Better Late Than Never

A few years ago, I picked up the practice of choosing a “word-of-the-year” or intention as opposed to making annual resolutions. It’s simple. Just choose a word to explore from all aspects throughout the year – how does the dictionary define the word; how does scripture apply the word; how does the word work in your life, and a myriad other ways to dissect and study one word. Before you give me credit for such a fabulous idea, I stole it from a friend, but feel free to appropriate the idea for your own use.

Frankly, I never really took resolutions too seriously. Diets, exercise, and bullet journals sound great until you try to put them into practice. At that point, they just become tedious. When results do not appear immediately, the flimsiest of excuses will divert us me from our my best intentions.

As such, I went through a phase when I purposefully set ridiculous resolutions. In 2010, I resolved to learn to accessorize. Yes, that is nearly as petty as it sounds. Nearly ten years later, all I can show for my efforts are a couple of belts and a basket full of winter scarves. In 2012, I resolved to drink more coffee and more martinis. Low bar. Wildly successful – depending upon how you define “success.” 

An intention is different. A word becomes a year-long quest to explore and to learn. It’s more like a game than an assignment – more task-oriented than result-oriented.

Resolutions for years 2013 through 2015 were quite unremarkable as I can’t even recall what they were. When I took up the word game in 2016, things changed. In 2016, I chose “faith.” In 2017, my word was “me too,” before #metoo was popular and with a different meaning. In 2018, I embarked upon exploring “gratitude” and was mildly successful.  Whereas resolutions tend to repeat, words are more apt to change each year. Better yet, they can complement and enhance one another over time.

Feeling as if I could have done a better job with “gratitude” this past year, I rummaged for a word that would reinforce “gratitude.” Becoming increasingly aware of how important it is to be present, my word for 2019 is “mindfulness.”

I’m going to admit right up front that I am appropriating this word from popular psychology and Eastern philosophy – where they tend to define it loosely along the lines of “non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.” (mindspirit.com) Even more incorrigible, I plan to tweak it for my own purposes because I need a singular word that encapsulates my intention for the year. 

Whereas mindfulness in Eastern philosophy is about being present in the moment so that ultimately one can transcend this world and become one with the “All” or the “sacred,” I worship a bigger and better-defined God. Where followers of certain Eastern philosophies are trying to transcend or escape this world, being present for me is a matter of reflecting mindfully my God back into this world. In other words, my ultimate assignment is not to escape this world but rather to help to illuminate my God within this world.

It’s a lofty word/intention for 2019, but you can see how it is intertwined with “faith,” “me too,” and “gratitude” and a logical step toward taking all of those intentions to new levels. 

Maybe, I’d be better off resolving to eat more kale or to man the elliptical for thirty minutes at least three times a week. 

A funny thing happened almost as soon as I settled upon an intention and began to explore what that might look like over the course of the year, I immediately felt under attack. Yes, literally under attack. At the precise moment I begin thinking about being present so that I can become more grateful and connect more deeply with God and others – I was swallowed into a vortex of chaos and urgency. Coincidence? 

I think not. 

Breezy comments about “being under attack by the enemy” used to make me cringe. My mind would shrug off such clichés as spiritual rugs under which the self-righteous could sweep the messiness of life and keep marching. My sincere apologies for every time I secretly sneered at a declaration of spiritual assault. We are under attack. And like bacteria feeds on sugar and water, the enemy thrives in an environment of discord, disorder, and detachment. He uses distraction so cleverly that we forget that we are under attack and even scoff when others acknowledge the state of affairs.

So, my response is to make a real effort to tone down the discord, disorder, and detachment in favor of being mindful of my God in all circumstances and being present with my family, friends, and others.

Sadly, I must report that the enemy has taken Round 1. My friend, Jane, from whom I stole this brilliant word-intention concept had surgery yesterday. Weeks ago, I had put it on my calendar to remind me to check on her. It was important enough to me that I took the effort to note it in my calendar so that I wouldn’t have an excuse for forgetting. I failed. I didn’t check in with her until I had gotten a text from her that the surgery went well. Yikes! Not very present or mindful at all.

