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!