Saturday, December 31, 2011

Who Started All This New Year's Resolution Stuff?

With New Year's upon us, everyone is reflecting on things past, hoping for things to come, and making resolutions to improve the things they can. Why? Who started this tradition at the first of every year? Curious, I did a little research.

The first to celebrate the beginning of a new year was the Babylonians on the Vernal Equinox, March 20th (or 21st in some years), at around 2000 B.C.  Besides being the first day of spring, this date has astrological significance. At exactly 7:21 pm EDT the sun crosses over the Earth's equator. Both day and night are of equal length, thus the name, Equinox - equal night. 

It wasn't until the adoption of the solar based Julian Calendar by Rome in 46 B.C. that January 1 was designated as the first day of the new year. It remained until the Council of Taurs abolished the practice in the year 567. The counsel claimed the celebration was pagan and unchristian, and they set the new year on either December 25th, Christmas, March 1, the Annunciation, or on March 25, Easter.

In 1582 the Catholic Church adopted the Gregorian calendar and January 1st was reinstated as the beginning of the new year. The Protestants were slower to adopt the calender, holding out until 1752 when the British finally accepted it. Prior to that, Brittan, and its American colonies, celebrated the New Year in March.

As far as New Year's resolutions, it is the Babylonians we can blame for that tradition, then later, Christians implemented the year end practice of reflection on past mistakes and new year vows to improve.

The song, Auld Lang Syne, was first published by Robert Burns in 1796 after Burns heard the song in his Scottish hometown. The song was popularized by band leader Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians in 1929 after playing it at midnight on New Year's Eve during a party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City.

The words, auld lang syne mean "old long since", or "times gone by." The song asks if old friends and times will be forgotten, and promises to remember people of the past with fondness. Very appropriate sentiments as the old year wanes and the new begins.


Following the ancient tradition of reflection, I think back this New Year's Eve to special moments with my friends and family, accept the hallmark changes, and look forward to things yet to come. Although there are still some unresolved issues (and there will always be), I feel I am at a far better position than at any other moment in my life.  I have learned to have more faith and trust in God, my Father, and life is no longer one crises after another.

My only resolution this year: to continue to deepen my relationship with Him, and all the rest will magically fall in place.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Unexpected Christmas Gift

This Christmas my church offered only one Christmas Eve service, at eleven pm. I am not a night owl and any event, church or party, starting later than seven pm is a challenge for me.   With an abundance of churches in our area, I began an on line search for a Christmas morning service. I found a church offering a 10:30 am service only six miles from the house. Not a bad commute. I used to drive much further than that to attend church. However, there was one little flaw in this plan. Attending services at a church other than mine meant sitting in an unfamiliar church, with an unfamiliar congregation and minister, alone, on Christmas. 

My resolve to attend wavered. After a moment of prayer, I decided it was important I attend, regardless of how odd, or sad it would make me feel. I pulled on my coat of Courage and Trust, and went.

The church parking lot was almost empty. Was the web sight wrong and there wasn't a 10:30 service? Well, there were a few other cars..... I grabbed my purse, got out of the car and resolutely headed toward the front doors. As I passed a car parked in the handicapped spot, the occupant, and older woman, leaned out. "They are having a 10:30 service, aren't they?"

"As far as I know. At least the web site said there was. However, this is my first visit, and so I am not entirely sure, but thought I would try the door."

The woman smiled. "Well, I'm fairly new as well. I'll follow you, and if you would like, we could sit together."

"I would like that."

There was indeed a service. About ten other attendees were scattered about the small sanctuary. My companion led me to a pew much closer to the front than I am comfortable with. (I prefer the anonymity of the last row. ) Prior to the service, the minister moved from pew to pew, personally welcome every attendee, including me. His words of welcome touched my heart.

The celebration was simple, elegant and stirring, and with my companion beside me,  I felt welcomed, and at home.

After the service, Carol gave me a huge hug and invited me back. The minister also extended a personal invitation to return next Sunday.

I thank God for my unexpected Christmas gift. Carol will never know what a difference her simple act of kindness made. I am taking this beautiful lesson to heart, and asking God to help me be a doer of small, yet mighty, things.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Pessimist and the Optimist

Yesterday an acquaintance received the anticipated announcement she was finally hired as a permanent employee. I was happy for her, yet felt depressed as my temp situation is unchanged, and even a little tenuous.

My husband, understanding my lack of holiday enthusiasm, encouraged me to watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, believing the silly antics of the characters would at least make me laugh. They did that, and surprisingly a little more. I also received a deeper message, not at that moment, but later.

I spent the rest of the evening mulling over my employment situation and other personal issues, sarcastically telling myself, "Well Merry Christmas -  not!"

Things changed this morning. With sleep, my first cup of coffee, and a beautiful dawn, the story of the Pessimist and the Optimist came to mind. Two boys were placed in separate rooms. One filled with every imaginable toy, the other with manure. After an hour observers went to each room to see the boys' reactions. Sure enough, the Pessimist could only complain. Nothing was right. Every toy had a flaw or defect. Noting this, the observers moved to the next room. To their amazement the Optimist was busy digging in the manure. They asked him what he was doing. His answer, "With this much manure, there has to be a horse in here somewhere!"

Well, I was the Pessimist, only looking at what was wrong, not at what was right, or could be.  Instead of thinking how my acquaintance got a permanent job and I didn't, I could think positive. If  she was lucky enough to be hired, I might very well be next. Who says it can't or won't happen?

With this thought, I opened my first devotional, Good Morning, Lord, by Joseph T. Sullivan. Today's prayer:

Good morning, Lord.
Words are just words until one day they may take on special meaning.
There are lines we have heard so often.
Then one day, their impact hits us:
"Your Heavenly Father knows all that you need."
Is this true? Is there really a divine providence?
Can we take these sacred words seriously?
What a big difference these words would make in the practical
events of life if we accept them.
We slow down and gain confidence;
life is no longer a series of uninterrupted crises.
Lord, help me to take your words to heart
and trust you to take care of me. Amen.


