Tag Archive | Encouragement

Changing Valentine

This has always been a special time of year for me.  I look forward to the flowers, gifts, dinner, and all the celebrations of the day.  Now, since my beloved has gone to be with the Lord, Valentine’s Day has changed.

Strangely, I am saddened as well as comforted.  My heart goes back to last year’s Valentine’s day as my husband and I attended a funeral in Tampa. Our friend died suddenly, and the circle of family and friends was in deep pain.  We had just been told of Richard’s illness, and were struggling with our own emotions as we tried to comfort our friends.

After the funeral we did our usual Valentine’s ritual. We went shopping for my gift and to dinner.  Years ago, it was agreed between us that the best approach to gift selection for me was to allow me to pick it out and Richard to pay. This way everybody was happy. We went to a nice mall in Tampa.  Richard sat at the counter while I tried on various rather pricey perfumes.  When I made my selection, the sales associate asked if he was paying, and he cheerfully replied, “but of course!”  He looked at the credit card slip and asked it that was all.  I confirmed that it was. Later, at dinner, we talked about the sudden death of our friend and the beauty of her life.  We did not speak of his own battle. Valentine’s Day was changing.

IMG_2315As with all holidays, I decorate my front door.  This holiday it is filled with red hearts.  I think it is rather pretty.  The red hearts are so deep and rich in color. Have you ever wondered why red is the prevailing color for Valentine’s day? When I returned home on Sunday after participating in the communion service, the red hearts reminded me of how we celebrated the power of the blood.

I said earlier that I am comforted during my first Valentine’s Day without my husband.  It is because I know that though Valentine’s Day is changing for me, God’s love will never change. He has assured me and the whole world that He loves us with an everlasting love. Many of us are faced with changing situations because of death, illness, disaster, and countless other reasons.  But we do not lose heart.  Our eternal love is sure.

For God so loved the world that we gave His only begotten son.

“We love because, He first loved us.”  Happy and joyous Valentine’s Day!

 

Velveeta Really?

In the past few months, I have become interested in baking.  Primarily, because our family wished to reconstruct our mother’s recipes.  She was an excellent cook.  One of her sure fire hits was mac and cheese.  Well you know that mac and cheese is just about a cult happening in its self.  So, I  did some research during the holidays into good mac and cheese recipes,  Several of them used Velveeta. As the holidays unfolded, and I attended family gatherings, mac and cheese was almost never omitted from the bill of faire.

At one particular gathering, the conversation turned to mac and cheese and the fact that many restaurants were including it, even making a mac and cheese hamburger! As we dug into the dish provided at this event everyone weighed in about how great it was and discussed the possible combinations of cheeses and spices used. Well, true novice as I was, I asked if anyone used Velveeta. Two of my family members looked at me in sheer disdain, and pronounced that they used a combination of real cheeses.  I felt like a defendant in the court of Judge Judy with Martha Stewart as the the bailiff.

Many days after this encounter, I was searching the “fridge” and came across a box of Velveeta.  My mind went back to the mac and cheese episode. Upon examining the ingredients, it was clear why these ladies dismissed my question about Veleetta.  Velveeta is not real cheese.  Now, I have to say, the recipes for mac and cheese using Velveeta are much easier than the ones using  real cheese combinations, and the preparation time is more shorter. Is the taste that different?  Can the ordinary person really tell the difference? Does it really matter that much?

Of course, my mind took me to the question of the real deal in my christian life. My answer may  lie in this analogy. A genuine christian life requires time in preparation, study, meditation, and sacrifice.  Or, we can take some short cuts and create some very convincing looking christian lives. But upon close examination, do we stand up? Does it matter that much? Can anyone really tell the difference?

God can.

Velveeta, Really?

 

 

 

 

A Lesson From My Roses

I recently rekindled a love affair with gardening shortly after my family was relocated to southeastern Alabama.  The area is rural, and the house we live in has wonderful space for growing all kinds of plants.  My first attempts were to grow vegetables in response to a challenge from the presiding bishop of our episcopal district.  Her goal in the project was to help communities become more self-aware and healthy.

