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Words of Encouragement Are Never Wasted Words

Today I attended the funeral of a sweet man. Every Sunday, without fail he would greet us at some point, whether it was as I entered church with my family, or scurried in late looking for a seat. He would walk up beside me, or one of my daughters, and give myself or them a side hug and then inconspicuously hand off a peppermint or pack of gum, then give us a wink as he moved on. He was faithful, he was enthusiastic and he was perceptive of who needed a little encouragement.

At the end of the service I was walking slowly up the aisle to leave and I spotted a precious lady in conversation who I love, respect and admire. She is a beautiful woman, full of energy and a zest for life. She is creative, and industrious and her home looks like a Southern Living Magazine. I saw her catch my eye as if she planned to say something, but finished her conversation. As I was about to pass her, she reached out and began to encourage me about something she read in my blog. I was caught off guard, forgetting that these things I write here are actually read by others…..not just me exercising my thoughts in life. She looked into my eyes and said “You are a writer, Dana. I love what you you said in your blog.”. My heart warmed. Just when I thought this silly writing dream was a waste of energy and time……that I really don’t have any talent…..or direction…..or validation for this thing I love to do. God tapped me on the shoulder and used someone I long to be like to whisper words of encouragement to this often melancholy heart. Writers are weird people who are constantly in a state of putting words and sentences together to create something that tells a story, or describes a moment or changes the heart of the reader. They long for validation, but struggle with creating something worthy to be read by others. The sad truth is the work of most writers will never see the light of day, much less make it to publication. But they keep on writing.

So today, I received a gift. Encouraging words from someone who read what I wrote and felt the emotion and meaning behind the words. Thank you sweet lady for blessing me. You are a jewel. God used you in my life today.

God is paying attention to us and He knows our hearts, our dreams, our hopes…..and He knows when we need to know that what we love to do isn’t a waste of time. He cares enough to encourage us through unexpected words from others. So don’t hesitate the next time you feel the need to inspire someone with supportive words…..God may be using you to tend a dream in someone’s life.

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This Mama’s Heart

Last night I sat in choir rehearsal, just as I have done for about a hundred years now. I sat in the back row of the altos, listening to people of God singing in four part harmony, happy that they all had conquered their Covid fear and chose to come out into public on a Wednesday night and sing. But beyond the joy of sitting among God’s people preparing for Sunday worship, I felt a warm joy swooshing around my heart because sitting next to me, making a joyful noise, were two of my daughters. Adult daughters. Married daughters with their own little families. Choosing to be there. Singing like angels. In another area of our church, two of my grands were in their own little classes learning scripture at their age level….preschool! As I sit here now, I feel tears stinging my eyes. Tears of joy. Because I know how hard I tried, how much I prayed, how many times I cried and even how endlessly I fretted over raising them in a way that they personally would experience the love and presence of Jesus and choose to live their lives in Him and for Him. I messed up…..a lot. I insisted they be at church every Sunday and Wednesday (unless you are Southern Baptist, you won’t understand this second day of worship!). How I made them try to see the importance of being a part of student ministry, service projects, student camp, student choir and Bible study. When they were little, I took advantage of every car ride to tell them the stories of Jonah, of David and the feeding of the five thousand. We often had family meetings that involved big decisions and prayer. As teenagers I constantly asked questions and listened as they told me of good days, relationship issues and even painful experiences. I would ask them what they think Jesus would have them do or say….or I would tell them what God had to say about things. Sometimes I would stop the car and pray…..and sometimes I even prayed with my eyes wide open while I drove. I am sure they can still hear me saying “Make wise choices” as they flew out the door. I encouraged them to journal their thoughts, their struggles and their questions to God. I shared scripture with them. We talked about hard subjects and hard decisions. Worship music was the genre of music that played in our car and our home. I am sure they thought we were the meanest parents ever because of the boundaries we set for them, and the things we said no to. I know I drove them crazy telling them to honor their commitments, to use their gifts for Him, to do the right thing even when it was hard. I prayed with them, for them and over them, and still do. I taught them the importance of church, gathering together as believers to worship and study God’s Word. I realize that trying so hard is never a guarantee that they will choose to live for Jesus. My three girls are strong, beautiful, loud, funny, loving, opinionated, young women. Yes, they are still young in their faith journey, they are beginning families of their own and I see them making their faith the center of their families. Not just their faith, but teaching their little ones (and little ones to come) that Jesus loves them and died for them and cares for them like no other. So sitting next to them in choir rehearsal last night as they chatted and sang made this Mama’s heart swell and melt all at the same time. I didn’t do everything right, I messed up so much, but somewhere along the way God’s grace and mercy covered my mistakes and they experienced His presence on their own and fell in love with the Savior. Now I am crying as I sit here, because that is all I ever wanted for them, for them to know Him, choose Him and live for Him.

