Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Just Walking

We've lived in this house for almost ten years.  That's a real record for us.  The next most lengthy occupation was eight years in Asheville, NC.

Our home is modest by most standards.  We're situated in a small grouping of homes with our very own cul-de-sac at the end.  Our little association opens into a larger community of "neighborly" people.

For nine years, I've been walking down our street, out to the larger community, looping around and back home.  Almost always the same route in the mornings and a bit different trek in the evenings.

My walking habits have varied through the years.  Intensity and frequency depends largely on how close I might be to a wedding or reunion.

Oddly, I seldom ever take Gracie with me.  "Tho' she be small, she thinks she be mighty!"  And she has no hesitation picking fights with larger dogs lounging on their own piece of lawn.

Over the years, the girls and Frank have teased about my habit of waving or chatting with neighbors as I've passed by.  Truth is, they've been ruthless in their teasing based on a "greeting gone wrong" experience.

It happened while we still lived in NC.  I was urging them all (once again) to say hello when they spotted neighbors outside their homes.  At that very moment a teaching opportunity arose.  A man we seldom ever saw, stepped out onto his back porch.

I nodded at my little family with the all knowing mother nod that says, "Alright!  Watch and learn."

The man next door reached over for his newspaper then stood up and looked directly at us.  He paused for a split second.  Perfect!

In my sweetest, most cheery southern-esque drawl I loudly chirped, "Good Morning!  How are y'all doing?" (More mother-knows-best nodding ensued as we awaited his response.)

Imagine my shock when the fella scowled, growled something unintelligible, and shuffled back into his house.  The dismissive slam of his porch door sent a clear message, "Leave me alone, you nosy lady!"

We all stood with eyes wide in disbelief.  Suddenly, Frank and the girls burst into gales of uncontrollable laughter.  He pulled my forlorn self into a comforting bear hug.  

That one incident continues to lead to family members waving randomly at walls or fences and crooning, "How are y'all doing?!" Then everyone bursts into laughter.

Okay, I get it.  Not everyone wants to be friendly.  But I haven't let that one little obstacle stand in my way!  My calling is clear - greet the neighbors and let them know you want to connect.

So as I walk, I wave and talk to those showing any interest whatsoever.

But I also pray.  I pray over the homes of people I don't even know.  I figure that if the Lord brings the house to my attention, there's a reason.  The occupants may need courage or hope.  Their marriage may be in trouble or their children may be struggling.  He knows. 

Believe it or not, when I say hello, some neighbors still give a response similar to that of the guy in Asheville.  Some people hear me but turn and walk in the other direction.  Some wave in return but quickly look away indicating to me, "Don't talk to me!"

I inadvertently called one neighbor "Steve" for a while.  He stopped me one day and snapped, "KEITH!"

"What did you say?" I asked with my biggest, engaging smile.

"My name is KEITH!  Not Steve."  He glared at me.

"Oh, I'm so sorry.  Um, I'll try to remember for next time I see you, Keith.  Thanks."  I walked away a little hurt and started repeating for myself, "Keith with teeth.  Keith with teeth."

Word association games help me remember names.  "Keith with teeth" worked beautifully.  And about six months later, my short chats and quick hellos yielded a great opportunity.  "Keith with teeth" had a serious family need.  (Apparently all our nearest neighbors refer to Frank as "The Preacher.")  Keith asked that Frank and I pray for his family.

We stopped and prayed right there in the driveway! 

One of the "look away" fellas finally waved last year.  I considered that as another major break-through.  Then about six months ago, we learned his mother had died and that he felt totally alone.

It hasn't led to dinner yet (he turned that invitation down.) But he does greet us first now.  Some of our Sunday evening strolls have turned into lengthy conversations about hunting or fishing or travel; whatever is on his mind.  And he even went so far as to tease a little recently.

I have a list on my refrigerator of all the neighbors I can name.  It reminds me to pray for them.

Faith is a special needs student I met on an early morning walk.   Extremely shy, it was hard for her to look at me the first few times I said hello.

