A Secret Place in My Heart

One day last week, an editor called. She presented me with a startling writing assignment. A big scary assignment. An idea that could take months. And if there’s one thing that messes with me, it’s fear.

After we hung up, I sat down at my desk. My cold, clammy fingers hovered above my keyboard. I had no idea how to begin.

Why does she think I can do this?  I don’t know how. 

The softest sweetest voice in my heart whispered one word. 

“Pray.”

I knelt beside by my desk.

Lord, fear is trespassing in my heart again. And I don’t have to be afraid.  

If You’re in this, help me. 

Sometimes when I write, I light a candle. I love the bright glow and the warm smell of cinnamon. I lit my favorite candle and watched the flame for a minute or two.

Then I put my fingers on the keys.

But the candle wasn’t enough.

Two unlit candles caught my attention.

What is it, Lord? 

Father.

Son.

Holy Spirit.

The Trinity. Three in one. Light all three candles. Ask Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to help you. 

I’d never considered praying this way before.

Yes! Yes!

I lit the other candles and knelt again.

“Lord, You’re my Father. The Great I Am. My Protector. Alpha and Omega. 

Jesus, You’re My Savior. My Friend.  Emmanuel. Wonderful Counselor. My Redeemer.

Holy Spirit, You’re my Comforter. My Deliverer. My Teacher. Dwell with me today.”

I crawled back into my chair and typed:

“I had no idea there was any other way to live. Fear, perfectionism, and control were like my wicked stepsisters.”

The words came from a secret place in my heart.

I had begun. :)

Here’s a 15-second video of my candles. Just had to show you!

If you can’t see video below, click here

Is there anything in life that keeps you on your knees? 

That’s okay.

It’s a safe place to be.

Love,

Julie

I Blew It

Well, y’all, I blew it. In less than a week, I rebelled against my word for 2015, SIMPLE. I turned something SIMPLE into something complicated and ugly.

As it was happening, I ignored God’s gentle tap-tap-tapping on my heart.

The week started out beautifully, too.

I used my Belk Christmas gift card from Mother to buy plain, white dishes. I thought if my kitchen table looked SIMPLE, I’d remember my word.

I found a SIMPLE green wreath from Target.

But the day I bought my dishes, a phone conversation with someone I love went south.

God seemed to whisper, Don’t respond. Leave this alone. 

But I didn’t.

Anger erupted inside of me like red-hot lava.

For most of my life, my anger has turned inward. My stomach hurts. I shut down and smile. This time, I lost my temper. I let loose. I screamed back. Tried to defend my opinion. I was driving, and it felt like the car shuddered around me.

Hang up the phone now, the Soft Voice said.

I lost all sense of time and space, but worse than that.

I lost my peace. I abandoned my word. 

Even then, I sensed God’s Spirit calling out to me.

You don’t have to do this. 

I knew better. I’ve had years of Alanon.

Still holding the phone, I cried messy tears–the kind where you can’t catch your breath. “I have to go now. Bye,” I choked out.

I came home. Took a hot bath. Cried some more.

I can’t share details, but I knew better than to poke the bear. 

The next day, my SIMPLE white dishes arrived.

Feeling stupid and exhausted and a million miles away from God, I unpacked them and set the kitchen table.

Then I unpacked my heart.

I sat by my dishes and wrote hard and fast in my prayer journal.

I did the only thing I could do.

I started over on Step One in Alanon which applies to every area of my life. 

I “admitted I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable.

If you’re like me and you’ve somehow lost your word, its closer than you think. 

So is God.

My Simple Peace returned, bright and warm, like the candlelight shining on my plain-white dishes. 

God’s tenderness found me. Again. 

Keep it Simple, Sweetheart. There’s really no other way.

How’s your year going? Your word?

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Mysterious Destination (and My 2015 Word)

I’d been considering a certain word for 2015. I didn’t have much in common with it, but I loved it. It’s tiny and tender compared to my last three heavyweights–surrender follow, and enough.

Something unexpected happened Christmas night, and I knew the word was mine.

Six p.m.

“Go get your coat,” my husband said.

“Why? Is everything okay? Where’re we going? Do I need my purse? Let me get my phone.”

“Nope. Just your coat.”

(We re-enacted  for pictures. On Christmas night there were no cars.)

Even though I felt uneasy leaving everything behind, I followed his simple instructions and grabbed my coat. While he drove to our mysterious destination, I asked a million more questions.

He just smiled.

Patted my knee.

Approximately eight minutes later, we parked at the town square.

“Ohhhhh, we’re walking around the square, right?”

He winked.

