Stand up, let go, move on… Look Up

We all have those memories of regret. You know, the ones where we wish we could go back and change something we’d done. One of mine happened when I was in fifth grade. I’m still not even sure why I did it. Peer pressure. Trying to be cool. Just acting a fool and not thinking. Whatever the reason, I made up a short poem about one of my teachers–one of my favorite teachers. It was a cruel poem, a hurtful poem.

And he overheard it. I will never forget how he looked at me when he took me aside to talk about what I said. I knew he was hurt, and yet he made it a lesson. And it was one I will always, always remember because he didn’t deserve the unkindness I’d shown. Later I would learn that it didn’t really matter if the person deserves an unkindness or not. Pettiness, cruelty and ugly words are never okay.

Recently the hubby and I started watching a PBS series called, My Mother and Other Strangers. It’s set during World War II in a small town in Northern Ireland where the Coyne family and their neighbors try to come to grips with Americans who are stationed nearby.

One of the episodes this weekend centered around the trial of one of the Hanlon boys, a family well known to the townsfolk as troublemakers and ne’er-do-wells. At the start, the Hanlons are out fishing for eels on the lough. The problem is, it’s illegal for the villagers to fish for eel because a large corporation has exclusive rights to them. When the law stops them, one of the Hanlons punches the constable… and hence a trial ensues.

But Mistress Coyne (the mother from the series’ title) is an Englishwoman, and she’s recently read a book about how the right to fish eels was stolen from the local Irish fishermen. So, during the trial, despite her own previous run-in with the Hanlons, including one in which she pulled a gun on them, she feels the need to stand up on their behalf. Though she’s threatened with jail time and contempt, she successfully convinces the court to let her speak, and she gives an impassioned plea for the fishermen.

The Hanlon boy is convicted, despite Mistress Coyne’s speech, but she does move the court to reduce the sentence so that he doesn’t serve jail time. All of the men are jubilant, shouting thanks to Mistress Coyne. But when the elder Hanlon approaches her, she scolds him. She tells him that she spoke up not for his son but for all of the fishermen. And she says that she knows his son was, in fact, guilty of the charge of striking the constable, but that what she did was for justice and not for the Hanlons.

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God’s timing never ceases to amaze me. I needed to see this episode. I needed to remember that sometimes, standing up is more than any one person or any one thing. To put it more simply, “Do what is right, because it is right,” which is a line from another favorite movie of ours.

This past week, I stood up. I spoke out against an incident that I can only describe as bullying. And I didn’t do it because the victim was right. Whether she was or wasn’t really didn’t matter. Ganging up on a person, especially when she can’t offer a defense, is wrong. It’s easy to wrap ourselves in faux virtue and say that a person deserves what she gets. It’s hard to offer a defense for someone when you know she’s in the wrong.

My actions last week cost me some things. But I realized the next day that it had only cost me a little bit. I gained a lot more. I recognized something about myself and my circumstances.

That sometimes, the best thing to do is to walk away.

That walking away doesn’t make me weak and doesn’t make me a coward.

That it doesn’t mean I’m not cut out for greater things.

That, in fact, the exact opposite is true. I am cut out for greater things. Because God never closes one door without one day opening another.

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This week, the hubby and I will sell our current home and close on the purchase of a new one. When we moved here almost ten years ago, this was supposed to be our “forever” home. He was retiring, and we were looking for our little spot of paradise to enjoy. A few years ago, everything changed for us. We stood up for something we firmly believed was just. And there were costs.

We were sued.

We lost friends.

We lost my husband’s right to enjoy something he loves.

But God works best in those moments.

As Ann Voskamp describes in her book, The Broken Way, “Maybe the love gets in easier right where the heart is broken open.” Through this experience, my husband and I have grown in our marriage. We’ve grown in our relationship with the Lord. And I’ve also, in part because of this, discovered a calling on my heart for sharing my faith journey with others.

