Cats and Faith – What an Odd Combination

Cats have been on my mind a lot lately.  We took in a stray last year (you can read more about that in my previous posts, A Kitty Cat’s Tale (Pun Intended) and Nine Things to Love About Cats – From a Former Dog Person).

I work at a steel mill, and there are always cats running around.  This year though, there has, we believe, been one very active male.  We had three or four litters of kittens running around.  Before we took in our stray last year, I never would have considered taking one home from work.  For one thing, they are very dirty – a steel mill is a filthy environment.  For another, I just didn’t think that I cared for cats.  We had dogs, and the two just don’t mix.

But, we found, that the cat and dog got along just fine.  Our first cat is black, and I ended up bringing home a white one.  He was so dirty, he looked gray.  Turns out, the cats love each other too.

This new cat is the sweetest.  He purrs constantly.  Perhaps he’s just grateful to have a home, instead of sleeping on concrete and rocks.

In addition, we’ve been making trips outside at work, to look at darling, tiny kittens.  I was also involved in an effort to capture several of them, with the hope of finding them homes.

This will seem a little disjointed, but it will all come together in the end!

Now on to the faith part.  We’ve been attending a new church over the past several months.  I wanted to learn more about the church, and I’ve been struggling with some things, so I asked the Lead Pastor if he would meet with me to talk.

One of the things we talked about was my history with church and faith.  Tonight, I remembered one cat in particular that changed my faith, and not in a good way . . . or was it?

When I was in college, one of my roommates brought a cat to the house we were renting.  I wasn’t thrilled about this, because pets were against the rules.  But, it was a nice enough cat, and I accepted that he was going to be around.

One day, I was talking on the phone (this was before everyone had cell phones . . . it was around 1992 or 1993).  The cat approached me, so I picked him up.  I was holding him near my shoulder and face when he jumped off.  He hit the foot board of a bed (I thought with just his feet) and took off.

I didn’t think too much of it, but later, my roommate noticed that he was bleeding from his gums.  She took the cat to the vet.  I spent a sleepless night praying for this cat to get well, because I knew my roommate blamed me, even though I had done nothing wrong.

While the vet had the cat, she decided to get him fixed.  It turned out, the cat was a hemophiliac and he died.  Even without his injury, he would have likely died from the procedure.  Still, the experience stuck with me, perhaps even longer than I’ve realized.

When God didn’t answer my prayers the way I wanted, I wondered, what is the point in praying?  Is God even listening?

That feeling and doubt stuck with me for years.  While I did not totally reject God, He certainly wasn’t the focus of my life for a very long time.

Now, I realize how immature my thinking was.  To think that God could answer “Yes” to our every request simply doesn’t make any sense if you think about it.  Many times, our requests are just plain selfish.  We don’t look at the big picture, even when some of it is available to us.  But, more often, the big picture includes details that we do not know.  We have to trust that, when the answer is “No”, God knows best.

So, what is the point of praying?  It isn’t just asking for things, or it shouldn’t be.  It includes praise, forgiveness, growth, thankfulness, and yes, sometimes asking for things.  God desires a relationship with us, and that can best be achieved by reading His word, worshiping Him, and praying.  True faith comes when we continue to trust in Him, even when we don’t get what we think we need and want.

 

 

 

How Can I Use my Gifts to Better Serve God and Others?

God is telling me something.  Over and over.  Does this ever happen to you?  A theme . . . a message that just keeps coming up.  This time, it seems to be at great frequency.

The last couple of Sundays that we’ve attended church, the idea that we should be using our talents to serve God has been the focus.  1 Corinthians 5-31 was discussed, and it is a wonderful illustration of how we all have different talents and abilities . . . spiritual gifts, that we all serve a different purpose as a part of a larger body – the body of Christ.  I wanted to include the entire passage, but it is quite long for a post.

Both weeks, I found myself thinking about my gifts, and how I could be using them better.

People come to me for advice.  I think it’s because I’ve learned to be a good listener, not always jumping to immediately tell them what they should do.  I generally ask them more questions to help them to come to their own conclusions.  When I started college, I thought I wanted to be a therapist.  I took a different direction, and got a Master’s in Industrial/Organizational Psychology.  I/O Psychology is the study of people in the workplace – Human Resources from a research perspective.  Even before the messages at church, I had been thinking about becoming a licensed counselor, even contacting a University about what would be involved with earning another Master’s degree, and obtaining a license.

