Grateful, Courageous, and Cheerful

I see through new lenses these days. No, I didn’t get new glasses.

I have a new way of life. One that still consists of the family I treasure and work that I love—ministering to people. But one which now includes numerous therapies, doctors’ appointments, calculated outings, and even trips to be measured for the “electric chair.” Sounds scary—but I am referring to a motorized wheelchair, complete with accompanying accessible van. Bars and ramps have already been installed in our home as we live out our “new normal.”

I must choose how I view this change in life. An assortment of viewpoints and attitudes hover around my head and are readily accessible. Which lens shall I choose?20161121_150413

My husband no longer has mobility, and suffers from a progressive neurological disease. Yes. It’s hard and sobering.

However (for a completely none other than God-given reason) we have peace. And we have so much we are thankful for. I find myself surprised to feel this reality so keenly and deeply—but I’ve never felt closer to God, my husband, or my family. And, I’m extremely thankful as I approach my country’s Thanksgiving holiday.

This really doesn’t make sense. I am quite aware this contentment is only because of many prayers being prayed—and a commitment and prayer from my husband to live each day…grateful, courageous, and cheerful.

How do you do that when you lose your physical capabilities and/or when life radically changes?

By choice.  Choosing to be grateful this time of year. This day. This moment. Tomorrow.

And choosing to be courageous and cheerful.

Each day.

The alternative choice is to become bitter, fearful, and depressed…and that, dear friends, is not an encouraging choice.

My husband chooses the former, and it spurs me on to choose the same. The Bible calls me to this. It’s a vital way to think—and it’s possible. This way of thinking doesn’t mean I hide my head in the sand to all that is hard in life while whistling “Pollyanna.”  In fact, Jesus’ tells us we will have troubles in this world. Expect them. There are all kinds of troubles here in this “short minute” of life on earth. Yet, it’s the perfect and trouble free eternal years for which I live. Aaaahhhh.

If we are waiting for life on earth to be “fair” and to always make sense to us we are in for a long and impossible wait.

Despite our troubles, we can know we know and hold to someone who is all powerful and completely loving.

I can’t see what he sees. I also can’t deny the truth of the following scripture. God’s peace exceeds anything and everything I can understand.
4  Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!
5  Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
6  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
7  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
8  And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
9  Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
(Philippians 4:4-9 NLT)

Today, I feel grateful. The ability to stand, to walk, to climb, and to run feels very pertinent to me. To quickly “fetch” a drink of water when I’m thirsty is a privilege, and to take steps into a friend’s home is a blessing.  I may not always have these abilities, but while I do I’m thankful for them. My once fast and agile husband can no longer do these things, but he is a grateful man. He knows and lives love; receives and offers forgiveness; experiences peace in heart and mind; has the love of an amazing family; holds to a purpose and hope that nothing can destroy; and joyfully functions within a diverse church family that loves deeply and from the heart.

His attitude is contagious to me. And it’s a good contagiousness—no need for covering the mouth with a tissue here. This attitude shows in the big stuff and in the mundane. For instance: While pumping gas, I now stop to be thankful for the fact I have a car, and money to power it.  Each time I’m at the grocery store and slip that debit card chip into the proper slot I’m reminded of the amazing food I am able to buy, and I feel thankful.  I realize this is a luxury for many. I’ve seen, met, and spoken to many who would long for such an opportunity. I am truly blessed. Before this recent struggle, I felt less gratitude for such “mundane” things.

And who could have courage if they didn’t face fears?  Fearfulness has dogged me throughout my life, yet God has not let me down. Ever. This doesn’t mean I haven’t faced hard or even life threatening situations and felt fear. Yet, it was in those times of deepest fears God empowered me to feel the most courage.

Funny thing— this is what God’s promises have always told us. Just re-read Psalm 23. Maybe a more unfamiliar wording of this psalm will feed your soul:
4  Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.
5  You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing.
6  Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of GOD for the rest of my life.
(Psalm 23:4-6 MSG)

And cheerfulness?

Deep down in the heart joy supersedes circumstances.

17  Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
18  yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19  The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.
(Habakkuk 3:17-19)

18  When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your love, O LORD, supported me.
19  When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.  
               (Psalm 94:18-19)

And that is something to smile about. Cheerfulness begets cheerfulness.  It feels good, too.


22  A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
(Pr. 17:22)

Join us in a commitment to leave each day with gratitude, courage, and cheerfulness.