It was then I understood something else. We idolize the holidays, believing this special season changes the entire world and everything and everyone in it. Like Chuck Griswold, we become overly optimistic, believing in the ideal of the perfect family Christmas. Life is built on the imperfect, and we are usually greatly disappointed for one reason or another when our expectations are too high or unrealistic. Then we become pessimists at best and Scrooges at worst. I suggest something else - a true Optimist. An idealist who recognizes and acknowledges flaws, but chooses to focus on what is right, rather than what is wrong.

This holiday season will not be Courier and Ives perfect. It will be somewhere between A Christmas Story and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and with a little effort some What A Wonderful Life mixed in, filled with more blessings than I can count.

I will go one step further. Those visiting the stable on the first Christmas could have chosen to see only a poor family and a cold, dirty stable. Instead, they chose to see the glory of God and the Salvation of Man, Emanuel - God With Us. That is my choice. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Oil

Having lived over half of my expected life span, I find myself spending more time wondering about the purpose of my life. Have I discovered it?  Have I fulfilled it?  So many of my dreams and aspirations were never brought to fruition, partly due to the choices I made, partly due to circumstances beyond my control. 

I did not become the famous ballerina I aspired to be.  I had the necessary grace and talent, studied the art with private lessons from the age of five through twelve, but when I gained my full height my teacher informed me five foot five was too tall to be a ballerina.

My parents offered private art lessons as an alternative. It was love at first brush stroke.  I had talent and potential. I studied, practiced and actually dabbled with a few pieces of commissioned work, but the dream of an art career never materialized.

Before I could explore that option, osteoarthritis developed in the lower thumb joints on both of my hands from overuse. My job as an Optician had destroyed my hands.  I could no longer hold a paint brush, or much of anything else for that matter. Doctors told me I was too young for joint replacement and would have to live with the pain and disability until I was older. Thirteen years passed before I became a candidate for joint replacement.

Through this experience, and other life altering events, I began sharing stories of faith, miracles and God's compassion. Friends and family encouraged me to write them down. I could type without pain, and I poured myself into this new craft. However, God put the brakes on the dream of a New York Times best seller. (Described on  my page Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My! (Why I Write). )

A few years ago a brilliant surgeon replaced my damaged thumb joints and after a year of therapy and recovery, I could once again hold a paint brush. Not on a full time basis as required to go pro, but at least I long enough to pursue the passion as a hobby. Although it has been fourteen years since I painted, and I may be a little rusty at first, I have confidence it will all come back and I can once again adorn our home, and others, with original art.

Yet, my original question remained. Why would God give me talent without the means to perfect it and use it successfully in a career?

The answer: oil.  In Streams in the Desert, L.B. Coleman tells a story about an eccentric old man who carried an oil can with him wherever he went. He lubricated every squeaky gate and door he encountered. When asked why he did this, he replied, "To make the way easier for those who come after me."

The cloud lifted. My talents weren't meant to make me famous, or rich. That wasn't how God marked success, and neither should I. They were meant to be used as oil to enrich and smooth the lives of others. My talents were meant to be shared, not sold.

My devotions this week included Isaiah 61:3: To appoint the mourners of Sion, and to give them a crown for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, a garment of praise for the spirit of grief: and they shall be called in it the mighty ones of justice, the planting of the Lord to glorify Him. 

Oil of joy for those that mourn. I can't think of a better use of my talents.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things

Last week's post touched on treasures and priorities. I have reflected a great deal about the things I treasure and came to realize there are treasures and there are favorites. Things should be favorites while God, faith, and family are treasures.


So, it is alright to have favorite things such as antiques, books, vases and mementos. The picture on the right shows a few of my favorite things.

The book is the one I've mentioned in previous posts, the one my sister gave me after my third husband died. It contains Maxfield Parrish prints with the words to the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It has brought much peace and comfort during the hard moments of my life, and so it is on my list of favorites.

The vase was given to me by my husband. He knows the story behind my affinity for lilies, particularly Calla Lilies, and that was the reason behind the gift. ( See post: Lilies). It is now among my favorite things as well.

The antique dolls are only two among a large collection, all gifts from husbands, my sister and girlfriends. The givers are among my treasures and thus the gifts are among my favorites.


The sea shell came from the shore of a lake in Zimbabwe, Africa where my husband and I were married. I treasure that moment in time, the symbol behind the object: our love and commitment to each other. And so it is among my list of favorite things.


There are more, many more as our home is filled with mementos from our African travels, our years of collecting fine art prints, my own original art, and precious books and family photos.


As I reflected on these things, I recalled other treasures, Divine gifts I will always keep close to my heart.




First time I held my daughter
Hugging my daughter on her wedding day
My grandson, my daughter's first child
My husband and I on our wedding day
                   
                                                                                             


My daughter and her husband




                                                                                       
My oldest son
My Neice


My parents 20th Wedding Anniversary

My Sister

My Niece
My younger son


My grandson
My Granddaughter
My parent's 60th Wedding Anniversary



Sunday, December 4, 2011

Treasures and Priorities

The crash, followed by silence meant trouble.  I rushed into the kitchen and immediately saw the shattered plate on the counter. My eyes then flew to my husband. He stood by the sink running water over the fingers on his right hand.

"Are you hurt?"

"Burned my hand pretty good."

"Oh, Honey. Are you alright?"

"I'll know in a minute."

"What happened?"

"I didn't realize I'd turned the burner on under the plate and when I touched the plate, it of course burned me. I pushed the plate off the burner, but it shattered when it touched the counter."

"Were you cut?"

"No. Just burned."

I looked at the shattered plate. It was a piece of Franciscan China given to me forty years ago as a wedding present. Although that wedding ended in divorce, it had been given to me by my family and I treasured it. Since marrying Bill, pieces, mostly dinner plates, had been gradually disappearing. The set was now down to only five dinner plates out of the original eight. I had not heard the story behind the other disappearances, and could only wonder at how they met their demise. 

I pushed those thoughts aside and turned back to my husband. Large blisters emerged on all five of his finger tips.

"Honey, you really should put some burn cream on those and then bandage them."

"I'll think about it."