Well, true to my “all-in” nature, I went whole hog and fell in love with the earth.  Now beans, tomatoes, and peppers are not that difficult to grow.  So my successes were huge.  But I always wanted to grow roses even though my research made me a bit nervous about growing them.  Roses needed a lot of care, preparation, and a host of other prerequisites.  However, I  plunged on to grow roses.

Needless to say, my reviews were mixed at best.  Roses are indeed particular creatures.  I planted some in various corners, open spaces, and borders of my garden. They responded Ok, but not the spectacular I was seeking.  However, I was determined to continue. The occasional fragrant  trails of the beautiful blooms were enough to give me hope and energy. Well my roses did not seem to respond to my love and attention, but then something very wonderful happened.

As I was clearing away the spent tomato plants and about to store the tomato cages away. I decided to use them in the rose garden.  The cages were very strong, and I had upgraded to some very colorful and tall ones, not the cheap flimsy dull wire kind. The colors of red, lavender, green, yellow, and lime surrounded the roses like colorful fortresses.  The effect was visually attractive, so I left them as added interest in the garden.  My own creation!

After a couple of weeks, I noticed that my roses were growing stronger and fuller.  It was as if the cages provided a guide for the roses even though they did not crowd them in any way.  They reached more securely for the sun and the sky.  Then I looked around the garden at the other roses.  It appeared that the rose bushes that braced against a wall or post column were more vibrant and fragrant.

Well of course, I have a handy bench resting near my roses in the garden that allows me to sit, admire, and reflect.  As I sat thinking about my experience with the tomato cages and the roses, it clicked  that the community of faith should have the same effect on us as believers as the tomato cages had on the roses.  The word of God should be presented as a guide, surrounding its members with strong unwavering principles of truth.  Like the tomato cages, the Word does not force its way but allows us to grow in grace as our hearts are directed and warmed  through moments of trust and dependence.

The community of faith and its influence on us should allow us to  grow, make choices, and still be unyielding in its acceptance of us even when we go astray.  Like my roses surrounded by the protection of the cages, we are protected by the security of God’s word that stays with us and helps us find our way to the Son, to the sky and beyond.

 

 

It’s Not Personal!

How many times have you heard that statement?  It seems that just when someone has said something that affects you most personally, he or she, quickly adds, ” It’s not personal.”  Really?

The iconic movie, The Godfather, is probably the identifier, especially for men,  with this statement.  The godfather lets his people know that there are just some actions you take for the sake of business.  It has nothing to do with personalities or feelings.  It’s business.  It’s Not Personal.  Likewise,  a later version of this attitude is displayed in the movie, You’ve Got Mail.  Meg Ryan’s character, nails my personal feelings about the phrase, “It’s Not Personal, when she says that an action taken by someone who harms you or disappoints you  just might be easier to take if it were personal.  At least it would show that you had some degree of feeling or empathy for what you have done or said.  Exactly!

So,why am I going on about this.? Well, very recently, I was in a church meeting.  One member was very adamant about what he perceived as a gross violation of procedure, and  he created an uncomfortable atmosphere for many of the people in the room.  After his comments and his reasons for them, he added in an attempt to put things in perspective, “It’s not Personal.” Really? Remember, I said that this  was a meeting of people in church. We were dealing with affairs of the church.  What could possibly be more personal? All that we do should be personal.  When we decide to give our hearts to Jesus and follow him everything becomes personal.

Personal relationships can create the foundation for love, protection, and trust because everything matters.  When decisions are made on the basis of personal outcomes, we are more careful about our choices.  We are less self-centered and more other-directed.  Thankfully,  God has given us a model of personal responsibility. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Sure, we will have disagreements and differences of opinions. However, if we approach our differences from a point of personal outcome and concern for the other persons involved, our differences will not harm us.  If we consider the power of the tongue, we will create a nurturing environment that heals us. In the book of James, we are reminded to be quick to listen and slow to speak.  When things are personal, it matters what others have to say.  We can hear a little of what  is in someone’s heart when we really listen.

