. 

That's what I did when I left medicine, which I loved practicing, because my practice was so destructive to my son. It's what I did when I moved my mother into my home when she could no longer see well enough to drive or live independently. Once again, I surrendered the life I loved to care for Sam in my home. 

Laying down my life has never been easy. It's also not been optional, because faith in Jesus IS faith that's willing to surrender anything for Him.

What we, in this affluent, entitled society, have misunderstood, is there's nothing in this world more costly than following Jesus. It's not cheap faith, but we sometimes think it is. 

People I know and love have been beaten for the cause of Christ. They've lost their homes and all their possessions, more than once, because they follow Jesus. They've been denied promotions, been cursed, and their children have been persecuted because of their faith. 

Theirs is not cheap American-style faith, that goes to a comfortable air-conditioned church with comfy seats once or twice a week and counts their work done. It's not a Bible study with head knowledge only. Their faith is real, and vital, and alive. Their Bible study is boots-on-the-ground pertinent.

They forgive enemies we can't even imagine, and they do it because Jesus commanded it. They bless their enemies with blankets and baskets of food, because Jesus said to do it. They love when it's hard. Give when there's too little to go around. 

I know these sweet brothers and sisters. My walk of faith seems so small by comparison, but I want what they have. The peace. The joy. The hope.

Nearly fifty years ago, a nurse in the Middle East was known for giving financial support and tangible help to non-believers. "Why do you help them when there are plenty of Christians in need?" someone asked. 

"Because we have Jesus, and they don't. And He's what matters most," she told them. She treated her enemies as friends and, along the way, a few of them met her Savior. Even when she was treated badly, she knew one thing. It was worth it. She laid down her life for Christ and counted it as gain.

People still tell stories about the power of her faith today.

That's the kind of faith I want...the faith that's so real, so powerful, so inescapably obvious that nations stand in awe of it and enemies tremble in the face of it. 

This is the path we embraced when we followed Christ. Hard forgiveness. Agonizingly difficult surrender. Nothing held back. All in for Jesus.

What we must ask ourselves today is, "Is this the faith I have? The discipleship I've embraced?" The question we must answer, because it's the question Jesus always asks His disciples, is the one I've had to answer over and over again. "Will I lay down my life for Him?"

"We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters." 1 John 3:16 NLT
Please like and share to help extend our digital reach.

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: How Facing Death with Sam Caused My Priorities to Change 

If you feel led to partner with this ministry (US, Middle East, the digital world), here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 

Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

How Facing Death With Sam Caused My Priorities to Change

I intended to write about Giving Tuesday today. It's the day on which giving to nonprofit organizations/ministries is emphasized. As one who's dependent upon the generosity of those who believe there's value in my work, maybe I should make the day a higher priority, but I'm writing about other priorities today. 

After I returned from the Middle East and found Sam a few breaths away from eternity, I spent long hours at his bedside, watching as he slipped from the grasp of this world. "What will I do without Sam?" was a recurring refrain in my head.

It took a little while for the refrain to change to, "What will I do now that I don't have Sam?" 

I've begun to reevaluate my life. 

This past year, I've had many 60-80 hour weeks, but I no longer want to keep that pace. It's bad for my health and, probably, for my productivity, as well. I've seriously considered what activities and priorities need to stay and what need to go. 

Every time I say that, people who know me well look a little nervous. They've seen me rearrange priorities before, and it didn't always work out as they'd anticipated.

Twenty-six years ago, when I found out I was expecting Ryan, one of my patients said, "You're about to find out what real love is. In fact, you're about to learn about God's love, too." 

I smiled, thanked her, and secretly thought I knew plenty about love. I'd been in Girls' Auxiliary in my church and memorized a mountain of Scripture. I thought I knew plenty about God's love, too.

Then, my world turned upside down. Despite the patients waiting for me in every one of my exam rooms, my ob-gyn told me to go home and stay there until the baby came. I could see the ones in rooms and no more. 

I was shocked and saddened. It felt a little like all my professional dreams evaporated on the spot, but I did it, because I wanted to protect the tiny child growing inside me more than anything else in the world. 

