Thursday, June 1, 2017

Some Losses Are Harder Than Expected

I really thought I could handle the death of non-family members well enough to someday even help with hospice. As a Stephen Minister with my church, I already try to help those who have been left behind. But last week, I was forced to realize something - some of those non-family losses are still very hard to accept.

My wonderfully, sweet neighbor, and owner of the other side of my townhome, passed away. For nearly 10 years, Stan Hamilton was a fixture in my life with his characteristic grin and great sense of humor. He was also the first person I met in our community when I was looking to buy. He graciously allowed a real estate agent, who was showing me another floor plan, to invade his home so that I could see a different layout option.

Long story short, we became friends over the years. He even served as the editor of my first book before I queried publishers, and after that, he was one of the most supportive people of my writing. As an author, former reporter and editor, he was the perfect mentor too. I think he was also the one to suggest I join Kansas Authors Club, an organization that has served me well.

Stan was always the perfect neighbor - quiet and caring. He brought the newspaper from my driveway to my mailbox on the house so that I could easily retrieve it. Although I constantly worried that he might fall using his cane, he told others that it was one of the things that brought joy to him. I could only reciprocate by bringing him an occasional dinner or treat, and then most recently, drag his trash/recycle bins out of his garage for pick-up. I thought I would lose him to assisted living someday, but not entirely.

My two sons, as well as any visitors, became well acquainted with Stan. He could often be seen riding his stationary bike with his garage door open, something he always tried to do, even in his frail condition. There was always a friendly hello to anyone nearby, and I usually made a point to stop by his door to let him see my grand-dog when Danny visited overnight.

It was a always a pleasure, too, to see Stan's family over the years. I know my tears pale in comparison to theirs, but what a legacy this kind and gentle spirit left! I will never pull into my garage without thinking of Stan next door and wishing he were still with us.

I saw Stan just a day or two before his stroke. I was getting into my car, racing to a meeting, and he was going to the group mailboxes across the street. We spoke just briefly about what we were doing, contrary to our normal routine to stop and chat, but we were both on a mission that day. I had no idea it would be the last time we would talk.

When I visited Stan in the hospital (after his stroke, subsequent heart attack with discovery of 70% blockage, bleeding ulcer, and pneumonia), he was heavily sedated. I hope he knew that I was there and heard me say, "God is going to have a lot of fun with Stan." And I truly believe that is what's  happening now.

Monday, May 1, 2017

My Comfort Zone

Recently, Chicken Soup for the Soul solicited its previous contributors to submit a story for one of the series forthcoming anthologies tentatively titled Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone. I didn't think much about it because I couldn't quite recall any important experience of that nature. So much for my willingness and desire for change!

But then something hit the idea center of my brain -- I could write about the promotion I received  decades ago when I moved to the corporate office of the company for which I worked.

I really wanted that promotion, and it had been my dream for years to move up the corporate career ladder. And now, it was finally presented to me. I would be responsible for placing our after school programs in public elementary schools, something some of our competitors were already doing. The only drawback was working directly for the vice president of the company.

Being a corporate director was a highly visible and responsible position. If I failed, everyone in the would know it, and not only would I lose my job, but also my career. Conversely, if I succeeded, everyone would know that too. In the end, ambition won out over fear.

To make a long story short, that program didn't prove very successful for the company or for me, but another opportunity took its place. This time, it was the perfect fit and became an actual department which I led for almost 11years. So from all of this I realized: Stepping out of one's comfort zone might result in failure, but that failure might also turn into something better.

And then it occurred to me this was much like stepping out of my comfort zone to talk about my faith. I dare say that it is a difficult task for most all of us. No one wants others to be self conscious around us, or to think we're some kind of zealot to be avoided. But then came another realization -- it gradually becomes easier, just like performing the duties of a new job. "Practice makes perfect" applies just as well when "witnessing" to one's faith.

In talking or writing about my beliefs, I have many reasons for not wanting people to see me as an example. (Now that really does make me feel uncomfortable!) No one should follow what I do; they should follow the one whom I try to follow -- Jesus. My life is simply happier because of that, and that is what people should see.

You'll never hear me confront others and ask them "are you saved?" You'll never hear me push my faith on others, but I won't let my comfort zone prevent me from talking about it when given the right moment. Those moments are not made by me, they're made by God so, in this circumstance, I'm especially glad to have escaped my comfort zone.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Perfect Double Gift

My 4th story for Chicken Soup for the Soul appeared in their most recent anthology, Random Acts of Kindness that was released in February. I love their books as does my entire family, especially when one of my stories appear. So, it was no surprise when one of my nieces-in-law, Linda, requested the latest book for her birthday. 

