Everyday Abunadance

“Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;”        1 Timoty 6:17

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I made bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches for lunch yesterday and by the time I had them assembled I had used four different knives: a table knife to spread the mayonnaise, a small serrated knife to slice the tomato, a chef’s knife to chop the lettuce, and a butcher knife to cut the bacon. It was a simple reminder that I live in abundance.

The first time I realized that my kitchen is evidence of affluence was while I was living in Panama. We had a twelve-year-old neighbor who loved eating my brownies and wanted to learn how to make them himself. I translated the recipe and handed it to him. He looked it over and then inquired, “What do I cook them in?”

I went to the cupboard and pulled out my square baking pan and asked, “Do you have one of these?”

He said, “No.”

I took out my rectangular baking pan that holds the same volume as the square one and asked, “How about one of these?

Again, the answer was, “No.”

Round pans, I thought. Usually, the first cake pans you buy are round ones so you can make festive birthday cakes. I was sure his mother would have those in her kitchen – but she didn’t.

I was beginning to feel a little bit embarrassed parading my wealth in front of him. I considered every one of those pans a necessity, and he had none of them. Then inspiration hit and I showed him my cast iron skillet. “Do you have one of these?”

“Yes,” he happily answered and went off to bake his brownies while I contemplated how blessed I was with material goods.

Of course, my family’s abundance isn’t evident just in my kitchen. Step into my basement, and you will be met with an array of screwdrivers (slot head, Phillips, and Trox in various lengths), hammers (claw, ball peen, framing and a rubber mallet), saws (hacksaw, backsaw, meat saw, jigsaw, and a large table saw). There are tools down there for every kind of DIY project my husband can think of. My craft room would be the envy of many with its store of papers, punches, die cuts, ribbons, rulers, stamps, inks, brads, etc. and my closet is full of clothes.

My culinary encounter with that young man in Panama challenged me to be more grateful for the material goods that are a part of my everyday life. It’s one reason I keep a gratitude journal that lists not only the most significant things – family, church, friends – but also a list of cake pans and kitchen knives.

What about you? Where are you recognizing everyday abundance in your life?

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Wardrobe Change

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I did not want to go for my daily walk, but I needed to go; walking was how I was building strength following chemotherapy. Among my litany of excuses for not going was “it’s too hot.” Before heading out, I needed to change into something cooler. As I dug around in my drawer, I saw my favorite walking skort. I slipped it on. As I did, I remembered wearing it for a hike on a vacation with my sons; I remembered wearing it when I won first place for my age group in a 5K. Putting on that skort, I had a mind shift. Suddenly I was ready to conquer the miles.

The way we dress affects our attitude. We even have some common sayings to express this: “The clothes make the man;” “dress for success.” I have learned to use this to motivate myself to do the things I need or want to do. On days when I plan to write or do artwork, I rummage around and find clothes that give me a bit of a bohemian look (sometimes including a turban that makes me look like Georgia O’Keeffe). When I need to buckle down and get some house cleaning done, I put on my apron with pockets that hold my dust cloth, my can of furniture polish, and any little thing that is out of place that I need to move to another room. As I knot the apron ties, I become a domestic goddess setting my realm in order.

Perhaps those shifts in mindset that can occur when we get dressed for an occasion is one of the reasons Paul tells us to “put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11). The helmet of salvation and breastplate of righteousness not only provide the spiritual protection we need but as we hold up the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, we also put on the mindset to advance the kingdom of God. We become “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37) as we face the challenges of the day.

How about you? How do you dress for success? And have you put on your armor today?

Flashcards as Faithcards

They are simple pieces of cardstock with words and sometimes images on them. Our teachers drilled us on the alphabet, multiplication tables and later French verbs flipping rapidly through them. They are one of the simplest but most effective educational tools invented – flashcards.

We don’t know who first used them, but we know that they came into use in the 1800’s. Paper had become readily available but was still too expensive for many to buy. In their desire to spread the Word of God, religious groups in America began offering free reading classes to those who could not pay to go to school. Among those promoting this was John Lancaster, a Quaker. He suggested putting spelling words and other material on boards to for the teacher to hold up and instruct the children, an early precursor to the flashcard.

Around the same time in England Favell Lee Bevan, who oversaw religious education for children on her father’s estates, developed a system of teaching reading with phonics on cards. Soon, using flash cards was a standard educational practice.

