Pragmatic Communion

pragmatic living in the presence of God

two minutes with God: 2nd Corinthians 3:4-5

a Quote:
“God can be our source of confidence because our adequacy is from Him.”
(from Thriving as an Artist in the Church by Rory Noland)

“As I go into the concert I have a pretty good feel for my ability – that is, I know the truth of who I am in the whole scheme of things. I may not be the best musician in the world, but neither am I the worst. What does it matter anyway, since whatever gifts I have were given to me in the first place and are really not mine. So I can’t lose. As I begin to play, my energy is not wasted on thinking of myself. The point of my playing is to present the message of the song, to “wash the feet” of the people or even God by faithfully playing my best with the ability I’ve been given. Now I become the beneficiary of another equation: to forget yourself equals the best possible performance.”
(quote by Michael Card in Roland’s book)

my Prayer:
Lord, as I go into the studio to record tonight, please bless me with your interpretation of Jesus Messiah. Please help me to sing it the way you want to hear it. Please lead me to put harmony where you find it beautiful. Please show me how to make the song pleasing to your ears, not my own.

Please bless my voice and tonight, through your Holy Spirit, please remove the limitations I’m experiencing because I’ve been sick this past week. Please equip me for service because without your help, my voice is even more inadequate than it usually is.

Please bless the studio session and make me aware of any opportunity to be used by you. Please make me sensitive to the individual needs of those who are there. I don’t know them Lord, but you do. I want to be available for your service, no matter that I’m there to get something done – for myself. Please help me to see with your eyes, my vision is weak and self-focused.

the Word:
Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.
2nd Corinthians 3:4-5 (NIV)

the lyric.
“Because You gladly lean to lead the humble, I shall gladly kneel to leave my pride. Oh God, You are my God, and I will ever praise You. Oh God, You are my God, and I will ever praise You.”
Like Incense (youtube link) by Hillsong Live (amazon link)


This was dual published on my Pragmatic Compendium blog.

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January 8, 2011 Posted by | bible, books, christian living, devotions, prayer, two minutes with God, women | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

be strong and courageous.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

This is PinkGirl’s new memory verse. Not assigned by school, mind you, but given to her by her brother when I asked him if he knew of a good verse to help her with her fear. (I told you he was a walking concordance.) Her fear was born the night of Hurricane Charlie as our family sat in our laundry room with flashlights and no power, listening to the storm and the local Christian radio station, which was reporting on the storm. When we ventured outside, this impressionable four year old discovered that her house wasn’t as strong as she thought. And the fence around her backyard playground wasn’t as strong as she thought. And the giant tree, which landed on her swing set, wasn’t as strong as she thought. Fortunately, the daddy-built swing set WAS as strong as she thought or the back porch would have had a big hole in the roof.

So last weekend, she came pounding down the stairs, “MOM! There’s a storm coming! I heard it on the radio!” She was not calm. She did NOT want to leave the house and we were supposed to go to church. So, I made a decision. We stayed home and did a family devotion on fear. And then FavoriteSon led another devotion on not giving up. And PinkGirl read a poem and explained her interpretation – that being a Christian doesn’t mean you’re perfect, but covered by grace, and then I led a devotion about generosity and giving to others. (FirstHusband was at work or he would have gotten one too.)

So we didn’t go to church. But what an amazing time together, listening to my children talk about their faith they way they never do when we are rushing through our day and our week. PinkGirl even forgot about the storm. Now, we can say: “Have I not commanded you . . . ” and she will repeat it and continue through the end of the verse.

I need that verse too. I mentioned that I am FINALLY going to get rid of my fibroids by having a hysterectomy this year. Things are progressing and the realization that I’m going to have another surgery and go under general anesthesia – which is scarier to me than any pain resulting from the surgery – is settling in. I HATE going under. See when I’m under, I have NO control over what’s happening. I have to trust OTHER PEOPLE with my LIFE. I’m continuing through the process, taking action one step at a time, but I know the night before the surgery is going to come with some Ambien.

