Company Time

Do you have a love/hate relationship with time? I sure do! In the past, I’ve vacillated between boredom and wondering how to “kill” time, or stress and wondering how to “find” more time. When I was growing up, my mother set an excellent example for me. Even when she relaxed, it seemed that she was doing something constructive. She watched TV and ripped wrong stiches out of a dress she was making. She reserved a minuscule amount of time for reading just before going to bed. (I still think reading is more fun when I should be doing something else!) As a teen, I underlined multiple proverbs in my Bible, urging me to be diligent and imitate the busy ant. Mother’s message had reached my brain, although not always to my hands and feet.

By now you’ve probably guessed this post isn’t about having company over for dinner. But it’s not about time management, either. I started to write it in my head during the early months of the pandemic. At first time weighed heavy. With everything moving online, familiar activities such as church, Bible studies, and writers’ groups took less time.

Soon, though, I saw new needs around me and they filled much of that time. That was fine–up to a point. Sometimes they sucked me dry. Why did needs crop up when I felt the most tired?

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t always follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings to respond to needs, although I usually tried.

A couple months ago, though, I just put my feet up and reclined with one basically frivolous mystery after another. For several days. I don’t binge watch TV, but I can binge read with the best of them. “I can do this. I’m retired,” I told myself.

Not!

I’m not retired from Kingdom service. I’m never “off the clock.”

Paul knew the struggle and challenged Timothy, “Never lose your sense of urgency, in season or out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:2, Phillips)

I’m no Paul–not even a Timothy–but their mission is my mission, so I’d often taken the challenge as my own. Now God had given me the chance to experience it on a new level.

I’m never “off the clock.” It’s always “company time.”

I accept the challenge. Lord, may I never lose my sense of urgency!

What about the “sucked dry” part, you ask? Don’t set yourself up for burnout!

Thankfully, the Kingdom works differently from our world. Jesus reminds us to work under his power, not ours, for real results. Paul had a thorn in his flesh to teach him to rely on Christ’s strength. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” ( 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV)

2 Corinthians 9:8 highlights this sufficiency so well: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” ( NIV 1984; emphasis mine)

Don’t forget that the Kingdom provides for rest, as well. We serve the God who rested after He created. He cares for sparrows and offers us an easy yoke.

This rest is grace–a provision–not an entitlement. (Preaching to myself!)

I accept the “company time.” challenge! I’m not punching a time clock. How about you?

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!

 

 

The Praying Dog Walker

Is it wrong to enjoy praying?

No.

No, it’s not wrong, but that doesn’t mean I always do.

Growing up, we prayed in King James English and said a memorized grace at meals. (I confess I resorted to that memorized grace a lot as an adult, too.)

In college, there were group prayers where I spent most of the time thinking up what I was planning to say and trying to sound spiritual.

During much of my adulthood, I enjoyed journaling and those journals often morphed into real prayers. Praying in the car on the way to school worked for me then, too.

But I’ll confess to years at a time that were close to prayerless.

In His grace, God didn’t let me stay that way. Eventually, I had to pray.

Fast forward a few years to the present.

I still struggle. I love the idea of praying continually, but do I have to wade through an checklist-2077022_640interminable list and feel guilty if I leave someone out? What do I do with the “are we done yet?” in the back of mind, or the thoughts about my grocery list?

 

 

Visuals help. I “pray around the country” for family members and unsaved friends, going in different directions for variety’s sake and zooming off to a foreign country on a tangent, then back again.

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I pray when I walk Angie the dog or when I’m driving. I’ve given myself permission not to finish in one sitting.

I’ve tried a schedule with a different focus on each day, but I always feel like I’m leaving someone out. Scratch that.

A couple of weeks ago, as part of our Wednesday night study on spiritual warfare, our pastor, Josh Daffern, discussed “Praying on Purpose.”  One of the strategies he described was to pray a word for someone, letter by letter–a sort of mnemonic device. (Hang in there. ACTS never worked for me, either.) His first word was PURPOSE. You can check out the recording of the study to hear how he used it, along with a great story.  I guess this process is somewhat addictive–in a good way–because Josh went on to generate several more words!

