To Retain the Joy, Revel in the Grace

Lately, I’m finding myself fielding an increasing number of questions on the subject of writing. Most are reasonable inquiries on contacting an agent and finding a publisher. And then the others, those who want to know how quickly they can expect to make the big bucks. I consider these humor relief. This writer has been in the business for over a decade now and the only big bucks I’ve seen during that time period were sporting a rack and four legs.  booksblogBig checks are for big dogs. You can think of me as junior varsity. Did you know an author can even crack the NYT’s Best Seller list without seeing a large monetary windfall? Again, that’s on the authority of my author friend as I’ve yet to crack that code. However, if you’re now duly impressed with my literary accomplishments, I shall proceed with today’s announcement. I’m considering hosting my first ATS Writing and Publishing Workshop this summer to pass on everything I know about the industry. (It shouldn’t take long.)

All jokes aside, I do want to pay it forward but I’ll be taking a limited number of applicants, so please contact me through All Things Southern if you’re interested in joining us. Among other topics, I intend to explain why writing can be easier before you learn how. Confused? You’ll have to show up to hear me unpack that bit of wisdom. I want to use my closing thoughts to consider how applicable that thought can be to our spiritual journey.

When we first come to faith, discovering we can be set right with God, forever, through the atoning work of Jesus mesmerizes us with its simplicity. Fully accepted, we apply ourselves to learning more about God. But caution friend, if we substitute the study of God for the friendship of God, we’ll soon find it was easier to walk with Jesus before we learned how! The good news? It doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to fall into the pit of religion. To retain the joy, revel in the grace. It really is that simple.

Avert Your Gaze and Look Away to Jesus

The beautiful young Hispanic boy behind the expressive dark brown eyes and gentle smile holds a special place in many hearts, including mine. His name is Landon, he’s twelve years old, and he’s my godson.

When Landon was five years old, he was diagnosed with Asperger, a highly functioning form of autism. He also deals with Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder is characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors that a person feels compelled to perform. Landon’s OCD can frustrate the most routine everyday activities, like hand-washing.

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Landon doesn’t mind washing his hands. It’s stopping that gives him trouble. Landon’s tendency has been to wash and keep on washing long, held captive at the faucet by his OCD and unable to move on even if intellectually he realizes that his hands are sufficiently clean. And yet, a few days ago, his mother was telling me that together she and Landon have figured out an answer for the endless hand-washing. These days, when Landon can’t break away from this task, he calls for his mother. With Vicki at his side, Landon is able to look away from the water and allow his mother to turn off the faucet and dry his hands.

I introduce you to our sweet Landon today because his story compels me to share my own personal story of repetitive cleansing. In the past, I’ve suffered from what I’ll call religious washing. Many a time I’ve set out to seek God’s face only to become entangled instead in my own efforts to cleanse myself up enough, present myself sincere enough, to merit room at His throne. The temptation is especially strong if the heavens feel like brass and God feels far away. Oh, sure, theologically, I know I can’t ever wash myself clean, but I can still fall prey to trying.

Today I’m incredibly grateful for Father God teaching me that, much as Landon calls for his mother, my victory from religious washing is only found in calling out for Jesus and looking away from me. As John said, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.” I John 1:7.

Consider me your witness, to discover the joy of being fully accepted and forever welcome at God’s throne, major on the finished work of Christ.

Baby Selfies, Belfies, and What in the World?

I love finding baby selfies on my iPhone, images of plump little lips belonging to wee ones who’ve managed to turn a camera phone on themselves long enough to capture partial glimpses of their own sweet faces. Oh, yes, those please! I have one of Weston the Wonder Boy from Easter 2015 stored on my phone right now that could melt butter.

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Grandkids aside, however, today I want to talk about the big people pouty lips and smiling selfies streaming endlessly on our social media walls. Please know that I am not venturing into this topic lightly. Some of my most favorite people in all the world post selfies now and again, so this is me proceeding respectfully and very carefully.

