Endless Conversations

When my college roommate and I manage to arrange a date for lunch together, it’s never soon enough. Anticipation builds long before the day arrives. By the time I reach the designated restaurant and we’re finally face-to-face, words tumble out. Sometimes we struggle to take turns talking and listening, but we do it with joy.

What do we talk about? Everything! Our families. What God has been doing in our lives. Stress. Our aches and pains. Our joys. Church. Politics. The food. What’s eating up all our time.  Reminiscences. Hopes. Prayer requests (if we haven’t figured them out by now).

We consult “don’t forget” lists and jot down things to remember to pray about as we talk.

Sometimes, just as we’re getting ready to wind down and pay the check, we veer off on a tangent, reluctant to leave anything out. Occasionally, we have to settle for “remind me to tell you about such and such”… or “I’m going to try and remember to send you that video…”.

It’s messy.

It’s wonderful.

We definitely don’t do it often enough.

Whatever happens, I know I’m loved and that she’ll remember to pray for me, informed by that messy encounter known as fellowship.

I worry less after leaving some of my burdens with this dear friend.

No matter if she forgets half of what I’ve said. The Holy Spirit the third party at our table and heard the prayer that was our messy conversation. That same Spirit will prompt my friend to pray for me when I need it. And nudge me on her behalf, as well.

It’s messy.

It’s wonderful.

Messy and wonderful like my time with Jesus can be.

When I’m with the Lord, a jumble of words can tumble out, and I don’t have to worry about His reaction.

I can talk about anything with Jesus. My family and friends. How I feel about His work in my life. My worries. About getting old. What I’m excited about. Church stuff. Politics. My worries, again! Strength and wisdom to do what I need to do.  The memory prompted by a smell, a sight, or a song. Hopes. All punctuated with occasional “I love You’s.”

It’s wonderful.

And no, it’s not Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

It’s messy.

Even so, I know He loves to hear my voice, since He’s called me His friend.

I want to cultivate more messy conversations with the Lord.

Yes, I need to work on listening as much as I talk.

I’ll keep talking as I learn to listen.

On it!

Picture this. Your backseat cargo wobbles as you turn into the gravel lot of the huge barnlike structure serving as Ben’s workshop. You resist the umpteenth urge to throw your arm over the backseat to steady it and prevent further damage. Pretty soon, it’ll be Ben’s problem. He’ll fix everything.

The whine of a saw greets you as you step out of your car, followed by the heady scent of fresh wood. You wrestle the broken rocker out of the back, turn it upside down, and rest the seat on your shoulder. That oughta make you look at home in a place like this. You stride to the half-open king-size sliding shop door and enter Ben’s domain.

A helmeted head (likely Ben’s) bends in concetration and orange and yellow sparks fly as the creator welds metal together to form an object only he could identify. Chandelier? Table legs? Pipes for a giant sink? Given the loud sizzles emanating from the table, you tiptoe forward and have the common sense to keep a safe distance.

The welder lays his tool down and flips his helmet back, holding the creation up for inspection. “Oh, hey there! Didn’t hear you come in. You’re the lady with the rocker. Pam, right?” He sets the spidery metallic object down and pulls off his gloves.

“Right.” Suddenly shy, you glance briefly at the rocker, now sitting lopsided on the sawdust-covered floor, then at the burly guy clad in a blue flannel shirt and rubbery coveralls. Definitely Ben, king of restorations and wizard of furniture fixes.

Ben covers the distance between you in a couple of long lopes and sticks out his hand, then retracts it again. “Sorry. Old habits die hard. I’m Ben, by the way.” He tips his bearded head toward the rocker. “This the patient?”

You chuckle. “It’s on it’s last legs.”

He reaches out a hand and gives the rocker a push. “Or off its rocker.”

You look way up into his friendly blue eyes. “Will it be too hard to fix? I mean, it has sentimental value, but is it worth it?”

He hefts it to his shoulder, just like I’d done earlier. What d’ya know! “Sure. Restoration. That’s what I do.”

