2013 in review

Ladies and Gentlemen,

God greatly blessed this blog in 2013. My prayer is that each and every visitor saw Jesus reflected in the pages, felt words of encouragement printed on their hearts and closed the browser with a mysterious sense peace that passes all understanding. 

I have been greatly blessed by your presence and comments. As The Predatory Lies of Anorexia: A Survivor’s Story, arrives early this year, I believe that God will multiply the comfort you find here, increase the purpose and power of my prose and draw  us closer to Him each and every day. Thanks for being here.

Because He Lives, Abby

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Conviction at Christmas

Wishing You a Grinch-less Christmas!
Wishing You a Grinch-less Christmas!

Just before Thanksgiving, I signed on board with my SheLoves sisters to participate in Advent Acts of Kindness. We are each taking a day of this Advent season to share how God led us to practice kindness specifically and intentionally.

And as I told you yesterday, no one needs to tell us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I think I figured that out the first time I spent my own allowance on Christmas gifts for my sisters. The anticipation of giving is the best part. Once I’ve selected the perfect gift, it’s all I can think about until finally, I cave beneath the mounting pressure of a secret and unveil the spectacular surprise, long before I’ve wrapped it and sometimes even before the tree is decorated. So when Julie Fisk wrote the post encouraging us to, “Celebrate Advent in a way that serves Christ and others in a tangible, physical way,” true to form, I couldn’t wait until the designated time.

What follows is a slight expansion of what I shared with you yesterday; continued musings on the proper order of thanks and giving:

Believe it or not, fun as it may appear from one side of the counter, barista is often a thankless job. This year, I discovered that my go-to Starbucks, my home away from home, my third place, my pick-me-up, my happy spot, my daily dive, was going to be open on Thanksgiving Day and all…night…long. So my puppy, Brave, (who benefits from most every visit there, as well) packed an oversized, red and green gift bag.

We loaded it down with hand lotion, peppermint gum, granola bars and odds and ends and dropped it off Thanksgiving evening just as the Black Friday crowds encroached upon the covered portico.

Giving is contagious, in a better way than the stomach flu. Recipients are often supernaturally compelled to bestow blessings on the next person they meet, or to turn and heap graciousness right back on the lap of the giver. 

And so it happened here. I haven’t been allowed to pay for my coffee once since Thanksgiving. So, the war is on. Last week, as I pulled up into the parking lot after a brisk dog trot along the river walk, I noticed, for what seemed like the first time, Chick-fil-a, only a stone’s throw from the Starbuck’s drive thru.

I’ve worked in food service before. In spite of being surrounded by sticky buns, soft pretzels, yummy wraps and cake pops, I’m pretty sure that my barista-friends seek any other option for their lunch break. I hustled into Chick-fil-a, postponing my coffee fix. Moments later, I stood at the coffee counter ordering my decaf-quad-grade-no-room Americano. When Ryan smiled at me and waved me past the register at no charge, I placed a Chick-fil-a gift card in his hand.

But there are other things I’m learning this season, things beyond thankful smiles and the warm-fuzzies of knowing I lifted another’s spirit. My mind keeps blinking like a crazed strand of Christmas lights. That’s because this giving thing feels so good – energizing in fact. But it’s got me thinking too, why don’t I do this more often?

Where does intentionality go most months of the year?

Why am I missing out on this feeling of explosive joy so much of the time?

Another thought that keeps sputtering in my subconscious: I am so painfully selfish.
If you could shine a flash light into the corners and cobwebs of my mind, I’d be squeamish. It’s the little things.

Things like only being intentional about kindness during Advent.

The amount of mental energy wasted on deciding if I should buy a new pair of pants, and then if I need new boots to go with them.
Then returning them because I feel guilty and feeling self-conscious next to the woman wearing super cute boots at church.

Searching for the least expensive version of the toys I promised for the toy drive at my church. Not wanting to send out Christmas cards because of the time and energy it requires.

