Endings and beginnings.

I took my dog for a walk this morning, noting the silver slug trails scribbled across the sidewalk. The light of dawn made them shimmer and become almost beautiful. For the first time in several weeks, I felt inspired to sit down and write.

The flowers in the South are in full bloom, knockout roses scenting the air and daisies standing tall behind the monkey grass edging the flower beds. My potted plants struggle to survive due to my occasional neglect and I find myself flooding them in order to rescue them from the wilt. I have great dreams of gardening in the Spring when the weather is cool which quickly wither in the oppressive heat of Summer.

I haven’t written a thing since my retreat in May. It was three glorious days of driving through incredible scenery along the Ocoee River and through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I finished my novel (yay!) and wrote whatever crossed my brain in the moment. Pages upon pages were laid down-my way of figuring things out, straightening what had become crooked, and reconnecting with God in the quiet of a sheep farm in Georgia. It was heaven on earth. Then, I came home and hit a creative wall. Oh, I’ve started a few posts, scrolled mindlessly through social media and shared a few memes and photos, but nothing of substance has been produced due to various circumstances.

First, I started back to school and I’ll just tell you, College Algebra is hard. I’m a writer, not a math brain, so it is stretching and challenging me in a myriad of ways. Not all of them constructive. I have sighed, cried, and sought every way I can imagine to get out of taking this class, but the fact is it is a basic requirement of a bachelor’s degree and it is the only general studies course I didn’t take back in the early nineties. It’s been a long, long time but it has to be done. Thank God for my brilliant husband who remembers all of this stuff! He has saved my academic life!

Second, Summer has been busier than I would like. Last year I felt like we spent endless, luxurious days by the pool, reading and splashing and meeting neighbors. This year has been filled with appointments, camps, preparing my oldest to transition to college, a trip to the beach…and math! All of these things are good and necessary but I find myself just wanting to be home, curled up on the sofa with a good book. (But, I really need to catch up on laundry.)

Third, we had to say goodbye to our beautiful, majestic, tender-hearted German Shepherd. What we thought was an ear infection turned out to be advanced cancer. We didn’t have time to wrap our heads or hearts around it but we had to put him down. I can’t describe the heartache of holding that huge head, looking into his soulful eyes and telling him what a good boy he was as he succumbed to the anesthesia. We all were there, weeping, as my husband read a prayer over our dog and we let him go. Grief has hit in waves and our yard feels so empty without his 120 pound presence. He was a big boy with an even bigger heart and we hurt.

Fourth and finally, in our grief we couldn’t be satisfied with one little dog who was lonely and lost without her best friend. We watched Hollie mope around and lose all of her mojo and we knew we needed to bring joy into our family quickly. Yes, we got a puppy(!) and that has been good and right therapy. She is a Cavachon-a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel/Bichon Frise mix. Like someone told me who had recently lost a beloved dog, if I have to be sad, at least I can be sad with a puppy. We named her Clara June and she is a sweet, soft bundle of snuggles who is healing our hearts and teaching our Hollie about playfulness and the fun of pouncing on a toy once again. Hollie isn’t sold on her just yet, but she is making baby steps that direction. Hollie gives a killer side-eye, though. Her shih-Tzu expression is consistently sour mixed with a healthy dose of annoyed at this new little sister who is full of puppy energy. We have laughed a lot this past week and I am grateful for that. Puppy breath is good therapy.

So, here I am. I still intend to write about my retreat back in May. I have incredible pictures to share and stories of how God met me there but today I just wanted to stop by and say hi. I wanted to share a bit of real life that has been happening and just check in with you as July dawns and we in the South hunker down to endure the summer heat. I hope you are able to enjoy some long mornings. I, for one, have to get up early to enjoy my devotionals outdoors or else I end up being driven inside by the humidity and bugs!