But, in this world, it seems to always come down to time and money, doesn’t it?  Just two years of school is very expensive these days, even for an online degree.  I work full-time, and we need my income.  Working full-time and going to school with two young kids. . .  I suppose it’s possible, but I would miss too much time with my kids.  That is something I’m just not willing to do.

I could take loans, but is that a road I want to go down, at 45?  I already did that at 22, and it took me 10 years to pay them off.  Do I want to put my family in that situation?  Probably not.

Is that the license I want anyway?  Perhaps Biblical Counseling.  I completed an online inquiry.  They have tried to call a couple of times, but I haven’t answered.  What’s the point?  Nothing has changed.

So, maybe that’s not it.  At least not right now.

Last Sunday, a video was played of an interview with the Worship Team’s drummer.  I can sing.  Maybe I’m supposed to pursue becoming a member of the Worship Team.  But they have so many.  I’m probably not needed.  But, the Pastor had elaborated on 1 Corinthians 12:21: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ Or again, the head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!'”

One should not think that other members of the church don’t need us, or we don’t need them.  But, then there’s the anxiety of singing in front of so many people.  Am I good enough?  Can I do it?  Is this where I’m needed?  I just don’t know.

Tuesday morning, I thought maybe it’s the blog.  Maybe I’m already using my writing talent.  But, then why would God be putting this on my heart if I’m already doing it?  I blog about a number of things.  Maybe I’m supposed to devote it totally to faith.

When I lack clarity, I often tell God that I am a knucklehead, and if He’s trying to lead me somewhere, I need Him to spell it out for me.  Then I felt that was a cop-out.  I felt that God was telling me, “I gave you a brain.  I expect you to use it.  Do your part.”  But, still, no answers were forthcoming.

Am I to write a book?  Get a new job?  Volunteer?  Use my gifts where I am right now?

On Tuesday, it came up again.  This time on K-LOVE.  Luis Palau (love him) talked about the same scripture passage.  We don’t have to be Pastors to use our gifts.  We should spread the gospel, no matter our profession.

And again, on Tuesday night.  This time, in a very unexpected place.

I’ve been borrowing a dramatic series from the library, “A Place to Call Home.”  The series takes place in Australia.  The Blighs, a wealthy family, are at the center.  The matriarch, Elizabeth, is quite a nasty character in the beginning.  By the end of Season Two, she has changed her ways.  As she says, a mirror has been held up to her face.

In Season Three she volunteers at a soup kitchen for veterans.  She tries to serve food, but she finds herself ill-equipped in this role.  As she’s leaving the man who runs the program asks, “Shall I put you on the roster?

Elizabeth replies, “I don’t think so, Mr. Goddard.  I don’t think I’m of much use.”

Days later, she arrives as a piano is being delivered, which she arranged.  She begins to play and sing.  One of the men, whose speech was incoherent in the earlier scene, begins to sing.

“I’ve never seen the men so happy.  So . . . engaged.  I’ve told you, of course, I make sure they’re fed.  But, this was living.  They were alive!”

What she did was beautiful.  She was obviously nervous when she started;  she was well outside of her comfort zone.  But she found the courage, and she found a way to use her gifts to make a difference.

I still have not figured out exactly what I am supposed to be doing, but I have faith that it will come.  I’m anxious to find out what lessons I will learn on this journey.

 

 

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I Don’t Care What You Think. Or Do I?

In my late 20’s and early 30’s I struggled with anxiety.  Specifically, I struggled with social anxiety.  While most people care what others think of them, I cared so much it became almost debilitating.  I’ve come so far, it’s a distant memory in many ways.  I’m grateful for that, because, what I do recall is that it was a miserable way to exist.

One of the things I’ve learned through this is that I can’t control other people.  One of the hardest lessons is that I can’t control what other people think of me.

I had to learn to be true to myself and not be such a people-pleaser.  But it has been a journey to find a balance of not letting other people’s opinions rule my life, while also valuing my relationships.  This is something I’m feeling called to write, but it’s so much to sort out, that I decided to make a list of some of the changes I’ve gone through to become more confident and happy.

