Monday, June 27, 2022

Stinky, the Skunk

Chara is a very stinky girl. Oh, Chara is my dog. We had our first skunk encounter ever this week. We were out walking super early and Stinker just came out of nowhere and sprayed us up close and personal. I no longer stink but Chara leaves an aroma wherever she goes.

Upon this wonderful occasion, my friend sent me some good skunk jokes: (I know…they’re goofy!)
Am I making any scents?
Social distancing protection animal.
Why do skunks argue a lot? Because they like to raise a stink.
What did the judge say when a skunk walked in to testify? Odor in the court!
Why don’t skunks have to pay taxes? Because they only have one scent.

I’ve always really appreciated my great sense of smell, until now. In smelling, the thing that we smell becomes almost a part of us. I literally told my friend “Wherever I walked this morning, my smell stayed there.”

Whether it’s a sweet-smelling Balsam and Cedar candle at Christmas or the aroma in the house after I bake a loaf of bread, I’m a big proponent of yummy scents. But I now know the lingering scent of Stinker, the Skunk, and it’s not pretty.

Scripture talks about aromas as well. This verse in Ephesians comes to mind:

“Therefore, be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering, and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” 
Ephesians 5:2

This verse gets to the point! We are not to compare ourselves with others and try to come out on top. We are to imitate God alone, as His dear children... This is a call to each of us for action. We are to tend to our inner life with God and literally look like Him!

As we walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, we see Jesus as our example. We begin to realize we can’t love like this without Jesus. He is our example. As He has loved us, so we can love others! We are to display his same humble, kind, and self-giving love. When we invite Jesus to help us, we are a sweet-smelling aroma and give ourselves in love to others. Do you know the difference you can make by loving like Jesus?

May God help you be that sweet-smelling aroma of His love wherever you go.

Take a listen to the words of the song “Only Jesus” by Casting Crowns. I love the line “I’ve only got one life to live. I’ll let every second point to Him. Only Jesus”:

Nancy Abbott is the Chaplain of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio.

Monday, June 20, 2022

God is Near

God is near. In the midst of so many things going on around us, God is near. Do you feel His presence?

God is near as we grieve.
God is near as we seek guidance.
God is near when we’re lonely.
God is near every single moment.

Why does God feel distant to some? I think we can feel far from God if we intentionally ignore Him or live independently from Him. We can feel distant because we’re mad at God for something in life that happened. We can question God and literally say “Why did you allow this to happen, God?” The result? We step away from the One who knows and loves us the most. God has not left. We, humans, distance ourselves from God.

God is near in your grief. We grieve so much these days. We grieve for Uvalde and those that lost loved ones. We grieve for Ukraine. We grieve for the loss of treasured friends, family, and co-workers that left us way too soon. We grieve for other losses, those things that are too deep and personal for words. You know what you grieve today. God knows too. He is near. “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8

God is near as you seek guidance about anything. God will guide you when you don’t see the way. I’ve seen it over and over in my life! I know He is able! Amid all the things that feel a bit blurry, would you trust the One who has His best interests in mind for you? “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16

God is near when we’re lonely.  I honestly think it was my depths of loneliness that drove me to need God as much as I did. If He was who He said He was, I needed that kind of love. The love that would never let me down! The love that was always with me! The love that would never betray me. That is our Father’s love. His love is perfect and totally available to you. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, If I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:7-10)

God is near every single moment. If I could pray one prayer for each of you it would be this: Dear God, please help ________ (your name) be aware of your presence today. Dear one, as much as you may not believe this, I want to tell you, it’s true. You may feel far from God today. But, today, you can begin to practice the presence of God. Practicing God’s presence is found in acknowledging His presence in every aspect of life. As we become more aware of Him and abide with Him, in everything we do, we’re literally locking arms with Him and partnering with Him in life.

Take a listen:

Nancy Abbott is the Chaplain of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Picnic Table Chats

I will never forget my time at the picnic table in Uvalde, Texas. Chara, our dog, and I hung out with a little girl I’ll call Carla. Carla wanted to show me her stress ball and helped teach me how to make “funny sounds” with the stress ball. Before long, we were both laughing as we made “funny sounds” together. Then, she showed me a heart that she had drawn in her counseling session. She shared with me her various emotions by the color she had colored: red for anger, sad for blue, and so on.

Carla was not at Robb Elementary on the day of the shooting. Her grandpa had come for the awards ceremony and pulled her out of school after that to go to Dairy Queen. Sadly, Carla lost her dear friend in the shooting.

Grief is so weird. One minute, you can be giggling like crazy “funny sounds.” The next minute, experiencing overwhelming grief. There’s no rhyme or reason to grief.

How does one make sense of the wide degree of emotions that we can experience with grief? I think we can honestly care for one another best when we realize that each human experience can be quite diverse when it comes to grief. Emotions don’t always make perfect sense. The journey of grief can be complicated and messy. It’s a time to be very kind and gentle to yourself. As we care for others, it's a time to also be very kind and gentle to those grieving.

