Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Real Christmas

Nope, it's not the apocalypse. I'm just writing a second blog in two days because Christmas is in my heart.

I didn't meet my goal to finish shopping for gifts by December 1, but for the most part, my list is complete minus a few little stocking stuffers, and my Christmas baking only has two items to go. But checking off my gift list and baking goodies isn't what put Christmas in my heart.

The real Christmas spirit came to me this year at my final church council meeting on the 27th of November.  I completely forgot it was my turn to offer the devotion at the beginning of the meeting so nothing was prepared, but the first thing that popped into my head was, of course, Christmas. (As I warned fellow council members, I'm sharing a brief portion of those thoughts now in this blog.)

Hebrews 10:24 − "Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds" is perhaps my favorite Bible verse. To me, it epitomizes what Jesus commanded us to do when he said, "Love one another." − John 13:34 (NIV) Mankind does that no better than at Christmastime.

This is the season when even non-Christians get into the spirit of giving and caring, but we of faith should keep that spirit year round. Showing love to our fellowman, I think, gives us a taste of God's love for us. When we give without restraint, but instead with compassion and the joy of sharing our blessings, we invoke a higher sense. For just a short time, we can feel the power and opportunity to make this world a better place. Wouldn't it be wonderful to keep Christmas in our hearts everyday?

Being Complacent

Our pastor recently gave a sermon on complacency. It's the mindset that allows others to "let somebody else do it." I keep thinking of Revelation 3:16 "So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth." (NIV) Wow! That means complacency, and  its companion apathy, are dangerous. 

There is an old saying that "if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it." It's true. Busy doers are the ones who get things done. Unlike those who wait for someone else to take responsibility, they adopt the Nike motto and "just do it." 

Admittedly, we all are a little guilty of complacency in our lives. Personally, I know there are things I should do, but they just aren't a priority for me due to time, effort, resources or ability. But then there is something about which none of us should be complacent, and that is doing our part to make this world a better place. It can't occur without our being vested and committed.  

I've mentioned previously that I keep a journal of what I do each day to make this world a better place it's my accountability to take responsibility. Some days it's quite impactful, and on others, it's as simple as giving a compliment. It's not so much about the action, but the desire to act in a positive way. None of us knows when our final day on earth will be, and while it's difficult to live every one of them as if it were the last, we need to take responsibility and act to make it count.

Don't expect the church to be there for you if you don't support it. Don't expect peace in the world if you cannot even find it in your own heart. Don't believe that someone else will stand up for justice in your place. Don't think it's up to other people to make the world a better place. Anything worth caring about is worthy of our taking action. 

So, with the season of love and caring upon us, we should each ask ourselves: What matters? and What can I do about it? We are more of an answer than we realize.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Being Grateful

I am grateful!

There is much research to support that people who are grateful are happier, healthier, and certainly more easy to be around. If that is true, and I think it is, then I have to say I am most grateful for my faith and my family.

It's pretty obvious why anyone would be grateful for his/her family. Family gives you an important reason to live, and to live generously. Family, in most cases, is our first introduction to love, and makes it easier to understand a loving relationship with God.

Now, faith is really quite different in many ways − it gives hope and a peace that "surpasses all understanding." And here is what it does especially for me:
  • Dying isn't as much of an issue anymore. I know where I'm going, and I'm pretty confident in that. It's not because I'm such a great person or do good things (I also do and say some things I wish I didn't), but the confidence comes via grace. 
  • I don't worry about things on my bucket list I might not get to do. I know that there are things I will still get to do in the afterlife, and they will be so much better.
  • I believe I will be with loved ones again, and the ones I currently love on earth will be there too.
  • Faith gives me a grateful heart to appreciate my many blessings, and I am an optimist because of it.
  • With optimism, God let's me focus on what I can do and not what I can't. He gives me (and all of us) an opportunity to make this world a better place.
  • I try to remember my purpose on earth is to care for my fellowman. If I can honor that and make someone's day (or even life) a little better, then I've served my purpose.
  • I don't care if I'm famous or leave some lasting legacy with my name attached to it. I'd just love to know that I somehow made this world a little better because I lived. 
  • I'm not focused on possessions as much as I am experiences, and doing something else with my resources to make things better for others.
  • I realize that I'm not the one in charge. I don't decide the outcome on everything, and that makes me very happy. I'd hate to be the one who decides the fate of others, or selfishly makes decisions that benefit only me or those close to me. If I did have that power, I would probably ignore the needs of the rest of the world. Trusting in God's will, rather than mine, gives me peace knowing that good is at work. I don't always agree with what God allows, but I have to trust that He knows best for the world, and ultimately for me. 
  • Lastly, faith has made me a better person. Trying my best to follow Jesus' teachings has given me a good road to follow. I don't always succeed, but when I fail, I know that at least God understands and still loves who I am.
I'm certain I could come up with a list to include hundreds of more reasons to be grateful, but for now, I'll just say that I'm grateful for my family and faith. And that pretty much includes the origins of all other things I could list in counting my blessings. So Happy Thanksgiving to all who read this blog, and may you have the same blessings of faith and family.

Monday, October 30, 2017

I Can't Wait

Some people choose Halloween as their favorite holiday. I like Halloween, but by far, Christmas is my favorite. I love buying gifts, the caring attitude of the season, the family time, etc.

Last year I was finished buying gifts in early December and I loved it. The only thing left was to enjoy living in the present to actually enjoy all the activities and events, and buying a few stocking stuffers. I intend to do that again this year.

If a confession were in order, I'd have to say that I've been anticipating Christmas since July when the big shopping channels introduced their Christmas in July sales. And, yes, I've had a steady stream of boxes delivered by UPS and USPS since then with more to come.

