Gratitude For Some Things Being Different {30 Days of Gratitude, In the Middle, FOR the Middle}

This post is a reach. I know that. But sickness can make one speak in strange tongues. "30 Days of Gratitude"...yeah. The reading has been most edifying the last couple of days...


Shooting a flare up into the sky tonight. No matter where you are in the world right now, if you see my signal, make your way towards it.

Bring cold medicine. And if you happen to find my voice, bring it with you, if you don't mind.

I've lost it.

My poor Preacher is slowly going crazy, what with the mandatory Vow of Silence in this house. We are going into our 6th day of me not being able to talk. I swear, today the strain is showing on his face. It's like he has aged ten years in one week.
He is relational, big time. Our lives sort of revolve around the spoken word, and our conversations are always rich and easy and done out loud.

Sick. Of. Whispering.

Can't wait for Thanksgiving tomorrow! The family will all be gathering at my daughter Sarah's house tomorrow - adorable granddaughter pictures will be forthcoming. This Thanksgiving year will be different in two - no, three - ways:

My youngest son will be unable to be there for the first time, ever. He will be working. This makes me proud and happy. Truly. He is beginning to make it all on his own! Both he and his brother are working hard and making it with no help from us other than the occasional momma's home cooking.

As it should be. Much, much to be thankful for. We are loving being empty nesters. An empty nest, when accompanied by sweet and full relationships with all fledglings, speaks of a job done right. Nests are supposed to empty. It's good and natural.

Such grace.

The second thing: Hannah, Justin and our monkey will be with Justin's family this year. Again...makes me proud and happy. The McConnells are a fine clan - my daughter married so well.

The third way that everything will be different? If I don't get my voice back very soon, my own special brand of humor will be missing from the event.

What will the family do???

Pray, friends. Pray big.

This simply cannot be allowed to happen.

Do you see that flare in the sky?

Gratitude for Stuff and Things {Ramblings of a Writer Down With the Flu}

So the goal was 30 posts on gratitude, in 30 days.

Then, The Wretched Plague set in. So I need a break from deep thoughts, because my thoughts don't go deep right now. I have no voice, and an elephant is sitting on my chest. My favorite pants have no pockets, and I had no Kleenex until this morning. Just thought I'd share.

But I still feel gratitude, from my messy bun to my desperate-looking toes (sadly in need of a pedicure. Self-care is not my strong skill set...that is why I teach it.)

A small-business-owner, and new-ish friend of mine hosted an open house "Meet The Artist" night in her home last weekend....for me. I was overwhelmed, right there. But add to that the turn out on a rainy Friday night - and the fact that I sold several of my originals, sold out of some jewelry pieces, and was able to share God's favor in the Gospel with some women I had never met until that night... can I not be grateful? I looked around at the faces, as I spoke on the unearned favor of God, and I saw tears in the eyes of several women - all of them professionals...nurses, small business owners, even an engineer...

New design that sold, and more orders placed....

She sold, and four more of her must be created, soon as I can move my body into the studio...

This one sold and I was almost sad....because I wear it often, and always get compliments.

"Brave, Bold, and Beautiful" may or may not have sold. Today is the deadline. She may still be available!

This bag style sold out. I am working on another run, but I don't think I can source this beautiful tapestry and get more made before Christmas. All my bags have lavender sachets sewn between the outer tapestry and inner lining. All come with a personalized, stamped leather strap...inspiring words like "blessed" and "grace" and "loved" stamped discreetly above the rivets...all come with a metal ring, ready to receive a piece of my artisan bag jewelry...

Sorry. I truly am not trying to sell you here on my blog. I have a website for that. It's just that I honestly get excited over the work of my hands. I am passionate about my art and designs. If I weren't, I should not be offering them. Life's too short to just pimp your need to feel geeked-up over what you have to offer.

I am so geeked.

And grateful.

Add to that....this:

I know. You want me to stop bragging and get on with my bad self.

(this girl is also still available....truly, my original art is almost sold out. Email me if you want her...she is a 5x5 canvas original)

Grace and Peace,

Sheila Atchley

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

Gratitude for Good Tidings {30 Days of Gratitude, In the Middle, FOR the Middle}

God rest ye merry, beautiful women.  Don't let anything dismay you, this season.

Please, oh please, remember Christ our Savior was born for save you from the grip of whatever discomforts your soul and even your body.

I bring you these simple tidings:  His birth is for you.

For right now.  For whatever you are facing.  His great favor and lovingkindness is right now, in this special season, enlarged towards, there, the one with a name and an address and a history.

See, the tidings have to come first.  Someone has to tell you the good news.  I just told you, and I plan on spending the rest of November making it as clear as I can.

First comes the Good Tidings.

Next, comes the comfort.

Then comes the joy!  

Gratitude for the Shift Key {30 Days of Gratitude, In the Middle, FOR the Middle}

Shift: a small change or transfer from one place, position, direction, person, etc., to another.

If your decisions over the last, let's say...five years...

...if decisions made in your recent season have landed you in a place of broken relationships, or emptiness, or depression, know this: it all began with your perspective. The trouble began with your thinking.

This is good news! Because your perspective is a renewable resource!  Repentance has gotten a bad reputation - mostly because repentance is portrayed as melodramatic.

