Sunday, June 30, 2019

Whatcha' Doin'?

Regular readers of Embrace the Grace are already aware - we are a BIG family!

We started out as a medium-sized tribe.  One dad.  One mom.  Three daughters.  That was the nucleus for a couple of decades.

Then husbands started being added.  Because our daughters were beautiful, brilliant and bubbly, we KNEW husbands would show up, eventually.  We had no idea they would each be such amazing men who would love our girls so richly.  Bonus!  Family gatherings picked up a bit in both volume and in fun.

After about three years, the greatest bounty began arriving - Grandchildren! First came Spencer Matthew.  Sixteen months later was Abby Grace. The next year brought Noah Jacksen.  About eighteen months later came Madison Riley and Zachariah Avery.  Ava Quinn slipped in two years later.  Then last year Parker Franklin and Grayson Oliver made their appearances.  Now we're patiently awaiting Smith Baby #4.

As you can imagine, our family dinners are no longer calm opportunities for adults to linger and connect.  We are sixteen all together and our meals resemble something more like loud, controlled chaos.  We still pause to pray together.  We still sit together at one very long table extending from the dining room into the kitchen.  (Well actually, it's two tables put together to look like one long table.)  Once someone says, "Amen!" it immediately gets LOUD again.

But we love being a BIG family.

A friend made a plaque for me last year which explains our dynamic well.  "Noni and Papa's - Where Cousins go to become Friends!"  When Madi had her birthday last month, she had the choice of inviting one friend to join her for the day.  Her choice was Abby, of course.  Spencer and Noah love being together.

Frank and I took the three oldest out this weekend to celebrate the end of their school year.  They looked out for one another and shared popcorn and laughed and enjoyed every minute.  Frank and I enjoyed being with them and watching how close they are.

We never in a million years would have guessed this would be our story for this season of life.  Our girls had traveled the country and had even visited foreign countries.  My heart was prepared for them to go away to college.  Graduate.  Meet and Marry the love of their life.  Then move to the far flung corners of the world.

It worked just like that until time for each of them to make a home with their husband.  Each couple, by turn, made the surprising decision to settle in this area.  So, Frank and I lovingly refer to this season as "Frosting Time!"  To be able to live near our children and their children is a gift we do NOT take lightly.  Trust me - we know to be grateful.

A couple of weeks ago, we were sitting out on the screened porch after dinner.  The rest of the family was spread all over our house.  Some still in the kitchen.  The young dad's playing frisbee in the back yard.  Some babies in the playroom and a couple sitting with Noni and Papa on the porch.

That's when the profound question was put to us.  Spencer (8) looked over at me and asked, "Noni, what do you and Papa DO when we're not here?"

His sincerity and puzzled expression made me smile.  He couldn't imagine our house without all the people, voices and accompanying mayhem we were experiencing right then.  For the first time in his young life, he realized that Noni and Papa didn't just sleep until the next time our tribe congregated.  With that realization came honest curiosity.

His innocent question told me two things:
1.  We're all so closely woven that he had never considered us apart from himself.
2.  He's growing into a bright, thoughtful young man.

I ran down the list of things that occupy our evening hours and weekends.  Cleaning, cooking, cards, tv, reading, phone calls, more cleaning.   He was satisfied by my answer but still looked pensive.  I've thought about his question a lot, too.

It's a classic, really.  Every maturing child at some point looks into the eyes of their mentor and asks a similar question,  "Who are you when I'm not around?"  If we aren't paying attention, we can brush off their curiosity or give some glib answer.

Bottom line is this, I want to be the same person ALL the time.  Whether I'm at work or the grocery store. Meeting a friend or having lunch with a co-worker.  With my children or not.  Being watched by my grandchildren or not.  I want to behave in such a way that whoever is near will see me the same way every time they see me.

That was most important to me when Frank and I first talked about marriage.  He had prepared to be in ministry and I knew many pastoral families.  I knew the pressure for children and the fishbowl feeling that life tends to create.  So Frank and I made a solemn promise to one another.  We would endeavor always to be the same people at home that we were at church.

An overly simplistic goal for some, I know.  But for us, it worked and continues to work.

So, I'll ask you the same sort of question Spencer asked us.  "Whatcha' Doin'?"   What do you choose to do when no one else is around?  Are you the same person all the time?  Really?

I no longer take tests at school but this was an important evaluation for me, nonetheless.  Out of the mouths of babes come some of the most profound statements.  May God grace us all to be the same people at all times and in all circumstances.

How about you?  Have your children or grandchildren asked a probing question at some point?  Please share your experience in the comment section.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Try Warmth

I recently did a live video on a simple truth I've learned.  Then realized many of you who read Embrace the Grace wouldn't have a way to watch the video.  There are probably others who might want it in a written form to use for devotions or a prayer time.  So, here you go . . .

Several years ago, I discovered a type of nail polish that really does strengthen my fingernails.  It's clear and dries quickly.  It helped my nails and if it got chipped, no one could tell. All these were selling points due to my sometimes hectic life.

The one drawback was a serious one.  The bonding agent in the polish (which makes it strengthen my nails) also becomes a bonding agent under the lid when tipped over.  In other words, after several uses the bottle often became almost impossible to open.

I would wrestle several minutes with the bottle then finally go to Frank for help.  It was SUCH a good bonding agent that many times he had to use pliers to open the closed top.

One day, I needed the polish in a hurry and of course it was stuck.  Frank went straight for the pliers.  Unfortunately, someone had moved them.  He went to look for them but carried the polish in his hand to keep him on track with the search.  After several minutes, he still had not located the pliers and I needed to go.

Frank started walking back to where I waited with the intention of explaining that the polish was still closed.  He gave the top one more twist and to his utter shock, the top came off easily!

