Thursday, June 30, 2011

An Attitude of Gratitude

        I was in a store a few days ago and heard the familiar whine of a child who wanted something his mom didn't want to buy.  She patiently recounted his previous blessings - a day at Disneyland, a new scooter, a sleepover with friends, and a birthday party for 20 little boys!  At the end of her little speech, the boy looked at her with a pouting face and said, "Yeah but that wasn't today!"
       Not long after that, I was in a coffee shop and a disgruntled wife was complaining about the trip her husband had surprised her with for her 40th birthday.  "He spent so much on the hotel that he didn't give me money to shop with, and you know I never like to go to Paris without shopping money!"
       The third incident happened just today. I was waiting to put gas in my car and a woman was literally yelling into her phone, berating the caller for buying her a "used" Lexus when she obviously had demanded a new one.  She was totally livid that someone else had put 10,000 miles on it before she got it!  And to add insult to her injury, it wasn't even the gold one...but a common "tan" that anyone could have..." 
       The words "You poor thing" wanted to come out of my mouth in the worst way but I was able to keep my lips clamped shut until I was well out of earshot.  Since when have we become such a society of whiners?  Are we really so entitled to the best that life has to offer that we have convinced ourselves that anything less is unacceptable?  Have we accumulated so much that the joy has gone out of our receiving? With the attitudes displayed in these three examples, I can't imagine that the giver is experiencing much joy either!
       Gratitude has become a neglected practice. Prosperity has made us indifferent to our blessings and has fostered a raging inferno of always wanting more.  Nothing seems to be enough to satisfy the hunger for possessions, status symbols, or "the best".  And the sad thing is that when we actually obtain that thing that we have desired, the box is checked off and another desire takes its place.  Worldly things will never complete us or bring us the contentment that we are searching so desperately for.
       God has given us so many blessings!  When was the last time you actually took the time to look at your life and thank Him. So your house needs painting - you have a house and don't have to live on the streets or in your car like so many families these days.  Your clothes are crammed in your closet- you're so lucky to have enough, even if some are a few years old.  Your car is a gas guzzler - try walking everywhere for a week.  Your boss is cranky or demanding - you have a job when so many would love to take your place.  I could go on and on.  There are so many things that we complain about that can actually be turned around if we would just try looking at them with the eyes of someone who has to do without.  Thousands even in our great country are homeless, abused, hungry every day, wearing threadbare clothes, searching for any kind of work to feed their families...
       Then there is the opposite side of the gratitude coin...the one who gave the gift.  When we are unappreciative or take our blessings for granted, the giver is given the message that the gift was not  "acceptable".  The more effort & care that was taken to make, choose, or provide the gift, the deeper the hurt when it is not received well.  The thrill of giving is the joy in watching the enthusiastic reaction when the gift is received.  Monetary value is not the true measure of a thoughtful gift - just ask the wife whose gifts are chosen by her husband's secretary! Some of the most precious gifts I have received have cost little or nothing, but have required lots of thoughtful effort:  a poem from a precious friend, or a hand written letter, or something made especially for me; and how about the joy you felt receiving that often-clumsy but darling gift your child brought home from kindergarten! It IS the thought that counts!! And it IS the thought that should be acknowledged!!
       If you're reading this and still feel like God has shortchanged you in not giving you anything to be grateful for, take a step back & breathe...look outside at His beautiful world.  Use your 5 senses (which you can also thank Him for) and appreciate His goodness to you in those things you see, eat, smell, touch, hear. The myriad of different colors, the sweet sound of music, the taste of your favorite foods, the smells you associate with happy memories, the people that you love and that love you (even though you & they both have faults!)...Wow.
       To each of those people in the examples I started with, I would have liked to say, "If you are so unhappy with what you have been given, how about if I take it all back and give it to someone who WILL appreciate it! I'm sure it will be easy to find someone who would just LOVE to receive what you have been given!"
      And then we can all Thank God that He doesn't say that to us!!

Monday, June 27, 2011

One Way But Many Ways!

