Wednesday, February 22, 2012

BLESS OR STRESS?

"There are good days and there are bad days, and this is one of them."
~Lawrence Welk

I knew the moment my alarm clock blared that I was in for one of those mornings. Disturbing dreams still clung to my thoughts. I willed myself out of the warmth of my bed and was immediately met with the smelly products of our cat's upset tummy.

Eager for a fresh perspective, I headed out the door. My entire yard was in need of watering, and broken sprinkler heads meant I'd have plenty of time to clear my head. But all that my eyes could see were the multitudes of weeds, brought in by the recent windstorm, that had taken root everywhere. I bit my lip to fight off ugly words that wanted to make their way out. Why do we have to be the only house on the block without a gardener, I complained inwardly.

My morning progressed in the same downward pattern. Sour moods, sick students, and a host of other annoyances jabbed at my nerves, determined to bring me down. I settled onto the couch, armed with my bag of devotions, ready to do battle. Surely there'd be some nugget that would provide a soothing balm for my ailing spirit.

It wasn't the message I expected ~ or wanted. "Serve."..."Serve with a joyful heart."..."Put others before yourself and seek to serve today." Are you kidding? I wanted nothing less. I needed words that would minister to ME.

Then it hit me. Once I got my pitiful eyes off of myself and my little irritants, I'd be freed from the power they were having on me. I realized the best way to get relief from my rough start was to take the focus off myself and put it smack onto God and others.

Okay, I'll admit it ~ I'm not yet "feeling the love". And I am not in a bubbly, joyful state of mind. I'm still dragging. But I have a fresh agenda now...fill my thoughts with Him, and look for creative and unexpected ways to bless others today, especially those who rubbed me the wrong way this morning.

I don't know how others will respond, or if they'll appreciate what I do. Maybe that shouldn't matter. I can still savor the day and spend it with God, and choose to look for ways to be a blessing.

Stress or bless? When I think of it that way, the answer is easy.

"There's nothing wrong or evil about having a bad day. There's everything wrong with making others have it...with you."
~Neil Cavuto

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant."
~Robert Louis Stevenson

"Convert difficulties into opportunities, for difficulties are divine surgeries to make you better."
~Author Unknown

"Better to lose count while naming your blessings than to lose your blessings to counting your troubles."
~Maltbie D. Babcock

"This is the day which the Lord has brought about; we will rejoice and be glad in it."
~Psalm 118:24              

Monday, February 20, 2012

TIME WELL SPENT

"As a deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I long for you, O God." 
~Psalm 42:1

Who brings out the best in you? On good days, my list can seem endless. Other days, it feels as though everyone is rubbing me the wrong way. But there are certain people I can go to when I have a specific need. For a pep talk, my sister tops my list. If I am in need of a good laugh, I gravitate towards the person in our family whose mood is the most jovial. I cannot count the number of times my son or daughter has cheered me up when my spirits were low.

But there is One who so radically impacts me when I am with Him, it is hard NOT to walk away changed whenever we meet. The flipside is that I suffer dearly (as do the people around me!) when I haven't had my daily fix. When I neglect to spend quality time with God, the evidence is deafening.

May I paint a picture of what I am like on the days I let God get squeezed out of my schedule? It's not pretty, but here goes ~ I am more irritable, impatient, self-absorbed, depressed, discouraged, fearful, anxious, materialistic, skeptical, cynical, isolated, critical, judgmental, prideful, demanding, wasteful, lethargic, unproductive, easily swayed, doubtful, purposeless, negative, worrisome, stressed, restless, insecure, and unappreciative. I am less content. I magnify my problems. I lose my sense of awe and wonder. I take people and things for granted. I find myself thinking...saying...doing things that are unhealthy. I beat myself up.

Do you see why I run to God?? And why I am miserable when I don't? Even if you don't share my faith, or you believe but don't seek a close walk with God, I am betting you can see why it's so important to me. It's not about a legalistic "have-to-do" mindset ~ just the opposite! It's about the freedom I experience when I run to His throne.

