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Blog, schmog

me blogging casually at home
The master bath in our home purchased a year ago is small…but I discovered while casually drafting today’s “blog” post that the vanity is wide enough to be sat upon!

During a recent lunch conversation, one of the most attentive followers of this devotional series asked me, “Do you blog?”

Well, I thought, you of all people should know that I do. The question definitely got my attention!

“Yes,” I began. “Sort of. I mean, I know that true bloggers work very hard at starting conversations that are on trend. They link all kinds of other sites. My blog I see as more of a website. It’s rarely a two-way process when I post. I get about two comments per year.” (Actually, the true number is much higher – more than ten times that!) #LaughingAtMyself

You guess right if you think this conversation sent me running to look at my WordPress statistics. Not counting today’s post, I’ve published 51 articles since launching the site in June 2015, so 51 posts over 3.5 years. Total comments 101. That’s an average of 2 comments per post. More statistics for you numbers nerds follow as a P.S. to today’s article. But, let’s get back to the “Do you blog?” conversation:

My friend seemed to agree that my Called-Out Life activity doesn’t “feel” like a blog. He said, “My idea of a blog is a platform where people promote themselves and their books.”

Good to know.

“Precisely!” I answered. “That definitely is not how I have been spending my time.”

Called-Out Life in its infancy. For those less familiar with Called-Out Life E-devotional, it started as an email list, and I was sending a message every week. Later I reduced the frequency to “as led,” and it was one of my daughters who ultimately convinced me to put my efforts out here on a viable web page, where the frequency of posting has remained “as led.”

In further answer to the loyal follower of Called-Out Life who raised the question of whether I blog, I elaborated, “I get some of the basics of what true, dedicated bloggers do, and I’m not interested in spending my time that way right now. They pull in relevant links, they post daily or almost daily, they read and comment frequently on other bloggers’ pages, they spend a lot of time on Facebook and on Twitter, and many of them probably pay third-party services to boost their visibility.”

I am well aware that you are supposed to go to school for this. You read free articles. You attend seminars. You study:

  • How to blog effectively
  • How to reach the most people
  • The top 7 things to avoid
  • How long is too long for one post? (I skipped school that day. However, today’s post weighs in at about 1,400 words, and that’s not “too long” according to some experts.)

If I’m not blogging, what am I doing?
Interruption: I must stop right here to emphasize that I am in no way implying disrespect for “real” bloggers. On the contrary, I am highlighting how drastically I separate my meager online activity from theirs. While recognized, professional bloggers have been achieving online success in terms of both performance stats and name recognition, I have been:

  • working full time
  • keeping some semblance of an orderly home
  • knitting
  • journaling
  • offering my time to Greater Birmingham Fiber Guild as editor of their monthly newsletter
  • and, basically, trucking along in patterns consistent with the life of an introvert who happens to find more pleasure in rereading “comfort books” by bedside lamplight than in discovering trending authors on a laptop in a coffee shop

The above account of how my time is spent doesn’t cover going to church every Sunday, accompanying my husband on occasional business trips, playing with granddog #SweetTimesAndSoTherapeutic, sleeping (which is a miraculous gift if it occurs in greater than four-hour stretches without a great deal of tossing and turning), or pretending to keep up with the accounts I follow on Instagram.

The above rundown also doesn’t include a certain project that has received an astronomical investment of time and effort over the past 6 years, namely writing two novels that are about to be published as a series…which brings us right back to talking about having a blog so one can promote oneself and one’s books. Rest assured that Called-Out Life E-devotional is not going to become a book promotion and sales website in spite of the fact that several of my earliest posts in June 2015 were about the writing of the first novel, A Stranger’s Promise. For the purpose of directing interested parties to the web pages where either print-on-demand or e-book formats can be found, I am starting out using primarily my Facebook page and Instagram, as well as word-of-mouth. More later on this huge development in my writing life, assuming it all “comes off” as promised, possibly sometime in January. For now, you can visit Facebook or view a short list of “books by” on the About page here on Called-Out Life.

So… Called-Out Life is, arguably, a blog. And I appreciate every comment my articles prompt. But I also get that anyone who takes the time to skim, wade through, or even share one of my posts has a very busy life, the same as I do.