It’d been a couple of years since we’d walked around the square together. And never on Christmas night. “Wow. Everything’s all lit up.” I hurried toward the first shop to peek in the window.

“Slow down. We’re not exercising.”

Oh.

I felt a tug at my heart.

Something’s happening. Pay attention.

“Look at the Christmas tree lights!” I said. “They’re the big old-fashioned kind, like when we were little.”

“Oh, look at Buckles Hardware all decorated.”

“We might even see Barney Fife!

“Yep,” he said.

photo credit Bisse’s Photostream Flickr link

How had I missed the beauty of small town simplicity?

The beauty of simple things? 

We stopped at a window box full of pansies.

Spotting one simple candle glowing in the window, I finally said yes to my word. One-hundred percent yes.

“Guess what my word is for 2015? It’s the exact opposite of me.”

“Risk-taker?”

“No. It’s Simple. My new word is Simple. Like, ‘K.I.S.S. Keep it Simple, Sweetheart.’‘”

He looked at me and I knew exactly what he was thinking.

But you’re not simple. You’re complicated. You never stop thinking. Or planning.

“With God’s help, I’m going to think simple thoughts. I am–I’m going to simplify and focus on what matters most.”

Maybe simple faith is all we really need.

Do you have a word for 2015? Please share it with our group!

**Reminder** Facebook is changing in January. Be sure to sign up for my blog through my website.

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worshipping at Walmart

Glancing at my last-minute Christmas brunch grocery list, I hurry across the wet Walmart parking lot. It’s damp and cold. I wish I’d worn my coat. Making my way through the crowd of grim-faced shoppers, my thoughts scatter like marbles. I check my list again.

* Find red tablecloth

* Eggs, orange juice, chocolate milk, bacon

*Send Katie mini-cheese blintz recipe 

Taking a short-cut through pajamas aisle, I hear Christmas music.

Is it piped in through the speakers?

People move toward the center of the store as though following The Star of David.

I forget my list and follow them.

Workers stop to listen.

This music.

This beautiful music. 

It’s a little rough, but in a good way. It’s raw.

Full of passion.

And powerful.

So very powerful. 

A form of praise that can’t be contained.

Warmth spreads through me as I pass a small nativity.

Spotting the giant circle of carolers, I’m filled with unspeakable peace.

This kind of worship isn’t planned.

It’s spontaneous combustion.

Not of this world.

So much bigger than me. 

Some drop to their knees.

Wipe their eyes.

A few raise their hands.

I remember yesterday when I heard, “Christmas Cannon,” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. This same wonder and awe came over me.

(Click here if you can’t see the video.)

And now, 

Miraculously,

In the middle of a busy Walmart on Saturday before Christmas,

We sound every bit as beautiful as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Glory and honor and praise fill an ordinary building as a ragtag collection of us sing our hearts out.

(Click here if you can’t see the video.)

Unhindered,

Unrehearsed,

We worship Christ the newborn King.

 Have you had one of these moments this Christmas when God’s Gift fills your heart? Please share it with our group! 

Love,

Julie

Straight from the Heart

This past Sunday we were having a tiny family get-together to make Christmas cookies. Very low-key. But Saturday morning, we had a church commitment and overslept.

Hurrying, I forgot what matters most.

“I hate running late!” I said. “Now we’ll be behind all weekend long. I have so much to do.”

“Nah,” Rick said. “We’re fine.”

By the time we got back home, I felt like I was chasing myself around trying to catch up.

Get a Christmas tree.

Bring decorations upstairs from the basement.

Decorate.

Go to the grocery store.

Finish addressing Christmas cards.

NOW. Hurry!

And I’m married to a man who can’t be pushed. Or rushed. The harder I tried to get things done, the slower he moved.

Sunday afternoon right before the party, he finally brought the tree inside, and I started making cookies.

Which should’ve been done hours earlier.

Scanning the box for directions, I discovered something odd–

A paragraph explaining why “Mr. Sunface Bebo” founded Immaculate Baking Company.

This sentence seemed about ten feet tall. 

“His vision is to inspire people to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.”

Whoa. 

A baking company has a vision to inspire people to love one another? 

And it’s right here on the box.

Straight from the founder’s heart.

Something inside me shifted.

In all my hurrying, I’d lost my vision for why I was having a cookie party.

Because I love my family. 

Before long, I saw–really SAW–our son Thomas and his girlfriend Brittany decorating the tree.

Our daughter Katie was frosting cookies.

We missed you, Jamie. :(

I sat beside Rick. “Sorry, I pushed so hard.”

He made his my wife scares me face. Which is part of why I love him. His sense of humor.