       At church Saturday night the pastor made a statement that I'd never really thought about before. He said, "There are many ways to get to Jesus but only one way to get to the Father!"
       A simple statement, but so true. As Christians, we believe that faith in what Jesus did on the cross is the Only Way to be saved. While other religious organizations and cults would call us rigid and dogmatic, the Bible is very clear. Jesus says "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me." If there are other ways, Jesus died for no reason. We can't earn salvation no matter how good we are or how many great and wonderful things we do in His Name. We can't add to it, or change it. No one can buy it for us or receive it on our behalf.  It is a personal decision that I have to make as I'm faced with the reality of my sin and my inability to do anything about it. It involves accepting Christ's diety, believing that He took on human form, willingly gave up His life as my sacrifice,  & was raised again after His death. It means that I receive the payment He made as my own, acknowledging His right to be Lord of my life. Its end result is transforming power on earth that changes me and allows me to become all that God meant for me; it means living to please God and obey Him even when life is hard; it means realizing that I have a heavenly home waiting for me when this life is over; it means I have access to God in dealing with every need that I have; it means so much more than this entry allows me to write. It means New Life...
       While all that is true, and I believe it with all my heart, I love the first part of the quote.  There are many ways we come to Jesus.  Some of us came as a direct result of early Christian training. Some have come through friends or family members who cared enough to share Jesus' love with them. Some came because God heard their desperate cry in impossible circumstances, saved them in a miraculous way, & they were forever changed. Some heard & received the Word through revivals, radio, television,...
      The Bible is full of examples of how different people were saved. Paul was called in a supernatural way. The woman caught in adultery was dragged to Jesus. The paralyzed man was carried by friends. There were many who came because they were searching, or desperate, or curious, or hungry, or sick. They came for different reasons but the touch they got from Him caused a spiritual awakening in their hearts that could not be denied. The situations are as varied as the people who came to the Lord, but the point is that they came. And almost everyone came because someone took the time and courage to tell them. That part hasn't changed. While it's not our job to be the Holy Spirit, we do need to reach out and touch others, encouraging them through words, actions, or persistent gentle nudging, always backed by prayer! God doesn't command us to try to force others to believe, to intimidate them, or to be obnoxious. That usually backfires by hardening their hearts anyway. He does command us to simply Share the Good News so that the door is open for the Holy Spirit to work.  It may be an invitation to coffee, or a Bible study or church; it may be through a card or letter; it may be as a part of casual conversation. And relax...their response to the Gospel isn't your responsibility either! Your job is simply to share. That's it!! Don't let insecurities, questions, rebuffs, or rejection shut you down! And you don't have to wait until your life is perfect because..."news flash" It will never be perfect!! We're all sinners who live in a fallen world, walking the walk together & hopefully progressively maturing in our faith as we go!!
       The bottom line is that the people around us need Jesus and it's up to us to help them find Him, in as many ways as we can.  After all, aren't you glad you found Him?  Don't you wish everyone could?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Blessings of Grandparenting!

       I have been enjoying the company of children and grandchildren this week. It is so much fun to stay in their homes and just be part of the family - doing every day things with them like coloring or reading with the kids, watching t.v., and eating together. While the first hour is always a little stilted because they're shy around me, the novelty soon wears off and I'm fully assimilated into their world!  I love it! "All the fun without the responsibility" my mom would have said!
    Being with them is living on the edge! You never know what will happen next! You can't turn your back for a minute, at least with the little ones, without risking an "unforeseen occurence" of some kind - coloring on the wall, water poured on the floor, food being fed to the dog, a foreign object being flushed, or a bathtub being used in an unusual way; and these are not naughty kids - just kids who are being kids.  "I wonder what will happen if..." Curiosity trumps caution & they just act, with lightning speed, causing the unsuspecting parents to have to pick up the pieces, clean up the mess, repair the damage.... and then wiping away the "I'm sorry" tears!
    Then there is the interaction with each other.  They will tease and roughhouse, until one of them gets "injured" and then there is the bloodcurtling cry of "He hurt me" or "She pushed me"...the casting of blame followed by cries of innocence or a flood of explanations!  Even when warnings have been given in order to prevent this very outcome, the eventual consequence is always the same - the tears and hurt feelings, followed by the soothing of physical or emotional injuries! From early morning until the dark of night, there is a whirlwind of activity! Unless somehow they fall asleep during an afternoon video, the noise, questions, demands, and commotion never cease.  I watch with a smile as my children struggle to keep up with the energy level of their children. It doesn't seem all that long ago that I was in their shoes - the silent prayers for a few minutes of peace and quiet, the hope for days free of colds or flu, the struggle to keep up with the mounds of laundry, and the neverending list of things to do to keep the household running relatively smoothly. Add to those everyday tasks things like carpooling, playdates, & other miscellaneous activities and you have a recipe for exhaustion!  You have to cultivate Superpowers to get everything done, and once you do it's only a matter of time until you have to start the list over again. It's why they say raising children is not for the faint of heart & it's the wisdom of God that we have them while we're still young enough to chase them!
       And yet my children haven't yet tried to sell their kids to gypsies or give them away at the nearest mall!  I haven't even heard the old familiar "I brought you into this world and I can take you out" because above all else they Love them. They get frustrated, tired, even Mad sometimes, but that never alters the love they have for them. Their love overrides their desires to lash out in anger or become cruel! They discipline without destroying, and teach lessons out of "accidents". They have incorporated the best parts of my parenting and eliminated the other parts.  I even occasionally hear words and phrases that I used to say - now that's the full circle for sure!  It is so gratifying to know that these kids that made me so crazy at times have become such wonderful parents! They don't do everything exactly as I did, or would, but they have found the way that works for them and it's amazing to witness!
       And the rewards are So worth the hard times. The hugs, kisses, playtimes, and expressions of love make the frantic activity fade into unimportance. To see the grandkids respond with such affection and sweetness to their parents, and to watch their gentle interaction with their siblings is worth everything!
       There are so many Biblical applications here!  God is ever vigilant in His watchful care of us. We do such "childish" things and yet He never berates us or disowns us. His love never alters! We disappoint Him, misunderstand His directions, disobey His commands & make huge messes of our lives, and yet He just keeps picking us up, cleans up our disasters, & uses our mistakes to teach us valuable lessons. His love for us overrides all His decisions concerning us and, unlike all of us human parents, He never gets weary or frustrated.  He knows we are just "children" and allows us our frailties! He disciplines us when necessary, but always for our good, and redirects us when we get off course. He watches our interactions with each other, letting us work out our little scuffles, and then reminds us again to forgive as we were forgiven. His reward, when He gets one, is the response of our love back to Him; the times we obey and listen; the seasons that we get along with one another and choose love over fighting back or holding a grudge; the little victories He gets to see as we grow up! He is the epitome of the perfect parent, of course, because He is the one who initiated parenting from the beginning. Just as each of my grandchildren require different parenting methods, God knows just how to treat each of us in order to best foster our maturity and growth!
     Often it is said that if Grandparents would have known how much fun grandchildren would be they would have skipped the kids and had grandkids first, but I disagree.  I am so grateful to be able to see how the love, sacrifice, and hard work of parenting has paid off in the willingness and ability of my children to love, sacrifice and work hard for my grandchildren. I wouldn't miss it for anything! It is truly one of the joys of life!!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Love for a Lifetime...

