Wednesday, August 29, 2012

PEBBLES AND PEOPLE

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey!" 
~Barbara Hoffman

It was just a tiny pebble. But with every step I took, it made its presence known in an uncomfortable way. I tried to ignore it, but that only made matters worse. I paused and removed the shoe housing the offensive object. After giving it a good shaking, I returned the shoe to its rightful foot and resumed my pace.

Minutes later, I felt it again. But this object was larger and sharper than the last. Once again, I stopped and scoured through my shoe, removing the culprit along with other less noticeable fragments. Somehow, I was collecting bits and pieces of the ground beneath my feet. How they were making their way into my shoe, I didn't know. But after multiple stops on the trek back home, it was clear I had a pebble problem with my walking shoes. If I didn't address it, it was going to slow me down on my walks.

Today I have been thinking about other pebbles that have made their way into my life. I admit, some have been my own doing. But others have just appeared on the scene. These minor irritants that weigh me down and distract me need to be dealt with if I want to walk with purpose and in freedom.

For me, pebbles include criticism from an outside source...unrealistic expectations I cannot possibly fill...the nagging feeling that I don't measure up in someone's eyes...forgiveness that I long for but didn't receive. My self-inflicted pebbles are my less than healthy coping mechanisms like withdrawing. I am also quite good at creating pebbles by beating myself up, and dwelling on the what-ifs and if-onlys.

How about you? What do your pebbles look like? Maybe it's that person in your life who's constantly after you to change who you are. Maybe it's a boss or a professor who has taken a dislike to you. Maybe your pebble is that third glass of wine you seem to pour every evening. Pebbles come in so many shapes and sizes. The world will always be full of them. It's what we do with the pebbles that counts. How we respond, learn, and grow from our encounters with these potentially destructive obstacles affects how we walk through life. It can even set the course for the future.

I finally figured it out. I need to wear thicker socks when I walk. There's less room for pebbles to find their way into my shoe. And those other pebbles I mentioned? No worries. I'm not going to let them slow me down anymore.

"In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins ~ not through strength but through perseverance."
~H. Jackson Brown

"Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are."
~Bernice Johnson Reagon

"Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life and when it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye and say, 'I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me.'"
~Ann Landers

"You're a winner. The tests of life aren't meant to break you, but to make you."
~Norman Vincent Peale

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

BACK TO SCHOOL

"A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary."
~Thomas Carruthers

The sounds of children's laughter amidst the drone of cars passing by our house are shooting straight from my ears and into my heart. The first day of school fell upon our community this week.

It's hard not to notice. There's an elementary school on our street, a half a block away from our home. Every morning and afternoon, kids, bikes, and cars parade up and down our street.

The beginning of a new school year! It's always been an emotionally charged time for me. As a kid, I couldn't wait. I loved everything about it. As a mom, I was a tossed salad of feelings ~ excitement, mingled with sadness and joy. Even a little relief! As a teacher, the first week of school was an adventure I always felt privileged to take. That room full of children I'd grow to love over the months made me feel a bit overwhelmed. But mostly I was honored to be filling the role of their teacher.

Today, I listen to the sounds of a new school year from a distance. The walls of my home separate me from the event. But the sounds are loud enough to penetrate the walls and tug on my heartstrings. There's no class to attend. No kids to take to school. No classroom of students awaiting me. And perhaps, this is my most emotional first week of school. Ever.

I hope the future holds more classrooms and students for me. It's such a difficult ministry to give up. Those kids wiggle their way into your heart, and they never really leave. They just stretch and expand it.

The hum of a school bus just passed our home, and I can picture those tired little faces on board. I hope many are smiling. And I pray it's a great year for all. Perhaps this is my new role in their lives. Each day when I hear them passing, I can lift them up in prayer. And let them stretch my heart a little more.

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."
~Henry Brooks Adams

 
       

Monday, August 27, 2012

PAIN MANAGEMENT

"I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing."
~Agatha Christie

I, too, like living! Chronic pain isn't going to take this away from me. Over twenty years of on-again/off-again seasons lived with chronic pain have motivated me to seek healthy ways to cope. I still have much to learn. Though I have made progress, I haven't completely conquered the unhealthy ways I tend to react to it. I'm way too reclusive. I give in too easily and let it dictate my life. I allow worry to seep into my thoughts. I beat myself up for not being stronger. I throw my share of pity parties. I neglect relationships.

But I am getting better. Slowly, these counter-productive (sometimes destructive) patterns are being replaced with healthier approaches to managing pain and rising above it. The following list is based on my experience with fibromyalgia. Maybe it applies to other conditions that involve chronic pain. If you are the person I am writing this for, please know I am with you in spirit as you travel your own journey. This is for you ~

1. Find your sweet spot, your place of balance. Know when to push yourself and when to cut yourself slack. Respect it.

2. Eat healthy. I know, this doesn't seem like it has anything to do with pain management. All I can say is that I have seen a HUGE difference in how I feel when I eat the right foods. For two years I went on a strict diet I was given to treat fibromyalgia. It wasn't easy to follow! But I was completely symptom-free as a result. There are things I have removed from my diet that I will continue to avoid. Other things that have made their way back onto my plate are slowly being phased out again. Eating what I want isn't worth it.

3. I try to keep moving...even when it hurts. Walking is a must for me. Some days I only make it a few blocks, and at a slow pace. The good days, I walk for miles, and as fast as I can. Staying active helps.

4. Laughter really is the best medicine. I find things that tickle my funny bone. I have a stash of go-to movies that always make me laugh and smile.

5. Good restorative sleep is important. This is my one exception to my "no drugs" policy. I encourage you to do what you can to get a good night's sleep consistently.

6. Find someone that you can help. Getting my mind off of myself and onto someone else does a world of good. On days when I can't muster the energy to get moving, I try to focus on praying for others. "Time spent in prayer is time well-spent."  

