Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Go for the Chocolate Chips!

As I get older, I become much more aware of who I am, the things that make me tick, and what regrets I must confess.  At times I feel so grown and mature.  Let me rephrase.  At times I feel rather old.  But other times, all I can see is a little girl in the mirror looking back at me behind the aging lines and the thinning hairline.  And she is alive and fun and wanting to be carefree as she once was when there was so much to be carefree about.  But then I'm reminded of the things that keep me accountable and disciplined.  And I regress on my thoughts of adventure.  You only live once, they say.  So shouldn't I live responsibly?  No regrets, they say.  But I have plenty.  Where do they go to be rid of them, while I'm over here storing them? 

Things are not as black and white as we make them seem.  There is a lot of gray, at least that's what I've seen.  For every argument, there is a counter argument.  For every opinion, there is a differing one.  And for every decision, there is a consequence.  And so how do I conspire to defend or deny the fact that I've not always made things right.  And I've not always lived honestly.  In fact, I have regrets. 

I woke up to a train of thought that took me back to an experience in which I denied someone a simple request for chocolate chips.  Okay, I realize I need to be more clear.  I will do my best.  It was a school overnight class trip on which I was getting all of the foods that we would need for breakfast the next morning.  And as I checked off the items on the list I had so diligently made, one of my students asked if we could get chocolate chips to put on the pancakes.  I quickly told him no.  Chocolate chips were not on the list.  He continued to hint that it would be great to have the chips on the pancakes, and that in fact, he could not eat pancakes without chocolate chips.  I stuck to my list and denied him the request.  The next morning we had pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon with bread.  It was a very good breakfast.  However, my one student did not eat much because being the picky eater that he was, he just wanted to have chocolate chip pancakes. 

Why did I recollect this seemingly insignificant incident?  Well, you see I regret not getting those chips.  I truly regret not granting my student that small request.  And I feel like such a "kill joy" when I think about the fact that "my list" was more important than a bag of $1.99 chips.  Looking back, I'm pretty sure that the cost of the chips wouldn't have taken us too far off budget.  And it could have made for a more pleasant time for my one student.  Okay so what is the moral of the story? 

Perspective.  Priorities. Perm.
Yes, I realize I may now lose you forever.  But if you can just hang in there just a bit longer, maybe all of this will begin to make sense.  The moral of the story has to do with the fact that there is always a bigger picture, and if we aren't careful, we may be so focused on the small insignificant things that we miss the big ones.  Like the grand feeling you get when someone thanks you for thinking of them and putting them first.  There is an exchange between the abstract and the concrete that make for a beautiful chemistry when we look at mundane things as opportunities and relationships.  When we begin to see that the little things are actually bigger and the big things may in turn be minute, that is when our perspective becomes clearer and fonder.  The moral of the story is that I need to make more room for what matters to someone else, rather than myself.  Putting someone else's concern, request, needs before my own should be at the top of my priorities.  And as a result, I will experience joy.  And lastly, the moral of the story is that I must work on relaxing my grip on the things of this world.  I must learn to let go and allow for things to unfold as they should.  Not because they are on my checklist of things to do, but because God has ordained them for me to embrace. 

There is a current song by Bruno Mars called "Perm".  And yes, it's got some edgy lyrics and a catchy tune.  But I get what it says about putting "some perm on your attitude" and "you gotta relax".  Man, if I can only get to that point in my life when I'm relaxed enough to enjoy every single experience I am gifted.  Not just the big events, but the everyday minute to minute, step by step experience.  I'm not there yet, but I'm getting there.  You see, I've met people and I've lost people.  And they all, in some shape or form, have reminded me that life is short and it is worth living.  They have reminded me to be softer and more lenient, and to, for heaven's sake, go for the chocolate chips!  It's on my to do list. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

What's on Your Christmas List?

