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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ya Gotta Have Friends

I have to just admit it. I’m terrible at friendships. I break dates, don’t listen well, and have a hard time wrapping my arms around someone who is crying. Not because I don’t feel the pain, but because when I’m hurting, I don’t want hugs. Usually. So I want to respect a person’s space. But I’ve come to realize not everyone is like me. And to open my arms from time to time can be a powerful friendship-affirming moment.

I knew God was truly changing me one day when my friend Angie came to visit. Angie’s an I-need-hugs kind of girl, but over the past twenty-five years since we became friends—best friends, really—she’s learned to lower her expectations and just call me when she needs to vent. It removes the pressure from us both. She can’t get a phone hug and I’m not sitting there while she weeps feeling awkward.

So Angie came for lunch and we sat on the deck one beautiful spring day catching up on weeks of passing each other at church with a hug and a hi and the occasional story about her beautiful daughter Torey, who happens to be my God-daughter.

What started out as an easy lunch between two friends, turned into a heart to heart talk and she started to cry.

And here’s how I knew God had started changing me…I moved toward her, wrapped her in my arms and we cried together. I think the action shocked us both. Seriously. But it was such a holy and tender moment, I didn’t want to mess it up by bringing attention to the fact that I’d had a breakthrough.

After all, the moment was about her.

Friendships are precious and Jesus proved it when he surrounded himself with the twelve. They were much more than his servants. They were buddies, friends. Not intimate strangers.

We aren’t meant to do life alone. Friends matter and I’m learning that it can’t be all about me and my needs. I always figured, if you want to be my friend, you have to respect my boundaries. But God is showing me that I have to respect the different personalities He brings into my life as well. Angie loves me. She’s proven that through loyal and undeserved friendship over a quarter century (have I mentioned that she is older than I am?)

I’m grateful for her devotion.

Friends will give their lives for each other. And I know without a doubt Angie would give hers for me.

Only God can knit hearts together. I’m so very thankful for his needle knitting her heart with mine.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Walking Contradiction

I can be hard on myself.

It’s true. I’m a walking contradiction, vacillating between making excuses or drawing a firm line in the sand that must not be crossed, or else... I shudder to think what the or else might be, but these half-painted toenails are going nowhere near that line, on the off chance God has sent an army of sand crabs just waiting for my chubby toes to try to step over.

Most days, especially since I started writing about identity, truth in the innermost being, I’m so focused on gut-pulling honesty, I’m seeing more of the not-so-great than the great things about me.

It’s like I think God’s going to read this stuff and yank my calling out from under me, as if He didn’t already know I drive too fast, (the kids have told him repeatedly—usually while we’re in the car). I bite my nails when I’m worried, and watch Days of Our Lives with almost as much passion as I read the Bible.

I cry out to Him, why do you love me? Why are you using me? Once people know the truth about me they’re going to hate me and probably burn all my fiction books—even the Prairie romances. Why do you care if I live or die—actually, you probably want me to live, dear Lord, because if I die, you are bound by your word to take me in. And then you’re stuck with me. For all eternity, which is way longer than Rusty has to put up with me since there’s no marriage in heaven.

Let me just be real, here. A perfectionist who is never perfect has MAJOR self-worth issues.

Lori, my counselor says, “I think you need to give yourself a break.” (she was talking about my tendency to think I need to work within the four walls of the church only to get overwhelmed—pull back—then feel like a big slug).

Uh, no. when I give myself a break, I make excuses for myself. (I really need to tell this to my counselor??).

From my mom, “You feel so guilty for the times you didn’t do the right things, you forget all the great things you did for the kids when they were little.”

Whatever, Mom. You’re Mom, and by the way, what do you mean the times I didn’t do the right things? I can say I messed up, but you aren’t supposed to agree with me!

My Forever Friend, Jules, after reading a section of this book, “I thought you were a little too honest or maybe just too hard on yourself.”

Ah, Forever Friend, Jules, you just don’t know me well enough.

From my dear, wise agent, Karen, “He (the devil) is not hounding you because you're off base, pal, he's doing it because you're smack-dab on target.”

Yes, she has a point, and she called me pal—which now makes me think we are bffs.

So today, these words are floating around my mushy, took-a Benadryl-last-night-and-now-I’ll-be-less-than-functional-today brain. It’s six-thirty in the evening and that stuff STILL hasn’t worn off, despite the two pots of coffee.

I can’t stop thinking about what my closest peeps are telling me. Is it possible? AM I in fact too hard on myself. Hmmm. Maybe I should give myself a break.

OH NO! What I told Lori is true, I can feel excuses coming on—in cliché form, which is death to a writer. I’m not perfect, just forgiven. God hates the sin, but LOVES the sinner, let go and let God. And the deadliest of all, Please be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.

Today, I realized—in a non-excuse sort of way—that, no, I’m not too hard on myself, (actually, Karen doesn’t think I’m too hard on myself, either). I was reading Romans 12 today where Paul says, "See yourself for what you truly are." I want that. I'm ordinary with extraordinary potential. Just like all of us. Whether I step out of ordinary into purpose truly is my choice to make. And it's tough.


There must be joy in this journey as well. Because anything less is a lie from the one who is nothing but lies.

Joy is my strength.

Strength is my courage.

Courage propels my to make the next shaky step.

For now, my shaky step is to admit I have some good qualities, which is often harder than admitting my faults. We are supposed to be humble, you know.

So here are a few great things you might like to know.

I have green eyes. I happen to think that’s cool. I really thought it was cool after reading Gone With the Wind.

I’m a devastatingly good cook (although the kids remember, and often mention, the pumpkin pie with no sugar and the eggplant crust pizza—from one of the low carb phases of my life).

I can almost always keep the car on the road as long as I’m not looking at the radio for too long combined with driving too fast. Another good thing car-related thing—I don’t text and drive, although I’ll admit I do talk on the cell and drive. Sorry Oprah, I tried. But I back off the accelerator during conversations.

I’m a crack-shot aim with death-in-a-can. I’ve been known to kill wasps, hornets, and the occasional bee from four feet away. I usually get a face full of the stuff when I do this, so not sure it’s a good idea—but I can do it. With Annie Oakley precision.

I’m loyal to my friends and family—in a love-me-love-my-dog sort of way.

I rarely use improper grammar. Unless I need to make a point.

My husband laughs at me at least twice a day—Ha! Ha! laughter, not the mocking variety.

Did I say I’m a good cook?

Okay, that’s enough for now. I’m starting to get a big head--besides, I can't think of anything else. But you get the point.

I have times of failure and times of victory. I’m pretty sure the balance is starting to tilt toward V. But sometimes it’s hard to take note of the good things when the enemy of my soul is, as Karen says, “hounding” me. Accusing me, screaming that I’ve always started strong and finished short of the goal—hello? Does he NOT realize I carried four babies from start to finish and have great kids to prove it? Also, my twenty-three year marriage—if that’s not success… 40 books published. Yeah, God and me.

Not a total failure.

So, I’m getting it. So grateful for the people in my life who tell me the truth when I’m falling short, but also when I’m doing well.