"And,if you go to the doctor, he will give you this amazing antibiotic cream that will immediately reduce the pain as well as protect your burns from infection. I really think you should go."

"I'll give it a little longer and then see."

I knew it was useless push any further, and with misgivings dressed and headed to work. As I drove, I thought of the plate, and could hear my mother cautioning me to be careful with my things. As a result of her advice I have many things I have kept safe for years, until I met Bill. He isn't purposely hard on things, but he is like the proverbial bull in my china shop. 

The silverware set I had received along with the china was now gone. Spoons kept disappearing until there were only four left out of a set of sixteen. Bill eventually confessed to accidentally grinding them in the garbage disposal. He has a habit of putting all the dirty dishes in the same side of the sink with the disposal and the teaspoons are short enough to disappear into the opening. Lying unseen, they become victims to the steel blades.

After his confession about the silverware, I stated, "Honey, I've had that set for forty years!"

His response indicated how different our thought patterns and priorities were. "Well, I guess it was about time you got a new set."

This comment left me speechless, and acutely aware my priorities are not always in the right order. I sometimes laid up the very treasures Jesus had warned against. Certainly I should be a good steward and not be careless with the things I am given, but they are not to be treasured above family - or God. And, Bill was right. All my priceless treasures can be replaced. Maybe not with anything identical, but definitely replaced with something able to provide the same function. That isn't true of God, or my family. They are irreplaceable treasures far more important than a piece of china, or a picture or any other keepsake.

I will admit, it wasn't any easy lesson. I was very tempted to mourn over the demise of that beautiful plate, the symbol of a  treasured gift, and it took some effort to treasure the giver over the gift. One final thought settled the matter.

When God calls me home to Him, I don't want to be remembered as the woman who had an entire set of unbroken china in her cupboard. I'd rather be remembered as the woman who loved God and her family.

Now when I look at that china set (and at our new silverware), I think of priorities and where mine need to be. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Post Holiday Reflections

The turkey is nothing but bones. Only crumbs remain from the pies. The suitcases, the air beds, and the general clutter are gone. The floors are once again open spaces where the hostess can walk unimpeded. Gone also are the giggles and screeches of grand kids, and the constant hum of a dozen different conversations. Everyone is back home, back to work and school, back to life.

However for one brief weekend we re-lived what once was, a time when family was around for every occasion, happy or sad. When only days passed between visits instead of years.

I will hold the memories of this special holiday in my heart, pulling them out during future holidays when we cannot be physically together.  

This Thanksgiving held something even more miraculous than being all together, the celebration of my parents 60th Wedding Anniversary. They were married on Thanksgiving Day, 1951.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Turkey - A Re-Post in Honor of Thanksgiving

We were flat broke with several more days to payday. With three kids to feed and a pantry nearly bare, things looked pretty grim. I mentioned my concern to a close friend at work.

"Remember when God paid your insurance? If He will do that, he will surely fee your family as well. Trust Him."

She then told me this story.  A flood ravaged a small community, forcing many residents onto their roofs to await rescue. One man, looked at the water already lapping against his ankles, realized he couldn't wait too much longer to be rescued. Unable to swim through the raging water, he faced certain death if he wasn't found very soon. Desperate, he cried out to God to rescue him. God promised He would.

 A rescue helicopter noticed the man on the roof, flew over and lowered a rope. The man waved them off. God was going to rescue him and he didn’t need the helicopter. The crew shook their heads at the man’s foolishness and moved off in search of other victims.
Two men came by in a row boat and offered to take him with them. He refused their help also, again stating God was going to rescue him.

A surge of water swept the man off the roof and he drowned. Standing before God he asked why He hadn’t saved him as He had promised.

God replied, “I sent you a helicopter and a row boat, what more did you want?”                                                                                                                 Author Unknown

I thought about the story as I drove home that afternoon. Okay, whatever God sent my way, by whatever means, I would not decline the offer. I would look for and accept the helicopter or a row boat. I didn't expect God to send me a turkey.

When I walked into my kitchen, I discovered a twenty pound turkey, thawed and ready to cook, was sitting in my sink. Thinking of the story, I knew it hadn't simply materialized. Someone had put it there. Only one person, besides the family, had a key to the house, my mother.

I called her, and listened to a story almost as amazing as if the bird had suddenly materialized out of thin air.

Several days prior, the freezer belonging to a woman neither of us knew malfunctioned and everything in started to thaw. Most of the food the woman was able to either cook or transfer to the freezer in her refrigerator, but the twenty pound  turkey wouldn't fit and it was too much for her family to eat without re-freezing the left overs. She offered it to a neighbor. The neighbor accepted it, then decided she didn't want it. She passed it to a friend. That friend accepted it, then decided she didn't want it either. She in turn passed it on to someone else.

This was repeated over and over until the bird was passed from home to home all the way accross town to my mother. Mother accepted it on my behalf and brought it down to the house just before I arrived. By that time the bird was completely thawed and ready to cook. Dinner would be late, but there certainly would be plenty.

And now, every Thanksgiving when I look at the turkey and see images helicopters, rowboats and my kitchen sink, I bow my head and say, "Thank you."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Needs

I've spent a great deal of my life clinging to a job, a home, financial security, husband, children, parents  -  things, and in the process expending a great amount of emotional and physical energy. I am not saying we should not care about people or things, we should. We need relationships, we need things in order to survive, but we need God more.
One of my devotions mentioned a popular chain e-mail. It asked, "Suppose you're house was burning, with all of your family already safe, you have just enough time to take one item with you, what would you chose?"

As I went through a mental list of things I treasured, a new thought emerged. What if God came to the door and simply said, "Come." Would I need to say goodbye to family first? Would I tell Him, just a minute I want to grab a few things, or would I have enough faith and trust in Him to simply step out the door? I decided I could just walk away. After all if God were personally beckoning me, why would I not?

Another image formed. With nothing but the clothes I was wearing, I embarked on a journey with Him. We walked side by side down the street, out of the neighborhood and gradually out of the city. For a woman who carries a large purse everywhere, and always has multiple suite cases when traveling, this was an intoxicating concept. He even made keeping up with Him easy, matching His pace to mine, and carrying me when I became too tired to walk.

