BEYOND UNDERSTANDING

 

The e-mail said, “How are you doing?  I know your wedding anniversary is coming up, and I’m just wondering if you are all right.”

I was surprised by the message.  No one else remembered, and I guess that is to be understood.  It was only my eighth anniversary, and the fact that my husband had lived only five months after we married, caused it to seem, to some, like it had never happened.

I didn’t spend the day crying.  I taught my Bible study, and went to the cemetery.  Later I went to Olive Garden for soup and salad.  Cecil’s and my first date was at the Olive Garden.  I don’t think I Knew it was a date.  After seventy-six years I had given up any such idea.  I just thought we were two old, and I do mean old, friends getting together for dinner.

Much to my great surprise, and not a little terror, I began to understand that, after all these years, God had sent this precious man, a man who loved me, into my life.  I was no longer alone.  Tamping down my fear, and giving up to love, we married.

Those five months were oh, so sweet for the two of us.  Five Months! Then Cecil was gone.  WHY?  I don’t know why.  Having walked with God all these years, I could say, “It was God’s will,” and I’m sure it was, but then there’s another, “WHY?”  After I had waited so long, after we had been married such a short time, why did God WILL to take Cecil away? 

It was beyond my understanding.  To this day I don’t understand it.  In the beginning, in the midst of my grief, I vowed that I would one day question God, and demand an answer for my loss.  However, I realize that, when I stand before Him, it won’t matter anymore.  My loss will have been forgotten.

In this life, we all face many things that are beyond our understanding—both the good and the bad.  As human beings, we like to think that we are able to understand everything, but that is not the case.  There are just some things beyond our comprehension.

I just read about Stephen M. Barr, who is a theoretical physicist.  He is researching Grand Unified Theories and Baryogenesis and the Flipped Scheme of Unification. I don’t have any idea what any of that means, and—(Just so you know, I read about Stephen Barr because, as a scientist, He believes that science and faith can coexist, and that modern scientific discoveries are compatible with religion.) there’s so much more that is beyond my understanding.

I don’t understand this computer that I sit before at the moment, and I have used it for years.  I am always amazed that somewhere inside this thing are the answers to any kind of question I wish to ask.  Oh, I know it was programmed that way, but how in the world did the guys that programmed it know what I need to know?

It is not, however, my lack of knowledge and understanding of this technological age that bothers me.  In fact, recently a youngster offered to help me navigate some new computer program, but I said, “No, I don’t want to learn anything else,” and I didn’t at that moment.  At the age of 85, that’s my prerogative.

It is the unsolvable problems that occur and the unexpected situations that arise in my  everyday life that stymies us.  This pandemic that, in one year, has changed every area of our lives is surely beyond understanding.  BUT!  God is in control, and I know that He knows what is going on.  He sees and understands the whole sorry mess.  That is what keeps me going.

Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Job was a man who suffered many unexpected things losing everything even his health.    He knew that troubles come to men, but he certainly did not understand why he suffered this trial, and he told God so.  But he determined early on in his trials that he would seek God, and commit all to Him.  Why?  Because he knew God did great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number.

The Message says it this way.  Job 5:8-9, “If I were in your shoes, I’d go straight to God.  I’d throw myself on the mercy of God.  After all, he’s famous for great and unexpected acts, there’s no end to his surprises.”

Seem to me that is great advice.  I don’t know what incomprehensible trial you are facing today.  It’s all right to be honest with God.  Like Job, tell him how you feel.  Then, knowing He is in control, cast all your care on Him, for it is He who does great, unexpected, marvelous things.  

Just as our trials are beyond understanding, so also are the wondrous things He does for those who love Him.  Not because we deserve it, but because He is a God of mercy.

I am determined to depend upon Him even in the darkest of times.

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

BY DIVINE DESIGN

In a 1956 “I LOVE LUCY” episode, after going to a fashion show of all chic Parisian styles, Lucy decided she must have a Jacque Marcel dress.  Ricky refused and Lucy went on a hunger strike.  After three days Ricky gave in and bought the dress, but when he found that the hunger strike was a hoax, he took the dress back and had another made of burlap potato sacks with a phony Jacque Marcel label.  Lucy, believing it to be authentic, wore it out in public, and of course with T.V. magic the burlap dress became the rage.

