Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sitting Geese

While traveling to a wedding in Alabama last weekend, Chuck and I stayed at a motel in a newly developed area on the fading border between urban and rural.

Next to our motel was a gigantic big box-like store that I'd never seen before: Gander Mtn, known as your firearms superstore.


Now I am not a hunter; I'm a weeping heart who would rather not think about where my steak comes from. Illogical as it may be, I refuse to acknowledge that my bacon once had legs. I cannot fathom raising my own fried chickens (although my granny in north Georgia certainly did and used to entertain us grandkids with stories of wringing the necks of her hens she'd raised from egghood when meat was sparse in winter and Sunday dinner rolled around with a mess of hungry mouths to feed).

When we pulled in to the motel, I was a bit nauseated by the huge guns-r-us store with its goose-in-midflight logo. Poor little wild geese, I thought. At least they can fly away - gives them a fighting chance.

Then to my horror, I saw them. Two pairs of long necked geese hanging out right there at the very place intended to be their demise. A newly equipped hunter would practically trip over them as he exited the doors loaded down with his brand new ammo.

Sitting ducks. Er, geese.

What's wrong with you? Get away from here. Far, far away! There're ponds everywhere safer than this. Here is where you die.  

But not only did they hang out in the field by the store all day, the next morning as I took my 6 a.m. prayer walk, they casually strolled right into the get-your-killer-gear-here parking lot like they were greeting customers or something.

I couldn't believe it. What was wrong with these dense birds? They have everywhere in the world to choose from and they park themselves smack dab in the middle of harm's way.

So like the fix-it gal that I am, I ran at them, arms flailing, yelling, "Shoo! Leave while you can! You don't know it, but staying here will be the end of you!"

Did they listen to reason? No. Like a synchronized swim team, they stretched their wings wide and raised their long necks tall and honked and squawked at me like I was the one out to harm them. They were ready to defend their poor choice to the death. One of the riled up ganders rushed back at me and chased me halfway back to the motel. (Angry geese are a scary thing, let me tell you!)

I even dreamed about those dadgum geese last night. In my dream, I tried and tried to make them see the folly of their choice and fly away. But I never could. All they did was attack me and entrench themselves deeper into defending their territory, which wasn't really theirs at all.

It was their enemy's territory. They just couldn't see it.

And when I awoke, fitful and frustrated, I knew Papa God was making a statement through my dream. I've spent the morning considering which areas of my life I'm a sitting goose. I've identified several and I'm still counting.

How about you? Are there any sitting goose places in your life?

Places you don't perceive as dangerous so you stake claim in enemy territory. You park yourself smack dab in the middle of harm's way as Satan raises his shotgun and takes aim at your heart.

And when people who see the bigger picture try to shoo you away, to warn you that staying there will be the end of you, you're ready to defend your poor choice to the death. You ruffle up your feathers and honk and attack right back at them until they leave you alone.

Alone to slide back down the slippery slope of that customized sin you thought you were strong enough to withstand. Alone to face the consequences of your poor choices. Alone in your regret.

Okay, so we're all sitting geese at one time or another. Such is sinful human nature. That's the bad news. The good news is that we can fly away to a better, safer place. We just have to choose to do so. And Papa God's got the perfect pond in mind for each of us.

C'mon. Spread 'em. Flap 'em. Let's go. 



Thursday, April 10, 2014

Taking a Swig from the Dipper

A Dipper Full of Blessings
I was awakened by a nightmare shortly before 4 o'clock this morning.

With heart racing and sweat gluing me to my sheets, I tried for nearly an hour to dissipate the dark cloud of fear that enveloped my mind and spirit.

The nightmare wasn't real, I told myself. Get over it. Think about daisies and bunnies and summer mountain meadows. Okay, no problem. For about two minutes. And then back into the pit of anxiety I'd slide. I just couldn't shake it.

When I couldn't reason myself out of dismality (if that's not a real word, it should be), I finally slugged out of bed, hooked the leash to the poor dog who was listing to the starboard in a sleepy stupor, and went for a walk. You know - change of scenery, change of mood. 

