Sunday, July 31, 2011

BLESS OR CURSE?

Today when I was cleaning my kitchen I found myself cursing its white tile floor. This wasn't the first time I had muttered under my breath some unpleasantry about a previous owner who had chosen white tile floors in a high-traffic kitchen. This unforgiving floor reveals every crumb and scuff mark. The floor may stay clean for an hour or two before a pet or person leaves some kind of trail.
Later, as I waited in my kitchen for water to boil, I looked down at the same floor I had cursed earlier in the day. A new revelation swept over me ~ perhaps these white tiles that I have been cursing for almost fifteen years are, in fact, a blessing in disguise. Because the floor shows every speck of dust and debris, I find myself cleaning it almost every day. I thought about how this one chore has given me a small daily workout as I have shuffled around on rags, scrubbing every nook and cranny.
That got me thinking. What else in my life have I seen as a curse? Could it possibly be a blessing in disguise? Let's start with a biggie, my health. I have had fibromyalgia for twenty years. The pain and fatique have immobilized me at times. I have grumbled countless times about the way it has impacted the quality of my life. But it has also pushed me in a positive direction. It's changed my perspective on life. It's made me more appreciative of the good days. It has motivated me to dramatically improve my eating habits, exercise routine, and stress management. In some ways, I am a healthier person as a result of this condition.
I can apply this revelation about curses and blessings in disguises in countless aspects of my life. My mind is reeling with one example after another of the hidden blessings in things I have been cursing. The circumstances aren't different; what's changed is how I am seeing them. Problems become opportunities when the bigger picture begins to unfold. And things that I have been cursing I can start to appreciate.
Curse the problem or look for the blessing? I am opting for the blessing!
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."   Romans 8:28     

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A HELPING HAND

For years I felt a tug on my heart for those living on the streets. I often tried to imagine how they ended up homeless and how tough it must be to survive. I was especially burdened for the youth walking the streets aimlessly. The harsh elements, the gnawing pain of hunger, the illness from a night spent in the rain, and the threat of physical violence are unthinkable to me. I wondered about their outlook; do they possess any hope for the future, or are they drowning in perpectual despair? Do they feel a sense of pride for their resilience and endurance, or are they ashamed of their status? As I mulled over these questions, I wrestled with a feeling of helplessness.
A few years ago, my perception of the homeless changed dramatically. My husband and I received a bounty of food gifts for Christmas. We were a bit overwhelmed by the mounting boxes of chocolates, cookies, jams, cheeses, and other goodies sent our way. I could not stand the idea of throwing away food simply because I knew we would never consume it. I set out on a mission to find a food bank that would welcome the edible donations.
I was surprised to discover only a few blocks from our home was a food bank  that services the homeless and low-income families in our area. I was thrilled to find a destination for our trunk full of goodies. But I was even more excited to learn about this center and its role in our community.
I dropped the food off and was given many warm thanks in return. It should have felt good to provide a little blessing to those less fortunate, but I this wasn't my experience as I drove away from the center. The concern I had felt for the homeless was turning into a burden that I couldn't shake. I knew I had to do more than just take unwanted food gifts to this food bank. I knew I had to get involved. I signed up as a volunteer. I was nervous, not knowing what to expect. I just knew it was the right thing to do. I was assigned to help in the kitchen. My role was to bag up groceries and hand them out to the people as they came in for food. Sometimes it was simply a bag lunch for a hungry teen. Other times, it was a shopping cart full of all the basic necessities to feed a family.
My first morning as a volunteer, my stomach was churning and my hands were shaking. Would I be able te relate to these people? Would I say and do the right thing? Would I feel uncomfortable or scared around them? I will never forget that first morning. The politeness and gratitude on every face was humbling. I expected to see hardness, pain, frustration, anger, and hostility. Instead, I saw gentle spirits graciously receiving whatever was given them with deep gratitude.
The months that I volunteered at the food bank, I came to realize that there really isn't much difference between them and me. A few months without any income and we could be filling their shoes. I began to really appreciate all that we have. Our little bungalow home is small and cozy, and I am grateful for every square inch of it. I am so thankful for a warm bed to climb into and kitchen cupboards overflowing with food. I am grateful for a closet full of clothes, and a car that runs. My yard, though small, is a peaceful retreat that I see through new eyes of gratitude.
But this isn't about me and how good I have it. It's about seeing a need in another human being and doing my part. And I am not tooting my own horn here. What I have done is SO LITTLE in comparison to what I could be doing. This is a challenge to myself to keep my eyes and heart open wide for opportunities to serve. I cannot help but wonder what the world would be like if all of us were to step forward and do our share. It begins with me.                  
"I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me...
Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked and ignored, that was me ~ you did it for me."      Matthew 25, The Message  

Friday, July 29, 2011

WINNING IN THE GAME OF LIFE

I am beginning to realize that I can walk through my desert seasons as a whiner or a winner. When things aren't going the way I think they should ~ when I am knee deep in discouragement over a circumstance ~ when I am feeling overlooked or mistreated ~ when I am upset about a loved one ~ I have a choice. I can either whine and complain, or I can look for the nugget of gold waiting to be discovered. I have learned that, even in the worst of messes and heartaches, there is something good that can come out of it. I have also learned that when I am in the whining and complaining mode, I am not very likely to see it. Again...I have a choice. I can either stay focused on the problem and whine my way through, or I can look for the gift hidden in the trial.
I have walked both paths, so I speak from experience when I say that it is so much better to come out a winner than a whiner. I want to learn the lesson ~ get the new perspective ~ see the bigger picture. But I have to admit, my human nature resists. It loves to whine and complain. When I give in to it, I have to ask myself what I am missing out on when I take the path of whiner over winner.
I do not like trials. I avoid pain. I want only good things for my loved ones and  myself. But when problems and trials show up, I want to take the richer path. I want to reach and take hold of that gold nugget waiting to be discovered. Whine or win? It's my choice. Yours too.
"So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without His unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There's far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can't see now will last forever."  ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, The Message