No weeping or self flagellation necessary. In all cases, repentance means to simply change your opinion: change your mind. That's it. In some cases this change causes strong emotions to surface, in most cases it is a common sense choice, with little to no emotion involved.

What crazy woman wouldn't want a major program update? Who wants to continue with the problem? Every time my iPhone updates its various apps, bugs are worked out, better features are added, and life is made (often) measurably easier.

My spirit and my thinking are no different...when I hear truth, I often need to allow the update to my wife app, my parenting app, my church attitude app, my doctrinal app. The shift can be so small, but the felt impact can be enormous.

So, I am mixing metaphors here: analog and digital. Shift keys and iPhone apps. Such is life. Repentance is old-school, but the results will propel you into the future like no other kind of shift can do.

Hit your shift key, girlfriend. Small changes. Let the junk go...those fears and beliefs that keep you stuck...whether it be about doctrine, a relationship, grace, your job, food and your relationship to what you eat, exercise, or simply getting a revelation of just how dang amazing you truly are.

It takes discipline to steward the embarrassment of riches that is "you"...and that discipline becomes easy, with small shifts in your thinking, which will cause small shifts in your actions, which will create big changes in your destiny.

Next time you feel angry or frustrated, mutter to yourself, "Aw, shift!"

You'll be speaking truth to your soul...and you'll be reminding yourself of an important key to making big changes: that tiny shift key.

Written for you with love...

Sheila Atchley

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

Grateful to be "Zealously Affected in a Good Thing" - {30 Days of gratitude, In the Middle, FOR the Middle}

Legalists "zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them. But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing..."

The gist of this passage out of Galatians 4 is that self righteous people are always zealous and sincere, and their top priority is to influence you away from the gospel-preachers, to separate you from a gospel-centered church. The Message puts it this way:

"Those heretical teachers go to great lengths to flatter you, but their motives are rotten. They want to shut you out of the free world of God’s grace so that you will always depend on them for approval and direction, making them feel important."

You will be wined and dined, you will be invited to the parties, you will get the friend requests on Facebook, you will be the friend of the Pharisee, so long as you allow yourself to be affected by them. Because their goal is to separate you from the teachers they disagree with. They will flatter you with their friendship, but the motive is to "exclude you", which in the Greek means to separate you out for themselves. If you are in the grace-camp, a Pharisee will target you to hang with them, to make them feel validated and important. A Pharisee craves admiration like a pig craves the mud. They have to have followers, and they will look you up years later (lucky you!), they will call you with an invitation when they never even really liked you, all because they are searching near and far for yet another person to join them. And because they don't want you hanging out with the likes of Paul...

It's lonely at the top. These high achievers don't have the means for emotional continuity in friendship, because all us low achieving little people have such glaring flaws. No wonder we talk so much about grace, we need it...take one look at us and our children, after all. We haven't achieved much, other than a middle class income and some true middle-age friendships. We drive cars that aren't old and  aren't new, and our goals don't go much beyond loving God and loving people. We got nothing to show for all this grace-talk other than righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.

A little law mighta' dun us good.

Ah, well. Legends in Their Own Minds always end up, in the words of Peter Pan to Captain Hook, "Old. Alone. Done for."

Give me the low place, any day. I will choose the least important seat. The one with all my rowdy middle-friends close by. The seat with all those young prodigal sons and daughters. I'll sit there, thankyouverymuch. Who knows? At the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, I just might be the one told, "Come up here and sit."

Wouldn't that be fine?

I agree with Paul - it is good to be zealously affected in a good thing. I do not plan on shutting up, not in this life, about the finished work of Christ. Gentle Reader, I am out to zealously affect you in a good thing...a very good thing. The Word of His Grace.

It will be good for you to be zealously affected. It will be health to your very bones.

Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. (II Timothy 1: 13, 14)

Heaven Is a Real Place {30 Days of Gratitude, In the Middle, FOR the Middle}

I have heard it taught that worship is what we will be doing for all eternity.

I am not so sure.  If you will bear with me, I can explain!

I have also heard it said, so many times,  that  "if we can't handle noisy praise and intimate worship here on this earth, we'll be mighty uncomfortable in heaven."

Um-m-m-m....again...I'm not so sure. There has to be something special about a glorified body and the dazzling resplendence of seeing God.   There has to be something special about the final and complete knowledge that I am eternally loved, that if I wasn't so animated in my worship in my brief and deeply fallen earthly sojourn, I'll be hugely motivated in the sort of eternity that needs no sun to light it - God is the everlasting glory, in that place! Oh, I'm thinking that'll be some easy worship, no matter what our worship styles are, this side of heaven.  (Though I do admit that I believe I am getting an early start!)

I don't think worship will be the only thing we do, though, when time and space as we know it are rolled up like a scroll and tossed aside permanently. I think another, very significant activity will be...

...eating.  And drinking.

Work with me, I'm onto something big.

Personally, I am convinced that the Marriage Supper of the Lamb will take about a million earth-years to finish. The courses will be innumerable, and the conversations eternally engaging. The wine will be heavenly. The musical entertainment will be live - and something our ears have not yet even heard, lyrics that have not yet entered our minds - but the words and the notes to that musical score are yet being written, even now, by angelic orchestras.