It's foolish for me to neglect my time with God. Even on the days when I don't feel like it (and there are many!), it is so worth it to press through those feelings and go to God anyway. He already knows and understands. I may not have a warm, fuzzy attitude as I approach Him, but I know I will be freed up from some...if not all...of those ugly qualities.

I have got to run ~ my Friend is waiting, and boy, do I need Him today!

"Time spent with God is time well spent." ~Author Unknown

"Begin your day seeking Him,
Go through your day serving Him,
End your day thanking Him."
~Author Unknown

"We can be tired, weary and emotionally distraught, but after spending time alone with God, we find that He injects into our bodies energy, power and strength."
~Charles Stanley

"Spending time with God is the key to our strength and success in all areas of life. Be sure that you never try to work God into your schedule, but always work your schedule around Him."
~Joyce Meyer

"Of all the things Christ wants for us, loving Him and focusing our attention on Him are the most important."
~Charles Stanley
           

Sunday, February 19, 2012

BIRTHDAY GIRL

"A mother's treasure is her daughter." ~Catherine Pulsifer

It was only weeks after our wedding day that I realized I was expecting. With two stepsons in tow, I prayed for a little girl. Why not be more specific, I thought, so I asked God for a daughter with red hair.

She arrived three weeks early ~ a beautiful, healthy, eight and a half pound girl with a head full of radiant red hair. The name we'd chosen was a perfect fit for our Irish cherub ~ Kelly Shannon.

Today, Kelly is all I ever hoped for in a daughter, and more. She is intelligent, passionate, tender-hearted, hard-working, intuitive, strong, and wise beyond her years. She has nestled into the career of her choice, doing what she loves ~ working with dogs and cats as a vet's assistant. Soon she will be walking down the aisle to begin a new chapter in her life with the man who is a perfect match for her.

Happy twenty-fifth birthday, Kelly. You occupy a large part of my heart that is yours and yours alone. You are my answer to prayer ~ my only daughter ~ my dearest of friends. Life is sweeter...richer...fuller...because of you.

"A daughter is a mother's gender partner, her closest ally in the family confederacy, an extension of her self." ~Author Unknown

"All the dreams I prayed you'd be,
Are all the things you are.
You were once my little girl,
And now my shining star."
~Author Unknown          

Saturday, February 18, 2012

CONFESSIONS OF AN ATTIC ADDICT

"The best things in life...aren't things." ~Art Buchwald

I cautiously made my way down the stairs from our attic, arms full of more stuff, and a heavy heart that added to my load. Clearing out this vast space was supposed to be a freeing experience. Instead, I felt a weight that pressed in all around me. Yes, it's just stuff ~ material objects we have collected over the years...items that have found their way up into the attic for a lack of room in our living space. So why was I growing so emotional?

Perhaps because every item I was sending down the stairs to its fate represented a memory. True, I haven't used my sewing machine in years. But I well remember the day my mom gave it to me. It felt as if she was giving me a part of herself because sewing had been her passion for so many years. My husband pointed to a rusty old trunk that had seen better days. "No way! I can't get rid of that! That trunk travelled the world with my mom when she was a little girl." He sighed in frustration. To him, it was just a trunk, an object taking up space.

The  mood in our home was somber for the rest of the day. He was stewing over my insistence to hold onto certain items. I was mourning the loss of possessions he'd hauled to Goodwill. Watching them pull out of our driveway was like saying goodbye to bits and pieces of my past.

Later, I told my husband how I felt. "Honey, you are blessed with such good memory. You remember details about things that happened decades ago. I'm not that fortunate. When I go up to the attic and look around at the accumulated stuff, they trigger memories. I'm afraid I am going to lose them as I say goodbye to our things."

The look on his face told me he understood, at least enough to rethink his whole approach. "I'm so sorry." Later, when he brought me flowers, I knew that my words had sunk in.