The real temptation for me though is not to forget Thanksgiving. I might set up my outside Christmas decorations right after Halloween, but it's due more to whenever the weather is decent. (I learned the hard way that it's difficult to decorate with any kind of flair when you can't feel your fingers.)

As a Lutheran, I observe Advent, the time leading up to the birth of Christ. I try very hard to not let the secular overcome the non-secular even when I'm reading Christmas books, watching Christmas movies, baking goodies, etc. But I'm also determined to devote time to Thanksgiving. It's something I try to do on a daily basis too.

Living life with a grateful heart offers many benefits. Perhaps the most important is contentment with what one has and the desire to share. Knowing that we are blessed, and by whom, translates into the commandment that Jesus gave us to love one another. I like that, and maybe that's one of the reasons why I like Christmas more than Halloween.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Marriage is a Gift

Marriage is a gift, not just for the two individuals involved, but for families and friends who join the celebration. And that was certainly the case when my oldest son and I made a six hour round trip to Omaha on Saturday to attend the nuptials of my great-nephew Zach.

Although I tease Zach about being a fan of Big Red (he's really a Corn Husker alumnus from Nebraska, but I delight in asking him why he likes the gum so much),  I was thrilled for him and excited to meet his new wife. Just seeing the joy at the union of two young people who are beginning their life together as one, is miraculous. Out of millions of people, when the right two find each other, that is a true blessing and gift.

Of course, no one enjoyed weddings more than Jesus, I think. After all, his first miracle was at a wedding in Cana when he turned water into wine. I can just imagine how overjoyed he finally was to do something special for the couple.

Connecting with others in common joy is a blessing. Seeing family members (whom we maybe haven't seen in years), meeting new people, and basking in the renewal of hope is a gift. It's also a reminder to those of us, who have lost our own special love, that God still continues to give us many good things in life.

Blessings and happy ever-after to Zach and Stacey!

Monday, October 2, 2017

What the World Needs Now...

I don't often show my emotions physically while listening to or reading news, but today I shed a few tears. It's not that I don't care deeply about the multitude of recent tragedies which occurred from national disasters, but something touched me particularly with the Las Vegas incident. Perhaps it was because it followed some senseless violence that left three dead and two wounded in my own home town in the early morning hours of Sunday. We aren't used to this, and I pray to God that we never become so.

I think my grief came mostly because of the innocence of the victims, and the inhumanity of those who committed the heinous crimes. What makes some humans want to hurt others? I still believe it is a minority of individuals who perpetrate such evil in the world, but I am most worried about how to respond.

Naturally the gun control debate will arise. Sure, criminals will always have guns, but they aren't the ones I am worried about anymore. I'm concerned about people like the Vegas gunman who seem to be okay and then go off on a rampage. We don't know why he did it, nor can we understand why some actions are borne of radical beliefs stemming from religion or race, for example.

It's a no-brainer that people, who don't know the proper use of guns or have a mental illness instability predisposed to harm, shouldn't have access to them. Regardless of how either side of the gun control debate feels, they should all agree that guns require a certain responsibility, and not everyone should be endowed with "the right" to have them. How to address that is the question.

But, how do we stop all of this madness where a man wants to kill others? It comes down to societal change, I think.Personally, I don't want to live in a world of fear, and I certainly don't want to live in a world where violence must be answered with violence.

Jesus proved true, positive change comes by changing the heart of man. In the end, I realize that may not happen with everyone, but perhaps we can still affect some change to make this world a better place, and that means we must look at ourselves.

How do we treat our fellowman? Do we constantly put ourselves first or do we actively try to answer some of the need that exists? Do we answer violence with violence? Do we promote justice and caring?

Perhaps what tragedy shows us most of all is that the greatest need is love, and I believe out of that will surely come the good that we seek instead of evil.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Good Days and Bad Days – September 22 is One of the Latter

Some days are ones you want to remember forever, and some are days you would rather forget. September 22 is one of the latter. It’s also the day that changed my life drastically.

Eleven years ago on that date, my beloved husband and soulmate left this world. I can’t begin to describe the devastation in my very being that accompanied that experience. Praying for a miracle until Steve’s last breath, I can only say that I did not feel anger at God, but I was extremely disappointed.Today, I still feel the pain of loss, but it is different.

If you’ve read many of my blogs, you’ve probably noted quite a few have regarded prayer, and my journey toward a deepening faith. Over the years, God has proven to me that He will help make lemonade out of lemons.

So what has the past shown me? Prayer is still important. Although I can’t fathom why Steve wasn’t spared, I do know this – death is not a punishment. How could an afterlife filled with love and understanding be bad?

I also know that God’s promise to be with us in time of trial is real. What I could not voice to others, I could to God. Lamentations, wailing, searching for answers were all in His domain; no one could understand them more than He.

While I would certainly rather have Steve beside me, healthy and loving, I know that God has provided me with opportunities to make some good from my tragedy (and, yes, I do consider his loss a tragedy).

  • I have been given the gift of writing inspiration. To be able to touch and encourage others is quite remarkable.
  • To be a Stephen Minister and help someone who is going through some of the same challenges I myself have been through, is a true privilege. To know that I am simply doing God’s work is a humbling honor. 
  •  Realizing that our purpose in life is to love and encourage one another is a blessing. And to know that we have the power to make this world a better place for ourselves and others is highly gratifying.
  • Simply to know that our lives have meaning, and that faith gives hope, is a true gift from God.

Eleven years ago, I could not speak my faith as I do now. That was partly due to not really understanding the full spectrum of my belief, and not actually acknowledging that it is He, and not I, who determines what is best for (and in) the world. Frankly, I’m glad that isn’t my responsibility, but most importantly, I have comfort and peace in knowing Steve is in good hands until eternity unites us once again.