So could it be, that the two things that get us the closest to heaven-on-earth are both musical worship ("Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!") annnnnnnnd a sumptuous meal shared with dear friends?

Absolutely. Decidedly so.

I'm fervently committed to practicing both worship and fellowship. With abandon. Singing at the top of my lungs, clapping and praising, bowing and gazing on the Lord, laughing and talking, eating and drinking with precious prepares me for heaven. I certainly want to be as ready as I can.

So next week, as we par-tayk of our Thanksgiving meal, let's remember that heaven is a real place.

We will feast there, friends!

I leave you with a quote, from Homer's "Odyssey" ~

"I myself feel that there is nothing more delightful than when the festive mood reigns in a whole people's hearts, and the banqueters listen to a minstrel from their seats in the hall, while the tables before them are laden with bread and meat, and a steward carries round the wine he has drawn from the bowl and fills their cups. This, to my way of thinking, is something very much like perfection."

Goodness and Mercy Follow Me {30 Days of Gratitude, In the Middle, FOR the Middle}

(The original, or a print of this piece is available here)

As much as I'd like to believe that I am one who follows through on my every task and committment, when I read the fine print of my days, I see much left unfinished. Another unpleasant characteristic of being "in the middle" is that everything you've left undone sort of sits and stares at you.

In point of fact, I could write a book, all of it in fine print, about things I've left undone - let's don't even include things I've done wrong! I've made messes, big and small, some as a result of my doing, others a result of leaving important things undone.

All my messes require clean-up. So do all of yours.

Some years ago, back when my nest was completely full, I was patrolling the house before leaving for church. Everyone else had left, so I was the last to dash out the door, and lock up.

Since someone usually ended up coming home from church with us, I wanted to make sure, for about the third time, that various rooms were as charming and trash-free as I had left them the last time I had checked them,  a mere half an hour before.

To my distinct displeasure, I found a plate with crumbleys all over it, a glass with a half inch of milk in the bottom, and...of all empty soda bottle. Where did it all come from, and who did it, and how did it materialize so quickly? I fell upon the mess, as a warrior to the battle.

"In the Zone" does not begin to describe me, when I am intent on straightening up things. I'll automatically pour out Tim's tea before he is through, and put the glass in the dishwasher. I'll sweep around the feet of my family, while I dust the coffee table with the other hand, and put a stray book away with my toes. Honestly, all this is mostly mindless, and done without the first complaint. Ask any of my kids. I do it without realizing I am "working". I am almost always "working", and since that is the case, it is rather nice that 99% of it is hard-wired into my psyche, and thus doesn't bother me. I couldn't "not do it" if I tried.

This particular morning, however, I heard myself grumbling out loud to myself. I said, "I am so tired of following behind people in this house, cleaning up their mess."

It was then I experienced one of God's "suddenlies". Suddenly, He spoke. When He speaks suddenly, it cuts through the static. It arrests my attention.

He said: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life."

No exaggeration, I hit my knees, right by the kitchen sink, and tears flowed in an instant. (How lovely to have been alone, just then, because I think I couldn't have NOT worshipped. Such divine wisdom, such understanding and love displayed to me could not have gone unacknowleged. I was late to church that day.)

I hadn't even realized that I'd been subconsciously toting a heavy load of "undone's" and "not-done-right's". I had left what I felt to be a few messes behind, figuratively speaking. I was in desperate need of a Father who loved me so much, He was willing to allow His goodness and mercy to come behind me and clean up. What is the mercy of God for, if it is not at the point of my need, the place of My Mess?

I wanted a God who was that good, but I almost dared not believe it. That is a God too good to be true, in my graceless mind. A God so good to me, that sometimes He would not even be upset at me for a mess. Surely, He said,  His goodness and mercy would follow me, and simply clean it up.

Oh, how many times had that already happened, and I didn't even realize it? Just as, I promise you,  not one member of my family realized that I cleaned up a mess for him or her that morning.

I certainly don't want to associate the beautiful, scandalous cross of Christ with a few breakfast crumbs. But facts are, the blood of Jesus covers it ALL - the large and the small messes. The cross is the only clean-up, the only solution. A mess is a mess is a mess, and small messes become life altering if left to accumulate.

Thank you, Jesus, for your goodness and mercy, following this mess called "Me"....all the days of my life. How I need You!

Re-Post From the Archives {30 Days of Gratitude - In the Middle, FOR the Middle}

Why a post from my archives, in what is supposed to be 30 days of fresh material (on the heels of 31 days of fresh material)?

I promise, it isn't because I am running out of ideas.  Not even close.

I am doing this because of the perspective this post offers.  I wrote it about this same time - about mid-November - 5 years ago.  I re-read it tonight, and my eyes got so misty  I bawled like a (grand)baby.

5 years.

Just 5 years ago.  Nothing whatsoever is the same today as it was a mere 5 years ago, except the house I live in, and even it is not the same...I ditched all the autumnal wall colors, thank God.  (They no longer do it for me...I need light and airy...)

Tonight, I just got back from attending small group at my son-in-law and daughter's house.  The ones who live next door.  big Barney Fife ::sniff::  How blessed am I?

