Memory of Love

You’re my favorite granddaughter!

My grandmother—affectionately called Grandmartie—showered me with love and filled empty spaces in my young life and into adulthood. She had that way about her.

My mother and father worked full time, which gobbled up much of their time.  Fortunately, Grandmartie lived close by.

I loved being at my grandmother’s house. Memories flooded my heart when I came across the pictures of me sitting on her lap, along with her dog Judy. And blowing bubbles on her back step with my brother Greig.

My grandparent’s spacious backyard allowed room for Greig and me to play, and became the place of family gatherings when the weather permitted. How well I remember perching on their lawn swing, and leaning over the edge to let the juice and seeds of my scrumptious slice of watermelon fall on the grass.

Some days after school, I’d bound up her backstairs, calling “yoo-hoo,” a greeting I learned from her. The delight in her face when she saw me trot around the corner into the kitchen sent an undeniable message: “You are special. I’m glad you’re here.” Often, she’d ask, “Want me to fix you an eggnog?”

Quality time. That was her greatest gift. It didn’t matter what we were doing together. Her presence poured love, personal interest, security, and devotion into my heart. Her words and teaching built confidence within me that eventually overpowered my shyness.

After I went away to college and then ventured to California to begin serving with Cru, an international Christian organization, her influence continued. I looked forward to receiving Grandmartie’s personal notes, crafted in her beautiful, unique handwriting.

She believed in me and prayed for my future. My choice to join the staff of Cru brought her joy, because she had talked to me about Jesus from the time I was small. She knew I had stepped on a path where I would have the chance to help others know about Him.

After living and working in California for seven years, I accepted an overseas assignment with Cru in the Philippines. Soon I began receiving Grandmartie’s airmail letters relating her latest ventures and news of the family, as well as encouraging words and wise advice.

Then she and my mom began talking about traveling to the Philippines for my first Christmas. A wrinkle in that dream plan surfaced when someone knocked her off balance at the retirement home, and she broke her hip. Still she was determined to make the trip to see me. After six months of vigorous therapy, she boarded the plane with Mom. Her age? 86!!

Little did I know that my Grandmartie still had more years ahead to love and nurture me. Just short of 100, she left this earth to be with her Lord and Savior. Yet, her legacy of love has enabled me to become the woman she envisioned and the person God designed me to become.

The greatest gift anyone can give us is love. What special person has poured love into your life?

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God;
and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” 

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Learn, Live, and Hope

What has happened in your life so far this year?

Have you started pursuing one of your resolutions? Maybe you’ve taken a risk and tried something new. Perhaps you’re at a standstill, overwhelmed by your long list. Or you’ve check off one major thing and you’re smiling right now. If you allowed God to refresh you through a friend this week, you’re probably energized to take the next step. Undoubtedly, we’re at various stages in our journey.

I’ve adopted the above quote as my motto for this new year. Maybe it has resonated with you, as well. All of us lived yesterday in the best way we could. Yet, certainly we can learn from a decision we wish we hadn’t made, or a conversation with a family member or friend that didn’t go well, or the way we allowed fear to shatter our confidence in a certain situation. We can give all those things to God and learn from yesterday.

We’ve already lived yesterday, but now we can embrace the present. Today, let’s live in the moment, capturing all we can from each experiences and allowing joy to overcome even a disappointment. If we put our heart into whatever is happening in front of us, we won’t miss what God has prepared. How is today going for you?

We don’t know how tomorrow is going to play out, but we can have hope because God has a good plan for the rest of our future. Scary unknowns may be lurking, but we can let go of those thoughts, trust God, and return to enjoying today! If we belong to God, we are assured that He will equip us to handle whatever tomorrow may bring.

Learn, live and hope. Let’s contemplate these words today as we stand in the crossroad between yesterday and tomorrow.

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11, TLB

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Presents or Presence?

Just imagine…Christ’s birth opened the way for us to be in the presence of God.

“But to all who received [Jesus Christ],
He gave the right to become children of God.

All they needed to do was to trust him to save them.”
John 1:12

In His presence, we are able to feel His love, experience His peace regardless of our circumstances, and hear His assurance that His plan for us in 2020 will unfold with perfect timing.

“In [Jesus Christ] and through faith in him 
we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” 
Ephesians 3:12 

In the midst of our busyness at Christmas time, let’s pause to thank God for His incredible gift of Jesus and to relish our privilege to sit in God’s presence as we pray.

