Listen! Listen

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I grew up in a delightful family. My home was filled with lots of love. I remember spirited games of chess and canasta and paddleball (think racquetball on an outdoor court). We enjoyed good food, frequent guests, and plenty of laughter. Some of the laughter was over the same jokes enjoyed time after time.

When a new and uninitiated guest joined us, my dad would ask, “What’s that coming out of your nose?” After a moment of embarrassed confusion on the part of our visitor, he would continue, “Air! There’s air coming out of your nose!”

Then sometimes he’d say, “Listen! Listen!” After an awkward pause, he would add, “Somebody’s saying ‘Listen!’” We always laughed.

The other day, as I was thinking about my dad’s funny lines, the one about listening struck me in a new way. Taken more seriously, it comes out this way:

Listen! Listen! Because there’s always someone out there practically begging that you listen!

I’ve been doing a lot of listening lately. Some of my hurting friends need me most as a prayer partner and a listening ear. In fact, I often have to remind myself that they need my ear but not my mouth, my empathy but not my advice.

Pride can lead us away from the smaller tasks the Holy Spirit hands us. Becoming a compassionate listener isn’t very glamorous. In fact, it’s a ministry of the nearly invisible. It falls into the “He must increase; I must decrease” part of the Christian walk. But it is powerful. It is a silent language of love. Today I want to encourage you to allow a part of your busy life to be eaten up by the gift of an attentive ear, because if you listen, listen, you will almost certainly hear someone crying out, “Listen!”

Generosity

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Would you agree with me that God is generous? While we don’t need to go any further than the gift of his Son to see his magnanimous nature, certainly the beauty of nature, his constant provision, and the hope of heaven further prove the point. We are called to be like him, which leads to the question, “Are we generous?” Am I? Are you?”

We live in a “me first” world, where more (for ourselves) is always (supposedly) better. The Bible teaches us to live counter to that culture.

  • It’s better to give than to receive.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Seek first the kingdom of God.

A truly generous life requires introspection. Gandhi said, “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Stop and think about that for a moment. Are there parts of our lives where even a tiny tweak toward simplicity might free up time or money that would make a great difference in someone else’s life? How much are we willing to do without for the sake of someone else?

Perhaps a trial is in order. Lent is coming (but any space on the calendar will do.) I’ll be giving up my beloved hot tea for several weeks. During that time, I’ll calculate the funds saved by that small sacrifice. Later I’ll send them to an organization that provides clean water in another country.** Will that small sum make a difference? Yes, it will, not to many, but to some. And some is far better than none.

Care to join me? Perhaps you’ll choose a different sacrifice, another beneficiary. Maybe you will be led to tweak your use of time instead, freeing up precious moments to serve or befriend wherever you are led. Let me encourage you, though: God wastes nothing. Whatever your sacrifice, he will use it. And you will be blessed.

‘Hope you’ll let me know how it goes!

**And if you choose clean water as the need you will help meet, consider reviewing one of these websites:

thewaterproject.org

charitywater.org

water.cc/h2oproject

saveadrink.org

How are you?

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We were in Delft buying, of course, Delftware, those blue and white ceramic pieces that say, “I went to The Netherlands!” It was late in the day, and the little shop was rather crowded, probably because their prices were so good. I waited in line at the counter, ready to pay for my Christmas ornaments, impressed by the excellent English of the clerk. (I had given up on learning any Dutch.)

When my turn came, I handed the young lady my selections, smiled, and said, “Hello, how are you?” Her response caught me off guard. With nary a hint of incrimination in her voice, she simply said, “May I ask you a question? Why do you Americans ask, ‘How are you?’ when you can’t possibly care how each person really is?”

I’m sure I hesitated a bit as I struggled to come up with a sensible answer to an excellent question. “It’s a greeting we use. We actually do try to care about the response.” (My answer was lame, but the best I could come up with at the time.) Here is my question today, though. Do we care about the answer? Or, in our hurried world, do we ask without thinking, and hope for a quick, “I’m fine. How are you?” so that we can go along our way without pause.

Pause. How often do we pause? How often do we probe a bit for the real answer to the “How are you?” question? And if we do receive an honest response, how often do we take time to listen, to follow up, to offer some sort of related service beyond a quick, “I’ll keep you in my prayers”?

I want to learn to pause, to mean it when I ask the question, to listen when I’m given an answer, to look into the eyes of friend and stranger alike and care. Please, join me. And if you are so inclined, tell me about your own “How are you?” encounters.

 

Care More

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When Steve and I drive to Galveston, one route takes us across a rather imposing bridge. That bridge looks overwhelmingly difficult and frightening as we approach it. Yard by yard, though, as we ascend it, it turns out to be quite manageable. Before too long, we are on the other side. This is how life’s difficulties look to me now. They seem impossible as we approach them, but in the moment by moment reality of facing them, they are doable. It was moment by moment reliance on our Lord that took me through this journey.

There are a few things I’d like to share with you, and remember myself, in order to better help any friends who walk this road in the future.