(She wasn't even married 5 years ago, much less did I have a grandchild next door.  And another son-in-law and daughter and grand-girl who live a mile away.  I could easily walk there.  I hardly ever drop by - that just isn't me - but I could...every. single. day.  The Lord hath been so mindful of me, and blessed me so much!)

Everyone still lived at home just 5 years ago.  Tonight, my Preacher and I are happy empty nesters.  In this post, I saw it coming.  I am so glad I stopped long enough to savor.

This is the perspective:  GRATITUDE

Truly, you do not know what changes lie in store for you in the one year ahead, much less in five years. Hold your family closely and dearly in the coming weeks.

Ah.  If I could save time in a bottle...


Come on into my diningroom. Have a seat, because we still have a bit of leftover dinner.

You see above, our empty table. I took the photograph of it exactly as it sits - a modern day still life. That table was full, just an hour ago. Now it sits empty.  That is a metaphor for what will one day be our whole nest. But for now....ah, for now, there are those few evenings in a week when syncronicity happens, and we are all home for dinner. Such was this evening. I had spent the better part of an afternoon making sausage and lentil soup, with a home made chicken stock as a base. Added to this was some easy to make bread, and a Caesar salad, home made dressing.

::perky little sniff::

EEEEE-yeah. It was a labor of love. Well received.

We ate, and we laughed. Somehow, the conversation landed on each of us remembering as many lines as we could from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. ("Come back, and I will taunt you a second time!" ) Our puppy begged for scraps, and daddy indulged him, as usual. A common, every day sight we were...just a family around the table.

But not-so-common. In coming years, it will be a sight that is not-so-every-day. They say you can't get back a moment, once it passes. But I believe, if you blog it, you can have it back again - just in a different way.

Gentle reader, you might yawn at the picture of our now-empty dinner table. You might wonder at a whole post about something so mundane. Can I tell you? It is imperative that you take some pictures of your own, and journal your ordinary life, because you are significant, and your family is unique in all the earth. If you share your link with me, I will visit. I'll read. Record the moments - it is the only way to get them back, when the day comes that your life is suddenly entirely unfamiliar, and nothing looks the same as it once was, those captured moments, digitally or otherwise frozen in time, will bless you.

This blog is an ecclectic mix of things spiritual and things common. I really do see sermons in stones - that is why my blog can run the gamut from Bible teaching, to thoughts on dinner, to a celebration of married love. I came to believe, early on in my adult life, that all of life is spiritual. There is nothing fragmented about me. I don't put ministry in one box, and having dinner with my family in another. All of it is God's life in me. I do not feel compelled to justify a single blog post with a Bible verse. A blog on dinner, and just dinner, delights the heart of God!

Jehovah Raphah has made me a whole person - He has caused me to understand that washing dishes can be worship, and the inspiration to write about washing dishes as worship is a ministry much to be envied. I feel blessed. My life counts, if I never went to a foreign land, or never strapped on another microphone, or stood behind another music stand or fancy podium to teach with my mouth....because teaching with my life is far more impactful and significant.

I cannot save time in a bottle. But I can save it in a blog. I appreciate each of you who visit me here, more than you know. Thank you for putting up with such an unpredictable writer as I.

Oh, family of mine! There never does seem to be enough time to do the things I want to do. And, just like the song says, I have looked around enough to know, ya'll are the ones I want to go through time with! "If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I'd like to do, is to spend every day till eternity passes away, I would spend them with you"....with each of you: my Tim, and Hannah, Sarah, Josiah, and Isaac.

Gratitude for Miracles {30 Days of Gratitude, In the Middle, FOR the Middle}

(find necklace here)

Maybe the concept of miracles has fallen out of favor - a casualty of  well-meaning but false Benny Hinn spirituality.  "Expect a miracle."  It sounds like something someone with big hair says on television before they ask you to send money.

I want you to hear it as defined by Webster's:  "evidence of Divine power in human affairs".

Better yet, consider this definition:  "a need that meets a solution".

Have we forgotten that this is a broken, fallen world where nothing is really supposed to go right at all?  If anything does go right - it is a miracle.  When a need meets a solution - that is a miracle.  If you are breathing - if you made it home safe and sound from work every day this past week, that is a miracle. When you begin to see miracles this way, you discover that "if grace is an ocean, we're all sinking."

We have been blessed with every good thing we have not earned and do not deserve.

Rhythms of Grace {30 Days of Gratitude, In the Middle, FOR the Middle}

There are, traditionally, three phases of a woman's life:  maiden, mother, and grandmother.  As a woman, times and seasons are etched into my entire awareness.  Biologically, spiritually, and emotionally I am inalterably tethered to cycles and periods and terms and generations of time.

I believe this cyclical nature of mine, though difficult, puts me at a distinct advantage.  My feminine vessel may be "weaker", but the treasure inside is infinitely beautiful.  There is a wisdom gained from distilled years of the courage and stamina that only comes from accepting the waxing and waning of weakness and vigor.  These are the gifts of my femininity, gathered through every cycle, every nine month term,  every birth, and multiplied into my spirit as cycles upheave, falter, flow, and then eventually diminish.

Whether or not we physically bear children, we serve as gatekeeper to the generations.  One way or another, in our bodies we are made perennially aware of life, and the fact that it is brief and precious.

