Applause!

Last month, I enjoyed the band concert of a lifetime. Steve and I were in Ashland, Oregon. On the third night of our stay, we went to a concert performed by students of the American Band College of Central Washington University. Imagine a stage filled with band directors who’d come from all over the country to earn a Master of Music. We’re talking about a lot of talent! The music was beautiful and powerful, but here’s what struck me—the applause.

We, the audience, applauded after each piece, of course. But those accomplished musicians did a wonderful job of applauding one another as well. In most cases, they had to use their feet. Their hands were full of trumpets and violins, flutes and cymbals. Their feet, tapping back and forth on the stage floor, stood in for the hand clapping they couldn’t quite manage as their fellow band members completed solos.

  • They appreciated one another’s efforts in spite of their own expertise.
  • When inconvenience stood in their way, they just found another way to applaud.

The recipients of such odd, foot-tapping encouragement seemed truly touched, reminding me of the documentary I’d watched in a vintage Ashland theater just one night earlier. It was Pavarotti, a documentary about one of the most famous tenors ever to have graced our planet. Scene after scene showed him ending a performance to ear-splitting applause. Yet every time, he looked relieved and delighted, surprised and almost tearful.

Despite riches and fame, Pavarotti never lost the need for appreciation and encouragement.

A few days later, I hopped in an Uber to the airport. The driver and I chatted a bit. My nearly-last words were, “This was a five star ride. Thank you.” I was a little surprised by how much that comment mattered to him. (And it wasn’t just about earning a tip.) I’m ashamed to say that I usually just say, “Thanks,” as I’m handed my bag and head into the airport terminal. What does it really cost me to add a few words of commendation?

Appreciation matters, even in the small things.

Yes, we serve a loving Lord, and his approval is all we really need. Yet band leaders, famous tenors, Uber drivers and the rest of us find our spirits lifted when we’re appreciated by another human being. Thus it falls on us to look for ways to dole out applause wherever we can, in whatever form is available to us at the moment.

Not long ago, I challenged you to add enthusiastic greetings to your daily habits. Today, I’m asking you to add applause!

And just for good measure, here’s an interesting quote from Jan Karon’s lovely book, “A New Song,” page 29. “The old man [who had just told a joke] heard the sound of applause overtaking the laughter and leaned forward slightly, cupping his hands to his left ear to better take it in. The applause was giving him courage, somehow, to keep on in life, to get out of bed in the mornings and see what was what.”

 

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Were You Friends First?

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Many of you already know my story. (You can read a longer version here.)

Steve and I met in our high school library at the end of our freshman year. Sadly, I made no impression on him whatsoever. He still swears we didn’t meet until the first day of Mr. English’s chemistry class the following year. What we both agree on, though, is that we became fast friends and weathered the good and bad together from then on.

Romance wasn’t part of the picture until we were juniors. And that was a good thing.

Steve and I learned how to be friends first. If you were blessed with the same scenario, then you know what a terrific start it is to a life of marital bliss. Our deep friendship helps carry us through the less-than-blissful bits. If you dove right into romance, or have forgotten how to be friends, allow me to give you a few refresher points, taken in great part from last Sunday’s sermon. (Thanks, Matt!)

  • A friend shows up.
  • A friend sticks around.
  • A friend pays attention, takes the initiative in meeting a need, and goes the extra mile without being asked.
  • Friends pursue a common goal, and, for believers, that means—most of all—they pursue the Lord together.

And here’s a quote to ponder: “It takes great courage to be a friend.” Marriage—and all true friendships—require a willingness to be second, to love to the point of sacrifice, to open oneself up enough to speak the truth (with kindness!) and, as Proverbs 17:17 says, to “love at all times.”

Married? Be friends!

Single? Be a friend to at least a few who need your friendship and bring you joy.

Have a little extra time today? Take a moment to read all of Proverbs 17. It’s packed with good advice. You can find it right here.

 

What I’m Reading

book stack Jaredd Craig via UnsplashedI’m rarely reading just one book. I usually have a stack. (Although my stack is always shorter than Steve’s!) Here’s what you’d find in my moveable pile right now:

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, compiled and edited by James N. Watkins

I never could bring myself to read this classic work until I discovered this “today’s language” version. It’s terrific. Divided into 90 short devotional readings, it both comforts and confronts me with practical applications of God’s Word.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

Each time I delve into the pages of this book, the pointed yet casual tone draws me into what almost seems like an in-person conversation with the author. Crazy Love is all about “What would Jesus do?” and “Are we doing that?”

The Mitford Books by Jan Karon

Romance? Check. Mystery? Of course. Humor? Absolutely! But the Mitford books also deliver faith-bolstering lessons, seasoned with scripture and taught in a way that makes growing in Christ just plain fun.

My Grandmother’s Journal

No, that’s not another book title. I’m reading what is literally my grandmother’s journal, penned years ago. I discovered it while helping my parents prepare for their upcoming move to Austin. It’s delightful, heartwarming, educational and a reminder that journaling is good for the souls—that of the writer and that of the reader. If you never journal, please reconsider, even if it’s only a few lines now and then! I have a black Moleskin journal tucked into my stack of books, conveniently waiting to receive my thoughts and memories.

And then the Bible

I toggle between hardcopies, Kindle and YouVersion, sometimes reading and sometimes listening. What a blessing to have God’s Word in so many versions and formats right at our fingertips!

So there you have it, and now I must ask: What’s in your book stack?

