Car Commercials and Birthdays

birthday giftsIt’s that time of year. The time when car commercials begin subtly hinting that this year a Jaguar or new SUV would be the perfect gift.

And while I wouldn’t say no to a Jaguar (even if it DID have 981 miles on it), that really isn’t my idea of a good gift. Rather, this past weekend was my idea of good gifts.

Yup, I turned 39 + shipping on Saturday. (I’m 47, I just get a kick out of that phrase!) And the people who love me best knew EXACTLY what kind of gifts I’d like.

There was the delightfully thoughtful gift from my husband–a new office chair for all my writing (plus dinner out!). We’ll actually shop for the chair this week since he’s also thoughtful enough to know I’ll have a strong opinion about it.

There was the collection of items from Mom & Jean. They commissioned a bookmark painted with watercolor thistles (my dog’s name) and queen Anne’s lace (my bridal bouquet). There was also a Luckenbooth shipped all the way from Scotland with a “stone” made from the compressed stems of Scottish heather. Sigh. If you don’t get that one, read The Christmas Heirloom. Now I have my own brooch passed from mother to daughter.

Then there was all the singing. The ladies at church sang to me (and Meg, who shares my birthday) as we decorated for Advent. Dad sang his own made up version of a birthday song for me. Mom sang. And best of all, my almost eight-year-old niece belted out Happy Birthday twice. And she remembered that 12/1 is my birthday. Remembering birthdays is her super power.

Finally, we extended my birthday into Sunday to celebrate with my adopted family (also Thistle’s godparents–dogparents?). Since mom’s far away and not up to baking anymore, I called her for the recipe for MY chocolate cake and made it myself. My friends asked me what I wanted for supper (adobo chicken and these AMAZING crispy potatoes) then we topped it off with Mom’s cake.

So am I just bragging about what a great birthday I had?

Oh, maybe a little bit. But mostly I’m pointing out that the very best gifts aren’t something you park in the driveway. Rather they’re anything laced with LOVE.

Now these three remain, faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Happy birthday to me!

 

Appalachian Thursday – Glad for Montana

MontanaNo, not the state.

I often brag about how the people of Appalachia are pretty fantastic. Well, this week, a young man named Montana helped prove my point.

I’ve mentioned before that my Dad has Parkinson’s Disease. Every six months or so I head home and we go visit his neurologist at the WVU Medical Center. That was this past Tuesday. As we were headed out of town, Dad suggested stopping at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Well, sure!

Dad used to be quite the gun collector and hunted all his life. Activities that are more challenging these days. Still, it’s fun to look.

We made our way to “The Lodge” and there was Montana, a clean-cut college-age guy wearing a cross on a chain, ready to wait on a customer. Dad started talking guns with him. Montana pulled out rifle after rifle for Dad to admire. They talked guns, hunting, and worked around to sports. Montana played golf and Dad used to coach golf, so they compared notes on just about every course in the state.

It was wonderful.

Finally, another customer approached and Montana, who mentioned somewhere along the way that he’s studying nursing, moved on.

Dad and I browsed the store and as he headed for the exit, I circled back to thank this incredibly kind young man. Turns out his grandfather had Parkinson’s. He passed away two years ago, but Montana spent a lot of time with him and recognized the symptoms in my Dad.

I wanted to hug him, but settled for a thank you and a shoulder pat. Montana is doing my home state proud. He’s doing that cross around his neck proud.

I have a feeling he’s going to be an excellent nurse.

The Church in the World

BBQ 10-18This year, our church opted to do something a bit different in place of our usual homecoming. We hosted a party for the community.

Instead of focusing on our history, reminiscing, and then feasting in the fellowship hall, we invited the neighborhood to come out for free BBQ. And it was great!

This wasn’t about getting people to come to church and then feeding them. While they were welcome to come to services, they were also welcome to just come eat and enjoy some great bluegrass. It was about getting the community together to talk, eat, tap their toes and . . . well . . . spend time together.

Instead of a homecoming that focused on our past, we focused on our present. Our here and now going on right outside our door each and every day. Don’t get me wrong, I love history. (Shoot, I write historical fiction.) But it was nice to look out instead of in this year.

I hope we do more of this type of thing. I hope we continue looking beyond the walls of our church building to get to know our neighbors. Seems like there’s some scripture that mentions that very thing . . .

Mark 12:28b-31 – “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Why is Asking for Prayer Hard?

church ladies

Some of my prayer warriors.

Pride.

That’s the short answer.

Last week I asked a group of friends to pray for me as a sort of last resort. Why in the world would that be my last resort??

I tried all sorts of things to resolve my challenge on my own. When nothing worked and I began to feel desperate, I asked for prayer.

Why did it take me so long? Basically, because I’m too proud to air my weakness. And I don’t want anyone to think I’m being all dramatic. Now, I’ll be honest, I like attention. But I like positive attention. You know, the kind where people look at me with admiration rather than pity.

I’ve confessed before to my praise addiction. Asking for prayer does NOT feed it. As a matter of fact, it does just the opposite. Having a challenge I’m unable to overcome on my own does not make me feel competent or admirable.

could flip this and say it takes courage to ask for prayer–and that’s admirable. Except . . . it shouldn’t take courage to ask for prayer. Asking for prayer should be our go-to, gut reaction to problems.

