Monday, March 6, 2017

Lent and the Spiritual Journey

I'm ready to admit that I don't know everything, especially when it comes to understanding God. But once in a while, I'm given a little ray of light in the way of wisdom. That occurs mostly with self-reflection which is a focus during the 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter.

The danger in self-reflection, however, can be to become so consumed with oneself that we lose focus on our creator. In fact, I'm convinced that true happiness only comes when we look beyond ourselves and make the focus on each other and how God wants us to live.

Recently, I read a book called Proof of God which contained a message that I thought was perfect: "church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints." Amen!  You don't have to look far to see that people always fall short of perfection, no matter what they believe.

I always try to remember that others may judge God by my actions. That certainly isn't a fair assessment of God or what it is to be a believer because I cannot ever live up to what others want me to be, regardless of how hard I try. But, I'm still obligated to try, and that is something all of us should maybe keep for self-reflection, too. Expectations are greater, but as I often told my subordinates, never stop trying for 100%, even when you know it's not possible, because the moment you strive for less, the less you will accomplish.

So in this time of self-reflection, I'm going to instead focus on how I can do better and follow more of Jesus' teachings. I'm going to look beyond myself, after acknowledging where I need to improve, and try to do what I think we each have a responsibility to do - make this world a little better place.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Unknown Value

At a recent meeting of my district's Kansas Authors Club, we had a writing assignment based upon props brought by attendees. One prop passed around was a piece of cement. It looked like an ordinary block of discarded rubble, and as I held it in my hands, I wondered why anyone would bring this as a prop to inspire creative writing.

Then, after the cement made its way around the table, the owner announced that it was a piece of the Berlin Wall. What a difference that bit of information made! Suddenly, something that seemed so insignificant became a valued piece of history.

Later, I began to wonder how many times I encountered something that was dismissed as insignificant, and missed an opportunity to know its true value. I realized, too, that this occurs with  human beings as well. How often have I missed the opportunity to know my fellowman when the contact could have enriched both of our lives?

The Bible tells us that we are all God's children, from the least to the richest. Looking at poor, uneducated individuals may give us pause and a desire to help, but do we see their value? Thankfully,  God does, I believe.

Someone may look upon any of us as having less value than him/herself. Without question, we are deemed the inferior to somebody, just as we may feel the superior to others. But this is only in circumstance, not what really matters.

I believe God does not value us because of the possessions or talents we have or don't have. After all, He is the one who gave them to us to use for the good of others (Romans 12:6-9). Instead and fortunately, He is able to look at us and not see a piece of rubble to be discarded. He sees our true value and what we can bring to the world.

 From now on, I too hope I can see that a little better myself.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Another Ah-ha Moment on Prayer

It has taken me more than 10 years on the subject, but I finally had another ah-ha moment. This time in regard to prayer.

When my husband was told he was terminal with 3 months to live, we both cried. It was then I began to pray incessantly for a miracle. Sometimes that would be for an entire hour before I could even think of sleeping. And when the doctor told us, "you need to get your affairs in order. Do you understand what I'm saying?" we understood all too well.

My prayers became more frequent and fervent. My supplications were almost vigilant as every moment was spent pleading for Steve's life. I prayed for a miracle up until his last breath.

Surprisingly, I was never mad at God for not granting my prayer (along with the prayer of numerous others), but I was certainly disappointed. Didn't I do what we are told to do and pray continuously and with focus? Didn't I have faith that God would grant my prayer? I thought so.

Before closing my eyes the other night, I realized something - my epiphany regarding prayer. In praying for that miracle, I acknowledged two things: 1) I am not the one in control, and 2) I believe God can do anything. It's also how I learned to talk to God throughout the day.

Although my mind may now wander sometimes during my nightly prayer (Max Lucado even admitted the same in his book, Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer), God has my attention throughout the day, if only in shortened intervals. He did not grant my miracle, but He gave me increased faith and a more personal connection through prayer, regardless of whether it is answered yes or no.

I do have two reoccurring payers which are said after communion, and in my nightly prayer, both of which I'm 100% will be granted in some way. After communion, I ask God to "make me ever mindful of His sacrifice and presence." In my nightly prayer, I ask God "to help me know and do His will."  Both are critical to a life of faith.

So now I realize that the act of praying is as important as the request made in a prayer, and I'd love to know why some receive the answers they do. But in the end, I think I'm learning more about the nature of prayer - it is our actual relationship with the creator, and just like any relationship that is meant to endure, it has an unknown (to us) future, requires trust, relies sometimes on patience, and must have love as its foundation.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Celebrating a "One-sided" Anniversary

Two days ago, I celebrated my 44th wedding anniversary. I celebrated it just as I have, since Steve passed on 10 years ago, by going out to dinner with my two sons. They are the two closest things I have to Steve, and I see so much of him in Chris and Ryan.

I also have a standing order for flowers on the altar of my church around the 26th of January to commemorate the anniversary. It helps me to reminisce about the day that so profoundly changed my life in many ways, and I believe, made me a better person. Without that day, I also would not have the faith that has become so important to me.

I've begun to see marriage differently over the years. Having been blessed to wed my soulmate, I wonder how our relationship will be in the afterlife. When asked who will be the husband of the woman who had had many husbands, Jesus said that there is no marriage in Heaven. Bummer! Of course, he did indicate that relationships will continue and on a more deeper level, but I admit I'm still a little confused about how that will be.

I know that marriage was an institution created to bring about family. Procreation was a focus and there no longer is that need in the afterlife, hence, no marriage. The problem is I want to be Steve's wife, and I want him to be my husband. But I think the issue really lies in verbiage. Words only  define what a relationship is - they are not the description.