With one gentle heft, he sets the chair on the counter behind his worktable, waves a dismissive hand, and begins to don his gloves. “On it!”

He flips his helmet down again and bends over his creation. Quirky xylophone?

But he’s working on the pot rack thingy again, not your rocker.

You forgot to tell him you wanted the worn design on the back restored.


You didn’t ask him when it would be done.

Yikes! you didn’t even ask him how much it would cost.

And you certainly didn’t try to tell him how to do his job.

He’s on it.

You’re outta there. Leaving my broken rocker behind. Not coming back till he calls to say the job is done.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. I Peter 5:9 NIV

Tug of World

During the approximately 81 hours of pep rallies I experienced (translation: endured) during my high school teaching years, Tug o’ War between the classes was one of the most popular games played. The freshmen developed school spirit by competing against the sophomores. The seniors usually triumphed over the juniors, of course. What was up with that?

Even this non-athlete knows that Tug o’ War starts with each side determined to win, taking a firm, strong stance. In a good game, things appear equal on both sides as players flex muscles, lean back, and grit teeth. Slowly, the balance of power changes as one side gains the advantage. If it’s still a good game, the advantage might shift again. In a less-than-equal contest, one side wins suddenly with a mighty tug.

In yesterday’s sermon, our pastor tackled the subject of spiritual warfare, beginning a series entitled Winning: Put on the Full Armor of God. He’s dealt with this before, and one of the most useful aspects of his teaching was the technique of naming our spiritual battles. Earlier, I shared how I applied this technique in Battle of Loopy Lie Valley and The War for Independence. Once I identify what mind games the enemy is using in my spiritual battles, it’s harder to ignore them. Sometimes I’m in the middle of full-blown conflict without realizing it, and having a list of battles won previously with God’s help wakes me up and calls me back into the fight. It just occured to me that Could I Interest You in an Appetizer? grew out of my facing The Day of Distraction, another frequent battle.

So what is Tug o’ World and what do I do about it? At first, I’m standing firm, Kingdom priorities in order, viewing the world around me from a relatively mature believer’s perspective. I’m making an effort, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to stay on mission. “This world is not my home” is a growing reality in my life, not just a song.

And then I listen to the news just an hour more one day. And the next. The familiar voices and faces are comforting. And then I leave the television on as I do things around the house instead of listening to Christian music. The tug of the world is so subtle. I scroll mindlessly through Facebook, duped that something there will inspire me–still watching the news, of course. Gradually, my world is very different. If I’m not careful, I might find myself in the Skirmish of Imagination Inflation before I know it, worrying about being an invisible senior locked away forever “for my protection” or plotting a dystopian novel I do not intend to write.

A friend is having a new home built nearby. She’s immersed in design details and appliance purchases, and runs her ideas by me. Recently, I got my neighbors together to have our sad, sagging townhome fences replaced and I had my treacherous front steps rebuilt. Fun, positive conversations and projects providing a welcome distraction from current events. I watched HGTV instead of the news. But then I started salivating over appliances and flooring samples in Home Depot and dropped into bed still thinking about my next project. Tug o’ World had shifted from politics to material things, but I was still losing the battle.

Praise God that He does not leave us alone, wandering about the battlefield like soldiers with amnesia! Much more patient that a drill sergeant, He teaches the same lesson over and over in different ways, presenting me with weapons and showing me how to use them.

Here are a few of these scripture weapons:

Hebrews 12:1-3, in particular the command to “fix my eyes on Jesus” from verse 2. Sometimes a reminder is enough to prepare me for the next tug of the world. Way back when I was taking driver’s ed, one of the students in my car needed a constant reminder to “watch the road.” Scary! Those prompts kept us alive, though. Fixing my eyes on Jesus helps me win the battle.

When Proverbs 3:5-6 “insisted” on becoming my 2020 verse of the year, I admit I was disappointed. Why this oldie instead of something new and challenging? Ha! I had no idea how pertinent this advice would be in 2020! I can’t pretend to understand what’s going on right now or know how it will play out, but God does, and I need a constant reminder to lean on Him. I need to submit to Him in everything–not an easy task, but so important for straight paths and winning my battles. (Preaching to myself again–I’ve forgotten this verse lately!)

