Friday, December 30, 2011

A Challenge for the New Year

It was rainy and miserable outside yesterday so I decided to stay inside and write. My first thought was to work on my women's study for January - I know, way ahead of myself! Since I woke up with a working title, I decided to search previous studies to see if I had used something similar the previous year, and there it was. It was already written in powerpoint form, basic skeletal outline. I remembered that last year's January meeting had to be cancelled due to illness and I had never finished the study. In just a short time, I was able to complete it, add the appropriate verses, and even put together the fill-in sheet that I use with the ladies while I'm teaching it. The whole thing came together in a flash and I really enjoyed doing it.
I guess that's how it is with God's promptings. If we follow through with what He wants us to do, it is satisfying and energizing. Sometimes it takes hard work, long hours, research, or just uninterrupted focus, but the end result is worth the trouble. God always gives us what we need to do the job He has designed for us.
So why do we drag our feet and procrastinate? The biggest answers are probably time and insecurity. We are so rushed and hassled all the time, with 100 things to do in the amount of time to do only 10. We have become experts at juggling - work, family, obligations, friends, church,...and with so many "balls in the air" we can't easily stop to focus on just one.
The other big brick wall is our own insecurity. We doubt our giftings and always assume that someone has either already done what we're thinking of doing and did it better or that it is a silly idea to pursue. We may have even tried to do it once before and failed so we slammed the door and locked it tight! We defeat ourselves before we even begin!
So I want to end this year and begin the next year with a challenge:
Step 1 is to pray, fast, get counsel, or do all 3 in order to find out what it is exactly that God wants you to do. Don't be afraid to risk doing something completely new but be realistic about your abilities. If you are tone-deaf, without a miracle of God you probably aren't being called to sing on a worship team, but you may have talent to play an instrument! Think creatively! What are your passions? What do you Love? Don't box yourself in with your current limitations. Life without challenge is mundane and monotonous!
Step 2 is to evaluate what you need to do to get busy doing it. Do you need to take a class, read a book, contact an expert, practice...If God has put it in your heart, then you already have the desire to do it but you may need to sharpen your skills in order to be efficient and successful.
Step 3 is to find an outlet to use your gift. I love writing Bible studies and have the perfect outlet to present them, since I'm a pastor's wife and in charge of our women's ministry. Look around and see where your gifts and talents can be used. A lady with a love for flowers can provide arrangements for the sanctuary. A woman who loves to teach children should jump in to Sunday School. A person who loves to bake or cook can provide meals or treats for a variety of ministries.  Singers and musicians are always needed on worship teams. A woman with an ability to listen and comfort can make arrangements to meet those who are struggling in order to let them vent, while giving them encouragement and hope. It doesn't have to be "platform worthy" in order to be ministry. Find a slot and plug in!
Step 4 is to continue to do it. Practice doesn't insure perfection but it aids in proficiency and time efficiency! Don't give up if it's hard at first. Don't listen to discouraging voices. Don't be too judgmental about your initial attempts or even early failures. Everyone started at square one, and some of us started there more than once! Find at least one person who will give you honest feedback and support your efforts. Then just give it time, faithfulness and your best effort, and soon others will benefit from your passion.
Take my challenge!  What is it that God has put on your heart to do? Will you offer it back to Him as an act of sacrifice and obedience? I know I am on course to do just that!  God bless us in 2012 with His grace and the desire (and the persistence) to do His will! (Phil. 2:13)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It's Not What We Say...

Today would have been my Uncle Bob's 88th birthday. Reading the posts from his family got my mind stirred up about several things, but the one verse that jumped out at me was "Think on these things". The Srack family, of which my mother and Uncle Bob were both members, did not waste words. Although you usually knew exactly what they thought, they didn't ramble on and on about things once you knew how they felt about the subject, whatever that subject was.  They were thinkers and doers.  They proved their love by demonstrating it in a multitude of ways.
The core values that guided their thinking and doing were those things which Christ taught that all Christians should reflect in our lives. Loyalty is the first thing that comes to mind. It was an unspeakable gift to know that no matter what mistakes I made or how badly I failed, there was never anything I could ever do that would cause them to "throw me away" or disown me. I had the safety net of love that always held strong no matter the storm. I could disappoint them or even make them mad, but their love always rose up to pour grace over the situation and Me! And that same loyalty extended to friends, family members, the church, & their beliefs. I never saw even a momentary turning away, even in some fairly hurtful situations. Their loyalty wasn't affected by the other party's reaction or responses because it was just part of who they were!
Integrity was also an unquestioned guiding factor in every decision. "It's the right thing to do" was not just something they said, but how they lived. It amazes me that the world makes a big deal out of someone who returns lost money in order to show his children a good example. The fact that a right decision is newsworthy just shows how easily we've adopted compromise. There was never "gray thinking" in my heritage- it was right or it was wrong. In fact, long before it became a slogan Grandma Srack and I were talking about a decision I needed to make and she responded "Well, what would Jesus do?"  It didn't matter if no one would find out, or if it was the hard road. If it was right, it was right. End of discussion! No ifs, ands, or buts!
Faithfulness is the third value that was at the top of the scale. Faithfulness was demonstrated in providing, in church volunteering and serving, and in giving. If you took a job, you finished it. If you struggled, you shook it off and kept putting one foot in front of the other until you overcame. If things were hard, you worked harder. No whining, no complaining, no rationalizing, no blaming anyone else...just faithful follow through no matter the obstacle or circumstance. My husband often laughs and says I'm one of the most stubborn people he's ever met...and he's probably right. Once we "Sracks" make a decision, it's made and few interventions can sway us!  I see that as a positive!! I judge, I weigh, I decide, I stand! It's that "stubbornness" that has helped me through many of life's battles & storms, so that's my way and I'm sticking to it! In fact, I have a quote in my Bible that says "Faithfulness is sticking to the job after the shine wears off". That about sums it up!
While there are many other core values that I could include, the ones I've just mentioned would be my top 3. And if you're wondering why I didn't include LOVE, look again - because loyalty, faithfulness, and integrity are building blocks that make love more than just a word. Unless you live right and act right, love is no more than a "clanging cymbal"!  If you don't believe me, check out I Corinthians 13!
God bless you!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Keeping Christmas Cheer

I recently called my best friends and asked if they were praying that God would give me patience.  It's been that kind of week. Dan was sick last Sunday so I had to bring a Word from God, which He had already placed in my heart. Not a problem. On the way to church, a phone call tells me that our worship leader is home throwing up with a migrain. Ok, I can handle this...we'll just spend the time sharing or praying for each other. Arrive at church to find the person who takes the kids out for me is MIA. Well, I'll find a cute coloring page and they can just color it, read the story and then play. It will be fine.  Pass out the bulletins, only to realize that the notes I carefully edited and organized were not there and instead blank pages stared at the church family.  Ok, God, this is getting ridiculous. If you have ever been in a small church or pastored one, you realize the domino effect of one person's absence, let alone the whole ministry team! Well, somehow we made it through the service and I drove home, only to remember that first thing Monday I had jury duty.  Perfect.