God is faithful. He is near. He is moving in the good and the hard and I’m grateful to be reminded of that. I have felt more dependent on him in recent days, even in the midst of massive struggles to form coherent prayers at times. But He reminds me to cast all of my cares upon Him for He loves me.

I think we could all stand to be reminded of that, don’t you?

Happy 4th of July (if you are in the United States)! As we celebrate the country in which God has ordained us to live, may we be good stewards of the freedom we enjoy and use it for the glory of God and the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Retreating

It’s been a dream of mine for while, now, to get away to somewhere remote and just write.

No noises.

No distractions.

Just for a couple of days.

Because of the sweet generosity of my husband, who gifted me this very thing last Christmas, my bags are packed as I type.

As soon as I water my flowers and load up the car I will be hitting the road for my destination…an 1880’s cabin on a sheep farm in Georgia!

I am so ready and, to be honest, a little nervous. I’m a solid extrovert so this extreme removal from society and social media is going to challenge me! I pray the quiet of the farm will seep into my mind, allowing God more room and opportunity to speak.

I will be writing as much as I can hammer out, while cleaning up the novel I recently finished and preparing to send it off to an editor. I will also take lots of photos, documenting this unusual experience to mark it as a stone of remembrance, for I do believe the Lord is going to move over the next two days!

Oh, and remember that little thing called College that I started last week? In order to get away like this I have been doing algebra like a crazy woman.

Algebra.

It’s been almost thirty years since I was in high school and, y’all, college algebra is NO JOKE. (Thank the LORD for my amazing husband who remembers all of it! He has happily sat with me and talked me through negative fractional exponents and seventh root variables, preventing my mind from, very literally, melting) I asked him, the other night, why this is so hard for me (I may or may not have been on the verge of tears) and he said, in his calm, matter-of-fact tone, “Because you are a writer.” And then I was ok.

I don’t have to be good at everything. I just have to pass algebra so I can move on to the classes that spark my passion. I just have to pass.

All that to tell you, I will NOT be taking algebra with me to the farm!

So, with that I’m off to water the flowers and hit the road! If you think about it, I would be so honored if you would pray for me as I travel and leave my babes. They always get a little said when mama leaves, as do I.

Until I return, happy Memorial Day! And thank you to our men and women who gave all for our freedom. There is no greater love.

The Truth about Truth.

How many times have you heard the phrase, “That’s my truth” or “Well, I believe…” and cringed?

How often do those words feel off, somehow, but you don’t know how to articulate why?

The church is in trouble, friend. There are so many false gospels, weak Jesuses, and works-based religion disguised as Christianity infiltrating the church that we hardly recognize it any more.

Or do we? Maybe we do recognize truth, but choose to ignore it.

Around the world, in countries where believers are persecuted and imprisoned or killed for merely owning a Bible or sharing Jesus with a friend, the church is thriving and growing at an exponential rate. But here in the US?

Boy, we have it too good.

We are so comfortable in our freedom and luxury that we have time to sit around and think of new ways to jack things up. We have watered down, tainted and twisted the words of the Bible so much that, unless you are a committed student of the Bible and understand what is at stake, church has become irrelevant…nothing more than a club of people who like the idea that Jesus loves them and want to do nice stuff to make others feel good so that it makes their version of Jesus look good.

But their version of Jesus is not Jesus.

We have lost our first love. We have allowed ourselves to be so distracted by what others think of us and how we practice our faith that we have begun to incorporate the practices of religions that are abominations to God, practices that were expressly forbidden, and cloaked them in a “Christian” robe to make them palatable.

It’s like putting a tiny bit of poop in a pan of brownies, all fun and games until you realize what you have eaten.

Spit it out. Spit the whole thing out. Go back to the basics of who God is, who Jesus is and who the Holy Spirit is. We need them. All of them. Without one of them we do not have all of God. He has told us how He wants to be worshiped. We must stop adding to what He has given us! God is simple in his expectations, we are the ones who make things complicated!