  • I never said, “my cancer.” Somehow those words, for me, meant owning something I was in the process of getting rid of. I said “my condition” or “I was diagnosed with” instead, somehow distancing myself from the evil within me. So, in the future, I will not say “your cancer” either.
  • A cancer diagnosis begins a surprisingly time consuming process of research, phone calls, and doctors’ appointments. It’s as good a time to bring a meal as the surgery/treatment phase.
  • That same busy process also becomes mentally overwhelming. I came to a point where I needed a week off from talking about my condition at all. I didn’t want it to begin to define me. My dear friends and family seemed to understand my need to change the subject or put off responding to their calls and emails.
  • A remarkable amount of current entertainment deals with death, or at least illness, and often cancer. Steve and I have even joked about the “Disney Death Syndrome.” How many popular kids’ movies begin with the demise of one or both parents, when, in reality, that is a very rare occurrence? How many children have, for years, harbored a fear of losing Mom or Dad because of the skewed perception brought about by even relatively wholesome entertainment? Happy movie recommendations were greatly appreciated both for my sake and for my husband’s. Two friends even brought by bags of carefully curated DVD’s.
  • Healthy food is a big help, and it need not be a complete meal. A few friends brought welcomed snacks and side dishes that were perfect additions to what others had provided.
  • “Let me know if I can do anything” is a great saying. “I’m going to the grocery store. What can I pick up for you?” is a better saying. “Can I run any errands for you, or take you somewhere?” is terrific as well.
  • Cards, texts, and emails work better than calls and visits during those first exhausting days after surgery. Many of those who offered to visit in person or via phone wisely added, “if and when you are up for it,” making me feel more comfortable about turning them down if I needed to be alone.

And there you have it—the short version of my journal entries over the past two months. May you never have to walk this road, but if you do, may my words turn your eyes to the One who will provide all you need.

Next Week: Something lighter this way comes ( I promise).

Taking No for an Answer

model-planes-1566822__480I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in a God who heals. However, I also believe in a God who sometimes allows us to walk a difficult path for reasons we may never understand. Even Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, while asking for an easier road, proclaimed, “Not my will, but yours be done.” I am fully convinced that when God says, “No,” he is still a good God, he still loves us, and he is still in control. I asked God decades ago to let me keep all my body parts and specifically included my reproductive organs in that list. As I write, I am recovering from a hysterectomy. I also prayed fervently that I could have that surgery done quickly, sparing me a long period of wait and see. That was not to be. God did not give me everything I asked. He gave me many blessings and miraculous moments. It’s my great pleasure to describe them here, but please don’t misunderstand. Even if he had said no to every request I made, he would still be worthy of my trust.

I’ll start with an almost whimsical blessing. The second half of 2016 was packed with plans: A wedding in Florida, a wedding in Wyoming, a reunion in North Carolina, and a writers’ conference in California. My diagnosis changed all that in an instant. Despite my plan-ahead nature, and somewhat to my husband’s surprise, I’d never booked flights to Wyoming or California. All I had to cancel were a couple of hotel reservations. We could still go to Florida, but needed to return several days ahead of schedule so that I could begin the many doctor visits needed before surgery. We were almost finished with the expensive process of changing our return when I remembered that our American Express card offered a credit that would cover a portion of the fees. When I asked if we could switch to that card to complete the process, the agent on the phone said, “I’ve already run the other card. I don’t think I can make the change, but I’ll check with my supervisor.” After a long wait, she came back on the line and said, “I’m sorry ma’am. I’m not able to change credit cards. The only thing I will be able to do is refund the full $400 in change fees.” Can I explain that? No, but I can tell you that call, which I made just ten hours after my doctor had called, became a reminder that God was going to carry me through this nightmare, no matter where it led. But wait, there’s more…

Our trip to North Carolina needed to be cancelled completely, and we hadn’t purchased flight insurance. I called the airline and explained my situation, expecting that this time I’d surely incur those heavy fees. I asked if there was anything we could do. The agent, clearly helping me from a call center on the other side of the world, did indeed show me where to apply for a refund (which was later granted.) But, get this, he quoted scripture (James 1:5, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”) and sang to me, “God will make a way…” Here I was, disappointed and in need of encouragement. Not only did I get my money back, but the Christian agent on the other side of the world preached to me. Weird, but wonderful.

Next Week: And Then We Danced

The Barnabas Bunch

ewm-coverToday I’ll be sharing an essay by my mom about a famous encourager. But first, let me encourage you to check out Every Wednesday Morning by Beth Smith. If you want a copy for yourself, or want to give a few copies as Christmas gifts, you can find Every Wednesday Morning here on Etsy. It’s a collection of 65 weekly devotionals that will encourage you, challenge you, and make you laugh all at the same time. If you grab a copy, be sure to let me know what you think!

Now, back to The Barnabas Bunch by Beth Smith.

Acts 4:36 tells of a man named Joseph who encouraged the early church so much that they nicknamed him Barnabas, which means Son of Encouragement. Barnabas lived up to his name. He encouraged the apostles to accept Paul, and he encouraged the new believers in Antioch to stay true to their faith.

We can be great encouragers as well. I’d like to invite you to join my new club, the Barnabus Bunch. But like any club, we have a few by-laws.

  1. We promise not to give prideful encouragement by building ourselves up, or by saying, “If you’d do what I did …” with a superior attitude. 1 Corinthians 8:1 (NIV) says, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” (So no puffin’ allowed.)
  2. We promise not to build up and tear down at the same time, sort of like the old southern cliché of saying something rotten but ending the sentence with “bless her heart.” We will concentrate on words that really do build others up.
  3. We promise to consider these questions before giving encouragement:

Will it help develop faith and hope?

Does it promote peace?

Is it spoken in love?

Will it bless the person receiving it?

Paul describes the perfect attitude of an encourager in Romans 15, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:1-2 NIV). You can bear with my doubts and fears and weaknesses and use the strengths you have in those areas to encourage me. In turn, I use my strengths where you may be weak to build you up. We do this, not to please ourselves, but to show our love for each other. And it’s God who gives us the ability to be encouragers, even as he encourages us.

If you agree to the three rules listed, then welcome to the Barnabus Bunch! Here’s the club motto. (I hope you’ll memorize it and say it often.)

“Therefore, encourage one another and build up each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV).

Activate your new membership by encouraging someone today. You’ll find you are encouraged yourself as you help someone else. May God make each of us sensitive to the needs of others, and may he use us to express his love.