Thanksgiving, My Happy Place

 

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November is my favorite month of the year. It’s the month my mother gave birth to me, the day God chose to bring me into this world. Sometimes my birthday even falls on Thanksgiving Day. But, that’s not the real reason Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I have fond memories of spending the holiday with my paternal grandparents and my father’s family. It didn’t matter whether my birthday fell on Thanksgiving Day or not, my grandmother always had a birthday cake for me. I learned early in life that Thanksgiving was all about giving thanks and treasuring family. This was a happy place for me.

Twelve years ago, something memorable happened to me in the month of November. I had brain surgery nine days before my birthday. Thanksgiving took on a whole new meaning for me that year. I may not have been able to spend any time at all on preparations, but I never felt so loved, so grateful, so safe. Surrounded by my family, I knew in my heart that I had been given a great gift…life. God had preserved my life.

One year later I would come to understand that not only is life a gift, life is hope.

And hope does not disappoint.

“And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

Hope, the joyful and confident expectation for a certain thing to happen, like eternal life. The indescribable gift of life forever with my God, the Giver of every good and perfect gift…with Jesus, the Keeper and Sustainer of my heart.

One year after brain surgery…in this beautiful, wonderful month of thankfulness that I love…the day before I would celebrate my 46th birthday…my friend, Leslie, passed from this earth and entered into her heavenly home. Her brain surgery had been one month before mine. She spent a month in the hospital. I spent four days. Her tumor was malignant. Mine was benign. She grew weaker. I grew stronger. She endured radiation and chemotherapy and then, sadly, hospice came.

I went to visit Leslie four days before she passed away. Her husband had warned me not to be disappointed if she didn’t respond to me. The pain medications were keeping her sedated, but God in His infinite grace and lovingkindness gave me the most precious gift. Leslie lit up and responded to my presence. I told her stories. She listened. I laughed. She giggled. I held her hand. She held mine back. I prayed for her and watched tiny little tears fall from the corners of her eyes, trickling down behind her ears as she lay back on her pillow. I kissed her forehead and told her I loved her. Then, I said good-bye.

Her mother-in-law walked me to the porch and told me that Leslie had come “alive” for me more than most people who visited her in those last days. I think I know why. We shared a common bond. Brain tumor. Brain surgery. Though we suffered afflictions–Leslie’s were oh-so-much-more than mine–we knew the process of enduring, of proving our character, of producing hope. I still witness the reaction of others when I tell them I had brain surgery–jaws drop open. Hearts race. Fears rise.

I had once asked Leslie in the midst of her chemotherapy treatments and radiation, “What is the one thing you fear more than anything?” She didn’t hesitate. There was no fear for herself, only for her sons. I got that. Before my surgery, I had pondered similar fears. Oh, the depths of a mother’s love.

Sometimes life is so very sad, but in the sadness we come to experience new ways of relating to our heavenly Father. I came to understand hope in a way I never had before. For several years after Leslie’s death, every November I became melancholy. Maybe not so much in sadness as in deep reflection. Why does God increase the days of one life and not another? I’m convinced God wanted Leslie in heaven with Him. She was ready to meet her Maker. There’s no fear in that. Only hope. The best way I can honor Leslie’s life is to live mine well.

I’m learning that a heart of thankfulness doesn’t mean I thank God for hardship or heartache or handicaps. I don’t thank Him for cancer or disease or tumors…I thank God for what these things produce in me. I thank Him for the endurance to persevere under afflictions. I thank Him for the fruit of Christ’s character produced from the roots growing strong in the soil of my heart. I thank Him for the hope of heaven…

…where there will be no tears. No pain. No sadness. No sickness. No death. No more good-byes.

Only life.

I thank God for Novembers. It’s still my favorite month. I thank God for Thanksgivings. It’s still my favorite holiday. I thank God for birthdays. It’s still a day to celebrate. I want to live my life in a way that honors the Life-Giver because one day God will want me in heaven with Him. I’ll be ready to meet my Maker and I will not be disappointed. This is my happy place, even in sadness. And in my melancholy of deep reflection I picture Leslie’s reunion with her family in heaven one day…together again. And there I’ll be, watching and waiting my turn to greet her because she and I still share a common bond…

Life Eternal.

 

 

 

My Quiet Place

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There’s this sweet little bench in the woods across the street from my parents’ house. It sits on a little hillside overlooking a creek bed. The skunk cabbage grows in abundance along the marshy stream and the ground beneath my feet is rich and soft. It takes some meandering around brush and fallen tree logs to get to this bench, but I’ve always been very fond of a walk through the woods. This is one of my favorite quiet places in my little part of the world.

I guess what I find so welcoming about this place is that it’s not frequented by the rest of the world. I don’t know that anyone else ever visits. I don’t know that anyone else really cares it’s there. I don’t know that anyone else sees it for the treasure that it is. It’s just an old bench sitting on a hillside in the woods. Left to decay. Forgotten. Forsaken.

But not by me.

