A word for a pilgrim’s heart …

“I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” Do I hear shouted amens around the world? That’s from Psalm 116:1,2, a psalm with some of my favorite passages because they describe my life. I’d love to quote them all here, but I won’t … I often am brought to tears by the chapter.

Death wrapped its ropes around me…I saw only trouble and sorrow…

Then I called to Him.

How kind the Lord is! How good he is! So merciful …

Let my soul be at rest again, for the Lord has been good to me…

And so I walk in the LORD’s presence as I live here on earth!

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All of that to preface a story that fits well with our series on hope.

Five friends were vacationing in Maine back in October. One of the ladies gave each of us a gift before we ended the week. She had purchased small pewter scallop shells, each imprinted with a single inspirational word. The words were all different; we drew our shells at random.

Yes! A scallop shell. I’d just finished the edit of a book by a pilgrim who walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain (Stuck in the Weeds, by Paul Stutzman), and from his experiences I’d learned that a scallop shell is the symbol of pilgrimage on the Camino. I liked the idea of a daily reminder of who I am in this world, and so I’d been looking for a scallop charm to wear on a chain. This little pewter shell cannot be put on a chain, but it does the job of reminding me, lying on my kitchen windowsill, looking up at me each day with its Word.

Well… well. That’s about all I want to say about the last two weeks since Thanksgiving. Holidays. (When I say “holidays,” does that conjure up stress and emotional turbulence for you?) Called for jury duty. A computer that one day decided to go on strike. Illness. Oh, my. As my mom used to quote, “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley (go often awry).”

That’s from a poem by Robert Burns, written way back in the 1700s. He was ploughing, and his plough destroyed a mouse’s nest.

Ah! doesn’t that happen to us? Just about the time we have things in life arranged comfortably … then something ploughs through. A plough breaks everything up. Turns everything upside down. The poet’s line concerns the mouse, but it could be describing us: “Oh what a panic is in your little breast!”

Yes, my plans for the whole month of December 2015 have been ploughed through…

So … as you have probably noticed … we are not yet done with our hope meditations!

But back to the scallop shell.

The word carved into it is RELAX.

Now, when I drew that shell, I was delighted it was a scallop shell since I’d been looking for one. And that word on it? Well, okay, the word was nice. But I was pretty relaxed at that time, and I didn’t think much of it. I was just happy to have a scallop shell to remind me I am a pilgrim.

Now, though, RELAX is going to be my Word of the Year.

At the end of two weeks of turmoil came a short little blurb a local businessman asked me to edit. The subject was on choosing a Word of the Year instead of making New Year’s resolutions. One word. A word that requires you to both change your thinking and your behaviors. A word to think about and put into practice every day of 2016. I’ve never been a resolution-maker or keeper…but a word of focus and action? That intrigued me.

And here’s my word on my kitchen windowsill! Looking at me every day. Carved into the symbol of who I am!

Yes, every day, this pilgrim is determined to relax. I think back over all of the hope we’ve discovered this year. All the promises given to us by our Creator, our Father, the one who saved us and saves us every day.

The one who the psalmist spoke of… This God, our God, who makes it possible for our souls to be at rest as we walk in the presence of the Lord every day.

Why would I not RELAX in the journey ahead, knowing who is walking with me and has made all these promises?

The scallop shell will stay on my windowsill for next year.

And the word is now carved on the heart of this pilgrim.

How kind the Lord is! How good He is to me!

And lest you think this is all coincidence…

Yesterday I got an email from a friend in another state. She knew nothing of the scallop shell or the suggestion of a Word of the Year. She knew only that the last two weeks a plough has gone through my life.

Her email included this line: “I will pray for both of us to relax in the Lord…”

Come and Join Us

Two weeks ago, I extended “An Invitation that Could Change Everything” — an invitation to join a group scattered around the globe, unified by one Spirit and one purpose — to read the Bible through in four months, from January to April of 2015.

Our small group was prompted to do it last year by Keith Ferrin, who billed the Bible Read-Thru as a “Challenge that could change everything.”

We did it — in four months! — and it did bring great changes to my Bible reading and my devotional time.

The invitation to the Bible Read-Thru 2015 is still open. Get two or three friends together, and do it. You won’t regret the decision.

If you let Keith know you’re “in”, he’ll welcome you to a private Facebook group where readers connect and you’ll get encouraging emails from him every now and then. He also does live conference calls during the four months, and anyone can join who wants to talk in person about the read thru.

You don’t have to get involved with any of that if you’re not into social media — but DO get involved in reading (with some friends). Really. It will change your year.

After I finished Read-Thru 2014, I wrote about the surprises — read the guest blog over at Keith’s website today.

I’m all set to start again in 2015!

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AND…

What hope do Christians have? Is there any hope in this world?

You’re also invited to HOPE 2015, a new series of devotionals that will focus our thoughts on the great inheritance of hope we have as children of God.

It starts here, tomorrow.

New Beginnings

I know what you’re thinking … I’ve got my posts mixed up, and I’m posting a New Year’s meditation on Christmas Day.