I have a perfume fragrance called "Amazing Grace".  Are you familiar with the brand?  If you visit any department store, you should be able to find it in their perfume and cosmetics section.  I love the scent.  There's a story behind it for me.  It was first given to me by a student some time ago as a Christmas gift.  I fell in love with the gift, not only because I liked the scent, but because I could really use some grace during that time in my life.  It was on my Christmas list and did get it once again a year or two ago.  And every time I use the fragrance, I think about God's gift of grace, and I ask Him to cover me with it.  I'd say we could all use a good dose of daily grace!

On a random note, I've gradually become a tea drinker.  I especially enjoy a nice hot cup of  tea in the morning or at night.  For a while it was chai tea.  Tried it once and was quickly hooked.  I guess sipping on tea makes me feel good.  And some time ago, I started a new practice as I thought about having my morning tea.  With every sip, I picture God's grace for the day.  It's as if it is filling me up, and my prayer would be that it overflows unto others.  And I'm reminded, one can never have enough grace.  Okay so that wasn't too random.

You see the days are hard sometimes.  At times, I wish I could claim a "do over" or a "skip" card, as to not have to deal with daily struggles or acknowledge my shortcomings.  And I wonder, what would I do without His bountiful grace?  If it wasn't for His grace, I would give up on a daily basis.  I'd throw in the towel on my marriage, on parenting, on friendships, on everything that God has blessed my life with.  Yeah, that's the kind of God's child I am.  I can be ungrateful and demanding and truly forgetful about how big and wide His loving grace is for me.  If it wasn't for His grace...

If it had not been for His grace, I'd be a drug addict today.  If not for His grace, I'd have become a pregnant teen dropping out of high school.  I would have committed adultery.  I'd have committed even murder, and then I would have taken my life as well.  Yes, if it had not been for His grace, what a wretched soul I would be!

But oh the sweet fragrance of His grace!  How it covers me and frees me.  It not only forgives me, but allows me to freely forgive and love others who are just as undeserving as me.  You see His grace, not only frees me from what should be deserved punishment and/or consequence, but it also allows me to live graciously.  Not always gracefully, but definitely graciously.  So that when I'm faced with challenges that are beyond my strength, I can still move forward knowing that if I fall, He will be there to hold me.  The sweet sweet smell of grace covers me when I am tempted to lash out or build a wall to keep me from vulnerability before others, and I'm able to surrender my will and allow Him to work through each situation, knowing that He blesses me.

You see God's grace is not only a one time gift for salvation.  But it is an ongoing pouring of blessing and favor on my life that pardons me and helps me to make way for mistakes and hardships, knowing that He will work it all for my good and His glory.  What an amazing gift!  Not wanting to sound cliche, but it truly is the gift that keeps on giving. 

So what's on your Christmas list?  Have you any need for grace?  I know I do!

2 Corinthians 12:9New International Version (NIV)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Excuse me while I talk to myself

So I admit that after turning forty, I've gradually developed this random habit of talking to myself.  I'm not embarrassed to admit it, with hopes that I'm not the only one.  Do you ever catch yourself giving yourself some feedback or back talk, when no one else is around?  Well, if I'm honest, it happens even when others are around. While on the topic, please tell me that I'm not the only who stands in front of the mirror and gives herself a pep talk.  

Pep talks.  Yeah, I think we all need them from time to time.  Sometimes actually, it seems we need some constant talking to.  Like on those days when the gray clouds never seem to dissipate, making the day seem much longer than usual, and the burdens wear heavy on your shoulders, and all you want to do is hide away from the demands of this world.  There are days that turn into weeks and months of ongoing hardship and even suffering, and all we conjure up to do is throw up our fists at those gray skies and cry out for help.  There are times when our faith is shaken so forcefully that we question that very faith we once proclaimed boldly on much brighter days.  And we desperately need some talking to.

Yes, it's times like these when our soul longs for talking to.    And I'm reminded of the heartfelt expressions of David the Psalmist, as he felt the need for an internal conversation, a one one with his own self.  He inquires, "Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?"  And as he addresses his inner self, he reminds himself of a God that He can count on.  He continues, "Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God"-- Psalm 42:5

This is what I love about David.  At least it's one of the many things I admire about the guy known as "a man after God's own heart".  I love that he is relateable and still he pours out his soul.  He doesn't hold back.  He's sincere, and yet doesn't pretend like he's got it all together.  He knows that he can be genuine and honest with the God of Israel.  And, like me, he talks to himself.  Except my words go a little differently and possibly with a different tone.  But all the more, God listens.  