Are introverts comfortable with a web presence? Blogging is neither my career nor my driving passion. This, I believe, hinges on a certain word I used earlier in this post. It begins with the letter “i”. Did you catch it? As an introvert, I don’t eagerly count the days until the next event that requires me to stand for two hours mingling in a large ballroom or in a crowded reception hall. So it’s no surprise that I also don’t enjoy scanning the email horizon for links to the latest conversation on Twitter or on some successful blogger’s blog that is going to bombard me with long opinions, stuff I will lie awake at night unable to stop thinking about, and four-letter word choices that also will get stuck in my head.

Caveat verbosus (my attempt to say “posters beware”). I have had negative experiences calling in to radio shows (ancient history I wish I could forget), and I have made ill-judged online comments a time or two on local news stories – comments that served no one well. This social media stuff warrants “pulling back” now and then and keeping the whole, big picture of life and “impact” in perspective. Posting and commenting can be risky business. It gives a whole new meaning to scripture verses about taming the tongue (James 3:1-12), self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), having the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), and not causing another person to stumble (Romans 14:13-23).

~~~~~~~~

For those who like numbers: more Called-Out Life statistics
I launched Called-Out Life E-devotional on WordPress with a “welcome” post on June 26, 2015. The site has been up for 3.5 years, almost exactly 42 months. In that time, I have posted 51 articles, so about 1.2 times per month. Followers 74. Total post likes 30. Total comments 101.

Most comments on a post
8 on “The greatest victory over the worst trouble” (an Easter message dated March 26, 2016)

Runners-up for most comments
7 on “Clogging: not a plumbing problem” (when and how I stopped biting my fingernails)
7 on “How a poet says ‘sunset’”
6 on “I am that baby” (it includes a cute picture of me at age 3)

Low numbers: poor performance?
Some self-respecting bloggers might look at such low numbers and decide to cut their losses, shut their sites down and save the yearly fee they’re paying for web space. A professional appraisal of my performance as a blogger would probably include the words dismal, inconsequential, and neglected. Let’s look at these:

  • Dismal. How about gratifying instead? #GlassHalfEmptyOrHalfFull I am very thankful this site has 74 followers! If you are one of them, thank you so much for applying your confidence toward the content published here.
  • Inconsequential. No. Never underestimate the impact of a message, short or long, that even one reader finds encouraging. I like significant much better than inconsequential. I wouldn’t spend so much time writing these articles if I didn’t believe there was valuable consequence to doing so, including what the contemplative process does in me.
  • Neglected. This “blog” site is neglected only if the level of activity on it goes against my established goals. So far, it doesn’t.

Another life insight from football

Subtitle:
Can’t boo “them” & cheer “us” at the same time

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On September 22 I was back at Jordan-Hare Stadium where I have spent many a Saturday supporting the football team of the university where my husband and both my daughters attended and graduated. Trust me: a lot passes through my mind in that setting, and has done so since 1985, the first year I began attending Auburn games with Jeff!

This time, I noticed some booing had begun amongst the crowd. Sure enough, the team from the University of Arkansas, led by their travel-sized entourage of cheerleaders, had entered the field from the “visitor” tunnel.

About the time I opened my mouth to join in the good-natured booing that is customary at an athletic competition, great cheering broke out all around me instead. Sure enough, the Auburn team with all of its bells and whistles and back handsprings and flags and trumpets and drums and pom poms and smoke and mirrors had erupted from the home-side tunnel! So, following the crowd, I abruptly stopped saying “Boooooo” and started shouting “Wheeeeee!” “Whooooo!” and “Yayyyy!”

And that’s when it hit me: It’s impossible, in the same breath, to boo “them” and to cheer “us.” It’s that simple. What time we’ve spent running down the people with whom we disagree and whose lifestyles we consider detrimental to the human condition is time we haven’t spent cheering truth and right and Christ.

Caveat

This is not a feel-good message about love resolving all problems. Love is a guiding principle, but it does not change hard facts about the necessity of teaching truth and of standing up for one’s convictions in a manner that speaks integrity and calm and respect. If love had solved everything about sin in a sweet and happy way, Jesus would not have died on a cross. He had to balance joys and sorrows the same way we have to do, every day. To have faith, and to cast my cares upon Him because He cares for me*, is the only way I know to cope with that dichotomy.  *1 Peter 5:7

In my recently-completed second novel, someone makes the observation that people were not meant to try to bear unbearable burdens. That is God’s job. Our job is to learn, and to prayerfully apply in our dealings with everything and everyone, what Scripture teaches (about burdens, and about many other concepts and tasks).

