Here’s Your Sign

It caught my eye.  A sign.  Lots of places have signs and I like finding those with cute or catchy sayings; some very funny signs are outside churches:

  • “Wal-mart isn’t the only saving place.”
  • “Experts made the Titanic, amateurs made the ark.”
  • “God answers knee-mail.”

You get the idea, you can find many more on the internet.  The church sign that caught my eye today was simple and to the point,

“Christians Meet Here”

My first crushing thought was, “No wonder people hate us.”  I was offended by this sign.  Is this church saying they have an exclusive club that only Christians are invited to join?  Are non-Christians not welcome to attend a service or event?  Is it an arrogant declaration that Christians are better than everyone else?  Now, I realize there is more than one way to interpret and read this sign and I am sincerely hoping that this church had the best of intentions but to me that was unclear.

Sadly, a common reason people give for NOT going to church is that they did not feel welcomed,  they felt out of place or they did not feel like they fit in.  One of the things that made me fall in love with Jesus was His ability to speak to anyone and make everyone feel like they had His undivided attention for those moments; He looked at people.  I suggest we, like Jesus, need to much more intentional when we attend our churches.

We need to be intentional in looking for someone we don’t know, especially anyone who looks confused or seems to be alone.  We need to be intentional in focusing on the person we don’t know rather than our comfortable group of friends.  We need to be intentional in not sitting in our “self-assigned”,same seat but moving around so we can greet someone we have not greeted in the past.  Oh, and just another pet peeve, I hate greeting time; if you are the “new person” it is terribly awkward when everyone else is hugging and talking and you are just standing there.  Pastors, if your church does a greeting time, keep it very short – I have been in churches where greetings went on for several minutes; I never go back to those churches.

Church is not about me and getting my needs met; that is a blessed by-product of church participation.  Church is about what I can offer to God and His people.  The only thing God wants, the most important thing to bring to church is my heart, uncertain, searching, broken, wounded, open and sometimes full.  Had that sign, Christians Meet Here, been on the church I visited years ago my unbelieving heart might still be on the outside looking in…

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.  For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?   James 2:1 – 4

Blessings, Seen and Unseen

So much to be thankful for, blessings that can be seen and blessings that cannot be seen.  Here are some of the unseen blessings of knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior from Romans 8.

  • No condemnation in Christ Jesus
  • Freedom from the law of sin and death
  • A mind set on the Spirit
  • Life and Peace
  • Life in the Spirit
  • A living Spirit
  • No obligation to the flesh
  • Son (and Daughter) of God
  • Spirit of Adoption
  • Child of God
  • Heirs of God, heir with Christ
  • Saved
  • All things caused by God for my good
  • Foreknown
  • Pre-destined
  • Called
  • Justified
  • Glorified
  • Overwhelming Conqueror
  • Cannot be separated from God’s Love

I am so incredibly blessed that in addition to these wonderful spiritual blessings I also enjoy a wealth of blessings here on earth.  Here are some I am most grateful for…

  •  A good and godly husband
  • My kids and their loving partners
  • My wonderful family
  • Loyal and encouraging friends
  • My home – in Florida – an added gift
  • A new job I am enjoying
  • A wonderful church and church family
  • My Bible
  • Food to eat every day
  • Heat in winter, AC in summer
  • Sunshine, Rain, Clouds, Beaches, Flowers, Trees…

A never ending list of things I am grateful for on Thanksgiving and every day.  Feel free to add a few some of your own “gratefuls”!

On My Heart

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.  You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:2,3

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I received a letter from a friend. I don’t actually receive too many, hand-written personal letters. I get phone calls, texts, emails, Facebook posts but personal letters – nuh uh – not so much.

Personal letters are saved and savored. I was anxious to read my letter but I made a cup of coffee and sat in a favorite spot so I could read and enjoy the letter one word at a time – I wanted to make it last longer. I read it through twice – once was not enough and I will read it again. I keep the cards, notes and letters sent to me by friends and family.

