Are You Home?

The first place that comes to mind when I think of home is Granny’s side of a duplex on I Street in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

It wasn’t the only place she lived in that town where daddy was born and raised but it’s the one that is embedded in my memory. It’s the place I remember sitting with her, in what we called, the front room watching Dark Shadows on her black and white t.v. I felt like I was getting away with something, her letting my 10-year old self watch a show about vampires.

I remember helping her take the laundry in from the clothesline in her backyard and her braiding my hair at night before bed to help us stay cool in her un-airconditioned home. We shared a bed as there was only one in this place. One room at the front of the house, a kitchen in the middle and her bedroom and bathroom in the back. The furniture was sparse, the floors hardwood and cracked linoleum. There was a stuffed swivel rocker where she sat every morning reading her bible. She watched Bonanza and her ‘stories’ from that chair. She crocheted purses for my Barbie’s and argued with my daddy from the only upholstered furniture in her house. We drank orange juice from former jelly jars and her cast iron skillet cooked cornbread most days of the week. She had all she needed.

home

I wonder why that place comes to my mind as home as I never lived there. Well, I lived when I was there. Lived a very simple life walking to the Safeway with Granny, listening to conversations with her and one of my uncles when he stopped by. Going to the women’s meeting at church with her. I lived beside her like a shadow cast from the early afternoon sun.

There are so many quotes about home to sift through, deciding what holds truth and what is fairy tale. There’s a lot of made up stuff about home and it being all of that ‘home, sweet home’ variety. Sometimes it is, but what a burden to carry thinking it’s always that way or that everyone except you has that kind of home..

Memories of summer take me home. With family scattered around the country most of our vacations were spent traveling to see my parents or my brother and his family. We stopped at some fantastic places along the way but we always returned home. This summer, we’re planning to visit our son and his wife in their new home in Indianapolis. They’ve been there a year but it will be our first visit to their new place.

Home is where the heart is.-2

For me, home is about connectedness, about belonging. This month, we’ll be exploring home here in Graceland with a few guest bloggers and, hopefully, you. What’s your favorite quote or saying about home? Does home hold a spiritual connection for you? Is it true, can you never go home again?

I  hope you’ll fill the spaces with your thoughts on home. Let’s explore together and build a stronger home. Ready?

Retreat? Hardly!

Retreat: to withdraw

Often, we speak about going on a retreat, meaning to withdraw away from the busy-ness of life, the noise and distractions. We retreat to refresh and refuel.

We are going on a retreat this weekend. Lord willing, we are already at Camp Keystone about an hour from Jacksonville up in North Florida. But this isn’t the kind of retreat where we withdraw but where we engage.

We will be taking 50+ men from the rehab center we’re in charge of and meeting with 5 other centers for an annual, mis-named retreat. Maybe we should call it the Play Hard and Pray Harder weekend because they will forget they aren’t teenagers as they take to the basketball, volleyball and tennis courts. They’ll run an obstacle course and cast a fishing line. They will aim their arrows at the targets and consider their next move in chess.

From card and board games to the ones played under the beating sun, bodies will be worn and torn and the vans on the ride home will be filled with the sounds of hard sleep and and the scent of Ben Gay.

IMG_1751

events  softball 954

events

ARC Retreat

softballPrayer

They will sleep in cabins (air conditioned because it’s still Florida!) and have a couple of days without the usual sleep-eat-work-meetings routine. For some, it will be their first time to experience anything like this.

While they retreat from the city and group meetings and work therapy, they will engage in celebrating victories and displaying grace in losing. They will be reminded that sportsmanship counts more than the final score. They will see us fiercely cheer for them, our men, our team. They will discover how much I know about sports and how fearless I am at heckling the ref. We’re friends or it wouldn’t be any fun at all.

In between the activities, we will come together to engage in praise and open our hearts and minds to God’s word as it will be shared through song and teaching. We will be filled to overflowing with life abundant.