As handsome as Dad was, I'm sure he had his share of girlfriends...however once he found his "love for a lifetime", he married her and that was that!  Dad had lots of great qualities, but the one that I value the most was his love.
       Dad loved Mom.  He loved her enough to give her the freedom to rule our home...he loved her enough to teach her to drive...he loved her enough to go on cruises when he'd rather go fishing...he loved her enough to play games (which other than Solitaire he could have done without), ...and on and on.  He just loved her. Because of his love for her, he was faithful to her, a good provider for her, & protective of her.
       His love for her was the basis and foundation for his love for us kids. He encouraged me to do my best, but never demeaned me or made me feel inferior, even when I didn't quite get it right. In fact, Dad even took me on my first "date". I was 13, dressed in a fancy dress and wearing "high" heels. We went to a very upscale restaurant and he treated me like a  princess.  At the end of the night, he said, "Now Jannie, tonight was to show you how you deserve to be treated.  If a guy doesn't treat you like this, he doesn't deserve you. Send him packing!" Wise advice from a loving dad!
       Dad loved his parents and showed it by the respect and care he gave them, even when they couldn't respond.  He loved our extended family and never begrudged them anything he could give them. He loved his friends - some of whom he knew for over 50 years.  He loved...
       Of all the ones he loved, he loved God the most.  His love for God made all the other loves possible. It allowed him to forgive easily, to care deeply, and to serve faithfully. It gave him the courage to stand for what was right, even when the majority was against him.  It was the foundation of all that he was & did.
       I am blessed to have a family heritage of love - so many of my friends don't - and I never take it for granted. I found my love for a lifetime, Jesus, at an early age and He has made all my other loves that much richer! Have you found Him yet?  Seek Him and you will find Him. It's His promise and it will give you your love for a lifetime too!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Legacy that Continues...

       If you've been reading this blog all week you know that my Dad was my hero.  He was loving and gentle, yet strong and protective. He wasn't perfect, but he was the perfect Dad for me.
       As I was looking back through pictures this week, I found our Lynch coat of arms.  Upon researching its symbols, I discovered some very interesting things:
"Always constant and faithful" is the motto of our family.
The gold represents generosity, the blue represents loyalty.
The chevron, symbolic of a home's roof, stands for faithful service & protection. The helmet signifies a strong defense.
       While all those characteristics are a perfect description of Dad,  the ones I love the most are those associated with the lynx and the shamrock. The lynx indicates keen insights and spiritual discernment, and the shamrock is one of the earliest known symbols for the Trinity & Christianity!  While Dad's loyalty, faithfulness, generosity, and protective qualities were invaluable, the fact that he evidenced Christ in his daily life and passed that love for God on to us is the Best!  I saw Dad read his Bible- he didn't just talk about reading it. I witnessed him praying for the concerns of his heart. He didn't make major decisions until praying about them first, which was evidenced in our family's financial security and stability.  He loved God & his church family, and served our church in many different capacities. He was a giver in more than a monetary sense, although he was generous that way as well.
      The other thing I associate with him and our church life was his love for music. He loved the hymns and I can still hear his low bass voice whenever they are sung. He could frequently be found sitting at our piano playing hymns and other "favorites", and one of my earliest memories involves curling up beneath the piano listening to him.  I loved hearing him play. He rarely used music and played from the heart. To this day I still have trouble singing a whole hymn without tearing up - they open my heart in the deepest way!
       Dad was a very special man. I find it amazing that the Lynch crest, designed in the early 1100s, portrays the very best qualities of a man who lived so many years later. And although once married my surname changed, I am still a Lynch at heart. It is my fervent hope and prayer that I am helping to pass on those wonderful character traits to the next generations of our family, whether their names are Lynch or something else. In this way, Dad's legacy will continue to go forward!
     Happy 95th Birthday, Dad!  I love you...And thanks!

