Friday, March 30, 2012

A GENTLE ANSWER

"A gentle answer quiets anger, but a harsh one stirs it up."
~Proverbs 15:1

How true this is! Let's face it ~ we all have moments of conflict. It can spring up between strangers, acquaintances, old friends, and the people we are closest to, our family. It cannot be avoided. I know. I despise conflict of any kind. But I no longer fear or run away from it. The more I face it head on, the more I learn the do's and don'ts for healthy conflicts.

Here's what I am discovering ~ as long as I am in a defensive mindset, determined to get my point across, I only fuel the fire. This is how I naturally respond. But I don't have to. On those rare occasions when I use a gentle answer in the midst of a conflict, this supernatural reaction has a softening affect on both parties. And the need to be right and to justify myself loses its appeal.

That said, there have also been times when a gentle answer didn't do a lick of good. The other party continued to stew over whatever the issue was. I am realizing that I cannot control how someone else responds. I can only control my own attitude and behavior.

Sometimes I forget that the spirit of division is very much alive and well, and loves nothing more than to create discord and rifts in relationships. How easily we play into its hands! We make a big deal over a small incident. We harbor anger and resentment. We judge mercilessly. We speak unkindly behind each other's backs. We hold our head up high, acting as if we are somehow better than the other person. We refuse to forgive and forget. Yes, this spirit of division has an easy job. We fall for its tactics time after time.

How sad. Life is too short ~ way too short to live in discord over petty stuff. I challenge all of us (mainly myself!) to do something radical today ~ like forgive whether we think the person deserves it or not...extend a hand of kindness to someone who's wronged us...keep our mouths shut when they are on the brink of speaking harshly...move on and embrace those in our lives with unconditional love  ~ the love that God gives to us, and tells us to, in turn, extend to others.

Feeling a bit convicted? I know I am. That's okay. Life is made up of one lesson after another. Maybe we blew it yesterday. We can learn from our mistakes and strive to make today a better day.  This sweet journey can be so much richer and enjoyable if we learn to respond gently and thoughtfully in the midst of our conflicts. A gentle answer does quiet anger...and judgment...and discord...and division ~ and invites restoration...and reconciliation...and healthier, happier relationships. Sounds good to me!

"Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs."
~Charlotte Bronte

"Our anger and annoyance are more deterimental to us than the things themselves which anger and annoy us."
~Marcus Aurelius

"In a quarrel, leave room for reconciliation."
~Russian Proverb

"For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Watch out for each other. Love and forgive everybody. It's a good life, enjoy it!"
~Jim Henson


     

Thursday, March 29, 2012

GOOD DOG, MAGGIE

"The average dog has one request to all humankind: Love me."
~Helen Exley

"I don't need this!" My patience was worn to a thread. This spunky little canine was getting the better of me. Her refusal to relieve herself outside coupled with her latest accomplishment of chewing through the baby gate had me frustrated. When I caught her on the arm of our couch sipping coffee from my mug, I snapped. "Bad dog!"

Her reaction told me she'd already experienced her fair share of harsh discipline. She ran to the kitchen and curled up in the corner, whimpering and shaking. My heart softened. I have no idea what she's experienced in her little life, but I wasn't about to add to her misery. "Maggie, we have to learn to get along, and you need to learn to behave." She wagged her tail cautiously, then proceeded to the breakfast nook for a quick potty break. Oh well...

We will have to go through our share of clean-ups and scoldings. But how can I not hang in there with this otherwise adorable little four-legged creature? Afterall, I have caused my Father countless moments of grief over my behavior. And He lovingly corrects me, never once turning His back on me. Can I treat her any differently than I want to be treated?

Thankfully, we all got a good night's sleep. Maggie's whines didn't begin until seven this morning. Maybe today she will start to learn where to pee and what not to chew. And maybe, just maybe, my patience will remain intact when she crosses the line. In the meantime, she's curled up on her bed, sleeping peacefully. Good dog, Maggie!

"You can get aggravated with your pets and yell at them, but in a matter of minutes they are licking your hand again in love."
~Sylvia Browne

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

TACKLE THE HARD STUFF

"Patience and tenacity are worth more than twice their weight of cleverness."
~Thomas Huxley

"Do the hard stuff." ~ it's a message that has clung to me for the past few years. This doesn't come naturally for me. My temperament is to take the easier, less stressful path. But the challenge to press through and tackle the hard stuff has taken me to new heights ~ in my walk with God, my relationship with others, and my own journey and the many roles it includes.

I have always admired those who have a built-in bent to jump in and tackle the hard stuff. Our oldest son Joe is one of those people. Since the day I met him when he was only five years old, I saw this inner drive in him to go after the things that others would shy away from. Twenty-eight years later, I see how this trait has served him well. As a kid, it made him a valuable team player in every sport he participated in. As an adult, it's brought him to an enviable place of success in the business world.