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Please Pray for this Sister

I stood with a group of believers tonight, hands reaching out and wrapping around a sister who had just told us that the chemo wasn’t working and the tumors weren’t shrinking. I heard my name called out to lead in prayer. My throat constricted. I know the fear cancer stirs up. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wasn’t sure I could articulate what was in my heart. I am not very eloquent when I pray. But love won out and I opened my mouth and asked God to do something. We prayed for God to give her a miracle. She needs a miracle. She’s been battling cancer for months, in the middle of a pandemic, and there she was, defying the cancer by standing before us and saying she was ready, if this is what God has for her. She is brave…..and she loves Jesus. If she can do this, I can pray over her. We believed God for a miracle three years ago. We trusted God. We walked the road He was taking us down, not knowing the outcome, not knowing if it was even fair to ask for healing or a miracle when so many are taken by this ugly disease. We walked with Him and learned to trust Him no matter what was down that road. No matter how it turned out. She trusts Him, too. She knows that however this turns out, God gets the glory. Why? Because He is the Almighty God, creator of the universe. He is a God that loves us so much, He made a way for us to be able to spend eternity with Him. He gave part of Himself, His Son, for us. A sacrifice for our sins. To make us clean. To have the ability to stand in His presence. He is faithful to us. We call out to Him and He hears us. And when His plan for our lives is to find ourselves facing death through cancer, ALS or even old age…He is there. Holding us up, whispering our names, and wrapping us in His love. We can hold tight to His hand and trust Him, knowing that closing our eyes here one last time, means we open our eyes with Him on the other side. So while we have breath, let us be like my sister standing before us tonight, let us give Him glory for the good and the bad, for the planned and the unexpected, for the hard and the easy. Thank you, sister, for showing us in that moment what it looks like to be real about the hard, and to resolutely give God the glory either way. But most of all what it looks like to trust His hand. Please pray for this sister as she places her hand in the hand of Jesus and trusts where He is taking her.

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I’ve Been Vaxxed

I have just returned from getting my 2nd shot of the Moderna vaccination….so far so good. I received the first shot a month ago, at the continued, endless, urging of my big guy! I finally relented and agreed to give in to his constant vaccine topic of conversation. I walked into his home office and sat down in my chair and told him “I’ve officially been tagged.” No longer can I say that “when the apocalypse happens, I’ll be the only one who can buy food or run and not be found”. I know you are laughing at me right now, but I bet you’ve even had these same thoughts! I’m even a bit embarrassed because I was pretty vocal about NOT getting the vaccine. The things we do for the ones we love. He is relieved, I didn’t fall out or die, but I’m still not convinced I’m not tagged! I will say this, while I joke about just doing it to appease my big guy….it still was my decision to take the steps to do it. I encourage everyone to make the decision they are most comfortable with….this virus is here to stay…..like the flu….and we will be dealing with it for years to come, I am sure. The conspiracy theories are out there, and I’m not so sure I don’t think some of them are possibly true. For those that have underlying health issues, those who are elderly, those who are exposed to large groups of people on a regular basis, those who are anxious, those who are fearful, the vaccine may bring comfort. I also believe we need to be smart and take the suggested supplements of D3, Zinc and C to ward off Covid19 and build up your immune system. But, let me encourage you to not let fear and anxiousness control your life. The media, whether social or news, will cause you to live in a constant state of uneasiness. We have to keep living. Our children do not need to live in a world where fear is normal. Everyone has suffered emotionally and spiritually from the onslaught of information, and the unrest in the world. We need to wrap them in love and structure and stability. I will end with this….”For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7. So do not let the things of this world stir up fear in your hearts, your minds or soul…..we have something far stronger than fear, we have power and love. And, in power and love, we can walk through this season with or without a mask, with or without a vaccine, but WITH a sound mind that whatever we choose, we can trust Him above everything else.