Friday, June 17, 2011

A clean slate...a fresh start...a life without regrets

       I read a story online this morning about a girl's lamenting the fact that she didn't tell her dad she loved him enough. Father's Day was causing her to feel regret.  It was a cautionary tale reminding all of us that we never know when someone will be gone, so be sure to leave nothing unsaid or undone between you and those you love.
       I have been writing this week about my Dad and while my memories mostly bring up feelings of love, caring, peacefulness, joy, and comfort, they also bring the recognition of the hole that still exists in my heart from his passing. I know all the cliches about being happy he's where he is, knowing I'll see him again, and the fact that he's not in pain...and as true as they are there's still an empty place that will never be filled by anyone or anything else.  Dad was dad - my safety net, counselor, friend; the one who understood me better than anyone else because I am so much like him!  And while these mixed feelings and thoughts swirl around in my head, the one thing I honestly can say is that I do not harbor any regrets.  There are no "shoulda, woulda, coulda's or I wish I..." clogging up my memories. Dad knew I loved him and I knew he loved me - unconditionally!  That is not to say there weren't some little issues that cropped up from time to time. Every person, no matter how close you are to them, will offend you, misunderstand your intentions, or just plain hurt your feelings. That's just how life is!  As hard as I tried to be his perfect daughter, there were times when I blew it. The thing was, years later when I tried to apologize for hurting him in some way, he had no clue as to what I was talking about.  I was agonizing over something he didn't even remember. That's what forgiveness & forgetting is all about. That's what love is.
       Forgiveness is acknowledging that a mistake, hurt, injury, or misunderstanding happened. It's not about ignoring those things or burying them. It doesn't require that the person who hurt me knows, cares, understands, or even remembers that they hurt me. It also doesn't demand that I tell them how, when, or how deep the injury was. It's not about them at all. It's about me - my feelings, my reactions, my willingness to surrender that hurt to the Lord. Depending on the size of the hurt, that could be a Big sacrifice - giving up my chance for retaliation, refusing to hold a grudge, not requiring that they feel my pain...It's about letting go of my "right" to confront what they did or didn't do and its affect on me! It's about letting God take care of it in His way and His time! 
       Then there's the forgetting part.  Our brains can't magically rewind the past.  For some, the hurts are isolated incidences, while for others there was long-term abuse.  It doesn't matter. Nothing that happened can be fixed, redone, or deleted, apart from a miracle of God.  It's there and you have to deal with it.  Forgetting is not mental oblivion. There's no magic eraser for our past. What forgetting really means is that every time hurt rears its head, I refuse to give it place. I don't act on it, dwell on it, or relive it over & over; I remind myself that it's been given to God. It's no longer mine to deal with or "fix". It's not going to continue to sway my feeling, control my actions, or color my thoughts. I immediately surrender it again and refuse to let it have one more ounce of my energy or one more minute of my time. Sometimes that surrender has to happen multiple times a day - I'm not minimizing what some people have endured, and I'm certainly not advocating putting yourself in harm's way by renewing a toxic relationship. Some people are best loved from a distance. The bottom line is that unforgiveness hurts you. It robs you of life. It keeps you chained by bitterness to the person who hurt you and stops any future relationship that might be possible with the application of a little (or a lot) of grace.  It leads to regret, sometimes not fully known until there's no hope of changing it. More than all of that, unforgiveness against others blocks your relationship with God. You can rationalize it all you want, but the Bible says if you don't forgive others, He can't forgive you!  Since we are all in need of His forgiveness daily, It's not worth the price you have to pay to hang on to that broken past!
      Dad wasn't one to hold a grudge. He dealt with things in his own way and let them go. Thankfully our Heavenly Father does the same.  If God can wipe the slate clean for you, how can you justify not doing the same for others? Just do it. The freedom you feel will be worth your sacrifice - and living without regrets... Priceless!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Love in a Snapshot!

       I love this picture of proud Grandpa with his first grandson! Kurt was about 1 and talking a blue streak.  Dad had a hard time hearing him but would try to listen & understand anyway! He would nod and smile, and Kurt would keep talking. I'm sure there were times when Dad wished he could speed up the conversation, but he quickly learned not to finish Kurt's sentences because that always led to him starting the story over from the beginning.  It was a sweet interaction and I loved watching and listening to them.
       The other thing I love about this picture is how Dad stooped down to hold on to him, and how Kurt is holding Dad's arm. There's such great security in being held by someone so much bigger and stronger that you are.
       If you've been reading my blog for long, you know where I'm going already! While God doesn't have a hard time hearing us, I'm amazed that He keeps listening. We tell Him "childish stories" that show both our lack of understanding and our doubting faith, and yet He lovingly listens to every word. He knows our thoughts and limited perspective, and yet He never turns away from our immature ramblings. He gently points us back to His Word and enjoys our progress as we grow in Him. Although He knows the beginning and the end of our story, He lets us work through our days so that we develop our faith, gain wisdom, and practice those things He gently teaches us through His Word and His Spirit.  He loves us too much to ever ignore us, belittle us or make us feel in any way insignificant.  We are the lights of His life!
       And talk about security...God never lets us fall when we trust in Him & nothing can pluck us out of His hand. We have a Big, Strong, Powerful Father who wraps His loving arms of protection around us to give us comfort, peace, & a sense of security that can't be taken away by any circumstance, situation, or person!!  It's His character to love and protect, to nurture and guard, to hold and keep.
       Dad's favorite chapter was the one his parents prayed over him daily while he served in the military, Psalm 91.  The first part of it says, "Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust Him. For He will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection."  You can be confident that God delights in hearing you and you can always rest in the security of His presence!  With love like that, what else do you need?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

You're in the army now...