We still have to face an endless pile of stuff in our attic and scale way back on what we keep. And I'm still afraid of letting go ~ I don't want to lose so many precious memories. But perhaps I can look ahead to what awaits us, and put my focus on this new chapter in our lives. I don't want to clutch so tightly to the past that I cheat myself of the present. The memories are sweet, but so is this season in life...and this day.

"Like it or not, time passes, and that's why nothing will ever be the same it used to be. Things are meant to change..." ~Jaqueline Echeverria

"Do not gather and heap up and store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust and worm consume and destroy, and where thieves break through and steal. But gather and heap up and store for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust nor worm consume and destroy, and where thieves do not break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
~Matthew 6:19-21

        

Thursday, February 16, 2012

FRAGILE ~ HANDLE WITH CARE

"The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life." ~Richard David Bach

Friends have shared with me about the discord that exists in their extended families ~ siblings who don't speak to each other... adult children who haven't forgiven parents for something that happened years ago... in-laws that avoid each other because they can't see eye to eye. Hearing their stories has always made me grateful for the relationships within our family, and how blessed we are that everyone gets along despite the wide range of personalities.

Recently, a dispute arose within our extended family that opened my eyes up to the frailty of human relationships. The issue in and of itself was not a big one, but it created a rift. Words were spoken that should have not been said. Feelings got hurt. Untruths were thrown about. And a closeness between people that had taken years to build quickly erroded.

Someone near and dear to me counseled me to stick up for myself and defend myself against the untruths that were spoken about me. But I shy away from anything that might burn bridges and erect fences in their place. In my opinion, what feels so devastating at the time is usually not worth risking the damage that can be done when things are said out of heated emotion.

Here's the bottom line ~ relationships...ALL RELATIONSHIPS... are fragile! They should come with a warning attached, "HANDLE WITH CARE". There is no relationship that is immune to the possible fall-out. To think differently is to set ourselves up for disappointment. Only our relationship with God is rock solid, and even that can dissolve because one of us is human!

Those we love and want to keep in our lives we should treat with utmost respect, honor, kindness, and consideration. Sure, we are going to blow it at times. But we don't have to let those moments defeat us or do permanent damage to our relationships. Instead, we can choose humility, honesty, compassion, and forgiveness.

I have learned my lesson ~ though my flesh cries out to right the wrongs, to shed light on the untruths, and to defend myself, I wonder ~ at what cost? Life is too short to waste another minute staying angry, especially with family. I want to build bridges instead of fences. How about you?

"Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment." 
~Benjamin Franklin

"Do all that you can to live at peace with everyone."
~Romans 12:18                  

MONSTERS IN THE CLOSET

"Out of clutter, find simplicity." ~Albert Einstein

I grew up in a home that lent itself well to the imagination. Because of the sloping property it was built on, our home had four stories with three full flights of stairs. The places to play seemed limitless. Hide and seek took on new meaning at our house. A large closet on the second floor became a mansion for my collection of Barbie dolls ~ it had rooms and furnishings that my home today cannot compete with!

The features that made play so enriching had a down-side though, especially at night. When I was a little girl, I remember feeling with absolute certainty that there was something horrific that lurked in my closet and under my bed. I insisted that my mom open the accordian doors on the closet all the way and check behind every garment and box of toys to ensure that I was safe. My mom humored me time after time, peeking through my entire closet and getting on her knees to check under my bed so she could reassure me that there was no evil presence that would snatch me up as soon as she left my room.

Today I use my imagination in a more productive, healthy way through my writing. But I confess that I still have monsters hidden in our closets...under our beds...and in every cupboard and drawer. They are named "chaos", "clutter", "disorganization", and "accumulated stuff".

I can put up a good front. Outward appearances suggest that I have it all together in this area. But the places in our home that you don't see unless you do some investigative work are strong evidence that I live under the adage, "Out of sight, out of mind". What's the big deal? There isn't one, really. Except that I now face the daunting task of sorting through every single item we possess and decide whether to toss it, give it away, or hold onto it. The things I keep will be organized with like items, ready for a pending move in the coming months. That thought makes it easier to embrace the first two options ~ tossing and giving away.