The book of Revelation has encouraged me lately. In particular, Chuck Swindoll’s Living Insights Commentary has helped me see in more graphic ways the reality of what’s become a platitude: God is in control. Oh, how the enemy wants me to think I need to be in control, or certain politicians should or shouldn’t be in control! There are so many weapons here in skirmishes of Imagination Inflation that I had trouble choosing. Here’s a sample from page 107 in the application of Revelation 5:1-14:

The One who is worthy to exercise judgment and rule over the earth will accomplish His will through your life. Human history is littered with the wreckage of failed attempts to fix humanity’s problems, but we can turn to Christ, who has paid the price to bring about a glorious future. When we trust in Christ instead of ourselves, the evil and opposition of the world seems much less daunting. It’s all subject to Him! When we see His brilliant splendor looming on the horizon, we can endure this present darkness with ever-increasing hope.

Enough said!

Stay in the battle. Preaching to myself.

Outwardly wasting away; inwardly renewed

Someone joked online recently about a virus-related health questionnaire asking if she had any aches and pains. (I haven’t run across that one yet, have you?) She chose to answer “No more than usual.” I’ve been thinking how I would answer if confronted with the same question at the beauty salon today.

In our worldly existence, we’re all subject to aches and pains–and worse, and we spend a lot of energy trying to prevent them ,dull them, and cope with them in various ways. Even our brains are subject to deterioration.

My beautiful, intelligent, and godly mother almost made it to her 99th birthday. She survived breast cancer and enjoyed excellent health most of her life but she did suffer with dementia during her last few years. Although she never forgot her family members or had major personality changes, I felt her quality of life was greatly diminished. I still wrestle with “why?” and I confess some of my questions are mixed with concern about whether this will happen to me, too.

Because of her faith in Jesus, I know Mother went to heaven, where she longed to go for many years. Sometime after her earthly body wore out completely, I rediscovered a scripture which put a balm on much of the discomfort I felt about what I’d categorized as her “ignominious” final years. 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 showed me there’s more going on in the life of a Christian that meets the eye, or than we can feel as we go about our daily activities.

Reading, one of Mother’s greatest pleasures next to music, became difficult. Fortunately, she’d been an eager Bible student throughout her life and hidden scripture in her heart when her mind was sharp. I discovered a stack of her memory cards which reminded me that these truths were still in her heart when she could no longer read or understand. Supernaturally, the Holy Spirit was using them to renew her inwardly, when all I could see was the wasting away of her earthly body.

When Mother could no longer pray, Romans 8:26-27 reassures me that the Holy Spirit intereceded for her, perhaps using as fuel some of the scripture that she had memorized.

As I try to hide God’s Word in my heart, too, I’m reminded that God does not abandon his creatures. Even as I search for the verse, Psalm 92:12-15, which I supposedly memorized, I’m reminded that the Lord does not abandon his children (the righteous). He helps them continue to bear fruit as they age, and as they waste away outwardly, they are renewed inwardly day by day. Even though I don’t always understand His ways, “he is my rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

Happy Birthday in heaven, Mother!

Could I Interest You in an Appetizer?

You smile and accept the menu, your mind on catching up with the friends you’ve joined for dinner. The server hovers. “Can I get you started with an appetizer tonight?”

Since you’re with a group, you might settle on something to share and the server hurries off. He returns just as you’ve caught up on your friend’s latest news and begin to hear the rumbling of your stomach.

By the time you’ve polished off the appetizer and your meal arrives, your appetite has diminished. You groan as the server sets a huge feast before you. What possessed you to snack on hot, buttered bread in between bites of steamed mussels or spicy grilled shrimp? How will you ever do justice to your steak and baked potato or your Italian feast?

How did “appetizers” get their name, anyway? Mom was right that eating between meals spoiled your appetite!

