Thursday, April 16, 2015

Life's Little Bumps

Have you ever been so frustrated and upset over something that you're happy no one is around because you know just how unpleasant you would be? Silly question. I guess we could all probably answer yes to that one.

I'm fairly laid back about many things, but over some things, I do obsess. For anyone who has read my first book, Christmas a Season for Angels, the one true story in it describes a scene between my late husband and myself.

I was frustrated that our insurance company wasn't responding fast enough to one of his hospital bills. After about the fourth time of my bringing it up, he took the paper from my hand, threw it on the floor, and jumped up and down on it. Looking at my startled expression, he calmly asked, "Have we run it into the ground enough yet?"

What's the best medicine for frustration, or at least for me? I think it's laughter, and my husband knew that even before we both broke out laughing, I could finally quit obsessing and handle the matter the next day. God certainly gave Steve to me for that and many other reasons.

Now, without Steve to humor and temper me, I had one of those (fortunately rare) occasions as I described in the first sentence. Frustrated over some issues in the software while helping my sons with taxes, I had hit my limit. I had much to do, and a recent health issue had caused a great deal of backlog in other things I needed to do as well. 

When I finally decided to stop for the night, I took my blood pressure. It was 178/96, and it never went below 164 before going to bed 3 hours later. I'm also on meds to keep it low, so it shouldn't have been and isn't normally that high.

I read before bedtime, and one of the things I'm now reading is Sarah Young's Jesus Today. The lesson that night was more than appropriate. It spoke of turning to God when life's little (or even big) bumps occur, and remembering that He is ultimately in charge. Good thing, because God is the only one who could probably have stood to be around me because I think my attitude this time would have even challenged Steve!

I awoke in the morning feeling much calmer. Unfortunately, my blood pressure will still have to be addressed when I have my physical next week, but maybe my anger and frustration alerted me to the fact that it was still a bit out of control.

So I did take heed. The next time something upset me, I remembered to ask for God's help and then let Him worry about it...and it worked!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Now or Later?

Many of you know that a fellow author and I are donating our services to help my church celebrate its upcoming 150th anniversary by creating a book of memoirs from the current members. It's a great project to leave a legacy for future members, and will also be a fundraiser for the church. The difficulty is in obtaining those memoirs.

The Bible tells us not to worry and live in the present. Matthew 6:34 states: " Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." So does that mean to give no thought to tomorrow and don't worry about future obligations? I personally don't think so.

Matthew 24:36 says: "[ The Day and Hour Unknown ] “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." While that is talking about Jesus' return to Earth and the day of reckoning, it tells us to be ready. We just don't know what the future will bring!

It's easy to procrastinate, but I've learned from my own experience to try to do important things promptly because I never know if I will be able to do it tomorrow. It might seem possible or even probable that I can, but the truth is that none of us can be certain of the future. I think that's the dilemma sometimes.

We won't finalize work on the church memoirs for about a year, and it's easy to think there is plenty of time. But the truth is that four members have already passed away since this project was announced little more than a month ago, and the opportunity to include their personal history and involvement in our church is gone. What a great loss to them, to us, and future generations!

I know I sometimes lean toward acting on things until the due date. But I also forget that things take time, especially if they are done right. So currently I'm thinking how to encourage participation now - whether it's on memoirs or anything else that is important.

One elderly person recently opined that she hasn't done the memoir response yet because "she doesn't know what to write." But I surmise that most of us writers may sometimes not know either, but once we start, there is no stopping. The hard part is simply deciding to do it now.

So if you are one who is waiting to do a memoir, or there's something else important you've been putting off, make the effort to do it today. Just think what will be missed in the future without you or me in it? Let's try not to find out.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Good-bye Tribute

Our interim pastor for the last year and a half is finally going to leave us. His excellence as a Biblical scholar has opened the eyes of not only our Friday morning Bible study group, but our entire
congregation. Although I've read through the Bible multiple times, it's amazing what I've missed!

