Friday, February 25, 2011

The Gift of a Day

Last week our neighbor of almost 30 years was found dead lying in bed. Anna was an excentric German lady with a heart of gold. Hers was the first home on Pine Ave., and she believed that the entire street belonged to her. She took ownership of every home and made every neighbor part of her family. She had an opinion for every neighbors' activity from the color of their homes to how to raise their children. Anna cared.

One of our most fun stories about Anna occurred as soon as we moved in. We would watch her from behind window blinds as she tiptoed across the street to place her trash into ours. It was only until she discovered that she paid for the garbage removal in her taxes, that she used her own front yard to set out her bags. Last week we found out that she was very well-to-do, but you would not know it from her frugal ways. She gave gifts freely, but only second hand items from yard sales. Anna picked up bread that stores were tossing out and distributed the baked goods to all the neighbors. Her home was one of the humblest abodes on the block. Anna will always be remembered, not for her money, but for her giving.

As I've grieved for the loss of a good neighbor, I think of Anna in her yard bent over, pulling weeds, arranging her gnomes, and trimming bushes. She lived every day with gusto. She was alive with activity! Every day was a gift she wanted to enjoy and she did!

This week my days have crawled by in very slow motion. I have looked at the clock often to find that time had taken tiny baby steps. I've spent my time wishing it were the weekend already, and then I think of Anna. I'm sure she would have loved to have had the gift of one more day. Why would I want to pass up these precious gifts? Could it be because I am not living my life as a gift? Could it be that I am not alive with loving others and thinking of others like Anna did?

The gift of a day is so often overlooked until our days our done. I think I'll take my gift of today and love someone. How about you?

Creator of the sun, moon and stars, You have given us the gifts of each day to work, rest, and even play. You have said that You want us to have abundant life, and yet we so often want to rush past the days where You patiently await our enjoyment of Your gift of today. We race toward the days ahead and forget the days present to us now. Forgive us for pushing away Your precious gift of today. Help us to find abundance in the work, rest, and play You give us. Thank You for waiting patiently for us to slow down and see what we are missing!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Trading Places

When my children were small I would often get down on their level and take a look around. Seeing things from their viewpoint gave me an appreciation for their struggles to understand their world. Things look very different when looking at them from someone else's point of view.

Babies who crawl on the floor see furniture as mountains and those little pieces of lint as interesting tidbits to taste. Outlets are decorations on the wall to explore. There are dark and scary places to hide or that hide wonderful things to explore. Babies are curious about their world. They need to be protected from the dangers around them, but most adults miss those dangers. We don't see what the baby sees until we are made aware of the baby reaching out for the item that is taboo for them. We can learn to understand if we take the time to see things from their perspective.

There is wisdom in trading spaces with others, not just babies. I find that when I think about someone else's day as if it were mine, I find more compassion and empathy. My husband needs me to put myself in his place once in awhile. My friends need me to think about their perspective before I offer advice or rebuke. I even ask what Jesus would think about a situation sometimes. It may not change what I have to say, but it will change how I say it.

Trading Spaces with someone is not done in reality. It is done in our thoughts. It is not a perfect experience, but we can come close. The truth is that even the effort makes the other person feel loved. People need to know that we have tried to put ourselves into their place: their financial downfall, or boon, their marriage or divorce, the loss of a loved one or the birth of a child. There is an endless list of places where we can travel when trying to connect with others.

I believe it helps to ask gentle questions. Questions reveal that we want to understand. However, we should be careful to ask more about feelings than about facts. It is in the emotions that we connect with each other.

Dearest Lord Jesus, You traded places with us and You know the places in which we live. You are all knowing and yet, You asked questions so that we would know You cared. Thank You for making the effort. Help us to make the effort with others. Forgive us when we don't even try.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Can of Worms

It seems my words often open a can of worms. I've started three blogs today and deleted them because I am in no mood to open the can of worms that could cause more trouble than I would anticipate. So, here I sit, wondering what to write when my can of worms begs to be opened so that I can be myself.