The Bible contains a myriad of gut-wrenching emotions. Just check out the Psalms! God sees your grief and He grieves with you. He longs to be your Comforter as you grieve. He loves you so much! I love Psalm 10:14 which speaks to how God sees our grief “But, you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.

God sees your pain and grief even when you want to hide it. Psalm 34:8 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Perhaps you are brokenhearted today? Maybe crushed in spirit? God is close. He mourns as you mourn. He wants to walk with You each moment and care for your hurting soul. He will see you through.

Take a listen to this song that reminds us where we can place our hope, in life and death:

Nancy Abbott is the Chaplain of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio.

Monday, June 6, 2022

So Many Feelings

Today is the day that we honor the men and women who died while serving in the US Military We take time to reflect on the men and women who gave their lives on behalf of their country.

At the same time, we’re all distracted. Everything changed on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, when a gunman went into Robb Elementary in Uvalde and killed 19 children and two teachers.

There are so many feelings to feel. When I went to Uvalde this past week to serve with Canines for Christ, the agony, grief, and gut-wrenching pain were palpable. I barely spoke a word, but allowed Chara, our pup, to be the spokesperson. I offered prayer when it seemed right. Listened. Cared. Gave a hug here and there.

I didn’t really get a grip on my feelings until the next day when I cried like a baby. Their lives will never be the same.

How do we process all that has happened? What can we do? Here are some thoughts on my mind:

Grief is everywhere. Those in Uvalde feel deep grief. I think many of us around the country feel grief in different ways. You’re connected to Uvalde. You have children the same age. You’re a teacher. You know someone who died. You’re a grandparent or parent. You can’t imagine how precious children could be gunned down. The enormity of our pain is real. Will you take time to process your grief? Will you share with a friend how you’re feeling? Will you be honest with your feelings and not hide them? Will you trust that God is near and willing to walk with You through all your feelings? (Psalm 34:18)

Fear is gripping. I wonder if many of us have had thoughts like “What if a shooter steps into our church or our school or our home?” These are honest to goodness real fears because we know bad things can happen. But, when we live in the “What if’s?” of the future, things that haven’t happened yet, “what if’s” can take control of our minds. These thoughts become more prominent in our minds.

This verse is so helpful for me when I struggle with fear. “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” (Psalm 56:3-4) I just can’t let fear have its way in my brain, even when everything in me has a good reason to fear. The Psalmist gives me a secure plan for my greatest fears. God is trustworthy, no matter what.

Do good to one another. John Wesley once said, “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the souls you can, in every place you can, at all the times you can, with all the zeal you can, as long as ever you can.” With God’s help, I want to live this way! Ask God to help you overcome evil with good. Be kind. Ask others how they’re doing…and really take time to listen to their response. Care deeply. Listen well. Follow up with those that are hurting. Do good to one another. Be the change.

Believe you can make a difference. Everybody wants to do something. Well, everybody CAN do something. We all have unique gifts, passions, and ways that we can serve each other. Pray for those who lost a loved one by name. Get involved in changing the laws. Give blood. Gather with others and figure out how you could serve those in Uvalde. Be creative. There is a way YOU can make a difference.
Take a listen:

Nancy Abbott is the Chaplain of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio.

Firm Foundation

When I was in Uvalde, I saw a level and degree of pain that I had never seen before. It took me some time to process all I saw and heard. It changed me. I will never forget walking into a room of teachers from Robb Elementary School with our doggie, Chara. We just allowed Chara to love on people as they wept and huddled together. We talked if people wanted to talk. We offered a prayer if people wanted prayer. We lingered if people wanted puppy hugs. And then, we left.

We left, but we carried their pain with us, as do most of us. I sense that what took place in Uvalde has shaken ALL of us to the core. It certainly has me. We don’t know what to do. There are certain things we can do to make a change, but we still struggle to do more.

I feel vulnerable and weak in these matters, but I do believe this is an opportunity to rely on God. Every moment. The trauma, stress, and trouble around us are great. But God is God. He sustains everything. He is always trustworthy. Always.

I find that when I look at all the craziness this world offers, I can get shaken to the core as well. But when I look to God, His word, His promises, and His hope…..then I get a different perspective.

It reminds me of the Psalmist in Psalm 73 when he was so envious of the wicked because it looked like they prospered leaving faithful people to question why they bothered to be good. The Psalmist literally placed his gaze on the wicked and their antics, which left him distraught! Then, one day, He entered the sanctuary of God, and everything changed:

“When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny……Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward, you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73: 16-17, 23-26)

When we look all around us, we will be shaken. When we look to God and enjoy a relationship with Him, He gives peace that makes no sense. He will never let us down.