I’ve known of this bench for many years. It was built by a loving father who spent many days and many hours working the land where one day a house would be constructed by his daughter and her family. The father passed away and the land was no longer tended. Just a few years ago the daughter passed away, too. I don’t know that a house will ever be built there. The sadness is too great for the family and what was once a great dream may now be just a memory.

I’ll never forget the first time I ventured to my bench. I was heavy in heart. I needed a quiet place. I was visiting my parents and I remembered how I used to love a walk through the woods as a child. How often did I escape to the forest and lose myself in its solitude, sitting on a mossy bank or perching myself on a fallen log? I don’t know, it just gave me peace. What can I say? We all need a quiet place and in this crazy-mixed-up world, we don’t always know where to find it.

So, I made my way to the bench in the woods that day and I sat. I talked to God. No distractions. No interruptions. No one to hear, no one to see. Just me and God. All alone in the woods. And before I knew it I was weeping. I knelt in the rich, soft earth beside that bench and I cried my little heart out. I didn’t care, but I knew in that place that God did.

What’s a quiet place if God isn’t in it? I think sometimes we’re afraid of the quiet places. We’re afraid of solitude. Instead of embracing it, we flee. We keep ourselves so occupied, so busy, so distracted that the silence becomes elusive. I think I learned early in life, though, that silence really is golden. In some ways, my hearing disability is a blessing. Maybe that’s why I loved a solitary trek through the woods even as a young girl. Maybe that’s why I love my bench. I’m not afraid of the silence. I want it. No…I need it. Because it’s there in the silence that I find my confidence.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘Only in returning to Me and resting in Me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30:15

…But you would have none of it…

Oh, Sweet Jesus…I don’t want to “have none of it.”

I want to experience the peace that comes in waiting on the Lord. I want to be confident in my waiting seasons. I want to experience the blessed truth that God will never leave me to decay. I am never forgotten by the One who treasures me. I will never be forsaken by the One who promises to be with me wherever I go. There is such a connection between faith and quietness. There is such beauty in learning how to trust that even in the silence God is present.

Sometimes when I walk in the door of my parents’ house, pass out the hugs and plant a few kisses I can hardly wait to head back out the door, cross the street, enter the woods, meander around brush and fallen tree logs to my bench. To others it may look like a lonely place, but I know it’s way more than that…

…it’s my quiet place. It’s where I know I’m not alone even in the desolate places. To the rest of the world it may be a place of decay. Forgotten. Forsaken.

But not by God.

Sometimes, silence isn’t just golden. It’s God.

One Lovely Blog Award

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This blog post has been in my draft queue for weeks. To be honest, I’ve not really known how to write it. I’ve done a bit of digging into the purpose of the One Lovely Blog Award and I’ve come to the conclusion that it was created to give bloggers encouragement and support in the world of blogging. Heaven knows we all need encouragement, especially in a “world” where it’s easy to get lost in an ocean of faces, where diversity is as wide as the ocean is long, and hope for acceptance as fierce as its rolling waves. This award is a “pay-it-forward-kind-of-award.” I was nominated by another blogger and I, in return, will nominate 7 more and I’ll share 7 things about myself that you may not know.

To be honest, I started my blog a year ago completely ignorant to the ways of the blogging world. I just wanted an outlet for my thoughts, but because I love to write (and read) it would be so easy to just sit at my computer reading blogs all day long. I could lose myself in other people’s stories and writing styles. There are some amazingly gifted and talented writers out there with some very inspiring stories to tell, but I believe that most bloggers just blog for the love of writing. They have all this passion bottled up inside of them and blogging is the way they unleash their knowledge and insight. I’m just one of the thousands.

To be nominated by another blogger is huge for me. Her name is Karen. Karen Taylor. She’s the first blogger I connected with when I began my blog in the fall of 2013. She, with her “Rosegardens and Thorns” and me, with “my thorn…God’s glory.”  No, I’ve never met her face to face, but I feel like I know her. Karen is Jamaican. How cool is that? To connect with someone across the vast ocean that separates us is one of the coolest things ever.

You’ll find Karen at http://taylorkaren.wordpress.com. Her blog is titled, Rosegardens and Thorns. She writes honestly, openly, and sometimes heartbreakingly about her life experiences and struggles. She covers a wide-range of topics. She researches. She journals. She pours it all out. She lives and breathes in the God of second-chances. One of the things I love about her is that she’s an honest-to-goodness-natural-born-encourager. Even though my blog has very few followers, receives very few comments, and has few readers per blog post, Karen continues to lift me up and encourage me to press on. She believes in me.

Wow. You have no idea how much this means to me, Ms. Karen. Thank you for nominating me.

 

S-o-o-O-o-o-o…here are the 7 random facts about myself…

1. I try to eat healthy. I don’t consider myself a true vegetarian because I do eat fish. I eat little dairy and go light on the bread. I struggle with a sugar addiction.

2. My father took my family to the Holy Land with a side trip to Greece when I was 20 years old. I had my most spiritual moment of worship ever on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.

3. The first time I ever learned to fish as a child I caught an eel. I’ve never cared for fishing since.

4. In the 90s (1990′s, that is) I was a self-employed decorative artist. Long before this present craze for chalk paint furniture, I painted furniture the hard way…with proper sanding, primer, 2 coats of paint, hand painted flowers, vines or whatever I was commissioned to do, and 2 coats of sealer. I don’t paint much any more, but at the time I had a lucrative business.