A good passage to review on this topic is Psalm 119:1-7 because it lays groundwork for our attitude toward all Scripture and toward all issues of spiritual seriousness and growth:

1 Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. 2 Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart. 3 They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways. 4 Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. 5 O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! 6 Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments. 7 I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.

So, let’s remember that we have only one real “opponent,” the enemy who wishes us to be confused into thinking that all sorts of people are enemies, rather than people – just like us – whom Christ died to redeem. Boo evil, not evildoers. (Because we are them.) Cheer Christ and truth, not “superiority.”

The latest NOW answer to a THEN prayer

Subtitle: “Eternally Grateful”

Trending unit of measure: “thousands”

July 1, 2018…   Eleven o’clock worship at Dawson Memorial…

“Bless the Lord, o my soul, o my soul, worship His Holy name
Sing like never before, o my soul; I’ll worship Your Holy name

You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find” *

Another line you may have heard a few times: “Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise” **

And another: “When we’ve been there ten thousand years” ***

See the pattern?

Thousands and tens of thousands are numbers that have occurred to more than one writer, speaker, or other person as a way of saying “a whole lot” or “more than I can list” or “more than we can ever comprehend.” I.e., to infinity. I.e., for eternity.

“Ten thousand million trillion to the nine hundred ninety-ninth power” represents our efforts to describe an amount of love or a quantity of something that is inexhaustible, immeasurable, and everlasting.

A recurring nightmare

So, what’s the prayer answer that happened NOW (on July 1 during 11 o’clock worship at church)? Well, before explaining that, I have to try to make clear the THEN prayer question. For me, actually, this is a recurring prayer question. Quite honestly, it’s like a recurring bad dream, and if a prayer at those times it might be understood as a prayer voiced subconsciously – a cry for help every time a certain fear grips me. This particular fear is one that creeps back into my spirit every now and then, without warning, no matter how determined I have been to “faith” it away once and for all. It is this: eternity, or, specifically, the idea of me living forever, scares me. Every time I am assailed by this fear, my thoughts go something like this:

“I’ll get tired of it. I won’t understand what’s happening. My prior experience that all things eventually come to an end will mar my enjoyment of a perfect, endless heavenly existence.” Even “What if I get into it (for, say, 10,000 years) and discover that I don’t want it to go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on?”

Then, I try to talk myself out of this fear’s deepest depths long enough to skirt it once again. I give myself routine faith answers sufficiently to mask it, and then I determine to focus on some other line of thought or I begin doing some activity that makes the fear go away temporarily. That scenario goes something like this:

“This is happening all because it’s impossible for finite people to understand infinity and eternity. My thoughts are not like God’s. I trust God. I believe His word. He created me involving no knowledge or decision of my own, and my life (first mortal, then immortal) is forever in His hands. That has to be enough ‘explanation’ for now. God, help me to trust You in this. And soooo… good. That’s that. I’m getting my knitting out now. Or watching reruns of The Partridge Family. Better, happier thoughts ahead.”

When the level of my coping plummets to its absolute lowest, the reasoning becomes this:

“Face it. You are going to live forever. There are only two places to do this: hell and heaven. You absolutely have made the only sane, informed choice by desiring to follow Christ to His original and rightful home – because the alternative is absolutely unthinkable.” As if heaven, as if being with my Savior, as if the thing we have longed for since taking our first breath as babies – perfection – were merely the less undesirable of two undesirable outcomes! Absolutely absurd. This lowest of the low, this flawed and doubt-filled view of what God has created and has yet to finish creating shows how off-course we can get when we attempt to resolve the unresolvable, to explain what is presently incomprehensible, according to human reason.

That takes care of explaining the prayer question. Now, what was the answer?

And note: the answer I received on July 1 has not convinced me that the question will never plague me again. But I certainly hope to remember this answer and to give it back to the father of lies, to that persistent author of confusion, as many times as it takes – seventy times seven, or ten thousand times.

As we sang “Bless the Lord, O My Soul” in worship, this was the final stanza:

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore*

Suddenly, unexpectedly, my eyes were opened to a clear answer I’d never considered before on this matter about living forever – and the question was not even on my mind at the time! Thank you, God, for never forgetting about my prior prayers. Very simply, the answer was this: existing eternally in God’s wonderful home isn’t going to be about how I will like it (even though I am certain to like a life that has no more tears, death, mourning, crying or pain. Revelation 21:4).