Dad never aspired to be in the army but ROTC paid a stipend to help him get through college, so he joined up. In his heart, he was always a man of peace but when WW2 broke out, he accepted his position and served well. He hated the fact that he got a medal for killing another person, even if it was to save many more. He actually misted up when he told me about it. "I looked him right in the eyes and pulled the trigger, at the same time he did. I just ended up to be a little faster."  He never took lightly that he had taken a son from another family, even though it was an enemy, and even though  he saved his whole platoon from a sniper that day. He was a reluctant hero, at best!
         He also had journals that he kept listing every man under his command that was killed, wounded, or ended up missing. He carefully noted the name, rank, date, and the location.  He felt a responsibility for each one and didn't want a single one to go unremembered or a family to wonder. He never took for granted that he made it back when so many didn't.
       Years later on a visit to Punchbowl Hill, Dad took me to the mosaic wall of battles and showed me where he had been and when. He talked about troop movements and campaigns, most of which I didn't really want to know, but I listened intently just the same. It was like reliving it in a way for him, like it had just happened. As we were talking, a group of Japanese teens came over and started making fun of the war and the memorial. I had never seen Dad get that mad. He blasted their insensitivity with words they probably didn't understand, and if the security guard hadn't intervened, I think he would have physically tried to throw them out!  He took it all very seriously, as most veterans do, and his patriotism was intrinsically wound into who he was.
       Experiences are like that.  Our experiences mold us and shape us, determining in large part who we are and how we look at things.  They can make us better or bitter, as the saying goes. One of my life verses is 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us." When I was going through the darkest time of life, this was the verse God gave me - it's not just about me. We can become victims, crying and cringing because life isn't fair, or we can learn from our seasons of struggle and pass the lessons on to others who need them! Romans 8:28 says,"And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them." Everything that happens in our lives is not good. We live in a fallen world and bad things certainly happen to the best people. But if we are willing to use those bad things and the lessons we learn from them to help others then God gets glory as we show how He helped and sustained us through it all, and we get blessed by doing His will. 
       Long after Dad's stint in the U.S. army was finished, he was still an "enlisted man" serving in the army of his God.  He's retired now and has entered his permanent R & R, but we who are still here have a job to continue, an enemy's forces to still contend with.  The war's been won thanks to what Jesus did; but we have the mopping up to do. So let's get busy and do it because... You're in the army now too!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sorghum, Sardines, and Sweets

       Dad was serious about integrity, loyalty, and love but he had some funny quirks that made life in the Lynch house a fun place to be.  Dad loved sorghum!  He always had a can with a pry-off lid sitting in the pantry and as often as he could get mom to make biscuits, he'd indulge.  It was a process - put butter on the plate, stir it until it was soft, add the sorghum, stir again until it was just the right color, "sclup up".  In fact, at one of our last Lynch family parties before he passed away, he gathered the grandkids and taught them how to do it just right.  It was fun to watch him!
       He also loved sardines, much to Mom's dismay.  As often as he could get away with it, he'd open up a can and eat them with saltines. Mom would be simultaneously airing out the house and making comments about the stinky smell.  Dad was not deterred. He liked what he liked...
       The other thing he was pretty adamant about was dessert, the heavier the better.  Once when I was about 10, I made a coconut cake for his birthday. It took me all day and I made a huge mess - six layers, coconut creme filling in between each, with a whole bag of coconut piled on top as decoration! The thing probably weighed 30 pounds and he said it was the best thing he'd ever eaten!  I was so proud! I couldn't lift it, but I was proud! He Loved His Sweets!! I could always count on him to bring home candy and got my "secret stash" idea from him!  Mom quickly learned not to try to pass off anything made with pudding or jello as dessert - he wouldn't have it!  Dinner was not dinner until you had dessert - and if there were no cake or cookies, he'd raid his stash to find something. When Dad got sick, he really wanted a chocolate shake from MacDonalds so we snuck one into his hospital room.  The nurse almost had a fit about us ruining his "nutrition" but I looked at her, pointed at him, and said "What my daddy wants, my daddy is going to get!" She huffed out, but Dad smiled! It ended up being the last thing he ever ate!
       Funny how those memories warm my heart.  There are so many of them, a lifetime full, that it's hard to stop the flood once the gates open. I guess the bottom line was that Dad just believed that if life is going to be worth it, you better have some fun and indulge a little - not to the expense of anyone else, but in harmless ways that bring a smile.  We spend so much time and energy slaving through our days without ever enjoying them.  We work and struggle to get and maintain a bunch of "stuff" that ends up in boxes or at Good Will.  Dad was happy with clothes from Sears and a small travel trailer that we could go to Panguich Lake every summer with. He never cared about outward impressions or labels. He didn't need or want fancy stuff - He was what you saw he was and didn't strive to be anything else...just make sure he was surrounded with people he cared about AND had dessert and his Okie heart was happy!! 
       And now he's enjoying both. He's surrounded with loved ones and is enjoying the "dessert" that we all should make sure to end this life with;  he's spending eternity with Jesus! Dad would be the first one to shout out to us down here, "Hey be sure to keep your fork, cause the best is yet to come!!" And it is!

Monday, June 13, 2011

It's not about the starting line...