Thursday, July 28, 2011

GIVE OR TAKE

How do I want to be remembered when my time on earth had passed? This is a good question for all of us to ask ourselves. It helps us to see if we are at least headed in the right direction. As I think about this question, I think of how I will remember others if they should leave this world before me. It seems easier to sum up their lives then it does my own.
After a few minutes of asking myself this question, it hit me ~ I want to be remembered as a "giver". I confess there is a selfish motive underneath. Truth be told, I find immense pleasure in giving. I would far rather go shopping for a gift than to buy something for myself. When I purchase something for myself, the feeling of pleasure over the purchase is so shortlived. Soon guilt creeps in over my unnecessary spending. But when I buy a gift for someone else, that pleasure over my purchase just keeps multiplying. I imagine their reaction and enjoyment over the gift. I picture the look on their face when they first open it. Although I am not the recipient of the item, I find that the purchase keeps giving and giving back to me.
It's not just material objects that apply here. I know how good I feel when I give my time to someone in need. When I give my time and energy to my husband, my kids, or a friend, the rewards multiply. On the other hand, the time I set aside for my own agenda is the reward in itself...there is no exponential growth of the blessing.
Yes, I want to be remembered as a "giver"! I want to give my time and meager talents away as a gift to those around me. I want to be extravagantly generous with my limited assets, reaping the joy of seeing the reactions of those on the receiving end. I want to be generous with my words ~ words that edify, encourage, build up, and empower others. I want to give the gift of companionship and happy memories to my husband. I want to give the gifts of good values, healthy living, and abundant life to my children and to their children. I want to GIVE, GIVE, GIVE and BLESS, BLESS, BLESS. In doing so, I am given so much...and blessed beyond measure.
I have my work cut out for me. I have so much to learn, so far to go to get to where I want to be. But today, I am going to begin by asking myself, "Who can I bless today? What can I give?" I can only imagine the joy I will receive in the process!
Now it's your turn to ask this life-changing question ~ How do you want to be remembered when you pass on? I would love to hear your answers.
"Always aim to show kindness and seek to do good to one another and to everybody."
~ I Thessalonians 5:15
"You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who cannot pay you back."  ~ John Bunyan
          

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

IT'S GOOD FOR YOU!

Lately I have been forgetting to take my vitamins. Perhaps it's the change of pace that comes with summer. Whatever the reason, I am starting to reap the consequence of skipping my daily dose of vitamins, minerals, and omega 3s. I notice that my energy level is dropping. Mid afternoons I find myself longing for a nap. It is getting harder to push myself out the door for my daily walk. My thinking is growing fuzzy. And I am finding myself craving two things I know I should avoid ~ sugar and caffeine. Those are just the things I am aware of; I am more concerned about the effects I cannot see or feel. Am I possibly damaging my immune system? Inviting illness? Even shortening my life span?
The same holds true in my spiritual life as well. If I forget to spend time with God, if I neglect His Word, I find myself growing more and more apathetic. I lose my spiritual sensitivity. I grow weary more easily. My hope wanes. I begin to question my faith. My mood and my countenance suffer. I  begin to hunger for things I know are destructive.
The lesson for me is a no-brainer ~ be consistent is doing the right thing. Be faithful to nourish my body and my soul everyday. Don't wait until I feel like it or it's convenient.
Do it because I know it is good for me.
Time to sign off. I have a handful of vitamins to swallow, and a great BOOK to read!
"...God's Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset, melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith...God's Word is better than a diamond, better than a diamond set between emeralds. You'll like it better than strawberries in spring, better than red, ripe strawberries."   ~Psalm 19:6,10 The Message   

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

GOOD MORNING!

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every monring; great is Your faithfulness." Lamentations 3:22-23

I had a rough start to my morning. I woke up exhausted and achy. Once again, sleep had eluded me during the night. The warm temperature in our bedroom didn't help. Neither did the orchestra of snoring that my husband and my Daschund were creating together. To make matters worse, my mind was racing over all that I had failed to accomplish during the day. The topper was that my back hurt from feeble attempts at yard work.
None of that matters in the whole scheme of things. I can say that because, once again, I am reminded of this amazing truth...God's steadfast love and mercy are new EVERY morning. It doesn't matter how I feel, or what I have done, or what I have planned for the day. He is consistently loving me and pouring out His grace and mercy upon me and my loved ones.
Oh, how I wish I could be more like Him! Instead, I hold grudges. I withhold forgiveness. I add another layer to the wall erected between me and a loved one. I ponder the hurts and injustices. I replay the words spoken thoughtlessly. I pull away into my self-built protective shell, not willing to risk further injury. How I cheat myself! How I cheat others!
If only my love and mercy could be new every morning! I want to be eager to put the past behind me and jump into a new day of opportunities to love extravagantly. I know that I cannot accomplish this on my own strength. The only one who can help me to begin a fresh start each day is the one who offers me this daily gift. God, help me be a channel of Your steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness to all I encounter today.
"Always new. Always exciting. Always full of promise. The mornings of our lives, each a personal daily miracle!"   ~ Gloria Gaither
       

