Friday, December 21, 2012

The Candy that Says it All

Earlier this month, as I was getting in the spirit of celebrating the birth of the Christ child, I bought a dozen candy canes to hang upon my snowman decoration standing with his little wooden arms outstretched for such a festive purpose.

I was surprised, upon inspection of the candy cane box, to learn the following about the delightful holiday confections.

The candy cane was invented back in 1670 by a German choirmaster, who partially melted and bent white stick candies into the shape of a shepherd's staff to amuse the antsy children in his Christmas choir during the long service.

The custom spread throughout Europe during the following centuries, and came to America with a German immigrant named August Imgard in 1847, who was the first to decorate his tree with the still-all-white candies.

Sometime around 1900, a candy maker in Indiana wanted to create a Christmas confection that bore witness to the true significance of the occasion, so he added red stripes and advertised the following associated symbolism:

White: represented the virgin birth and sinless nature of Jesus.
Red: represented the blood that was shed by Jesus on the cross so that we could have the promise of eternal life.
"J" shape: represented the name of Jesus, as well as the staff of the Good Shepherd, who sent his son, Jesus, into the world to be the sacrificial lamb for the sins of the world.

It's unknown if this same Indiana candy man added peppermint flavor at this time, but someone did at the turn of the 20th century and the rest, as they say, is history.

So the next time you find yourself nibbling on a candy cane, take a moment to thank Papa God for your most precious gift this Christmas!

Wishing you and yours a happy and holy celebration of the Christ-child's birth.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pass the Iguana Repellant

Does Deb look as scared as she feels?
As I climbed the six steps to the stage that Saturday in December, my hand shook as I reached for the handrail and prayed I wouldn't stumble over my unaccustomed high heels and go sprawling.

I was about to speak to 400 hot-tea-and-scone-satiated women who had paid real money to be there.They expected something worthwhile in return. From me.


Over the past half hour, I'd become intimately acquainted with that dreadful Spirit of Fear the apostle Paul warns about in 2 Tim 1:7 (more about this later). 

In truth, I'm not usually so spirit-aware. It was probably because I'd been recently re-reading Frank Peretti's incredibly graphic novel, This Present Darkness, about spiritual warfare happening unbeknownst to us, right under our noses, that the reality of the situation became so apparent. I could almost picture that scaly, sulfur-breathing fear iguana-creature clinging to my back, whispering self-esteem shattering lies into my ear.

Who do you think you are speaking to these women? They need someone with real wisdom like Beth Moore or Joyce Meyer ... not a flawed fake like you. 

You're going to let them down. They'll all ask for a refund. 

God never called you to do this, you know. You're not a speaker. You're going to FAIL big time. 

Trouble was, there was a glimmer of truth in that last one. And a partial lie is always harder to combat than a blatant lie.

I had never signed up to be a speaker, only a writer. Nine years before when I had answered Papa God's calling to write, I never dreamed it would come to this. The irony of me speaking to audiences was obvious to those who knew me well - I'd always struggled to express myself verbally, to find the appropriate word, the right phrase while the person with whom I was conversing waited patiently (or not) on me to finish my sentence. Words just wouldn't come to me when I needed them most.

A speech therapist called it anomia. I called it a curse.

And then came my call to write. One thing led to another and I began finding myself on stages, trembling behind podiums. Are you serious, Lord?  

So as I tentatively made my way across the stage that winter morning, I prayed desperately. And help arrived. First in the truthful promise of 2 Tim 1:7, which thankfully I'd memorized and was therefore loaded and ready for battle in my spiritual warfare arsenal: "God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and self-discipline."

Power and love and self-discipline. Just the ticket. Say it again, Deb: Power and love and self-discipline.

And as if on cue, the first person who caught my eye in the vast audience was one of my Bible Study sisters who knew of my struggles and had promised to pray for me. One look at her broad smile, and I knew she hadn't just promised ... she was doing it AT THAT VERY MOMENT. In fact, six other heart-sisters and my prayer warrior husband came to mind, and I knew they were all praying too. Power!

In an instant, I felt that evil iguana-creature's claws retract and cause it to loosen it's grip on my mind. It fell to the floor with a thud and a lovely warmth like Holy Spirit honey poured over my skittish heart, calming me and filling me with the confidence and discipline I lacked.

Looking out at the full auditorium, I felt an overflow of love for those women, many hurting, many searching. They didn't need a perfect speaker. They needed someone they could identify with in the trenches. They needed flawed, struggling, imperfect me.

I was here as Papa God's ambassador. It didn't matter how poorly or wonderfully I spoke, He would take care of the outcome. Those listening would each hear only what He wanted them to hear, whether I said it with words, or the Holy Spirit spoke it directly to their hearts.

To my amazement, I didn't have to stare at my notes as I had during my last rehearsal only an hour before. I didn't stumble over words and say bizarre things that make no sense, as I usually do. Thoughts came in perfect sequence and with such little effort on my part, I knew without a doubt this message wasn't coming from me. For His strength is indeed perfected in my weakness.

I had a lot of help. Supernatural help. And some iguana repellant. 

"Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God , my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you" (1 Chronicles 28:20, NASB).



Friday, November 23, 2012

Goodness Gracious Me (Part 2)

This is the finale of the story I began in the previous post about trying not to morf into a toad in response to an encounter with a particularly ungracious toady person. Got one (or more) of those toad-people in your life? I'd love to hear how you handle them.

In the meantime, please scroll back to Part 1 to refresh your memory before you continue reading.

- - - - - - - -
Mrs. Persimmon’s tirade about the equipment I’d inadvertently broken droned on. I couldn’t have felt worse about it but no matter how apologetic I was, she couldn’t get past it.

Then suddenly, like a heavy brocade curtain dropping, she stopped in mid-rant, turned to the class and said, “Today is the Great American Teach-in. This lady is here to talk to you about whatever it is she does.” She then returned to her desk. We all stared at the back of her crimson neck as she turned her back to us and began pounding an agitated rhythm on her computer keys.

So the ball was in my court. I felt about two inches tall. I was a bad girl. Bad, bad girl. And everyone present knew it.

My first impulse was to pack up my things, take my toys and go home. But 30 pairs of adolescent eyes were looking expectantly at me. I couldn’t tell if they were waiting to see me burst into tears (which is what I feared might happen at any moment), or if they truly wanted to see how a grown-up person should handle an embarrassing situation.

When did I become so grown-up anyway? I may be fifty-something on the outside, but on the inside I’m often still a kid. This, however, was a time I knew I had to fake it and act mature.

So with face blazing, I fumbled forward. It was the most flustered, disjointed presentation I’ve ever given, but at least I made it through to the end. And oddly enough, the kids loved it.  

Mrs. Persimmon, who had kept typing non-stop during my program, remained frosty when the bell rang and the first set of students was exchanged for another. She basically ignored me.

“Get out your books and read,” the new class was instructed as I stood at the front waiting to be introduced and begin my next presentation. After five minutes, I finally sat down and looked to Mrs. Persimmon for some sort of explanation or instruction. None was forthcoming. She continued to peck at her keyboard.

