Come Apart Before You Fall Apart!

Come Apart Before You Fall Apart!

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

blog4For speakers, this is the time of year known as ‘retreat season’ and I am so privileged to spend many of my spring weekends speaking at a variety of conferences and retreats from Maine down to Maryland this year.

Venues vary. Occasionally, smaller retreats will be held at a center that was once a grand country estate, eventually given to or bought by a Christian organization many years ago. Both this month and last I stayed at such places – “Rolling Ridge” in Massachusetts and “Liebenzell” in New Jersey. Faithful staff continue to serve their guests, even while trying to maintain/upgrade the once-elegant homes and acreage. I so appreciate their faithfulness. And what a service they provide by offering cozy surroundings, good food, and peaceful rest in the midst of a culture that often screams for the big, shiny and fancy! Fortunately, I have several more of such favorite sanctuaries, especially here in New England.

blog2Whilst there I usually awaken quite early in the morning and explore, eventually ending up in the Library with my first cup of coffee. There I always peruse volumes of incredible writings I have yet to discover, often leaving a donation of one of my own books as a ‘calling card.’

A few weeks ago I opened the front door of such a place and was greeted with these words “Come away to a quiet place and rest awhile.”  “Come” happens to be the very first word on the very first day of my new 40-day devotional which will be published next month (“Live These Words” – click here for more information). This book-of-my-heart encourages us to find ways to balance the ‘being’ and ‘doing’ in our lives.

blog6This invitation to “Come” is extended to everyone, but Jesus especially target the “weary and burdened” (Matthew 11.28). If we respond to Christ by entering His presence, the take-away favor is incredible – rest!

It is only in the silence that we hear the voice of God speaking directly to our souls. Perhaps He will reveal areas that need change or healing.  Perhaps He will plant the seed of a dream you never thought attainable. Most probably He will whisper words of love and affirmation and encouragement in your ear. And you will be strengthened for what is ahead.

I don’t know whether or not you will have an opportunity to “come apart awhile” in the next few months – to retreat or spend some quiet time with God in a set-apart place, either with others or alone. But I hope you will! Even if you can’t swing an organized retreat, be creative in finding your own sweet spot for at least one whole day.

blog5Today I am writing this in a guest house named “Ebenezer” – which is taken from the story found in I Samuel 7.12. There Samuel decided to place a stone of remembrance of what God had done. He called it “Ebenezer” which means “the Lord has helped us to this point.” While I was having my morning prayers here in the Library, the sun rose and I now hear the voices of the women beginning to stir and wander down for breakfast.

Soon we will gather for our final session. All weekend we have explored the theme: “BREATHE – Finding Space for God in Your Full Life.” Friday night we arrived exhausted and stressed as we looked at “Tight Spaces.” On Saturday we studied the essential discipline of “Quiet Spaces” and later that evening found healing from “Dark Spaces.” For our send off charge I will speak on “Living Spaces” with the text/promise from II Peter 1.3 “God’s divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.”

blog7It’s always hard to re-enter our crazy Real Life after being away for a whole weekend, but God promises us that we already have “everything we need” to live the life He has called us to live. With Him. And for His glory. To touch a broken world. With hope, grace and mercy. We leave filled, so that we might pour out into the lives of others.

I love what I do. I pray God will continue to open doors and give me strength to walk through them with life-giving WORDs from Him.

under the mercy, Cindy

P.S. I’d love to lead a retreat for you and your group. Check out other pages on this website for themes, schedule and endorsements and contact me by phone 860.529.7175 or email cindy@encouragingwords.net

finalfinalfrontcoverLTWIf you live anywhere near Hartford, Connecticut, I hope you will plan to join me for “A Celebration of Words” at the Mark Twain House and Museum on Tuesday, May 20th from 7-8:30 pm. This is my Book Launch for “Live These Words” and we are going to have a fabulous time! Free, but space is limited and you need to Register by clicking on THIS LINK.

 

copyright 2014 Lucinda Secrest McDowell

EncouragingWords.net

“NEW” – Exciting & Risky “Word for the Year”

Newthingflowerinsnow

“NEW” – Exciting & Risky

Word for the Year

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Back when the New Year 2014 began (36 days and many, many inches of snow ago) I chose “NEW” as my word for the year, believing that God was saying to me, “I am doing a NEW thing!” (Isaiah 43.19).