5. I love junkin’…thrift shops, flea markets, antique shops, and the occasional yard sale. I need a bumper sticker that reads, Caution: I Brake For Goodwill. 

6. My favorite food is Italian. I would eat pasta or pizza every day if I could, but I don’t. Too much cholesterol and too much “sugar.” My body can’t take it anymore.

7. I ran track in high school. As the second leg of the 880 relay team, we were 2nd in district, 2nd in regionals, and proud to represent our district at the state track meet in 1975. As an adult, I never took up running, though. Walking is my #1 form of exercise.

 

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Now…aside from Rosegardens and Thorns, here are 7 blogs that I follow. I occasionally read more than these, but these 7 I read on a regular basis. Most of them have already received the One Lovely Blog Award and most of them already have hundreds of followers, but I read them because they inspire me and speak to where I am in this season of life…

1. Michele Cushatt at michelecushatt.com. She’s a writer, speaker, author, and storyteller, a wife and mother of 6 children. She’s gracefully transparent and, wow, her life is an amazing testimony to the beauty of God’s grace.

2. Lara Williams at tooverflowing.com. She’s a writer, speaker, and author, a wife and mother of 3 children who tells-it-like-it-is. She shares her heart openly and honestly about her life’s struggles.

3. Sherry French at thesplendiferouslife.com. Isn’t that the coolest heading for a blog? The Splendiferous Life! Love it. And it suits Sherry. She’s one of the most creative women I’ve ever met, a beautifully talented and creative artist, wife and mother of 9 children, both biological and adopted. Her heart is for the orphan and Ugandan missions.

4. Renee Bullock at therefinedrelic.com. Renee believes that “every home should have a story” and filled with cherished reminders of the past and present. She and her husband have a passion and interest for historical homes, antiques, and vintage furniture and accessories. She weaves Grace and Truth, Faith and Family into her love of all things “home.”

5. Debbie Wilson at lighthouseministriesnc.org. Debbie and her husband started Lighthouse Ministries to be a “beacon of hope, providing biblical help through counseling, coaching, small groups and weekly articles.” Their passion is to “help people thrive in faith and life.”

6. Edward Roads at mytwosentences.com. Edward’s posts consists of 2 sentences each. Yes, it’s true. It’s amazing to read what he packs into just 2 sentences full of creative, descriptive words that paint beautiful pictures in the mind’s eye…and, yes, there are even amazing photographs that accompany each post.

7. DevotionalDiva.com. This blog was started in 2008 by a published author who recently passed the editor’s baton to Maggie Winterton, another editor, writer, military wife and mom of 2 children. She helps and guides others in sharing their stories on Devotional Diva. I love this site because of the many guest posts.  You never know who’ll be writing, what they’ll be sharing, and how they’ll touch your heart.

 

I guess that wraps it up for my One Lovely Blog Award post. Thank you again, Karen Taylor, for considering my blog “lovely.”

Sweet Blessings to you all today…Nina

 

When Written Words Are Not Enough

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I’m a writer. I love to write, but writing has its flaws. Every word, every phrase, every sentence that flows from my heart to my keyboard isn’t always interpreted in the way I mean it. The hardest thing about writing is knowing that, sometime…somehow…somewhere…someone may get hurt.

And I hate that.

I remember how much I enjoyed writing creative stories for my high school English classes. I didn’t always write well, though. Sometimes my teachers rewarded me with A‘s, but sometimes there were so many red marks all over the pages of all my hard work and there in the top right-hand corner for all the world to see would be a big-fat C. Instead of looking at the creative content, they looked at all the misplaced commas, misused adjectives, and misconstructed phrases. I was always deeply wounded by those C‘s, but I knew it was part of the learning process.

I’ve since learned that writers each have their individual styles. I can’t say I use every bit of information I’ve ever learned about proper grammar and the right way to construct sentences. I have my own style. My sentences are fragmented and when I want to convey certain tones of my voice or certain emotions of my heart, I do all kinds of unconventional things. Like this. (I don’t think that’s really a sentence.) And this. (I don’t think I’m suppose to start a sentence with a capital And.) And this….(I don’t think leaving my thoughts hanging with a bunch of dots is proper.)

Anyways, something happened to me yesterday that has caused me to sorrow in the written word. I sent an email to a friend and it hurt her feelings.

I didn’t mean for it to hurt. But, it did.

If you’ve been keeping up with me through my blog you know I’m hearing impaired. Severely hearing impaired. Hearing aids are my constant companions and they don’t work well with my cell phone or any phone at all, for that matter. I depend greatly on the written word…email, text, Facebook, and YES! Gasp. Seriously?! I still write notes the old-fashioned way…with ink on pretty notecards. But when I want to convey serious matters or things that are very important to me, I want to talk with someone. Face-To-Face. Because I don’t believe that an email or a letter or a Facebook message can truly convey what’s in my heart.

