Attending Church With Joy

My son, Madison, loves going to church on Sundays. He loves to hear the choir. He calls them one hundred. It is the thing that he looks forward the most to attending all week.

Most times, when we are going somewhere, he dawdles, asks us to bring his Teletubbies and often his TV. They just need to be in the car for his comfort, like a child’s teddy bear. He does this even if we are just going to be gone a few minutes, of course he doesn’t understand what a few minutes means. Like some women going to the mall.

Madison going to church with his Teletubbies. Tinky Winky is purple.

But when we pull up at church, there’s no dawdling. No stalling. He gets right out of the car and, after making sure we have Tinky Winky, marches into church. Usually laughing and making us hurry to catch up.

Isn’t that a great picture of someone going into God’s house? Excited to see the Father, not just to check off a social obligation.

When our preacher is giving his, well, His, message. I stand in the lobby so Madison can watch it on the projector and his actions won’t disturb the people around us. Recently, I saw a young lady come into our church dressed in a festive Group of Young People at a Party Sitting on a Couch with Champagnesundress with a gift bag. As if she was going to a party.

Now, that’s the way to go to church. Going with an attitude of excitement and anticipation at what we are about to hear and experience, not with dread. Not guilt.

Hebrew 4:16 says that we can come boldly to the throne of grace. Not because of what we’ve done or the church we attend, but because of who He is.

Although our churches are very different in size, style, age, etc., they are all still His house, and you are going into His presence, or else we shouldn’t bother.

And if we look at church like that, wouldn’t we then look forward to attending. Maybe even with our best friend, like Tinky Winky, under our arms.

When was the last time you or your children were excited about going to church?

What do you look forward to the most about church?

Please leave me a comment. And thanks for reading.

 

Finding Your Writing Process

I was fortunate to be able to attend the Novelist Retreat that Yvonne Lehman puts on

Ridgecrest conference Center

Ridgecrest Center

at Ridgecrest near Ashville, NC. It was a time of getting to meet other authors and offer workshops for writers to learn more of the craft of writing.

 

 

One of the most important lessons to learn is that there is no one way to write. You have to learn, by experience, what works best for you,.

This was evidenced by the writers selected to be our faculty. In this corner (read in the voice of the WWE announcer) was Steven James. Steven is an organic writer, which means he writes without an outline. He lets the story guide him. Sometimes into a corner, without a way out. But, he says, that is often when we have to be our most creative. (His book, Story Trumps Structure is a great resource and teacher of this method.)

And in this corner. . . Torry Martin and Diann Mills showed how structure gives you a start and format for your book or story. A simple way to look at this is the three-act structure with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

So, who’s right? Continue reading

A Work in Progress

Recently, we got a journal called Christ Walk, a 40-Day Spiritual Fitness Program by Anna Fitch Courie. In the Introduction, she describes herself as “average, average height, average looks, average intelligence, average Christian, average person.” That’s pretty average. She had trained as an RN and worked as a health promotion coordinator for the 1st Infantry Division. So she should have some insights on how to be healthy.

She started a walking program at her church, and that’s the basis of most of this book. It’s more of an encouraging journal than a how-to exercise manual. In other words, instead of a coach in your ear, she’s a friend who goes through the journey with you.

The book we got was especially interesting because it was second-hand and someone had already filled it in. Reading through it was like watching someone else go through the program.

But the lady who had the book ran into some of the same problems that many of us encounter. She had great plans, but life jumped in. She wanted to walk on the treadmill each day. Now, treadmills are great, but not so much everyday. It’s easy to get bored and they’re never in a convenient place.

On day four, she journaled that her family schedule conflicted with her goal, that she hurt, and she didn’t do anything. “She failed.” Her words. Day five was also a bad day and you could see the trend building on her. One bad day often leads to another, and then to abandoning the plan.

I was proud of her though, she kept with it. She gave it another try toward the end, but she’d lost heart. If she was like many of us, clothes were hanging on her treadmill.

The last few weeks were underlined, but the journal part was blank. And you could tell it had become a burden. She was probably in a class doing her homework.

Her goal of growing spiritually, mentally, and physically turned into just another chore. Been there, done that.