We were deep into a wooded area, far from any town when night descended. A thunderstorm hit, and within seconds I was soaked. I could no longer see God or feel His touch.  As I considered my desperate situation, a large lightening flash revealed a small cave only a few steps in front of me. The floor of the cave was sandy and dry, but I still shivered in the night chill. I wondered why God had brought me there and then just left, leaving me to die of exposure and hunger.

Lightening hit the tree, just outside the mouth of the cave and ignited one of the large limbs. It fell a within arms reach, and with minimal effort I drug it further into the cave. My clothes were soon dry, and the blaze held off most of the night chill, but I was still hungry, tired and seemingly alone.

Then I realized God would do two things. He would either provide food, warmer shelter and everything else I needed to continue the journey  - at one point or another - or He would take me Home where all my needs, even those beyond my imagination would be filled. Short term hunger and a little cold could be endured.

At that moment God came into the cave and sat down next to me. He entertained me with stories and amazing natural wonders. He assured me that although I missed dinner, breakfast would be indescribable.  He told me how much He loved me.

I eventually fell asleep, curled next to the fire, covered with a blanket of God's love and peace. No worries, no concerns. I didn't make any do list's or minute by minute plans for the next morning. I didn't check off a list of all the things I failed to accomplish that day, nor did I recite any list of transgressions. I had followed God, and that was all I was required to do.

Now, I can truthfully say, if the house were on fire, or if God knocked and said, "Come", I would walk away, leaving everything. I would be selfish (according to the world's point of view), but by choosing God above everything else, life becomes simpler, and far less stressful. My burden's are much lighter, especially when I let him carry most of the load.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Two Masters

No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Luke 16:13.

I understood the above passage on an intellectual level, dispassionately, objectively, yet never personally, until yesterday.

My temp position requires a staggering amount of training, and after three months I do not feel any more competent than I did after three weeks in my last position. The result, I am still making mistakes like a new-hire. To a Perfectionist/Over Achiever this is frustrating, humbling and sometimes humiliating.

Yesterday, I made an error, important, but not grievous.  With constant interruptions from the phones, I was distracted, lost focus and confused two gentlemen's names. Both names were similar:  same first name and close last name. As a consequence, I sent an important, (thank goodness not a confidential) package to the wrong address.

My supervisors were kind about the error, especially after I owned up to being responsible and explained how it occurred. However for a perfectionist, seeing the disappointment in management's eyes was enough to send me on a spiral of self-chastisement. In answer, God sent me another dream.

I was in a large compound filled with people from many social and economic levels. The general crowd was engaged in rather disgusting behavior. Desiring some privacy and a place to escape from the ethical onslaught, I found a small room with a locked door. Ignoring the lock, people came in and violated what I felt was my private space. They not only invaded, they continued their abhorrent behavior. I was angry and in admonishing them let slip a cuss phrase using the Lord's name. Regardless of their horrendous behavior, I knew my error would be severely punished.

When the general manager approached, I told him, "Stop right there. I never cuss or use the Lord's name. I slipped and this is why."

I then listed the atrocities going on around me and how I resented the disrespectful behavior toward me. He apologized, and offered to send one of the resident pastors to speak to the group. He joked they would either stop their abhorrent behavior or clear the room. The dream ended there.

After my readings this morning I understand the symbolism. I ranked my error as serious as taking the Lord's name in vain, in essence putting their approval above, or on the same level as God's, making them my second master. That is a far greater error.

Putting God first, pleasing only Him, takes away the burden of relying on my accomplishments to affirm my worth. God knows my heart. He knows my intent is not to be slovenly in my tasks. Being imperfect, I will make mistakes, but these do not define who I am.

I am a child of God, and I refuse to have two masters.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Last Night, I Died

I have had many unusual dreams, some were premonitions foretelling future events. Others have given instruction. Last night's was one of these last.

In the office where I am employed as a temp, there is a backroom used for shipping. I spend a great deal of time there preparing domestic and international literature shipments. In the dream I was in this room when I collapsed. 

My soul separated from the flesh, and stood looking down at the crumpled shape. "Well. I guess I'm dead. And that's okay. No more worry, or pain. I certainly don't need to be concerned about finding another job." I felt a twinge in my conscious. My family. They would be hurt. 

God spoke to me. "You are not dead. I am going to send you back."

I looked down at my body. "You know, if someone finds me and calls 911. That's going to cost money. I don't have insurance, and Bill and I are barely hanging on now. This will tip us over the financial edge."

"No one will find you before you revive."

"Oh. Then why did this happen?"

"I needed to get your attention."

"Well, you have indeed gotten it."

"Marie, you have become more and more like my Martha. You fuss about a lot of things, and in spite of your resolve, you still miss the point. First, in answer to your question of what you are to do, be patient. Your time of waiting serves a purpose. I have taken many things from you: husbands, family, friends, jobs and financial security. I have done this to prove to you, not Me, that you can live without these things. It is Me you cannot live without."

My feelings were deeply hurt. "But, Lord, I have always tried to put you first!"

"Not as I want you too."

"I am confused."

"That is why I have brought you here. You have yet to let go of worry over what will happen tomorrow, next month or next year. You have many unknowns in your life at this moment and have suffered great disappointments. They are My means to grow your faith and trust in Me. Let it go. Let it all go. Be My child. Go out each day and do your best. Enjoy My gifts you posses at this moment, and do not worry about what you will have or not have tomorrow."

I woke with the image of myself standing over my body, still worrying about how inconvenienced I would be if I was found before I revived. Even after His admonishment, my alter ego, Martha was very much present. To eradicate her personality from mine will take extreme effort and almost minute by minute vigilance with my  thoughts. 

I must confess, I came by this nature through the example of my father. He worries constantly. In fact at one point I coined a phrase describing him. He not only believes his glass is half full, he also believes what remains is toxic. He has gotten better over the last few years. 

Although I have always been more positive than that, I have always worried. It is my chief nemesis. Now, after last night's dream, I understand how offensive it is to God, and it is time I really worked on changing. I know it is okay to make plans, but I am not to live just for their fruition. Today is a most precious gift that should not be spoiled by yearnings, or worry about something too far in the future to be addressed today. 