It isn’t going to be about whether I will understand it (even though I see now “through a glass darkly, but then face to face”…so, I will understand it. 1 Corinthians 13:12).

It is going to be about never in ten thousand million trillion years to the 999th power being able to say to Jesus enough times, “You died for me! How can I ever thank you for suffering what You did so I could have life abundant and eternal? Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!” (times infinity)

Lyrics credits:
*Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman
**Carl Gotthelf Glaeser
***John Newton

 

Tomorrow go out

2 Chronicles 20 verses 17 & 15 are the basis for a Patti Vaillant scripture song I’ve had for at least two decades – on CD first, and now in iTunes. Here–I’ll type the words out for you from memory. (Because that’s what happens when you listen repeatedly to scripture songs – or any songs. You learn the words. You learn them indelibly. I wish someone had explained that fact to me before I listened to those James Taylor and Beatles albums so many times during high school. Because….really?)

“Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves,
stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you,
O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not nor be dismayed.
Tomorrow go out against them: for the Lord will be with you.
For the battle is not yours, but God’s.”

I got all the words right. After typing, I felt the need to check myself only to insert the correct punctuation!

Who was it that didn’t need to fight?

King Jehoshaphat was being pressed upon by a great army. Take “pressed upon by a great army” and relate it to what you are up against just now. A great army of what? Worries? Check. Undone tasks? Check. People depending on you? Check. People that seem intent on undermining your work? Budget woes? Health concerns? Family unrest? Etc. So, this Old Testament account has a general relevance or application, here and now.

Tomorrow? Why not today?

What about that word “tomorrow”? Tomorrow go out against them. Why not tonight, today, or right now? Isn’t God a God of action? A God of power? Our God’s word – His very thought – creates worlds and removes mountains…instantly. Then, shouldn’t our faith response to such a God also be immediate? Some of the Bible’s accounts suggest that hesitation demonstrates a lack of faith (which basically amounts to a lack of obedience). The “rich young ruler” described in Mark chapter 10 wasn’t ready to act on Jesus’ command, and he went away sad as a result of his inaction. Abraham’s wife Sarah wasn’t ready to believe the message that she would conceive a child. It appears God would have preferred she believe then and there; same with the disciple Thomas about Jesus having been seen alive and in the flesh after the crucifixion and burial.

The practical and perhaps obvious answer to “why tomorrow?” in this Chronicles passage is that it may have been too late in the day today to “go out.” Our omnipotent God deserves faith and He requests faith from us – faith that may require actions that feel impractical. But, in certain circumstances, God is also a realist, so to speak. This “wait until tomorrow” situation with King Jehoshaphat doesn’t appear to be about procrastination. It might not have been that God was allowing the king to stall for just a little while, to muster up courage. I think it’s safe to say God knows that sometimes our greatest challenge upcoming (and that challenge may be nothing more scary than plodding through another ordinary day) is best faced after a good night’s rest.

For me, forging onward against my particular “vast army” tomorrow instead of right now often is about getting a good night’s rest first. Almost every time an unnameable fear or a general feeling of despair sweeps over me, these days, I decide that the first and best counterattack is, “I am tired. That’s all. Because God hasn’t changed. There is no acceptable reason to let this sudden feeling sap my motivation nor steal my joy nor burden me with fear.” So, I generally push back against that vague despair by seeking rest.

Waiting until morning to gear up and to feel brave again isn’t only about restoring physical and mental energy; it’s also about the strategy of our adversary. Like me, do you find that most of your irrational fears seem worse at night? Dark; uncertainty of what might happen while you’re asleep (will the smoke alarms really work?) – yes, nighttime often is when we are most vulnerable to worry and to incorrect thinking. Night seems to be when we are most apt to forget all about Whose wings shelter our spirits. Do you think our adversary (that one-“man” vast army named Satan) doesn’t know this? Believe me: he knows it.

“Tomorrow go out” reminds us of another Bible command, found in Psalm 27:14. “Wait on the Lord.” If our Lord is saying tomorrow, then tomorrow it is. Not today.

Takeaways

One. Scripture songs minister. Get some. They not only minister; they write scripture on your brain word for word. Because of another Patti Vaillant song, I can quote Psalm 119:1-8. Catch me in the hallway sometime and I’ll do that for you. (I’ll say it, sparing you the “enjoyment” of “Blessed Are the Undefiled” in what I wish was a soloist’s singing voice!)

Before 20th- and 21st-century scripture songs ministered, scripture ministered – and still does. Read some. Listen to audio Bible on Bible Gateway until you fall asleep – or when needing to drown out the noises wafting over from the next cubicle. It’s a refreshing change from music, and with repetition comes memorization.