Because Linda and my other niece-in-law Val have March birthdays, my sister always hosts a family party to celebrate their birthdays along with one of my nephews. It's a great, big, extended family celebration, but it's sometimes difficult to come up with something interesting and different as a gift.

I remembered that Val had also asked about the book earlier, so it was an easy decision to give them both a book as a present. I decided also to give them each microlights which seem to currently be a big trend in decorating. And then another idea occurred: Add a simple $5 Walmart gift card that they could use to perform their own random act of kindness!

What happened then is very special. Val knew immediately that she would give the card to one of the needy individuals who is often seen standing at a highway off-ramp, something she often does. It didn't take long for her to discover someone who would appreciate the card.

But, the most remarkable story came from Linda. She was shopping at Walmart and heard an elderly lady in the next aisle talking to a clerk. "Don't you have something a little cheaper?" she asked. "I don't have the extra $4 to spend." When the clerk said no, Linda popped around the corner to give the woman the $5 gift card.

Are you sensing the same divine intervention that I did? The woman was short $4 so the $5 gift card covered the deficit and the taxes. Now that's what I would call somewhat of a miracle! It not only won the gratitude of the recipient, but made Linda feel so good inside too. That's a double gift, and now Linda wants to carry more gift cards to give out for just such occurrences. She learned what Val already knew about random acts of kindness.

Who would believe that something so simple as a $5 gift card could bring such happiness to the givers and the recipients. God, through Jesus, certainly knew what He was doing when He commanded us to love and care for one another. Now that's what I call a truly double gift!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

What Happened to Easter?

Easter is the most important holiday to Christians, or at least, it is supposed to be. It surpasses Christmas because Jesus' birth wouldn't have been important without His resurrection. That's why it is so mind boggling that it has become just another day for so many people.

Because I wasn't feeling well, I missed Easter services - something I really disliked having to do because I had every intention to attend and I enjoy the wonderful celebration. I would have missed Easter dinner at my sister's, too, except that I was bringing dessert. I'm sure God forgave me for missing church, but you don't want to fail your family by not bringing what is almost as important as the entree.

Granted, Christmas is celebrated secularly and non-secularly, and I believe doing so with Easter isn't really a change from decades ago either. But, while my faith has certainly deepened over the ages to celebrate on a more non-secular level, there are things I truly miss from my childhood.

I remember receiving a new outfit every Easter. Usually it was very dressy and something to show off to my grandmother on Easter Sunday when we traveled to her home an hour and half away. It might even be worn on an occasional visit to church, but much of my early years were spent as a CEO (Christmas and Easter Only, as said by my niece Kym). Still, I knew what the holiday was really about.

In grade school, we had Good Friday off as well as the following Monday. We sang Easter songs and made paper Easter baskets that my teachers filled with chocolate or creme eggs. I remember also the sheer joy of finding and counting how many baskets and nests were left for me to find on Easter morning. I even recall the 3' tall stuffed Easter bunny that my father slipped in my arms when I was 13 and sleeping  But what I don't recall is seeing crowded store parking lots like they were on Easter at Home Depot and Menard's as I traveled to my sister's home just outside of town.

It's unfortunate that stores (I'm sure there were many more than the DIYs) couldn't even be closed on Easter, and even more sad that so many people thought they needed to shop. So much for the reverence of Easter! Add that to little TV programming for the holiday, and the fact that some  network decision makers obviously don't know the Old Testament from the New Testament because what they do run are shows like "The Ten Commandments" and "Sodom and Gomorrah." I had to wait for "The Robe," and "The Greatest Story Every Told" until the actual day of Easter.  Granted, there were a few other good programs like "Killing Jesus, Finding Jesus," and others focusing on Jesus' DNA and the Shroud of Turin.

I think the overall issue here is that it's too easy to forget our Creator. Too many people miss the joy and peace that come with a belief in something far greater than oneself. So, for my part, I'm going to do my best to live my faith, and celebrate what should be celebrated. Example, as Jesus so perfectly demonstrated, is often the best way to affect change. (And, yes, I did make the sugar cookies from scratch in the photo that accompanies this blog entry.)😃

Monday, March 6, 2017

Lent and the Spiritual Journey

I'm ready to admit that I don't know everything, especially when it comes to understanding God. But once in a while, I'm given a little ray of light in the way of wisdom. That occurs mostly with self-reflection which is a focus during the 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter.