But, I am weak. I can't do this on my own. Happily, I don't have to. God performs miracles wherever He finds faith, and He will find it in me. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Time of Waiting

The word, no, is a hard one to accept, especially after pouring your heart and soul into an endeavor with the belief that honesty, loyalty, skill, and patience would matter. After being pursued, and yet still rejected - with the promise you would be kept in mind - the knife cuts even deeper.  

When the tears and initial pain finally subsided, accusation settled in. I simply wasn't good enough. My hard  hard work and diligence was not good enough. The words cut deep, leaving seeds of hatred and bitterness in the wound.

I plucked out most of these seeds through prayer, but could not completely eradicate hurt, discouragement, doubt and anxiety. These remained, winding long tendrils through my heart and mind. More prayer, and the Master Gardner began pruning away the unwanted growth. I writhed with pain under the sheers, but knowing the pruning was necessary, I did not run.

When at last the pruning was finished, and the pain subsided, I picked my self up and continued moving forward. Again I received a series of rejections and faltered, but remained on my feet. He too was rejected, over and over to the point of death on the Cross, and is still rejected. This added some salve to the wound, but it still throbbed.

This morning, God applied another kind of salve through two different devotions. Both reiterated when waiting for something we want, or desperately need, our patience is severely tested, but if we remain open to the lesson we are to learn, we will grow, and a delay is only that, usually followed by a greater blessing than we expect. "...be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him. Psalm 37:7. We are not to rush into anything. We are to remain patient, trusting even when we do not understand.

Fortified with trust, patience and hope, I continue to seek His answer, His solution and I believe it will be nothing short of miraculous.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bread Crumbs

My life changed dramatically after my first vision, described in an earlier post, The Divine Embrace. God told me I would walk through an inferno, not as a punishment for my sins, but through the natural course of my life. I would endure great pain.

Following this revelation came horrendous, life altering events. However, He offered encouragement, consolation and guidance through dreams, premonitions and scriptural promises.

This week I have faced yet another momentous life course change, and I am unsure of which direction to take. The variables are too numerous to fathom. As before, God has provided some clues to what is His will in the matter.

Like bread crumbs, or sometimes even the more prominent rock piles hikers use, He has marked the trail.

Luke 12: 6-7 
Are there not Five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet no one of them has escaped the notice of God....Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows. 

Philippians 4:6
Do not be anxious over anything.

Luke 12: 22-28
Therefore I say to you, do not be solicitous for your life, what you shall eat; nor for your body, what you shall put on...Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labor not, neither do they spin. 
But I say to you not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed as one of these. 

This verse has particular meaning as one of the first miracles I received after the vision. (See Lilies)  

Another devotion offered this: Good Morning, Lord by Father Joseph T. Sullivan: ...After rainstorms, puddles reflect sunrises, or mountains, or rainbows, or blossoms. Rainbows also have a previous correlation to serious trials and corresponding miracles. (See Somewhere Over the Rainbow)

Besides the scriptural reminders, there were also several coincidences. I have handled hundreds of shipments at my current place of employment (the temp position due to end in a few months) yet, yesterday was the first time I came across another individual with my name (on an address for a literature shipment I was sending out to another state.) No big deal, right? Not really, when taken alone. However, a few minutes later I answered the phone. It was a random solicitation call from the company involved in my current circumstances. The first time that has ever happened as well. The meaning? None, other than it is just His way of getting my attention, as He has done in the past when I think none of the above is really meant for me personally. 

Last night, the personal call I had been so anxiously awaiting came. The company is delaying the decision in my regard yet again. This issue has been going on almost two years and I now must wait for another three days, until Monday, the 17th. With so much at stake, it is very hard to simply sit by and wait for an outcome I cannot control. 

Yet, the delay has an interesting significance. The number 7 in varying forms: 7, 17, 27, 37 and so on, has also provided trail markers in the past, alluding to the Divine symbolism of the number 7 in the Bible. Besides the beautiful messages in both Psalms 27 and 37, the number 7 means several things. A great number and completion being two of them. Both appropriate for my situation.  These numbers are not miraculous, or magical. They serve only to remind me of His Word, past promises and miracles. (See Signs.)

If I will only trust Him and follow His signs, I will avoid most of the deep holes, ruts, and boulders hidden in the mists of my doubt and worry. I may skin a knee, or obtain a bruise, but I won't fall, and although I still have no clue where this path will eventually lead, at least I know I am on the right one. 


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Guest Blogger, Lydia Harris, a.k.a. Grandma Tea

Lydia is gracing us today with a glimpse of her newly released book, Preparing My Heart for Grandparenting, and recounts some of her journey to becoming a published author. 

Lydia Harris 

Thanks for inviting me to guest blog on your site, Ceci. I’m glad to share a bit of my writing story with your readers.

Writing and Grandparenting
In Preparing My Heart for Grandparenting, I’ve combined my passion for grandparenting and my calling to write. My book is a Bible study for new and experienced grandparents, but it’s not your typical study. Although full of scripture, it also contains practical and creative ideas to share fun and faith with grandkids. I interviewed dozens of grandparents, so the book includes their stories and quotes as well as my twelve years of hands-on grandparenting.

The study affirms grandparents in their important role, provides tools to become FANtastic grandparents, and helps them to pass on a legacy of faith. One grandmother wrote, “Your book has challenged me to think intentionally and to live purposefully in this new role.” The book makes a great gift for grandparents.

I’m thankful my husband and I live near our five grandkids, aged one to twelve, and can enjoy time with them. Even so, it takes planning to make it happen. I try to schedule time twice a month with my eight-year-old granddaughter for spiritual mentoring. And whenever possible, we attend our grandkids’ events or invite them to our home.

This school year we had a first as we watched our middle-school-aged grandson play football with his school team. Go Jaguars! Another day, our kindergarten-aged grandson spent the afternoon. Since he has a vivid imagination, we looked for dinosaur footprints as we walked to the park. When we took him home, I told him when he turned sixteen and had a license I hoped he would drive over to visit me. “I will,” he promised.