While there is nothing magic about having a word for the year, it is something to hold onto for guidance, encouragement and daily hope as each day of the year unfolds…

I knew when I chose “New” that it could be exciting to see what New things might be in store in my life ahead – new opportunities, new people, new growth. But I also figured there would be a risk factor – all those new opportunities, people and growth might bring with them challenges that stretch me and force me out of my comfort zone.

Barely into the second month of the year I am delighted to report two very New things that will change my life forever (well, at least the first one will).

babyinbasketvintage1 – NEW grandchild (my 1st) Fiona & Tim due this Summer! Woo Hoo!

2 – NEW book “Live These Words” (my 11th) due late Spring!

What huge cause for rejoicing! But they will only come with time…. Right now, both Fiona and Tim’s baby and my book (which is, if you ask any author, a bit like birthing a baby) are still in process. They are very real, but not yet seen…

Isn’t that true about much in life? As I type today at “Sunnyside” cottage here in Connecticut, we have just received a foot of new snow. It covers everything and will undoubtedly not have time to melt before the next huge storm arrives this weekend.

A lot will be hidden. For a long time, perhaps.

My new favorite children’s devotional book is “Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing” and in it, author Sally Lloyd-Jones describes this phenomenon to children:

“In the Winter it looks like the trees have all died. Their leaves wither and drop off. They stand like skeletons against the cold, desolate sky. But did you know before even a single leaf falls to the ground, next spring’s bud is ready? Next summer’s leaf is furled inside that tiny bud, waiting. And Jesus says there is nothing broken that won’t be mended, nothing sick that won’t be healed, nothing dead that won’t live again…  We can’t see it now, but remember the fruit tree in winter? It looks dead. But the buds are ready to go. And, come spring — blossom and fruit! ‘Look, I am making everything NEW!’ (Revelation 21.5)”

roundtoptypewriterhandswordsAnd so we wait…

There is much to be revealed each and every day.

I don’t know what New things are ahead for me, but I’m grateful that whatever comes, someOne very familiar will be at my side. And I fortify myself with a host of biblical promises that are both exciting and risky.

A DOZEN NEW PROMISES

  • “He put a NEW song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him.” (Psalm 40.3)
  • “Sing to the Lord a NEW song, for He has done marvelous things.”  (Psalm 98.1)
  • “See, the former things have taken place, and NEW things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” Sing to the Lord a NEW song, His praise from the ends of the earth.”  (Isaiah 42.9-10)
  • “See, I am doing a NEW thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43.19)
  • Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are NEW every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3.22-23)
  • “I will give them an undivided heart and put a NEW spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11.19)
  • “A NEW command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13.34)
  • “He has made us competent as ministers of a NEW covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (II Corinthians 3.6)
  • “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self… and to be made NEW in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the NEW self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4.22-24)
  • “But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a NEW heaven and a NEW earth, where righteousness dwells.” (II Peter 3.13)
  • “To the one who is victorious… I will also give that person a white stone with a NEW name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (Revelation 2.17)
  • “He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything NEW!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21.5)

Keep these words in mind as you are waiting for the NEW, or pursuing the NEW, or even if you are avoiding the NEW… God never changes. He is beside us. He will hold our hand and guide us through…

snowflowerpurpleOut of the snow and into the spring…

“Dear God of new beginnings, we are walking into mystery. We face the future, not knowing what the days and months will bring us or how we will respond. Be love in us as we journey. May we welcome all who come our way. Deepen our faith to see all life through your eyes. Fill us with hope and an abiding trust that You dwell in us amidst all our joys and sorrows. Thank You for the treasure of our faith life. Thank You for the gift of being able to rise each day with the assurance of Your walking through the day with us. God of our past and future, we praise you. AMEN.” (anonymous)

 under the mercy, Cindy

Be sure to check out my NEWS PAGE for more new things! 

©2014 Lucinda Secrest McDowell

www.EncouragingWords.net            www.NewEnglandChristianWritersRetreat.com

Nothing in the House

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“Nothing in the House”

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

nothingcindypodiumLast week I discovered that I needed to fill in for another speaker who had to cancel due to a family emergency. No problem, right? I am, after all, a speaker and have gone on as an ‘understudy’ many times before. Except this time I was also busy helping to direct the event. And did I mention that my audience would be a couple dozen top speakers and authors from around the country? So I did what you probably would have done too. I grabbed my Bible and fell on my knees. “God, what do we most need to hear from You tomorrow (Sunday) morning?” Then, because I was in a warm climate in the middle of January, I went outside and sat at a picnic table, opened my small travel Bible, picked up my pen and notebook (because this was also an unplugged-from-technology week for me) and began writing.

nothingnotebookI decided to speak to my colleagues on “How to Live An Impossible Life.” You see, I often feel that my life is practically impossible to live – too many people needing too much of me too often. Always behind, never caught up. Sandwiched between needs of parents and needs of kids. You know. Kind of like your life too. So I figured my speaking sisters would certainly relate to the topic, if nothing else.