Photo by Jaredd Craig via Unsplash.com

 

Got Gunk?

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I can still remember the evening Steve put a diamond ring on my finger. We were taking one of our many walks on Hollywood Beach. After his proposal, we stood under a streetlight so I could see just how much the stone sparkled. I spent plenty of time over the next several months admiring that ring—watching how it broke streams of sunlight into prismatic colors, dunking it almost weekly into a plastic jar of cleaning fluid and using a tiny brush to scrub it.

Last week, I looked down at my ring and noticed it was surprisingly dull. The top surface looked clean and shiny, but sparkling? No, not really. Upon closer inspection, I discovered an unidentifiable gray-white scum clogging the spaces between the prongs. Ewww! No light could get through to the stone. I don’t have one of those little jars of cleaning fluid anymore, but toothpaste and a brush worked rather well. My ring is sparkling once again, and I’m determined to be more mindful of caring for it so I can fully enjoy its beauty.

By now you’ve probably guessed what this week’s question will be.

How’s your sparkle? Do you look clean and shiny on top while collecting gunk below?

Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” us. The writer there is using the analogy of a race, but a ring works just as well.

What hinders us?

What keeps us from glorifying God and enjoying him to the fullest?

Chances are something just popped into your mind. Maybe it’s a sin. Maybe it’s just a bad habit that slows you down or dulls your sparkle. I could make a list of possibilities for you to consider, but that would just be the gunk that threatens my sparkle. Yours might be different. No matter what it is, you are not stuck with it!

  • Ask the Lord to show you the gunk in your life.
  • Ask him to help you scrub it away.
  • Ask a friend to come alongside you in that endeavor.
  • And then keep clean. Maintain that shine!

It’s worth it. I promise!

 

I Beg to Differ

 

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John Wesley is commonly credited with these words: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

Great words! However, allow me to add a bit of perspective.

First of all, not all scholars agree that John Wesley actually said—or penned—those words.

Secondly, they can become a stumbling block to some of us. If I take that quote literally and do all the good I can at all the time I can, my ‘as long as ever I can’ isn’t going to last very long.

  • Jesus rested.
  • The Bible tells us that sleep is a gift.
  • Resting on the Sabbath is a command.

How do we balance the challenge to do all that we can with what I see as a Scriptural mandate to maintain some sort of balance in our lives? The only answer that makes sense to me is the need to do what my Houston pastor advised: Lean in, listen and obey. (Thank you, Ty VanHorn.)

Hannah Smith put it this way: We have nothing to do today but mind.

And Jan Karon, in her lovely Mitford series, quotes Madame Guyon, writing, “Rest. Rest. Rest in God’s love. The only work you are required now to do is to give your most intense attention to His still, small voice within.”

And every day, minding the still small voice of our Lord is likely to be plenty. Sometimes it will lead us to a physical or mental challenge that will exhaust our resources. Most of the time, when that happens, I believe our Wise Ruler will soon nudge us into a season of rest and recuperation. Rest can require just as much trust, obedience and self-discipline as tackling a hearty to do list. Giving in to the need to rest can be quite a blow to an ego that has tied its worth to work.

Remember, though, that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Our good works were planned for us long ago, and the One who planned them equipped us for them. If you’re stretched to the limit, have forgotten to rest, rarely sleep enough or have convinced yourself that Sabbaths were merely meant for another time, I beg you to reconsider.

Perhaps the words of my opening quote should be tweaked a bit to read: “Do all the good God asks you to do, in all the ways he has equipped you to do it, whenever or wherever he provides the opportunity, to all the people he asks you to serve, but never ignore his call to rest.”

Judgement Free Zone

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I joined a group of women for coffee this morning. We were there to share our lives, our needs, our gifts and our prayers. The woman who brought us together had posted a sign on the wall that read “Judgement Free Zone.” (And one that said, “’Fix-It’ Free Zone” too, but that will have to wait for another day.)

Do you ever feel like the Lord is poking on you? Well, that sign was one more way he used to tell me I need to work on my awful tendency toward judgement. All of life should be a judgement free zone! Still, I struggle to ignore those nitpicky little notions that pop into my head when I see someone doing life wrong (aka not MY way). I’d like to share a few quotes that help me steer clear of judgmental muck and mire. Actually, the first should be enough for us all.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Jesus in Matthew 7:1-2).

“Give people room to be human.” (Joel Osteen)

“Carry a shield. And treat others as if they don’t.” (Rachelle Gardner)

Carry a shield? Yes, indeed! Since, sadly, we don’t live in a judgement free world, we’ve all got to be wary of allowing the judgment of others to wound us or, worse yet, to dissuade us from following the path we believe the Lord has laid out for us. While we are surely called to serve one another, we aren’t necessarily called to please one another.

Truth be told, though, the person on whom I often exact the toughest judgement is myself. I read these wise words a few nights ago:

“Speak to yourself the way you would speak to someone you love.”

And how do we handle our fiery self-judgement when we’ve absolutely made a wrong choice? Here’s what my pastor says:

“Religion says, ‘I messed up. My dad is gonna kill me.’ The Gospel says, ‘I messed up. I need to call my dad.’”  (Ky Faciane)

Anytime we make the mistake of judging ourselves harshly, the best and only answer is to go back to our Lord, confident that he still loves us and can cover all our misdeeds. ‘Same goes for the misdeeds we see going on in other people’s lives. We can and ought to pray. Sometimes we may be called to counsel. But I’m ready to start building more judgement free zones. Join me, won’t you?!?