Monday, July 25, 2011

MY ADDICTION

Okay, I admit it ~ I have an addiction. I know it's an addiction because I cannot get enough of it. I crave it constantly. I am always on the lookout for it. I think about it when I wake up each morning, and it is often the last thought I have before I fall asleep. I know I cannot live without it. Even now, as I am writing about it, my mind is racing about how badly I want my next fix. I would join a group to deal with it, but the truth is that my addiction is my lifeline. I don't want to give it up.
No, it's not chocolate. Not alcohol. Not drugs. Not anything that is popping into your mind as you read this. I am addicted to love; more specifically, God's love. I cannot get enough of it. I crave it everyday. It's what puts the spring in my step and the smile on my face.
My addiction isn't a result of neglect or abuse. I have a lot of loving, supportive people in my life. But let's face it...we are all imperfect people living in a fallen world. In other words, we are all human. We let each other down. None of us can love perfectly; only God has the ability to love this way.
I get frustrated at times with myself. Why can't I be a more loving person? Why can't I be a better friend, spouse, parent, daughter, and the list goes on. Why do the I see the good I can do, yet fail to do it? I also get upset with others. Why can't they be kinder? Why can't they be more thoughtful? Why can't they meet my needs?
Perhaps we love so imperfectly because God wants us to come to Him for the love and acceptance we crave. Afterall, if my husband could love me perfectly one hundred percent of the time, why would I need God?
The bottom line is that ONLY God can give us that ultimate, unconditional, agape, perfect love that we all crave. Only He can love like this. Only He can meet this need in all humans. God has graciously taught me this lesson over the years. Much of what I have learned has been through painful trials. But I can honestly say that I would not change a thing. The pain I have gone through has been a very small price for me to pay, in order that I might begin to experience the depth of God's love for me...for all of us.
Do you know this kind of love? Do you know the One who offers it freely? I hope so. If not, please let me introduce you. You may become addicted, too.

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge ~ that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullnes of God."    ~ Ephesians 3:17-19   

"Take a long, hard look. See how great He is ~ infinite, greater than anything you could ever imagine or figure out!"     Job 36:26, The Message

"At the very heart and foundation of all God's dealings with us, however dark and mysterious they may be, we must dare to believe in and assert the infinite, unmerited, and unchanging love of God."      L. B. Cowman           

Sunday, July 24, 2011

THAT PESKY "F" WORD

Recently, my feelings were hurt by someone close to me. Whether it's pain triggered by a loved one or a stranger, I am confronted with that pesky "F" word. There it is, taunting me, making demands of me that seem so unfair. That "F" word hits me like a ton of bricks, and I resist giving in to it. But the word persists in my mind, clinging to every memory of the hurt I suffered.
Forgive. Just saying the word seems to unleash power. Do I really want to surrender to it? Do I want to let go of my right to hold on to the hurt? Do I really want to extend my forgiveness to this person whose words or actions had me in knots and brought me to tears? What about those who hurt someone I love? Why should I extend forgiveness to them why they have brought injury and pain to my loved one? As a parent, this is a time when it is hardest for me to face the "F" word. Forgive someone who has caused pain in my child? Are you kidding me?? I want to cry out, "Give me five minutes alone with the jerk!"
But the longer I walk with God, the more I realize and understand that forgiveness may be a choice I have, but more importantly, it's my only good option. It doesn't matter that the offender doesn't deserve my forgiveness. It doesn't matter that they have not recognized the injury they caused or apologized for the pain. What matters is that I am called to forgive. It's that simple. God is pretty clear about this topic. He says we are to forgive a person seventy times seven, meaning we are to forgive EVERY person EVERY offense.
When I give greater attention to this command, I don't see a domineering God who is pointing a finger at me and yelling to me, "Forgive!". Instead, I see a very patient and tenderhearted God calling me to make this choice out of His deep love for me. You see, He knows that when I make the choice to forgive, I am releasing myself from the prison of bitterness and resentment, two highly toxic outcomes of holding on to injuries. I need to remember this truth! God isn't telling me to be a doormat and let people walk all over me. He is telling me that He wants me to be freed up from the fallout of carrying a grudge. He tells me, "Let it go. Forgive. Step out into freedom. Let Me heal your wounds." Wow.
When I am tempted to shrug off this call to forgive, I need to remember all that God has forgiven in me. He says to forgive others if you want to be forgiven. Those are powerful words. Do I want to have complete forgiveness for every impure thought...every unkind word...every sin, whether consciously committed or unintentional? Then I need to forgive EVERY offense against me, against a loved one, even against my children.
I also need to forgive myself. I can give myself a pretty harsh beating for mistakes I have made. There are times when I have to go back into the past and make the decision to forgive myself for something I said or did. Some mistakes I have to revisit over and over, and keep making the decision to forgive myself. This might be the most toxic fallout of unforgiveness...when we don't make the choice to love ourselves enough to forgive ourselves of things from our past. But I believe we cannot extend this grace to others until we learn to except it from ourselves.     
But I don't FEEL forgiving! I am angry! I am hurting! Forgiveness isn't a feeling...it's a decision, a choice, a step toward freedom from the injury. My feelings still hurt. I still feel like crying. I still mourn the damage done to my relationship with this other person. But today, I choose forgiveness. I choose to let it go and step into freedom.
Will you join me? The freedom is exhilirating!    
"To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and to discover that you are the prisoner set free." ~ Corrie Ten Boom

Saturday, July 23, 2011

JUST SHOW UP!