So many demands…. And yet sometimes so little available to meet them. So little strength, money, time, resources… Do you ever feel as though you have “nothing in the house?” That phrase is a direct quote from a remarkable story found in II Kings 4.1-7, of a woman who feels her life has become impossible. This widow of one of the prophet Elisha’s most faithful servants has suffered a triple blow: her husband has died, the creditors are coming to take her children as slaves, and there is nothing in the house. She is grieving, fearful and destitute.

As this new year begins are you experiencing loss? Are you afraid or worried? Are you lacking in resources? Then read carefully as we discover how God brings something out of nothing, how He can enable us to live through seemingly ‘impossible’ circumstances.

nothingonejarIn the text, Elisha comes into the house and asks how he can help: What do you have in your house?” (verse 2)

And the widow answers “Your servant has nothing there at all, except… a small jar of olive oil.” It’s almost as though the one thing she does have – the small jar of olive oil – is simply an afterthought because it seems so ordinary, so insignificant. And yet, it’s a start – a place for God, through His servant Elisha, to begin the miracle work.

I have often felt as though I had “nothing in the house….except” when it comes to what is needed for my daily life. Oh yeah, I have a lot of ‘stuff’ in the house, but sometimes I’m down to bare bones when it comes to offering hope, offering wisdom, offering answers… That’s when my answer needs to be, “I have nothing in the house except…..my willingness to be used, Lord.”

Last week as I was studying this scripture I remembered a poem by one of my favorites – Amy Carmichael. I first read this poem way back in seminary days and recall that it begins with her telling God she has nothing in her house but Pain. Amy, a Victorian missionary to India who rescued young girls from temple prostitution (the original human trafficking), lived in pain all her life. The last two verses of the poem are God’s words to her:

nothingamycarmichaelMy servant, I have come into the house-
I who know Pain’s extremity so well
That there can never be the need to tell
His power to make the flesh and spirit quail:
Have I not felt the scourge, the thorn, the nail?

And I, his Conqueror, am in the house,
Let not your heart be troubled: do not fear:
Why shouldst thou, child of Mine, if I am here?
My touch will heal thy song-bird’s broken wing,
And he shall have a braver song to sing.

-    Amy Carmichael “Nothing in the House”

God makes His presence and power and provision known when we most need it. Are you empty? Do you wonder how you can possibly have enough or be enough for what is required from you? Take a look at your resources – what has been provided instead of what has been withheld. Even the widow had something – one small jar of oil. And Elisha saw what could come from that.

nothingjarsGod wants to do the same thing in my life and yours — take something small and multiply into more. But in the process we may be asked to do some questionable things, such as… gathering more of nothing! Yes, Elisha immediately told her to go and find as many empty jars as she could and bring them into the house (verse 3.) I can’t help but wonder what went through her mind as she was obeying this strange request? What goes through your mind when you are obeying God, but not understanding His will and His way? I confess I often grumble “I’ll do it, but it won’t make any difference” or “This is not the way the world works today, don’t you know that God?”

Then Elisha told her to take the one jar of oil and use it to fill a house full of empty containers (verse 4.) I wouldn’t be surprised if she was secretly relieved he had told her to shut the doors so that no neighbors would see her. And yet, as she poured, there was always more — more oil to fill every jar. The impossible had become possible.

And God’s purposes for this widow’s life – to enable her to become financially stable in order to provide for her family – were accomplished as she was instructed to sell all the oil (verse 7.)

nothingemptyhandIt is a new year. And I suspect that during 2014 many of us will inevitably meet up with both opportunities and challenges which require more than what we have. And when that happens, we may be tempted to say “I have nothing left!” – no more energy, no more hope, no more words, no more time…

If that  day comes, will you remember the widow’s answer “nothing in the house… except” and will you take whatever small thing you do have, offer it up to God and allow Him to multiply it into an ‘impossible’ amount of more?