In 1 Samuel 15, Saul was given clear instructions by God to destroy the Amalekites. When God said destroy, he meant it. He wanted there to be nothing left…complete annihilation.

Saul went to work, but began to tweak the plan.

What could be wrong with capturing the king and making him suffer a little? And what about those fat, robust cattle and sheep? Wouldn’t those be great to use as an offering…sure would be a good reminder to God and the people of all that Saul and his men had accomplished, right? There were a lot of nice things among the Amalekite possessions and it would seem wasteful to destroy all of them.

But God had said they were to destroy everything and everyone, to completely wipe the Amalekites from the face of the earth. He knew what would happen down the road if even a remnant was left to survive…trouble that would resurface time and again. Samuel did most of what God asked, but did not follow completely through and God’s response is very telling. In verse 10 he actually says he regretted making Saul king because Saul had turned away from him and not carried out his instructions.

But wait, hadn’t Saul done most of it?

Sure, but most is not what God had asked for. He wanted ALL of it.

When Samuel confronted Saul about his neglect, Saul was defensive. “But I did obey the Lord!” he answered in verse 20. “The troops took sheep and cattle from the plunder-the best of what was set apart for destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

Then in verse 22 Samuel said to Saul,

“Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? Look, to obey is better than sacrifice. To pay attention is better than the fat of rams.”

Then Samuel said, “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and defiance is like wickedness and idolatry.”

Let that sit and stew for a while.

Not following through with the complete instructions God had given him was like Saul trying to write his own ending to the story. His defiance and determination to shape things to his liking was wicked and idolatrous…a type of self-worship.

Isn’t that what is happening in the church today? We play with “new” ideas, like mindfulness and meditation, hoping it brings us closer to God. But we are told to take every thought captive (never to empty our mind) and we are told to meditate on scripture, not try to achieve some ethereal state. We even take God’s command to love one another and turn it into accepting the hedonistic lifestyles that have filled our streets and computer screens, going so far as to call them holy and acceptable to God when practiced within the (arbitrary) boundaries of the (new and improved) church. Love brings in the sinner, yes, but it never stands by and endorses what will surely bring death and destruction to the very people we have been called to reach. Satan’s first lie was “Did God really say?” and, today, many Christians still march to the beat of that drum. We don’t like being told “no”, “wait”, or “not like that”. We want our way and we will twist whatever Bible verses necessary to get it. But we are only going to be successful under the sun for a little while for when we stray from what we have been clearly instructed to do we are inviting the enemy of our souls to come on in and have a seat whether we like it or not.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the devil any where near me.

Now we can say, “Well, for me it’s different”, “That isn’t my truth”, or “It’s just who I am” but it really doesn’t matter. God’s truth is the only truth. Who God says you are is who you are. Truth is true whether we believe it or not. Seeking an experience or identity outside of the umbrella of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit then trying to Christianize it is dangerous and leading countless people (including Christians who have been believers for decades!) down a path of New Age Spirituality, Eastern Mysticism, Progressive Christianity and even to Agnosticism and Atheism! We have everything we need in the Bible. God has been crystal clear and we must stay laser focused on Him and the calling He has placed on our lives.

You might think this is legalism, but that is not what is happening here. God wants obedience from his children. We would be wise to take him seriously and love our brothers and sisters enough to encourage them to do the same. Loving as God loves means we will have to stand for truth. It means we will not be popular and likely accused of being a “Jesus freak” or judgemental. But God’s love never fails. It is the only one that can change hearts and lives and the only love that can save and secure a soul for all of eternity through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection!

Truth is true, whether we believe it or not.

Are You Drained?

It has rained cats and dogs here in Tennessee. I believe I speak for everyone when I say we are all “over it.” My yard is a mucky mess and our German Shepherd, who loves a good roll in a puddle, leaves body-shaped mud prints on my hardwoods every. single. day.