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As I was packing this weekend, I came across two notes from the priest who was the pastor of my church as a child. The first was written when I was just a little girl, when he responded to a letter I’d sent him. I was upset about a friend who lived down the street from me. She was a wild child, always getting into trouble and sometimes trying to get everyone else into it, too. The other girls in our neighborhood didn’t want to play with her. They didn’t like her and made fun of her. I was torn about what to do. Father reminded me to be like Jesus and to treat everyone with kindness. He reminded me to do the right thing.

The second note was a thank-you from him, written just last Christmas. I’d sent him a gift and told him about my fond memory of his guidance so many years ago. He told me that he’d used that gift as the centerpiece for his Christmas mass, to remind his parish to be more like Christ.

Do you see? Nothing is wasted with God. Everything has a time and a purpose and all of those are magnified through Him.

Sometimes we must stand up.

Sometimes we must let go.

And sometimes we must move on.

And always we must look to Him who provides and will multiply everything to His greatness.

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Love and blessings,

Olivia

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The Ministry of Showing Up

Danny and I have a lot of favorite movies, but one near the top of the list is Open Range with Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, and Annette Bening.  Costner was a gun hand with a rough past, and throughout the movie, he is consistently struggling against that former life while at the same time feeling that he’s not worthy of anything better.  In one scene, Bening tells him, “I’ve seen who you are, Charlie.  The way you looked after that boy, and the respect you give boss.  They might be little bits, but they’re enough for a woman who looks.”

Not long ago, my boss, Mr. T, received a letter in the mail.  In it the man recounted that he’d recently stopped by a funeral on his way home from work.  He said his wife had looked askance when he told her, stating about the deceased, “You didn’t even know them.”  But he recounted the story of some years earlier when Mr. T. showed up at his mother’s funeral.  My boss didn’t know the deceased and was only an acquaintance of the man who wrote the letter.  But it had made a very strong impact on him, just the act of Mr. T. being there.  And so he decided that day to pay it forward in a sense.

My boss told me, “There’s a ministry in just showing up.”

One of the things I’ve noticed since I started attending a Baptist church with Danny is how often pastor reminds the congregation of sharing the gospel with others.  It’s not something I remember hearing much in the Catholic church, although I know there were many ministries which did that very thing.  I’ve often wondered, how is one called?

When I was a little girl, I drank my Grandma’s bottle of holy water.  I don’t remember her exact words, but whatever she said made me think I was going to become a nun.  Our priest often asked the parish to pray for people to hear and receive the calling, because of the shortage of those entering either the priesthood or the sisterhood.  I never really understood what that calling was, and so eventually I just figured I’d never received it.  Case closed.

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But I’ve chewed on what Mr. T said about “the ministry of showing up” a lot lately.  Especially since my dad died.  There is no way to measure the comfort received by the presence of those who were at the visitation and the funeral.  I will cherish the recollection of the moment my eyes fell upon each them and the solace that seeped into my soul.  So many family and friends came from far away, some of them we hadn’t seen in years.  Mechanics who hadn’t worked with Daddy in years stopped by to relate some story about him.  I was so surprised when the father of a girl who had lived next door to us as kids showed up.  He told me about how Daddy had let him move in with him for a few months until he and his wife had gotten married.  I’d had no idea about that, but it gave me something new to remember when I think of my father, and no price can be placed on that gift.

On the day of the funeral, I was seated at the front, mentally going over my eulogy when I looked up and saw Mr. T and his lovely wife walking into the room.  He’d hired a temp to catch the phones and had driven four and a half hours to be there.  But he’d shown up, and I just cannot find the words to express my gratitude for that.

It may be that “the calling” I was expecting as a child isn’t at all what I thought it was.  Maybe we are each called daily, in ways we cannot even fathom, to become the conduit for God’s enduring love and healing.

Twenty years ago, my sister died suddenly.  It was Thanksgiving Day, and I was in the Dallas/Fort Worth area with Danny’s family.  We’d flown our small Cessna, arriving just in time before the weather closed in.  When we found out about my sister’s death, the only way to get me home quickly was a commercial flight the next morning.  Danny would follow later in his plane as soon as the front pushed through.  Early that Friday we arrived at the mostly vacant terminal, and there at the gate to my flight was a man my husband knew.

