Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What is Real Strength?

I watched a movie the other night that was based on a true story. "It's called the Cross and the Switch Blade" with Pat Boone in the title role. Although the cinema is very dated (from the 70s), it tells the story of David Wilkerson, a young pastor from the hills in Pennsylvania, who came to the gang neighborhoods of New York in hopes of bringing the message of love to those who needed to hear it most.

Of course, there was the bravado of the gang leaders, who didn't want to appear weak before others, and rebelled against the message. Winning over one of the leaders became the pastor's focus because he knew others would follow. If the meanest, toughest guy could admit he needed God's love, who beneath him could argue that they don't?

While some of the story line and acting seemed a bit too "staged," there was an ah-ha moment for me - one that I easily recognized: Real strength often comes from weakness. Knowing that you don't have to be weak, but allowing it for what is good, takes an effort from the divine.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV), the Bible says: "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." That is pretty awesome! But showing weakness is often something under-rated and unappreciated in our society.

It takes true strength not to retaliate when we are attacked either verbally or physically. To clarify, I'm not talking about situations where we should fight back such as when someone wants to do us or another bodily harm. I'm talking more about situations where someone tries to provoke us and maybe others are watching. It would be easy to answer in the same manner, but it takes real strength not to do so. At other times, it may simply be accepting help (even when you don't need it) because it will make the giver feel good.

The best example of strength in allowing weakness is Jesus on the cross. He could have commanded the angels to save himself, or to put an end to all the taunting and abuse he received from others. Instead, he gave the bravest demonstration of strength that the world has ever seen.

I can only pray that God makes me strong by giving me the courage to be weak.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Return to the Blog for Hayden

Some of you may have noticed that I've been dormant for a while, both in writing for The Examiner and my blog. It's simply due to a busy schedule and a wonderful memoir I am editing for a friend which I'll discuss at a later time. Suffice it to say, his story is pretty amazing to read for Christians as well as anyone who wishes to be inspired.

Now as to what caused my return to this venue - a story that aired last week about Hayden, a 12 year old boy, living in Basehor, KS. In 2014, he was diagnosed with a somewhat rare, but aggressive brain cancer that was later in remission. In February of this year, he and his mother learned that the tumors had returned and he was given less than 6 months to live. The story, which aired on WOW Channel 6 in Lawrence, KS, chronicled his diagnosis and his determination to live the remainder of his life to the fullest. His classmates have been supportive with a maturity well beyond their years, and his family shows a remarkable spirit in coping with this "every parent's nightmare" situation.

Now why am I most interested in this particular youth, aside from the fact that he is obviously courageous? He touches people and gives an exemplary response to something most of us find difficult - dealing with our mortality.

Dying is inevitable for all humans, but we most often choose to ignore that fact. We face it only when we are given a little more awareness of when that might be. How we accept our demise depends upon many things, but from my own experience in losing people close to me, I suspect that those who have faith may find it a little easier (at least eventually) than those without belief in something more. In fact, that is why I am still working on the book about dying and faith in the afterlife.

Included in my book are individuals who have, or are facing, the end of life. They chose to share their journey in coping toward acceptance as a means of helping others achieve that goal, and as a legacy of peace and comfort to those left behind. I am indebted for their honesty and willingness to disclose their thoughts during a most turbulent and personal time.

So what can the rest of us learn from this preteen and others who have faced death with dignity and courage? We can learn that life is fragile, and that the impact of having lived can never be fully known. Certainly, anyone who watched the news story, his family, classmates, teachers, medical staff, and all others with whom he has become acquainted will always remember Hayden. But his legacy to all of us is to live in the present for tomorrow may never come - live life to the fullest, beginning with this moment.

Please share this blog with others and post to your Facebook page. We are given the opportunity to make a difference for Hayden and his mom, and to give some relief for the material needs they experience so that they can instead concentrate now on what matters most - precious time together. To donate to Hayden: https://www.gofundme.com/haydensheroes.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Daily Log

My last (and probably final) article for The Humanitarian Examiner was to suggest a journal of at least one daily activity to make this world a better place. That’s the best New Year’s resolution I can think of!  Although I already really try my best to live that way, it proved more difficult than I thought when it had to be recorded on paper!

I believe that even simple acts such as talking to a stranger who is waiting behind you in the grocery line, smiling at everyone you encounter, giving simple courtesies as holding the door or offering help are ways to easily do that. But, it’s apparent to me that you also have to make some opportunities. 

I especially found myself scurrying for some ideas on days when I didn’t leave the house. Then I realized that writing a check to charity, and making extra stew for dinner and offering to save some for my sons and daughter-in-law also could be entries. Calling to check on a friend who is home bound was another way to make this world a better place.

The other thing I’ve learned from this experience is, on some days, there may actually be many opportunities to make a difference. That’s terrific and I tried to take advantage of as many possibilities as I could, but my goal was to do something every day and make just one entry. That’s more difficult.

Because I try to live by Hebrews 10:24: “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,” I’m sharing this suggestion with you. Make it a point to do something every day to make this world a better place. If everyone did that, what a difference we could make! Not only would individuals take note, but the entire world would reap the benefit.

If you do decide to try this little experiment, which could also be great for a Lenten activity, please let me know how it goes for you.  I’d love to share it on my blog (using first names only, of course), and then you would gain an entry in your journal just in abiding by Hebrews 10:24, too!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Animals Are a Gift From God

I've had many animals as pets, but I never connected with one as much as I have my cute little grand-dog. Apparently he feels the same way about me as captured in a hilarious (to me anyway!) video made by my son Chris. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGnXVuvcWJM. 

His name is Dan, but I call him Danny, and he is a Beagle/Jack Russell mix.  He has his own shelf of doggie treats in my pantry, a corner of my living room for storage of his bed (when he stays overnight) and toys,  and the assurance of at least an hour walk per day when he visits. I am firmly wrapped around one of his little paws although I haven't identified which one as yet.