Daughter of God, you are exquisite at every stage of life.  So, so fearfully and wonderfully made.  You carry eternity in your awareness in a way that a man does not.  I long to see women embrace our rhythms instead of resenting them as biological botherments.  Nowhere is it more true that in our weakness, He is made strong.

Gratitude for Boxes {30 Days of Gratitude, In the Middle, FOR the Middle}

One thing for sure characterizes mid-life:  unresolved issues.  The ability to have presence and poise in the midst of the unresolved problems requires a few sturdy boxes.

I'll explain that.

2 Corinthians 4:8 says, "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair..."

2 Corinthians 6:10 takes it even further, "...(we are) sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything..."

In short, every believer in Christ has to learn to coexist with the unresolved - with patience and grace and even (dare I say) joy.  The alternative means that we will only be truly happy when everything is practically nearly perfect.  Even the so-called simple questions rarely have instant answers.  We will be continually confronted with that which is less-than-ideal in life - and sometimes, the less-than-ideal situation can become very, very serious and complicated.  

The only way to get past mere coexisting with the Unresolved - the only way to truly live and thrive in spite of the Unresolved, is to learn to box it up.  Box it all up - large and small.  Put the big stuff into a big box, and put the little stuff into a little box.

Middle-messes must have boxes to keep them from migrating into all areas of your life.  Boxing up an issue means emotionally isolating and containing it, so that it does not negatively affect other precious parts of life.  For example:  one can experience deep disappointment in a prodigal child, without allowing the grief of it to make them lash out at a friend or leave their church or get a divorce.  

A few good sturdy boxes will insure that when three or thirty things are going wildly wrong, those things will not contaminate the one hundred things that are going right.

It's an art.  Boxing things up is a learned skill that becomes an art form.  It can sometimes be the only thing that creates beauty and order, when all of life seems chaos.

I remember, not that long ago, talking to the Preacher.  The conversation was beyond casual.  We were in his truck, headed to Costco for grandbaby snacks and birdseed.  Nothing profound was being said.  Though I should have been able, by then, to have discussed the subject casually,  the topic had a  painful and sensitive background.  I thought I was past a lot of the pain.  Nevertheless...tears, unexpected and unbidden, began to seep from my eyes.  Looking back, I think it was just one of those days.

My Preacher looked at me, truly compassionately, and said, "You need to get in the presence of God and let Him help you get to the bottom of where all this is coming from."  

My answer to him was just this:  "No.  No, I don't.  I need to put all this back in the box, close it up, and write on the box, "GOD KNOWETH".  I don't need to examine and process this.  I need to give it to God - and give it to Him radically.  Someday, I will be able to get this box off the shelf, open it, and I will find that what is in it no longer hurts."

So yeah.  I would make a horrible therapist.  But I can tell you - this is the only thing I can do that actually does require a true faith-response from me.   For me, a capable and compulsive fixer, a mother, a problem-solver...boxing it all up takes audacious faith.  Therefore, it pleases God.  I know it does.

Boxing up your crap may not work for you.  But it works wonders for me.  I believe God is at work on those boxes of mine, bringing healing and freedom and blessing on levels unconscious to me.  I don't have to tend to those unresolved emotions.  I don't have to dissect them or even understand them.  I can simply box them up and let God have them.  Inner healing can happen in those boxes, while I am making art and grilling chicken and loving on grandchildren.  I believe that.

I am grateful for boxes.  They enable me to live my life as a cohesive whole, when otherwise I would be obsessing over some nagging piece of unresolved dilemma.  I can stop thinking about the unresolved parts, and read a book or take a walk or make love or laugh and be happy.  Sometimes boxing up our crap is the only responsible thing to do - the only thing that gives us emotional availability to our lives, and those we love.

Say it with me:  boxes are good.  Boxes are necessary.  Thank you, God, for boxes.

How to Harvest Your Blessings {30 Days of Gratitude, In the Middle, FOR the Middle}

Everywhere I look these days, I see evidence of a great "gathering in".  Piles of pumpkins, heaps of gourds, fragrant apples everywhere.  Even the squirrels in my back yard are fat with the blessing of the harvest, having gathered the acorns that fall in abundance from my neighbor's oak tree.  Three hydrangea bushes are waiting for me to harvest their scores of dried, billowy blossoms for use in my holiday decorating.

But how do you harvest the heart-crop that flowered, then fruited in the unseen inside of you?  How do you gather in what was grown in the soil of the soul?

You harvest with gratitude.  Gratitude is the threshing machine of all things spiritual - it is the mechanism by which we extract both our blessings, and the seed for our next harvest.

Gratitude plucks the great, round gourds of harvested promise.  Gratitude heaps the blessings into piles and piles of joy.  Gratitude gathers the grasses into great bundles, and looks wonderingly across the fields, mound after mound after mound of all God has given... this way, too, "the harvest is plentiful, the laborers are few."  We each one have been abundantly blessed, but we won't know until we gather the blessings in, through the labor of conscious gratitude.

That Day I Was Brave {30 Days of Gratitude, In the Middle, FOR the Middle}

"It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends."

One thing you must know about me:  I am loyal as an old hound dog.  I have no frame of reference for short term relationships.  All my close friendships have been intact all my adult life, and the new friends I have made...well, something in me refuses to imagine them not being my friends forever.  That is how I am wired.