7. Get a blood test and see if you are deficient in any vitamins. I take high potency B-Complex, Vitamin D, and Omega-3. I also take a probiotic, which helps with other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.

8. Find a hobby or something you are passionate about and immerse yourself in it. I like to write.

9. Nurture your relationships. Don't let the pain and fatigue rob you of time with these precious people.

10. Soap therapy. I know, it may sound a bit crazy, but I have found it works. I sleep with a bar of soap in my bed, tucked between the mattress cover and the fitted sheet, close to where my shins rest. I carry a hotel-size bar in my pocket. And I use a generous amount every morning in the shower. Though you may laugh at the idea, I recently read an article in the paper about a doctor who researched this theory and found it to be true. There is something in the soap oil that is an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever. What do you have to lose by trying it? Pain maybe?

11. Based on my own research, I made the decision to steer clear of chemicals and pesticides as much as possible. I don't allow anything on our property that is toxic. I try to buy only organic products.

12. Yoga. I am not talking about the intense workouts or the New Age philosophy. Yoga has some wonderful stretching exercises. I have a DVD I use at home.

13. Find ways to keep a positive outlook. Verses, quotes, whatever works for you can be placed strategically throughout your home and work environment as a gentle reminder that each day is a gift, and we CAN enjoy it.

14. Pamper yourself. Each day, find a way to do something nice for yourself. It can be different everyday. Or maybe it's the same treat you look forward to mid-afternoon. I like to think about this the night before as I nestle into bed. It gives me something to look forward to.

15. Put a stop to negative thinking. Negative thinking and pain seem to walk hand in hand. But we can control our thoughts. Train yourself to just say no to the negativity.

I may have chronic pain. But that doesn't mean I have to give it the power to dictate the quality of my days. Regardless of how I am feeling, I have learned I can still have a really good day. And that is my prayer for you.

"The world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming it." 
~Helen Keller                 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A FRIEND IN NEED

I have always had a soft spot for Job. If ever there was a man well acquainted with suffering and loss, it was him. Even his wife told him to curse God and die; that's how bad things were. Instead, he managed to hold fast to what he believed about God. Job went from having it all...in abundance...to losing it all.

His well-meaning friends started off on the right foot. They sat with him in silence for seven days, at a complete loss for words. Their presence was their comfort. And just when I am thinking, way to go, guys...they do the unthinkable. They blame Job for all his misfortune. Can you feel it? The shocking sting of your closest friends slappng you across the face with a guilt trip. Like salt on wounds, but not the kind that brings healing, their words usher in one more devastating loss. Now Job is utterly and completely alone in his nightmare.

First of all, I have to back the train up and give his friends some credit. Afterall, they did show up. They entered into his mourning with him. They sat in silence with Job for seven long days. They may have been at a loss for words, but their hearts seemed to be overflowing with compassion for their friend.

It is difficult to see a loved one in pain. It's hard to know what to do, and what to say. We want to help ease their suffering, but how? Not having the answers can cause us to pull away. Why risk saying or doing the wrong thing, we reason. Especially when we see how badly Job's friends blew it.

As someone who has lived with chronic pain, I can only share what has helped me. My list may not be the right fit for someone else. But I hope it gets you thinking. If you want to lighten the load of someone you know who is hurting, perhaps one or more of my suggestions will speak to you.

1. Reach out, and keep reaching out to them. It's easy to become reclusive when battling ongoing pain. I know because this is my biggest unhealthy coping mechanism.

2. Give them the opportunity to share what they are going through, or have been through. Listen if they want to talk. Don't trivialize what they share, and don't try to fix it. Just listen.

3. Be understanding and flexible. If they have to cancel at the last minute, don't hold it against them. They are probably doing the best they can. Honestly, this has been the most appreciated gift my friends have given to me.   

4. Offer your help. They may not want or need it. But your offer may come on a day when they do. Keep offering.

5. Pray for them. Let them know you are praying. I believe this is the most powerful, life-changing gift you can give a friend. When someone tells me they are praying for me, it is like a healing balm on my spirit. It's more precious to me than gold.

6. Try to see the bigger picture. People are not their pain. Don't define or label them based on their journey with pain.

7. Give them opportunities to bless you. It's easy to feel useless when you are wrestling with ongoing pain. It helps when we can get outside of ourselves and do things for other people.

8. Love them! People who are hurting can feel so unlovable. Look for creative ways to love them ~ a note, a hug, a flower, a Starbucks treat...you get the picture.

9. Let them know when you are thinking about them. Make the call, send an email or text. Let them know they aren't forgotten.

10. How do you think you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes? Take your time with this one. Really think about it. Then try acting on it, and see what happens.

A direct approach is always a good one. "How can I be a good friend to you in the midst of this?" Then give them a chance to respond. Keep asking every once in a while. Things may change.

Need a little more motivation? I love the following quotes ~

"Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us every day." 
~Sally Koch

"It's good to be blessed. It's better to be a blessing."
~Author Unknown

"Plant flowers in others' gardens and your life will become a bouquet!"
~Author Unknown

"Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier."
~Mother Teresa

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
~Anne Frank

"When you dig another out of their troubles, you find a place to bury your own."
~Author Unknown

"I've seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people living ordinary lives."
~Tracy Chapman

                

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

TREASURES WORTH FINDING

"Turn your wounds into wisdom." ~Oprah Winfrey

It was a good day today...a very good day. Yesterday's flare-up, triggered by a series of very hot days, seems to have ended. I was able to resume my normal routine with a deeper appreciation for every moment lived pain-free. I tackled my to-do list with a renewed sense of gratitude. Even the task of washing the kitchen floor was a pleasure.

This is perhaps one of my most cherished gifts in my walk with chronic pain ~ savoring the good days. I can celebrate the ordinary activities that many take for granted. The first treasure I glean along the path of pain is APPRECIATION for everything. My list is endless.
   