No matter how good our intentions or how perfectly we may have things lined up, life happens. In those times, we can crawl back under the covers and whine (not an option for me) or do what I tell my student teachers to do  -  PUNT!  Regardless of what happens, there is always a choice that we are called to make and it has to do with our attitudes. During this holiday season, things will be crazy and surely won't all go according to plan...that's just how it is. So here's a little acronym to help you choose contentment over crankiness, no matter what crashes your party: CHEER!
C - Choose to celebrate.  Life isn't about activities or things. Life is relationships. Plan to be with loved ones and friends as much as you can and just enjoy the time. You never know who may be missing from the table next year. If they're far away, try Skype or FB. Write a letter. Call them and talk. A friendly chat does wonders to bring you back to normal when things are crazy. And you just might be able to spread some cheer of your own, even if it's just offering a sanity -break.
H - Help someone else.  There are always others who are in need and finding someone else to focus your pent up energies on is a great way to defuse!  Do dishes, offer babysitting, wrap presents, run an errand...busy moms and hostesses always have a laundry list of a million chores. Find a way to help someone else - and even if you're that busy mom or hostess, take a little time and help someone else. Don't worry, your list will still be'll just have fresh energy & motivation to get back to it.
E - Eliminate perfectionism. I know women who work so hard at making everything perfect that they can't relax until the event is over. Believe me, your guests would rather see a little dust on the baseboards than to feel your stress. Take a breath, ignore the minor things that your family and friends won't notice anyway, and join in the party. If someone is really going to check the top of your refrigerator for dust, you need to liven up the activities!! (or hand them a dust rag :) Life is too short to worry that much about the incidentals!!
E - Energize your body, soul, and spirit.  In the midst of all the chaos, don't ignore YOURSELF.  Be sure to fuel up your body by eating correctly & getting enough sleep, your soul by de-stressing and enjoying others (see letter C) and your spirit by reading the Word  and praying. Nothing will put you in the duldroms faster than tiredness. You might finish all your appointed tasks, but you won't be able to have fun if you're dragging and depleted.
R - Remember what the important things are - celebrating Christ's birthday, giving to and for others, rekindling relationships, showing love in a variety of ways (yes, that includes cooking, cleaning, and baking!), and allowing God to refresh your passion to go forward with His work in the coming New Year!!
Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Sweetness of Serenity

Christmas is time for singing, celebrating, and enjoying the excitement. It is a time of chaotic shopping, messy but memorable gatherings, and frantic festivities. While it seems to be so full of activity that there is barely time to breathe, there are some sweet times tucked in between that revive, refresh, and renew us! Those are the "stop and smell the Christmas tree" moments where for a few short minutes we catch our breath, grab a cup of hot chocolate, and sit.  While those times are rare in this rushed and racing season, they are so necessary, not only for sanity's sake but for your spiritual, mental and emotional health!

The shepherds in the hills of Bethlehem had just received an angelic pronouncement of the greatest event ever to occur - the birth of the One who would save the world!  They immediately left their flocks and ran into town to see this babe, not to bring gifts or sing "The Hallelujah Chorus", but just to see Him.  While the Bible doesn't tell us what they did, I can imagine that they did what we all do in the presence of new babies - they just stood and stared at this tiny bundle and his parents. The excited exclamations and "sharing of the good tidings" came afterwards. First it was a time to just stop & soak it all in!

The Magi did the same thing. After traveling for a long time and distance, the Bible records that they arrived at the house where the young child was and once in His presence they fell on their knees and worshipped Him. While I'm sure their presence in town caused quite a stir, when they saw Jesus, they reacted by showing Him honor and bowing down in humility. They presented their gifts and then started their journey home. It was enough for them that they saw Him...their hearts were full!

And Mary's reaction to all this - the Bible says she kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. I love that! I am a heart person - I ponder many times when I could react, but it's in the stillness of my heart that the sweetness of life becomes the sentimental memories that are with me long after the "event" is over! 

There is comfort found in quietness. While I enjoy the gatherings, activities, and fellowship, I relish those calm, peace-filled moments in the evenings, coffee in hand, where the music is soft, the fire is the only light, and the house is still. Those times are spent reflecting on loved ones now gone, Christmas gatherings of years past, hopes for years to come, and memorable moments with family and friends.They are like a great big hug from God, and remind me of His many blessings! They fill my heart with love and peace as I sit in silent reflection.The Bible says "Be still and know that I am God." It's in the stillness that we go from head knowledge to heart adoration. Our mental assent becomes life-changing and our experiences with God get rooted down deep in our spirits.  It's in the reflecting and remembering that God's miracles and constant attention become more than events - they become part of who we are. I'm sure that's why so many times in the Old Testament God told His people to build altars and erect memorials. Those things nurture us and cause our "like" to turn to love. They shelter us in hard times, hold us in sad times, and rejoice with us in our celebrations! They remind us of what the season is really about! They are the things we must pass on to our children and grandchildren - the love, caring, and faithfulness of God now "paid forward" to them!

So in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the season, take time to sit in stillness. Worship God for who He is, not just what He does, & reflect on His goodness - both past memories and present blessings! You will feel a sweet freshness flow through your heart that remains long after the trappings of the season are put away for next year!   

Friday, December 2, 2011

More than dusty boxes...

Have you ever noticed how it's the little things in life that have such great significance attached?  It's the first of December, so of course I had to drag my 15 Christmas boxes down from the attic. As I started going through them, there were so many memories!  The box of Christmas mugs made me smile all over again when I remembered my daughter in law calling me the first year of her marriage to my son, and asking "Mom, what is it with Christmas mugs? Kurto says it's the first sign of Christmas!"  Of course that was a tradition we had of switching out our everyday mugs for Christmas ones, made easy by years of teaching and receiving at least one new mug each year!
Then there was Gamaliel, the bear whose paws had an envelope with $100.00 in it that we were given by "an angel" one year when we had NOTHING. That simple gift was God's reminder that He takes care of us. Within the week, we received over $1000.00 and had one of the best Christmas seasons ever - mostly because we were able to not only give the kids a great time but were able to share with others who had little or nothing!
And of course the ornaments - some were made by Mom and are especially meaningful to me now that she's gone. Some have memories of our kids' childhood days. Some have pictures or sayings with memories of trips or special know what I mean because you probably have them too.
Because I am a heart person, and it's the journey not the end result, the simple task of decorating takes me hours and hours as I go from one memory to the next, and it all serves as a reminder to me that this season is not about the big things - the gifts, the parties, the fancy decorations or the frantic pace of activities surrounding those things. It's about family, and love, and creating memories that will always be there...long after the stress and the chaos are gone. They will last after the boxes are repacked and stored away. They will be in your heart after the expensive gifts are replaced by "the latest and greatest". They will comfort you when you're sad, make you smile when you feel you don't have a reason, and help you through the trying times.They will flood your heart with joy long after the kids are grown and gone - when your house is quieter than you wish it was and you need reminders of those hectic, happy days gone by!  So build memories! It doesn't matter how simple  -- start a special ornament collection, collect Christmas mugs, blast that Christmas music and relish the task of going through the boxes of things you've already accumulated. Let the kids help decorate, even if you have to go back later and move the ornaments higher than 3 feet off the floor. Grab the family and read "The Three Trees" (if you can get through it without crying). Find a copy of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" and watch it - so your family will remember what Christmas is all about!! Make a gingerbread house together...there are a million ways to do it, but Do It! Christmas is time for traditions and memories...if you have them already, take the time to enjoy and add to them. If you don't, start today!! You'll be so glad you did!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More Than Turkey!

Thanksgiving -for me it conjures up images of school projects about pilgrims, Indians, a big feast, & the Mayflower.Then my mind rolls on over to today's Thanksgiving of eating too much from a wonderfully rich and amazing meal, surrounded by relatives that I don't see often enough with the blaring noise of football in the background.

Not bad images - I'm sure lots of people would love to have memories of Thanksgiving that don't involve family fights, heavy drinking, shouting matches, or other sad or lonely recollections. I'm blessed... no doubt about it.