That little baby was too small for me to see, but he was more important than my career, my dreams, or my life. 

I went to bed and spent most of the next five-and-a-half months there.

It was hard. I read every book in my house and checked out mountains of volumes from the library every week. I read constantly. There's not much else to do when you're in bed, lying on your left side. I read the Warren Report from beginning to end. I learned more than I wanted to know about Castro and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  

I cried a lot.

I grieved the life I knew was slipping away. 

I dreamed of the life to come, and the little baby whose arrival would make all the hard times seem like nothing more than a moment of discomfort.

At last, the day for my C-section finally arrived. Things didn't go like I expected. I felt myself sliding into a deep, black tunnel. There was not a glimmer of light in the darkness. 

When I heard the anesthesiologist shout, "Get the baby out. I'm losing her," I realized I didn't just think I was dying, I knew I was. I'd heard about the light at the end of the tunnel (whether it's a true thing or not, I don't know). There was not a bit of light in mine. 

I was terrified and I cried out in the darkness. "I don't want to go to hell. Save me, Jesus." And He did.

I've never been the same.

When the nurse put that beautiful blue-eyed boy in my arms, I understood what my patient had said. I finally knew what love was and, in that moment, I began to understand a parent's love for a child. I wondered, "Does God love me like this?" No. He doesn't, I learned. He loves me more. 

It's impossible for me to comprehend that God loves me more than I love Ryan, that He loves Ryan more than I love Ryan. He does, though. The only appropriate response is to love in return.

Learning to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength became a priority and it changed everything. It made me a disciple. Loving my son became a priority. I couldn't save my marriage, but I've loved God and Ryan the best I could, and every other priority took a back seat to those two.

Both my Heavenly Father and my son are more important than my medical practice.

I know people thought I was irresponsible and a little crazy for taking a break from medicine more than once. Think what you want. When a child weeps if the phone rings because he knows his mother will be called away, the thing causing that phone to ring has to go. It did. When a teenaged boy needs his mother to help him through the difficult journey of puberty and his high school years, she has to be there. And I was.

I could have made much more money if I'd spent those years practicing medicine instead of making pottery and writing, but there is no amount of money that would replace the time I'd have lost with my son. Some people think I could have touched many more lives in medicine than at home, but no life is more important to me than this one life of my son. No heart matters more. 

I set my priorities and I lived accordingly. It hasn't pleased everyone, but it's been worth it.

As we face death, it's common to realize we could have, and probably should have, lived differently. The good news is that it's never too late to change our priorities.

I've already made some serious changes in priority for the coming year, including intentional rest and down-time, as well as more time with the people I love. It may take a miracle for me to follow through, but I've started a list of people I want to spend time with, and have already scheduled slots for "friend time" and "family time" in anticipation. 

There are two writing conferences I'd like to attend in 2018. I've put them on my new calendar and scheduled a time to sign up, as well.  

Over the years, I've watched in awe as family and friends on Facebook posted photos of the beach or other vacation spots. I haven't taken a real vacation in years, mainly because I don't know how to do it without working the entire time. In the coming year, I intend to try.

Ministry activities this past year and a half have been many and varied. I'm pondering which should stay and which should go. Which activity does God want in 2018?

I'm excited about the opportunity for growth and change, for intentionality in my lifestyle and my ministry. The point, of course, is not change, but to align my priorities with God's so that He can be glorified and honored in all I do.

When my priorities are right, everything else falls in place. I've seen the reality of this truth over and over again. I hope to see it in 2018, as well. 

Today, let's spend some time considering the coming year. Do we want it to look the same as 2017, or should we make changes in our priorities and lifestyle choices? If we want change, we'll have to choose it, so let's get started. 

It takes living to understand the simple truth Jesus taught: "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Matthew 6:33 nasb
Today is Giving Tuesday. As you consider your year-end gifts, please consider including this ministry of digital outreach, in-depth on-line Bible studies, teaching, and prayer. 