Yes we can live our lives – our nitty gritty hot mess kind of lives – because truly “Nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1.37 ESV)

under the mercy, Cindy

 FYI The second lesson in my presentation last Sunday was based on the Joshua 3 story, but I’ll save that for another day…

©2014 Lucinda Secrest McDowell

www.EncouragingWords.net

SHINE!

SHINE!

A Poem, A Song, A Prayer

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

“Arise, SHINE, for your LIGHT has come,

and the GLORY of the Lord rises upon you.” Isaiah 60.61

christmasoutsidelightsHere at “Sunnyside” cottage, darkness descends each day at 4:30, so that’s when the clear lights on our screen porch Christmas tree turn on. And, if I’m home, I run around to light the candoliers in each of our windows. So eager we are to SHINE some brightness into our neighborhood, our world, our lives….

Anything to dispel the encroaching darkness…

This past Sunday (the first of Advent) the scripture both sung and read was from Isaiah 9.2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great LIGHT; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  Folks, our culture is quite simply a “people walking in darkness.”  Even as that baby Jesus arrived to a people who had been waiting in darkness for a very long time — 600 years of hoping for some Light to Shine  —  just so He comes to us today.

christmaslightssandyhook (2)We live in an increasingly dark world. Soon my little state of Connecticut will mark the one-year anniversary of unspeakable horror — the Sandy Hook school killings of 26 innocent children and educators. This past month three of my colleagues (authors/ministers) were diagnosed with cancer and are now valiantly fighting the ‘Beast’. Earlier this fall two other author/speaker friends lost their earthly battle with the disease, while another is mourning the loss of her young son less than a month ago… Closer to home, a new Christ-follower has relapsed and is in recovery treatment in an institution for the entire holiday season. Friends are losing jobs, homes, and hope. Honestly, you know I could go on and on…sadly, there are endless stories of darkness.

christmascandleInto all this, Christmas comes.

Christ comes.

It is no mistake that He is called the LIGHT.

Another Connecticut resident for many years, but now firmly ensconced in heaven, Madeleine L’Engle, put it this way:

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.

He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

christmaslightsjesusHe came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

-       “First Coming” by Madeleine L’Engle

 In a way, what Madeleine is saying is “What are you waiting for? Yes, life is incredibly hard, but all the more reason for us to shout about how God’s Love reached down into this hot mess to share our grief and touch our pain, so Rejoice already!”

Those of us who have had experience with the lure of darkness, the prison of darkness, the secret of darkness – are the very ones who should be pointing others to the LIGHT. Because the Light that God sent into the world so very long ago – and yes, today – has all power to literally change our lives.

“He came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt, to a world like ours, of anguished shame…. He came, and HIS LIGHT would not go out.”

During this Advent season, even as I am so aware of so much anguish, I am also called to spread the light which has touched my own darkness. To SHINE! I find myself singing this song (not exactly a traditional Christmas carol) most mornings:

“Lord the LIGHT OF YOUR LOVE is shining,
In the midst of the darkness shining,
Jesus light of the world shine upon us,
Set us free by the truth You now bring us,
Shine on me. Shine on me.

christmaslightstarbethShine Jesus shine, Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit blaze, Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river flow, Flood the nations with GRACE and MERCY
Send forth Your Word, Lord and let there be light.

As we gaze on Your kindly brightness.
So our faces display Your likeness.
Ever changing from glory to glory,
Mirrored here, may our lives tell Your story.
Shine on me. Shine on me.”

-       Graham Kendrick (1988)

Even as The Word was “made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1.14) – we are called to respond. To actually DO SOMETHING with what we hear, what we know. (btw that is the topic for the book I am writing now). Saint Paul admonishes us to ”SHINE like stars in the dark world.”  Philippians 2.15

God shines on us. We, then, shine on those in our world. That’s what I’m endeavoring to do this Christmas season. To shine. Not just because I love wearing all that blingy holiday attire (though I do, when the occasion calls for it), but because I know that everywhere I go, there is someone who needs a bit more of Light, of hope, of encouragement…..

Finally, here’s a prayer letter from Max Lucado, who has such a winsome way with words:

“Dear Jesus,

            It’s a good thing You were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.

            The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one-button-push away from annihilation?

            christmaslightshepherdsYour world seems a bit darker these days. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The wise men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see Your face Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod’s jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.

            Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.     

            Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won’t you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed and pain. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.

            We ask You, HEAL us, HELP us, be BORN ANEW in us.