Those are the more obvious places where his tenacity has shown through. But there are so many memories of events in his life when that same character trait made all the difference for Joe. I will never forget a week we spent at the lake. Joe was seven or eight at the time. He and his brother had been fishing a good part of the day, and their hefty catches were the highlight of our dinner menu. As hungry boys do, they began to devour their meal, all the more tasty because they had provided the main course. But a look on Joe's face midway through dinner told us something was wrong. He pointed to his neck and told his dad there was something in his throat. My husband Dave got a flashlight and took a peek. Sure enough, there was a piece of fishbone lodged in Joe's throat. Miles away from a medical facility, Dave got his needlenose pliers and told Joe to open wide and stay very still. To my amazement, that is exactly what Joe did. He didn't bat an eye...didn't flinch...didn't make a sound. Dave was able to reach in and retrieve the bone because of Joe's ability as a young boy to stay calm, hold still, and trust his father to take care of him.

Today, I see this trait shining through as Joe recovers from a serious motorcycle dirt bike accident. The pain he has had to endure has been grueling, and the hard work he's put into his healing process has put him back onto his feet.

I can learn a lot from Joe. Do the hard stuff. Don't back down. When in a crisis, trust that my Father will take care of me. Go for the gold. Be the best you can be. Give it all you've got. Some, like me, strive to live their lives this way. Others, like Joe, just do it.

"The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward."
~Amelia Earhart    

ALONG CAME MAGGIE

It's been almost six months since our dog Nathan passed away ~ six quiet months. A part of me wanted to find another canine companion right away. Another part refused. I had my reasons for resisting the whole idea. For the first time in our married life, my husband and I were FREE...free to come and go without having to think about kids or dogs,along with their schedules and needs. I no longer had to rise at the crack of dawn to walk a dog. Sleeping a little later in the morning felt delicious and decadent. But my main reason for hesitating was that I couldn't imagine replacing my dear sidekick Nathan. I was still mourning.

I decided if God wanted me to have another dog, He'd have to drop the critter into my lap...literally. When my husband's birthday gift to me was his blessing to go and get another dog, I put it off. Somehow, it didn't meet that criteria. I glanced at a few rescue sites, but felt no compulsion to follow through.

A week and a half ago, I got a call from a friend and fellow doxie-lover. She'd stumbled onto a little female doxie that was in need of a good home. Would I come and see her for myself? Why not, I thought. It never hurts to look.

Later that day, my husband, daughter and I were driving home with our new dog curled up on my lap. I was excited...and nauseous...and stunned. We all were.

So much for freedom...and sleeping in. I now have a needy, affectionate, energetic little girl named Maggie Mae. She'd been found wandering the streets with no collar or chip and an injured leg. A trip to the vet revealed she'd been hit by a car. We don't know why she was wandering around with no identification. The theory is that she was dropped off in a nice neighborhood, perhaps with the hopes that she'd find a good home. The first time I saw her, I saw a confused, upset, lost little soul who was crying out for one thing ~ love.

I guess God wanted me to have another dog, for He quite literally dropped her into my lap ~ and into my life. Welcome home, Maggie Mae.

"Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole." 
~Roger Caras       

Thursday, March 22, 2012

SPRING CLEANING

"The ordinary arts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest."
~Thomas Moore

Spring cleaning began last week, and I admit ~ I look forward to it every year. There is something cathartic and creative about the whole process that re-charges my batteries and clears my mind as well. Besides the end result of a much cleaner and more organized home, there are other perks that intrigue and delight me. For one thing, it's a bit of a treasure hunt. I never know what I'll find hidden under a bed, in the back of a closet, or in that neverending stack of "important" papers on my desk.

There is a physical benefit as well. Spring cleaning is a bit like boot camp. I use muscles I forgot I have, and I spend little time thinking about food (unless, of course, I am working in the kitchen ~ and then I am ravenous). I collapse into bed at the end of the day, utterly exhausted...but in a good way.

My creative juices flow more freely when I am spring cleaning. I take time to look more thoughtfully at every room...every wall...every object. Do I still want this? Is there a better home for it ~ maybe in another room? I find myself making changes, and usually I love the results.

Spring cleaning is like taking a walk down memory lane. The pictures I scrub until they sparkle take me back to earlier days when the kids were growing up. I stumble on all sorts of things that tug on my heartstrings. Today it was our deceased dog Nathan's collar and tags. Their sweet jingle as I held them up made me smile.

Spring cleaning feels like a fresh start...and who doesn't love that! I am more eager to open our home to family and friends, no longer stressing they will notice my growing collection of dust bunnies residing under the furniture.

All in all, spring cleaning reminds me how obscenely blessed I am. I have so much to be thankful for. The people that share this home with me top my list. As for our possessions, surely we have an overabundance when I stumble on things I'd truly forgotten about.

