Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Lipstick and Legacies that Last a Lifetime

I didn’t expect a visit with family to make me take a long look at the short time I have left, but it did. Now, I’m wondering about my legacy and hoping something in my life will last for years to come.

It happened like this…

“Are you working Wednesday?” my niece messaged me. “We’re gonna be in Tupelo for choir competition. Can you come join us?” 

I had an appointment I couldn’t miss, but I managed to arrive in time to visit. My niece’s daughter looked terrific. “Great lipstick, Lindsey. I love the color. What is it?” 

She named a brand. “It lasts a long time,” she explained as she pulled a tube of lip color out of her backpack. 

“That looks like lip gloss.”

She painted a little color on her hand. “You’re gonna have a mess with that lipstick on your hand,” I warned. She merely smiled. 

A few minutes later, she rubbed her fingertip across the color. “See, all dry. Feel it. It’s matte and really soft, too.”

Of course, that led to a discussion about the brand, where to purchase it, and how much. I feigned shock at the price. “Mercy, that better last a lifetime.”

My niece, who never holds back with me, said, “Oh, Anna. it’ll last your lifetime, anyway.”

“Girlfriend, if I could afford that lipstick, I’d expect you to put it on for me when I’m too old to put it on for myself.” 

We laughed about the idea of Katie putting lipstick on me when I’m old and frail, but her words stuck with me. “It will last your lifetime.” My first response was indignant disagreement, until I remembered my age. I’m not twenty-five anymore.

If I want to leave a lasting legacy, I better hurry.

McMillian online dictionary defines a legacy as “something…achieved that continues to exist…” Most of the time, a legacy is financial, but I want to leave something more important than money. I’d like to accomplish something that not only exists after I’m gone, but also continues to make a difference. 

If I want to leave a positive legacy, I must live a positive-impact life. A life centered on people not things. A life directed toward the eternal and not the temporal. I must help the least of these and live with open heart and open hands. 

To leave it later, I need to live it now. 

Love not hate. Peace not turmoil. Generosity not greed. Hope not despair. Jesus not the world. 

Perhaps we should all take a long look at our lives. Do we live with a legacy in mind? Do we accumulate stuff or consciously choose those actions which are likely to last long after we’re gone?

To leave a legacy, start today.

If we want to leave a lasting difference, we must start today. Love with abandon. Give without measure. Serve without limits. Preach Jesus with our lives and use words only if we must. 

The Lord knows the days of the upright and blameless, and their heritage will abide forever. (Psalm 37:18 AMP)

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When Blessings Are Ours But We Refuse to Accept Them

If you have inside dogs, you know what happens when you eat something. They always want a bite. Maggie, my 8-year old Shih Tzu, is very particular. She likes cheese, meat, peanut butter, and pears. She hates spinach and tofu. Because I like both of those dreaded foods, I’ve offered them to her before. Over the years, she’s become a little suspicious of the food blessings I give.

Just a bite

Mamie, on the other hand, is younger and more accepting. She likes everything except spinach. If I eat it, she wants it, too. She sits next to my chair at the dinner table, wiggling all over with anticipation, and stares expectantly at me in hopes of a treat thrown her way. She just wants a bite.

Breakfast smoothies don’t appeal to either dog, but zucchini bread, especially with peanut butter and banana slices, is a big hit. This morning, I opted for whole grain toast with a little smear of peanut butter for breakfast. 

Armed with a steaming cup of coffee and 1/2 a piece of toast in my hand, I crawled back into bed. Mamie was at my side in an instant, staring determinedly at my toast. I broke off a tiny piece and offered it. She gobbled it up and begged for more. 

When comfort costs us a blessing

Maggie was curled at the foot of the bed. I pinched off another tiny piece of toast for her and stretched out my hand. “Hey, Maggie. You want a little bite?” She looked askance at the toast in my hand, lowered her head, and went back to sleep. Maggie missed one of her favorite treats because she was so comfortable where she was that she didn’t want to move.

These dogs have heard many sermons in their young lives, and they heard another one today. “Maggie, girl, you are missing blessings because you’re too comfortable to accept them,” I told her. 

My words struck my own heart like a dagger. I love blessings, especially when they’re easy. The ones that aren’t so easy to receive, the ones that require an inordinate amount of effort or faith, are sometimes a struggle for me. 

When blessing is wrapped in hard

My medical practice was only possible because of the years of effort I expended in long hours of study and training. It required much work to receive, but it was a blessing.

A literary agent was only possible because of the long hours of study and training, plus more edits and rewrites than I can number, but it’s also a much-work blessing.

A mission ministry was only possible because I moved out of my comfort zone and metaphorically lowered my nets on the other side, but it’s a blessing, nonetheless. 

Do we embrace hard blessings?

