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.