Jesus said in Matthew 22 that everything hangs on these two commandments:
1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And …
2. Love your neighbor as yourself.
I often think of this as a door hanging on two hinges. If one hinge is broken, the door does not function as a door but rather as a barrier. Likewise, if someone is ignoring one or the other of these commands – even if they are hyper vigilant about the other – they are not functioning as a Christian. And they may, indeed, be functioning more as a barrier keeping others from moving towards the Gospel of Christ.
At a church service several weeks ago, before we could no longer meet together due to COVID-19, we were challenged to think about what we would do if we only had a certain amount of time to live.
Side note: Don’t worry, this was not some morbid scare tactic taking advantage of our coronavirus worries. It was actually just before the virus was really on anyone’s radar to be worried about, at least no more of a concern than any other bug during flu season.
At one point in the sermon, we were instructed to open envelopes which had been provided to each of us as we had entered the sanctuary that morning. Inside each envelope was a card announcing the hypothetical amount of time each of us had remaining on this earth.
My card said, “1 Hour.” I wondered immediately what the minister would do if I jumped up and screamed “I’ve got to go see my grand babies!” as I ran out the door. I refrained.
After that initial thought, one thing that came to mind was that I would want to write one more blog post. That might seem like a strange thing to consider, but I was thinking in terms of legacy and I would not want the last blog post I wrote to be memorialized as my last publicly proclaimed thoughts about God and life.
That post was written over two years ago when I was in a real funk. And honestly, the fact that I have not written here since is indicative of the fact that I’m still not quite out of it. But as I was considering what I would say if I did write “one last blog post” (and only had one hour to live – so obviously wouldn’t want to spend the whole time writing), I thought, all I really need is one quick sentence to speak resolution to that last post. All I really need to say in response to the thought that I was “Hoping God Proves Me Wrong” is …
GOD DOESN’T NEED TO PROVE ANYTHING MORE TO ME!
God proved everything He needed to prove on the very day we memorialize today as Good Friday – the day Jesus gave His own life so that I might have eternal life.
It’s interesting that even after all that deep pondering, it still has taken me weeks to muster up the mental energy to get back to writing. I’m thankful to my friend Aric Marshall who shared his music video on Facebook. Listening to his beautiful saxophone rendition of “Were You There” brought me to the place I needed to be – the place where I’m focused on my Savior and what He has done for me.
I’m going to try to embed the video below and hope it works. If not, I’ll try to fix it later. But for now, I’m going to skip my normal tendency to edit and re-edit and just get this thought out there. Because, you know, this might be my last hour to live and I have other things to do. I mean, “I’ve got to go see my grand babies!!!” (through video chat, of course).
So far, my annual writing retreat has been a reflection retreat. I’ve been in quite the writing slump for quite some time. It’s even been hard for me to journal (that alone is usually a sign I’m not in a good place). The past six years have been filled with losses for me. I have been grieving the loss of my sister. My father suffered a stroke which has taken much of him away from me. And in between those two life altering events I have also had several dreams shattered. Things I had invested my time and my heart in were snatched away, one after the other.
As someone who has held Ephesians 3:20-21 as a life theme, this has been hard to process. That verse says, “God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” I’ve always followed that with, “And I can imagine BIG things!”
Well, I always followed with that . . . until now. More recently, I actually told someone I am now afraid to dream big or follow my passions because it just leads to disappointment.
Thankfully, the friends I do this writing retreat with are what one of them calls “safe haven friends.” On the first night of this retreat, when we usually list our goals for the week, I shared my struggles and confessed that I had no specific writing goals – or at least none that I’m motivated to work on. They listened, asked probing questions (the good kind that showed they cared and wanted to understand), and they agreed to be in prayer for me.
Last night, one friend asked if I had heard of Mandisa’s new album Out of the Dark. She explained that the songs were written after Mandisa had dealt with the loss of a friend to cancer – a friend for whom she had been praying and believed God would heal.
I was intrigued, so I listened to a few podcasts where Mandisa talks about it. When Mandisa said, “That was just not the way I thought the story was going to end” I knew I had to buy the album. The song “Prove Me Wrong” resonated so strongly with me, but I’m still processing the how, and why, and where it leads. I can’t imagine I won’t do a follow-up post (because I do still believe God will ultimately prove me wrong), but for now I’m just going to share a portion of the lyrics and the video.
Would it be wrong if I asked you for proof? I wish that I could just believe, without questioning I’m just being honest with you And they say your ways are better But I still don’t understand And you can’t hold me together And this can’t be your perfect plan
Prove me wrong Prove me wrong All this pain This sorrow in my heart I can’t find my way out of the dark
I voted my conscience today and am trusting God to handle all the side issues and fallout of this election. And though, yes, I trust Him to do what’s best that’s actually a very unnerving thought in this case. Here’s why:
Sometimes God gives us what we want. Israel wanted a king even though His plan was for them to live by a different system than the nations around them. He gave them Saul. Internal war and strife ensued. 1 Samuel 8
Sometimes God uses evil rulers to get his people back to where He wants them to be – even if this means a time of chaos and captivity in the meantime. (See Ezra 5:12 and the story of King Nebuchadnezzar.)