I could write about my desire to be the kind of Christian that does not force my way onto others but shares God's way and stands firm on the truths' in the bible. *A Can of Worms*

I could write about being my honest and open self and not letting others tell me that I should put on a mask so that others will like me better. *A Can of Worms*

I could open the can of worms, or I can give them to God. I have a feeling that He would know exactly what to do with them! In fact most of the time I write this blog as if writing to God, not only to those of you who listen in to my ramblings. Tonight it just seems hard to do. I feel too vulnerable. So, I will keep the lid on things for now. I won't stir up things and make others uncomfortable. Tomorrow I may have something to stir your hearts. God is stirring mine today!

Father, You are my Hiding Place. you are my Strong Tower. You are my refuge. Thank You for wrapping me up in Your strong arms and comforting me even as You stir up all that lies within my soul. Forgive me, Lord, for worrying about the can of worms. They are now in Your hands. Keep them until I need to use them. I rest in You.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Taking a Stand

It is not often that I speak up about where I stand. I don't need to because it seems I can be read by most people when I feel strongly about something. In leadership, however, there comes a time when it is mandatory to make a statement that clarifies my position. I am standing in one of those places now.

My position is to stand firmly on God's word without giving in to popular opinion or the fear of hurting someones feelings. The issue is complicated. Though I might not reveal the issue here today, I can assure you that I have prayed, studied, and weighed the issue for a long time. I do not claim to have a definitive answer, but I remain firm in believing God's word on the subject.

My spirit is solid. My feelings are tender. The conflict is in knowing my steeled stance will hurt someone I care about. My hope is that the pain will be the catalyst that will turn them to Christ and the Truth.

Those affected by my taking a stand will undoubtedly see me as being unloving and uncaring. They may also see the place where I stand as a judgement seat. It is so far from the truth! I do love them and care for them. More importantly Jesus loves them and cares for them. He suffered so that they would know His love forever. I do not place myself as judge over them, but I do stand near the Judge and claim Him the Righteous Judge. His judgement is right.

My desire is that when I speak up, my friend will see that I care, and finally see what she tries so hard to disguise.

Righteous Judge and Father, You have taught me how to leave the judgement in Your hands. you have shown me my own sin in light of the cross so that I no longer can stand in judgement upon others. It is all between You and the individual. But, Lord, there are many times when I use that as an excuse to not speak up or stand firm on the Truth You have given us. Forgive me, Lord! Help me to stand close to You against every sin, mine first and then others. Thank You for judging rightly. Thank You for seeing our hearts. Thank You for providing us all with a Savior in Jesus The Christ!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Trouble with Love

Love God, love others, love yourself. The two great commandments demand us to love. The object of our greatest love should be God, then we are to love others as we love ourselves. The trouble with love is that it is not easy.

God is good all the time. He is perfect and He is loving, giving, just, and forgiving. It should be easy to love God, but I find it difficult at times. He wants the very best for me and will push me to put away those things in my life that hold me back keeping me from being all I need to be. Why would I not love God, who knows what is best and who loves me so much, enough to do what He asks? Why do I refuse to return His love by my obedience?

Loving others is also hard. They are not perfect. I don't want to give them the best, because I don't think they deserve it. It is especially strange that I would not find loving my husband or children to be easy. They have given me much joy and loved me at times when I have been very unlovable. It just isn't easy to always love as I should.

Then there is myself. Loving me can be the hardest of all. I know my weaknesses. I know those things I hide away from others. When it comes time to love myself through tough times or challenges those shadows block out the light and make love tremble. Can I really love myself after saying what I said, or doing what I did? Loving is a difficult choice.

The trouble with love is that it is meant for all; the good, the bad and the ugly. It is not to be hoarded for special times of perfect behavior. It is meant for all times. Love can trouble my soul. I am commanded to love by making a simple choice. The trouble is that the choice is made only after a battle in my soul is won.