…And have a wonderful Thanksgiving day—and life!


12  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
(Romans 12:12)

 

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“Every Day is a New Chance”

He’s an “old soul” at six years old. I’m often taken aback by conversations with my grandson. On the playground, he might be found playing ball with his friends,or asking his teacher how her day is going and if teaching makes her happy. That’s just the way he rolls.

So, I was not too surprised with our conversation last week as I was transporting him to his cousin’s house. As we were on the way he turned to my husband, who is suffering with health challenges and can no longer walk, and reminded him that he prays for him every day. We spoke of how God has not said “yes” to our desires for reasons still unknown to us–but we trust him. After a pause Micah continued, “You know Papa, every day is a new chance.” every-day-is-a-new-chance

I stored this nugget of child wisdom in my heart and ruminated on it throughout the week. Indeed, Micah, every day is a new chance. Every day brings a new possibility, a new chance.

In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation. You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell. (Psalm 5:3-4)

Every day is new chance to:

Count the many blessings I have been given.

Serve others.

Notice new ways that God is at work in my life.

Choose gratitude.

Hope.

Encourage someone.

Remember what Jesus did for me.

Accept God’s love and power even if I don’t understand my circumstances.

Overcome a harmful habit or sin and replace it with good.

Share this love which can make an eternal  difference in someone’s life.

Today we have this chance.

A couple of nights ago I woke up for a few hours and took the opportunity to pray. I thought about this “random chance” to pray and began to thank God for a vast variety of people, scenes, creatures, and emotions I enjoy and that he created. I was filled with wonder at how music “works” and how humorous and adorable are so many creatures. I stood (or rather lay) dumbfounded  at laughter, joy, excitement, sorrow, and the many varied emotions we are able to experience. I thought of the intense power of love and how it is something we can only know because of God. It was a fun prayer time as I remembered this “chance” to choose God. I read a familiar passage in a less familiar version and was uplifted so much I’m eager to share it with you…as we hold to the fact that every day is a new chance.What will you make of your chance today?

 
  This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”
  God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.
  And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!
  That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times.
  The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next.
  Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in
  until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.
  All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs.
  These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance.
  That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us.
  But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.
  Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.
  He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God.
  That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.  Romans 8:15-28 (MSG)

 

 

Teaching Our Children to Pray

Nothing shouts sincerity louder than the sound of little children speaking to their creator.   However, as one of Jesus’ disciples states in Luke 11:1, “Lord, teach us to pray…” we all need help in learning to pray.

The children we once taught to pray now have praying children of their own. I now love the occasions when I have the opportunity to pray with my grandchildren.  I love “hearing their hearts” and am often inspired by the honesty and detail with which they pray. IMG_3626

I think back to numerous times when my faith was challenged by my children’s prayers. I confess that at times I wished to myself that they had not prayed a particular prayer which I faithlessly believed could not happen.

Like the time they prayed fervently for a puppy…day after day.

Several months later an Irish Setter puppy showed up at our door.  Seriously. I opened the front door and it was right there staring at me. Eyeball to eyeball as if to say…”Oh you of little faith.”   The dog stayed with us for days until its owner was finally found. By then we were persuaded to get a dog…and have had one ever since. My children were not surprised.

While I’m not saying a puppy will show up at your door, I am saying that we must not underestimate the power of prayer.

As I think back to prayer times with our young children I remember times when their prayers scared me. Often they would express their love to God and tell him how much they wanted to be with him. While I loved this and longed for this simplicity of child-like trust, I would follow up with God afterward and let him know that I understood that they wanted to be with him…but this scared me and I longed for them to stay here with us.

I also remember times when they were preschoolers when I initiated prayer time before bed and they refused to pray (at least the one of them did this). This sometimes messed with my mind. Would it be wrong to “demand” that they pray? Would this warp their genuine heartfelt desire for God because they felt they “had” to pray?  Remember….I’m talking little ones here…little ones who can be stubborn and try to take control.  I realized that these times were simply about “who was going to win” and that my “win” as a parent was crucial. By the way, it did not hurt their future prayer life or heartfelt love for God

So what are helpful ways we can teach our children to pray?