This morning, I asked a hard question. Do my ongoing cornea problems contain a hard-to-receive blessing I can’t yet recognize? The answer is yes. Even in the midst of hard times, God causes all the circumstances, pleasant and unpleasant, to work together. He brings good in the midst of all the hard we face. (Romans 8:28)

Today, let’s ask ourselves few pointed questions:

If we’re in the midst of an agonizingly hard time, in what ways has God brought good in the midst of the difficulty? 

If we’re in a waiting period, is there a God-given task I’ve delayed which will bring with it a blessing once completed? 

How have we seen God’s faithfulness in past trials? 

What blessings have we received after much effort?

In what areas do we need to persevere?

If we welcome the easy blessings, we must also be willing to embrace the hard ones, give thanks to the Author of both, and persevere until we reach the crown God has promised. 

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12 niv 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Prodigal Puppy and the Puppy Rescuer Who Brought Her Home

This past weekend, I spoke at a women’s conference on Growing Your Faith. I’m not sure how I veered off topic, but at one point, I told the story of Maggie (my sweet Shih Tzu) and her big adventure. 

The story always reminds me of the grace of God, His concern for the things that concern me, and the miraculous way He orchestrates answers to our prayers. After I returned home from the retreat last night, I snuggled with Maggie (and her adopted sister, Mamie) and thanked God for the miracle of restoration He gave. The story’s still ringing in my heart, so I’ve decided to tell it again. (If you’d heard or read this before, please forgive me for repeating it.)

The empty nest looms large.

The adventure began when my son was still in high school. My impending empty next loomed large in my imagination and I was worried. I couldn’t imagine how I’d cope, so I did what any sensible middle-aged mama would do. I made a plan to fill the time with “good.”

A high-maintenance dog seemed like a good idea.

I resumed the practice of medicine, ran for alderman, and bought a high-maintenance dog.  Maggie is an 11-pound Shih Tzu who thinks she’s queen and everyone should pay homage to her.  She can dance like a ballerina, walk on her hind feet like a lady, sit, shake, high five, stay (sorta), and roll over.  She can also sneak like a spy. I think she can count to three, but maybe not, but I know she can also herd cows.  (We happened on that by accident, but it's a story for another time.) Maggie’s also one of the fastest dog-runners I’ve ever seen. She loves to run.

As you can tell, Maggie is a wonderful, multi-talented dog and I’m extremely fond of her. The office manager at our medical practice bought Maggie’s sister. She was equally fond of her dog. Over the ensuing months, we referred to the two sisters often. 

Before long, we planned a “sister spa day” for them. We scheduled grooming appointments for both dogs and envisioned all the fun they’d have. The first trip went fairly well, but not too long after we started this, our great plan went drastically awry.  

In an instant, the great plan became the great catastrophe.

Aunt Judy picked up Maggie at the office and ferried both dogs to the vet’s office. She opened the van door and Maggie immediately saw her chance. That fur-baby jumped out the opening and began to run. Maggie raced across the street and into a field, where she ran and ran.  

Suddenly, she spied another field with trees across yet another street. This particular street was one of the busiest streets in town and it was the busiest time of day. Maggie gave not a thought to the traffic, since she had never seen traffic. She wanted to be in the second field, so she headed out at top speed, dragging her leash behind her. Miss Judy and the vet's office employees chased after her, desperate to catch up.  

Maggie wanted to run, and she did.

Maggie, who had no idea about automobiles, darted in front of a car and raced across the street. The first car slammed on the brakes, stopping exactly on the loose leash. Maggie gave a giant tug, broke free, and kept going. She didn’t want anything to keep her from the next field of fun.  

As she scooted across the second lane, oncoming traffic screeched to a halt. Yep. You guessed it. Three car pile-up. Maggie barely made it past.  She kept running.  (If you were in one of those cars, please don't tell me.  I'm just glad you were safe and thank you for not hitting my wayward dog.)

When fun changed into fiasco

Maggie made it to the second field, where she raced around and into the tree line. Not another sign of her. By that time, I knew about the “situation” and was already at the edge of the field, praying nonstop, calling her name, and searching for my dog.  

Before long, patients and their families came out to help me look. Not a sign of the little scamp. I searched for her until I finally had to return to the office to see patients, then searched again after work until dark.  

Quite a few people stopped by to tell me she would be eaten by coyotes during the night. I was not comforted. It was a good thing I wasn’t a missionary back then, because I had some very un-missionary thoughts about those people who resembled Job’s friends so closely. I’m still grateful I didn’t express those thoughts aloud.
At last, the darkness defeated me and I went home without my Maggie baby. My mama lived with me at the time and we were both pitiful. We tried hard not to cry, but did a poor job of it. 