GRATITUDE walks hand in hand with APPRECIATION. Thank you for each and every day! Even the difficult ones. Thank you for the people I get to enjoy on this journey. I am especially grateful for my family. They love me unconditionally and extravagantly, even on the days when I feel so unlovable. Chronic pain has opened the door to a more thankful spirit.

COMPASSION ~ I never really understood another person's suffering until I experienced my own. I think I am a kinder person because of the road I have travelled with pain. It has made me more sensitive to the struggles that other people face. I love this treasure! Maybe because the only way for me to get to this place is by walking the rugged path myself, COMPASSION feels like a badge of honor.  

I have also gained PERSPECTIVE. Pain has taught me to keep my priorities in order. It reminds me of what is important, and helps me focus on the things that matter. And though it's difficult to explain, it's teaching me to be less self-absorbed. This has been a long, slow process. Pain can have the opposite effect. But I am learning how to forget about myself and put other people first. I get awfully tired of my own problems. It is refreshing to put myself on the back burner and pour myself into someone else's life.

The last treasure I share is HOPE. Because the pain is a constant reminder to me of where my hope comes from. It's not in the thought that tomorrow may be pain-free. My hope is set squarely on the One who empowers me to live and breathe each day, regardless of how I am feeling. I am just passing through. This is not my home. The bad days help me to remember this, and live my life accordingly.

Truth be told, I hate pain. But I cannot let it defeat me. I have to be on the constant look-out for what it is trying to teach me. I still have much to learn. I want to embrace the gifts that only pain can offer. I may not be able to control my circumstances, but I can certainly control how I respond to them. That in itself is a treasure worth finding.

If you are a fellow traveller, I am cheering you on!

"I walked a mile with Pleasure
She chattered all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow
And ne'er a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me."
~Robert Browning Hamilton  



              
       

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

CHRONIC PAIN

I don't like to talk about this part of my life. If I am not careful, it can become all-consuming. And I do not want it to be woven into my identity. Although I have chronic pain, I don't want people to think of me as a "chronic pain sufferer".

But I cannot shake the gnawing feeling that I'm supposed to write about it. I hope someone is blessed by this message. If you suffer from chronic pain, and maybe more importantly, if you know of someone who does, I am writing this for you. But honestly, it's also for me. Perhaps this rough stretch I am experiencing will relent because I am respecting the quiet voice whispering to my spirit, "Write about your pain."

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia twenty years ago. My symptoms were vague ~ generalized pain, widespread flu-like achiness, and chronic fatigue. I was a mom with young children when I was diagnosed. I knew I had to find ways to cope. But I wanted to do more than cope; I longed to rise above it. I was especially concerned for my family. I didn't want anyone to suffer or feel cheated because mom was in constant pain. Over time, I learned about balance ~ when to push myself, and when to rest. I also began to grasp what a HUGE gift it was to have a relatively pain-free day.

Over the course of twenty years, I have come to recognize the "triggers" and do what I can to minimize them. But some are beyond my control ~ like the weather,  illnesses, accidents, and surgeries. I have fine-tuned factors such as diet, supplements, and exercise. All three help to minimize the pain when I am not under the influence of an uncontrollable trigger.

Today, I sit in our living room, engulfed in one of my worst flare-ups. Ever. Everything hurts, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. Even the simplest movements hurt ~ going to the bathroom, swallowing, breathing. And I have to say, I am so SICK of the pain. Enough!

"This too shall pass." Oh, the healing balm of those words. My mom spoke them to me so often when I was growing up. They still keep me going. I know that better days await me. And I know there has to be some element of purpose in all of the pain. I don't believe we are allowed to blaze this trail for no reason. It is this belief that empowers me to find the hidden gifts that come through the rugged path of chronic pain.

Are you suffering? I know your journey! I walk it too. Is a loved one in the grips of chronic pain? If so, I pray my words will speak directly to your heart, and give you a better understanding of what it's like for us. I hope you will join me as I share about some of those hidden treasures I have found tucked inside my pain. They are there, my friend. I promise.

"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." ~M. Kathleen Casey

"Thorns and stings
And those such things
Just make stronger
Our angel wings."
~Terri Guillemets
            

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I WANT THAT

Don't go wishing you had what belongs to someone you know. Don't waste a minute of your life pining after their bigger house, their prettier spouse, their house cleaners...gardeners...pool men (had to throw that one in), their racy red sports car or VW camper, their well behaved canine, or anything else for that matter.
~Exodus 20:17, MY VERSION

I used to find it puzzling that this Commandment stood side by side with the other nine. How is this hurting anyone, I'd wonder. Why does God care if I feel a bit envious of my neighbor's house...or new car....or great job. I didn't realize that the act of coveting does hurt someone ~ me. It can also hurt the person whose life I'm wishing I had. How utterly wonderful that the God of the Universe cares enough to say, "Don't do it!" Because he longs to protect us. Like all loving parents, he desires to see us walking in joy, content with all we have, and eager to celebrate in the blessings of others. The lesson I have learned, that I want engraved onto my heart, holds more value than gold. I wouldn't exchange it for a mansion or a hefty bank account. Lord, let this truth remain with me each and every day of my life ~ coveting adds nothing to my life...it only takes away.

Only a loving God would bother to end his list of ten things on such a personal note. I can almost hear him now. "Come on, guys. Stop focusing on what you don't have. Look at all I've given you. Enjoy your life just as it is! I marked it out just for you. It's a custom fit. Wear it well."

Though my kids are adults now, I remember the toddler years. As cute and curious as they were, there were times when I was utterly exhausted and deficient of patience. The hardest part of the day was a trip to the store...any store. Everywhere they turned, their eyes lit up with excitement. "I want that!" "Mommy, can I have this?" An occasional tantrum over my "No"s would leave me vowing to never take them shopping again. But they were toddlers. They didn't know better. And truthfully, their level of happiness wasn't contingent on whether or not I gave in. My "yes"es often led to disinterest and disappointment. It was about wanting what didn't belong to them. 