  • Some of my self-criticism was warranted. 

Besides caring what others thought of me, I was extremely self-critical.  My self-talk was horrible.  I would never talk to anyone else the way I addressed myself in my mind.  I was not kind, caring, compassionate or grace-extending toward myself in any way.

My thoughts about myself were harsh, and often unfair.  On the other hand, I was making a lot of poor choices.  When you lack self-respect, it’s impossible to expect respect from others with any credibility.

I needed to set the bar higher for myself.  While I’ll always have flaws, I have matured in my handling of most situations.

  • It’s necessary to achieve a balance between not letting other people’s opinions rule your life, and still caring about other people’s feelings. 

When I stopped using my emotions to try to control others, I started recognizing when other people were using the same tactic with me.  I had learned to disconnect my thoughts from turmoil and conflict.  I had learned to put it out of my mind, and get on with life.  But sometimes, it may have come at a price.

As I matured, I started to deem people who I thought were less mature as unworthy of my energy.

First of all, just because someone may lack maturity in an area, doesn’t mean they have no wisdom to offer.  Second, all of us handle some situations poorly – no matter how far we have come.  Third, maybe I could use some things I had learned to help other people, instead of writing them off.

I had gone from thinking too little of myself, to thinking too much of myself.  I had to remind myself that not everyone had the same experiences I’d had.  Not everyone had been forced to address some of their bad habits in dealing with others and themselves.

  • Say, “I’m sorry” easily, but only when you mean it.

Have you ever been around people who say, “Sorry” constantly?  I used the wrong word.  “Sorry.”  I dropped something.  “Sorry.”  I walked into the room.  “Sorry.”  It can be annoying because it’s obviously not sincere when it’s said repeatedly.  It’s just a bad habit and an indication of the person not valuing themselves.  It’s annoying, because it’s used inappropriately.

However, it’s more frustrating to be around people who are defensive, and have great difficulty saying they are sorry.  Some people have the philosophy that you always need to win power struggles with your kids, to show them who’s in charge.  But, I think it can send a pretty powerful message to acknowledge you were wrong, and to tell your children you’re sorry, as long as it’s sincere.

Only voice your opinion if it’s helpful. 

I won’t pretend to be perfect at this.  But, I have become better at biting my tongue.  While I can’t say I never participate in gossip, I pass up the opportunity often.  If someone asks for advice, I’ll give a thoughtful opinion.  But, I’m not afraid to tell them that I don’t know what they should do.  I can share my experience with something similar, but that doesn’t mean I know the right choice for them.  Of course, suggesting someone pray on the matter is always good advice!

Value others AND yourself.

Last Sunday, our Pastor talked about Mark 12:30-31 “and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (NASB)

I had heard this scripture many times before.  But, he pointed out something I had overlooked.  God wants us to love our neighbor, but he also wants us to love ourselves.  Never in a prideful way.  But, to me, this means to remember how much He loves us.  We are worthwhile to Him, each one of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Have I Become the Person I Always Wanted to Be?

We’ve had a long journey to where we are now, in many ways.  My husband and I were married in 2008.  He moved into the condo I bought before I met him.  Fifteen months later, we bought some property out in the country.  About a week after that, we had our first child.

We were both 36 when we got married.  So, we had duplicates of a lot of stuff.  My husband never really fully unpacked there.  Some of his furniture remained in the garage.  When we bought the property, while we didn’t know when we would build on it, we began packing away unnecessary items.  The garage became full of boxes stacked on top of one another.

In early 2012, I became pregnant with our second child.  I finally finished my wedding scrapbooks that year – I filled two scrapbooks!  It only took four years!  But, I figured that was better than never finishing them at all.  We broke ground on our new home that summer.

We had our daughter in the Fall, and we moved into our new home in January of 2013.  It is a ranch-style home, with a basement.  We didn’t finish the basement immediately, but we had plans to.  More time for stuff to stay in boxes.

We finally began finishing it in 2015.  We did quite a bit of the work ourselves (my husband did most of it), and so it took a while.  We just had carpet installed about a month ago.  I now have a jetted tub, and an office/scrapbooking room.  It is glorious.