What I need to see is GOD working through those people. Let me tell myself that again. I need to see GOD working through those other people. He’ll be there in the operating room with me because he loves me. He’ll be there in the operating room. He’ll be there in the operating room. He’ll be there . . .

What I also need to do is to stop feeling guilty about having this surgery. Thoughts creep in and out of my day – I could just live with the daily iron pills and frequent bleeding. It’s not like I have a “real” problem. I’ve had a pap smear, an internal and external sonogram, a cervical biopsy, and two different kinds of endometrial biopsies. There is no cancer, there are no polyps, nothing suspicious. Just annoying bleeding and low iron that can be treated with a daily supplement. But. I know that life will be better if my iron levels are normal. I know I will be more active if I don’t have to deal with the bleeding. I KNOW the surgery is the right thing to do. My hormone levels are completely normal – no sign of menopause. So if I wait for menopause to stop the bleeding, I’ll be waiting a very long time.

“Have I not commanded you . . .”

So here’s the step of faith. I’m going to have the surgery. Because He’ll be in the operating room with me, guiding the surgeons, the anesthesiologist, and the nursing staff.

And since I’ve decided to have the surgery, I decided to have a consult with a plastic surgeon to discuss removal of the pannus I’ve had since PinkGirl was born. The crease is right at my c-section scar and it’s very uncomfortable, especially during the summer months. FirstHusband is very supportive of both surgeries. He knows what I deal with.

I originally asked my GYN if she would consider working with a plastic surgeon to remove the pannus and she immediately said yes, that she had done it before and gave me a referral. I was very surprised because she is over the top conservative. I called the referral and he was no longer doing “tandem” surgeries, but his son would consider it. His son. But. That’s not the referral I got. I was nervous. His son doesn’t have as much experience. I researched the son and his credentials are impressive, so I went to the consult, praying all the way there: “God I want to do this if it is okay with You. Please guide me by either easing my fears or making me even more nervous.”

I get to the plastic surgeon’s office and discover it is located INSIDE the hospital. I walk into the reception room and there are two people seated in the waiting room, one scheduling another appointment and one waiting to pay. I waited less than 5 minutes to turn in my paperwork. The receptionist validated my parking ticket, I sat down, pulled out my book and was called back before I even put on my glasses. I went into the examining room, explained my situation to the nurse, she left and I changed into my paper dress, sat down, pulled out my book and the doctor knocked before I even put on my glasses. He spent a good 20 minutes with me, first listening, then explaining everything. He suggested a full abdominoplasty and showed me that my rectus muscles, were separated. He said he could tell they were strong (all that ab work is paying off), but that no amount of crunches would ever bring them back together. All in all, I left feeling very confident in him. On the way home, I prayed, thanking God for easing my concerns. When I finished praying, I didn’t turn on the radio. In the silence of the car, I consciously asked for and then listened for God’s response. A few minutes later, I glanced over at the car next to me and read the bumper sticker:

“Gene’s Law: If anything can go well, it will.”

Thanks God. I don’t know who Gene is, but I get the message.

Then yesterday afternoon, I had a flash of fear again. Strangely, the fear was about the hysterectomy, not the plastic surgery. The hysterectomy is the more invasive surgery.

“Have I not commanded you . . . ”

So I continue. My iron levels are still low and my GYN changed my iron supplement to something stronger. I’m supposed to take it for 1 to 2 weeks, bank a unit of blood, wait 2 weeks or so, bank a second unit of blood and schedule the surgery. Right now, looking at FirstHusband’s work schedule, mid to late April seems good.

“Have I not commanded you . . .”

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Reinhold Niebuhr

March 4, 2009 Posted by | god's will, prayer, strength, women | , | 2 Comments

i want no regrets.

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it. Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites. But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.
Philippians 3:12-19, The Message

“Dear Eliot, today you went to be with Jesus. An undeveloped lung, a heart with a hole in it and DNA that placed faulty information into each and every cell of your body could not stop God from revealing Himself through a child who never uttered a word.” Eliot lived 99 days.

Sweet Tristan went to be with Jesus today. He was 56 days old.