If you’re still with me and you haven’t run to the fridge for a snack, you probably want to know what this has to do with our spiritual life, right?

Spiritual appetizers aren’t like restaurant appetizers. 

During the early days of the pandemic, the days often dragged. Like everyone, I missed my daily routine. My house and my entire neighborhood were quiet. (Hard to believe if your entire family was suddenly at home together 24 hours a day looking for a tranquil corner, but I didn’t have that problem.) As she stared at the occasional preoccupied passer-by during our walks, I knew even Angie the dog missed people and fellow canines.

I started to create a new routine centered around time with the Lord and virtual connections centered on spiritual things. A podcast during our morning walk. Noon prayer with one or more churches. A weekly online Bible study. My own worship service on Sunday, followed by others that I might want to visit as well. This became the new normal and was a helpful way to stay connected with God and with fellow believers.

My appetite and need for spiritual sustenance were strong.

Slowly, days have become fuller and noisier. I’ve ventured out a bit. Now the virus wasn’t the only news on TV, and I “had” to stay informed. I tackled some big projects around the house. I had to rush to get up and over to the dog sitter’s so I’d arrive at an appointment on time. The “old normal” tried to reassert itself.

A vague sense of disquiet marred the tranquility I’d cultivated earlier.

I skipped the opportunity to turn on the Christian radio station and allow some music to shape my thoughts.

“I should probably settle down and pray or do my Bible study. I’d feel better,” I would tell myself.

Sometimes, an insidious voice would whisper, “That’s silly. You were really overdoing it before.”

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”

Your face, LORD, I will seek.

Psalm 27:8 NIV

Strangely, when I managed to silence the deceptive voice and sample the appetizer, I wanted more. Spiritual appetizers helped me crave more spiritual food, not less.

And that’s a good thing!

When the Spirit’s voice tries to interest you in an appetizer, say yes!

 

The Serenaded Dog Walker

It’s been quite a while since I posted as the Singing Dog Walker! Today I’d like to share about being sung to, in other words, serenaded.

It didn’t happen while walking Angie, one of the few excuses for leaving home these days. Poor Angie doesn’t like social distancing one bit. Or maybe I’m the one who doesn’t like it. Frankly, it’s both of us! Angie strains and prances when she sees someone she wants to greet or would like to pet her. I just do it inwardly. Angie, the extrovert, and her introverted mom both miss socializing.Angie on walk

I have not decluttered, learned calligraphy, or studied New Testament Greek.

Good days have a structure revolving around virtual Bible studies and prayer interludes provided by local churches, two or three walks with Angie, a smidgen of editing, a good dinner (and probably too many desserts and news broadcasts).

Occasionally, when the balance tips toward too much news, I have to crank up the worship music instead. Or open my Bible. Soon, perspective is restored.

For the time being.

But God’s Word, whether read or sung, is one of our powerful weapons.

I believe it.

Recently, I’ve experienced it.

It’s obvious the enemy wants to sow discouragement, fear, and even despair. Anything to squelch the light. Steal our joy. Make us want to hide away, silence our voices and pens, and re-emerge when our officials give the okay.

But music and God’s Word, paired with prayer, push me out of hiding.

God has used two beautiful songs recently to quiet and encourage me:  Goodness of God and the The Blessing. I particulary love the version sung in the UK.

In this challenging time, the Lord has reminded me powerfully that He will never fail me and will never forsake me. He is good. He showers me with His good gifts. Nothing can separate me from His love. He loves me and knows what’s on my mind at any moment, whether I am focused on Him or not. He is hearing and responding to blessings prayed over me decades before my birth and continuing today.

And He is rejoicing over me with singing.

sleeping woman

Just this morning, I awakened hearing “the Lord bless you and keep you” being sung in my heart. (Normally, I just look at the clock and justify more sleep.) A few days before, I heard words singing of the goodness of God.

What an amazing heavenly Father I have. He sings to me.

