Life is Changing!

2014 has just begun and already it has been a year of changes! For those of you who may have thought I just disappeared these past few months, I’ve been living life, struggling with death, finishing a book, and planning a wedding. At times I too have wondered if I might just disappear altogether.

One of the big changes has been the publication of my new book, My Journey With Justin which is now available on Amazon. With a new book comes a new website, so my blog is moving to my own site at http://www.pausingtopraise.com. If you’re new to my blog, come visit my new site and read more about the recent events that have kept my life full and my heart in awe at the grace that flows in abundance for every heartache and need.

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New Year’s Resolution

calendarDriving to work on the second day of the year felt like any other day – except perhaps it felt like a Monday disguised as a Thursday. Long days and early mornings spent bottle feeding new baby goats in the dark before dawn left no one in my household inclined to watch the clock strike midnight and mark the passing of one year and the beginning of another on New Year’s eve. And while we all anxiously anticipate some exciting events in the coming year, the New Year holiday was simply a day to catch up on extra chores. We barely noted the passing of another day much less the passing of a year amidst the busyness of the season, so I was completely unprepared for the question that was presented to me not long after I arrived at work.

“What are your New Year’s resolutions?” The question floated around the Post Office and prompted discussions among the employees. When asked, I had to admit I had not really given any thought to New Year’s resolutions. But as I carried the mail that day, I thought about the question.

“What were my New Year’s resolutions? What decrees or declarations should I make? Were there any promises, pledges, or vows that I could make to ensure my happiness and success in the coming year? ” While I quickly concluded I have no confidence in any resolutions I may make, the questions did make me think about my hopes and plans for the coming year. My self-questions about resolutions turned to questions about goals and dreams. But when I asked myself, “What is my vision for the coming year?” it brought to mind an old hymn. And as I hummed the words, I found the answers to all my questions.

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

While there are no resolutions that can guarantee my success or happiness, I can have confidence in this – I am a sinner saved by grace. What peace and joy is in this assurance! In this I have a guarantee that whatever may befall me in this coming year, whatever successes or failures, whatever wonders or disappointments, my Lord is ever with me. And so as another week of the New Year passes, I find myself still singing and reminding myself that the last lines of this old hymn are the only resolution I need.

High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s son!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

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A Light Has Come

candleLast Saturday I headed to work in the quiet darkness of a typical winter morning, but as I drove through our sleepy little town I was captivated by the nostalgic beauty of the Christmas season. Houses and small shop windows glittered with lights. Evergreen wreaths hung on gates and doors while inside the bank a large tree glowing with red and white lights could be seen from the window.  For a moment I was filled with the innocent wonder I remember from my childhood. I remember a time when Christmas was a season rich in traditions without question of their origin. It was a time to remember and celebrate the birth of our Savior; a time when Sunday school classes reenacted the events of His birth and when families read from Luke chapter two before any presents were opened or any feasts consumed.

As a child we would count down the days until Christmas, but we never really celebrated Advent – I don’t know that my parents were even aware of the traditions and readings of Advent. In recent years I have heard more about this tradition that was once predominately celebrated in the Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches. This year as I read through some of the Advent Bible readings, I have been deeply touched by the reminder of the prophecy that Christ’s coming fulfilled and the events surrounding His birth.

It has been a sweet reminder, since several years ago I learned more about the pagan origins that form the foundation for the majority of our Christian Christmas traditions and I wondered if we should celebrate this holiday at all. This was compounded by the consumer focus that had begun to dominate the season. I realized the Bible does not give us enough information to know the day or even the season of Christ’s birth nor are we told to celebrate His divine birth. And so, while my family did not completely stop celebrating Christmas, much of the wonder of the season was lost to me. I came to view Christmas more as an American tradition and a time to express my love and appreciation to dear friends and family. It was a time to share with others and be thankful for the abundance that was mine. While we still read the Biblical account of Christ’s birth, my prideful knowledge that December was not really the season of his birth unintentionally diminished our family’s focus on Christ’s birth. I rightly reasoned that every season was a time to remember our Savior’s birth and His death that redeemed us and bought our salvation.

But last week as I traveled to work on a December morning when the skies were still dark at 7:00 a.m., I was also reminded of the words of our Lord as recorded in John 8:12, “…I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Should Christians celebrate Christmas? I do not feel equipped or compelled to answer, but should Christians take time to reflect and remember that Christ has come into the world fulfilling the words of the prophets? Though I will not say when or how - we should all take time to reflect and remember.

While I feel that our lives should be lived in such a way that every season, every holiday and every day is a celebration of the grace that brought us salvation, during these darkest days of the year and at a time when a growing darkness has begun to cover our nation, I can think of no better season than this to reflect on Christ’s birth and remember that a light has come into the world.