       My dad came from humble beginnings.  His family never had much, and he tells stories of being thankful at Christmas to get an orange in his stocking!  One of his favorite meals was chipped beef and gravy, which I'm sure Grandma made with 90% flour and water and only 10% (or less) chipped beef from a glass jar, but Dad loved it anyway.  He left for college with a quarter in his pocket and a can of beans in with his few clothes. He hopped the train to get there. The financial support of a doctor whose family he saved from a fire when he was a teen and the small stipend he got for joining ROTC kept him going.  He didn't even have much moral encouragement - in fact, the extended relatives accused him of being presumptuous for trying to go to college and "move above his station".  Not a great support group!
       However, God didn't care about any of that!  He looked down and saw a man of great loyalty, integrity, and love. He knew that the effect my dad would have on many people would be awesome, so He kept him safe through his grueling years with the Army in WW2, orchestrated the divine appointment of meeting my mom, allowed them to have and raise a family, and put them in a church where they'd meet life-long friends and grow in their relationships with God.
       Dad was a man of complete integrity. He dealt with others as if they were family, always generous and always honest.  Other men sought his advice and he was an influencial member of church boards for 40 years.  He was also intensely loyal.  He loved his family and friends with a love that wasn't performance-based and I knew that no matter what I ever did, he'd never love me less. He just loved....        
       Dad also trusted in God & His ability to provide. He once told me that if God could take a country boy and "finagle" a way for him to go through college and dental school, then He could take care of him the rest of the way! He financially supported his parents, when they could not take care of themselves, contributed to his brother-in-law & sister's church as well as his own, loaned money frequently to relatives that were in need, and consistently gave offerings over and above their church commitments. Mom said he was generous to a fault, but he just felt so blessed that he couldn't help it!
One of Dad's favorite songs was "To God Be The Glory" which begins with
"How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me? Things so undeserved, yet You gave to prove Your love for me. The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude. All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Thee. To God be the glory..."
       Dad was a man full of gratitude; he knew that he was blessed but didn't know why God chose him for such "undeserved" blessings! I do.  He became the patriarch of a family that loves and serves God...we watched his example, lived under his mentoring, and followed in his steps, each of us in our own ways. They say the measure of a man is not in the possessions he leaves behind or the money he accumulates, but his true legacy is the influence he leaves in the lives of those who knew him. In Dad's case, though he's been gone for almost 16 years, the values that he lived and instilled in me continue to direct, influence and shape my life and decisions. Not a day goes by that I don't think of him with love and gratitude, and I am so thankful & blessed that God chose him to be my dad!!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"Each One A Priceless Creation"

        Even at first glance you could see she was not just another little red-haired 6 year old. While the other students entered the classroom in a frenzy of excitement, barely noticing the room or its contents, she was almost reverent as she methodically gave attention to each of the “wonders“ of this new environment. She gently touched each object on her desk as if seeing such things for the first time - sharpened pencils, 24 beautiful new crayons, a perfect pink eraser, a name tag with her official name spelled exactly right…Each item was a treasure, precious and awe-inspiring!
        Her uniqueness did not end there. Unmoved by any authority, unaffected by her peers, unchangeable by any outward stimulus, she played, worked, and even moved within the fantasy world of her own making, content to be with us but not part of us.
        And why not? Her reality was a common tragedy: a teenage mom struggling to raise a daughter while trying to avoid the scrutiny and legal consequences of Child Protective Services’ involvement. They moved often, living with whoever would take them in, choosing to accept the consequences of addictions and abuse as a better option than homelessness. Fear of living on the street demanded such desperate choices.
        She had already mastered the art of self-preservation. Misplaced trust had taught her to guard her heart because everyone, even her own mother, eventually abandoned her, regardless of the fervency of their initial commitments.
        The other students quickly decided to keep their distance, not that she seemed to notice. She smelled like the Spray & Wash used to freshen her dirty clothing and reeked of cheap perfume that didn’t quite mask her infrequent bathing. She guarded her lunch, as if anyone else would touch it, and savored each bite as if it might be her last. The attention frequently paid to her was usually negative.
        In spite of it all, she possessed a gentleness that remained unaffected by others’ opinions or indifference. She was pleasant enough to talk to, when you could engage her, and smiled easily. New learning experiences sometimes brought momentary interest, but coloring was her true joy. She drew innocent images as if she were any other first grade girl. Unicorns, flowers, rainbows, animals…her drawings poured from her onto every sheet of paper, whether its originally intended result was math, science, or spelling. My rebukes were met with a “deer in headlights” look of surprise. She quickly checked to see what she was supposed to be doing and then scrambled to catch up with the rest of us.
        As time passed, and everyone‘s patience wore thin, repentance was instant but never lasting. Each incident brought again that initial surprise - she reacted as though she was in a bubble that had just been popped! She seemed completely oblivious as to why she was in school. She was certainly capable; when I coerced her into working, the spark was there. But there was always the compelling lure of those crayons. She drew as if her life depended on it, and in some ways it did. Crayons produced her reality, her creations were her only friends, and her “authorized artwork” was her only source of positive recognition. She participated with us only as long as she absolutely had to, returning to her drawing with added fervor, as if doing penance for her absence. The most severe consequence I could levy was confiscating a picture, and to avoid that she would try her hardest to comply, to be like everyone else.
        She wasn’t with us long. Absences of a day here and there turned into weeks, and eventually she was withdrawn from our school. I can only hope that her next teacher found a way past her “eccentricities” to cultivate the potential inside.
        Time has passed and yet I still think of her, wondering what became of her. I hope that somehow her imaginary world remained a protective bubble that kept her unscathed by others‘ rejection. I want to believe that her artistic creativity eventually positioned her to leave the horror of her reality permanently. Most of all, though, I pray that someone, somewhere, gave her what she needed most, an introduction to God’s love - for He never abandons us, fully accepts and appreciates our "uniqueness" and desires to convince even the most unlikely among us that we are His masterful and priceless creations!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Truth About "Can't"