  1. Set the example.  It seems most obvious, but there is nothing more important than our example. Do our children see and hear us pray? I mean “really” pray? Not just the quick prayer before a meal, but talking with God when we don’t know how to handle a situation…or when we are worried…or when we are thankful…or when someone we know has a need… Do they see us pray often and spontaneously? Do they hear true thankfulness in our hearts when we thank God for the food on our plates, or for the gifts we receive, or unexpected blessings…or even challenges? When they are in a spat with a sibling or unsure of what to do…do we lead them to prayer?
  2. Give them some practical ideas.  It helped our children to have some structure in their prayers. When they were very young my husband or I started the prayer and let them follow with words from their heart. I started by talking about why I loved God and loved talking to him. Then I began the prayer with: Thank you for _________ and let them fill in things for which they were thankful. Gratitude is always a good place to start. From there I would continue:  Please help ________ and encouraged them to ask God to help others who were in need–those who were sick, or poor, or orphaned, or sad. They also prayed for people we knew and hoped would learn the Bible and become Christians. Next, I would add the sentence…Help me __________ and encourage them to pray about areas of their character where they needed God to help them grow stronger. Then we’d end by expressing our heart toward God starting with…I love you because_______________. and then share with God reasons why we loved him.   We didn’t follow this every time, but we did this often while they were young.
  3. Pray with them. Often. Nothing brings us closer to another than going to God with them.  I still love to pray with my adult children. Nothing helps me get in touch with my heart more than when I pray together with someone. Nothing helps me know the heart of another more than praying with them.  And….In Matthew 18:20 God tells me that “whenever two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

So, set the example, give practical ideas and pray with your children.  It can make an eternal difference.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thess. 5:16-18

6 Spiritual Drippings from an Ice Cream Cone

Who knew I’d grow deeper with God through ice cream?

Wanting to make sure my words are helpful and true, I’ve felt the need to do plenty of “research” over the past few months.  So, a couple of times a week I have forced myself to dig deeper into these thoughts through first-hand (to mouth) experience at my favorite ice cream joint—Bedford Farms.

The conclusion?

Six ways to grow deeper with God learned through ice cream:

  1. Any time is right for ice cream. There is no “right time” to get ice cream.  It enriches any time of day, in my opinion. Yes, I’m a firm believer in eating healthy, but life needs ice-cream.  I’ve had it for dessert and I’ll confess—also for dinner.  Either way, any time… it’s good. 0925101606b- lexi and ice cream

Often we are tempted to designate certain appropriate times as the times to grow with God.  While these times do need to be set aside (such as devoted times of prayer, time to meet with the church), we can continue to grow with God any time throughout the day and night.  Do you desire to pray, to meditate and learn, to read/remember and reflect on God’s word throughout the day in “undesignated” times such as a work break, driving in the car, in a line (queue), or even occasionally instead of dinner?

  1. Choose what is best. Bedford Farms offers many choices.  Most of them are good options. However, I’ve settled on the one I believe is best and it makes life easier.  My decision has been made before I get to the window.  (“I’ll have a kid’s cone of coffee heath bar yogurt, please”)There are few occasions I will vary from my first choice, and they are carefully considered and weighed beforehand.

Life is full of choices.  Indecision can cause great angst.  At times we can become paralyzed from the choices around us. Other times we tend to follow the “shiny, luring, pleasing to the senses” choices which may be distracting to our relationship with God at best—and sinful at worst.  Take time to consider and weigh your decisions based on how they will affect you and others spiritually? What would Jesus do here?  What will help me and my family grow? What will be most helpful to show Jesus in me to others? When you use these types of factors in your decision making—once you get to the place where it’s “time to order” you will know what to choose.

  1. Forego the “jimmies”. Don’t get me wrong.  Occasional “jimmies” are good.  (For those who may be reading this outside of the boundaries of New England, “jimmies” are those little brown chocolate sprinkles that are used to coat ice cream.  However, “jimmies”, in my opinion, only distract from the integrity of the taste of my ice cream.

Ahhh…where do I begin with the subject of distractions? My point is simple.  We can have so many “accessories”  to our lives that we never actually get around to consistently opening the Bible and letting God speak to us, and then pouring out our hearts to him.  We (and by “we” I mean “I”) can even become so distracted with tasks as we spend time with other Christians, that we fail to connect and truly know each other in a deep and honest way. Do you have several people in your life who know the real you, and together you help each other grow closer to God?  Does your life reflect Jesus to others, or does it merely reflect activity? 20150728_130252

  1. Find an appropriate setting. I don’t want to eat my cone in a rush—or while distracted with a phone conversation or any conversational topic other than how good the ice cream tastes.  I want to be able to focus on the “task at/in hand”. Otherwise, my ice cream is suddenly gone and I’ve missed the joy of it all.