Family Matters
I’m the youngest of eight children, and family has always been important to me. All my siblings are Christians, and we spoke German in our home when growing up. At the end of each day, we gathered for “Schluss” as a family to sing hymns, read the Bible, and kneel to pray—all in German.

After raising two children, God nudged me to write. I’ve written hundreds of book reviews, articles, columns, devotionals, recipes, and stories. I enjoy writing about tea, hospitality, prayer, family, and grandparenting. Together with my grandchildren, I create and test recipes, which are published in Focus on the Family’s children’s magazines.

Prayer as a Priority
Prayer is an important part of my life. I joined a Moms In Touch prayer group over twenty years ago and still pray weekly with mothers, now grandmothers. I also organize family prayer times for our extended family. We regularly share prayer requests by e-mail. Family members who live in the greater Seattle area meet about six times a year for family prayer times. In Preparing My Heart for Grandparenting, I’ve included several lessons on prayer along with exciting prayer tools.

Now with a published book, I also have speaking opportunities. I’m grateful that during these retirement years God still has plans for my life and continues to pour out his blessings. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” (Psalm 23:6 KJV)

Please stop by my blog (www.PreparingMyHeart.net) and say hello. And if you or someone you know is a grandparent, consider my book as a gift. To God be the glory!

Blessings,
Grandma Tea

Thank you, Lydia for sharing your insights into the joys and responsibilities of grandparenting. I know God will bless your work abundantly. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

Disposable

 We are a nation of disposable products, touted as modern.conveniences, and yes, they are convenient.  Who can argue that paper plates, plastic silverware, water bottles, diapers, carryout containers are so much easier than what our parents and grandparents dealt with. Yet, what price have we paid for this convenience? I am not talking about just the trash problem all this disposable conveniences have created. There is something deeper, and more troubling  in our society.  

 Corporate numbers have always dictated companies' decisions, and to some degree, justifiable. The corporations, or business, toss out the unwanted numbers like disposable conveniences, regardless of what they represent: product or people.

Now, don't misunderstand me. I owned my own business and I know the value of those numbers. If a business can't make a profit, then it can't pay its bills, including payroll. What I do have a problem with is the deception and ruthlessness some corporations and business owners use to balance their numbers. Remember the old phrase, "It isn't personal, it is just business"? Well, it is personal, and they use the phrase as a cop out for their responsibility in ruthlessly effecting others' lives.

The news is filled with stories of  financially struggling companies deceptively keeping it a secret from their investors, creditors and employees. At the last moment the executives announce bankruptcy and closure, then walk away with their pockets lined with green down.

Once in a great while you hear about a company who acts with compassion and honesty when forced to deal with lay offs, benefit changes and bankruptcy. They can't give what they don't have. In these cases the executives suffer right along with the employees. They are the Daniels of this world, acting with honesty and integrity, even when tempted to look out for their personal interests first.  

In all fairness, there is the other side of the coin as well, the employee who takes whatever they can get, without thought to the company or their co-workers. Their motto, "As long as I get mine", is just as destructive as "It's only business."

An applicant explained to his interviewer all the benefits he had at his last position. "I had fully paid medical insurance, numerous paid holidays, a very generous sick leave and bereavement policy, flexible hours, a benevolent expense account, a luxury car and over a month in paid vacation. And, I received the very handsome salary you see on my resume."

The interviewer was astonished. "Why would you leave a job like that?"

Applicant. "I didn't. The company went bankrupt."

This type of greed started with Cain and Able and will continue until the end of the world. So, what do we do when faced with deception as an employer or an employee? Let's look at the life of Daniel.

Daniel was a captive, yet through his integrity, honesty and talents, he rose to prominence in not one, but several kingly courts. Of course, others were jealous and sought to destroy him and as a result Daniel was thrown to the lions, not once, but twice.  (One would think once would have been enough.)

In the first case, Daniel spent the night in den, remaining unharmed through God's direct intervention. The second time he was in the den for six days. God not only protected him from the lions, He fed him as well, through the miraculous transportation of the prophet, Habakkuk. God thought of everything.

I take courage from Daniel's story, not just because God saved him from the wicked. Daniel retained his integrity and continued to do his very best regardless of his circumstances. He held to his faith and trusted God with his life. Now, we know that Greed too often wins while the Good suffer, but we must remember this is only temporary. The world doesn't get the final word. God does.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Perfection


Our culture seeks perfection in everything. The perfect job, friend, boyfriend, spouse, car,  weight,  teeth, hair. The list goes on and on. The ads in magazines and TV tout products and services guaranteed to help us achieve this state of perfection.   

I know better than to swallow this lie. My teeth will never be perfectly white or straight. My hair will always have that little wave right in the middle of my otherwise perfectly straight coiffure, and as I age, I fall shorter and shorter of our culture's model of perfection. I am okay with that. I am also okay with imperfection in other areas as well. My husband is no longer the physical Adonis I married,burr I still love him. I forgive my friends's shortcomings, and never think of, or mention, family slights or miss-communications. None of it matters, not really, except in  my church.

After leaving my hometown and the church I attended for most of my life, I have been searching for another church community and have yet to find one where I felt as comfortable. This last Sunday I was again reviewing local churches and rejecting first this one and then that one. There was always some imperfection, some flaw. Not necessarily in dogma, but in practice.


After much prayer, I felt the Spirit guiding me toward one particular community, but I balked. Some of the clergy in the hierarchical offices had acted scandalously in a very public manner, and I couldn't abide by their hypocrisy.  Although the local church was not directly involved, I associated any attendance with support and approval of those ministers. I rejected the church without ever attending a service and continued my search, only to be drawn toward it again and again.

Frustrated and confused, I fell to my knees and asked God what He wanted me to do. He sorted it all out by pointing out the beam in my eye. I sought perfection from imperfect men and women. Just because the group was labeled a church did not mean it magically became a place of perfection. There would always be flaws, not in the basic dogma or beliefs, but in the clergy and other members. Nothing on this earth will ever be perfect and I had to accept the flaws in the church the same way I accepted them in my family and myself. As I have stated several times in other posts, what matters is the effort and the intention, what is in our hearts, not how many times we fail.