Alas. It grieves me that it can’t always be so. Busyness gets in the way. It’s not anyone’s fault that I’m hearing impaired. This is my life. I do as much as I can to keep myself out there…to make myself sociable…to get out of the house…to get involved in people’s lives…but I’ve learned that my hearing impairment leaves me at a disadvantage when it comes to matters of the heart. I try to be as patient as I can and as understanding as I can when it comes to busyness. If email is the only way someone can communicate when busyness intervenes then, believe me, I try very hard to place my commas and use my adjectives and construct my sentences in a way that others will truly hear my heart.

And yet….sometimes…no matter how hard I try or how much I pray or how long I think before I write, I am still misunderstood.

When it comes right down to it, as beautiful and timely as written words can be, sometimes the written word just isn’t enough. Nothing can take the place of sitting beside a friend and sharing the spoken word face to face.

“Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” Proverbs 25:11

The written word doesn’t allow someone to hear the tone in my voice, or see the compassion in my face or desperation in my eyes. I don’t care how busy I am these days, I’m still a meet-me-for-coffee-kinda-girl. Maybe it’s because I’m hearing impaired, but I still believe God wants us to be face-to-face-kinda-people ’cause He’s a face-to-face-kinda-Friend.

“Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” Exodus 33:11. 

There are just some things that need to be said, talked about, and shared face to face. They were never meant to be put to paper or typed on a keyboard. Some things are just too important. Like this. And this. And especially this…friendship. Because even though I didn’t intentionally hurt my friend with my words…heaven knows I thought too long and hard about what I wrote to even consider it!…my written words were still misunderstood. I knew in my heart I needed a face to face but busyness got in the way and I felt backed into a corner.

I’m so glad my Faithful Friend in heaven, who knows me so well, can interpret my heart when my friends on earth misinterpret my words.

If I’m completely honest, when I unintentionally hurt someone with written words, I consider giving up writing. Just canceling my WordPress account, deleting my Facebook, ignoring my email for the rest of my life, refusing to ever send another text, but I know I can’t. This is my lifeline. This, too, is my life. Without social media I would shrivel up and die. The truth is, I need the written word to survive because hearing impaired people risk shutting themselves off every day of their lives. Hiding themselves away. Becoming hermits. Losing themselves in a very lonely place. And now, as I write this, I find the tears just flowing down my cheeks and I can’t seem to stop them.

Because I hurt someone with my words in this very lonely place.

And I hate that.

And sometimes saying I’m sorry, please forgive me needs to be done in person but busyness gets in the way of that, too. So, I’ll say it here for now and pray for the day when my friend and I can meet face to face.

Yes, I’m a writer. I may get discouraged sometimes, but I was born to write. Even as I pour out my heart writing this post I’m experiencing the healing that can only come from The One who heals. God is my Teacher. He’s forever instructing me. My Faithful Friend. For every C I find in the top right-hand corner of my paper, there are a dozen A‘s waiting around the corner, given to me by the One who upholds me by His righteous right hand.

And I love that.

“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

I cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I am that God will always be the Holder Of My Hand and when He speaks to me, His words will always be enough.

The Hope Of The Harvest

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I’ve learned something over the years about ministry: It comes with a price…it just might cost me something.

True ministry isn’t really an easy thing. It can certainly be fun, but it isn’t always. It isn’t glamorous. It’s not about fame. Or fortune. It’s not about advancing a career. It takes work, patience, and determination. I’ll get out of it what I put into it. The blessings are spiritual and the rewards eternal because true ministry is really a labor of love.

The word ministry is actually derived from a Greek word meaning, “a person who serves.” We get our English word “deacon” from it. It’s a service role, but we’re all called to be servants, to be involved in the lives of people…meeting needs, showing kindness……..and loving well. Ministry isn’t just for pastors. We’re all called to be ‘ministers’ right where God places us.

I was watching the farmer plow his tobacco field the other morning across the street from my house. The last of the tobacco leaves were picked last weekend. The sun was rising brightly above the tree line, shooting rays of light across the clay dirt. I heard in my spirit, “the hope of the harvest,” and thought to myself, “What a beautiful picture of ministry!”

The farmer plants thousands of seeds, but he doesn’t get a plant off of every single seed. Still he labors on. He lives off hope. He knows it takes many seeds to produce a harvest. He doesn’t cut corners. He doesn’t count costs. He was born to work the fields. It’s in his blood. He loves it. He can’t imagine doing anything else.

Year after year the farmer plows his fields, preps his soil, plants his seeds, fertilizes and then he waits. He prays to God for rain to water his fields. Sometimes God answers yes. Sometimes, no. Sometimes God says not now because not every year is a profitable year. Yet, the farmer can’t imagine doing anything else. Even after a bad year, he’ll do it all over again the next season. He does it over and over again for the thrill of working the land. 

And…because he has hope…because sometimes the harvest is plentiful and when it is, it’s worth all the hard work, all the disappointments, all the heartache.

Ministry is like that. If I minister to others for any other reason than to see God bring forth a harvest of people who love Him and bring Him glory, then maybe I’m not serving for the right reason. I’ve gotta love it, but I’ve gotta love God more because He’s the One for whom I labor. He’s the One who brings forth the harvest. I’m just the farmer, the vessel, and I have to be empty of all self-promotion, personal agendas, and self-gratification.

