Mercy and Grace in the Middle {When Life is Blessed}

Tonight, I had one of those incredible moments when you realize you are "living a dream you have not earned and do not deserve"...and with that, came the awareness to take joy in it.

And to take a picture.

For now, The Preacher and I are empty nesters. I say "for now" because I have learned to not count chickens 'till they not only hatch, but fly the coop. Ours have flown the coop - and seemingly for good, this time. We have no plans on anyone coming back home. Nevertheless, I crow about nothing anymore, because with young chickens, nothing is certain except them changing their plans.

Because our oldest children were honeymoon twins, I have dreamed about what my empty nest would be like since the first year of marriage! We only ever had about five weeks without the awareness that we were not alone. I have missed those five weeks for 26 years, I won't lie. We would do it no differently, even knowing what we know (how hard that first year was), but 26 years worth of only stolen moments alone, in 26 years of marriage, equals a certain eagerness to actually have our house to ourselves.

We have always speculated what life would be like when it was "just us again". And we were somehow wise enough to dream about it, and to take certain steps very early in our marriage, spiritually and relationally, to ensure that the season of our empty nest is a sweet season.

We were weird like that - a desire to run well and to lead was hard-wired into our relationship.

And so, we all grew up together, my Preacher and I and our kids, and he and I imagined what life would be like...and should be like...when it was "just us again".

Tonight, I realized my life had indeed become all I had imagined and hoped for, as the smell of fresh coffee filled my living room.

I took a picture of the exact moment.

The Preacher made me coffee tonight. He brought it to me in our living room, and sat down to read to me out of the book of Romans.

{Not even lying}

It was the empty-nester-dreams of my youth come to life, complete with the rhythmic song of cicadas outside the window. The only thing that hadn't been part of my dream, was the ipad from which he was reading - it had not yet been invented, since Steve Jobs was probably then using a TRS-80.

There we were..."just us". So this is that which had been spoken by the prophet called "my dreams". This is what it was like.

And I was overwhelmed by the goodness of God, as the sun sunk low through the panes of my golden windows.

Grace and Peace,
Sheila Atchley

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Chapter IV, In Which Sheila Repeats Herself {Stillness is Over-rated}

Please enjoy a repeat post from the archives...I read this today, and laughed out loud.  I must've been wearing my sassy pants on this day...

So much being written these days about "quiet stillness" and "slowing down" and "taking time to just be". I've been the source of some of it in recent months and years! How boring. How overdone. And here I go ("again", my grumpy critics would say - all critics are grumpy)

Fine. Here I go again...contradicting my own self. I am so comfortable with that.

First of all, life is full of paradox and replete with contradiction. I can have a good day and a bad day, all in the same day! I want to live a simplified-sort of life, yet I want to accomplish a thousand worthy goals. I can love someone and sometimes not like them. The only thing I can't do is care and not care enough to take responsibility, both at the same time. But I hear that some folks manage to do it. If that is you, please tell me your secret. Because when I don't take responsibility, I would have to admit that it is because I don't care.

But in general, I am on good terms with contradiction. I understand it. Rainbows cannot exist without two seeming opposites (sun, rain) coming together.

Think of me as the personification of a rainbow. I am colorful. I am a study in contrasts. Get over it. I don't care, and therefore refuse to be responsible. It's my blog. If it bothers you, go read someone boringly bored-in on one perspective. Go read the stilted paragraphs of an intellectual knot-on-a-log, who just happens to be really trying hard to think pretty, happy thoughts, to compensate for being innately grumpy about everyone else's salvation. Go read an Arminian.

Me? I happen to own it all! (see blog post entitled "I Own That") Contradiction, contrast, paradox, all belongs to me, and it all fills me with unjaded - and some tell me contagious - delight.

So. I'm completely worn out, and it is wonderful. My life is anything BUT quiet and sweet and still-ly serene, and that's something to be jealous of.  Be very, very jealous.  Because you can.  And you should be.  Not really.

