Five-Minute Friday: Focus

I squinted my eyes to see the clock on his side of the bed. Near-sighted people learn early on to squint their eye to bring something into focus. It works pretty good at first, but these days the only thing that brings real clarity is my contacts.

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My Nikon will auto focus. You fix the tiny dots on your subject, push the button part way down until the image is clear, and shoot. There’s also a manual focus but I prefer the auto, like I prefer easy anytime that’s an option.

Focus doesn’t always come easy to me. We joke that I’ve acquired ADD in my adult years, even before technology added to my lack of attention span. My husband calls me a hummingbird. He says I flit here and there, not landing long before buzzing to another spot.

My switching from photography to painting to writing to sewing in the span of a week could bear testimony to that.

When we lived in Memphis, we would watch hummingbirds out our breakfast room window. We had a feeder made for their long beaks hanging in a tree. Their wings flapped so quickly they appeared to be a blur. The birds never perched while they fed but their attention had to be focused on the feeder with it’s narrow and deep opening. They had to hover just so. Amazing these tiny creatures were created to do this, focus and flit.

Maybe my husband is right.

I will skim through words until I land on that thing that seems to jump off the page. The words that are new or fresh or ‘wow’. Then my attention is drawn clearly to the subject, my mind stopping to process.

The most recent to get my attention is a book I’ve just started called Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. The title alone is an attention getter.

Here’s the last portion I highlighted:

“Never once did Jesus scan the room for the best example of holy living and send that person out to tell others about him. He always sent stumblers and sinners. I find that comforting.” – Nadia Bolz-Weber

God get my attention through words and through pictures. Through creation, the arts and through people, his most confusing and subjective art, but also his best. This is where he gets my attention. This is where my focuses and hovers. This is where He is most clear to me.

Where does he get your attention? I’d love to hear where you focus best on His love and grace.

Linking up with Kate Motaung and a host of friendly bloggers for a weekly free-writing prompt called Five-Minute Friday.

When Tears are Grace

There are some who would say men don’t cry. Not real men. He didn’t make a sound but I saw his tear-streaked face. I saw the lines of grace, mercy and love in the faint lines glistening against his dark skin. He didn’t try to hide or wipe them away. I suppose he was proud of those tears. I hope he was.

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I have this love/hate thing with my tears. They tend to come unbidden and when I try to fight them back it’s just an ugly scene.

Tears weren’t welcome in my home. I learned that early on. That lesson will stay with you and when you’re a grown woman trying to choke back the tears at tender things because you’re not suppose to cry, yeah, that’s not healthy. It’s taken me a lot of years to learn my tears are okay and even right at times. But, I’d rather control them instead of them controlling me.

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This man is in his 50’s and I wonder if he’d been told “big boys don’t cry”? If he had, he knew that wasn’t right and what he was searching for was right because he was searching for love.

Tears have come in my searching, searching for time lost with a parent taken unexpectedly. Tears of grief for loss of place, of home and family; tears of celebration and tears of lament have taken me by surprise and left me without words. Except that tears are a language of their own.

The story in my mind of this man’s tears were a story searching for love. A love he’d had all along but maybe a love he couldn’t believe existed. You know that story don’t you?

Intellectually, you know God loves you. He has to love you because He’s God. Sort of like our spouse and those hard times when we say, “I love you, but I don’t like you much right now.” So maybe we think God is like that. He loves us because he has to. But we aren’t loveable, are we?

What’s lovable? A newborn baby with their innocence and tiny fingers that curl around yours? A puppy? They’re without guile and just as innocent and cuddly as the newborn.

Am I lovable if I have all the right answers, look right and know the right people? Or will going to church and leading a small group make me lovable? Maybe if I like everything you like?

What’s your idea of lovable?

God seems to have this crazy idea that we’re all lovable. The sinner and the saint. The lost and the found, the blind and those with eyes to see and hearts to believe. All of us, the anorexic and the bingers, the addicts and the compulsives, the faithful and unfaithful are loved by God because God is love.

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When there's no room left at the alter they come on the stage.

