Significance

I looked at this photo tonight and immediately burst into tears.

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This photo was taken in 1998.  I was either 19 or 20 years old.  These were a few coworkers of mine at the time and we went out to eat on our lunch hour at a Mexican restaurant who’s name has escaped me.

Gosh, I was so young.  So blonde.  So smiling.

I am torn between feeling like this picture was taken only yesterday and feeling like it was a lifetime ago.

And what immediately popped into my head was: in the time from then and until now, who have I been significant to?  And where are they now?  And who has been significant to me?  And where are they now?

I know better than to measure my life by possessions amassed, money earned, jobs held or cars driven.  But something in me wants to measure my life by people: people who have loved me and people whom I have loved.  And so, I sit here and think, who are those people… and are they still in my life or are they (merely?) someone that I used to know?

I got my feelings hurt this week when I saw a picture on Instagram that gave me the impression that I had been excluded from a gathering.  I truly believe that no slight was ever intended, but I still felt left out.

When the hospital called me this week to discuss payment arrangements for the forthcoming bills related to a surgery I’m having in a few days, I could feel an anger rooted in fear rising up in me.  Why bother?  What does my health matter?  I’m no child’s mother.  I’m no man’s wife.  I’m no person’s sister.  I’m not even anyone’s aunt or niece.

Is my value rooted in who I am to others?

. . .

No.

Funny how I would never think me liking or befriending someone would assign value to them, but my mind can twist around and make me feel that my value is linked to who likes or loves me.

When I survey the seventeen years that have passed since that photo was taken, I think about who I invested my heart in and were those worthwhile investments.

It is altogether possible that these are the musings of a hormonally imbalanced version of myself. (The surgery should correct that.)  It is also definitely true that I am still grieving the death of my marriage.  I invested my heart unlike ever before and I have nothing to show for it but wounds.

Well, maybe not.

Maybe I’ve (by God’s grace) learned a few things.

And I just really sense that Jesus is beckoning me into a closer, significance establishing relationship with him.  I know that sounds like a canned answer, the right answer that all good Christians should arrive at… but I’m not saying it because it sounds right.  I’m saying it because that’s really what I think He’s saying to me.

I just wrote last night about my word for the year being establish / established.  But, as I process thru what I’m writing here, I see another dimension.  The more established I am in my personal relationship with Jesus: I’ll have greater discernment on who and how to invest myself relationally with others and my innate desire to know I’m valued will come from Him, therefore it can never be taken away.

Everything healthy flows out of a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  My head has known that for years.  I’ve even spoken that statement as an encouragement or admonition to other women before.  But I see now, even more clearly, that the right church, a thriving social life with Believers, ministry and missions activities are no substitute for that you & Him space.

Look at my face, I know the years are showing.  And look at my life, still don’t know where it’s going.  I don’t know much, but I know I love you, and that may be all I need to know.  //  Look at these eyes, they never see what matters.  And look at my dreams, so beat and so battered.  I don’t know much, but I know I love you, and that may be all I need to know.  //  So many questions, and still no answers.  I climb and climb but never get the view.  But when I know you’re near me, sometimes it feels so clearly, the only truth I’ll ever know is me and You.  //  I don’t know much, but I know I love you, and that may be all I need to know.  //  In my heart, you’re my inspiration.  And in my soul, I know, that Love is our salvation.  I don’t know much, but when I know You love me, that will be all I need to know.  I don’t know much, but when I know You love me, that will be all I need to know.  {All I Need to Know, Cynthia Clawson, 1990, Words Will Never Do}

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One Word {For the Year}

In the past few weeks, I’ve lost count of the number of blogs I’ve read suggesting that readers follow various methods to receive or select a focus word for this new year.  The first time I ever heard of this concept was at a ministry meeting held by Bible teacher Linda Markowitz many years ago.  I admire Linda greatly and she is intentional and persevering in her ministry and personal walk with The Lord.  For decades now, she has been receiving a word from The Lord which she describes as a banner or theme for the new year.  She shared that sometimes the Holy Spirit brought the word to her and sometimes she had to petition in prayer for the word several times, but consistently within weeks before or after a new year, she always had her word.