I actually like walking at 5 a.m. My neighborhood is deafeningly quiet. Even the birds aren't up yet. The only humanity I encounter is the newspaper lady zipping by on her route. Some might think the stillness eery but I find it sublimely serene. The kind of deep serenity you can't find the rest of the day.

So there I was walking along dragging the catatonic dog through all this soundless, motionless, nothingness, still encased in my portable tomb of post-nightmare gloom, when I happened to look up. There, in the inky blackness of the sky, was the Big Dipper, standing out from its peers like the Pentatonix in the 2013 Sing-Off. No comparison. A class by itself. A star is born (pun intended).

Now, I've seen plenty of Big Dippers in my day, but this one was different. It was not only brighter than usual, it was tilted so that the dipper appeared to be pouring out its contents. And guess what was located just below the flow. 

None other than my humble home.

Seriously. From my angle, you could draw a straight line directly down to my roof. 

Hmm. I think Papa God is trying to tell me something. My wisdom is a little slow kicking in before daybreak. 

The words of a precious old hymn we used to sing in church when I was a child wormed its way into my consciousness.

When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one.
Count your blessings, see what God hath done.
("Count Your Blessings" by Johnson Oatman, Jr and Edwin O. Excell)

Then I knew. Those were blessings Papa God was pouring out on my home. Sure enough. Blessings, lots of them.  Spouse and I are well. We have jobs. We have enough food to eat. We have a beautiful grandbuddy we get to see every day. We have a dog (for whom I was frantically digging a plastic baggie out of my pocket for the surprise package he was now leaving on the neighbor's lawn).

And just like that, the gloom lifted. I really did feel blessed. Too blessed to be stressed (hey, someone should make that a book title!).

Now I'll be singing that song worm all day, but it's a wonderfully blessed worm that's really a caterpillar already beginning to morph into a butterfly of joy.

"He awakens me morning by morning. He awakens my ear to hear as a disciple" (Isaiah 50:4-5, NASB). 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Generating Mercy

Last week in tennis, I was paired as a doubles partner in a USTA match with a gal who was playing for the first time in four months because of a neck injury. She could barely turn her head, so you can imagine how impaired her court movement was, not to mention how much her timing was off from not playing for so long.

I wasn't surprised that we lost, but how we lost was an eye-opener.

Once our opponents realized that my partner wasn't up to par, they intentionally picked on her, relentlessly pounding the ball just out of her reach so that she was forced to repeatedly dive to her bad side, putting herself at risk of re-injury.

Now I know this level of competition is fierce and many women are out for blood ... to win at all costs. But I was taken aback at this blatant display of what all of life would be like without compassion.

Without mercy.

In contrast, the next day I watched my 2-year-old grandbuddy Blaine wrestling on the floor with his 200-lb daddy. When Blaine was gently manipulated into a pinned position he couldn't break with his own limited strength, he cried, "Mercy! Mercy!" and his daddy released all pressure and helped him up. The two laughed together and then had at it all over again. 

Blaine willingly entered into the struggle knowing that if he got into trouble and asked for mercy, he would receive it. Because love was present.

What a difference it makes in our behavior ... our relationships ... our courage ... when love is present. 

According to Webster, mercy is, "Compassion shown to an offender." In other words, not giving someone what they deserve. And why would anyone not pay back what is due to a guilty person? To someone who has hurt you? Tread over you? Disrespected you? Humiliated you?

Only one thing comes to mind: love. The underlying reason why all Christ-followers should treat others with respect, courtesy, and yes, mercy. We receive love from Papa God. We, in turn, must choose to extend it to others.

To everyone, yes, but especially the guilty. The ones who don't deserve it.

So this is my weekly lesson from Papa God. I am determined to do better. To be more merciful to my offenders - the lady who threw the barely veiled insult at me, that perpetually cranky neighbor who gets under my skin, the man who ignored the stop sign and came within an inch of crunching my car.

Because even if they're not yelling "Mercy! Mercy!"on the outside, if I listen hard enough with my spiritual ears, I can hear the cry from a deeper place when Papa God's love is present.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

New Contest Celebrating New Release!

I'm thrilled to announce the April release of The Bible Promise Book: Too Blessed to be Stressed Edition.

Want to know what Papa God has to say about specific issues like how to deal with difficult people, relentless worry, and coping with loss? This adorable little book features over 100 scriptures related to inspiring themes and excerpts from my book, Too Blessed to be Stressed. 