But eventually, I would round the corner and find her waving eagerly and calling out,  "Hello!  Hello!  How are you?"  She would almost bubble.  Faith and her family moved away this summer.  I find myself still praying for her as I pass her former home.

Who knew that just walking could yield so many opportunities to let people know they matter?  Oh, wait.  I think there was Someone else who discovered this form of ministry long before me.  Like 2000 years ago.

Try taking a look around your own "neighborhood" with new eyes.   It doesn't matter whether you're more comfortable with Hello!  Hi Y'all!  Howdy!  or a simple Good Morning!  The important thing is that you just walk......and find a way to let others know you care.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Listening and Learning

Is it possible that we're entering the final quarter of the year?!

Christmas carols are playing in our office already!  I don't think I'm ready just yet.  But ready or not - here we go!  Life around these parts is moving quickly.  Once school started, we were "Game On!"

Since I haven't had time to write a special blog post, I've just included another story from the book I'm working on.  This chapter talks about the importance of being a person who listens carefully to others.  Hope you enjoy the story:

Dear friends, some of us only communicate one way. We need to be listening more than we’re speaking.

Right after college, I shared an apartment with a great young lady named Tricia.  Tricia knew the power of silence. Tricia was a gift to me that I didn’t like.

You see, I was very out going and bubbly.  I was also very bad about saying what everyone else in the circle was thinking. You know those people? Everybody is standing around, talking and suddenly there’s this hesitant pause.  Invariably, someone jumps in with, “Blah, blah, blah!”

Everyone else, embarrassed, begins looking around with a shocked expression.  A few giggle nervously.  Some cover their mouths.

The blatant one announces, “What?!  You were all thinking it but you just didn’t have the nerve to say it!"

Well that was me! Until Tricia…...

Tricia taught me that in situations like that, everyone else had enough sense to keep their mouth shut. But not me!  Oh, no! I had to just say it right out. I felt compelled to say it. What I had marked as bravery, Tricia explained was stupidity!

One day, I went to Tricia and was telling her about a plan I had. “I think it would be smart for me to……blah, blah, blah!”  (I can’t even remember the details of the plan now.)

Tricia just stood and looked at me, with this sweet smile.  Not fake, it was a sweet smile but because she didn’t say, “Uh huh!  That’s a great idea!”,  I felt compelled to help her understand the value of this wonderful plan.

Really, it wasn’t a great plan but I just wanted her to agree and help me move forward in it.  So I persisted, “And this is what I want to do.”  

Trish just kept looking at me. Which started to aggravate the daylights out of me. I mean even if you don’t agree, just say, “Ok!” and go on.

No, no, no… Trish was helping me. And I didn’t want to be helped.   

I babbled all over myself trying to convince her about my idea.  But she understood the power of silence.  She patiently listened until I talked myself out of a potentially disastrous situation.

Tricia, a lifetime friend, taught me the important lesson that listeners learn.

Scripture has a little something to say about this too.  

1Thessalonians 4:11, “And make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: you should mind your own business.” Boy that’s pretty direct isn’t it?  “Mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you.”

In another version that first part reads, "Study to be QUIET!"  (Emphasis mine.)
Some days, I have to literally lay a finger over my lips to keep myself from speaking too quickly.  But oh the things I've learned over the years by simply listening more than I talk.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Right Season

Dear Friends,

I have not fallen off the face of the earth!  But I HAVE been talking with a knowledgeable person about a book.  As in, writing one.  As in, being a published author.  As in, having my face and name on the cover.  As in......  Well, you get the idea.

These conversations have been interesting/informative.  But this month they got a little scarey; they wanted to see some material.  That meant I had to hustle to transcribe a sermon and polish it up a bit.  After multiple days of long hours, I finally hit the "Send" button.

That small act felt a lot like hitting the post button for this blog the first time.  "What will people think?  Will they enjoy reading what I've written?  Will it benefit anyone?"  And the worst thought of all, "Will they say it's nice only to keep from hurting my feelings?!"  Sigh!