“The Lady had hit a cyclist before she hit our mailbox. But nobody had seen the cyclist and the lady had no clue she’d hit him. She just knew she was sleepy one minute and hit our mailbox the next. This biker was just out on his bike and he got hit. They pronounced him dead at the scene. He died! O my gosh I cried and cried. My heart not only was crushed for the lady but now for the guy and his family!”

“Empty shell are the words that came to my mind today as I laid my eyes on Julian’s so very still body. It made it so real, so final… I felt like I was at the wax museum, it looked like Ju but it was just a cold, hard ,wax copy of Julian . It wasn’t him , how could it ? Surely I left him at home playing with the boys… Seeing him laying in his casket was unbelievably painful, my heart cracked a little more, a little deeper. I won’t EVER get to hold my child again, EVER… Nothing is more final than that.” Julian was 4 years old.

As a Christian, what I do with these stories? Stories. It makes it sound like fiction. Literature. My sister, a writer, once told me the difference between fiction and literature. In literature, there is always an obstacle, a tragedy to overcome. But this isn’t literature. It is real life. These things actually happened. As a Christian, what thoughts do I wrestle with?

I don’t know these families personally. I’ve only read about them. But I question, if I did know them personally and was involved in their daily life, what words would I speak? What actions would I take? What possible comfort would I be in the face of such senseless tragedy? Senseless to us. But not to our Lord. The promise is, that one day, we will understand. One day. Eventually.

But what about TODAY? What do I do with this in MY daily life? What does God want ME to do? HERE, in my circumstance. NOW, in this time?

I doubt I understand all that God is saying to me right now. I’m still working on it.

But I do understand this: I need to live with intention EVERY DAY. I know it sounds pious – and impossible – but the truth is I have an acute awareness that life is short. There’s an actual urgency in my day sometimes. I understand my priorities. I strive for no regrets. I don’t want to waste a moment of this gift of time that I’ve been given. When I begin to get overwhelmed with the mundane, I am humbled and reminded when I hear of what we here on Earth regard as such senseless tragedies. But again. Senseless to us. But not to God.

Today, we have faith and comfort in the knowledge that there is a Master who will provide all we need. We need to live in the world, not of it. Today, I will hug my 7 year old daughter a few more times than she thinks is reasonable. I will read her a bedtime story when I could be loading the dishwasher. I will walk around the block with her (again) as she rides her bike and sings her happy songs, stopping to look at every acorn, pet every cat and collect every leaf. I will listen to my preteen son and accept his thoughts and feelings as valid – even when they differ from mine. I will toss the football with him instead of read a book. I will have a night time devotion with him when I could be checking email or blogging. I will scream with excitement at every basketball game and take hundreds of photos to get one “great” shot. I will understand my husband’s travel in the private defense industry as our family’s small contribution to families of those serving in the military – those making a much greater sacrifice. I will forgive him when he’s late without calling, encourage his stress-relieving diversions and love him unconditionally.

I want to see the bigger picture. I want to choose on purpose. I want to respond, not react. I want to show grace, not indignation. I want to spend time making memories, not beds. I want to notice the silent boldness of a sunset, instead of the back end of the car in front of me. I want to try out the possibilities, instead of complain about the obstacles. I want to be still and abide instead of filling my entire prayer time with petitions and thanks.

I want to live intentionally, making the most of this precious, precious blessing of time.

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.
Elie Wiesel, October 1986

January 29, 2008 Posted by | comfort, god's will, gratitude, moms, spiritual growth, women | 1 Comment

i am not embarrassed.

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength . . . And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus
Philippians 4:10-13, 19

“Is that house abandoned?” asked the pest control guy who sprays my lawn. He was referring to the house next door to mine. “Actually, no.” I replied. Our neighbors, to state it conservatively, don’t take care of their yard. I could focus on that. I could be embarrassed by that. But then, I look out my kitchen window. My huge backyard, the “love” tree (the name inspired by squirrels in mating season), the pond, the woods and – if we take would just take the time to walk back there, a river. I’m not embarrassed. Just blessed.