I've learned that all that "simple, quiet" stuff is all so much bull, anyway. Two types of people carry on about being quiet and serene, as if it were the only thing and better than being beautiful and busy: people who are bored with too much time on their hands, or people who have not yet mastered the art of inner stillness, regardless of outer circumstances.

No one has the authority to talk to you about the stillness of God unless they are currently in the middle of the busiest, most complicated season of their life. No one has the authority to talk to you about scheduling unless they don't have the time to talk to you about scheduling, but they fit it into their schedule anyway. No one has the authority to talk to you about joy unless they are always smiling, after having to fight for their joy. No one has the authority to talk to you about mending fences unless they have mended most of theirs, and no one has the authority to talk to you about relationships unless they are busy loving a whole lot of people.

No one has the authority to talk to you about authority unless they themselves are under authority.

Yeah - Biblical logic trumps everything.

I've been too busy on one side, and I've been too still on the other side. Being "too busy" is better.  Finding inner stillness, no matter what my schedule looks like, is the best of all.

See...being too still makes you feel exhausted. Being too busy makes you feel exhausted, but for all the right reasons. And that kind of exhaustion is both appropriate and curable. All it takes to cure that kind of fatigue is a bath and a nap.

I find myself awakening early in this season of my life, feeling rested and ready most days. I typically lay in bed for awhile longer, savoring the start of a new day, and that is about all the "quiet time" I ever see.

I have recently decided that...honestly, now...I love it. I'm tired, and I'm delighted! I'm worn out from doing the work of tending relationships, and diving into new friendships, sink or swim! I'm tired from the creative outflow of writing, planting, harvesting, helping others, growing, mastering new skills, making new intellectual connections and maintaining all I've studied so far. It takes a whole lot of effort to do what you know!

Next year, I might prattle on about the simple, still life again. If I do, I hope I find a way to make it interesting.

 For now, I'm burning the candle at both ends, and it feels like a party. It is both healthy and desirable to burn the candle at both ends, when you can afford another box of candles anytime you want them. An empty schedule equals an empty life. My daytimer is crammed full of names and events. Such a full life.

Makes me tired, just writing about it.

How You Think of Others Matters {Leadership 101}

Leaders are low drama women, no gossip women, truth telling women, and women who consistently speak positive things about others...especiallywhen others give them a reason to be negative.

The life of a leader is so nourished in the goodness of God, there is no empty vacuum left to fill itself with negativity towards others. Jealousy never springs from a deep sense of well being.

The grace of God, found in the Gospel, imparts such depth of satisfied soul, the thought of jealousy or competition is silly and superfluous. There are many, more lovely ways to spend my happy emotional energy. Your emotional energy has to have unhappiness to feed off of, in order for jealousy to become the tool it needs to be to motivate all that secret competition.

A leader must have a deep sense of well being, rooted in the Gospel. Then, She never feels the need to blow out someone else's candle. In fact, you will often find her lighting the candles of others.

She loves it when others shine...

No other way to reach this honored place, except to become a woman who thinks rightly, and as highly as she honestly can, about each and every person in her life. Those she cannot think highly of, she must yet think of one good and positive thing, and focus on that. Then, in terms of any abundant negative evidence, she simply mustn't speak of the person at all.

Jealous and prone to compete....or secure, with deep, deep well being?

Leader....or not a leader?

The answer to the first question, also answers the second.

Above all, be honest with yourself. The Bible says, "Above all, guard your heart. For out of it, springs the direction of your life." Part of guarding that heart of yours, is knowing what is in it, and whether what is in it belongs there...or needs repenting of.

Are You Looking Forward to Fall? {A New Creatively Made E-Course by Jeanne Oliver}

Are you looking forward to fall yet?  I am...and I am even more looking forward to Jeanne Oliver's (and friends) new e-course, in her Creatively Made Home series..."Home for the Holidays". 