We’re not meant to struggle or celebrate alone.

And I’m learning that.

Yay, God.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Faith Friday: Josh

The first time I noticed Josh, he was a Freshman in high school and played keyboard for the fledgling youth band at church. Today, he’s an adult, almost through college, and co-leads worship for the adult services as well as leading for the now-incredible youth band. He’s real and loves Jesus. I think you’re going to like him.

Josh, recently, I read an article about young men in today’s society—from 18 to well in their 30s, who choose to live at home with parents, not pay rent, and spend their days playing video games and texting. Why do you think that’s the perception of your generation’s guys?

J: I think this is the perception of my generation's guys simply because everyone is following someone and that someone that most are following, well, you know... We are all thirsty, some people just choose to drink from the toilet. All of this comes down to responsibility. Young men in my generation have the perception that responsibility is too hard. Unfortunately, the society that we live makes it too easy for these young people to stay relationally immature.

Why have you chosen to set yourself apart?

J: I do not necessarily see myself as being set apart but rather that I am diligently pursuing a lifestyle that makes the most sense.

What are you doing—or plan to do—to influence the world outside of your sphere?

J: I am much less concerned with influencing the world outside my sphere than those who are in it. I am more concerned with building strong relationships with the people around me and being able to communicate beliefs and ideals by what people see me doing. I am a big advocate for setting priorities in life and making sure that those priorities stay in the correct order. I believe that the most important thing that I have to give anyone else is my time.

You’re about through with college, got any plans?

J: My plans for after college are still to be determined. I am a simple guy. I plan on marrying the one I love and choosing a vocation that will provide for whatever this life has in store for my spouse and I.

Who has influenced you the most in terms of building your relationship with Jesus? Got any mentors?

I do enjoy the teachings of one pastor in particular. I will not be a "name dropper" so I will not tell who it is but rather how his teaching has influenced me. I was first introduced to this pastor when I was a freshman in college. His teaching has helped to push me in the direction of developing an identity for myself in the two major roles that I will fill in my life as husband and father. He has taught me that being able to shave does not automatically make me a man and he has taught me the importance of being a provider and accepting the responsibility that comes with exchanging a short-term perspective with an eternal one.

Great, thought-provoking and inspiring answers.

Much thanks to Josh for being my new Faith Friday guinea pig. He's one of many in his generation walking out his belief system and making more of a difference than he probably knows, just by being himself. He makes me want to do life with Jesus better.

And I like that about him...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Widow of Saunders Creek

Leave a Comment for a chance to Win a copy of The Widow of Saunders Creek

I thought I'd take the day to tell you about my upcoming release from Waterbrook. The Widow of Saunders Creek.

When I was a kid, ghosts, witches, and vampires were the scary things of fairy tales and cartoons. Scooby Doo often forced me to watch filled with tension and some fear until the end came and the greedy business owner was revealed as the “real” ghost.

A mere thirty years later, our airwaves are glutted with ghosts, witches, and those who speak with the dead. Only, they're not explained away anymore. TV shows like Ghost Whisperer, Ghost Hunters, and Medium, have de-sensitized our society of “anything goes” mentality to accept that ghosts are the souls of our dearly departed trying to communicate and mediums are using “God-given” gifts to help us do that.

As a Christian and a mom, this really bugs me. The lines between fiction, fantasy and fairy tales have been breeched and our kids are blasted daily, hourly with intriguing bits of so-called reality that they can’t always recognize as a trap of the enemy to draw them into his purposes: accepting his lies as truth and furthering the gap between God and the creation He so loves. And it’s not only Christian kids. Christian men and women are beginning to rationalize and accept the presence of “ghosts” as departed souls rather than what they are…demons, out to kill, steal, and destroy.

To that end, The Widow of Saunders Creek began to develop in my mind, and then slipped into my heart as I prayed for truth. The word is clear… we must not engage in speak with the dead or witchcraft. One scripture among many:
• Deuteronomy 18:10-13
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the LORD your God.

I just think it matters to God whether we dabble in this stuff or not.

I wrote this book in holy fear, constantly reminded that if God didn’t involve Himself in the writing, the story, that I would fail. I couldn’t do this alone. I’m not that smart and I’m not that brave.

I interviewed Kristine McGuire, a former witch, medium, ghost hunter who has been featured on 700 Club, so that I could keep things authentic without writing a “how-to” book for those reading and curious about séances and witchcraft and ghost hunting.

Corrie Saunders’ journey begins with deep, heart-wrecking grief. She’ll do anything for one more moment with the man she loved and lost. As the story evolves she must come to understand that God’s ways are always higher and the enemy of her soul has one focus in mind where she is concerned: to separate her from the love of God and take her down a path of destruction. But for God…

It’s my belief that God spoke this book into my heart and crafted it into being for such a time as this. It’s my prayer that He will lay it in the hands of those who need it most.

On sale May 8, 2012
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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The King's Seal

The two women I least like to hear sermons about are Esther and the Proverbs 31 woman. Probably because they’re usually taught by men who have no clue into a woman’s heart or by women who approach these two women based on what they’ve been taught by men. Not that I am anti-man or believe a man can’t have a revelation about Esther or the Proverbs 31 woman. But my experience has been that they’re taught to make us better wives. It feels manipulative to me. And I don’t like being manipulated in the name of Jesus.

I heard a minister say once from the pulpit (his VALENTINE’S DAY message!!) “Women, if your husband is looking at other women, maybe you should make yourself look better for him.” Really? That hacked me off. And still does. I think we should definitely care about appearance and there are times when I dress specifically for my husband, but if he looks at other women (and he doesn’t), that’s a heart issue between him and God that has nothing to do with my looks. I mean gee whiz, beautiful women are cheated on all the time. Can I hear an amen? ☺

Rusty and I have a very comfortable and equal relationship. And yes, we have our issues, even separated for a month last summer—but that was my stupid head and I figured that out pretty fast. You’re probably thinking I could use a good teaching on the Proverbs 31 woman about now! But we’ve evolved as a couple in the last twenty-three years, and have a marriage that works for us. We’re both very independent and have our own goals and dreams. He’s never threatened by me and I’m not threatened by him. The best times of my life are when we’re together laughing and talking. I can go to him when I have a problem and he usually gives me good advice. He doesn’t tell me I’m to submit and I don’t tell him to love me like Christ loves the church. Mainly because, when it matters, I submit, and he’s loved me like Christ loves the church since the day we met and he decided I was his. (smile)

So, this morning when I felt the urge to read in Esther, I groaned a little inside. Luckily, what God showed me had nothing to do with oiling up and going to Rusty’s bed-not that I’m opposed to that—or fasting for three days to gain his favor. God led me to Esther 8—after the plot against the Jews had been revealed and brave Esther went before the King again to plead for their lives.

And this is what stood out to me: The King held out his scepter and granted her petition. But then, he told Mordecai to write up a decree and place the King’s seal on it. He said, “but remember, the words of the King, sealed by his seal are irrevocable.”