My hardwood (laminate) kitchen floor is . . . not in good shape. Dark spots from water damage (okay, and cat “damage”), knicks (and gouges), lifting edges on some pieces, and gaps from poor installation, among other things. I’m not proud of it. But then, the doorbell rings and the ladies from my women’s circle come in, laden with food and laughter. And I realize. Nobody is looking down. The floor is invisible. It’s buried beneath the friendship and encouragement. I’m not embarrassed. Just blessed.

My formal dining table is lopsided. When I put a leaf in it, it is even MORE lopsided. I have to prop it up with books (never a problem coming up with a few). There are scratches on the top. The arms of the chairs lift up when you pull on them. But then, with three leaves and two book stacks, family joins together at that table. There’s so much food down the middle the scratches are . . . gone. Nobody is pulling on the arms of the chairs. Instead the arms support relaxed and comfortable elbows. The table is still lopsided. But I can’t tell anymore. I’m not embarrassed. Just blessed.

My kitchen sink was full of dishes all day yesterday. The dishwasher was full. Filled with clean dishes. I don’t unload the dishwasher. My son unloads the dishes, my daughter unloads the silverware. They didn’t get to it the night before. So the dishes sat. It was gross. I thought about unloading and loading the dishwasher. I thought about how I would feel if someone dropped by. Embarrassed. But then, I realized. Dirty dishes overflowing the sink means we aren’t hungry. It means our children are learning responsibility. Daily responsibility. And we have enough dishes in our house that the dishwasher was full of clean, the sink was full of dirty and, at the same time, the cabinets were not empty. So I let the dirty dishes sit in the sink for a day. I’m not embarrassed. We are blessed.

My laundry room is a mess. Clothes in the hampers and baskets, yes. But also on the floor, on top of the dryer – IN the dryer. Unmatched socks everywhere. An opened box of 500 coffee cup lids squeezed into precious storage space. The matching paper cups squeezed into another. An entire shelf designated for scrapbooking supplies which haven’t been touched in YEARS. But then, I fix myself a cup of coffee to go (instead of giving in to a daily trip to Panera Bread), my children get dressed in clean clothing, my daughter purposely wears unmatched socks for “flair” and I realize. This mess. This overabundance that causes spillover is a blessing. So what if I don’t have pretty scrapbooks? I have my photos chronologically cataloged on my computer – and backed up on a separate hard drive! (Does anyone want to buy a bunch of scrapbook stuff on ebay? And more importantly, is there a good digital scrapbook program or should I just use PowerPoint?) But I digress. This collection of clothes, the “stuff” stored, even the existence of the laundry room itself – is a blessing.

My garage is impassable. Boxes to go to charity, stuff to go into boxes to go to charity. Boxes to go to the consignment shop, to the used bookstore. When we leave the garage door open, passing cars slow, checking to see if it is a garage sale. IM-PASS-A-BLE. But I am hit. This represents abundant blessings. So much stuff . . . we don’t need. The inside of the house, while filled with the stuff we do need, the things we do use, STILL contains even more to go to the garage – the holding place prior to exit. But I’m not embarrassed. I am blessed.

The love seat in my living room is beige. “Beiger” than it used to be. I had it cleaned six months ago. Helped a little. The pillow on the back is removable and my entire family squishes and curls it into a ball whenever they sit on it. It takes a beating the cushion for more than a few minutes to cajole it back into a form that will say upright even a little bit. It’s the first thing you see when you walk into my front door. I think about replacing it. But then, I curl up with the my Bible, a kid, my husband, the cat, my computer, a book or any combination of those and I realize. I’m not embarrassed.

We are blessed.

contentment is destroyed by comparison.
Unknown (but I was reminded by Kelly on her comment at Lisa Writes)

January 25, 2008 Posted by | books, gratitude, spiritual growth, women | Leave a comment

i am not alone

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, 12

I’m the book lady. Every year, my church has a HUGE rummage sale. Two full weeks, weekends included, are spent unloading storage units, picking up and accepting donations, sorting, pricing and basically setting up an entire gymnasium for the annual “Whale of a Sale” held the first weekend of October.

I’m the book lady.