Among the reasons flashcards continue to be a popular learning tool is that they lend themselves to any subject. Recently my youngest son made a set of cards from the company website with the photos and names of all the employees at his new job. He arrived for his first day knowing the name of everyone on his team.

Flash cards are also immediately reinforcing, as you quiz yourself and make higher and higher stacks of cards you got correct.

One might think that technology has done away with flashcards; instead, it has provided a new way to deliver flashcards. Many e-reader textbooks come with a flashcard function as a way to review key concepts. You can also create your own for any book in an e-reader through the notes function. Apps from companies such as Brainscape offer flashcards on subjects from foreign languages to medical and legal terms that can be downloaded to your phone or computer.

Like those early students, flashcards have had an impact on my religious life. While in college, I was introduced to the Navigator’s Topical Memory System made up of verses on small cards to make it easy to memorize and meditate on portions of Scripture. (You can now get the memory system as an app). After completing their course of study, I began making my own Scripture cards as a way to fix God’s Word in my heart (Deuteronomy 11:18). Carrying the card for the verse I am currently learning helps me not only progress in the memorization but also gives me an uplifting thought as I go about my day.

I even use flashcards in my prayer time. I put a person’s name at the top with requests below. I often add a Scripture verse concerning the petition, which builds my faith as I pray.

They are simple pieces of cardstock, but they have eternal value.

What about you? How could you use flashcards to build your faith?

Don’t Miss the Call

A few weeks ago in my post Little Prayers, Big Faith, I shared that I am one of those people who pray for parking places. Not only do I not want to have to parallel park, but I also want a place where I can pull forward when I leave; I am not good at backing my car out of tight spaces.

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Once, while trying to be extremely careful not to hit the car parked on the left as I pulled out of my parking spot in the Wal-Mart parking lot, I ended up putting a dent in the fender of the car on my right. As I looked at the damage to the Cadillac, I came to the conclusion I was glad I had insurance.

I knew that since the owner of the vehicle was shopping in Wal-Mart with department after department to peruse, it could be hours before the owner returned. So, I wrote a note and tucked it under the windshield wiper to tell the owner that I had gone into the store have an announcement made calling him or her to the parking lot. I carefully wrote down what to include in the announcement – “Would the owner of a red Cadillac with license plate number KNJ-468 please return to your car.”

I went back outside and stood by the car. I waited, and I waited. I waited forty-five minutes. Then I returned to the store and asked them to make the announcement again. Another thirty minutes went by. (As I had anticipated, the person was on a long shopping trip). I was about to ask the store to call for the owner one more time when she finally showed up.

“Mam,” I said, “I’m very sorry. I put a dent in your car as I was backing out. I wanted to be sure you knew and to give you my insurance information.”

She took a look and said, “Oh, thank you for waiting and telling me. You’ve been waiting a while, haven’t you? I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner; I heard them making the announcement, but they said the car was red, and my Cadillac is maroon.”

The call had been clear, but she thought it was for someone else. I wonder how many times God calls us but we miss that he is speaking to us. Perhaps it is because we think God’s calls are dramatic events, like Paul’s encounter on the way to Damascus (Acts 9). But more often, God’s calls come in the still, small voice that Elijah experienced (1 Kings 19:12). It may be as simple as the thought to phone someone and pray with them before their surgery. Or it could be that little tug on your heart when an announcement is made that more volunteers are needed for the children’s Sunday school classes. The gentle nudge you feel when you hear about a short-term mission trip? That may be your call to go. Don’t make the Lord wait. Answer your call today.

Simple Hospitality​

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“Practice hospitality,” (Romans 12:13) is a Scriptural exhortation I enjoy fulfilling.  And though I like decorating the table, using my best china, cooking something special and serving it artistically, I’ve learned that hospitality is as simple as sharing what I have on hand. It is a lesson I learned during my missionary training days.

My husband and I had invited guests to share a meal with us on two different days. We asked a young couple we met at our church to join us for dinner on Saturday. For lunch on Wednesday, we would be hosting a missionary to Bolivia who had not been back in the United States for twenty years.

On Wednesday morning I took a roast out of the refrigerator to put in the crockpot for our special lunch.  Before I had it unwrapped, a staff member came to tell me the office had received a call saying that our guest would be unable to come. Since it was a cold, rainy day and I was no longer expecting my guest, I decided I would fix some canned soup for lunch and save the roast for our Saturday guests.