A New Kind of Thanksgiving

Photo by Ashwini Chaudhary on Unsplash

“A little boy in a Vietnamese immigrant family was learning English. He had
a particular problem with ‘g’s’ and ‘l’s’. On Thanksgiving Day, he attended
church services with his family. After the service he shook my hand and said,
‘Happy Thanksliving!’ Not a bad description of real thanksgiving. When we
are truly thankful, it radically affects our living.”

This devotional story by Dr. Lloyd John Ogilvie moved my spirit. Reading it also unleashed a new commitment within me. Beginning today, I want to freely and genuinely express thanksgiving to God, and to the people around me, every
day so I’m truly engaged in “Thanksliving.”

Will you join me? Let’s make this Thanksgiving Day and all the days beyond it
an experience of “thanksliving” and watch how it changes our lives.

The Downside of People Pleasing

I still struggle with what people think of me.

Proof surfaced during the opening night of the annual Word Weavers retreat in Leesburg, Florida. We were asked to dress as our favorite detective to coincide with the theme: Your Identity as Writers. I chose Miss Marple, the unexpected detective created by the famous mystery writer, Agatha Christie. My costume was a big hit! So what could go wrong?

Well, the MC asked us to come to the podium and explain who we were. My introduction brought smiles. Unfortunately, I threw out two more comments as if I were the real Miss Marple. The first brought a chuckle, the second dead silence and blank stares. Hurrying to my seat, my mind bombarded me with accusations. “You talked too long. Why did you try to be clever? You changed their positive view of you.”

After wrestling with my thoughts for a while, I remembered the solution…once again. My new freedom allows me to make mistakes without focusing on what people might think. It felt good to let go of that silly incident, confess my self-centered thoughts, and thank God that my flaws and imperfections help me be a real person to the people I meet.

“I am full of mistakes and imperfections and therefore I am real.”
Shaun Hick

Leigh McLeroy, in The Sacred Ordinary, explains, “I was a performing child, and I remember performing well—not only because I wanted the satisfaction of doing a thing rightly but because I wanted the praise that typically comes with achievement. . . . (My parents) praised my efforts and my accomplishments, and I liked that very much. But I also believe . . . that they would have loved me just as much had I not performed so well. I believe this because I love the children in my life, even when they don’t shine. . . . Where love is concerned, it’s belonging that counts—not performing.”

She ends with I Corinthians 13:7-8, “[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. . . .” Then Leigh asks, “What could you do that could make [God] love you more? He has already given everything to make you his.”

God longs for us to bask in His love, the best defense against whatever our minds might prompt us to do, especially in front of an audience.

Have you had an embarrassing, people-pleasing moment? What did you learn from it?

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Intentional Gratitude

Author Terri Blackstock said, “I was recently complaining to some friends about some stresses in my life, and one of them wrote me an email that I will never forget.”

That email came from her author friend, Athol Dickson. His heart had been crushed by the loss of his mother after an agonizing struggle with cancer. He couldn’t think about God, pray or read the Bible. Nothing pulled him out of his despair. One day his wife insisted on taking a road trip together, and during their drive, he saw the most beautiful sunset he’d ever seen. He wept with gratitude for that sunset. From that moment on, he began looking for God in everything and finding reasons to be thankful.

Athol instructed Terri, “Starting immediately, thank God for every gift He gives, from those as small as a whiff of honeysuckle or jasmine in your backyard, to the realization that you just had a few moments without back pain, to really big things like [hearing news that someone you love is safe.]

“I’m talking about the practice of intentional gratitude. ‘Intentional,’ because it involves an aggressive effort to remain aware of God’s gifts as you move through your day, and to actively acknowledge each gift with a simple, ‘Thank You.’

“. . . In a life filled with the practice of intentional gratitude, there can be no ‘Yes, but . . .’ or “It’s not fair,” or “Why me?’ downward spiraling kinds of thinking. The two attitudes simply do not mix. Also, to focus on life’s gifts you must live in the moment. With the practice of intentional gratitude, there is no time for regrets about the past, or worries about the future. There is only thankfulness for the here and now.”

Athol went on to say that a default setting in life is to take details for granted, when in fact almost every part of every day is a direct gift from God. He told Terri, “It’s not easy, but if you do take this seriously and work at it until it becomes a routine part of life, I promise unconditionally that you will regain your joy.

Terri decided to take Athol’s advice and try “spinning” her thoughts around. Instead of being perturbed about a crisis that cost her a lot of money, she thought to herself, “God provided every penny that we needed.” Instead of whining about having to do something she didn’t want to do, she adjusted her thinking to, “God gave me the strength to get through that.”