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Tell All the World

tell all the worldI write….and a week passes….and then another week passes…and I think about the things I’d like to share on my blog – lessons of gratitude when skies are dreary and winter weather dampens my spirits and lessons of grace, spending, and pouring out for others when my selfish heart doesn’t feel generous.

Long work days pass and tasks that I can’t avoid consume my time and I think about unwritten blog posts and the final edited version of my book that has waited ten days and continues to wait for just one final proof read before formatting and I wonder….What does this pouring out of my soul…this putting of ink to paper or sending words to cyberspace…what does it cost me? Is it worth the anguish? I carve out precious moments of time and battle to mentally silence the noise of other undone tasks while I put thoughts to words that fill the blank whiteness of my computer screen…and when I can’t determine what could or should be left undone – even in retrospect – then I must apply Band-Aids of grace to a silent heart that yearns to speak…and again I wonder….Do the words I write sing with the message of the gospel? Is it the good news of the gospel and the good news of grace that compel me or is it selfish ambition? And what prevents the good news from flowing through me? Is it me, circumstance, or providence? Is the message of the gospel still evident in my life when I am silent?

Last week as I was lamenting unwritten words, I found myself considering the cost – both in time and money. My weary heart wondered, “Does it make a difference”? And while I think these thoughts the words of the song We Have A Savior by Hillsong play in my head and my heart hears, “Jesus, Emmanuel, here with us. Tell all the world, We have a Savior, we have a Savior” ….Tell all the world, we have a Savior…The words continue to echo in my head and overflow my heart and I want to shout, “It is worth any cost!” Even if it cost everything – time, money, relationships, job …everything. If I get tangled in the message or my thoughts are unclear, still I must try to tell all the world and trust that the message that echoes in the hearts of others rings true and clear – empty of me and all glorious to Him.

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A Bandage of Grace for Every Offense

bandage of graceRecently I felt I was intentionally excluded from an electronic conversation. When I first heard about it, I tried to brush it off and said it didn’t bother me, but the truth is – it did. I felt left out and my feelings were hurt; I was offended and old wounds were reopened. Have you ever been offended by someone? I think we have all been offended at some time or another – and we all offend. We are wounded and hurt by the words and actions of others and… we wound and hurt.

Sometimes we are offended by thoughtless words and deeds because our wounded hearts are tender and easily bruised. We carry old hurts like a defensive shield thinking they will protect us from future pain when they really just make us more sensitive. Sometimes offenses are real and intentional; we are left out, ignored, addressed with words of anger or malice, ridiculed and condemned. And sometimes we – the self-perceived righteous – ignore, exclude, or express our obvious distain with polite tolerance. We administer justice by wielding our power to wound and punish, often without any conscience thought that we are acting as judge and jury. We justify our words and actions with thoughts like, “They should have known…” or “What did they expect?” Sometimes we offend without any conscience thought. Sometimes we are the ones who are careless, thoughtless and inconsiderate or we are unaware of the hidden battle scars that others may carry.

My unsuccessful attempt to easily brush off an offense has left me wondering, “How do we treat those wounds of offense – both those we have administered and those we have received?  I think we must first put aside self. It seems we always view words and actions through self-centered eyes because self is always the center of our focus – or at least it always seems to be the center of my focus. And then we should liberally apply grace – both to the wounds we have received and the wounds we have inflicted.

I am reminded of the words of our Lord in Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” If we have offended either intentionally or unintentionally, we should be quick to ask forgiveness and ask that the Lord give us a heart to see where we have hurt those around us. I pray I will be quick to recognize and lay aside my prideful self justification and ask for forgiveness when I have offended.  And when I have wounded those whom I feel are overly sensitive, I pray for a heart that sees those hidden hurts and overflows with compassion and grace.

When I am offended… when I am hurt and wounded… I pray for grace to see beyond the offense and a heart of compassion to view the situation outside of self and from another’s point of view.  I pray I will lay down my defensive shield and let old hurts heal. I ask for wisdom to remember the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:21-22, “Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others. And I pray for a heart that is quick to forgive and forget as I liberally apply the bandage of grace to every offense.

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An Inheritance

IMG_0292 When I was a little girl our family spent many weekends visiting my great-grandparents, Buford and Zora Powers or Grandma and Grandpa Powers as they were to me. They lived on a little ranch outside of Wilson called Hungry Hill and I spent many happy afternoons there with my brothers and cousins exploring the old barns, catching frogs by the windmill that pumped water for the cattle, gathering eggs from the hen house where my Grandma raised bantam chickens, and watching my Grandma milk the old milk goat and occasionally a cow or two. We played with antique toys there that entertained us all for hours like the duck that waddled down a board, buttons on a string, rubber-band powered wooden spools, wooden puppets that danced at the end of a stick, sock monkeys and rag dolls.