So, what do I say to those lucky enough to still have their soulmates in physical form? I say Happy Anniversary! Enjoy this earthly relationship, but I truly hope the best is yet to come.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Recommendation

As mentioned previously, during the last year and a half plus, I've been editing a memoir for a friend and fellow M.S. advocate. What might not have been mentioned is that we both believe that this joint venture to bring his book to fruition was not a coincidence.

I am going to recommend it to anyone who wants a good read, and especially if they want to see how God works in the lives of others. Although I had known Mark since 2000, there were so many things I didn't know, among them being that he worked on several European crusades for Billy Graham, smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, worked as a field director for Habitat for Humanity, and the list goes on.

With his permission, I am including one short snippet about Bible smuggling from his book, A Journey Worth Taking: God, M.S. and Me:

     “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” is something that you say which means you should behave and dress like the people in the country you are visiting. In my case, I shouldn’t look like an American. So I didn’t. I wore clothes from another country in Europe. To cross borders, my staff believed I could pass as a Moroccan so I had to temporarily convert to being a Muslim, including dress and learning a few Arabic phrases like “peace be unto you” or the equivalent of “hi” in English.
     Looking like a Muslim needed a complete make-over. I kept my hair very short, grew my goatee long to about two inches, and grew out my eye brows. Oh, the real make-over was my skin color which was already natural brown. God knew what He was doing by sending me to the country of former Yugoslavia which has a high population of Muslims.
     I really never had any language problems, because whenever I had to speak English, I did so with a strong accent of some type. 

Mark also has some very entertaining stories about his youth, but my favorite is when, at age 10, he made astronauts out of his pet hamsters. A close second is when he decided to test the theory that cats always land on their feet, but not to worry. Fortunately, there isn't a bad ending.

Enjoy, and please do share this with others who might want to read about faith at work. We can all use a little inspiration.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Making This World a Little Better Goal

Anyone who read my New Year's resolution last year knows that I vowed to keep a daily log of at least one thing I did to make this world a little better place. I'm happy to say that I fulfilled my goal. That is, I kept track. I can't say that I always made the world a better place, but at least I tried!

It was a very good lesson for me to realize that it takes a concerted effort to make a positive difference. It's not that it's difficult to do, but that one must really focus on it. There are so many ways to achieve what I set out to do: financial donations, volunteering of time, random acts of kindness (Look for one of my stories about how I was actually a recipient of such in the February 2017 release of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness edition), etc.

Some days, I just made an effort to smile and maybe converse with someone I didn't know. Other days, I made financial, charitable contributions. And then on occasion, I really went out of my way to do something kind or served others in a special way.

Now, I must confess, there were 12 days where I didn't write anything in my log. One of those days, I was too sick to do anything but make it briefly out of bed. As for the other 11 days, it wasn't that I didn't do anything; I just forgot to make an entry.

The interesting thing about our positive actions is that we never know how positive they are. I'd like to think that I maybe made someone's day a little better and they were glad that I was in this world. I'd like to think that maybe my actions influenced them to do the same thing for someone else. I'd like to think that my one positive action kept multiplying with each person doing something good, and truly, together, we all made this world a little better place, if only for a couple of hours or even a day.

So my resolution for 2017? More of the same. I already have my three entries for this year. And I would like to encourage anyone reading this blog to just try doing what I'm doing. Let's take the negatives out of life and start concentrating on the good we can do, and the difference we can make.

Can you make the world a better place if you try? I'm sure of it!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What's Your Christmas Wish?

I've been giving some thought to: If I could give a gift to the world or any one person, what would that be? That is a pretty big order, and one which took some soul searching. (But before I reveal my final answer, I'd like anyone reading this blog to add a comment and tell what you would wish or give).

Of course, there is always the generic answer of world peace. That's nice, but it doesn't address the total human condition. We could have world peace and there would still be want, poverty, injustice, etc. Mankind (in general, but not everyone) would still be greedy, untruthful, envious, self-centered, etc. So you get the drift.

Next, I thought of compassion. That's nice too, but compassion without action is pointless. We shake our heads at the homeless in the street and maybe even say a prayer on their behalf. We have compassion and feel very sorry for them, but then sometimes simply walk away. We also feel the pain of those dying from hunger or thrown into prison or murdered for political or religious reasons. But what do we do?

I thought about contentment. It didn't take long for me to realize that contentment isn't the answer. Do I really want people to be okay with the wrongs in this world? Do I want those in abject poverty to be contented with their lot? Do I want those who suffer daily injustices to be okay with it? Do I want people to be complacent and not try to make this world a better place for their fellowman? No. That's not the right gift either.

Then I thought, maybe I would eliminate suffering. Who could argue with that? But would we know how to behave without suffering? Would others still try to inflict it, but the recipients just wouldn't feel it?

Also, without some adversity, we would never appreciate what we have. Bad days only make us appreciate the ones that aren't. Also, without adversity and suffering, would we care and try to alleviate that for our fellowman? One of the greatest pleasures in life is to do something good for someone else. If there were nothing to do, would I be as grateful for my blessings, and would I have the enjoyment of sharing them?

And then it finally occurred to me. There is only one gift that would encompass all of my singular attempts at happiness and goodness for individuals as well as the world...LOVE. That is the only thing that can change the heart of man to strive for goodness.

Love brings peace, contentment, compassion that leads to action, and while it doesn't eliminate suffering, it makes it easier. Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to "love one another." At Christmas, God truly gave the world the best gift of all. I can't think of a better wish.

So what's your idea of the perfect gift?