Bob West is a sports writer in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area, and Danny had met him in association with the museum he built there.  He told Bob about what had happened and that I would be flying home alone.  A few minutes later, we boarded, the plane empty.  I took a seat, and Bob took the one next to me.  If he spoke during the flight, I don’t remember it. Conversation would have been difficult in that moment anyway. But he was there.  The presence of a stranger beside me was like a bolster for me as I prepared to face what seemed unthinkable.

I hadn’t given it much thought until today, but I have no idea where Bob was flying from that morning.  It was Thanksgiving, and he has a wonderful wife and children.  I imagine work had kept him away, but he was about to get home to his family.  Whatever the circumstance, however the machinations of the world, he was given an opportunity that day.  And he took it.  He took a seat beside a broken-hearted person who just needed his presence.

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What’s remarkable about all of these stories is that the person called didn’t have to do anything extraordinary.  Sometimes, not even speaking a word.  Yet the impact of their company was stronger than anything they could have said or done.  Just being there was enough.  Just the simple act of showing up.

But it’s more than that, too.  Because when someone shows up for you, you then become aware of the opportunities you have to do the same.  I hope there haven’t been many where I ignored the calling.  Just a week after Daddy’s death, my husband received a call from a friend who’d lost his daughter.  And he “showed up” for him, listening and speaking and paying forward the same gift he and I have so often received.  What a humbling blessing to receive that calling!

We reap what we sow in life.  And I want to be the person who shows up when someone has a need.  A phone call.  A smile. Holding open a door.  They’re little things, but they’re important to the one who looks.

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Sunday at church, pastor talked about Jehovah Roi, the Lord who sees.  And if God sees all, that doesn’t just mean He sees the bad in us, but also the potential for greatness.  And He knows the needs of our hearts.

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For my last release, I did a lot of research about alcoholism and the twelve steps.  One of the things I learned about recovery is that for many people healing is found by helping others–sponsors for addicts and also addicts themselves.  They receive something powerful in the process, and it’s part of the foundation of the program.

Are you hurting today?  Is there something weighing heavily on your heart?  Have you lost someone?  It may be that a chance to “show up” for someone else will cross your path.  Look for it, because the blessing of taking advantage of the chance the Lord places before us is real.  I know that the days I struggle most with the recent loss of my dad are days of great opportunity.  They’re little things, but they’re enough.

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God bless you all,

Olivia

Gone to work for Jesus

“Papa’s gone to work for Jesus now.”

When my five-year-old nephew said it, with such bright, shining belief in his eyes, something clicked in my mind. I’d been struggling for days to find the words, the relevance of what I wanted to say, and finally, it all made sense.

Copy of just as muchA few months ago, I asked my husband, Danny whether I should talk to my daddy about faith. My mother is a strong Catholic woman who instilled her beliefs in all three of her daughters. We were blessed to know Christ the Lord from a young age. Daddy didn’t go to church with us much, if at all. Lately, as I’d been exploring my deeper faith and the calling God had put on my heart to share that faith in blogs, I’d suddenly thought about talking to Daddy about the Lord.

Still, although I spoke to him often on the phone, I never once brought up the subject. Then on March 30th, my mom called to tell me Daddy was gone.

My world crumbled, and in the midst of the loss, I had the gut-wrenching fear that I’d failed. Had God called on me to speak to Daddy? Had I missed some mission He’d laid on my heart? All opportunity was gone, irrevocably lost.

My family isn’t a stranger to loss. This November will be twenty years since my little sister, just eighteen at the time, died from an aneurysm. I thought watching my parents go through that would be the hardest thing I could ever experience. But losing my daddy was different. I was stricken in a way I hadn’t known before. And I couldn’t help but worry about all of the things Daddy and I hadn’t said.

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Over the years, I’ve given a few eulogies. My sister’s, both my grandmothers’. But now, I was terrified, certain I couldn’t give Daddy’s eulogy. I didn’t think I could hold it together. I didn’t feel worthy. But when our cousin who would be conducting the service asked us if anyone would speak, Mom said she thought I would. How could I say no? I swallowed up my trepidation and worked to convince myself that I could do this last thing for the man who meant so much to me.