Am I any different? Only that I am old enough to know better. "When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways." These words from 1 Corinthians 13 are smack in the middle of the love chapter. And isn't it out of his deep love for us that he urges us to put away our childish thoughts, attitudes, and actions. It's time to put coveting to rest, and start living each day in full appreciation and utter joy for all I have been given.

"Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you have now was once among the things you only hoped for."
~Epicuris                  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

THEIR GRASS IS GREENER

"No lusting after your neighbor's house ~ or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don't set your heart on anything that is your neighbor's."
~Exodus 20:17, The Message

My  husband has worked for some very wealthy people over the years. His "office" has been their emaculate gardens, boasting picture-perfect flower beds and neatly manicured lawns. (Just describing their properties exhausts me!) I used to harbor guilt over the fact that I couldn't produce the same in our own little yard. Their gardens of Eden made my garden of weedin' all the more frustrating. One day I shared my feelings with my husband. I had been working all week trying to bring more beauty to our yard and was upset with my slow progress. That's when he told me he likes it just the way it is. He has no desire to bring home the same high standards of perfection he sees everyday at work. He reminded me of something he's witnessed time and time again. The wealthy people he works for who are living the "good life" are no happier than us. In fact, he's noticed the opposite. Many are obsessed with maintaining what they have, and it doesn't seem to equate out to a happier existence. What's more, his clients with the least often appear more joyful and content. Hmm....

What insight does this give me about the tenth Commandment? The grass may be greener next door, but appearances can be deceiving. It's silly and counterproductive to look at what someone else has and lust after it, when what I have is more than enough for the life God has marked out for me. When I get sucked into the cycle of coveting, I lose sight of that. In no time, I wander off my own abundant path trying to blaze a trail toward some place I don't belong. (Just a sidenote ~ it isn't what we have or don't have that brings true contentment and joy. Please don't think I am suggesting that those who have an abundance of wealth aren't as happy. I'm learning it really has nothing to do with our pocketbooks or possessions.) 

Okay ~ just one more message on this curious topic of coveting. Then we'll wrap up these ten glorious stepping stones to the abundant life, and how to plant our feet firmly on this path. Got to love the Ten Commandments!

"Happiness grows at our own firesides, and is not to be plucked in strangers' gardens."
~Douglas Jerrold           

Friday, August 17, 2012

LIVING THE DREAM

"Do not desire to possess anything that belongs to another person ~ not a house, a wife, a husband, a slave, an ox, a donkey, or anything else."
~Exodus 20:17 Contemporary English Version

I read these words of the tenth and final Commandment, and think, "Uh oh...". Who among us hasn't looked longlingly on someone else's life and believed, if only I had her "blankity-blank", life would be so good. I am getting better; in fact, I think I'm a recovering covetor. I love my life. It's full to the brim, and it's good. If I am going to add anything to it, I want it to be with the purest of motives. Not because so-and-so has something I want.

But let's face it. There are times when we look upon someone else's life and think, "That person is living the dream." Mine appears on the Food Network every Saturday morning. For thirty glorious minutes, I indulge myself. Although it's basically a cooking show, everything about The Pioneer Woman's life intrigues me. I love her country lifestyle ~ her home, the vast amount of land surrounding it, the barns and animals. A husband, four kids, and her bassets (my all-time favorite breed) keep this lady busy. Still, she manages to home-school, blog, and create mouth-watering meals for her family. It's the life I dreamed of having when I was a girl. But what I like best about the show is the way it inspires me.

And that is how I know I haven't crossed the line into coveting. Because coveting doesn't add to our lives. It takes away ~ our joy, our purpose, our contentment. How fitting that the last Commandment addresses this topic. If we are focused on what we are lacking, we can't enjoy what we have.   

The Pioneer Woman is living the dream. But so am I. If I whisper a word of thanks each day for my many blessings and all I hold dear, I am less likely to enter the coveting mindset. It's a daily choice. Of course, there is a world of difference between a weekly television show and the people we know personally who seem to have a picture perfect life. I hope you will join me again as I continue to look at this Commandment. I've no doubt it was sent to us with intense love from a Father who wants us to live contentedly.                 
 
"Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have."
~Author Unknown

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

TRUTH BE TOLD...IN LOVE

Do not tell lies about others." ~Exodus 20:16

"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." ~ "Don't say anything about another person that you wouldn't say to their face." ~ "Speak the truth in love." We have heard these quotes since we were children, and we spoke them to our own. These timeless messages can be woven into the ninth Commandment, "Do not tell lies about others."

There is a common theme here ~ keep a guard over your mouth. I can recite these quotes over and over. But I still slip up. I speak without thinking. Once the words are out there, my regret can't bring them back.

Even today as I began to contemplate this Commandment, I found myself engaging in a conversation that I couldn't be sure was based on fact. I wasn't "telling a lie", but is it really any different if I'm unable to back my words up with actual facts?

When there is discord in our home, no one is happy. Until the conflict gets resolved, we all feel the tension. Is this not true in the bigger picture as well? How often do we create discord by words carelessly thrown about?

"Speak the truth in love." Words bathed in love for the benefit of the other person that are based solely on truth are more likely to generate peace. How do I get this to sink in so it will dictate how I speak? Maybe by asking myself how it would feel to be on the receiving end of my words. Putting myself in the other person's shoes is always an eye opener. But I want it to be a tongue tamer too.

Building healthier relationships is a top priority. How I speak has a huge impact. "Do not tell lies about others." ~ "Speak the truth in love." God knew we'd need a reminder. May those words engraved in stone be engraved in our hearts as well.