I lay on my couch reading that over and over and thinking about what that means to me as a Daughter of the King. The Word (even Esther and Proverbs 31) and how powerful it is because it has the King’s seal. The Words He’s spoken into my life over the years. Dreams He’s given me that I let go. All those things, irrevocable, sealed by my King. Decreed by God, imprinted on my heart.

The Jews were given the right to annihilate any enemy that tried to harm them and to take their property. And I thought about how we’re told that we have power to walk over all the power of the enemy and God will restore what the enemy has stolen. His Word, sealed and irrevocable.

I started thinking about the scriptures that have spoken to me the most. Psalm 139—his thoughts toward me are precious and too many to count. Sealed. Jer 29:11. He has good plans for my success. A future and a hope. Sealed. Irrevocable. Ps. 23 He leads me beside still waters and restores my soul. Sealed. Irrevocable. The gifts and callings of God are without repentance. Sealed. Irrevocable.

And so many more.

So today, as I am still ruminating on the past weekend at the Women’s conference and Sunday morning at church, as I reflect on nearing the end of my 40 day commitment to keep all my commitments, I’m pretty high on God’ promises—all that are yes and amen.

He’s bringing clarity to many of my questions just by way of approaching His word as a royal decree, sealed with his blood and irrevocable. I think I’m being given a challenge—God knows I take those seriously—to read His word and take it personally. As a decree, that He has sealed forever.

So I accept that challenge, God,—and I might even get around to Proverbs 31 eventually—I’m going to read the Bible with the thought that everything God allowed to be written is sealed, irrevocable. True.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Anyone want to join me?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Walking in the Rain

I woke up at four-thirty this morning, to the sound of thunder. My first thought was “darn it, no writing on the deck today.” It’s amazing how my perspective has changed since I started writing out my thoughts and sharing them with you guys. Usually when I wake up early to the sound of thunder I make immediate adjustments to blow off whatever I originally planned and spend the day in bed watching TV and taking naps instead.

The rain is crazy and by midmorning, it’s still thundering and lightning and pouring and I’m cuddled next to the puppy, who refuses to go outside and do her morning business, so we’ve had a couple of accidents to clean up. Which is annoying and she should be glad she’s so cute.

Today is my thirty-third day of keeping commitments in a focused manner. One more week until I reach day forty and it’s been one of the hardest times of my life. So I’ve been thinking about this past month or so today while the puppy cuddles and the rain falls and the thunder rumbles.

A month ago, I sort of felt like I imagine the puppy feels, refusing to go outside in the storm. Leaving my house, stepping out, risking harm. It was too much for me and I would have done almost anything to stay inside, safe, even though I knew I wasn’t happy. That’s where the puppy metaphor ends—I have never peed on the floor, although after pushing out four babies, there’s the occasional and unfortunate sneezing issue—but let’s not go there.

I have been thinking about the people filling up my life over the last few weeks. Lori, my counselor, whom I’ve known many years and had no idea she was so wise. Karen, my agent—who is kind and sensitive and doesn’t worry about whether I’m making her any money right now, because God is her source, not me. Pastor Matt, who opens his heart and shares stories that really are everything a story should be (as a writer, I feel especially qualified to make this observation) and make me laugh and cry and grateful to attend a church where God lives. Aimee, whose God-touched voice takes me into His presence. Miss Linda, my super-spiritual mentor-friend who loves me even though she doesn’t really understand why I don’t just get it together. My hilarious brother Bill, who brings me sausage from Louisiana and cooks his corned beef in the oven. Of course my friend, Laura and her Jesus—and Tracey—loving kids.

And I thought about the people I’ve spent time with, had great conversations with: Larry, my friend who is writing a great book that actually was the reason I took the 40 day challenge in the first place, Kim-who unfortunately got hit by a sixteen year old driving in front of my house Easter when she was coming here for dinner, Ginger, a long-time friend and mentor who has more faith than anyone I know. Fred and Julie and Paul and Jeanette—our “couple” friends who come for gumbo every few months and bring their kids and make me laugh so hard I’m sucking on throat lozenges the next day. And those aren’t all of them—the friends I’ve connected with this past month—invited over, spoken to at church, met for coffee to talk about God and writing.
And something hit me, not lightning—because I’m staying inside—but almost as jolting: The thought occurs to me…I have people.

A month ago if you asked me to look back on my month and talk about relationships, I only could have told you about my family—I hadn’t gone anywhere, including church, I hadn’t invited anyone over. I refused lunch and coffee invitations and ignored my phone. By accepting the 40-day challenge in Larry’s (not yet published) book, and actually sticking with it, God is daily widening my horizons, teaching me to expand my heart, stretching the borders of my small world.

A writer’s life can be lonely, and over the past 12 years, I’ve embraced that—it was just the excuse I needed to hide from people, because people scared me. Fear of criticism, rejection, fear they would see through me and realize I’m nothing special.

And I’m not saying a month has magically made me all better. I still have resistance to sharing myself with people and simply walking out the door is panic-inducing at times. Even now, I’m a few hours away from a women’s conference I’ve been looking forward to in theory, but now I’d give almost anything to go back a couple of weeks and not have bought the ticket in the first place—but it’s a commitment. One I know I’ll be glad I kept once I’m there.

That’s the way it is sometimes. Flexing weak muscles. Opening eyes I’ve squeezed shut for so long the light makes me squint.

Stepping outside and walking in the rain.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hearing God's voice and Discovering a Portal into another World

Hearing God’s voice is hard for me. I’m sure I hear it all the time, but the voice in my head conflicts and confuses me. Most of the time, I look back later and know I’ve heard Him—or realize I didn’t—but in the moment it’s a crap shoot as to whether or not it’s actually Him telling me to do this or that.

Yesterday, I lucked out.

I was freezing on my deck, wearing my husband’s heavy leather coat, my legs wrapped in a throw blanket from the couch that I inherited from my football fanatic youngest son, Will. He started his obsession loving the Steelers, so for Christmas a few years ago I bought him a soft, cuddly Pittsburg Steelers blanket. Then Rusty told him that Kurt Warner loved Jesus and he decided to switch allegiance and threw his support and prayers to the Arizona Cardinals. And he’s been a diehard fan ever since—despite Kurt’s retirement, unfortunate stint on Dancing With the Stars, and the Cardinals’ less-than-stellar recent performances. He’s hooked and there’s no talking him out of it.

Anyway, football notwithstanding, I don’t have any luck hearing God unless I’m sitting on my deck. Whether I’m freezing or sweating. So I got the idea yesterday to send a private message to my friend Laura, who is offering her help with an upcoming writing workshop I’m giving. It’s been a week or so since we connected and I felt guilty for not keeping up. But that’s something I do. My friends have to really love me to hang in there with me. But I’m trying to do better, so I casually messaged her, figuring it was my own head telling me to do it and that was good enough for me. Because I love Laura and missed her.

I got a quick message back that said, “Hey, I was just thinking about you. Do you want to grab lunch today or Friday and catch up?”

Friday was out for me, but I thought about how much I missed her and decided to go against my normal aversion to making split-second plans and invited myself to pick up pizza and come to her house instead of going to a restaurant. Her youngest, Ada, has become a little friend and I wanted to see her and the rest of Laura’s bunch. She went with the idea, so three hours later, I found myself about to turn onto their street, waving at her two youngest who were on the porch waiting for me.