Am I being punished? I wondered. Or has she forgotten I’m here?

When ten minutes of my 50-minute allotted time had ticked away (she was well aware that my PowerPoint took every bit of 50 minutes), I approached her desk and asked how much longer it would be until I could begin.

Sheepishly, she answered, “A few more minutes. I guess I should have told you that this group always reads during the first portion of class.”

“That would have been good to know, yes,” I replied.

Looking directly into my eyes for the first time since our initial explosive encounter, she added in an almost-pleasant tone, “By the way, the media specialist just e-mailed that the broken equipment can be replaced immediately, so everything will turn out fine.”

“Well, I’m very glad to hear it,” I said, resisting the temptation to say, “Fine? You call the humiliation you’ve caused me fine?” Try as I might, I was having a terrible time not biting back with the same hostile tone with which she’d earlier lambasted me. I wanted so badly to tell her just how rude she’d been and that I would never, ever, EVER do another classroom presentation because of her.

But in a flash of insight, I realized that if I did, I’d actually become the 12-year-old I felt like at that moment. I had to let this anger go. I needed to BARF.

BARF is the anger-management tool I talk about in my book, More Beauty, Less Beast, and the upcoming Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate. It’s an acronym that stands for:
B: Back Off
A: Admit
R: Redirect
F: Forgive  
So I BARFed. I excused myself to the restroom (backed off; put physical distance between my offender and myself) and admitted to a roll of toilet paper that I felt so disrespected and belittled that I wanted to stuff it’s very self where the sun don’t shine on Persimmons.  

I had to wait on the last two steps for awhile, but it turned out to be easy to redirect my intense feelings when I went to pack up my equipment and found that my projector case had been stolen and Mrs. Persimmon sympathetically promised to try to track it down (it was found the next morning thrown into the bushes behind one of the buildings).

So did BARFing make my bad experience turn into a good one?

Did it change anything that had happened or alter my offender’s actions in any way?

Did it drain away my seething resentment toward Mrs. Persimmon and pour a little much-needed graciousness into my spirit? 
Yep. It absolutely did. And graciousness is the hardest thing in the world to come by in responding to ungraciousness, isn’t it?

Our commonly perceived definition of “gracious” is “marked by kindness and courtesy.”  But Webster adds, “godly” and “compassionate” and “generosity of spirit” to the portrait of graciousness. As my friend Marian reminds me, even the bad stuff – maybe especially the bad stuff – serves to make Papa God increase within us as the “I” decreases.

Gracious is what I want to be, what I aspire to be. But it’s very tough to be gracious when the Persimmons of this world bring out the 12-year-old in me. Handling a toad often makes me turn into one too. But it doesn't have to be that way.

With a little more BARFing, I hope that one day my insides will grow up to match my outsides.    

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Goodness Gracious Me!

Niagara Falls from the US-Canada pedestrian bridge
This woman was NOT the epitome of grace. In fact, she didn't seem to have a gracious bone in her body.

The school administrator (who was a long-time fan of my books) had asked me to speak to Mrs. Persimmon's (not her real name, of course) 7th grade English class for the Great American Teach-In. I had to scuttle my schedule, but yes, I agreed to do it, remembering the dozens of rewarding times I'd spoken to students about being an author in years past.

So the Teach-In day arrived and I, along with numerous other tote-lugging adults of varying professions, trudged what seemed like five miles across the expansive campus to the school's media center to check in. There, we were each assigned a classroom and a semi-reluctant student to escort us there.

My escort was a curly-haired young man of about 13 who couldn't seem to find it within himself to make eye contact (or offer to carry any of my bulging cases containing my laptop, projector, books, or props) or answer any of my ice-breaker questions with more than one syllable.

I couldn't hold that against him. I was young once and didn't have a clue how to talk to strange adults. And as far as grown-ups go, I guess I'm about as strange as they get.

So we finally made it round the bend, up the stairs, and down the never-ending hallway it to my assigned classroom, only to find it dark and deserted. Hmm. It was 15 minutes before my scheduled starting time, and I had made it very clear in my previous correspondence with the administrator that I needed a minimum of 15 minutes to set up.

"No problem," she had said. Well, it was a problem now.

"What should I do?" I asked my young escort. "If I don't start setting up, I won't be ready to start when the bell rings."

"I dunno," he replied, reaching forward and trying the doorknob. Surprisingly, it turned. So he pushed it open and went in. I followed. Then without a word, he flipped on the light, turned, and left.

I waited an additional five minutes, but still no Mrs. Persimmon. As uncomfortable as I was making myself at home in the classroom of someone I didn't even know, I really didn't see any way around it. So I unpacked my equipment and began to set it up as the students trickled in.

And then the unthinkable happened. As I bent over to plug in my projector, the cord somehow got wrapped around a metallic piece of equipment about the size of my kitchen mixer that was sitting on the table and sent it crashing to the floor.

"Oooooh, are you ever gonna get in trou-ble..." became the taunting chant of a cluster of bug-eyed boys who immediately gathered around the busted high-tech electronic device.
"Those things cost about a million dollars, I think."
"Mrs. Persimmon is gonna blow."
"You better tell her you did it, lady, cause if she thinks it was one of us, we're dead meat."

 I hadn't a clue what it was I broke, but I had a sinking feeling that I was sunk.

So the bell rang, and finally Mrs. Persimmon made her entrance. She marched directly over to me with lips pursed, glanced up at my first slide I was attempting to center on the wall screen, and barked,
"Who are you?"
"What is this?"
"Who let you in here?"

 Taken aback, I replied, "I'm Debora Coty, an author. I'm sorry - didn't the administrator tell you I'd be speaking to your class today? The door was open but no one was here to meet me so I started getting my presentation ready."

"I don't know anything about it," she said curtly. With that she turned on her heel and went over to her desk across the room, where she turned her back to me and began typing on her computer.

The 30 or so students sat mutely staring at me, and I back at them. What was I supposed to do now?

And then I noticed the pathetic broken high-tech mixer-thingie sitting on the table. I knew before anything else happened, I had to do the right thing, if nothing more than to be an example to 30 impressionable kids who were waiting to see how this would play out.

So I walked over to her desk. "Mrs. Persimmon," I said in a voice that sounded extraordinarily timid even to me, "I need to tell you something. While I was setting up, that white piece of equipment over there got knocked off onto the floor and appears to be broken. It was an accident, and I'm truly very sorry."

Mrs. Persimmon's eyes grew to the size of Frisbees as she took in the electronic gizmo with its little head cocked askew. Her face turned this amazing shade of maroon-purple as she leapt to her feet.

"WHAT?'' She shouted. "You broke my machine? Do you have any idea how MUCH they cost? I don't know if we have any more and I use it every day. I can't believe you broke it, OH MY GOSH, how could you be so clumsy? If you only KNEW what you've done! This it TERRIBLE! TERRIBLE!"

And she went on and on for what seemed like an eternity, alternating between fretting, fussing, yelling, and berating me. Right there in front of the students. As If I were a bad dog who'd peed on her carpet. She just couldn't get over it and move on ... the more she stormed, the madder she got.