Good and Loving Father, You are the victory I seek. You are the Love I need and You have never withheld that love! Thank You! A battle rages in my soul to love as You have commanded. I submit my will to You. Fill me with Your love for myself, others and for You! Change my heart O God.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Simple I Love You

Valentine's Day is said to have been a remembrance of St. Valentine. He was sent to prison for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. While in prison he would write love notes to those on the outside. The notes encouraged others to also share their love and the love of God. It is a beautiful story.

The commercialization of Valentine's Day has disquised the love note into expensive, gifts, fancy flowers, over-indulgent candies and greeting cards. I admit it is not easy to write a love note. I am a writer, and I struggle to find the right words, so I understand the frantic rush to find just the right gift or card to say "I love you!" I also admit that for a short time the gift, flowers, candy or card does make us feel warm and loved. Maybe the bigger the gift the longer the feeling lasts, but a token of our love for someone can never replace the daily faithful loving expressions between true lovers.

Most T.V., movies, and commercials would have us believe that true love must be expressed by money spent. On this day after Valentine's Day I would have to say that the expression of love goes much deeper. Love can be simply expressed in the quiet moments sitting near by and enjoying the presence of love. It is the simple times of sharing your day and knowing the other person is really listening. It is being willing to step into the other persons' life, good and bad, and not walking away. It may not be easy to say "I love you," but it is simple. It is a simple choice to put the other person first.

Wonderful Loving God, You are high and lifted up! You deserve our love. You have every right to demand our attention and our devotion. You gave us Your Son and Valentine who loved Him enough to follow His example. They gave unselfishly to others. They put others first so that they might know they were loved. Thank You! Teach us, Lord to love simply. Fill us with Your Spirit of Love so that we might turn away from our selfish desires. Help us to love You as You deserve.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Conversation Hearts

Last night Patrick and I had a sweet conversation. We connected in a special way. We didn't need the little conversation heart candies to spark the conversation though. We simply slid into that relaxed open and honest place where we could be totally vulnerable with each other. I'd like to say that happens every day, but it wouldn't be as special if it did.

Vulnerable hearts are not only ready to share honest thoughts, but they also listen to honest words from the one they love and trust. Easy? Not always. I know that I can quickly put up my defenses if I am not willing to love with openness. I must decide to see, hear, speak and feel truth, and I can only do that with God's love flowing through me.

Patrick and I spoke about love and our understanding of the threefold cord God says is so hard to break. We have loved that scripture throughout our marriage. (Eccl. 4:12) It has been our promise to one another in that we have decided to let God be the third cord in our marriage. Conversing about God's cord that entwines with ours, reinforces our choice to love. That is what made the conversation so sweet. Allowing ourselves to vulnerably reveal our dependancy on God to make our love live, made the evening conversation blessed. Our hearts were given to God and one another in conversation, or should I say prayer?

Word of God, You are the third cord that binds us together in love. You are the Trinity of strength, perfection and love that we need. We cannot love without You present in our lives. Thank You for the strength You bring to those who need Your love. We need You. Fill our hearts with words of love for You and for one another.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Making a Choice

One of the hardest things to tell young people in love is that love is a choice you make daily, not a feeling or emotion you hope will last forever.

When Patrick and I talk to young couples in love, we always tell them about love as a choice.
We often ask those we counsel if they think Jesus felt the sweet tingly feeling of new love when He hung on the cross. They can't imagine that, but we know that He was on the cross because of His great love for us. No, He did not feel gushy mushy kind of feelings for us while He was tortured, but He did love us.

The same holds true for married couples. When we are hurt by our mates, we do not feel tenderhearted or the emotion of love for them. But we can always choose to love despite the hurt. Love can bring us warm tender sweet feelings, but those will not last. I think that is what the wedding vows say. I choose to love you in sickness and health, with riches or in poverty. Whatever comes your way you always have a choice to love. It is not always easy but it is possible.