I wish that I could tell you that I took Round 2. Alas, no. I was late posting this blog entry. My self-imposed deadline for posting new entries is once a week – on Thursday at 5:44 p.m. (Central). I missed my deadline this week because I was under spiritual attack. Every attempt that I made to complete my draft was met head on – emails, phone calls, text messages “demanding” my urgent attention. Some of the enemies “weapons” were less worthy – Victoria and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are getting so much hype. Once I missed my “deadline,” I even considered just letting this week go. I missed the deadline. What was the point? No one will notice. There’s always next week.

As the enemy sensed victory and slithered off to attack someone else, two things happened. First, I was reminded that some people actually follow this little blog. That’s not my doing. When I send my weekly posts into cyberspace, I pray that God will have them land where they need to be seen – where He wants these words used. In 2018, over 6,000 visitors from nearly 60 countries visited the blog. That’s a mind-boggling response to my humble prayers.  There must be something in this mess of a blog that the enemy doesn’t want someone to hear.

Second, I received a phone call from my brother sharing a story about a friend of his, an elderly man who is gravely ill. My brother learned of his friend’s condition through a chance “pocket dial.” (This is one of the many reasons why I’m not God. I’d never in my providence think to use a misdialed phone to connect people in need – but our God did.) My brother and sister-in-law have been able to visit with his friend. During the visits, they learned that the friend is a non-believer. Even so, his friend accepted their offers to pray over him.

What does this have to do with my missed deadline? Everything. I don’t know if the prayers prayed over my brother’s friend changed his heart – but I was reminded – “better late than never.” God’s timing can’t be thwarted by the enemy’s attempts to delay us.

Like the thief who hung next to our Lord at Calvary grabbed a last-minute ticket to paradise, it’s never too late for us to take steps that will lead us closer to God. It’s never too late to answer God’s call in our lives. It’s never too late to pray for a friend. And, better late than never when you miss your blog’s “deadline.”

Dear Father, whatever our resolutions may be for this new year, help us to stay focused on what really matters. Send your Spirit to guide us ever closer to You. Let us be ever mindful of the example set by your Son, Jesus. May we be present in each moment so that we can connect with the needs of others and be prepared to meet those needs. 

Armor us for battle against the enemy. When the enemy takes a skirmish against us, remind us that we CAN always go home again. Remind us that we are better late than never to take that first step.

Father, we thank you for bringing Jane through her surgery safely and we pray for her continued recovery. We also thank you for the chance to pray over a friend who is likely to leave this life sooner rather than later. We pray that he will be with You in paradise when his time comes. Only You hold the power to move in his heart (and ours) but thank You for blessing us with the chance to plant seeds of faith in every heart we meet.

SDG

Unchain My Heart

I’m an awful person. Really. Deep down – in those places no one sees. Hateful thoughts and judgmental “observations” and intolerant tones and ungrateful attitudes lurk. The whys prowl about  – why does it always happen to me?; why am I forced to suffer?; why my baby girl? Why? Why? Why? (Read those last three words out loud. Scary how much they sound like waah, waah, waah.) My own insecurities, regrets, and doubts feed the negativity.  At that point, I’m uncertain whether Satan’s sinister lies take me by force or if I simply surrender out of exhaustion.

In either case, these are the chains that bind my heart. Read more

Taking Faith on a Dare

Are you a sucker for a dare or a challenge? I wish that I could answer “no” to that question, but sadly and all too often the answer is “yes.” In my younger days, tackling a challenge usually meant that I would get myself into some sort of trouble. There was that time that I had to prove that I could ramp a BMX bike like my younger brother and his friends. That one landed me on my head – literally, complete with a ride in an ambulance and a luxury, all-inclusive stay at our local hospital.

More recently, the dares and challenges that I accept would be considered “good for me.” I fell for that 30-day plank challenge that was all the rage on social media. Nailed it! Back in 2007, I was goaded into running a half-marathon. Crushed it!

No, I was not a runner. No, I don’t enjoy running. Yes, I get a deep sense of satisfaction when I push myself to achieve goals that seem just out of my reach. In this sense, my stubborn streak could be seen as both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand, we could be calling 9-1-1 or on the other I could enjoy toned arms and abs of steel for 30-days.

Of all of the dares and trials that come our way, none are more challenging than the ones Satan throws in our ways.  When Satan scorches our paths or litters the road before us with shattered dreams or lines our trails with broken hearts, he’s goading us. He’s taunting us with his demonic version of “I bet you can’t.” I bet you can’t fight the diagnosis. I bet you can’t overcome the disability. I bet you can’t survive the loss. I bet you can’t pick yourself up.Satan’s subtle insinuation is that we have to pick ourselves upin order to win his wicked wager. And, when we play into his hand – we lose hope and our faith is rocked and he wins.