Putting your thoughts on paper and handing them to others for consideration can be frightening!

The story below is one I used to illustrate a point in the sermon transcription I sent the publisher.  Let me know what you think.  And thank you for continuing to check in on Embrace the Grace! 

(Please remember this is from a sermon I preached.  The story explains why I believe that life is a journey with many twists, turns and decisions to be made along the way.)
This journey is also full of seasons.  In Galatians 6:9 we read, Do not become weary in doing good, you will reap in due season if you do not give up.”

You will reap.  Some of you need to jot that down.

Ecclesiastes 3:1, “For everything there is a season.”

The concept of “seasons” is especially true for women.  I’ve always enjoyed working with women.  Teaching Bible studies; leading prayer groups; planning events; speaking for conferences and retreats.  I love it all!

As a very young pastor’s wife, our state women’s director took me under her wing and began to train me.  She added me to her team of leaders and I blossomed! 

When you combine my work ethic, my delight in helping others and her need for youthful excitement on her team – well, you get the picture.  It was meant to be a great situation.  But when you allow giftings to get out of balance, they become a train wreck in the making.

I began spending longer and longer hours working on the various projects.  Juggling here and there to create time.  Sometimes the events required that I be away from home for several days.  Frank helped when he could. But most often, I stole time for these efforts from my girls. 

“Don’t bother me right now, Sweetie.  Mom’s making calls about the next meeting.”  “I’ll take care of that later.  There’s a deadline for this!”  “You just watch this one short movie and I’ll be finished.”

And that was mild.  More often, I simply had no reserve energy left for being patient with the most important gifts God had given to me.   I smiled and taught and listened to everyone else.  I worked to meet the needs of everyone else before offering those same attentions to my family.   

After a few years of this, there came a season change.  God began gently speaking to me about resigning my spot on the leadership team.  I knew His voice.  I recognized His nudge. 

But instead of obeying, I negotiated.  “I’ll ask to be cut back on my responsibilities.  The director won’t mind that.  I love being part of this team, Lord!  It’s a great ministry outlet for me.  Surely, YOU meant for me to serve here.  You made me a leader by nature.  YOU provided this opportunity!”

And so it went.  But God saw much further down the road than I could see.  He heard my deepest prayer – to have a healthy family.  And He knew I couldn’t achieve that on the path I was traveling.

Jacob’s wrestling match with the angel looked a lot like what I was experiencing as I tried to find a compromise point.

“Lord, please!  Don’t ask me to give this up.  This opportunity may never come my way again.”

Finally, a friend dropped by to visit me one afternoon.  I stopped everything in order to give her my full attention.  The visit was so unexpected. I knew she must have some serious need that would require my best advice and most intense prayer!

She wasted no time in getting right to the point.  “Sheri,” she looked me right in the eye.  “I’ve been sent here by the Lord to tell you something.”

It wasn’t exactly the opening I’d imagined; but she had my attention.

“There is something you’re supposed to give up.  And it’s important that you do it right away.  He hasn’t told me what it is.  I just know this is urgent.  That’s why I had to see you today.”

Tears sprang to my eyes and began to roll onto my blushing cheeks. 

She reached for my hand, afraid she had offended me.  “Are you okay?”

“I know exactly what I have to give up, Diane.  I’ve been struggling with it because I don’t want to.  But this helps me know I must obey.  Thank you for taking the risk of talking with me like this.”

My friend prayed for me, then left.  I picked up the phone right away and called the women’s director to resign my post.  Peace flooded my heart.   

For about seven years, I had nothing to do with women’s ministry.  It was a quiet; dormant time for me.  Not easy at all.  But I knew my choice had been the right one.

I didn’t understand about seasons then.  I thought I would never serve in that capacity ever again.  But remember, obedience to God is always rewarded! 

I have now travelled all over this country and to many foreign nations preaching and teaching.  I’ve worked with larger groups and experienced so much more as a leader than I could ever have imagined then.   

Obedience in that season brought a more bountiful harvest in this season! 

(Hope you found some encouragement in this story.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.)