He listens as I try to keep my composure and I clutch my lips with fear that others will notice my fears, but I still end up as I now randomly do, whispering under my breath, "What's going on with you?  Come on get it together girl!  You have a God who loves you and is for you.  You know He's trustworthy.  He's never failed you.  Put your hope in Him.  Let your guard down.  It's safe to put your hope in Him.  Open your lips to praise Him, for He is worthy.  He is worthy."  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Wander Wisely

"Wander Wisely"

As I waited for the online transaction to go through, these words came up on the screen.  And my mind quickly did wander, to how the words apply to my own personal life.

Ever walk away from what you’ve known to be true?  And at what price?  How much did it cost you to wander off?  There’s always a price, you know.
I once strayed so far, I wondered if and how God would ever reach me.  I was wearied by my own fleshly desires and ambitions, and found myself lost.  And it cost me my peace of mind and even relationships. But how lost can a child of God ever really be?  For ultimately, God always calls us back to Him. And whatever the cost, He covers it with grace. That is the beauty of knowing God as our savior. Remember when God called on Adam to show his face?  Did not God know exactly where Adam and Eve stood, in their shameful wandering?  And still He covered them with grace.

It's ironic that we tend to wander, when so much of the Bible relays a message about staying the course and persevering. There's so much reference to following and trusting God's lead. It says He knows my comings and goings. He knows when I sit and when I stand. As the shepherd leads and I shall not want, and how He lays my paths straight. How He'll make my feet as swift as deer, and how He goes before me laying out the path I should go.

And still I'm prone to wander, unsure of what lies ahead. Looking and turning to other possible ways to achieve what I know is to be fulfilled. My strength fails me, and I cave in. And in the overwhelming demands of this life, I succumb to a whirlwind of wonder, which leads to worry. Because the way I see it, nothing truly makes sense or ends well.

That's the way I see it, in my wandering.

Do you ever deviate? You're meant to go one way, but find yourself enticed and admiring the scenic route? There's beauty to behold. That's why I love road trips. My husband knows, and we both enjoy the back roads. The main roads don't offer as much to see as what you can see on those long, winding, and unpredictable back roads. Perhaps the main roads aren't meant to offer much distractions, so that you can arrive at your destination more promptly, more directly, or more easily. And for someone like me, that works just fine sometimes. But other times, I'm more interested in what I might be missing out on. What cool sights am I missing on those other routes? What is even more cool though, is how those winding side roads often lead us back to the main road. And although we wandered off a bit, we come back to the road that gets us to where we are going.

Isn't that how our earthly Christian walk looks like most of the time? We know where we are supposed to be heading. We know what route leads us there. And still we choose the alternatives. Still we deviate. But God calls us to fix our eyes on Him, on the ultimate prize of meeting Him face to face. Stay the course. Persevere. Trust. Fix eyes on Him. And do not wander.

Yet, should you wander,... I can't help but think of Peter and his relationship with Jesus. I love reading about how after Jesus' resurrection, when Peter was most likely mourning and feeling shameful for having betrayed his friend and teacher, the Bible cites that Jesus tells Mary to "go and tell the others... and Peter" (Matthew 16:7). You see although Peter had wandered, Jesus sought him out. Jesus called Peter back to Himself. That's precisely what God does with us. In our wandering, He calls us to Himself. So when you wander, which more likely than not, you will, wander wisely.