The story I believe is that Earl found that love on Sunday. When the preacher told us we can begin again Earl wanted that so he walked his tall self down the church aisle right to the front of the chapel and knelt his body all the way down, his head bent over as he leaned on that altar rail and opened up his heart to God’s love.

That’s where Earl found grace. I saw it in the tear stains on his cheeks. And love found him. God’s love claimed him and those tears weren’t just his, as mine joined with his in this great love called grace.

Linking up with Holley Gerth and Coffee for Your Heart

What I Learned: January 2016

This one nearly slipped by me. A new year seems to move faster and faster but thanks to Emily Freeman over at Chatting at the Sky, I jotted down a few things I learned in this month. (Link up here.)

New APP

WAZE

I’m not sure how I missed this before now but I’ve discovered Waze. Their homepage describes it as: “the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. Join other drivers in your area who share real-time traffic and road info, saving everyone time and gas money on their daily commute.” Along with the typical info a traffic app gives you,  I like is the info the app provides like, “car on shoulder ahead” and “red light camera ahead” or “police activity”. You can choose the accent you’d like the voice to speak in so we’ve chosen British and her name is Kate. She’s quite nice, really.

Food/Drink

We’ve finally had a few days of winter so I was looking for hot chocolate but the grocery store was out of the brand I prefer. I saw a box of white cocoa mix I decided to try and am so glad I did. If you’ve ever had the vanilla steamer from Starbucks this is like that only better. It’s Land O Lakes Arctic White hot cocoa mix and it is yum!

Photography 

I’m taking my second online photography course taught by Kim Klassen. The focus is on still life photography where I’m learning to set up vignettes with things around the house. My two favorite tips she’s given is that science project boards make perfect backdrops (I bought a white and black one) and ordinary old cheese cloth adds nice texture.

dark moody My Still Sunday

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Family 

When our first child was born, getting up with her a few times a night was exhausting and all I wanted was full night’s sleep her first few months. We spent a long weekend with that daughter and her daughter over the MLK weekend. The granddaughter is 8 and a short hall separates her room from the guest room where we stay. When she woke up about 3:30 a.m. I learned when a grandchild calls out to you in the middle of the night you don’t mind at all. You can read more about that here.

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Five-Minute Friday (quiet)

Quiet? Me? I can’t imagine that word has ever been used to describe me. My husband has even declared my bloodline as being the Loud Family.

Our voices raise with vigor and conviction over everyday matters and escalate when story-telling, aiming for a conclusion that results in raucous laughter.

My mama, brother and aunt aren’t physically capable of a whisper. Which could be why there are few secrets in our family.

When words aren’t spilling from my mouth they are swirling in my head, sometimes at ridiculous hours and they are the hardest words to quiet. to shut

Quiet? It is not a word synonymous with McFarland or anyone having a drop of that blood in their veins.

family laughing

silly family photo

Kathryn aunt Debby

But…..

There is relative quiet in this moment. A distant hum of traffic and the washing machine, my fingers pecking the keyboard…the day is coming alive but for now, a gentle stillness before the sun breaks through the clouds.

I like this. It is a side few people see or associate with me but I need the space that quiet allows. If only to let it revive me. To let words from others into my mind, words I believe God uses to prick my heart, provide new insight, calm my anxious heart. I can make this challenging for Him. I can keep the noise going and drowns out the “still, small voice” that begs me to listen.

I reckon this will be the go-to verse for today’s writing prompt. Mine will not be the first place to you see it. It was a Third Day song from long ago I remember, singing about the voice of God that doesn’t come in fire and wind, doesn’t come in a shout but in the whisper.

1st Kings 19:11-12 tells us from the Message paraphrase:

Then he was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.”

A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper

Some days there are competing voices vying for consideration. Is it the loudest who gains my attention? Or is the important? Is it the proverbial squeaky wheel or the Voice of one calling softly and tenderly, my name?

Linking up with Kate Motaung for the weekly free-writing frenzy called Five-Minute Friday. Join the party!

A small grace in winter

Winter has arrived. It’s come without the crisp blue skies it often brings but the humidity has left the air dry and the breeze chilled. It was below 60 for the first time in 9 months. We’ve pulled out our sweaters but we never put away the shorts or flip-flops.