How can I not say, “This is the day You have made. I will rejoice and be glad in it”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two, Four, Six, Eight…

…who do we appreciate? If you can finish this rhyme and know the context for its use, you might be Holly Bush, but you’re definitely not Pam Green! I had no clue that it’s used by youth teams at the end of a game to cheer their opponents!

I was just looking for a clever way to approach Teacher Appreciation Week and introduce you to Holly Bush, the PE teacher heroine of The Jesus Car.

My dreams of writing mini-tributes to the teachers who encouraged my writing efforts fizzled as I wrestled my manuscript to the mat for submission on Amazon.

Why did I, named last for the team in a grudging tone, make my heroine into a PE teacher?

Holly Bush entered the world of Sully Parkway as a minor character in The Substitute, Book Two of the series, which I actually wrote first. Holly’s optimism, thoughtfulness, and enthusiasm charmed me so much that I wanted to know more about her. As I planned The Jesus Car, I “learned” that Holly was most at home on the volleyball court, and didn’t consider herself much of a scholar. She also wanted to grow closer to God and farther from the influence of a fellow named Frank. She came to Northern Virginia and landed her dream job teaching PE at Sully High School. The Lord began to refine her faith, because anybody can grow—in grace.

I survived those miserable years in PE class, bullied by classmates (and occasionally by teachers) and lived to tell a different tale. God used those tough experiences to teach me empathy and perseverance. When I became a teacher, I vowed to be like my many encouraging teachers and to watch out for the underdog.

What a blast to dredge up the once nauseating gym smells and routines and weave them into Holly’s day! Thank goodness I never had a class with  Holly’s colleagues Yolanda and Katrina! But there’s a story behind both these ladies, too. You’ll see!

The Jesus Car front cover

Meet Holly and her colleagues in The Jesus Car, now available in Kindle and paperback versions on Amazon! 

For those of you who’ve already met Holly, here’s a trivia question that you can prep in advance of my Facebook launch party in June (exact date TBA): Name at least one reason the lovely coach pictured above CAN’T be Holly Bush. 

Please don’t answer in the comments. Email your response to me at:

pam@pamgreenwrites.com

If you’d like to receive my newsletter, you can request it in your email!

 

 

 

Psalm of the First Spring Walk

forsythia-324055_1920Praise the Lord warmly

All His people!

Praise Him,  ye revelers in the sun

And seekers of the shade.

Praise Him in gentle breezes

Bearing smells of yesteryear

And swell with hope for tomorrow

Ye quickened hearts.

Praise Him with sound of lawnmower

And crack of baseball bat.

Raise unto Him the tang of mulch

Mingled with incense of box elder.

Tweet unto Him, ye songbirds

Shower Him with velvet petals

Ye flowering trees.

Feast on His presence

In froufrou of forsythia

All His creatures.

Chirp in contentment, ye crickets.

Rest in Him

All His children

In cool starriness of night.

Praise the Lord

All the earth!

Hard-hatted contentment

I was convinced I’d be Teacher of the Year in no time. Make that at no time. Eventually, I made my peace with that. I concentrated on doing a good job and learning to be content. I loved Blaise Pascal’s take on contentment in his Pensées:

[…] we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.

Of course, the Apostle Paul learned the secret of contentment the hard way: beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, and imprisonment. And I thought I had a rough time of it with impossible classes, papers to grade ad nauseam, and unreasonable colleagues!

In Living Beyond the Daily Grind I*, Chuck Swindoll addresses the “grind of discontentment.” He asks the reader to consider what Jesus’ life would be like if He were on earth today, and whether He’d be content or not.

If Jesus were to live on earth today, where do you think He would be employed? What kind of car would He drive? How much money would He earn? Do you think He would periodically fly first class? Would He ever feel the slight sting of discontentment? Why? Or why not?

No, this wasn’t God’s chosen era for Jesus to live on earth. But here we are, as His ambassadors now—His hands, feet, and voice. Swindoll’s questions are a great priority check.

