AFVM: December Already?

This post is part of a series I like to call “A Visit From Mom.”  These posts are written by, well…my mom. I think she kind of rocks! My mom and her mother were the primary inspirations for me to starting writing way back as a little girl.  Now, I share my blog with my mom cause I think she has some things to say that you might really love.

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It is December already!

I always struggle with this season of the year—torn between the joy and excitement of yet another Christmas against the dark skies and cold and deep-seeded feeling of financial distress.  Writing out our tithe check this morning, there is the temptation to count those contributions to the Salvation Army bucket and the Angel tree and the food depot and all the other organizations that come alive at Christmas. . . more pressure.

I just learned that my father, who has worked hard all his life, has been released from his job and the hospital which employed my stepmother, a nurse for 50 years, just closed.  She is now unemployed.  They are both well into their seventies and should be secure.  They just declared bankruptcy.

After the past few years of economic loss, I have watched old friends try to reinvent themselves in what should be their golden years.  I have a credible fear that my job will be in jeopardy in a few years.    I will be 63—not old enough to retire, not young enough to be employable.  We are not alone in this.  Millions of people, who have followed “the rules” all their lives,  are finding themselves under financial stress at their most vulnerable point.

In my world, I take care of seniors.  It is a mission, it is a passion, and it is a gift from God to be blessed with this journey.  If, on occasion, I wake up in the middle of the night, panicking at the thought of what I will do 5 years from now or how I will support my infirm parents, Dear Lord, forgive me for my momentary lapse.  I am well aware that I cannot control the behavior of my fellow children of God.  I can control how I treat those children of God and I can control my trust in You. . .

I can once again read the Beatitudes and realize that You value what we do here.  I will tithe my usual, knowing that for all the times I give freely and with love, You, Heavenly Father,  have given to me a thousandfold,  freely and with love.

Blessings,

Carlene Welch is the General Manager at Home Instead Senior Care of Northwest Arkansas, and avid writer and poet, and my mom. She serves as a Stephen’s Minister at her church and is one of the wisest women I know. She writes custom poetry and prose for cards and gifts. For more information, contact us at stringsattachedministries@gmail.com.

AFVM: The Forgotten Ones

This post is part of a series I like to call “A Visit From Mom.”  These posts are written by, well…my mom. I think she kind of rocks! My mom and her mother were the primary inspirations for me to starting writing way back as a little girl.  Now, I share my blog with my mom cause I think she has some things to say that you might really love.

I recently found my senior high school annual, showing pictures of classmates to one of my daughters who asked what my high school years were like.  Reminiscing, I read some of the little notes old “friends” had to say about me. . .  “stay as sweet as you are”, “ you are the smartest, sweetest person I know”, “ you are always so reliable”, “ you are the brightest of all of us”, . . .

I remember vividly taking that annual home from school and sobbing because not a single one said I was their best friend, or didn’t we have fun, or wish we had another year—all any of those people could say about me was that I was sweet, smart and reliable.  This year was our fortieth class reunion, and I still could not bring myself to go back there.

The pain of never quite belonging is a formidable obstacle to overcome.  To this day, there are many moments when I would just like for someone to choose me as their companion for something fun.  It seems my husband is the only person in this world who has ever seen or appreciated that side of me.
I am the “go-to” person when someone is feeling uncertain about their life, when they feel a little depressed about their situation, when the world has battered them about just a little too much.  I am the chosen companion when a grandchild needs a hug and a soft place to lay a little head.  I am the one who can reassure my employers about their business decisions even when those decisions have only their best interests at heart.  I am the listener who makes every attempt to be empathetic and enabling to those I contact each day.

I am the forgotten one.  I am a lighthouse, praised for its light during the storm, and forgotten in the midst of the sunshine.  After all these years, I am still sweet, smart, and oh-so-reliable.  I am these things because they are traits which God knew I would use with care.  What gifts they truly are!  To be relied upon in time of need is high praise.  To enable and empower another child of God to continue his journey is an amazing blessing.

We each touch a number of people on any given day.  We won’t all hold a microphone, or write the great novel, or sing the number one song.  We won’t all get awards or even acknowledgement for the things we do.  But we all are blessed with gifts from God to share with others in His Name.  How wonderful is that?!