What I didn’t know was that I would be doing it for me, too. I spent the two nights before the funeral working on what I would say, looking at pictures, listening to music, getting lost in memories. Crying until I was sure there were no more tears, then crying some more. And gradually, slowly, something began to be painted in my heart.

Then finally, the night before the funeral, my nephew popped out with those words: “Papa’s gone to work for Jesus now.” And I knew that I’d been waiting to hear it so that I could put all of my jumbled thoughts together.

This was what I said about my daddy at his funeral:

When we were going through photographs the last several days, my baby sister remarked that she was surprised there were so many of Daddy. In some ways, it seemed like he was just in the background. But on the table before us, we had picture after picture of smiles, of dancing, of laughter, of joking and fooling around. Of swagger and handsome blue eyes.

A lot of those pictures, some of our favorite ones, were of him in his work clothes, grease on his hands and on his face. Mom said that’s what she remembers about the first day she met him, dirty face, and all she could see were those pretty blue eyes.

And that big, bold smile.

Mom always said Daddy was the provider. The girls and I knew he worked hard when we were growing up, doing any and all jobs he needed to do to take care of us. It wasn’t easy, and it seemed like he always thought it wasn’t enough. I remember when he would take us to school he always worried that we would be embarrassed to be seen in his dirty old truck. The girls and I never saw it that way. He took care of us. We were proud of that.

And he did it with a smile.

When I went to a retreat in high school, we were given letters written by our family. I have all of those in a box at home, but there’s only one of them that I could almost recite verbatim. Daddy wrote about the big test he was due to take for a promotion at work and how he had to put off taking it when I was born. And later he passed that test, but he said he was never as proud of that as he was of having me. He loved all his girls, especially Mom. After all, he picked her up off the street, fed and clothed her, bought her her first pair of shoes and gave her three beautiful daughters… or at least that the way he told it.

With that sly smile on his face.

In Mawmaw’s diaries, she wrote about how excited she was when her Cecil was born after she thought her baby days were over. All his sisters were so thrilled to have a new little baby. But then Uncle Calvin came along after and he had to share the spotlight, and maybe that’s why he had to work a little harder for attention. Mom said Aunt Winnie and Uncle Frank talked about how he would stand on their kitchen table and dance and put on a show. Probably that’s when he first started developing the swagger.

And always with that smile.

Daddy used to tell about how when they were in high school, Aunt Emily and especially Aunt Carol would constantly check the oil in their cars because the baseball team would be practicing across the street from the house. He would roll his eyes about them. But I when reminded him that apparently showing off and shaking your backside ran in his family…

Then he would give me that smile.

Mawmaw told me about one time Uncle Gary, Daddy’s best friend, came running up to the house screaming, “Cecil killed himself!” And here came her little boy, limping back home covered in blood and calm as could be after falling out of a tree. Daddy always told Mom that he never left home, his Mom and Pop did. Daddy refused to go to with them when they moved, instead staying behind in their house. He was headstrong, and I think because of that, Mawmaw always seemed to know he could take care of himself. And he took care of her. And he took care of us. And he took care of all of his people. That’s what he did. He was the provider.

And he did it with that smile.

I talked to Daddy often the last several years. Since he was retired, he would call regularly, usually to tell me about how he’d harassed the people at Deepwater Horizon. I think retirement was hard for him; he never could find his bearings. But he enjoyed spending a lot of his time with Uncle Mud, teasing about driving Miss Daisy when he would take him to the family reunions. At the end of every call, he’d ask if I needed anything, pressing to be sure my husband was taking care of me because if he wasn’t… I’d laugh and tell him of course he was, then Daddy would say, “Sorry ‘bout that, baby. You know how your daddy is. You know I love you.”

And I could practically see that smile through the phone.

I don’t know if I thought he’d always be there. The practical side of me knew that he wouldn’t be, but somehow, my heart didn’t really ever consider he would be gone.

A new family moved into the house next door to Mom and Daddy about a year ago. A few days before the funeral, those little kids were playing with my nephew, and one of the little girls came to me. She was about five, and she was asking me about what happened to my daddy. I told her that he had gone to be with Jesus in heaven. She nodded her head, somber and said, “He was a nice man. He was nice to me, and he helped my momma.”