Okay, since this is getting a little long for a blog post, I'm going to pause here and continue the story next time. So tune in for my next post, same time, same channel!  



Monday, November 12, 2012

Twists in the Road

While recently reading Stephen King's "On Writing," I was struck by a revelation decidedly not Stephen-King-ish. In fact, the king of horror would probably scoff if he heard me say it, but Papa God brought me to an epiphany of sorts through Steve's life story.

Without really meaning to, in relating the odd events of his early life, Steve verified in my mind the amazing fact that the Almighty is constantly preparing us for our future by the events of our past and present.

This fact is amazing because it demonstrates with no uncertainty that our Creator cares about us personally and has a plan for each of us - a destination in mind for our life-journey that may very well include hairpin turns and hair-raising twists in the road. We can't always fathom their purpose at the time, but they serve to bring us closer and closer to our final destination.

And each segment of highway is divinely intentioinal. Each bump, rut, slick patch, and S-curve is by master design.

For example, one of Steve's early jobs (before he became a bestselling, mega-author and was a poor, struggling writer trying to support a wife and children) was washing hospital sheets and restaurant tablecloths. The dirty linens were often a week old by the time they were delivered to Steve.

Just picture, if you dare, the bloody gore and disgusting nastiness of decaying body tissues and old food crawling with maggots and fungus that he encountered daily (which he describes in revolting detail in the book). Now consider what kind of stories Steve writes today. See a connection?

It made me look back on my own life story at all the seemingly incongruent sub-plots and red herrings that turned out to contribute heavily to the inspirational writing, music, and speaking programs I produce today:

*The decade of piano lessons I fought against with tears, pleading, and gnashing of teeth
*Every voice and bell choir in existence that my parents made me join while I was growing up
*Mr. George, my long-time youth choir director who got me used to being onstage
*The English teachers that pushed me into writing contests in middle and high school
*The class officer elections that forced me to speak to the entire student body with my knees knocking

*The college acting classes that I thought were just for fun, but taught me stage presence
*Countless sermons I heard three times every single week of my life because I wasn't allowed to miss a church service (All that Bible-study seeps into your bored brain whether you mean for it to or not.)
*A front row seat to observing Christianity being lived out loud in real life by family members and friends who kept strong in their faith through struggles, questions, doubts, hardship, and illness
*And I mustn't forget this important one: Being raised in a home where a sense of humor was valued, appreciated, and cultivated. A laugh a day keeps the blues away!

So I owe a nod of gratitude to Mr. King for inadvertently pointing out the obvious: We are a pre-ordained product of the components of our past. And all the twists in the road are there for a reason.

Now I just have to figure out what all these hot flashes are preparing me for :(


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Journey to the Center of My Girth

Everybody said it wouldn't be bad at all. No problemo. They'll knock you out and the painless procedure will be over so quickly you'll wonder if you ever had a colonoscopy at all, they said.

Completely routine medical procedure these days. No muss. No fuss. No sweat.

They said.

And I believed them.

But I was wrong. Drag up a stool (pun intended) and let me tell you about my recent experience.

Of course, you must remember this whole thing was a complete fluke and would never happen to you. Or anybody else in the world, for that matter. Just me. I have come to accept my lot in life as one who hears at every turn, "Oh my goodness - that's never happened before!" or "I can't believe this ... I've worked here 30 years and have never seen such a thing!"

I believe it's Papa God's profound sense of humor in providing fodder for my writing, which I was lured into by well meaning people who repeatedly coerced, "Wow - what a crazy story! Who would believe it? You should write that down!"

Okay, so back to my colonoscopy from Hades.

The clincher (a little sphincter humor there) is that I wouldn't have known about any of it if my blood pressure hadn't tanked after the nurse injected my first little dab of woozy juice. Because my BP flatlined at 80/40 and the infrastructure had already been breached (meaning the little camera thingie was already on its way through the maze that was my guts), they couldn't give me more sedative until my BP crept higher. It never did. Therefore I was 100% awake and ever-so-reluctantly alert throughout the entire ill-fated procedure.

So there I was lying on my side watching a red-tinted version of Journey to the Center of the Earth taking place in my own little planet on the monitor in front of me. My bare tush was protruding from the hospital gown and blanket that covered the rest of my shivering body as the male and female MD's took turns guiding the little inner-space ship through the tight, twisting tunnel that was my colon.

About ten minutes into it, I felt a sudden jerk on the camera tether followed by a strange thwomp sound behind me.

"What was that?" I asked the nurse sitting on a rolling stool in front of me, monitoring my BP. She rose to her feet and peered over my backside, her eyes wide as dinner plates.

"Um, I think we're going to have a slight delay," she said, forgetting to close her mouth after the last word.

"What do you mean?" I asked, feeling the little inner-space vessel turn upside down and ram into my spleen. Or maybe it was my liver.

Turns out the female MD fainted. Yep. Passed out. Boom. Right on the floor. In the middle of my colonoscopy. We had to stop the show as a team of people in scrubs rushed into the room, revived her with smelling salts, and had a little tea party within inches of my naked derriere.

In an act of good will, I even offered a peppermint from my purse on yonder chair if it would help.

As they helped the stricken doc out of the room, she mouthed a silent, "I'm so sorry" in my direction. I couldn't help but think, Not as sorry as I am, toots.

So the male MD took over. With a vengeance. I don't know if he was trying to make up for lost time, or if his breakfast burrito had too many chili peppers, but he was jamming that joystick, baby. Full speed ahead. And I was feeling every speed-bump, crook, and cranny. Why on earth Papa God has to put so many sensory receptors where the sun don't shine, I'll never know, but I was Ooooh'ing and Whoaaaaa'ing with more and more intensity when we encountered the first 90 degree turn.

Try as it might, my little inner-space traveler couldn't stay on the road to make that sharp angle. During the third effort to muscle through the curve, I arched off the table with an honest-to-goodness scream and the doc decided to call it a crash and burn.

The mission was aborted. The ship returned to the launch pad.

So now I'm back home feeling somehow guilty over the whole thing. Guilty that my guts were too twisty. Guilty that I couldn't tough it out. Guilty (with a dollop of anger) that the gallon of revolting lax-laced Gatorade I chugged down the day before was for naught. But mostly guilty that sticking a camera up my nether-regions would knock somebody who does it FOR A LIVING completely out.


Now that hurts.        

Monday, September 17, 2012

Early Morning Grace Notes

Don't you just love grace notes?

I sure do. Papa God sent me a doozy this past weekend.

It was just before sunrise when I finished my second lap on the narrow road encircling the rustic campground bordering a lake where I was speaking at a women's retreat later that day.

I'm an early riser - I'm talking really early riser, like 4:30 or 5 a.m. - and it's become my habit to spend the wee, dark hours before the world awakens taking my first prayer walk of the day.

There's just something incredibly intimate about spending time with your Heavenly Father when you know you have His undivided attention.

In this slice of the planet, anyway.

But on that particular day, my soul was weighted down with some baggage I just couldn't seem to jettison. I had been walking along praying for a little help lightening my load when I noticed the horizon just beginning to pink up.  