For us, it’s a privilege to share this all expense paid weekend with men whose lives were so out of control they ended up at our door. They ended up at The Salvation Army, thought of as homeless. Like the father in the story of the lost, we’ve been watching for them to come home. Home to recovery, to restoration, to recovery and into the loving arms of Jesus.

 

Is It Right In Front of You?

Please don’t say branches.

I saw the photo Kim posted in the class, the one she found on Pinterest and was so taken with. The photo of this long, leggy branch sticking up from a small can on a weathered bench against a wall divided by white and textured blue . You could hear the inspiration in her voice as she said this week’s still life prompt is…branches. Ugh!

palm trees

morning palms logo
Palm trees, these trees line our neighborhood streets. They have fronds, not branches. The leafy trees in this tropical part of Florida are green year ‘round and don’t lend themselves to what I was trying to see. We don’t have dogwood trees with their delicate blossoms in spring. Or wisteria, or the Bradford Pears that look like snowballs in the spring. This was going to be a tough one.

I wasn’t seeing what was in front of me.

front room branches

kk_DarkMood

These branches are fake. They imitate pussy willows and some other white, softly ruffled blossom. The are long and leggy sticking out from their heavy glass container as they sit on the floor next to our front door. I walk past them every day. I sit in the living room with them in my line of sight, but I nearly missed the opportunity to see their possibility.

Sarah Bessey wrote an article recently in which she talked about a calling she had ignored and denied. (You can read it here.) She is a writer, has always been a writer. She is not a preacher. No, that’s not her calling in life.

She is asked to speak in many venues, including churches. She prefaces her ‘talks’ in church settings with: “Fair warning: I’m not a preacher; I’m a writer.” Until… “the pastor looked me dead in the eye and said, “You have got to stop saying that. The gift of God is clear. We all see it.”

Like the branches sitting in my living room, front and center in plain view, I nearly missed their purpose can be more than decorative.

We’re told to work in our strengths which are part of our calling. We “self-select”, as Bessey calls it. She points out the downside to this can be “a false demarcation between sacred and secular work.”

I have  dismissed teaching as part of my calling. I don’t think I’m good at it. I’m not the studious type. I don’t mine for the deep truths or find theology particularly interesting. I can’t quote much scripture and references escape me. But over and over I’ve been told how much people enjoy a class I’ve taught. They ask why I’m not teaching now and when I say, “I’m not a teacher”, they firmly disagree.

Who do I listen to? Who do you listen to when you’ve self-selected one area as your calling, or strength?

I like the possibility of communal affirmation. It calls me to step aside and give consideration to what others see. This is the challenge: to step aside, to listen to ones who, perhaps, have a better vantage point and are more objective.

What is right in front of you that you’re missing? Maybe this week you can bravely ask a few others?

This is the final post in a 4-part series on calling. To read more of our story, click these links: one, two, three.

Your God-given Gifts Reflect Your Calling

The results of the psychological tests were sent to a doctor who would meet with us to discuss the results. He didn’t reveal much, but two things he told us in our 30 minutes or less meeting are embedded in my memory. He asked my husband why he didn’t continue in higher education because his tests revealed he’s quite smart. How smart? Who knows but smart enough this Dr. thought he should have continued past the AA degree he earned from community college.

To me, he said something like, “You’d make a good housewife.”

I was young then, in my 30’s, and still minding my manners with people I didn’t know, particularly a man with DR in front of his name who was screening us for this major life change. Lucky for him, I think.

Part of the process required by our denomination to be accepted as potential ordained ministers is testing. We underwent all manner of tests to assess our physical and mental health, including personality, aptitude and IQ tests.

Mind you, I wasn’t offended by the doctor’s remarks because that’s exactly what I was, a good homemaker! I had the privilege of choosing to be a stay at home mom, thanks to my brilliant husband who was working hard at a labor position he chose.

