The Rocking Chair Experiment

rocking chair

Someone challenged me recently to “stop, drop and roll” every morning when I get out of bed.  They were referring to living a life of prayer, whereby we should stop as soon as we rise in the morning, drop to our knees on the floor, roll over to face the bed and begin our day with prayer to God before doing anything else.

I decided to give this a try.  However, I am not much of a morning person.  The first few times, my knees popped and cracked as I immediately fell out of the bed and onto the floor.  I rolled over to face the bed, put my head down… and fell back asleep.  It seemed like a great idea but was not working too well for me.  Then I noticed the rocking chair just a few feet away from my bed.

This was the rocking chair I once used to rock my son to sleep at night, from the time he was born until he was old enough to crawl out of my lap.  Every night for those first few years, I would rock my son back and forth in that chair, singing to him as he fell asleep.  It was my favorite part of the day.  I always sang “Amazing Grace” to him, and the words and melody made me very happy.  I believe God was listening and smiling down on both of us, and it was a very special time in my life.

My son is way beyond the rocking chair these days.  Sometimes I would glance over at that rocking chair, not really knowing what to do with it.  It seemed empty.  But now I had a new idea.  I would modify the “stop, drop and roll” to be “stop, sit and rock” instead.  Now each morning when I wake up, I walk a few steps and sit down in the rocking chair to pray, before I go any further.  “God, I thank you for giving me this new day,” and then I pray for those things most urgently on my mind that day.  It only takes a few minutes, but it orients me in the right direction before I have a chance for anything else to occupy my mind.  The rocking chair is a sign of comfort for me, and holds good memories of a special time when I felt very close to God.  Now when I sit in the chair each morning, it feels like God is wrapping His arms around me.

But I will see Your face in righteousness;
When I awake, I will be satisfied with Your presence.
Psalm 17:15

The experiment worked.  It is similar to setting your GPS for the day or looking at a compass.  It will change the direction of your life.  After trying it for awhile each morning, I decided to also add it to the end of my day.  Before climbing into bed, I stop once more by the rocking chair to sit for a minute, thanking God for the day and for bringing us home safely.

I encourage you to try it too.  Find your own thing, whatever works for you, but do it first thing in the morning – stop and pray.  And during the day when things come up – stop and pray now!  Life a life of prayer.

Why would Jesus be nailed to the cross for our sins and then disregard our prayers?
– Max Lucado

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Raised on catfish from the Mississippi Delta

Mississippi-RiverI sat in my favorite seaside restaurant enjoying a platter of fried catfish and hush puppies.  The food was delicious but I had to hold back the tears as my husband and I adjusted to a “table for two” instead of a “table for three”, now that our son was away in college.  I thought I would burst out crying when the hostess asked me, “How many for dinner?”  I wanted to stop and tell her all about my wonderful son who used to come with us.  I can still feel my husband rolling his eyes behind me.

As I enjoyed the food in the unusual quietness of our table, I suddenly remembered why I always liked to order the catfish.  It was a comforting image from my own childhood.  My grandparents had a riverhouse on the Mississippi River, and each summer we would go there when we were young.  The boys went fishing in the early morning, and by the evening my grandmother would fry up a large batch of catfish – or chicken if the catch wasn’t too good that day.  The adults would gather ’round the back porch cleaning the fish and swapping stories, while I was more happy to meander along the dirt roads or sit on the dock watching the sunset and dangling my toes in the water.  It is in those very tangible memories from my childhood that I still hold to today.  It guides me home like a beacon.  Whether it is the warm smells of a kitchen, a favorite childhood dog, or spending lazy days in a tree house, we are all brought back home in some way to our childhoods.  It never truly leaves us.

Proverbs 22:6 ~ Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

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Go, Tell It On The Mountain!

little churchOne of my favorite childhood memories is sitting on the floor listening to this Christmas album on the record player.  I would hear the children’s happy voices singing and the friendly man’s voice announcing each song, and I wondered what it was like to be inside that warm and cozy church singing along with them.  For many hours, I would listen and gaze into the windows of that cardboard church, trying to catch the nuances of their laughter and songs.

We all have that yearning – to be loved, to be happy, to know that there is more.  On Christmas day, when all the shopping and baking are finished and the stores are closed, the world stops and we remember this very important day.  It is the day that changed the world forever.  It is the day that was promised and prophesied from the time of Adam and Eve.  It is the day when a host of angels descended from heaven and announced it to the world.  Wise men traveled from far distances to bring gifts.  King Harod tried to kill it.  But from this one day forward, hope is available to every person in the form of a Savior.  It is this day, born from very humble beginnings that God came down to earth.

For those that believe and put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, we will all meet someday in heaven, and I’m sure we will have some wonderful stories to share!  For now, let us go and tell everyone about what is inside that wonderful little church!

Go, Tell It On The Mountain.

Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

The shepherds feared and trembled
When lo! above the earth
Rang out the angel chorus
That hailed our Savior’s birth:
Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

Down in a lowly manger
Our humble Christ was born
And God sent us salvation,
That blessed Christmas morn:
Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

A light in the dark

Christmas light

It’s been a little disheartening this Christmas season to not see as many decorations and lights as I used to.  The stores seem barren of decorations, wreaths and Christmas nostalgia.  (Really, Publix and Target, your sales would increase with a little more Christmas cheer!  The paper decorations at the end of the store aisles is just being lazy.) 

I drove through lovely neighborhoods on the way to parties and gatherings this year, and I only saw a sparse scattering of Christmas lights.  I remember when I used to make a special trip to some of these neighborhoods just to see their lights.  I know the recent years of economic downturn haven’t helped, but this is the time we should be clinging to our faith even more.  In prosperous times, faith is often overlooked or perceived as not needed, or our motives are done for the wrong reasons.  As I drove through the mostly darkened streets past the barely decorated stores, it felt as though everyone had forgotten about Christmas.  Then I saw one house in the distance, beautifully lit with blue and white lights all over the yard.  It was a spectacular site, not designer decorated but handled with much care and love.  Its lights shown even more brightly in contrast to all the dark houses surrounding it.  It represented hope, bringing light to the darkness.  So let’s all spread a little cheer and hope this season – an extra bow on the mailbox or a string of lights in the window.  It doesn’t have to cost much, but we can outshine the darkness, and it will make you feel good.

“You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14-16

Here is an article I read on “Saint Nicholas, A Life Lived for God’s Service”, from Christian Community Magazine, Nov/Dec 2014.  It is well-worth the read this Christmas season, as it reminds us of what one person can do to bring light to an otherwise dark world.
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St_Nicholas

The man behind today’s legendary character is quite different than the world gives credit for.  The real St. Nicholas was a devout Christian who lived simply.  Many stories of “Nicholas” are based on legend, however there are enough historical resources that provide facts to frame significant details.  The Greek Orthodox Church provides a great deal of history.

Nicholas was born in 280 AD in the town of Patara, an ancient seaport, located in the region of Lycia, Asia Minor, which is present day Turkey.  He was born to an elderly Greek and wealthy Christian couple who were unable to have children.  It is taught that they prayed similar to that of Abraham and Sarah for a child.  They considered this child a direct gift from God with a special calling to help people.  They named him Nicholas which meant in Greek ‘victory or hero of the people.’

As he grew, he became known for his virtue and became strong in the scriptures, predominately in the areas of fasting, abstinence and temperance.  He entered the nearby monastery of Sion where he trained and was ordained into the ministry.  He later became the Bishop of Patara, when his uncle, also named Nicholas and the current bishop, gave up his position to journey to the Holy Land.

Nicholas’ parents died of a severe plague, most likely from the smallpox outbreak of the “Crisis of the Third Century (235-284).”  His parent’s death left Nicholas a very wealthy man.  He was quite generous and used his inheritance to give to and feed the poor and needy, as well as paying “ransoms” for those who were taken captive by money lenders whom they could not repay.

This initial story of generosity, whether historical or fictional, is what leads this Nicholas into the gift-giving figure our Christmas is based on.  In fact, several of our customs today can be found in his story.

There was a nobleman with three grown daughters who fell into financial collapse and became bankrupt.  His creditors took his property leaving him penniless.  The father’s hope was to marry off his daughters quickly before the creditors took them as their payment for his financial losses, thereby saving the girls from a life of slavery or prostitution.  However, he did not have the money for their dowries which was necessary for them to legally marry.

Nicholas heard of this nobleman’s plight, so one night after dark, he threw a bag of gold coins through an open window for the eldest daughter’s dowry.  News traveled fast throughout the town and she was  quickly married.

The creditors were ruthless and came after the nobleman persistently.  Nicholas repeated this action of kindness with another anonymous bag of gold coins through the windows so the next daughter would have a dowry to be able to marry.  The nobleman prayed earnestly with thanksgiving to the Lord for redeeming his daughters while he asked for yet another miracle.

The third time Nicholas tossed a bag of gold coins through the window, it landed in a stocking that was hanging on the fireplace to dry.  The father ran out to see who was rescuing him and his family, and he caught Nicholas at the window.  Wanting to give God alone the glory for these blessings, Nicholas made the nobleman promise to keep his secret until his death.

Did you also know that Saint Nicholas is the Patron Saint of Pawn Brokers?  The three gold balls in the Pawn Shop windows represent these three bags of gold coins.

There are also stories of Nicholas calming stormy seas, much like Jesus, during his many voyages.  Stories include a time when a sailor fell on the deck and died.  Nicholas prayed over him and his life was restored.  These stories make him the Patron Saint of Sailors.

Nicholas desired a quiet life within the monastery, however the Lord spoke to him.  The Lord said, “Nicholas, here is not the field in which you must bring forth the fruit I expect, but turn back and go into the world and let My name be glorified in you.”  Nicholas later became Bishop of what is today known as the Episcopal church.  He strove to be an example to the believers, in word, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity.  He was humble of spirit and forgiving, shunning all vainglory.