Up ahead, I spotted an empty wooden dock protruding over the lake with built-in seats at the far end. Was it calling my name for a front row seat to a brand new day?

Ooh, yes, please. 

So I made my way post haste across an expanse of dewy grass and began crossing the creaky, worn planks of the dock when something dark and moving quickly on my right side entered my periphery. It was a flock of at least 25 birds swooping in to cover the handrails and benches at the end of the dock, just where I was headed. (I know they weren't hawks, titmice, owls, cardinals, or pterodactyls - I know what those look like, but I can't tell you exactly what brand of birds these were.)

Boy were they close. Even in the dusky dawn I could see the curiosity in their eyes. They weren't one bit afraid. In fact, they seemed peculiarly friendly. I stopped in my tracks so not to startle them. Then before I could blink a single blink, another large flock of 30 to 40 birds descended from nowhere to completely cover every square inch of the dock before me as thoroughly as gravy on pot roast.

That's strange, I thought, staring at the vast array of docile winged creatures staring benignly back at me not ten feet away. Don't wild birds usually fly AWAY from people, not TOWARD them?

At that moment, the huge glowing ball that was the rising sun broke above the treetops and bathed the whole scene in a surreal orange-brown light. We all turned as one to drink in the beautiful sight. Yep. A battalion of birds ... and me. Witnessing the miracle of a glorious new day together like old and dear friends.

Somehow that warm, orangey light seeped into my heart, and then my very soul as my winged friends and I worshiped our Creator together. I can't explain how I knew they were worshiping. I just knew.

And the weight of my inner luggage suddenly was no more. My heart took flight. I felt free and unburdened and loved. Sort of how a bird must feel as she soars above the mountains on a cool breeze.

Indeed, it was a grace note - a little touch from Papa to remind me, when I need it most, that He cares about me personally, and is still large and in charge. Regardless of how high I allow the baggage to pile.

Have you experienced a grace note of your own? I'd love to hear about it!    


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

It's Just Good Horse Sense

I was pedaling past an open pasture on my bicycle the other day and came across a remarkable sight.

Two horses were standing side-by-side, facing opposite directions, simultaneously scratching each others' backs. Each was diligently chewing/scraping his teeth along the mid-to-lower back of the other and they both looked like they were about to spout out a satisfied, "Ahhhh!" Mr. Ed style.

And there's nothing quite as satisfying as a scratched itch, is there? 

It was the most clever thing! I almost fell off my bike doing a double-take.

So tell me, did humans make up that old saying, "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours," or did we get that from our creative equine friends?

I suppose I shouldn't have been so astonished at the ingenuity of these marvelous creatures. My 35-year-old niece, a dedicated horse-woman since childhood, mentioned once that training horses takes 200 repetitions of the desired behavior. And smart horses take longer.

Longer? Why? You'd think it would be the dumber ones that would take longer.

Nope. If you let them get away with doing the task incorrectly after 192 times doing it right (and if they're smart, they WILL test you), you have to start all over. From scratch. Ground zero.

Come to think of it, we're not so different than our horsey friends, are we? In trying to replace a bad habit with a better one, we can toe the line and do it perfectly for 192 days straight. We can stick to 1200 daily calories, floss faithfully, read the Bible, or run a mile every morning and think we've got it nailed. But somehow, on that 193rd day, for some strange reason we cannot seem to grasp, we sneak an extra Krispie Kreme, or put off buying another roll of floss when we're out, or read The Hunger Games instead of Genesis, or run two blocks (just today so I don't get my hair sweaty).

And then it's much easier to break the new habit the next time. And the next. And before we know it, it's not a habit at all.

"Ask the animals, and they will teach you," (Job 12:7, NIV).

So I guess when we're creating a new habit, it pays not to fall off the wagon. Even once. Especially a horse-drawn wagon.

What good habits are you trying to form? 


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Get Your Bad Self Down

Deb on her He & Me Retreat
I think we all reach a point in our lives when fifteen minutes of quiet time in the morning just isn't cutting it. We're exhausted physically, frazzled emotionally, and parched spiritually.

We need an extended time of renewal in every sense of the word.

After nearly completing work on my newest book, I was at that point recently and was completely blessed to sneak away for a five-day spiritual retreat. Alone. Yes, girlfriend, that's what I said: Five days alone! 

No whining kids, inquisitive husbands, nagging bosses, gossipy workmates, chatty friends, borrowing neighbors, nosy mothers ... just me and Papa God. I call it a He & Me Retreat.

As I described in my book, More Beauty, Less Beast, a He & Me Retreat is a time to break away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and imbed yourself in our Father's pure, unmarred creation. To listen for that still, small voice that often gets drowned out in the cacophony of life. To rest. To revitalize. To refuel our tanks.  

My He & Me Retreat was located at my favorite spot in the world - our remote Smoky Mt. cabin, deep in the quiet woods about 3/4 of the way up a mountain where the 4200-foot elevation provided a refreshing 60 degrees in the mornings and evenings, quite different than our 92 degrees with 90% humidity at home.

After a long sunrise prayer walk (rain or shine), I spent my mornings reading, marinating, and recording insights about scripture, crooning praise songs aloud in the woods with no audience except the One I was singing to ... along with a nosy chipmunk or two. I danced with wild abandon to toe-tapping, spirit-swellin' songs played on dulcimer, fiddle, mandolin, and banjo.

I picked bouquets of wildflowers in mountain meadows by the Christmas tree farm, and rode my rootin'-tootin' four-wheeler, Sir Lancelot until it got too dark to see the twisty path. Then I chased lightening bugs in the forest clearing like I once enjoyed as a 6-year-old.

And I ate chocolate. A LOT of chocolate. And never felt guilty one single second.

My little recouping get-away was fun. It was fulfilling, It was essential to sanity. But it certainly wasn't original with me. There are many scriptural examples of Jesus stealing away alone to retreat sites like the mountains (Mark 6:36) or the seaside or lake (Matthew 13:1).

I figure if it was that important to him, it should be that important to me.

So how about you? I strongly encourage you to consider the benefits of a He & Me Retreat for yourself: uninterrupted time to get to know yourself again, to touch base with the marvelous creation Papa God made in you, and to embrace the opportunity to relax and enjoy His rejuvenating presence. As an added benefit, you'll revive your enthusiasm for the Word.

You'll fall in love with Him all over again.   

It's something you really can't afford not to do.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Love: Do You Speaka Dat Language?

I arrived home yesterday from a three-week, self-prescribed sabbatical in the seclusion of our remote Smoky mountain cabin, where I was working feverishly to finish Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate, my newest book.

F3 is due at the end of this week, although it doesn't debut until Feb. That's how publishing works: hurry, hurry, hurry only to wait and wait and wait some more.

So I pulled into the driveway and dragged my haggard carcass through the door after a 9-hour, nonstop, ate-a-crate-of-cookies-to-stay-awake, ran-out-of-audio-books-two-hours-ago drive. I was whipped.

All I wanted was to throw my luggage in a heap on the floor and myself into a heap in the bed.

