Friday, August 26, 2011

That Was Stupid

I know we are not really supposed to use that word, but sometimes we do things that are, well, just that, stupid. Why? We know better. We know the outcome will not be good, but we do it anyway. And, in our hearts we know we have no one else to blame.

Several years ago my doctor told me to limit my fat intake as well as my carbohydrates. One for my gallbladder that isn't functioning as well as it should (common in women after the age of forty - wonderful), the other for blood surgar issues. What do I do? Crave the foods I know I shouldn't have. So, why am I tempted to indulge in what I know will make me violently ill?  I tell myself a lie. If I limit the frequency and the amount,  I might just get away with it - this time. The problem is, when I get away with it once, I believe I can do it again, and again. Pretty soon I'm doing it all the time, and then suffer the dire consequences of doing what I know I shouldn't, wondering why I am having trouble. It's a game of Russian Roulette I can't seem to resist.

I do this with all kinds of rules or commandments, not just my health. The story of Adam and Eve is a classic example. Many interpretations focus on their broken relationship with God, but I found an additional gem. For years I condemned Eve for causing us all to live with the results of sin. After all she is the one who first gave into temptation and then led Adam into it as well, yet I can't even refuse small amounts of foods that I know will make me miserable, so how can I can point my finger at her without pointing it at myself?

True, ice cream (for example) is not an apple from the Tree of Good and Evil. It doesn't cause the death of another (although I sometimes wish I would just die), it is a symbol of something deeper. It signifies how far I will sacrifice my comfort to taste the forbidden, to indulge in my desires, even those I know are harmful to me. So far I have been lucky, my indulgences have not taken any one's life, not even my own - as yet, but if you fail in small things, the chances are greater you will also fail in bigger ones.

I don't have any answer or secret other than to trust God to help me through my failures and to give me strength to avoid the next pitfall, big or small. He has promised no sin is too grievous to be forgiven - as long as I repent and ask for forgiveness. Believe me, I am repenting now while I am uncomfortable.

Adding to this, I'd like to blame it all on my partner in crime, just like Adam tried to do. My husband has horrible sweet tooth and can't pass the ice cream or desert section in the grocery store without coming home with something. Just having these foods in the house is a tremendous temptation, much like the Tree of Good and Evil was to Eve. You could lay bets she hovered around it on several occasions, not touching, but certainly flirting. She did tempt Adam, but she didn't hold his nose and force the forbidden fruit down his throat, and neither did my husband. I succumbed to the temptation on my own.

I think about the heroic men and women of Scripture who willing fasted for days, faced horrific deaths, and never denied their faith. I can't even pass up the ice cream let alone die a martyr's death. But, you know what? God still loves me in spite of my flaws and He will give me the strength I need to face anything, yes, anything as long as I can trust Him, and not myself.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Are You Happy?

There are very few times I could actually say I have been ecstatically happy, except perhaps when I was a child. As most of  my life has been spent as an adult, that leaves a lot of my life in the unhappy category. Even the happier moments lacked something, usually tinged with some anxiety or sorrow. 

Then of course, there are those circumstances where nothing we do or say is going to make it better.  How can we be joyful when loved ones suffer? How can we be happy when we  aren't sure whether we can feed, clothe or shelter our families?

Jesus had moments of grief. He wept over Jerusalem. He was saddened when his disciples rejected Him and He certainly wept while in the Garden of Gethsemane. He felt greater despair on the Cross than any of us can comprehend. Yet scripture doesn't describe His life as one on going story of despair and hopelessness. I know I am missing something, but I can't quite grasp what it is.

My devotions gave me one answer, and it came from the mind of a child. In Living Faith, Aileen O'Donnoghue recounts the story of a friend's grandson. After a string of several disappointments, his grandmother asked him what she could do to help make him feel better. He replied, "Well, I could change my mind."

Change my mind? Could it really be that simple? What about all the situations I mentioned above? Perhaps those may not be included, but certainly other less devastating circumstances, which actually make up most of my life, could be. Maybe I could change my mind and stop thinking I would be happy except for: insert whatever. Instead, I could say I am happy because of: insert any number of things.

It is just a little twist of thought, but what a tremendous impact it could have on my day to day life. Change my mind. What a thought. Change my mind about what it is I really want from this life, what would truly make me happy, and voila! I could be happy in most circumstances, which equals the greater portion of my life.   That adds up to a whole lot of happy. But, what is it that would truly make me happy? So  much of our joy is fleeting, gone within minutes, hours or just a few days. Nothing lasts, nothing stays.

Wayne Jacobsen emphasizes in his book, He Loves Me!, that being loved, especially by God, transforms life from the unhappy to the happy. He uses the story of the Prodigal son to illustrate his point. Neither son realized how much their father loved them, and their actions reflected this perception. The younger one tried to run away, believing if he could only pursue his selfish desires he would be truly happy. The older brother stayed, but did so out of duty, not out of love, and resented every chore and task his father asked of him - and both sons missed the point: real happiness stemmed from a loving relationship with their father, and each other.

After nearly starving to death, the Prodigal Son returned. The moment his father met him on the road, this son understood the true depth of his father's love. The only thing that had changed was the son's mind. He realized being a servant in his father's house was better than starving at the hands of a stranger.  In other words, he  changed his priorities, and was surprised to find he was instantly restored to his status of beloved son.  