I have thought for many months, “We may just get what we deserve” in regards to this election. And though all this is indeed frightening, my hope and trust is still in the Lord because …
even when He gives us what we want (or what we deserve) when we go against His will, God is always working for the ultimate good of His people.
even heathen rulers ultimately answer to God and can be used to accomplish His purposes. (See Daniel 4 for the rest of Nebuchadnezzar’s story.)
The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.
So, I wasn’t going to do the #PimpMyBio for #PitchWars, but after a night of writing (and wasting time playing games) I’m just slap-happy enough to give it a shot. I’m mainly doing it to help spread the word about Pitch Wars. As described by Brenda Drake, who started the contest five years ago (Thank you, Brenda!), …
“Pitch Wars is a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions to shine it up for agents. The mentors also critique the writer’s pitch to get it ready for the agent round.”
Yeah, it’s a little late, but if you have a completed manuscript you could still enter by 10 pm (EST) tonight.
At any rate, as an unofficial part of the contest, Lana Pattinson started the #PimpMyBio Blog Hop for participants. This is just one example of how the contest is not only a great opportunity for aspiring authors, it’s also a community building experience.
The point of the Bio Blog Hop is for those of us involved to get to know one another, so without any further ado (yeah, I just used a cliche) … Here are a few things about me:
I don’t generally fit into a mold easily. That’s one reason I didn’t want to do the bio pimping. My thought processes went something like this …
Oh man, these folks use a lot of GIFs for their entries. Hmm, that’s not gonna work for me.
But, I also don’t like to be a party pooper. There are enough naysayers in this world. So, I’m trying to get on board with this. However, …
I’ve always been a firm believer in valuing the uniqueness of the individual. And, more recently, I’ve realized that includes valuing my own uniqueness. So, I’ll come to the party, but I might not wear the proper attire.
I’m sensitive to the feelings of others. That, ultimately, was one of my main hang-ups with “pimping” my bio. My daughter has been involved with #pimpinjoy for several years now. She once hosted an event and I asked a friend to join. She said she liked the idea, but had real trouble using the term “pimp” in a positive way given her history of abuse. We talked about the evolution of language and the pros and cons of the pimpinjoy movement. I did participate in my daughter’s event, but it was less public than this. So, I pondered … and pondered … and, well, …
I ponder a lot. And I like to do such pondering both in solitude and in community because, …
I think dialogue is the key to better relationships and to working toward a cure for the issues that plaque our society.
Well, there it is. I thought my #PimpMyBio party dress was going to be much more fun and whimsical than it turned out to be. I’ve always said I’m a mood dresser. I used to have one blouse I called my “I don’t give a crap blouse.” I warned my office assistants if they saw me wearing that blouse on any given day I might not be very attentive to the “squeaky wheels” that might stop by to complain. Maybe I should put that blouse on now because, on the one hand, I’m tempted to try to give a name to my #PimpMyBio party dress. On the other hand … well, the said blouse would fit because my creative juices have run dry for the time being. But, if you have any suggestions, let me know.
As you can tell from the lack of posts here recently, I’ve been in a writing funk. It’s affected not only my blogging, but also my journaling. Worst of all, it was hindering me from getting out a proposal for my book.
In the past, painting has helped me get back in writing mode, but it wasn’t working this time. I tried other things that have worked before. I did some reading, went to a few of my favorite outdoor writing spots, and even watched movies I thought might inspire me. All that to no avail. So, there I stayed – for weeks – stuck.
Then, an interesting thing happened. I was scheduled to make a presentation to some college students on boundaries. I love public speaking. And I especially enjoy presenting on boundaries because it’s such an important topic. As I was driving home from the presentation, I was invigorated. I thought, “Yeah, that’s my sweet spot.”
I didn’t do the presentation to spark my writing. I did it because I had it on my schedule. But when I got home, I immediately started working on a post for LinkedIn. I had been thinking of doing the post for a few days, but … well, I had writer’s block. After completing the post, I went on to another writing project and have been back in the zone since. I even got the book proposal done and sent out!
My take-away from this experience? When you find yourself unable to write, do something else you love to do. Something that refreshes you. Something that builds your confidence because you know you do it well, even if it’s seemingly unrelated to writing.
Looking back now, I realize I had been feeling defeated because several things in my life had not gone as planned. By doing something that made me feel accomplished I regained my “I can do this” attitude.
My daughter is getting married in November, so our family has started a weight loss challenge to prepare for that day of constant picture taking. The six of us have lost a total of 71.8 pounds in the two months we’ve been at it. I lost ten pounds in February. That was a tremendous start for me. I’m not sure if I’ve ever lost more than five or six pounds in that amount of time before.
Unfortunately, after that record-breaking start, I only lost one pound this month. After reflecting on why that might be, I’ve come to the conclusion that it comes down to three changes I made in the first month, but didn’t continue in March. Three small changes: not drinking soda, having a tablespoon of coconut oil each day, and keeping track of what I was eating on myfitnesspal.com. So, I’ll go back to those three small changes for the month of April and test my theory.