"So let's agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don't drag them down by finding fault." 
~Romans 14:19, The Message

"Truth for Lips
Prayer for Voice
Sympathy for Eye
Charity for Hand
Love for Heart
Smile for Face."
~Author Unknown

"It's all about compassion. Talk less. Love more."
~Author Unknown
    

   

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

CONFESSIONS OF A THIEF

"Do not steal." ~Exodus 20:15

Most, if not all, of us have done it at some point in our lives ~ pocketed a candy bar, swiped a few bucks from mom's purse, stole the credit for something we didn't do. For some it became an addiction. For others, it was a bit of a rush. Some did it on a dare. Others to prove something. Whatever the reason, it seems to be a common thread in humanity, with a rare exception here and there.

Okay, I will make this personal. I can share from both sides of the fence. I know how it feels to have something stolen from me. I've also played the role of "thief". I'll get the more embarrassing one over with first.

I was a freshman in college (old enough to know better), living 200 miles from my hometown. My two room-mates and I wanted a Christmas tree for our little apartment. Our month long break wouldn't begin until one week before Christmas. The more we talked about it, the more determined we grew. We had to get a tree. With no extra cash to spare, we waited until late at night and drove around our sleepy college town, looking for something that would pass as a Christmas tree. Finally we found a sweet little pine tree recently planted in someone's yard. We jumped out of the car and managed to yank that little tree right out of the ground. To make matters worse, we headed to a local diner, knowing they had decorations dangling throughout. While enjoying our midnight ice cream, we managed to load up our purses with tinsel and ornaments.

I'd like to blame our long study sessions on our complete lapse in morality. But that would be heaping a lie onto a theft. Whatever possessed me to do something so wrong? Stupidity comes to mind. Selfishness seems fitting as well. Oh, and wanting my room-mates to like me certainly tops the list. I still feel a wave of regret when I remember that night. But I think that's a good thing ~ it means I have a conscience.

Being on the other end isn't any fun either. I had my wallet stolen a few years ago. In the process, the thief took my money, my "identity", and countless hours trying to deal with dozens of fraudulent activities from that one episode. Until I became a victim myself, I didn't really understand the personal injury it inflicts. There is a feeling of being violated that doesn't go away. You feel a bit less safe and secure. You don't sleep as well as you used to. You're less trusting of others...more suspicious of those you don't know. "Carefree" gets replaced by "cautious". All because someone took something from you.

Recently, my in-laws had a hefty sum of money stolen by someone claiming to be their grandson. He told them he'd been arrested in Canada and needed money to get out of jail. Playing on my in-laws' emotions, he convinced them to wire money for his bail. Wanting to help their grandson out, they fell for what's been dubbed the "Grandparent Scam".

Having stood on both sides of the fence, I can see why "Do not steal" has earned its place among the Ten Commandments. Don't steal! We'll all sleep much better if we honor this eighth Commandment, as individuals and as a society. And I can't help but wonder how some can sleep at all ~ like those who prey on the elderly.

And to the people who woke to discover their little pine tree was missing, my sincerest apologies! You too, little diner. There. I feel much better.

"You can lie, cheat and steal. But you will finish last. An honest, kind and loving person always wins in the long run." ~Author Unknown

"The only thing worth stealing is a kiss from a sleeping child."
~Author Unknown

"If you are a thief, quit stealing. Be honest and work hard, so you will have something to give to people in need."
~Ephesians 4:28

       

Monday, August 13, 2012

SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGES

"You know the commandment which says, 'Be faithful in marriage.' But I tell you if you look at another woman and want her, you are already unfaithful in your thoughts." 
~Matthew 5:27-28, Contemporary English Version

I'll be honest. This topic scares me. I have heard the statistics and they are staggering. I choose not to share them. Because frankly, I am hoping they are flat out wrong. At the same time, I don't want to turn a blind eye and pretend my marriage is immune. I have to be real. We are human; we are all capable. The minute we deny this, we let down our guards and weaken our defense. Just saying.

Especially when we look at the rather harsh words Jesus spoke on the subject. He says if you so much as look at another person and want her (or him...he is speaking to both genders here), you are already guilty of being unfaithful. Before we throw our arms up in despair over such high expectations, let's think about his motive in saying this.

First of all, I don't believe this was intended to rob us of fun and pleasure. Afterall, he wired us to have physical desires. In truth, this longing for intimacy is a gift. But he sees a bigger picture, and he wants to protect us and our marriages. He knows it all begins in our thought life. If we desire someone other than our spouse, we have already taken the first step. And once we make that first step, we place ourselves on a very slippery slope. What's more, he sees the casualties if we continue down that path, and he wants to shield the innocent parties too.

My husband needs to be my biggest priority after God. It's that simple. Doing what I can to nurture our marriage and bless my hubby is my biggest calling. It's not always easy. In fact, some days it's close to impossible. But I have to consciously make the choice everyday to love my husband...to aim my affections towards him and him alone...even in my thought life.

The more I study it, the more I see this seventh Commandment as a beautiful gift sent from a loving Father who wants to protect us from...well...ourselves. He is not a killjoy. Just the opposite! He designed us for intimacy. But all desires need boundaries.

A healthy marriage is my number one priority. And I must say, there is NOTHING sexier than a faithful spouse.

"Success in God's kingdom is loving God, loving one another, and being faithful to what He's called us to do."
~Gabriel Wilson

"Faithfulness is not doing something right once but doing something right over and over and over and over."
~Joyce Meyer
               

FAITHFUL

"You should be faithful to your wife, just as you take water from your own well. And don't be like a stream from which just any woman may take a drink. Save yourself for your wife and don't have sex with other women. Be happy with the wife you married when you were young." 
~Proverbs 5:15-18 Contemporary English Version

This is such a tender subject, Lord. Help me to navigate through it in a way that honors you and benefits the reader. May the words that follow resonate with your steadfast love and faithfulness.

As straightforward as the seventh Commandment is, "Be faithful in marriage," there must be countless blind spots we stumble across after we say, "I do". Why else would there be so many marriages dealing with the after effects of infidelity?