Later, alone in the kitchen, I turned out the big tree lights.

And studied our nativity.

Because of God’s great love for us,

We can love one another,

Straight from the heart. 

Do you decorate Christmas cookies?

Have you been hurrying too and missing the good stuff?

(The glutenfree cookies were amazing! I have Celiac.)

“…love one another…” John 13:34

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Bumps and Bruises

I saw one of those sweet Publix Thanksgiving commercials the other day, and the family-shaped place in my heart ached. Watching their warm, endearing expressions toward each other, I wondered if everything was really this perfect in their world.

Or were some family members missing from the table?

Were any estranged from each other?

Had some gone to Heaven?

Did they have any problems?

Or were they a little more like our family?

With a few bumps and scrapes and bruises.

(If you can’t see the video of the commercial below, click here. It’s only a minute long.)

Watching this TV family, I longed for health and healing–in every way–for all of us in my family.

No barriers.

No illnesses.

Peace and joy.

I guess I wanted the impossible.

Heaven on Earth. 

The next morning I sat in my bedroom talking to God about life, and Clyde laid down beside me as always.

I spotted a handmade bookmark on my bedside table from a Daily Guideposts reader. I’d probably skimmed it a dozen times and had never noticed how the words were spaced on separate lines.

This time I read each phrase slowly.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.

Be. 

Just be still like Clyde. Still and trusting. At peace.

One day, all the bumps and scrapes and bruises in our families will be healed.

Be.

Be still.

Be still and know.

“Be still and know that He is God,” Psalms 46:10.

I’ll be giving thanks tomorrow and praying for you and yours.

Love,

Julie

 

Robin’s Early Christmas Gift

I’m just now acknowledging a touch of sadness leftover from childhood. After all these years, Mother and I finally talked about it.

“When I was little, you didn’t enjoy Christmas very much, did you?” I said, hesitantly.

“No, I dreaded it–the cleaning and cooking and pine needles everywhere. I’m so sorry. If I had it to do all over again–”

“No, no. No need to apologize. You did all the right things. We had presents and a tree. It’s just…you didn’t smile much. Maybe you were depressed or had autoimmune illnesses back then.” (She has three.)

“I can still see my grim face. It breaks my heart. I wanted to smile, but I was just so tired.”

With this conversation circling my thoughts last week, my friend Robin called on Halloween. We love books, antiques, and we feel things deeply.

But there’s something very different about us.

Robin celebrates holidays with her whole heart. 

It’s always fascinated me.

When we were young mothers, she sewed pilgrim outfits for her four children. Everybody made crafts.

I don’t sew or even own a glue stick. And that weird Christmas emotion (guilt? sadness?) creeps in every so often.

Robin and I chatted about everything from hair color to motherhood, and the conversation shifted.

“Jewels, guess what I did yesterday?”

“No telling.”

“I watched my favorite Christmas movies.”

“You watched Christmas movies before Halloween?”

That secret place in my heart clamored for attention.

“I had the best time!” she said. “On November first, I always start planning Christmas.”

What if it’s really okay to love Christmas? 

Something clicked into place like a key unlocking a door.

Robin has the gift of anticipation.

And it’s okay to anticipate Christmas!

Was it too late for me? Could I change?

After we hung up, I made our first fire of the season.

Mother called. “What’re you doing?” she said.

“Looking forward to Christmas.” I told her about Robin’s plans.

“Bless her little Christmas heart. And yours too. I love Robin.”

“I’m washing Christmas mugs, and I’m going to have a Porch Party all by myself with real whip cream, and–”

“Julie, Christmas is spilling into my heart and spreading across my living room. I’m going to get out my nativity right now!

Who knew anticipation could be contagious?

“And even healing,” Mother said softly. “It’s a form of worship.”

What about your childhood? Is there something that needs healing? 

Robin’s blog, All Things Heart and Home, is full of anticipation!

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

Surrender…It’s So Very Daily

I’ve been blessed to contribute devotionals to Daily Guideposts since 2003. The 2015 edition contains a Surrender Series I wrote about my word from 2012. A few days ago, Guideposts featured one of my devotionals from the series on their website.

In this devotional, I mention Al-AnonAl-Anon is a 12-Step program for people like me who have a friend or family member who is an alcoholic.

So many times I return to Step One.

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Surrender, for me, means admitting I’m powerless. Step One affects every part of my life.

I’m not only powerless over alcohol, I’m powerless over everything and everyone except my choices and my responses.

I’m powerless over people I love.

I’m powerless over others’ opinions of me.

I’m even powerless over whether or not the sun shines. :)

Moment-by-moment, I’m reminded that I’m not in control–even on my daily walks.