But something happened to change all that. An unexpected twist to my twisted day that made my heart yodel and my feet break into a happy-dance.

There, in a neat stack nearly the height of a cereal box, on the kitchen table, were every single comic painstakingly cut from every single newspaper that had been delivered while I was gone. We're talking 25 days here.

That's a LOT of comics.

So many that it took me over an hour to sit down and read them all. But read them all I did. Why? Because I heard, felt, smelled, touched, and tasted love in every word. And I just can't get enough of that. 

Spouse knew my love language is "Acts of Service," meaning that the way to speak love to me so that I actually hear it is to perform some small service for me. One that will either save me time, money, or energy, or an act that shows that he's thinking of me - my personal needs or preferences - in the midst of the relentless busyness of his life.

He knew that the funnies are the only reason I subscribe to newspapers.
He knew that I'm too isolated from civilization (no net access either) in our mountain cabin to see a daily paper. 
He knew that it would bring me no small joy to catch up on my funny-paper friends.
He knew that regardless of how many times he said, "I love you," or "I miss you" while I was gone, that I would really know it was true by this simple, wonderful, birds-chirping-and-sun-shining deed that proved that he cares about the little, insignificant things that I care about. Because I matter. To him.

And he was absolutely right. 

What a guy.

If it's been a while since you've thought about Dr. Gary Chapman's 5 Love Languages (which was first published in 1992), I encourage you to remind yourself that we don't all speak the same love languages, and sometimes when you think you're speaking love to your spouse, friends, or children, they may be hearing - or not hearing - the message you intend. Because you hable in twisted tongue they no savvy.

Here are the five love languages Dr. Chapman identifies:
1. Words of Affirmation
2.  Quality Time
3. Receiving Gifts
4. Acts of Service
5. Physical Touch

The thing is to identify your own love language - what speaks love to you - and the love language of each of your loved ones. 

So tell me: What is your love language?




Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What's in a Name?

Rainstorm in the English countryside
"This is all your fault!" my unsmiling neighbor leveled at me yesterday as we crossed paths while picking up moss, limbs, and other grungy debris strewn across our yards.

"My fault?"

"Dang storm's named after you, isn't it?"

Oh. I suppose it is.

This wasn't the first time I'd heard my name taken in vain since the arrival of Tropical Storm Debby earlier this week. She arrived in a snit and decided to hang around annoying Florida all week, pounding us with rain, high winds, mayhem, newly opened sinkholes, closed roads, property damage, canceled plans, flooding everywhere, and lots of great headlines that make me somehow feel responsible:
Go Away Debby!
Damage in Debby's Wake
Debby Scary, Even From a Distance

Now, my head knows these unpleasant sentiments are not about me, but for some reason my gut takes them personally. Like everybody in my state hates me. And can't wait for me to leave.

I hear people all over muttering the name Debby in hard, angry tones, and I feel like I should apologize to ... to someone. To everyone. I don't know.

Who chooses storm names, anyway? Why couldn't they have named the thing Dipsidumquat? (That's pronounced dip-si-dum-quat.) I bet there's not a single Dipsidumquat in the state who would be the least bit offended. Heck, they'd probably even be flattered.

But look at all of us Southern Debby's. And Debbie's. And Debi's. We're not flattered. We're not amused in the least.

It's not like a whole rash of new babies will be named Debby, reminiscent of the phenomenon that happens when a name suddenly becomes famous, like Madonna ... or Pippa ... or Barak. Well, maybe not Barak.

But the point is, instead of popularizing a name by plastering it all over the media, it actually depopularizes a perfectly good moniker when a storm is named after you. Not good for a writer/speaker who is trying to get her name out there. In a positive way.

I wouldn't be surprised if traumatized Floridians don't wince, shake their heads, or spit in the dirt whenever they hear my name for the next six months. Maybe even years. Hope my book sales don't take a dive.

But perhaps that's preventable.Maybe it's not too late. I need your help.

Will you join me in my grassroots campaign to begin referring to this unfortunate name-destroyer as Tropical Storm Dipsidumquat from now on? If enough of us do it, maybe it'll catch on with the media and fine citizens of this fair state. Go ahead - practice it a time or two until it rolls off your tongue slick as buttered okra.

Okay, I'm heading out right now to see if I can name-drop a little with my irate neighbor. Hey, come to think of it, his mama's name is Dipsidumquat ...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It's Your Serve (Prayer, part 2)

Last week we talked about prayer being like a tennis match. You hit the ball over the net, Papa God hits it back. Over and back. Over and back.

You know, the truly amazing part is that Papa God wants to play with us at all. I mean, He certainly doesn't have to. He could just rush the net and smash, smash, smash every shot. But instead He chooses to rally.

Just think of it: the creator of the universe actually desires to spend time listening to us. And responding.

Doesn't it blow your mind that He wants to hear our deepest thoughts, feelings, disappointments, yearnings, wishes, and dreams when most of the other flesh and blood people-creations like ourselves don't seem to care? Even with the entirety of creation demanding His attention, the Almighty takes a personal interest in you ... and me.

Whoa. Hard to wrap your head around, isn't it? Such a compliment. Such an honor.

Yet we sometimes consider prayer a chore ... something nearly forgotten that we need to squeeze in before we fall asleep so we don't feel guilty. Or maybe we're just so  busily preoccupied with living our life that prayer is reduced to cougar-on-a-ski-slope desperation tweets to (Yep, the cougar thing actually happened to me.)

I've found it enormously helpful to keep a mobile prayer list of people and needs I want to pray about. Mine's a little pocket-sized pad that travels with me. I find it especially handy in my car - my rolling cathedral - so I can pray instead of scream at red lights and traffic jams. Much more productive on several levels.

I highly recommend it.

But if you do, be sure to record the answers to your prayers as well, so you'll never again doubt that prayer is the nerve that moves the muscles in the hand of God.

Hey, it's your serve!

Q of the Day: Where is your favorite place to pray?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Spiritual Punctuation

Effective conversation is like a tennis match. (Yes, you're absolutely right - this metaphor occurred to me as I was whacking a little yellow ball around a court.) You hit the ball over the net, then your partner hits the ball back.

And you keep it going. Back and forth. Back and forth.

Prayer is supposed to be like that. An ongoing conversation between the Creator and the created.

We speak to Him in prayer and He speaks back to us through various means, scripture being a primary one. He speaks, we listen. Then we speak and He listens. Back and forth like a little ball over a net.

It's a love match.

So how come on some days, "Help!" is the only word God ever hears from us? We don't even use up all 130 characters of our prayer-tweets.

Sometimes we think praying is enough. We just don't have time ... or energy ... or motivation to spend time in the Word. But you know what? It simply doesn't work if you constantly feed balls over the net and never wait for your partner to return them.

Just ask Rafa Nadal after his 7th win at the French Open. Back and forth, back and forth.

It has to go both ways for conversation to take place. 

That means, of course, that prayer and daily scripture reading go hand-in-hand. Like peas and carrots. Peanut butter and jelly. RC and moon pies.

Otherwise it's not effective communication. It's a monologue. 