Fourteen years I’d been raising, teaching, nurturing, our two children. I’d been handling the household finances, managing the upkeep of our home, planning vacations and holidays, hosting parties and events, volunteering at their school leading the Parent Teacher Organization, the field trip mom and chief supporter. I was also volunteering at church, leading the youth group, youth choir and, at times, teaching Sunday school as well as singing in the choir and playing in the band. Yes, those expensive tests revealed so much.

“God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.”
Mother Teresa

God-given gifts

During those years of leisure 😉 I attended a weekend seminar about the spiritual gifts. These are recorded and outlined in two main passages of the New Testament: Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. There we find the Apostle Paul using the analogy of the body and the function of its different parts to these God-given gifts.

Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do. Romans 12:4-5 LB

The gifts, as outlined in these two passages include preaching, teaching, encouraging, mercy, leadership, wisdom, faith, discernment, helping, giving, serving, knowledge, speaking in unknown languages and the interpretation of these languages.

There are assessments you can take to help discover your areas of giftedness. I recommend this free one from Church Growth.

When I took the assessment 30 years ago, it identified the gifts of leadership and discernment as my primary gifts. These were reflected in what I was doing as a volunteer. Unknowingly, I was working within my calling through my spiritual gifts.

When I took this online test recently, encouragement and mercy emerged as primary gifts. Again, I find the results reflective of what our ministry requires of me at this time. The calling to serve hasn’t changed, but who I minister to has as have their particular needs.

“We are not called to special work, but to God.” Os Guinness

[Tweet “Some of us are called to specific areas of vocation but our first and foremost calling is to God.”] To tune our ears and hearts to hear his voice so we may answer his call to reflect His love as we serve him.

[Tweet “Do you find God’s call reflected in your God-given gifts?“] Please share in the comments so we may encourage each other.

Five-Minute Friday: Unite

Daddy said it didn’t matter to Grandpa the name on the ballot. He voted the party-line, straight Democrat. He also said Granny voted Republican to cancel out Grandpa’s vote.

Such is the family lore, the playful bickering that could get under a siblings skin time to time. Especially when daddy didn’t know when to stop. He just liked to get things riled up and there was plenty he could find to poke a heated discussion. We could be a house divided on politics and remembering who won what fight and even religion now and again. Most of the time the raised voices ended in laughter and we were friends again, rooting for our football team and agreeing the rival coach was a cheat. Even daddy agreed with Grandpa on that one.

L-R: sister-in-law, 2 nieces, son, grandpa, dad, daughter, me (early 90's)

L-R: sister-in-law, 2 nieces, son, grandpa, dad, daughter, me (early 90’s)

Maybe it was a good thing our clan didn’t come together more often, spread out as we were. You can only take so much fun at another’s expense and a days worth was often enough. The best way to quiet this rowdy group of adult boys was to stuff their mouths with ham and greens and a slice of lemon meringue pie. Food was sure to unite us in harmony and we had enough good cooks to turn the tongues from sharp to melodic as a chorus of “ummm” sounded around the table.

We’ve taken the place of that generation and we’re far more polite about such things. We don’t agree on politics or sports teams but we find ourselves united through blood. The family blood that connects us and the blood of Jesus that saves us. Our family is one in our faith, a common belief where we come together and unite in service to God our Father.

There’s an old hymn we sang with our parents, we sang it as kids and I hope these days we live it:

“Come let us all unite to sing, God is love.”

The love of God unites us all.

Linking up with the weekly Five-Minute Friday group, hosted by Kate Motaung. This weeks prompt is: unite. Stop over and join the free-writing frenzy.

When You Tell God His Calling Has to Wait

We sat across the table from each other. My 6-month baby bump pushed toward the tables edge. I had gained too much weight early in this pregnancy, the result of shock in realizing our second baby would come 19 months after our first. Thinking about two babies in diapers will, apparently, make you eat more than you have, ever.