Two. Become aware, and stay aware, of your vulnerable times. Deal with them in the power God makes available. We need not succumb. We shall not need to fight in this battle. The battle is not ours, but God’s.

Three. Get your rest.


My husband was out of town for two nights when I started this article. I kept four additional outside lights on, and three lights on inside. This tells me a couple of things:

  1. Clearly, Jeff is the light of my life! 🙂
  2. Light has a lot to do with feeling secure. But that is a subject for a whole ‘nother e-devotional!

 

49 likes was about 40 too many

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“I have a friend who” is the classic little white lie people tell when they don’t want to admit that they are talking about themselves. A young boy goes to his teacher. “Miss Jones, my buddy gets beat up by his big sister every night, and his parents won’t do anything about it.” Someone goes to a minister. “My next-door neighbor is struggling with an attraction to someone other than his wife. What advice should I give him?” (And we all know that it throws people off the trail even better if we make our friend’s gender the opposite of our own, right?)

My friend recently opened his Instagram account to discover 49 new “likes” – an extraordinarily high number and the most he’s ever seen at one time in his notifications. He thought, “What is going on with this?” It was out of pattern. You see, he has only 225 followers, and his posts (albethey pretty posts often punctuated with popular and clever hashtags) about nature and travel and food and old movies and pets and random observations about interesting concepts just doesn’t normally rake in high numbers of likes, comments, and shares.

So, what did my friend do? He skimmed through that string of notifications and discovered that all of the new likes were from one account, an unknown account. That account had not only liked 49 posts, but also commented on two or three of them. “This is great artwork!” “Nice sunset picture.” The attentive account with a name similar to akov4Art has a profile description: “Art by so-and-so. Murals. Prints. Portraits. Here’s how to contact me…” Clearly, whoever this is is on Instagram to sell stuff. You’ve figured out by now, of course, that “my friend” is actually myself. I thought for a few moments, then deliberately sought out the options that include “Block.” Cutting off that access was my considered response to what ostensibly was a flattering and encouraging social media connection. “Nope,” I decided. “You’re selling, and I am not buying.” A little flattery might have gotten me. Nine likes, perhaps. But not forty-nine. Sometimes, we need to pay more attention to our own standards than to what someone else is telling us.

Sure, I would love to have a letter “K” behind the numerals that show how many followers I have on social media. Wouldn’t you? Don’t most of us think our content is super awesome, and that’s why we post it to begin with? But, reality check: there are millions upon millions of other folks just like us out there competing for followers, and most of us are posting stuff that’s merely average. So, based on my present pursuits and priorities, I neither expect nor aspire to acquire thousands of social media admirers.

Back to my friend for a sec. He’s drawing a parallel here from personal experience. He’d like the world to know that his life became a lot healthier after he realized the utter futility of basing his self-approval on how much approval and interest he could detect (or incite?) from the people along his daily path. He believes the social media phenomenon – in spite of all the positive ways it can involve us – is the latest, greatest way the world is teaching us and our children to depend, to a more unhealthy extent than we would do naturally, on the affirmation and accolades of other people. “If I don’t get enough likes on my photo or at least a few sympathetic comments on this rant, I’m not good enough; my talents are not appreciated; my opinions are not validated. I need validation. I need it every day.”

Psalm 139:114 can help us to understand what I say in my final paragraph, below this one, especially with the emphasis I have placed on certain words: “I will praise THEE; for I am fearfully and WONDERFULLY MADE; MARVELOUS are THY works”. See how this fits together? We are God’s crowning creation, wonderful and marvelous – but because He made us so; we didn’t do that ourselves!

The best way to value yourself more highly is to value God highest of all. Why? Because He will make you your best self. He will exalt you. He will defend you. The more you trust in Him, the more you will discover why He rates that trust. Yes, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually we need validation. We need it every day. I plan to continue getting my validation from the right Source. I hope you will do the same.

A crumb in a bottle

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Celebrity Pop Quiz! Fill in the blanks to tell for what role or action each person is best remembered.

Christopher Columbus _______  _________.
Anne Frank is famous for the ______ she kept.
George Washington was our ______  __________.
Mary was the mother of _______.
The musical group most associated with the “British invasion” is The _______.
William Shakespeare wrote sonnets and _____.
Bo Jackson won the ________  ________.
John Glenn _______ the earth.
Jesse James was an ______.
Victoria and Elizabeth I were queens of _________.
J.K. Rowling wrote the ______  _______ book series.
Knute Rockne was a _______  ______ at Notre Dame.

My answers are at the end of this post.