                                                                                    Hopefully,

                                                                                                Your Children

-       “A Prayer in the Dark Times” by Max Lucado in You’ll Get Through This

 christmaslightscloseuptreeDuring this Holy Season, I choose to be full of Hope. I choose to Shine. I choose to Arise each day and be filled with God’s Glory. Whether or not I deserve it. I will be part of brightening dark corners. I will seek to live up to my name (“Lucinda” comes from the Latin root word for Light).

And I will close this blog with sending you, my kind readers, heartfelt wishes for a Merry Christmas and Joyous New Year from our whole family.

“Arise, SHINE, for your LIGHT has come,

and the GLORY of the Lord rises upon you.” Isaiah 60.61

under the mercy, Cindy

ccard2013

PS Since I first posted this blog, I have had the incredible privilege of hearing musician Michael Card in a Christmas concert at our church. One song particularly touched me deeply and he introduced it as his favorite song of all the 420 he has written — “Come Lift Up Your Sorrows.” It was a balm. A lament. A solace to my soul. Michael dedicated it to all who are struggling this Christmas, in pain, sorrow or despair. I hope you will click on the link below and take time to listen to these powerful words. It may just be the best 5 minutes you spend today…

http://youtu.be/Mg91IWQuvJc           Michael Card playing piano and singing “Come Lift Up Your Sorrows”

©2013 Lucinda Secrest McDowell

www.EncouragingWords.net

How Can We Pray All The Time?

How Can We Pray All The Time?

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Pray all the time. Thank God no matter what happens. This the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

I Thessalonians 5.17 MSG

prayersunrise       I was once privileged to know a man whose life was a constant prayer. His name was Dr. J. Christy Wilson, Jr. and he was my faculty advisor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Wilson had grown up in Iran and spent most of his life ministering in Afghanistan until political unrest forced him to leave the country a year before I met him in the late 1970’s.

I am indebted to him for teaching me how to “pray all the time.”

Whenever someone would mention a prayer need, Dr. Wilson would stop whatever he was doing and say “Let’s just pray about this right now.” And we did! Wherever we were, whatever was going on, we would enter the presence of God and lay our needs before His throne of grace.

cowe1980

Thailand 1980 (l-r) Gordon MacDonald, Lucinda Secrest (McDowell), Ramez Attalah (Bible Society of Egypt) and Dr. J. Christy Wilson, Jr.

Needless to say, this provided great opportunity for mischief among some seminarians in our missions lecture class. When a fellow student fell asleep, he was nudged awake and told that Dr. Wilson had just called on him to pray. He stood up immediately and led the class in prayer while we all snickered. Our professor simply said “Thank you very much” as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

Through the years, I’ve found myself imitating Dr. Wilson by praying immediately for people and situations that are mentioned to me (rather than putting them on a list for later or forgetting altogether.)

This certainly caused some anguish among my young children when I’d be driving them around town and praying aloud for this or that. “Don’t close your eyes, Mama!” Justin would frantically holler from the back seat.

In a personal evangelism class I took with Dr. Wilson, we were instructed to pray by name for every student pictured in the student directory – every single day! That was hundreds of seminarians, and our final exam was a print out in which we had to match names and pictures. Now, this was harder than you might think, unless you had gotten to know them through constant intercessory prayer.

To this day I use a similar strategy when I pray through the lists of attendees at an upcoming conference, students in a class, or, most recently, all the guests at our family weddings.

prayerlistIn fact, at the rehearsal dinner when I finally met some New Orleans friends of the groom who had come to our daughter’s wedding, it was easy to call them by name. When they seemed shocked at my familiarity, I let it slip that I’d been praying for them for months.

But seriously. How can we possibly “pray all the time?”

Brother Lawrence – he who practiced the presence of God – would remind us that constant prayer is accomplished by recognizing God with us in every moment of our lives. “We can’t escape life’s dangers without the actual and continual help of God. We need to pray all the time. And how can we pray to Him without being with Him? How can we be with Him unless we think of Him often? And how can we often think of Him unless by a holy habit of thought?”

Brother Lawrence calls this having holy habits. I would agree that the more I keep my mind and heart focused on God, the more prayer and thanksgiving spontaneously erupt from my mouth.

Others encourage us to pray even as we breathe. Breath prayers, in and out, rehearsing God’s love and provision; confessing our need for mercy. Breathe in: Lord, I receive what You give. Breathe out: Lord, I give thanks for what you give.