And I felt loved and wanted.

Here’s the thing about Laura and her family. They have ten kids. Their two oldest boys are through college and married with babies. Another son is in college and Laura home schools the rest. She’s the most laid back, cool woman I know. Her house is clean and comfortable, but not perfect, the way my mother-in-law’s house was always perfect. Her dogs smell like dogs—not in a bad way—and her kids are independent and funny. Laura lets them be kids. Each their own person. And for some reason I haven’t been able to figure out, they like me.

I admire Laura. And admiration comes hard for me. Probably due to my cynical nature. But Laura lives and breathes God. She can’t have a conversation that doesn’t include Him and I like that about her. Spending time with Laura makes me want to know God better and I always feel like I do know Him better when I leave her house.

After we grabbed our pizza and one of the kids said the blessing, Laura and I sat in her living room and she started talking about a friend of hers who died recently. She spoke about the woman’s life and service and how her love language was to come into Laura’s house and start cleaning.

As Laura revealed this woman to me, a peace settled like thousands of soft leaves falling over me and I felt God in the room with the kids and Laura and Clark, the dog and Onyx, the puppy.

I wanted to hear that cancer left her body. That she had been healed and that maybe if she wanted to be my friend she might use her love language to organize my house. But that didn’t happen.

But something even more satisfying happened in the story. As this amazing woman of God lay dying, she saw Jesus.

Laura asked her once, why do you think this is happening to you? The woman said, “someone has to take this journey or how will anyone know what the journey is like?”

I have been thinking a lot about that since yesterday. I don’t know if she had cancer so she could share her journey or not. But I know God uses our experiences if we let Him. And I thought about how Laura’s two youngest, Honor and Ada, pretended the back door was a portal into another world--and I wanted to play like it truly was a portal too. And Ada wrote me a song, and Honor sat on the arm of my chair and told me rhyming words and the sounds letters make. And I fell a little in love with Honor yesterday.

Eleven-year-old Trinity sang me a song she wrote and her voice was beautiful and she played her own accompaniment on the piano. And I thought about Maranatha, the Ashley’s Flower Child who marches to the beat of her own drum and has the cutest dimples ever, but also eyes that hold a lot of wisdom and also questions. And True, (whose real name is Timothy although Laura wanted to name him True McKay, but her husband Roy felt it was too close to The Real McCoy). True is the cool one in the family. I know this because he told me. And I believe him, because he seems very cool to me. The oldest son left at home is Jordy and he is about to graduate, works at Walmart and is just trying to figure out his next step. And Ty—who is the only one with a regular name—I’m still figuring him out, but I think he’s very smart, maybe the smartest.

When it was time to go, Ada wanted me to spend the night, and then everyone prayed for me. All the kids took turns and Laura. And Trinity prayed I wouldn’t be too stressed and I wondered how and eleven year old even knew to pray that. I could only figure out that Trinity hears God’s voice and He led her.

And True said, “I don’t know what to pray God, but thank you that Tracey brought pizza.” And when he prayed that, I knew for sure he was cool.

And little by little my heart healed from the hard weeks of sharing this journey I’m traveling. Into truth and consistency and authenticity.

As I was leaving, Laura’s husband called and he told me “hi” through Laura and I left so she could talk and as I drove away, I realized I had heard God’s voice while I was freezing on my deck. But I also realized I could have done what I’ve done too many times to count—ignored the voice, missed the opportunity to spend a couple of hours feeling God’s presence, talking to Laura and listening to her kids.

I thought about my journey again and how God is using me in a way I never dreamed He would. Through words of truth. And Trinity’s prayer came true as the stress fell away. Because if I’d never stepped into this journey, how could I reveal the truth and share my heart and maybe, give someone a glimpse into trust, truth, and change, as it is occurring in me?

I wish I knew His voice better. I wish my head didn’t get in the way so much. I suppose I’ll be spending a lot of time on the deck, trying to hear His voice and hoping I get it right.

Where He leads me I will follow. Where He leads me I will follow. Where He leads me I will follow. I’ll go with Him, with Him. All the way.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Greatest Man that Ever Lived

There are no two ways about it, my dad was the greatest man on earth. I knew he was special because everyone thought so. And it didn’t hurt that he always handed over his lunch box at the end of a long day for me to clean out—and that he always left me a treat.

We lived in a two-story apartment, my family of eight. My oldest brother made nine, but he had moved away a couple of years earlier. I had the enviable position of being the youngest. My sister, Linda—several years my senior—hated sharing a bed with me because I kicked at night and because I stole her pads to put on my dolls as diapers and threw a fit until she let me wear her bras to sleep in. But that’s another story altogether.

My dad, the greatest man on earth, fixed up old junker bikes for the neighborhood kids whose parents couldn’t afford bikes, he instigated water fights after dark for the older kids, made homemade spaghetti and donuts, and hosted gatherings for friends from our small church—a white frame building that sat on the corner of 7th and Gregory where I accepted Jesus and was baptized at five years old because my best friend, Lori accepted Jesus and was baptized. I had a true conversion at age nine when Jesus revealed himself to me on the floor of my mother’s bedroom. I cried for hours and that next Sunday I got baptized again and when everyone started singing: Oh, happy day, Oh, happy day when Jesus washed my sins away. He taught me how to watch and pray and live rejoicing every day. Happy day, happy day when Jesus washed my sins away—I knew this time it took.

Every year, about a week before Christmas, Daddy picked out the biggest, oddest-shaped tree he could find and we decorated with gusto, hanging cheap glass and homemade ornaments and tossing tinsel on the branches in clumps that exasperated him, but he nevertheless allowed. He strung popcorn and spray painted the white fluffy kernels red and green. We had the best tree ever—every year—because my Daddy did everything better than anyone else. And because we had bubble lights and no one else I knew had bubble lights on their tree.

Oh, how my dad was loved. The church ladies from 7th and Gregory fixed potluck meals with him in mind, preparing his favorite foods, careful to leave out any trace of onions—because Daddy hated onions with the same passion he loved his family.

Filled with a sense of security and pride in who I was and whose I was, I went to school, had lots of friends, spent summer days playing outside in the gorgeous Kansas sun and went to church on Sunday, bolstered by the knowledge that my Dad lived and breathed greatness. I knew it. In my mind everyone knew it, though my older siblings have stories of their own.

That year—my eighth—we moved to a small town in Oklahoma with no more than one-thousand residents. I don’t know if Daddy ever lived in such a place before, but he couldn’t have been prepared for the closed minds and hearts, the impossible to penetrate criticism and shocking lack of admiration from our fellow church members. Years later, I understand they were well-meaning, truly concerned for his soul, but they didn’t understand how great he was—despite his flaws.

You see, Daddy was a smoker. He was not financially well-off or even comfortable. And he had a big mouth and lots of opinions that didn’t necessarily reflect those of the church we attended.