How did I get to this place of disorder? Perhaps because it is easier to stuff things away out of sight than it is to deal with them head on. Honestly, I am quite good at stuffing, and not just things. I used to be quite proficient at stuffing my feelings... my opinions... my wishes. Over time I learned it doesn't pay to stuff them away and forget about them. They only accumulate until you reach the point where you are forced to confront and deal with them. Now I am learning this lesson on a more tangible level. Every item that is being held hostage in a closet or cupboard or drawer is being set free. Whether it remains in our company, moves on to another household, or lines our trash can is up to me. It's a little funny but true ~ everything I release through this process will inevitably free me up, too. With that thought in mind, I say a hearty farewell and good riddance to the stuff that I have been stuffing for too long.

"You can't have everything...where would you put it?" ~Steven Wright

 "The more things you own, the more they own you." ~Author Unknown   
          

Saturday, February 11, 2012

APPLES TO APPLES

"There's an old story about the person who wished his computer was as easy to use as his telephone. That wish has come true, since I no longer know how to use my telephone." ~Bjarne Stroustrup

"What is so smart about these SmartPhones?" I asked myself as my husband and I browsed through the store. Both of us needed to replace our old, antiquated phones. We had no intention of upgrading to smartphones. All we needed were phones that could make calls and send text messages. But all that lined the display counters and walls were different versions of the smarthphones and their many accessories.

We talked it over as we waited for our name to be called. Maybe a smartphone would be the "smart" choice. We plan to do some extensive cross-country travelling in the near future. Having features like the internet and the GPS sounded more and more appealing. By the time our name was called, all that was needed was for the sales rep to use a small dose of his ammo to help us make up our minds. An hour later, we were out the door with our smartphones in tote.

When we got home, we examined our purchases more carefully. Now what?? We were in over our heads and we knew it. We began to play around with our new devices, excited each time we were able to figure out one of their many features. But we were only scratching the surface.

Today we attended a class that covered the basics on our new phones. We learned a lot during those sixty minutes, but one of the main lessons we took away from the class is how much we have yet to learn if we want to get the most out of our smartphones. This truth sank in deeply when the teacher wasn't able to show us how to use certain features!

When we got home, I noticed my Bible on the coffee table, waiting to be opened. As I looked at my Bible, I thought about my smartphone and my limited knowledge on how to use it. The same thing holds true on a much larger scale with God and His Word. If I spent every waking hour attending classes and studying about God and the Bible, I would only begin to scratch the surface in my knowledge of Him. I think God designed us this way. If we could attain all the knowledge we wanted ABOUT Him, we wouldn't actually need HIM. The mystery and the unknowns feed our relationship with Him and our hunger for more of Him in our daily lives. God, in His goodness, teaches and reveals to us what we need to know at every given moment. Our part is to show up to "class", and pay attention to our Teacher.

Am I glad I got a smartphone? You bet! But I am so thankful I don't need a smartphone to stay connected to the One who matters most. He is always there...always picks up...always answers when we call. A smartphone can't hold a candle to His service. The truth is, man will never be able to create any device that will even come close to the knowledge, wisdom, and power of our God. Let's not forget ~ He did create the first "apple"!

"If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger."
~Frank Lloyd Wright

"Upon the creatures we have made, we are, ourselves, at last, dependent."
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Look at the night skies: Who do you think made all this? Who marches this army of stars out each night, counts them off, calls each by name ~ so magnificent! so powerful! ~ and never overlooks a single one?...Don't you know anything? Haven't you been listening? God doesn't come and go. God lasts. He's Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn't get tired out, doesn't pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out."
Isaiah 40: 26, 28 The Message
  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

DISQUALIFIED?