Let your wander always lead you back to knowing God is still the one leading the way. When you're done looking elsewhere, find yourself in Him. When you find yourself craving for those side roads and back roads with the pretty sights, finalize your desires to be fully fulfilled only when you're walking in Him. When your hand is extended before you to a shepherd that leads you, may that be your posture, even in your wander.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

I'm a Fighter

I never actually described myself this way, but today the description sort of fits well.  I'm a fighter.  I grew up fighting.  Some people may call it strong willed, but I was stubborn and feisty.   I'd fight my siblings, I'd fight my daddy, and I'd fight myself.  Resisting most new things, habitually reevaluating situations, finding difficulty in settling for contentment, I'd struggle to find a healthy balance for my emotions.  The thing about fighting is that it doesn't allow you much room for rest.  So you are restless.  Ever try to to counsel a restless soul?  It's severely difficult.  

And so, many of us are constantly fighting.  Fighting others for our happiness. Fighting to have our voices heard and our rights acknowledged.  Even fighting to be loved, appreciated, and valued; feeling depleted when we don't get what we so fervently have fought for.

Then of course, there are some of us who continually find ourselves with arms in position to battle with our own selves.  What a futile thing! Yet, my number one enemy has always been me.  There's that critical voice I hear in my ear pretty much in every situation. "You'll never make it."  "You're not fit for this."  "You're not strong enough." And most times, if I'm honest, I lose the battle; finding myself succumbed to the accusations that hold me back from anything good and worthwhile.  

All this talk of fighting reminds me that most of the time, our energies are wasted on the wrong battles.  Even more, sadly, we're wrestling with the wrong enemy.  Today I was reminded, when I lashed out so quickly.  It's like an immediate response.  A defense mechanism.  Why are we so prone to quickly defend ourselves?  Is it based on pride, fear, anger?  Whatever it is that leads us to quickly go into battle, I was reminded of those powerful words written by the apostle Paul, found in the book of Ephesians 6. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood..."  The fact is that I am in a constant spiritual battle, and it's not necessarily against the ones I'm fighting with.  

On the surface, it seems the world is against me.  So I resist and I attack when I feel disrespected or devalued. But I lose every time because my real struggle is spiritual and the real culprit is not the man I wake up next to or the woman I face in the mirror every morning.  It isn't my children, although you'd think it so based on our daily encounters sometimes.  I often wonder, "if flies could talk..."  If only those nasty flies on the walls could speak, they'd prove to be excellent character witnesses!  And so we waste our breaths and lose sound sleep because we are angry with the very people we love.  Because we've been let down or disappointed.  And all the while, Satan the real culprit, watches us drift apart from one another, as we attack and defend.  All the while, we fail to detect his schemes and his tactics.  As long as we are fighting one another, he gets to do his job, which is solely to destroy.

So today, I'm calling him out.  Today I know I'm fighting.  Better yet, I know who I'm fighting against.  So I will turn away anger with love.  I will extinguish wrath with a gentle response. I will be slow to speak and quick to listen.  I will choose mercy and grace over getting my own way.  Because ultimately, these are the things that my enemy is fighting me for.  These are the things that make him cringe.  And these things he wants to destroy.  

I'm a fighter, and I'm gearing up for today's battle.  However, I will not solely depend on my good intentions. Those will only get me so far.  I will continually depend on the one who's already conquered. I will depend on God's grace for the day, and I will trust that He will be my strength, shield, and armor.  He makes me strong enough to join the fight, and He alone, makes me victorious.  

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Best Advice Ever

Are you in need of a good word of advice?  I certainly have been lately.  Yet, the other day, I got what I believe was the worst advice ever. I was feeling low in the slums when someone told me, "Try not to sulk too much."  I almost chuckled at the message.  Try not to sulk too much?  Really?  Is that best you've got?!  I mean that's just as bad as telling someone who's having overeating issues, "try not to eat too much", or someone who has a drinking problem, "try not to drink too much."  So I was taken back by the words, and decided that I would do a better job at giving myself some sound advice.  I looked into the word of God and found a message that cut to the bone and still gave me the assurance I needed, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4:8.  Now that was sound advice for a needy soul! 