"Look!" he exclaimed.  "The top came right off after being in my hand while I was searching.  We didn't even need the pliers."

Now, we know the secret.  When the top is stuck like cement and refuses to open, we wait.  We patiently hold it in our hand until our warmth releases the bonding agent.

The nail polish bottle is a silly item that taught me a valuable lesson.

When I discover people in my life who are closed off to me, how do I react?  Do I rush over and grab pliers hoping to force them to open up to me?  Do I pressure them with guilt or other forms of manipulation?  Or do I utilize the lesson of the bottle?  Have I tried offering them warmth and patience? Have I genuinely offered kindness which might cause them to want to open up?

This truth can be effective for parents with teenagers who have become closed off and refuse to communicate.  It's also effective for CEO's working with people who stand back and resist bringing their gifts to the team.  It's a great truth for us as pastors.  If someone is struggling, we wait and pray and trust that the kindness we offer will eventually help them open up to us.

I've long appreciated Proverbs 15:1 which says, "A gentle answer turns away wrath."  But I found it in the Passion Translation which says, "Respond gently when you are confronted and you'll defuse the rage of another.  Responding with sharp, cutting words will only make it worse."  

Did that make you say, "WOW!" ??  It certainly had that affect on me.

So, I'll leave you with this thought, dear friend.  The next time you come up against that person who seems so angry and closed off to you - try warmth.  Your act of extending patience and kindness may prove to be the very thing they need to open right up.

It's certainly worth a try!  Blessings

How about you?  Have you experienced the frustration of trying to work with someone who shuts you out?  Has that been a family member or a co-worker?  Was there a time when YOU were offered warmth that made you want to open up to someone?  We'd love to hear about your experience in the comment section.  

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Summer Travels

Many of you are in the middle of making plans for summer vacations.  I thought I'd share a piece from the book we hope to publish this summer.  Enjoy . . .

“We’re taking the scenic route.”

It became a family joke.  My dad was notorious for refusing to stop and ask for directions.  When I was a little girl, we didn’t have a constantly updating Global Positioning System to rely on.  Dad would have thought it unnecessary even if it had been available. 

The glove compartment of our yellow Rambler housed three or four poorly folded maps.  If we traveled over a hundred miles, Dad would briefly consult one of these the night before and select his route.  Everyone was to be in the car at 6 AM, ready to roll. Dad, who always drove unless he was sick, would not look at the map again.  He knew exactly where he was going and how he planned to get there.

Somehow we always arrived at our destination.  Eventually.  But at some point on nearly all of our family journeys, we would be treated to the argument that became a classic between Mom and Dad:

Mom: “Honey, are you sure we’re on the right road?”

Dad: “Yes, I know where I’m going.”

Mom:  “I don’t doubt you know where you’re going but is this the best way to get there?”

Foolish Sibling:  “I remember passing that house just before we stopped for the bathroom.”

Dad (rather sternly):  “Be quiet!  We passed another one that looked like that house.”

After the exchange, we would drive on for another hour or so with tension in the air.  The radio blared country music and no one dared to comment.  Finally, Dad (totally frustrated) would pull into a service station.

“Everyone go to the bathroom!”  He would order us children.  Then he would look at Mom,  “Before you say anything, I’m going to check with the attendant . . . . . just to make you happy.”

Most times, Dad was headed in the right direction.  His chosen route just needed a little tweaking or clarifying.  But for the times we would have to turn around because we missed a road, Mom would announce to us all, That’s alright.  We were taking the scenic route.”

A scenic route is great for vacation days and free times.  But no one wants to intentionally waste precious parts of his or her life journey.  Worse yet, are those travelers who feel they’ve completely missed their destiny due to poor directions or by having followed wrong information. 

Truth is vital for every traveler.

On this journey of life, we all want to live to the full.  But in order to do that, we must be clear on two important points:
1.     We must know where we’re going.
2.     We must search out the best route for getting there.

There is a great urban legend about a battleship navigating stormy weather in unfamiliar waters.  Just after dark, a thick blanket of fog enveloped the mighty naval vessel.  Anxious, the ship’s captain remained on the bridge.

Suddenly, one of the lookouts announced, “Fixed light off the starboard side.”

It was obvious they were on a direct path with some fishing vessel lost in the storm.  The captain ordered that they signal the other ship.

“Change course 20 degrees.  We are on a collision course.”

The answer came, “Advisable for you to change course.”

The captain became angry and signaled, “I am a battleship.  Change course!”

Back came the signal, “I am a lighthouse.  Your call.”

The captain almost caused the very catastrophe he was trying to avoid.  He needed better information.  He needed to re-evaluate his plan.  He needed the whole truth.

That’s what we hope to discover in this book by looking at key truths for managing our life journey well.  We’ll discuss how to identify genuine truth. We’ll highlight common roadblocks that hinder travel.  We’ll examine our intended destination.  We’ll re-examine our plans for getting there. 

Most importantly, we’ll acknowledge the One who set a course for our lives before we were ever born.  Paul wrote to his friends in Ephesus and put it this way,  “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

In other words, God knows the ideal course that will lead to your most fulfilling life.  He has already set plans in place that will move you and I toward the realization of our dreams.  We have only to listen carefully to His guidance.  Lean into the truth found in His word.

Solomon, the wise son of King David, composed one of the earliest scriptures I memorized.  He wrote:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  Don’t lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path.”  Proverbs 3:5-6

Doesn’t it just make sense that we should chose to follow the plans designed by Truth Himself; the One who created us?  At this point in my life I can tell you with great assurance, God is a Loving and Faithful travel companion.  You can trust Him to lead you on the surest, safest and most scenic route of all time!

 Here's to Enjoying the Journey!