When lunchtime came, I placed some artificial tulips on the table to brighten the dreary day. I opened a couple of cans of chicken noodle soup and put the soup on the stove to warm. I unsealed a new box of soda crackers and arranged the salty squares in a breadbasket. As I started ladling the soup into bowls for my husband and me, there was a knock on our door. I opened the door and was greeted by a lady who said,  “Hello, I’m Alice Mickelson, I was told that I’m to be your guest for lunch.”

I don’t know if she noticed my look of confusion as I mentally reviewed the message the staff member brought that morning.  As I did so, I realized the call had been from my Saturday guests, but because the message had been delivered Wednesday morning I had assumed it was from Alice.

I invited Alice in to sit at our table. I ladled up the soup, feeling all the while it was a meager offering for someone I wanted to honor for serving the Lord so long in a remote area.

After grace was said, Alice reached over and placed several soda crackers on the plate that was under her soup bowl. Then she picked up a cracker, broke it in half with a snap and smiled.  Alice continued to smile as she munched on the cracker.  She picked up another saltine, repeated the snap, smiled and munched. As she reached for a third, white wafer, she said, “Thank you. These are a special treat. In Bolivia, we could occasionally get soda crackers, but they were never crisp. The humidity makes them so soft that they bend like cardboard.”

I smiled and passed the basket of crackers to Alice. As she placed more crisp squares on her plate, I realized that when we share what we have–even if it is only ordinary soda crackers – our guests are blessed by our hospitality.

What about you? What have you shared at your table lately?

Road Trip Worries

My oldest son made a cross-country drive from California to Virginia this week. His trip is proof that I should be a fiction writer. When I heard about the trip, I immediately imagined all kinds of tragic scenarios for the journey.

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At first, he planned to add a little vacation to the drive with a two-day stopover in Moab, Utah. Why Moab? Because according to biking sites it is the mountain biking capital of the world. It has “some of the most challenging biking anywhere.” Translation: a high potential of careening down steep inclines and over rocky cliffs. Why even pack animals that used to carry supplies through there had difficulty getting a grip on Slickrock Trail.

The Moab bike trip was nixed. The next plan was to take the route through the mountains for a scenic ride into Colorado. That route would have taken him through Donner Pass, and we all know what happened at Donner Pass. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t the 1800’s any more or that it isn’t winter; it could still snow there. On the last day of summer last year the snow plows had to be called out to clear the pass. Nor did my worries take into account that he isn’t likely to starve there now;  dozens of restaurants have been built around the Donner summit.

He ultimately chose to drive I-40. Did that ease my mind? No. This route involved a drive through the Mojave Desert. I wondered would he take enough water for that heat? Would he pack a sleeping bag in case he broke down and had to spend the night? It gets cold in the desert at night. Would he zip the sleeping bag tight so that a rattlesnake looking for a warm place to sleep in the desert cold couldn’t crawl in? (My son has had an encounter with a rattlesnake before – not in his sleeping bag but under his boot. Since then I always have to mentally check out if there is the possibility of a rattlesnake encounter).

At some point in all of this imagining, I realized my worries were ridiculous. My son is over 40 years old. He’s driven through Iraq and Afghanistan dodging IED’s and gunfire. What’s a little drive across the USA after that?

I was behaving like the mother I read about in the Reader’s Digest. She attended a homecoming ceremony for her Marine son returning from Iraq. When she saw him running to catch one of his buddies to give him a bayonet, she shouted across the field, “Kevin, don’t run with that knife in your hands!”

Mothers just can’t stop being mothers and too often that turns into anxiety. Jesus warned us that worry doesn’t do any good. “Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:34).

What are we supposed to do with worry? Turn it into prayer. Philippians 4:6 tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

So, that’s what I did. I prayed him across I-40 giving thanks that he was getting to see so much of our beautiful country.

What about you? What worrying could you turn into prayer? What is there to give thanks for in the midst of that concern? Leave me a note, and I’ll pray with you.

I Don’t Text

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In a recent conversation, a friend said, “I don’t text. If I did, I would never hear my children’s voices.”

I understood her sentiment. Texting seems to be the preferred mode of communication of my grown children. I know texting offers benefits that a call does not. Texting tends to lend itself to shorter interactions than phone calls; with the busy lives people lead today, they don’t often have time for long conversations.