Yep, oodles and oodles of Bible verses related to things we women struggle with every single day. (Including tons of additional scriptures not included in the original book.) 

You'll find yourself pulling this scripture reference off your shelf again and again when a problem arises and you need answers.

Or you just can't remember where that particular verse is in the Bible.

Or you'd like to support a friend going through a hard time with an uplifting promise straight from Papa God.

To celebrate the release of my bouncing literary baby*, I'm giving away ten copies! To be included in the drawing, all you need to do is complete this sentence: 

"My favorite Bible promise from Papa God is ..."

In other words, tell me your favorite Bible verse that contains a promise.

E-mail me your answer at gracenotes@deboracoty.com and not only will you be eligible to win a free book when I draw the winners on April 30 (you'll have them in time for Mother's Day!), your name and promise fave will appear right here on this blog in early May. If you're not already subscribed to my blog, be sure to subscribe now (look to your right for the subscription box) so you won't miss it!

Thanks, dear friend, for sharing in my joy and awe of another amazing grace note from our Papa! I hope to hear from you soon.

*This is the fourth of six babies birthed by my book Too Blessed to be Stressed (all available at www.Amazon.com):
The 2014 TBTBS Planner
The TBTBS Perpetual Calendar
TBTBS Spanish Edition
The TBTBS Promise Book  

And next up:
The TBTBS 2015 Planner  (releasing this July)
TBTBS Journal (releasing this Sept)



Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bringing Home the Bacon

Swiss Olympic Gold Medal Prize
You, I'm sure, were as amused as I when it was made public that for representing his country so well at Sochi, Swiss cross-country double gold medalist Daris Cologna received a pig. Yep, a cute little pink porker.

In the publicity photos, Daris appeared very pleased. He was quite gracious to his benefactors, smiled broadly and promptly named his prize Sochi.

This while Russian athletes each received $120k cash + a $146k Mercedes SUV for a gold medal, $76k cash + $99k Mercedes for silver, and $52K cash + $59k Mercedes for bronze.

Americans didn't fare so badly either, receiving $25k for gold, $15k for silver, and $10k for bronze. No luxury vehicles, though. Not even a Vespa.

But Daris got a pig. And then he hit the slopes to begin practicing for the next Olympics.

Why does he do it? What drives him to continue grueling training when the reward is so meager?

Hmm. Why do you do it? Why do you continue that specific activity - you know, the one that eats (like a pig) all your time, attention and energy - although the pay-out is miniscule?

We all have them. Projects/jobs/dreams that we pursue week after week, month after month, sometimes for years on end, that we just can't let go. The activity isn't particularly lucrative; in fact sometimes quite the opposite - it drains our piggy banks dry. The return for our investment may not be in dollars; it may an intangible benefit like improving yourself, satisfaction for a job well done, knowing that you helped someone, or maybe even proving something to someone.

Whatever the motivation, it's there, it's strong and it keeps us going.

Writing is like that for me. I write despite the money, not because of it. Contrary to what most people think, Christian writers do not get rich. Most can't afford to quit their day jobs. I recently went to a book signing for a hugely known, award-winning, bestselling author of over 100 books (several hit the New York Times bestselling list) who confessed to recently starting a photography business to make ends meet.

The other authors in the room (including myself) all nodded in complete understanding like a conveyor belt full of bobble-head dolls.

Yet I keep writing. Book #14 is due to come out this fall and since 6 o'clock this morning (and yesterday and all the days before that), I've been parked in front of my monitor developing CCCB (Computer Chair Cauliflower Buns).

Why? Because I can't not write. Because what's most important to me is to produce the fruit of my passion and follow my life calling. Whether it brings home the bacon or not.

I might just call my next book Sochi as a reminder that some things in life are worth buns of dough instead of buns of steel. Just because.

What's your little pink pig?


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Open My Eyes and Close My Mouth

Deb and Chuck doing what they do best
I love to eat out, don't you?

Nothing better than kicking back and enjoying the food someone else has prepared in pans that you don't have to scrub served on plates you don't have to wash and put away.

But I recently heard a story about a dining out near-tragedy that made me quiver in my boots.

