Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Thanksgiving vs. Christmas

It’s been looking like Christmas since before Halloween, and usually I have no problem getting caught up in the excitement. As usual, I’ve been reading Christmas books for more than a month now, and watching Christmas shows on television. And normally, my Christmas decorating begins before Thanksgiving, but this year, I find myself uncharacteristically wanting to wait a little longer with that. 

I truly think that thanksgiving is a year-round concept. In fact, I often thank God many times during the day. With that said, I confess I’m not very diligent in saying grace before meals except on special occasions, but I do try to remember to thank God each night for all he has given me, and the possibilities sent my way.

I think this year is a little different for me because I’m continuing to move away from putting so much importance on possessions. Make no mistake, I still like things, but I’ve realized they aren’t what really bring me happiness.  I most value experiences (preferably the positive kind), and the ability to do for others.  That’s when I feel most blessed when I can give and share – something some of us never realize is a true blessing.

So, it might take me a little longer to get into the Christmas spirit this year. I do have my tree up, although undecorated as yet, and I will put out my outside d├ęcor while it is still relatively nice weather, but I want to savor Thanksgiving a little while longer this year before I buy many more things to give or keep.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I’ll readily admit that isn’t always easy when things aren’t going my way, but it should be very easy to at least be thankful amidst so many blessings on a daily basis. Maybe that’s what Thanksgiving is really all about - preparing us to know that we are blessed every day and to give thanks.

For ways to express your Thanksgiving gratitude and do something positive for your fellowman, check out my forthcoming Examiner article on "Thanksgiving opportunities," or visit my website (www.vickijulian.com) and click on the link to access my column.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Disabled, Handicapped or Something Else

I am mobility challenged. I can walk, but not far and not well. A scooter (aka adult go-kart) is my main transport, and I have one in my car tethered to a boom lift for when I go away from home. There are a few more issues associated with my Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.) diagnosis, but I’m not thinking of those as I write this blog entry.

Like many others, I believe, I don’t consider myself disabled or handicapped. There are simply some things that I can’t do any more like run a marathon (okay, I never really did that), cross-country ski, or dance.  I miss some of that mobility and being able to do little tasks around the house, but I still function well, especially cognitively. And, most importantly, I can accept my situation with humor. In fact, I've recently won awards for a humorous essay on the subject of living with my M.S.

Since I’m an optimist, I would rather concentrate on what I can do rather than what I cannot. That’s really a secret to happiness for all of us. And one of those things that almost all of us can do is to make things better for those around us. As long as I can still do for others, I am empowered and will never really consider myself disabled or handicapped. 

Although my challenges may be obvious to others, and they sometimes express surprise at what I can do, it’s no big deal to me. I accept help when needed, or if it will make someone else happy to do something for me, but I retain my independence. I truly thank God for that.

I know so many who struggle inwardly and no one knows of their challenges, only because these are more difficult to discern than a leg brace or use of mobility equipment. But also I think of those with some of the same issues as mine, both current and noted in the Bible.

I remember the paralyzed man whose friends brought him to meet Jesus and receive healing. How hard that must have been for the lame man to be so dependent upon others (Matthew 9:2). No public transportation, no accessibility, no physical or occupational therapy, and certainly not many others with whom he might identify. Add to that, the Old Testament is full of stories ostracizing the sick and disabled. It wasn’t a good time to be anything but perfectly healthy. Again, I truly thank God for placing me in this world at the present time.

It seems there are a lot more of us with physical challenges these days as evidenced by the prevalence of specially designated handicapped parking. When these were first established, it was common to see almost all were empty, but now it seems difficult to find one at times.

So what does all this mean, especially as the population ages and people live longer, perhaps with bodies that are wearing out and not made to last forever? I’m not sure, but I think God wants us to appreciate who we are, what we have, what we’ve been given, and what we can do. That’s a tall order, but that’s probably the biggest challenge any of us face. And one thing is for certain, He loves us no matter what.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Are You Googleable?

That sounds like a funny question - Are you Googleable? That may not be an actual word, but I like it, and it might surprise many people that they, in fact, are. You don't have to be famous; it seems the Internet just has a wealth of information on everyone, including your name, address, and even age range.

As a writer, I periodically Google myself just to see if any of my new publications are posted. It's amazing what you can find.

I know I'm not the only Vicki Julian. I also know I'm not the only Vicki L. Julian. But recently, I discovered that among the links attributed to me, was a Vicki Julian talking about her addiction! That was not exactly in line with my reputation, and I could only hope that no one who Googles me thinks I am the person who wrote that blog. It's not that I'm passing judgement, it's just that I wish to be known for my own accomplishments as well as my own foibles.

I've discovered you can't trust the pictures that pop up either. They indicate "Vicki's Julian's photos," but I don't know half of the people in those designated pictures. And some photos I'd prefer not to be attributed to me.

Even though I don't want strangers to mistake me for others, I can be comforted by one thing. God sees my strengths as well as every weakness, and I'm sure there may be other Vicki Julians who are more than happy not to be me. So it really comes down to what really matters.

1 John 3:20 says: ",,,For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything." And if he even knows the number of hairs on our heads (or lack thereof), I'm pretty sure he knows us individually. In any case, at the appointed time of my judgement, I know God can identify which Vicki L. Julian I am.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Milestone in Aging

My husband always said that “any day above ground is a good day.” I guess that could be extended to adding another birthday, keeping in mind that age is just a number. Of course, some numbers bring some significant changes such as the one I will soon achieve.

For years, I’ve let my formerly brown-platinum blond hair return to its natural shade of white.  That might surprise some people because they’ve only known me as one or the other. A third gray at age 30, I began dying my hair, and it gradually turned to platinum blond whenever I tried to color it brown. Finally, I decided there wasn’t much difference in being platinum blond versus white-haired except that people might assume I’m older.

Having said that, I also noticed my laugh lines are deepening. Add that to the use of a mobility scooter (aka adult go-kart for which use is age unrelated), and people have 3 reasons to assume I’m older. So, now I’ve said it. In a few short days, I will officially be on Plan65 with my Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurance.

Hopefully I’ve picked up some wisdom from God along the way; actually, I know that I have. Things and stuff aren’t so important – I’m not so vain about my appearance, I don’t need the latest gadget, and I value experiences above possessions. My epiphany is that money’s true value is only in how much good it can do. I also know that love is the only thing that can change the world because it makes us care.

When Jesus gave the commandment to “love one another,” he gave us the solution to everything. If we truly saw our fellowman in this light, there would be no wars, no hunger, no need for prisons, and the list goes on.  He also told us that we must have the faith of a child so with that in mind, here is my philosophy on turning the big Six-Five: Be a kid in the best possible way – at heart.

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.