Our choice to love joins our hearts and our will in an amazing bond. Love truly is the greatest! There is nothing like it! Feelings are made subject to our will when we choose to love. Love does not depend on the other persons' performance, because the choice has been made by the other.

Perfect Love, You are the Giver of the best gift of all: Love. You are the Perfect Love we all seek. Our love falls far short of the perfection You want us to experience, and yet You always love, You always give. Thank You! Open our hearts and our minds to the truth of true love. Guide us to make the right choice, the choice to love like You do!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Did He Marry a Jerkette?

I love to talk about love, marriage and the family. Sunday morning services promise to give me much to talk about in the next few weeks. Journey Christian Church is doing a series on marriage. Yesterday's title was "How Not to Marry a Jerk (or Jerkette)."

Like most everyone in the church yesterday, I set my mind to find out if I had married a jerk. I KNOW I didn't, but there are times when my Sweetheart of a husband has fallen into that category. Looking back, I must admit I was ready to put him there again if the occasion arose. It wasn't long after I began taking notes however, that I began to hear a small whisper asking me if I might have been the Jerkette when we got married. OH no! I couldn't have heard that right, could I?

I must admit that I brought baggage into our marriage, and I tried my best to hide it away in a back closet. It wasn't long before my entire wardrobe was revealed. I had a lot of old clothes that should have long ago found a new place. I hope you understand that I am not really talking about clothes here. I am talking about my past experiences, beliefs, quirks and habits. The question is did all that baggage make me into a Jerkette?

I don't have a definitive definition for Jerk/Jerkette so I don't think I can say yes or no to my question. One thing I do know is that in order to make the best use of this marriage sermon series I must keep my mind open to MY part of the marriage, not his! I heard Creflo Dollar once say that, it is not the way his wife loves him that he needs to worry about. It is the way he loves her. I agree. If I am to love unconditionally, I must love the best I possibly can, no matter what his love looks like.

God of Love, You brought Patrick and I together in marriage. We rely on You to lead us through the rough days and rejoice with us in our triumphs. You are love. It is only in Your presence that we can know a love greater than ourselves, and live a love for each other that is honest and lasts. Thank You for sharing Your love, teaching us to live in love, and changing our selfish ideas so that we can love. You are what we need in our marriage. We invite You to be the center of our lives.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Marriage is Hard Work

When I was dreaming about being married as a young woman, I thought marriage was easy. You fall in love, and stay in love, "Til death do you part." Now that I am living the "Dream" of being married, I know that it is hard work.

It does not take much in the way of time, or issues to cause a marriage to break down. It can be like having a flat tire on a deserted road. Something is said or not said. Things are done or not done. Misunderstood words or actions can be like the nail in the road that punctures the tire. It is time for the couple to get out of the car and fix what is wrong. Walking away in opposite directions may seem like an option, but it isn't. Others who might pass the same way, may know your vehicle and wonder why it was abandoned, or the children might be left sitting in the back seat wondering where they should go to be safe. It is the little things that, when ignored, will become a major problem in the end.

My husband, Patrick, and I have taken time to service our marriage like a conscientious car owner might service his cars. We go on dates weekly. We attend marriage enrichment seminars. We read books about marriage. Recently we began reading the book, "Living in Love" by James and Betty Robison. Patrick bought them for us for Christmas. We each have a copy so we can read on our own, answer the questions and then come together to discuss. It is a good way to repair damage done and do a little preventive maintenance.

I look forward to the next sermon series on marriage that John will begin on Sunday. The church and our country need the solid foundation of strong marriages. Tough times put stress on relationships, but there are helps. We are all affected by the marriages that fail. We are also affected by those marriages that last a loving lifetime.