My friend, Laura, attended a church affiliated  planning meeting of fifteen people, including her husband and herself, at a local pancake house. The speaker stood at one of the clustered tables set for four and began speaking while the food was served.

Laura was seated at a table with her husband and another couple. My friend had only taken a couple of bites when she suddenly began choking. She struggled for the next ten minutes, holding her throat (the universal sign for choking) keeling over, turning purple, gasping for air, gurgling and coughing up food and water.

One of the people seated at her table was the group's trained "CPR" person, but he never noticed Laura's predicament. He was her husband. Although he was right across the table from her, he never saw or heard a thing.

As Laura choked, the speaker was standing right behind her and kept right on speaking as if nothing was wrong. In fact, for inexplicable reasons, only one person in the entire group saw what was happening to her. He later said he had never seen anyone go through something like that and it thoroughly upset him.

But he never tried to get anyone's attention while she was struggling.

I wonder if this thoroughly upset guy would've just apathetically sat by while she died right in front of him. Why on earth he never attempted the Heimlich - or alerted someone else to - is a sad testimonial to the passivity of mankind. Or just plain laziness.  

Laura's husband and the other attendees were stunned when they learned of her horrible experience right beneath their noses. Laura could find no explanation except Satan's wickedness as to why an entire roomful of Christians were somehow blinded to her "attack" and she had been kept in total isolation while suffering in plain sight.

Besides avoiding pancake houses, my takeaway from this story is that I vow to be more aware of those around me. I pray for Papa God to open my eyes to needs of others that should be evident ... if only I'm looking for them. Because I never, ever, ever want to be so blinded that I don't see someone suffering in plain sight.   

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Debbie by Any Other Name

Can you name this yummy lunch I had in Barcelona?
Our whirlwind tour last fall of 5 European countries in 15 days began in Barcelona, Spain.

The day Spouse and I arrived with our friends Bob and Sandi, we were hungry and oh-so-tired after our 10-hour plane ride. So after checking into our hotel in the heart of the city, we snoozed a few hours then hit the sun-drenched street in search of sustenance.

We came upon a lovely little bistro exuding mouth-watering smells, so we gathered around a marker board at the entrance that listed a dozen or so lunch items.

Well, dang. They were all in Spanish. Go figure.

There were random food pictures on the walls, but we didn't know the names of anything we wanted and by reading the menu, we didn't know what any of the written names meant. So we ended up taking a stab in the dark by ordering heaven's knows what based on which words we could pronounce best. Luckily, mine turned out to be a pizza-like thing that was every bit as delicious as it looked (above).

Everyone knows you're a tourist when you start taking pictures of the food on your plate.

Names are important, aren't they? I realized just how true this is when I visited my parents' church last Sunday and my 88-year-old father introduced me to his friends by my sister's name. No doubt it wouldn't have mattered to them, but I was surprised at how much it mattered to me.

"Daddy, you only have two daughters and I'm not that one," I gently rebuked him. "I'm Debbie."
"Well, you sure are, are you?" he replied, squinting to get a better look at me. I had been sitting beside him for the entire hour-long church service.
"He's never known how old I am either," I said to Daddy's little old friends.
"How could I?" Daddy quipped back. "It changes every year."

I recently did a personal Bible study on the name of Jesus and was struck anew by just how important His name is to those of us who call Him Lord. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Jesus was given His name by an angel before He was even conceived (Luke 2:21).
  • We are gifted with eternal life by believing in the name of Jesus (John 20:31).
  • We're baptized in the name of Jesus to signify our commitment (Acts 2:38, Acts 8:16, Acts 19:5).
  • There's healing power in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:6, Acts 4:10, Acts 4:30, Acts 16:18).
  • We find courage and boldness by using the name of Jesus (Acts 9:29).
  • People risk their lives in the name of Jesus (Acts 15:26).
  • We dedicate our lives to the name of Jesus (Acts 21:13).
  • The name of Jesus joins the hearts of believers together (1 Corin. 1:10, 1 Corin. 5:4).
  • We find grace through the name of Jesus (2 Thess. 1:12).
  • We're forgiven and remade by the name of Jesus (1 Corin. 6:11).
  • We are able to love the unlovable through the name of Jesus (1 John 3:23).

