WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Display Your 2017 Favorites

This was a wonderful Photo challenge as I had a unique year–getting to revisit the Rockies in Colorado with my husband –to reminisce on our first trip there as a very young couple 30+ years ago…plus a trip home to the valley in Tennessee where I spent my teen years collecting memories.  It is still true that a picture is worth a 1000 words…

Special places–full of memories of special people.

 

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Ascend

 

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I thought this rooster perched so boldly atop this post was an apt symbol for our “Ascend” theme this week–especially since he and I were both UP for an early start in the morning fog!   I was driving by on my way to work and saw a horse I wanted to photograph and, oh well–the rooster took over the photo shoot.

 

Sexual Misconduct: Condemnation vs. Consequences

“If he’s guilty, I hope they throw the book at him,” I heard the voice in my head           spout off–in response to hearing the news that North Carolina NFL Panther’s owner, Jerry Richardson, was yet another person of influence being accused of “misconduct in the workplace.”

Alas, my own thoughts were what shook me. Warning me I needed a wake-up call. Warning me we as a people were getting weary of the “good fight.”

Guilty or not, what right did I have to wish he would get “the book thrown at him”?  How many times did I stand guilty of some type of misconduct–before God—or my spouse, or a friend/co-worker—and pray I WOULDN’T  get the “book” thrown at me? You know–hoping for MERCY?

 

Don’t’ get me wrong…I sincerely believe any type of abuse or harassment/sexual misconduct needs to be addressed head on and not swept under the rug–and let the chips fall.  If you have broken the law–and harmed others in the process–then you may need to be prosecuted and jobs lost, so that relationships and families are protected. I have worked as a counselor and seen the victims who have faced years on the other side of the fence, believe me.  It’s a long climb back over–all because someone chose to abuse power.

But my thoughts were inflammatory and a bit self-righteous. Was I concerned for the welfare of everyone involved? Not really—not at first. So maybe it would do us well to pause and ask:  is condemnation and punishment the goal –or is what we really want appropriate consequences for the actions that harmed others–that might lead to change?

Maybe, just maybe, we can use a little more empathy for the struggle we ALL face every day; I mean who of us would want his life portrayed as an open book for everyone to read?

As these lyrics from the song “Good Fight” by Anthem Lights so clearly say:

We hop in that ring with
Ourselves everyday
We fight,
Fight that good, good fight…

We win some
We lose some
And some get away
We’re perfect
We’re broken
That’s just how we’re made.

“…let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.”  (John 8:7)   –Jesus

Click the link below for a great upbeat song…

“Good Fight” lyric video, by Anthem Lights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Great Post on Blogging from The Little Mermaid

Eureka! I’ve finally discovered the secret to blogging success! The good news is that I can’t wait to share the magic potion with all of you! Whoot! Ready? Let’s get started… What is ‘blogging success’ at the outset? Is it something achievable? Is it quantifiable? For me, a successful blog is one that is loved […]

via Propelling Your Blog As The Next Hot Ticket Item — The Little Mermaid

Christmas Journeys: The UNexpected and Fumes of Faith

Thinking about Christmas journeys this year. They do seem fitting —as the First Christmas was a journey…quite the journey as it turned out—an unexpected trip, with a long detour to Egypt! And I doubt Mary and Joseph packed much on that donkey, you know?

The UNexpected.  That part of the journey intrigues me.  Mary and Joseph’s story is famous—and they seem to pass the “test of faith” so well—trusting God with that very thing I dislike: the UNexpected.  Some of us handle it better than others, but if honest–most of us struggle with it.

What got me thinking this way was my literal Christmas journey this year, because mine came early.  It came early because things have c-h-a-n-g-e-d in recent years…sigh.  I’m not a fan of change.  (I vividly recall being in the 4th grade and wishing I could stay there forever). But, my visit home turned out great.

For one thing, I got to see special people— old friends that haven’t changed.  Being able to sidle up to a table at the coffee shop and chat with a real friend about real things, like we never missed a beat…that’s saying something.  Some-thing.  You can’t define it—you just thank God for it.