It is amazing how the label of a particular designer can bring hundreds if not thousands of dollars for one simple dress, while an identical “knockoff” costs only $79.00.

It is estimated that the global luxury goods market will reach $445 Billion by 2025.  Too rich for me and most others!

My mother did most of the designing when I was growing up.  She saw a little dress at J.C. Penney’s, but it wasn’t just right, and she couldn’t afford it anyway, so she came home and made the desired changes.  Then she stood me in the middle of the floor, and with a newspaper, she cut a pattern to fit me.  She always created a sweet little dress with lace, rickrack or some other embellishment—a dress I adored.  Me?  What did I know at the age of five, or seven, or ten?  I didn’t know the difference between Mama’s design and that of Gucci, Chanel, or Dior.

Actually, I’m kind of like my Mama.  I do some designing of my own.  Invariably, when I buy clothing at the department store, I bring it home and remake it.  The sleeves are not right, I don’t like the collar, it needs to be nipped in at the waist, and so on. 

People ooh and aw over the wonderful creations of Balenciago, Armani, and Prada labeling them as “Divine.”   We use the word divine like an ordinary adjective.  We speak of a divine piece of clothing, or furniture or even a piece of pie.  Yes, the dictionary also defines the word divine as “supremely good, superb, or heavenly—God like.”  To me, the word “Divine” relates only to God.  I have never designed or created anything in my life that was divine.

I do, however, remember trying to design my own life.  From childhood I knew God had a plan for me, but I didn’t know what He wanted, nor did I know how to find out.  So, I made my own plans—according to my own design.  I decided to become a teacher, and I did.  I was good at it, but all the time I was training and teaching, I felt a deep down sadness.  My design was flawed in some way.  At least that’s what I thought.

When God showed me that He wanted me in full time ministry, I was willing, but with a broken heart, I cried buckets full of tears apologizing to God over and over for the time I had wasted just messing with kids.

Guess what!  No time was wasted.  All along, God had been at work directing my life even when I was unaware.  He was the one who prompted me to become a teacher.  He was the one who kept me faithful through those disappointing years for He knew I needed that training and experience in order to accomplish what He had determined I should do.  It was all part of His “DIVINE DESIGN.” 

When I boarded the plan for Brussels, Belgium, on August 25, 1975, all the puzzle pieces slid effortlessly into place.  I was going to Europe, at God’s bidding, to minister the gospel to children in many places and in many ways.  All those years I had been preparing for this without even knowing, but God knew for He had looked deep into my heart and saw the yearning to serve Him.  I would never have accomplished anything without those years of training and experience.  For the next forty years God added pieces to the puzzle and details to His design.  There was never a boring moment following God’s “DIVINE DESIGN,” nor was there ever any regret.

God is the master designer of all ages.  Look around you at His creation.  From nothing God designed and spoke into existence the wonders of this world.  Think what He can make of your life.  You may never be able to afford one of the “Divine” creations of Yves Saint Laurent, but you can enjoy a life designed by God Himself.

In Matthew 4:19, Jesus speaking to His disciples, many of whom were fishermen, said, “…Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 

Jesus echos that invitation to you today.  “Follow me,” He says, “And I will make you…”  He will make you according to His “DIVINE DESIGN.”  It is unique—made just for you.  There is no other like it.  Oh, the roads you will travel, the unexpected experiences that will come your way, and the accomplishments you will realize as you submit to His “DEVINE DESIGN.”  

THINK OF IT!  YOU CAN HAVE THE MASTER DESIGNER’S LABEL ON YOUR LIFE.

TRY IT.  YOU WILL NEVER BE SORRY.

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

FEARING TOMORROW

My Mom was a worrier.  Worry was as much a part of her as breathing.  Her worry lost her many hours of needed sleep.

Mama worried most about her kids.  I was a little girl during the Second World War, but I had three big Sailor brothers who were in the thick of the conflict.  No one will ever know the agony mama suffered.  She was a Godly woman, who prayed diligently for her boys, but still she worried.