Yes, sometimes, I’m going to work hard, but I remember my labor isn’t in vain. Sometimes I might be disappointed, but I remember that God is never disappointed in me when I give Him my very best. Sometimes I might have heartache, but I remember that God brings joy out of sorrow. Sometimes I might grow impatient and wonder if I’ll ever see the fruit of my labor, but I remember that God isn’t on my time table. He’ll water what I plant in time. There’s only One Water of Life.

Have you ever seen a farmer come in out of the fields clean and spotless? He’s most likely covered in dirt and sweat. Sometimes ministry means I’m going to  get my hands dirty. I might have to dig a little deeper, plow a little farther, and stay on my knees a little longer. I think the most valuable sacrifice made in ministry is time–and prayer. As busy as everyone seems to be these days, time is the thing we all seem to hoard, but it’s what we most need to give away.

Because I’m hearing impaired, I enjoy mentoring, discipling, and teaching Bible study. I haven’t always done it well. I haven’t always had a lot of time to give. I haven’t always been faithful, but I’ve found that I most enjoy spending time with other women one-on-one, whether in my home, over a restaurant table, at the Pregnancy Care Center or on a park bench, pouring over Scripture, holding hands in prayer, sharing a listening ear and most likely a few tears. Time just seems to stand still and I always feel so blessed. It’s true…true ministry isn’t just for the one I’m pouring into. God is pouring into us both. We bless each other.

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us to do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galations 6:7-10

Jesus’ whole ministry on this earth was a sacrifice. He gave up all the glory of heaven to live, breathe and walk among us. He labored among us, He taught us, listened to us, prayed with us, ate with us, laughed with us, cried with us, and, above all….He truly loved us. Because He loved His Father.

I’m coming to understand that our lives are meant to be lived as a beautiful offering. There are people in my little part of the world that need to know God cares, God forgives, God heals, God comforts, God gives joy, and best of all…God loves them madly. I can minister in Jesus’ name right where I am. One person at a time. One day at a time. One season at a time.

For the glory of God and…

for the hope of the harvest.

When I Can’t Be Liked By Everyone

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I wish I could be liked by everyone I meet. I know there are some genuine, warm-hearted, sincerely lovable people out there who don’t seem to have an enemy in all the world, but I’m old enough and mature enough now to admit…I’m not one of them.

Sigh.

I remember the first time a best friend got mad at me. Really mad. Mad enough to decide she didn’t like me anymore.

I was in the fourth grade. Still too young to understand all the insecurities I battled being visually and hearing impaired in a hearing-seeing world. Our teacher was marching us single file from the classroom to the playground for Recess. (A school child’s favorite time of the day!) My best friend at the time was  behind me in the line-up where I couldn’t see her face. When we got outside she was angry with me. She said she had called my name several times in the hallway, never mind the rule of no talking in the hall, but I didn’t answer her. When I told her I hadn’t heard her she insisted that I did and she was never my friend again.

I never really enjoyed Recess after that. In fact, I recall being so upset that day I made myself sick. I couldn’t even go to school the next day. Thank goodness graduating to the fifth grade meant we were too old to play on the playground. Drama. Sometimes we girls are all about drama.

I learned early how to build walls around my heart. When someone got too close I backed off, not wanting to put myself at risk of another betrayal. I certainly didn’t want to get too close to someone who might ask me questions about my eye. Heaven forbid. The few brave enough to ask were usually met with a stunned silence. I was sure they could see the rising heat in my face, flushed with humiliation, and hear the pounding of my beating heart, rushed with fear. It was all I could do to keep from turning on my heels and high-tailing it home where I could hide under the watch care of my family who loved me and kept me safe.

I once had a woman in my adult life tell me that when she first met me she had tried to talk to me, either behind me where I couldn’t hear her or beside me where I couldn’t see her, and I never talked back so she thought I was a snob. A snob!! But it made me think…is that what people have thought of me all along? Maybe if I’d learned in my early years to be honest with my friends about my disabilities they would’ve been able to understand me a little better. It’s hard enough being a teenager with up-and-down hormones and emotions out-of-control without adding a prosthetic eye and hearing loss to the package. I guess I just did the best that I could with what I had, but I still made some people not like me.

That sounds like such a silly thing to say, but that’s how little girls talk. How do you make people like you? The truth is, sometimes I feel like I’m still in my little-girl-skin, the tendency to build walls around my heart still surfacing from time-to-time. I want to protect myself from those who don’t seem to like me, but one of the things I’ve learned over the years is this: If I’ve done everything I know to do to treat others with kindness, respect and compassion–something I didn’t always do as a teenager–and I still can’t make a friend out of someone, then maybe the problem isn’t with me.

One of the things that aging and grace have given me is a better understanding of insecurities in others. There are plenty of us who have struggled or continue to struggle with lack of self-worth and self-confidence, who build walls around our hearts and shut ourselves off, who feel the pain of betrayal and the sorrow of rejection, whose faces flush with humiliation and whose hearts beat with fear.