He looked at me and said, “I think God is calling me to ministry.” He said something like that, I don’t remember the exact words. What I remember was thinking, that means we both attend seminary and we’ll have two babies while we’re there that I hand off to childcare for two years. He probably said a lot of other things while I was envisioning our future, one that meant moving at the whim of someone that I was to suppose to believe was Gods appointed place. A future that would be completely out of our, my, control.

When he finished, I said something like, “I can’t have two babies and that life right now.”

wait

I liked our life. I’d adjusted to the thought of a new baby and was looking forward to its arrival. I was happy and fulfilled as a stay at home mama. He had seemed as happy and content as I was so this out-of-the-blue announcement surprised me.

He considered what I said with his typical calm. Later, he went to his mom for counsel. His parents were both ministers in the same church and she knew more than I what lay ahead if we went this direction. She told him to listen to me, to wait. And yes, she was the best mother-in-law ever and for more reasons than that.

So we did. We waited for 13 years, before Henry would say He felt that calling again.

wait quietly before God

I had asked Henry during those years if he still felt God guiding him in that direction. Each time, he answered, no. It felt like I’d put God on hold. I questioned my motives even though the decision to “wait” was confirmed. This wasn’t the right time for our family.

It has been 23 years since he answered that specific call on his life. Twenty-three years since I’ve stood with and lead every bit as much as he has in our churches and communities. There are no regrets in following and no regrets in waiting. No regrets in asking his mom who helped confirm, not the call, but the timing.

We like to quote, Jeremiah 29:11 –

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Eternal, “plans for peace, not evil, to give you a future and hope—never forget that.” the Voice

We like knowing that God has plans for us, for our future and that His plans are for peace and hope. We often fail to read the earlier verses.. In them, we read of God’s people who are in exile. God tells them to put their roots down in Babylon because they are going to be in this foreign land for 70 years. Then, he will keep his promise of bringing them home, his promise of peace and hope.

In our time of waiting, we let our roots grow deep into a community that nurtured and taught us how to love and how to lead. Friends who have been examples of serving and friends who let us go while keeping us close.

There is growth in the space between. There is confirmation of God’s timing for His call.

This is the second in a 4-part series on God’s calling. To read the first, Has Jesus Called You?, click here. and parts 3 and 4.

Five-Minute Friday: Easy?

She carried her tall frame with elegance. The smile she always wore could brighten the darkest of days and warm the coldest of hearts. Her faith in God was as evident as the smile on her face. Her words were uplifting and affirming, a testimony to her abiding faith. Ruth made life look easy.

You wouldn’t know she’d suffered the tragedy of losing a child or the ravages of breast cancer. You wouldn’t know life had dealt her the hard challenges that could only be met with faith and perseverance. In their early 50’s her husband would be diagnosed with manic depression (now called bipolar) and she would be his care taker, watching the weight fall from his frame as he sat in silence, rocking his body back and forth during the depression. It was during this time she came to be my mother-in-law and I saw behind her easy smile.

easy smile

my favorite picture of her

my favorite picture of her

Her first and last grandchildren (cousins)

Her first and last grandchildren (cousins)

Later still, my father-in-law would undergo quadruple by-pass surgery and she would be diagnosed with a tumor on her optic nerve – twice. Both times benign and both times she smiled with grace and faith her easy smile that purposed to comfort us all.

with her great-granddaughter 2011

with her great-granddaughter 2011

Behind her smile, behind her words of encouragement and faith in God, behind it all was this woman firmly rooted in God’s word and in His love. Surely, her life hadn’t been easy, but it had been full of purpose. That’s how Ruth lived her life. We saw her body tire in age, but her spirit held vibrant to an ever present faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We miss this woman and her smile. Mostly we miss her fierce love and faith. I lived the words of this hymn of our church:

“I’m in his hands, I’m in his hands;
Whate’er the future holds
I’m in his hands,
The days I cannot see
Have all been planned for me;
His way is best, you see;
I’m in his hands.” – I’m In His Hands, Stanley Ditmer

Linking up with Kate Motaung and a host of writers for the weekly Five-Minute Friday. Stop by and add your voice.