So that day I stood up to my friends, that day I was brave, was no small thing.  It meant losing their friendship.  Somehow, I instinctively knew that and so did my Preacher.  

Nevertheless, I am filled with gratitude for that day I was brave, because it made me who I am today.  

When my Preacher revisited the doctrines of grace almost 5 years ago, believe it or not, he was very nearly a lone voice, at least in our circles.  No one we knew was preaching it quite like he did.  He boldly contrasted living under the law with living under grace.  He asserted, with the great apostle Paul, that the law has been made obsolete, and was no longer a source of blessing or favor.  He called the New Covenant "the bringing of a better hope"...

...the nerve of him, teaching that Scripture at face value.

Then he exposited Galatians, and it was on like Donkey Kong.  

And I picked up my sword (which is the message that the Old Covenant forever points to Christ in the New Covenant, which is the message of the cross, the Finished Work of Christ, who is the Word - the sword - made flesh) and stepped up to the front lines with him.

I said it.  I was brave.  I wrote it just like he preached it.  And what I had to say offended friends - people who called themselves, and we considered them, some of our closest friends.  But my Preacher and I are the dearest of all close friends to each other.  We have never not been a package deal, my Preacher and I.

Obviously, it was far more than just one day that I was brave.  It was a series of days, weeks, and months.  But it began with one day.  It began with one decision to say what I needed to say - to speak the words that brought the "Amen" to the message of the scandalous grace of God.

My story is nothing compared to the stories of Christians around the world, who are living out being brave every single day, at the cost of more than just a cherished friendship.  They confess Christ at the cost of their freedom, their family, and some give their life to the glory of God.  I know that my bravery is cowardice in comparison.

I know that.

But being brave has to start somewhere.  For me, it started with bringing the "Amen" to the Gospel, in the only way I knew how, using the only tools I had.  My words.

I am so vastly...incredibly...profoundly...abundantly...hugely grateful that I was brave.  Not many get the chance like I did, to put what felt like so, so much  - to put it dead on the line, all for the love of Christ Jesus.

I want to see you be brave...

Gratitude for Changing Seasons {30 Days of Gratitude, In the Middle, FOR the Middle}

"Selah" is that Hebrew word you've read many times in the Psalms of David and in the book of Habakkuk. The word appears in the Bible over 70 times. One old theologian even contends that it is one of the many names of God. One thing we do know, this word appears only in poetry - the poetry of song. Most often, it was an indication to change pitch, in order to emphasize what was to come next in the song.

To do this, to change pitch, meant the harpist had to pause long enough to re-tune his harp to a new octave. Generally, it is accepted that "Selah" means to "Pause, and deeply consider".

You and I need to pause. Rest for a moment.  You and I need a new song for this new season. The Lord invites us to stop and acknowledge change, so that He can tune our heart-strings to the next octave. What is on the horizon, what comes next in the song of our lives, means our pitch cannot be the same as it was in the season just past. A change is needed. When God brings new direction, it becomes necessary to sing a new song. Don't rush into the new song, still plunking your harp on the same old octave. It won't work. Instead....Selah.

Stop.  Change songs.  Savor the change.

As I take stock of the year nearly gone by, and the year just ahead, I compare where I am today to where I was a year ago. In many ways, this brings me to my knees because the Mighty God hath done great things for me. In other ways, this contemplation fills me with a terrible ache, because something or someone is missing from my life that was there just one short year ago.

Still. The response is the same. To my knees I go because His name is to be blessed and praised.

Regardless of whether the silence of the Selah brings us joy or pain, let's embrace the coming changes.  This can only be done when we "pause, and deeply consider." The wisdom of God waits in the wings, silently. The thoughts of God are not easily gathered, they are buried treasure. He longs for us to sing a new song to Him, but first He must give us the words and the tune.

A song is not a song without the pauses. This never means that we have to stop the world and get off.  It doesn't mean going off the grid.  It has nothing to do with self sufficient isolation.  That is the human answer to having a quiet heart.  God's answer to having a quiet heart is learning how to pause, ever so briefly, and change our mind and change our tune.  Peace flows when He is in charge of the times and the seasons.

The poem of your life cannot be read properly without small stops, and changes in cadence. The song of your life cannot be sung properly without pauses and changes in flow.  

A life cannot be well lived without the "Selah"....without pausing long enough to change our mind.

Then Sings My Soul {Gratitude for Storms}

The violin is one of the most beautiful sounding instruments of all.  This is due, in large part, to the kind of wood the violin is made of.

Master craftsmen spend weeks and even months searching for special trees above the usual timberline - far, far up the mountainside.  The battering of high winds and the deep snows of winter cause those trees to produce extra resins, giving fibers a tight grain, and even an exquisite perfume.

The intensity of the storms, unlike the more sheltered foothills and valley areas, combined with the austere terrain and cold temperatures, produce a wood that is the toughest in the world...

...and creates one of the most beautiful instruments in the world - the violin.

Not coincidentally, I believe, the violin is the instrument that most resembles the human voice.

We all sing our most beautiful songs after the storms.  We need those storms to even know why it is we sing in the first place.

Without the battering of high winds, and the sting of cold, the only song we can become, is the human equivalent to pop music.