Before I continue, let me just say there is forgiveness and healing available if you are walking the rugged road of adultery. Whether you were the wanderer or the one with a spouse who has strayed, you don't have to remain in the grip of the emotional fallout forever. I hope you will seek help and find the healing that will empower you to move on. If you are in the midst of an affair, whether physical or emotional, I hope you will make the choice to walk away from it. Now! Close the door and bolt it shut. If you are considering looking for intimacy outside of your marriage, I pray you will see this as a huge red flag waving a loving warning. You have no way of knowing the painful consequences of the actions you are considering, and the rippling effects it will have.

My heart goes out to those who are wrestling with this toxic issue. Jesus felt the same way. If you doubt this, read for yourself ~ "The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, 'Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?' ...Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, 'The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.' Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt. Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. 'Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?' 'No one, Master.' 'Neither do I,' said Jesus. 'Go on your way. From now on, don't sin.'" (John Chapter 8, The Message)

I love this passage! To me, this is our Lord at one of his finest moments; certainly, one of his most loving. Here is a common woman who has been caught in the act. What does he do? First, he protects her. Next, he puts her sin in its context with those who thought they were superior to her. But the part that is most tender to me, is when he bends down and begins to write in the dirt with his hand. I am sure there is more than meets the eye of this reader. But I am so touched by the way he gets down into the dirt and connects with this woman that society deemed stoneable. When her accusers disperse, he doesn't get up and walk away as well. He stays and makes it clear that he doesn't condemn her. He just wants her to make better choices.

Regardless of where we've been, what we've done, and what we've been through, I believe it's possible to have good marriages...even great ones. I also believe it's what God wants for us. I hope you will come along as I explore ways to honor and protect our most sacred relationships.

"You cannot see faith, but you can see the footprints of the faithful. We must leave behind 'faithful footprints' for others to follow."
~Dr. Dennis Anderson



             

Saturday, August 11, 2012

WITH THIS RING

"Be faithful in marriage." ~Exodus 20:14, Contemporary English Version

It's just a ring...something to wear in place of my wedding band while my finger heals. Four very long weeks ago, I fell and broke my ring finger. As hard as I try, my rings won't make it past my enlarged knuckle. It's been naked ever since. Well, not completely naked. I have tape wrapped around it to hold it in place to prevent further damage.  

There have been a couple of other times when I went through a season of "no wedding rings"; when I was pregnant, and when I had to take steroids for a hip condition. Both times, my swollen fingers left me no choice but to put my rings away for a while. I didn't like it then. I dislike it even more now.

I remember the message our pastor gave about our rings and their significance during our wedding service. He encouraged us to think about our vows everytime we looked down at our rings, and remember the sacred promises we made during their exchange. They were to be our daily reminder that we belonged solely to one another...for better or worse...for as long as we live.

Today my husband bought me a new ring. It's nothing fancy. In fact, if I told you how much it cost, you might scoff at the paltry price tag and deem it unacceptable for a wedding band. But the ring itself isn't what matters. It's what the ring represents, and the daily reminder that I am my husband's and no one else's.

The seventh Commandment is such a personal, delicate, and sometimes painful subject. I want to tread carefully and respectfully. I also want to dig a bit deeply into it. Many are carrying wounds that infidelity inflicted. For their sake as well as my own, I don't want to gloss over something so intensely significant. I hope you will join me as I walk gently into this topic. May we all be blessed, built up, and encouraged as we explore what it means to "Be faithful in marriage."

"I choose faithfulness...Today I will keep my promises." ~Max Lucado

"I am not called to be successful. I am called to be faithful." ~Mother Teresa

             

Thursday, August 9, 2012

STICKS AND STONES

"You're familiar with the command to the ancients, 'Do not murder.' I'm telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly calling a brother 'Idiot!' and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell 'Stupid!' at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill."
~Jesus, Matthew 5:21-22, The Message

My husband had made me so angry, I was seething. My heart was racing, and I literally trembled with emotion. The words that spewed out of my mouth felt like hot gravel as they hit the air. And once they were spoken, there was no taking them back. I was so upset with myself. I knew better than to add fuel to the fire by speaking out of heated emotions. I'd like to blame those pesky hormones, but I doubt it would hold up in any court on earth or in heaven.

The air between us hung heavy for days. We were both coping with the incident in our own way. The hardest part for me wasn't the act that had led to my outburst. It was my hateful words that clung to me like a thick fog. With time, we both recovered. But I still shudder when I think back to that night.

In the past, it's been easy to breeze over the sixth Commandment, "Do not murder". Of course I know it is wrong to kill someone. But when I read what Jesus had to say about this command, I am able to see there is more than meets the eye...and I am humbled. Being angry enough to lash out at someone qualifies as a guilty verdict. Gulp...

Now I am sweating, and not because it is over one hundred degrees outside. If full blown anger is on a par with the actual act of murder, I am so busted. Sure, I've had the self-control to not act upon my anger in a violent way. But what about controlling my thoughts and my words when my emotions are running strong? Ugh...

Whoever coined the phrase, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me," had it so wrong. You'd have to be made of sticks and stones to not be impacted by hurtful words. In fact, name-calling is a specific example Jesus used of how we break the sixth Commandment.

I can hear the gavel and the jury's verdict ~ GUILTY! But here's the good news; my debt was paid and nailed to that rugged cross. I don't have to remain imprisoned by guilt and shame because of my careless, hurtful words.

That said, I don't want to continue to repeat the same unhealthy attitudes and behavior either. I have to make it a priority to let go of my "right" to be angry. That means choosing to clothe myself with love and acceptance, putting others before myself. This doesn't come easily for me. But it certainly won't happen if I don't aim for it, day by day, even minute by minute. Forgiveness is key. Without it, I don't stand a chance of honoring this Commandment.

The icing on the cake is how much healthier and happier I will be if I can master the art of living at peace with the people in my life. Anger is a powerful emotion that can influence us to do things we never dreamed we were capable of doing. I don't want this volatile emotion controlling me, so I release it. I think I have a chance at keeping this Commandment if I make it a daily priority to put God and others before myself. One thing is for sure...now that I have written about it, I am going to be tested. Lord, help me remember the words of Marcus Antonius, "Consider how much more you often suffer from your anger and grief, then from those very things for which you are angry and grieved." Amen!