Blessings,

 

Carlene Welch is the General Manager at Home Instead Senior Care of Northwest Arkansas, and avid writer and poet, and my mom. She serves as a Stephen’s Minister at her church and is one of the wisest women I know. She writes custom poetry and prose for cards and gifts. For more information, contact us at stringsattachedministries@gmail.com.

A Visit From Mom: It’s All a Competition

This is the first post in a new series here at Strings Attached called “A Visit from Mom.”  I am so blessed to have such a wise woman for my mother and doubly blessed that I get the opportunity to work with her on a daily basis and have her be an integral part of my life.  And guess what? She’s a writer….a really good one…and a great inspiration to me as a writer.  So welcome to a new tradition…I hope you enjoy her words as much as I do. 


On the way to work this morning, I listened to a commercial that involved a grandmother referring to herself as the “good grandmother.” Her grandchildren preferred coming to her house rahter than the other grandmother’s home because she had all the fun video games, i-pod and i-pads, and any other technology that could be sold for Christmas.  The other grandmother only made chocolate chip cookies.

In our world, we compete for jobs and careers, to make the best grades in school, to excel in numerous sports, and to get the biggest market share in our chosen businesses.

After an evening of trying to find some entertainment that didn’t involve competing for someone’s affection, surviving at the expense of other competitors, singing and dancing better than someone else, I finally retired to my room to read. My room is filled with self help books about how to compete in the modern world. I chose a little fiction novel which was a nice way to escape all the competition.

Somehow, we seemed to have missed the opportunity to learn the most important lesson about competition: teamwork.  I don’t mean forming alliances that you break when it’s most convenient for you. I mean genuine, working-together-for-the-common-good teamwork.  I mean reaching out to life up those who need our assistance and making a good impact on all those we meet each day.

In this week before Thanksgiving, I am most thankful for a loving Heavenly Father who doesn’t ask us to compete for his grace and support.  Thank you, Father, for unconditional love even if I’m not considered the “winner” in this world.  I am a winner for knowing You.

Blessings!

Carlene Welch is the General Manager at Home Instead Senior Care of Northwest Arkansas, and avid writer and poet, and my mom.  She serves as a Stephen’s Minister at her church and is one of the wisest women I know.  She writes custom poetry and prose for cards and gifts.  For more information, contact us at stringsattachedministries@gmail.com .

To Be Faithless and Repent

“In the time of his distress he (Ahaz) became more faithless to the Lord..For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus that had defeated him and said ‘Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.’ But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel.”

–      2 Chronicles 28:22-23

Oh, Lord- I have more than a little Ahaz in my heart. You, too?  When life really gets hard do you look around and make idols of the gods that are working for other people?

I make idols of lots of things. Of Mexican vacations that bring friends back refreshed and relaxed…of  Law of Attraction philosophy that ‘brought’ wealth and health to a business colleague…of dream houses with granite countertops and in-ground swimming pools…of size six jeans and 6 min mile splits…of all the things that I want  that I don’t have. Of all the things that I want, but that I am not really willing to work for.

So instead of going to God with these desires- instead of seeking first the Kingdom… instead of surrendering my dreams, big and small at the foot of the cross and letting my King work all things for my good- I seek out all the tiny little gods of this world and sacrifice to them.

I sacrifice peace to the god of escapism.

I sacrifice contentment to the god of scarcity.

I sacrifice gratitude to the god of covetousness.

I sacrifice joy to the god of the narcissism.

They are my ruin.  They don’t bring life. With each sacrifice, I silence the voice of the true King in my heart, and doesn’t it seem worse when the chips are down?  At the very moment when I should be surrendering control to God, at that very moment is when I mostly tightly clench my fists around the desires of my heart and seek out an idol that puts me in control.  I wrestle with the Spirit within that quietly asks for surrender…I gag Him with rules and doctrine and drown Him out with loud music and sparkly shoes.

And then, one morning, when my sacrifices have brought weariness, I turn back to Life.  I open this love story looking for hope and find a diagnosis for my soul-sickness.

“In the time of his distress, he became more faithless to the Lord…he sacrificed to the gods…that had defeated him.”

Scripture’s truth and application ring over me like a courthouse bell rings over the town square.