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The cold that has hit hardest is the one that strikes our sinuses and lungs and has the tissue boxes emptying faster than you remembered from the last cold. It’s a tough strain that is taking out the strong ones along with the predisposed and it’s leaving us in weakened conditions, not feeling up to the fight at all.

The last meds have been taken, the ones prescribed by the doctor, the ones that I’m not sure have made a difference except for hoping it’s prevented me from spreading the germs.

We kept our plans to spend the weekend in Jacksonville with our daughter and family. The cold moved in there earlier as they have a semblance of seasons. The trees along the interstate were boasting reds and oranges and it looked right silly the middle of January.

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HeatherKK

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Our presence shrinks their condo but it felt good this time, needing to feel huddled together for warmth and a bit of nurturing. We kept to a loose schedule and watched football and ate new foods and sat side by side on the couch watching Christabel work on her lego castle and cars. She’s a smart one, this girl. And the happiest thing.

The rains came hard in the wee hours of Saturday and maybe this is what stirred her from sleep, what had her call out, “MayMay…” I’d woken moments before so it took no time to respond to her call, just across the short hall from our room. It struck me even at that hour she must have reasoned our room was closer and that’s why she called out for me rather than “Mama…”

I laid next to her in her twin-sized bed, stroked her hair as she said, “I had a bad dream.” Now isn’t the time to talk about such terrors so we just lay nestled together. Her body was full awake, mama’s and MayMay’s can tell such things. After a few minutes, I asked if she was going back to sleep and she said, “No, can I get in bed with you?” There it is…the great pleasure of crawling in with grandparents, the easiest marks for all children, as well it should be.

“There’s not enough room in our bed”, I had to tell her. It’s only a full-sized and her Baba is full-sized all by himself. . ”But I’ll switch with you. You can go in my bed and I’ll sleep in yours.”

“Really? Will my parents get mad?” 3:30 a.m. and she has the presence of mind to ask these questions and make sure she’s not going to get in trouble. I assure her all is well and walk her to the warm spot I left that had already started to cool.

Her bed crinkled when I turned over, a firm mattress that’s never slept more than her growing body. I read for a bit before the rains returned and lulled me to restful sleep.

There is a gentle grace in making room, in stretching what is little into just a bit more. And isn’t that always grace? From little into more? Into enough.

Linking up with Holley Gerth and Coffee For Your Heart

Techie-girl and the Bible

It caused a bit of a stir, the first time the pastor read the bible passage from a small, handheld electronic device. Mama noticed it straight away. No book with pages to turn, just a cell phone held in the palm of his hand. It was near scandalous.

biblegateway app

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Not long before our phones were compact computers, a friend told me about Bible Gateway. When it came to planning our Sunday meetings, it changed everything.

Truth be known, I’ve never been good at pulling verses from memory. The words, yes, the passage reference, that’s what I use Henry for. I can remember the names of our Advisory Board and he remembers the lineage of dead people mentioned in the bible. One more way we are different, and, those differences work together for good. 😉

I tend to think ahead and, Henry, yeah, not so much. If left to him, he’d decide on Sunday’s message topic Friday….or Saturday. And it would be good. His mind is a bible concordance with amazing recall. But more goes into our Sunday chapel services, more that needs advance planning and that’s where I come in.

Since we’ve been working in the recovery community, I give more attention to clarity of the scripture passages, trying to take into account that many of our men don’t know the old from new testament. The words may sound familiar but that doesn’t mean they know how to find the passage or understand some of the translations. Bible Gateway makes it easy for me to type in a word or passage and read it in several translations and choose the one that is best for our group.

For the same reason, I haven’t carried a hard copy bible with me for some time. I like having the flexibility of looking up different translations when I’m in a service. We all have our favorites, don’t we?

Most often I use the New Living Translation but have you sampled the Voice?

Here’s John 3:16-17 in the Voice

16 For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life. 17 Here’s the point. God didn’t send His Son into the world to judge it; instead, He is here to rescue a world headed toward certain destruction.