God is the author of the marriage covenant. He even designed it to work between Himself and the church. He is the source of strength between a couple, or the hammer and nails that can repair them. He is the third cord that makes the couple not easily broken. (see Eccl.4:9-12)

Threefold Cord, God and author of the marriage covenant, You made us so different and yet, You desire for us to live together as one. You are Love, and You ask us to love one another as You have loved the church. It is hard sometimes, Lord. It is so easy to walk away from the hard work it takes to be the sign of Your love in the world. Help our marriages to grow. Help us to live our lives for a greater purpose than our own. Thank You for supplying us with Your word, Your grace, and Your love. Make us like You!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Black History Month

February is Black History Month. I think it is amazing to remember that Black History is not just a history of slavery. It is rich in every area of life, just as is every color race and creed! I am happy to celebrate the contributions of my dark skinned brothers and sisters. I will pray for the healing of the wrongs done to them by slavery, but stand amazed that through it all they have given so much to our country.

In every trial we can draw from God's grace and strength to overcome the temptations to become victims. We have opportunities to change the world around us even in the middle of hard times. The question arises for us now. Will the oppression against our Christian faith, the struggles of economic uncertainties, and other trials spur us on to live better or become bitter?

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my
salvation. Habakkuk 3:17-18

As for me and my house we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15

Like the slaves of old who brought forth good fruit of their labors to make our lives better, I want to produce good fruit in good and bad times. My dark skinned brothers and sisters are an example for me to follow. They used their God given unique gifts to create the tools to do the tasks they were assigned. Their contributions throughout history serve us well. It is now my turn to make a meaningful contribution to the world.

Oh Creatively rich God, You have filled our world with diversity and treasures. We have often tried to trample down those we see as different. We have used others to make our way to the top. Forgive us, Lord! Thank You for revealing truth to us when we seek You and not our own superiority. Teach us to humble ourselves before You. May You be lifted high!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

List of Thoughts

Today I watched the movie, "What If?" It was similar to "It's a Wonderful Life," but with one twist. The main character, Ben, was visited by an angel who took him from his high-powered executive life to his purposed life of being a preacher and family man. In his experience of visiting his purposed life, he was recognized by people in that life, but he did not recognize them. When trying to return to his life as an executive, he recognized those he had worked with, but they did not know him. He not only had two lives to choose from, but he was a different man in each reality.

In one scene of the movie, Ben is talking to his wife. He wants his exciting life back, but he does not know how. His wife asks why the Ben Walker he is talking about is doing here with her. He says he has to figure that out for himself.

This movie seemed to bring together some seemingly random thoughts I had over the last few days. It was a great movie to watch after Pastor John's Sunday sermon. Ben Walker had not found his "Sweet spot," as John would say. He worked hard and seemed to be successful, but was not honoring God in his work. He was meant to be a preacher and family man. That was were his sweet spot was. There was a greater purpose for him. He needed to find that purpose for himself (with the help of God's messenger.)

I also read a letter from James Robison. In his letter, he used the phrase, "Dangerously awake." That was a phrase to ponder. In a way Ben became dangerously awake to the truth of the life he was living and the life he should be living. The thoughts of "what ifs," "sweet spots," and being "dangerously awake" make me aware that the strengths God put into me are precious life-satisfying, God-glorifying tools.

The strengths we observe in one another are the expression of God's DNA passed on to us through our creation. Our weaknesses exist so that we yield to God in relationship to fulfill the assignments we are given. Learning to live with both is an adventure of loving God, ourselves and others.

Creator God, You have proven that You desire a connection with Your creation. You have given us strengths that show the world a part of You. You have allowed us to be weak so that we will seek after You and rely on You to make a difference. Please forgive us when in our pride we strive to erase our weakness or hide it away. Forgive us also when we think our strengths belong to us alone. Thank You for being strong and sharing your strength with us whenever we ask. We ask now to be filled with the truth of who You are in our lives! We need You!