Last week Clyde (our Lab) and I walked the loop through the woods behind our house. We always circle the loop ten times. I noticed Kitty Thelma watching us.

“Kitty, kitty, come on. Walk with us.”

She swished her tail like she had better things to do.

Each time we passed her, the same thing happened. I begged her to come. She refused.

On loop number eight, she sharpened her claws.

Oh, good! Maybe she’s thinking about it.

I waited on her.

Nope. She stayed put.

Which brought me back to Surrender.

I’ve spent a lot of energy trying to change people.  

Just like I’d done with Thelma–I was even trying to control my cat!

On my last loop, I smiled at her, but I didn’t try to change her mind.

Leaving the woods, I saw the sun peeking through the fall leaves.

Thank You, Lord. It’s not my job to change anyone. (Not even Thelma. :) )

I’m just supposed to work on myself.

Have you ever tried to change someone? Pointless, isn’t it.

Love,

Julie

Trusting God and Letting the Pansies Go

Mother called late Thursday afternoon. “Julie, your brother (Jeremy) is making me a pansy garden. You’ve gotta see it. He bought special fertilizer, planted them in a big dirt mound, and covered them in mulch. He even pressure-washed my angel birdbath, and put out my ‘Trust in God’ sign.”

Friday, she met me at her carport door, sad-faced. “Early this morning, a neighbor saw a 10-point buck eating all my pansies!”

She showed me a picture. “I took this before everything was ruined. Jeremy built the wall by hand with a mallet and hammer. All that’s left now is his rock wall and my sign.”

“Can’t he replant your pansies?”

“Well, he could, but I’d have to stand guard and watch for the deer.”

“That’s a lot of work.”

“Yep. I thought about artificial pansies, but Gene (her husband) said no.”

Monday afternoon she called. “Jeremy’s replanting the whole thing. He’s spreading mothballs to repel the deer.”

“You don’t sound excited. Have you seen it?”

“No. I’m afraid to look. I feel so sorry for the pansies. I can’t stand it if they get eaten again.”

“They’re my favorite flower.”

“Mine too.”

“They’re so brave,” I said.

“They’re survivors. They make it through bitter cold winters.”

“Well, you can’t be afraid to look at them. Let me know when you gather your courage.”

Later that day, she called. “I haven’t looked yet, but I visualized each pansy and prayed over them.”

I could feel her peace through the phone.

“Okay, I’m walking to the window now. Oh, Julie. They’re gorgeous. He planted them not once, but twice, so I love them twice as much. I’ll let you know what happens, but I’m trusting God. I can’t live in fear. Not even about my pansies.”

“Wonderful! Now, send me a picture of you smiling.”

P.S. This week the “pansies” in my life are something I’ve been writing for a long time. Soon, I’m pressing send, trusting God, and letting go.

What are your “pansies” right now?

P.S.S. I just talked to Mother. So far, so good. :)

Love,
Julie

 

My Regular Old Southern Self

“Oh, Julie,” my mother said in a somber tone. “New Englanders are a bit different than we are.”

I’d called to tell her I’d be leading a women’s Surrender Retreat at New Colony Baptist Church in Billerica, Massachusetts.

“What do you mean different?”

An incredibly long paused formed.

“People in the New England area are … ”

“Are what, Mother?”

“Well, they don’t eat grits or drink sweet tea, and they never say, ‘I’m fixin to’.”

Uh-oh. What have I gotten myself into?

How can I stop being so Southern and be more polished? More New England-ish?

I tried to stop saying “I’m fixin’ to.”

But I couldn’t.

I thought about giving up sweet tea.

But I didn’t.

Instead I made a scary decision.

To go to Massachusetts and be my regular old Southern self. 

To share my heart with the ladies.

The real me.

Weeks later standing at the podium, I told them what my mother had said. :)

They just about died laughing.

So did I. 

I began teaching, as I sometimes do, wearing curlers and a bathrobe. :)

I used my Barbie dolls like always.

I even brought out my chain to share how fear and perfectionism had bound me for most of my life.

Some of my new friends …

At the end of the retreat, I carried balloons of SURRENDER to the middle of the parking lot.

I’m laughing because the wind is blowing so hard.

So beyond my control.

So much bigger than me.

So … God.

When we released them–

Up, up they floated–

And landed in a tree.

But one lone yellow balloon broke free. When she did, Truth rose in my heart. 

People are just people. We all laugh and cry and struggle.

Best of all, God is still God. 

And I get to be me.

 So much love,

Julie

Do you ever struggling with being yourself?

P.S. Thank you for praying for us!