Thursday, August 18, 2016

Trying to Understand Atheism

I don't often click on links from my web browser, but I did when one caught my eye with the caption, "25 Hollywood Celebrities You Didn't Know Were Atheists." Well, some on that list surprised me and others just made sense. Some also had misconceptions of what I think faith and religion to be, and others were too wrapped up in their own egos to think that anything or anyone else could be in control.

I know all about free will, but I'm somewhat confused by people who don't believe in God, or rather I want them to at least believe in something. That something should be an acknowledgement that there is more to this world and universe than ourselves regardless of whether it is a holy creator, enlightenment that surpasses our current existence, etc. If one doesn't believe in God, then at least be an agnostic who says he/she doesn't actually know.

I have no problem with science and explanations of how the universe and everything in it were created. Maybe God used the Big Bang Theory, or even evolution. The point is that it had to start somewhere, and I attribute it to God because I  can't explain it otherwise. Atheists go to maybe the point of "how" in order to explain things, but where did the matter or the energy come from to give us the starting point? They don't seem to be bothered with that - I am, and I need to make sense of it.

What I found about the self-proclaimed atheists in the article is that they fail to ask the one question that begins the pursuit of knowledge - Why? People of faith often wonder why with questions such as: Why are we here? Why do bad things happen? Why? Why? Why! It's acceptance of the reality that we don't and can't know everything.

Religion aside, our small, individual, existence does mean something. If it didn't, why would we even be aware of it being finite? If there is nothing greater than us, why don't we use more than a small part of our brain? Why aren't we better to one another? Why is there so much we don't understand? How do we comprehend existence that isn't lineal? There are so many questions, it could make my head hurt!

I accept that one does not have to be a Christian, or for that matter, a believer in God to be a good person and do good things, but I know I'm a better person because of my faith. I also know that I can't look at a beautiful sky or magnificent tree, hear joyous music or see so many wonderful gifts in this world and not believe that something greater than I is responsible.

We will all have the answers someday, but until then, I'll continue to be amazed and confused at (and probably pray for) those who proudly proclaim their atheism.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

When Bad Things Happen - The Schlitterbahn Tragedy



I didn’t think I could be more horrified by the tragedy of the 10 year old boy who recently died at the Kansas City Schlitterbahn waterpark until I read the newspaper today. Somehow, knowing the child was decapitated seemed to further increase the shock of this accident.  

My first thought was “that poor child,” and then, of course, my heart ached for the parents. At least for the child, it was over quickly. I was, however, relieved to hear the family’s statement that they are people of faith and believe that they will see their son again. That is often the only comfort to come out of such extreme sadness. But then I realized the pain and anguish of this situation extended even further.

I can only imagine the horror of the two women riding the raft with the boy. Both had injuries, but how could you not be affected for life after experiencing and seeing what they saw? Also, imagine how the designers of the ride must feel. What a terrible thing to live with knowing that you created something so many people enjoyed, but also led to the death of one so innocent.

Three things come to mind: They all need our prayers, life is not guaranteed , and then the age old question of, “Why does God allow things like this to happen?”

The first one is easy to do. The second one reminds us of our own mortality. We ignore it and procrastinate thinking, “we’ll do it later.” But guess what? Later may not occur. If a 10 year old can die in the blink of an eye, what assurance do we have that we will still be on earth in the next day, hour, or even 5 minutes?

I’m thinking a little about the memoirs that our church members are writing for our congregation’s 150th anniversary. The deadline is November 1, and less than 20 people have taken the time to write something. We’ve already lost some very important people whose lives were integral to our church, but they chose to wait to make their contribution, and we will never have their memoirs to pass on to future generations. One thing that M.S. has taught me is to not procrastinate or at least not as much. I don’t know what I will feel like tomorrow, so if it’s important, I try to do it today.

Now the last part of my thoughts mentioned above relates to the questions: Why did this tragedy occur, and why didn’t God prevent it? I could give the clichéd response that we aren’t meant to live forever, but I think there is much more here to be said.

I hope no one says to the parents that it’s “God’s will,” or even worse, they incorrectly cite Corinthians 10:13 by telling them “God never gives you more than you can handle.” First, that refers to temptation − not all circumstances. Secondly, I don’t believe that God purposely gives bad things to people (Christians believe in the New Testament which doesn’t coincide with the Old Testament that depicts God as one who smites and hardens hearts). 

Romans 8:28 (NIV) tell us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…” If we look at death as a punishment for those who die, then we can’t believe this verse, but if we know that something better awaits us, any “punishment” seems to fall on those left behind.  What is promised, I think, is that God will help us make lemonade out of the lemons because we need meaning to our lives and what happens to us. Life isn't meant to be punishment.

