Choosing a Quiet January

Choosing a Quiet January

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

2018. Wow.

I greet this New Year with mixed emotions. For this baby-boomer growing up in mid-century America, my first response is incredulity –- 

“How did it get to be 2018 already?” 

Quickly followed by my second response,  “How utterly Faithful and True my God has been over the past many years!”  Which is a Good Thing, since the year ahead will most certainly offer numerous occasions to cry out to Him – seeking His wisdom, protection, power and provision. 

I experience many more responses as I turn the page to January 2018 but for now, I will simply “ponder” those in my heart.

After a full holiday season, I am going to go into a Quiet Space for the month of January. I won’t be interacting on social media or posting blogs or sharing memes. I am going to be still and listen to God’s Whisper on my life. As a new and significant year for me begins I am going to wait in wonder for instructions and guidance. I will unplug from technology and plug in to a very few people, sanctuary places and intentional prayerfulness. 

“To be in solitude is to choose to do nothing. For extensive periods of time. All accomplishment is given up. Silence is required to complete solitude, for until we enter quietness, the world still lays hold of us. When we go into solitude and silence we stop making demands on God. It is enough that God is God and we are His.” (from “Invitation to Solitude and Silence” by Ruth Haley Barton)

I also plan to marinate in my word for the year 2018 – STEADFAST

  • Reveling in God’s STEADFAST LOVE (hesed adonai) for me The steadfast love of the Lord never changes, His mercies never come to an end…”  Lamentations 3.22 
  • Seeking to become more STEADFAST (hypomoneo) “Let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1.4 

Signing off for the month now — praying for both a restorative and revealing time alone as well as moments with family and friends. 

Perhaps you will choose to do the same? Let me know, and thanks for being patient with my reply…

under the mercy, Cindy

©2018 Lucinda Secrest McDowell

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Your “Mess” Can Become a “Messiah”

Your “Mess” Can Become a “Messiah”

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

George was a mess. One night in 1741, this bent old man shuffled listlessly down a dark London street. he was starting out on one of the aimless, despondent wanderings that had become a nightly ritual for him. His mind was a battleground between hope based on his past glories and despair based on the future.

George Frederich Handel couldn’t help but think of his roller coaster life…

For forty years he had written stately music for the aristocracy of England and Europe. Kings and queens had showered him with honors. Then court society turned against him, reducing him to poverty and illness. For awhile he experienced a recovery in health and fortune, until his patroness, Queen Caroline, died. As Handel sank deeper into debt, his heart sank deeper into depression.

Trudging into the warmth of his apartment that night, he discovered a package had been delivered– a commission to write a sacred oratorio. He would have preferred writing another opera. That is, until he began to read the words he was asked to set to music… “He was despised and rejected of men;” “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace;” and “I know that my Redeemer Liveth.”

As these words came alive with meaning and purpose, so did Handel. He became consumed with writing and then jumping up and running to the harpsichord. At times he would stride up and down the room flailing the air with his arms and singing at the top of his lungs, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” the tears running down his cheeks.

People thought he was going mad. For twenty-four days he labored like a fiend with little rest or food. Then he fell on his bed exhausted, with his new score, “Messiah,” laying on his desk. At the very first performance of “Messiah,” the King and Queen attended and spontaneously stood in reverence when the “Hallelujah Chorus” began. That custom has continued to this day.

Handel never again succumbed to despair. Age sapped his vitality, he went blind, but his undaunted spirit remained to the last. “Until us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” became words that gave him new life.

And through his oratorio, George Frederich Handel lit a torch that still shines.

This Child whom we celebrate during Christmas has great power to rescue those who are at the end of their rope – “messes” like you and me.  To offer a lifeline which restores purpose and passion to a discouraged soul. To anoint with power so that even the most feeble of humans can make a divine offering back to the Giver.

What will your “Messiah” be this coming year?

  • For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given;
  • And the government will be upon His shoulder.
  • And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor,
  • Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

under the mercy, Cindy

©2017 Lucinda Secrest McDowell – adapted from Dwelling Places (Abingdon Press)

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NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

 

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Guess Who Moved Into the Neighborhood?

Guess Who Moved Into the Neighborhood?

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

People were confused, hurting, angry and impatient. They wanted relief. They wanted results. Perhaps what they really wanted was a savior. Someone to solve all the problems in the world and thus make their life easier.

They had already tried just about everything, including following their own instincts, going after whatever would satisfy, even as a temporary fix. But it wasn’t enough. Our way usually isn’t.

After what seemed like silence for more than 400 years, a loving God did a radical thing to reach down into the world he had made and which had subsequently tossed him aside.

He came.

God became incarnate as Jesus Christ, the Son, and entered into our mess, helpless as a baby, unknown and ordinary. “He moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1.14 MSG)

To be among us.

Not over us, spouting truth from on high. But down here where life is gritty and grace is gulped by desperate people wanting to belong. Among. Walking down the dusty streets with beggars and women of the night. Confronting corrupt temple holy men even as the ordinary worshiper became discouraged by church politics.  Making his home in our homes.