P.S. Is it weird that the magnets on my frig keep jumping off and connecting to my arm??? Just kidding!

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What to Write?

Well. I’ve been sitting here staring at this computer for about 45 minutes….determined to make myself write something. But I haven’t written in so long, I can’t seem to muster up anything that is even remotely interesting, motivating or inspirational. This is painful. My whole life I have longed to be a writer. I was in my 40’s before I even took a deep breath and referred to myself as a writer…..even then afraid someone would ask “So what have you written.” So mostly, my brain is dreaming up stories to write, devotionals to encourage or blog posts that might inspire. Then nothing.

Former students who I have taught in Bible Study have asked me to write a devotional for seniors or college age, but when I sit to write, I choke. I have no college degree, I have no theology degree, I have no experience. I feel like I have let them down too.

I have written a children’s chapter book. It is a faith based book about a club that helps others during their summer break. I’ve sent endless queries to a long list of literary agents who politely rejected me or just ignored me. I’ve peeked at self-publishing, but something in me needs the validation of a literary agent taking me on for publication. So that story sits in a file on my laptop, and a hard copy in file on my desk, and they both taunt me.

I think the biggest hurdle is twofold: Making myself sit and write and finding someone who will help me get published. And, now I add to my long list of excuses….getting older.

So, if you are out there reading this blog thinking, “Man, she’s pathetic.” Yes, I know that. I think I have skills, and maybe a wee bit of talent…..but I think I lack drive. Respond and give me advice. Tell me where to start. Tell me how to start (and don’t say “Just start writing” please!). I need a direction. I need possibilities. I need advice.

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A Short Getaway

It was 11:45pm, I sat wrapped in a blanket to stay warm in the night air, as I and two old friends sat by the pool, in the dark, the night sounds echoing around us like a sweet, soft melody. The sound of fish jumping in the bay that lay just beyond the pool, echoed in the quiet night, the moonlight dancing on the water. One of the friends quietly talked of the struggles of the last three months dealing with her father’s death. We listened, whispering comfort to her wounded spirit. We understood. We all knew the sting of losing someone we love. We may not have been together in years, but the bond we shared was formed as young Mom’s trying to raise our babies, pay bills, live life, and walk out our faith everyday. Years have passed quickly. Thirty years to be exact. We laughed at old stories, cried about the struggles of parenting adult children, mused wistfully about dreams we still hoped for, and realized we were thirty year olds stuck in fifty and sixty year old bodies!

I was only with these sweet ladies for twenty four hours, but it was like being with sisters….or maybe cousins….family I haven’t seen in a long while, but because we all love Jesus and had shared life for a time, we were connected. I was encouraged. I realized that growing older has benefits. You have life experience. You don’t fret about things you used to stress about. Age makes you realize what is really important. And one of those really important, is taking time to drive almost three hours to visit with old friends, hear their stories, their struggles, their triumphs. It is one of life’s blessings that no one should take for granted.

So, sweet friends, you know who you are, thank you for a nice getaway. I enjoyed the hospitality, I enjoyed the long conversations and I enjoyed the reminder that friends are friends forever, if the Lord’s the Lord of them!!!