If you feel led to partner with this ministry (US, Middle East, the digital world), here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 

Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.
Please like and share to extend our digital reach.

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The New Year's Sign and the Blessing I Didn't Expect

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Overcomer Daffodills

Some years ago, I was going through a particularly difficult time. Perhaps you've experienced a time like that. I was devastated by the events, powerless to change them, and unable  to see any light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.  

In a similar time, a friend had given me some daffodils. I had planted the bulbs and, much to my surprise, by the time the daffodils bloomed, things were better. I called them my Overcomer Daffodils. 

Not long after this next difficult time came, I was wandering through a lawn and garden section and saw a big bag of daffodil bulbs. I bought them, went straight home and planted them, and started praying that things would again be better by the time they bloomed. 

I got distracted. Winter weather made farming particularly difficult. I was as busy as could be, and I forgot about the daffodils. When they bloomed, I was thrilled. It was a sign. I was sure of it. 

What I quickly realized was that the sign was not that my circumstances or difficult situation had changed, or would change.  It had not. It would not for quite some time. The one who had changed was me. I had relinquished the difficulty to the only One who could intervene, and He was healing me. This time, those daffodils were a symbol of the grace I had received to overcome a hard time and be more like Christ than I had been before. 

Daffodils are still a symbol of overcoming adversity to me and tonight, as I sit in my rocker on my upstairs porch, I'm surveying  years of daffodils and savoring the victory those daffodils represent. God's been good to me, dear ones, and all these glorious flowers are a testimony to His faithfulness and His grace. 

The New Year's Sign and the Blessing I Didn't Expect

There are two things you needs to know about my mama. First of all, she made great fried chicken. It was my favorite thing she cooked. Also, my mama said that what you do on New Year's Day is what you are going to be doing all year long, so what happens on New Year's Day is a sign of what's to come. 

A few years ago, I drove Ryan back to Atlanta on New Year's Day. We'd had a leisurely drive with too many stops and were running late. The plan was to unload Ryan's things at his apartment, stop by the hotel and let me check in, go somewhere for a nice dinner, then see The Hobbit in IMAX 3D. 

Unfortunately, it took longer to unload Ryan than we expected and our schedule was suddenly extremely tight. Somehow, we managed it with 45 minutes to eat and get to the movie. 

Chick a Biddy was the new restaurant across from the theater. "Hey Ryan, let's see if we can get something quick here," I said. He wasn't hungry but I wasn't sure I could hold out for three more hours, so we stopped in. 

Since they had fried chicken, and I can't eat wheat, I figured I'd just get a salad. We picked up menus, and I started looking for something gluten-free to eat, which was a major challenge back then. (Restaurants didn't have a GF icon, much less a GF option.)  

Suddenly, Ryan said, "Hey Mom, look. They have gluten-free!"  

There was a GF icon by the chicken tenders. The FRIED chicken tenders. There was also a GF icon by the sides section. ALL the sides. 

The waitress came to take our order. I wasn't positive about what I'd just read, so I asked to be sure. "Does this mean the tenders are gluten-free?" 

She smiled a huge, beautiful smile and said, "Oh, yes! Our fried tenders and all our sides are gluten-free." 

It was such an unexpected gift that I started crying. I had to blink back tears and swallow back sobs to regain my composure enough to order my meal. I looked like a total nut, but Ryan just watched and smiled. He rejoiced with me. Well, he laughed a little bit, too.

When my meal came, it was astounding. It had been a long time since I last had fried chicken, but this was so crispy, juicy, and tender that it was just about better than my mama's. The Mac and cheese was so smooth and creamy that it was unbelievable.

My tears had dried, but when the waitress came by to see how we were doing and asked how I liked the chicken, I started crying again. It was outrageous and embarrassing for me, but Ryan wasn't embarrassed. He was thrilled for me, and still smiling and laughing. 

Next, the manager came by to see how I liked the GF Mac and cheese.  Apparently, they'd been talking in the back about the weepy lady at the front table. I started leaking again. She was radiant at my response to their food. 

