Thursday, August 27, 2015

Unknown Influence

You never know what influence you have on others. Teachers hear that all the time, but it really applies to all of us.

Last Sunday, our new pastor cited an unknown survey which purportedly determined that children remain in their faith and go to church when they become adults because of childhood relationships with at least five unrelated members of their church. That's a good wake-up call to interact and become acquainted with the children in the congregation.

In response to an announcement that my Christmas story submission to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas! would appear in the 2015 edition of the book, I heard from many wonderful friends and family members. One in particular made me think about the impact we have in this world.

A friend commented that she wished she had done as much for others as I had, but I was surprised by her comment. She obviously didn't realize what an amazing influence she is to so many.  She listens and provides tender encouragement to those in need, and she is very supportive of everyone's efforts. Her compassion and care impact lives far more than any words written by me.

Her comment also made me think of my late husband. Steve was probably the most selfless person I've ever known. He knew when someone needed to talk, or to have a shoulder to cry on - sometimes, I'm embarrassed to say, much to my chagrin and impatience. While I might be generous in giving things, he was generous in spirit.

When Steve was preparing to leave this world, he lamented that he had never done much to make this world a better place because he hadn't saved a life, invented something great, etc. What? I couldn't believe what he was saying! He always gave of himself; his time, his energy, and his love. He was generous in what Jesus asks of us - to truly care for each other. (John 13: 34-35 "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - NSRV)

Fortunately, Steve had an inkling of what he meant to many when the long lines of visitors to the hospital during his last days resulted in an extended queue that had to be managed. These were people on whom Steve had a positive impact, and he influenced them to live a better life in countless ways.

So, I concede that influence knows no bounds. Perhaps it's in the gentle way we look at life, the kindness that we bestow on strangers, or the effort we put into truly getting to know our fellowman and his needs. But of one thing I'm pretty certain - those who mistakenly believe they have no positive impact on this world are often the ones to quietly serve as the example we should follow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Why Did I Do It? Never Again!

Most anyone acquainted with me knows I avoid anything that contributes to or demonstrates inappropriate or otherwise undesirable behavior by my fellowman. I don't watch reality or contestant TV shows which portray how ignorant, crude, or mean people can be to each other, nor do I wish to read or hear disparaging remarks about others. Include in that a basic aversion to rumors and gossip. I think people who engage in these behaviors are not a fair representation of what the majority of people are really like, and it certainly doesn't make for a better world.

So why did I ever agree to a garage sale! That's more rhetorical than a question, hence the exclamation mark instead of a period.

During my lifetime, I've been involved with four garage sales and one auction - two sales after remodeling in two different residences, one as an estate sale, one an estate auction, and the latest a community garage sale. Normally, I just donate items to charities, but since I'm the secretary for our home owner association which sponsored the event, and because my son and daughter-in-law wanted to sell some items, I agreed. Big mistake on my part.

It didn't matter how inexpensively an item was priced, some people wanted it lower. I'm not talking about $5 items, I'm talking about 25 cents or a dollar. To some people, it may be a game to see how low they can bargain, but I still expect people to exhibit good and fair behavior whether Christian or not.

For a few, a garage sale can be an opportunity to scam, and it enabled some people to appear very predatory and cheap. There were two particularly disturbing situations for which I won't go into detail. I just don't like it when something brings out the worst in people because it can cloud one's perception about the majority of people who are really good and honest individuals.

If I go to a neighbor's garage sale, I pay what they ask, especially if it's reasonable. If it's more than I want to pay, I won't buy it. If they offer to sell an item to me for a lower price, that's just fine, but I won't ask for it. In fairness, I did encounter a few nice people with the same philosophy.

I don't want to take advantage of anyone because I wouldn't feel right about it. Leviticus 25:17 states: "Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God," and there are numerous verses in the New Testament about how we should treat each other fairly.

So I'm counting this experience as further evidence that garage sales are something I personally should never do, and viewing it as a social event that took a good deal of work - much more than it was worth. I'm glad I only had a few items for sale, even though I wish I'd donated them instead. I would have felt much better giving to people in need rather than to some people "in greed." The measly $11 I received will go to charity, but the items would have been better given as a donation.