Prayer is designed to be a 24/7 dynamic, organic communication with a living, loving Savior that we grow to depend upon as much as the air we breathe. Not just an occasional occurrence, but a way of living every hour of every day. A lifestyle. Woven into the fiber of our very being.

Prayer is not just spiritual punctuation; it's every word of our life's story.

So how do we cease merely dotting our i's and crossing our t's in the prayer department? How do we transition from a guilt-prayer squeezed in late at night before zzzz'ing out to a "Pray without ceasing" existence?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

More about prayer next time ...  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My Favorite Transformer

Last week, I asked my incredibly imaginative Facebook friends to help me come up with a title for a chapter I'm writing about grace for my new inspirational book, Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate (set to release in Feb, 2013 by Barbour Books). My creative FB buds had done such a slam bang-up job with suggestions for my guilt chapter several weeks ago that I thought it only prudent to squeeze the utters of the proverbial idea cow once again. 

That was not an attractive metaphor. Sorry. It's early.

So to my surprise, in less than a day I receive a suggestion from the 9-year-old son of Lynn, one of my work associates. It was the BEST EVER! I still can't get over it.

Here's the suggested chapter title straight from the amazingly astute mind of Logan, my own personal Yoda (I suggested that Lynn change his name to Yogan):

Grace: The Ultimate Transformer. Per Logan, this phrase should be accompanied by a photo of Optimus Prime wearing a t-shirt that says, "Forgiven."

Now I'm not all that hip, rad, or the least bit cool about kid-speak these days since my kids are grown with their own kids, and their kids aren't yet out of the sippy cup stage, so I was at a loss as to the identity of said Mr. Prime. Lynn graciously accommodated me with a link to Optimus Prime, the leader of the ever-so-popular robotic Transformers.

Apparently Optimus Prime, a main player in Logan's world, is known for his compassion, strength, and willingness to sacrifice himself for others.

Wow. BIG wow. Who does this description sound like to you? Not unlike the epitome of grace who, out of a strength we cannot fathom, willingly sacrificed himself on a cross through the greatest of compassion for lost souls like you and me.

And this kid, this 9-year-old boy, gets it. He has wrapped his head around the concept of grace better than many adults. Hey, if this doesn't light a blaze of hope in your innards for the next generation, your wood's wet.

Dang, that stupid tear is trickling down my face again. I hate it when that happens before my morning cup of hot tea.

Regrettably, I can't use Logan's terrific idea in my book; my audience of other non-hip, rad-less, uncool middle-aged women like me wouldn't understand it without an explanation. And my editor always says, "If it needs explaining, it shouldn't be there." But it was so awesomely worthy of recognition that I just had to share it with you through my blog.

I hope your mediocre morning is transformed into a grace-filled, optimally prime, to-die-for day!   

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Living in the Shadow of the Hawk

I live in a thickly wooded area and my backyard is home to many critters. Last week we had a very noisy skirmish between the possum clan and red fox tribe that drew Spouse from his nice warm bed to screech like a banshee and whack a baseball bat against the metal door at 3 am. 

His little performance did produce a temporary truce, but by the next morning a casualty of war ended up beneath our porch drawing flies.

Death is part of nature's cycle, I know, but I don't want to smell it beneath my floor boards. Or witness it either.

Which is why I've developed a strong aversion to hawks. We have 'em by the squadrons around here, dozens at a time cruising for prey, honing in on the innocent baby squirrels and sweet birdies that call my yard home.

All my little furry babies will be scampering about, tweeting merrily, playing chase up and down tree trunks or frolicking across wooden fences when they suddenly freeze. A dark shadow passes over the yard as a menacing  hawk stalks overhead. Suddenly everyone dashes for cover, but not before the lightning-quick carnivore swoops down and snatches one of my poor babies away, squealing in terror. 

When the ominous shadows begin crossing the yard, I've tried yelling, banging pans with a metal spoon, even chasing them with a stick. But nothing deters the determined winged predators.  I've even seen one buzz the Maltese next door, swooping down low enough to cause the little dog's white hair to fly up.

So my woodland friends have learned to fear the shadow of the hawk.

I suppose I've become more introspective since I've been writing a book about fear, but it occurred to me today that many people live in the shadow of a hawk, too. Maybe not of the flesh and feather variety, but nonetheless a predator that instills fear in us by its deadly beak and razor-sharp talons. For some, it's constantly cruising overhead, casting its fearful shadow that immobilizes momentum and steals joy.

Hawks can be unemployment, fear of disease or illness, rejection, loss of looks, or even loneliness. Long-time conflicts, dread of pain, the unknown future can loom large over our heads, making us worry constantly that this hawk or that one will swoop down when we least expect it and snatch us away.

I'm tired of cowering in fear in the shadow of my personal hawks. So I'm thinking of getting a BB gun.
Or maybe a bow and arrow. Or a cruise missile.

What do you think? What type of weapon would be the best protection when the shadow of the hawk darkens your path?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Flying by the Seat of My Pants

Deb in London Metro
Whew! It's been quite a whirlwind since the March release of More Beauty, Less Beast: Transforming Your Inner Ogre. Hence the irregular blog posts. My apologies if you've noticed.

But then it's always crazy-busy for a few months when a book first releases. Just during the months of March and April, I've had twelve radio or podcast interviews, two bookstore signings, and nine speaking engagements.

I actually enjoy the events themselves, once I get there and begin to meet all the lovely people. It's the physical traveling that gets to you, and the inability to spend any focused time on the next book. And that deadline looms large just around the corner.

Such is the struggle of all contracted authors: you must actively promote one book while you're working feverishly on the next. Sometimes when people ask you about something you've said, you can't remember what's in which book. Or you can't even remember what on earth they're talking about - I've had to ask a few radio hosts to quote me to me so I'll know what I said.

Anyway, I've often wished for Toast Master experience but for the last few years I've been so busy speaking that I never properly learned how to speak. So I'm going to remedy that next week by attending an in-depth workshop for speakers up in Georgia. (Ha! How many people in this country can say "up" in Georgia?)

I'm looking forward to it but at the same time, am quite nervous that I'll find out I've been doing it wrong all this time. Over 100 speaking gigs over the past three years, and I hadn't a clue what I was doing, just flew by the seat of my pants. I know what I like to hear in a speaker and I try to give that same thing to the audience: a few laughs, some helpful take-away points, and a lot of good stories.

I guess I'm really a storyteller beneath it all, and that's where my heart lies. I could sit and listen to a good storyteller all day, and learned early on that if I ever see an audience begin to drift, I can always bring 'em back with a juicy story.

What's a story you've heard that has had an impact on your life? Something that really stuck with you. I'd love for you to share it with me. 

Well, enough rambling for now. Got to work on speeches for two upcoming events. Sure wish I knew what I was doing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What's a book like you doing in a place like this?

I received a note from an old friend in Alabama that I just had to share with you. I tweaked the names a bit for privacy. 
"I have the best story to tell you about your book, 365 Chick-isms, and where it ended up. My daughter, Ann, is dating a twenty-something guy named Jason who is very theological and serious about the Lord (which is good:) 
Last Saturday Jason brought Ann home from college for spring break and was sitting on our couch. Having nothing better to do at the moment, he reached over and picked up your little book. He started laughing, and just flipped through the book reading to us aloud and getting more and more tickled. 
Jason's friends met him on Sunday to go canoeing and camping in the Everglades, so I put the book in his stuff and he was so excited about entertaining his friends around the campfire with chick-isms! So, of all places, your book was read by a bunch of 20-year-old guys (who are still puzzled about how to handle the female race) around a campfire in the Everglades."
Well, well! I must say that's not exactly the way I pictured my book being enjoyed, but I'm totally glad it is! Thanks, Julia, for the great story.
I'd love to hear any other stories about my books ending up in strange places. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Transform Your Inner Ogre with a $150 Visa Cash Card from @DeboraCoty!

Using Biblical advice and her trademark humor, Debora Coty urges women to conquer guilt and re-institute hope in More Beauty, Less Beast. Celebrate with Debora by entering to win a $150 Visa Cash Card!

One "beautiful" winner will receive:
  • A $150 Visa Cash Card (Treat yourself to a spa day or weekend get-away!)
  • A Debora Coty Library (More Beauty, Less Beast, Too Blessed Too Be Stressed and Everyday Hope)
  • Chocolate (Every good thing begins with chocolate!)
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends 3/22/12. Winner will be announced at Debora's "Divine Beauty" Facebook Party on  3/22. Debora will be hosting an evening of chat, fun beauty trivia, laughter, and encouragement - bring your friends! She'll also be giving away some GREAT prizes: gift certificates, books, and a book club prize pack! (Ten copies of the book for your small group or book club and a live chat with Debora via Skype.)

So grab your copy of More Beauty, Less Beast and join Debora and friends on the evening of March 22nd for an evening of fun.

Don't miss a moment of the fun. RSVP TODAY and tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 22nd!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Cardinal Challenge

What is that strange flapping noise?

I slowed my pace on my power-walk around the hotel lot just after dawn last Saturday and looked around. My make-shift track circled the expansive building and at the moment, had led me to the tree-lined fence separating the parking lot from a tangle of neglected woods at the rear of the property.

Muted light was just filtering in from the east as my eyes scanned the too-early-to-be-peopled parking lot. Ah, there was the odd noise again. I honed in on a van about 15 feet away and what I saw brought me to a complete halt.

It was a male cardinal. I know it was a male because for some reason God made the male cardinal's crimson plumage dramatically brilliant while the females are duller than dishwater. It's like the boy birds are decked out in tuxedos while the girls get stuck with ratty old housecoats.

Anyhow, this little fellow was putting on quite a show, flitting about, tweeting and chirping and flirting with the beautiful bird in the large side view mirror of the van. He was completely engrossed in conversing with ... himself. He'd perch on top of the mirror for a while, pecking fetchingly at his reflection in the shiny chrome, then lean over the side, inverting himself completely upside down to catch a glimpse of the intriguing birdie in the mirror.

Then he'd swoop down and hover in front of his own reflection, giving himself little kisses and coos of admiration.

I had to laugh. It reminded me too much of some people I know.

But as I continued my early morning exercise jaunt, I started thinking that maybe we all ought to be a little more like that cardinal. Oh, I don't mean we should strive to be more self-absorbed or narcissistic, no. But at least we should have enough self-respect and love for ourselves that we that don't rue spending time in our own company. That we don't disgust ourselves so much that we turn everywhere but inward, seeking escape from ourselves through drugs, alcohol, obsessions, work, shop-til-you-drop, or whatever our evasion tactic happens to be.

I can't say that I've wooed my own reflection lately, but I have been working on cutting back on the negative self-talk and trying to view myself more as a Cinderella-in-progress than a done-deal-Shrek. To get it in my head that beaut-i-tude is fluid and when I spend time with myself and Papa God, it's a lot more productive - and fun - than leaving Him out.

So my goal for this week is to emulate my little cardinal buddy and come up with 3 things every day that I like about myself. And they can't be the same things over and over (like my slender toes, wacky sense of humor, and the fact that my teeth aren't falling out. Yet.). As creative as Papa God is, I'm sure if I dig deep, I can find 21 things to be thankful for about this Debbie girl He fashioned.

Will you take the cardinal challenge with me?     



Monday, February 13, 2012

Tribute to a Victorious Life

Photo by Marian Crawford
My husband and I were stunned when the call came.

"You need to come now," my nephew said, his voice catching. "It doesn't look like she'll make it through the night."

He was referring to his mother, my dear sister-in-law, Suzi, who had seemed the very picture of vitality before she'd unexpectedly received a diagnosis of metastatic lung cancer two days after Christmas. It had already spread to her spine, ribs, and hips, and the doctors gave her only 6-12 months. Maybe more with treatment.

But it wasn't to be. The cancer progressed more quickly than they thought. The phone call that rocked our world came just six weeks later.

It's true that we're all just one phone call from our knees.

When we arrived at Suzi's home, hospice had set up a hospital bed in her family room beside the wall lined with dozens of black-and-white photos of her ancestors. But Suzi couldn't see them; her eyes remained closed most of the time, except for the few moments she cracked them open to respond to her daughter's voice, or when her beloved brother arrived. And then it was questionable how much she was really seeing, for her normally twinkling blue eyes were glazed and dull with impending death.

We, the family, took turns speaking to Suzi, and caressing her hands and sponging her forehead in attempt to soothe pain-induced writhing. An hour passed painstakingly slowly.

But then something truly amazing happened.

Suddenly, Suzi threw back her head and lifted wide, clear eyes toward the ceiling directly above her bed. It was so obvious that she was looking at something, we all gazed upward to see what had commanded her attention. Our mortal eyes could see nothing, but Suzi, already passing through the effervescent veil into eternity, seemed mesmerized.

In one accord, we recalled her husband's account of Suzi's midnight conversation with Jesus a few days earlier. In the darkest of nights, Suzi, her husband declared, had begun answering and asking questions to an unseen bedside visitor, whom she identified with complete confidence as Jesus. Suzi's normal conversational cadence and pauses for responses that her husband couldn't hear caused him to believe with all certainty that the presence of the Son of God was unquestionably in that room, and every bit as real as if she'd been talking to her best friend.

At that time, Suzi told her husband that Jesus had said it wasn't yet time for her to come, but that she needed to stay and fight a little while longer. And then, in the end, she would win the battle. 

And victorious she was, as she drew her last breath and the people who had loved her most in this brief life ushered her into the next by joining hands around her bed, praying and singing hymns and praise songs through their tears.

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints," (Psalm 116:15, KJV).

As precious as Suzi was to those who knew and loved her, what immense comfort to know she's even more precious to her Creator and the Lover of her Soul who welcomed her home with opened arms.

Certainly makes one think. Life after life .. am I ready? Are you ready?  


Thursday, February 9, 2012


Be careful little eyes what you see,
Oh  be careful little eyes what you see,
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love,
So be careful little eyes what you see.