The sad truth is, I won’t be liked by everyone on this earth, but maybe it’s not because I’m not likable. Maybe it’s just because some people are a little like me with the same hurts, same battles, same stuff of life. I need to remember that God in His infinite wisdom is able to give me the ability to see some of what He sees and heart some of what He hearts. No that’s not a typo…I meant heart, with a ‘t’. It’s only with the tearing down of walls around my heart that I can “live at peace with everyone.” I don’t necessarily have to like someone to love them as Christ does and that’s such a hard truth to grasp.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:14-18

What a mouthful. Lord, fill me.

These days, I’m working to build a life that reflects peace in my relationships. I’m working on building harmony, not conflict…self-worth, not self-deprecation…self-confidence, not self-diffidence. How’s that for another mouthful? Because, truthfully, peace in my inner self will affect how I see others, how I treat them, how I bless them, how I pray for them…AND…it just might affect how others see me, too. Maybe. You never know.

I may wish I could be liked by everyone I meet, but I know it’s not likely to happen on this earth. Instead, I’ll just wish for this peace that reflects a heart without walls. I’ll try my best to do my part, as much as depends upon me, and then I think I’ll just let God be God and take care of the rest…

The Lone Red Leaf

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I love fall. It’s my favorite time of year. I love the crisp night air and the chilly mornings. I can hardly wait to get the wood stove cranked up and sit in my comfy chair with a blanket and a hot cup of favorite tea or coffee. I love hot soup, brunswick stew, and mugs of cider with a touch of brown sugar. I love the smell of orange rinds, cinnamon, and cloves simmering on the stove. I love pumpkins, apples, and butternut squash. I love sweaters, warm socks, and boots. I love a scarf around my neck and a hat on my head. I love the sound of tractors harvesting the fields, dried cornstalks, and bales of hay. I love the sound of leaves crunching under my feet as I walk through the streets of my little town. I love jars of acorns and wreathes of pinecones, but I especially love the mountains in the fall.

I just love fall. What’s not to love?

A few days ago, I was walking down the wooded, tree-lined street in the neighborhood where my parents’ live. I had hoped to see more of nature’s fall colors on this visit, but I confess my disappointment. It’s not peak season, yet, but I’m still disappointed. There are usually early signs of season change that spark excitement and anticipation, but the oak leaves just seem to have gone right to a dull brown, abandoning themselves to an early demise. The sycamores are a mass of mottled, diseased spots on slabs of yellow, not at all pretty and pleasing to the eye. I’m hoping the maples will soon burst on the scene with their usual glorious display of yellows, oranges, and reds to redeem what the oaks and the sycamores have lost. Even the dogwoods are lacking in their vivid red and green splendor this season. Fall seems to have fallen short.

As I was walking around a bend on the country road that graces my parents’ neighborhood, I couldn’t help but notice the lone red leaf peering out of a sea of green on a small maple as I walked up the hill. Slightly blowing in the breeze it caught my attention and I stopped to take a look. It was already at its peak color, far ahead of the others. Vibrant with color. Set apart. Standing alone. Even though the green leaves of this tree were mottled with ugly brown spots just like the sycamores, diseased and sickly-looking, this lone red leaf was beautiful, the deep red completely covering the ugly spots and drawing my eye, beckoning me to wonder. I couldn’t help but smile.

Sometimes I’m a lot like that lone red leaf, all my ugly brown spots camouflaged by the Keeper and Sustainer of my heart, washed in the power of His cleansing blood. My heart beating in time with His, no matter the season. Without Jesus I would be abandoned to a life without much color. Dull. Mottled with brown spots of decay marring any real beauty. Following Jesus means that sometimes I may have to stand alone, but that’s not a bad thing. Because in a sea of green where others may want to look alike, act alike, and talk alike…I want to be uniquely different the way God created me to be.

I’m not created to look like everyone else or be like anyone else, aside from Christ. I just love how He warms the crisp night air and blankets my chilly mornings. I love how He brings flavor to my food and salt to my earth. I love how He brings a sweet aroma to my home and embraces me with His comforting Presence. I love how He covers me with His wings and gives me shelter in His shadow. I love how He showers me with a harvest of blessings and speaks truth over me as I walk through the trouble-laden streets of life. I love how He puts a garland of grace around my neck and crowns me with splendor. I love how He waits for me on the mountaintop because I especially love meeting Him there, high upon the Rock.

Yes, life without Jesus would be dull. He alone completes me and makes me whole. Life is full of seasons, but Jesus is present in every single one. I just happen to like fall the best. He’s the real Lone Leaf. I see Him down every street. In every tree. Around every bend. Vibrant. Set apart. Standing alone. Perfect in beauty. Unequaled in splendor. Always at His peak color. Drawing my eye, beckoning me to wonder. I can’t help but smile.

I want to be like Him. I do. I may fall short. But I’ll never give up trying.

“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple. For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.” Psalm 27:4 & 5

I just love Jesus.

What’s not to love?