In our ladies’ Bible study we share prayer requests and have a sort of “rule” that you can’t pass and say all is well, you don’t need prayer. Because we ALL need prayer pretty much ALL the time. Big issues, little conflicts, medium-sized problems–we’re never without at least a few. And if there is a day without a challenge, well then, prayers of praise are equally in order!

The response to my request for prayer had me in tears. Lovely words of support and even a friend with a similar problem. Why, oh why, didn’t I start here?

Romans 12:12 – Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Start the week with words of love

AugustineTwice yesterday I heard someone talk about the importance of sharing words of love or affirmation. That old saying about how sticks and stones can break bones but words can never hurt is nonsense. Words can be excruciating.

Conversely, they can be precious, healing, inspiring, blessed gifts when shared in the right way. So, I thought I’d start the week with some words that I hope bless you.

YOU, whoever you are, have been handmade by God. He designed you and is even now shaping you. Why? Because he loves you. No, he absolutely adores you. You’re the most amazing part of his creation and he knew exactly what he was doing when he gave you that hair, those eyes, and your own special way of laughing.

He did NOT make a mistake when he made that bit of you that you’ve never liked–your nose, your thighs, your toes that make you not want to wear sandals. He knew all about that thing that challenges you–that illness, that habit, that addiction, that tendency you try to control . . . And he STILL thinks you’re absolutely amazing.

And so, since I know God is never wrong, I thought I’d remind you today that you ARE amazing. And you are loved.

Romans 8:38-39 – For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Who ARE the Poor?

bouquetSunday’s sermon was about helping the poor. Our scripture was from James 2 which cautions us not to show partiality for those who appear to be better off.

Which set me to thinking about what, exactly, it means to be poor. There’s the obvious answer–people who don’t have enough to meet their basic needs of food, shelter, clothing . . . The homeless. The hungry. The family struggling to make ends meet. The senior choosing between food and medicine.

But it occurred to me that there are plenty of other kinds of poverty in this world:

  • People who are poor in friendships/relationships. Basically, the lonely.
  • People who are poor in joy/peace. Those who struggle with depression or maybe they’re just overwhelmed by life at the moment.
  • People who are poor in safety/security. Those who live in places with high crime or who are fearful of how people might treat them.
  • People who are poor in faith/spirituality. Unbelievers of all kinds–folks who believe this life is all there is.
  • People who are poor in health/wellness. Terminally ill people or even those who are chronically ill.

I suspect this list could go on and on. The point is, while I may not be poor financially, I’m poor in other ways. And so is everyone else.

Our pastor talked about how the poor are often people we don’t see or notice. They’re on the margins of society, tucked away, hidden, unrecognized–which can make them hard to help. We have to LOOK for the poor. But I think that extends to the people we DO see on a regular basis as well. Probably they’re poor in one way or another. And either we fail to notice it or they do a good job of hiding it.

What if we all started paying attention? What if I take the time to notice when a co-worker is poor in time and offer to help with a task? Or that a neighbor is poor in visitors and stop by for a chat? Or that a friend is poor in peace and take time to pray with her?

Sometimes we do nothing because it feels like there’s too much need to even make a dent. And yet . . . I know how wonderful it is when someone notices I have a need and meets it. Maybe if we all did just a little, it would add up.

 

Laying Up Treasure

treasuresThis past weekend a good friend and her family hosted a yard sale to empty out her grandparents’ house. Health issues and advancing years have forced the couple into a facility and it’s time to think about selling the little house they’ve lived in for so long.

Thistle and I stopped by for moral support AND to shop for a memento or two. I’ve known this sweet couple since we moved to our current house and she’s the one who first invited me to the church my husband and I now attend. I knew she collected teapots and thought it would be nice to have one.

I came away with a deviled egg plate just like the one my mom used when I was a kid along with a cast iron corn stick pan and a sweet little Brown Betty teapot. Which set me to thinking about what I consider my “treasure.”

I started walking through the house to pick out my favorite things. There’s the salt box and cast iron, elephant-shaped bottle opener from Dad’s childhood. Five or six wee pitchers from my grandmother’s collection. My mother-in-laws 40th anniversary salt and pepper shakers. The embroidered picture Aunt Bess stitched. A Christmas figurine from Mom’s childhood along with the butter mold she used when I was a kid (made by my great uncle).

And then there are the items that belonged to the senior ladies of the church. An amber glass cake plate and hand-painted dessert plates from Billy. A toll painting of a basket of eggs from Ann. And now Betty’s brown Betty teapot and egg plate.

These are my treasures.

But it’s not the THING so much as it is the person each one brings to mind. As I tallied my treasures I realized the value isn’t in the tangible item, but rather in the intangible memories and emotions and . . . love.

Matthew 6:19-20 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Betty’s teapot has a chip in it. I might break that egg plate while doing the dishes one day. Every last item could be lost or destroyed but that’s okay because they aren’t really my treasures. And ultimately, it’s not even the people they represent that’s the treasure–love is. And love never fails.