Finding as undistracted a time and setting as possible with which to spend some special time with God makes a difference.  Do you miss the joy and pleasure of being in the presence of God because distractions are all around? Try spending time without electronics in the background, outside, early in the morning or late at night…or if you wake up in the middle of the night.  Settle your heart with song or meditation as you spend some undistracted, special time with God.

  1. The “Stillness of the Lick” is sort of sacred. Call me crazy, but there is something soothing and relaxing about licking an ice cream cone. That’s why I will never order a cup—only a cone will do.  There seems almost an artistic and poetic plot to the process of licking an ice cream (or frozen yogurt) cone—catching the drips and making sure the licks on one side don’t mismatch with the other side, all the while twirling and twisting the cone with the appropriate rhythm. The combination of taste, touch, sight and sound adds to the entire “sacred” experience and relationship to my cone.  Ok, I’m feeling vulnerable.  Am I the only one who feels this way?

I’ve had to learn and grow in my walk with God to truly understand that spending special time with him is not only a time I need, but one we both desire.  That is crazy amazing, that God wants to spend time with me!  Without this understanding, time with him can simply be a “good task that needs to be done”—sort of like the difference between having dinner with a trusted, deeply loving and loved friend (who also happens to be the creator of the universe)  and in exercising and getting homework done.  While at times for times with God I need the same kind of self-discipline needed  to exercise consistently— it’s when I am truly aware of my connection with my Father who loves me that I feel full of peace and joy.

  1. The paper will meet the cone. This is the moment where I see that there is no longer a mound of ice cream to lick and the remainder is hidden in the cone.  At this point, with the cones I use, I must peel back the paper that lines the cone. When it’s time to peel paper, I know that this wonderful experience will be “gone too soon” and I begin to feel a little sad.   However, the serendipity is that this is the point where all flavors and textures combine. It’s the best part of all. 20150518_191210

I am reminded that if I don’t live each stage of life to the fullest—with gratitude for what it brings, I will think too much about what has been or when it will all be over. Neither of these viewpoints are productive, but they do keep me coming back for more.  The ice cream cone ends at some point (pun intended), yet  I’m so very grateful that God’s love is new every morning, and the best is yet to come.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.   (Lamentations 3:21-26)

 

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

Walking the Power Lines

I love my prayer walks.  Wyndham and I often walk along a gravel/mud path across from our house that follows several miles of power lines.  Yesterday as we walked and prayed (and scolded Denver for eating the leash) I kept noticing the path of wires above me. 

It is at times disconcerting to hear the electricity’s snap, crackle and pop in these wires.  I’ve also wondered (since I have been hit by lightning and currently walk under power lines) if I am overcharged with electrical current.  Is it just me or do others often get shocked when touching food on grocery shelves?  Regardless, it is perplexing to me to ponder the way power inside of these thin wires accomplishes so much.

I try to imagine what goes on inside of those wires – where at any given moment the flick of a switch allows me to turn darkness to light in my kitchen.  Miles away, someone else can stay warm even when the temperature outside is frigid… all because of the power going through these wires.

Even more amazing is what goes on as I walk under these wires.  I can open my mouth, or just speak from my heart  – and the Creator of the universe who gave me the breath of life hears what I say and is able to act on it.  While it’s incredible to look up and realize that the power going through the wires enables me to see when it is dark and allows someone else miles away to stay warm when it’s freezing outside –   this pales in comparison to what goes on below and beyond the wires.

Because of the prayers we pray as we walk the power lines, (or anywhere we may be) astounding things can happen.  As I focus prayer on certain individuals, situations and churches here or across the ocean I don’t know all that is happening… but I do know that power is being exerted there.  While I don’t know how God will answer my prayers I have often been amazed as I’ve seen unexplainable answers to these prayers by way of changed hearts or circumstances in those for whom I or someone else has requested God’s attention and intervention.

As I read my Bible I recount times when directed prayer resulted in: a nation crossing an ocean on dry ground; a giant falling as a result of a shepherd boy’s slingshot; a man staying safe while in a den of lions and three men inhabiting an inferno without a single hair on their bodies being singed.  After prayer thousands were fed from two fish and five loaves of bread, jail doors miraculously opened and on and on and on….