And then there’s family with no drama. Just simple living and simple get-togethers—accepting each other and trying to be kind. Aware of oversights, yes, but carrying on, doing our best to love each other well. And that’s it. That’s what makes a visit great!

But aah…that was in between the journeys. This post is more about the journey.  There’s where I learned something.   Very interesting.   Did not intend to.

But you know how God is, right?  UN-predictable.  Yep.  So, God, being how He is, chooses to teach me a Christmas lesson while ON my journey–probably because I prayed a nice prayer about learning something from the Christmas season.  Be warned—those kinds of prayers will probably NOT get answered sitting safely on a church pew.  Just say’in.

Well anyway, the journey to TN started out smoothly.  Left NC early, Dunkin’s coffee and donut stashed away and headed down I-40 West by 6:15 AM, ahead of the morning rush hour. Cruising in my little 6-speed Mazda-3. Keeping alert with the always cheerful Bobby Bones morning show: “Tell Me Something Good!” Then some James Taylor, praise CD’s, Classical, Christian mix, talk radio–I really like variety!

Kind of like my rambling writing.

But somewhere between Asheville and Hickory it happened.  All I remember is that I checked my gas and said to myself, “Self, you better pull off at the next exit, or you will be ‘Dust in the wind.’” I noticed that would be in about 10 miles or so.  Meanwhile I decided to call a TN friend and set up a time to meet…

Big mistake.  We started talking—and I mean talking. I figured we’d say “OK, see you on Thursday…” and then hang up. But, NOoooo…we got into sticky life issues– and next thing you know I was WAY past the exit!

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My husband will tell you I cannot do two things at once—no, not even talk and drive. Not even talk and cook (but let’s not go there).   And he is right–sadly. But back to the saga…

By the time I hung up, my nice little digital gas mileage reader told me I had “0” miles left before I ran out of gas.  ZERO, big, fat ZERO! not 2, or 3…which would have been bad enough!  And the big red “E” (for EMPTY) was on to alert me I was in big RED trouble.

Problem is I had no idea how long that “0” had been on my dash! (You know, how much “grace space” was there–for emergencies–and ADD blondes?).

Needless to say I felt like an idiot. And a scared one at that. (And who cares about Idiot Status at a time like this?)  So I did what all blonde idiots with masters degrees do.  I raised my right hand toward heaven and began to pray out loud.  OH YES. I mean Jehoshaphat kind of stuff (see 2 Chronicles 20).

Because: A: I was driving (somehow) alone, in the mountains, with zero gas left                                    B: The next sign indicated the nearest exit was 6 miles                                                                 C: I saw brake lights ahead—I kid you not—there was a traffic jam                                           D: I had to pee

Thank God—we were going down hill!  For the first mile or two.  I put it in neutral and coasted; but then the jam!  Now I really had to pee.  I don’t think I had been this scared in LONG time. Bc now if I had to pull over it would be VERY AWKWARD and hard to wait for help because of the jam (plus, there were no bushes to hide behind, in case I did have to pee—argh!)

I was still praying aloud while trying not to look at the dash (right—good luck with that!)   I had to idle, move a tiny bit, and then gas it—at least 5-6 minutes of this.   Finally, just as I thought all was lost, the jam began to clear! I crept along, one mile, then another…shifting gears, praying, and biting my lip. Then—the Exit sign! One more mile.

Holding my breath, I headed up hill now and off the ramp, idled at the light, made a left, and YES! I could have danced into that dinky old gas mart and kissed the attendant! Praise the Lord! Those were some Fumes of Faith right there, buddy.  But skip the kiss—I had to pee!

And so, that was my excitement for the journey A.  On the way home, Journey B, everything went fine–apparently.  I drove 600 miles to the door of my husband’s work site, where we agreed to meet and head out to supper. I ran in, greeted him, and then as we came out to leave he stops and says, “What’s that funny noise?”