Has Jesus Called You?

Hesitating, I stood to my feet. I heard the question asked, similar to one that would always come on these weekends but the way this was worded, well, I had to stand. In a room of several hundred of my peers, I wondered why everyone wasn’t on their feet. The man had asked: ‘If Jesus called us to serve him, would we? If he called us to be a minister of his gospel (my church has always ordained women) would we answer His call?

So why wasn’t the whole room standing? Was this a trick question? Did I fall for it? These annual youth weekends typically ended with a public call to serve. Those already accepted to seminary would be marched to the front of the room to stand on risers and then the question would be asked of others who felt God’s call.

Come now. Come and join the ones in the front of the room.

But this wasn’t the final meeting. It wasn’t that call to serve, it was just a question of if he, would we. Not many stood that night but apparently more heard the call by the time the parade to the front of the room came in the closing meeting.

*******

I believe Phylis was called to teach. I saw her with her students,  with their parents, with our children. She noticed the ones who held back and knew how to draw them out. She recognized the lazy, but smart ones, who needed to be challenged. She understood teaching was more than   content of text books. I don’t believe Phylis would have felt fulfillment from any other type of job or career. She was called to teach.

Barbara was called to non-profit work. She didn’t start out that way, but after her first taste at working for a non-profit organization, she never looked back. I wonder if she sees the calling in it? Does she understand this is the work God has called her to do?

Churches talk a lot about being called: Are you called? Has Jesus called you?

What they’re asking is, are you called to ministry; to be a pastor or missionary or youth leader. Is Jesus calling you to serve with the visitation committee or in the nursery?

It sounds as if there is no calling outside the church walls.

“We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone. We are not called to special work but to God. The key to answering the call is to be devoted to no one and to nothing above God himself.” Os Guinness

calling

Israel

called to ministry

Called to ministry

I posed the question on Facebook: “Have you felt a sense of calling in what you do?” Usually when I ask serious questions, crickets. This time, folks had a lot to say about their calling.

“Is there a difference between God “calling” you and God “guiding” or “directing” you? I think all of them get you the same place if you listen and obey. I think “calling” might be a direct voice, like Samuel in the Bible. I think He uses different methods on different people.”

“I think “calling” and “guiding” are definitely interrelated. And I agree that calling is not limited to ministry. I come from a faith tradition of people receiving a calling or direct guidance toward a specific path in all areas of our lives. At this point in my life I believe that the gifts we’re each created with are part of how God places a calling in our heart, and part of how we become who we were created to be is by fully engaging in and nurturing those gifts. This entire season of my life as I’ve transitioned from ministry and business career into writing and other opportunities still to be identified has been full of the very questions you’re asking about calling”

“Since getting sober almost 5 years ago…. I struggled with that for awhile actually , “what does God want me to do now?? How can I give back at all using the talents He gave me?” ….. after “getting fixed”, I looked at my business in a different, focused way. I started donating more of my time and talents to work with the awesome Icing Smiles Canada , and “church” related functions to donate and help folks in the form of cake/sugar art…..and now I TEACH!! (Doesnt sound that special but to those that truly know me, as Im sure youve seen it here and there when we were together, my social anxiety issues would totally freeze me to NOT do anything like that, ever). These days I work hard everyday to keep my anxieties at bay with prayer and the fact I know that Satan has those anxiety “traps” set for me, I can now recognize them as hurdles he puts in my way to stop me from sharing my God given talents, and it is much easier to overcome…..I will NOT be frozen by evil anymore!! It makes me push harder to do things that my Lord shows me and wants me to pass on!”

This is just the start of the conversation, a conversation I hope you’ll be part of.

Answers often create more questions so I’ll leave you with these:

What is a calling? Is everyone called?
Is there only one calling?
Does your calling change?
Are you called to a ‘greater’ work?
Is there a high calling? The ‘highest’ calling?
Does the quote by Os Guinness change anything? Or everything?
I do hope you’ll get involved in the conversation by leaving a comment. What is your experience with calling?
This is the first of a 4-part series, with each part telling more of our story. Click the links to read the other parts in this series: two, three, four.