We might rephrase the question, “Why does God let things like this happen?” to “Does God really love us?” That’s what it really comes down to in the end. Ergo, if God loved us, He wouldn’t let this happen.  But when God does let tragedy happen, I must believe He makes it part of a greater good. 

I don’t mean that anything could ever replace the incredible loss that has befallen this family, or any other family who loses a loved one. But I do wonder if God will use this tragedy to protect thousands of others from injury. Perhaps, He is protecting a future president or the person who will ultimately find a cure for cancer. We don’t know what God has in mind, but I’ve learned to trust that whatever it is, He will replace some of the evil in this world with what is good.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

2016 - Already My Year to Remember!

Aside from five different health issues since January that ranged from calcium crystals in the ear canal that caused dizziness, to eye infections due to allergens, it's been a monumental year. I'd like to share some of the current and upcoming reasons for which I feel especially blessed.

For the second year in a row, I will have a story printed in the Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas anthology. This year, the book is titled Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas, and it is due out October 18. If you've ever been interested in our family's gingerbread creations, I think you'll appreciate the story. This year, there may even be a picture of the one noted in my submission.

Also, another story that is soon to be published is included in the Hometown Memories anthology for northeast Kansas. That story details the heartwarming event where Bill Self gave my late husband the experience of a lifetime while Steve battled terminal cancer. 

Add to the anthologies, this fall will see publication of my first published children's book titled An Afternoon with the Christmas Angel. I will have a short introduction of the book on my webpage in late September. For any parent struggling with the secular and non-secular aspects of the season, it's a fun and educational story to give to children 3 to 10 years old. (A precocious two year old might even enjoy it). Since the business of early childhood was my background, it's about time I published a  children's book!

Now if I add these soon to be released works to my story included in the mystery anthology of Murder at the Liberty Ballroom: Anthology of mystery, thrillers and suspense, it explains how some of my time has been spent this year. 

In a few weeks, I'll introduce you to a wonderful memoir written by a friend, and for which I served as editor. It's a fascinating book from someone who worked for Billy Graham, served as an early Regional Director for Habitat for Humanity, smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, and much more. Even if I weren't the editor, I would recommend this entertaining and enlightening book to everyone! It's titled A Journey Worth Taking: God, M.S. and Me.

In July, my son and I submitted a patent application for a new type of adult walker. It is nothing like anything currently available and it is a vast improvement. I am hopeful that this will be a benefit to many people and enable me to maybe become a better philanthropist.

So what does all this mean? It is simply evidence of how blessed I am! Romans 12:16 (NIV) states:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us." I thank God that He has helped me to identify mine and given me the opportunity to use them to do a little good in this world, now and in the future. I don't have any delusions of grandeur; I know where my inspiration and talents originate. God gets the credit - I'm just fortunate to be the vessel!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Christmas in July - Oh My!



Last year I was uncharacteristically slow to get into the Christmas spirit. But if my reaction to the shopping channels’ Christmas in July sales are any indication, I won’t have any problem this year.

All of the three major networks (HSN, Evine and QVC) offer some great Christmas décor, food items, and gifts. I successfully avoided succumbing to the wares of the first two, but there were two things I wanted to order again from QVC. Once, I found those presentations, it was easy to spend additional money on other items.

I think that’s typical of how many of us approach life. Once we commit to something, it opens the door and we can’t stop. That’s not a problem unless we do it to excess or to the detriment of ourselves or others.

Sin is often described as excessive behavior. The Ten Commandments seem to support that theory to some extent, but they also mandate that some behavior should just not occur, like stealing. As a former pastor once said, “thou shalt not kill” isn’t an exact translation. We kill all the time. We kill animals to eat, euthanize pets, swat flies, squash spiders, etc. The real issue is murder. Do we kill another human being without cause rather than in self-defense or to protect others?

So when is it appropriate to be a zealot or to be passionate about a matter? I guess that depends upon the circumstances.

Once you begin doing the right things, you want to do more. Random of acts of kindness is something that comes to mind. The opposite can be said for things like little white lies and cheating on taxes. Luke 16:10 states: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (NIV).  I really believe that is a true statement.

So for now, I’m going to enjoy celebrating my favorite holiday even though the temperature is nearing 100 degrees. I love the feeling of the Christmas season, and the opportunity to think of others, even if it means buying some presents five months early. Anything that encourages me or others to do that can’t be a bad thing.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Another Benefit to Reading the Bible

When I wrote Simple Things to Make This World a Better Place, I was totally astounded by some of the wisdom in the Bible to support random acts of kindness and how best to live our lives. It probably shouldn't have surprised me to discover approbation of actions that I didn't even realize were in the Bible such as making monetary loans without charging interest, or providing instructions to gain resolution in a conflict.