Are we good? Okay, consider this. Somewhere around 93 million selfies are posted daily. The numbers differ according to who’s counting and what platforms are being included, and Lord have mercy on my soul, that’s not even counting the belfies (if you don’t know what a belfie is, count your blessings and ignore that reference). Still, by anyone’s accounting, that’s a whole lot of duck lips. Why, these days we can even buy selfie poles to help extend our cameras for better self-portraits. It all begs a question.

What in the world?

The group shot snagged selfie style because everyone wants to be in the picture is one thing, as is the special event selfie, and the occasional selfie itself. I’m talking about the need to consistently and repetitively pose alone and share it with the world.

What are we to make of this?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, could it be we’re looking at mankind’s incessant need to be seen, noticed, and/or acknowledged? I think so. And yet, the fullest grandest life is found, not in being acknowledged, but in acknowledging and beholding Jesus, meeting place between God and man.

As followers of this Jesus, we’ve been called to die to self, not to promote it but my experience has been that self has a thousand lives. Amen? I don’t claim to have all the answers but I do have an idea. The next time we’re tempted to broadcast our own face, let’s stop and seek His. If ever something needed to go viral, we’re looking at it.

#SeekHisFace could change the world.

Hugs, Shellie

Oh, How He Loves Us. Oh!

In my first book, “Lessons Learned on Bull Run Road”, I wrote about my summer love affair with the bookmobile from the East Carroll Parish Library. I couldn’t find an image of that old vehicle but it looked a whole lot like this.

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For a little booklover at the end of a dirt road, miles from a public library, that bus of books lumbering down our country road looked like a traveling amusement park. Granted, I did have a problem with the bookmobile’s rule of six books per child, but I soon found a way around that, too. I’d do chores for my sisters in exchange for their book count, since they weren’t all fired up about reading, anyway. Score!

Picture mini me headed back up the drive with my mother lode, eighteen books. Life was good.

Fast forward with me, if you will. It appears my little radio talk show, ATS LIVE has garnered the attention of book publicists everywhere as they are sending me books by the boatload. Please hear me, I don’t think this is because I’m setting the world on fire with my Monday evening talk show as much as it is about the extreme volume of books out there and the need for today’s author to get in front of eyes and ears. Whatever the reason, practically every single work day, a big brown truck lumbers down my long driveway and a sweet fellow gets out and hands me books. Free books. Do you see the pattern? I didn’t. Not for the longest anyway.

And then, one day, I was walking back inside with a stack of freshly delivered books when literally out of the blue two words fell into my heart. “You’re welcome.” Just that quickly, the scene around me faded and I was rooted to the spot, thinking about that mini me longing for books and this grown-up me awash in ’em.

I share this story, dear listener, to celebrate the incredible intimacy of our Heavenly Father who sees the end from the beginning. I’m not His favorite. You are. And you, and you, and you. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but would have everlasting life.” John 3:16

He knows us, one and all. He knows what makes us tick and what ticks us off– and He loves us, everyone. Oh, how He loves us. Oh.

Hugs, Shellie

On Being Works in Progress

Heads up all you do-it-yourselfers and HGTV fans. Before y’all commit to any size home remodeling project it would behoove you to refresh yourselves on the three stages of any home improvement plan: Let’s do it, why are we doing it, and, we did it!

My man and I have just finished making over our master bathroom, so this is really fresh experience speaking. For a while it seemed we might never get out of stage two. It was hard enough to remember why we were doing it when mortar dust started blanketing everything in sight, despite the sheets of plastic that were supposed to contain it to one room, but our enthusiasm took a direct hit the day the water pipe was accidentally busted. Water plus mortar equals mud.

To make it ever more fun, it happened that I was also meeting myself coming and going to various speaking engagements during those long weeks of remodeling. Beloved Hubby, and our contractor, who had now become one of the family, were asking me questions over the phone that were way above my pay grade. But, that’s ok. I may have asked Mr. Contractor his opinion a couple times during it all, too. “Hey Ronnie, should I wear the black boots or the brown?”