Suddenly ours wasn’t the house where kids hung out and church folks gathered after service for cake and fellowship. These church ladies couldn’t care less if Daddy hated onions and used them freely during potluck. I think somewhere inside, he took this as a personal affront to him. And it hurt. It hurt me too, because didn’t these people recognize greatness in their midst?

And then one day a thought came to me. A revelation, really. How on earth hadn’t I seen it before now? Daddy was a nobody. He smoked and didn’t have money and oh, the humiliation, he didn’t think the way the small-town, religious folks thought.

The truth hit me hard—like the time I pitched a softball game and got a line drive to the leg. A big fat, softball sized bruise darkened my skin, reminding me of that pain for weeks and weeks and I never pitched again—too risky. And that’s exactly what it felt like as I got the picture—If Daddy was a nobody, then I was a nobody too.

Many years have passed since that short season imprinted on me as destructive as a hatching duck imprinting on a hungry wolf, but inside, I still regret that he never had a chance to be who he was in that town—the greatest man alive who once fixed up old bikes, made homemade donuts, chopped down the most wonderful, imperfect Christmas trees, and delighted in eating potluck without onions.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad lately as I work through my own story—the one I’ve written for myself. I’ve been a nobody, trying to please somebodys since I was eight years old. I know this about me now. I understand why I have so much trouble living authentically. If Daddy, the greatest man alive, couldn’t make people like him, how would I, the daughter whose identity was so woven into his? I lost my identity in a sea of voices. I learned to agree with anyone who might like me. I learned to read faces and decipher tones of voice—criticism cuts deep, and I’ve lived my life willing to say anything to avoid it.

I know Jesus loves me. In a deep-down way that bolsters me. If Jesus is somebody, and he loves me just the way I am, then I’m okay to be me.

I’ve spent thirty-five years writing the wrong story of this Tracey character. But inside, I know Jesus has my story all written for me, the real story. And that’s the character I’m discovering day-by-day as we re-write together.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation, purchased of God. Born of His spirit, washed in his blood. This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long…

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Sunday--Historic Day

Yesterday was my fourth Sunday morning in a ROW where I pulled my slug-butt out of bed, got dressed and went to church—I have two more weeks to fulfill the commitment I made to Lori, my counselor, to attend six weeks in a row, but I’m thinking about keeping it up. Amazingly, I’ve discovered I sort of like going every week. Like I’m part of a community.

Anyway, I’m sure my record attendance isn’t what Pastor Matt meant when he said yesterday was a day of history for our church. You see, they (the church staff) have been building up our Easter service for a while. Made up little cards that look like business cards and pitched a film they touted as comparable to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. If I’m being honest—and you guys know I am—it wasn’t even close, but it was still pretty cool. We wore 3-D glasses and when the earth shook on the third day and the stone split, it sort of looked like you might get a rock in the head like you’re Goliath and David just wielded his sling. It wasn’t quite duck-worthy, but it was still pretty great.

We had communion and I didn’t fall over dead, like Rusty had been worried about the week before, although I did have a headache all day, but today is fine, so I think I’m good.

At the end of the service, the worship pastor, who is also the pastor pastor’s wife sang My Redeemer Lives—the Crystal Lewis one, not the Nicole C Mullens one. I get a little lost when Aimee sings. For a couple of reasons. First of all, she’s a super great singer and I’m a bit of a picky listener. But mostly, she’s honest. And when she sings, she invites you into the experience with her, instead of just standing with a mic and making you feel like you should be grateful she’s condescending to sing for you—like that Jessica girl on American Idol right now—don’t even get me started.

When Aimee sings words like, “Though my flesh may be destroyed, yet with my eyes, I will see God”, chills travel down my spine and I imagine standing at the throne of God and actually seeing his face and I get carried away. And that’s where I was yesterday when the song came to a close and I reluctantly opened my eyes. Everyone was standing—except me—and I felt like a jerk. I didn’t want Aimee to think I didn’t appreciate the way she opens her mouth and bleeds her heart into the congregation every service.

After that, I thought about standing up but I didn’t for a couple of reasons. 1.) My legs were feeling a little weak from the experience I’d just had with God while she sang, and 2.) I was wearing three and a half inch heels that quite frankly scared me. And 3.) usually, pastor tells us to have a seat while he wraps it up. Only this time he didn’t so I sat there feeling like a creep and sort of hoping no one around me thought I wasn’t moved.

All-in-all, it was a day of history. One that had nothing to do with whether I went to church or not. 13 or so people decided to become followers of Jesus—which always stills my heart to this place of holy awe—Jesus drawing a soul from darkness into light through His great love for humanity. I am thinking about those people today, wondering if they woke up this morning and feel new. I was so young when I gave my heart to Jesus I hadn’t had time to be really wretched yet, although, I’m sorry to say, I’ve made use of plenty of opportunities since. I think when you come to Jesus as an adult, it makes you more determined to be a better follower. Miss Linda came to Jesus as an adult and she went full-tilt, without looking back. Personally, I think Miss Linda should have a class for all new believers and teach them how to follow Jesus without looking back.

And also, we broke an attendance record by about 200 people. 1200 in all. My sister’s church in Opelousas, La. also broke an attendance record. This is their second anniversary and they had over 700 in church yesterday. I like that. I like when churches like mine and my sister’s are plowing into communities and meeting needs. It’s how Jesus did it.

As the service ended and I walked out, I kept thinking about Aimee and the song and how I didn’t stand up and I wished I would have, but then again I’m glad I was so caught up in God that I didn’t know everyone else was. I smiled and talked to a couple of people and a woman named Lisa, who I don't know super well, but I like a lot, actually said she read my blog and liked it and that made me smile a little. And also surprised me because I always assume as the number of hits go up on my blog counter that 90% of them are my mom.

And then I saw Aimee—who is beautiful in a down-to-earth, girl next door way that makes all the men jealous of Pastor Matt and makes the women just want to be like her. Which is the way Pastor wives actually should be in my opinion. She wore a teeny tiny diamond stud in the crease of her nose for awhile, but eventually took it out because she got so much crap for it. Which was tragic, because she has the kind of nose that is perfect for a nose ring. I have a bulbous nose and would never draw attention to it with something shiny, but I liked hers. But I guess when you’re in her position you have to weigh the pros and cons of things like that.

She stood there and I didn’t talk to her because Aimee is one of those people who is always on the move at church. She’s about her Father’s business on church days. It’s her job and calling and she walks in a sort of focused daze that some people are offended by but I think is more endearing than anything. She can walk right past you, look at you and not know you’re there. So I didn’t say anything. Because I didn’t want to impose on whatever she was thinking about—which might have been food because I doubt she eats breakfast on Sundays—having to sing so much and not wanting to burp into the microphone—plus she’s there at the crack of dawn to start preparing for two services.

So anyway, Aimee caught my eye and gave a little smile. Reached out, took my upper arms in her hands and gave them a little rub, then walked on. And so did I. And I walked out of church feeling loved and noticed and like maybe she understood that sometimes words aren’t necessary and actually, most of the time they cheapen the moment. And I didn’t feel bad about not standing up anymore.