Now that I've read the Old Testament three times, the New Testament four times, and Proverbs and Psalms twice, I realize how much I still don't know. Every reading leads to something I missed before.

So how did I read the entire Bible, and especially, how did I begin? It was simple. I just bought one of the read-the-Bible-in-a-year books. After the first time through it, I was ready to read the Bible on my own using the version most utilized by my denomination.

But since I'm an avid reader, I also wanted to still read a variety of other books in myriad genres. That opened my eyes to the possibility of reading two or more books at the same time. It wasn't confusing, as I had thought it might be, to read the Bible and something else. Now, reading two or three books at the same time is what I normally do, but I never would have attempted to do so without first reading the Bible along with those other books.

Being able to read two or three books at the same time was once unfathomable to me. Of course, during school years, we all do that with text books and different courses, but keeping characters and plots separate was different, or so I thought. Thanks to my first reading of the Bible each day, I realized that it is possible to distinguish between different books that are read at the same time. I liken it to watching different TV shows. Sometimes I like comedy, and sometimes I like drama. The same is true with books. Sometimes I want to learn something, and sometimes I just want to be entertained.

I do realize, regardless of whatever I choose to read, it is a gift. It is a gift to read the Bible with all of its wisdom because it is my guide for living a better life. But it's also a gift to read for enjoyment. Literacy is one of those things most of us take for granted unless you might happen to be a writer like I am. Most writers love words and it doesn't matter if we are the ones to write them or to read them.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hoping or Asking

I think I may have surprised a few of my fellow church council members when I was tasked with offering the ending prayer at our recent meeting. In fact, I'm pretty sure of it because I also surprised myself a bit.

In praying for a fellow council member's friend, who was just diagnosed with cancer, I invoked a plea to God that "we hope that you will send your healing..." That may have sounded different than asking, but even so, hope is still asking; it's just an admission that it might not be granted. Nevertheless it was an honest use of the word, and I think God does appreciate our honesty. Revelation 3:16 states: "So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth." (NIV) There may be a few liberties taken with my interpretation, but how's that for telling us that we should make a decision and be truthful about it? 

We've all asked for something in prayer and the answer was "no." In fact one of the most difficult things to grasp, I think, is John 14:13: "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son." (NIV) We could ask to win the lottery, find a better job, or even a cure for cancer, but it obviously depends on what the request is rather than how we make it.

I've never prayed harder or more fervently than asking God for a miracle to heal my husband who was terminally ill. Unfortunately, the answer to that was "no," and it is still a difficult decision to accept. On the other hand, I have beseeched God for other things and received affirmative answers.

In the end, I have resigned myself to really asking for God's will rather than mine, but I still hope His will is what I ask. As I've mentioned in a previous blog, I know there are some things that we cannot change, even with prayer. God has a plan, and nothing will interfere with it. That may sound a bit pragmatic, but I still believe that it is right and expected that we should pray, ask and hope.

I also believe God wants us to rely on Him and to realize that His wisdom is far greater than ours. He will help us to make lemonade out of the lemons that befall us if we let him. For me, it was taking the biggest tragedy of my life in losing my husband and leading me to a deeper faith, and giving me a catharsis as a writer - evidence of both which you are now reading.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Great Win-Win Offer



I love it when businesses do things right, and whenever that happens, I like to share it. It’s important to acknowledge and reinforce good behavior because it not only rewards the business and people representing it, but it ensures good future behavior as well. Even the Bible seems to address how important it can be to acknowledge what is right and good although I readily admit I’m probably taking some liberty with its intended meaning: Proverbs 15:23 states: A man finds joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word!

I am referring now to Hy-Vee grocery stories because there is a benefit for everyone with on-line shopping. For a mere $2.95, you can place an order online and then retrieve your groceries through the drive-thru during the hour block you choose. You must give a certain amount of time before picking up your items, but what a convenience this is for many of us! Delivery is just $4.95 and you can also choose the time that is convenient for you to receive it. (Tips are accepted for delivery, but generally not for pick-up). If you don't have Hy-Vee stores in your area, you might mention it to the grocery store where you shop. Competition often results in improvement.

The fees are now less than I paid some time ago for the same service. Apparently, Hy-Vee has discovered what a win-win situation this is for their business as well as the customers. More people might purchase from them because of this inexpensive service, and more people will benefit from it. Whether it’s a matter of convenience or much needed assistance, it’s definitely a plus, and one I intend to use a lot this summer.