Since we were the oldest great-grandchildren, my cousin Chuck and I felt privileged to do a few things that the others were too young to do. A few times we were allowed to walk down the hill to visit the remains of the old dugout where my great-grandmother had lived as a little girl or retrieve jars of canned goods from the cool, dark, cellar. One of our favorite privileged pastimes was playing the old pump organ. Chuck was a better musician than I, but we took turns pumping and playing old hymns while Grandma hummed along. I’m sure our efforts were not always as beautiful as the old songs deserved, but Grandma said she loved to hear us play the old organ. She told us that someday she wanted one of us to have the organ but we’d have to decide between us who took it.

My memories of Grandpa Powers are not as vivid since he passed away while I was still young and our trips to Hungry Hill became less frequent as we grew older and moved further away. However we continued to return for occasional visits until after I was married and Grandma Powers lived to see and hold my children. Picture1When my son, Justin, was left handicapped in 1992, my visits to Hungry Hill came to an abrupt stop. I even missed Grandma’s funeral when she died just a few years later. My cousin, Chuck, died suddenly when we still in our mid-thirties. My great Aunt Shorty moved to Hungry Hill, great-grandchildren grew up and even great-great grandchildren grew up, and life changed.

IMG_0278Recently I returned to Hungry Hill with my mom and dad, my brother, and a couple of our sons. We discovered that while some landmarks have disappeared Hungry Hill has endured the passing years with little change. The old barns are gone and the remains of the old dugout have disappeared, but the entrance over the cattle guard and rocky road to the house are just as they were long years ago. The old windmill no longer works but it still stands as a reminder of times gone by. IMG_0280Inside the house, pictures still hang on the walls just as they did when I was a girl. The long table in the dining room is draped with a cloth as though it is ready to once more be crowded with plates of fried chicken and canned goodness from the garden while family gathers round.

It was with bitter sweetness that we took the old organ from the place where it has stood for decades – close to a century – and carried it home. IMG_0290I will be the sixth generation to own it, but it has passed through the last four generations in the same location. I feel blessed beyond measure to own such a valuable heirloom, but as I watch and listen the items that belonged to my great-grandmother – things both large and small – are divided out to grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I realize that although some things are quite valuable, the real value is in the people and memories those items represent.

We are shaped by the people in our past. My great-grandma Powers was from a hearty stock of pioneer women. She built fences, rode horses, raised chickens, cattle, and goats; she fed her family with the fruit of her labors and she worked on the land long past the age of retirement. I remember her when I feed my chickens and milk my goats and feed my family from the fruit of my own labors. While it is God who has formed us and placed us in the times, places, and families in which we live, he has allowed those people in our lives to have a hand in the carving and molding of our beliefs, ideals, and values. Their hearts that they shared with us through their love and their lives – that is our heritage that we carry with us. So while we cherish the earthly goods that they leave us, those things will eventually perish, but if we forget the hard work, independence, beliefs, family values, and standards they left us – those things that shaped this once great country – that would be the irreplaceable loss of our real inheritance.

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Silence, Goals, and Grace

IMG_1241Returning to my blog tonight feels much like greeting an old friend after a long absence. When I first starting blogging I hoped to pen something twice a week. When daily demands on my time hijacked my goal I lowered my self-imposed standards to once a week.  Today I return to share my thoughts after almost a month of silence.

Goals are good and they help us develop stamina and persistence. Goals often keep us focused and moving forward even when things get tough. But sometimes completing a task and accomplishing a goal can become more important than the job itself. My vision can be so narrowly focused that I forget who I am serving, and I forget that love and loyalty should propel my purposeful efforts.  My sight so easily zooms in on my short-term accomplishments that I have a hard time letting go of my good things – letting go of my good goals – so I can embrace something better.

But today as I traveled and worked I was reminded by a dear old hymn that I am daily indebted to grace and I granted myself a little grace regarding my blog while at the same time praying for wisdom to wisely use each moment for His glory. My life is confined to the constraints of time and I cannot ever seem to find enough to accomplish all that I desire to do. Choosing what is better over what is good is often so difficult and I don’t always know which is better, but I trust that God is sovereign even over my poor choices and mistakes and that He will use my feeble efforts to His glory. And so, while my blog may have been neglected, my ‘pen’ has not been completely silent but simply focused on other things. Are there wasted moments in my life that I could be writing and possibly accomplishing more for the kingdom? I’m sure there are many – probably more than I am even aware of – but today I am singing Come thou Fount and remembering and accepting the grace to which I am a daily debtor.

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