And now, the unpacking of forgotten items begins.  A couple of years ago, we had a pump go haywire in the basement.  It would occasionally spray a bunch of water everywhere.  It took us a while to pinpoint the problem.  It was an easy fix, with the help of a professional.  Unfortunately, in the meantime, some of my scrapbooking items were ruined.  In the clean-up, one of the wedding scrapbooks was knocked from a table and damaged.  It was set aside to be repaired or replaced later.

Now that I have my own scrapbooking room, I finally got around to transferring the pages to a new album.  It’s given me the opportunity to look at it for the first time in quite a while.

In it, I had printed the prayer I had asked my nephew to read at our wedding.  I believe I found it in a wedding planning book that offered reading and prayer options.  I’m not sure of the copyright issues, so I won’t include all of it here.

While I believed in God at that time, sadly, I can’t say for certain if I was really expecting God to hear this prayer, or if I just thought they were nice words for the ceremony.  What was amazing to me when I read it, nearly nine years later, is that God has blessed us in all of the requests included in the prayer.

One of the areas that struck me, was the ending, which stated (paraphrasing) . . . and many years from now, may I look at you and think, because of you I am the person I always wanted to be.

It made me think about how much I have changed since we were married.  While my husband has been incredibly supportive in my career choices, especially some that were potentially risky to our financial situation, we have had our share of problems.  Marriage is hard.  These days, people are encouraged to wait until they’re older to get married.  We were on the older end, even these days.  Frankly, I think getting married older, when you’re set in your ways, is actually harder.  I think there is something to be said for marrying young, experiencing firsts, and growing up together.

What I realized, was that it has been the trials in our marriage that have made me closer to the person I want to be.  When I said my vows, I didn’t know who that was.  You don’t know what you don’t know.  While it’s easy to point fingers and blame the other person when things aren’t going smoothly, ultimately, we can only change ourselves.  Marriage has forced me to look at my own immaturity, and I finally had to grow up, big time.

Through trials, my relationship with God and my marriage have been strengthened.  From the English Standard Version, James 1:2-5

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

I was lacking wisdom.  I was so unwise, I thought I was wise.  When we’re going through trials, we just want smooth sailing.  But, it’s through those challenges, we experience true growth and learning.  I’m praying that nine years down the road, I’ll be even closer to the person I want to be.

 

 

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My Hope is You Alone

If you’ve followed my blog, you may know that I often have a contemporary Christian song running through my mind.  Right now, it’s “Even If” by Mercy Me.  Here’s a link to the video.  If you’re going through a hard time, I warn you, this song may make you ball like a baby.  But, sometimes that’s okay.  Sometimes, that’s what we need.  Normally, I may post an excerpt from a song, but this one doesn’t repeat the chorus much, so I’m listing all of the lyrics (in case you have limited data, or don’t care to watch a video).  Below, I’ll talk about why this song is resonating with me so profoundly.

They say sometimes you win some
Sometimes you lose some
And right now, right now I’m losing bad
I’ve stood on this stage night after night
Reminding the broken it’ll be alright
But right now, oh right now I just can’t

It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame
Like I am right now

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

You’ve been faithful, You’ve been good
All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You can

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

It is well with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

If you have suffered a significant loss, or are having a hard time, sometimes it’s hard . . . no . . . impossible, to understand why God is allowing it, especially if you’ve had faith that He would give you that miracle you have been pleading for.

I’ve mentioned before that I once heard a Pastor say that God answers all prayers.  Sometimes the answer is “Yes”, sometimes it’s “No”, and sometimes it’s “Wait a while”.

I’ve heard it said a couple of times now that even though we know God will come through, even if He doesn’t, we’ll still have faith.  It isn’t a matter of God coming through.  Even for those who are saved, and do their best to follow Christ, devastation can happen.  It rocks your world.  It tests your faith.  It may make you question everything you thought was true.

In the sermon we heard this past Sunday, the Pastor talked about times of trial and how, while difficult, they can lead to the greatest spiritual growth.  I have found that to be true of run-of-the-mill trials – job loss, financial uncertainty, conflict in relationships, etc.  But, when the devastation involves the suffering of someone else, it seems self-centered to think about how this event is helping me to grow spiritually.