I got hooked, too. I couldn’t stop thinking of words. At last, a different focus for people and situations–something to make my routine, often burdensome list fresh and exciting. When a word popped into my head, a prayer was born, letter by letter. It was easy to tuck a quick but meaningful prayer into a stray moment.

Here’s how I used LEADERS to pray for our nation’s leaders.  You might come up with something different:

L-Pray that they will LEAN on God’s wisdom and strength.

E-Pray that they will lead with EXCELLENCE.

A-Pray that they will be ABLE leaders.

D-Pray that they will be DEDICATED to serving God and their constituents.

E-Pray that they will have ENCOURAGERS in their lives.

R-Pray that they will LIVE RIGHT. (Thanks, Pastor Josh, for R.)

S-Pray that they will be SAVED.

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What can you do with THANKS? (See my answers below.)

Before you grab a notebook and pen and go crazy, let me tell you why this has been such a liberating strategy for me:

  • Since I live in a world of words, this process automatically puts me in “pray continually” mode.
  • As I use little bits of time throughout the day to pray, I connect more often with God.
  • I avoid meaningless repetition because I can change the mnemonic when things get stale. I don’t dread a particular category on my list.
  • When I forget what a letter stands for, I’m prompted to think of a different meaning–hence, more variety.
  • If you pray in a group, with a spouse, or with your children, generating words to pray would be an engaging activity. You could even use a person’s name as a springboard for prayer.

No, my prayers haven’t become one giant acrostic, but this strategy has answered a need in my life. I hope you’ll try it, too.

It’s okay to enjoy prayer.

Let me know how it works for you!

Here’s what I did with THANKS:

T-TANGIBLE blessings; H-HEAVENLY blessings; A-ADVANTAGES; N-NATURE and creation;

K-KINSHIP with Jesus; S-SALVATION.

 

 

The Worst Summer Ever

Hot and rainy, this summer doesn’t even begin to register on the scale of bad summers. Nothing can top that awful summer when I wasn’t allowed to check any books out of the library. Not. One. Single. Book.

Since I’m a writer of fiction, allow me to fudge on the details a bit. I probably served my sentence in the summer, when time crawled for this non-athletic introvert. We’ll say it’s the summer before fifth grade. Perfect. That’s the same summer Mother made me memorize the multiplication tables the weekend before school began. Let’s make it the day before school began. Oh, unhappy Labor Day, stuck in the bedroom until 9×9 always came out 81!

In the olden days, when this tale occurs, the only other source of books besides the library was a bookstore! When you find out what my literary crime was, you won’t even bother asking if my mother let me go to the bookstore.

What was my crime? Too many overdue library books and a fine that broke my piano-teacher mother’s budget. We’ll say  $3.65! Gasp! In the interest of authenticity I double-checked my estimate. After all, I’m no Dr. Evil, holding the world hostage for a million dollar ransom. Okay, Google. What would $3.65 be in today’s economy? $29.20? (http://www.in2013dollars.com/1965-dollars-in-2018?amount=3.65) Not bad for someone who learned her multiplication tables so late in life!

So now you know the scandalous reason I was banned from going to the library.

What’s a suffering bookworm to do after she rereads her meager personal book collection? Write some stories of her own? Of course.

And now for the true confessions. I’ve always loved to write as much as I loved to read. My mother and my teachers were generous in their encouragement of my writing. In fifth grade, with the times tables under my belt, I wrote and starred in the class American history play, Ghosts! Ghosts! Ghosts! In junior high, I wrote a two-book YA series, Everyday Escapades. (If I become famous, no one will find it.) In my thirties, I tried my hand at freelance writing and had a handful of articles and poems published.

I wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

Fast forward into the present. I’ve done some more living, losing and missing the mark. Thankfully, God has kept a strong grip on me through all the ups and downs. Fiction helps me share what He’s taught me. My characters are women and men confronting challenges in their lives–people like us. I invite you to let them entertain you and encourage you.

Root for the heroine or the villain–it doesn’t matter.

Anybody can grow…in grace.