Gratitude for the Simplest Things {30 Days of Gratitude, In the Middle, FOR the Middle}

( preacher, on our anniversary, 11-08-13)

If you, like me, have ever struggled with actually doing the little things each day that bring you joy, if you have ever wondered if you were being selfish...can I speak some love over your life?

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Taking joy...every day...will make you a better wife, mother, boss, employee, entrepreneur, preacher's wife, you-name-it. 

The only thing I will remind you of, in your quest for deep joy and sustainable pleasure, is this: 

"...'tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free."

 Keep your joys as simple as a wood fire, as satisfying as a glass of Merlot, as sustainable as making roasted rosemary chicken for you and your love for dinner. Keep your joys free from comparison and competition. Leave comparison and competition to the unimaginative souls who must utilize them to be motivated.

You and I? We are so rich in Christ. All things are ours, indeed. Thus, a bouquet of sunflowers is our gold, and the stars twinkling above on a winter's night-walk are our diamonds. Holding the hand of the man of our dreams, grown deliciously and delightfully mature, is the stuff of fanciful girl-talk.

Daily, our God loads us with benefits. Rarely do they strain our budgets. Souls of artists, down through time, have discovered the tiny treasures tucked into the gift box of each new day....and they have written or sculpted or painted about them.

Take joy. Simple joy.

Grateful For My Middle-Companions {30 Days of Gratitude - In the Middle, FOR the Middle...No, Really!}

We come to know Christ far more accurately in relationship to others, than we can know Him by ourselves.

After all, Christ lives in that other believer.

We can be crazy-grateful for our flawed middle-companions, because they too are becoming.

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be... (I John 3:2)

What a thrill to see what she may become next!  One day, your best girlfriend might be a wood working artist, and the next day she might, metaphorically speaking, start turning water into raspberry wine...

Seriously - call me if that ever really happens.  I want to come to the party.

And The Winner Is...

True Random Number Generator  3Powered by RANDOM.ORG

...and the winner of my biggest giveaway yet goes to...

Melissa Medley
"Wissa said...Sheila, Thank you for sharing with us. I have referred several to your blog this month. I have been so refreshed and encouraged. You are a blessing to me and many others just by being who you are."

She is number three in the list of comments, as they came in.  Random number generator, (, picked the number 3 out of 38 possible.
Congratulations, Melissa.  I hope and pray this little windfall of blessing makes you feel loved on and so special.
We are in this middle thing together, friends.  Thank you for joining in the giveaway fun... 

Mercy In the Middle {30 Days of Gratitude - In the Middle, FOR the Middle...No, Really!}

"Oh Lord, I have heard your words, and was afraid:  Oh Lord, revive your work in the middle years, in the middle years make known;  in wrath remember mercy..."

That is Habakkuk 3:1, with only very slight poetic license.  Please do look it up yourself.

Here we see the prophet Habakkuk, who some say was a contemporary of Jeremiah.  Habakkuk was confessing his dread at what he saw in the spirit - which was the judgement of the Lord, and what would happen when it finally came to its climax in his nation.  There his people were, in distress and not yet delivered...and they wouldn't be for awhile.  Habakkuk heard the word of the Lord and was afraid - afraid that the people of God would not survive it.  So he boldly interceded for mercy in the middle.

That was a prayer after God's own heart.

As it is with nations, so it is with you and I.  If the thought of reaping some of what you have sown does not make you feel afraid, then you either have no concept of God, or you have managed to be perfect.

Here is the crazy-good news:  there is already mercy in your middle.  Through the Finished Work of the Cross, you do not have to dread what tomorrow holds in store.  When the thought of reaping what you have sown arises in your soul, you should take a split-second to shiver at the very idea...and then rejoice with exceeding joy, because Christ took every bit of your punishment upon Himself.

He is no longer angry with you, and never will be.  Ever.

As for natural consequences...well, mercy applies there, too.

What are you in the middle of?  What pressures are you facing?  What is your son or daughter in the middle of?  What do you, like Habakkuk, sense in your spirit "ain't over yet"?

Whatever process has not run its course, whatever is in the middle stages, whatever consequences aren't over yet, whatever project is not completed, God has sent me here today to tell you that His desire is to "revive His work in your middle years".

It is His desire to make known to you, even while you are still stuck in your middle, even when there is no deliverance on the immediate horizon...

...He would make known to you new horizons and fresh purpose.

In wrath, mercy has already been remembered!  You live post-cross, my beautiful friend!  You get nothing but mercy in your middle from Him!  Why?  Because He understands the middle.  He hung there on a cross, between heaven and earth, in the middle of two thieves, and He died in the middle of the day.  He is deeply touched by your difficulties (and your joys) in the middle.

Feeling any gratitude for this?

What Can I Offer Him? {30 Days of Gratitude, In the Middle, FOR the Middle...No, really!}

Being a "Blogger" is humbling.  Lots of people enjoy their favorite blogs, but most would never write one - and who can blame them?  What kind of person can deal with hitting the "publish" button on all that work and vulnerability, only to hear...


 In all honesty, some folks wonder if there is much value in blogging.

If you are a good writer at all, you are much like the violin virtuoso,  homeless and playing for dollar bills in the subway tunnel instead of Carnagie Hall.