Psalm 77:11-19

    I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

    [12] I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.

  [13] Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?

    [14] You are the God who performs miracles;you display your power among the peoples. [15] With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

Selah

 [16] The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and writhed;

   the very depths were convulsed. [17] The clouds poured down water, the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. [18] Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked.

 [19] Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.

As I go about my daily life I see people coming and going.  Often they hold a form of religion.  However, upon speaking to them I learn that all too often this form of religion is lacking in power. Power to make them feel secure and complete; to be confident about their eternity; to overcome sin; to build strong marriages; to give and receive forgiveness;  and to build relationships that help them be more like Jesus.    2 Tim. 3:2-5 … People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, [3] without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, [4] treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– [5] having a form of godliness but denying its power…. (emphasis added)

As I walk along the power lines I am reminded that God’s power was made available to me through Jesus.  Romans 1:16  I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

 The power available to me in my life is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11); is made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9); can accomplish more than I dare ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20,21); and gives me everything I need for life and Godliness (2 Peter 1:3)

Our connection to God accesses power that is beyond anything physical or within the dimensions of our understanding.  So, as I walk along the power lines and consider all that is happening because of the activity going through the  wires may I be ever so aware, available and humbled by the power available to me through my relationship with God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Habits For Building A Strong Marriage

Since we are away, teaching at a marriage retreat, it seems a good time to post some habits my husband and I have developed over the years which have helped to make our marriage strong.   37 years later, there is no one I would rather spend time with than my husband – my best friend.

If I were to list the most important habits we have incorporated into our marriage they would be:

1.  Practice daily prayer together. – It has been so meaningful to us to take our gratitude, concerns and requests to God as a couple, as well as individually.  I love the scripture in Exodus 33:12-17

    Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ [13] If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

    [14] The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

    [15] Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. [16] How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

    [17] And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”   

Our marriage is strong because we have chosen to practice His Presence with us.  Having God with us in our marriage means everything.  We cannot guide it or carry it alone.  We always need His Presence and involvement in our marriage.

2.  Have a purposeful assessment and planning time together each week.

 We have found that “life” gets away from us if we don’t deliberately make plans along with our prayers.

Every week we take some extended time together to talk about our spiritual and emotional state of being, what is going on in our lives as well as well as what  areas need growth.  We follow this with some extended prayer time together.

1 Peter 1:13-16

    Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. [14] As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. [15] But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; [16] for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

If we don’t set aside a time to plan and prepare our minds for action things get crazy and we end up not practically living out our priorities.

Our bumps have usually come from unmet or differing expectations, resulting from things that we did not talk through.

When our children were still at home, we also walked through their schedules  – considering  their physical and emotional needs, how we would prioritize getting time with them, and how to include time for family devotionals.  We strove to have a deliberate approach for developing the spiritual and emotional connections in our family, seeking family feedback from within and without the family.

3.  Eat together at the dinner table   – Most days (with a rare exception) we strove to have everyone together at the family dinner table.  These were precious times. We still enjoy dinner together, even as empty nesters.  It has also served us well to go to bed at the same time most nights.

4.  Practice openness and transparency  –We have found it extremely beneficial to have another couple or two consistently in our lives who know us really well and care about our spiritual, emotional and physical well-being.   We open up our lives to them.  This practice not only helps us grow, but it also helps us get rid of “blind spots” that can weigh us down.  These friends provide  a place to get “unstuck” if we come to an impasse.

5  Cultivate an outward focused lifestyle      Col. 4:2-6

    Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. [3] And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. [4] Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. [5] Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. [6] Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Galatians 2:10   All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

Practicing hospitality in our home, along with finding ways to serve the poor has served our marriage and family in a tremendous way.  It truly is more blessed to give than to receive, and these practices have reminded us and our children that we are not the center of the universe, but are instead meant to give to and serve others.  This habit has refreshed our souls over and over again.

6.  Express love and affection to each other daily…don’t just assume it’s a given.  I’m amazed at the ways God expresses his love for me in the scriptures, through people, and through His creation.   My husband consistently encourages me and expresses his affection toward me.  This practice helps me (and our family) remember why we love each other…and encourages us to keep on giving.

7.  Enjoy God’s pleasant boundaries.

Psalm 16:6

    The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;

        surely I have a delightful inheritance.