The list of celebrities and the accomplishments for which they are known could go on and on. Here are some words associated with celebrity:

  • Fame
  • Well-known
  • Prominent
  • Historical figure
  • Star
  • Superstar
  • Notoriety
  • Household name
  • Stature
  • Popularity
  • Leader

Information access and social media make it easier and more fun than ever before to follow favorite actors, athletes, writers, foodies, politicians and world changers. And to see who they are following. And to feel left behind if our passionate, polished posts never get more than 50 or 60 “likes.”

Importance is important. Recognition, not so much.

During a recent Sunday School lesson based on a Chip Ingram book about spiritual warfare, my gaze became riveted on one of the PowerPoint slides. If the moment had been a movie scene with special effects, the rest of the slide, and the wall and the room, would have gone blurry while a glow like the one in Instagram’s “Mayfair” filter illuminated the words in question. Words about our getting sidetracked – even obsessed – with accomplishing something that’s hailed as important by the rest of the world.

I emailed my sister about the quote, connecting it to my waning goal of authoring a legitimate novel or two. I told her, “It’s easy to buy into believing that importance depends on recognition.”

The most important things most of us do and say likely won’t “go viral.” They won’t turn the heads of thousands or even of hundreds. At least, not for much longer than it takes for a well-put Facebook post to be displaced by newer stuff.

Mary, mother of Jesus, is one whose most significant life choice wasn’t made with the hope of being recognized and applauded. Read the first chapter of Luke. The angel did not tell Mary that if she had a good attitude about becoming with child by the power of the Holy Spirit her name would be known to all the world until the end of time as the mother of the Son of God. Nevertheless, Mary’s response from overflowing joy, “all generations will call me blessed,” has held true. And Elizabeth told Mary, “blessed are you among women” and “blessed is she who believed [God’s message spoken by the angel].” True statements. But Mary didn’t obey in order to be blessed. She obeyed because her chosen path was to be God’s servant. Come to think of it, that’s not only why she obeyed, but also why she was approached to begin with!

Will the good, proper, diligent, God-serving, society-building things you and I do every day result in everlasting accolades by other people? Mostly, the answer is no. Shall we despair over that? Only if our understanding is amiss. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9) Our persistent obedience, up against all manner of emotional challenges in a chaotic world, produces monumental recognition and reward from the One whose approval is the only approval that really counts.

Are you crawling for crumbs?

Sure. It does feel exciting and “legit” when an actor replies to one of our comments on Instagram. But, to go crawling over to cradle a crumb of bread that fell from the table where a championship college football coach was eating at a barbecue restaurant  – or, worse, to buy that crumb in a glass bottle off eBay – is sick. (Not so much as in “disgusting,” but as in “not healthy” – in more ways than one.)

Don’t worship celebrities. Neither think of them as commodities to be bashed and belittled if their career performance or personal integrity falls off the mark. Encourage if so led and if given the opportunity, but do that not because the person is famous. Encourage another human being because all human beings need encouragement. Most of all, pray for the celebrities whose careers you enjoy following, whose talents you admire, whose social platforms may or may not be in agreement with yours. Fame and wealth can be difficult roads for them to navigate.

After all, recognition is a two-sided coin. Reports that “go viral” aren’t always about good deeds. Wouldn’t you agree that our peers often flock in the greatest numbers to discuss the missteps we take? Yeas and boos often are shouted very close together from the same mouths. As the saying goes, “fame is a fickle friend.” With what harshness we judge others, we should expect to be judged ourselves.

Who deserves hero worship…and why

Only one celebrity has ever rated the degree of hero worship others somehow are receiving, and we are celebrating His birth right now as we do every December. Still on the topic of being judged harshly for missteps: Jesus was born to free us from the condemnation our sins rightly earn for us. Praise God for this blessed gift of forgiveness!

Which words from the first stanza of Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus seem connected to what we mistakenly invest in the worship of human celebrities and movers/shakers? I’ve put my answers in bold type.

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Similar lines on longing and expecting, from Love Divine, All Loves Excelling:
visit us with Thy salvation;
enter ev’ry trembling heart.

Notice me!

“Notice me!” we seem to beg after we’ve crafted our post, designed our meme, or launched a new Instagram account. Are we serving the best causes by spending so much time that way? Or, are we really just wanting and waiting for some big-name person (or a large number of little-name persons) to validate our existence and our efforts? If celebrities and crowds take notice of us, the way others take notice of them, then maybe we really are making a “big” difference. All of us need to look at whether we could be making a deeper difference within a smaller circle of people. Face to face instead of online.