Now it’s almost a trendy thing.  Making resolutions is kind of out but having a focus word is in.

For 2014, my word was forward.  I don’t remember the first time the Holy Spirit ministered that word to me, but probably around the tenth time I laid out a prayer before The Lord and got only a one word reply, forward, I started noticing a theme.  (Hmm, maybe you’re trying to tell me something here, God?)  Then as 2014 got even harder with some unexpected circumstances, I would sense He was encouraging me with: go forward and keep moving forward.

I have a tendency to want to quit, or at least take a break and disengage from challenging life situations.  (By disengage, I mean get back into bed and pull the covers all the way up and go to sleep!)  And there were times in 2014 that I did that… but it just delayed the inevitable.  I had to keep going.  I had to keep moving… forward.

My word for 2015 came to me in early December 2014 while sitting in church at Victory Orlando, listening to my pastor preach.  As an analogy for his sermon, Pastor Caleb was sharing about the outreach that a group of V/O folks, including myself, participated in just the very day before.  The outreach was at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission, a Christian shelter.  Our large group was split into two teams: one team helped serve lunch to the residents and the other group worked in the shelter’s thrift shop.  One way that the Rescue Mission raised funds was by selling donated goods in a thrift shop.  Pastor Caleb was on the team that helped in the thrift shop and in his analogy he described how one task they were assigned was to put together a whole host of artificial Christmas trees.  The trees were used and in their individual manufacturer’s boxes.  So the team began putting together these trees, but they ran into a problem: there were no tree stands in the boxes.  And so even though some of these trees were quite lovely, full and tall with all the branches in tact, they had no stand, therefore no matter how lovely they were, they would just fall over onto the ground.

So, Pastor Caleb went on to explain that they had five trees fully put together, but they had no base stand for any of them.  Until, another box was opened and inside, no tree, just stands!  Five of them!  And one by one, they were able to match up the tree with it’s stand.  And when that happened, the purpose of the tree was able to be clearly seen because it was now firmly established in the tree stand.

The word established hit me so hard, it was as if I had never heard it before.

So, I’ve been researching the word and this is what I’ve found so far.

I can pray and ask the Lord to establish the work of my hands: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us; establish for us the work of our hands – establish the work of our hands.” Psalm 90:17 HCSB

I bear a certain amount of responsibility to establish (strengthen) my heart: “So you must also be patient. Establish your hearts [strengthen and confirm them in the final certainty] for the coming of the Lord is very near.” James 5:8 AMP

Despite my free will which chooses sin at {a lot of} times and despite this fallen world: “A man’s steps are established by the Lord and He takes pleasure in his way.  Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed because the Lord holds his hand.” Psalm 37:23-24  The note in my study Bible for these verses reads: “Figuratively, established refers to security and stability, and steps are related to one’s way of life, often represented as a path or road.  Therefore, the Lord is the One who brings about a person’s stability in life.”

You can only become established by pursuing righteousness: “No one is established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved.” Proverbs 12:3 ESV

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 ESV

“Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude.” Colossians 2:6-7 HCSB  My study Bible note on Colossians 2:7 says: “established in the faith – a legal term meaning confirmed”.

“Let your eyes look forward; fix your gaze straight ahead. Carefully consider the path for your feet, and all your ways will be established.  Don’t turn to the right or to the left; keep your feet away from evil.” Proverbs 4:25-27  My study Bible notes read: “Undivided attention to the right path and a determination not to even sample evil assure that your ways will be established.  The passive voice implies that it is God who does it.  Established is fixed and firm, secure, not subject to change or to destruction.”

HALLELUJAH!

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So, after going forward in 2014 (and no doubt, there will be many more seasons of forward in my life), I sense that God wants to settle {me} in a secure position or condition. I welcome that, Lord.  I welcome You.