But much of Thanksgiving's essence has been forgotten. Thanksgiving was begun as a 3-day party to say thanks to friends who helped the Pilgrims make it through the trial of learning how to survive in a new environment. It was a time to make and strengthen friendships. It was also a time of being Thankful to God, their Creator, Savior, and Provider. It was time to worship as they believed they should, in their own ways!  They celebrated their bountiful harvest by sharing with each other.  They also celebrated the fact that so many of them had survived the trip across the ocean with all its hardships and diseases. It was a time to remember those who had been lost. Winter just about wiped them out...but spring had come just in time and God provided a teacher named Squanto to show them the ropes of surviving in this new wilderness. (These pilgrim city slickers needed all the help they could get!) So they celebrated their new life in this amazing land!

So, in keeping the tradition of Thanksgiving alive, be sure this Thanksgiving you take time out to say Thanks:
To God who has provided every good and perfect gift- both your eternal life and a life full of blessings here and now
To family (biological or chosen) who have supported you through life's tough times and loved you in spite of your faults
To friends, without whom life would be a lonely adventure
And for life itself, with its lessons & tests. Remember those who have influenced you by passing their life lessons on to you. Remember those who you have loved and lost, and honor their memory by loving those God sends your way. And don't neglect to forgive those who have harmed you or hurt you in some way, just as God has forgiven YOU.  Let Thanksgiving be a new beginning in your life!

While every day should be a day of Thanksgiving,  remember at least on this one special day to say Thanks - even if you have to do it at halftime between second and third helpings of your favorite indulgences!!


Monday, November 21, 2011

A New Look at Thankfulness

Although the florist was just a few blocks away, I had to will myself to trudge down the street. It had not been a good year; in fact it had been a while since it had really been a good year. It seemed that everything that could go wrong had! And now it was time to prepare for Thanksgiving. “Thankful for what?” I thought as I continued to make my way toward the florist.

Fall used to be my favorite time of the year - until it became the season when both of my parents passed away. A recent move had taken me away from the friends and family I have known and loved all my life. Financial hardship, pressure at work, and bouts of extreme loneliness made me feel as though my world was collapsing around me. To make matters worse, no one would be able to be here this year to spend the holidays with us. It certainly wouldn’t be much fun to do all the seasonal preparations knowing that there wouldn’t be family or close friends to share the season with. Prospects for a happy holiday seemed as distant as the California beaches I grew up near!

As I reached the florist, I opened the door to find a smiling woman behind the counter. “A regular Pollyanna” I thought. “I’m glad Someone is able to be happy!” 

“Good morning“, the clerk said. “What can I do for you this beautiful morning?”

“I need a Thanksgiving arrangement,” I said. “It doesn’t need to be very large because it’s just the 2 of us this year.”

Just at that moment, a harried mom with three toddlers crashed through the door. “Good morning, Sally” the mom said. “Just running in to pick up my order!”  “Be right back,” Sally said. She disappeared into the back room and reappeared with a box of roses - the strange thing was that the roses had no blossoms.  Sally smiled as she handed the box to the mom. “Special as always” the mom said as she handed Sally the money for her “arrangement”. “Have a great Thanksgiving and I’ll see you before Christmas!” And with that, she and her kids headed out the door.

“Uh, what kind of arrangement was that? She paid for roses with no blooms? What kind of florist is this?”

“Well,” Sally said. “It’s actually…” but before she could finish her sentence, a nicely dressed man walked in. “Just here to pick up the wife’s order” he said with a grin. “Ok, Ken. Be right back!” Sally reemerged again with another florist box - and the same blossomless roses inside! “Thanks, Sally. Happy Thanksgiving! Oh, and ma’am, I highly recommend the Special!” He grinned, turned, and headed out the door.

“You call that the Thanksgiving special?” I stammered. “A bouquet with no blooms? Now I’ve heard everything!”

“Well, you see, a few years ago I was feeling exactly as you are today. My parents had both passed away, my children lived too far away to travel home for the holidays, & we were in financial trouble, unable to go to them. I was as lonely and miserable as I’ve ever been. The holidays loomed ahead like a thick, black cloud. I was anything but thankful! Then God showed me something that I’ll never forget. I was trimming up some roses when He spoke into my heart. He said, “Sally, you’ve always thanked me for the good things I’ve given you but I want you to learn to also thank Me for the thorns. “

“I realized that what He was saying was that while His good gifts are easily seen and appreciated, we often learn much more from the things He allows us to experience that seem hard and harsh. I’ve learned to trust Him and to look for His lessons in everything that comes my way, not just the obvious blessings. Don’t misunderstand me. The hard things are still hard - loneliness, illness, grief, financial struggle; these things are still Thorns, but I’ve learned to give thanks for them just the same. I know that God is in control, that He has my best interest always in His mind, and that He will see me through. It’s not that the thorns have disappeared, it’s just that my attitude towards them has changed. I don’t fear them anymore, and have learned to thank God that He trusts me enough to know that I will let Him help me through whatever comes!”

“Hmm! I think I understand now,” I said. “Since we are supposed to be thankful in every circumstance, and for all things, the thorns remind us that even though painful things happen, we wouldn’t appreciate our blessings as much if life was always just full of Roses!”

“I think you understand perfectly,” Sally said. “It takes both sunshine and rain to make rainbows. And without thorns, roses are too vulnerable to bloom.”

“You have sure given me something new to think about this year,” I said. “I will take one of your Thanksgiving specials…and Happy Thanksgiving, Sally!”

As I walked home, I thought about what Sally had said and silently prayed:
Dear Lord, I have so often thanked You for all of the wonderful blessings You have given me, but I have never thanked You for my thorns. I know that You are always with me and that You shield my life from everything that would truly harm me. You love me enough to let me learn life lessons of trust and courage, and through those things I learn to appreciate Your care & faithfulness. Thank You for the things that are hard and painful. Help me remember, Lord, that You experienced many thorns during your walk on earth, and you endured them all for me, including the crown of thorns You wore on the cross. My thorns are nothing compared to what you have suffered. So I am going to learn to be thankful in spite of my circumstances. Thank you for Sally and her willingness to share this lesson with me. I love you, Lord, and I Thank you, even for my thorns…Amen!

**So... As you go through the Thanksgiving season, remember to thank God for your thorns, for the lessons you have learned or will learn from them, and the experiences with God you will someday be able to share with others. Perhaps you can share some of them around your Thanksgiving table or over coffee with a friend in the coming days. Whenever and however God leads, just remember to thank Him. He is always faithful, always there with you, and always loves you with the purest and most precious love possible.
(Deut.7:9; Jer.31:3; I Thess. 5:18, Ro. 8:28, 38-39)

Happy Thanksgiving! I love you! Jan
***This story was revised and adapted from a story circulating on the internet that was written by George Matheson (I think). Perhaps its message will turn into a tradition in your home! I know it has changed how I view Thanksgiving! God Bless you!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A little reminder...