Glory hallelujah, stage three finally arrived. We did it! Stage two may have been ugly, but when we look at it now we are very pleased with what we see.

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As believers, you and I are kind of like stage two. We’re works in progress, amen? What astounds me is knowing that even as Jesus is completing the good work He has begun in us, His Father and ours is already pleased with what He sees in us, and it’s all because of Jesus. I know. It’s crazy good, but the amazing truth is that God looks upon us with pleasure because He sees the finished work of Christ. Hear the two of them now, surveying the work of the Cross and announcing with joy, “We did it!”

Grace to Behave

When we were growing up on the end of Bull Run Road, my sisters and I spent many a Saturday accompanying Mama to Tallulah, LA to buy groceries and supplies for the coming week, mostly against our will. We would’ve preferred running hog wild in the fields that surrounded our house or playing Chase Don’t Touch the Ground on the farm equipment under Papa’s shed. We considered splitting precious daylight hours between the A&P and TG&Y and then traveling home again to unload and put away the supplies to be a form of torture.

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Our lack of enthusiasm probably contributed to Mama’s habit of making sure we didn’t leave home without hearing her favorite warning, “I expect you girls to behave today.”

I suppose it was a reasonable expectation, given the continuing education course Mama was putting us through on the many things little ladies did and did not do. We understood full well that we should behave, and what it meant to behave, but it wasn’t unusual for us to run out of resolve way before Mama ran out of errands.

That childhood memory makes me smile, but it also gives me cause to celebrate Father God’s marvelous provision for you and I in Christ Jesus. Color me exceedingly grateful that God doesn’t begin His work in us as believers by telling us to behave. The law did a stellar good job of proving that we don’t know how, which came as no surprise to God. In fact, according to the Apostle Paul, the law came for that very reason– to teach us how desperately needy we are and to prepare us for the saving work of Christ.

On this side of the cross, God asks us to believe and trust in Jesus so we can behave– through the power of His Holy Spirit, the Hope of Glory, living through us. And then he asks us to keep our eyes on Jesus and keep believing so that we can keep on behaving. Or, in the words of that same great Apostle, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6.14

Our blessed takeaway? Through His amazing grace, Father God has made it so that He can say, “I expect you to behave today,” and you and I are equipped to comply. Somebody needs to say Hallelujah!

Hugs, Shellie

 

The Tale of Mrs. Forgetful and Doctor Do Right

I have a poor track record where taking medicine is concerned. It’s a personal failing that should in no way be laid at the feet of the medical community. Many a good doctor has tried to reform me, bless their collective hearts, with little success. Before we go any further, let it be noted that there have been at least two exceptions to this rule. That would be Jessica and Phillip. My medical misses did not apply to my offspring.

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Back in the day, when it came time to administer meds to my kids, Mrs. Forgetful here turned into Doctor Do Right, seeing to it that they got every dose, capsule, or vitamin prescribed. Indeed, the issue has always been one of me doctoring me. I know I should take the full round of prescribed antibiotics lest I invite a relapse, and I always intend to comply, but once I start seeing improvements I’m prone to tapering off on the dosage.

Do you think my diligence in doling out my kids’ prescriptions leaves me without excuse in my own hit and miss habit? I do, but I’m willing to bring it up anyway because I see a teachable moment for all of us who have a heart to follow Christ. As believers, we can fall victim to a similar mentality. I’ll explain.

We’ll run to Jesus like the sin-sick folks we are, filling our minds with His loving promises because they fall like balm on our aching souls. Only, once we start “doing better” (for lack of a better description), we tend to taper off, unintentionally perhaps, unconsciously maybe, but the consequences are the same. Slowly, our thoughts turn less and less to Christ and more and more to the daily demands of what we call the real world. Can you say relapse? Our greatest strength lies in knowing that we need Jesus today as much as we needed Him yesterday. We have no stores of grace in us. Our life is in Him. In Him alone are we whole.

The strongest believers become increasingly more dependent on Jesus, not less.