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A Special Visit

My Mom came to visit me last night. I know you might be thinking “Awww, that’s sweet.” But you have to understand this, she died 18 years ago. She has only appeared in my dreams three times since she died.

It’s not like a scene from my childhood, or a specific memory of her. Not at all. I will be dreaming about something random and I will turn and she’s there, smiling, just as I remember her. No words. She always steps slowly forward and pulls me into a hug. I close my eyes and I feel the softness of her skin, the comfort of her arms around me, I breathe in deep, and even though I know I haven’t been able to smell anything for years, I breathe in her familiar perfume. My arms wrap tight around her waist as I bury my face in her neck and I am crying. That deep, painful kind of cry deep in your chest that makes it hard to breathe. I feel her kiss my hair as she rubs my back and smooths back my hair. I finally stop crying, but my chest aches and I know the tears will come again. She smiles at me and touches my face. No words. Just love. And then….I’m awake. My cheeks are wet from my tears. It had been so long since she came to visit me in my dreams. I needed one of her hugs. I needed to see her face, and there she was. So real. I hope she comes again soon. I miss her so much and want to sit next to her and be the daughter again and talk and laugh while she files my nails.

I am certain God sends these visits to me just when I need them most. He knows so well what we need and when we need it. I imagine (and this is just my imagination, because there is no theological or biblical support for this) that Jesus saw my heart, He knew what I needed before I did. He looked over at Mom and said, go on down there for just a moment, no words, just hug her and comfort her. Isn’t that just a sweet thought.

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It’s Time To Worship

A few nights ago, as usually happens, I was struggling to go to sleep. Words were racing through my mind, along with a mixture of emotions. It always seems to happen to me in the hours after I first go to bed. The darkness feeds the need for my body to try and relax and re-energize for another day, yet my mind kicks off all thoughts and musings about life as it is. I ponder life’s current turmoil and how I can fix it. Sometimes I cultivate stories or possible books to create. But that night words flooded my mind and connected and stirred up the emotions deep in my soul of frustrations and thoughts about the world and our church. At 1:30am, with only a verse racing around in my head, I got up and tiptoed down the hall to the office. I quietly shut the door, only the glow of my laptop lighting the room and I began to type out the words and feelings stirring deep.

It’s Time to Worship. by Dana Armstrong

The room is quiet, the Spirit is gone
We waited too long to worship
Fear has won, no song is sung
We waited too long to worship

Our hearts are numb
And souls are thirsty
Voices are hoarse
And fellowship repressed

Our children have forgotten
The people have trembled
Where once they prayed
Their confidence is broken

Hands are clenched and faces hidden
Hearts are aching
As prayers are silenced
Our worship has been stolen

The room is quiet, the Spirit is gone
We waited too long to worship
Fear has won, no song is sung
We waited too long to worship

Throw off the chains, you weary servant
Remove the masks that bind your soul
Lift high your hands to God above
Sing loud your songs of worship

Break the bonds of Satan’s plan
Rebuke the lies of his evil men
Claim freedom to praise a mighty God
It’s time to declare your worship

The room was quiet
But the Spirit never gone
Fear has no power
Our song needs to be sung

answers, corona, covid19, Encouragement, God, Life, Love, People, promises, searching, seasons, Uncategorized, Writing

I Want To Go To Church….

It’s true, I want to go to church.  Not the new social distanced, CDC guidelines church.  I want to go and sit among my people, singing worship songs that stir the heart to lift my eyes to the heavens, hands raised, the Spirit moving in and around all who are there, worshipping the Almighty God.  I want to feel the love from people I’ve known for years.  People who have walked with us in this journey with God.  People who I’ve knelt at the altar with, hands clasped together, tears dropping on the carpeted steps as we pray together over heart issues, brokenness, sickness or just for a fresh touch from the Savior.  I want to sit and listen to the pastor, called by God, share the Word and the message God has given him for us.  I want to mingle with my people, hugging them, holding hands, touching faces, smiling and laughing and just generally enjoying a warm fuzzy from all the love!  It’s been five months since I have sat with these people.  We’ve all tried to stay connected, but it has been more difficult than we anticipated.  Heck, harder than we could have imagined, because we never would have imagined this forced isolation.