"Prayer doesn't fit us for the greater work, prayer is the greater work!"
~ Oswald Chambers

Is there a greater privilege in all the world than to be able to go to God in prayer anytime, anywhere, with any request? To me, this is mind-boggling. I cannot grasp the fact that the One who created the entire universe and all that is in it...the One who sustains it all and keeps it in perfect balance...the One who knows all and sees everything...the One who is the all-powerful Alpha and Omega...is ready and waiting patiently for me to run to Him. This is simply too wonderful to wrap my little brain around!
But let's face it. This truth is even harder to grasp when life deals a devestating blow. A job loss, a child's illness, a broken marriage, a shattered dream, a friend's betrayal can make it seem impossible to pray, let alone expect a response. When I get knocked off my feet, physical...mental...emotional and spiritual exhaustion take up residence. The silence seems deafening between God and me. I beat myself up for not being more "spiritual". I wonder why I can't seem to pray as I should. And I wonder what God must think of me.
Here's what helps me pull myself out of this pit ~ as a mom, I can look back and know that I did not wait until my child could effectively communicate to me when he/she was upset before I would open wide my arms to love them. Their tears, groans, and cries spoke volumes to me, and I held them and soothed their spirits. No words were necessary. Is God any less loving and compassionate? Any less understanding? To me, this is a powerful reminder that every tear shed, every groan rising out of me is heard by God, perfectly interpreted and received by my Abba Daddy. I think that, in God's eyes, prayer doesn't get more real than this.
This is my encouragement for you today ~ the next time you find yourself overwhelmed by life, too tired and beat up to formulate a prayer, know this ~ every groan and cry from your lips is a prayer soaring up to the ears and heart of God who longs to comfort and help you. No words are necessary. We just need to show up.
"Those who seek the throne of grace find that throne in every place; If we live a life of prayer, God is present everywhere."  ~ Oliver Holden         

Friday, July 22, 2011

I STAND AMAZED

I love to begin my day outdoors, enveloped in nature, soaking in every morsel my senses can handle. I love to end my day the same way, taking in the last sights of daylight as my little corner of the world becomes blanketed by the darkening skies. From the beach to the mountains, I love all of it. Each sunset, each trickling stream, each wildflower, I see as a personal gift from a loving and all-powerful God. God's creation never ceases to amaze me!

I STAND AMAZED
I stand amazed at the setting of the sun
The darkening skies as the stars light one by one
The pounding surf and the trees call out your praise
In all I see, I am awed, I stand amazed.

I stand amazed at the way you healed my soul
I was so lost, but you came and made me whole
You touched my life with your love and with your grace
And looking back, I am humbled and amazed.

I stand amazed when I think of your great love
With outstretched arms you reached down from up above
You set me free, turned my heartache into praise
With all my being, I rejoice, I stand amazed.

"Does not all nature around me praise God? If I were silent, I should be an exception to the universe. Does not the thunder praise Him as it rolls like drums in the march of the God of armies? Do not the mountains praise Him when the woods upon their summits wave in adoration? Does not the lightning write His name in letters of fire? Has not the whole earth a voice? And shall I, can I, silent be?"  ~C.H. Spurgeon

It's time for my walk!

     

Thursday, July 21, 2011

MIND GAMES

Today, I am deciding not to spend time wallowing in my negative emotions. Too much precious time is wasted in the company of depression, discouragement, regret, worry, and self-pity. I know that some emotions just have to run their course; many are very appropriate given the circumstances. But that doesn’t mean I have to give in to them or act upon them. Especially those that have no real reason to exist other than the fact that it’s just the way I feel.
When I feel a wave of negative emotions roll over me, I am going to picture my enemy placing before me a board game. If it’s regret I am feeling, I am going to name the game "REGRET". Now I have a choice. I can look at the game...I can think about playing the game...I can turn my back but still be entertaining thoughts about the game...or I can say "No" and walk away. My enemy may follow me and continue to taunt me, but I can keep making the choice to just walk away. Today, all of the games that the enemy sets before me, whether they be "DEPRESSION", "DISCOURAGEMENT", "WORRY", "SELF-PITY", or "REGRET", I am going to choose to turn my back and say "No" to the invitation to participate.
How about you? What are the "games" you wrestle with? Are you going to play? Or are you going to walk away? I hope you walk away and breathe in all the goodness the day holds for you!
"The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace." Romans 8:6

BIRTHDAY TRADITIONS

It was our daughter’s fifth birthday, and we had invited a few friends to come over and join in the celebration. Among those invited were a family from Japan that we had recently befriended. New to our country, they were eager to observe birthday celebrations in America.
Our daughter’s excitement turned to disappointment when the rain began to fall down on her special day. She had picked out a pinata for the party, and she knew that the gloomy weather meant no pinata festivities. Seeing her disappointment, my husband quickly improvised. He grabbed a cardboard box and filled it with all of the pinata goodies. He placed the box on top of his head and began to parade around the house. His enthusiasm was contagious and in no time, all of the children were following in the fun, laughing up a storm of their own. My husband began dropping the candy and party favors down onto the children. They had such a good time as it "rained" treats on their heads.
Two weeks later, we were invited to the home of our Japanese friends to celebrate their daughter’s birthday. They had an amazing Japanese buffet, and we were all very comfortable in their home with its Japanese foods and customs. But imagine our surprise when the dad came into the room with a cardboard box on his head. He began throwing goodies down onto all of the children, eager to participate in an "American" tradition.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

MY TESTIMONY

As a child, I was blessed with parents who loved me deeply and unconditionally. Through my many phases, moods, and many painful mistakes, my parents were always there for me. I always felt loved and accepted.

I was not raised in a "Christian" home. My parents' impressed upon me and my siblings the importance of being well educated and self-sufficient. There was much emphasis placed on the importance of possessing inner strength. I was taught to rely on myself and to find my own answers. My parents encouraged me to get the most out of life and to be responsible for my own happiness. The message was clear growing up; you create your own destiny.

