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 d├ęcor, 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.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Tribute to George

Anyone who has read my book, Simple Things to Make This World a Better Place, is familiar with the section that offers 20 things one can do for those who have just lost someone close. But sometimes more is required, hence this tribute to George.

Upon learning of his passing that occurred last Friday, I immediately said a prayer for his wife Beth. There are marriages where you absolutely know God’s blessing was at hand, and theirs was one. I recognized it from my own experience, and I will be forever grateful to have had my wonderful husband on my life’s journey.

Just like my husband Steve, George was a genuinely caring and wonderful human being. He and Beth were one of the reasons I managed to survive my loss. They quickly came to my aid for anything, including helping me to move, fix a tire, and even hanging the draperies in my bedroom.  But they did something even greater for me - they invited me to a weekly Bible study group that provided a nice social outlet where I could strengthen my faith and grow spiritually.

Besides being a wonderful lector, cantor and choir member in our church, as well as a retired professor and former school board member, George was just one of those people you could easily trust and like. He lived his faith well, and participated in countless efforts to improve the life of others. Yes, the world truly lost a special person, and I’m sure everyone who knew him is very much aware of that fact.

In the coming days, I know it will be difficult for those who loved George not to have his physical presence, but I also know that this is the time when faith becomes most important. It is the hope to see our loved ones again and never to be parted for all eternity. I pray peace for his family with that affirmation.

Truly, George will be missed and he serves as a reminder, like many others who’ve gone before us, that we should all leave this world with a little void. As an old Indian saying goes, “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice."

Rest in peace, dear George, and may God say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Great Week

I've just had a delightful week - one of those weeks that make you glad to be alive. We've all had them, and we are grateful because we've also had the opposite - the kind that makes you wonder what else can go wrong.

Actually, my week didn't really get good until Wednesday. That's when one of my sons and I met with a retired mechanical engineer who advised us on obtaining a patent for something we've been working on for two plus years. I'm going to set up an appointment with a patent attorney in June, but the encouragement from someone who is knowledgeable about such matters is cause for elation.

There were other things that "just went right" during my week, but I want to concentrate on the experience just related. What is often said depends upon the value we have for the person who said it.

Like most, if not all, of us, I've had both compliments and not-so-nice things said to me, and the impact of those statements on my person varied greatly. I could be elated, crushed or simply not care depending upon their origin. Likewise, we can have the same positive or negative effect on others depending upon our value to them.

I think when we aren't having a great day or week, that's when it's important to remember how God values us, and that's what ultimately matters. It's not always easy to do. As humans, we can be hurt and hurt others, but it's also up to us to show that we are valued and that we value others.

Jesus wasn't concerned with what Herod or Pontius Pilate thought of him, but he managed to find value in everyone as a child of God. He was actually more concerned with what people thought of our father in Heaven, and wanted to impart first and foremost that our relationship with Him should involve both giving and receiving love. I'm going to try to remember that in the future, regardless of whether things go right or go wrong.

So for this brief moment in time, I'm going to be grateful that God values me and has also allowed me the experience of a great week. I'm also going to try very hard to remember that, even though I might not value what is said, I can nevertheless value the source.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

An Ah-Ha Moment About Guilt and Regret

I've had two profound ah-ha moments, and one was most recently while talking to one of my sisters. The other occurred long ago when I realized what Jesus meant in loving our enemies. That is certainly one of the most difficult things to do, but if you pray for them to see the light and become better people, that is the ultimate victory. Revenge and getting even doesn't change the harm they did and will continue to do, but changing them for the good makes it possible for them to atone, and the world a better place for everyone.

Now for my second enlightenment, my sister and I were discussing the tragic losses of our beloved husbands to cancer. The "what ifs" surfaced in our conversation - we should have, if we'd known, etc. It was then I recalled something I'd been thinking about this past week.

Hindsight is always 20-20, but for those of faith, prayer is an important part of affecting future outcomes. We recognize that God can do anything. He is the ultimate healer whether through a direct miracle or through the hands of competent medical staff.

My sister and I, along with countless other family members and friends, prayed for a cure for our husbands, and we did so most ardently. God said "no." Now this is where the ah-ha moment comes in to play. God could also have said "yes." It wasn't our choice or within our power to decide.

Romans 8:28 states "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him..."but it would be difficult to argue that allowing a loved one to die is good. Instead, I think it simply means that God will help us to make lemonade out of lemons when He allows bad things to happen.

Ultimately, to think that we could have done anything further to contribute to the healing of our loved ones is to assume that we are in charge. If God had determined, because of all our prayers or His infinite wisdom that they should live, nothing we could do or didn't do would have stopped that from happening. If they were to live, God would have given us the foresight to do whatever was necessary to keep our loved ones with us. You cannot regret doing or not doing what is not your choice. 

There will always be regrets, but they shouldn't happen because we thought we should have known something in hindsight. We don't have the power of life and death, but we do have the power for other things to ease future regret for things we can affect. We can be nice to each other and try our best to live in a way that will make this world a little better when we leave it than when we were born. That's my goal.