Turns out my right front tire was hissing– going flat.  Can you believe it?  All those miles and the tire goes flat after I get to the parking lot at the end of the journey. A tiny piece of metal embedded in there.  Good grief.

I’m thinking maybe, just maybe I had an angel with me this journey. It IS close to Christmas.  I’m not kidding, you know. Because after that flat tire I remembered something.  Just another prayer I prayed, at the stop sign in my neighborhood–where I paused briefly.  (Not my usual routine).  Normally I just pray as I hit the Interstate, but this time I felt prompted to stop and pray this:                                        20171208_212501(0).jpg

 

“O Lord, You…know everything about me. You see me when I travel and when I rest           at home. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my                head.” (Psalm 139:1-5)

Looking at life as a Journey in faith has helped me–even before this latest “incident” that reminded me how little control I really have.  But this taught me to trust a bit more–like that couple on the first Christmas.  Mary and Joseph traveling, traveling, traveling on a donkey.  Poor Mary.  Her journey must have been quite uncomfortable, don’t you think?

And as I mentioned earlier—she and Joseph really seem like pros at handling the UNexpected.  First, she was pregnant for crying outloud.  (Couldn’t’ she just have let Joseph go and “represent” them?)  And it didn’t go easy or “turn out all right” by our standards… I mean, she had to stay outside in a little cave-like stable and give birth with no mom, Aunt Susie, or anyone she knew, to help her!

Because of course, if God could send angels, shepherds, and a special star….He  could have provided Mary a decent bed to sleep in that night. But that right there is just the unpredictable nature of God—how He performs a miracle to show us His glory–and right alongside His glory–He allows us to experience the ordinary brokenness of this world.  Just ask Paul the Apostle, who later sat and suffered in some of the darkest dungeons—and yet he, too, saw wondrous miracles and proclaimed that Christ loved him deeply.

I guess it all boils down to the whole Christmas event—not just the journey.  Remember what the angel said the shepherds?    “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today…” (Luke 2:11)      Jesus came into the midst of our darkness and brought Light–forgiveness and hope.

No, He didn’t push DELETE and restore the world to a new Garden of Eden, or override our humanness and right every wrong instantaneously, like we think He should have (or do we? since none of us is really pure).  We are broken. Every last one of us.                  But, He took on flesh and became the Remedy.

And that is why despite our longing for all things to be made whole now—we can still taste the goodness of His mercy and wait with joy for the Christ child to return as King.

 

Serene: Weekly Photo Challenge

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     A front porch swing is like the door to the wardrobe in CS Lewis’s wonderful story: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe…. for if one can sit in it and swing, even if only for a moment–Time stands still–and the feeling of being a child again may come sweeping  in and envelope your soul…if you let it.

          And along with it–the serenity of being carefree and full of trust, content to swing–                                          swing in the sun–and wait for what the morrow brings…                                   quietly and gently returns.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child                 will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17 –Jesus)

 

Mercy

Daily Prompt: Mercy

Ahh…to simply say the word aloud–there is nothing else like it.  And what good fortune to have such a perfect daily prompt from WordPress for Thanksgiving Eve!           So yes, MERCY…

     If there were nothing to be thankful for but Mercy, then there would be everything to be thankful for.

“God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” –Jesus  (Matt. 5:7)                                   

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Temporary

November 10, 2017   Temporary  WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

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The morning heralds the sparkling mist. Both speak of divine mysteries and depart                                                              in a holy silence.

Always, too soon…leaving us longing for a little more.  As in Life. As in Love.

Cherish each drop while it shines for you.

Empty Spaces

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Holidays are coming.  And living in the “space” on the back side of fifty—it seems like we encounter “empty spaces” in our lives a lot more often now. Sometimes they are painful.  At times they are needful.  Often–they simply go unnoticed.

This time they caught me off guard—and left me still and quiet–soaking in a soft sadness I did not expect. But bearing me up beneath the emptiness there is a quiet grateful swell for the multitude of ordinary days that cause these empty spaces to feel so…well, empty.  I suppose  “E-M-P-T-Y” wouldn’t happen, unless we once knew FULL, right?   So, while you think about your “empty spaces” story, I will tell you mine—with hopes that you will share a bit of yours in return. For I believe it’s in the act of sharing the healing begins.