From the mouths of babes, right? But maybe they have a better understanding of these things than we do. The night before the funeral, my nephew was trying to sort things out in his mind and he told us that Papa was gone to work for Jesus now.

Scripture says “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” We understand this was signaling Christ’s own death and the promise of his resurrection. We are told we are to be as Christ, with the same promise of eternity if we follow him. Daddy wasn’t a religious man. His life was of a provider but looking back now it is easy to see the Christ in his heart. And that means we have the promise of seeing him again in that place Jesus has prepared for us all.

just as much (2)When I became a writer, Daddy took to occasionally calling me “John Boy.”  It became a joke when I went home sometimes, that when we would go to bed he’d say “Good night, John Boy” just like in the series The Waltons.  That was one of Daddy’s favorite shows.  I’ve been thinking a lot about John, Sr. in the series, and how he never went to church with the family, despite his wife Olivia’s strong beliefs.

But in The Waltons, John, Sr.’s life spoke for itself.  His goodness to his family and others, how hard he worked.  All of that was a testament to the heart of the man.  And in the end, I know that’s Daddy, too.  And maybe Papa hasn’t just gone to work for Jesus now.  I think maybe he’s been promoted, that he’s received the promotion Christ promises us all if we believe in Him.

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Olivia

 

Hugs from the Devil

When’s the last time you hugged the devil?  It may be more recent than you think.  The enemy becomes our friend when we least expect it.  Despite all the pain we know he’ll cause, we start to get used to him.  Start to find comfort in his presence, because once he’s been there a while, the idea of change is scary.  Because the longer he’s been there, the more he’s separated us from Christ.  And that’s when he becomes the one we come to rely on.

What is your devil?  Is it drugs?  Sex?  Alcohol?  Food? What in your life comes between you and God?

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2017 was a tough year.  My husband I got sued and eventually settled, but at a great price.  It was a long and drawn out process that left me angry.  Frankly, I was livid.  Not just a momentary kind of anger, but a long-term seething and rabid sort of rage.  I wanted someone to pay. I wanted to make them pay.  None of those musings of vengeance required a shovel and a deep hole, but there were days I actually prayed for a way to take extreme measures against them.  I wanted to hurt them.

And the more I let that anger fester in me, the more separate I could feel myself getting from God.  My old sins, ones I’d long since asked for and received blessed assurance of forgiveness, haunted me.  I felt unworthy of Christ’s love.  And as I warred with that, I began to get anxious.  I knew that before long, I’d be to that point where even the tiniest thing would send me close to a panic attack.

The truth is, this wasn’t a rock bottom moment for me.  I’ve been more despondent and more separate from my God in my life.  But I recognized the signs of what was happening.  I was asking for hugs from the devil. And believe you me, he was right there, willing and waiting to take me in his arms and offer me all the things to make me turn my back on my savior.

I needed to find a way to let go.  I needed to find a way to forgive. And that wasn’t going to be easy.  The reminder of what had happened was right outside my front door every time I left the house.  It was in the community emails that we received.  It was in the good-meaning friends who were eager to tell us all about the latest dirt.  I was surrounded, and it didn’t take much to stir the pot inside me.

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But God knows what we need even before we do.  He provided the manna, and even though it took me a while, thankfully I was willing to receive it.  I can thank any number of people for being the ones he put in my path as I struggled.  My darling friend Tawdra Kandle who shared her own struggles and her example of reliance on Christ.  Scott and Leah Silverii for their wonderful Marriage Matters mission.  My pastor’s sermons that always seemed to be speaking just to me.  And my husband’s steadfast love as we took turns picking each other up when it all got too much for us.  All of those were pieces of the puzzle.

But what really helped me put things all together was the book I just finished writing.  My character is an alcoholic.  The pain and tragedy in her life were caused by the bottle.  And the bottle was her friend.  The one thing she knew she could count on in life.