Gong…when you were down, you turned to the world.

Gong…you followed their ways to find success.

Gong…you put all these things before me.

Gong…it’s destroying you.

Gong…Come back to me.  I will provide for you.

And so I choose to turn today- from all the idols I have created trying to be a ‘better’ person and from the ruin of sacrificing to the world’s little gods and their formulaic systems of success.  I choose to listen to the still, small voice that whispers words of grace and love over all the things I would change about my life.  I choose to read up on the promises made by a benevolent and compassionate King, the one true King- promises to give me the desires of my heart, to provide for my every need and to never forsake me.

And when I turn, I taste it….I hear it….I see it….I touch and feel it….

Life. 

“ I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

-John 10:10

Scripture Memory…and some other thoughts..

“Moreover He said unto me, Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart and hear with thine ears.”
-Ezekiel 3:10

So…Chapter Four….That’s how far I’ve gotten in this online Biblical Studies program…About a chapter a week (I’m supposed to be doing a chapter a day- at this rate I might finish sometime in 2035.)

This, just like any other good habit, is slow-forming and I am sad to say that I haven’t been nearly as faithful as I had planned to be. Life is crazy…crazy busy and I am holding on by my fingernails, but something about this particular memory verse is burrowing deep, deep- under the fatigue and spiritual weariness to the thirsty soul crying out to learn more about my Father, my Lord, my Savior.  I don’t know why, but I felt compelled to share it with you, too.

Perhaps, you can decipher best what is saying to you, but to me it’s a promise that He will speak, and me AND my heart will hear.

Spiders and Bibles…the reprise

I wrote this story in March of last year at a time when I was just beginning a faithful morning Bible study.  That morning was the perfect example of God using a small, seemingly insignificant moment to teach his truth and convict my heart.  He seems to be teaching me the same lesson in new ways this year. Enjoy.

This morning the Lord woke me early.

Well, earlier than normal…I am ex-military and am often told that my early and the rest of the world’s early are two very different time frames.  Normally, when this happens I am ashamed to say I grumble like my second grader for “a few more minutes,” snuggle tightly into my husband’s warmth and, well, tell God to bug off until my usual 0530 wake up.

I am happy to say that today I was obedient. When my eyes popped open at 0445, instead of grumbling and rolling over, I asked, “What do you have to tell me today, Lord?”

His answer? “Plenty.”

So I rolled out of bed and bound down the stairs. I broke out Charlie’s cozy blue Snuggie (these are awesome by the way) and curled up on the couch with my new Bible study (“Live Intimately: Lessons from the Upper Room”), my Bible, my pretty prayer journal that I got at our retreat in November, and an open heart and mind. And I dug in…I tore into the scripture, I madly jotted answers and notes…really one of the best quiet times I have had in years. It was awesome!

Then, just as I am pondering an additional scripture reference….an uninvited guest joins my quiet time….and, well…it wasn’t so quiet anymore…

Across the pages of John 13:7-9 walks a ginormous, hugemongous spider….I ain’t gonna lie– I went full on girly-girl.  I shrieked like a banshee and threw the Good Book as far off my lap as I could heft it, jumped up, grabbed a house shoe and proceeded to beat the tar out that spider.

Uh-Oh…metaphor for life alert.

How many times have I abandoned the shelter of the Word of God because the message was something I didn’t want to hear or see? Because in my feeble mind, I was too afraid, too immature, too….undisciplined. Oh, too many to count. Like the spider crawling across the Bible, I use fear as an excuse to run away, or worse…to squash the messenger.

I felt the sudden tug of a repentant heart.  Repentance far beyond, “Lord, I am sorry I killed your spider…and threw your book on the ground,”

but more like-

“Oh, MY GOD, I am sorry that I run from your difficult messages. From my ugly places. From the light that you shine on my strongholds of sin. Please, forgive me for lack of discipline, my lack of strength, my lack of obedience. Fill me with Your light, Your strength, Your will. I’m scared to look…but I am ready. Show me.”

What I beautiful time I had with the Lord…scary, but beautiful.