Yep. There's power in a name. Especially that name.

P.S. I'm considering investing in a silver plated name tag as a subtle reminder for my next family gathering - what do you think? 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Even Dirty, Dirty People Need Valentines

Chuck and Deb enjoying a Barcelona sunset
After 35 years of marriage, you think you know everything there is to know about your spouse, right?

Nay, not so.

Why, just last week I learned something I never knew about my main man Chuck.

It happened when I walked into the bathroom to find Chuck standing there staring at the towel rack with a befuddled look on his face.

Now our towel rack is actually a free standing hat rack that we converted to towel usage because two measly little wall mounted metal bars just weren't enough. Apparently we are dirty, dirty people.

The towel rack stands in the bathroom corner draped with my two pink towels and his two brown towels. They're usually spread apart just enough for drying purposes. Usually. But not always. (Incidentally, in case you care, the point of his towels being brown is because he seldom remembers to throw them in the wash. After a while, his previous white terrycloth robe turned brown anyway, so I cleverly went ahead and bought brown towels this go round.)

I told you we were dirty, dirty people. 

Anyway, back to Chuck's conundrum as he stood there presumably watching the brown towels sprout green fuzz.

"What exactly are you doing," I asked."Teaching the towels tricks?"

"I just don't know what to do," he answered, shaking his head and stroking his silver chin hairs.

"About what?" I responded in my best trying-to-sound-interested voice. The following revelation astounded me.

"Well, I always hang my towels in the east-west positions. I use the east hook towel on odd-numbered days and the west hook towel on even-numbered days so I don't use the same one twice in a row. But today's the 9th and I took three showers yesterday, one already today and I'm about to take another. I'm just not sure which towel to use."  

Oh. Wait. What?

I can't believe I've lived with this man three and a half decades and never realized he had such a complex towel usage system. I mean, I toss my pink towels up there and they land willy-nilly wherever they may. Sometimes they even land on - GASP - another towel. The towel I choose for use next is completely random. Really, does it matter? I have two. I figure when a hole gets worn in one, I'll start using the other.

I suppose it shouldn't surprise me; I've always known we were opposites since the day we met in 1975. It was my very first day of college. I was 17 and he was 20 and he arrived just as we did in a car driven by the boyfriend of my only friend at the university.

I'll never forget it. These hunky college boys pulled into the parking space next to ours. My heart zinged at first sight of the cute fellow with long wavy hair brushing his shoulders, carrying a guitar and wearing jeans and a flannel shirt rolled up at the sleeves.

It took nearly a whole semester to make him notice me (he was, after all, a lofty senior and I was a mere baby freshman), and another month or so to reel him in for the catch. But then the rest, as they say, is history.

It's been a wild ride these 35 years and more fun than a barrel of hoppy toads.

I must say I find it exciting to keep learning new things about my husband after all these years. Can't say I've ever been bored. Now excuse me while I make a run to the store for a few new brown towels for my dirty, dirty Valentine.     

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tribute to a Legend

Karen and Richard Carpenter
This morning over my bowl of granola, I was tapping my toes as my den clock chimed one of my favorite oldies from The Carpenters, "I'm on the *(downbeat) top of the world looking *(downbeat) down on creation ..." when I came across a tiny notice in the newspaper that today is the anniversary of Karen Carpenter's death in 1983 at the age of 32.

Coming of age in the 70s as I did, the Carpenters played an enormous role in my life as the backbone of my dating life, romantic fantasies of the man of my dreams waiting out there somewhere for me, and even just fun, feel-good music to bop to with my best girlfriends in my living room while we nibbled on Sugar Babies and sipped coke floats. 

To this day, The Carpenters Christmas Album in my seasonal fave.

Somehow a tiny obscure notice doesn't seem like enough to memorialize Karen Carpenter.So I did a little research and put together a few interesting tidbits about the life of one of the most amazing honey-voiced contraltos the world has ever seen. 