At the heart of the matter, we are made for relationships. Loving relationships help us to behave as loving people.  It is all personal!

So, Oprah is 60?

Last week the world cheered, awed, and some even moaned  in surprise.  Oprah Winfrey joined the millions of us who are sixty and beyond.  It is funny ( funny strange not funny ha ha) how the sixty set is viewed  by the rest of the world.  Just after the big announcement about Oprah’s milestone, I received my copy of one of my favorite magazines. On the cover was the caption “reinventing yourself at 30, 40, 50, and 60”.  Wow! so this is it. The last chance to reinvent myself. I briefly spinned into a bit of a panic.  So for most of us in the sixty set the die is most definitely cast. If we have not found the  right place for ourselves in history, we have missed the mark.  Indeed is there really , I mean real life after sixty? Even Oprah shared that she was observing her birthday, quietly! Quietly, Oprah, really?

Of course we have been celebrating the vast number of baby boomers who are vital, fit, and living life fully by the phrase,  50 is the new 40. So is 60 the new 50? And exactly what does that mean?   If 50 is our mile marker for the home stretch, is it all down hill from here? How are we sixty-something’s embracing this part of our journey?   Are we filled with the wealth of wisdom that the years have poured into us?  Is anyone listening to these pearls of wisdom? Does anyone really know we are in possession of this much-needed wealth? My husband laughed at himself recently when he finished a conversation with a longlong friend. He said they spent the majority of their time talking about how they were preparing their breakfast oatmeal and the various medications they had in common. It has soberingly come to my attention that it takes me a very long time to get started in the morning.  By the time I do the essential preparations for the day, the day is half spent. Let’s not mention the toll physical activity takes on the sixty system.  After my yoga tape, I could use a nap.

Well here is my challenge to all my sixty sisters and brothers.  Wake up! Get out into the world.  We are needed.  Our journeys  have some more turns and bends to maneuver.  What is more exciting is that we have something to sow into the spirits and souls of others.  Not necessarily, just the younger set.  But also those just like us, who need to know that full life is not reserved for the young ; nor are pain, loneliness, and despair  the description for older people. If you have a job, keep working. Your place of employment probably needs an encourager. If you are retired, volunteer. Social agencies have suffered from lost of funding and would welcome your help. Share some victories.  Encourage everyone.  Look outside your own circle for opportunities to enlarge your territory. Spend a day in a nursing home.  Your gratitude meter will go through the roof.

Let’s get going. Post your activities on Facebook. Upload a picture of yourself hugging a new friend on Instagram. Tweet an encouraging word to the universe. Take the power of God’s grace  to a powerless world.  If there is one thing we know, it is how to turn things around.  We have lived through national tragedies, divisive wars, space exploration, and cultural revolutions…..And through it all, we have learned to trust in Jesus; we have learned to trust in God.  Share that trust. Share your story. Risk a little, and receive a lot. Sixty and beyond is another opportunity for personal involvement and growth .  Everything we have learned through education, experience, and observation is the right mixture for world-changing and contagious service.

I have decided that instead of a bucket list, I will have a balloon list.  I intend to live each day as though I am prepared to fly away. Soaring! Giving it my all! Taking each day a little higher!   Let’s soar in our sixties.  After all, the sky is the limit!

Everyone Has A Story!

Just very recently I went to see my doctor…regular checkup…. no real complaints except for a recurring headache that has been bothering me.  As the doctor asked a variety of questions and simultaneously consulted his hand-held computer, he asked me for my story.  My story? What does my story have to do with my headaches? Everything, he answered.  Your story is everything.  What has been going on in your life?  What are your dealing with, our not dealing with? What is the health of your parents, your siblings, your mate? What is important to you?  What defines your sense of who you are and what you do? It is your story that links the triggers of  your emotions and reactions, and reveals the stressors that hugely impact your physical health.  He went on to say that when you closely examine what is in your life and the stress these things may cause, you have to make some life choices.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Well, this was quite a bit of information.  I really expected to get a more practical approach to solving my headache problem.  Nothing so introspective and intruding as to examine my “story.”  Most favorably, if I was not faced with some serious brain disorder of  other life threatening illness, a good prescription from the pharmacy would suffice.  Why did he want me to look at my life and make some assessments about how I was reacting to or responding to my life?  This was just too much for a routine checkup!