Take a listen to this cool song that speaks to Christ, who is our firm foundation in this crazy world:

Nancy Abbott is the Chaplain of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Make Room

Summer is almost here and before you know it, we’ll be busy with summer-like things.  I prefer to make some summer goals that include work, volunteering with our pooch, exercising, working on my horse, special home projects, and downtime.

Downtime. It’s that downtime that is problematic. Why does it seem that there’s no downtime, especially with God? We can get so overwhelmed with our daily to-do list that making room for God in our lives seems problematic. How in the world do we have time for hanging out with an invisible God? That sounds ridiculously strange, right? Not at all.

I’m excited about my summer goals! But, at the heart of it all, is having a vital, growing relationship with God.

Personally, I need my time with God each day because I know who I can be without Him. A mess. An absolute mess. There are certain practices that I find very important to help me make room for God in my day. Here are a few:

Take moments to be quiet with God- God longs for us to be with Him. Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” We have trouble with the “being still” part AND the “knowing that I am God” part. The idea of slowing and being still is strange for many of us. Sitting with God in silence seems counterculture, so much so, that there’s a tendency to want to pick up our phones and find out what’s new on Facebook instead! Scrolling our phones can seem way more appealing than spending time with God. I encourage you to try a different practice: Schedule time with God, just like you do an appointment! Find a cozy spot, indoors or outdoors, and get alone with God. He will meet you there. Every time.

Invite Jesus into everything
- I’ve come to realize that I do far better when I invite Jesus into everything that I do. My first job out of college was at a nursing home. Upon my departure from that job, Florence Travis, (100 years old at the time) gave me a 3x5 card with these words on it: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8) The wisdom of Florence was perfect. She left her mark on my life! I’ve learned to invite Jesus into my work schedule and basically my daily life. I need Jesus! I invite Christ to make his home in my heart. Jesus longs to have a personal relationship with all of us. He longs to walk with us through everything. We are never alone.

Take off the masks- Many prefer to hide behind masks, that may or may not be actual masks. As much as we don’t like pain, it can become our new identity. We throw on our masks to hide from others because truth be told, others could hurt us. We begin to live with masks, never taking them off, hiding our true selves. Our loving Father knows the masks we wear, every one of them. Invite Him to gently peel each layer off so that You can become the real “You.” The unmasked “You” will discover a beautiful new identity!

Just think what God could do in your life this summer if you practiced making room for God!

“Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God.”
 Psalm 46:10 (The Message)

“Never hide your fear because it will become your own God, hidden inside you.” Sorin Cerin

Take a listen:

Nancy Abbott is the Chaplain of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio.

Monday, May 16, 2022

A Long Shot

Rich Strike is America’s horse. Who didn’t love seeing Rich Strike, the second-longest shot ever to score in the Derby, win the whole thing? He showed up the day before because of a last-minute scratch.

The definition of a long shot is “an entry (as in a horse race) given little chance of winning.” Rich Strike was a long shot.

What is it about seeing the long shot for this race become the winner? Maybe you’ve seen the ariel view of the Derby? Rich Strike was dramatically weaving his way from the back of the pack to the memorable victory! I’ve watched it over and over, mesmerized by his move toward the front. Hearing the announcer, seconds before the race ends, exclaim “Rich Strike is coming up on the inside! Oh, my goodness! The longest shot has won the Kentucky Derby!”  The improbability of it all! Who would have dreamed?

Perhaps this story stirs us all. Is it when something so impossible becomes a reality that we respond in wonder and awe? Have we stopped believing in the impossible?

My mind embraces a greater reality when I read Matthew 19:26 “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’" We tend to live in terms of what our human minds can comprehend. We forget that God is God and "able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think… " (Ephesians 3:20)

There’s nothing that our God can’t do. I really believe that. I believe a vital prayer life is a key to believing this. I have in my prayer journal a section I call “Only God” prayers. “Only God” prayers are where I plead with God, beg with God, and basically ask God to do what only God to do. It feels impossible, but it's not. Real-time talk: These are my long-shot prayers. I will NOT stop believing that God can do these things. I will NOT stop praying about these things.  

Maybe you have some long-shot prayers? A medical miracle. Revitalizing a marriage. Healing from addiction. Overcoming depression and anxiety. Relational healing. Bringing good out of bad. No longer living in fear. Providing finances out of nowhere. Years of infertility and getting pregnant. God longs for you to come to Him with your “only God” prayers.

When God does what only He can do, it changes us. Yes, us. We look with awe and wonder and worship our God as we see this amazing impossibility happen! Our view of God grows. It changes what we seek. We’re no longer wishing and hoping for something out there in the universe to happen. Instead, we live in a radical relationship with a holy God who always has His best in mind for us. We can trust God to do what He says He will do.

Take a listen:
(There’s Nothing Our God Can’t Do, Live from Passion, 2020)

Nancy Abbott is the Chaplain of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio.