Saturday, December 31, 2011

THE BELT OF TRUTH

"So put on God's armor now! Then when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist the enemy's attack; and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground. So stand ready, with Truth as a belt tight around your waist, with righteousness as your breastplate, and as your shoes, the readiness to announce the Good News of peace. At all times carry faith as a shield...and accept salvation as a helmet, and the Word of God as the sword which the Spirit gives you."
~Ephesians 6:13-17

Have you ever noticed how lies have a way of multiplying? You tell one lie, and soon you are backing it up with another. Before you know it, you can't keep straight in your mind what you told to whom. After a while, these lies begin to masquerade as truth in your own mind. It's a scary place to be.

I remember a lie I told my mom when I was about eighteen years old. I told it after I splurged and purchased a belt for myself that was way too expensive. My mom had told me I could use her credit card to purchase a new top. But when I saw the belt, I had to have it. I reasoned that I wanted it more than a top. Besides, my mom would never know that the charge I was making was for a belt instead of the top she said I could buy.

My mom has an eye for fashion. The first time she saw me wearing my new belt, she commented on it. She said that it looked expensive, and asked me how I'd paid for it. I told her I'd managed to purchase it along with the top, and hoped she didn't mind. She smiled and said it was fine.

A couple of weeks later, my mom approached me with her credit card bill. She asked me point blank if I'd spent the large amount on her bill for a belt as the statement was suggesting. I lied and told her "no", that the total was for a top as well. She said it was okay if I did. She said she occasionally treated herself to something extravagant, and she'd understand if I did. I held firm to my lie and insisted I had purchased the belt on sale for a great price. I never did fess up to my mom, but I always knew that she knew the truth. And that made my pile of lies all the more injurious ~ to her, to me, and to our relationship.

I am pretty sure my mom has forgotten all about that belt and my attempts to cover up my poor decision of the purchase and the subsequent lies. But I haven't. I remember it like it was yesterday. That experience taught me a lot. It taught me that one lie inevitably leads to another. It taught me that, despite my best efforts to cover my tracks, the truth always seems to surface one way or another. It taught me that lies are hurtful ~ they hurt the recipient as well as the one who is telling the lie. I learned that there is a great deal of wisdom in the old adage, "Honesty is the best policy."

No matter how we rationalize the temptation to be dishonest, the bottom line is that it is wrong. We've all done it, some more than others. But that doesn't justify our actions. Neither does the argument that it is the kinder thing to do in some cases. How about speaking the truth in kindness?

Let's buckle the belt of truth around our waists. If it's included in the armor God wants us wearing everyday, it must be important. And the risks involved in choosing to take it off must be pretty severe when reading about it in this context. I am thankful for the memory of that belt and the lessons it taught me. It has helped me make a better choice when I have been tempted to tell untruths, white lies, half-truths, and exagerations. When we speak the truth in love, we are set free from the fall-out of dishonesty. Now, that's a belt worth wearing!

"We tell lies when we are afraid...afraid of what we don't know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us. But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger."
~Tad Williams            

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

THINK ABOUT IT

"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me ~ everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you."
~Philippians 4:8-9

The holidays seem to have a way of bringing out the best and the worst in people. This time of year can draw family and friends closer together; it can also create a wedge between people. Expectations are high. We want everything to be perfect. With such a huge build-up, it's no wonder there isn't a fallout or two along the way. Emotions seem to run stronger during this season. Elation and excitement can be replaced by disappointment and depression in a heatbeat.

Is there any family that hasn't felt the strain in one way or another? Afterall, we are a bunch of imperfect people trying to create the perfect holiday. Feelings get hurt, often unintentionally. Things get said in frustration that aren't really meant. And bridges get burned in the process, bridges that took years and years to build.

Here's what I am learning ~ people will let you down. It's how we respond that counts. We cannot change other people's behavior, but we can change how we think about them. The fact is that, regardless of the season, people will disappoint us...anger us...upset us. If we are honest about it, everyone falls short of who we want them to be and how we want them to act. But the same holds true for us. We let others down...we disappoint them...we anger and upset them. We fall short of who they want us to be and how they want us to act.

Let's get real ~ we make a choice when we place our thoughts onto the things in other people that upset us. Instead, we could choose to think about all the good that resides in them ~ how they've blessed us...the warm memories we have shared...the strengths and gifts they possess. What a shame to waste one moment of our precious time mulling over the negative stuff. It only weighs us down, and it clouds our vision of all the positives that we could be enjoying.

I think the same holds true with God. He is who He is ~ good, loving, holy, all-powerful, all-knowing, wise, and present ~ regardless of how we choose to think about Him. Isn't it better to look at all the beauty and majesty of God rather than distorting who He really is with our negative, skewed thoughts about Him? If we think of Him as harsh, cold, elusive, uncaring, rigid, uninvolved, a kill-joy ~ it's really ourselves that we are cheating, especially because He is none of these things! We can rob ourselves of the most important relationship known to man ~ with the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, simply because of how we choose to think about Him.

I have had relationships suffer because I have allowed negative thoughts to marinade in my mind about other people. I have also dulled my relationship with God in the same way at times. But I can stop this pattern and look at the good..the positive...the praise-worthy...the beautiful, and celebrate and embrace these dear people and my Heavenly Father. It's my choice. How much better it is to dwell on the good stuff! When I do, life is so much sweeter and richer. And I can't help but smile.

"If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it."
~Mary Engelbreit

"The only people who find what they are looking for in life are the fault finders."
~Foster's Law

"I don't like that man. I must get to know him better."
Abraham Lincoln
          

Saturday, December 17, 2011

BEAUTIFUL BEYOND MEASURE

"The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
~1 Samuel 16:7

I would like to know when thinness became a measuring stick for beauty. To be honest, I get caught up in the mentality that I have to be close to the size I was in my twenties in order to be attractive. I would ask where this mindset was planted, but I already know. We are inundated ~ even brainwashed ~ by the constant input we receive from magazines, designers, catalogs, and the Hollywood-ites that slimness is synonymous with beauty.

I wonder...did Mary ever give thought to her youthful figure as she surrendered her life to God's plans? What about the Proverbs 31 woman? When I read about her, I find myself caught up in the real, tangible, true definition of beauty. But I don't notice a hint about her dress size, her waistline, or how much she weighed.

I think back to my childhood and remember my mom and her peers. All were beautiful, vivacious women ~ but I don't think any were smaller than a size ten. They weren't obsessed with trying to fit into the same jeans their daughters wore. When did this change? And how were we women so easily swayed? I can't think of one of my friends who isn't constantly aware of the size she thinks she should be. We eat less, exercise a lot more, and stress over another inch that has appeared over the past year. Of course our health should be a top priority. But are we promoting the path to good health by putting so much focus onto our weight and the size we wear? I think the opposite may be true. The yo-yo dieting, the overdoing it at the gym, and the stress we take on over our outward appearance may be more harmful in the long run. I have to say ~ I think my mom and her friends were happier people overall than women today. And that makes me sad...and a little angry.

Like I said, I enjoy being a size six. It's the weight I feel healthiest at. But I don't enjoy the pressure to maintain this size if I want to be perceived as attractive. Let's get real here. True beauty isn't measured on a scale or around a waist. True beauty is what radiates from within. It's doing a kindness that no one else will notice. It's meeting a need that involves a sacrifice. It's opening our doors and our hearts to those who are overlooked or forgotten. It's putting others before ourselves and doing the hard stuff because it's the right thing to do. It's lightening someone's load with a smile, a touch, a meal, or a message that we care.

This is true beauty. I may still get caught up in the "skinny" mentality at times, but deep down I know better. I know I can reject the lies about beauty that are fed to me, and strive to have real beauty that shines from within.

"Beauty..when you look into a woman's eyes and see what is in her heart."
~Nate Dircks

"The true beauty of a woman is reflected in her soul. It is in the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman grows with the passing of years...The beauty of a woman is not the clothes she wears, the figure she carries or the way she combs her hair."
~Audrey Hepburn
       

Thursday, December 15, 2011

THE GIFT OF LIFE

"You shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother's womb. I thank you, High God ~ you're breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration ~ what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; you know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day."
~Psalm 139: 13-16

For as long as I can remember, December has been my favorite month of the year. Despite the hustle and bustle and the overspending, there is so much I look forward to ~ time with family and friends, the sound of carols playing in the background, the aroma of gingerbread fresh from the oven, and the greetings received from people we only hear from this time of year. But above all, there is a sense of holiness that seems more tangible than the other eleven months.

Last year brought one more reason to celebrate my favorite month. Our niece gave birth to her first child ~ a healthy, beautiful baby girl. I was blessed and honored to be present for Annie Grace's arrival into the world. Having witnessed my niece's birth, and years later the birth of her own daughter, I can say that there is nothing so raw...yet so holy...as the birth of a baby. As frequently as birth occurs in our world, it is nothing short of a miracle to see new life making its grand entrance. The more I learn and understand about how the human body is formed and functions, the more I am in awe of God's creation.

This weekend we celebrated Annie's first birthday. Her face reflected innocence, wonder, excitement, and joy as many gathered around her to show tangible love for this precious little girl who arrived only one year ago. I can't help but try to imagine her at five...at twelve...at eighteen. I wonder what talents and gifts will surface as she grows...what challenges she will face...what her passion will be. My prayer for Annie is that she will grow up strong in her knowledge and her walk with her heavenly Father...that He will keep her safe and healthy...that her life will be filled with boundless joy, peace amidst all of life's storms, and contentment with herself, her loved ones, and her surroundings.

Annie's life couldn't have started more brightly. She has been given the best parents, grandparents, and a multitude of people who love her unconditionally and will be there for her. Happy first birthday, Annie Grace! I wish you only God's very best. I have to smile as I think ~ how fitting that my latest reason to love December is because of the birth of a baby...

"A babe in the house is a well-spring of pleasure, a messenger of peace and love, a resting place for innocence on earth, a link between angels and men."
~Martin Fraquhar Tupper

"The first joy of a child is the knowledge that it is loved."
~Don Bosco        

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

GIFTS TO MYSELF

What a stack of blessings you have piled up for those who worship you, ready and waiting for all who run to you to escape an unkind world."
~Psalm 31:19, The Message

My husband and I have a Christmas tradition between us that has lasted our twenty-five years of marriage. To save him the time and energy, I buy my own gifts, even wrapping and placing them under our tree. He is spared the stress of trying to find the right items, and I get exactly what I am needing or wanting.

This year, the gifts I'd like to give myself cannot be found at the mall or purchased online. No, these gifts come from a much higher source, and are of greater value than any price tag found in a store.

I want to give myself the gift of letting go ~ of bad memories, mistakes from the past, my failures and shortcomings as a wife and mom, and unrealistic expectations. I want to let go of unhealthy habits, negative thinking, and beating myself up.

I want to give myself the gift of forgiveness and compassion ~ for myself and for others. I want to put to rest any and all grudges I am holding. I want to remove those dusty old lenses of resentment, and replace them with eyes that sparkle with unconditional love and acceptance.

I want to give myself the gift of celebration. Instead of being weighed down with all that is going wrong in my life...my family's lives...the world...I want to focus on all that is good and right. I want to jump and sing and rejoice over all that I am blessed with, and all the beauty that surrounds me.

I want to give myself the gift of friendship. I want to allow myself permission to step out of my little world and enjoy fellowship with good friends. I want to give myself the gift of time to set aside my cares and responsibilities at home and invest in the lives of my friends.

I want to give myself the gift of good old fashioned fun and laughter. I want to learn to set aside the serious stuff of life for a little time each day and just relax. I want to know the joy of lightening up, and doing things simply because they are fun!

I can't run to the mall to purchase my gifts this year. Instead, I can look up and seek the ultimate Gift-Giver. Here's my list, Lord. Afterall, He IS the Giver of all good things.

"Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons."
~Ruth Ann Schabacker     

Friday, December 9, 2011

EMBRACING THE UNEXPECTED

"In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin's name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her: 'Good morning! You're beautiful with God's beauty, beautiful inside and out! God be with you.' She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, 'Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus. He will be great, be called Son of the Highest. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; he will rule Jacob's house forever ~ no end, and ever, to his kingdom.' Mary said to the angel, 'But how? I've never slept with a man.' The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Highest hover over you; therefore, the child you bring to birth will be called Holy, Son of God. And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months' pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.' And Mary said, 'Yes, I see it all now: I'm the Lord's maid, ready to serve. Let it be just as you say.' Then the angel left her."
~Luke 1: 26-38, The Message

Is there anything as exciting as a wedding on the horizon? Yes, there's an element of stress over the big event. But for the most part, it is a season of joy and anticipation for what the future holds. This is our family's experience as we begin to prepare for our only daughter's big day.

There was another bride-to-be, a young teenage girl named Mary. She was betrothed to Joseph, who from all appearances, was an honorable man. I don't know much about the customs back then, but I am quite sure there was the same gamut of emotions that the bride and groom experience today. Of course, the culture was very different in Mary and Joseph's day. For one thing, it was utterly unacceptable for a couple to be intimate before marriage.

I can imagine that Mary was like most brides, eagerly awaiting her wedding day and the new life that would unfold as Joseph's wife. But life as we know it rarely goes in perfect accordance with the plans we make. In fact, there is usually at least a hiccup or two along the way because we can't see into the future, and we cannot control every outcome.

Mary's surprise was certainly unequaled to any previous life experience when she was visited by Gabriel, an angel. How long did it take for it to register that the one speaking to her was a heavenly messenger, sent straight from the throne of God? Although she was "thoroughly shaken", she listened to the words spoken by Gabriel. He told her that she would give birth to a son, and would name him Jesus. Mary seemed to grasp the fact that this event would take place before her marriage to Joseph, because she asked how it was even possible. She was a virgin, and she knew that pregnancy was a result of physical intimacy with a man.

Gabriel reassured her that this would be a miraculous conception. To help her embrace the impossible, he informed Mary that her cousin Elizabeth, barren and too old to conceive, was six months' pregnant. Hearing this news, Mary seemed to be convinced that Gabriel knew what he was talking about. She didn't hesitate to agree wholeheartedly to a very dramatic change in her life-plans.

I am awed by Mary's faith and willing spirit. Engaged to be married, she was willing to become pregnant, knowing the possible fallout. She could have lost everything ~ Joseph, her family, even her life. But somehow she knew that God was at the heart of the events that were about to unfold. And she chose faith over fear.

I love this! It is so easy for me to pull back ~ to say no ~ to kick and scream when my world gets turned upside down. I can get swallowed up by fear...doubt...depression. But this story gives me an amazing illustration of beauty from ashes. I have seen it in my own life time after time. If I just hang in there and hold on tightly to my faith, something miraculous rises out of the ashes. Death gives way to new life. The thing I thought would be my demise ends up producing blessings beyond my wildest dreams. Mary's story reminds me how the unexpected...the beautiful...the miraculous can blossom out of the most perilous, dark, and confusing circumstances. This is the miracle of Christmas.

"Our God is the God of the unexpected. Few things could be more unexpected than the King of heaven being born in a stable."
~Bill Crowder           

Thursday, December 8, 2011

CONSIDER JOSEPH

"This is how the birth of Jesus came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph  her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel ~ which means God with us.' When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus."
~Matthew 1:18-25

This passage is such a beautiful, raw illustration of how the birth of Jesus came about. It cries out to me to consider a key figure, Joseph, and the role he played in ushering the son of God into the world. We read that Joseph is pledged to wed Mary when he discovers she is pregnant. Because he knows he isn't the child's father, he assumes that Mary has been intimate with another man...a very reasonable conclusion on his part! Being an honorable man, he plans to break the engagement quietly.

I have to pause here and try to visualize what is happening in the lives of these "common" people. I can only imagine the hurt, disappointment, and anger Joseph must be feeling as the news sinks in. Perhaps he is even questioning his own judgment in agreeing to marry a young woman capable of such an act. My guess is that the recent events, coupled with an array of painful emotions, has left him in a bit of a fog.

But Joseph has a dream that literally changes everything. In this dream, an angel reveals to him that Mary's baby has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.  The angel implores Joseph to put aside his fears about marrying Mary. This goes against all reason. For Joseph to marry her in her present condition is a direct contradiction to everything he has been taught. He knows the possible consequence of their dire situation. But the angel presses on, making Joseph privy to information only heaven can make sense of. She will give birth to a son...Jesus...and this baby will save the people from their sins.

If that isn't enough to astound and amaze the reader, Joseph follows the urgent pleas of the angel from his dream and pulls through, saving Mary from disgrace (and possible stoning). In doing so, he provides her unborn baby with the legitimacy he needs to  enter the world a healthy baby boy, safe from the fallout of an unwed pregnancy. And all because of a dream...

Why is Joseph so inspiring? What impresses me most about this young man is his conviction to do the right thing. At first, he makes up his mind to quietly separate himself from Mary. Despite the fact that he must be hurt by her assumed actions, he thinks about Mary's welfare and how best to protect her and the baby in their perilous circumstances. But a message in a dream completely changes his prespective on the situation. With that change comes a shift in his plans. He chooses to think the best of Mary and embrace the miraculous. Does he know that a real angel has spoken to him in his dream? I don't know. My guess is that the dream opens the door for Joseph to consider an alternate plan ~ one that puts Mary in a much better light, and one that will ensure the safety of her and her unborn child. And he does the honorable thing.

Joseph challenges me! He challenges me to be courageous and to do the right thing ~ even when it hurts...even when it doesn't make much sense...even when it looks like I will get the short end of the stick. He challenges me to see other people and circumstances in a positive light ~ to stop complaining and judging, and to look for the very best in them. He challenges me to live my life based on what I believe rather than what I feel.

Without Joseph, I think there would have been no Jesus. He was a key figure that was needed to make it all work out. A man, hand-picked by God himself to be the earthly father of his son, is certainly worth considering.
                     

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

BLOWN AWAY

The category-one hurricane winds left behind a path of  utter destruction. Who knew Southern California would be visited by one hundred mile per hour winds? Earthquakes, yes. Fires, yes. Santa Ana winds, yes. But never winds of this magnitude.

Yet this is how we ushered in the month of December. Shortly after the winds began blowing, we lost our power. One week after the fact, some residents in the area are still without electricity. That night, we lost our majestic tree in our front yard, a tree that stood twice as tall as our house. It was the only tree on our property that we actually named. It fell inches away from our son's truck, and a large expense was spared. We also lost a portion of our roof and a section of our back fence, both ripped away by the hurricane force winds.

The mess was overwhelming. Debris was everywhere. Large heavy pots were blown onto their sides. Items from our garden simply vanished. Everything was covered with a thick layer of dust and dirt. Even the inside of our home wasn't spared. I began the daunting task of cleaning up. My husband shook his head in disbelief. The seventy swimming pools he takes care of were all filled with tree branches, leaves, patio furniture, potted plants, roofing shingles...you name it. It was beyond anything he has  seen in forty years.

One week later, we both feel and move like we are decades older than our actual age. My husband has only begun to scratch the surface in his clean-up efforts at work. He is gone from sun-up to sun-down, coming home completely exhausted and very sore. The only thing I can do to lighten his load is to try to take care of things on the home front.

This was supposed to be a stress-free season for us. We agreed as a family to cut back on the spending and gifting, drawing names to make it more manageable. My husband had made the decision to cut back on his work load, accepting the fact that he just can't do what he used to ten...twenty...thirty years ago. We made a point not to fill up the calendar with activities so we could enjoy the season and each other's company.

Then the winds arrived. And the clean-up began. And two family members landed in the hospital. And my mom found herself in need of help.

Last night we decorated our tree. Actually, our daughter decorated the majority of the tree. I sat on the couch, too tired to engage in one of my favorite activities.  But it was a delight to watch her, realizing that this time next year, she'd probably be married, thinking about a tree of her own.

Despite the winds, the mess, the work, and the exhaustion...one thing remains constant and unchangeable ~ the reason for this season. It's all about a young teenage girl...her faithful husband...and a baby boy, born in a stable, surrounded by animals, yet visited by kings. No windstorm, whether literal or built of adversity, can change that fact.

"This is Christmas: not the tinsel, not the giving and receiving, not even the carols. But the humble heart that receives anew the wondrous gift ~ the Christ."
~Frank McKibben
          

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

THE GIFT OF EVERY DAY

Every day we are given is a precious gift. I spend most of my days living as if I have an unlimited portion to spend here on earth. I don't. No one does. I don't want to look back on my life and shake my head with regrets about how I used my own allotted amount. I want to be able to look back with a smile, knowing I lived with purpose, integrity, and appreciation for each and every day I was given.

I think that if people who have already passed away were able to speak to us, they would tell us to stop wasting time. I'm not referring to mundane and menial activities. These are a sacred necessity, and an opportunity to commune with God and develop more of his character in us. The time-wasters that are on my mind are mostly internal ~ worrying about the future, living in regret over a bad decision, allowing anxiety over present circumstances to take up residence. We humans can spend so much time and energy living in painful memories or fears about tomorrow that we miss out on the present.

I think that those who have passed on would tell us that life is too short and far too precious to invest it in emotional baggage that only weighs us down. They would nudge us to say no to the toxic memories, the debilitating fears, and the pity parties. I think they would encourage us to stop beating ourselves up because we did or said the wrong thing. They would implore us to discard the pains from the past and start enjoying the present. I think they'd counsel us to stop assuming responsibility for the wrongs we have witnessed. Let's face it. We all have things in our past or present that can drain the life out of us if we let them. Why do we let them?! I guess because it seems the noble thing to do, or we buy into the lies that are fed to us and accept them as truths. But I think they would tell us to put these things to rest.

When someone we know passes away, it reminds us that we don't know how many days we have left. I don't want to waste one more day of the time I have here. I am saying "no more" to my old memories that have haunted me for years. Instead, I am going to ask what I can learn from them and move on. I am not going to buy into the anxiety of what-ifs that can take up residence in my mind. Instead, I am going to breathe in peace and calm and faith that all will work out according to God's good plans. I am not going to whittle away my time stressed out about the future. Instead, I am going to adjust my vision and see it as an unknown adventure just waiting to be explored.

For those who have gone before us, you are missed. Your absence is a reminder to grab hold of those we love and tell them how much they mean to us. The memories we hold dear of you encourage us to build new ones that we can leave behind for those we love. Life is too short to wait until tomorrow to hold a loved one's hand, share a laugh with a friend, or tell someone you think the world of him.

"When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a manner that when you die the world cries and you rejoice." ~Indian Saying

"Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why we call it the present." ~Alice Morse Earle

"Don't let yesterday use up too much of today." ~Cherokee Indian Proverb

"If you have one eye on yesterday, and one eye on tomorrow, you're going to be cockeyed today." ~Author Unknown

"We crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for yesterday and fear of tomorrow." ~Fulton Oursler

"Every day you are alive is a special occasion. Every minute, every breath, is a gift from God." ~Mary Manin Morrisey

"Enjoy yourself. It's later than you think." ~Chinese Proverb

"One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon ~ instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today."  
~Dale Carnegie

"Life, if well lived, is long enough." ~Lucius Annaeus Seneca
         

Monday, November 28, 2011

WALKING IN FREEDOM

"Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take a stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you." ~Galatians 5:1, The Message

If I were to choose one word that encompasses a close walk with God, it would be "freedom". Some see it as a stringent set of rules to live by. This could not be farther from the truth. Walking with God is the most liberating thing we can do. Religion binds us to a set of laws; a relationship with Christ sets us free.

The relationship that God offers frees us from every wrong we've ever committed, any injury we carry inside of us, and each area of brokenness in our lives. Christ came to set captives free. He came to tear down the prison walls of guilt, shame, condemnation, fear, anxiety, anger, depression, and discouragement. He came to release us from the grip of regret, loneliness, worry, and low self-worth. Christ came to free us up to be all we can be. And he came to give us our ultimate freedom, eternal life with him.

The cross represents this freedom. It tells us that NO sin can keep us captive if we turn to him. It reminds us that NO illness, NO loss, NO empty place in our lives has the power to bind, paralyze, or defeat us. NO memory from the past or fear of the future can hold us down when we walk this path of freedom.

This morning I listened to a woman share about how she was raped by her father hundreds of times when she was a child. This woman was so imprisoned by him and the life he forced her to live. It took years of learning to trust God, but now she walks in complete freedom from all that she went through as a child. She was even released from the anger she felt for her father. Freedom!

It's why countries that want to control their people declare Christianity illegal, punishable even to the point of death. They know that a walk with Christ means a freedom that no government can squelch. No prison walls and no degree of torture can touch the freedom people have who know God.

We don't have to stay imprisoned by guilt or insecurity. We can break the chains of worry and hopelessness. We don't have to remain paralyzed by past hurts or poor choices. All we have to do is turn to him...take his hand...surrender our whole lives to him. Our whole lives? Yes, if we want complete freedom. The more we refuse to release to him, the less freedom we have from the things that bind us. I  have walked both paths. I choose freedom.

"For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." 
~2 Corinthians 3:17         

    

Friday, November 25, 2011

A GREEN CHRISTMAS

"The manner of giving is worth more than the gift." ~Pierre Corneille

After reading a book my daughter-in-law gave me called A Year Without Made In China", I was inspired. "Let's do something different for gift-giving this year." After discussing it, our family decided to go with a "used" theme. I referred to it as our "Green Christmas" because we were to recycle previously owned items. The rule was, "no new purchases". We could buy gifts at yard or estate sales, flea markets, thrift or antique shops, or give away something we already owned.

My daughter and I spent countless Saturdays combing through items at yard sales  within a ten mile radius of our home. We visited our local thrift stores on a regular basis. When we found something we thought might make a good gift, we brought it home, wrapped it, and set it upstairs in our attic.

Christmas Eve I trotted up to our attic, confident that we had created a generous collection of unusual gifts. As I began to lug them downstairs for their placement under our tree, I was astonished by the amount of loot we had accumulated. Dozens and dozens of packages crowded around our tree and overflowed into the living space of our small living room.

My own shock paled in comparison to the reactions we got on Christmas morning as our family descended upon us. Clearly, we had our work cut out for us! Hours of gift-opening was accompanied by much laughter, surprised reactions to the high quality of some of the presents, and appreciation for the people that each gift represented.

Why do I share this? Because it was memorable. It challenged us to think beyond the traditional shopping methods and think outside the box. It caused us to be more thoughtful and deliberate in our purchases. I spent way more time throughout the year thinking about each person and what they might like to receive. It also brought to light the waste we are so casual about. Items that someone paid full price for, we were able to purchase for a buck or two simply because they weren't "new". I had to pause and think about the number of things we spend our hard earned money on, things that will one day meet the same fate.

We did spend a lot less money on gifts that year. Instead, we invested more time, thought, and consideration. And isn't that what gift-giving is all about?

The whole experience challenged and changed my perspective in many ways ~ how I spend money, the whole tradition of gift-giving, and the emphasis I want to have during this season. As much as we enjoy the stockings and the presents, it's really about love ~ for our family, our relatives, our friends, and the One who came to earth, whose birth we celebrate. For me, that's what Christmas is all about.

"To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year." ~Elwyn Brooks White
        

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER

A Christmas tree adorned with lights and keepsake ornaments…hand-stitched stockings hanging from the mantle…snowmen, santas, snow globes, manger scenes, nutcrackers…the sweet scents of pine wreaths and sugar cookies fresh from the oven…all of these paint a picture of Christmas at our house.

We were always generous with our children at Christmas, quite honestly, to a fault. They woke up on December twenty-fifth to stockings jammed with small presents, and packages galore surrounding the base of our tree. But when our youngest of four was rapidly approaching adulthood, we decided it was time to rethink our festivities and expenditures for the holiday.

I remember the year we all lived with the post-Katrina reports that seemed unimaginable for our nation. We watched the nightly reports of the loss and devastation and talked amongst ourselves about the countless victims. I was moved to tears night after night as I watched the nightmare of so many lives unfolding, wondering how they were coping with the aftermath of such utter destruction. I began to wonder if God was calling me to do something, but what? We never ever seemed to have a surplus of cash; every month was a stretch to get by.

 But one thing we could do was to take the bulk of the money we’d lavish on our children at Christmas and use it to help those who were in such desperate need, who didn’t even have a home for Christmas. My husband and I discussed with each of our kids the idea of toning down on the gift-giving so that we could help the Katrina survivors. We were so proud of all of them for not even hesitating to make the sacrifice. All four saw our "rich" condition in comparison to so many who had next to nothing after the hurricane . They assured us that they would be content with whatever we could afford to give them. It was equally exciting to watch our extended family embrace the idea of changing gift-giving traditions and lend a helping hand.

The holidays were a refreshing season of calm, relaxation, and peace in our house. The pressure to buy and wrap a lot of gifts was gone. I had fun coming up with ideas for presents that stayed within our new meager budget. Even the stockings were filled with little, inexpensive knickknacks.

Christmas morning was joyful in our home. A handcrafted photo menagerie made by our daughter for her younger brother was a huge hit. All four of the kids expressed surprise and gratitude for the gifts we had managed to purchase. Their dollar value didn’t seem to matter. I honestly think that it was one of my favorite Christmases.

The next day, I reflected on the amazing gifts God had given me that year, gifts that were so much more meaningful than any material object I could receive under the tree. I thought about our great marriage and how God had strengthened our union and filled our hearts with a deep, selfless love for each other. I savored the mental images of our family…all four children, alive and well and maturing into adulthood. I was grateful for the season of calm we were experiencing as a family. I reflected on the gift of agape love and how God had been teaching me to see others through His eyes. Finally, I rejoiced in how we learned as a family to accept and embrace each other with all our imperfections.

My thoughts went to the priceless gift of being able to stay at home that year and devise a workable budget, and to make our home more organized, welcoming, and healthy. I couldn’t help but think about the gift of our church and the people we befriended there, and our precious freedom to worship. I meditated on the gifts of contentment, peace, hope, faith, trust, and the ability to let God carry the life's burdens. How richly God lavished these priceless gifts upon us!

Christmas has been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember. But that year was something extra special. I watched my children see beyond their own little worlds and material objects desired, and open their hands and hearts to a hurting world. I saw them appreciate and show genuine gratitude for small gifts they could have provided for themselves. I saw their focus shift from what awaited them under the tree to the gifts we have in each other. And I couldn’t help but imagine the faces of those who were blessed by our decision to give to them instead of following the traditions of past Christmases. I even imagined the face of God looking down on us, and I’m sure I saw a smile.

Friday, November 18, 2011

REMEMBERING GRANDMA

"Grandmas are moms with lots of frosting."
~Author Unknown

My grandmother lived to be 104 years old. She managed to experience three different centuries, born in the 1800s and passing away in 2001. Today would have been her 115th year of celebrating her birth. My grandmother's life was rich with experiences I can only imagine. I used to love to listen to her revisit one of her many cherished memories. Her family was the first in their Iowa town to own a car. She spent much of her adult life as a missionary in South America. I will never forget her words to me on her one hundredth birthday, "I still feel like a young girl on the inside." Perhaps that was her secret for her long life, lived out so well.

Even though her life was full of adventures into the unknown, my fondest memories of her were birthed in her kitchen. My grandmother loved to cook and bake. She managed to make every meal a sacred feast. Her humble home shouted simplicity, and her kitchen was no exception. I remember how hard she resisted the idea of a microwave oven. The utensils and pans she used to create her homemade treasures were decades old. The tiny space she worked in never dampened her passion for making her many culinary delights. She managed to work with her very limited counterspace to produce a dining table covered in tasty dishes I can only dream of concocting. Her garage was used as a pantry, housing her many jars of homemade jams, jellies, apple butters, chili sauces, and relishes. She made a pomegranite jelly that no one has ever held a candle to. What I would give for a jar! The truth is that I never ate a meal in her home that I didn't love.

What a beautiful example she was of using her gifts and talents to bless others. For everyone who walked through her door knew she would share her heart through a meal prepared with loving care.

I miss my grandma, and not just because she was my favorite chef and baker! She was a dear, kind, giving woman who led a refreshingly simple and beautiful life. Her talents were not limited to the kitchen. Her hands could produce lovely hand-stitched quilts, two of which I proudly display in our home. Because of her gift with a needle and thread, my Barbie dolls were the best dressed dolls handsdown.

My grandmother was also very gifted in mathematics. She followed the stock market like a hawk, not because of investments, but because she was intrigued by it. She had a keen sense of what stocks would do well and which ones to avoid. She was also musically gifted. She played the piano as well as the organ, a gift she purchased for her church. Her garden stood out in her neighborhood as one of the prettiest. Her table was always adorned with a floral arrangement she grew herself.

My life is richer because of my grandmother. Her example of a life well lived inspires me to this day to learn and grow and stretch myself, and be the best I can be. I can only hope that my own grandchildren will one day say the same about me. 

"There's no place like home except Grandma's." 
~Author Unknown   

Thursday, November 17, 2011

THE FOUR "A"s, PART THREE

"Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God's people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don't curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are  happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don't be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don't think you know it all!"
~Romans 12: 9-16

This is where the rubber meets the road ~ putting action to what we think and believe. And I am bracing myself for today's meditation, because I know how short I fall. I cannot begin to count the number of scenarios that parade through my mind ~ times when I failed to step up and show love to someone who was in need of a hearty dose. I can't shake the memories of times when my responses were anything but loving, completely void of sincerity. And how often have I lashed out in anger, or completely pulled away? Too many times to count.

The good news is I am forgiven of those past mistakes. And my actions today ~ and tomorrow ~ don't have to follow those nasty patterns I long to break. So I roll up my sleeves, take a deep breath, and delve into my instructions in this passage of Scripture.

Love sincerely. Don't just pretend to love others. That's a tall order, especially if it is someone I find difficult to like, let alone love. But for God, this is a piece of cake. He loves ALL of us. He doesn't show favoritism. If I open myself up and cooperate, his love can flow through me onto the people he puts in my path ~ even the ones I find challenging to love.

Despise the things in this world that are wrong, and cling to those that are good. I notice it refers to "things", not people. God hates the sin, but he ALWAYS loves the sinner. I am called to respond in the same way. This means I need to keep a clean slate before God and steer away from things I know are wrong. Sometimes I need to simply walk away.

Honor others. Let them go first. Place them in the seat of honor. Lift them up. Encourage and celebrate them when they are in the limelight. Be content to be on the sidelines offering my support. Learn to put others before myself.

Overcome my tendency towards laziness ~ step up and do my part. Work with an enthusiastic spirit and willing hands. Look for opportunities to serve. Remember, when I am serving someone, God says it's as if I am serving him. Powerful stuff!

Remain hopeful. As long as I have hope, my joy can remain intact. No circumstance or person can take it away. Walk through trials patiently. Impatience won't get me through the rough seasons any quicker. In fact, the opposite may be true. Keep praying ~ NO MATTER WHAT. Maintaining an ongoing communication with God is critical if I want to see any growth.

Have an open hand and hearth. Be willing, even eager, to share with others the blessings I have been given. Things cannot hold a candle to people. Live this truth in my daily round by being extravagantly generous. And stop waiting until my home is "good enough" for guests! A home full of love is far better than one full of expensive gadgets and trendy designs.

Bless those who persecute me. Ugh. These are the people who look down on me because of my faith. In my head, I understand that they don't see what I see, and they can't relate to my walk with God. But still, it hurts. And when I hurt, my tendency is to pull away or lash out. Neither is a healthy option. How good it feels to respond in love, and to lift them up in prayer.

Celebrate other people's victories, and cry with them during their losses. Empathy ~ what a wonderful quality. You can see it clearly on someone's face whose heart is full of it. Your pain and your joy are mirrored back to you by their own countenance.

Live in harmony with others. To do this consistently, I think you have to be a peacemaker. A peacemaker isn't consumed with being right ~ he is more concerned about having a right relationship with others.     

Swallow my pride, and learn to relate to people in all walks of life. It's easy for me to gravitate toward those who are most like me. This challenges me to be open and look for the best in all people ~ embrace them instead of avoiding them.

Put to rest any and all thoughts that I am better than another person. The One who created all of us says otherwise. How silly we are to compare ourselves with others and pass judgment on them. We cannot look clearly into anyone's heart to see what's there. We can't even get an accurate glimpse into our own! Only God has that ability and privilege.

Honestly, I am overwhelmed by today's message. The moments I live this way are few and far between. But how wonderful it is that I have a new day to walk through, and a new chance to get it right.

"I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts."
~John Locke

"Well done is better than well said."
~Benjamin Franklin

"Ironically, making a statement with words is the least effective method."
~Grey Livingstone

"People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do."
~Lewis Cass

      

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

THE FOUR "A"s, PART TWO

"Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully."
~Romans 12:4-8

I had to giggle to myself this morning. I heard one message, then read two others that addressed my theme for today's meditation: ability. Coincidence? I don't think so. Just strong confirmation that I am right where I am supposed to be, doing what I am being led to do. That is just what today's reading is all about ~ recognizing the gifts and talents we have been given, and using them to bless others. How I hope this message blesses YOU!

Since I was a little girl, there are three things I remember dreaming about ~ being a mom, being a teacher, and being a writer. My collection of dolls filled my first classroom. I'd prop up my blackboard, chalk in one hand and eraser in the other, and teach everything from spelling to cursive to math. I even taught my dolls to swim in my living room! By the fifth grade, I realized my love for the written word. My love affair with penning short stories, poems, and lyrics was passionate from day one. My best memory from high school was when my creative writing teacher included several of my pieces in her annual school publication.

As I meditate on this passage in Romans, I know how blessed I have been to witness my dreams come to fruition one by one. My first and most heartfelt dream to be a mom was answered in a big way. Before our third anniversary arrived, we had four kids under our roof, satisfying that deep longing for motherhood. My second dream to teach was realized a few years later, first at home with my own kids, and then in a private school. To this day, I am still blessed with the opportunity to teach as I tutor high school boys in our home. My third dream, to be a writer, continues to unfold before my eyes. I don't know where it will lead. I am certainly not confident enough in it to call it a "gift" or "talent". But I have already enjoyed the process of completing three children's novels, an autobiography, and an adult novel. This past summer, I felt a strong calling to begin a writing ministry in the form of this blog.

Wow...God has been so good to me. The dreams he planted in my heart decades ago are now part of my daily round. Not only has he equipped me to live them, he has opened doors of opportunity time and time again. So why do I sometimes look at others and wish I had their talents? A girlfriend of mine shared this same longing with me. She shared that she wishes she had the gift of putting words to paper. I looked at her, astonished. This beautiful, vibrant, GIFTED woman was feeling as if she was somehow lacking, even though her list of talents is a mile longer than mine.

Why do we expend energy on wishing for a different talent than the ones God has given us? Afterall, he can't call all of us to be singers, pastors, or doctors. This passage helps me better understand that if we could access whatever talents we coveted, we wouldn't be able to recognize our true calling. Whatever our gifts and talents are, they have been placed in us for a reason ~ TO BE USED. Instead of wishing I was something I am not, I think it's time I celebrate the way he created me to be. Imagine the possibilities if all of us would step up and use our God-given gifts and abilities to their fullest measure.

This past year, God has been showing me that I keep too tight a grip on the abilities he has placed in me. I have had to stop, pause, and recognize what he is calling me to do, and DO IT. This blog is a small step in the whole process. Everyday I sit down, pen in hand, and let the words flow through me. I often wonder if they are benefiting anyone ~ if anyone is even reading them. But that is not under the umbrella of my responsibilities.

Yes, I still wish I had the gift of song...the gift of speaking...the gifts of Martha Stewart! But the truth is, I am already living my dreams. I have to believe that if I am using the abilities he has placed in me, he will use them to bless others. Whatever your gifts are, the same holds true for you.

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
~Judy Garland                     

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

THE FOUR "A"s, PART ONE

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God ~ this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is ~ his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly that you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you."
~Romans 12: 1-3

I confess that I lack discipline when it comes to memorizing Scripture. Honestly, I don't take the time. But I did put to memory Romans Chapter 12. It is rich with practical wisdom, and it addresses the four "A"s I often struggle with: attitude, ability, action, and anger management. Today I am tackling the first...my attitude.

While it is easy to place the blame on other people or frustrating circumstances, deep down I know better. If I am having one of those hair-pulling, nails-on-the-chalkboard type of day, my attitude probably needs an adjustment. I know from experience that everything can be going in my favor, and I can still be tempted to throw myself a huge pity party. On the other hand, I can wake up feeling rotten, face a day of sour moods in my household, and still manage to focus on all I have to be thankful for.

It all boils down to attitude with a capital "A". So how can I improve mine? For surely I want each day to be rich with joy, peace, and contentment. And NONE of these is based in circumstances or other people. No, it all comes back to my attitude, and if I have adjusted it positively.

I look to the first three verses in Romans 12 for some strong directives in adjusting my attitude. First, I read that I am to offer my time and activities up to God as an offering, returning the love to him that he has so lavishly poured out upon me. Is there anything better than basking in unconditional love as I go about my day? How can I not give back what is given to me in such radical portions? Already my perspective is shifting. And with that comes a stronger sense of what I am called to do. How many days do I spend spinning my wheels? Focused on him, I have a clearer understanding of how my time and energy should be spent.

Second, I see that I shouldn't be so concerned with worldliness. It's tempting to want to fit in and be a part of the crowd. But that's not what I am being called to do. When I follow the crowd, I fall into that people-pleasing mode, eager for acceptance. In reality, I am already accepted ~ into the kingdom of the One who created all of us. I am his child, and there is no worldly acceptance that can hold a candle to this status. With that in mind, I don't have to be hurt or dragged down by people's rejection or misunderstanding of me. Instead, I am walking closely with the One who loves me unconditionally and who promises to never turn his back on me. How can this truth not brighten my day and my overall outlook?

Lastly, I read that I am not to put too much importance on myself. I need to lighten up! Let God be God. Stop trying to move mountains on my own. Rest in him ~ his power, his grace, and his love are more than sufficient in everything I encounter. How freeing this is! I can relax, knowing he is in control and is faithfully tending to every care, every need, and every person.

It's a new day. And with my attitude in check, I think it's going to be a good one!

"The only disability in life is a bad attitude."
~Scott Hamilton

"There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes."
~William J. Bennett

"The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude."
~Dennis S. Brown

"Anywhere is paradise; it's up to you."
~Author Unknown     

Monday, November 14, 2011

A STEP OF FAITH

"Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. 'It's a ghost,' they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: 'Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.' 'Lord, if it's you,' Peter replied, 'tell me to come to you on the water.' 'Come,' he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. 'You of little faith,' he said, 'why did you doubt?' And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'"
Matthew 14: 22-33

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is the time of year when we can run ourselves frazzled. The holidays seem to bring out the hustle and bustle in us. Meals must be planned. Gifts need to be purchased and wrapped. Kitchens everywhere begin to resemble bakeries. Our homes transform from the everyday ordinary to the seasonal extraordinary. No wonder we breathe a collective sigh of relief when the new year arrives.

God knows we can overdo it. He sees our priorities become muddled, then completely out of wack. He can see ahead to the fallout of running ourselves ragged. So why do we resist his nudgings to set aside time for rest...reflection...renewal? Because we are just too busy!

In this passage, Jesus makes his disciples pull away from the crowds and get into a boat. He knows that time spent out on the lake, surrounded by peace, solitude, and the gentle movement of the water will do them a world of good. He then answers his own higher call to go off and spend time alone with his Father. Surely he must be tired, too. But even exhaustion holds a back seat to his desire for one-on-one fellowship with his Father.

In the meantime, the winds pick up, guiding the disciples' boat out into the middle of the lake. It appears that the water's movement is powerful enough to arouse the men from their rest. Looking up, they see a figure like a ghost walking on the water toward them. They are overcome with fear. But to their surprise and amazement, the ghostly figure turns out to be Jesus. He is walking on the water's surface. How can this be?! His words, "Don't be afraid. It's me," do little to detract from the miracle they are witnessing. For Jesus is defying the law of physics. How can he possibly be walking on the water? Why isn't he sinking? Because the Creator of physics has complete authority over it, and nothing is too difficult for him.

Peter is so engaged in this miracle that he wants to be a part of it. "Tell me to come to you on the water," he says. Jesus replies simply, "Come." Peter climbs out of the boat and takes a tentative step toward Jesus. And we are given a beautiful picture of what can happen when our faith intersects with his power ~ ANYTHING is possible.

As he looks at the wind, Peter's fear dampens his faith, and he begins to descend below the water's surface. I have heard numerous messages about Peter's lack of faith at this point. But I have to ask, how many of us would get out of the boat in the first place and take that literal step of faith? Knowing my own fear of drowning, I can pretty confidently say it wouldn't be me. But I can't help but wonder ~ how many hopes...callings...and miracles do I drown out by my own fears and unwillingness to take a risk and step out? God only knows.

When they are all safely in the boat, the wind immediately dies down. In awe, they worship Jesus. Perhaps this is a reminder to me to invite him into the stormy, turbulent parts of my life. For when Jesus is present, those fierce winds of adversity aren't so frightening. And as I worship him (who can't when in his presence!) they seem to lose their destructive powers altogether.

I get it ~ hear his call today to rest; resist the urge to go-go-go. Take that step of faith. Put my fears to rest. Invite him into every nook and cranny of my life...and my daily round. Pause and worship him. This is how he wants me to live this day...and everyday. I can only imagine the miraculous moments that await me!

"Faith makes things possible, not easy."
~Author Unknown

"Faith can move mountains, but don't be surprised if God hands you a shovel."
~Author Unknown            


      

Saturday, November 12, 2011

INTEGRITY, COMPASSION AND COURAGE

Last night we had the pleasure of seeing one of my most beloved stories performed on our local stage. To Kill A Mockingbird embodies a powerful message of integrity, compassion, and courage. Atticus Finch, the small-town lawyer, is one of my all-time favorite protagonists. But I can most relate to his young daughter, Scout.

Atticus is a man of deep conviction and strong moral character. He knows the difference between right and wrong. He daily lives what he believes, even when he is scorned by his community of friends and neighbors and puts himself at risk. His quiet strength is balanced by his willingness to speak up for those who are mistreated and looked upon as second class citizens. Where his peers see the outward appearance of the local residents, Atticus looks at their hearts in his neverending quest for truth.

Atticus is criticized by many for allowing his children to run free and do as they wish. But in reality, Atticus is a single dad whose first priority is to teach his children to see all people as equal and to treat everyone with respect and kindness. In Atticus' mind, there is no exception to this rule. He wants his children to learn to put themselves in the shoes of other people. He instills in them the conviction to always do the right thing, even if it means suffering in the process.

Scout, his endearing tomboyish daughter, is feisty and fiercely protective of her family. She always says what she thinks, even when she knows it's going to get her in trouble. She is more of a reactor than a responder, wearing her emotions on her sleeves. But she always seems to mean well. She does a lot of growing up during the short period of time the story takes place. This is to the credit of her loving father, and his decision to teach her through example rather than shelter her from the ugly battle he must fight.

This story is so rich with life lessons. In today's society, we all need the reminder to look beyond outward appearances. We are often too busy to take the time to pause and put ourselves in someone else's shoes. Instead, we are so quick to judge. Imagine the impact we would have if we made the decision to look through empathetic eyes each time we were tempted to think a negative thought about another person.

And how many of us have the courage and conviction to stand up to societal wrongs, especially if it puts us in the path of danger? Who among us has the degree of integrity that Atticus demonstrates? Not me ~ I am more like his daughter Scout. I react, letting my emotions get the better of me. I want to protect those I love more that I desire doing the painfully right thing. Like Scout, I have so much to learn about living each moment of each day with the utmost integrity and demonstrative compassion.

I think that the reason Atticus Finch is one of my favorite literary characters is because he represents all that is good and right and just in this world. Oh, how I long to be like him! And I can't help but think what a better world it would be if we had more people like Atticus Finch.

"Before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."
~ Atticus Finch, Harper Lee 

Friday, November 11, 2011

FEED THEM, PART THREE

During my last meditation on Mark 6, I felt the gentle tug on my heart to begin the process of relinquishing my earthly securities. I have so much to learn about what this really means in a practical sense. But I can see I have held a tight grip on numerous "security blankets".  God is nudging me to let go and trust him. I have a glimpse into the adventures that may await me if I take this leap of faith.

Today, I want to concentrate on the miraculous feeding of five thousand men with only five loaves of bread and two fish. It doesn't take a mathematical genius to see this just doesn't add up. How grateful I am that our God is not confined to the mathematics we were taught in school. Even this is under his sovereign power.

The disciples, now apostles, have just come back from accomplishing the unthinkable. Demonic influences have been cast away. Illnesses have been cured. People have had the opportunity to hear about Jesus. These twelve men must be questioning if what's taken place is even real. How can it be that they have been given the power to perform the miraculous?

But they are human, subject to exhaustion, hunger, and the fall-out of both. Jesus knows this and wants to address their needs. But at the same time, he cannot dismiss the growing crowd of needy, hurting people. So he calls his disciples to once again put their own needs aside and tend to the crowd first.

When it is brought to his attention that the people are growing hungry, Jesus tells the twelve to feed the crowd.  Immediately, what jumps out at me is the fact that Jesus doesn't just miraculously produce the food right then and there. Instead, he engages his men in helping him do the impossible. I have to ask myself why. I think that Jesus is setting the stage for his relationship with all of us. He wants to be connected to us ~ he wants us involved in the work he is doing. He longs for that intimate partnership.

I think he also wants the disciples to experience firsthand what happens when we surrender what little we have to him and put the needs of others before our own. I can only imagine the reactions he got when he takes their small offering and multiplies it beyond their wildest dreams.

I love how Jesus goes above and beyond, and provides an abundance for each of his disciples in the "leftovers". Surely they are more well fed and satisfied by their basketful of scraps than if they'd gone off by themselves and devoured the original loaves and fish. They don't hold back, but give him freely all they have. In turn, Jesus blesses them abundantly.

There it is again ~ that message to trust and surrender. The only way I am going to grow in this area is if my relationship with God is deepening. The closer I walk with him, the easier and more desireable it is to trust...to surrender...and to put the needs of others before my own.

"While they were saying among themselves it cannot be done, it was done."
~ Helen Keller       

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

FEED THEM, PART TWO

How many times have I read through the four Gospels? Dozens. If I slow down and meditate on what I am reading, I am astounded at how a common passage, read many times, speaks to me in a whole new way. Such is the case with Mark 6.

In the beginning of this chapter, Jesus ushers his disciples into a new role. He calls them to be apostles, and sends them out to battle demonic forces, to heal the sick, and to share the Good News. He tells them to take nothing with them except the clothes on their back and the sandals on their feet. Instead of worldly possessions to accompany them, he equips them with powers they know nothing about.

This group of ordinary men make the decision to listen and follow the instructions of their extraordinary Teacher. They do just as he says, taking no money, no food, no change of clothes. They have completely surrendered themselves to Jesus, willing to set aside all possessions and every source of comfort and security. Surely they must be uneasy. But they put those fears and what-ifs to rest, and in turn, they open the door for experiences beyond their wildest dreams. Their faith adventure is approaching an all-time high.

I have to ask myself ~ what is this teaching me? First, that I am called to not only follow Jesus, but to see the mission field he has for me. Am I willing to answer that call? Right now, my own neighborhood is my mission field. I don't have to go to Africa to see a hurting world that needs Jesus. I only have to look outside my window.

I can see from this passage that the more I surrender my own comfort and security, the less likely it's going to be about "me" and what "I" can do. Instead, I will be opening up the door to be used in a way that moves into the realm of miraculous. I have a choice ~ cling to my world and my concept of security and step out in my own feeble strength and mediocre ability. Or...relinquish and be witness to him working through me to accomplish what only he has the power to do.

My husband and I have a dream. Time will tell if it is God's plan for us. We dream of renting out our home, purchasing a camper, and travelling the country for a year. We want to make it a year of stretching our wings and our faith, and look for opportunities to serve along the way. The idea of leaving behind our home and our worldly possessions sounds oddly freeing to both of us. Whether our dream comes to fruition or we remain where we are, I long to be at that point of surrender. I want the desire to reach out to my neighbor to exceed my need to cling to the things that make me feel safe, secure, and comfortable. Comfort and security or a faith adventure? I already know the answer.

"One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar."
~Helen Keller    

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

FEED THEM, PART ONE

From Mark 6:
"Calling the twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. These were his instructions: 'Take nothing for the journey except a staff ~ no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt...' They went out and preached...they drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them...The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'...But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus saw the large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd....By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. 'This is a remote place,' they said, 'and it's already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.' But he answered, 'You give them something to eat....How many loaves do you have?' When they found out, they said, 'Five ~ and two fish.' Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand."

I can't help but wonder what life was like for these twelve disciples. I am challenged to try to imagine myself in their shoes, expanding their roles from students to apostles.

There are mixed emotions as we reunite with Jesus and each other after our mission trips. We've just come back from doing the unthinkable ~ battling demonic forces, curing people of their diseases, and preaching the Good News. The high we are experiencing mingles with the painful loss of John. Who would have thought our lives would take this change in course? And why us? I am baffled.

We are physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and very hungry. Jesus sees our condition and takes pity on us. "Let's go off and get some rest." Yes! A good night's sleep is just what I need. Quiet and solitude never sounded so appealing.

But before we reach our destination, crowds begin to swarm around us. They recognize Jesus and are drawn to him. Jesus looks over the growing crowd and is visibly moved by the needs of each person. A look of compassion lights up his face, and we already know ~ our time of rest will have to wait.

Hours go by. It's getting late in the day. My stomach is growling so loudly, even the noise of the crowd can't drown it out. I look in amazement at the number of people. There must be thousands of men gathered around us. Surely they are feeling hunger pains, too. How on earth will everyone get adequate food? The churning in my stomach prompts me to approach Jesus.

"It's getting late. Maybe you should send these people away. They must be getting hungry by now. We have nothing to feed them." I didn't mention my own gnawing hunger. What I'd give for a decent meal!

"Give them something to eat." What?! I haven't even eaten myself. How am I supposed to find food for a crowd this size? The other disciples and I look at each other in disbelief. Does he really expect us to feed them?

"Jesus, we only have five loaves of bread and two fish among us." I want to add that it's not even enough for the twelve of us, but I hold my tongue.

"Have them sit in groups of fifty and one hundred." Okay. Not that it makes any sense to me, but why not? Maybe then he will see the magnitude of our desperate situation. When everyone is seated, Jesus takes the five loaves and the two fish. He looks up to heaven and thanks God, then begins to break them into pieces. As he does this, he hands us food to distribute among the crowd. I take the share he hands me and begin passing it out. Oh, how I long to sit down and devour the food myself! But I do as he asks, and continue to help the other eleven disciples pass out the food.

Each time I go back for more, I shake my head in wonder. How can there be anything left? Yet, with those five loaves and two fish, we are feeding tens, then hundreds, then thousands. Not only that, they are all getting an ample amount of food ~ enough to satisfy their hunger.

When everyone is done eating, we go around the crowd and gather up the leftovers. We have enough to fill twelve basketfuls! One for each of us...and more than we need to satisfy our own hunger. I raise a bite of the food to my lips, smiling in utter disbelief.

"There are only two ways to live...one is as though nothing is a miracle...the other is as if everything is."
~Albert Einstein     
               

Monday, October 31, 2011

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

"Backward, turn backward,
O Time, in your flight
Make me a child again
Just for tonight!"
~Elizabeth Akers Allen

Okay...this isn't my all-time favorite holiday, but I do enjoy many things about it. As a mom, I cherish the memories of helping our kids get dressed into their constumes, pretending to be something outrageous or humorous. I love to see the parade of children that make their way to our door for their treats. From carving pumpkins, to decorating our porch with bats and black cats, to the endless supply of sugary sweets that stream through our home ~ I get a kick out of this day. Perhaps it's just that it brings out the child in me.

I'm not sure how the tradition of wearing costumes came into play, but I think it's interesting that even adults embrace this oppotunity to shed their identities and become someone or something totally out of character. I am giggling to myself as I recall my many costumes over the years. As I reflect back, I realize it wasn't just about the exterior. I also remember how the costumes made me feel inside. Some brought out a silly side, while other costumes seemed to bring a whimsical sense of mystique or charm.

Maybe that's why, as adults, we still jump at the chance to get dressed up on Halloween. Perhaps it has less to do with the costume and how we look, and more to do with how we feel on the inside. Who doesn't relish an opportunity to assume a new identity for a few hours out of the year, especially when the persona you become is one of choice.

This gets me thinking ~ what about the other 364 days in the year? Do I ever wear masks to hide my true self, my true feelings, my true thoughts? Do I let myself be coerced into putting on a mask that is a contradiction to who I am and what I believe? How often do I let people see the real me?

Those questions are altogether too serious for this day. Today, it's all about getting into a fun mindset, having a generous spirit, and celebrating the children that dwell inside each costume. Here's to a safe, fun-filled, blessed Hallow's Eve...

"Shadows of a thousand years rise again unseen,
Voices whisper in the trees, 'Tonight is Halloween!'"
~Dexter Kozen          

Friday, October 28, 2011

THANKS, DAD

"I thought of you with love today but that is nothing new
I thought about you yesterday and days before that too,
I think of you in silence I often speak your name
All I have are memories and your picture in a frame
Your memory is my keepsake with which I'll never part
God has you in His keeping I have you in my heart."
~ Author Unknown

Today marks the 27 year anniversary of my dad's death. I have shared in previous blogs about my dad's tragic suicide. But I haven't said much (or anything) about my dad ~ what kind of man he was, and the gifts and lessons he taught me. Today, I am paying honor to my dad.

My dad was an extremely intelligent man...a genius, actually. He played a key role in Intelligence during World War Two. Later, he used his gifted mind to create a system of determining the effectiveness of advertisements on potential buyers, with a ninety-six percent accuracy at predicting levels of sales. This system used a machine similar to a lie detector, and was proven time after time to measure the impact an advertisement would have before it was used. Major brand companies and magazine businesses used his system before making costly investments of air time, magazine spreads and covers.

My dad was very passionate about his family and home life. He was the provider and the protector of our home and all that resided there. We lived in a contemporary home in a very nice neighborhood. My dad purchased our home on a whim and surprised my mom with our new residence. I was only three at the time, so I cannot remember if that was a welcome gift in my mother's eyes. But I loved growing up in that house. It had four stories, built on a hillside, and I loved to fly down its stair rails. I loved the woodsy feel of the yard that surrounded our home. My imagination was able to soar in our unusual abode.

As I think back on my childhood, I realize I owe so much to my dad. He is the reason I went to college and graduated. With him, education wasn't a choice...it was "do or die". When I think of my rebellious years, I know it was my dad who calmed and soothed my mother's worries. My dad was fiercely protective of me. I remember coming home from my job at Baskin Robbins one night. A car had followed me the entire way. I pulled into our driveway, not knowing what to do. I planned to make a run to our front door, but when I opened my car door, the man who had followed me was already at my car. A feeling of panic rose up in me. But at that instant, the front door opened, and my dad came running out of the house, yelling at the man to leave me alone. The man raced to his car. But that wasn't good enough for my dad. He jumped into his own car, and began a hot pursuit after the man. I could hear the screeching of tires for a couple of minutes. My dad returned later. I never knew what happened, but I knew my dad had taken care of me.

My dad taught me a lot. By example, he drilled into me the message to pursue my dreams. My passion for writing comes from my dad. He loved to sit and read my poems, stories, song lyrics, and essays. His comments were always affirming. He also taught me to take risks in life ~ to not play it safe all the time. When my heart was broken by my college sweetheart and wedding plans were cancelled, it was my dad who encouraged me to open my heart up again to love.

My dad loved the holidays. He appreciated everything about traditions. He relished the fact that it was his job to adorn our Christmas tree with lights. The holidays seemed to bring out the child in him. I remember the year my siblings and I gave my parents puppies for Christmas. My mom was understandably overwhelmed with the prospect of taking care of two little furballs during the busiest day of the year. But my dad was in puppy heaven. He took to those little guys immediately, and assumed all responsibility for walking them three times a day from then on.