You see, I've been struggling.   Like many do.  Struggling with thoughts.  Scary thoughts, in fact.  Thoughts of fears and concerns, about things that I cannot control.  And the thoughts lead to worry.  And so I worry.  About things that are out of my control.  And then I want to fix things.  I want to change things.  Out of my concern and worry, I want to make things right.  I want to help.  I want to put things in order and in the right perspective.  But then I'm bogged down by burden. The burden of fixing things; everything.  And so I walk around feeling heavy laden because I'm carrying the burdens of all of those things that I cannot do much about.  It's like a rapid domino effect.  It spirals out of control.  And it all started with thoughts.  Just thoughts.  Thoughts.  Do you have any?

In the Bible we find so many references with regards to our thought life.  It's not surprising, in fact.  Because our thoughts truly determine how we live and reflect who we are.  Ever heard of the phrase, "you are what you eat"?  Yeah, well, the truth is that you are what you choose to dwell on.  You see, thoughts are left powerless, until we dwell on them, which in turn, empowers them.  It's no wonder, the Bible urges to "Fix your mind on things from above, not on earthly things" Colossians 3:2.  Another convicting reminder is found in, Isaiah 26:3, "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you."  Here's one of my new favorites, "and we take captive every thought to  make it obedient to Christ" 2 Corinthians 10:5b. 

But how do we make this a practical application in our personal lives?  My friend would often say, "Pray for me; my mind is in the gutter!"  And I'd sometimes wonder exactly what she meant.  I could only imagine, but I knew that it wasn't good.  Yet, because I could relate, I knew that she was referring to the battlefield in our minds.  Because, indeed, any follower of Christ, if honest, would have to admit to not always having righteous thoughts.  If we took a flight into one another's minds, I'm afraid, we'd quickly learn to skydive just to come out of that turbulence.  In fact, at times we are so overwhelmed by ungodly thoughts that we feel depleted.  Maybe defeated and stuck.  I know I've been there too many times. I've fallen victim to negative thoughts, blindsided by self-accusing contemplations. The mind can be a fragile thing, and still it is a centerpiece to what makes us who we are.  And so when we behave irrationally, or lash out, or become worrisome, bitter, angry, lonely, etc., we can usually find that these depleting emotions and actions originate in our minds.  

But there is a bright side to this ongoing spiritual dilemma. There is a hope to be found.  You see, those thoughts will come, at times uninvited.  But we do not have to welcome them in and make them feel at home.  Actually, we have the ability to leave them right at the door of our minds, and instead, replace unruly, negative, or self-defeating thoughts with God-given truths. There is so much power in the word of God, and still so much of it is left untouched.  And Satan knows that.  So he does a good job at keeping us from God's word.  And our minds, are his target, and our minds can easily become his playing field.  You see, Satan wants us to think that our thoughts govern us and that we do not have control over them.  He wants us to feel helpless and incapable of truly living a life that honors God and brings us joy.  And he brings on the distractions simply to keep us from becoming empowered by the word of God.  

The word of God is our fuel.  It is our refreshment and bread of life.  It is our light and compass. It empowers us to do the things that are humanly impossible. And while our thought life may consist crippling ideas or enslaving lies, the word of God is so filled with truths.   Truths that define our identity in Christ.   Truths that equip us to do what is right.  Truths that liberate and free us!  Therefore, I leave you with this, the best advice I can give you.  The same advice I gave myself the other day.  Open up the word of God, and maybe start with...  "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4:8. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

To Save a Life

Have you ever saved someone life?  Have you ever gone out of your way for the benefit of someone else?  To the point of being hurt? I can't help but think about the time when I nearly dropped my infant onto the concrete pavement entrance to Walmart.  Let me set the stage for you.  It was years ago, and he was about 6 months old.  I had him in arms because he wouldn't stay in the stroller.  I was walking toward the entrance, while my older son pushed the empty stroller, when all of a sudden my oldest pushes the stroller in front of me, and I trip over it.  As if in slow motion, I remember falling forward with baby in hands.  I stretched out my body as far out as I could, while simultaneously doing everything I could to tighten the grip I hand on the baby.  I landed flat on the ground, and with hands stretched out, I managed to still have the baby boy in hands.  You see the picture above? That was me.  Or so it seemed.