Check it out here.

See you in class!  Please slip a little note in, when you sign up, letting Jeanne know that I sent you!

It Was Her First Birthday {Aidyn Esther}

I will never forget the day when I heard for sure what I knew for certain: that this little being inside my daughter's womb was, for a fact, distinctly female. The ultrasound tech actually "shushed" me.

And I hadn't been shushed for 40 years.

I will never forget the day she was born, all pink baby flesh and dark hair and darting tongue, searching for something yummy to eat. She had the eyes of an old soul - everyone remarked about her eyes. I pulled her to my face, mingling our breaths, as I had done with her momma, and every other baby of mine. I watched her closely, and out of long experience, loosely divined what sort of baby she would be, and of course I was right.

I will never forget the day of her first birthday. That day when The Unseen Divide is passed over, and the early baby-days are left forever behind, as images and bits of too-small clothing and memories too intense to be forgotten. There she was, in all her granddaughter glory, making me achingly proud with her sparkly ways:

This one is destined for church life. She is happiest in a crowd...completely at home in an atmosphere of worship. When she was days old, I bought her a tiny stuffed baby chick, dressed in a pink skirt, holding a tiny cloth cross, with a yellow fluff of fuzz on the top of its head. Embroidered on it, the words "Church Chick".

Had you seen her light up when she came into the sanctuary yesterday morning, you would know that I had a prescient moment when I snatched up Church Chick for this baby girl. She has already spent more of her time with the body of Christ than without them.

She and her momma are my female legacy. Neither can avoid or erase the fact that they came from me, and thus will never not love the church. They will feel burdened by her, serve her past the point of human ability, and sometimes wish they could stop loving the church. But love her they always will.

And being well dressed on a Sunday is a non-negotiable, because we are also southern women. We like to be well turned out for church, even if that simply means our flats match our jewelry, and our jeans are the dark wash skinnies.

Oh, how she loves her PopPop...he is "Mr. Incredible" to both of his grandchildren. (Taking note of his shirt...) He calls her his Pumpkin Girl, and she loves to whisper his name in long affection, "poppoppoppop, PopPop, poppoppoppop, pop-pop."

Even as a one-year-old, she managed an appropriate reaction to each gift, making the givers feel certain they had pleased her. Again...Southern Charm at its best.

And finally...her first birthday cake. She knew exactly what to do, and loved every bite of the tiny bit she was given.

Sweet baby girl. I will miss all this, your very first year of life.

But we will share in many more. You are loved beyond belief, and your Mimi is so proud of you. I love having you just two minutes away from my front door...scooping you up for ice cream over the weekend was the highlight of my Saturday.

Others can be about whatever it is they are about...but when all a woman has to show for her life are the things, animal-vegetable-mineral, that her money can buy (or the things her husband's money can buy) she may be rich, but she has no wealth.

True wealth is found in relationships. Biblical wealth is in the generations all relating to one another in love.

I have not earned it, and do not deserve it, but I am wealthy. It has been by Grace Alone that I have this wealth.

The Lord hath been mindful of us. He hath blessed us. He will bless the house of Israel, He will bless the house of His spiritual leaders. ("house of Aaron")

He will bless those who love what He loves ("fear Him") both small and great.

We are the blessed of The Lord!

Grace and Peace,

Sheila Atchley

All blog content is the property of the writer, including all "In the Middle" intellectual and visual art property...

Speaking Next Week {Conference}

Next week, I will be speaking here:

Ridgecrest Conference Center, in North Carolina.

I will be speaking to the women on Building Community, during the Master Builders National Conference - Master Builders being the network of churches all over the nation (and the world) that we are part of. I covet your prayers as I prepare...and your grace. If I blog a little less often over the next week or so, you know why.

Grace and Peace,

Sheila Atchley

All blog content is the property of the writer, including all "In the Middle" intellectual and visual art property...