We have found it extremely helpful and important to enjoy each other, and to enjoy the pleasant boundaries we have been given. That’s why you may find us taking a walk, sipping coffee on the front porch as the sun sets, sitting by the fire,  riding our bicycles, walking in the snow, playing with our grandchildren, running our dogs, licking a frozen yogurt cone at Bedford Farms, hiking a trail or watching the waves roll on the North Shore.

It’s never too late to begin good habits!

Getting Past the ABC’s – Annoyance, Bedlam and Chaos

I’ve renamed the dogs.  Let me introduce them.  Annoyance is on the left.   Bedlam is front and center and Chaos is on the right.   They had tested me throughout the day yesterday, and it culminated this morning – about 4am.  The older dog (Blackie, aka “Jackie”) usually sleeps on the floor at the foot of our bed.  I suppose he wasn’t feeling well, since I was awakened to the sounds of him throwing up on my pillow – right next to my head.  That was quite disgusting.  It was annoying enough to be awakened – not to mention the need that followed to get out of bed to change the pillowcase.  Thus his new nickname, Annoyance

We also have our puppy, Denver, who is …well – a puppy.  I named him Bedlam. Then there is Brady.  This week we are dog-sitting Brady, our son’s dog, while our son and his family are out of town.  He is a loveable dog, who has high energy and also really loves the water.  Yesterday I had decided to let the dogs out before I needed to leave for an appointment.  That’s when Bedlam and Chaos took over.  Brady (Chaos) headed to the creek beside our house to take a little dip, and Denver (Bedlam) went the other direction toward a swamp.  Denver thought it would be fun, instead of coming to my call, to grab hold of a large stick and run the other way toward the field where some gentlemen were playing Ultimate Frisbee during their lunch hour.  Finally, both dogs returned – covered in dark mud.  I was not amused.  Thirty minutes later, after giving the puppy a bath and watching my husband hose down Brady,  I rushed with breakneck speed and high anxiety to get to my appointment.

Annoyance, bedlam and chaos are not planned.  They just happen, usually at the most inopportune times.  They may be, as mine were, covered with fur.  Or, they may come in the form of a flat tire, a flooded basement,  a baby’s poopy diaper, a child’s tantrum, a lost shoe,  a snowstorm, or even just a “bad hair day”.  But come they will.  Bedlam breaks loose, chaos erupts and annoyances happen in what seems the mere blink of an eye.  They distract us from our purpose and plans, and tempt us with frustration, anger and anxiety.

I’ve learned that I can’t change them, or in most cases avoid them – so I must decide how to respond to them.  I’m constantly amazed and inspired by how Jesus dealt with annoyances, bedlam and chaos.  He remained calm and purposeful, even amidst it all. Look at one day in the life of Jesus.  Mark 1:21-38

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. [22] The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. [23] Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, [24] “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”

[25] “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” [26] The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

[27] The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” [28] News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

[29] As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. [30] Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. [31] So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

[32] That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. [33] The whole town gathered at the door, [34] and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

[35] Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. [36] Simon and his companions went to look for him, [37] and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

[38] Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

In this one day in the life of Jesus his sermon was interrupted by a crazy man, his friend’s mother in law (who was the hostess of the house where he was visiting) was very ill (so he healed her); and many sick and demon possessed clamored to him to be healed. He was offered no privacy.  I stand amazed and inspired.

Several things stand out to me as Jesus met with bedlam, chaos and annoyances.   He got away to pray; he was always filled with compassion amidst the chaos, bedlam and annoyances;  his heart was always to give;  and he did not let himself get distracted from his purpose of telling people how to have a relationship with God.  Because of his compassion and focus, I now have the hope of heaven.

May I today, get past the ABC’s of annoyance, bedlam and chaos by learning from Jesus – and take time to pray; view others through eyes of compassion;  decide to be a giver, and show people Jesus – enabling them to have a relationship with God and one day be in heaven.

Heart Monitor

Accessorizing is not always easy – especially today.  For several years I have had occasional heart palpitations, that can become rather annoying.  So, during my annual physical my doctor prescribed me a heart monitor to find out what is going on.  Likely, all is quite fine, but if something needs to be treated she would like to know (as would I).   After she described the monitor to me  I envisioned a tiny little bracelet with a small button that would be pushed when “an event” happened.  Little did I know I would receive this semi-monstrosity (when it comes to accessories) that has wires that attach to my body and that I must wear for a month 24/7.

So, I’m coming up with creative ways to work this into a scarf, a handbag, a giant necklace or belt ornament…though I’m running short on ideas.  I can only imagine what is going to happen next time I am at the airport…wired up to my monitor, but that’s another story  to write.