Ok…so wanna hear even more God-coolness? In my brand new, super pretty, extra girly prayer journal every even page has a scripture verse. I opened the journal to write this epiphany down.  And I see:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”- Psalm 51:10

Wow…I guess eight legged creatures are good for more than just killin’ mosquitoes afterall….

Has God showed you a life lesson through “metaphor” lately? I’d love to hear it!

On Coming Home


In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), there are two sons: the younger son, who runs away from home to an alien country, and the older son, who stays home to do his duty.  The younger son dissipates himself with alcohol and sex; the older son alienates himself by working hard and dutifully fulfilling all his obligations.  Both are lost.  Their father grieves over both, because with neither of them does he experience the intimacy he desires.

Both lust and cold obedience can prevent us from being true children of God.  Whether we are like the younger son or the older son, we have to come home to the place where we can rest in the embrace of God’s unconditional love.

~ Henri Nouwen

 

Did you hear that?

“Both lust and cold obedience prevent us from being true children of God.”

Where do you fall?

Listening to the Heart

3. I will listen for my friend’s heart more than her talk. I will not be afraid to listen to her struggles.

“As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.”

– Proverbs 27:19 (NIV)

 

Communication goes well beyond what we say with our words.

Research shows that when we are under stress, less than seven percent of our communication comes from our words. The rest of the communication cues we send out come from our tone (38%) and our body language (55%).

How often have you had a conversation with someone close to you and, despite the fact that everything she was saying to you was upbeat, you knew something was wrong? Did you know that our brains are set to scan systematically the people we talk with for visual, auditory and tactile cues to establish trustworthiness?  We automatically sense and register when someone’s words don’t match what the rest of that person is saying.

That’s because God created us to communicate through many more avenues than just the spoken word. Much of the meaning of our verbal communication is expressed beyond our words, through body language. Through our bodily posture, motion, countenance, gestures, tone and volume of voice, we express feelings that words may fail to reveal. Our eyes and ears are consistently scanning situations for incongruity between the words that are being spoken and the message that is being sent by the heart.

When you are listening to your friend, listen with more than your ears. Engage your eyes and other senses, and trust your intuition when you feel something is off. This part is not difficult. God designed us to connect to one another this way-to “click in” with each other and understand one another from a place beyond the physical – from our hearts. We each have this ability and do it every day.

The hard part, the part we run from, is the next step.

Once we sense this incongruity, we must reach beyond our safe cocoon of indifference to extend support to our friend. This can be as simple as asking “Are you ok?” and being prepared to hold your ground if floodgates open and emotional issues come up.

In her poem, “The Invitation,” Oriah Mountain Dreamer writes:

It doesn’t interest me who you know

Or how you came to be here.

I want to know if you will stand

In the center of the fire

With me

And not shrink back.

That sums it up, doesn’t it?

Are you willing to:

1) ask the question when you know the answer might take time to wade through,

and

2) stand at the center of the fire and not be afraid of what you might see when the mask comes off and someone’s heart is revealed?

Don’t be afraid to listen to your friend’s struggles.

Next time you are in conversation with a friend, ask her specifically, “What’s challenging you right now?” Don’t push, just listen and provide support unless and until she asks for help.

“The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, ‘What are you going through?’”

– Simone Weil

The preceding was a excerpt from the book Living Life with Strings Attached.  

Downward Mobility

“The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up.    Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record – that’s what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame.

The way of Jesus is radically different.  It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility.  It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place!  Why is the way of Jesus worth choosing?  Because it is the way to the Kingdom, the way Jesus took, and the way that brings everlasting life.”

~ Henri Nouwen

Choosing last place….

Can I do that?

Can I intentionally set my heart to choose last place? To downward mobility? To servanthood for the simply the sake of being like Christ?

I waver in my belief that I am holy enough to do this….to choose this life for me. And if I’m truly honest, on most days, I don’t choose Christ’s way over the world’s.

But then, God whispers grace and love and peace and an invitation to abide in Christ.  The encouragement that while I am not holy enough, Christ abides in me, through him I can do all things, and being a Princess in His Kingdom is far more valuable to me than being mogul in this world.

So today I choose the last place…the behind the scenes…the Way of Christ.

Will you choose downward mobility today?