"God loves each of us as if there were only one of us."
~St. Augustine

"God couldn't love me...not after some of the things I've done..." I have heard multiple people speak similar words, and each time I am deeply saddened. These people have listened to a lie and have allowed it to separate them from the greatest source of unconditional love available. Here's the truth ~ there is NOTHING you can EVER do that will cause God to stop loving you. Period. End of sentence.

How can this be true? Because anything else would be a contradiction of who He is. God IS love. His very nature is our guarantee that God's love for us isn't conditional. We cannot earn it, and we cannot disqualify ourselves from it. We can ignore it. We can choose to not believe in it. But it doesn't change the fact that every minute of every day, through every bad choice, God is God...His love for us is steadfast, unwavering, and unconditional.

Who doesn't want a love like this? Why turn our backs on the only perfect love we will ever experience? Guilt? Not a valid reason. Shame? Hey...who needs it more?! Doubt? Why not give it a try? What have you got to lose?

Once you truly experience it, you'll never look back. You'll see that the gnawing sense of falling short or feeling disqualified was not based on truth. You'll come to realize that it's not so much about us and our worthiness as it is about our Father loving us completely...extravagantly...permanently ~ simply because we are His.

Once you open the floodgates of His love, be prepared to be loved like you've never been loved before. He is waiting. He longs to show you His heart and the depths of His love for you. "God loves me ~ in spite of all I've done." Now, that's a true statement!

"If you took the love of all the best mothers and fathers who ever lived (think about that for a moment) ~ all the goodness, kindness, patience, fidelity, wisdom, tenderness, strength and love ~ and united all those virtues in one person, that person would only be a faint shadow of the love and mercy in the heart of God for you and me."
~Brennan Manning

"Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture...none of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I'm absolutely convinced that  nothing ~ nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable ~ absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us."
~Romans 8:35, 37-39 The Message

"The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love."
~Blessed Julian of Norwich       

YOU'RE WORTH IT!

'There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus."
~Romans 8:1

This week I began treatments to remove the top layers of my skin on my chest and part of my right arm. Years of exposure to the sun has left me with pre-cancerous and cancerous cells over too wide an area to cut out. For three weeks I will be applying a cream that will gradually burn my skin, removing the top layers and the cancerous cells that have taken up residence.

To be honest, I have been dreading this! I have heard stories of how painful it can be. Even my doctor has warned me that it's going to get very uncomfortable. I wish I could avoid the discomfort and remove the unwanted cells another way. But the truth is, I can't. I have to endure the pain in order to address the problem and be freed of it.

I can't help but notice a parallel here. I think of things from my past that clung to me ~ things I would have preferred to forget. But ignoring them did not make them go away. Just like the cancer cells on my chest and arm, they stuck around and multiplied until I was willing to deal with them. Because I wanted to be freed up from the toxicity of these bad memories, I had to do some hard and painful work. I needed to stop hanging my head whenever they came to mind...open up and let light shine into these secret places of darkness from my past...say no to the shame and embarrassment, and exchange them for freedom and healing...put to death the power they had over my life...stop allowing them to affect my self-image and self-worth...set them at the cross and let God deal with them as He saw fit.

How about you? Are there things from your past that cause you to feel shame? Why not take the path to freedom? I know it may sound frightening. The things we keep hidden in the dark we tucked away for a reason. But it's not a healthy choice or one that is based on truth. When we avoid these things, we actually empower them to grow and take over more and more of us and our lives.

There is NOTHING hidden that will not shrink as it is brought into the light. There is NOTHING so bad that it deserves the right to remain locked away inside of us, wreaking havoc. We have nothing but shame to lose, and everything to gain ~ healing, wholeness, freedom, joy, and peace of mind. I know the process may be a painful one, more so for some than for others. But it is worth it! You are worth it!