Genesis 1:26 states: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."' I don't know if God intended some of the creatures to become pets, but I'm sure He knew and was pleased that man could relate to animals in such a way.

Enjoy the video and my New Year's wish for each of you is to embrace each day with as much excitement as my grand-dog! (Feel free to share this blog or the video).

Monday, December 28, 2015

It Only Now Begins

I'm always a little sad when Christmas is over so I don't take down the Christmas decorations until mid-January. By then, I'm feeling a little guilty about having them up for 2 months, but I really enjoy the way it makes my home so inviting and special.

This year, I also faced a change that will result in a dilemma next year. My church changed service times which conflicted with our annual open house that had been an event since 1973. I learned too late that the later service (in the past it was midnight, 11pm and then 10pm) was abolished due to low attendance of maybe 30 people last year. I couldn't cancel my open house because family and friends begin looking forward to it as early as October. I understand why the change was made, but I still am saddened by the decision.

Since 1969, I had been attending these candlelight services (and the later one for almost 3 decades), and I believe that was only the 3rd time I'd ever missed a Christmas Eve service. Instead, my younger son and I attended my older son's and daughter-in-law's church. It was a nice contemporary service, but we missed the traditional candlelight service of our own church. Next year, I'll have to decide which event of more than 40 years takes priority - the open house or attending my own church's services. We'll see what happens...

When Steve was living, I could always look forward to New Year's Day and our anniversary later in January. Now I have to focus on something else, and it is actually the right thing to do.

Jesus is born!!! The world changed with that one simple event, and now the journey to follow him begins anew. I can make whatever NewYear's resolutions I want, but I know everything should focus on how I can continue his lessons for living. And in the end, it won't matter whether I have an open house or attend different church services on Christmas Eve - what matters is that I remember the significance of Christmas itself and live it every day. I hope that is a reality for all my Christian friends and family too.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2015

More Than a Business

For the second time, I am the recipient of a special kindness from a business. In fact, it's difficult for me to think of them as a business because we have a special bond that has lasted more than 3 decades. To me, they epitomize what commerce and good customer service should be about and here's why:

Every year, but one (because I was expecting), my husband had something under the tree for me from my favorite women's clothing store - Saffees. It was my favorite for a number of reasons, and not just because of the quality and selection of their clothing. Over the years, we became friends with a son and daughter of the owners who have now taken over the family business.

The year I lost my husband, I received a call from the manager Bonnie McConnell Smith who unfortunately passed away recently. Bonnie was special, too, and always knew what I would I like, although my husband Steve did an excellent job of that himself.

Bonnie called to tell me they had something for me that she needed to drop by my home. Apparently, the owners' son, also named Steve, awoke in the middle of the night thinking, "What about Vicki?" He knew the tradition, and was adamant that a gift from Saffees should be under my tree. So these fine people presented me with an Oleg Cassini running suit.

This year, while shopping at Oak Park Mall, I visited with Marie who now manages the store there. (It's customary for me to visit that store at least annually to purchase stocking stuffers which are donated). As always, we visited and I also found a couple of gifts for family.

Now, back in Lawrence, I decided there was one additional item I wanted so I called Marie to ask her to send it to the Lawrence store for pick-up. When the Lawrence store called to tell me it had arrived, I asked them to put it on my account and I would try to have one of my sons pick it up for me.

Soon after, I received another call from Cheryl who said that she would press the wrinkles out of the item for me, gift wrap it, and either she or Steve would personally drop it by my home, or they would send it UPS. This was not an expensive item so I told them to please not make an extra effort, but Cheryl stated that Steve wanted to do that for me. Within a few hours, the package was delivered!

I have been the recipient of many kindnesses, but one doesn't expect those same kindnesses from a business. That is what makes Saffees so special. Even though I can only make it into the local store a couple of times a year, they continue to bestow the same kindness and courtesy I truly value from them.

The Bible tells us to "love one another," and Titus 3:8 states: "...so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone." The Saffees staff and owners live that philosophy, so while other stores may be caught up in the commercialization of Christmas, these individuals truly make this a better world for their fellowman.

Merry Christmas to all, and may you also give and receive many unexpected kindnesses this holiday season.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Wishing or Praying? Hope at Christmas

It occurred to me recently that both wishing and praying are about hope. In this season that is all about hope, it's interesting to reflect on the two.

I think the biggest difference between wishing and praying is that the later is based on faith. We are making our wants and needs known specifically to God, and hoping that it is His will to honor our request. Wishing, on the other hand, is just hoping that something will occur.

I also know that I'm ignorant of the big picture. Some bad things will happen; Christians are not immune. Sometimes, it's really difficult to understand why God lets certain things occur, but I believe it all works according to His BIG plan. Although it's not easy, I also think God will help us to make lemonade out of the lemons that we encounter on our life's journey. In fact, I've seen that to be true with of my own heartaches. The Bible specifically addresses it in Romans 8:28 - "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

I have to admit, there are so many blessings in my life that I couldn't begin to list all of them. I especially notice this around the holidays when, I believe it was Dickens who said in A Christmas Carol, "want is felt more keenly." I have everything I need, and most everything that I really want. That's a true blessing, and I feel it my responsibility to share that blessing with others.

If you read my story in the recently released Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas! edition, you will understand why the loss of my husband always makes this time of the year a little bittersweet. While I'm sad that I can't have Steve here to share the holiday with me, I love Christmas and the hope that it stands for. And for those of us who have experienced significant loss, it that hope which often drives us to payer.

And now, Merry Christmas to all, and I pray that you will share the love, peace, hope and blessings of the season, especially with those who need it most!