All that got me to thinking about a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time on how small change(s) add up to big results. So, after a long hiatus while I finished my book, I thought I was finally inspired to get back to blogging. But after inserting the graphic into the draft, I was suddenly … uninspired … again.
I’ve been finished with the book for almost a month, but just haven’t been able to get back to writing of any kind. I know a break is good every now and then, but I also know my all-or-nothing approach to things means I could easily slip into a pattern of not writing for way longer than I should. And since I’ve set a goal to make writing my career focus, that simply won’t do.
So, I decided this less than perfect blog post would be my one small change. I may write that other, more profound 😉 , article later. But for now, this one small step will have to do. After all, if I can’t take my own advice, why would I expect others to?
I’m stuck on whether or not to use a prologue for my book. Maybe you can help me decide by taking the following two single question polls.
My first question for you: Do you ever read the prologue to a book?
Now, to get more specific. Should I put the following information in a prologue or in the first chapter? Before taking the poll, here’s some information and excerpts to help you understand the decision I need to make.
The following is my prologue. I can’t decide if I should leave it as a prologue or make it the introductory paragraphs for the first chapter. The reason I have it separate for now is because the first chapter is actually a flashback to when my main character is a child.
Here’s the prologue:
Newman got up from his desk and stretched. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been at it, but sometime during his studying and writing, the sun had come up.
He twisted and rubbed his neck as he walked into the living room. He stopped when the bloodstains on the window frame caught his attention. He shifted his gaze to the stains on the grey damask sofa and then up to the ceiling, zooming in on the bullet hole.
Most days now, he could pass by without noticing these reminders of his past. It had been five years. He knew some people thought it strange he never patched the hole or removed the stains. But he didn’t want to forget where he’d come from – what he was saved from.
Shhh, man, I wish I could put all that in this sermon, he thought as he made his way into the kitchen.
Back at his desk with a fresh glass of water, he tried to get back to work. If I did tell that story, they’d probably kick me out of the church. He looked at the giant sticky note papers on the paneled wall to review the outline and thoughts he’d worked up so far for Sunday’s message. The title of the sermon was written in bold blue marker – From the Pit to the Palace. Lord, I want them to know you didn’t just do that for Joseph. You did that for me.
A few minutes later, he was thinking of another Bible passage. It was one he wasn’t planning to use in that week’s sermon. Am I my brother’s keeper? He pressed his fingers to his eyes to take away the sting of tears and hold them back.
After several more attempts to focus, he closed his Bible. He switched documents on the computer to work on the book instead. The truth has got to come out. There’s been too many lies. I’m tired of people not even knowing my real name. The feds already know I don’t want their protection from those in my past. And I’m tired of worrying about protecting my secret from those in my present. Twenty years has been long enough. His stomach churned as he started typing.
And here’s how the first chapter currently begins:
1 LITTLE MAN LEARNS THE HUSTLE
He was shy until he learned he could hustle. When he was a child, it was just a game. He never imagined it would become a game of life and death.
Newman “Little Man” Barton was known for walking the streets of his neighborhood with a newspaper or two under his arm. People said, “If you want to know what’s going on, ask Little Man. He’s always in that paper.” He also had a reputation for being charming and helpful. Newman’s love for the newspapers and his desire to be of assistance were traits instilled in him by his mother.
. . . He strolled along on his own more often than with his mother these days. The old heads on the bench outside the convenience store usually asked him to run inside and grab something for them. Honey buns were their favorite. They’d let him keep the change for his effort.
From there, he’d head over to the barbershop. It was just one of the places he was often called upon to help settle a bet by answering questions about the latest news or sports stats. The men always got a kick out of him being able to answer almost any question in the deep voice which had earned him his nickname.
“Hey, Little Man, how many field goals did Dr. J attempt last night against the Boston Celtics?”
“Dr. J was 10 of 25 from the field last night,” he’d answer with his broad, whole-face smile. That smile would usually make its way from his thick, broad lips into his cheekbones, causing them to round up toward his brown eyes, which in turn squinted almost shut … but not so much that the smile wasn’t still radiating out of them as well.
“Heh, I told you. Now, pay up,” the winner of the bet would chuckle to the loser. When the money was handed over, Newman was given his cut and he moved along to the next spot on his run. Making his hustle with the newspaper was one of his favorite childhood activities. Besides the fun of it all, he was glad he could bring home money to his mother who was struggling to raise six children without the support of a father in the home.
So, what do you think? Should I leave this as is or change it?
Welcome to The Encourager’s Devotional Series. I’m so glad you took the time to see what it’s all about. Before we dive into the devotion, here are a few notes about this devotional series:
Since this is the first post in a series that will continue throughout 2015, you may want to take a look at the introduction to the series(if you haven’t already) for information regarding the schedule for posting and what you can expect in the weeks to come.
Throughout the devotions, I will present many ideas on how you may apply what you’re learning to minister encouragement to others. I pray you will see the suggestions not as a list of “to do’s” (who needs any more of those?!), but as “prompts.” Let the Spirit stimulate your thinking, but don’t let it stop with just thinking. As you…