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I really didn’t know much about alcoholism or the twelve steps before I started writing this recent book.  I’d had some experience in the legal business with clients who had recovered, but nothing much beyond that.  So I grabbed The 75th Anniversary Edition Alcoholics Anonymous on Audible and started listening on my way to and from work.

As the narrator described the alcoholic, I could relate. It seems to me there’s a reason addiction is so rampant in our society together.  It’s a human frailty that any of us can fall into.  Our “drugs” are different.  The levels of impact on our lives aren’t all as destructive as those fighting addiction, but most of us, from time to time, have struggled with something that seemed to take over our lives.  Something that came close to breaking us.

And the principles of recovery described in the twelve steps can be universal, too.  The first step is to admit we’re powerless and that our lives are unmanageable.  It’s when we get to steps two and three that things start to get hard. Step Two:  Come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.  And Three:  Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.

How does that work?  I didn’t know how to turn things over to Him.  Sure, I’d read it.  Understood it.  Said it to myself.  But I wasn’t practicing it.  I told my friend Tawdra that I was an Indian giver when it came to offering up my worries to God.  I would ask Him to help me, ask Him to take the burden from me, then almost immediately I would snatch them back from Him to stress and worry all over again.

But I was determined to make progress this time.  One of the central tenants of AA is helping others.  At meetings, other alcoholics give their testimony and connect with someone struggling.  And then later, as recovery continues, that person will in turn reach out to others.  It’s the community that is so vital.  When I heard that in the AA book I was reading, it clicked in my mind.

All the signs in front of me were encouraging me, giving me the direction I needed. God was putting everything I needed right there.  When my grandmother died last year, my heart led me to write about my faith, and Tawdra suggested we start a blog for writers.  I’ve been immeasurably moved by the opportunity to work with her and the other authors in our group.

About that time, I also started following and was invited to write for Scott and Leah Silverii’s Marriage Matters/ Faithful blog.  It was during that time when I read about Scott’s struggles with forgiveness.  It seemed his issues were parallel to mine, and so I decided to take some of his suggestions to heart.  I actively and verbally asked God to help me forgive.  I announced to myself that I would forgive, and I started writing those lines in a journal daily.

And then the new year began, and something miraculous happened.  Peace.  Complete and utter peace.  I didn’t feel angry.  I didn’t feel nervous.  All of the rancor and anxiety had melted away.

I’d finally surrendered.  I finally gave it all over to God.

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All along, I’d wondered how forgiveness could happen for me.  Because our particular situation isn’t over yet.  There’s still another lawsuit ongoing, and I just couldn’t understand how, without resolution, I could let go.  Because I still truly feel justice must be done.

But the point is, I don’t have to understand it. God knows.  God knows the situation.  He knows me.  He knows how this will all end, and He knew it even before it began.  He’s got this.

Christ knows every piece of me, and He saw just how and when I would ask for and receive His healing.  In all the times I’ve been in the darkness, in all the times I was offering hugs to the devil, He was still there, waiting.  And all I had to do was call on Him with faith.  All I ever have to do is surrender to Him, and He pulls me out of the clutches of the enemy.

God works miracles every day.  And yes, even this, even my surrender and reception of peace is a miracle.

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Are you struggling today with something?  Are you in the middle of one great big embrace with the devil?  He is there with you.  And He’s offering a light in the darkness.  It might be a friend.  A blog.  A prayer.  A kind word.  Somewhere, He’s sending you the sign right this very second.

If you need prayers, please know that we at A Pen and A Prayer will offer those for you.

Blessings,

Olivia

 

Words of intention…

Just a month or so ago I received a lovely hand-written note from an eighty-six year old woman who reads my books. She’s corresponded with me for years, offering encouragement and often a bit of good-natured pressure that I should finish the next book. Her latest letter was jotted on a plain piece of notebook paper, and she offered an apology for that, remarking “It is so hard to find good stationary these days.” And all I could think was, what a shame because there is something so very precious about a hand-scribbled note.
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When we were dating and in the earlier years of marriage, Danny and I used to leave little notes for each other. From him, a short but affectionate scribble left on the breakfast table, or from me, a little reminder of my love on a folded scrap of paper tucked into his jacket pocket.
When’s the last time you wrote a letter or message to someone? I admit that I don’t do it nearly as much as I used to. And I know that I should. But life is hectic. We get busy and forget the little things. Still, isn’t that part of what makes them so special? Isn’t it a huge deal that someone would take the time to find paper, a pen and physically pledge feelings in written form?