Recently I crossed state lines for a visit “home” to see Mom and my Tennessee kin. But, the thing is–Mom no longer lives “at home.”  Thankfully, she is quite happy and healthy for 82…passing the days in a pleasant assisted-living community–“uptown,” as we Southerners say.  She enjoys people and has embraced the change wonderfully, telling everyone (repeatedly 😊) how she likes her apartment much better than being “alone in the valley” (since Dad passed away a few years back). Truly, the time for the move had come—and we were all very grateful an opening came available at the just the right time.

This was my first trip home since her move, and staying at the house I spent the latter years of my childhood in–now changed forever–left me staring at empty spaces—somewhat expected; but as they say—you don’t know how something will impact you until you walk through that door.  And yes, it is the stark simplicity of the empty space that gets you:  There is no kitchen table. And the cookie jar, always full and waiting for us–is gone. And with it the Mom-warmth has suddenly vanished. Familiar and favorite pictures now reside at Mom’s apartment, leaving the walls half-naked.

And now, suddenly, I miss Dad even more…no newspapers clutter the coffee table; no lingering smell of pipe tobacco hides in an old jacket, and no pickup truck waits in the garage. His tools call out from the work bench in silence.

Yet, the couch and one recliner still sit and comfort us at night—same as always.  And the surroundings are stunningly beautiful this fall, as Dad’s vision for the “valley” slowly unfolded over the course of 20+ years—with his sweat and patience painted across the hills.  He taught us kids how to dig in and work, and learn things both hard and mundane. So that slowly, twenty-six overgrown acres of brush, broken fences and old barns became a verdant Tennessee valley and home place–complete with creek, dogwoods, maples, orchard and wild Walnut groves that line the valley with color.

We painted the barns, planted a garden in spring, added a pond– and in time replaced the barbed wire with a tame and lovely white fence (maybe that would keep those stubborn Angus cows in!). But with change, there was a wistful sort of goodbye—as I still like to look at my old photos and paintings–when the land was raw and younger—as were we. Now, only one barn remains—the low-lying “long barn” that stretches across the top of the hill.  It’s as if it stands guard now, watching over the valley when we are tired and need it most.

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And me–I still like to sit, as I did when I was 11, and watch the early morning mist rise out of the grass and disappear over the tops of the trees, or wisp over that barn if the sun isn’t too hot.   It’s then the Father speaks to me.  And on this occasion, I hear Him loud and clear: Life can be hard and it can feel lonely—empty spaces can catch anyone by surprise. But, the truth is…I am never really alone.  And this life–with all of its wonderful days–and it’s not so wonderful days– is only the prologue.

“LORD…before I speak a word, You know all about it. You are all around me, behind me and in front of me. You hold me safe in your hand.” (Ps 139:4-6)

 

This is Grace…with a bit of Grit

Welcome to my world. If you join me in this journey I hope you are ready to laugh. Or cry. Or sing and dance–and throw things occasionally.  Because that’s pretty much what “The Back Side of 50” is—unpredictable. One minute you are perfectly fine, sanely talking to people and doing your job, and the next minute you are secretly slinking through the raw chicken in the trash can, because you can’t find your phone. Yes, you MAY have accidentally thrown it in there—probably right after you hung up on that telemarketer.

Anyhow, that’s why the title is what it is. During our ‘post-50” era, there are days we must rely on pure Grace–to get up, get out the door, and get –oh, whatever it was we were going after?  And yet, God’s grace is so wondrous He takes us just as we are—without being the least bit annoyed. Which, in my book, is truly amazing.  So, there will be much to indulge in here!

And let me add that when it comes to grace, we are without exception the ones who cut ourselves short. In his book What’s so Amazing About Grace author Phillip Yancy calls God’s grace “audacious.” And though it’s been 15+ years since I read that life-changing book–if you think about it, it really is.

