Monthly Archives: June 2015

Present Tense

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Do it.  Do it NOW…

I hate to be late. HATE it!  So, I always wear a watch.  Sometimes I wear more than one watch at a time, as both a fashion statement and a reminder to be where I need to be, when I need to be there.

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If there is one lesson God keeps trying to teach me, it is that time is precious.  Life can change in an instant. Opportunities are presented—or lost—in the blink of an eye.

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Throughout my life as well as in recent months, my world has been altered by deaths of people I love.  Not “loved”.  LOVE.  Present tense.  I cannot bring myself to say that I “lovED” a person who is no longer living.  Just because someone died doesn’t mean that the love stops.  I don’t even believe that the relationship between us stops; it changes by necessity, but I don’t believe that it ends.

It’s as though the person I love has changed addresses, relocating to a place where I am temporarily unable to see or touch him or her.  I have, however, been known to speak to my departed loved ones (not in a way that will result in my being hauled off to the asylum!) and they often visit me in dreams.  The relationships and the love go on.  We are just temporarily separated.

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Still, I tend to take my relationships for granted.  I think most people do…until we get a stark reminder that nothing lasts forever.  For example, several years ago a friend and co-worker was killed in a wreck.  Gone in a split second.  Suicide, both attempted and and completed, has touched my life, more than once.  Fast passings from aggressive cancer, slow goodbyes from Alzheimer’s disease and COPD, sudden massive strokes and heart attacks have all taken loved ones from me and my family.

It doesn’t matter whether a person leads a charmed life of wealth and success, or a humble existence of  living paycheck-to-paycheck.  It is immaterial whether one is educated or not, privileged or not, a have-or-have-not.  Suffering and death are the greatest equalizers, and if we live long enough, we’re all going to get some of both.

Whatever needs doing in my life, I need to do it.  Do it now.  Speak the truth.  Write the letter.  Make the phone call or send the e-mail.  I need to hug and kiss, laugh and cry, and go about the living of my big, loud, messy life.

Do it.  Do it NOW.

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Carried

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Words, burdens and letting go…

For nearly 20 years, I have carried a small book around with me.  It’s gone pretty much everywhere I’ve gone.  Inside its front cover I wrote down when and where I bought it.

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I have always loved blank books and journals, their potential for creativity and a place for me to vent my thoughts.  This particular one drew me in for 2 reasons.  First, I loved its cover art depicting the sun, moon and stars against a swirly blue background.  I think it’s permissible to judge a book by its cover when the inside is blank!

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Secondly,  I especially loved that its pages were unlined.  I have enough restriction in my life.  The pristine whiteness of its pages gave me freedom to write whatever I wanted, in whatever way I wanted…upside down, in a circle, diagonally or just crooked.

This little book became my constant companion, a safe place for me to write down the feelings I could not express any other way.  Looking at those words now brings back memories of the extremes in my life at the time…mostly extreme pain and sadness.  It contains the overflow of my broken heart and spirit during the last year of Mama’s life on Earth, a period when I was afraid and lonely, not thinking clearly and not making good choices.

I’m not proud of a lot of what I did during this chapter of my life.  My spiritual life and relationship with God were at an all-time low.  I couldn’t pray, really; all I could do was hurt, and sometimes, feel angry.  I realize now that God heard every anguished scream of my heart, even though I was not talking to Him.  He was still listening.

Even as wretched as I was, as horribly as I was acting and as distant as God seemed to be, I know now that He was right beside me all along, carrying me when I could not walk through life on my own.  And not just carrying me, but sending blessings, glimpses of hope that I could survive this valley.  His grace eventually brought me out the other side, altered for sure, but profoundly grateful.

I don’t think I need to keep my little book any longer, or at least, not the words it contains.  I think I can finally let that part of my life go.  Those pages need to be burned up in the bonfire of forgetting, of cleansing, never again a burden to be Carried.

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Good News

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My 90 Day Bible Boot Camp

In 2010, my college roomie, Janet, joined a group on social media started by a woman at her church who was doing a 90 day summer Bible reading challenge.  I had never read the whole Bible straight through before, thinking that was much too grown-up an endeavor for me to try!  But when Janet committed to it, I decided to attempt it as well, enjoying the idea of sharing the experience with her as much as the prospect of accomplishing such a goal.  Little did I know the impact this experience would have on my life.

Every year since then I have done a 90 day “Bible boot camp”, using a different translation each time.  The first year I used the New International Version, reading through my little pink Bible that Mom and Pop Cutshaw had given me for Christmas years ago.  Since then I have read through the New King James version (the Bible my choirmates in college voted for me to receive my senior year; it will have its own blog post in the future, I’m sure);  the Holman Christian Standard version in 2012, when I was recovering from weight loss surgery; in 2013, it was the Revised Standard version Bible that my childhood church gave me when I was a rising third grader, the summer Aunt Ruby died; and last year I revisted The Way verison of The Living Bible from my youth group days, completing it while grieving my friend Lola’s death in late July.

A disclaimer is needed here.  Reading the Bible has not magically transformed me into a good person.  I struggle, and I fail in my walk of faith all the time.  What God HAS done in my life through this process has been gradual; over time, He has given me peace in places that used to be filled with turmoil.  I pray that He will continue to work in those dark places of mine, bringing light, love and forgiveness.

I can trace my history in many ways through what Bible I was reading when certain events happened, and I have begun writing those details down inside my Bibles so that someday, whoever inherits them will know what happened when, and where God provided comfort, inspiration and strength for my journey.

This year, I chose to read through the Good News Bible, another nod to my past and my childhood church.

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When I was a kid, one of our pastors introduced us to Good News for Modern Man, The New Testament in Today’s English Version, a paperback volume with a cover designed to look like newsprint.  Uncle John Flanigan gave a copy to Mama and inscribed it to her.  It’s a memento I cherish.  Eventually the Old Testament was translated into Today’s English Version as well, and renamed The Good News Bible.  Among other features it contains beautiful line drawings of many of the scenes, a modern twist on the older Bibles that used to have prints of classical religious paintings inside their gold-leafed or red-edged pages.

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The past 3 summers as I have recovered from major surgery and experienced deaths of people I love, I have sometimes wondered if I’d complete my 90 day odyssey through the Bible.  Sometimes reading was the last thing I felt like doing.  Sometimes physical pain overwhelmed me; other times it was emotional anguish that threatened my progress.

But here’s the thing.  God provided comfort for my pain, strength for my path and balm for my soul, all throughout my boot camp and beyond.  He continues to do so, day after day, through seasons of grief and joy, spiritual peaks and valleys, rocky places and still waters.  He speaks through His creation, through my friends and family…and through His word in scripture.  The Bible’s story of God’s love, Jesus’s life and death and redemption…it is MY story.  How blessed and fortunate I am to live in a place where I can have access to His word, and where I am free to read and learn from it when-and-wherever I choose.  Millions of people throughout our world are not as fortunate.  I pray never to take this gift, this Good News, for granted.