Don't misunderstand me. Anyone in a position of authority, and indeed we ourselves, should be held accountable for their/our actions, particularly when acting on behalf of the Christian community, and cannot be allowed to purposely mislead or in anyway ignore the tenets of our faith. St. Paul vigilantly held the churches in account for scriptural and behavioral deviations - but did not throw up his hands and walk away from the faith - or Church - because of imperfection. He continued to implore them to change their behavior and mold themselves after Christ.

I cannot use imperfection as an excuse not to attend services or join a faith community. So, this Sunday, it is off to Church I go, right along with the rest of the imperfect.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Me? A Hypocrite?

“My name is_______and I am a hypocrite.” Many nonbelievers think every Sunday service should start out with this announcement. They don't realize most attendees are there concentrating on their own transgressions, but  they aren’t as vocal as the ones that cry out “Do this and don’t do that” and then turn around and don’t do that and do this. Shall we say Bad Press?

 I counted myself as among the repentant until one of my devotions cut through my pat perceptions and sent a dagger right into my heart. It accused me of being a hypocrite.

I wanted to shout, "No, not me! Surely you don't mean me!" But, I couldn't. 

The devotion that so cruelly pierced my heart was titled 9/ll and Learning to Forgive by Msgr. Stephen J. Rosetti in Living Faith. Forgive? I had on numerous occasions and I felt smug. I forgave my cranky neighbor, my annoying coworker, and the abusive spouse, but when Msgr. Rosetti pointed out I needed to include the terrorists of 9/ll, my heart stopped. My patriotism cries for vengeance, but God says, “No.”  How many times must I forgive? Seventy time seven. Ouch.

Just forgive and forget? Pretend it never happened? Surely not.  After some prayer and reflection I realized my error. There is a difference between self defense, protecting others, and vengeance. The key is motivation. Is the act carried out from righteous indignation against the perpetrator solely to return hurt for hurt, or does it derive from compassion for the victim and the desire to protect?

In a vision several years ago, Jesus appeared on the cross. Standing behind Him was the person who had nearly taken my life. As I watched, Jesus transposed His face over his. In that moment I forgave completely. I didn’t forget the hurt – or the danger - but I let go of the anger, hatred and the need for retribution.  However, I had not applied this truth to the horrors of 9/ll, or other global atrocities. I didn’t know if I could.

Terrified of not complying with His directive to forgive, and not have my own transgressions forgiven, I dropped to my knees. His gentle voice reminded me of another vision. As He held me in a tight embrace, He whispered how much He loved me - just as I was, imperfect and sinful. It didn't matter how many times I failed - only how hard I tried. Again, it was what was in my heart that mattered. 

And so, I will pray for the conversion of the Muslim nations, pray for God’s solution to the terrorist threat, and pray for our conversion, especially my own, from hate and the desire for vengeance. I will stay vigilant, and careful for the safety of my nation and my family, and will not knowingly allow someone to be hurt, but I will not harbor the desire for revenge, at least I will try. 

I can see His arms, wide open, inviting me and everyone else, into His embrace. This hypocrite is not going to stroll over, or take any side trips. I am going to run straight at Him, dragging anyone else along who is willing. How about you? 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Special Post: Interview with My Friend, Sylvia Stewart, Author of the Newly Released Novel, Kondi's Quest


Hello.  I’m happy to be with you today.  Do you have your coffee or tea cup at hand?

My name is Sylvia Stewart.  I’ve served as a missionary in Africa for almost 32 years.  We loved the 21 years we spent in Malawi, East Africa.  Malawians became dear to our hearts, and Malawian children are as sweet as kids from any other country.  They had a special place in my heart.

We went on to spend another 11 years in Ethiopia.  I felt drawn by the children there as easily as I was toward Malawian children.  Long before I left Africa to retire, I wanted to leave a written legacy for Africa’s children.  Later, my grandchildren came into the picture and my book is dedicated to them and the children of Africa.

My pre-teens’ novel, Kondi’s Quest, has just released.  The main character is a composite of many girls I knew in Malawi.  Kondi’s Quest will introduce you to Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa.  It will also give you a glimpse into an African culture as well as provide a fascinating story of Kondi’s quest to find her father’s love.

Kondi’s Quest is my first book, although I’ve been a published writer for some years.  A sequel is in the works, as well as a pre-teens’ novel set in Ethiopia.  I’m also developing two adult novels and a book of devotionals for women in ministry.

My reason for writing is to share God’s love with my readers.  Many people know about God and Jesus’ saving grace, but not everyone knows Him as personal Savior and friend.  In her story, Kondi becomes better acquainted with both her father and her Heavenly Father.

Kondi’s Quest gives you a peek into a very special girl’s daily life, her joys and her sorrow.  It portrays the Malawian way of life as heart-warmingly as I found it when I lived there.  Ncheneka is a real village.  I lived there.  However, I’ve taken a few liberties for the purposes of the novel.  None of the characters are real – but they are composites of many of my Malawian friends and associates in ministry.  I tried to stay as true to the culture as I knew how.  I know a lot has changed in the 20 years since I lived there.  I hope my readers will close the book when they’ve finished reading it, with a sigh of regret at having to leave the cozy aura of Kondi’s Quest, and a longing to “go back to Malawi” in another story.  I also hope it will give hope to children of every culture, who live in unhappy situations, and give them a longing to know their Heavenly Father, who loves them deeply.

My favorite character in the story is Kondi herself.  She’s artistic and smart.  She recognizes beauty and love when she finds it.  She loves her family and has learned to accept changes in her life, even though they are different from what she expected or wanted.

My favorite scene is the funny pinching ant scene.  I’ve experienced the squealing and jumping around just the way Kondi did.  The view of the valley, like a giant sleeping under a patchwork quilt, is one I saw from my living room.  The cloud on top of Dedza Mountain came nearly every day.