As with most things with the Lord, I must do my part and He will do his.  Fixing my eyes on Him, establishing my heart by meditating on His Word and fleeing evil are the practical applications I’m pursuing so far.

Cause who wants a Christmas tree that won’t stay standing up?

Downton Abbey, Season 5, Episode 1

Oh, why not?  Why not blog about Downton?  I’m not sure if I will blog about every episode of season 5, but…then again, maybe I will.  I love the show.  I love talking about the show.  So, I’ll just capture some of my thoughts here.  For posterity.  Yes, that’s it.  For posterity.

My disappointment in season 4 was nothing I kept a secret.  When a show only has 8 episodes and you wait ten months for it to be broadcast, you build up a tremendous amount of anticipation.  And so, I felt let down by the plot lines during season 4.  I also hated Anna’s attack and the aftermath because I did not feel it was in keeping with the way Anna and Bates would have dealt with such a tragedy.  But, I digress…

I found myself last Sunday with great anticipation for season 5, but bracing myself for possible disappointment.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Not at all.

The season premier was a fantastic blend of drama, humor and wonderful lines.

The episode opens with Lady Edith on a bicycle, early in the morning, on her way to the Drewe home to visit her secret daughter.  At first, Edith is watching the little girl interact with Mrs. Drewe from a distance and the next moment she’s sitting at their breakfast table with the little girl on her lap.  I found myself thinking, “On what pretense is Lady Edith in this home?”  I was a bit mystified by the whole thing because Mrs. Drewe was explaining how they happened to have Marigold living with them.  Mrs. Drewe incorrectly perceives Edith’s visit as an interest in Mr. Drewe… not Marigold.  I don’t see this plot line getting any prettier.  I see it solidifying Edith as the black sheep of the family.  And Marigold… that’s a name I hadn’t considered.

It’s 1924 and a working class Prime Minister has been elected and Lord Grantham finds this disconcerting.  He also isn’t pleased that his granddaughter, Sybbie, calls him Donk, but I like it.  I hope it sticks.

It appears as though Rose is a permanent fixture in the household and I’m not thrilled about this because I don’t trust Rose.  She’s a plotter.  I was hoping that she would only stay until she had been ‘presented’ and had her first season, but unfortunately no.  There was a little scene where Rose goes and visits Tom at his office.  It was almost as if she was flirting with him.  Almost.  And I didn’t like it.  And, let me say again, I don’t trust Rose.

Rose was behind the plan to invite schoolteacher Sarah Bunting to the house for dinner.  Funny, Miss Bunting states up front she initially declined the dinner invite because she didn’t want to be part of a prank, but she was so outspoken and rude while at the house.  I almost typed that she was rude during dinner, but it didn’t stop there.  Her insistence about going downstairs after dinner to meet / thank the staff… and then when she was down there, she continued creating controversy, “Why are you fixing those trays?  Why not a tray for Lady Edith or Lady Rose?”  Gheesh.  She’s sure got a lot of curiosity about a lifestyle she so disdains.  I don’t like this character at all.  And I especially don’t like her for Tom.  After all he went thru with Braithwaite, my goodness, I would rather see him single than with someone so controversial.

Tom has become one of my favorite characters and I admire him.  There were so many moments in this episode where I thought Tom really shone.  I appreciated Tom’s humility and candor in the fireside conversation he had with Robert.   I agree with Robert’s concern about not wanting to see Miss Bunting “take you back into the role of rebel and hater”.  And, note how many times Robert called out for Tom to do this or do that during the fire.  Tom is a valuable member of the family and I hope good things are in store for him this season.

Lady Mary seems to have really taken to the business side of things, researching things on her own and taking initiative in running things.  But being the conservative that I am, I was disappointed to hear the character of Mary being a mouthpiece for such a prevalent lie: that one must investigate if the bedroom chemistry is really all that you want it to be before you commit to someone.  Chemistry and passion follow commitment, not lead it.  And for all the painstaking work to make sure Downton stays true to the culture of it’s day, Mary’s sexual emancipation seems out of place.  And what was the first thing out of Mary’s mouth after she accepted Lord Gillingham’s offer to go away, “No one must ever find out.”  Ha!  That’ll never happen.  But how messy will it get?  That’s what we must wait and see.