One of Pastor Mark Rich's sermons was about preaching with authority. Unfortunately, we know there are some who attempt to do just that and do so with misguided effort (just read some of the Letters to the Editor), and there are others who should preach with conviction. When you listen to Pastor Mark, there is no question of the origin of his authority.

I must admit our Bible study group (see photo) is feeling a little lost in facing future discussions where interpretation is crucial. I can liken that to two situations as noted below, but I know we can all feel a little lost at times whether it's interpreting scripture or just in daily living.

The disciples were feeling lost knowing that Jesus was going to leave them, but he promised the Holy Spirit would come. John 14:16 - "But the Counselor,1 the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name,2 will teach you all things3 and will remind you of everything I have said to you.4"  (Note: I'm NOT comparing Pastor Mark to Jesus, but I can understand what it it is like to lose a guide in whom you have faith).

I also think of the movie, "To Sir With Love," where the students were appreciative of what was taught that opened their eyes to a new and unexpected world. They knew they would miss their teacher, but they also knew they would be all right. So with that in mind, we unselfishly wish Pastor Mark God's blessings as he rejoins his family in another state after too long a separation, and as he begins to minister to a new congregation. 

People come in and out of our lives, and some you realize God has sent as a blessing to bestow knowledge. So thanks, Pastor Mark, for helping us on our journey to live and grow in the teachings of Jesus. 


Monday, March 9, 2015

Falling of the Lenten Wagon

Although we Lutherans don't have to give up something for Lent or to add a good practice, it is an encouraged discipline. In this season of reflection and awareness of Christ's sacrifice, it has been my practice to observe a discipline in the last decade.

The first year, I chose to give up chocolate. For all you fellow chocoholics, you know that this is a sacrifice, not equivalent to Jesus' dying on the cross of course, but certainly requiring discipline. The first few days were the most difficult and thereafter I did fairly well. My close slip-up was at the movies with a friend who saved me from an indiscretion. I ordered malted milk balls at the concession stand and then had to give them to her when she said, "Vicki, isn't that chocolate?" Of course she knew it was chocolate and what I would need to do with them.

The following year, I gave up sweets entirely. That was extremely difficult because we just happen to have a number of birthdays in our family that fall during Lent, or at least a portion of it. It was so hard to watch others eat ice cream and cake while I noshed on the 90 calorie Fiber One bar I brought. My only consolation was losing weight.

Then there were a couple of years where I added something, and then gave up chocolate again which was much easier the second time around.

But this year, I decided to give up candy. For anyone who knows me, this was probably a sacrifice equal to giving up chocolate by itself. I thought it might actually be easier just because I didn't eliminate all sweets, but I inadvertently fell off the Lenten wagon.

About five days into my sacrificial journey, I stopped by Taco John's one evening and didn't even give it a thought about the nickle-sized mint that was at the bottom of my sack. As I crunched it, my satisfied countenance changed to one of horror. I was eating candy...and I had been doing so well! I prayed that God would forgive me this unintentional transgression.

Then a week later, while helping with taxes at the local senior center,  I helped myself to a peanut butter cookie. As I was talking with another tax volunteer, I mentioned giving up candy for Lent. She quizzically looked at me as she stated, "but you're eating it with those Reese's pieces on the cookie." Guilt, the second time around.

So I have twice failed at my sacrificial attempts to experience depriving myself of something of meaning to me. I am grateful to God that he accepts me with all my faults and I remember Romans 7:19 - "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing."

Although eating candy isn't the worst thing I can do, it is a reminder of how many times it's possible to unintentionally do the wrong thing. So now I've decided to add a good practice during this time - remembering to thank God daily for still loving me with all my human frailties.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Boasting and Blessings

This past week at different times, I had occasion to recount all the activities I'm involved with to three individuals. I did so in explaining why I can't really take on any other activities and how thrilled I am to do what I do. Later, in retrospect, I realized it could sound a lot like boasting if someone didn't know me well.