Hugs, Shellie

Cutting Both Ways

This past Christmas our number one son and his wife gave the beloved hubby and I a set of very nice kitchen knives, extremely sharp knives. The jokers around here entertained themselves discussing the wisdom of putting such knives in the hands of someone as easily distracted as yours truly. I couldn’t help but laugh at their routine, even if it came at my own expense.

If we were a betting family, and we aren’t, I have no doubt that they would’ve also laid down some friendly wagers as to how long it might be before I cut myself. And you know what bothers me the most about that, right? Some clown would’ve collected already. Dad gummit.

I tried to be careful. I took my very healthy fear of those sharp new knives and I tried to avoid losing a finger. I made it about a week before the first accident. It wasn’t bad, and I didn’t sacrifice a digit, but blood was let and bandages were required.

Those super sharp knives remind me of some familiar words from Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

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Sharper than any two edged sword, if we present ourselves before God’s Word, the truth found there can cut away the dead tissue of our hearts to reveal brand new pink flesh that beats for Him and pulses with the promise of eternal life. However, the same razor sharp Word will one day lay every heart open and bare before the eyes of a Holy God, bringing judgment to those who chose not to heed it. Anyone expecting to out maneuver this sharp two-edged Sword on that day will find they’ve made a costly mistake, and there will be no room for repentance.

Come friend. If we’ll cultivate a healthy fear of God’s Word, we can enjoy the unsurpassed pleasure of the Author’s company in this life, as well as the next.

Show Up at the Starting Line

Many of y’all have been faithful to listen to these morning segments of mine for years and I’m so grateful for y’all tuning in! But, for the next few minutes, I’d like to talk to you about my LIVE talk show? You can find show details at allthingssouthern.com/connect.

I’m having fun with the live show… now. Who wouldn’t have fun interviewing Kori Robertson and her mom, Chrys Howard, anyway? These two lovelies just released “Duck Commander Devotions for Kids“. I highly recommend it!

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However, it must be said. The earlier shows were painful. I’m not being self-deprecating when I say it was bad radio. I’d come away mortified every time I took to the airwaves. “It wasn’t that bad,” my darling hubby and true-blue supporter would say. “Really?” I’d argue. “Well, if I wasn’t hosting it, I wouldn’t listen!”

In my naiveté I had gone into live radio with the false assumption that my years of experience doing taped segments for radio and TV would give me a decent head start. I’m sorry. Please excuse the background noise. That’d be the laughter of all those who’ve gone before me, the brave men and women who work in live radio. For the record, I did attempt to get some advice from a few of those pros before I began. The problem is everyone seems to forget how they found their way. I’ve decided it’s a lot like childbirth. Once it’s over, you know you did it, you’re just not sure how.

A lot of things in life are like that, I suppose, and most of what I’ve learned the hard way is best left in the recesses of my slightly twisted head. However, there are other valuable life lessons I wish I could give you— like the joy I’ve found in prayer. It didn’t come easy, either. There were countless days when I’d nod off trying to pray and other times when I couldn’t help wondering if I was putting the Almighty Himself to sleep. But the payoff, friends, has literally been life changing. If you want to know Him, start by showing up and don’t quit until you can say with Song of Solomon 6:3, “I am His and He is mine.”

Who knows? Perhaps you’ll be better than I am at showing others the way.

Hugs,
Shellie

Baby Steps

Weston’s walking! Watching grandchild number five loose his vise grip on one parent’s fingers long enough to venture towards the other is both heartwarming and bittersweet for this Keggie.

Granted, he’s still pretty shaky, but baby steps, y’all. A few days ago, Weston would drop to his knees every time we stood him on his feet. Weston clearly considered crawling to be a sure mode of transport while walking was a scarier proposition. He just wasn’t ready to risk it.

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I saw myself in Weston’s hesitancy.

There have been times when I’ve sensed God calling me to walk into a deeper level of maturity with Him and the unknown has made me want to cling to the familiar. I’ll give you an example, but first, some back story.