I loved the fact that my dad was so multi-dimensional. He was a hard-working man, dedicated (to a fault) to his work. But he could also reveal his inner child at the most unexpected times. I remember the year I went with him to Disneyland to do a job for his business. After our work was completed, he suggested we go into the park and have some fun. I was dumbfounded and delighted at his eagerness to go on rides. I will never forget the smiles and laughter that poured out of him that night.

Sometimes when you lose a loved one in a tragic and unexpected way, the memories of how they died override the memories of how they lived. For so long, I have made this mistake. Today, I look back with deep fondness and a thankful heart for my dad, who was that and so much more. I love you, Dad.

"To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die."
~Thomas Campbell                     

BE STILL

"Be still and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world."
~Psalm 46:10, New Living Testament
"Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything."
~same verse, The Message

Lord, the stillness, the quiet, the inability to do much has me in this place of seeking You. I can keep myself busy on this couch, still "doing" what I can. But this morning, I sense a higher calling of letting go of all I think I should be accomplishing, and just seek You. I see Lord that the more I have of You residing in me, the less I am bogged down by the cares of this world. As I set myself aside and welcome Your Spirit in, Your presence puts everything into perspective. My worries become opportunites to trust and wait on You expectantly. My burdens began to transform into hidden blessings. My anxieties and fears are replaced by a peaceful calm. My regrets fall away, no longer able to pull be down. My loneliness vanishes, for I realize I am really not alone.

This quiet helps me tune into You, my closest and constant companion. It's no longer about me running to You with my list of requests and demands. Instead, it's a two way conversation, where I want to sit and listen with an open heart and mind.

It is altogether too wonderful that You are here with me, being everything I need ~ my friend, my healer, my counselor, my strength, my comforter, my great physician, my encourager, my hope, my lifeline. Thank you for this quiet time out of life...on this couch...seeking You...and finding You in refreshing, new ways.

"Peace is not the absence of affliction, but the presence of God."
~Author Unknown

"Before me, even as behind,
God is, and all is well."
~John Greenleaf Whittier  

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

FRIENDSHIP

"Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble."
~Proverbs 17:17, The Message

I have always been a bit of a loner. I cherish my alone time, because it allows me to engage in activities I enjoy...reading, writing, praying, and puttering around my home. As a child, I was pretty shy. My siblings were older, and there weren't many kids in our neighborhood. Perhaps this is why I am so comfortable in my solitude.

But I am realizing that my self-imposed isolation isn't all that healthy for me. It's time to seek balance. It's time to nurture my friendships, and branch out to make new ones. But this doesn't come easily to me. I have so much to learn!

I begin by studying the art of friendship, because I do believe it is an art. Some seem born talented in this area. Others, like me, have to work at it more, and push ourselves out of our comfort zones.

"If you want good friends, be a good friend." I don't know who said that, but even I can see the sage message here. It's time to take a close look at what it means to be a really good friend.

When I think of a good friend, I visualize someone who is there for you...wanting your best...rooting for you...encouraging and challenging you...watching out for you...offering sound advice when it's appropriate. It's someone you can laugh with, cry with, vent with, be silent with. A good friend does you good, not harm. You know your secrets are safe. A good friend isn't an enabler ~ she'll tell you when you're taking a wrong path. A good friend is thoughtful and eager to celebrate your victories and special moments. She is there to help when you need it, and doesn't ask for anything in return. A good friend is quick to forgive, and never holds grudges. A good friend overlooks your quirks and brings to light your best qualities. She sees your potential and encourages you to go for your dreams. A good friend loves unconditionally through thick and thin.

This is the friend I want to be!

"A friend is one of the nicest things you have, and one of the best things you can be."
~Douglas Pagels 

Monday, October 24, 2011

DIVINE APPOINTMENT

"He comforts us when we suffer. That is why whenever other people suffer, we are able to comfort them by using the same comfort we have received from God."
~2 Corinthians 1:4, God's Word Translation

I recently had surgery. I'll be honest ~ I HATE all things "medical". The science of medicine has always intrigued me, but the role of "patient" triggers anxiety and fear. That said, the whole idea of what they referred to as "major surgery" was far from appealing. The week leading up to my surgery date, I had a nervous stomach and wrestled with questioning every aspect of it. Did I really need this? Did I choose the right surgeon? Did I really want to have it two hours away from home? A trail of "what-ifs" paraded through my mind.

To calm my worries, I wrote out some of my favorite verses in a little book to remind me that God would be with me and would protect me. But honestly, I knew the verses were not guarantees that everything would turn out well...just that God would be with me every step of the way.

I was grateful to wake up after my surgery and hear that everything was fine. I was wheeled into a room with two beds. Relief washed over me when I noticed that I had the room to myself. My husband came in and sat with me. He helped me take my first bite of food. He helped me get out of bed and walked me to the restroom and up and down the halls for exercise. It was comforting to have my best friend right beside me, looking after me. Dave planned to stay with me all night. He figured he could create a makeshift bed out of the three chairs that lined my hospital room.

We were both disappointed at midnight when a woman was admitted and assigned to my room. Dave took his cue to leave. I felt sorry for myself. I wanted my husband with me, and I wanted my privacy. I didn't sleep the entire night. I lay awake listening to the painful groans of my room-mate, wanting nothing more than to get some sleep. Before long, daylight was breaking and my husband was by my side again. I was grateful that I would be discharged that  morning.

But there was Agnes, my room-mate, hearing from doctors that they needed to operate, and soon. I heard her fears in her replies. My heart ached for her. I knew her suffering had far exceeded my own.

As I got dressed and packed my items into my bag, I thought about the little book I had brought to the hospital with me to calm my fears. I got it out and went to her bedside. "Agnes, you seem scared. May I give you something? This little book helped me with my own fears." I handed her my little book of handwritten verses. She took it into her hands and clutched it firmly in her grasp. She thanked me over and over, and began to thumb through the pages. I put my hand on her and prayed for healing and for God's peace to wash over her. I could tell she didn't want me to leave, but it was time for me to go. I promised her I'd be praying for her throughout the day. I could see that my words brought her comfort.

Looking back, I can't help but wonder ~ was I placed in that city...in that hospital...with that surgeon...on that day...so I could offer a little piece of comfort? Had the little book I'd made really been written for someone other than me? How grateful I am that, because of my silly fears and worries, I was able to reach out and offer comfort to someone who really needed it. Who would have thought that a dreaded surgery would turn into a divine appointment? Only God...

"The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up."
~Mark Twain 



      

WALKING THROUGH THE VALLEY

"Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."
~Psalm 23:4

What is the first word that pops into your mind when you read this verse? For me, it's "funerals". This has to be one of the most commonly quoted nuggets of Scripture at a funeral or memorial service. It is spoken as a gentle reassurance that death doesn't have to make us fearful, because the Author of life is right by our side, protecting and comforting us.

But I think this verse is also written for those of us who are still living. Why we wait until someone dies before we meditate on it is puzzling to me. In fact, I think we do ourselves a great disservice by filing it away for memorials and funerals.

Let's face it ~ EVERY DAY we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. This shadow follows all of us...no one is immune. This shadow accompanies a young child as well as an octogenarian. It follows the healthy teen as it does the person riddled with terminal cancer. As much as we might try to dodge this shadow or put it out of our thoughts, death is a natural part of life...ours included. And NONE of us knows the day or the hour when we will breathe our last breath.

I am not suggesting that it's healthy to dwell on our own mortality. But we get so caught up in the business of living that we don't live with the understanding that today could be our last. I know I don't. I squander time. I shrug off missed opportunities to do an act of kindness. I behave as if I am guaranteed a few more decades on planet earth. I'm not.

Two weeks ago I got a wake-up call. The carnage of senseless murders in a local beach town, followed by the untimely deaths of three women enjoying a day on the lake remind me that each day is PRECIOUS ~ and each day could be my last. I think of those  dozen people and cannot help but try to put myself into their shoes. Why would it have cross their minds that a jaunt to the beauty salon, or an outing with friends, would bring the final word in their life stories?

We have no guarantees for tomorrow. Shouldn't that make us  more grateful for today, and more purposeful in how we spend it? As much as we may want to run from the shadow of death, maybe we can begin to see it as a friend...there to remind us to live each day to the fullest. If those people who died in the salon and on the lake could talk to us, I think they would tell us to live purposefully ~ love extravagantly ~ and savor the gift of each day.

"Gaily I lived as ease and nature taught,
And spent my little life without a thought,
And am amazed that Death, that tyrant grim,
Should think of me, who never thought of him."
~Rene Francois Regnier