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”~John 15:4

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” ~ Philippians 4:13


Upgrade Your Spirit: Fashioning Our Own Desert

Anyone who follows any of the three blogs I write for knows that I am   a HUGE fan of Henri Nouwen. I believe he is one great of the spiritual   writers of our time.  I’ve read several of his writings and am currently   enjoying a fantastic compilation of his works on prayer called The          Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life.

God has really laid this message of solitude on my heart in a big way    lately.  It is a difficult one for me to accept and practice because I  am by nature an extrovert- I know, who knew, right? I need people  and community to stay charged up and keep my naturally sunny disposition, well, sunny :). But more and more, God is filling me with a yearning to meet Him in a quiet place, with no agenda, to simply listen and be present with Him.

I am reading things like this:

We enter into solitude first of all to meet our Lord and to be with God and God alone. Our primary task in solitude, therefore, is not to pay undue attention to the many faces which assail us, but to keep the eyes of our mind and heart on the One who is our divine savior. Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature. As we come to realize that it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us, that he is our true self, we can slowly let our compulsions melt away and begin to experience the freedom of the children of God.

What does all of this mean for us in our daily life? Even when we are not called to the monastic life, or do not have the physical constitution to survive the rigors of the desert we are still responsible for our own solitude. Precisely because our milieu offers us so few spiritual disciplines, we have to develop our own. We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord.” -Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart

We need to fashion our own deserts- times of solitude, of quiet, of gentle reflection with our Lord.  My immediate question when I read this was ‘how’?  How do I carve out solitude in a house bustling with activity? What should I do when I am practicing solitude? How do I do it right?

This is the quintessential question for me. How?  How do I do it RIGHT?

Just me, he whispers.

Solitude. Just God. Nothing else.  I don’t need to DO anything.  I just need to BE with God. Listening. Present.  It seems easy enough.  But I have struggled with just this.  I have been experimenting with this practice of daily retreat to solitude. It has not come easily, and I have almost given up on several occasions. I thank God that he has created such a driving desire in me to seek quiet time with him.

This practice of sitting at the feet of Jesus with nothing to offer except my undivided attention seems so counter intuitive.  No prayer requests (supplication comes after presence- we’ll talk about that later in this series), no Bible study, no agenda- just presence.  But, as a messenger, I find myself seeking a message- something to share with the masses. Instead of seeking Jesus. I spent a lot of time agreeing that I wasn’t good at this spiritual practice of solitude, until I read from Nouwen this passage:

“This week all I am reading and writing about is prayer. I am so busy with it and often so excited about it that I have no time left to pray, and when I pray, I feel more drawn to my ideas on prayer than to praying…It is hard not to desire good insights during prayer and not fall into a long inner discussion with myself. Every time some kind of insight comes to me, I find myself wondering how I can use it in a lecture, a sermon, or an article, and very soon I am far away from God and all wrapped up in my own preoccupations. Maybe this is what makes the Jesus Prayer so good for me. Simply saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” a hundred times, a thousand times, ten thousand times, as the Russian peasant did, might slowly clean my mind and give God a little chance.” – The Genesee Diary

Thank you so much, Henri, for writing my thoughts down so beautifully for me.  The Jesus Prayer was exactly what I needed to satisfy my need to DO something…and to quiet my mind enough to just.sit.still. Waiting and watching and listening for Jesus.

There are so many ways to find solitude.  Rising early before all the family is awake works best for me, but I find that I can steal away for moments here and there throughout my day as well.  I also find music a distraction from the quiet of my soul.  So it’s just me, the Jesus Prayer, and my Heavenly Father every morning. Thirty minutes of still- of quiet- of solitude and I have found a paradise in my heart within that silence. Will you join me? Make a date with Jesus today? Write him in ink in your calendar…everyday…before work, or exercise, or chores, or even before family– give him thirty minutes to quiet your heart.

CJS Hayward says “One facet of holiness is a life and a heart that is silent within, that surrenders layer after layer of internal noise, and is simply present to eternity in the here and now that God has given. And silent people carry Paradise with and around them. Indeed Paradise is where God’s people are present.”

Let’s be Paradise this year.

Here’s the challenge: For the month of December, commit to spending 10 minutes a day in silent reflection. No supplication (requests), just seeking God.

How do you quiet the distractions around you when you are spending time with God?