Words that Last

Danny’s has been working on the second half of his manuscript about a brigade of Texans during the civil war. A few weeks ago, he began studying an original set of letters by a gentleman from that group of soldiers, and he asked me to help him transcribe one of them. The two pages were written in pencil, making the script particularly hard to read. As I slowly spoke aloud this man’s message home to his wife, I found myself overcome with emotion. His penmanship was so full of flourish, giving the sentences an impression of warmth, despite the practicality of the instructions he offered her. He described briefly the circumstances he and the men were facing, then he carefully offered her advice for the period of his absence: who to call on for help with certain tasks at the farm, how and when to plant. But there was something tangible in that beautiful script that almost gave the words life. And I nearly wept when, at the end, he included a message to their five-year-old son that he expected the boy would have progressed in his studies enough to read to him from the newspaper when he got home. And I knew that this soldier never did return from that terrible conflict.
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Still, his letters survived because the man’s family kept them, safeguarded them, cherished every one. The written word—in this case, the hand-written word—had worth far beyond its face.

The Beginning

Have you ever seen images of the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Isaiah Scroll is the largest and perhaps the most preserved. It contains almost all 66 chapters of the Hebrew version of the Book of Isaiah. That’s 50+ columns on 17 pages of parchment, all of it handwritten with exquisite care. It is hard for me to imagine the painstaking care that it must have taken to create. But isn’t the word of God worth it? Over centuries, man has taken His words and transcribed them over and over so that they might be shared with others. In medieval times, monks and nuns worked as scribes to copy the Bible and other religious texts.

Why

In 2013, researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer conducted experiments into the effectiveness of students taking longhand notes versus typing on laptops. They concluded that the “the relative slowness of writing by hand demands heavier mental lifting […]in turn tending to increase conceptual understanding, application, and retention.”
In an article by Dustin Wax on Lifehacks, he explains that the brain is divided into sections that respond to different stimuli such as visual information, auditory information, emotions, verbal communication, and so on. Studies, he said, showed that when students write notes versus not writing notes, the students all retained about 40% of the material provided in lecture, but that the students who took notes retained more of the key information. So the process of writing helps to fix the important stuff in our mind.
John 13-34 (4)
But what if there’s more to it than that? What if there’s a psychological connection between the physical act of writing and the impact of the words on the writer?
So what is it about the written word? It seems that regardless of the science behind it, the hand-written word has some sort of effect not only on the writer but on the recipient of the word.

Action

I’ve continued to struggle recently with forgiveness. Danny and I have had a very tough time over the last year as we became embroiled in litigation with our neighbors. And I know I’ve failed to hand over the anxiety and worry to God completely. I tell the Lord I’m giving him my worries, then I snatch them right back out of his hand. And just when I think I’ve come over the hump with letting go of my rancor and anger, there it is again to weigh me down.
So I contemplated the act of the written word. Of God’s word to us in the Bible. Of handwritten notes between loved ones. Of the psychology of writing by hand. And I decided maybe I was being called to something else.
In an article I wrote earlier this year, I described a blog post about forgiveness. The writer said that saying the words out loud was a step. So I thought maybe for me writing the words would be a step. The idea popped into my head over a month ago that maybe the action of writing those words, “I will forgive,” and then, “I do forgive” would have an impact on me…
John 13-34 (2)
… yet I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I hesitated each and every time. I clasped hold of my anger and hurt and refused to truly contemplate relinquishing it. Yet the Lord continues to remind me.
Today I had a conversation with a friend about a book on money and finances. She said part of the premise was to believe things will work out. And she told me the book suggests writing out your needs and believing they will be met and being grateful. And of course, it struck me that this too was another sign.
I must write down my needs and believe they will be met.
So I’ve done it… I’ve written them out. Almost like a list. Or even more like writing lines when I was in school. Over and over, the specific intent to forgive. To let go of anxiety. To be free of the imprisonment of my angst.
John 13-34 (3)
It hasn’t changed me… yet. I still feel angry. I’m hurt and unable to forgive. But I am also grateful for all that I have. Even through the storm, so many beautiful blessings have fallen into my life. The Lord exalts me with His word, with beautiful friends, with signs of encouragement and with the strength to write… and eventually to forgive.
candace (1)

God’s Recipe for Manna?