Extreme persecution arose against Christianity during Nicholas’ life by Roman Co-Emperors of the East, Diocletian and Maximian.  In 302 AD, a council at Nicomedia resolved to suppress Christianity throughout the empire and to “tear down the churches by fire.”  Bishops and Deacons were jailed in large numbers.  Atrocious and torturous deeds were performed on the imprisoned clergy in an effort to get them to renounce Christ and embrace idols.  Many were massacred.

In 305 the vicious Emperor Diocletian stepped down from his throne because of intestinal illness, paving the way for Emperors Galerius, Constantine and Licinius to co-rule a split Roman Empire.  In 311, the “Edict of Toleration” was issued by the emperors, which officially ended what was known as the empire’s bloodiest persecution of Christians.

Constantine was the first Roman Emperor who was a Christian.  Details of his conversion are unknown, but it may have been because he was exposed to the faith by his mother, Helena, who was a Christian.  He ordered the persecutions of all Christians to cease.  Christians were freed from jails and dungeons, and allowed to return to their homelands.  Bishop Nicholas went back to his city of Myra where he once again began preaching against idol worship which had become more widespread with the vacuum left by the imprisoning of the Christian leaders.  One of his accomplishments was leading the people to tear down the Temple of Diana in Ephesus, which was known for immoral ceremonies, religious prostitution, and human sacrifice.  This is the same temple written about in Acts 19 that the Apostle Paul confronted.  It had been one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Bishop Nicholas became known as Saint Nicholas as stories of his answered prayers and miracles spread.  He also became the Patron Saint of Children because of healings and supernatural rescues.  It is difficult to determine legitimate facts from legend; however, he had a noteworthy following that had religious and spiritual merit and respect.

Saint Nicholas was invited to and participated in, the First Council of Nicaea in 325.  Emperor Constantine commanded this ecumenical gathering to end Arian heresy which demoted Jesus to “less than” God.  There were 118 church leaders who attended this conference from all over the Roman Empire.  The Three Persons of the Trinity was affirmed and the Nicene Creed was established which continues to be the profession of faith used by many churches and denominations around the world.

Saint Nicholas died on December 6, 343 AD.  The tradition of secret gift giving on the anniversary of his death began when stories of his ministry spread through Turkey, Greece, and the Roman Empire.  His legacy lives on today in many countries with variations of traditions.  There are few men in history more loved and revered today.

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The hardest job

argueI had the hardest job to do this week at work: to apologize.  I can handle any work task I’m given and make impossible deadlines and commitments for my clients, but I find it very hard to say the words beginning with, “I’m sorry for…”

Well, especially when I know I was right and my co-worker was wrong…  She had blamed me for something that I felt was her own fault, and she was being very difficult about it.  As I drove into work the next day, thinking about what had transpired between us the day before, I became full of dread and anxiety.  I wrestled with the thought that I knew I should apologize for getting upset with my co-worker.  But if I do that, I told myself, she will consider it a weakness and will take advantage of me and the situation.  Even my old boss’ words echoed in my head, “Don’t let them walk all over you.”

But God was nudging me differently.  I knew I was wrong for getting mad at her.  In God’s eyes, apologizing is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.  And it sure is hard to do.  I always pray to God daily that He will take care of my work situations according to His plan, but was I willing to do this one thing that He wanted in return?  God is less concerned about our daily work tasks than He is with the state of our hearts.  And pride is one of the biggest problems we have as human beings.  It is #1 on the list of seven things the Lord hates (“a proud look”, Proverbs 6:16-19).  Did I really want to follow God’s Word in this case or did I just like the idea of it in theory?  Sometimes I think we are more comfortable with the thought of religion rather than putting it all into action.

I arrived at work and walked into the conference room where my co-worker was solemnly sitting.  First I tried friendly small-talk with her, smiling and acting like I cared.  Not good enough, my inner voice told me.  So when I had a chance to talk with her by herself, I apologized.  “I’m sorry for getting upset with you yesterday,” I said.  She half-way apologized back and then proceeded to tell me how I was still wrong.  But I felt better anyway, as if a burden had been lifted from my shoulders.  Not only did I receive the immediate internal relief, but God says we will also receive our rewards and praise in heaven.  It is something I must remind myself often, so I do not get too carried away with the false impressions of this world.

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes.           He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.  At that time each will receive their praise from God.  1 Corinthians 4:5

God only requires one thing from us: a change of heart.  Just repeating prayers or performing other religious rituals is not good enough.  A change of heart is a simple thing yet also hard to do.  We all have equal ability to do it any time, without limitations or restrictions, but it requires putting ourselves second and thinking of others first.  That’s not easy with our human nature, but it is the order that God established for the world.  When we begin to reverse that order, things get out of sync very quickly.  And only God knows where a change of heart can lead.

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