Don’t you love how verse 17 starts? “Here’s the point.” Don’t miss this next part, is what the Voice is saying and it continues with great clarity.

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No matter your age, you’re probably familiar with the song, Bridge Over Troubled Water. It’s soft, gentle melody and equally gentle vocals are ingrained in our minds. It’s a classic. But on Paul Simon’s live album, Concert in the Park,  he does a different version of the song with heavy keyboards playing a gospel-like intro to the song. It’s refreshing and sings with a bit of new life.

That’s what reading a familiar verse in a new version is to me. The bible is God’s living word and it’s never more living than when it’s read with a fresh, newness.

I own the techie-girl title. I try every way possible to use technology as a positive tool, to share God’s message of hope, love and grace.

Disclaimer: As part of Bible Gateway’s Blogger Grid, I’ve agreed to write about their website periodically. 

Five-Minute Friday (present)

Do you remember roll call in school? It doesn’t seem it was an every grade kind of thing but at some point in the early grades I remember the teacher calling names and those present would respond with the simple, “here”. That word indicated our physical presence. My body is here. The rest…well….

When I see the pictures my sister sends me of mama, her body is present. It is weak and tired but fully here. But mama, the essence of the woman, her spirit, her smile, her wit and humor, her love for others and her family, they are gone, ravaged by Alzheimer’s, stolen.

Our long conversations that wove their way around events and family and church have been absent for years. We could share words for a while. Not conversations really, but words, but even those are rare today and if they come, parsed out one at a time. There are no whole thoughts, nothing to share.

Mama in church

Mamas hands black and white

Mama has to live somewhere safe, with alarms on doors so if someone walks out the staff will be alerted. She did that one time. Before she moved to this place, mama was in a good assisted living home but they didn’t specialize in the care she needed. There were no alarms on the doors and when she walked out, no one saw or heard her. It was surely God alone that orchestrated the director to go to her car for something she’d forgotten and found mama, on the ground in the parking lot.

God has always cared for mama. His presence has been evident in her life. I’ve never known a woman more given to service than her. But we wonder, my sister and I do. We wonder why God is leaving her in this pitiful state where she knows no one. Her body is here, but she is not.

My husband, in all of his gentle wisdom says she’s with Jesus already and I believe that. To be absent of the mind is to be present with him, yes?

We’re clinging, I know. Clinging to anything that will soothe our sorrow but the only thing we need to hold tightly to is Jesus. In the days where her absence if felt the most, we’re reminded that He is with us and I see Him in my sister and how her servants heart is bent just like mama’s.

While we see a glimpse, I hope that mama is seeing God in his fullness. Even with her physical body here, I pray her soul is rejoicing with her Savior and that she is secure in the presence of His love.

For more information on Alzheimer’s, watch the excellent video featured on CNN chronicling the disease in the life of musician, Glen Campbell.

Linking up with a host of bloggers in a weekly 5-minute writing frenzy hosted by Kate Motaung

Learning in Reverse

We got a new car. The other one was 8 or 9 years old, without any of the technological advances in newer models. I’m crazy about the Bluetooth enabled feature for listening to music though it can get a bit pesky when it plays without my prompting. The feature I’m finding most helpful and one that gets daily use is the backup camera. I know, I know. Where have I been, right? It’s fantastic! Every time I put the car in reverse the camera turns on. What took so long for me to know how fabulous and helpful this feature would be?

rearview mirror

There’s that tension between looking ahead and looking behind. It would seem our culture focuses on looking ahead more than behind. Our lives won’t get anywhere going in reverse. Except….

We like to talk about learning from our failures but we don’t want to fail.

We talk about correcting the mistakes from our past while we are admonished not to live in the past.

After coming to the conclusion that choosing one word for the year doesn’t work for me I’ve learned what does.

I was reading photographer Kim Klassen’s words on choosing her word for 2016. It took her two full weeks into the year before she realized the word had been in plain site all along.