Personal letters reflect and reveal the author. It was easy to imagine her sitting across from me. As I read the letter I could “hear” the voice of my friend. I pictured her chucking as she wrote out a funny incident, I “saw” her pausing and thinking of how best to put her thoughts onto the page.

Personal letters take time and effort. Writing a personal letter means you need to gather paper, pen, envelope and a stamp. You have to set some time aside to write it out, it takes time to think about what to say and how best to say it.  Once written, you have take it to somewhere to get it into the mail.

Paul is drawing an analogy between the Christ-followers in Corinth and a letter; a letter from Jesus Christ. Paul is saying that the Corinthians believers are a letter. A letter written not on paper, but written on their hearts by the Spirit of the living God.

Paul’s words to the Corinthians can be applied to all of us who follow Jesus, who call ourselves Christians. Thinking of myself as a letter, a personal letter from Jesus meant to be seen and read by others challenges me to think about my actions and words differently. What I say and do should be a reflection and revelation of Christ.

I want to be a letter that people read and re-read, thinking about and savoring each word. People were drawn to Jesus, they wanted to be with Him, near Him, they wanted to hear Him speak – I want to be a letter like that! The letter people carry around and quote to others, a meaningful letter, and a letter that blesses the reader. There is only one way to be that letter, to spend time with Jesus and in the Word, letting God write His letter on my heart and changing the way I think and act; this will take time and some effort on my part. Believe me, I am not so very great, special or unique. I just want to be a wonderful letter – not because of me but because of the One who wrote the letter on my heart!

Writing 101 – POV – 12 Years Old

Even before I open my eyes I know it’s going to be a good day. It is the first day of summer vacation.  No school, no teachers no homework for the next nine superb weeks. I stretch out in my bed; I think my bed is starting to feel smaller.

My whole body feels weird, I feel like my skin is too tight around my insides. I feel like those inflatable guys you see outside of stores, those sky dancers. I want to wave my arms around in the wind – YES! I take a look out into the hallway, score! No one’s in the bathroom now’s my chance.

Something is definitely different today. I lean closer to the mirror to examine my 8th grade face; it doesn’t look any different from my 7th grade face.   But, inside, I can tell that things are changing. A slam on the door reminds me that to my chagrin, I am not an only child. “Leave me alone, creep I’ll be out when I’m out you mutant!” What a jerk, I better get out of here, last time he got mad at me he took all my shoes into his malodorous and fetid room. Some things will never change!

A quick check of my room reveals no obvious sneak attacks by the mutation. But I better make sure; I shove my hand under the mattress. Where is it? If he touched it so help me…OK, got it, my notebook. I cleverly disguised a spiral notepad with a label that says “My Favorite Recipes”. Today will be a good day to work on my novel. My title (for now) is, “Mutants Walk Among Us”. Some of the other names I came up with are, “Malevolence is My Brother” or maybe, “The Foul Breath I Breathe” – not sure. I better take the old Merriam Webster along for reference.

Grabbing my favorite breakfast repast, I decide to sit on our front stoop. I like our stoop. I can see our whole street from here. The concrete is still cool even though the sun is already hot; it stays cool most of the day, our house is on the shady side of the street.

The construction guys are already at their appointed labors, hammering and banging away; most of them have their shirts off. I’m glad they can’t see me down here; they stare at me when I walk down that way. I don’t like it. I know mom and dad are not happy about all these condos. I’m not sure why. It sounds like a good idea to me; maybe some kids my age will finally move into this neighborhood.