While this mindset helped me to become a responsible, self-sufficient adult, it also led to a rather self-centered lifestyle. I was established in my career at the tender age of twenty-four. I drove a new BMW and lived in an adorable house by myself. My earnings allowed me to buy the things I loved. In my own limited vision, I had it all together. My life seemed great...until the day that changed everything in my world.

It was in October of 1984 when I got the phone call that my dad had been rushed to the Emergency Room. I was told to get there as quickly as possible. When I arrived, I learned that my dad had shot himself in the head. Overwhelmed with so many emotions...pain, confusion, shock, disbelief, fear...I had only my "inner strength" to fall back on. And I began to see weak and futile this source of "strength" actually was.

How could this happen? This was my dad! We shared a close father-daughter relationship. I looked up to him for stability, security, and support. He was a genius (literally) and I fiercely respected him. I was also working for my dad. I had made the choice to follow in his footsteps and make the family advertising research business my chosen career. Now, my dad...my boss...my friend was comatose in ICU because of an impulsive decision to end his own life.

The doctors explained how the bullet had ricocheted repeatedly throughout his brain. Virtually all of his brain was destroyed in the process. There was no hope for his survival. Even the parts of the brain that control breathing and heart function were wiped out. Clearly, life support would be a futile attempt to hold onto someone who was already gone. We chose to let him go in peace. The only tubes connected to him were those that monitored his condition. His body was shutting down. The medical staff thought he might live for an hour or two at most.

Minutes went by, then hours. The ICU staff were amazed he was still alive. About twelve hours after he shot himself, my sister and I went in to see him and say goodbye to our dad. We held his hands and told him we loved him, we understood if he needed to leave us, and that we were there for him. As we spoke to him, his hands tightened around ours. His breathing and heart rate increased. A tear streamed down his cheek. How could a man who was brain dead respond like this? The ICU nurse was speechless. That memory is forever cemented in my mind.

My dad lived for about thirty-six hours before he left this world. Those hours erased all of my empty, self-absorbed philosophies and left me with nothing but a worthless foundation. I was haunted by the sudden realization that we had to be more than just our physical bodies. If this was true, then maybe we did possess souls. And if we possessed souls, did that mean that there really was a God? And if there really was a God, what did that mean for my dad...and for me?

I love how God meets us right where we are in life. He doesn’t expect us to get spiritual on our own. He doesn’t wait for us to be worthy enough to know Him. The night of my dad’s death, God began to show Himself to me. Death and destruction came face to face with the living God, and souls were being saved.

I had many questions after my dad died, and as I searched for answers, God placed in me a hunger to know Him. My search began in the New Age movement. On my first trip in to one of their bookstores, I left with a Bible in hand. Over the next few months, it was only when I held the Bible that I had any real peace. I tried to read it, but none of it made much sense to me. But the simple act of grasping onto it brought such tangible comfort.

My sister and I joined a Bible Study a few months later. They were studying the book of Luke. As I read and learned, it felt as if all of the pieces to a very large, complex puzzle were coming together for the first time. I knew that what I was reading was the truth and that God was calling me into a relationship with Him. What an amazing thing!

I think it’s noteworthy that, at the time, I did not have any kind of a relationship with any Christians. No one was there to minister to me, guide me, encourage me, or to pray with me. God revealed Himself to me directly through His word and drew me to Him. What an amazing God!

God entered my life in a very powerful, personal, and direct way. He did not need people witnessing to me. He did not need a church pastor reaching out to me. All of those would have been nice! All He really needed was to get my attention. In spring of 1985, I surrendered my life to God. One year later, I walked "down the aisle" with no earthly father to give me away on my wedding day. Instead, I had my heavenly Father right by my side, guiding me every step of the way.

"Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you're living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy."
                          ~1 Peter 3:15, The Message

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

THE WAKE-UP CALL

God in His loving wisdom faithfully equips us for the lives He calls us to live. One of His earliest lessons for me was that He has the sovereign ability to heal.
It was in October of 1987 that I got my first personal revelation of this truth. Until I experienced it firsthand with my husband, I thought of God’s healing as something that happened only in Biblical times.
We live in Southern California, and one early Sunday morning, we got a wake-up call when the ground underneath us began to shake. We lived in an old two-story bungalow at the time; our second story was a new addition that we hadn’t totally completed yet. It was liveable, but still lacked some of the finishing touches. Our entire family except our oldest son were occupying bedrooms in our new upstairs. Joe, our oldest, was in our downstairs bedroom. When the ground started shaking, my husband’s immediate reaction was to get to our oldest son who was alone downstairs. As he headed for the staircase, the movement underneath my husband’s feet flung him forward, and down the stairs he flew...literally!
One of those finishing touches we hadn’t completed in our addition was the stair's railing. When he flew down the stairs, he impaled himself on an open beam set in place for the railing. The beam went into his chest upon impact, missing his heart by a fraction of an inch.
My husband got up, walked around, picked the toppled television up off the floor and went to check on Joe. Seeing that our son was fine, he went into the bathroom to take a look at his chest to see why it felt wet to his touch. Within seconds, he was passed out on the bathroom floor. He spent most of that day in the Emergency Room where the medical staff cleaned him up, removed the wood from his chest, and told him he was very lucky to be alive.
Days and weeks went by and his wound wouldn’t heal. Instead, it grew infected. A blood clot the size of a walnut formed near his wound, dangerously close to his heart. He went to a cardiovascular surgeon who suggested surgery even though he wasn’t sure what was causing the infection or the blood clot.
Uncomfortable with the whole idea of surgery, some friends came over one morning and laid hands on my husband and prayed for him. We were astounded when we realized that the blood clot went from the size of a walnut to the size of a pea during the prayer time. Later that night in bed I asked my husband if he had seen any other changes in his chest since the prayer session. He responded, "You mean something like this?", and pulled out a piece of wood from the wound the doctor had missed. The mystery of what caused the infection and the blood clot was solved, resolved, and his wound healed, leaving a beautiful scar as our daily reminder.
Does God still heal today? While I don’t understand the mysteries of when, why, who, and how it all happens, I can say with confidence that our God is a God who heals. My husband carries with him the scar to prove it.
"But for you who receive My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in His wings." ~ Malachi 4:2