I enjoy posting remarks I think are cute and clever as much as the next person does, but I do not need a celebrity’s or a trending company’s fleeting commendation to make me feel validated and valued. And neither do you. What you need is to realize how much your Creator loves you. Why scramble for crumbs dropped once in a blue moon by someone who doesn’t even know who you are? Instead, feast daily at the table of the One who knows your name, numbers the hairs on your head, and loves you in spite of all your faults.

Believe these true words. Then, as Mary and the shepherds each did in their turn, set forth in faith. Not to stand in line for tickets to the next amazing concert. Not to gather with thousands wearing team colors to watch the big game. Not to make a pilgrimage to the locale where is filmed the latest Netflix miniseries with which you are enthralled. Yes, do pack up your portable armchair, trail mix, bottled water, kilt, hiking boots, journal, and camera. But undertake a journey that has real meaning and eternal impact for yourself and for future generations. Spend less time going public with your thoughts if you aren’t also taking them privately to your gracious King. Forge onward with the same drive as you scroll through internet pages, and don’t stop until you’ve arrived at the manger of Bethlehem. There, the Celebrity that you adore deep in your heart – whether you realize it or not – is waiting to tell you how much He loves you and desires you.

“The Lord your God…will take great delight in you;…he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

Merry Christmas!

 

Note: the “crumb in a bottle” story is pure fiction (I mean, as far as I know!!), but you know as well as I do that real people have done things about as senseless as that out of misplaced hero worship.

Answers to celebrity pop quiz: discovered America. diary. first President. Jesus. Beatles. plays. Heisman Trophy. orbited. outlaw. England. Harry Potter. football coach.

Rewriting Ecclesiastes just a bit

…a time to buy, and a time to sell
…a time to say hello, and a time to say goodbye

For 30 years we have loved living on one of the most beautiful streets in Dearing Downs, our “race horse name” Secretariat Drive, which is a picturesque pocket on Helena’s east side. The streets are wide, the lots large, the trees tall, and the neighbors top-notch.

Behind our back yard patch of woods once stood a cow pasture. A stray wandered a bit close to the property line one day! But, with the development of Heather Ridge in Pelham, we eventually gained needed access to US 31 (not to mention houses, including some to whose Christmas lights we look forward every year and at least one owned by dear, newer friends – PLUS, a means of bypassing one of two railroad crossings, a flatter terrain whereupon to ride bicycles occasionally, and – last, but definitely not least – an amazing vantage point on the daily sunrise:

Some folks who relocated to our street from their garden home in Pelham asked us very seriously, before they moved, about the train tracks—in terms of traffic delay and noise. So we gave them a wooden train whistle as a gag gift when they moved in. Yes, we have had our moments waiting out slow or stopped trains (often behind Food World with newly-purchased ice cream in our grocery bags 😑), but I have never minded the late-night train whistles. There is something so essentially and comfortingly “Americana” about that sound.

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I’m pretty sure my parents got this whistle for me at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer when they lived nearby in Salisbury.

We met neighbors early on, diagonally across the street from us, when we young mothers were out strolling our same-aged children. Next door to them, another neighbor a few years older gave me one of the best blonde brownie recipes in the world (I’ll share it if you comment and ask!) and provided a teenaged babysitter. Next to them, another older couple became known to us primarily for two things: having a very beautiful house and yard, and giving some of the better-quality chocolate candy bars every Halloween. Snickers. Milky Way. Nestlé Crunch. Butterfinger. And so forth. #yum

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How the years have flown! (And what’s that fellow doing out there in the street without any shoes on? Stereotyping our state?!)

A little farther down, back on our side of the street, were and continue to be some of the most beautiful yards on our street – not the least of which is owned and maintained by the guy in the dark blue Auburn sweats, shown above. Bless you and your green thumbs. You make our area beautiful and you inspire those of us who possess a little less talent in that department.

When the house next door changed hands more than 20 years ago, we discovered we were living beside a high school classmate of Jeff’s. Rock-solid friends for life who help in a crisis, ask the same of you if they need to, and never let football fanship disparity mean anything but good-natured rivalry. On the other side of us for 29 of these 30 years, friends in a different life stage who have been such encouragers and quiet prayer supporters of us and our girls.

This is getting to be like an award acceptance speech where you are bound to leave somebody important out. Down the street and around the corner are more neighbors who have become virtually like extended family in everything from running out to eat together at The Depot or at El Patron, to carpooling, to tailgating, to helping move furniture, and on and on. The kind of folks who will come over and install a different kind of shower nozzle in anticipation of your husband’s convalescence after he’s fallen and fractured his pelvis. Hypothetically speaking, of course. 😉