I’m quite often shooting up what I call ‘arrow prayers’ – spontaneous pleadings for guidance or protection or gratitude. Contemporary author Anne Lamott freely admits that her two favorite prayers are “Help, help, help” and “Thanks, thanks, thanks.”

Sounds good to me.

prayopenhandsSometimes after a long conversation with friends or an extensive planning meeting, I will wrap up the time with a prayer committing all we’ve covered to the Lord. I can offer up all our discussions as prayer points because God has heard us already. He knows our concerns. He knows we need an answer for this puzzling predicament. But in making our words a prayer, we acknowledge that we are actually bringing ourselves to the only One who can help.

Francis de Sales urged us to “present our souls to God a thousand times a day. Sprinkle in a season of short prayers on your daily living. If you see something beautiful, thank God for it. If you are aware of someone’s need, ask God to help. You can toss up many such prayers all day long. They will help you in your meditation and in your secular employment as well. Make a habit of it.”

Perhaps my favorite part of the  verse at the beginning of the blog is where we are urged to “Thank God no matter what happens.” While it’s impossible to thank God for everything that happens, we can certainly learn the habit of thanking Him in all circumstances.

May we receive with open hands all God allows to come our way.

Knowing that it is also with those same open hands that we lift up and offer back to Him who we are and how we will respond to such gifts. Thank you, Lord should be the prayer that is on our lips at all times in all circumstances.

This is truly a habit that can be developed by even the feeblest of Christ followers over time. And think of the joy and strength we receive in the process!

How canprayershawl you grow in your own prayer life? Several practical suggestions have been made and I encourage you to try one and see how it works for you.  I obviously greatly believe in constant and spontaneous prayer. But I also believe in more substantial prayer times when we are focused on covering all aspects of confession, intercession, petition and thanksgiving to the God who hears. Why not begin with John Stott’s Morning Prayer below and always conclude with the Lord’s Prayer.  Try praying everywhere about everything and don’t forget to breathe…. Breathe in: Lord, I receive what You give. Breathe out: Lord, I give thanks for what you give.

“Good morning, heavenly Father, good morning Lord Jesus, good morning Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father, I worship You as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Lord Jesus, I worship You, Savior and Lord of the world. Holy Spirit, I worship You, Sanctifier of the people of God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in Your presence and please You more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow You. Holy Spirit, I pray that this day You will fill me with Yourself and cause Your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.”      John R. W. Stott (1921-2011)

under the mercy, Cindy

copyright 2013 Lucinda Secrest McDowell

www.EncouragingWords.net

 

Strong As An Oak!

Strong As An Oak!

By Lucinda Secrest McDowell

bigoakmama2013

Sarah Hasty Secrest at the place of her birth – Big Oak, Thomasville, Georgia

In many ways she is as strong as the Big Oak tree under which she was born.

Because, despite the increasingly frailty of her octogenarian body, my mother — Sarah Hasty Secrest – stands strong in her faith and fortitude. She doesn’t complain of constant pain. She doesn’t try to live in the past. Even now, widowed after 62 years of marriage, she is willing to find her own new place without the love of her life.

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Sarah Frances Hasty (Secrest) 1940s

We have long called such strong southern ladies “steel magnolias.”  But I’d rather refer to her as an “Oak of Righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.” (Isaiah 61.3)

Recently I spent a week with Mama in my hometown of Thomasville, Georgia. We enjoyed reminiscing, going through old photographs and letters; doing the seemingly endless task of sorting memorabilia and catching up on family members. Drinking coffee in our pajamas. Running errands around town. Telling stories. Listening to Daddy’s CDs of piano playing and storytelling.

I come from a rich heritage and I am grateful for those who paved the way for me. My mother has documented her legacy all the way back to the Magna Carta. She is a proud member of Colonial Dames and Daughters of the American Revolution.

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Chastain girls circa 1903: Anita, Mary,
Minlu (my grandmother) and Rose.

My maternal grandmother, “Mamalu” whom I knew quite well and who lived to be 97 and knew all my children, was one of five Chastain girls who grew up on the site of The Big Oak, a 350+ year old Live Oak tree in my hometown. My great-grandparents, John Albert and Netta Chastain, believed strongly in education for women as the new century began. And thus Minlu Chastain (Hasty) born in 1900, was a college graduate in the days of the Great War!

When we visited the Big Oak last week, Mama reminded me of her mother playing in the center of that huge tree which was already at least 200-years-old at the time. Mama also played dolls in the Big Oak whenever she visited her grandparents’ home.