  • Karen Carpenter was born 3/2/1950 and died at age 32 of heart failure related to anorexia and bulimia.
  • As a child, Karen loved playing softball as a pitcher. She continued that hobby throughout her life, pitching on the Carpenter's official softball team at the peak of their popularity in the mid-70s. 
  • Karen played drums in high school and according to her brother Richard, always considered herself a "drummer who sang." 
  • The first two albums cut by Karen and Richard had Karen singing from behind the drums. Producers finally coaxed her out front to a microphone against her will and wouldn't let her go back, replacing her with another drummer.
  • Those same producers constantly goaded her to lose weight, although she was 5'4" and weighed 145-lbs.in 1968. By 1975 she weighed 91-lbs. 
  • Karen collected Disney memorabilia and lived with her parents until she was 26.
  • She considered singers Olivia Newton-John and Dionne Warwick her besties. 
  • The Carpenters had to take a year off recording during the early 80s while Richard got his drug addiction under control.
  • Karen dated Tony Danza, Mark Harmon, Steve Martin, and Donny Osmond's older brother Alan. 
  • Desperately wanting to have children by age 30, Karen was married for 14 months to a real-estate developer who hid the fact from her that he'd had a vasectomy.
  • After a slight decline in their popularity (largely because they'd disappeared from the limelight due to Richard's drug problem), by 1982 Karen and Richard were working hard on a comeback when Karen suddenly died of heart failure at her parents' home. Her death brought about increased public awareness about the dangers of eating disorders, which were largely unheard of at the time.
Who were your entertainment heroes growing up? I'd love to hear some of your happy memories!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Papa God's Waiting Room

While driving through a pastoral area last week in rural Florida, I was enjoying the peaceful scenery of cows, horses, and the occasional pygmy goat herd (aren't they cute?), when something caught me by surprise.

There, standing beside the fence bordering the highway, all alone, was a blindfolded horse.

Knowing absolutely nothing about the care of our equine friends, I was puzzled as to why this fellow had been singled out. None of the other half-dozen or so horses in the field wore blindfolds. They moved around freely, navigating their own paths.

Was he being punished for something he'd done? Was it to keep him calm? Could it be that he had a longtime dream to run free and had tried to escape one too many times? Or maybe he had a tendency to harm himself and the blindfold was deemed necessary by the powers that be for his own good.  

He struck me as a forlorn figure, standing there rather droopy and spiritless, sporting this annoying blue plaid eye cover that he was completely powerless to remove. He seemed to be waiting for ... what?

He appeared lost. In broad daylight. What's next? the caption begged to read. Where do I go from here? 

As I drove on my way, Papa God, as He so often does, spoke to me through the scene I'd just witnessed. I can so identify with that blindfolded horse. I've walked a mile in his horseshoes. And so have you.

We all go through periods of blindfoldedness, when our vision is occluded for any number of reasons, and we become lost in broad daylight. Our internal GPS (God-Powered Satellite) shorts out and we don't have a good feel for where we are now or a clue about which direction we should head next.

So we wait. We sit in Papa God's waiting room and wait for the medical test results; for the new job to come through; for the illness to finally end; for forgiveness from that friend we offended; to be smitten with true love; for the gratitude we feel we deserve but have never received. So many things to wait for.

Sometimes it's a very l-o-n-g wait.

The blindfold starts to chafe and itch. Sometimes it even creates a miserable pressure sore. It itches, oozes, and bleeds, but we're helpless to rip the blindfold off. We're not the ones who put it there. We only have hooves when it requires hands.

So what do we do while we're hangin' (in several senses of the word) in Papa's waiting room? A good example from the Bible is found in Acts 1:14 when the lost-in-broad-daylight disciples were anxiously waiting for their next direction after Jesus had ascended into heaven: "They all joined together constantly in prayer..." (NIV).

Based on this scripture, what should we do while we're waiting on Papa God's next move?
1. Reach out to connect to other believers; do not alienate yourself - you need their support.
2. Keep busy; no standing around swatting flies with your tail. 
3. Pray, pray, and pray some more.  Join hands with Papa God - you'll be better able to feel the gentle tug on your bit when He begins to lead you to your next destination.
4. Wait for Papa, not His answer. Focus on His nature, His marvelous attributes, His person. Learn to experience and appreciate Papa's presence, not what He can do for you.

That blindfolded horse needed nothing less that his Master's presence to remove his blindfold.

So, my friend, do we.