As I laid there flat on the ground, I could sense how tense and stiff my body felt, as I had purposefully stretched out every ligament and muscle to assure that I keep my baby from hitting the ground.  Someone took note of me, and removed the baby from my hands so that I could get back up.  The tension, which lead to soreness in my body, lasted for days.  I think I had a bruises on my arms.  But it was so worth it!  I mean it was either I suffered temporary pain, or my baby would have faced long term repercussions.  I'd like to think that I saved my son's life that day.

But enough about me.  There is something about saving someone's life.  Have you ever done something that changed someone's life course?  In this life with so many daily interactions and dealings, I'm positive there's been many times that my life was saved.  Though it's not easy to admit, years ago I wrote a suicide letter to my loved ones.  I was very very low.  And looking back, I can't really pinpoint what lead to this low point, just that I was depressed every day.  But I remember that as I got to the part of the letter, when I addressed my mother, I broke down.  And I couldn't get my words on the paper.  I couldn't fathom causing her that much pain.  She, of all people, didn't deserve it.  I mean she once almost lost her own life trying to save another.  She lost her sister as a teenager to drowning.  My mom jumped into deep waters to save her from drowning.  And in her failed attempt, almost lost her own life.  With all of that in mind, I couldn't put down on paper that sort of life's good-bye.  And with that, God intervened, and I began to walk back into my beautiful life and away from ugly depression.  I guess in a sense, my mom saved my life that day as well.

So how much does it take to save a life?  I know as I think about my little boy, now quickly becoming a man, I wish I could still dive in and save him from the bumps and bruises this life brings.  I wish I could cover his ears from the harshness and hardness of people in this world.  I wish I could keep him steady, as he walks the hard roads of this life.  I wish I could hold him in place, when life is at a whirlwind.  But I can't.  There are some things that we simply cannot spare others from.  Things that we cannot spare ourselves from because life is hard.

Last year on a trip to Mexico, I saw two little boys at an orphanage.  I watched from a short distance as they entertained each other, playing with some kind of game that consisted of what looked like bottle caps.  As I looked around their "home", I could not spot any other toys or things for them to have some fun with.  The hallways were empty and the walls were bare.  And I stared.   As they played, I contemplated. What was the purpose of my being there, other than to become aware of how they lived?  I wanted to take them home with me.  My thoughts raced within my mind, as I schemed on what it would take for me to give these boys a better life.  Maybe no one would notice if I snuck them out with me.  I'd give them a better life for sure.  I'd give them love and care, and I'd save their life.  And still that day, I walked away from that boy's home, empty-handed.  There wasn't much else that I could do than to bless the ministry with funds for the children to be able to have an outing.  And although it felt good to bless them this way, I felt broken that I couldn't do more.

So much for saving a life!  In my lifetime I've witnessed my share of  people needing to be saved.   The indigenous woman,  obviously abused, living off a landfill, without a name, just a face that I will never forget.  Or the little preschooler who took me into her orphanage bedroom to show me her dolls.  Then there's the man in the business suit, walking out of Wawa in his daily rush, too consumed within himself to notice that I smiled as I held the door for him.  He too, needed to be saved.  And although I think I've made small impacts, I always come back short-handed because there's only so much I can do.  Because there are some real needs in this life, that only a real savior can meet.

While I can give you encouragement, only God can strengthen you.  I can give you food, but only God truly satisfies.  I can lend a hand, but God will hold you in His.  I can sit and listen to you, but God is constantly near.  I can comfort you, but God brings a steady peace.  I can do a lot of things, and I plan to.  But God can do the impossible.  And so as I ponder on all the needs that seem to weigh heavy in my mind and heart today-- as I struggle with all of the burdens and cares of this world and how it affects those near and dear to me, I trust God as the savior.  The savior of the world.    And I plead with Him on your behalf.  "Please, Father God, save a  life today."

John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that all who believe shall not perish, but have everlasting life."