I always enjoy Mrs. Patmore and Daisy.  I appreciated Mrs. Patmore validating me in such a personal way, “All of the best people were rubbish at numbers in school.”  Well, thank you Mrs. Patmore.  You know me so well.  Let’s see what will become of Daisy’s mathematical pursuits.  I think Daisy’s quest to improve herself and prepare for the future is an admirable one.

The Dowager Countess had some of the best lines (as always), but I have one tip for you Violet, jealousy doesn’t look good on you.  I was not pleased to see Violet resort to such childish games in an attempt to throw Lord Merton off the trail of Isabelle.  But Isabelle is a class act.  Nothing that Violet can do can ever change that.

Oddly enough, some of the biggest laughs I enjoyed last Sunday were related to Moseley.  Funny, Moseley’s never been one of my favorites and for most of season 4, I felt his relevancy had run it’s course.  But man-oh-man, this little bit with the hair dye produced two of the best lines:  Lord Grantham to Moseley, “You’re looking very Latin all of a sudden” and Carson to Moseley after the dinner, “Take steps, Mr. Moseley, take steps.”  That cracked me up big time!

I was surprised of Baxter’s secret.  It was a biggun’ and I guess I didn’t expect it to be that juicy.  But, Cora’s right.  There’s more to it.  Baxter’s words were, “I tried to make it look like a burglary” and “I didn’t have the jewels to return” – I wonder if someone put her up to it and she took the fall.

Scenes where Cora comes off intelligent, confident and on-point are rare, but when she confronted Barrow (regarding Baxter) I was so proud of her.  It paralleled the scene last season where she fired Nanny West on the spot!  And then she went on and forgave Barrow hours later simply because he carried Edith out of her fiery bedroom… c’mon… one doesn’t cancel out the other.  My Mother said it best, “Thomas is a cat with nine lives.”

Jimmy… will he really leave?  I’m kinda tired of him.  And he smokes and gossips with Thomas.  Reminds me of O’Brien.  I hope pretty boy Jimmy moves on.

And lastly, (I’ll finish where I started), Edith.  She didn’t intentionally set her room on fire, did she?  She threw the book into the fireplace and went to sleep…right?  But Lady Mary’s comment was, “Lady Edith chose to set fire to her bedroom.”  I’ve grown accustomed to the snarky jabs from Mary toward Edith, although I don’t approve.  I conjecture that while the staff are working to clean Edith’s room, they will find the photograph of the baby under her pillow.  Again, I believe this is all going to unravel, I just don’t know how messy it’s going to get.

So much to look forward to lords and ladies.

Scripture Memorization Initiative: Verse #1

I am joining in with 17,000+ women worldwide to memorize 24 Bible passages during 2015.  This initiative is sponsored by Beth Moore, who is doing the same thing along with us.  Beth posts twice monthly on her blog and shares a word of encouragement along with the verse that she has chosen to memorize herself.

I attempted to do this in 2013 but only got as far as 3 verses.  Oops.

Additionally, I have four friends locally who are participating.

This is the first verse I chose to memorize:

“In the morning You hear my voice, O Lord; in the morning I prepare a prayer for You and watch and wait for You to speak to my heart.” ~ Psalm 5:3 Amplified

Isn’t that beautiful?  But more than just the poetry of it, I am still, yes, still, inconsistent about a morning quiet time with The Lord and so the emphasis of the word morning in this passage is especially key to me.

I find that on days when I’ve prioritized time in the Word and prayer, I’m so much more aware of His presence all around me throughout the day.  In addition to awareness, I’m much more inclined to call out to Him on the spur of the moment.  But when I stay in bed until the last possible minute, causing a rushed morning, or even worse, when I waste 20 minutes checking email or social media in the morning, it’s as though I stifle my awareness of Him or my need for Him because I feel guilty about how poorly I prioritized my morning routine.