Behind our house sprawls the sixth fairway of a golf course dotted with ponds. When the sun rises one of my favorite things to observe is the colors of the sky reflected in the water. Ducks and geese frequent the area and fish occasionally leave concentric circles as they dance just under the water’s surface in the morning light.

As the rains have fallen (and fallen) this week, I have watched the ponds carefully. The levels have risen slightly, but many friends in the area have creeks and ponds busting out of their banks and threatening their homes. I have been very thankful that our ponds were built with drains along the edges that direct the overflow safely away from our neighborhood.

Which got me thinking…

We often think of drains, especially in our lives, as a negative thing. If something is ‘draining’ it generally means it is sucking the life out of us. But what if there is another meaning, one that is life-giving or, at least, life-preserving?

As I look at the ponds behind my house I realize that even something so beautiful and necessary as clean water can be destructive if not controlled and directed to where it is needed. In an age of busy, busier and busiest we tend to fill our lives up, going at breakneck speed from pre-dawn until the late night hours, in order to accomplish the elusive “more.” If a little is good, a lot must be better (or so we believe). Activities, responsibilities, ministries, disciplines and commitments leave us full to bursting and we begin to spill over in exhaustion, ugliness, frustration, and anger.

We are drained, bursting out of the banks of order because we are not using our God-given drains that will keep the waters of our lives at optimum levels. We seek relief from the excess in unhealthy ways, trying to redirect the overflow and relieve the pressure we constantly feel. Our culture has forgotten how to rest. We deny the fact that we even need it.

But we do. Desperately.

Psalm 23 says it best:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy
[e shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell
[f] in the house of the Lord
    forever.
[g]

Read that again slowly. Notice the emphasis on rest, on who is doing the actual “work” and leading, guiding in this passage.

Hint…it’s not us.

Remember, we cannot do everything well all the time. We cannot take on unlimited tasks without bursting out of our banks and possibly losing all that we have worked so hard to gain. In nature, water is necessary for life but too much water can result in death. In the spirit, balance can only be found by intentionally installing a drain that will keep our “levels” healthy and at their most productive.

And what, exactly, is that drain? It is choosing God first above all the other demands on our lives. His voice is so quiet that we easily ignore or dismiss it, but it is the one we must heed before all others. Just as the pond behind our house is dependent on the drain to keep the waters at a safe level, I am absolutely dependent on the Spirit of God to keep me from filling up my days with busyness and pushing myself to the breaking point, becoming ineffective in the Kingdom of God because I have nothing left to offer. I had to start setting my alarm and waking up early to spend uninterrupted time with Him, treating it as necessary for my survival…because it is. You may set aside a different time each day but you must carve out time with the Lord just like you do for bathing or brushing your teeth! The fact is, if it is truly important to you, you will do it.

No more lip service. No more doing things because they are accepted as “Christian” or “good.” No more overcommitting and bursting at the seams because we are driven by a pressing demand for our time and attention. Seek Him first. If something that appears “important” has to be put aside in order for your relationship with God to be nurtured and fed, then by all means, do so.

Our families and work will be much more likely to thrive if we are. If I am drained of all that makes me a joyful and loving mother because I have failed to lean on my relationship with God for strength and wisdom, then my family will suffer as well. I am not doing them any favors by making them into idols and forsaking Jesus because we signed up for yet another activity and I’ve left no time in my day to connect with my Father.

Maybe you are in ministry or work outside the home. You may or may not have children, but the principle is the same. You can only minister out of the overflow of your relationship with your Creator. He intended this to be the order of things and we must recognize it in order to truly make a difference for Christ. There is no shame in stepping back and recognizing your need to be immersed in the rejuvenating waters of the Holy Spirit so that you can venture back out again in His strength and love. Take that needed time. Let Him drain away the excess so you can operate within the boundaries of your calling, invigorated and energized because God is the one taking on the burden and getting the glory…

which is the whole point, anyway.

Are you drained? I certainly hope so.