Monday, July 18, 2011

WEATHERING LIFE'S STORMS

The evidence of spring is all around me. After a long, dreary winter, my senses are celebrating the vibrant colors, the blossoming fragrances, and the cheerful sounds of springtime unfolding. Nestled in my favorite lounge chair in our backyard, I am blanketed in contentment and a calming sense of God’s presence. Basking in God’s creation, I am in awe of Him and how He holds the entire universe in perfect balance. From the smallest element in nature, like the colony of ants on my back step, to the perfect harmony of the atmosphere, like the clouds on the horizon, I am struck by the fact that this is not a difficult thing for God.
Life is a lot like the varying seasons in nature. Winter gives way to spring, the warmth of summer rolls in, and before we know it, the colors and crispness of autumn have arrived. Storms blow in, followed by seasons of calm. Just as our environment is vulnerable to disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, volcanoes and earthquakes, our lives are sometimes struck by similar unwelcome forces. The winds of adversity pound us. Eruptions of pain and suffering catch us off guard. Circumstances beyond our control shake our very foundations.
I remember the storm that knocked me off of my feet years ago. It began with a phone call. "Dad is in the hospital. He shot himself." I was at the hospital within minutes. Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of my dad on that hospital bed hooked up to countless machines, with a small wound on his temple. Equally hard to swallow was the harsh news that his brain was dead and that there was no hope. The waves of emotion that engulfed me as I said my final goodbyes and "I love you" to him followed by the hours...days...weeks...and months of coping with the senseless loss was too much to bear at times. I did not know as I walked through that dark and seemingly endless storm if I would get through it. I had no way of knowing that, in the midst of such devastation, God had a plan for my life.
I now know that, in the midst of all these seasons and storms, God is with us. He cares for every detail of our lives in the same way He does the universe as a whole. Nothing is too small or too large for Him. And somehow, He is working everything for good. I see evidence of this in my own life as I look back on my father’s suicide. At the time, I felt completely buried in a cloud of despair, confusion, loss, and grief. But even in that deeply painful time in my life, God was actively at work in me, drawing me into a new faith in Him and showing me He is my Abba Daddy.
We all go through storms in life: the pain of an unfaithful spouse…the heartbreak of a rebellious child gone astray…the deterioration of a parent succumbing to Alzheimer’s…the report from a doctor that the cancer has returned. Whatever season of life we find ourselves in, God is God! He is always with us...our strength and our shield.
As much as we would prefer the balmy months of summer, we know that without the winters, there would be no springtime, no summer, no harvest of fall. Thankfully, no storm lasts forever. Hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes, and earthquakes come and go. It is the same with the storms and disasters in our lives. They don’t last forever. Whether we see it or not, there is an end in sight. From God’s eternal perspective, the pain...the loss...the crisis...the illness...the brokenness is just for a season. And tomorrow, well, the forecast looks bright.
"Don't be afraid, I've redeemed you. I've called your name. You're mine. When you're in over your head, I'll be there with you. When you're in rough waters, you will not go down. When you're between a rock and a hard place, it won't be a dead end ~ because I am God, your personal God, the Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you...! That's how much you mean to me! That's how much I love you!"
     ~ Isaiah 43:1-4, The Message

Sunday, July 17, 2011

TERMINAL CONDITION

"Light, space, zest ~ that's God! So, with Him on my side I'm fearless, afraid of no one and nothing." ~ Psalm 27:1, The Message

All of us are terminal. No one can outlive death. One way or another, each of us will face that moment when we pass out of this earthly life and into the next. We are refugees; this is not our home. This can be difficult to fathom, because life on earth is all we have ever known by experience. We try not to think too much about our terminal condition until we are painfully reminded through the loss of a loved one or the diagnosis we receive from the doctor.
The good news is that those of us who have given our hearts and lives to Christ have a head and heart knowledge of the real life, eternal life, that awaits us. I must admit, death used to frighten me. It made me very uncomfortable and intensely sad. Now, I see it so differently. While I still want to cling to my loved ones for dear life and hope to avoid the experience of losing those I am closest to, I have the reassurance that death is a natural part of life. How freeing it is to know that death will usher us into eternity and into His presence... no more pain, sorrow, evil, worry, stress, heartache, loneliness, regret, exhaustion. Why fear this? Why dread it?
Let's face it...we are comfortable with what we know. Maybe we need to spend more time acquainting ourselves with what we have to look forward to in heaven. I believe that if we could get the smallest glimpse of what awaits us, we would be overcome with joy and anticipation. In the meantime, our journey here on earth is a treasure, and the people in our lives, a gift. For those of us who have lost a loved one, I love the analogy of a parent telling a dying child that, in heaven's timetable, they will blink and open their eyes to all those they love, right there beside them.
As for me, I have decided to enjoy each day I am given, and look forward to what awaits me for eternity.       