Can't and Won't are not the same thing.  There are some things I just can't do:  turn back time, change the way other people act, get a "do-over" for past mistakes...the list goes on. Honestly, though, so many times when we say Can't, we really mean Won't. 
Usually when we say we can't, it's because we're anticipating doing something in chunks that are just too big or too scary to handle.  I remember when my husband first suggested we climb Mt. Whitney! "What? I can't do that... I'm not a hiker...I'm not in shape...I don't have the right stuff..."  You get the idea! And yet, just a few months later we did it. How?  By taking the process in little steps. I started walking. We started taking easy day hikes. We saved our money to buy appropriate gear. We tackled more challenging (moderate) hikes. While I can't say I breezed up the mountain, or that I didn't have to bribe myself with the reward of a pedicure and massage, step by sometimes tedious step I eventually got to sign the Summit Book! It wasn't painless and it wasn't easy - and I'm not sure I'd want to do it again - but I did it!
Our Christian walk has a lot of similarities.  When God asks us to step up and do something, we often say we can't. "I've never done that before. I'm not trained. I'm not as good as ________. I don't have talent. I can't..." Our excuses may be numerous but what we really mean is that we Won't.  We won't step out of our comfort zone. We won't ask God for help. We won't take the steps to learn. We won't reach past our insecurities (pride in another form) to try. We just won't. While Can't means unable to, Won't is a deliberate choice of our will!
God never gives us opportunities that He hasn't chosen for us. Everything He brings is something we will be able to do with His help.  It may be something you haven't done before that needs guidance and counsel from others. It may be something different that requires rethinking of old, worn strategies. It may be strengthening or broadening a gift or talent that you already operate in. It may be a brand new challenge!  Whatever it is, you can do it. You may have to break the big idea into little pieces and work through bit by bit, like my Mt Whitney experience. Or you may have to just jump in with both feet and let Him refine you as you go along. But don't immediately disqualify yourself. He wouldn't give you the chance if He didn't know that you could succeed- He never sets us up to fail!
Promise yourself that the next time a door opens, instead of immediately responding with "I can't" you will do 3 things:
1)  Pray through whether it is God asking you or someone who just needs you to fill a space
2)  If it is God, ask Him to give you counsel through His Word or His people on how you should prepare, proceed & progress.
3)  Be persistent.  All new things take time to learn. You will make mistakes, just count on it!  After all,
there's a famous quote that says "Success is just getting up once more than you fall down!" Regroup, evaluate what there is to be learned by the mistake, and try again!  Practice doesn't always make perfect, but it does lead to improvement!
Step by step, day by day, your "challenge" will get easier and you may even end up wondering why you were so worried about it in the first place!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Galatians 6:9 Illustrated

Throughout my childhood years, I had a 2nd Mom. She was my best friend's mother and we spent so much time at each other's homes that Mrs. Kay was like another mother to me.My memories of her are all happy ones! It was fun to go over there. She loved television, always had snacks, and was pretty lenient about what we did. Looking back, she must have had the patience of Job because we girls were pretty silly. We were either laughing hysterically over some ridiculous thing or sobbing!  Mrs. Kay was always "cool" about it - never screaming at us (though I'm sure she would have loved to, at times). My friend's room was our sanctuary and her mom never entered to interrupt our "serious" conversations unless she was asking us if we were hungry - again! I remember several of my friend's birthday parties - tons of dressed up little "princesses" who were indulged & pampered for hours on end.  Mrs. Kay was even brave enough to take quite a few of us to our first grade teacher's wedding. Imagine eight 6 year olds in a car, singing, arguing, laughing, & alternately listening to the complaints of the ones who didn't like the "itchy slip" thing.  And then having to keep us all quiet during the ceremony and curtail our giggling! She was a saint for sure. I've been a first grade teacher for many years and wouldn't have attempted such a feat!
       Besides all these happy memories of childhood, I can still picture Mrs. Kay in her Sunday Morning spot - the nursery.  She loved those babies and toddlers. Year after year, she held, rocked, cuddled, changed, and fed screaming babies.  She had a magic touch that could quiet even the crankiest of "teethers" and never seemed impatient or irritated.  Once in a while a few of us would "help out" in there but after a few minutes, we were ready to "get out of Dodge!"
       I remember asking Mrs. Kay what kept her going back in there week after week. She smiled & told me she was doing her act of service to the church & living out her favorite verse...Galatians 6:9.  "Don't be weary or lose heart in well doing, for in due time and at the appointed season, we will reap, if we don't give up!"
       I have marked that verse in every Bible that I have, and have referred to it often. Don't give in, don't give up - keep on keeping on!  It has sustained me through trials, misadventures, struggles, all sorts of obstacles, and many seasons of spiritual warfare.  Don't give in, don't give up - one more step, one more step. When life seemed unbearable and the trials unending, that verse has helped me stubbornly stand when I wanted to run for the hills. It has cheered me on when I felt that everyone needed more from me than I had to give. It got me up and moving when I wanted to pull the covers up and make the world go away! It has kept me faithful when the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be a train! It reminds me that God doesn't expect us to do His part, only ours..Ephesians 6 tells us to put on our armor and STAND. Believe me there have been times when even standing took all the energy I could muster but the verse came back again - Don't be weary, don't lose heart, don't give in, don't give up...and it whispers again that this world's problems are temporary - the best is yet to come!
       And along with the verse, there is the memory of Mrs. Kay who lived it out!  She was faithful to her call, doing a  seemingly unimportant and unappreciated job, never expecting reward or acknowledgements, but doing it week after week just the same! 
       Now, many years later, she continues to reap her reward...she has certainly heard those loving words from the Savior she dearly loved, "Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have done well with little things, so I now reward you with even greater things.  Come, enter  your rest!"
       If I can do as well, I will be happy! "Lord, help me be faithful to the end...don't let me grow weary, don't let me give up, don't let me give in..."