Here are a few tips I would have given her:

Treadmill

Treadmill

 

Keep your program flexible. The treadmill is tough because you can’t fit it into your daily life. I like tracking steps with a fitbit (mine is a Garmin Vivofit) because I can do a little here, a little there, it all adds up. But a treadmill is great as the days get colder, shorter, and wetter. I have an indoor bike and I can ride it and still be home with Madison. But, when the weather permits, I want to walk in the neighborhood. And little bits add up. You do have to do it all at once.

Don’t jump in the deep end. She expected herself to hit her goals from day one. That’s why she wrote, “She hurts.” Start light, not necessarily easy. Remember, this was a forty day challenge. You don’t want to do on day one, what you’ll do on day 40. Allow yourself to build up to it.

Pack extra rope. She didn’t leave herself any room for error. Something will happen to murk up your plans and schedule. Your family will have sports, sickness, something. Your work will require overtime. Be ready to allow yourself to miss a day or to work around the conflict.

And finally, you may fail, but you aren’t a failure. Any step forward is a step forward. Again, like I said in the last post, life is a marathon. You will have a lot of starts and stops. But don’t let your stops be final, make them timeouts and get back up. In running, there’s a formula:

 

DNS<DNF<DL

 

This means, read backwards, Dead Last is better than Did Not Finish, which is better than Did Not Start. At least you got off the couch. It’s about doing better than you think, or you did before.

Our goal should be to keep striving to get better; physically, mentally, and spiritually. Remember, this side of Heaven, you will always be a work in progress.

Balancing Priorities

A few months ago, new numbers began to appear on the scale when I weighed. Now, I am getting a little older, mid-fifty. So I know I need to get my weight under control or I could have even bigger health problems later.

Being healthy is a lifelong struggle, and we need to be diligent in caring for ourselves. I tried the South Beach Diet probably ten years ago and lost thirty pounds. The problem was the changes I made didn’t stick, whichhas led to my recent dilemma.

When I was in my forties, I wanted to avoid having to take blood pressure medicine. I made changes to my diet and started running. I worked up to running two half marathons. (And no, two halves do not make a whole. I can’t imagine the training you have to do to run a marathon.) The last one was near my 50th birthday.

The results of trying to stay off the meds: I’m taking two blood pressure pills a day.

To help make so lifestyle adjustments, I bought Jenna Wolfe’s Thinner In 30: Small Changes That Add Up To Big Weight Loss In Just 30 Days. I wasn’t concerned about the 30 days as much as I wanted the tips to change my habits.

A few tips from the book that I’m doing to reach my goals. Continue reading

Should I Risk Taking Out My Special (and autistic) Son?

DSC_0072I like to take my son, Madison, out to see and do things. He is eighteen and has severe autism, so he doesn’t talk or respond and his behavior is not always predictable. I never know what my strike his interest: will it be someone picking a banjo, or a waterfall? Watching him watch a boat on the water, or see the ocean will make you laugh.

Yet there are risks when I take him out. I used to take him 167to the mall to walk, and that would be great this summer with the heat. We had our circle that he liked and we would climb the stairs. Last time I took him was a couple of years ago because when we got to the second floor, he loves escalator, his Ipad went flying. It could easily hit somebody below us. The vendors below went and got it and held it for us until we got down, but what could have happened?

Another time we were walking in the quaint little town of Landrum and I was taking him to the car. He bolted and went into a funeral home. He had to look in all the rooms, thankfully just the front rooms and there was no service going on. But again, what if? And what if an officer saw me trying to restrain him from going inside. It did look suspicious. Or if he had told Madison to stop.

When Madison was small, going out in public was a lot different. I could pick him up or physically restrain him. People would see him do something abnormal like spin, bite his

Downtown Landrum

Downtown Landrum

finger and stomp, or flap his arms and they would think, “Ah, isn’t that cute?”

But now he’s eighteen going on nineteen and they can think, “What is that grown man doing? Is he crazy? Is he going to hurt me or my child?”

I am sure that most if not all of you have seen the video on the news of the caregiver with the man with autism, lying on the ground and being stopped by police. Click here for video.

And I can’t always say it will be okay, because I don’t know what he’s thinking.

I can easily see us in a store and a security guard or officer ordering Madison to stop or come here or ask him what he is doing. Will they understand me interfering? Will I be a threat? Will it scare Madison and then they think he is a threat?

We went to the new members dinner at our new church. It was in a gym-like area with just a few tables. when we got done, Madison laid down next to the wall and started kicking his legs. Having just a great time. He’s done that at home, but not while we were out. Remember, he’s eighteen and his daddy’s size. I sat down with him and talked and hoped everyone saw it as play. But what if that happened in a store? At Christmas?