 

 

God Comes In His Ways

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There’s something very mysterious about fog. When a cloud hovers along the earth’s surface greatly reducing visibility, I drive cautiously and save my walks through town for another time. Although there’s something very beautiful about a misty morning in the fields and woods, I feel safer when I admire this kind of beauty from my front porch. I have no idea what’s beyond what my eye can visibly see.

More often than a low lying cloud, though, is the fog that sometimes obscures my mind or the haze that confuses my thoughts. I’ve heard of overthinking something, but is it possible to think myself to death?!? I suppose not, but I’ve been known to drive myself slightly crazy with thoughts gone wild. I’m a terrible “what-iffer.” Most of the things I’ve imagined in my life have never happened. I don’t know why I torture myself like this because I’ve got this beautiful mysterious God who loves to come to me in His ways…

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways,” this is the Lord’s declaration. “For as the heaven is higher than the earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8, 9

Sometimes life is mysterious because God is mysterious. God reserves the right to make things known to me in His way, in His timing, in His purpose. After all, He’s perfect and if He’s perfect then He’s perfect in all of His ways. This is such a hard truth to wrap my mind around. If I let it, it’ll drive me crazy, but it’s in these times that the only way I can clear my head is to trust His heart. Instead of fretting about what I don’t know, I can cling to what I do. And, there’s so much I do know about my God.

I know He cares for me: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

I know He strengthens me: “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

I know He guides and directs me: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5,6

I know He fights for me: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14

I know He loves me: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3

So….maybe I don’t have all the solutions to all my problems at this very moment. Maybe I don’t have all the answers to all my prayers or know all the whys to all my questions. One of the mysteries in my relationship with God is growing in faith when the fog is thick and my eyes can’t see beyond this very moment, and growing in trust when God shows up in the misty mornings and I can see Him in the here and now.

Since heaven is higher than anything my human mind can comprehend, I can trust God’s thoughts and plans to be perfect for me and so much better than anything I can dream up on my own. As long as I keep looking up, God will meet me even in the fog of life. He comes in the clouds. He hovers over me and that’s such a beautiful mystery…that’s such a beautiful thought…that’s such a beautiful way for Him to come.

“By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way….” Exodus 13:21

 

 

My Real Treasure

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“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

My neighbor has this rusty metal barn. The doors are so dented they now hang askew. Sections of the tin roof have pried away from the nails that once secured them and when the wind blows it makes an unnerving racket. I only hear it when I’m outside, but in the darkness of night when I’m taking my dogs for a last potty run it gives me the heebie-jeebies.

I’ve often wondered why my neighbor puts a padlock on the old banged up doors of his barn. Maybe it gives him a certain amount of security, but I doubt very seriously the itsy bitsy lock would keep anyone out with a determination to get in. I hope nothing of any value is stored inside. I probably wouldn’t be caught dead in it myself. The thought of snakes lurking in unseen places is enough to keep me at a safe distance. I don’t want to get spider webs in my hair, either. Eew.

My husband and I learned soon after we moved into our 100-year old home in our tiny little town that we don’t dare leave anything outside we don’t want stolen. After my cd player was ripped out of the dash of my car and our aluminum ladder removed from its resting place on the side of the house we decided nothing was sacred here. Before we moved to North Carolina, we had lived in one house in one neighborhood for 20 years and never had a single thing stolen from our house, our car, or our property. Bummer.

When my neighbor and good friend up the street had her house broken into earlier this year I began to realize that “the times they are a-changing.” We can take all the precautions we want…install fancy security systems…iron bars on our windows…a few deadbolts and security lights…but when it comes right down to it, even if a thief can’t get in, a fire could still destroy, a hurricane could still level, a tornado could still demolish, a flood could still wash away. No material possessions I own on this earth are meant to last forever and I’ve come to find that the real danger is allowing the enemy to take away the treasures stored in my heart.

“…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…”

I’ve been pondering this word…treasure.

As a noun, a treasure is a quantity of precious metals, gems or other valuable object. As a verb it means to keep carefully (a valuable or valued item); to cherish or hold dear, to prize or value greatly or what I strive to attain and what I most dread to lose.

Years ago I used to think about what I would most want to save if I knew my house was going down in a fire. Aside from the obvious…my family, my children first and foremost or any other living and breathing thing present at the time…I really thought I would save my photo albums. I don’t know why these pictures are so precious to me other than the years of memories and life they represent. They chronicle our family’s history, a part of our heritage permanently captured on glossy paper and preserved in pages and pages of protective plastic. I have at least a dozen photo albums. Yes, I was a picture-taking momma, the kind that embarrassed my children and threatened their very lives with my Canon Sure-Shot if they didn’t grin and bear it! Now that they’re all grown up, though, I think they’re glad I made a big deal about it. These photo albums have given them some enjoyment the last several years. Every now and then when I browse through them I find some empty sleeves where pictures have been removed. Later I’ll find them plastered all over Facebook and Instagram. With a grin and a thought I think to myself, “You did good, momma!”

I know there’s no way I could haul a dozen photo albums out my door or window if a fire was raging behind me, smoke stinging my eyes and choking my lungs. Truthfully, I know I’d just make a run for it because I know my life is more precious than any material thing I possess.