So, what do you do with it?  How do you go on in faith in a God who has “let you down” so significantly?

I have learned to remind myself of, and lean on His promises.  He knows the future, extending beyond my life on this planet.  “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 – English Standard Version).  How is He going to do this?  I have no idea.  That’s why He’s God, and I am not.

That’s one of many verses that I draw on.  I always thought this verse meant things would work out okay in this life:  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”  (Romans 8:28 English Standard Version).  I now know that isn’t always the case.  God isn’t only concerned about our happiness while we’re on Earth.  He is more concerned about our eternity.  And, so, I must lean on these promises and expect that His plan extends beyond what I can know or understand on this finite side of the infinite.

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My Unglamorous Life

This is something I wrote a couple of years ago.  I’ve suffered loss and additional struggles since then – my own and those of people I care about.  The challenge to be happy in all circumstances has become more difficult.  Thank you to a friend who reminded me of Philippians 4:11:  “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”  KJV

I watched Revolutionary Road the other night. I was enjoying the movie in the beginning. Good performances, and the couple’s last name was Wheeler (my maiden name). . . Toward the end, the movie started to make me mad. Kate Winslet’s character, April, had a pretty nice life. Two beautiful children and a nice home. She didn’t have a great marriage, but it was salvageable. But, she was deeply unhappy because she didn’t get to move to Paris. She thought she and her husband were special, and they didn’t belong in this suburban lifestyle. She wanted more.

I looked at my own life and thought how much April Wheeler would hate it. I live outside of a small town and work at a dirty old steel mill in another small town. It doesn’t get much more unglamorous than that. But, I am happy. I have my moments of grumbling, but overall, I am happy. I am extremely grateful for my children. I am grateful for the moral support and companionship I get from my husband and other friends and family. I am grateful to have a job where I work with nice people, generally feel appreciated and have the flexibility to attend my son’s school events. I am grateful for my country drive everyday. I think the cornfields, hay bales, old farmhouses and country churches I pass everyday are beautiful.

I couldn’t help but think that if April Wheeler could not be happy where she was, eventually she would be unhappy in Paris too. I’m not saying it’s wrong to have goals or want something different. But if your focus is on what you don’t have, instead of the blessings you do, you can never be happy.

Make the Effort to Notice

I’ve mentioned before, I try to read the Bible every morning.  Lately, I have been reading 2 Kings.  Sometimes, I find it really fascinating.  Sometimes, I find it rather boring.  The history of the kings of Israel starts in 1 Samuel, with Saul.  I’ve continued to read these books in order, because I have become interested in this chronology.

I’m no Bible scholar.  I’m sure I miss some important information.  The names of some of these kings are very hard to pronounce, even in my head.  There were many ungodly kings, who caused Israel to sin.  Many of them were killed – sometimes by their own sons.  That usually gets my attention.

Hezekiah, one of the kings of Judah, stands out.  He did what was right, in the eyes of the Lord.  Later in his life, Hezekiah became ill and was dying.  2 Kings 20:2-6 (New American Standard Bible)  Then he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, “Remember now, O LORD, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterlyBefore Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD.  “I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.”‘”

This passage stuck with me.  I mean, that’s pretty significant – God sending a message to Hezekiah, through the prophet Isaiah, and extending his life for 15 years.  I read it a couple of times over two days, because when I returned to it, as often happens when I’m finding where I left off the previous day, I re-read a paragraph or two.

Here’s where things get weird.  A couple of weeks ago, I began helping to cover for someone in another department, who was on vacation.  I sat at a desk that was shared by a few different people.  On the first day, when I was training, I didn’t notice a plastic cup that was holding some pens.  I noticed it the second day, and I saw that it had a cross on it, which I thought was nice.  The third day, I noticed it had tiny lettering below the cross, and realized it was a Bible verse.  I took a closer look.  It was part of the verse 2 Kings 20:5.  I think it was from the NIV:  “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you.”  This bothers me a little.  It’s taken out of context.  God was making this promise to a particular individual, in a particular circumstance, which is not how it’s presented here.