No, I’m not in a relationship with a ritual-bound God, whereby I must pray a certain way for a certain length of time otherwise He won’t hear me.  Thank God the veil was torn and I can enter into the Holy of Holies at any time, but love for The Lord is shown through obedience, through choices.

So, I thought this verse would be a good foundation to meditate on, to confess and to act upon.

Interesting also, to consider The Message paraphrase of the same verse: “Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend.”

New Year, Same Week

“There’s no power in the clock tonight.  If your heart is wrong at 11:59, it’ll be wrong at 12:01.  Only the power of God can change a heart, not a clock on the wall.” ~ Kirk Franklin

Here we are moments away from a New Year, and yet it’s just going from Wednesday to Thursday.  It’s a new year, but it’s the same week.

This time last year, as our calendars were flipping from ’13 to ’14, I made the decision to let go and walk away from a several-months-long fight with my former landlords over my security deposit.  After over six years of being, what I thought was a great tenant, I was astonished, hurt and angry that they were withholding a sizeable refund.  I spent dozens of hours documenting my cooperative and compliant tenancy and pouring over Florida Statutes but as time went by, it became clear I was fighting a battle I was not going to win.  I remember sitting at my laptop, composing a rebuttal, pictures, receipts and documentation spread out all over my bed and it was as if the Holy Spirit took me from a posture of being crouched forward, shoulders hunched over the keyboard, to sitting back in my seat, taking a deep breath.  What if I just let this go?  (And I hadn’t even seen Frozen back then!)  What if I just choose to not carry this forward into 2014?  And that’s what I decided to do.

Funny, I had no idea that 2014 would bring even larger astonishments and heartache.

I’ve been meditating on this verse for months now: “If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny who He is.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:13

I’m unfaithful in thousands of different ways: large and small; but I take refuge and find utter relief knowing that He is completely faithful and completely unchanging.  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” ~ Hebrews 13:8

God is also completely sovereign.  Everything that happened this past year, He was in control of and permitted.  He is a good God with good plans for my life and even the hard and unpleasant events, He can and will bring good out of.  But I have to persevere.  I think that’s a big key in the good being drawn out of the not-so-good.  “If we endure hardship, we will reign with Him.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:12a

So while I love the fresh start and blank slate associated with New Years, I’m utterly dependent upon the new mercy and fresh grace He supplies me daily.

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As the hands on my clock sweep round and around, sweeping change from year to year is because of the hand of God in my life.  Thank you, Jesus, for loving me and flooding my life with hope.

Christmas Time is Here

I do not have any Christmas decorations up this year.  Not one.  Nada.

This is my second Christmas in this apartment and last year I at least put forth the effort to drag a few bins out of my patio storage closet, hang a wreath on the front door and put the candlestick lights in the windows.  (I love those!)  But this year, I haven’t even managed to do that. And I’m trying to figure out why that is?

Well, for one, life is a lot busier for me now than it was at this time last year.  Being a member of Victory Orlando and having a circle of girlfriends who I spend time with socially leaves me with less chill out time at home.  And so, the time that I do have at home, I like to spend it…well…chilling out.  I’m a pro at doing nothing.

Second, I’m maybe a tiny-bit afraid of my patio storage closet.  My screened-in patio, better known as the place where lizards come to die, intimidates me.  What if I open the door and something comes scurrying out?  And was I any more brave last year?  Nope.  I actually had someone help me get the bins out and put them away last year, just in case I encountered a spider or roach.  For some reason, I can muster up a whole lot more courage to battle and kill a pest when another human being is nearby.  I guess the 2-to-1 human to insect ratio emboldens me.

Third, I think when Thanksgiving falls late in November (as it did this year), Christmas seems to sneak up on me all that much more quickly.  Like, if I had to close my eyes and just go by what today feels like, I would say December 6th… not the 17th.  No way!  It does not feel like one week before Christmas.