So, I apologize to those who enjoy garage sales, either as a participant in buying or selling. I just know it's not for me, and this was my garage sale swan song. Five times of witnessing what I consider to be  less than desirable behavior is enough; selling at one of these venues is now among my avoidance options and I'll never be tempted to do so again. And, for the record, any that I infrequently attend will continue to be done with a Christian perspective toward my fellowman.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Good Question

As a council member of my church, I had the opportunity at our meeting last night to review a chapter in Reclaiming the "E" Word, and then give devotions based upon that material. I selected the chapter about living a purposeful life. It was well suited to me because it fit well with my favorite Biblical passage to explain why we are on this earth.

Hebrews 10:24 states: "Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds." I believe that passage is the actionable statement for Jesus' message to love one another. I also believe the reason for our existence on earth is to care for one another. This is how I try to live my life and it was the basis for my book, Simple Things to Make This World a Better Place.

The gist of the chapter was that church should be a place, not just to worship God, but to equip us for being Disciples of Christ in our daily lives. We should not have to be an in-your-face Christian for people to know that is who we are. Our very lives, through actions and behavior, should demonstrate that.

When people see us do good things, live with joy, respond positively to negativity, atone for our mistakes, and show genuine care for our fellowman, that defines us as a Christian. Certainly, there are many good people who do these positive things, but we as Christians should purposely strive to do them.

Of course, none of us wants to exhibit behavior that will cause others to think hypocrisy when we fail. Instead, it can be a good lesson to show others how we respond when we do fail - apologizing, atoning, having faith, and never repeating the same offence can speak volumes. After all, forgiveness is a cornerstone of our faith, and sometimes forgiving ourselves is the most difficult. But since we know we are forgiven, it makes it easier to live a good life.

So, the big question we should each ask ourselves is this: Do the people we encounter in our daily lives know that we are a Christian without us having to tell them?"

The answer can be a little scary.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sometimes Yes and Sometimes No

As a person of faith, I think receiving an answer of no to a prayer causes one of the biggest struggles, especially if that prayer involves a critical matter to the supplicant. After all, John 14:13 states: "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son."

I have prayed for healing for many individuals, but no more so than for my late husband. In fact, I prayed for a miraculous healing until he took his last breath. I surmised, What could have been a better way to glorify God? Just look at the incidents in the Bible where life was restored by Jesus and his disciples. 

No to his healing was a difficult answer for me to accept, but I must believe that dying isn't a punishment for the one who passes. It is just a temporary difficulty that can also be a horrific one for those of us who are left behind. If we truly believe the promises of Heaven, then we can accept God's answer even though we may not agree or like it.

Now, there have been yes answers to my prayers, too. Most recently, I wrote about a longtime friend who caused me a great deal of pain in wanting to end the friendship over an unfair judgement. I prayed about that and eventually found peace. But the better part? This friend called me last week and apologized! It was a good conversation because I had already forgiven her with God's help.

I think of the families in Charleston who experienced such a tragic loss at the hands of a gunman filled with hate. They demonstrated a true Christian following of Jesus in forgiveness. To do so could only be with God's help. No human alone could endure what they must have felt. Our nature as humans is to seek revenge, to be angry, to question God.  Instead, they found courage to bury themselves in the love of God for all mankind. To do that is in itself a miracle!

Now there have been many others things to which my prayers have also received yes answers. And I must admit, even with my share of difficulties, I am grateful to God for the life I've been given. I would not want to exchange places with anyone who has gone before me, resides in the present with me, or will come after I am gone. That, too, is a miracle.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Difficult Lesson

I recently gave approbation to something I believe, but also learned something very valuable. It's a difficult thing to write about, but it's important to share because many of us have probably experienced a similar situation or might in the future.

When I wrote Simple Things to Make This World a Better Place, I noted the importance of forgiveness - for both the one who forgives as well as the one who is forgiven. I also noted that people who see themselves as victims cannot see beyond themselves, and can do little to make this world a better place for others. A recent event resulted in that approbation.

A longtime friend sees herself as a victim of many things, and in the process said some unjust, judgmental things to me meant to be hurtful with no care for the truth. It was difficult not to be angry and it agonized me for almost every waking hour, but I did what I was supposed to do - I prayed.