That’s when I learned what my word for LAST year was: Healing. I could only learn that in reverse. Through looking at the books I read, the relationships that developed, friends I reached out to, realizing buried hurts and resentments, all of these were about healing. I couldn’t have seen that coming. I didn’t set out for that to be my theme for the year, yet it was.

“By default, most of us have taken the dare to simply survive. Exist. Get through. For the most part, we live numb to life – we’ve grown weary and apathetic and jaded… and wounded.”  Ann Voskamp

Focusing ahead is good. But learning from yesterday is what will help guide my future.

It gives new meaning to the truth that God is the same yesterday, today and will be the same tomorrow. He knows my past, remembers all the things I’ve hidden from memory and He knows tomorrow.

“He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.[b] 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.” James 1: 17b-18 NLT

It’s too early for me to know what this years word will be. But I’m looking forward to learning in reverse again. To look back and see what God brought to me because He knows my needs  yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Linking up with Coffee for Your Heart at Holley Gerth’s place.

Five-Minute Friday (time)

watch face time

The right time.

The wrong time.

Good time,

Bad time.

On time.

Making time.

Wasting time.

Got, got, got no time.

 

You got the time?

Does anyone really know what time it is?

 

Part-time

All the time

Sometime

Six-eight time

Aint’ nobody got time for that.

 

Outta time

Wasting time.

Making time.

The times they are a changing

Time, time, time, keeps on slipping….

We are confined to and bound by time. Yet, we believe in a God who knows no time, no limits, who is the Beginning and the End. He is the First and will be the Last as we define time because time cannot define Him.

This is one of God’s great mysteries. It is the mystery beyond my comprehension yet the mystery that pulls me to Him like a drummer drawn to the beat, keeping time to His glorious rhythm.

He decided to measure our lives with time. He decided that day would be separate from the night, from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, His name is praised.

In Him there is no time but how I can understand what I cannot know? How do you understand eternity when our days are numbered?

Lack of understanding gives way to acceptance, to surrender.

“He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.” Colossians 1:18-20 the Message

Linking up with Kate Motaung for our 5-minute frenzy of writing, give or take a minute and frenzy or two. Hope over to add your voice and encouragement.

The Small Things

It was a small thing of great joy. It was a risk and a leap made all the sweeter in the quiet of it all.

It’s no easy thing to step up on a small stage and step up to a microphone to read God’s word, no less, in front of a chapel filled with your peers. It’s no easy thing for any of the men who do this.

Durham bible

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Mama taught me how to read aloud. This was long before words would appear on a screen. People had bibles in their hands and were asked to follow along as it was read.

“Tell them the scripture reference three times”, she instructed. “Two times, then pause before the third time to give them a chance to find it and a shorter pause before saying it the third time.”

“And look up. Don’t just stare down at the words.” She was a good teacher, yes she was. In so many things.

All of 12-years-old I’d stand before her to practice. She and daddy had just planted a new church and  n the beginning it was our family to read, lead, teach, preach. So I read the scripture and just about any other thing that needed reading to the small congregation.

“Slow down.” That was her biggest criticism and my biggest failing. Time changes when you’re on a stage in front of people. Even if it’s just a handful.

warehouse chapel

So this tall, easy talking gentleman took to the stage Sunday morning. He’s a quiet man who greets me in the halls but I know nothing of his life except he’s living in The Salvation Army rehabilitation center.

He unfolded the paper the scripture was printed on, spoke into the microphone and read at a pace that would have pleased mama.

His words were halting at times but he never missed a word. The men applauded when he finished. Three verses of scripture read and they clapped. It’s not unusual for them and I’ve come to enjoy the unexpected nature of their applause.

As our reader took his seat, our resident manager whispered in my ear, “He was really nervous, he doesn’t read well but he wanted to do it. I’m proud of him.”

When I saw him after service, I thanked him for reading and reading at that measured pace that makes hearing the words easier.  He told me a couple of men had helped him because he really didn’t know how to read.

Such a little thing for most of us. Reading a few verses. For him, nothing but brave.

Jesus notices the small things in our lives; the lilies of the field, the sparrows, a widow’s last penny. He notices because we matter to him.

Linking up with Holley Gerth and Coffee for Your Heart today.