No. This is a Christmas reflection.

A quiet morning, this Christmas morning. A little time to read by the fire. And here I find the Christmas story.  This is from The Hawk and the Dove, a novel by Penelope Wilcock. One of her characters reflects:

‘It’s a funny thing. The thing life is fullest of is the thing we find hardest to believe in. New beginnings. The incredible gift of a fresh start. Every new year. Every new day. Every new life. What wonderful gifts! And when we spoil things, and life goes all wrong, we feel dismayed, because we find it so hard to see that we can start again. God lets us share it too, you know. Only God can give life, it’s true — make a new baby or a new year — but he gives us the power to give each other a new beginning, to forgive each other and make a fresh start when things go wrong.’

The story of Christmas — a fresh start, a new beginning, new hope for God’s creation.

He gave us that gift one night in Bethlehem.

As His children, living by the power of His Spirit, may we give the gift as generously to others.

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An invitation “that could change everything”

Hi. Remember me? I haven’t been here for awhile. I didn’t even realize how long it’s been since my last post until I came to the site … and saw that the last entry was on Thanksgiving Day. November and December have slipped away.  One week from today will be Christmas Eve!

So, of course, I felt a little guilty for neglecting this. I thought maybe I could just look back through my most popular Christmas posts and re-post several of those. But … well … I’ll just let you put “Christmas” in the search box over to the right if you want to read any of the previous years’ Christmas meditations.

Today, I’m already looking at the new year, because I want to give you an advance invitation to something exciting and important.

I’d like to invite you to change how you read your Bible. I invite you to feed and grow your hope. I invite you to increase your love for the Savior you’re going to celebrate next week, and I invite you to transform your worldview.

(No, I don’t think I’m over-promising on any of those points.)

I invite you to read the Bible through next year — in four months, January 1 to April 30, 2015.

You can do it. I know  you can. I did it with friends last year. The first week was hard — the last week was bittersweet. We were so happy we had done it — our reading had become vital nourishment each day — and we were sorry to see it end. We wanted to start all over again immediately!

It all started with a challenge from Keith Ferrin, a blogger I follow. His heart and ministry is all about helping people fall in love with God’s Word. Every year, he invites everyone to participate in a Bible Read Thru. He calls it “The Challenge That Could Change Everything.”

I’ll be doing the Read Thru again this year, along with other friends. I have a feeling I’m hooked for life.

And I’m inviting YOU. Get two or three or four friends to commit to do this with you — and do it!

If you accept the invitation, you can sign up with Keith and he’ll send you weekly encouragement emails and give you access to a private Facebook group where you can meet others who are reading.

But signing up with him is not mandatory — although it gives you connections with others who are doing the Read Thru, interacting with your own group is the only necessary thing.

There are only three guidelines for your group:

1. Commit to reading the Bible through in four months. There are reasons for doing this in such a condensed time frame. Daily, it will take from 30-60 minutes. Make the time and do it.

2. Jot down some notes. Nothing long or complicated. Just jot down or mark things that the Spirit uses to nudge you.

3. Talk about what you’re reading with your friends who are also reading. Meet on a regular schedule. Not only does the group help to keep each one committed — it widens the perspective on what you’re reading. I’m thinking about even trying to Skype with a group, but I’m not sure I’m that tech-savvy yet.

Here’s a link to hear all about the Bible Read Thru 2015. Again, you don’t have to sign up with Keith, but please consider doing the reading. I promise, it will change your year!

http://keithferrin.com/36-ready-bible-read-thru-2015-podcast

p.s. I’ll be happy to answer any questions or help in any way I can. You can email me at elaineatmeditations@gmail.com

God’s love — always in our history

Need some good reading today? Read your story (and mine) in two psalms—106 and 107.

Both chapters start out with the well-known thanksgiving:

Praise the LORD!
Give thanks to the LORD for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.

Psalm 106 goes on, after that wonderful opening, to recount the history of the people God rescued from slavery in Egypt. It’s shocking and sad and downright wicked.

After all God had done for them, they still turned away—testing God’s patience with everything from grumbling and complaining, to outright worship of idols and demon worship that included sacrificing of their children.

Yet, as God’s anger disciplined them and they were finally crushed by the results of their sin, when they called out to Him for help, He rescued them, “because of His unfailing love.”

The second psalm, 107, starts with the same refrain of thanksgiving for God’s faithful love that endures forever. Then it recounts our history. Read it closely, and you’ll most likely find your story. My story is there, too. All of us, wandering, willful, in distress and gloom, foolish, suffering from our sin, battered by life. He gathered all of us who had been living in exile from His presence.

And those who call out to God are rescued! God hears, and in His constant love, He comes to help. He’s done miraculous, wonderful things to care for His children. In your life. In my life.

Those two chapters end with this:

Those who are wise will take all this to heart;
   they will see in our history the faithful love of the LORD.

Today, Thanksgiving, let us take heart. Let us each look back at our personal history and see how His love has cared for us. Even when we were (are??) foolish and rebellious and downright sinful.

His faithful love endures forever.

And for that, I will forever give thanks.

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