So was it a day of history? I think so. 1200 people in church, 13 new Christ-followers. A 3-D movie that had never been shown before, that was sort of cool.

And for me, I was faithful for one more week, I imagined I saw God. For sure I felt Him reach into my tiny space in a big building and love me, and let me know He gets how much I love Him too.

And I think that’s what church should be: a little bit of history every week.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

I don't know much, but I ask a lot of questions

Mom says I was the nosiest kid she ever saw—and the woman—bless her—raised seven of us so she had her own pool of research material from which to form her opinion. She says when new neighbors moved in, I’d know everything about them before their boxes were unloaded from the truck. How many kids, where’d they move from, what were their names and ages (even the adults) and did they go to church?

It’s in my make-up to ask questions. To try to find out about everything and anything that interests me. And Jesus interests me. His life, his ways, His place in my life.
Sometimes my questions make people uncomfortable, and I get that. As an adult, I’ve learned to dial back my curiosity a little, when talking to people, but never with Jesus. David didn’t. He could dance in his underwear in abandoned praise one day and rail at God the next. WHY?????? GOD!!!

And I think God was cool with that.

There are fundamental questions I am confident in—that I’ve staked my life on. Did God create the world? Yes

Is Jesus His son? Yes, I believe He is and that He died for me. I know I’m filled with His Holy Spirit and I am one-hundred percent sure that God loves me—even though I’m also one-hundred percent sure I’m not worth it. And knowing I’m not worth it, and yet He still has infinite good and precious thoughts toward me wrecks me a little. Especially when I take time to dwell on it. The certainty of his great love fills me with the greatest desire my heart knows: to unravel the mystery of Him.

But beyond that, the questions are too big for me to blindly accept pat answers and clichés like “all is well” and “this too shall pass” as statements of faith when things are…BAD. I hate this. I hate that I have so many unanswered questions like: why is half the world prosperous and the other half dying of hunger and plagues?

And I wonder…Am I the only one?

I’m not a new Christian. I’ve loved God my whole life, it seems. But even at six years old when we attended a dogmatic church that taught they were the only ones going to heaven, I questioned: What if it’s not us? What if the Baptists are the right ones, or the Methodists? Or God-forbid, the Jehovah’s Witnesses—which would have been a tragedy since the only Jehovah’s Witness kid I knew had to paint pictures while the rest of my class had a Christmas party. Even that young, I questioned church theology. And it drove me crazy. Why couldn’t I just get on the bandwagon and accept what I was taught?

Today, I understand that salvation is about Jesus, not which group you feel most comfortable sitting next to on Sunday. And for the most part, I love the messages that focus on Jesus, his ways, his love, his message of giving—not to get—and gentleness, goodness, grace to those who need it most. I want to be that kind of girl. That can look past the annoyances and love anyway. Why does everyone have to conform to the status quo to be accepted in our opulent buildings? And not that I have a problem with great buildings. I attend a church with a great building and a coffee shop. It’s the attitude inside that kills it for me most of the time.

More questions…What about healing? Do people die because they don’t have enough faith? Or does God just randomly pick the ones he chooses to heal? Why do some people believe Him, pray unending healing scripture prayers and still die, emaciated, hairless, and in agony?

Why Jesus? Why do we sit on our high horse and assume faith is the issue? Or a lack of faith.

Or is it?

I have some friends who have utter belief in God’s sovereignty. If a Tsunami takes out Japan, well, God’s will. If an earthquake splits a country down the middle killing thousands of children and separating families—God’s will. If a baby dies of SIDS. God’s will. Cancer? Time’s up, baby.

I don’t know. I can’t get my head wrapped around that one either. Does God have a split personality? Chemical imbalance. Does he have whims where one day He’s in a good mood and brings on the sun, the next he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and BOOM…F5 tornado spins uncontrollably through Joplin killing husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, sons and daughters.

I know, I know…The rain falls on the just and the unjust.

I just don’t understand why…

I have two options it’s seems. God will move on behalf of those with enough faith and bless them financially, physically, emotionally and relationally, or He’ll do whatever he (insert D-Word here) well pleases and we can either like it or not, He doesn’t really care.

Honestly, I think the truth lies somewhere in the divide. But I’m baffled as to what it is. Jesus told us, we are to ask, knock and seek. But no one, besides Jesus, seems to have the patience to deal with the asking, knocking, and seeking. If I challenge one perspective, I get the too-bad-you’re-not-going-to-be-blessed look of sympathy and ultimate frustration from the one trying to share their version of the answer. Plus, it’s assumed I’m still an immature Christian and just need to grow—which I do, but the absurdity of assuming someone who disagrees with you is immature still bumps up against my pride. Which I guess proves their point, after all.

If I challenge the sovereignty folks, well, I’m not surrendered enough yet. More proof of my spiritual infancy.

And I’m probably not surrendered and I could definitely use some prosperity about now—actually even provision would be a step up.

Jesus is the answer and I know God is love.

But then, there’s the death and pain and bloated baby bellies.

I’ll admit I don’t get God and His ways. They are higher, yes. But I think we are meant to know some of the mysteries. Faith people are dogmatic about it. They have no patience for people like me. And neither do the sovereignty people. But I’m not comfortable throwing in my lot with bearded thirty-somethings who sit in coffee houses and rag on both groups. I love them both. The faith people and the sovereignty people. I know they truly believe—whichever way they tilt. And I want to be respectful of those beliefs. I love the bearded thirty-somethings too, but they’re as messed up as I am, so it’s not really about them.

I’m not worried about whether or not God gets me. I know He does. He’s not a bit surprised or offended by my utter lack of conformity---even though I truly wish I could conform. Somewhere. And the last thing I’d ever want to do is be a stumbling block to anyone because of my questions.

But I’m sort of stuck on this point: are the questions we ask more important than the answers. God wants the dialogue, the conversation, the opportunity to move into our narrow lives and show us the bigger picture.

Maybe it’s not about who sent the Tsunami or Earthquake as much as it is, what will I do to help in the devastation, which so far has been zero effort. Maybe it’s not about the teenager who died a year or so ago of cancer when an entire faith church and her mother were begging for a miracle, but rather, can I open my arms and share the pain of loss? Maybe it’s not about if the new young woman in church is inappropriately dressed or doesn’t understand that her baby should be in the nursery where it won’t disturb those of us who are “churched”. Maybe it’s more about loving and accepting her even if her baby cries every single service. If half the men and the closet lesbians in church are gawking at her boobs and tramp stamp. Maybe it’s about figuring out why we are so quick to raise ourselves up on our self-constructed pedestals, so just maybe we can get over ourselves.

Big houses and pretty cars do nothing for the hurting, and I’m sick to death of hearing about how I can have my best life—from the televangelists and Oprah who are essentially preaching the same message. But I’m comfortable with believing the Bible, and God truly does, it seems, take pleasure in the prosperity of his people. I believe God wants His people healthy and whole. But I think he also wants us broken and bleeding. That’s the thing about this life. And it’s why it’s so hard to figure out. One side of the coin is I’ll take care of you. Ask and you’ll receive. The other side is…F5 tornado.