But, that’s not what I want to focus on.  I was floored when I saw this, because that very morning was when I read that verse for the second time.  If it had been Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (KJV) or Romans 8:28  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”, I wouldn’t have thought too much of it.  I see these verses pretty often, and I draw on them often.  But 2 Kings 20:5?  That is not one that is quoted often, and to see it after just reading it two days in a row, when it stuck with me for the first time?  That is odd.

I don’t believe in coincidences.  I pray most mornings for God to let me feel His presence.  We have to look for those things.  I learned a long time ago, that I have to quit talking so much and keep my eyes and ears open to see and hear His presence.  When I witness something like this, I can’t ignore it.  If this is God, allowing me to feel His presence, how does He orchestrate such a thing?  Like so many things with God, it is beyond my understanding.  But, that doesn’t make it any less real.

We live on a nearly empty road in the country.  It’s part of a development, that hasn’t really developed.  But, we do have street lights.  When it’s dark, the screens in our windows make the lights look like a row of crosses.  Depending on how clear it is, the moisture in the air, who knows what else, they can look extremely brilliant at times.  I’ve tried a few times to capture this on film, but I haven’t had much success.  This is the best I’ve been able to do.

It’s more powerful in person.  As distorted as this is, hopefully you still get the idea.

God does speak to us in all kind of ways . . . through His word, song, images, events . . . if only we make the effort to notice.

 

 

 

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Have You Forgotten Your New Years Resolutions Yet?

A month ago, people were talking about setting goals and not setting goals.  I admit, I was thinking about it too. There is something about a new year that makes you feel you can accomplish anything.  That little sign on my way to work that I described in my previous post, Humility Prevent Humiliation,  says on one side, “New Year.  New Beginnings.”

The one that is top of mind for me and many others is losing weight.  The goal should be, eating healthier and getting in better shape.  I want to do that too, but it’s mostly vanity.  I have some things working against me.  I broke my back when I was younger.  The hardware in my back makes it almost impossible to develop any muscles in that area of my back, and that makes it tough to strengthen my core.  I used to do crunches, but they made my back hurt and frankly probably aren’t good for me anyway.  Planks, yoga, or squats while holding some weights are probably the best way to go.  Here, I have no excuse.  I’m lazy.

Having two kids at an “advanced maternal age” is not helping my stomach.  On top of that, I have an umbilical hernia that I have yet to have surgically corrected.  My days of bikinis are long behind me.  But, if I lost 20 lbs., that would surely make me feel better about my stomach.

But, it’s so daunting.  I know, I know.  I should make a lifestyle change.  Not just diet to lose weight.  But, I like pizza and tacos and cake and potato chips.  Let’s not forget chocolate, french fries and Chinese food.

I like diets that tell me exactly what to eat so I don’t have to track carbs, calories or points.  Have you ever tried a low-carb diet?  Talk about misery.  I love meat, but I need bread or crackers or something to feel full.  Between feeling hungry, tracking carbs and depriving myself of much of the food I really like, I focus on the diet ALL THE TIME.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been doing diets that specify what my meals are and allow me days when I can eat whatever I want.  My problem is consistency.  Whatever excuse I can come up with (some legitimate, some not so much) to take a couple weeks off, I will use it.

Okay – all of that said, I’m going to give myself a break.  I am still 8 lbs. down from where I was at my heaviest (other than pregnancy or the months following having a baby) two years ago.  That’s certainly better than gaining it back, or gaining it back and then some.  While that sense of renewed energy I, and many others, had at the new year has worn off, each day is a new day, so I won’t give up.

While those weight related goals are not bad to have, maybe there are some more important goals to set.  Goals that are good for our well-being and our souls.  Some can be immediately met.  Give to that charity you’ve been thinking about forever.  Go to church this Sunday.  Start reading that spiritual or positive book that’s been collecting dust.  Others take a longer commitment, maybe even a lifetime commitment.  Stop gossiping. Stop lying.  Read the Bible every day.  Make an ongoing effort to make my spouse feel loved.

