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.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Appreciating our Heritage

Among the books I'm currently reading is one about Christianity's early martyrs. It's a book that I know one of my sisters will never read because she has difficulty even watching the crucifixion scenes so prevalent around Easter.

Although persecution still exists in various parts of the world, for not just Christianity, I think it's easy to forget the sacrifices that others have made to bring our faith to us. After reading some of the tortures and death accounts endured by Christian martyrs in the centuries following Jesus' resurrection, I found myself asking God in prayer to thank them for keeping my religion alive.

I don't want to go into detail about their sacrifices, but let's just say that beheading may have been the easiest of what some experienced. The trials and tribulations of their lives under persecution often made me grimace, and I was grateful to learn of their fates through words rather than a depiction of their suffering. Like many, it’s impossible for me to watch the crucifixion of Jesus without pain and tears.

I like to think that my faith is unwavering, but it leaves the question of: How much could I endure of pain and suffering? If early Christianity depended upon me, would I have had the courage and fortitude shown by the martyrs?

The answer, I think, is that their strength had to come from God, the same God who abides with us through our difficulties which pale in comparison. For whatever God asks me to do, I have to believe his promise in Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful;1 he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.2 But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

I’m thinking there couldn’t be any greater temptation than to say you disavow what you believe in when confronted with such horrific punishment. No man would alone have the strength, so it must have come from the divine. (As a Stephen Minister, I also learned this is the verse most erroneously misinterpreted as, “God never gives you anything more than you can handle.”)

I will never take Jesus’ sacrifice as anything but with profound, humbling, sincere and eternal gratitude, and now I can no longer forget the importance of the early Christian martyrs’ sacrifices either. I am truly grateful to them for allowing God to use their lives in the most challenging way to bring my faith to me.

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.