Another “claim to fame” for us on Secretariat was the number of families with middle school and high school, and even Auburn University, dance team members. That helped with carpooling to practices and made team parent stuff a lot of fun.

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Secretariat Drive sort of cornered the market there for a few years with our talented daughters.

Some other neighbors, now living elsewhere, kidded us for a long time after observing the infamous Saturday morning “squirrel and BB gun” incident from their vantage point up on the corner of Man-o-War and Keeneland. About that, I will say two things: 1)We no longer have the wood board siding…so take THAT, you squirrels; 2)I would love to get in more target practice with my air rifle if that weren’t illegal around here.

Other, newer friends have lived a hop, skip and a jump from us. We passed their house day in and day out on our way to and from work. But we never met them until we started attending church at Dawson in Homewood and discovered in our very friendly life group class that we lived virtually in the same neighborhood, 26 miles south of there! More folks who enrich our lives in fun and practical and spiritual ways. Thank you for being here for us; we’re glad we will stay connected at church! Also that we now have the added connection of being “Auburn parents.”

All that said, where are we going now?

 

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Let us regale you sometime with the story of how and when we found this real estate listing (on my birthday) and managed to get our offer in and accepted within 24 hours (while out of town and unable to take a tour).

We are returning to some deep roots in Hoover, to the neighborhood and almost the very street where Jeff spent most of his formative years. Many of these homes are still occupied by the families who settled there in the mid-1960s, and we are excited about the opportunity to get to know them all over again. We are also tremendously thankful and ECSTATIC at the prospect of a much-reduced daily commute.

I didn’t appear on this scene until 1985, but with Jeff and our girls I’ve spent many Sundays and other days at his parents’ home, near the spot where Jeff and I first met and later married, Green Valley Baptist Church.

A more recent memory

That home was still in the family just a few years ago during the notable “Snowmageddon” or “snowpocalypse” of January 28, 2014, described by others as “the winter storm that brought Birmingham to its knees.” Jeff picked me up from work in Vestavia Hills that day and we made our way precariously south on 31 for several hours covering no more than 7 or 8 miles. We inched and skidded finally down Deo Dara Drive and to the house. Jeff carried the door keys with him all the time at that point, and though we had begun to empty the house of contents including most of the food, we found enough unexpired items to keep us from going hungry, sheets on the beds and even some T-shirts, socks and flannel pajama pants to keep us comfortable. We had lights, heat, and water. We were very, very fortunate to make it to such a refuge during a crisis that found others faring much worse. We didn’t have television, but we had radio and we listened to those who were talking stranded motorists through the overnight ordeal.

Wrapping it up

We are so thankful for God‘s discernible hand in the timing of our arduous climb toward being ready to list our home for sale, and for finding one to buy—on which we agreed—after several months of looking and of exiting one early contract we’d placed. Now, after envisioning scenarios of buying without being able to sell, and of selling without having found what we wanted to buy, we have closed on both homes within the space of a few days.

This process has taught us things about patience and trust. It has taught us that a lot of intangible factors figure into what attracts a particular buyer to a particular house at a particular time. And posting about it already on Facebook has reminded us how blessed we are with so many precious friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. A final shout-out to our diligent, responsive, and thorough realtor, Frances Knox.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1
KJV

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Original siding and shutters on our 1987 purchase, before the naturally-occuring dogwood “appeared” (!!) and before we planted the sugar maple we expected to turn fiery red-orange in autumn but got yellow instead. See…we DO have much to learn about landscaping, and we DO plan to attend to that in the years upcoming.
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We won’t be able to entertain trick-or-treaters this year, as Halloween falls on our “moving eve”, but kudos to a great Dad who’s always enjoyed being the chief pumpkin carver.
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You see, Alabama snows just don’t often provide the wherewithal for building those really LARGE, IMPRESSIVE snowmen. (Unless it was just our willingness to stay out in the cold long enough that was lacking.) And we won’t even talk about the improvised snow boots.

More recently at Secretariat, but still before the 2016 blessing of new vinyl siding. Somebody grew up since the days of her Little Mermaid dress from KMart. And she made the autumn wreath on the front door.