I’ll focus on gossip for a bit.  In the past, I had no shame in talking about people behind their back, as long as I didn’t get caught.  As I’ve matured, I’ve realized how damaging gossip is.  Besides hurting your relationship with the object of gossip, it potentially hurts their relationship with others, and it damages your reputation more than you realize.  Scripture has a lot to say about gossip.  Here’s a harsh one.  Matthew 12:36 (ESV)  “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,”  This one is a little gentler:  Proverbs 21:23 “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. ”

I bite my tongue a lot.  But not always.  Sometimes I’ll find an excuse to gossip.  “I have to work out this problem with this person by talking about it to someone else.”  Another excuse might be that this someone needs to know what this person is really like.  But, do I need to be the one to tell them?  What if I gave the person the benefit of the doubt, and gave them the chance to be at their best?

But, over the long-haul I’ve been improving.  As happens so often, the lyrics of a song keep running through my mind.  This time, it’s Matthew West’s Day One.  (We saw him in concert in December.  He was fantastic.  If you get the chance, don’t pass it up).  Here are some of the lyrics:

Well, I wish I had a short term memory
Wish the only thing my eyes could see
Was the future burning bright right in front of me
But I can’t stop looking back

Yeah, I wish I was a perfect picture of
Somebody who’s never not good enough
I try to measure up but I mess it up
And I wish I wasn’t like that

Every morning, every morning
Every morning, mercy’s new
Every morning, every morning
I will fix my eyes on You
Every morning, every morning
Every morning, mercy’s new
Every morning, every morning
Sun’s coming up, the beginning has begun, yeah

I improve.  I stumble.  I think I’m on a trajectory of cutting this destructive behavior out of my life altogether.  While I have the attitude of taking this change seriously, and not giving myself a pass for bad behavior, each new day brings new hope that I will be better than the day before.

 

 

 

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The Little Pamphlet that Changed my Life

I’ve mentioned before that we have been terrible church-hoppers.  But, I believe God puts us where He wants us at any given time.  Hopefully, that will be in our permanent church home soon!

During our struggle with our search, we have attended some churches for extended periods of time – months or even years.  When we first moved to our current home, we attended a church in the nearest small city, about 10 miles away.  While we ultimately decided this church was not the one for us, during our time there, the Pastor presented a pamphlet that changed my life.

The pamphlet is called:  Seven Minutes with God:  How to Plan a Daily Quiet Time.  I find it easy to set goals, and while I usually don’t have a hard time getting started, sticking with real change is a challenge for me.  I had previously read the entire Bible.  It took years.  I would say I was still seeking then, and I didn’t retain much.  I wanted to continue to strengthen my relationship with God, but always felt pressure to read a lot at a time to feel like I was accomplishing something.  It became a daunting task.

This pamphlet opened my eyes.  In using this technique, I learned that sometimes its more valuable to read just a chapter, or even a paragraph and meditate on it, than to read several pages at a time.  By the way, if you’re interested in buying this pamphlet, it’s available from several places online.  Here you can buy a pack of 25 for $10.99:  christanbook.com.  Share it with your friends!  I am receiving no compensation for this – just wanted to let you know where you can get it, if you’re interested.

It was about four years ago that I read this pamphlet.  I don’t need to refer to it anymore.  I found it recently, but, of course now that I want to use it as a reference, I can’t locate it.  But, that’s okay.  I can still share what I have learned and retained from it after all of this time.

This is my memory of what was in the pamphlet, and it may not be 100% accurate.  I don’t worry too much about how much time is to be devoted to each area.  This is how my prayer time started, and some areas where it has grown, based on using the pamphlet as a guide.

Before I read the Bible, I pray for God to reveal His word to me.  I read for several minutes.  While I may only read a short passage at a time, I stick with one book, from beginning to end, so I can understand the whole context.  Sometimes it takes me several weeks to read a book this way, but that’s okay.  The structure of prayer that follows is:  Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (petition or requests).

This was appealing to me, because I didn’t really know how to pray.  Often we just ask for things.  Adding all of these other aspects has really enriched my spiritual life.  I came up with an easy acronym – ACTS.  After using this for a while, I decided that I really needed to pray and meditate on the scripture I just read, so I changed the acronym to SACTS:  Scripture, Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.

When I pray about scripture, sometimes I pray for clarity.  Sometimes I thank God for caring about us enough to give us His word.  Sometimes I thank Him for the better understanding of Him that I’ve gained from a particular passage.