Ol’ Mrs. Pauley across the street has no kids; she’s over there all-alone. Her kids, 6 sons, all moved away, I only remember the youngest one.  He used to roar around in his cool ‘vette, once he tossed a lit cigarette at me, mutant.  She used to creep me out until me and mom went over one day to bring some food. Ol’ Mr. Pauley died; talk about creepy. I was looking in the front door while the ambulance guys were working on him, Mrs. Pauley was holding his hand. He was just slumped over in a big brown chair; his mouth was open and he was just kind of staring. That was the first time I ever saw a dead person – ugh! I don’t know why we had to bring food cause he was dead but Mom said it was the “right thing to do”.

Turned out that Ol’ Mrs. Pauley’s house was really nice inside. She had these little white things on every chair and table. (Expect for the big brown chair Mr. Pauley died in, that was gone.) She called them doyillees; I had to look it up (Dad always says, “Go ask Merriam”, he thinks that’s so funny!). Its really spelled doily (from 17th Century English). Ol’ Mrs. Pauley made all of them herself. I don’t what they are for but I could tell she liked them since they were all over the place. When she saw me looking at them – she gave me one to take home! I keep in on the table with my lamp on it; I think it looks nice, kind of old-fashioned; I like old-fashioned stuff.

Her house smelled like an old person, not malodorous like the mutants, just old, like dust and oatmeal and old flowers. She wanted us to come in the kitchen for tea (which I despise by the way). Then I knew why Mom said we had to bring food. There was nothing in her fridge except for an old lemon, a little thing of milk and a box of that stuff Mom keeps in our fridge so it doesn’t smell – that’s it!! No plates with leftovers, no eggs, no soda – nothing! I peeked in the cabinet when she got the tea bags and there was not much in there either!   She had one box of breakfast cereal that looked about 100 years old, a box of tea bags and some sugar, that’s all I saw.

Now sometimes when I see Ol’ Mrs. Pauley she always waves at me; she doesn’t creep me out any more. I know Mom goes over there sometimes to “Check up on that poor dear lady”, she says. But, I don’t see Ol’ Mrs. Pauley too much; she hardly ever comes out. It’s like she in hibernation.

A black ‘n’ tan is coming down the street. He’s going pretty slow, too. I’m just sitting here but seeing a cop car roll down my street makes my stomach feel jittery, they never come down here unless something’s wrong. When he stops right in front of Ol’ Mrs. Pauley’s I know there’s a problem. A big black Escalade rolls up right next to the black ‘n’tan – who’s this guy? Nobody’s in there but old lady Pauley, she don’t bother nobody. I’m not sure what’s going on but I have a bad feeling; I better get my mom.

Looks like some drama on Highland Avenue (I gotta remember to write that down, it might make another good book title). I can tell my Mom is upset when she starts running her hands through her hair and rubbing her forehead. When we get across the street we find out that Escalade guy is the landlord. That repulsive tub of guts is here to throw Ol’ Mrs. Pauley out of her house! This is so not fair, she’s an old lady; where is she supposed to live! Mom grabs my shoulder and hangs on; she knows I want to start yelling at Fatty Escalade, squeezing my shoulder is her (not so) gentle way of saying, “Be Quiet.”

Mr. Hideous is yelling, “Officer, do your duty! I have the law on my side! I sent several warning notices!” He needs to stop waving his papers around and just shut up! The cop is trying to help Ol’ Mrs. Pauley pack some stuff, Ol’ Mrs. Pauley is cryin’, Mom is cryin’ and rubbing her forehead; this is a big mess over here! This is the saddest thing I have ever seen except for the time when that old stray cat got hit by a car down the street – that was pretty sad. It kept trying to get up but its back legs were paralyzed. Dad took it to the vet but the cat died he told me. I didn’t know what to do for that poor cat and I don’t know what to do to help Ol’ Mrs. Pauley. I look at Mom, she’s just standing there, not saying a word; I think she should do something, anything.  So I just stand there too, feeling useless.