The 1st Christmas Card of 2011
 Twas 2 months before Christmas, Halloween had just passed,
when all thoughts turned to holidays coming up fast!
The PC Police had taken away
all mention of Christmas - a "religious" holiday.
The children were told by their schools not to sing
about Shepherds and Mangers and Angels and Kings.
It might be offensive, the teachers would say,
& it's now called Winter Break anyway!
It's not  about Christ, or what He came to bring.
(That old fashioned notion is outdated and boring!)
So get busy and write down your long list of "needs"
from the latest high tech toys to designer jeans! 
Black Friday is coming, we must check the deals
& buy all those gifts and pretend they are "steals".
The shoppers will come with their cash, checks and credit,
Pushing & shoving just to get the "right" present.
The Carols we loved and waited to hear
have all been replaced with Santa, Frosty, & reindeer!
The store clerks are frenzied, the crowds rude and rushed,
& the lines are unending, though we complain and fuss!
But Something is changing, there's something quite odd!
Is the only "offender" the true Living God?
While speaking of Christmas remains a "taboo",
other religions' holidays are unanimously approved!
Retailers promote Ramadan and Kwanzaa -  
could it be that the goal's an "anti-Christian" agenda?
If there's protest it's touted as crass bigotry -
  The "enlightened" push Toleration & Di-ver-si-ty!
In both House & Senate, there arose a great clatter
To eliminate Jesus, in all public matters.
The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
The "reason for the season" lost before it got started.
Nativity scenes must remain packed away,
replaced by a Santa, reindeer & a sleigh.
"Church & state" must keep separate, they say
so the courts all mandate that it must be this way...
And we spoke not a word, as they trampled our rights.
We gave in much too quickly, too "Christian" to fight.
So we enjoy 'Winter Break', and the "season of cheer"
but remember the true meaning of this time of year .
Don't give in to pressure. It's still OK
to say MERRY CHRISTMAS, not Happy Holidays !
It is Christ's birthday after all
and though your efforts may seem quite small
this little witness, this change of phrase,  
will be to God as a shout of praise!! 
 "Merry Christmas, friends, & Happy Birthday, Jesus!!"

Friday, November 11, 2011

Not our father's war...

It was another beautiful Sunday in Hawaii, and yet within just a few hours, devastation and chaos would set events in motion that would change thousands of lives forever...Young men, most in their late teens or early twenties, didn't hesitate or plot an escape but proudly and without coaxing signed up to serve - the lines to enlist were long and silent. Within a few short months, many would be dead or missing; many others would be physically or emotionally disabled. Thousands of families would be torn apart by grief and all who had loved ones serving were gripped by the fear of possible loss. The innocence of high school & college days quickly vanished into days filled with responsibilities too weighty for those who were expected to carry them. And yet, there was no whining or protesting. Sacrifice was accepted as the appropriate payment for the continued gift of the freedoms America had come to know. They served without hope of attaining individual glory, but believing that America's way of life was worthy of their lives if it was needed.  Not one came home unchanged.  Those fortunate enough to return physically unscathed still carried the images and memories of war. Though women were often protected from the details, all who served had a brotherhood and bond with all others. Sometimes, there were funny stories that could be exchanged but there was always a seriousness underlying it that was never taken lightly.  It was not just a day of infamy, but a half-decade.  And as we look back, the victory that we as Americans eventually obtained was not always certain.  Without the hand of God, the determination of men, and the fierce belief in the rightness of the cause, all could have been lost. No one who served or lived through those days takes our freedoms for granted. Men, women, & children all paid different prices, but paid dearly.

And now here we are...devastation and chaos reign in America again but of a different type. We have a crisis of economic failure which has been combined with global fears of terrorism and a vacuum in leadership.  Wars on many fronts are being waged - between banks and their customers, between companies and their employees, between citizens and their government. Instead of these things bringing us into a unified fighting machine, we devour each other in greed & fear. Our country is split into factions: the haves and have-nots, the right & the left, the "tolerant" and the bigots, the young and the old. Pride has been replaced with skepticism and patriotism looks back to "the good old days". Families are splintered, children lack parenting, authority of all types is ridiculed, and Biblical values are considered old-fashioned.

We are certainly headed toward the cliff of complacency. America needs to wake up and retrace its steps back to God. His plan for us, as a country and as individuals, is the only one that will bring us the results we are desperately seeking. We need to regroup from our losses, revisit our successes, and rekindle the pride in America and love for each other and for God that will give us something worth living, and if necessary, dying for. We need to honor those who have sacrificed and served by living our best life - not one of compromise and complaining. We need to look outward rather than continuing to focus on ourselves. Only then will we discover that giving is the prerequisite to receiving and that knowing God through a study of His Word is the only path to peace of mind, heart, and spirit. As we do this, we will also find that our only hope for victory in this hour is surrender - surrender of both our gifts and our failings to our Creator who can use them for His glory & designed plan, surrender of our hearts to the One who loved us enough to die for us, and surrender of our lives to the One who can orchestrate each day to fit perfectly into the pattern of His will.  Only then can we hope for God's continued blessing of America!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

And though he was poor, yet he was rich!

He was desperately poor - ripped shirt, worn and frayed pants, trash-worthy shoes, no socks. He had a totally unkempt appearance, with a straggly beard, stringy hair, and smelling of a desperately needed bath. His shopping cart held various "treasures" that were precariously stacked or tied. A threadbare sock tied at his waist would hold the proceeds from today's scrounging for cans and bottles. What he would do with his profits and where he would go would be of little concern to anyone. He was just one of many who crossed paths daily at this center but whose stories remained untold. And yet there was something about his eyes - a kindness that was visible behind the smudges.

This particular day was miserably hot and humid. Everyone was rushing to finish the laborsome task of recycling bottle after bottle.  The machine was not cooperating as it struggled to keep up with the demands placed upon it. The attendant, a man too old for this type of work, hustled from one machine to another, trying to coax them into continuing their task. As he labored and struggled, sweat ran down his face, his back, and his arms. Customers, impatient to be finished, spoke to him in clipped demeaning tones and angrily responded to any small delay. It was a miserable experience for everyone involved.

The homeless man didn't seem upset at all as he pushed bottle after bottle into the recycler. When he had completed his task, he took his receipt and walked into the store. A few minutes later, he emerged with a large orange Gatorade in one hand and his dirty sock in the other. He handed the bottle to the recycling attendant and started to walk away. The attendant began searching his pockets for the cash to give him but the homeless man just turned and smiled. "It's on me today, man" he said as he walked off, pushing his cart and humming to himself.

I could barely choke back the tears.  How many times had I come here to recycle and had never thought to show such kindness to another? This was the Bible in action.  I thought of several passages at once...the widow giving her last cent in service to the Lord, the many exhortations we have to show our love by our actions, the passages about showing favoritism to those who "look right". But the one that struck me the most is in Matthew 25.  Jesus divided His "followers" into sheep and goats by whether or not they fed Him, gave Him a drink, visited Him, clothed Him, welcomed Him and cared for Him when He was sick! It was actions, not words, that made the difference.

The old song says "They will know we are Christians by our love" - works of thoughtfulness and kindness, deeds of selflessness and generosity. Those things shine a light brighter than any testimonies we could share or sermons we could preach. And thanks to that homeless man, that lesson has again be revived in my heart - and now hopefully I've rekindled it in yours too!

*adapted from a story in "Answering the Invitation", a blog by Katchen Weaver (My precious daughter in law)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Twin Spirits & Soul Mates

Baby Anthony was fussy and restless. Nothing we did at that moment seemed to soothe him until we laid him on my daughter's lap next to his twin sister.  Instantly, he calmed and visibly relaxed. It was amazing to watch. They weren't facing each other and didn't even seem to see each other, but the change was dramatic and instant. My daughter looked at me and smiled - "It's a twins thing, I guess" she said.

Though not in the physical sense, I have a spiritual "twin" like that. If you have a true friend, a soul mate, you know exactly what I mean. No matter what upsets we are facing, what tragedies loom, even what irritations surface to throw us off, true friends calm and comfort us just with their presence. Words are unnecessary, especially in the darkest of times, because they just "know", and that knowing brings a sense of peace which needs no explanation. They know that we know, but they give us our needed space during the immediate crash. Soul mates don't spout judgments or trivialize our pain with platitudes. They don't abandon us because of their own lack of words, either. Instead, they lift us up, encourage us, & strengthen us just by being there.

The other priceless gift they offer is that they let us spew our fear-filled, negative, sometimes irrational thoughts without interjecting, correcting, or one-upping us with their own stories. They listen with their hearts! When appropriate, they may give us new perspectives, remind us of familiar truths, or help us see the bigger picture when we're focused on our molehill but they wait until the initial emotional crisis has calmed. Their patient silence is truly golden!