Last Sunday, I went to church with my daughter and her husband.  They attend another church that has been having in person services for weeks.  They had a staff member that had Covid19, but it was contained and he had not been around any other staff and he quarantined for the two weeks.   Anyway, as I entered, staff and volunteers wore masks, but people were happy and talking and laughing.  We were directed to a row of chairs that were social distanced, as directed by the CDC guidelines.  People removed their mask as they settled into their seats. When the music began to worship.  It was so sweet and genuine and heartfelt.  This wasn’t my church, but these people were still my people.  They longed for gathering together, just like me.  They needed this corporate worship, just like me.  They needed to sit among their people, just like me.  Suddenly, the craziness of the outside world began to slip away.  At first, I truly struggled to sing out.  I was trying to soak it all in.  It was almost difficult to relax and really allow myself to worship.  I closed my eyes and allowed my other senses to absorb it all.  And then it happened, I sang out!  The wall around me collapsed.  The cloud of frustration, of anxiousness, of the continuous onslaught of media, it all slipped away.  I found myself smiling for no apparent reason.  Soon the pastor stood before us and shared the Word.  I was still smiling during the entire sermon.  I’m sure I looked ridiculous, but I truly did not care.  I was sitting among my people.  I only knew about eight people in the room, five of which were my family, but I was with my people.  People who are believers.  People who put their faith in God.  People who are family because of their faith.  People who, just like me, need to gather together and worship.  I was still smiling when we left.  I hugged my daughter and her husband and headed home…..still smiling. I was so happy.  I felt like I could breath.

I believe that many of us feel like this.  Like we are holding our breath.  No way did we ever imagine the first time we heard Coronavirus or Covid19, that our churches would be closed down for five months and counting.  aWe has no clue that we did would be controlled by outside sources telling us how we could do church.  That a virus would create such a sense of fear, we would willingly back away from meeting together, from hugging, from standing any closer than six feet to each other. Five months.  Can you even wrap your head around that for just a moment.  During these five months we’ve seen through our tv, computer or phone screens, things happening across our nation that have just piled on the fear.  Racial unrest, rioting, protesting, looting, violence, mudslinging, politicians stirring the pot, media reporting and lying to us,  all causing division and fear right and left.  When normally we could stand in a room together as believers and hear truth spoken, bowing and praying together for wisdom and strength and healing, now we are scattered.  We all have tried desperately to stay connected through livestream and Zoom.  It is so hard.  People with small children find it difficult to try and experience worship this way.  Too many distractions.  Teens are drifting away and choosing not to join Zoom gatherings.  Adults who haven’t gathered are trying to stay faithful, but are finding other things to do on Sunday mornings with their families.  I wonder, if we are ever able to gather together again as a church, will there even be that many people who will gather?  Five months is twenty Sunday’s with no church.  My aunt once told me it takes 21 days to form a new habit.  So will it take only 21 Sundays for people to form new habits and not make church a priority anymore?

I don’t want this to sound like church is the most important thing.  Because I know that the most important thing is God and serving Him, and sharing the the gospel whether we are able to attend church or not.  But we humans are needy and we need to be with our people and not isolated.  I trust God.  I know He’s using this for His glory.  We just have to remain faithful to Him.  I just don’t want to be trusting people who have their own agenda and who will manipulate people, even an entire nation, to be able to control them.  With all the unrest and division, the time we need to gather the most to find strength and encouragement has been taken away.