Finally, finally, one of Ol’ Lady Pauley’s sons shows up. Seriously, what took him so long? I want to scream in his flabby face, “Where were you, you egocentric idiot out buying cigarettes? Didn’t you know your mom needed help? She needed groceries!” But Mom starts squeezing my shoulder even harder with her fingers like talons. Ol’ Lady Pauley has SIX sons! Only one of them can get here to help his mom? Are all sons and brothers useless mutant creeps? He loads some of Mrs. Pauley’s stuff into his big brand new fancy Lincoln. She was cryin’ the whole time, walking around, touching everything in the house, just kind of patting it, like you pet a dog. Even the cop looked like he was ready to start bawling it was so sad.

At dinner I told Dad everything that happened over there. He just kept shakin’ his head. I could tell Mom was still pretty upset because she would sniffle and do the hair and forehead routine every couple minutes. One thing about my Dad, he always knows what to say. But for once, he didn’t. All he could say was, “Shameful, how sad.”

Now that I’m an eighth grader I know more things about life. Today I learned some things about people I wish I didn’t need to learn. I learned that life isn’t always fair. Bad things happen to good people.  And even the people who are supposed to love you can let you down…

Writing 101 – Serially Lost – Part 3 and Part 3

Todays Challenge: Imagine you work in a place where you manage lost and found items. Tell about what you find in the pile.  Todays Twist: Reflect on the theme of lost and found.

A Note: I had the weirdest experience writing the third part of this Writing 101 Challenge – two very different responses emerged.  Both almost wrote themselves.  I decided to publish both here.  (Scroll down for the Second Story).  If you can, please read both; First Story AND Second Story and then “vote” which one do you like better – if you can, tell me why.  THANKS!

A – FIRST STORY

Tuesday morning, 8:22am, I push myself around and drag my body out of the car, trudging through the slush; I take one last breath of air before pulling on the door handle. The door swings open with a creak and I walk from the grey morning into a gleaming hallway. And so it begins, another workday at “The BLIP”! Cue ominous music!

Jacob Carson, Jack to His Friends, hates it when we call it that. He prefers the more formal sound of “The Bureau”. But good old Jack gets to sit in his office all day. Good old Jack doesn’t have to flip through file after file, trying to match names to faces, faces to names, hour after hour, day after day. But to those of us doing the grunt work in the file room, it would always and eternally be “The BLIP”! (Dun-dun-DAAA – ominous music, please!)

The Bureau of Lost and Invisible Persons is housed in an ordinary industrial style building in an office park full of similar buildings. The BLIP squats on its plot, surrounded by asphalt, innocuous, unobtrusive, bland but inside is a subdued hive of activity.

My days here are generally long and monotonous. But every day had a golden hour; my favorite part of the day, I like to call it “The Crazy Call Hour”! Cue fun, circus clown music! I prefer to tackle “ The Crazy Call Hour” right away. I grab a coffee, adjust my headset, wiggle into my seat and switch on – all systems GO!! “Good morning, Bureau of Lost and Invisible Persons, Terry speaking, how may I help you this morning?”

I never know what I am going to hear and that is what I love about it; the element of surprise! Most calls fall into two categories: The Criers and The Stumblers. The Criers are just that – can barely get a word out and they’re already snifflin’ and snufflin’ their sob stories. The Stumblers are usually so shocked to be speaking to a human; it takes several tries before they get to their tale of woe. Do I sound cynical to you? Too bad! Go tell it to somebody who gives a crap!

But I was patient, I was calm, I listened and took good notes. Remember, “Your call may be recorded or monitored for quality assurance purposes.” Inside, I was laughing my butt off trying to decide which of these crazy nut job stories I would tell everybody at lunch!

That’s my day, that’s my life, hey, it pays the rent! The rest of the day is spent sifting through the musty file stacks. I take the names and information I collect during “The Crazy Call Hour” down to the File Room; also known as “The Pit of Despair” (more ominous music again, maestro!). Here in this cold and featureless place I begin my search. Oh yeah, there are times it’s kinda fun, like finding the missing piece of that jigsaw puzzle your grandmother gave you. A name in my hand matches a file, a family, a friendship – gets reunited – really what are the odds. Those days are growing increasingly rare of late; there are fewer and fewer matches, more and more disappointments. My frustration and boredom with this thankless job has reached epic levels.  But I gotta remember why I’m here, gotta listen, gotta pay attention, stay sharp.