I think this is part of what Jesus meant when he said he wasn’t here to bring peace, but a sword. His edge slicing at my comfort, my status quo and the core of my belief system.

Is holiness more important than happiness?

I’m not bitter about the conundrum. Just trying to unravel it in a way that makes sense to me from a Jesus standpoint. But really, faith makes no sense. But I still believe in Jesus. I love him in a deep-down way that forces me to ask Him to show me who He is. What truly pleases Him and sometimes if He’ll let me keep my house and give me a new contract—which I kind of think will never happen if I don’t stop making people mad.

But again, maybe it’s not about if I ever get another contract or if anyone reads anything I write. Basically, the questions force me to either sigh in frustration or run to the Bible and try really hard to read without my preconceived and brainwashed notions on either side of the coin.

It’s a mystery. One I hope to solve in this lifetime—and I guess if my house is in the path of the next whopping big tornado, I’ll figure it out a lot sooner.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Miss Linda and The D Word

I wrote a totally different blog post for today, but I had a problem. I used a word Rusty says I should take out and I don’t want to. He says I will offend readers and lose some people.

I said, “Oh, come on. Everyone uses that word, or at least thinks it every now and then. Except maybe Miss Linda.”

Miss Linda is one of my mentors. A true woman of God with strong opinions and the most honest relationship with God of anyone I know. She shares her struggles and wears her beautiful heart on her sleeve. She’s willing to be the sharp edge of the sword or the soft place to land. And she’s been both in my life over the past thirteen years or so. I love her, honor her, and she drives me crazy—a lot! And I drive her crazy too—although she’d never say it that way because she’s too careful of her words.

Anyway, I went back to my writing, but couldn’t get Rusty’s comment out of my head, so I emailed Miss Linda, explaining the conversation with my husband and asking the question:

Me: Do you ever say "damn"?

Miss Linda: I wouldn't use it. Matt can tell you the time he heard me say it when he was learning to drive.

(This made me laugh--"Matt" is my pastor--her son)

She continues:

You want to be Real Jesus not real world..for you to take your followers...don't like that word either, your fans UP, determine whose camp or Kingdom you want to represent..
Damn is a curse word, a 'curse' word...
When I got saved and determined to quit swearing, I had to learn to talk all over again..swear words limit our vocabulary because they so ignorantly cover so much...what are you, who has many words, trying to say using that word?

(I had to think about this for a minute, because the word seemed so benign to me until Rusty flagged it. Plus, her emphasis on “real Jesus or real world” hit me. I am an ambassador for Jesus, true—all who identify with the Name of Jesus are—but I’m not preaching, here. I’m just writing what I’m thinking about each day and trying to be authentic—hoping and praying that if someone needs to hear it, they’ll get what they’re supposed to get.)

Me: I hear what you're saying...and Rusty. But honestly, Linda. I'm not trying to be Real Jesus or Real World. I'm just trying to be Real me. I'm trying to obey and write what my heart is asking. This post is all about questions. I'm not trying to say anything using the D-word. It's just the way it came out. And I don't cuss as a matter of course. :) I don't know...I'll decide if I should leave it in or not.

I wonder if someone will stop reading over a word like that, maybe they're not my readers?

I don't know...

(Miss Linda has another perspective—a very valid one that I had to consider)

Miss Linda: OR maybe they have gained freedom from that language and do not want to go there again. Your goal is not to be Christ like? This 'real me' thing, not only from you, has thrown me lately. I thought we were to be ambassadors and even if we wanted to say 'damn', we would take that thought captive to obey Christ, but you are not the only one lately who has suggested otherwise.


Using it would most certainly cause a something I would think, a questioning, a wondering, inquiring who you are, but that is just me and ......Rusty I guess.

Me: The "real me" stuff, isn't because it's all about me. Do I like bleeding all over the page? Not even a little. Fiction is way easier. It's because I'm trying to get to the heart of who I am in Christ, what I truly believe and how God wants to relate (through me) in this crazy, cynical world. I can reach more people by being open, honest and authentic about my questions than I can by pretending I'm someone I'm not. This is who I am, what I struggle with, but in all of that, my one desire is to know God and change. I'm inviting a conversation with my readers. Do you struggle? Let's journey together and seek God's ways.

I'll leave the answers to the people who have them. For me it's about the questions...


There were a couple of “winding down” emails after that, one of which I asked Miss Linda if I could use her first name and quote her. You can guess what she said…

I appreciate and understand the way Miss Linda feels. I guess a lot of people would be offended and I should think about whether or not that matters to me—if it matters to God. Probably.

For the record: the rest of the post here is not about Miss Linda or her views on anything else. It's all my own reflections, thoughts, and opinions.

I love people. I love my readers. I do not want to be a stumbling block or offend. But sometimes I wonder if we, as Christians, try so hard to be different—and we should—that we take it one step too far and lose focus on what is most important. If things like “damn” or tattoos or nose piercings are going to get a rise out of us, maybe God is telling us to have more grace.

I was talking to another Christian friend this week about how distracted I’d been at church Sunday when someone wouldn’t stop talking. And as I spoke about how God had corrected my attitude, I said something to the effect of: maybe our reaction to the distraction is more telling than the person being rude? Maybe it’s not as important to teach someone to dress less provocatively in church or take her baby out if it’s fussy so that the “saints” can hear the message.

Maybe the bigger picture is this: what’s the point of going into the highways and byways and bid them come in, if we’re going to frown and huff because they act and dress like they’re at a ballgame instead of behaving how we consider appropriate.

I have my opinion, but the question seems more telling to me than the one-hundred different answers or opinions I could get.

All-in-all, if and when I post the original thought for today, I’ll most likely remove the D word.

HUGE thank you to Miss Linda for engaging in a dialogue with me this morning, stretching my thoughts and forcing me to ask more questions of her and of God.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I'd Let My Little Light Shine--If Only I knew all the Words to the Song!

I missed my first opportunity when I was four years old.

Mom, her friend, her friend’s five-year-old daughter and adorable me went to a Bill and Gloria Gaither concert. I wore my favorite lavender dress (that later I nose-bled all over and ruined—sad day!), and my blond hair in little doggie-ears.

I was almost as cute that night as my little friend, Ada.

At some point in the night, The Gaithers were going to sing “This Little Light of Mine”, and looked around for a brave little girl to come up to the stage and sing with them. I raised my hand because my friend did. They scanned the audience and their eyes stopped on me.

Wonderful Bill, with his beautiful smile, asked did I know the song.


Forgive me, Jesus. I lied to Bill Gaither.

Until that point in my young life, I’d never aspired to sing with The Gaithers. But at that moment, it became the biggest desire I’d ever known—except the walking doll I wanted for Christmas—but that’s beside the point. Plus, I’d had that for awhile by then.

Bill and Gloria waved me up there to sing with them, and I froze. The crowd clapped, trying to encourage the shy little girl. But I didn’t budge.

And for the record, I’m the youngest of seven siblings and was treated like a Princess by everyone in my family—I wasn’t shy at all! I was used to getting all the attention.