Dwelling in our midst and eventually in our very hearts.

This is huge.

That One who is all-powerful and all-knowing would draw close to someone just like you and me. And yet Jesus-among-us is exactly what we celebrate every Christmas. The glory in the manger.

Where is God in your life? Is he still “up there” out of sight, out of reach, impossible to communicate with?

Or do you know him “here?” Christ among you. A breath prayer away from solace and sanctuary.

Invite Him in and stay close. Speak to Him of your concerns and your joys. Ask Him for power when yours gives out. Ask Him for love to share with the unlovely. Rest with your head on His lap and in obedience do hard things that will display His glory to the world.

This is why God sent Jesus.

under the mercy, Cindy

Merry Christmas from the McDowell Family

©2017 Lucinda Secrest McDowell – adapted from Ordinary Graces (Abingdon Press)

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NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

 

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That Time I Received Everything as a Gift…

That Time I Received Everything as a Gift…

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

On Crazy Christmas Sweater Day at the high school, I wear one depicting my favorite scene from the movie, “Elf.” Pictured on the front is Buddy the Elf screaming with ecstasy “Santa’s Coming! I know him!” Raised (by Santa) at the North Pole, Buddy works in the Christmas department of a New York City store. Though an upcoming visit from “Santa” is a humdrum for the other staff, he spends all night excitedly decorating to welcome a person he both knows and loves.

I’m the same way around Christmas – but not for Santa. For Jesus.

You see, Christmas celebrates Jesus’ coming. And since I know Him that changes my whole motivation for celebration..

Do you truly know Jesus or do you just know about Him?

Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God.” (2 Peter 1.3) Here we are promised that one of the greatest gifts we are given is the opportunity to get to know our Savior “personally and intimately.” How? By taking hold of the “everything” that is needed to live a life of godliness.

Literally we have received Everything!

The New Testament Greek word used here is pas which is translated “everything, all things, complete.” No exceptions. In the context of today’s verse, it refers to anything we need in order to grow spiritually.

It’s not enough just to have the gift, we must actually use it.

When Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfoot nation in Alberta, gave the Canadian Pacific Railway permission to lay train track from Medicine Hat to Calgary, he was given in exchange a lifetime railroad pass. A ticket he could use to go anywhere, anytime. Everything he needed for a journey.

For the rest of his life.

Chief Crowfoot was so pleased with the gift that he put it in a fine tooled leather pouch and wore it around his neck. But he never used it. He never took a trip on the train. He had everything but he didn’t avail himself of the gift.

Don’t waste the grace gifts God has given you. “In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2.3) Simply draw near, read His Word, talk to Him in prayer.

That’s everything.

under the mercy, Cindy

©2017 Lucinda Secrest McDowell – adapted from Ordinary Graces (Abingdon Press)

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NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

 

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Will You Have a Shiny Christmas?

Will You Have a Shiny Christmas?

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

I don’t want to just survive the holidays, I want to shine.

Don’t you want the season to be different this year? Not as hectic or harried. Not as full of stress and ‘shoulds.’ More purposeful and peaceful. Brighter and more beautiful, but in a low key way.

I’m thinking of words here like simplicity and serenity. You too?

Ready to let go of the debt and duty. Happy to keep the lights and shimmer. In fact, I want every single corner to shine, not necessarily with a designer tree or sequined sweater, but with sweet contentment.  In thinking of such possibilities, my heart bursts into praise, “Shine, Jesus shine, Fill this land with the Father’s glory.”

But, of course, my deepest prayer is “Shine on me.”

For until I am filled with that light inside, I can never reflect it to those around me.  

“If you have arrived at Advent, at the coming, with doubts, dragging chains of disbelief, disenchantment, and discouragement, welcome. You are not alone. And if you enter this season with a harried heart and a furrowed brow, welcome. You are not alone. If your moanings feel louder than the quiet, subtle hope tucked behind the noise of the world’s Christmas season, then welcome. You are not alone. And that’s the good news, isn’t it? That in this darkness, in this aching nighttime, we are not alone. Christ comes. Christ pierces the darkness with His light.” (Jane Rubietta, “Finding the Messiah”)

One symbolic way our family enjoys keeping the shine in our season is the tradition of lighting candles each day.  Advent wreaths can be purchased widely, from simple frames at hobby stores to elaborate ones in gift shops. But all you really need is a circle of four candles and a place in the middle for the Christ candle. Candles can be any color, or you use the traditional colors of three purple/blue and one pink. Each week, a new candle is lit. The first Sunday, we light a purple candle for Hope, the second Sunday another purple candle for Love, the third Sunday  the pink candle for Joy, the fourth Sunday a purple candle for Peace and on Christmas Eve the center white candle for Christ. With each lighting, we read Scripture and sing a Christmas carol.