So, I’m down in The File Room doing my search thing when all of a sudden, I glance to my left and see the unthinkable. J. Jacob Carson, Jack to His Friends, striding towards me with his perfect hair and his ever-present, stupid grin. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, smile, look up, say, “Good morning, Mr. Carson.”

“Hello there, Terry, how are you today?” “I am fine Mr. Carson.” “No, no, please call me Jack, all my friends call me Jack!” My cheeks are starting to hurt from this fake smile I have plastered on, please get this over with. What could this mutant freak want? “Terry, could you come with me up to my office. We have a small matter to discuss, won’t take long.”

When we get upstairs I am startled to see one of the Bureau’s Security gorillas standing outside Jack’s office. Where do they find these poster boys for steroids? Immediately, I start to sweat. What’s going on? The Rolodex in my mind begins to whirr. I was only joking when I told that story about that Crier – I didn’t give any names. Hey, everybody does that! Did they find out about the stapler? I just needed it for a few days. Why didn’t I bring it back the next day? Actually, I hope it’s all about staplers and small talk, be cool, I got this.  All these thoughts and more are spinnin’ through my brain as Jack opens the door to his office and tells me to take a seat.

Ok, breathe, it can’t be that bad; Jack to His Friends is still smiling. I sit down. Sweet office, I wonder what he did to get it – moron! Oh yes sir, no sir, keep smiling, all gonna be fine, no worries. Suddenly the door behind me opens and Jack to His Friends stands up.

Who is this babe, I wonder to myself. Tall, young, professional, never seen her in this building before; wha oh!  She’s got a Bureau badge on her jacket. She shakes Jack’s hand and, like they rehearsed this friendly act, they both turn to me with the same phony smiles. “Terry, this is Ms. Kelly from our Southern Division Office, “ chirps Jack to His Friends. “She has a few questions for you. Won’t take but a few minutes.  Just answer her questions and we’ll let you get right back to your work.”

Kelly doesn’t waste any time, she starts right in slamming me with questions one right after the other, scribbling notes on her tablet. It is getting harder to keep this smile on my face and lots harder to answer her questions. My head is buzzing, I feel the sweat on my upper lip, seems awfully hot in this office. I got my own questions and it ain’t pretty. “Where did they get their information? I know I wiped all my files before I came up here. Who talked? How did they find me?” I could feel my face getting redder. I tried to swallow but I had no spit left. I kept wiping my hands on my pant legs – back and forth, back and forth. I need time to think. I noticed Ms. Babe Kelly and Jack to His Friends weren’t smilin’ so much any more.

How did they find me? I’ve stayed lost for years and years! I don’t want to be found!

B – SECOND STORY

How do you lose a whole person? I mean, in general people are kinda large unless they are kids or babies but I am not talking about them; I am talking about full grown, average size, people.

I have lost buttons, keys, coins, and earrings lots of times, they are little, easy to misplace or drop. Depending where you are, when those tiny objects fall to the floor they may not even make a noise. You don’t even realize they are missing until much later if at all. But people? How do you lose an entire person? Even though I have lost a more than a few, I still don’t always understand how it happens…

There is the obvious of course, some people I lost to death. A few were lost in anger; some words were said, hot, bitter – those people stomped away; some of the time it was me doing the stomping. The ones I wonder about are those that are simply and painfully, lost, the drifters.

One of us would move or change jobs. We would always promise to stay in touch, to call to write. Nowadays we might say that we will text or email or “friend” on Facebook or follow on Twitter and maybe at first we both keep those promises. But somewhere along the way the time between calls, between the emails grows longer and longer and eventually, inexorably ends. You have changed, your friend has changed, life, time, and distance has come between you. We’ve drifted apart.  These friends are now lost.