Five-Minute Friday: Whole

Whole

as in all.
everything.
the last bit.
the whole enchilada.
Whole
as in complete.
together.
the whole day, month, year.
a whole life.
I am but a scrap pile of broken bits, some slivers and shards with not enough to hold glue, but somehow, in God’s redemption story, He is taking every fragment and making me whole.
Not today or even in one day, though he could. But what good would that do me? What benefit is there in instant gratification other than in that one. single. moment.
No, his purpose is for my gain and my gain is in the process.
whole puzzle
family christmas  family christmas
quilts
Have you worked on a puzzle? Frustrated over not finding the one that fits? Maybe you tried to force a piece thinking the cutting was off just a tad because this IS the right piece if you have to pound it in!
Or maybe you’ve made a quilt. Those pieces need to be lined up so that each one fits to make the whole. Scraps and pieces, stitched together, revealing the complete.
Our life is lived in moments. We have only a partial view but Christ, even now, sees the completed whole. The process is for our gain, and His glory.
“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.[a] All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.I Corinthians 12:13 NLT
Linking up with the weekly free-writing group called Five-Minute Friday and hosted by the gracious Kate Motaung. Visit Kate‘s to join the party. 
*****
Just a reminder, you can subscribe to this blog (it’s just a few clicks) and receive a monthly Tiny Letter from me. I’m including some free desktop wallpaper I think you’ll really like and I promise, it’s a pretty casual read. Thanks for stopping by this little part of grace-land.

Are You a Christian In Name Only?

My protests don’t seem to matter. I keep getting put in the role of teaching a bible class as if being ordained actually makes you good at this. I’ve explained how it might be important for a bible study teacher to be able to recall, when questions arise, verse references. I can’t. Hardly ever. But, again, I accepted the request to teach. Though a more accurate description would be “lead” a discussion that, most of the time, is centered on something from the bible.

bible logo

open bible

The class members are made up of men living in a residential program run by The Salvation Army. Most of the men are working a recovery program for substance abuse. Faith and biblical knowledge aren’t required. This works in my favor.

I learn from discussion. I learn from hearing others share their understanding, their beliefs, their questions. It focuses and brings clarity to my beliefs.  I value this kind of exchange.

I don’t hesitate if I can’t answer their questions and I find they appreciate my lack of pretense. Often, we’ll search together for the answer. We’re learning together that some answers haven’t been revealed but call for our faith in the unseen, yet loving, God.

name

One week, Kev called me over before chapel. He said he’d been thinking about our class discussion. We chatted a bit about the topic which had been ‘following Jesus’. He said, “Your husband will ask if our sponsor is real or in name only and that made me think, are we Christians, or in name only.”

Are we?

Some identify as Christian because they aren’t Catholic or Jewish. For many, the word identifies a group of people, not a way of living.

In research conducted by the Barna group, three in ten people are described as “practicing Christians“, people who say their Christian faith is very important in their lives and attend church at least once a month. In their book, Good Faithauthors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons share their findings from the research that  Christians today are described as irrelevant and extreme. (chapter 2)

Perhaps this perception comes from us being the name-only kind of Christians. The kind who talk about love but don’t support their words with actions.

“But the kind of love that God created and demonstrated is a costly one because it involves sacrifice and presence. It’s a love that operates more like a sign language than being spoken outright.” Bob Goff, Love Does

1 Corinthians 13 gives the most complete description on what love does, and doesn’t, do. Imagine if we conducted ourselves in this way:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end. vs. 4-7 the Message

I’m not a degreed educator. Teacher is a name I wear.  I want to be more than a name-only Christian. I want my actions to show it more than my words. I want it to be seen more than heard. I have a long way to go, but I’m pressing on.

What about you?

“Simply put: love does.” Bob Goff