At this point, I am quite aware of my monitor’s presence.  It works by sending a recording of my heartbeats via satellite to someone, somewhere who monitors my heart’s activity.  Yes, the corresponding analogies are numerous.

At times, I can forget or become less aware that God is always monitoring my heart.  He is eager to point out irregularities, because he wants me spiritually healthy and strong.   It can be a comforting or frightening thought to know that God is always monitoring our hearts…recording their thoughts and intentions. Whenever I have an “event” a buzzer goes off…and it is not quiet.  Can you imagine if any time we had a spiritual heart “event” we started beeping?

1 Chron. 28:9

“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.

Proverbs 20:27

The lamp of the Lord searches the spirit of a man;

it searches out his inmost being.

Romans 8:27

And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

2 Chron. 16:9

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”

When our hearts belong to God and we are seeking him wholeheartedly it is a comfort to know He  always sees our hearts and can strengthen them –  as well as continually cleanse us as we walk in the light (1 Jn. 1:5-7).  Yet if we are not fully committed to Him, and still walk in darkness it is a frightening thought to know that God sees our heart.  Meanwhile our hearts become more and more damaged, rather than healed.

As I go through the day with my new accessory, it helps me remember four areas crucial to monitoring the “inside of our hearts”.

First, the Word of God makes us aware of the condition of our heart.  Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Second, we must have the openness and desire to change as we become sensitive to the areas of our heart that God reveals and exposes.   Psalm 139:23-24

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

[24] See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

Third, we must care about the condition of our heart and make the effort  (put on the monitor) to guard its health.  Proverbs 4:23

Above all else, guard your heart,

for it is the wellspring of life.

And, we also need others in our lives, the physicians or consultants who can help us get out the bad and draw out the good.  Proverbs 20:5

The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters,

but a man of understanding draws them out.

So really, I’m not alone in wearing a heart monitor.  Our hearts are all being monitored.  May they find the health and healing that God desires for us all.

Meanwhile, I’m a bit stuck on how to wear this little contraption.

Troubles and Treasures of Travel

I have come to realize that I am a home-body.  Yet, for years my job has required travel.  A number of years ago we (my husband and I) worked with a ministry in our church that served the poor throughout numerous under-developed countries. It is impossible to do this without physically going to these places, seeing the needs and getting to know the people. That required travel.  Now, as part of a different assignment, we work with churches in various places – for strengthening and training purposes.  I am humbled and grateful to be able to serve in this way, and grateful for the experiences and training we have received which enable us to give back in some way.  However, I don’t like to travel.

As I write this I’m still about 4 hours from Boston, just below Iceland.  My computer is sliding all over my lap, as we have hit some turbulence.  Hopefully, writing will distract me more than make me sick.  My palms will sweat…they always do when in turbulence.   I so wish I was one who loves to travel.  Alas, I am not.  There are many trials in travel. Though I always try to be very careful, I’ve managed to get food poisoning in the Philippines, Mexico, India, Romania and most recently on another trip to Eastern Europe.  Those moments were quite simply – horrible. Most times when traveling I can’t sleep at night, and during the day must try to prod my body out of its deep sleep rhythm.  Given our time away is usually fairly short, we meet with people from early morning until late at night. Travel involves more than the actual time away. There is preparation before leaving and catching up when getting home.  While away from my home church family, there are responsibilities that need to be covered.

Then there is the actual transit part of travel – early mornings, traffic, taking off many items of clothing and getting x-rayed, buying a five dollar cup of coffee – and then finding your tiny little seat.  ( I am quite sure that airplane seats are made for people under 5 feet tall who weigh less than 90 pounds.)  Usually your luggage goes with you, but not always.  Once I chuckled when I saw various articles of clothing and toiletries coming across the luggage claim conveyer belt.  I thought about the poor person whose article these were and wondered what happened to their luggage – that is until I started recognizing the articles.  Yes, they were mine.  My suitcase had been run over by the loaders and was utterly destroyed.

The hardest part of travel is being away from family. When my children were still at home many arrangements had to be made for their care and needs. I tried to travel as little as possible during that time period. It was hard to be away from them and all that they were involved with.  Now that our children are grown I thought it would be much easier.  I would only need to arrange care for the dogs.