Over the years the same methods, calls, emails, Facebook, that seemed to absorb old friends and take them away have returned a few. Somehow, through persistence or luck or some combination of both we have found each other again and re-connected. These links to our common past are rare and delightful, like a rainbow after a storm.

Most surprising of all are my newfound friends. God in His mercy and wisdom has helped me find some new friends and miracle of miracles other new friends have found me! How does a friendship begin? Slowly, a bit painfully; questions are asked and answered, past history is carefully revealed, and new experiences are shared. Friendships are built from bits of our lives, added in layer by layer – little friendship cakes. Newfound friends are fragile and frightening and full of hidden land mines; but are worth the risks.

And rarely, if you are very, very lucky a newfound friend develops into one of the best gifts of all, a Friend, a capital “F”, Friend. A Friend who stands the test of time, who will not fade into an ever-widening gap between phone calls, who remembers your birthday, who sends you a crazy text just because. When you find a capital “F” Friend, you will never run out of things to say. If your conversation is interrupted you pick up right where you left off even if hours, days or weeks have gone by. There is an indefinable quality that moves “newfound friend” to “friend” to a Friend. What is it? When does it happen? I think it is during the small moments you begin to see how much you really enjoy being together, that you uplift each other, you bring out the best and the silliest in each other. The moment you know, you are THERE for each other and you WILL BE there for each other; to laugh, cry and pray together. I am so very grateful to be able to say that I have found life’s rare treasures – capital “F” Friends!

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” Proverbs 27:6

Writing 101 – Serially Lost – Part 2

Earlier in Writing 101, you wrote about losing something. Today, write about finding something.   Today’s Twist: Make this part 2 of the series started on Day 4 of Writing 101.

When she found me I was in the middle of a panic attack. Gasping for air like a marathon runner at the end of a race, I was paralyzed, rooted to my spot on the asphalt. I knew if I moved even one more step my guts were going roar up from my stomach, through my throat and explode out onto the pavement. My fingers were tingling, my scalp was itching, I was sure I was going to pass out. It was my first day at a new school.

All around me everyone seemed to know where he or she was going. Kids were shouting greetings to one another. The girls were ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ over new hairstyles, new shoes, new backpacks and book bags. The boys, of course, were shuffling around punching one another in the shoulder, laughing in embarrassment as they watched the girls with sly glances. Me? I was just standing there – a panicked, paralyzed outsider.

The first bell sounded its warning and all of us began our slow, reluctant, progress inside, I inched my way along at the fringes of the crowd. In the mass of kids I felt someone tugging at my sleeve, “Hey, hey. Are you new here?”

I turned to see a face, not just any face, a smiling face, a friendly face, a VERY friendly face. A friendly face looking right at me! “Yeah, this is my first day, “ I managed to choke out. “Oh wow! Then you don’t know anybody! Do you know where you are going? I bet you don’t. I can show you. I know where everything is. What’s your homeroom? Where do you live? I used to live in Boston but now we live here. It’s pretty nice here, you’re gonna like it. I didn’t really like it at first but now I do. See, here is the cafeteria; everybody eats lunch in there. Did you bring a lunch? It’s ok if you didn’t, you can buy one. Don’t worry I can help you. I like your shoes.” She bombarded me with dozens of questions and never took a breath! It was amazing, it stunned me and, best of all, I was no longer panic-stricken!

Her face was full of expression and she was in constant motion, pouring out her questions and sharing important information in a verbal flood. As she pointed out different rooms and teachers, she kept nudging me forward into this unknown school. Dark hair, dark eyes and an up-turned nose sprinkled with freckles. It turned out we had the same first name, both of us had annoying brothers and we both loved to read. I found all this out and more within those first few minutes.

My new friend had found me.