I take two weeks off from clients and work the Whale, every day. In that two week span, I literally touch thousands of books. They are categorized by topic and fiction is alphabetized by author’s last name. They sit on three rows of 6 or 7 folding tables (the big ones), in boxes, spine up, facing the shopper. Each box has a sign sticking up from it with my handwriting on it, indicating the contents of the box: Cookbooks, Physical Health, Emotional Health, Parenting, Travel, Military History, American History, World History, Gardening, etc. In each box, you can see the name of nearly every book without having to touch a single one. If you are looking for a particular book, just ask me. I”ll tell you if we have it and, if so, exactly where it is. The comments from people who see it range from, “Wow. This is amazing.” to “Who did all this?” (in a “that person is insane” tone of voice.) In the first few years, I did much of it myself, but now there are actually a handful of people who “get” me and can help sort without messing up the system.

The added benefit is that I get first pickings. At a $1.00 per hardback and $.50 for paperbacks and children’s books, I bring home a bookcase worth every year. My I.O.U grows ominously for two weeks as I sneak boxes of books into my house. Some women buy clothes, secretly hang them in the closet and when their husband comments the first time the clothing is worn, the women say, “This? I’ve had this for years.” Not me. I bring home books, quickly pull off the price tag and shelve them. I don’t say a word. I read so many books at one time, I never get asked, “Is that a new book?” My husband can’t keep up. This year was more difficult. I ran out of shelving space and had to reorganize the playroom. A six foot shelf that used to house toys, games and puzzles now houses fitness, diet and health books. (The shelf is right next to the treadmill after all.)

So, I’m the book lady.

I was asked to give my testimony at United Methodist Women Sunday last week and that’s how I started. It went something like this (and thankfully, with laughter in all the right places):

“My name is Julie Mills, but if you were at the Whale of a Sale, you probably know me as the book lady. I’m not a librarian. I just have freakish organizational skills. If I’m invited to your house and you have books, I may organize them while we chat. One of the books that came in this year was “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve been on the waiting list at the library for this book for more than 6 months, so when it came in, it was MINE! Liz Gilbert is a journalist who spend a year of her life traveling in Italy (to eat), Indonesia (to pray) and India (to love). She wrote about her experience, and although she’s not a professed Christian, I’ve gained so much insight as I run her words through my own perspective as a Christian. I’d like to read an excerpt I found particularly meaningful. In speaking about the differences between her sister, Catherine and herself, Liz wrote:

“A family in my sister’s neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy, when both the young mother and her three-year old son were diagnosed with cancer. When Catherine told me about this, I could only say, shocked, “Dear God, that family needs grace.” She replied firmly, “That family needs casseroles,” and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing that family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this is grace.”

See, they’re not so different after all. Compare me to another 40 something woman, with two children and a minivan. Although we look similar, we would probably say we are very different. But when you look more closely, those differences fade. What I discover is that I’m not alone. Especially in UMW. When you are a member of a UMW Circle, you have microwave friends. Instant friends. Women who support each other. Pray for each other. Bring food in times of trouble. Women who understand, because even if they aren’t going through what you are at the moment, some of them have already gone through it. Others may face the same issues in their future. We can learn from each other. Trust each other. Encourage each other. Accept each other. I feel like I’m ready to invite any one of my circle friends to my house . . . and not vacuum. Okay, I’ll probably leave the vacuum cleaner out in the middle of the room and say I was gonna.

The point is, we’re not alone. In UMW, you are never alone.”

After my testimony, I sang “Orphans of God” by Avalon:

Who here among us has not been broken
Who here among us is without guilt or pain
So oft’ abandoned by our transgressions
If such a thing as grace exists
Then grace was made for lives like this

There are no strangers
There are no outcasts
There are no orphans of God
So many fallen, but hallelujah
There are no orphans of God

Come ye unwanted and find affection
Come all ye weary, come and lay down your head
Come ye unworthy, you are my (sister) brother
If such a thing as grace exists
Then grace was made for lives like this

O blessed Father, look down upon us
We are Your children, we need Your love
We run before Your throne of mercy
And seek Your face to rise above

November 1, 2007 Posted by | books, grace, service, witnessing, women | 2 Comments