I spent some time dreaming with God in the weeks before the New Year. Afterwards, I lay my requests for 2015 before Him. One of them was my desire to hear Him more clearly. Another was my desire to give more this year than I ever have before, more of my money, more of my time, more of my heart, more of me.

Yesterday, the Lord called on me in both areas. I’ll go light on details, to protect the dear person’s privacy should he happen upon this, but I’ll tell you it was out of my comfort zone. I wanted to move on what I thought God was asking, but not moving sure felt more comfortable. And get this, it also felt more reasonable– at least to my human way of thinking.

Do you see it now? Those of us who love sweet Weston wanted him to learn to walk, despite his apprehension, because we know it’s a natural stage of his development and we know he’d be limited if he insisted on crawling forever. God wants something similar for us, that we would move in the direction of His voice and trust the results to Him.

So, that’s what I did. Am I convinced I heard Him clearly and did it exactly as I should? Heavens no. Baby steps, y’all. Baby steps…

The Stupid Virus Has an Antidote!

Several weeks ago, I brought y’all some interesting news that confirmed something I’ve long suspected: Stupid is contagious. At least these were the findings being released from John Hopkins Medical School and the University of Nebraska whose scientists claimed to have discovered a virus that makes people stupid. I had a lot of fun opining on who I thought should cover their mouths when they coughed, as well as the need for all of us to band together and race for the cure.

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Today, I’m back with an update on that virus and this time it’s from an unquestionably reliable source. Proverbs 15:7 tells us, “The lips of the wise spread knowledge, not so the heart of fools.” Did you hear that? Stupid people may be contagious, but wise people carry the antidote! And for the record, the Bible is clear that wisdom begins with the fear of God and grows through the pursuit of Him. That means these wise ones would be believers and believers make up the body of Christ.

Let me tell you why that’s important. There is much to be learned in studying our physical bodies and our spiritual lives sides by side. God has written evidence of Himself all around us, and it’s waiting to be discovered and applied. Consider the healthy cells of our physical bodies. When a virus attacks, these healthy cells join together to defend the body and promote healing. For those who will see it, that’s a beautiful picture of the body of Christ joining together and presenting a unified front against the spiritual onslaught of the enemy.

Friend, if you’re a believer who thinks you can go it alone, that you don’t need to be part of a church body, I want to respectfully warn you to rethink that position for you are dangerously deceived. I pray you’ll unite with a body of believers and protect yourselves against the stupid virus! I want to see you prosper, body, soul, and spirit.

Hugs, Shellie

Exhale and breathe in 2015 with Jesus

Exhale, ye merry gentlemen and gentlewomen, by the time you read these words of mine the lovely chaos of Christmas will have come and gone. None of us can know what the next day will bring, but if the established order of Christmases past prevails, I can project a few things with a degree of certainty. There’s a solid good chance my man will be on a deer stand and I’ll be attempting to recover some semblance of order here in the old homestead after the departure of our grown kids and their precious wee ones. That would be five grands under the age of six and let me tell you, those little people know how to rock around a Christmas tree!

I also feel confident projecting a couple of other things that will be happening. One, I’ll have my face on because Mama trained me to put it on first thing every morning. If you weren’t raised by a Southern Mama you might be confused by that phrasing, but southern women will know that I’m talking about having my makeup on, even if it’s just light mascara and lipstick. I don’t like to start the day without it.

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I can also tell you that, if at all possible, I’ll have found a quiet block of time to train my eyes on God. Having my face on before I start the day is big to this southern belle, but the Spirit of God has taught me that seeking Him first thing every morning is a more precious, more valuable habit, and it’s of far greater consequence for me and for those around me.

If you don’t have this practice, my friend, 2015 looms as an empty slate offering fresh opportunities to embark upon a life-saving, life-transforming relationship with God through the sweet gift of His son Jesus. Blessed be our amazing Savior, Immanuel, God with us. Won’t you join me?

Let’s be ill content to start a day without having our face turned towards Him.