It is much easier, but it’s still hard to be away. Last fall I cut a trip short when my daughter went into the hospital with early labor, the day after her son was admitted to the hospital for a bad case of croup.  Yesterday, as I was preparing to eat dinner with friends, I got a call informing me that my newest granddaughter had been in an accident and was on her way via ambulance to Children’s Hospital.  Needless to say, I ate no dinner and many prayers were offered on her behalf.  She had a slight brain bleed, which was very scary. (She is doing fine and  home from the hospital. Thank you, God!)  It is so very hard to be away in times like these.  I feel so helpless.  Yet, I am comforted to know that wherever I go I can join hands in prayer with the Christians around me, and at any given time and place access the creator of the universe, who happens to be my Father.  And that’s just what I did.

So, why do I keep doing this travel?  I ask myself this question often and keep coming back with the same answer.

In Luke 12 Jesus tells a poignant parable about seeking God’s kingdom first, instead of going after worldly pursuits.  He tells us to be ready for his return, to care for the poor, to have faith and focus that calls us to act…and to trust that God will provide what we need.  As if I’m not already convicted enough….at  the end of this parable is a most challenging verse – Luke 12:48

    From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

God showers blessings upon us, though sometimes in our pursuit of other things we can miss the blessings.  I think of things I have been given…forgiveness of sins, a clear conscience, direction for how to live life, God’s power living in me, countless promises, and eternal life (to name just a few). I have been given years of training in learning the scriptures as well as learning how apply them. I have an amazing, Godly husband and incredible children who love God wholeheartedly and are training their children to do so as well. They are best friends to me and to each other.  I  have a son who grew up in one of these underdeveloped countries.  He has taught me a new way of thinking and understanding for which I am grateful and blessed. I have a loving church family and dear friends. I have a warm home, running hot water, plenty of food and everything I need.  I have been able to connect with and meet so many wonderful people, as well as see the many needs that exist throughout the world.   I have been given much, and deeply desire that more and more people all over the world can know these same blessings.

I’m glad I wrote this.  It reminded me again why I do what I do.  As I unpack my suitcase, I will remember these amazing blessings and next month when I pack it again strive to remember and be forever grateful for the spiritual treasures God has given me to “carry in my suitcase”.  Bon Voyage!

I Can’t Hear You!

I rattled the dish, ever so quietly – and Denver came running over, thinking it was time to be fed.  This little puppy devours his food in a matter of seconds, with what seems like one gulp.  The slightest crumpling of a bag or rattling of a dish sends him into a whirlwind.  He responds immediately, almost running over himself to get to the food.

At other times, I can call loudly for him to come to me.  I can also look at him and tell him “no”,… don’t eat my boot, (you see him listening so well in the picture as he is chomping on my boot).. or the computer wire, or the chair, or my ear….and he suddenly becomes deaf.  Granted, he is only nine weeks old and still untrained, but I am quite sure his hearing is fine.  It’s not that he can’t hear me, or connect that the word “no” has repercussions associated with it.  At this point, in his immature state, it seems he hears only what he wants to hear.  We are teaching him basic commands as quickly as possible, for his own safety (and our sanity).   I  thought about how easy it is for us as humans to hear “conveniently”, as Denver does.

Think of things you are eager to hear.  You may await a certain phone call, or thrill at the sound of a child or grandchild as they utter their first words.  I thought about times I have been quite eager to hear good news of someone’s safe arrival, or to hear the voice of a loved one.

I ask myself how eager I am to hear the words of my God.  Do I strain in eager anticipation in order to hear them, or do I merely listen “at my convenience”?  The answer can be found in my daily habits.  Do I eagerly open pages of my Bible, (or open Bible applications on my computer)?  Do I really want to hear what he has to say to me?  Or, will I glance through the Bible at my leisure- at my convenience.

What keeps us from eagerly listening for and hearing the words of God? What causes us to stumble over them – and not take them to heart.  There can be various reasons, but perhaps the most common is what I observe with my puppy.  He is so busy doing what he wants to do, he doesn’t care to listen.

1 Peter 2:8b

 They stumble because they disobey the message—

It’s easy to be careless with listening…and it’s easy to stumble with the scriptures – when we don’t want to do what they say.  That’s like Denver, when he doesn’t want to obey.  Yet sometimes, unfortunately, it can be like me. I am always sobered by the scripture in Hebrews 2:1-3

    We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. [2] For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, [3] how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.

Listen carefully…..what do you hear?