The fact that it’s so easy to buy something tiny for myself when I’m out shopping for gifts for others.

These thoughts are blinking off and on. They’re real, they are conviction, concern and curiosity. And I’m not completely sure what to do with them yet. But I know the crux of this is my obsession with myself. Oh how I want to be so other-minded, so Christ-consumed that I see myself only as the shadow cast by the reflection of my Father’s joy and His children’s blessing.

Thanks Before Giving

On Wednesday we talked about holidays perspectives. I also told you early this month about my commitment to join the Advent Acts of Kindness. 

I got an early start on this simply because Thanksgiving opened itself wide 0pen to me as we didn’t travel, visit or have company this year. Truthfully, it was one of the most fun Thanksgivings I’ve ever had.

Brave and I went up to The Medical Center to visit with patients on Thanksgiving afternoon. Honestly, the staff had made a concerted effort to discharge as many patients as possible before the special day. But when we got to the 7th floor, one of our favorite ladies was still patiently enduring the drip, drip, drip of an 80-hour chemo treatment.

Funny, I don’t even know her name, but it was the third time we’d seen her. Somehow, the formality of introductions never comes up, so quickly do we always launch into light hearted conversation. This time, she knew we were coming, because I’d promised her on Tuesday afternoon. Her father was sitting with her. As soon as we breached the doorway, she burst with happy tidings.

“Guess what, Brave,” she announced. “Papa brought you treats!”

Sure enough, the gentleman stretched, shook my hand and handed his daughter a plastic baggie full of dog biscuits. We stood and talked to them for nearly half an hour.

Brave and I enjoyed our visit so much and I dearly hope we brightened their holiday afternoon. But I was stymied by the joy and peace that emanated from that dreary hospital room even before we arrived. Obviously, this precious woman did not require much to experience gratitude.

Oh Father, let me know the impenetrable gratitude of a rescued heart. Let me overflow with thanksgiving despite all circumstances. Father, this Advent season, let my thankfulness begin with awe and appreciation for my Savior. 

When we left the hospital, Brave and I broke one of our holiday “codes”. We did go shopping – just briefly. While he waited in the car, I darted into Walgreens and stuffed a red gift bag with candy, granola bars, cookies, hand lotion and peppermint gum. On the drive home we stopped at our favorite Starbucks and delivered the goodies to the most energetic and kind baristas we know.

When I was growing up, they told me, “It’s better to give than to receive”. Perhaps Thanksgiving is the perfect evidence of that. Watching gratitude blossom in a sick, tired or stranger’s face is the most exquisite feeling I have ever had.

How to Know if God Likes You

lt used to be enough that God loves you. You remember those days, right after you internalized, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in might not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

And it felt so good, so freeing. All of a sudden, you felt humility and self-worth bleeding together, overlapping. But it didn’t take long. A few sermons, a few calls to start serving, to do your part, to use your gifts, to fulfill your “calling”; a few failures, a few skipped Bible studies, angry outbursts or nasty thoughts and suddenly you aren’t so sure God likes you.

Sure, sure, He loves you. He promised to never leave you and you know all the verses about His lovingkindness that endures forever, but yeah, not so sure He’s really all that proud of you. His love is obligatory, kind of like a parent’s. But He’s not calling you His friend. You’re pretty nervous to imply that you and God are all that close. So you cringe a bit when it’s your turn to pray out loud. You pick up dime-a-dozen devos instead of the real Word of God. God loves you, He has to, right?

You’re not the first Christian to feel this way. That’s why most of us spout off, “We are saved by grace through faith and not by works”, but then try ever so hard to do just the right things. The pulpit preaches that Jesus paid the price and we cannot earn salvation, but then, once we’re saved we discover the checklist of all the things we ought to do to insure our salvation. Sound familiar?