 Because we can rest in the security of that kind of love, we know that even if the problems don't go away, someone is there that truly "has our back" through it all. Someone knows, someone cares, and someone shows it with their faithfulness and love.

I am blessed to have soul-mates who have proven themselves through time and circumstance. But I also have a relationship with the ultimate soul-mate - my God. He knows me intimately, not only my thoughts but every circumstance of my past, present and future. He wrote them all down before I was born and orders them for my good! As wonderful as my earthly soul mates are, there are few times when they can actually change my circumstances...but God can do just that!  He has the power, the authority, and the desire to orchestrate my life to be what He wants me to be! He also cares - He gave the ultimate gift of His Son's life in order to save me, so what would He hold back?  And He is faithful in love. He will never leave me, even when I push Him away, because His love is stronger that my pain.

I hope you have soul-mates: both physical ones that you have found true, and the ultimate One who has loved you before you were ever aware of Him - your Creator!  If you know Him, be sure you keep that relationship strong. If you don't know Him yet, He's right there waiting for you to reach out and find Him. You won't regret it!


Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Law of the Garbage Truck

      One day I hopped in a taxi, and we took off for the airport.
We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a black car jumped out of
a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes,
skidded, and missed the other car by just inches! The driver of the other car
whipped his head around and started yelling at us. My taxi driver just smiled and
waved at the guy. And I mean, he was really friendly.

     So I asked, 'Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined
your car and sent us to the hospital!' This is when my taxi driver taught me
what I now call, 'The Law of the Garbage Truck.' He explained that many people
are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration,
full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up,
they need a place to dump it and sometimes they'll dump it on you.
Don't take it personally. Just smile, wave, pray for them, and move on.
Don't take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home,
or on the streets. Don't let it spill on you until you stink like it does!

The bottom line is that happy, fulfilled people do not let garbage trucks take
over their day, their thoughts, or their energy!
Life's too short to live with regrets, so ...
Love the people who treat you right.
Pray for the ones who don't.Have a blessed, garbage-free day!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Love the ones you're with...

Alright...those of you who immediately flashed back to the song title of a similar name, read on before condemning me as a leftover hippie. I am certainly not writing today to advocate communal living or multiple partners. However, I would like to get you to consider "free love".

Love is certainly a misunderstood and often flippant word. We love ice cream, the Chargers (or whoever), our pets, our families, and many others. In that sense, the languages which distinguish different kinds of love have an advantage. But in English, love not only covers a multitude of sins but a myriad of emotions and feelings. 

What is love then?  True Biblical love is not some gushy feeling that can come and go. It isn't performance-based and doesn't change or vary by others' responses. In 1 Corinthians 13 its attributes are described. You know them - patient, kind, never boastful or rude, not proud or badly behaved, never rejoices in wrong but loves all things righteous, believes, hopes...You get the idea. It is freely given and doesn't expect anything in return, so in that sense it's free.  It is something that we all must strive toward but will rarely reach this side of heaven. Biblical love is not confined to these attributes, though, because true Biblical love is expressed through action. That's where today's title "Love the ones you're with" fits in.  It's all well and good to spout mushy sentiments but acting out your love is a whole different thing, as any parent knows! Love in action means sacrificing time, energy, priorities, finances, and comfort to put the other person first. It means dropping what you're doing and rushing to a friend in need. It means giving sacrificially to help another over a rough patch. It means being there in the darkest hours of the night when a friend is in crisis. In essence, it just means being there in whatever capacity is needed whether that means taking a meal or giving a hug. Sure, we can love those who have gone on to heaven ahead of us and we can surely love those who are geographically far away. There are those whose hearts are knit with ours that will always have a special place and we take them with us wherever we are. But love in action requires that we Do something. It is the "works" part of our faith. 

Jesus loved the ones He was with. He fed them, taught them, provided healing and wholeness for them. He walked with them when they were at their worst. He died for them (and us) without thought of receiving anything back. That's free love in action. In fact, He said that those who talk a big story but don't put "feet to their faith" will be lumped in with those He never knew! Scary! (If you don't believe me, check out the parable about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25)

So go out & freely love the ones you're with - the ones God has put in your life, your workplace, your path. Reach out to them in comfort, help, friendship, & support. Show them you love them by being there for them in their worst times, hardest times, stretching times, angry times, whatever times they are in. Love them through it all and show it, not by your words, but by your actions. It will not only prove you are a true Christian (John 13:35)  but will glorify Your Father who is in Heaven! (Matthew 5:16)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Launching Your Passions

Dan did an amazing leadership lesson last night on the importance of having vision and living up to our God-given potential. We are all called, set apart, and gifted with talents and abilities that God wants us to use but in order to be effective for Him, there are some steps we need to take!

The first thing to do to accomplish that work which God has set apart for you to do (Eph. 2:10) is to make an assessment of what you believe about Who you are in Christ. Proverbs 23:7 says, "As a man thinks in his heart, so he is."  So many Christians focus on their pasts, their failings, their mistakes. No one is perfect and God has made provision for those things and the times that we have blown it. Confess, repent, & release.  If Paul could do it after years of murdering Christians, so can You! (Phil. 3:13-14) You are an awesome, loved, valuable person that God created and Jesus died for. You are heir to all that He has, and precious. Believe in who He says you are, rather than what you or others think about who you are! (Col.1:12-14) God's opinion matters most and He thinks you are amazing!

The second task is to take an inventory of yourself.  What do you do well? What do you love doing? What do you wish you could do & have a desire to learn? What things are hard for you to do but you enjoy doing them anyway?  Be honest. Pretend you are your best friend and evaluate your strengths with the love and perspective of that friend. Turn off the negative, critical voice in your head that's arguing and fussing with your list. Don't listen to one word of it. This is a list of possibilities and potential, not just current facts! A critical factor in determining strengths is how you feel while doing it. We all assume that if we're good at something, it's our "calling" and we're stuck with doing it forever. That's not necessarily true. Sometimes our temperment sets us up for certain tasks and we may be really good at them but they're not truly the areas that God wants us to cultivate. As you're working ask yourself "Do I feel energized or drained? Is this making me feel motivated or bored?"  Gifts are meant to be uplifting, enjoyable, & energizing.  Even if it doesn't come easily, but you LOVE doing it, you should put it in the "strengths" category. Ability isn't always the critical, determining factor. As an example, I'm good at teaching children. I've done it for years, it comes naturally, & it's easy for me. God uses that ability to do what is necessary for our ministry. In that sense it is a "gift". However writing, worship, & women's ministry are the things that Energize me at this stage of my life. I love those 3 things and would gladly do them full time if God opened that door. So while I continue to serve Him by working with the children, I make sure to allow time in my busy schedule to "indulge" in my passions. Think about it - What tasks energize you? What things do you feel passionate about?

Now look at your lists again. What is stopping you from doing those things you love or would love to learn? Again, be honest. Money, time, insecurities, perfectionist demands, lifestyle...what is hindering you? If you've turned off the negative voice, perhaps your next step is prioritizing. A critical step in prioritizing is to pare down the list of things you're doing that drain you & don't need to be done by you! Oh sure, there are things we Have to do & I'm not advocating irresponsibility, but most of us take on way more than necessary. Delegate, eliminate, & learn to say NO (even to things you're "good" at!) Once you're finished removing these time, energy, and money stealers you should have some room in your life for launching, learning, practicing, & growing. Don't be afraid to take a risk and try something new. It may take preparation, time, energy & perhaps even some finances, but if you love it your life will be improved. Don't settle!  Don't talk yourself out of your dreams and desires. Put your vision in front of you, evaluate the steps to move into that vision, & ask God to open all the doors you need opened in order to accomplish it (Ps. 37:4). After all, if it is truly vision that He put in you, He's ready and willing to help you achieve it!!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

When friends fail...