I engage in many volunteer opportunities, and I consider what I can do as a blessing to me. God has enabled me to do these things and showed me they can be done mostly on my own schedule - that is, when I am physically able to do them. A chronic illness may have taken some things away from me, but it hasn't taken away what's most important and my ability to make a difference.

Why is it a blessing to do the volunteering? Because serving others is what gives life meaning. It's what gives value to our existence. I can then concentrate on what I can do, not what I can't. And, if I can inspire others to do the same, well that's just another blessing.

1 Peter 4:10 says: "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms." Jesus also told his disciples that they must serve each other, and whoever would be great must be the least. I don't care at all about being great, but I do care about showing my gratitude to God by serving others.

The simple fact is that God empowers us all to make this world better by helping others. I believe true happiness is possible only when we look beyond ourselves. If we are engaged in helping others, we are too busy to concentrate on our own challenges and the ills that have befallen us. You can't feel sorry for yourself when you are thinking about and doing good deeds for other people.

So the next time I tell others about the many ways I try to help others by volunteering, I'll make sure they understand why I'm doing so. It's not boasting to show what a great person I am - it's how God has blessed me to be able to do those things for his people and my fellowman.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Faith Makes Volunteering Happy

Yesterday I did my first stint as a Client Facilitator for the AARP Tax-Wise Program which assists senior citizens and low income individuals with their taxes. For five of the six years prior, I've actually prepared the taxes, but this year my time was limited and I couldn't attend tax class and become certified.

Strangely enough I liked the Client Facilitator (CF) position even more than tax preparation because it allowed me more contact with the clientele. As one of the CFs checking over their information to ensure they were indeed ready to submit their taxes, it meant contact with more individuals than just preparing taxes for maybe three.

During this process, I meant some of the most amazing people. One woman, a former resident, had driven from another city more than 30 miles away. When she mentioned being in hospice, it was a total shock. Why? Because her attitude was both pragmatic AND optimistic.

It occurred to me later that optimism is a gift - a gift given to those who believe if they truly embrace their faith. While none of us really know how we would react to end of life issues if they were known, it's comforting to see that our faith could give us the optimism (aka hope) to see us through.

It's also a gift to volunteer. My personal optimism comes from knowing I have value. There may be some things I can no longer do, but there are so many things that I can do. And what I can do will benefit others. That's a true value God has given us - the power and the opportunity to make this world a better place, not just for ourselves, but for our fellowman.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Paying Taxes and Rendering unto Caesar

I just filed my taxes, and after a good four hours of ensuring all entries are correct, not to mention the hours of compiling records, they are finished! Aside from the fiasco caused by Turbo Tax's poorly announced changes in product, everything also went as usual.

I always think of the passage about whoever can be trusted with little, can be trusted with much; and whoever can be trusted with much can be trusted with little. That's something to think about if anyone is thinking of cheating on taxes. Personally, I joke that if I'm ever audited, the government will deserve it because they'll get so much paper and documentation that they'll regret it! So, while I'll take whatever deductions I'm entitled to, I won't take what I'm not.

Paying taxes also made me think of Jesus' answer to the question of whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. Of course, that was an opportunity for Jesus to make people think to separate what is God's and what is earthly. While we can ultimately attribute everything to God, it's a good reminder of what is important, and what is here today and gone tomorrow.

Matthew 6: 19-20 states:  "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal." It doesn't take much for me to decipher what that means.

I value my family and friendships. I value love which I think endures and surpasses the boundaries between earth and Heaven. I value my faith and the hope that it gives me. To be honest, I also value enough food to eat and the means to provide a comfortable life for myself. But I think those are just blessings for which I should be thankful. I'm not planning to store up anything physical except to share with my fellowman, and I think that's the way it's supposed to be. Share the earthly goods, but remember what's really important - the life we live after this one.