Tag Archives: Bible

Challenged

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Bible Boot Camp, writing…

Since 2010, I have done a yearly “Bible Boot Camp” every summer, during which I have read through the Bible in 90 days starting June 1 and ending sometime toward the end of August.  I finished up this year’s installment yesterday and remarked that it had been a little more challenging than usual, in part due to reading a translation I had never used before.  God has always been so faithful to teach, comfort, and yes, challenge me, through this journey, blessing me so much more than my small investment of time deserves.

Because of the special challenges of this year’s Boot Camp, I’ve let a few weeks go by since my last blog post.  Maybe that’s a good thing.  I will admit to a lack of inspiration lately, not because there’s nothing to write about, but because my ability to string coherent thoughts together has been…challenged.

We all have those moments, don’t we?  There is so much to say that we stumble over how to say it, or like me in recent weeks, experience verbal vapor-lock and end up saying nothing.  Even our prayers don’t seem to flow naturally, instead coming in fits and starts, or such seemingly scattered random thoughts that we wonder if even God can make sense of them.

He can.  He hears and understands the things that we cannot say in words because He listens to the heart.  And He cares about all the details of our lives.

So, as I attempt to get myself back in gear for the activities resuming this season with music and church, I will hope also to find my words again.  I NEED to write in order to maintain some sense of balance.  I need to share my story.  Most of all, I need to embrace the times when I find myself Challenged.

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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.

Dear Me

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Advice to my younger self…

Dear Me,

You are about to turn 51 years old, which used to sound ancient but now seems merely middle-aged.  And over the decades you have managed to learn a few things that would have been really helpful had you known them earlier.  So here is a list of Do’s and Don’t’s from Present-Day Me to Younger Me.

Do take the nap.  Anytime the grown-ups encourage (i.e. try to force!) you to do so, TAKE THE NAP!  Someday you’ll be exhausted and wishing for the chance to nap and you won’t have the time to do it.

Do ask for piano lessons, as early as possible.  You will choose to study music in college and having some piano training will help you more than you can possibly imagine.  And keep asking until your parents let you do it.  Don’t take no for an answer.

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Do kiss that boy at the party.  He really likes you.  A lot.

The other boy at the other party…don’t kiss him.  And don’t give either of them your phone number!

When you find those perfect black pumps, the comfortable ones that make your legs look great and take you through countless performances, all four choir tours and both your recitals in college—do buy a second pair.  It’ll be more than worth the money and you’ll be glad to have a backup pair when the originals eventually wear out.  (I still miss those shoes.)

The same goes for any other “perfect thing” you find and love—your favorite pantyhose (especially in the most flattering shades of black and nude), good tweezers, the slumber mask that fits just right and provides comfort when you have a headache.  Do buy extras.

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Do get your bras custom fitted.  It’s not about vanity, it’s about your health.  Your neck, back and shoulders will thank you.  And follow the Lingerie Lady’s advice: always have at least 3 properly-fitting bras, 1 to wash, 1 to wear and 1 to spare.

Don’t wear a white slip under a black dress.  The last thing you want is for your underwear to glow in the dark.  And don’t skip the slip.  Mama was right about the need for one.

Do take care of your skin, remembering that your face extends down to your chest.  Your neck is especially vulnerable, and so are your hands.  Learn to be satisfied with the pale complexion God gave you.  Trying to get a tan is pointless for you, and you will regret it later when sun damage starts to show up.  Pray that spots and wrinkles are all you have to worry about!

People you love are going to get sick and die.  Your Dad, in his misplaced desire to protect you and keep things “normal” for you as long as possible, is going to tell you things that go against what your gut is tellling you.  Don’t listen to him.  He is WRONG.  (You will learn that he has been wrong about a lot of stuff.)  Follow your intuition.  Go and see Uncle J.B. in Texas while you can, even though your leg is in a cast.  Take time off from work sooner and spend more time with Mama before she goes back into the hospital.  And when she is gone, spend more time dealing with your own grief and less time worrying about Dad’s.  He will be just fine.

After Mama dies, you won’t feel like singing for a while.  That’s OK.  But don’t let it go for too long.

Don’t let anyone tell you that your dreams are foolish.  You can decide later on which ones are worth following and which ones are not.  But it’s your decision to make, not theirs.

Do have a plan…but be open to surprise.

Do start reading the Bible daily.  God will use this discipline to change your life.  It will become as vital as food, water and oxygen…and just as nourishing.

Always remember that God loves you.  There is nothing, NOTHING, He can’t forgive.  No tragedy, no crisis, no failure, is beyond redemption.

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Bookworm Paradise

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Read. Nap. Repeat…

My idea of the perfect vacation has changed over the years (and decades).  When Reed and I were little kids, Mama and Dad took us on a week’s vacation to Myrtle Beach every summer.  What I looked forward to then was spending lots of time floating and frolicking in the surf and sand, looking for shells and sharks’ teeth, and riding the rides at the amusement park.  And one night during the week we would usually go to the movies as a family, which was a huge treat and something I always enjoyed.