She explained, “I realized I was going through most of my life ignoring those things that God deserved thanks for. I wasn’t looking for God, so I kept missing Him . . . . Once I reviewed times when God quietly worked in my life . . . it changed my brain. Dread became anticipation. Complaining turned into praise.”

As I read those last two sentences about dread and complaining, I knew God was shining His flashlight on me. I’d allowed dread to infiltrate my mind and block my thankfulness to God for opening a door to something wonderful.

I had followed the encouragement of my publisher to become a member of AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association). That membership paved the way for me to register for the upcoming AWSA conference in Nashville. Immediately following the conference, the Christian Product Expo (CPE) will begin. My publisher invited me, as one of their authors, to be present at their book table at CPE so I can meet people, and sell and sign my books. I’ve been given a chance to step into a far-reaching network of writers and speakers who love and pray for each other and support one another in their endeavors. Without the open door to join AWSA, none of this would be possible.

You would think my excitement would be mounting as I contemplate these upcoming happenings in Nashville. However, I have allowed “dread” to run wild. What am I supposed to do to prepare? What promotional materials do I need? What should I expect during the training? Who will I room with? What clothes should I pack? How will I keep track of where I’m supposed to be with such a packed and varied schedule?

By focusing only on the unknowns, I created pressure for myself. Finally, I recognized my sin. When I confessed it and began expressing gratitude to God, my dread changed to anticipation! Now I can’t wait to learn new ways to enhance my writing and speaking ministry. I’m looking forward to meeting many new friends, embracing each day, and watching God orchestrate all the details.

These days my journal is full of thanks to God because I’m noticing the big and little ways He is filling my life with meaning and purpose. Getting into the practice of “intentional gratitude” has increased my joy of living life with God.

Is there something you would like to intentionally express gratitude to God for?

“As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 
having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and
established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and
overflowing with gratitude.” 
Colossians 2:6-7

 

*Excerpts from “A Note from the Author” section of the book, If I’m Found, by Terri Blackstock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where is Alan?

Ever since my divine encounter with Alan, the man at the sea, I’d wondered what had happened in his life since our long conversation at the beach several months before. (Enjoy the full story in my February post: https://liveabovefear.com/2019/02/25/man-at-the-sea/)

Today, I waved goodbye to my nephew Casey and his daughter Piper as they headed home after our overnight stay at the same beach where I’d met Alan. Grabbing this opportunity to look for Alan, I headed for my car.

While winding through the back roads, I prayed, “You are God so you know exactly where Alan is today. Please lead me to him.”

God’s plan of precision was unfolding while I drove. My turns on the road were only guesses as I passed by high-rise hotels and looked for a lower white building I remembered seeing behind Alan when we talked on the beach. Searching for the public steps he may have taken, I saw a nearby parking lot—but those slots were private. Spotting a service truck parked in a grassy area on a side road, I pulled in beside the vehicle and jumped out. Realizing my bumper stuck out slightly into the road, I got back in and pulled the car up a bit.

Satisfied, I reached for my book to give Alan, if I found him. I wandered toward the parking lot near the beach steps. As I crossed the street, I came face to face with a tall, thin women holding her dog and obviously heading for the beach, too. I hesitated, but she motioned for me to walk ahead of her.

As soon as I took a step forward, I heard, “So what book are you reading?”

I stopped, turned around, and held up the book. “This happens to be something I wrote.”

She looked at the title and sub-title, gasped, and threw her arms around my neck.

Stunned, but wanting to acknowledge her obvious trauma, I said, “You have faced rejection, too.”

“All my life.”

“I felt rejected during my growing up years,” I confided.

We exchanged names and the story of her sad life experiences tumbled out. Teresa mentioned being part of an Alcoholics Anonymous group. Could it be?

“Teresa, the reason I’m carrying this book, is I met a man named Alan on the beach several months ago. We talked about rejection and he wanted to read my book, so if I find him I want to give him this copy. He said he’s part of an AA group here. Do you happen to know him?”

“Tall, skinny?”

“Yes!”

“He lives up the street and attends often. Our group meets tonight so he may be there.”

“Would you give this to him?”

“Sure. I can’t believe this.” I couldn’t either.

Knowing this wasn’t the end of our conversation, Teresa suggested we move to the shady area so her little dog, Maxie, wouldn’t have to stand on the hot concrete.

Like friends who’d known each other a long time, we lowered ourselves on to the inviting green grass and continued our story telling. We realized the differences in our experiences, yet the complete understanding we shared created a bond.