A security guard or police officer can’t just stand there and do nothing, because we’ve seen on TV that there are threats out there. And they look just like us. Hopefully they will see how to be understanding and release some of Madison’s tension. But that isn’t always obvious, or what they’re trained to do.

That is why I pray, not hope, that they will have understanding, and that God will look after us.

Because we all need each others’ prayers. And, thankfully, God hasn’t left the building.

Birth-The Miracle of Creation

A month ago, I got to witness one of God’s true miracles, the miracle of birth. It is one of those times that leaves us speechless, that reminds us of how weak and small we are, and how great He is. To see a small newborn come out of its mother, and be so complete and developed, shows us of the powers and mysteries of our Creator.

We’d bred our little Persian, Kathy Puff, and had watched her grow and grow. As she got closer to her time, it was interesting how she began to search for and follow my wife, Vickie. As if the mama knew that she wanted Vickie to be there to help.

Kathy Puff reaching out to Vickie

Kathy Puff reaching out to Vickie

My mom had said that she would probably have the babies at night. And sure enough, one night the mother cat got beside my wife in bed and began to make her bed. You could see the kittens moving inside Kathy Puff.

A Persian cat has a lot of hair. We had a tough time telling when the kittens were born because Kathy Puff lay in the corner of the box. But then Kathy Puff turned on her side and the first baby arrived. A perfect two ounce kitten.

We wanted Kathy Puff to break the sack the baby was in. She licked the kitten to and it began to squeak, then Kathy Puff rolled back on her side. Baby number two was born. But it wasn’t moving.

Kathy Puff turned back to number one and got its sack off. Number two never moved.

Three Newborn KittensThen number three arrived.

In all Kathy Puff gave birth to five little kittens, four squirming and alive. They ranged in size from 1.9 ounces to 2. We named them Sudsy, Sunny, Sweetie, Stormy, and Sue.

Each kitten was totally helpless, its eyes and ears closed and unable to stand. They can only push themselves with their front legs. Their only concerns were nursing and staying warm, and for these things they instinctively looked to their mama.

And after number four, she was about given out. It was late at night, although I don’t think that matters to cats or babies. And she had already birthed and cleaned four

Mama cat kissing baby.

Mama cat kissing baby.

babies, when number five showed up. And now she was expected to serve a buffet.

 

Eighteen years ago, I got to witness another miracle, another birth. That of my son. It was at night. (Are we noticing a trend?) But this time in a hospital bed.

I was standing beside the doctor when she said, “Here he comes.”

All I saw was what looked like the end of a baseball bat. Then the crown of his head tilted and out he came. A perfect little boy.

And my wife and I looked at each other with tears and smiles and knew that our little miracle was here.

I remember later looking out at the busy highway outside our room and thinking, “Didn’t they all know what just happened? How could they just go on like any normal day? A miracle had just happened!”

Watching a birth is witnessing a miracle, the beginning of a life, of new hope, an event of the power and creative force of our Creator. Of something that is beyond our understanding even today.

A reminder of from Whom all creation comes.

1 Col 1:16        For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible . . . all things were created by Him and for Him.

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Think Before You Stop, or stinking thinking leaving you sinking?

“Stinking thinking”. A cute little saying, isn’t it? But it traps many lot of us and prevents us from achieving the goals we have for ourselves.

Devil on a shoulderWe envision it as a little devil on our shoulder whispering in our ear. And he is so subtle. We get an opportunity to do something, something we have been longing to do, maybe even training to do. Continue reading

Facing the Giants

Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

I’ve started reading Les Parrott’s 3 Seconds. One of the early points that resonated with me was to embrace the challenges that confront us. I’ve found that this is rarely my first reaction. I usually want to leave, or find a way out. But that was rarely the way to success.

Parrott gave a great illustration of what it takes to make us strong.

Jack Badal, a zookeeper, invited his friend Gary Richmond to watch an amazing phenomenon: an Angola giraffe giving birth. He stood next to Jack, watching this elegant creature as she stood to her feet. That’s when the calf’s front hooves and head became visible.

“When is she going to lie down?” Gary asked Jack.

“She won’t.” he answered.

“But her hindquarters are nearly ten feet off the ground!” he exclaimed. “Isn’t anyone going to catch the calf?”