The eldest son was  not happy with his brother's return. The story leaves him standing outside pouting over what he perceives as an unfair, unjust action by his father. His brother squandered all of his inheritance after wrongly asking for it. He, the older, more responsible son was never met on the road with such jubilation. He worked hard without so much as a "Why thank you, son. Here have a party with your friends." Of course he could have done that, but he never asked. Instead he drudged along, building resentment. What if he changed his mind? What if he changed his priorities - his point of view - and looked at things from a different perspective? Would the story have a different ending?

Would changing our minds, our priorities, lead to a more balanced perspective,  and consequently more joy? Not much to lose in trying, except unhappiness.

So, I think I'll change my mind about a few things.  Do a little prioritizing.  A wise man once said that most crises have a very short shelf life. If it won't matter in a couple of weeks, then it probably isn't that important.

At first I'll need to focus on one moment, one hour, one day at a time until I get the hang of it, and I'll stumble, I'll fail, and I'll revert to old habits often, but with practice it will become easier. However, I do have one very important advantage  - God. With Him all things are possible. If I align my desires with His will, well then, I will be happy, truly happy, without any of the except-for nonsense because I will no longer be looking for that perfect moment. There never will be one on this earth, but there certainly will be joy, if I change my mind about a few things and decide to find contentment when and where I can. How about you? Are you happy?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Humbled, Yet Encouraged

After completing my first week at my new job I have only one word: humbled. At my previous position, I felt competent. Certainly I made mistakes, but for the most part I did a good job. Learning a new job, even though experienced in many ways, is a steep learning curve. My reading in Streams in the Desert  L.B. Cowman, touched on this. God throws in curves to keep our  attitudes balanced. Coming into a new position, with a new industry, is definitely unbalancing, as well humbling and frightening.

Adding to this is the desire to do well, which in turn adds even more pressure.  Every mistake becomes a character flaw in my own opinion. I chastise myself and try harder. The end result: I can't relax and this is good fertilizer for even more mistakes.

After some reflection, I realized it all stemmed from fear. Fear of being let go because of a poor job performance. I really, really need this job and do not want to jeopardize it in anyway, especially for failing to perform my duties as expected - or preferably, above expectation. By week's end I just wanted to curl into a tight ball and well, bawl.

Then God stepped in and stopped this unhealthy cycle. My devotions in the booklet, Living Faith, included Matthew 17: 1-9, the Transfiguration of Jesus. Father Paul J. Rassano pointed out Peter was impetuous, excitable, quick to anger and often selfish, and yet God chose him to become head of His Church. God saw past all of his flaws to the man he would become. As I am too often just like Peter, his story gives me hope.

In  the book, He Loves Me! by Wayne Jacobsen, the author states something I had not considered. The Apostles didn't know who Jesus was when they first met Him. He was a stranger to them, and as in our own experience with new people, it takes time to become comfortable. At first everyone is on guard, careful what they say and how they act. At some point the relationship became comfortable, safe, and the Apostles let down their guard, no longer worried about being judged by what they said or did. And, that was the answer to my own dilemma. My new bosses obviously saw potential when they hired me, and they know it takes time for a new employee to adjust to a new position. I need to let go of my fear and relax. The number of mistakes will plummet.

As if to emphasize this, Daniel 7:9-14, Daniel's vision of God, was also included in my listed devotions.  This scripture (the book of Daniel)  has been a personal messenger to me many times in the past, especially in regards to my career.  As a captive in a foreign land, Daniel rose to prominence not because of his faith, but through hard work, and he became widely known as a man of high integrity, not just competency. That was a light- bulb- moment for me. Daniel's success didn't happen overnight. It took time. Daniel did not try to impress anyone. He went about his job, doing what he knew to be right, following God's will.

I feel comforted, encouraged, and ready for Monday. Like Peter, I may not always respond as I should, but with the right intention, it will all work out according to God's plan for my life. The secret of this success? Not giving up, not giving in to fear or despair. I can trust God to give me the grace, strength, and wisdom I need. I doubt I will become a great Apostle or a prodigious prophet, but I can certainly be a good wife, mother, and employee - His representative right here, right now, right where He has placed me, and I take great comfort in that.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Trust the Man Who Died For You

Dear friend, you can trust the Man who died for you. You can trust Him to thwart each plan that should be stopped and to complete each one that results in His greatest glory and your highest good. You can trust him to lead you down the path that is the very best in this world for you. J.H.M. from Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman.

The quote was in my devotionals the morning of my first day in a new position with a new company. It seemed an answer to the question I had been asking since losing what I believed was the best job I had ever held, with the best supervisor and the best co-workers. Why was that taken away? Other than the obvious reason of being laid off, why did God want me to move on somewhere else?  As the quote stated, I had to trust the Man Who Died for Me. He gave His all in order for me to gain eternal life, wouldn't He do what was best for me? Even those things disguised as trials and challenges?

I was a little apprehensive that first morning, not sure what the new job would be like, how my new supervisor would treat me, and wondering how well my interaction with new co-workers would go. In the past I had worked in a very difficult position that ultimately challenged me not just emotionally, but financially and physically as well, and that memory surfaced whenever  I faced major changes in  my career. Coupled with this was the fear I wouldn't be able to perform the job.

As I meditated on the quote, all His past miracles paraded through my mind. Through each hardship He was there with encouragement and guidance, peppered with compassion. When I fall into fear and doubt, He lifts me up, dusts off my faith and sets me back on the right path. I just need to remember, if He loved me enough to die for me, He loves me enough to handle this situation, using these circumstances to enrich my life and deepen my faith.