In spite of all the trauma she’d endured, Teresa had set her sights on a two-year degree in social work. She is working against enormous odds, but her unfailing belief and trust in God since the age of 31 will undoubtedly fortify her as she moves toward discovering God’s eternal plan. Her passion is to help others know they are not alone.

God merged three lives into one beautiful story. Teresa helped me find Alan, and I listened to Teresa’s hurts and reinforced her hope in God for a better life.

“Teresa, we have to take some pictures.” We laughed and hugged, and made sure that one picture included her sweet, compliant dog Maxie. After all, he was the reason she was heading to the beach at that divine moment in time.

We exchanged cell phones and emails so we could keep in touch. As soon as I arrived home, I texted a handful of pictures.

Joy bubbled up inside me when I read Teresa’s response. “You blessed me today…God with skin.”

Will the Real Person Please Stand Up?

Tend Your Garden

“Gail, remember to tend your garden!”

Shirley is the kind of friend who sends me alerts whenever she discerns I’m forgetting to pause and tend my own personal garden. To give myself permission to slow down and go someplace or do something that allows me to relax, recharge, and reflect. To rest in a way that restores my soul.

Little did I know that my summer project would create a perfect environment to help this happen more frequently.

My well-used white wicker porch set no longer beckoned me outside. My heart longed for some pretty, comfortable, and durable chairs as well as a matching table. Fully expecting an extensive search, the moment I stepped into the patio display of a nearby store, my vision came to life. The high back, glider/swivel chairs, with colorful pillows casually thrown on as a suggestion, as well as the perfect-size glass-top table, screamed “Gail.” The patio sale, that reduced the price by $50, added to the thrill of the find.

A comedy of errors ensued as my neighbor Pam and I placed the huge box in her truck, lugged the individual pieces to my patio, and began assembling the first chair…only to discover the plastic bag containing screws, bolts, and directions was missing. After picking up the crucial bag from the store, our stressful DIY project continued. A little while later I called Stacey, the store manager I now knew on a first-name basis, and explained our predicament. Taking pity on us, she allowed us to bring everything back to the store so they could put it together for us. Patrick, their charming “assembly expert,” loved being our hero.

After carrying the completed set to its designated spot on my porch, and thanking Pam profusely, I released her to tackle her own weekend condo projects. With nothing else pressing to accomplish that day, I prepared my lunch and carried it outside to enjoy my new, colorful oasis.

While slowly gliding back and forth in my comfy chairs, I read my book and listened to the birds chirping. The flourishing fern, displayed in my large, cobalt-blue pot, brushed my soul with delight. Periodically, I drank in the beauty of the pink cypress tree, and flowers and foliage gracing the backyard beyond my enclosed porch. Without realizing it, two hours had passed. Smiling, I declared out loud, “Time stands still out here. I could easily stay all day.”

Inspired, the next day I gave myself another challenge: find the right flowers to plant in my clay pot, which had sat empty way too long. I set off to the perfect garden store. Spying one of the employees watering an extensive array of plants, I dashed over and presented my need. Immediately, she shut off the hose and led me to some small yellow, pink, and orange blossoms, called purslane.

“These flowers will quickly trail out of your pot.” She added, “I’m Debbie, and you can find me here any time.”

After pouring in the potting soil, I arranged the plants diagonally, as Debbie had instructed. Sure enough, even by the next morning they were peeking out of the pot.

To celebrate this fun and relaxing adventure, and the creation of my new getaway, I took my dinner out to the porch that night to grab some more leisure time.

A creative twist from God: the sweet, colorful blossoms close at the end of the day and open again in the morning. Now each day, after pulling back the curtains and stepping on to the porch, I say good morning to my new little friends. Then I peacefully move into a quiet time with my heavenly Father who knows the little pleasures that help me “tend my garden.”

In what ways do you stop and tend your personal garden so you are refreshed, revived and ready to walk back into the various arenas of your life? Sometimes it only takes a pause.

“The music in a song isn’t just the notes.
It’s the space between them.
A song without rests, without timing,
isn’t a song. It isn’t music.” 

John Ruskin

Choosing a Vibrant Life

 

I want you to meet someone who challenges my faith and motivates me to keep moving forward in my personal calling from God.

Her name is Paige. In my heart I’ve named her precious Paige. Here she is in her wheelchair, surrounded by her mother Julie (second from the left) and three of her amazing, cheerful “helpers.” Paige is deaf and unable to breath on her own, yet she attends each annual Florida Christian Writers Conference. None of us can even imagine all that it takes to make this possible. Some of the gals interpret, some are nurses, one takes notes for her.