       She was creative, joy-filled, & fun to be around. Our mutual love for worship and music created an instant bond. Before too long, our families were ministering together and spending a major part of each weekend together. We laughed and cried together, worked and played together. The absence of their blood relatives made our friendship even stronger, and when illness nearly devastated their lives we were able to step in and fill many of the financial and physical demands created by the subsequent changes. I thought it was a "forever" kind of friendship.
       Then one day, out of the blue, a letter came. I assumed it must be a thank you card, since we talked on the phone several times a day. It was far from a thank you. It was 3 handwritten pages of lies, innuendos, false assumptions, & accusations. It was the ultimate betrayal. I was crushed and reacted in my usual way - I started looking at myself for faults, inadequacies, & failures. It had to be my fault somehow - no one would hurt someone this way without reason, especially since she knew me so well! I tried to talk to her but she refused my calls. I went over to her house and she wouldn't come to the door. If I did happen to see her someplace, she literally almost Ran the other direction.She just vanished from my life.
        Devastation of soul describes my ultimate reaction; I was wounded beyond words. For a season, I closed my heart. The hurt caused me to recoil rather than reach out and I refused to allow any new relationships. I was miserable, lonely, & angry. How did this happen? Why did it happen? What did I do wrong?  The questions repeated themselves over and over, but answers evaded me. I just couldn't figure it out.
       But then one day, the pieces began to reassemble. Her marriage dissolved, their ministry disintegrated. Financial failure and continued illness caused family fracturing. They had no friends, no support system. Embarrassed and ashamed, she broke all ties with everyone she had known (hence the letter) and escaped to another state to start anew with strangers. She reinvented herself and created a new life.
     It didn't make all the pain go away, but it did give a sense of closure. Ultimately, I was able to come to grips with my own reactions, and my anger turned to understanding. There were still some lingering questions: Why didn't she feel she could tell me? She knew our relationship could go beyond "happy"! What could I have done differently to be there for her when she really needed me?
      The whole experience cemented several lessons deep in my heart. God calls us to be there for each other as much as we can, but others' choices can intervene - I can only do what others allow me to do.  Small steps can lead to restoration, where major confrontations close the door.  It's not just about me! Others have backgrounds, experiences, & reactions that may cause them to pull away, run away, hide, or cover up pain with denial, anger, or blame. Pride is also a major factor - if you haven't experienced unconditional love or at least a hefty dose of grace, you don't expect it & can't believe it, until you open your heart and God pours it in through His Spirit or His followers.
       It took a while, but I reopened my life and heart. Besides a deeper relationship with God, who is the ultimate friend, I have several "soulmate" friends. They have added so much to my life and ministry. They aren't perfect, and thankfully don't expect me to be either! They are God's gift to  me, for whatever season He allows, and I am grateful! As for my lost friend, she continues to wander the country looking for love, satisfaction, "success", and a place to call home...I pray one day she will find what she's so desperately searching for!  I know I have!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Families Ties and Tethers

       I recently spent a few days with family in Sacramento and it caused me to once again count my blessings.  It is an amazing thing to be with people who have known you all your life and love you for just who you are. I don't have to "be" anything to any of them - they just love and accept me - with my quirks, my flaws, my gifts, my history. There is a freedom in knowing that you're able to put aside all masks and pretenses. You can laugh together, cry together, talk or not talk. There is no pressure to keep up an image because they wouldn't believe it if you tried! It's fun because you can reminisce about the people and events of the past and they know them too. Memories abound!
       I have friends who don't have family. Either their families are in "disrepair" or have all passed away, or they just don't care to be around them. In some cases, it just happened through no fault of any person or event. In other cases, a family blowup caused a rift that has yet to heal. Time, distance, and busyness also take their toll. In most cases, they have learned to compensate and fill the holes with other things. Some are even happy to be relieved of the burdens family sometimes cause. Some, sadly, are better off without their family ties. There are those relationships that are just too costly to one's spiritual, physical, or mental health! (To those I would say, Make a family of your own choosing and create memories in those new relationships!) Fortunately, God blessed me with Christian heritage and relatives!! I couldn't have chosen better!
       Don't get me wrong, it's not always happy times and pure bliss. Sometimes those who know you best can hurt you the deepest. The very things that bind can be the same things that chafe. Misunderstandings can happen in the closest of relationships and emotional reactions can be blown out of all proportion. The key to it all is love and forgiveness. The Bible says that love can cover a multitude of sins & repentance with humility can heal even the deepest wounds.  It's not always easy when someone has misjudged your intentions or bailed on you when you really needed them, but since all of us struggle with our own insecurities and inadequacies, Grace becomes the healing balm that soothes the hurt feelings and removes our right to be right!  The Bible also says that as far as it is up to Me, I should live in peace. I am only responsible for myself, regardless of others' reactions or choices. I decided long ago to choose Peace... the alternative is too costly - brokenness and emptiness, or pride and self-pity will never fill the void I'd have. Life is just too short to waste time waiting for others to apologize or make the first move! I'd rather enjoy the times, seasons, & days I have to spend with my loved ones. Time wasted can't be regained, and loved ones lost are gone until eternity!

Friday, September 23, 2011

There are no "do-overs".

In the world of little kids, if you mess up while playing a game, you just shout "I want a do-over" and it's usually ok.  Every little boy or girl understands that life is full of misses that need a fresh start. No such luck in adulthood.
A recent survey of people over the age of 95 were asked "If you had life to do over again, what would you change?"  Not surprisingly, none of them mentioned working longer, having more stuff, or climbing higher on the corporate ladder.  What they did say had less to do with the material things in life and all to do with life lived well!
Interestingly enough, the majority of them said they'd take more risks.  We like to live in our comfort zones and if something is a little risky or pushes us to venture out, we usually back off.  Some of us try new things, once in a while, but at the first sign of struggle or failure we give up and run back to what's known and safe.  While risk taking doesn't have to be associated with foolishness or carelessness it does involve stepping out onto new ground. It's interesting how the Bible is full of risk takers. Think about is a product of acting on God's Word. If there's no action, there is no faith. God always asked those who wanted to see Him move to do something, often something that may have seemed foolish or unreasonable. (Joshua & Jericho, Gideon, Moses, David with Goliath, Naaman, Peter...the examples are numerous!) Risk takers may have fear, but they don't let that stop them. They take a deep breath and go!
The second thing people in their 90s responded with was that they'd reflect more - they'd spend more time prioritizing. They'd prune wasted activities & add wholesome ones. They'd praise more and complain less. They'd look for the good in people and in situations, trying to see why God has brought those people & things into their lives. They'd point their face towards heaven more and put their nose to the grindstone less.They would think about God's goodness rather than gripe about their lack. They'd slow down & enjoy the journey!
The third thing they said was that they'd do more things that would live on after they were gone. They'd contribute more to their families' lives and to their communities. They'd share themselves, their ideas, their time. They'd pass on lessons learned and encourage others to "go for it". They'd put relationships first and everything else after. They'd forgive quicker, extend more grace, witness more, and love deeply, They'd focus on their legacies - what others will learn from having watched them live and what qualities people will admire them for.  They hope that their passing means more than a payday or a trust fund - that it means that there are memories that have and will continue to shape lives for God & for good. They hope they leave a better world than the one they were born into!
Nope - in life there are no do-overs; but even if today should be the last day of your life, you still have time to change for the better. Check your priorities. Look for the new adventures and the opportunities that God is opening up. Don't waste one more day in fear. Get out there, find what it is God wants you to do and who He wants you to invest time and love in, and go for it! Don't just exist, LIVE and live joyously!! That will be a legacy worth leaving!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The True Test of Trust!