Texting is often seen as less intrusive. It can be answered at a person’s leisure whereas a call seems to demand, “Answer me now.”

Another advantage of texting is it gives a written record of information. This is helpful when passing on flight numbers and arrival times, where someone wants to meet for lunch, or the cost of tickets to a suggested event. Perhaps these benefits are why, according to a recent Chicago Tribune article,  people use texting five times more often than they use phone calls.

Of course one of the reasons I like receiving texts from my children is they often send photos and videos with them.  This gives me a running, family history. Scrolling through my phone, I  see the houses my children have bought, the arrival of each of my grandchildren, the first steps those babies took, hikes they have recently taken through the woods. There’s a record of community and church involvement in the pictures of service projects my grandchildren have done.  I can vicariously participate in piano, trombone, and dance recitals.  And, though I live far away, I get to share in simple moments like the first bike ride or the fun of mixing up a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

Still, there are things a phone call gives that a text does not. A call involves a real conversation; there is an immediate response to what we’ve asked or said.  A call provides us with the tone of voice, which lets us better interpret the meaning of the interaction. Without it, we may have to guess what was meant. Take the simple word, “Yeh.” Depending on the inflection it might be a question or an enthusiastic yes. It could be a sarcastic comment or a way of saying that’s a great idea.

With a phone call, emotions come through. Emoticons may give us the general feeling but sending a smiley face when my friend tells me about the latest book she bought is not the same as the happiness that comes through when celebrating with a dad calling to say the newest baby has arrived. An emoticon just cannot communicate that joy.

The Bell Telephone slogan from years ago expressed precisely what my friend was feeling – “Oh, it’s so good to hear your voice.”

I think that’s how God feels too. Though I know He appreciates the quick prayers I shoot up as I go about my day – he longs for more. Like any parent, The Father likes a long, heart to heart conversation. In fact, I think I hear Him calling now.

 

Bottle Collectors

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My grandfather was a bottle collector. He bid on bottles at auctions and scouted them out at flea markets. He even dug a few out of the dirt. Unlike some collectors, he didn’t specialize in one type of bottle. His collection included medicine bottles, milk bottles, soda bottles, ink bottles, perfume bottles, and mason jars. At one time he had more than 600 of them. He displayed them on shelves in arrays of aqua, amber, cobalt, brown, purple and yellow at an antique store my mother owned.

Like all collectors, he liked swapping stories about where he found his treasures and bargaining over a sale price if he decided to let one go.

His interest must have been contagious because both my mother and I were infected. She concentrated on milk bottles and set about obtaining bottles from all of the local dairies from bygone days. She also sought out dairy containers from the Biltmore Estate. My great-grandfather had been a dairy herdsman there and my great-grandmother worked in the creamy. That family connection made those quart,  pint, and cottage cheese containers precious. She has passed a few of the Biltmore bottles on to me and they are among my prized possessions.

When I started bottle collecting I decided to go for something more exotic; I chose perfume bottles. My collection made it to three: a square, cut glass one, an octagonal one made in Czechoslovakia, and a tall, amber and black, art deco one. I quickly learned that antique perfume bottles didn’t fit my high school budget. Seeing the price of a similar art deco one that recently sold on eBay convinced me collecting perfume bottles is still out of my budget. Further evidence is the tear-shaped bottle with an algae motif that sold at a Japanese auction in 2012 for $370,000.

Being a bottle collector puts us in good company. God has a bottle collection, but he considers what’s inside much more valuable than the bottle. The Psalms tell us that the Lord collects our tears in them, “Put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8 NASB).

That knowledge has been a comfort to me in times of grief. But I have to wonder, are there more bottles I should have filled with tears for the lost, for those still without God’s Word in their language, those languishing in prisons because of their faith? Will the shelf reserved for “Connie’s Tears” be an array of full bottles showing my commitment to the Great Commission or just a few flasks, evidence of self-focus?

The events on the world stage this week, as attention was focused on North Korea, were a reminder that there are those who are still suffering for their faith. We know from history (even recent history – think of the Berlin Wall) that prayer can bring release to prisoners. As we hope that the summit will bring changes in civil rights for the North Koreans, may we remember them in our prayers and perhaps shed a few tears over their current suffering.

Little Prayers, Big Faith​

d2777826b7bb822c2d00caf64eaca392I must confess, I am one of those people who prays for parking spaces. I also pray about lost car keys, for motivation to go another quarter-mile on my fitness walk, and for guests to be delayed just a little while so I can finish dinner preparations.