"You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body."  ~C.S. Lewis

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A WINNING SEASON

The look on our two oldest sons’ faces when they came through the door that evening told me that their baseball team had lost another game. When my husband Dave (manager of their team) walked in minutes later, I mentioned the mood of our boys and asked him how the game went. "We were slaughtered," he said with a sigh. "But it’s not the fact that we lost that is disappointing, it’s their attitude. You can lose and still have a good attitude, and you can win and have a bad attitude. What’s important is that they learn to deal well with both their wins and losses."

Dave waited until the boys got cleaned up and had a snack before he sat down to talk with them. He made a point of praising their various plays during the game. "Nobody likes to lose, but you know, true winners are those who do their best and enjoy the game regardless of the final score." As always, he stressed the importance of good sportsmanship and encouraging words.

As the boys headed to their rooms for the night, I noticed the grins on their faces as they joked around with each other. "How did I miss that ball?" our oldest son said between sounds of laughter. A roll of the eyes followed by our other son’s humorous replays of the game told me that their sulky moods were gone. Time with their dad had done wonders.

Later that night, I thought about what my husband had said about the game. He had helped the boys focus on what really mattered. Dave didn’t keep record of how well or poorly each boy was playing. Instead, he meticulously kept track of how much each boy had played, to be sure that they would all get equal time out on the field. He measured each boy, not by how he was growing as a ball player, but by how he was maturing as a young man. He was there for them, eight to ten hours a week...coaching practices and games...with a schedule so congested he often missed meals.
In bed that night, I looked over at my husband’s face, at last able to give himself over to sleep after a very long and tiring day. His rhythmic breathing brought tears to my eyes. It was all I could do to keep myself from waking him up to tell him what a great husband, dad and coach he was. Instead, I kissed him lightly on the cheek and whispered, "Thanks, honey. I love you.".

Our team did not have a winning season based on the scoreboards. But I believe it was a winning season in the hearts and minds of those boys. It's been years since my husband coached that team, but I believe they remember the good sportsmanship and godly characteristics that were modeled for them by their coach. Hopefully, these will be passed on to their sons, and their sons’s sons. Thank you God for men and women like my husband who invest their time and their hearts into the lives of children.

Friday, July 15, 2011

WITH THIS RING

"Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see ~ how good God is! Blessed are you who run to Him." ~ Psalm 34:8, The Message
 
I remember the Valentine’s Day years ago when my wedding ring took a bad hit while I was helping out in my daughter’s classroom. Later that evening, I recalled the collision between my ring and the filing cabinet, and looked at my ring to see if any damage had been done. I was shocked to see two of the prongs pulled back, exposing the diamond. I touched the stone with my finger, and the diamond fell out of its setting. Somehow, it had managed to stay attached to my ring throughout a very busy day.

More recently, my husband and I took a day trip to our local mountains. I remember looking at my mom’s wedding ring, now residing on my right hand, a small but priceless token of my memories of my dad. He had passed away the year before I got married, and my mom had given me a piece of my dad in the form of her wedding ring on my special day to help soften his absence. That afternoon, I thought about how this ring was a treasured possession because it was one of my only tangible links with my childhood and my dad. I thought about how it didn’t matter to me that the ring didn’t really go well with the bracelet I was wearing on my wrist; both held such sentimental value to me. Later that day, I looked down at my hand and realized the ring was no longer on my finger. My husband and I looked everywhere ~ the car, my purse, the restaurant where we’d eaten, the restroom I’d used, but no ring. I held back the tears as we headed down the mountain toward home. I prayed that someone would find it and that it would be returned to me. Then I found myself praying that if someone found it and kept it, that it would grow to mean as much to them as it had to me. I prayed a prayer of thanks for the many years I had to wear and enjoy it. When we arrived home, I immediately went to the dresser in our bedroom and began searching inside the small glass bowl that was home to my ring when it wasn’t on my finger, hoping that I’d been mistaken about wearing it that day. My sadness grew when no ring was found. Just then, I heard a small thump, as if something had dropped from the ceiling and landed on my dresser. I looked to see what had made the unusual sound, and there on my dresser, about a foot from the glass bowl, was my mom’s wedding ring.

A third incident occurred with a ring this past Christmas season when we were at a party. We were outdoors, and there were quite a few people there. When I got home, I realized that the ring I had worn was no longer on my finger. It was my birthstone ring, a gift from my husband. I sent text messages to all those I knew who were still at the party, hoping that someone would find the ring. Minutes later I heard back from my niece; the ring had been found.

Did God hold the diamond in my wedding ring in place before I discovered the damaged prongs? Did He drop my mom’s wedding ring onto my dresser after I lost it in the mountains? Did He cause someone to find my ring at the Christmas party, in the dark, with so many people around? One could argue that I am just clumsy, forgetful, and extremely lucky to have all of my rings restored to me. But to me, my rings are a daily reminder that I have the Lord watching over me, and there is nothing too small for His watchful eye and loving heart. He cares about all of our losses, and the significance of even the little objects in our lives. Now, all of my rings serve as a beautiful reminder of this fact.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

THE GIFT OF GIVING

Samaritan’s Purse shoe box ministry known as Operation Christmas Child has been a valued tradition in our family since its inception. This ministry sends over seven million shoe boxes full of essentials and small gifts to under-privileged children worldwide. The first time our church introduced it, we knew it would be a great way to get our four children to learn about giving to those less fortunate. My husband and I were eager to find ways to help our children put less emphasis on the gift-receiving aspect of Christmas, and this fit the bill.