There I was, driving along, singing at the top of my lungs to my wee grandson's kiddie CD when I suddenly smacked into the brick wall. No, not literally (thank you, Jesus), but it felt like it.

I wasn't expecting to be convicted by a children's song, for pity's sake. But there it was, the fiery arrow of true guilt zinging straight into my heart, hiding beneath the unassuming words of the last verse:

Be careful little mind what you think,
Oh be careful little mind what you think,
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love,
So be careful little mind what you think.

The Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little mind what you think.

All at once it hit me. All those times (and lately it seems like a gazillion) when I've bitten back a harsh response to a co-worker, boss, crazy driver, clerk, family member or friend, and instead thought searing, critical, or sarcastic replies that I thought were private ... weren't. The Joan Rivers in my head seems always to be hot to go and never hesitates to skewer anyone who crosses me. 

Silently, of course. I am, after all, an inspirational writer and speaker.

I thought I was doing the "Christian" thing by not blasting the victim with my verbal Uzi.
I thought I was being patient and even kind by putting them in their place mentally instead of physically.
I thought being a reflection of Jesus was surface stuff ... like the shimmering reflection of trees in a pond. 
I thought turning away and rolling my eyes and biting my tongue was acceptable in God's sight because no actual relationship damage was done. No messes to clean up. No apologies to utter.
I thought that nobody hears what I don't say.
But I was wrong.

Somebody hears. Somebody important.

The Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little mind what you think. 

Gulp. My only consolation is that He is indeed looking down at me in love and promises to forgive all that faulty thinking. And maybe sharpen my reflection, too, so someone can actually tell Who the blurry image is supposed to be.

But that's not enough. The next step is to replace my stinkin' thinkin' with something else. Something strong enough and satisfying enough that I won't be tempted to reload my weapon and slip back into nastyland. Something like the apostle Paul had in mind in Philippians 4:8: "Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right."

So now I'm trying to come up with a Yield sign for my thoughts. A short, powerful slogan that will become my automatic default when my eyeballs start to roll and sarcastic inner responses beg to placate my desire for personal retribution.

Got any ideas? What helps you sharpen your reflection?      

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Praying the SAM Creed

We're never really alone, even when it feels like it
In my last post, I mentioned that for the past few weeks, our family has received bad news about so many of our friends and relatives, it feels surreal.

And overwhelming.

The prayer list I keep in my rolling cathedral (car) is overflowing with urgent needs of those I care about. The thing is, I often don't know how to pray, especially if the person I'm praying for is terminally ill. Or if the situation seems, by human standards, hopeless.

Dare I pray for a miracle for each of these loved ones?

I found the answer in the third chapter of Daniel. It's the well known story of three Hebrew boys (four counting Daniel, but he's not a key player in this particular part of the story) who have been taken captive and are living in Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar, their self-centered monarch whose only god was himself. I'm going to call him King N to give my weary typing fingers a break.

Following some bad advice from his yes-men advisers, vain King N built a giganto statue of His Royal Hiney and ordered everyone in the kingdom to fall down and pay homage to his royal self or die. These true-God-worshipping Hebrew slaves, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refused. They flat refused to worship any other but the one and only God Almighty knowing the alternative was death in the bowels of King N's fiery furnace.

That was gutsy all right, but not as gutsy as what they did next.

In verses 17-18, our boys answered King N's snide question, "What god will be able to rescue you from my power?" with what I call the SAM creed (an acronym of their names):

"If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn't, you can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up."

But even if He doesn't... five powerful words that contain a lifetime of pure trust.  

In other words, the SAM fellows said, "We believe that the God we serve can do anything. He can save us from this disaster. But even if He chooses not to, we will still serve Him."

And you know the rest of the story ... God did indeed work an incredible walk-with-me-through-the-fire miracle and King N ended up declaring, "There is no other god who can rescue like this!" (verse 29) 

So it occurred to me that maybe I should pray about the seemingly hopeless situations on my prayer list by the very same SAM creed: "Lord, I believe that you perform miracles now just like you did then. Please send a miracle to save my friend from this impending disaster. But even if you choose not to intervene, and my heart breaks with the suffering of this dearly beloved one, I will still serve you."

Is there someone in your life you need to lift up in prayer with the SAM creed? Tell me about it - I'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Starting the New Year Out Right

Photo by Marian Crawford
I must admit when I awoke before dawn this morning, New Year's Day, my thoughts were a bit on the dreary side. I was bummed by recent family problems, pressing decisions, and the sudden death of a close friend a few days before Christmas.

Yes, I know, I know - compared to many people, these barely rate a .5 on the 1-10 problem scale, but my relatively minuscule ticky-tack problems combined to cast a blue hue over the upcoming new year.

After wading through depressing headlines and unfunny comics in the Sunday paper, I dressed and headed to church all alone because Spouse was under the weather.Wouldn't you know, the day I needed company most, there wasn't any.

Or maybe there was.

Just as I pulled out of my driveway and nosed the car around the first curve, I was immersed in light. Beautiful, sparkly, utterly amazing white light from the largest array of sunbeams I've ever seen. Maybe it was a unique combination of sheen and mist, maybe the angle of the sun was different than usual, I don't know, but it was more magnificent than the most elaborate light show Disney could possibly imagine.

Now before I continue, I must mention here that I am a connoisseur of sunbeams. A self-proclaimed expert, mind you. Since I was a little girl, I've taken special joy in early morning sunbeams - those long fingers of Papa God reaching down to earth through the mist to touch His creation with the first light of a brand new day.

Such promise! Such possibilities! Anything could happen.

Many, many mornings, I've taken my prayer walks precisely at the time I know the best sunbeams will make their appearance, usually around 8:10 am. For me, it's one of those heart-bonding times I have with my heavenly father when He cuts through the fog and the mist and clutter of my day to reach right in and caress my careworn heart.

Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10, NKJ).

Knowing, simply knowing that He is large and in charge soothes my troubled spirit and brings me peace. Sometimes, I think, we just need a little reminder.  

So today, without giving my personal pick-me-uppers a single thought, suddenly, I was surrounded by these soul-stirring reminders that I am not alone. That my Papa God is right here with me. And He will be though 2012 just like He was through 2011 and the 50+ years before that.

Then just to bring the point home, I drove past a man with a black garbage bag, shuffling along with his head down through the most incredible dazzling sunbeams anyone could ask for, totally oblivious to the light show all around him. He was actually bathed in light ... translucent, iridescent, brilliant light. But he missed it.

He missed the whole thing because was looking down, collecting trash.

"Look up! Look up!" I shouted out my window. But he only glared in my direction, shook his head at the crazy lady driving by, and dropped his gaze back to the ground. He never knew what he was missing.

Like a smack in the gut, I knew I was seeing myself. Yep, it was me all right, trudging along so many days with my eyes cast downward, collecting my own brand of garbage. Feeling alone and forgotten when all I had to do was look up and see that I'm surrounded by the most amazing light: the presence of my Lord, Savior, and Companion through all of time. 

So my best New Year's gift came without a bow or a box. It came in a beam of light. And whether you see it in an incredible early-morning display of hope, or a candle in the darkness, or even during a rainstorm, I hope yours will too.