My prayer list has included missing puppies, sick chickens, and lame cats. (I was a children’s church leader and prayers for pets were frequent requests.)

Requests for small things make up a large portion of my prayer life. They create a running conversation between the Lord and I as I go about my day.   Browsing yard sales I ask to be led to just the thing I’m looking for. In the grocery store, I’ll ask for ideas for the week’s meals. Playing with scrapbook paper I’ll say, “Who should I make a card for today?”

There are many who think if you are going to pray, you should pray big. John Newton would agree with them and the sentiment on the sign. His hymn, Come My Soul Thy Suit Prepare, has the line,Thou art coming to a king, large petitions with you bring.”

He knew what he was talking about. He was a man instrumental in seeing slavery outlawed in England. His words have inspired me to pray many bold prayers that I have seen answered. Among them are: for a dictator to come to Christ, for my daughter-in-law to carry her babies to full term after losing twins early in a pregnancy, and for the completion of Bible translations in several tribal languages.

Praying big shows we expect great things from God. Praying big gives us impressive testimonies to share.

But are the answers to little prayers any less impressive? Aren’t they evidence that Jesus is interested in and paying attention to the details of our lives? Didn’t He tell us, “the very hairs on your head are numbered” (Matthew 10:30)?

Rosalind Goforth wrote, How I Know God Answers Prayer, a book filled with examples of bold requests and miraculous answers from her many years as a missionary in China.  But she also knew the value of prayers for little things. She said, “It is true that there is nothing too great for God’s power; and it is just as true that there is nothing too small for His love.”

Those answers to our small prayers convince us of God’s love and build the big faith we need when we face overwhelming problems. After all, if you can’t trust God for a parking space, how will you ever have faith to be healed from cancer? (Which I have also had to do.)

So, I pray big and bold but I don’t give up the little prayers.

What about you? What are the big, bold prayers that you are praying that will show God’s power? And what little things are you asking for that will remind you of his love?

Is Your Talent Laying Dormant?

Psalm 1:3 “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season…”

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Have you buried a talent so long you have concluded you might as well give up pursuing it forever? If so, consider the nature of dormancy.

According to the dictionary, dormancy is a temporary period of inactivity. Notice it is temporary. The fact that you stopped creating does not mean you are not meant to create; it means you are being prepared for fruitfulness.

In winter, an apple tree looks lifeless, but its dormancy is a necessary part of the lifecycle of the apple tree.  I lived in Panama for a number of years and enjoyed the bounty of tropical fruits –yellow pineapples, orange papayas, and green avocados native to the region. But, in that tropical place, the most treasured treat was a crisp, crimson apple. Apples had to be imported. Oh, you could plant an apple seed and a tree would grow. But there would never be fruit. Apples need cold to bring on a period of dormancy in order to bear fruit.

That can be true of creative pursuits, too. A period of inactivity may be necessary to produce prose or poetry, compose melodies and lyrics, or fashion art. Plants become dormant when conditions are not right for blooming or bearing. In the same way, the conditions may not have not yet been right for the piece you are now ready to produce. The market may not have been there yet. You may have needed more time to fully divine the message your piece will reveal to others.

For in truth, fruit trees don’t bear fruit for their own benefit. Their fruits nourish others. Whether we write fiction or nonfiction, devotions or mysteries, pen praise songs or paint portraits we long for our creations to nourish and inspire others.

If you have been letting a time or dormancy keep you from creating but feel again the stirring of ideas, take a lesson from desert plants. Desert flowers may not bloom for years due to lack of rain. Then when water first falls, the seed rises to the surface; in a similar way thoughts of creating have now risen in your mind. With more rain, the plant germinates and blooms. Though you have put no marks on paper yet, your longing to create shows that creative growth is taking place.

But, like the tree in Psalm 1, like the desert plants after drought, your creativity needs streams of water. You need refresh your spirit and your creativity. Spend time in the Word and see God’s promise of fruitfulness in your life.  Read books by and about others who create. Take a course. Prepare to produce.

Psalm 1 speaks of a tree producing fruit in season. Jesus has promised that we will bear fruit (John 14:16). Your season of dormancy is ending. Now is a time of fruitfulness. Go. Create. Give your nourishing gifts to a hungry world.

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