"Watch your thoughts;
they become words.
Watch your words;
they become actions.
Watch your actions; 
they become habits.
Watch your habits;
they become character.
Watch your character;
it becomes your destiny."
~Frank Outlaw

"While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart."
~Saint Francis of Assisi

         

GROWING OLDER

"Old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read." ~Francis Bacon

I have always been drawn to old houses and antiques. Even when I was a child living in a contemporary sixties home, my heart would wander to the stately old estates that graced the streets of our quaint little town. Though I'd never lived in one, those homes from the past spoke to me. I tried to picture them back in the era when they were built, surrounded by orange groves and indigenous terrain. I'd imagine their inhabitants, dressed so differently than me, and wondered what their lives were like in comparison to mine. How I wished I could turn back the clock to revisit the years I was sure I was meant to live in.

When I became an adult, I dreamed about creating a life that resembled a simpler time in history. I even embraced the notion of living without the appliances I rely on today. But life often takes us down different roads than where our dreams venture to go. I don't have the lifestyle of a woman living one hundred years ago. That's okay. Our home is from that era, and for me, that is enough. And I am surrounded by houses that were built around the turn of the century, even earlier. My daily walks through our neighborhood are like a stroll into the past. I have my favorites, and I often visualize them when they were first built. One house in particular has tugged on my heartstrings for years. To my delight, an estate sale this past weekend allowed me to tour each room, still in its original condition, and for the most part, beautifully maintained. For those few minutes, I got to go back to the 1880s and experience a taste of history.

Today I found myself forming critical thoughts about my aging body. I chided myself for not looking the way I did ten years ago. Why wasn't I being more conscientious about my skin...my muscle tone...my weight? Then it hit me. I love old things! Why am I trying to hold onto my youth? The "old" holds so much intrigue, wisdom, depth, and beauty. It's time to start celebrating the gift of growing older, and embrace the treasures that come only with age.

"When grace is joined with wrinkles, it is adorable. There is an unspeakable dawn in a happy old age."
~Victor Hugo

"There is always a lot to be thankful for, if you take the time to look. For example, I'm sitting here thinking how nice it is that wrinkles don't hurt." 
~Author Unknown

"Like a lot of fellows around here, I have a furniture problem. My chest has fallen into my drawers."
~Billy Casper

"Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been."
~Mark Twain

"Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many."
~Author Unknown          

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

RESTORING HONOR

"Honor your father and mother so that you'll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you." ~Exodus 20:12, The Message

"The thing that impresses me most about America is the way parents obey their children." I wonder what the Duke of Windsor would say today, over a half a century after he spoke these words. It seems we've managed to take this fifth Commandment and turn it upside down. Let me be the first to say I fell so short as a kid when it came to honoring my parents. I admit it ~ I was the one who kept my mom up at night worrying. Any gray hairs or wrinkles she acquired during those years have my signature written all over them. I am mortified when I think back to some of the cruel things I said to her face, and the blatant disrespect I showed her throughout my teen years. I'm still apologizing to this day!

Looking around, I see how things have shifted even more in our society since I was  a kid. It's not just disrespect we are dealing with; many kids and young adults are wearing the garment of entitlement. And for some reason, it's okay with the parents. In fact, in many homes the parents are jumping through hoops to honor their kids. "Honor your father and mother" seems to have been replaced with "honor your sons and daughters". But at what cost? This Commandment is the only one that is followed with a "promise" ~ to live a long time in the land God has given us. And this is what scares me.

Have we unknowingly removed a blessing by allowing our kids to grow up without expecting and teaching them to honor their parents? What is it going to be like for them as they bring children of their own into the world? Perhaps this is, in part, why so many young adults are making the decision to remain childless. But this is merely speculation.

I have to take a closer look at how this Commandment speaks to me personally ~ today...post child-rearing...with parents who are still very much alive. There are so many ways I can honor my mom, my stepdad, and my in-laws. What's more, I am seeing what a privilege and HONOR it is. I want to make the most of this sweet season, whether it's sitting down for a visit over lunch...keeping them company at a doctor's appointment...or offering to help around their homes.

It is abundantly clear to me that our parents belong way up on my list of priorities. And that's a good thing. Honoring our parents was never intended to be a burden. Quite the opposite, I think. The benefits and the blessings are far-reaching ~ in all generations, including those to come. I do believe we can restore this Commandment that has been turned upside down. But we have to make up our minds to do it, and it all begins with honoring the generation that came before us...and teaching our kids to do the same.

"A child who is allowed to be disrespectful to his parents will not have true respect for anyone." ~Billy Graham

"Children, do what your parents tell you. This is only right. 'Honor your father and mother' is the first commandment that has a promise attached to it, namely, 'so you will live well and have a long life'." 
~Ephesians 6:1-3, The Message          

   

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

RUNNING ON EMPTY?

"Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy."
~Exodus 20:8-11

As the wordiest of the Ten Commandments, this one gets my attention. In spite of its length, I find so little written about the subject. To be honest, I never used to give the Sabbath much thought. In our hurry-scurry society it seemed outdated. I kept it filed under "Old Testament...no longer applies". It didn't occur to me that God may want me to honor the Sabbath. I certainly had no idea that there were hidden blessings awaiting me if I heeded this fourth Commandment. So I ignored it. And I allowed soccer games...homework assignments...grocery shopping...you name it...to put to rest any thoughts about the Sabbath.

I had no idea I was cheating myself in the process. And in cheating myself, the people closest to me were paying a price, too. I kept myself in a perpetual cycle of "doing". Who has time to take a whole day off, I reasoned. What about the dishes? The laundry? That project for work? The errands? My list of excuses was long...very long.