       Once there was a little girl who loved two things more than anything else in her life - her daddy and climbing trees. She would often climb up in “her tree”, wait for her daddy to get home from work, and then yell words of love and greeting to him as he got out of his car. Her favorite tree was a big old apple tree that had a perfect sitting place about 10 feet above the ground. She loved that tree and spent as much time as she could in it. She was never afraid up there, and climbed up and down easily!
       Then came the day of the big storm. She had climbed up to her spot, like many other days, and just when she was enjoying the feeling of the gentle breeze rocking the branches, the storm arrived in its full fury. The clouds, which just a minute ago had been a light gray, were now black as coal. The gentle breezes were now so strong that they were threatening to knock her off of the branch. She held on for dear life, alternately crying and screaming for her daddy.
       What seemed like hours later, Dad appeared at the base of the tree. He would surely climb the tree and save her…but no. He took his place at the base, lifted his arms, and said “Jump, sweetheart. I will catch you.” What? That isn’t what I want at all. “I can’t jump. I can’t. I‘m scared. Come up and get me.” But the tree limb cracked, the branches shook violently, and the rain began to pelt her with huge drops. “Come on, baby. You have trusted me before so trust me now. I promise I will catch you.” But just couldn’t let go. She held on tighter, clinging in desperation. And then it happened. It wasn’t a jump at all but a surrender. Eyes closed, she held her breath and dropped. Daddy’s strong arms caught her and gently hugged her.The storm still raged but for her it was over. She was safe in his embrace.
       We, too, often talk about our loving Father. He is great and good, trustworthy and dependable. We say it, we tell others about Him, and we believe it…until the storm comes. Then we cling desperately to things we know - worldly wisdom, our own resources, our feelings, our friends, our past experiences. God calls on us to trust Him but we resist. And then it happens - sometimes because we’ve run out of options; sometimes because it’s just too hard to hold on and we’re too tired. Whatever the reason, it finally happens. We surrender. And when we do, God is there just as He promised, with strong arms, a comforting embrace, and soothing words.The storm may rage on, but we are safe...and then we wonder, “Why did I take so long to let go?”
(adapted from a story in “Mourning Into Dancing” by Walt Wangerin, Jr.)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My teacher knows best!

Several of my grandkids started school yesterday and I started reliving the first days of school when I was teaching. They were always filled with mixed emotions...Who were the children and did I have any siblings of former students? What would they know or not know already? Were there any extreme behavior problems in the group?  Would the parents be interfering and demanding or supportive?  
I don't know why I had those questions because each year I had all of those. I had students who came in "knowing everything already" whose parents just wanted them to be prepared to eventually succeed at Harvard (Really? Can I teach him to read first?) and the ones who didn't care if their children learned anything as long as they were happy!
I was always given the lion's share of "naughty kids" because the Kindergarten teachers liked my "strict style". (Those teachers didn't know that I sat in the students' chairs and prayed over them! That was the key to success, not my style!!) I also got the lion's share of super high achievers because I didn't believe in holding kids to the curriculum if they were ready to go on. (It's called individualization and it works extremely well!!)
Anyway, all this reflecting led me to thoughts of God and His observations of Us.  How we react to our circumstances must sometimes cause Him to laugh. (Yes, God laughs!) Do we think we know it all?  Do we just strive to be happy?  Do we launch out unprepared for the tasks He has for us because we refuse to put in the time or effort to learn what we need to know?  Are we easy or hard to work with?
The children who put the most into their first grade year were the children who left with confident attitudes, happy hearts, and the best academic growth. The ones who struggled most were the whiners, excuse-makers, & "motivationally challenged".  Interesting that when Jesus was here on Earth, He could only help those who wanted help - and nothing's changed. If we come to Him knowing it all, demanding our way, making excuses, or whining we set ourselves up for a long struggle.  I'd rather come with open hands, open heart, and open mind.  Let Him decide where, when & what I need to learn. It will save me lots of trouble in the long run and I'll avoid both the spiritual two-by-four that is sometimes required to get my attention & the repeated journeys around the same spiritual mountain!! 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

It's A Wonderful Day

It's a perfect day. God has made today so special that I woke up praising Him this morning, Is it a birthday, anniversary, or some special occasion for me? far as my calendar is concerned, it's just an ordinary Wednesday. But today is a wonderful day!
It's gorgeous outside. There's a cool breeze, the sun is shining, the sky is cloudless, and a little brown squirrel is playing outside my window. God's beautiful world is visible and close. There's a warm feeling in my heart from memories of a church picnic where there was abundant laughter, great food, and lots of sweet fellowship. I have just come home from a "renewal" trip to California where I got to visit with my kids and grandkids. My mind is filled with happy  thoughts of their smiling, loving faces. There are bright things to come - our daughter is expecting twins in a couple of months and that brings a special thrill all of its own. While that event is not today, the happiness I can anticipate fills me up Today!
Yes, today is just a wonderful day because God made it that way. I have hours, minutes, and seconds to spend loving Him and serving Him in any way that He directs me. I have people to encourage and comfort. I have things to accomplish. I have Bible studies to write and classes to prepare for. I have work that I love. If I didn't have a job to do, I'd be spending today in His presence, so I better look around for my assignment - it's out there, I just have to be aware enough to see it! Today will be a day of ministry!
Of course there are looming clouds out there on the horizon...clouds of struggle, hurt feelings, other things that I may have to have an extra measure of grace to deal with.  But those things are not here Today, and God tells me not to worry about tomorrow.  He will help me handle those things when they come, if they come.  That's the thing about worry - those worry-builders may not ever come! So we should not borrow trouble, and I'm not going to!
I have today, God's beautiful day, and I am going to rejoice and be glad in it.  How about you?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Teaching IS a work of heart!