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Gordon L. Hasty (my grandfather)
and President Eisenhower

We also talked about my maternal grandfather, “Daddydee,” who was offered a full college scholarship (more than 100 years ago) but who turned it down in order to stay on his Tennessee mountain farm and help the family. Gordon Lee Hasty later managed many plantations, including ‘Chinquapin’ where Mama spent her childhood. He encountered guests as varied as Howard Hughes (who landed his own plane coming to a party on the plantation) and President Dwight D. Eisenhower (who played golf with him).

My own mother was one of three girls, also strong southern women. I am one of three daughters, equally strong in our unique ways.  And my own two daughters? Well, they are definitely growing into their own as strong ‘oaks of righteousness.’

It’s important to look back and remember. To find courage to face the future even as we reflect on the courage of all those who came before us and paved the way. I’ve enjoyed doing that lately. Remembering the stories….

My talented and musical friend/author Bonnie Keen states it best in her original song “These Are the Women We Come From” –

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Great-grandmother Netta Chastain with daughters Anita (Shiver), Grace (Harvard), Mary (Hasty), Minlu (Hasty) and Rose (Cheney) Note: my grandmother Minlu and her sister Mary married brothers Gordon and Dozier.

They are women with backbone, Keepers of the flame.
With a spirit even hard times couldn’t tame.

And I know this same blood is in me,

And I meet their gaze one by one,

Eyes strong and clear, I still feel them near…
These are the women I come from.
The faith that sustained them is bred in my bones.
I know what I’m made of and where I belong;
‘Cause these are the women I come from

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Mama’s little sisters, my aunts Carol Hasty (Singletary) and Rebecca Hasty (Boswell)

Stories the pictures didn’t show.
They were lovers of babies and lovers of God
With lessons and laughter in their songs

Did they dream better dreams for their children
As they prayed silent prayers in the night

“Lord, make their way clear and always be near”

‘Cause these are the women we come from.

Now I have own my child beside me

As we gaze at them all, one by one,

Her eyes strong and clear, I draw her near and say

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Little Lucinda Lee Secrest (McDowell)
with mama Sarah Hasty Secrest

The faith that sustained them is bred in your bones.

You know what you’re made of and where you belong

‘Cause these are the women, survivors each one

They aren’t always easy, but loving and strong.

God’s life force inside them is still going on

‘Cause these are the women we come from.”  

- Bonnie Keen & Tori Taff (1994)

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Cindy and Mama at Big Oak, Thomasville, Georgia – August 21, 2013

The Big Oak in Thomasville, Georgia, centuries old, has a limb span of 165 feet. If you stand in front of it, dial a number on your cell phone and look up across the street, a hidden camera will take your portrait for posterity!

Mama says it breaks her heart to see the tree looking so old and worn out.

When I hear her say that, I sigh…

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Resurrection Fern on branches of the Big Oak

As we leave, she walks along the branches pointing out the lush Resurrection Fern, explaining this phenomenon. “Most of the time, Cindy, these leaves are brown and brittle. But when it rains they become green and vibrant and full of life. That’s why this is called Resurrection Fern – it comes back to life if given nourishment and attention.”

Hmmmm…. How true for people as well as leaves on an ancient Oak. We may (we will) experience those dry times of pain, disappointment and weariness. We may often feel that life is over and we have nothing left to give. I suppose an elderly widow might be tempted to think that at times, don’t you?

But the Truth is that God is always our Sustenance, our Source. When He looks at us, he sees “a planting of the Lord as a display of His splendor”

That’s when the rain comes and we drink it in. And we, too, are resurrected.

Do you want to display His splendor? Then concentrate on growing deep roots into the rich soil of God’s love. Grow strong and stand firm, even when the storms come. Learn from those who came before you. Pass along the stories to those who come behind you.

Look up. And smile for the camera….

under the mercy, Cindy

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Cathy Secrest Ray, Sarah Hasty Secrest, Susan Secrest Waters, Lucinda Secrest McDowell – Oaks All!

“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” Isaiah 61.3

©2013 Lucinda Secrest McDowell

www.EncouragingWords.net

A WRITER’S LIFE?

        A WRITER’S LIFE?