As an adult with a job and responsibilities of my own, my desires for a vacation are a lot calmer and simpler than they used to be.  One of my greatest pleasures on a trip is just being able to read as much, and for as long, as I want to.  I’ve been a bookworm since childhood, but as a child, school and reading were my job.  So I didn’t always read a lot during my summer vacations.  Now, my JOB is my job, and reading often has to take a backseat to the other demands on my time and energy.  So now, vacations provide me with a block of time in which I can read all I want.

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That probably seems boring to some people, and that’s OK.  Some folks are weekend warriors who enjoy adventurous vacations filled with bungee-jumping-rock-climbing-skydiving activities.  Cool.  I looked into ziplining for this trip and that’s still not out of the question.  Flying sounds like a lot of fun to me!

I always bring my Bible with me when I travel, because, like my vitamins and supplements, it is part of my daily nourishment.  I would feel lost if I didn’t have it with me.  The practice of daily Bible reading doesn’t make me good or pious.  It makes me grateful.  And over the years it has become a part of the day that I look forward to.

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Vacations provide me with a change of scenery, new places to read and write and rest.  Right now I am sitting out back enjoying a balmy Gulf breeze, crystal clear blue sky, sunshine and the rippling water of the swimming pool, a scene very unlike the autumn chill we left behind back home.  It feels like a different season… a different world.

My friend Eileen, and her husband Brad, have a charity website dedicated to bookworms and reading.  It is called gonereading.com.  In addition to offering products for reading enthusiasts, the website donates 100% of their after-tax profits to fund reading-related charities, particularly READ Global and Ethiopia Reads.  One of their very cool t-shirts summarizes my vacation dreams perfectly:

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So, I encourage you to visit http://www.gonereading.com.  They don’t offer books, but they offer everything else a bookworm needs and desires to support their reading habits!  And they help to provide reading resources to people who would not otherwise have access to them.   For now, I am off to enjoy a little more Bookworm Paradise!

Little Pink Bible

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Jesus, girl power and a funeral

One of my favorite treasures is my little pink Bible. It was a gift from Mom and Pop Cutshaw for Christmas one year. I had been wanting a small, pocket-sized Bible that I could carry everywhere with me, for quick reference and portability. It has my first name embossed on the front in shiny silver letters.

I sometimes wonder if I own too many Bibles, and if that could be a sin somehow. It might be different if I didn’t read them, but since I do, maybe it is OK that I have so many. I have several different translations because they help me to understand what I am reading. I have a few Bibles that belonged to Mama, and they won’t be going anywhere until I have died and someone passes them along to the next generation, probably filled with poems, clippings and pictures, like they were when they came to me. I have several One-Year type Bibles that I use for daily reading, again in various translations that I alternate year by year. And yes, I read it daily. It’s a discipline that has taken shape over the years and now it is as much a part of my life as breathing and food. And just as nourishing.

I am not a minister in the official-trained-ordained sense of the word, but I took a ministry class last year which opened my eyes to all kinds of spiritual service and allowed me wonderful opportunities to offer pastoral care to people in need. Many friends and family members supported me in seeking this opportunity and in fulfilling it once I was accepted into the program. My cousin, Judy, was a very vocal believer in this process and in my efforts to learn through it.

Toward the end of last year, Judy’s mama, Betty, succumbed to years of health problems and passed away in December. Because of my recent ministry experience, and because she loves me, Judy asked me if I would serve as chaplain and preach her mama’s graveside service. After I made sure that it was permissible for me to do so, I accepted this invitation with joy and deep gratitude.

What an incredible honor…and responsibility. Judy and I met at a coffee shop to talk about memories from Betty’s life, favorite scriptures, poems, even a funny story or two to share both laughter and tears at the graveside. Betty had an independent streak and had been quite the feminist in her lifetime, a trait that sometimes made for awkwardness between her and her husband, Crawford, on election day. She cast her last ballot in the Presidential election of 2012, an absentee ballot from the hospital, and quipped that finally Crawford, who had passed away in 2011, would not cancel out her vote! Politics aside, Betty and Crawford both spent their lives serving Jesus and living by the principles He taught, each in their individual ways.

It was cold the day we buried her, and I showed up at the cemetery in all black from head to toe, except for one thing. I conducted her graveside service using my little pink Bible. Judy said that would have pleased Betty very much, the pop of pink and the girl power of a female chaplain. As I read from that little pink Bible, my thoughts were of Betty and our family, and of all the ones who have gone to Heaven before us. And I gave thanks for Mom and Pop Cutshaw, who had given me this wonderful gift so many years ago, a gift that helped me to send off my beloved family member with laughter, tears and prayers.Image