        "Teaching is a work of heart".That's a slogan I had on a coffee mug that I used for many years as a classroom teacher. While teachers have come under fire for the current state of our school system, those of us in the classroom know the truth!
         Teachers teach through the swinging pendulums of what "the authorities" think is the right way to teach: centers, whole group instruction, phonics, no phonics, literacy circles, reading groups, whole language, new math, old math, spelling (no, I mean vocabulary development), homework, no homework...I learned to go with the educational flow. Today's teachers do the same.
       I  taught through the additions in curriculum: "Hands are not for hitting", "Everyone is special", toothbrushing, sanitizing, computer instruction, "Special friends", nutrition education, what to do about inappropriate touching...and then I adjusted to what was subtracted:  art, music, creative writing,...I had to find ways to supplement what "had to be cut". Teachers still do.
       I started teaching when children came to school rested, clean, and fed. Schools now have to serve breakfast, lunch, snacks, & hand out doggie bags of food for children who need it to survive their weekends. They are also mandated to serve through the summer months when schools are supposed to be closed for cleaning (ha) and repairs. Teachers can no longer count on teaching children who are rested either. Many children are allowed to stay up  late, with little or no supervision, and spend way too many hours on computers or watching inappropriate television. They come to school tired, irritable, and often late - if they get there at all.
       When I started teaching, supplies were provided. They weren't fancy but they were efficient. Today, teachers have to send home long supply lists and districts provide less and less support. (By the time I retired, I routinely spent at least $5,000.00 a year on basic classroom supplies like crayons and paper.) Every teacher I know buys curriculum support materials out of his or her own money as well as supplementing the Kleenex, snacks, & other necessities the children have to have.
       Then there are the 3 ps: politics, paperwork, & parents. Political correctness has taken the place of common sense. The idea behind "No child left behind" sounded good, but execution was impossible for the majority of districts - and the teachers became the victims. Classroom paperwork takes up hours of time that teachers could be preparing. Testing takes up weeks of instruction time - at least 3 weeks 3 times a year. Parents can be unreasonable, and usually the children with the most severe behavior problems have parents with the loudest opinions & most demands -  so we coddle them and put the children in program after program, hoping to counteract their lack of discipline and shaky home lives by additional attention. Then there are the children with the variety of learning disabilities, some which have been caused by alcohol & drug addictions of the parents, who want the school system to "fix" what they created! This is on top of the second language students who have their own distinct Federally-mandated plans. Regular classroom teachers teach these "special needs" kids for most of the day, taking away large chunks of time and attention from the rest of the students. Additionally, try planning a day of instruction when there is a steady stream of kids getting pulled out of class for remediation of one sort or another.  And don't get me started on the lack of respect... the rude behavior of some of the hottest stars on "favorite" shows is not the example that we should be condoning for our kids, and yet we laugh and expect that somehow what they're watching is not going to translate into their behavior!
       So there you are. Teachers have become the scapegoats for our "failing" educational system while factors way beyond their control have set parameters that are almost impossible to teach within. In spite of all those things, however, Every teacher I know works extremely hard for very long hours, with very little support, & with all of the above obstacles.( If you think I'm over-dramatizing, visit your local school for a day!) Instead of criticizing teachers, try giving them the encouragement & support they earn year after year. Volunteer, ask what you can do, provide supplies, send a Thank you note "just because", do what you can to help. After all, you couldn't be reading this unless some dedicated teacher had done her/ his job. The bottom line is this:  If teaching wasn't a "work of heart" there wouldn't be any teachers!!  Think about that as your kids & grandkids start another school year. And remember to pray daily for your kids' teachers - after all, they will be with your kids almost more than you will for the next 9 months!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"The Running Plan"

My exercise mantra has always been "When you feel like exercising, lie down until the feeling goes away". In spite of that, an article called "The Running Plan" caught my eye this week.  It was written to give beginning runners some strategies and to remind seasoned runners of some of the basics. As I was reading, I couldn't help but make analogies to the Christian life, which the Apostle Paul compared to running a race. Here are a few of the author's points:
1. The hardest part about running is the decision to start. Ignore those who tried but gave up, decide to make the commitment, and watch the exciting changes that begin to occur in your life.
2.  Keep your goals realistic. You're not going to magically go from couch potato to marathon runner. Huge expectations often lead to frustration, feelings of failure, and eventual quitting.  Negative thoughts destroy motivation.
3.  Pay attention to your form. The right posture has a lot to do with the body's ability to move efficiently and comfortably! Slouching often occurs as you get tired. And keep your eyes focusing on the road ahead. Looking back or away can easily & quickly lead to disaster!
4.  Gradually increase your duration. Check your breathing to determine your speed and distance. Injuries occur when you push too hard.
5.  Listen to your body. It will let you know when you're doing too much too soon. Fatigue undermines your best efforts.
6.  Be kind to yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. They may always be able to do more...
7.  Find a running buddy - it's safer and provides motivation but be sure to work at your own pace regardless of anyone else's prodding.
8.  Experienced runners may have valuable tips but always apply them to where you are at your personal level of activity.
9.  Focus on your smallest successes. Even if all you ever do is walk, you're better off then when you were sitting. You're doing good things for your body and your health.  Keep it up!! Even reward your mini-milestones - just remember #2 & keep the goals realistic!
10. Get out there. The old Indian proverb says the hardest & longest journey begins with a single step.  My father-in-law's sales adage correlates, "The hardest door to exit is your own."

Do you see the amazing Christian life applications? You decide to follow Christ, making the commitment to live for Him, regardless of others' opinions. Instantly there are changes that begin to occur. New goals & activities begin to emerge and you incorporate them into your life. Bible reading and prayer time become important, but don't expect to read and understand the whole Bible in a week, or instantly become a mighty prayer warrior. Work slowly, as the Spirit leads, to replace old patterns and habits with new ones, and keep your focus on Christ. Ignore distractions or the temptation to "look back" at past mistakes. At times you may be frustrated with your slow progress but keep on! The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. Don't worry about small trip-ups. That's what 1 John 1:9 (God's forgiveness) is for. Watch your witness because others are, but don't compare your spiritual progress or ministry with anyone else. God doesn't! He designed a wonderful life specifically for YOU.  Find partners who will encourage and support you, keeping you accountable. Listen to those with more experience, taking suggestions as they apply to you, sifting everything through the Word for credibility! When you begin to feel discouraged, recall how far you've come and the wonderful changes you've made. But most importantly of all, Just Do It. The hardest part is surrendering to God & making the commitment. Once you're determined to live for Christ, He will help you with all the rest!!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


On a beautiful summer morning like this, it is hard to remember the raging winter storms of years past. The lightning, thunder, drenching rain, gale-force winds, and biting cold seem distant and almost unimaginable. The treacherous driving conditions of blinding snow and black ice are lost in the glaring sunshine of the warm and glorious day! It's a season of peace...
Thank God for these times of refreshing and rest, for calmness and contentment. These are long, lazy days filled with good books, gentle breezes, sunbathing & cool drinks. They are filled with vacations, shopping, lunches with friends, and long walks. They are my season to regroup, rejuvenate, & revive my spirit and I take full advantage of them. I know that winter is coming.
Before many months have passed, rain will start. The amazing colors of Fall will turn to the barrenness of winter. Trees that are filled with fruit and lush green leaves will take on a skeletal form. The temperature will drop and heavy coats & boots will replace shorts & sandals.  The long days will shorten and the nights will grow long. Even during the day, the clouds will obscure the sun and the grayness will dominate. It's not something I want to think about right now, and yet I know it's coming.
Our walk with the Lord is so much like these seasons. There are times when all is right with our world. The cares and worries decrease as we experience seasons of peace and contentment. There are no serious storms to derail our faith or envelope us in fear. We coast along in His love, basking in the warmth of fellowship, refreshment, and relative ease. Then the storms come. A parent gets sick, finances fail, relationships end, illness attacks, a loved one passes away...there are so many things that can cause darkness to fall on us. We cower in uncertainty & cry out for relief. Where is God? Why am I having to deal with this? What do I do?  As the song says, "We are all just one phone call from our knees." And, ironically, that's where God wants us. Circumstances cause us to withdraw from Him or run to Him. We choose how to respond, basing that choice on one of several things:  our past experiences, our feelings, or God's promises. 
If we base our decisions on our own feelings or experiences, our trust is in ourselves. We become our own god and the outcome of that choice is disaster.  Our past is interpreted by a variety of factors and can't be trusted. Our feelings are unreliable and ever-changing. Neither of these will guarantee our success or safety. Only God's promises, found in His Word, are able to be trusted to shelter, guide, encourage, protect, and make all grace abound to us.(2 Co. 9:8) Our hope is in believing that His plan will be accomplished for our Good! (Jer. 29:11/ Ro. 8:28)
In my reading in Psalms this morning, there were two exhortations to take shelter under His wings. Like the story of the mother bird that stayed put through the fire, losing her own life in order to protect her nest, Jesus "stayed put" on the cross, although He could have chosen not to, in order to provide life for us - and not just existence, but abundant life (Jo 10:10). 
We all have our storms. The Bible doesn't say "If you walk through the water...if you walk through the fire."  It says "WHEN". The choice we make is who we will trust when the storms come! So, take a moment today to check your spirit.  Thank God if you're in a season of rest and refreshing, and take shelter under His wings if you're in a storm...He is always there with you, no matter what season you are in!!