Our dwelling place is God’s presence. Out of that place of refueling and reigniting, we then go forth to mingle with a damaged and desperate culture. “Among these people you shine like stars in the world.” (Philippians 2.15)

I’m looking forward to a Shiny Christmas, how about you?

under the mercy, Cindy

©2017 Lucinda Secrest McDowell – adapted from Dwelling Places (Abingdon Press)

ORDER HERE – Click “BUY” and you can choose to purchase from ANY Online Store.

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

 

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A Question to Ask at the End of the Day

A Question to Ask at the End of the Day

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Mike calls me out on the porch to watch the sunset.

It is glorious — fiery red, dazzling orange with a bit of purple mixed in. We are in awe and enjoy the companioned silence.

Seven years ago we decided to downsize — give away or throw away pretty much half our life’s ‘stuff.’ After living for twenty years in a beautiful, large colonial parsonage, we were eager to settle into our own little nest. The fact that this cottage was high on a hill was a great determining factor for our future home. Christened “Sunnyside” we looked forward to such things as sunsets and vistas of the surrounding New England village.

It seemed appropriate that for the ‘sunset’ time of life, we chose this verse for our home: “May God be merciful and gracious to us, and cause His face to shine upon us and among us.” (Psalm 67.1)

He is and He does. All the time. So I endeavor to thank Him all day long.

And now it’s time for bed. I set the alarm, turn on my sound machine (ocean waves) and snuggle deep into the warm fleece sheets. As my mind settles over the story of my day, I ask the only truly important question.

“Did my life today please you, Lord — have I loved well?”

St. John of the Cross once said that “at the evening of our day we shall be judged by our loving.” Perhaps that means that my list of what was done and what was left undone is not as important as how I attempted each task, each encounter.

“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” What small things did I do today — and were they done with love?

I usually go to sleep quickly once my head hits the pillow, but I linger a bit for three final rituals: pray through the names on my family list, ask forgiveness for today’s sin, and begin my litany of praise for every single blessing. Sleep often overtakes me before I can even finish… “let the Lord’s name be praised.”

Have I loved well?

Ken Gire says that if we can answer yes to that sunset question, it is enough. It may not be enough for our employer. It may not be enough for our fellow workers. It may not be enough for all the carpools and committees and other things on our calendars. It may not even be enough for us. But it is enough for God. And that should make it enough for us.”

Live with a grateful heart. Love well. And sleep in peace.

under the mercy, Cindy

©2017 Lucinda Secrest McDowell – adapted from Ordinary Graces (Abingdon Press)

ORDER HERE – Click “BUY” and you can choose to purchase from ANY Online Store.

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

 

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It’s Not Turkey Day, It’s THANKSGIVING!

It’s Not Turkey Day, It’s THANKSGIVING!

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

They are the first words I see.

The moment my eyes open from a night’s sleep. Stenciled on the gable directly across from my bed — “Each day is a gift from God.”

Prompting me to thank God even before my feet hit the floor. Before the world inevitably begins to invade my posture of praise. A bill I can’t pay is due today. The morning news is violent. Icy roads disrupt my schedule. And I’m still waiting on medical tests results.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let’s continue to express our gratitude. With this gratitude, let’s serve in a way that is pleasing to God with respect and awe.” Hebrews 12.28

Do you sometimes find it difficult to muster up feelings of gratitude? 

Jonathan Edwards (who worshipped here at my church for two years in the 18th century) suggested we live “gracious gratitude — being thankful not just for God’s gifts and blessings but for God Himself and who He is.”  So in those moments when we cannot think of one thing to thank God for, we can thank Him for who He is.

Thanksgiving and praise to God run throughout the pages of the Old Testament even in the midst of violent and horrific circumstances. And they continue through the New Testament, despite persecution and danger.

We are called to live with a heart full of gratitude, not just when we awaken to a sunny sky, but when we face a day of darkness and despair.

My friend Jennifer Dukes Lee says, “On your best day, gratitude reminds you that your gifts are not your own. And on your worst day, gratitude reminds you that you are not alone.”

Be sure to Thank God today that He is always with you – you are never alone!

Gratitude flows from the ability to see all you have and all you are as a gift. This means you insist that persons are more valuable than things. Ultimately the opposite of gratitude is not ingratitude, but chaos. If we are to be human in the truest sense of this word, it will be as we tenaciously insist that we live life grateful.” (Barnabas Powell)

I am so very grateful. First for God. Then for His gifts. THANKSGIVING!

Receive God’s Thanksgiving Benediction over you this Thanksgiving:       My child, it is My deepest joy to offer you gifts – of grace, mercy and hope. As you unpack their worth and usefulness, may your own heart be filled to overflowing with gratitude. For opportunities that come your way. For people you can bless. And yes, for Me, the Lover of your soul.

under the mercy, Cindy

©2017 Lucinda Secrest McDowell – adapted from Ordinary Graces (Abingdon Press)

ORDER HERE – Click “BUY” and you can choose to purchase from ANY Online Store.

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

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