But if it’s true that God’s gift of salvation is free, then how is it possible that the maintenance of the same is so expensive? And if security does not come at a cost, then how can we convince our hearts to rest in the truth that God not only loved us enough to save us, but that He likes us enough to stay present with us in all our failures, to endure our screw ups, to fellowship with us in our weaknesses, to invest His Holy Spirit in us, to speak to us, to comfort us, to assure us of our salvation?

The secret is much simpler than you might fear. It is gratitude. In the KJV, Hebrews 12:28 says, “Wherefore we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:”.

In the English Standard Version, it reads, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,”.

The word translated as “grateful” in the second version is the same as is translated “grace” in the the King James. A succinct definition of the Greek word is this: The spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace, the merciful influence of kindness by which God, exerting His holy influence upon our souls, turns them to Christ.*

In both translations, it is easy to see that the kingdom has already been received, therefore the readers (you and I) are assumed to have accepted Christ as our personal Savior. The next step is to worship the King of this kingdom with gratitude.

When we gather around the thanksgiving table each November, it’s common to pass our plates with the query, “What are you thankful for?”. This is the same principle we must apply to our worship: What do we worship for? What are we grateful for?

The difference between “love” and “like” is gratitude. The concept of love has the potential to remain nebulous, but when that love is expressed in terms of gratitude it takes on a gritty tangibleness. Thankfulness requires knowing someone, recognizing their contribution. Thanksgiving requires that we internalize God’s love and recognize Him as good.

The next time you are fearful that you’ve let God down and imagine Him standing over you saying, “I will always love you, but I’m so disappointed, I don’t like you very much right now,” pause to thank Him. Thank Him for the factual evidence of His love. In this thankfulness it will become apparent that He does indeed like you. His affection for you overflows the boundaries of unconditional love into the confidence that He treasures you, has secured you and that you have no need to impress Him.

* Lexicon and dictionary notes taken from Blueletterbible.org

Turning the Other Cheek this Christmas

Hi Everyone, I’m joining my SheLoves Sisters here, and doing this: Advent Acts of Kindness. (Both links are very informative and helpful to explain the whole process which is actually very simple.)

I hope you’ll join me! For once let’s not just talk about decommercializing Christmas, and perhaps not even fight the hype. Instead, this project feels a little like turning the other cheek, to me. We’re not ranting about Santa, stores and stinginess. We’re not resolving, rejecting or reframing.

We are simply sharing the overflowing Love and Joy of Christ this Christmas, multiplying our giving, highlighting His generosity and loving others as He loves us. 

Merry Christmas!

Screenshot 2013-11-27 11.59.25

P.S. I know you hardcore “No Christmas ’till after Thanksgiving” folks are wagging your finger at me. Believe, I’ve been you (still am to a degree). But this project requires just a tiny bit of planning, so I figured I’d give you a head start. Also, perhaps we wouldn’t get so bent out of shape about Christmas overshadowing Thanksgiving if we behaved as we believe: Jesus didn’t just come once to a stable, but that He lives here and NOW in our hearts. 

Again, Merry Christmas!

A New Magazine!

Dear Friends,

I am so excited to share with you a new publication that has accepted one of my articles, Inspired Women Magazine. Truthfully, I don’t know how I hadn’t found this rich, diverse ezine before, but I am confident we’ll both enjoy it.

I wrestled for quite a while to embed the ezine itself into this post – to no avail. However, here is the entire .pdf file, so you can open it on your own computer, devour it, save it, share it, do whatever you like.

Thanks to all of you for being my cheerleaders as God broadens my horizons and deepens my dreams in this art of writing.

Because He Lives,

IWM112013

Blind to Beautiful

This morning, walking my dog down Sydenstriker, I watched a little girl learn to use a white-tipped cane. Nine-thirty in the morning, most of her friends were in the school building she practiced in front of. An older lady stood protectively between her and the street, holding her own white-tipped cane.

