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       

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Spiral Staircase

This time it is worry over my new employers' opinion of my job performance, especially the young woman charged with training me. I know she thinks I stood in the DUMB line and asked for seconds. Don't get me wrong, she is not unprofessional or rude, just a bit curt and quick to point out, that whatever my question is, it is in the training manual, or "I already explained that." I walk away believing I am as dumb as she thinks I am - and yet, I know better.

Thrown into this is the holiday. Although I am looking forward to having an extra day to re-charge, I do so without pay.  As a temp, I do not qualify for paid holidays - or any benefits, which is another worry.

With these unhappy thoughts spiraling around in my mind, sleep would be a struggle. I picked up my newest library book, Standing in the Rainbow, by Fannie Flagg. This heartwarming story, filled with faith in God's providence, was just the right bedtime story. One character described what it felt like to stand inside a rainbow, and another character then sang, Somewhere Over the Rainbow. (Don't gag. It fit the story perfectly - really). It was the exact message and promise I needed.

My morning devotional, Good Morning, Lord by Fr. Joseph Sullivan, pointed how uptight and anxious we become over issues which actually have a very short shelf life. Most are forgotten within a week or two, soon replaced by another, and we forget to stop and simply smell the roses. God is all around us. His beauty is everywhere, when we chose to stop and notice. We know we can rely on Him. We know He understands our situation, and yet in spite of our faith, we regress back into the pit of Fear and Worry with the first hint of dark clouds or thunder. We wring our hands and start pacing, digging a deeper and deeper trench. God reaches out, offers to bring us into His light, but we too often choose to stay in the dark through lack of faith and trust.

Father Sullivan ends his prayer with,  "Then I recall the lines about the lilies of the field, how they are under your loving care.It will be a good day".

Psalm 27: 1,4, 13-14 was quoted in Living Faith: 
The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?
The lord is the protector of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing I have asked of the lord, this will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
That I might see the delight of the Lord, and may visit his temple.
I believe to see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.
Expect the Lord, do manfully, and let thy heart take courage, and wait thou for the Lord. 

Rainbows, lilies and Psalm 27. These symbols have heralded miracles in the past, unexpected solutions to my problems and issues.  Patiently, over and over, God teaches me the same lessons - with a difference. I might spiral around and around the same difficulties and failings, but each experience builds on the fruits of the one before it. In spite of my short falls, my faith and trust become stronger and I climb a step or two higher on the staircase. Today, I think I will follow Father Sullivan's advice and believe it will be a good day, and I bet most of my troubles will melt like lemon drops.