God really does know best. It's taken me a long time to grasp this where the Sabbath is concerned. But I am starting to get it. This isn't meant to be some legalistic requirement designed to control me and how I spend my time. God wants us to keep the Sabbath holy because he knows how we are wired. Afterall, he designed and created us. He knows we are at our best when we take a day each week for rest, renewal, and spiritual recharging. He beckons us to plug into our ultimate power source and vamp up for the week ahead. He knows if we don't, we risk running on an empty tank ~ physically, mentally, spiritually. "Come away with me and rest," he calls to us. Shift the focus from "doing" and remember we are human "beings".

Why have I resisted this for so long? Especially given the fact that I am a kick-back, feet up, slow-pace, nap-loving kind of girl. "Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength...It is wisdom to take occasional furough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less," penned Charles Spurgeon. It's finally sinking in.

Sometimes my Sabbath is a Friday. Sometimes it's a Saturday or Sunday. Whatever day it falls on, it has become my favorite day of the week. But I have to keep it real. I am not submitting myself to a list of "Don't"s. Instead, I am slowing down. My Sabbath day is quieter, more reflective, and restful. I cannot begin to share in this entry all the blessings I am receiving in the process. My page would evolve into a chapter...or a book. But I will say that it's helped me to get my priorities in order, and energized me to fulfill my God given purpose with passion, and even a smile.

"He loves to see me contented, quiet, at rest, and relaxed. He delights to know my soul and spirit have been refreshed and satisfied."
~Phillip Keller

"Rest is a matter of wisdom, not law."
~Woodrow Kroll            

Friday, August 3, 2012

WEIGHTY WORDS

"No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won't put up with irreverent use of His name." ~Exodus 20:7, The Message

Nothing gets my goat like seeing protestors picketing the funerals of fallen servicemen and women, claiming that God hates "killers". Another horrific misrepresentation are those who do the same thing targeting homosexuals. My tendency has been to apply this third Commandment to cursing using God's name. But I don't think it gets more profane or offensive than misusing His name as a link to these false doctrines. C. Michael Patton put it well, " Using the name of the Lord in vain means that you do damage to His reputation and character through false and unsure claims." I couldn't agree more.

But this third Commandment is multi-dimensional. After spending most of the day yesterday studying it carefully, I can only share from my heart what hit home. My first example of breaking this Commandment was a bit easier, as I was focusing on others. Now, it gets more personal.

The last thing I want to do is speak in a way that dishonors or misrepresents God. But that's easier "said" than done. I need to be more careful when I open my mouth. For example, I would like to finally put to rest my knee-jerk reaction to use certain choice words when I stub a toe...or get so angry I could scream. The habit of swearing I developed during my college years is a tough one to break...even thirty years later!

But there's more. I think back on times when I shared something I felt strongly was a message from God, wording it as if His voice was as audible as my own. No, I don't have a phone number or email address that puts me through to the throne of God. The way God communicates with me is not a written message etched in stone like the Ten Commandments. I need to be more careful how I share my personal experiences. I don't want to risk misrepresenting Him in the process. A more appropriate lead-in would be, "Today I sensed that God was saying...", or "I believe God was telling me that...".

Finally, and maybe most importantly, I want to grab hold of a deeper reverence toward Almighty God that I, for one, have been lacking. It's so easy to treat Him casually, like a buddy or a pal. But He is SO much more. And I wonder the rippling effect it has when I fail to pay Him the respect and honor He deserves. John Piper said, "God, Christ, the cross, the things he is and the things he did are great, and they're weighty. And there's a certain corresponding demeanor of worship that should be there." I agree. I believe that pondering this third Commandment is a critical stepping stone in my journey toward a life lived with more purpose and passion.

"People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brother and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can't draw fresh water from a salty spring." 
~James 3: 7-12

      

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

THIS AMERICAN'S IDOLS

"You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods." 
~Exodus 20: 4, 5

Let me get one thing straight before I approach this delicate subject. I do not presume to know what does and does not qualify as an idol, especially in the lives of other people. That is strictly God's territory. What a relief to know it's not my place to pass judgment!

But it is my responsibility to be open and receptive when I sense God is revealing an idol in my own life. And believe me, I have had my share. So why is idolatry such an affront to Him? And what does He mean when He says He's a jealous God?

I can only think of it in terms of my marriage, my one frame of reference. I want my spouse to have eyes for me and me only. It would injure me deeply if I were to find out otherwise. If I saw my husband looking at another woman the way he looks at me, you can bet your bottom dollar I'd be jealous...and very angry!

God's love and devotion toward us run so much deeper than what we experience in our marriages. Marriage is the closest we can come to true intimacy while journeying on this earth. But I am convinced it is merely a foreshadowing of what we will experience with the One who created us.

So, what is an idol? My dictionary app says it's "an image of a deity other than God". John Calvin believed, "Everyone of us is, even from his mother's womb, a master craftsman of idols." I think that's true. We are all very skilled and talented when it comes to carving out our own idols. Over the years, some of my idols have been forms of entertainment...hobbies...even ME~MYSELF~and I. In and of themselves, they aren't bad. But when they begin to hold too much importance, they get exalted to where only God should be. And I, His unfaithful bride, need to make things right.

I don't know about you, but it would be very difficult for me to stay married to someone I couldn't trust, someone who was constantly stirring up feelings of jealousy. If my husband had a pattern of unfaithfulness, I don't think our marriage would stand the test of time. And it's certainly not the picture I want to paint in my relationship with God. He is ever faithful to me, and I long to be the same with Him.

I have to ask myself the hard questions. Am I controlling my tendency toward idolatry? Am I willing to put down the tools that I use to carve these images, and walk away from the things that divide my heart? Or am I allowing idols to control me? This is my challenge as I focus on God's second Commandment.

"Whatever controls us is our lord. The person who seeks power is controlled by power. The person who seeks acceptance is controlled by acceptance. We do not control ourselves. We are controlled by the lord of our lives." 
~Rebecca Manley Pippert