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

       “Cindy, God has given you a gift of writing and it is your duty to write for Him!” (Elisabeth Elliot in a personal conversation, 1979)   Imagine being only 26-years-old and hearing those words from such a respected mentor, international speaker and author of 30 books… I had already felt a nudging from God on this path, but her words helped confirm and encourage me further. Needless to say, I was a bit daunted, but also energized to pursue more training and opportunity (this happened when I was heading off to Wheaton Graduate School of Communication after graduating from Gordon-Conwell Seminary.) Believe me, no one is more amazed than I that today — 34 years later — I can look back at my published work, by God’s grace: 10 books authored, 25+ books as contributing author and articles published in more than 50 magazines.

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I write because I can’t not write… (yes, I know that’s a double negative, but it’s also true). Writers write. It’s the way we filter life. We don’t always write for publication. Sometimes what we ‘write’ in our minds never makes it to paper or computer, but the stories are there all the same. As my years increase, so does my wisdom in believing that knowing and telling our stories is perhaps one of the most important ways of participating in furthering God’s Kingdom here on earth. So I am perfectly content at this point to say that I am, indeed, a Storyteller.

writersclock “My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours… it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes Himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.” (Frederick Buechner in Telling Secrets)

Writing is a discipline and only happens when we deliberately make room in our lives to pursue it. My entire life has been filled with people and activity and ministry and drama; and yet I have somehow managed to insert my writing amidst the chaos. Rarely have I had the luxury to finish a book deadline in complete solitude. Those images of authors working in a cottage by the sea totally undisturbed are not my reality. Most of the time we writers are simply trying to squeeze our craft in between all the other responsibility and serendipity that come our way…

writingstephenking           I love what one of my ‘writer heroes’ says: “It will not surprise you if I say that I think being a writer is a fine thing to be. Except for when you actually have to write, of course. Then it is about as exciting as washing dishes. Which is the other thing I do a lot of at my house… Some days I travel somewhere to lead a retreat or speak at a conference. Some days I write letters and answer phone calls as though I were an actual business person, and some days I teach the class at the local high school. I do laundry in between paragraphs on Tuesdays… I wear a lot of hats. Just like everyone else. Some days I feel like a poet and some days I feel like a housekeeper, and some days I cannot tell the difference. I expect most of us feel that way sometimes. Life is made up of a lot of good stuff and a lot of bad stuff, too, and in between you have to clean your room.” (Robert Benson in A Good Life)

cindymtmeadowswritingI’ve decided to spend 40 days this summer writing. Well, not constantly. But deliberately. Sacrificing other commitments, distractions, and activities for a more focused daily work in this vocation to which I’ve indeed been called. (It helps that these are the same 40 days my husband is on sabbatical, which simplifies our lives somewhat.) I don’t know if the result will be anything shared publicly (like a book, retreat series, etc.) but I look forward to seeing what God will do both within me and without. My part is to obey. His part is to use what I’ve written in whatever way He chooses…

…I’d delight if none of my words fell to the ground — if none were useless, excessive, dispensable, easily dismissed… But that’s God’s business. He might use the means of cyber technology, savvy marketing, good publicity. But either God, God alone, keeps our words from falling and scatters them wide, or else there is nothing in them worth keeping and scattering in the first place. Our concern, our responsibility, is simply to hear and heed God. It is always and everywhere to say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’(Mark Buchanan in The Rest of God)

tessalaunchinterviewbothofus (2)And, on the other end of writing, we still depend on God – when the book comes out! In a few days I will be privileged to serve as Moderator at author friend Tessa Afshar’s Book Launch for her third novel Harvest of Gold. I’m particularly excited as the event will be held at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford and will include a Persian Tea! Our little writer’s group has enjoyed putting together this event and we pray as the book goes forth into readers’ hands and minds and hearts. Prayer should surround all our writing endeavors, from beginning to end. “I don’t just write books. I circle them in prayer. To me writing is praying with a keyboard…It’s no coincidence when people tell me that God brought my book into their lives at the perfect time. It’s providence. To me, a book sold is not a book sold; it’s a prayer answered.” (Mark Batterson in The Circle Maker)

Signing off now. Gotta go do a gazillion things to tie up certain areas of my life so that I can have these 40 days a wee bit more streamlined. Of course, I realize many things may intervene to disrupt my focus. But that’s important too. Someone once said “Interruptions are my ministry.” Have a great summer and stay tuned…  

          under the mercy, Cindy

Do YOU want to write? Then why not pray about joining us in the beautiful autumn colors of the New Hampshire mountains October 18-20th for the New England Christian Writers Retreat? Click here for all the information – space is limited, but would love to have you in our community of storytellers… 

©2013 Lucinda Secrest McDowell

www.EncouragingWords.net

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