Friday, June 3, 2011

It's Not About Me...

Over and over throughout the Gospels, Jesus defers to the Father's will. While the hardest surrendering was in the Garden of Gethsemane where He asked the Father to find another way but chose to lay down His life in obedience, He also relinquished His rights on a daily basis.  Time and time again He could have risen up in indignation at unbelief, at unrighteousness, at doubters, at those who were constantly setting verbal traps for Him,...Even the ones He chose to be followers were often the source of heartache and frustration.  "How long must I be with you...where is your faith...stop being fearful..." His words fell repeatedly on deaf or uncomprehending ears.  His demonstration of "taking up your cross daily" was visual and constant. (Luke 9:23)
This morning during my Bible reading though I saw something I had never considered before.  Jesus didn't just teach about grace, He lived it - grace toward a Pharisee that sought Him in the darkness of night so he wouldn't be found out; grace toward a woman caught in adultery; grace toward a tax collector who climbed a tree just to see Him; grace toward a Roman soldier; grace toward a guilty thief who was being crucified beside Him.  Grace  - defined in Philippians 2:13 as being the work of God to empower, energize,and give us the desire both to will and to work for His good pleasure. In other words, as I lay down my right to be right God steps in and gives me all I need to be obedient to what He has called me to do, which is to be a servant. 
Never is this demonstrated more clearly than in John 13.  We have this beautiful picture of Jesus washing the disciples feet. He showed them true serving of one another and told them that demonstrating Love through service would be the trademark of Christian living.  But I had never considered that Jesus washed the feet of Judas - His betrayer.  Within hours, Judas would be the instrument used to set in motion the arrest, torture, shaming, agonizing and finally death of "his master". Jesus knew Judas intimately - his robbing of the purse, his pact with the Pharisees, his plan of betrayal - and yet He washed His feet.  Sacrificially, submissively, in total obedience, Jesus showed us that we are not just to be servants to those who are our friends, those who treat us well, those who are "with us".  We are to lay down our rights in service and love to those who mistreat us, hurt our feelings, betray our trust, ignore us or even ridicule us. Why? Because it's not about us at all. It's not about my needs, wants, desires or even feelings. It's about God's will.  Is it easy? NO! It's a minute by minute choice to remember what Christ did for me and pass that love on to others. It's a day by day decision to follow in Christ's footsteps when I'd rather go my own way. It's a moment by moment acknowledging that I have no rights to cast the first stone - that extending grace to others sets me free from the burdens of my own self-righteousness.  It's about surrender....It's all about Jesus!  It's not about me...and dear ones, it's not about you either.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

"No worries... it's all good"

One of the "pet phrases" that I've heard alot lately is "No's all good"!  It seems to be a catch- all response for several things: 1) you're forgiven   2) I don't want to talk about it anymore  3) forget it  4) I'm over it...
The last time I heard it was when a friend was trying to explain her tardiness in repaying a debt. The one who was owed the money got so embarrassed by the explanations that she responded, "That's really's all good."  She didn't need the reasons - she completely trusts the borrower to repay when she can, so she rests in that. 
I love thinking about the phrase in relationship to our dealings with God and His with us. God continually listens to our feeble excuses for our behavior, attitudes, words, deeds, and even thoughts. He hears our cries for forgiveness and then points us again to the cross where Jesus paid the debt to make it "all good" again. He doesn't ask us to do penance or belittle ourselves...He doesn't want us to wallow in self-pity or condemnation.  Instead, He asks us to let go of our broken yesterdays and move into even deeper relationship with Him. He responds to our repentant hearts not with covering of our sin but total removal, as far as east is from the west!  "It's all good" because He made it that way.
And what about our response?  When trials come and the battle rages against us, we can be secure in the knowledge that "it's all good" because God has it under His control. He plans and executes every detail of our lives for our good (Romans 8:28), has amazing plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11) and has provided everything we need to do the things He has called us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:39), He supplies our every need (Philippians 4:19) and we will have the eventual victory  
(1 Corinthians 15:57).  Add to all that is the secure knowledge that our heavenly home awaits us, and no matter what we're facing today we can truly say "It's All Good!" We may not know the whys, but we know the character of our God and that's all that matters!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Simple Object Lesson

I got an email that prompted me to consider the different ways Christian women respond to trials in their lives.  It was a story of a mom/daughter conversation. The daughter was distraught about the circumstances and trials she was going through. She wondered if serving God really was worth it. Her mom calmly boiled three different things: a carrot, an egg, and coffee beans. When asked to explain,  mom thoughtfully taught the following object lesson:
"When the carrot boils, its hardness turns to a mushy texture that is unable to even keep together on a fork but falls to pieces as you try to pick it up. It is no longer able to stand up against anything but easily falls apart.
An egg boiled becomes harder and harder, from outside in, until the whole thing is rock solid. Its once protective shell loses its ability to shield it and the whole egg is changed & becomes hard.
Coffee beans, however, are released to "do their job" when boiled. The heat doesn't change them except to allow them to positively affect their environment and become what they were meant to be - a good cup of coffee!!"
Think about it...
The next time trials come your way, will you become a mushy mess of self-pity and "why me"s, a hardened shell that eventually becomes hard and calloused all the way through, or an instrument of change and blessing to those you come in contact with?  Romans 8:28
Quite a lesson!  I knew I loved coffee......