This has gotten me into a good routine of reading the Bible.  There are days that I’m running very late, or I think I’ll have more time later, so I put it off, and then forget altogether.  But, I would say I read the Bible 9 out of 10 days.  I used to attend a Business Women of Faith group, and one of the speakers, Amanda Hodge, talked about the importance of reading the Bible regularly.  Among other things, how are you going to know God is speaking to you if you don’t know His voice?  Reading His word is the only way to gain that familiarity.

When I was going through a really tough time, I began getting down on my knees.  When my prayers became less desperate, I decided to continue getting on my knees because I couldn’t think of a good reason not to.  It seemed like the most appropriate position for full surrender.

Occasionally, I’ll abandon this structure altogether, when I feel that it’s becoming too routine, and my time with God has stopped coming from the heart.  I think of Romans 8:26 – Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (American King James version)

I admit to God that I don’t always know what to pray for, but that I will trust in His plan.  I trust that the Holy Spirit will intercede with what I really need, not what I think I want.

If you want a closer relationship with God, but don’t know where to begin, I recommend following the structure outlined in this pamphlet.  Surely your spiritual life will grow from there, but this is a great starting point.

 

 

 

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Picture Perfect. In Whose Eyes?

frameI was going to include our most recent family photo, but then I realized it was taken at a studio, so there could be some legal issues with including it.  I will attempt to paint a word picture for you.  We were all in neutral shades, with blue being the accent color.  The kids had on different, but complementing patterns.  We were coordinated, but not too coordinated.  My husband was on a stool, slightly higher than my stool in front of him.  My then 3-year-old daughter was on my lap.  My 6-year-old son was standing next to me, in front of my husband.  Everyone was smiling.

It was a perfect family photo.  A picture of how we want to look to the world.

My husband and I take our faith seriously.  We want to be pleasing representatives for Jesus.  But, we fall woefully short on a daily basis.  We can look the part at our best.  At our worst, we are nit-picking, bickering, sometimes yelling, grumbling hypocrites.  But we try.  Hopefully we are on a trajectory of being better servants every day.

A couple of weeks ago we had the honor of witnessing two baptisms.  It was a young, engaged couple being baptized.  Both had amazing stories, but the young man’s keeps coming to my mind.  He was thin, quiet, with gauges in his ears.  He also wore an ankle monitor.  He had served two six month stints in prison.  The Pastor joked that he had never done this before, and would he be zapped when he got in the water?  The young man assured him that he would not.

This young man had begun seeking a relationship with God while in prison.  His baptism was a public declaration of his faith in Jesus Christ.

It was very moving.  Perhaps more so, because it wasn’t your every day story.  If you compare three images, our “picture perfect” family photo, who we really are, and this young man wearing the ankle monitor, who is the better representative for Jesus?  Well, this is a hypothetical question, because we should not compare ourselves to others.  It’s more to demonstrate how very powerful this man’s testimony is.  There are some passages that come to my mind when I think of the gentleman who was baptized.  I think I’ll stick with just this one, because it demonstrates my point so well.

From Luke 7, verses 36 – 50, the New American Standard Bible

36 Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”

40 And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44 Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 49 Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Am I saying this person’s sins are worse than mine?  No.  While I’ve not been to prison, I have sinned plenty.  When I was younger, I certainly was not living a righteous lifestyle.  As far as my sinful thoughts, they have been pretty shameful.  Thoughts can’t be judged by man’s law, but God knows them.

His sins are more apparent to an outsider.  Some sins are worn on the person’s sleeve.  In this case, on his ankle.  But, there are plenty of people from my past who could tell you about many of my sins.  I would be embarrassed.  But, I am generally able to keep them hidden.  Is that a better representation of Christ?  I don’t think so.

Look at this man.  Look at this family.  At first appearances, the family may seem to be what one thinks of as the better Christians.  In reality, this man’s devotion may be stronger because of his perception that his sins are worse, even though, in reality, they likely are not.  Is he better?  I don’t know, but he’s certainly just as good.  Jesus loves us enough to feel we’re all worth dying for.  Because we have accepted His gift of salvation, we are all looked upon as sinless in the eyes of God.  Our stories are very different, but God can use them all for his higher purpose.

 

 

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