“Try catching it if you want,” Jack responded, “But its mother has enough strength in her hind legs to kick your head off.”

Soon the calf hurled forth, landing on his back. His mother waited for about a minute, then kicked her baby, sending it sprawling head over hooves.

“Why’d she do that?” he asked.

“She wants it to get up.”

Whenever the baby ceased struggling to rise, the mother prodded it with a hearty kick. Finally, the calf stood— wobbly, but upright. The mother kicked it off its feet again!

“She wants it to remember how it got up,” Jack offered. “In the wild, if it didn’t quickly follow the herd, predators would pick it off. (3 Seconds, pages 61-62)

Continue reading

Seeing Lives in Obituaries

I owe my dad an apology.

When I was in my early twenties and thought I was so wise, I was sitting at the breakfast table with my dad. He had one section of the paper and I had another.

My love for reading the daily newspaper comes from him. My day feels off somehow unless I spend the first little bit reading about what is going on in the world and around town. It has to be a paper that I hold in my hand and doesn’t cooperate when you turn the page.

He looked up from his paper and asked how a young man could be reading the funny pages. (I still look forward to them every morning, often reading my favorites to my wife, Vickie. Seeing Snoopy dance makes me smile even without music. And I worry about the parents in the strips Curtis, Baby Blues, and Zits.)

I responded isn’t it morbid for a grown man to start his day reading the obituaries. Like me and the funnies, he would read selected ones to my mom.

Today, I find myself reading all of the morning paper. (Yes, it has to be in the morning. Reading in the afternoon makes the news history.) This includes the obituaries as well as the funnies, sports and news.

It’s amazing what you find in the obituaries. This weekend an 85-year-old was survived by his 88 and 100 year-old-siblings. Can you imagine? My baby brother is 42. A grown man, but still my baby brother. I imagine it never changes.

Another obituary was of a beautiful 20-year-old who was killed in a motorcycle accident with a drunk driver. She was way too young to be in this list.

One lady’s told of her love of bridge. Military careers, music, and church service are often listed. Lives lived elsewhere before retiring or how someone touched several areas as they moved through their lives are recounted.

Sometimes, however, it’s just a list of family members and the time of the funeral. I wonder what was left and did no one know about it any longer, or they thought it wasn’t important.

The obituaries make me realize the older, slow-moving, physically weakened person ahead of me has a history, one with a stronger body and mind. A war hero, an accomplished ballet dancer, or an artist may be living just down the street. Disguised in a senior citizens body.

Thanks, Dad. For helping me not to miss these stories who are living all around me.

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Playing Fill-In

Last week, Tuesday April 19, 2016 for those keeping records, Lucinda Secrest McDowell tells one of my favorite stories about one of my favorite people. She was guest posting on my friend Edie Melson’s blog, The Write Conversation.

As a story teller/writer/teacher, I am always seeking an audience, for what good is a story without someone to tell it to? What good is a joke without someone to laugh at it?

And how much better is it to share a message from God with someone who needs it, then to just hold it in your heart?

As a Christian, it’s important to discern when to tell what God has shown you and when to keep your mouth shut. The story of Joseph and his dreams of his brothers should make that clear. Joe tells his older brothers his dreams, God given and true, and his brothers thinks he’s bragging.(Genesis 37) Well, that’s the way older brothers are.

Ms McDowell reminds us of the snowy January Sunday morning in England in 1850. No snow plows, no central heating. A pastor’s nightmare determining whether to have church or not. Will enough people show up?

On this morning, the pastor didn’t show up. Only a few people sat scattered throughout the sanctuary. No one was really prepared to preach, but they couldn’t just send everyone back out into the cold. So one of the deacons agreed to get up and blather his way through.

There was a need and he stepped up. And from the records, it was bad. He didn’t say anything that was memorable. All that he had was passion for God.

But there was one teenager whose life was changed that day. A guy by the name of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who went on to be a great preacher, teacher, and to have a huge influence on both England and America.

All because a man stepped up when the opportunity presented itself.

He didn’t have to. He could have said it wasn’t worth it, not enough people. His platform was too small. Or it’s too hard to build a platform, so why bother. But if you have a story to tell, having a platform may not be the main factor. It may be one person, who takes what you in faith said, who then changes the world.

Perhaps your effort will be worth it after all.

 

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