I’ve been mulling over a sign I’ve seen on one of our local churches for a few weeks now:

God hasn’t forgotten the recipe for manna.

I wasn’t sure right at first why it kept catching my attention.  We know from the book of Exodus that when the Israelites escaped Egypt they endured hardships and grumbled, even suggesting they had been better in slavery if they would only starve in the desert.  So the Lord told Moses that he would rain down bread from heaven.  For some, the message of the manna tells of obedience and that’s an important lesson of course.  But as I thought of that church banner, my heart was focused on the faithfulness of God.   What is his recipe for manna?

just as much

We lost my sister suddenly about nineteen years ago this coming Thanksgiving.  It was my first year of marriage and my husband and I were out of town with his family.  Meanwhile, my family was gathering at my parents’ house.  A undiagnosed aneurysm took eighteen-year-old Cori that afternoon with all of my family there.  All but me.

Circumstances were such that I couldn’t get back home until the next morning.  I was devastated when I heard the news.  I remember screaming and throwing the phone.  I spent that evening crying in bed, clutching my rosary and wondering how this had happened and begging God to help me.

My mind was hazy and my heart lost as I board the airplane early the next morning.  But the moment I stepped off the plane, His strength bolstered me, cleared my mind.  He nourished me with “just as much” as I needed to take care of my family in those days of laying my sister to rest.

Unequivocally, it was Him, not me that saw us through that.  Because I was a broken soul, so lost in my grief that I would have had no ability at all.  But he was my manna in my hour of need.  But too, He made me the manna for my family.

And I thought of this, of the manna that nourishes our souls daily.  Sometimes without us even knowing it.  Because there is never, ever a day that he fails to rain down for us.  But sometimes we are as the Israelites, grumbling about what we don’t have when we have only to look up to see the truth.

My husband and I have had a rough year.  We’ve been embroiled in lawsuits within our community that pitted people we once considered friends against us.  We moved here to our lake home seeking a community to which we could enjoy his retirement years.  In some ways, it began to seem like our bane instead of our dream.

I’ve been using my new series as a cathartic release for my anxiety, hurt and my anger.  And it’s helping, but the one area I’ve had the most trouble with is my anger.  And because of that, I’ve found it hard to offer forgiveness.  In fact, I’ve rebelled the idea of forgiving.  I’ve held my fury in my hand and shaken my fist towards the heavens in abject rejection of forgiving the hurts… but lately, I’ve felt this little whisper in my ear that I have to let it go.

So God provided the manna.  Earlier this week a post appeared on Faithful.live with a big banner that said: “as we Forgive those who trespass against us.”  And I wept as I read it because I knew that my Lord was speaking to me.  And after that I pronounced in my heart that I forgave those who wronged us (if you read the article you’ll understand that I haven’t yet forgiven them.  But I’ve opened my heart to God’s grace so that I will eventually.)

Copy of Copy of -I have set you an example so that you should do as I have done for you.-

I’ve realized more lately how blessed I am to have my husband by my side.  We’ve often joked over the years that we take turns if one of us isn’t feeling well or has a bad day, the other picks up the slack.  But isn’t that His gift, to give us our helpmate in times of need?  Again, the manna in the form of a partner for our lives.

And now that God is working on my heart, I know that now my husband and I can work together so that we can both reach the point of forgiveness.  And so that someday soon, we too will discover the peace that can only be had by our Lord within our hearts.

So today the lesson of the manna is twofold.  One, that I should always try to be open to receive whatever nourishment he provides.  But also, just as importantly, that I should accept God’s calling that I be His manna.

candace