Maggie'd never spent a night outside before.  She'd never been alone for more than a few hours. I imagined her cowering under a bush, cold, frightened, lonely. I felt lonely and afraid, too.  "Lord," I prayed, "Please keep my baby safe and tell someone how to find Maggie and help them to find her.” I remembered the dire predictions about the coyotes and added, “And please don’t let the coyotes find her first.” 

The prodigal comes home 

Just after 7 am the next morning, my friend’s husband called to say they were bringing me a dog. My first thought was, "Good grief! I only lost my dog yesterday. I'm not ready for another dog!" There was something so cheerful about his greeting that I paused and asked, "Which dog?" 

"Your dog," he said.  "I'm bringing you YOUR dog!" I could hardly believe my ears! “How did you find her?”

That morning, he awakened and knew how to find her, he explained.  A former pilot, he used aerial photos to examine the area. The maps showed an old shed in the woods. He and his wife drove there, and she walked down the path, straight to the little shed.  

Maggie was seated on an old mattress, waiting to come home. There was no leaf litter in her fur, so she may have been there the entire time, waiting for her rescuers. She was stinky from the mattress, but unharmed. My fur-baby was safe.

To this very day, when I look at that dear man, I always think, "the seeker and saver of dogs."  I will never forget how the answer to my prayer came from the most unexpected place. I believe my hero’s plan was divinely inspired and a direct answer to prayer.

Prodigals are more plentiful than they should be.

Dozens of people prayed, searched, and offered comfort to me. Maggie’s rescue was an all-out effort, and it still delights me. Every time she snuggles in my lap, gratitude fills me again. 

I never want to forget, though, that countless people have lost their way. For one reason or another, their desire to be free and their need to run from God took them where they likely never expected to be. Before it’s done, sin will keep them longer and cost them more than they ever intended. I wonder—who seeks for them?

There is One who came to seek and to save the lost, and those lost ones are a high priority for Him. He has a plan to find them, and it’s us. We are the hands and feet He’s appointed to the rescue squad.

Perhaps you are the very one who will seek and bring to safety a lost soul.  How can that happen?  When you know what needs to be done, do it.  Just do it.  My hero saw a need, recognized a solution, and did what it took to get the job done. We can, too.

Returning a lost dog is a wonderful thing.  

Returning a lost soul is priceless.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Kindness Invades the Potty-Place

I remember her kindness like it was yesterday. The very public demise of my marriage left me reeling. I was not enough. Those words echoed in my head like a litany, and I felt like a conspicuous failure.

Hiding in plain sight

It was only natural, then, that I would seek out the most remote, least-used restroom for a quick stop between Sunday School and church. Miss Geri soon found that same potty-place behind the kitchen, and we became "bathroom buddies." 

She was the widow of our former pastor, and not like any pastor's wife I'd ever known.  Beautiful, elegant, Miss Geri and had the most dashing way with clothes.  Even then, I longed to be as cool and nice as she.

The gift of kindness 

Miss Geri was well-liked, spirited, and funny.  She never failed to remember my name, greet me with a happy smile, and ask if my "silly husband" had "gotten his mind back."  To my sheepish, "Well, no," she would wave her hand, laugh, and exclaim, "Pooh on him, then!"  It sounded so funny coming from this lovely older lady that I always laughed. 
She patted my cheek and called me beautiful. "He must be blind and dumb," she always said. By the time I made my way to "big church",  I I had a genuine smile.

The Balm of Gilead poured out in an unlikely place

I tend to think of pastor's wives as being doers of good deeds, and she probably did her share.  The good deeds she performed in that potty-place, though, were little known, but ones I will never forget.  Miss Geri knew my name, and she used it, every time.  She gave me acceptance when I needed it more than I can now imagine.  She offered me humor, and hope, and love.  I didn't realize it then, but she poured out the balm of Gilead and turned that little bathroom into a chapel of healing.

Eventually, she moved from our town to be closer to her children, and I missed her terribly.  A few years ago, she moved to her eternal home. I imagine heaven (admittedly too marvelous to imagine) is an even brighter, sweeter place with Miss Geri there. 

See a need and meet it.

When I grow up (which should have been a few decades ago) I want to be just like Miss Geri.  She only pretended to discover the bathroom about the same time I did, of course.  She'd been in our church for years.  It was no surprise to her.  Miss Geri saw a need, followed it into the little potty-place, and met it with such grace and kindness that it took me years to realize she had come in just for me. 

After she went to heaven, I wondered if there was anyone to take her place. Who follows needs into the potty-place now? Who pours out the balm of Gilead with every fiber of their being? I wish I could say it's always me, but it's not. Women like her are few, and far between. 

It’s a job we can all embrace, and should. Why not be the Miss Geri to those in need around you.  Humor, hope, and love.  The unbeatable combination brought healing in the most unlikely of places.

"And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." Ephesians 4:32 

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