It wasn't just that the food was wonderful, nor that it was gluten-free, although it was. Because of her celiac disease, my mama was gluten-free long before it was trendy, and she would've loved the meal. That was part of what was overwhelming. 

Really, though, my tears were mostly because my mama would've said it was a sign of something good to come in the new year. 

Such a sweet, totally unexpected surprise was not just a coincidence. I took it as a gift from God and, regardless of whether or not it was a "sign", it was an unexpected blessing in the least likely place. 

Because of travel, we'd missed all those traditional New Year's foods like cabbage and black-eyed peas that are supposed to bring luck and prosperity. I've never put much stock in that anyway. 

I know that every good and perfect gift comes from above. The likelihood of blessings has nothing to do with peas or cabbage, or with chicken tenders and macaroni and cheese. 

That night, I was reminded all over again that blessings come straight from the hand of God. The one I received at dinner was mighty precious, indeed.  

I've had some blessings that didn't look as much like a gift from God as the fried chicken did, though. In fact, they looked terrible and more like a curse than a blessing.  Now that I'm on the other side of them, however, I can see they made me more Christ-like, and that made enduring the blessing worth it. 

We've probably all had a few of those blessings. There's no way to know what form our blessings will take this year, but there is one thing we can count on. Every blessing we receive will come, not from our own hard work or as a gift from a loved one, but straight from the hand of God. That's something to which we can look forward all year long.  
It was a real surprise to me that this was one of the most-viewed posts of the first year of the blog, but, reading it again, I've enjoyed the sweet memory all over again, and I hope you do, too. Once again, thank you for reading all my rambling stories. (from 9/21/14) 

Update on 2014: I published my second book (The Waiting) and became a novelist that year. I wrote the first draft of my first novel during the month of November. Those weren't the blessings I expected, but it was a blessed year, indeed. 
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Making a Choice about Deadwood and the Lesson of the Fig Tree

57  photo courtesy of

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Making a Choice About Deadwood and the Lesson of the Fig Tree

When I bought my home, twenty-eight years ago, there was a fig tree near the barn. It had been there for decades. At first, it bore a nice crop of figs, but the yield gradually diminished. After a few years, there was essentially no yield at all. 

As the fig count waned, my frustration with the tree grew. Nothing I did helped it. I'm not an expert on trees, but it seemed clear to me that all the non-productive parts of that tree needed to go. Finally, I cut it nearly to the ground. 

A few years later Sam, my farm worker, said, "Hey, have you seen that tree you cut down? It's loaded with figs!"  

The severe pruning restored its productivity.

It's easy to allow deadwood to accumulate in our lives, but it steals our productivity, and it needs to go. In our lives, it's not only the sin and hurt (diseased branches) that need to go. The non-productive things in our lives that fail to make us more like Jesus or fail to demonstrate the love of Christ to a lost and dying world need to go, too.

Just about anything can become personal deadwood. I have a friend who said she didn't have time for daily Bible study until she realized how much time she spent reading the newspaper. When she stopped beginning her day with the news and began with the Good News through Bible study, she found she had plenty of time for God. She now has a life that bears much fruit for him.

Whatever keeps us from doing what Christ intended is deadwood. Internet browsing, Pinterest, Facebook, and shopping can all be good things. They can also be time-stealers that keep us from something better.

Let's take a few moments to look for our own deadwood in our lives and all the activities we include. Do they make us more like Jesus? Do they demonstrate Christ to a world that's perishing? 

If not, it's time for some pruning. 

Let's choose today to have a life that's green and blossoming, then do whatever it takes to get there.

What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.” (Luke 3:9 MSG)
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Wonder Dogs, Closing The Park, and Enjoying the Journey 

p.s. - My new website will be live in two weeks, and my blog will have a new home. In preparation for the move, I'm reviewing all my old blog posts. There've been nearly 2000 posts, but only a few will make the move. It's been freshened up a bit, but this was my first blog post, on 9/23/2013, so (of course) I'm keeping it. 

If there's a blog post that was particularly memorable or significant for you, please let me know and I'll "pack" it for the move.