I prayed for almost a week that God would help me to forgive, and then the most remarkable thing occurred. I finally saw this person's view of the world! I didn't agree with it, but it allowed me to replace being upset with feeling compassion. I finally started praying for that person instead of asking help for ME to forgive.

I don't know if the friendship can ever be restored, but I'm going to leave that in God's hands. I'm also praying that the person gets the help she needs to function successfully in this world, but I am ever so grateful that God gave me the tools to cope with this and any other difficult situation that life sends my way.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Another Gray Area in Everyday Living

Being a Christian or a person of faith has its share of challenges. Fortunately, I don't have to worry about being thrown to the lions, stoned to death, or otherwise tortured, but I do have a lot of gray areas when it comes to my daily actions involving others.

Today, I'm thinking about a simple annoyance and not something earth-shattering, but my actions, even in the simplest matters, should reflect who I am. That's the dilemma, and I'm talking about telemarketers and solicitors.

Have you ever felt inundated by phone calls, especially ones that you know are solicitations and robo calls? I certainly have, and I vacillate between answering the phone and putting it down on the end table so the caller just hears dead air, or leaving a message on my machine about being on the no call list (doesn't apply to charities or political entities), or just picking up the phone and being frank.

Being frank seems like it might be the best, but it's also the hardest, I think. That's especially true if it's a charity solicitation. It's difficult to say no if the caller is soliciting for a worthy cause, even though some may not be. I feel sorry for some of the telemarketers because you know they probably receive a lot of abuse.

But...we all have our limits, even if we practice generosity. I believe God expects us to share, but at some point, we have to decide which charities are most important. I donate to many including my church, and I'm not willing to exchange one of those I've supported for many years for another (unless God makes it clear to me that I need to do that).

So, I guess the next time my phone rings with one of those caller IDs that actually indicates the name of the charity, I need to be frank. It's not right to let them continue making useless calls.

On the other hand, for those IDs that say "unassigned" or give a city and state, I really haven't decided what to do. If it's definitely a scam (like I've won a prize for a contest I didn't enter, or an offer to lower my credit card interest on an undesignated card), I don't mind just letting the caller dangle a little bit. That's a very bad way to make a living by preying on others so maybe I can delay that a little for the next person they try to call.

If anyone has better suggestions, I'm open to hearing them. Consumer Reports suggests the following: Then maybe I'll just try a little experiment - I'll answer the next ten calls and then decide how to handle them individually. Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Being Always Thankful is Easier Sometimes

Saturday I had one of those days. Not the bad kind, but the one where you wish you had bought a lottery ticket. Everything seems right with the world and things just go your way. We've all had them, and it seems easier to remember those because they don't occur as often as normal days or the ones that just make you want to bury your head in the sand.

My day seemed routine, but really improved in the evening. I attended a fundraiser for which I had had tickets for some time. Feeling very fatigued lately and a bit under the weather, I missed the awards ceremony for Kansas Authors Club District 2 that morning, but I didn't want to miss the evening event since it was paid for already.

At the evening event, I wound up winning a door prize basket and two silent auction baskets which were also a good deal. When I returned home, I had a message from a friend telling me I had won an award from the KAC  contest. It wasn't until the next day that I discovered it was first prize in the humor category which thrilled me even more. After always being a bridesmaid and never a bride (winning 2nd or 3rd and never first), I missed it. Maybe for me the key to winning is not to attend the ceremony.

All that aside, it was a good day, and I was happy to thank God in my prayers. I'm trying to do that daily, but it just seems easier to do when all goes well.

I'm reading a book that often talks about thanking God even when circumstances seem to warrant anything but appreciation. But, if we truly look at life, there is always something for which we can be grateful. Just the fact that we have our faith to fall back on and the ability to talk to God when things don't go right, is sufficient reason to be thankful. I just have to remember that we sometimes learn more from negative situations than from positive ones.

Romans 8:28 states: "And we know that in all things God works for the good56 of those who love him, who have been called57 according to his purpose."   Thessalonians 5:18 also states: "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

So there you have it - God wants us all to be thankful when things go well and also when they do not. I remind myself that many times God has made lemonade from my troubles which were lemons. But, I'm just so incredibly happy when things go my way like they did Saturday. Maybe that's giving me a little glimpse of what Heaven is really like - not just occasionally, but every day.