Yet, how often do we play right into his hand? How many times do we first react to hurt and loss with I can’t imagine?Or I can’t handle it?Or I don’t want to go on?Defeat is frequently my initial reaction. Then typically my stubbornness takes over with its best impression of – imagining, handling, and going on.I can put up a great front, but all of that putting on a front takes a toll. 

There was a point during that half-marathon challenge when I didn’t think that I could take another step. I was tired to the bone. Each step was heavy and required deliberate effort to continue. Then, I turned a corner. Literally. I came around one corner and I could see the finish line. It was about a mile or so away. Even so as soon as I saw it, I knew that I could make it. 

I had found my second wind. I felt lighter. Stronger. Confident. Hopeful.

When Satan tries to wedge doubt into my heart, I need a second wind. (And a third and a fourth ad infinitum) And that Second Wind stands ever ready. When we let down our fronts and take on the Holy Spirit for our guidance, strength, and comfort – We become a little lighter We are stronger. We are more confident. We find hope.

We turn a spiritual corner. We can see the finish line. We are reminded that we don’t run this race alone. When we allow the Spirit to guide us, we’re empowered to take Satan’s dare. When we turn to God as the source of our Second Wind, the finish line practically moves itself to us. 

Each time we put our fate in the hands of the Father when the prognosis is poor; each time we put our faith in the resurrection of the Son in the face of our broken hearts; each time we seek the comfort and strength of the Spirit when our own spirits have been deflated – Satan is defeated. 

With the holidays upon us, we are especially sensitive to Satan’s goading. Our lives don’t mirror a Norman Rockwell painting and the differences are glaring. Yet, we still tend to carry a belief that our lives should be picture perfect – if only for these few days between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

As I approach this season, I am seeking the Second Wind. This is a lesson that I’ve learned the hard way – I can’t handle the holidays (or most other days for that matter) under my own strength. And – neither can you.

Father, thank you for sending your Son to double down against Satan’s double-dog dares. Thank you for your Spirit to be our Second Wind in order to face our challenges and trials.. For all who are struggling – especially at this time of the year – please keep your Spirit close.

More than anything during this holiday season, thank you for the many blessings both past and present. Thank you for memories of loved ones to fill the empty chairs that fill our earthly tables. Thank you for the promise of a heavenly table where empty does not exist.

SDG

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Some of my fondest memories growing up in the late 70s was when my daddy took on the role of  “human jukebox.” We didn’t call it that back then, but that’s what he did. We’d all sit around the turntable as he’d carefully slip away the album cover and then cajole the album from its sleeve. There in his deep, olive hands would gleam black, shiny vinyl. Daddy would ever so gently place the album onto the turntable and guide the arm to the exact spot that would play his song of choice. As the song wound down, he’d reverse the process and then start over with the next song on his “playlist.” We’d do this for hours. Read more

Hope: A Feeling or a Choice?

When I was a kid, my Mamaw had this funny expression. When I’d ask where she was going, she’d always gather her fingers to her thumb, waive her hand at me, and in a thick Sicilian accent respond, “Palermo!”

It made no sense. I had no idea who, what, where, or when “Palermo” was. And, sensing that she was not in the mood for additional questions, I’d let it drop. Still wondering… Palermo?

This next part is a little embarrassing, but here goes. Read more

High Water Mark

As I write this blog entry, the city of New Orleans is marking the thirteenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. On August 29, 2005, Katrina came ashore just east of the city. For those of us in the area, we breathed a sigh of collective relief as peril appeared to skirt around us.

Then . . . the levees broke. Read more

In Too Deep – Part 2

Last week, the Awesome rescue of a Thai youth soccer team captivated our hearts as the feel-good-story of the decade.  Yesterday, the boys and their coach were released from the hospital and are headed home a day earlier than expected. “Awesome” is capitalized purposefully in describing the events, as I can’t help but to see God’s fingerprints all over that rescue.

If you believe like I do that God intervened to make the rescue of the Wild Boars possible, then there is a corollary that we must also acknowledge: Read more