But here’s what I knew at four years old. If I went up there, I’d fail, because all I knew of the song was, “This Little Light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” To my credit, I sang it on key, but only that one line.

Bill Gaither waved me up there again, everyone in the auditorium turned to me and I felt….FEAR.

Fear of failure, fear of missing the mark. Oh, Lord, why had I ever raised my sweet tiny little hand?

I did the only thing I could: Gave a panicked shake of my head that sent my doggie ears dancing and ducked into the safety of my mother’s side.

As a side note, let me just say, I did not receive my mother’s gift of mercy. If my kid had raised a hand, gotten picked and tried to back out, I’d have shoved them out of their seat with the admonishment not to shame me in front of however many people were there. But that’s just me. Mom was and is a lot nicer.

Anyway, as an adult, I realize that 1.) It’s not that hard of a song to fake and 2.) they would have helped me through it.

But even at four years old, image meant more to me than stepping out, taking a chance and feeling good about what I’d done. See, I’d just gone through something similar. My Kindergarten class was performing the ever-popular song “Christmas Tree Cookies…Yummy, Yum, Yum.” You know, you know it.

My daddy had cut out a huge cardboard cookie as big as little me and decorated it with red and green glitter plus those little flat, multi-colored candies that really don’t taste very good. And my cookie—was cool. Only, I didn’t know that song either. So I spent the entire performance biting on my cookie and grinning like I planned it that way.

Ah….I shamed the family.

And there was no way I was going to do it again.

So I had to sit there while my friend was picked—because of course she really did know the song—and live with regret.

And the pattern has followed me into adulthood, causing me to keep walls around me like a shield rather than allowing Favor to surround me and set me up for success.

If I’m not sure I’ll succeed, I don’t even try.

But that’s what faith is all about. Stepping into choppy water on the off chance I won’t sink.

I’m realizing lately my perfection isn’t what pleases God—it’s stepping out on shaky legs and sometimes desperate fear—into the unknown—keeping my eyes focused on Jesus.

It’s a lesson I’m still learning.

But I do know this: If Bill Gaither ever picks me out of a crowd to sing with him again—it could happen—I’ll sashay up to that stage, grab a mic and let my little light shine.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Just Hit Me Over the Head with a Palm Branch--I Have it Coming!

I love listening to my pastor preach. He’s the only preacher I can listen to for forty-five minutes and not get bored, not let my ADD brain take me away to whatever book or project I’m working on or thinking about working on at the time. He’s just easy to listen to. And that’s no joke.

Yesterday, he preached a great message—the third and final in his series on the Holy Spirit. He’s often repeated stories over the years. Awesome stories he tells from time to time, that those of us who’ve heard him awhile love to hear again. Newer members listening for the first time cry—they’re really powerful, authentic moments. And yesterday he was sharing about twenty-three years ago, when he rededicated his life to God and made the decision to drop out of college and go to Bible college.

I love this story. Wrote a play around it, even, and we performed it successfully a few years ago. I wanted to hear it again. Every. Single. Word. As he segued into the telling, I leaned forward, one leg crossed over the other, elbow resting on my knee, chin in hand…anticipating…

And then it happened…

The lady behind me starting talking.

Distracting me…ADD me. Frustrated, I shifted, gave a little breath to let her know SOME people wanted to hear what the man was saying. Show a little respect, lady. This story is about a monumental day of obedience that has changed a LOT of lives in our 800-member church. Including yours—although you clearly don’t appreciate it.

Anyway, the sigh didn’t work. So I decided to pray.

Shut her up, God. Shut her up. Shut her up! I want to hear this!!

Clearly, God couldn’t shut her up either…the chatter continued. My irritation rose and I seriously considered moving to a different seat, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself… Plus, it would have been rude, and I wasn’t that far gone.

So, I missed most of the story…stayed annoyed through the salvation prayer, moral of the story prayer, AND while I plunked down my whopping thirteen dollars for the Heart for the House love offering we take up once a month for church stuff.

After the dismissal, I turned around to get my purse and my eye caught the woman’s. She smiled—completely unaware of my inner temper tantrum. I offered a cursory, “If you only knew how ticked off I am at you, right now” smile, and went to find my family so we could just get out of there.

We got home after the weekly after-church stop at Walmart, where I ordered an eight piece chicken from the deli—only it would have been a fifteen minute wait—SERIOUSLY? For crying out loud, just give me popcorn chicken. If I could have found a way to blame the woman at church for that, I would have.

At home, as soon as the TV was free, I started the DVRed Mary Tyler Moore marathon, ready to put the morning behind me and move on.

The only problem was, I couldn’t escape it. My mind replayed the morning from wakeup to now, in little scenes like it does when I’m planning scenes for a book. Only this book had already been written. I couldn’t rewrite it and I knew God wasn’t pleased.

If I’m asking God—and I am—to show me my heart and change my ways, I have to allow the correction.

The truth is, it wasn’t about the big mouth behind me who annoyed me and distracted me from my favorite Pastor Matt story. It was about me. My bad attitude from the minute I woke up.

I begrudged the Lord yesterday. I’ve started this 40 day thing where I keep my commitments, including Sunday morning at church and I was mad that this was day 22, I had a raging hormonal headache along with other aches and pains, Hallmark channel was showing a Mary Tyler Moore marathon and honestly, church was the last place I wanted to go. BUT unlike the Tracey of a month ago—I got myself ready and went anyway. Figured God would take the sacrifice into consideration and have my back.

I tried to press in, but I struggled through worship—Why’d they choose these stupid songs? I hit moments where I ALMOST worshiped in truth, but for the most part, I never really entered in.

So maybe the worship leader flopped, but I was still looking forward to the message. UNTIL…

Shut her up, God. Shut her up. Shut her up.

Couldn’t He have made sure no one distracted me during Pastor Matt’s last ten minutes—which was the only thing I’d been looking forward to when I got up, knowing from a Tweet, he was planning to tell it. God knows where I always sit, He knows I go to the last possible service of the morning. Too much to ask that the talking woman NOT sit behind me? I really don’t think so. I mean sure, SHE doesn’t hear your voice, Lord, but if you’d given me a heads up, I could have sat elsewhere…Lord knows, I’d never move to the other side of the church, but a couple rows back would have helped.

But let’s be real here, I blew it. I missed a great opportunity to worship—because worship was awesome.

I had the not-awesome attitude.

I forgot about grace, forgot that, without love, all the changes God is making in me mean nothing. I forgot that He is worthy to be praised regardless of my feelings, attitude and aches.

I also forgot about the podcast, but that's beside the point.

I’m grateful for correction, even when looking at myself brings me shame. When I thought I was doing so well and realized I’m still capable of sabotaging the opportunities that come along with going to a great church with great worship and relevant preaching.

I still hope that lady grows enough to realize only one person should be speaking during the sermon, but I also hope if she sits behind me next week and chatters on again, that I’ll have more grace, more wisdom, more love-- that my worship reaches God’s heart as a sweet offering and not a clanging gong.

New mercies…

After reading this, Rusty says, “Boy, it’s a good thing we didn’t have communion, you’d have fallen over dead.”

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