The danger in self-reflection, however, can be to become so consumed with oneself that we lose focus on our creator. In fact, I'm convinced that true happiness only comes when we look beyond ourselves and make the focus on each other and how God wants us to live.

Recently, I read a book called Proof of God which contained a message that I thought was perfect: "church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints." Amen!  You don't have to look far to see that people always fall short of perfection, no matter what they believe.

I always try to remember that others may judge God by my actions. That certainly isn't a fair assessment of God or what it is to be a believer because I cannot ever live up to what others want me to be, regardless of how hard I try. But, I'm still obligated to try, and that is something all of us should maybe keep for self-reflection, too. Expectations are greater, but as I often told my subordinates, never stop trying for 100%, even when you know it's not possible, because the moment you strive for less, the less you will accomplish.

So in this time of self-reflection, I'm going to instead focus on how I can do better and follow more of Jesus' teachings. I'm going to look beyond myself, after acknowledging where I need to improve, and try to do what I think we each have a responsibility to do - make this world a little better place.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Unknown Value

At a recent meeting of my district's Kansas Authors Club, we had a writing assignment based upon props brought by attendees. One prop passed around was a piece of cement. It looked like an ordinary block of discarded rubble, and as I held it in my hands, I wondered why anyone would bring this as a prop to inspire creative writing.

Then, after the cement made its way around the table, the owner announced that it was a piece of the Berlin Wall. What a difference that bit of information made! Suddenly, something that seemed so insignificant became a valued piece of history.

Later, I began to wonder how many times I encountered something that was dismissed as insignificant, and missed an opportunity to know its true value. I realized, too, that this occurs with  human beings as well. How often have I missed the opportunity to know my fellowman when the contact could have enriched both of our lives?

The Bible tells us that we are all God's children, from the least to the richest. Looking at poor, uneducated individuals may give us pause and a desire to help, but do we see their value? Thankfully,  God does, I believe.

Someone may look upon any of us as having less value than him/herself. Without question, we are deemed the inferior to somebody, just as we may feel the superior to others. But this is only in circumstance, not what really matters.

I believe God does not value us because of the possessions or talents we have or don't have. After all, He is the one who gave them to us to use for the good of others (Romans 12:6-9). Instead and fortunately, He is able to look at us and not see a piece of rubble to be discarded. He sees our true value and what we can bring to the world.

 From now on, I too hope I can see that a little better myself.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Another Ah-ha Moment on Prayer

It has taken me more than 10 years on the subject, but I finally had another ah-ha moment. This time in regard to prayer.

When my husband was told he was terminal with 3 months to live, we both cried. It was then I began to pray incessantly for a miracle. Sometimes that would be for an entire hour before I could even think of sleeping. And when the doctor told us, "you need to get your affairs in order. Do you understand what I'm saying?" we understood all too well.

My prayers became more frequent and fervent. My supplications were almost vigilant as every moment was spent pleading for Steve's life. I prayed for a miracle up until his last breath.

Surprisingly, I was never mad at God for not granting my prayer (along with the prayer of numerous others), but I was certainly disappointed. Didn't I do what we are told to do and pray continuously and with focus? Didn't I have faith that God would grant my prayer? I thought so.

Before closing my eyes the other night, I realized something - my epiphany regarding prayer. In praying for that miracle, I acknowledged two things: 1) I am not the one in control, and 2) I believe God can do anything. It's also how I learned to talk to God throughout the day.

Although my mind may now wander sometimes during my nightly prayer (Max Lucado even admitted the same in his book, Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer), God has my attention throughout the day, if only in shortened intervals. He did not grant my miracle, but He gave me increased faith and a more personal connection through prayer, regardless of whether it is answered yes or no.

I do have two reoccurring payers which are said after communion, and in my nightly prayer, both of which I'm 100% will be granted in some way. After communion, I ask God to "make me ever mindful of His sacrifice and presence." In my nightly prayer, I ask God "to help me know and do His will."  Both are critical to a life of faith.

So now I realize that the act of praying is as important as the request made in a prayer, and I'd love to know why some receive the answers they do. But in the end, I think I'm learning more about the nature of prayer - it is our actual relationship with the creator, and just like any relationship that is meant to endure, it has an unknown (to us) future, requires trust, relies sometimes on patience, and must have love as its foundation.