This year, spring cleaning began the day I had to have a root canal. What a perfect diversion from the mild ache in my mouth that still lingers. But in reality, it's just a ritual I enjoy. Today, it was put into perspective when someone I know began cancer treatments. And somehow, the thought of dust bunnies, cobwebs, and unorganized closets and drawers lost some of its significance.

However we spend it, each day is a GIFT. Whether we are scrubbing our homes, driving carpools, heading for work, or checking in for medical treatment, we are still here. And life is good ~ often messy ~ but good.

"I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble."
~Helen Keller
  
       

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

BEACH BOY

"The ocean... cold and wild the surf, rushing in to overwhelm the beach, the wind, stinging my cheeks, enveloping me in total freedom."
~Scott Holman

I am not a surfer. In fact, I have never tried the sport. Subjecting myself to the cold, murky Southern California waters contaminated with who-knows-what has never appealed to me. But my husband and our sons love to surf. And I love to watch them.

If you have been to our home, you already know that surfing is a theme inside and out. Surf boards of all sizes adorn our back yard, completing the beachy-tropical look we were going for. Our garage, now used as a game room, is lined with surfboards. Even our porch greets visitors with a patriotic board sitting by the front door. All of these surfboards have a story, some more entertaining than others. But the board that puts a sparkle in my husband Dave's eyes is the one he received as a gift.

For his sixtieth birthday, my family agreed ~ the momentous occasion cried out for a big surprise party. Despite our sneaky, secretive activities during the weeks prior, Dave didn't catch on to our plans. When we headed over to his brother Shaun's (and Sharon's) house under false pretenses, a multitude of faces greeted him with a resounding "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" He was delighted...speechless...and completely surprised. All of our efforts to give him a memorable night paid off. He was surrounded by our family and some close friends ~ people who mean the most to him.

But the surprise didn't stop there. Waiting on the back patio was a beautiful new surfboard, handpicked by our two oldest sons ~ a present from all who were gathered around him, who knew what a treasured gift this would be. Along with the board was cash for a new wetsuit, something he desperately needed but couldn't bring himself to buy.

The following weekend, our immediate family, along with Shaun and Sharon and their son, accompanied him to the beach. We couldn't wait to see him hitting the waves on his new board. Watching from the shoreline, I could feel his joy as he stood on the board for the first time.  

Every time he takes the board out (or even looks at it), he is reminded of the many people who love him and wanted to bless his socks off. He cherishes the surf board, but it's the faces and hearts of the people in his life that matter most. If you ask him, he will say he is rich beyond measure. I have to agree.

"The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun."
~Duke Kahanamoku

"The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach ~ waiting for a gift from the sea."
~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

"He that will learn to pray, let him go to the sea."
~George Herbert

"The sea hath no king but God alone."
~Dante Gabriel Rossetti

  


   

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

CAPTIVATED

"I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order."
~John Burroughs

When was the last time you were captivated by the beauty of nature? How long has it been since a colorful sunset took your breath away? What about the birds whose cheerful chirps grace your garden each morning ~ do you take time to soak in their symphony? How often do you slow down to "stop and smell the roses"?

My husband and I took a little retreat from our day-to-day lives last weekend and spent it at one of our favorite beaches. Our objective was to vacate our responsibilities and distractions, and to savor some quiet time together. Both days we walked the lush trail that winds along the coastline. Because the weather was picture-perfect, there were many people walking...jogging...and running on the same path. My husband noticed how few of them seemed to be admiring the view. Most appeared to be too absorbed by their smartphones, their exercise partners, or their own physiques to notice the jaw-dropping beauty of the day.

As much as I was enjoying the workout, I couldn't help but pause periodically to take a picture or two. Now that I am back home and nestled into my routine, these photos are taking on new meaning. They remind me to slow down and enjoy my surroundings. They warn me of the many distractions that can blind me to the things in my life that  matter most. They challenge me to look for the beauty in everything and to celebrate it. They help me see the bigger picture and recognize what a gift each day is.

Our weekend escape to the beach was picture-perfect. But so is this day ~ if I take the time to drink in the many blessings it holds ~ the sweet scent of jasmine blooming by the back door...the feel of the cool breeze upon my cheeks...the sound of loved ones arriving home. All of the things that I need to make it a great day are already here, surrounding me, beckoning me to embrace them.

"Discovering this idyllic place, we find ourselves filled with a yearning to linger here, where time stands still and beauty overwhelms."
~Author Unknown

"Stop every now and then. Just stop and enjoy. Take a deep breath. Relax and take in the abundance of life."
~Author Unknown

"The landscape belongs to the person who looks at it."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Dawn and dusk take turns calling, 'Come and worship'. Oh, visit the earth, ask her to join the dance! Deck her out in spring showers, fill the God-River with living water. Paint the wheat fields golden. Creation was meant for this!"
Psalm 65:8,9 The Message