Finding the ideal place for Jesus to live isn’t as easy as you’d think. In the United States, our weather maps focus on—you guessed it, the United States. I admit I was a bit surprised that French weathermen started with France and put North America last in the weather review. We are not the center of the universe in everybody’s eyes, so Jesus might not pick the United States! Wherever He wound up—Israel? Venezuela? China?—I think He’d choose a city because modern cities feature a cross-section of the population. In the New Testament, Jesus touched all strata of society, and I’m sure He’d do the same today.

If Jesus had a home base, it probably wouldn’t be a wealthy neighborhood. He’d be a working man in a lower income area, but not necessarily a slum. Although He could choose any noble trade, I’ll make Him a carpenter. Prior to beginning His ministry, I see Him working with a passion to bring joy to people through His craft. He wouldn’t build any old dining room table but the perfect dining room table with a well-loved family in mind. The enthusiasm would be ten times what Joanna Gaines exudes when she conceives a design idea with Clint Harp!

Maybe Jesus kept working as He taught. Just think of the possibilities a construction site would offer for parables and memorable images. In addition to the wise man building on a rock and the rich fool craving a bigger barn, He could talk about hard hats, bulldozers, window washers, and realtors.

A true minimalist, He wouldn’t own a car. He’d find flexibility in using public transportation and allowing others to drive Him around. After all, in the New Testament, He walked, rode in fishing boats, and borrowed a donkey when He needed it to make a prophetic point.

As someone who touched everybody’s lives, Jesus would occasionally fly first class, but not for comfort’s sake. He’d be after Zack up there, who was itching to see Jesus. Of course, this would draw the ire of the folks roughing it back in coach. Don’t their sacrifices entitle them to Jesus’ attention?

Would He be discontent? Never. The temptation might have come but would never be indulged. Jesus would have had such a clear sense of purpose for His life on earth that He could be content in all circumstances.

Jesus was driven, but in a different way. Am I? Are you?

___________________________

*Swindoll, Charles R. Living beyond the Daily Grind. World Pub., 1988

Wringing out the Old Year

I went to bed before midnight on New Year’s Eve. I’m not into ringing in the New Year.

Lately, though, I “wring out” the old year. (No, I’m not alluding to the unusually wet year we’ve had here in Northern Virginia.)  I don’t evaluate the year as it ends and set perfectionistic goals for improvement. Been there, done that. No more.

Having a word or a scripture verse for the year–or both–is popular now. A writer could get behind that, right? Not when her internal editor transforms one word into three and insists on alliteration to boot. Imposing a verse on myself at the beginning of the year feels too much like a resolution and smacks of legalism.

Over the last three years, though, a wonderful verse has burst onto the scene of my life midway through the year. The concept would pop up in Bible study and in my quiet time, and then again in a book I was reading. What was the Holy Spirit up to?

With His help, the verse and theme of the year took hold of me in the spring or summer and ushered me straight into the New Year.  Whether  “official” or not, they were inescapable. God was working in this area of my life, and He was encouraging me to cooperate with Him so that I could grow in grace and in the knowledge of Him.

So, I am wringing the good stuff out of 2018.

Last year in Bible Study Fellowship we studied Romans. It’s a complex book, but I’d studied it before. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this glittering treasure in chapter 6:

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. (Romans 6:6-7, New Living Translation, emphasis mine)

Wow! As a believer in Christ, sin has lost its power in my life! I don’t have to do what sin tells me to do. Revolutionary.

When Satan says, “You might as well give in. I won’t leave you alone until you do, but then I won’t bother you anymore,” he is lying. I don’t have to give in. Hallelujah! What freedom!

I can’t escape freedom. Sometimes God reminds me I’m free so I can simply enjoy my status, and sometimes He allows me to practice declaring my freedom by choosing to obey Him. There’s a clear purpose to my freedom, as it says in Galatians:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIV)

We are set free with the intention that we stay free. What grace! How can we not grow in it?

What word and/or verse have you wrung out of 2018? How do you ring in your New Year?

Happy New Year from Pam, Angie the dog, and Mindy the cat!