During an afternoon break in this year’s conference, I happened to find the group outside enjoying the sunshine. Loved the chance to be with them for a little while apart from our classroom. You’ll enjoy reading Paige’s humorous story about what happened before I arrived on the scene. Look for “A Swarming Writers Conference” at www.ThePaigeProject.org

Through the years, we’ve attended some of the same classes and workshops. As soon as she’s positioned in the best spot for her, the class begins. While the presenter speaks from the front of the room, Paige “listens” by focusing her eyes on the designated interpreter for that day.

Paige is a writer who dictates her beautiful thoughts and an artist who paints with a brush in her mouth.

Consider the full credentials on her colorful  business card: author, artist, illustrator and speaker. Does that not move you to stand in awe of what God is accomplishing through her life?

As you look at her painting below, which  graces the back of her business card, ponder all that goes into producing such a work of art.

Paige inspires me by her determination to never hide the creative gifts God has given her. Even with her expansive limitations, she keeps choosing to live a vibrant life and stay faithful to God’s calling for her. 

I don’t want to hide what God has given me either, or shrink from accomplishing my part of His mission by His power. Each day my desire is to keep my eyes on Jesus and continue believing God’s promise to complete the work He began in me.

 

(To read about one of Paige’s personal experiences at the Florida Christian Writers Conference and glimpse her delightful personality, click on www.ThePaigeProject.org)

 

Man at the Sea

He sat in stillness, as if mesmerized by the crashing waves in front of him.

“Mind if I take your picture?” I ventured.

“That’s fine.”

After the photo shoot, I asked him the standard beach-side question, “Where’re you from?”

“I live here and usually come once a day. What brings you here on a week day? How’d you get time off?”

With a smile I replied, “I recently retired so I can come any time.”

“What’re you doing now that you’re retired?”

I offered the first thing that came to my mind. “Well, it’s given me time to write a book.”

“What’s it about?

“Fear of rejection.”

“That’s something we all face. But you just walked up and talked to me.” He looked up from his sandy perch with a smirk.

Caught off guard by this realization, I paused.

He admitted, “The thought of rejection holds me back from saying things or presenting my opinion because I want it to be perfect, you know?”

“I know. I used to be afraid of what people might think of me. Making progress, though.”

“What are the principles in your book?”

After presenting the three sections—Living in Captivity, Breaking Strongholds, Tasting Freedom—I told him I had God in my life and He had set me free from the things that kept me in bondage.

“I want to buy your book.”

That led to an exchange of names and the full title of my book.

Then Alex told me more. “I belong to an AA group. I used to go to keep from drinking. Now I go because of the fellowship. And I feel safe.”

“How long have you been sober?”

“Seventeen years. I don’t want to take one drink, because I don’t want to give up what I have in the group.”

“That’s wonderful. God wants to help you stay sober.” After a pause I asked, “Alex, where are you on your spiritual journey?”

“I’m into spirituality but not religion.””

“God isn’t into religion either. Instead, He wants to have a personal relationship with us. Prayer is the way we can talk to Him, just like you and I are talking.”

Pausing for a moment, we looked toward the rolling waves, blue sky, and brilliant sunshine and agreed that all of it reflected God. Unexpectedly, Alex said, “I sometimes think of a pearl and how the irritation of the sand inside the oyster creates something beautiful.”

“And each pearl is unique,” I said.

“It’s like we are unique, but imperfect. When we speak up, we don’t need to be afraid to be imperfect. In my AA group, I listen but don’t say much about myself.”

With a big smile, I exclaimed, “You can tell them about our conversation. Then it’s like a story, not just about you.”

“Yeah, Jesus told parables, which are like stories.” His eyes shone as if he were considering the amazing possibility of being able to tell his story.

Sensing this a perfect time to explain more, I told him that Jesus had died to pay for our sins so we would be able to know God personally. When I asked if he’d heard about Jesus dying on the cross, he nodded.

“Alex, would you like to pray with me and ask God to come into your life? Or do you want to pray on your own?”

“I will pray myself, because you told me how to do that.”

As we stood together, he said, “Thank you for stopping to talk. I’ll buy your book. I know it will help me.”

“Alex, do you realize that God arranged that you would come to this spot and I would choose this time to walk by?”

We smiled at each other with the realization that this was an arranged appointment we would never forget.

As I walked away, I felt like my feet were barely touching the sand. Silently, I asked God to give Alex courage to pray, and to share his beach story and book with his AA group. I could only imagine the lives that might be changed when they listen to him speak up without fear.

I’m praying that this spiritual seed-planting and watering time will blossom and flourish in the heart of Alex, the man God brought to the sea that day.

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