Like metronomes in perfect sync, their canes scanned the sidewalk 10 inches before out of sightthem. The little girl had wild brown hair. Her profile was slight, a little beanpole dressed in a hot pink t-shirt and blue jeans. With her left hand she clung to the older woman’s shirt sleeve.

I passed them in seconds and just as quickly they passed through my thoughts and into catalogued, insignificant memory. Until this afternoon.

My husband and I sped along Braddock Road, grumbling as the golden, spring sun gave way to April showers. I was thinking about my yoga practice this morning, how I feel different, more whole after yoga than after other workouts. I like that feeling of knowing I’m alive, feeling graceful, collected and yet free at the same time. But I wondered, did I work out hard enough? I don’t feel especially fatigued or sore like I do after other workouts. Did I do enough?

These fears harken back to 15 years of pushing all my physical limits: Too little food, too much exercise. I did it all in pursuit of a goal – to look beautiful, to look competent, to look powerful, to look in control.

Recently, I read an article by one of my favorite people, Amy Dardis, referencing another of my favorite people, Esse Johnson. She spoke of knowing her body. My thoughts skipped.  How do I know my body? I do know that it can hear and feel and taste and see and touch and smell and walk and sleep and love and care and hurt and bleed and write and cook and listen and…

So why am I so much more worried about what I see than all the other things that my body is and does? Would I dare tell that little girl that she is missing the essential gift of life because she cannot see whether she is thin or beautiful or young or old?

What would happen if I didn’t worry so much about what I look like and instead, learned to focus on what I sound like, feel like, smell like? Beauty can be expressed those ways too.

Do I speak gently and joyfully, encouraging others and laughing at the lighter things and praying for the harder things?
Do I smell fresh and delicious to my husband?
Do I feel strong and capable?
Do my hands feel comforting to mourners?
Does my voice sound like praise?
I never smell Amber Romance, or Santa Fe perfume without melting into sweet thoughts of my mother.
I can’t contain the joy in my heart when I hear my niece tell me that a duck says, “Kack, kack”.

So why is what I look like so much more significant to me that all the other aspect of who I am? I wonder.

Redemption Birthdays

Monday was my birthday.

I was raised right –  you always write snail mail thank you letters. My morning quiet time didn’t start out to be such, but as I sat cross-legged in my monstrous, blue prayer chair, it just kind of bubbled out of my heart.

I promised this year that I would be naked with you. That includes unveiling private prayers and praise. That includes confession met with kindness which leads to repentance. And it includes the birthdays of redemption stories. So, here is my journal entry on Monday.

Jesus,images

Seventeen years ago, I woke in an angular, gray-blue bedroom, in a treatment center because I was starving myself. I wished away the emotional power of the day and the exacerbated loneliness, the sense of abandonment by my parents and sister asleep in a nearby hotel room. Monday.

Since then, there was my 30th year, crying alone over a rumble of boiling noodles while my husband spent his energy on a computer game.

And so many other March 11th’s. Year 23, at Fort Bragg, at work. Loneliness always tempered by your presence.

How is it that you have never failed me? Never even left me to myself and my upturned, shaky hands crying, “I’m done, completely, all done.”

I do truly love you more every single day. Maybe really, it’s a sharper knowing of how much I need you, that I couldn’t live or breathe without you. The priceless beauty and value you have put into my life, Savior.

My heart would drain out on this page. How you contain and spill your love for me through vessels of a tender husband, his daily deeper understanding the needs of my heart. You warm the morning air and tinge the skies, ochre, amber, slate to clear. As if you hold my shoulders and spin me round to drink that pressed of patience; feast on the produce of your passion.

I am overwhelmed by your love, Savior.
Overcome by your awareness of me.
In you, I have seen my own created beauty, the blossom
and flourish of your skilled heart, touch, breath,
That I live!
That lungs still spread in my chest,
And suck in gifts and glories,
I would have turned away.
It is your mercy.
It is your…nay,
It is you.
Only you.
All of you,
That I live in and for.