So, as I pondered my doctor’s request to hear my story, I thought about how often I have heard that phrase lately.  It seems that sharing one’s story or story telling is quite popular.  It is offered as a tool in family history and passing on pride and identity from one generation to the next; our Sunday school lesson required that we share our story of salvation as a form of witness; a weight loss group leader asked us to share our story as an introduction to the class, and it appears to go on and on.

So everyone has a story! What makes my story so important?  Is it so important to know my story?  Yes, I guess it is.  I need to know my own story, because then I can deal with what my story says about me.  My story has many strains.  People, places, events…all pointing to the why’s and  therefore’s in my present.  They recount family history, good and not so good, and how I have come to terms with both.   These strains point to the passions of my life; the goals I have set,  the successes and misses. My story is the compilation of the people I have loved and the people who have loved me.  It captures the moments of joy and the moments of pain that all make me who I am.

No wonder my doctor asked for my story. He wanted me to look at the things in my life that perhaps I had pushed aside, yet  were a part of what I was confronted with but not dealing with.  Perhaps these strains of my story were painful or difficult. Perhaps I needed to face some things.  Perhaps my story showed patterns of avoidance, procrastination, or even unforgiveness.  So, the plot thickens. This story  takes a turn for praise. Yes, I have allowed many stressors to overwhelm me, but I know the source of my healing.

Here I look to the love of God and His redeeming grace to grant me the wisdom to know the difference between the things I can change, and the things I must accept.  I know that God loves me and has a plan to prosper me and not to harm me.  Whatever stresses and troubles  in my path, I will emerge in victory.  So as I deal with the difficulties, and let go of the pain, I thank God for all He has brought me through.  He has given be a Blessed Assurance. “This is my story; This is my song; Praising my savior all the day long.”

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; 
enjoying one moment at a time; 
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it; 
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will; 
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next. 
Amen.

Survivors

This month. October,  is observed by millions as breast cancer awareness month. During the past two weeks I have been inspired by the many stories of courage and faith that women and men have shown during their individual and family trials of cancer.  The images that stand out in my mind more than any are those of smiling faces. Survivors seem to know something so internal and deep within them that sends a message that nothing will stop me from living, loving, and laughing.

Survivors of cruel news, invasive chemicals, financial ruin, and  loss of precious time  seem to know what it really important.  They stand firm in the middle of overwhelming circumstances to say that, we are yet alive and embrace the blessings of this moment in time.  Thank God for the survivors.  They are the rallying cry for prevention, research, support, and awareness. They are the living reminders that life’s challenges are not fair.  Challenges and trials are simply  a part of the ever changing fabric of our existence.

I remember a friend telling me that when she learned she had cancer, nothing she had been concerned about before that day mattered.  Everything changed within those seconds the awful words surrounded her.  She thought of everyone she loved and what this would mean to them. She thought of how she could share the news with her family and how they would deal with even the rest of the day.

Isn’t this what survivors bring to us. The fact that all we have is what is before us…this day.  So much of the unimportant robs us of the things that matter until the lines are no blurry we cannot recognize that we have crossed over into meaninglessness.  Ecclesiastes teaches us this lesson so well in chapter 12:13 “Fear God and keep His commandments for this is the whole duty of man.”  Jesus went on to teach us that all the commandments are summed up in love. The important item at the top of the “To Do” list is be an example of love today.  Respond to every situation in an attitude of love. Someone needs to know that God loves them.  Someone needs to have a touch of love’s awesome power to survive.

As we look forward to the following days of October and marvel at the beauty of the season, please remember the beauty of the spirit of survivors who remind us that each day is a gift.  Live to the fullest, and show love in everything you do just as God has commanded us.