Life…

That’s the real treasure to God. He cherishes me. He places great value on my life. I am of great worth to Him, but He wants to be my treasure, too. That’s why He tells me to guard my heart.

” Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23

Sometimes I feel like an old rusty metal barn…dented, banged up, and blowing in the wind…but even though I’ve taken a few beatings in my life and weathered many storms, I think I’m well-preserved for from within my heart there flows streams of Living Water. I cling to It. I drink deeply from It. Because this Water is my very life. I cannot live without Jesus. Through every beating I’ve endured, every storm I’ve survived, every dent I proudly display, I’ve come to see my earthly life through a different kind of lens, through His eyes. No possession I posses on this earth can ever compare with the riches that I will gain in heaven.

Like my Canon Sure-Shot, God has preserved my life over and over again. You only need to read my “About Me” page on this blog to understand what I mean. God has captured permanently on the memory of my heart His constant, abiding Presence and the certainty of a royal heritage rich in His grace. Yes, He’s allowed me the blessings of earthly treasures, more than I deserve, but I know not one of these material possessions will follow me into eternity. My heart will. That’s why I strive to guard it, to let God protect it and keep it maintained.

Because Jesus has my heart, I don’t dare leave anything of value unprotected that I don’t want stolen. Riches like love, joy, peace to name a few. When I lose my perspective, sometimes I allow the enemy to steal them away. I have to remind myself that the enemy is a thief, but he can never have my heart. It belongs to the Life-Giver. My physical self may wear out on this earth, but my spiritual self will last an eternity so I strive to preserve it well. When I look through the lens of my Father’s eyes, I see what He has permanently captured…my heart where His Son lives and breathes in me. I keep what’s sacred there under His abiding care. Nothing can be snatched away.

And I think to myself, “You’ve done good, God! You’ve done good….”

 

When I Am Undone

IMG_1135Have you ever been “undone”? You know…unglued. The word may have different meanings for different people depending upon circumstances. My goodness, I’ve been literally, figuratively and spiritually undone many times in my life…if that’s possible. Of course I’m a bit of an expressionist. So, to clarify allow me to explain the “Nina-differences”.

To be undone means to

-literally untie, unwrap, unfasten something.

-figuratively realize that something hasn’t gone as planned.

-spiritually in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “Then I said, ‘Woe is  me, for I am ruined (undone)! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.’” Isaiah 6:5

 

Literally, I can’t explain how I feel when circumstances seem to unwrap my heart’s emotions and unfasten feelings neatly packaged and tied with a string.

Figuratively, I can’t tell you how many times in my life things haven’t gone according to my plan.

Spiritually, I can’t describe what happens in the very depths of my soul when I’ve found myself in the presence of my holy, gracious, and merciful God.

 

It happened the other week. I found myself face-to-face with temptation. Literally, staring it in the face. Figuratively, completely caught off guard. (I won’t tell you what the temptation was because temptation comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s different for each one of us. If I tell you what this was to me then you might not identify.) Spiritually, I came completely unglued when God showed Himself in the midst of it.

The wonder of this testimony is that I actually stared temptation down and, as I did, God came to my rescue. I cannot remember the last time I was so spiritually undone. God didn’t send an angel I could visibly see. He didn’t strike the enemy with a sword or knock him off his feet. He didn’t send a lightning bolt or even an intercessor. No. He did something I never would’ve expected. He sang to me.

Literally, I heard His song in my heart. He unwrapped the tangled nerves in my ears and I heard it loud and clear.

Figuratively, when I thought I might give in to temptation He came unexpectedly. He caught me completely off guard proving that He had a plan meant to get my attention.

Spiritually, the wonder of His presence was very real to me.

 

I was completely undone.

 

“My chains are gone

I’ve been set free

My God, my Savior has ransomed me

And like a flood His mercy reigns

Unending love, amazing grace.” (Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone by Chris Tomlin)

 

Just as Isaiah realized that silence was necessary, humility desired, and holy fear understood I found myself entirely wrapped up in the presence of El Elyon, the Lord of Hosts. When Isaiah heard the Voice of the Almighty he

literally unwrapped his heart,

figuratively lost himself in a powerful, unexpected moment with His God, and

spiritually accepted the atoning work of God and surrendered to His call.

 

How I wanted to do the same.

 

As the haunting voice of God rang in my ears and the melody of Amazing Grace drifted through my inner self I kept silent and just let myself rest in His presence. I wept in gratitude because He didn’t leave me to face temptation alone. He didn’t abandon me or turn away from me. He unwrapped my heart, came unexpectedly and reminded me of the redeeming work of Christ to save…”My God, my Savior has ransomed me…Like a flood, His mercy reigns…Unending love, amazing grace.”

 

“The earth shall soon dissolve like snow

The sun forbear to shine

But God, who called me here below,

Will be forever mine.”

 

I love how God comes to me in my vulnerability. I love how he literally, figuratively, and spiritually unwraps my heart and reminds me of His sweet, abiding Presence. I love how God loves me.

 

I can’t help it. I’m undone. Because I’m just plain amazed by Grace.