Fourth, I spent all of last week at home (ill / bed-rest) doing little more than sleeping, playing Words with Friends, reading, watching movies I’ve seen many times before, eating and sleeping some more.  So, that further intensifies this feeling that it can’t possibly be one week before Christmas.

I wish I could write that I’m decorating my soul instead of my home this season by reading through an Advent devotional.  But the truth of it is, I started Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift but after day four I fell off the wagon and haven’t picked it back up again.  Aah!  I hate that part of me that starts things but doesn’t finish.

So, what have I done that’s particularly Christmassy, you ask?  I have listened to Christmas music, that’s what! And I decided to highlight here some of my all-time favorite Christmas songs or performances.

Merry Christmas, Darling by The Carpenters.  A Christmas love song.  Perfect.

This is “Christmas Time is Here” from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, but a super-wonderful, updated version from Mercy Me.  I love this!!

I am wild about the Christmas record Francesca Battistelli put out Christmas 2013 and this is one of my favorite tracks!  “It’s the joy that we feel and the love that we share.  There’s a little bit of Heaven everywhere!”

Throwing it way back to my favorite decade, the 80s, is this touching gem from Larnelle Harris.

Another musical flashback to my childhood, Sandi Patty with O Magnify The Lord.

For some reason, this simple song, “Christmas Day”, a duet with Michael W. Smith and Mandisa touches me and I can hardly sing along without getting teary eyed.

Love Has Come by Amy Grant from her 1982 album is a classic favorite and every time I hear it, I think of my Mom.  We love this song and hearing it causes me to remember our family room from my childhood home in Miami, with the bookcases and the big console TV and Mom turning up the volume on the stereo.  She and I both like good music loud!

I heard this song, Here With Us, on my local Christian radio station and was moved.  This is the essence of Christmas.  The Lord Jesus Christ here with us.  Then in flesh, now in Spirit.

I suppose there’s nothing too special about this song.  It’s just simple and lovely and the familiar voice singing it (Lady from Lady and the Tramp), (otherwise known as Peggy Lee), makes me smile.

To me, no list of wonderful Christmas performances would be complete without Judy Garland singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas from the movie Meet Me in St. Louis.  (This is such an emotional part of the movie.  Poor Tootie can hardly be consoled and is about to run downstairs and tearfully smash her snowman family).   Judy (as Esther Smith) looks like a Christmas angel, if there ever were such a thing, and I wish I owned one of those beaded head wraps.

A few years ago, I had Sirius satellite radio activated in my car and they have a Christmas station that exclusively plays older hits.  When That Holiday Feeling came on, I could hardly contain myself.  I recognized this song from old cassette tapes my Mom has, recordings of WLYF, the easy-listening station out of Miami Florida.  It’s hilarious to listen to those old tapes, because they contain weather reports from say, Christmas Eve 1987.  Anyway, I love this song, and it’s flirty lyrics. “Let’s kiss cause it’s the season, dear!”

I stumbled upon this song on a compilation Christmas record called The Spirit of Christmas.  It brings me to tears every time, especially the first verse about the young, poor couple.

In the mid to late 80s, two Christmas records were put out by First Call entitled An Evening in December, part 1 and 2.  Both albums are fantastic.  Every song is delightful.  But I made myself pick just one to spotlight and this acappella performance is a work of art with Cynthia Clawson taking the lead.

From the earlier mentioned Francesca Battistelli record comes this song she wrote about experiencing Christmas through the wide-eyed-wonder of her children.  I may not be a Mom, but I’m very sentimental about my own magical childhood Christmases and the lyric at the end puts a lump in my throat every time.  “The thought comes to mind that I may be the one who’s most excited about what’s yet to come.  As I crawl in bed I laugh cause it seems you’re never too old for Christmas dreams.”

Well, there you have it.  I’m sure as soon as I click publish, I’ll think of another beloved song I failed to include, but if I don’t stop somewhere, this list would be endless.  When you combine music with Christmas, you combine two of my greatest loves.