Not only is God’s grace audacious–It’s not even fair. I mean, sending His rain on the ‘just and the unjust” and all that.  Admit it–we all tend to like things fair. At least we law-abiding types do. But Jesus is always so, well—”not fair.”  You know, He appears to rather blithely say things like: “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt. 5:43-44 NLT) and “Don’t worry about your  everyday life–what you will eat, or drink…or wear” (Mt. 6:25-28)—really? That is a bit off the charts for most of us.  Yet, I get the distinct impression He is not speaking metaphorically here.

And on top of that, He keeps right on forgiving people—pretty much everyone who simply asks.  And expects us to do it, too.  You know about Peter and the “70 X 7” stuff, right? (Mt. 18:21-35)  And dishonest tax collectors, like Zacchaeus ( Lk.19:1-10), and people with evil spirits… like Mary Magdalene (Lk 8:2)—they ALL get forgiven–plus get special attention, as if they are heroes or something.

And of course, the story of the prodigal son sounds great (Lk.15:11-32)–unless you are the older son who stayed home working all that time!  (I mean, the father didn’t even lay down any conditions to let “party guy” back in after squandering half the family fortune —come on now! Really, the older son had a point, didn’t he?).  And the thief on the cross gets to go to heaven because…why?  He asks for mercy at the very last second?  And there goes Jesus again–doesn’t even bat an eye…just replies, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”  Yancy was right.  His grace is audacious.  And totally unfair to those who bust their tails to live righteously year after year …think so?

And last, but not least–it’s the parable of the Vineyard Workers that really gets our goat—when the laborers who only worked one hour end up getting the same wage as those that worked all day…( Mt. 20:1-16). Even a kindergartner knows that ain’t right!  And so it’s not “right”–but by God’s gracious standards…it’s wonderful.   His grace IS audacious.  And if you can’t take it, you better jump ship now.  I am finally starting to get it–and yes, it has taken 50+ years.

That’s just it—exactly what we are supposed to get—but honestly we keep FORgetting it.  The story that matters from God’s viewpoint is this: It’s ALL—completely all–about His grace and generosity–it’s never about how well we “do life.”  Sure, we want to please God with our lives–and we will try our best with His GRACE to help us along.  But Grace begins our life in Jesus–and Grace ends it.

Other days— changing the subject a bit–The Back Side of Fifty will deal with plain old Grit.  John Wayne style grit.  As in who trained my keys to jump out of my purse? And am I going to earn an Olympic medal for finding stuff in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator?  I mean, I am almost 6 ft tall and it is a long way down there…

But on a more serious note, it requires a lot of grit in the second half–because hard times happen—really hard times.  Either to us, or to those we love. As in–people die. Not all of them are old either.  And grief leaves gaping wounds.  Then there is pain–both emotional and physical, that slams us out of nowhere.  Or people we counted on disappoint us. Maybe it was their fault, maybe not.  But still the disappointment must be dealt with, or it becomes something else–anger, agitation, bitterness, depression–you name it–we have all felt it.  And, sometimes worst of all–we are tired of disappointing ourselves.  So, honestly–the second half is just tough.

So then, most of us do one of two things by now: we either look for help—or we become cynical and lonely. So I invite you–now is the time to pull out the Grit, couple it with Grace–and move forward a step at a time.

And that is where I hope to land us in this blog. Some days there will be a little more emphasis on grit and humor, for God has told us plainly that a cheerful heart is good medicine (Prov. 17:22) And, whoopee–do we need more of that!

0ther posts ( usually 1-2/month) there will be more leaning into God’s grace—it’s just so wide and deep.  And just about any good thing boils down to His grace really.  Though Jesus nailed to the cross says it in a nutshell.  Can’t get away from that.

So I’m staying yoked to the Shepherd Who offers rest for my soul. (Matt.11:28-29). “The Back Side of Fifty” might feel like the Valley of the Shadow at times, but there is still real Joy in the journey.  Hope you’ll come along for the ride.