These verses have blessed me immeasurably. I hope they bless you, too!
"Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."
~2 Corinthians 3:17

"But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves led out to pasture."
~Malachi 4:2

"The people God has ransomed will come back on this road. They'll sing as they make their way home to Zion, unfading halos of joy encircling their heads, welcomed home with gifts of joy and gladness as all sorrows and sighs scurry into the night."
~Isaiah 35:10, The Message

"I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway! I will lead them, I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips. May they have abundant peace, both near and far," says the Lord, who heals them.
Isaiah 57:18,19

"I'll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I've swallowed. I remember it all ~ oh, how well I remember ~ the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there's one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God's loyal love couldn't have run out, his merciful love couldn't have dried up. They're created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I'm sticking with God (I say it over and over). He's all I've got left. God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It's a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It's a good thing when you're young to stick it through the hard times. When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don't ask questions: wait for hope to appear. Don't run from trouble. Take it full-force. The 'worst' is never the worst. Why? Because the Master won't ever walk out or fail to return. If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense."
~Lamentation 3:19-32  The Message            

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A BETTER WAY

"When you forgive, you in no way change the past ~ but you sure do change the future."  ~Bernard Meltzer

How do I respond to those who hurt and disappoint me? Do I harbor the pain? Do I try to justify and defend myself? Do I hold a grudge and cling onto the hurt that was inflicted upon me? Do I allow it to dig up old wounds so I can ruminate in all of the injustices I have experienced? Do I shut the door on relationships because of my feelings? Do I use the injury as an excuse to bow out of someone's life? Do I isolate myself as a form of self-protection? Do I speak unkindly of others because they have spoken unkindly of me? Do I manipulate the truth in order to avoid conflict? Do I bury the pain in hopes that it will go away? Do I wrestle with anger over unresolved conflict? Do I label and categorize people to avoid the hard work of getting to know their story and their own experience with pain? Do I gravitate towards people who feel safe? Do I let someone else's words determine my own thoughts about another person? Do I go to all lengths to guard my heart from pain, without counting the cost? Do I cheat myself and others in the process?

DO I REALIZE THERE'S A BETTER WAY??

If I take each hurt to God and seek His perspective, light pours in and I can see more clearly. I can see my part ~ how I may have contributed, how I tend to react, and how best to respond. I can see the other person and his own struggles, not all that different from mine. I am softened to extend forgiveness and to ask for it as well. I can see the battles being waged and how there is an enemy that LONGS to tear apart, divide and conquer ~ and how we so often play right into his hand. I can see that I don't need to turn to people for my sense of worth and value ~  I have God for that. Just knowing this frees me up to put myself and my needs into His care, and allows me to step into the other person's shoes, if only for a moment. When I do, compassion is born and I can offer genuine kindness, grace, forgiveness, and words that edify.

We all want to be heard...understood...accepted...loved. When we go to God for all of these, we in turn are equipped to respond to others this way ~ hearing their side until we truly understand where they are coming from, and accepting and loving them regardless of whether or not we agree with them.

Unconditional love and acceptance ~ it is what we all crave. In human form, it is so rare! But it is ours for the taking when we run to God. Then and only then are we equipped to offer the same. 

Do I really want to wallow in the hurtful stuff? No! I want to walk in freedom, embrace the healing, and stay focused on God. A right relationship with Him allows me to have a right relationship with others. Now, that's a better way!

~ I have quite a few quotes to share today that minister to me. I hope they bless you!

"When a deep injury is done to us, we never recover until we forgive."
~Alan Paton

"Resentment is like a glass of poison that a man drinks, then he sits down and waits for his enemy to die."
~Nelson Mandela

"We are full of weakness and errors; let us mutually pardon each other our follies."
~Voltaire

"A mature Christian has capacity to absorb the offenses and weaknesses of others, not just demand they perform up to the code of ideals."
~Stephen Crosby

"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."
~Gandhi

"Sincere forgiveness isn't colored with expectations that the other person apologize or change. Don't worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time."
~Sara Paddison

"A Christian will find it cheaper to pardon than to resent. Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, and the waste of spirit."
~Hannah More

"Forgiveness is the giving, and so the receiving, of life."
~George MacDonald