Since I was involved in ministry in Malawi, writing Kondi’s Quest had to take an as-time-permits slot.  Kondi has been a constant companion during the 24 years it took for her story to reach publication.  She still is on my heart as her sequel develops.  (The working title is Kondi’s Secret.)  I’d be happy if you’d look me up at: http://www.sylvia-stewart.com.

Also you can follow my blog at: http://sylviastewart1.blogspot.com/ where you can find out more about my books as they develop.  I’m set up with PayPal, so you can purchase signed copies with a bit of a price break.

Thank you for taking time with me today. I hope you enjoyed hearing more about Kondi’s Quest and Malawi.


Me: Here is the link to the book trailer Sylvia's daughter, Lynette Bonner created for her mother. She did a fantastic job. It is really worth checking out.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SPtgTLa7q8

Author Bio: Sylvia grew up in the (then) Belgian Congo and spent 21 years as an Assemblies of God missionary in Malawi, East Africa, with her husband, Duane.  In 1992 they were asked to go to Ethiopia to found a Bible College. They spent 11 years in Ethiopia doing mostly Bible College ministry. She taught college-level English to students who had never taken a grammar class before.

Sylvia has been published in Assemblies of God denominational magazines: The Pentecostal Evangel (now Today’s Pentecostal Evangel); Advance (now Enrichment); Woman’s Touch, and their missions magazine, Mountain Movers, which is no longer in print. She has also been published in WASI Writer, a writer’s magazine published under the auspices of the University of Malawi.

Sylvia is a freelance writer under contract with Network211.com, a Christian website. She also writes devotionals on assignment for them. 

Me: I also want to thank Sylvia for sharing her personal story and this wonderful glimpse into her novel with us, and, I hope all of you consider her book for that young reader in your family. Blessings! 

Friday, September 9, 2011

I Get It

The epiphany occurred at a red light. My thoughts were whirling around several concerns, my temporary job and pressure from family to put my needs above my conscious. A month had passed since I began my temporary position, and I was still training.  Two more months and the assignment would end and I'd be back job hunting. It seemed like a waste of time and energy for both the company and myself.

My family pointed out the company would not hesitate to make any adjustments necessary to ensure greater profits - at my expense. Why shouldn't I consider my needs first? I was not under contract, and could leave with only the customary two week notice. Sounds like a simple choice, except  two weeks would not be enough to train a replacement. Would that be ethical? I oscillated between the desire to ensure my future employment, and doing what my conscious told me to.

The epiphany occurred when I realized I didn't have to make that decision. I could let God decide. I know that sounds pat and trite, but I meant it in a way far different than before. Wayne Jacobsen in his book He Loves Me! put it well. Will I pray "Save Me!" or Glorify Your Name!"? In other words, who's interest would best be served by my decision, mine or His?

When I reflected on my previous experiences, I could honestly say I was happier walking through the flames with Him than I was skipping through the Valley of Perpetual Sunshine alone. There was an emptiness in the valley I didn't experience in the flames.

In confirmation, a gentle voice reminded me I had yet to do without the basics for survival. This last period between jobs I received a pay check every single week from one source or another. It wasn't always very much, but it took care of our most important needs. And this job, I didn't even apply for it. The agency called and I agreed to interview. When the job was offered, I was given a dollar an hour more than what the job originally posted for. Granted it was not as much as I was earning in my last position, yet it was enough to keep most of the financial wolves at bay.

When  I am honest with myself, I understand God will not allow me to glide through life like a spoiled child getting everything I ask for. As a parent I know that isn't healthy, and time and again, what looked like the worst possible outcome, turned out to be far better than I imagined.

St. Paul, always a good example of unerring faith, understood this basic principle. If God intended for something to happen, God would make it so. He knew God intended for him to go to Rome, and when the big storm hit, he had enough confidence in God's promises to comfort others.The ship was wrecked, but Paul made it to Rome. Granted he didn't float in on a grand ship. He and his fellow passengers had to swim for shore, clinging to wreckage, but he got there, and fulfilled God's purpose.

The same applies to my life. If God intends for me to stay on this earth a while longer, He will provide the means for me to do so. That means food, clothing and shelter. In the past He has paid my car insurance and taxes, even paid off large debts - and He used some very unconventional methods, ways I would never have conceived likely or plausible. In every instance, after much struggle and worry, and after I finally relinquished my opinion on how He should resolve the issue, the solution came. Sometimes the benefit wasn't readily apparent. I still struggle to understand some of the outcomes. These I must relinquish to His will.

My conclusion: even if my path - His path - appears choked with thorns, I can trust He will show me the way through the brambles, and throw in a few  roses, a sunny path or two, and some restful water along the way.

And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as according to his purpose, are called to be his saints. Romans 8:28  I finally get it.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

In Honor of the Men and Women of Law Enforcement


My husband, now retired, served as a peace officer for thirty-five years. We have often talked about his career and the perception the general public has of officers. In summation, he gave me this poem. I  think it says it all. I dedicate this post to all the men and women, past and present, who have, and are, serving in law enforcement: 


The Final Inspection

The policeman stood and faced his God
which must always come to pass, 
he hoped his boots were shinning
just as brightly as his badge.

"Step forward now policeman,
how shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek,
to my Church have you been true?

The policeman squared his shoulders,
and said, "No, Lord. I guess I ain't, 
because those who carry badges 
can't always be a saint. 

I've had to work most Sundays
and at times my talk was rough
and sometimes I've been violent
because the streets are awful rough.

But I never took a penny
that was not mine to keep,
Though I worked a lot of overtime
when the bills just got too steep.

And I never passed a cry for help,
though at time I shook with fear,
and sometimes, God, forgive me, 
I wept unmanly tears.

I know I don't deserve a place,
among the gentle people here.
They never wanted me around
except to calm their fear.

If You have a place for me, 
it doesn't have to be grand,
I never expected or had too much,
so if You don't I'll understand."

There was silence all around the throne
where the Saints had often trod,
And the policeman waited quietly
for the judgement of his God.

"Step forward now, Policeman, 
you've borne your burdens well.
Come walk a beat on Heaven's streets
....you've done your time in hell."
                                                                                         Author  Unknown