Only - I don't even get dollar bills for what I offer to all who pass by this place.  (Never fear - you won't see a "donate" PayPal button suddenly appear in the sidebar...)  So why do I do it?

Because in offering my encouraging words to you, I am offering them to Christ.  

"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' "  

~Matthew 25:40

I happen to notice that it does not say that unless the impact is HUGE, my offering doesn't count.  In fact, it seems to be the opposite.  The more "downwardly mobile" we are, when we offer our gifts, the more God notices and takes the offering very personally.

It is the giving away what I've been given, to whoever is there to receive it, that counts.

And no one even has to come back and leave a comment, saying "Thank you."  In fact, studies show most don't.  Ever.

Here is what I know:  If the quality of the artist is measured by the gratitude of the audience, then God Himself is no artist at all.

I am here to today tell you that I am grateful for the chance to use my gift(s) in whatever capacity, and I want you to feel the same way.  The hard truth is this:  forget about "building a platform" or "building a ministry".  Because the smaller your venue in the exercise of your gift, the more like Christ you are.  (Find me someone else who is saying these things...seriously.)

He left his status and the glory of heaven, to enter the womb of a woman. In His whole life, He built a platform of 12, and gave His gifts of healing and deliverance away to all who were oppressed of the devil.  The cross was His thanks.

To Be Mid-Life Modest, or To Gratefully Shine - Your Choice {30 Days of Gratitude, In the Middle, FOR the Middle...No, Really!}

"Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

~Matthew 5:16

I want to learn to stay in the middle of not flaunting my gifts, yet not hiding my gifts.  I want to learn to be very, very comfortable with being better than someone else, and I want to be very, very comfortable with the fact that so many are better than I am.  Where did we get the mistaken notion that, as Christians, we shouldn't "be flashy"?

I don't know.  Turning water into wine is pretty amazing.  Healing blind eyes will get you noticed.

We are meant to flash glory-light - we are reflective image bearers of the God of light.

No one crosses the street for shadowy mediocrity.

Let your light shine!  Let it shine in such a way that men can see your accomplishments!  That is the inherent meaning of the Greek word for "good works":  accomplishments.   We get our English word "ergonomics" from this Greek word.  God fits us to certain tasks, so that they become a natural extension of who we really are - and we can work without injury or undue stress.

It would be one thing if the Scripture stopped right there:  ..."Let your light shine before men in such a way as they see your accomplishments..."

But it doesn't end there.  The next phrase puts the whole concept in sharp perspective, " they may see your accomplishments, and glorify your heavenly Father."

For heaven's sake (literally), be an accomplished person.

Be grateful for the opportunity to shine in mid-life.  God knows, our younger generation needs to see us taking risks and accomplishing our God-assignments.

Between the "Not Anymore" and the "Not Yet" {30 Days of Gratitude In the Middle, FOR the Middle...No, Really!}

My definition of the "middle":

Being suspended - floating in grace - somewhere between the "not anymore" and the "not yet".

Always, the middle is the present moment.

I began making visual art just over a year and a half ago.  Making it has helped me deeply understand the art of words.  With paint, you just have to gather courage and start.  You have to throw some paint on that canvas.  Then, once you do that, you work (and work...and work...) with what is there.  You trust the process.  You trust that this present moment, this muddley-middle stage, will begin to take shape.  And the outcome is never what you first envisioned.

So it is with words.  A word-artist has to dig deep, and toss her heart onto a page, and work with what is there.  A writer has to trust that all this messy vulnerability will take shape into something beautiful for someone.

See, if I were to hate the transition stage, if I were to become overly uncomfortable with the middle, the finished product will have no soul - because I will compensate for my discomfort by forcing my version of perfection onto the piece.

All art is a product of love, and all artists must learn to embrace the middle, and feel gratitude for what is.  I am learning to thank God for living between the "not anymore" and the "not yet".  Where else can a girl practice her art of contentment?

Every moment is the present moment and must be sanctified by gratitude, else we risk losing the next present moment to that destroyer of the art that is your life - angst.

No More "Making Do" {30 Days of Gratitude ~ In the Middle, FOR the Middle}

Precisely mid-way through life, I believe you and I start to get negative.  Yes, even you.  I know I have the tendency, and that I am more prone to it now than I was in my 30's.  The longer we live, the more jaded we become, and the more we identify with our mistakes.

The longer we live, the more we feel like we have to make do with what we have - play the cards we have been dealt, and all that stuff.

No more delusions, past 40, right?  We see the harvest we've reaped thus far, and not all of it is beautiful and not all of it is good.

I want to challenge you with the idea of an Autumn Planting.

Farmers and gardeners do it all the time.  Cold weather crops are some of the best crops you can partake of.

It is never too late to plant new and radically different seeds.

Because you see, while we sigh and try to "make do" with what we have, we serve a God who "makes" and "does" with what He has!

He can take the seeds you offer, here in this season of your life, and give you a winter crop that will knock your socks off and bless you to the very, very end of your days.

He makes all things new.  He does all things well.

Stop "making do" with a harvest that is less than you hoped for.  Start over with new and different seeds - because your God makes and does.  And that is something to be vastly grateful for.

Nothing is impossible with Him!