We began the tradition of having each of our children put together a shoe box for some unknown recipient in another part of the world. Each child chose which gender and age group to buy for. A trip to the store would follow, where each one would meticulously work his or her way down the list of items to include in the shoe box. Having filled an entire shopping cart, we’d head home with our purchases.

The rustling of wrapping paper and the sounds of scissors cutting and tape unraveling from its dispenser filled our living room as each child carefully wrapped a shoe box and lid. I watched as their hands tenderly set all of the small gifts into their shoe boxes, finding just the right arrangement to make it all fit. Next, our children sat and wrote notes to their unknown children and enclosed a photo of themselves. This done, the boxes were closed up and taken to church.

Year after year, our family held fast to this tradition. I think it became one of our favorite events as a family. Despite the varying ages, stages, and moods of our kids, they always welcomed the trip to the store and the whole process of putting together these boxes of love. Each shoebox was assembled with care, for children they had not met, knowing they would not receive anything in return.

One warm spring night, while sitting at the dinner table together, the doorbell rang. I could see through our window that two women were at our doorstep. I hesitated, not wanting our dinner hour disturbed. The bell rang again. I got up and answered the door to two sweet, polite Hispanic women. They explained they were here from Mexico to see Daniel, our youngest son, then nine years old. Seeing my confusion, one of the women went on to say that she wanted to thank Daniel for a gift he had sent to her grandson for Christmas.

A blank look appeared on every face at the dinner table. What gift could Daniel have sent that we weren’t aware of? "It was a box full of so many things...soap, brush, wash cloth, candies, toys..." the woman continued.

We all smiled, realizing she meant a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child. The woman told us how excited her grandson was by all of his gifts. "It was his only Christmas present. It meant so much to him...and to us." Tears welled up in both women’s eyes as well as my own.

"I am visiting relatives a few miles away from here. I told them I must go to Daniel’s house to thank him personally." And she did. Daniel was speechless. We all were.
"Daniel, I keep your picture in my Bible. I want you to know that I look at it everyday and pray for you." Now we were the recipients of a precious gift. Humbled beyond words, we saw the biblical truth lived out right before our eyes. It is more blessed to give than to receive. And when you give with an open heart, God gives back in ways we can never imagine.

A few small items in a simple shoe box...a treasured gift for a small boy who has so little...and then, the faces of these dear women, touching our family, touching our hearts...we are blessed!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

MY LIFE MOTTOS

MY LIFE MOTTOS
1. Treat others the way you want to be treated ~ it’s that simple.
2. Choose kindness...ALWAYS.
3. Smile at people ~ it may brighten their day, and you will feel better.
4. Take time to listen. You may learn something, and you will bless the person speaking.
5. Don’t judge...unless you want to be judged. Plus, you may be in their shoes one day.
6. Look for the best in everyone and focus on that, not the flaws.
7. Practice forgiveness, knowing that you need it more than the other guy.
8. "Leave everything better than you found it." Jump at the chance to exercise your servant’s heart.
9. For every negative word or thought, try to come up with at least 5 positives.
10. Be thoughtful ~ ask, who can I bless today?
11. Remain prayerful ~ staying connected to the Source is the ONLY way any of these will happen.
12. Try to see others through God’s eyes. Get His perspective. Remember that His lenses are made of love.
13. Do the hard stuff ~ just do it.
14. Lavish your spouse with love and affection. Be creative.
15. Be the first to say I am sorry. It gets easier with time.
16. Encourage and nurture the learning process, in yourself and in others. Be a student of life.
17. Be open to new experiences, as long as they don’t compromise who you are.
18. Keep your eyes on the prize ~ don’t let distractions take you off course.
19. Build up; don’t tear down. Shower others with compliments.
20. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Life is too short.
21. Invest in people, not stuff.
22. Keep positive and joyful thoughts in your mind~ attitude really is everything.
23. Always be prepared ~ life is an adventure and preparation frees you to enjoy the ride.
24. Be honest ~ it’s too much work keeping track of lies.
25. Take good care of yourself, and remember to always be yourself...there’s only one YOU, and only you can be the best YOU.
26. Be thankful ~ even on the rough days, life IS good.
27. Don’t be consumed by worry~it accomplishes nothing and it’s bad for you.
28. If you are too busy to enjoy life and your loved ones, you are too busy. Make the changes to lighten your load.
29. Take proper care of all that’s entrusted to you. You are less likely to take it for granted.
30. Nurture your passion. Give it your time and attention, and share it with others. It’s a gift to enjoy and pass on.
31. Don’t allow misplaced guilt or shame to weigh you down. Let them go. Learn and move on.
32. Keep dreaming, and don’t be afraid to dream big. Even if it doesn’t come to fruition, you’ll have fun along the way.
33. Have a good laugh regularly. It really is the best medicine.
34. Don’t spend what you don’t have. Otherwise, the things you "own" will own you.
35. Avoid speaking in anger. Count to ten, leave the room, whatever it takes. You can’t take it back once it’s spoken.
36. Keep your promises. If you say yes to something, follow through. Don’t make promises or commitments you cannot or will not keep.
37. Simplify. Pare down on your possessions. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. The more you have, the more you are bound by what you have.
38. Be generous~with your money, possessions, time, energy, and encouraging words. Keep an open hand that’s always ready to bless others.
39. Face your fears and anxieties. It’s the only way you will conquer them.
40. Look for the good in every bad circumstance. It may be well hidden, but it’s there. Find it.
41. Don’t live in the "whens"...when I get that job, when I graduate, when I am a certain age, when I retire...enjoy each day for what it is~a gift. Who knows how many you will be given?
42. Be flexible. Don’t insist on having your way. Be open to change. Life is full of surprises for us to enjoy.