So.  I will continue to pray.  I will continue to watch livestream from our church.  I will continue to Zoom with our Lifegroup.  I will continue to study His Word.  And, I will go to church with my daughter and her husband on Sunday mornings.

answers, covid19, Encouragement, friends, God, Life, Love, People, promises, searching, Uncategorized

Three Months Later

It’s been three  months since I have blogged.  Nothing much has changed in our world.  Coronavirus is still stirring around our nation and making people fearful.  Masks are a huge controversy – are they helpful?  are they hurtful?  Who knows for sure!  But now we’ve added a new dynamic to our current situation, racial unrest.  While it has been around since the beginning of the human race, and at times we have definitely missed the mark as a country, and yet the country we live in now is a better place than it was 50 years ago, racial unrest in our country has opened the door for people to do things that, honestly, will have no positive affect on any racial injustice, but will only be seen as destructive behavior.  Destructive actions never result in positive results.  The actions we see splashed across the news and social media have invited dishonest, narcissistic and evil people to jump on board both physically and financially to promote their own agendas, not to make this country a better place.  It is quite frustrating to watch.  While we all watched, in horror, as George Floyd was treated completely inhumanely, and I know no one who wouldn’t agree that the officer needed to be held accountable, the retaliation has spread across the country as quickly as the virus of the 2020 Pandemic.  The actions that followed against people and their personal property and businesses was unnecessary.  The defacing and tearing down of national monuments and statues is shameful.  Why can’t people just come to the table with their ideas of making this world a better place, discuss it, logically evaluate how to make the changes, willing to compromise on both sides, not try to be unreasonable or unrealistic and come to an agreement to agree and implement processes that will satisfy both “sides” and begin a new era.  (I believe that may be a run on sentence right there!!!). Destructive behaviors only lead to other actions that eventually hurt people and make for a violent and unsafe environment to live.  Many people, I think, are sick of “the sides”.  There should be no sides on this subject.  Racial issues should not be issues at all.  People should all be treated equally, with kindness, with integrity.

I don’t know what the future holds.  I don’t know if this is the new normal.  I don’t know if this is “end times” full on.  I don’t know if all this is going to go all “bad futuristic movie with splintered factions wearing bad clothing choices and looking as if they haven’t had a bath in about ten years, or if we are going to wake to planes dropping enemy shoulders from the sky to take over our country”.  I do know that God is in control.  It’s not like we haven’t had His Word to read.  If you turn on over to Revelation, it gives you the heads up on how it all ends.  It’s all very poetic and filled with symbolic descriptions of how it will all go down.  But it is there.  Not to mention the other writers of God’s Word that hinted prophetically to the way God would wrap this whole Earthly era up.

We all agree that, for the US anyway, we are experiencing things we haven’t experienced in the last few generations.  Maybe the much older generation still hanging around can tell stories of shortages, sickness, shut-downs and other hard times, but from the 60’s forward, we’ve pretty much been on fast forward till here we are in 2020.  While we are social distanced in all areas of life, technology has us connected.  So apart, yet connected.  But that connection is interrupted and influenced by so many outside sources that we are confused about what the truth is. Are you anxious?  Are you afraid?  I can say, without blinking, I am not afraid or fearful.  I may be a wee bit anxious, but only because I want to be clear if or when I should be doing anything to prepare.  But that’s another blog.

There is no need for fear.  God is with us.  If you are reading this, and things I have said make no sense.  If you find yourself struggling with fears.  If you walk around with an overwhelming sense of anxiousness about the future.  You can find peace.  It begins with a repentance. We have to acknowledge we are sinners.  We have to understand there is nothing we could do to earn forgiveness.  It is acknowledging we are a sinner and realizing that we can’t do anything to pay for that sin, that is the beginning.  It is believing that Jesus is the Son of God, sent to be born of a virgin, to live among us, to spend 3 years sharing the good news, paying the ultimate sacrifice with His life and blood on the cross for our sins to be forgiven, and then rose on the 3rd day just as prophesied!  He then ascended to heaven to be with His Father and  sent His Holy Spirit to dwell in all who believed, repented and were baptized in His name.   Grace.  Unmerited favor.  God loved us so much, that He sent His only Son to die for us, so that we could be made clean, and that we could spend eternity with Him.