I’ve never thought of myself as a worrier.  That’s the reason I adopted the title “Optimistic Octogenarian.”  To my understanding, age is supposed to bring greater wisdom and needed strength to stand in fearsome times, and I believe it does.  I am wiser.  I am stronger, I think, but like my Mother, I have become more of a worrier.  If I go to the grocery store, will I inadvertently contact the virus?  Will I get sick before I can get the vaccine?  Being older and alone, what will I do when I can no longer care for myself?  Actually, I am wasting precious mental energy on things that will probably never happen.

Remember Y2K, the terrible doom that hovered over us in 1999?  It all had something to do with computers.  We were told that, at midnight on December 31, the whole world, everything necessary for life, would come to a screeching halt.  It all seems silly now because nothing catastrophic happened, and we greeted a new millennium without a hitch.

Now over twenty years later we’re facing a time of crisis such as I have never known. Last winter we all thought this pandemic would be over in a couple of months.  Now we are entering a second year of uncertainty.  

During the fearful days of World War II, America banded together, as one, to fight the enemy.  Now we are fighting each other tooth and toenail.  We are in a new and unexplored territory.  We can’t pretend that life is normal, and none of us knows what is ahead.

Anxiety and fear of tomorrow are inevitable in times like these. When we consider the billions in this world who have no fixed axis, no hope to cling to, and knowing that anxiety is irrational and nothing can banish unnecessary worry, still we are anxious and afraid.

Charles Spurgeon is quoted as saying, “Our anxieties do not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, it only empties today of its strength and joy.”

During the great depression in 1933, in his inaugural address, President Franklin Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”   That’s the sadness of it all.  Fear begets fear, and fear never changes tomorrow or anything else.

We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but God does, and He cares for each of one of us with a personal and individualizing love.  When our panic wants to rise, and fear threatens to consume us, we tend to forget what God has done for us in the past, how He has met our needs, sent messengers of hope, intervened in alarming impossible situations, and brought peace to our troubled soul.  Looking back, we can trace God’s providential hand.  Remembering God’s goodness, peace and calmness is possible even in the midst of Covid’s reign of fear, because He is in control!  

In Isaiah 51:12-13, God says to us, “…I am He who comforts you, so why are you afraid of men who are made like grass and have forgotten your maker who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth…”

In essence He says, “Who do you think you are worrying like that?

In Matthew 6:34 (The Message) we read, “Give your entire attention to What God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.  God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

God is not speaking of what we call the simple accidents or misfortunes of life, but of the troubling things with which we have to contend daily.  He is saying that the present day has enough trouble already without conjuring up a further problem.

Isaiah 43:1-3, a marvelous promise, “…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name. You are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned.  For I am the Lord your God…”  He has all the bases covered.

Stop thinking you know what the future holds and trust God to take care of tomorrow.              He is already there!

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

FACING REALITY

 

Life is a series of situations in which you don’t get what you want.  At some point you begin to realize that you’ll never have what you hoped for.  That’s reality!  And it must be faced if there is any possibility of moving on.

Like most little girls, I dreamed of marrying and having gurgling babies.  Actually, I never had a serious boyfriend growing up.  Oh, I was in love with Keith and David and Irwin.  They were, of course, unaware.  In college, I was engaged to a handsome boy, who would have decimated my life had I married him, but I still clung to the hope of being married one day.  In fact, I even set time limits.  Surely I would find someone before I reached my thirtieth birthday.  But I didn’t!

As a young adult, I used to sing to the Lord, “I’ll go where you want me to go.  I’ll say what you want me to say.  I’ll be what you want me to be,” but there was always a contingency. “I’ll do anything you ask, Lord, but I can’t do it alone.”

I wanted a husband.  He didn’t have to be rich or even handsome.  I just needed someone to love and someone who would love me back, someone with whom I could share life.  

The day finally came when I had to face reality.  I was alone!  Perhaps it was God’s will. I didn’t like it, but it was true.  Not admitting it wouldn’t make it go away, and admitting it wouldn’t make it any worse.  I had a choice.  I could sit back and mope, feel sorry for myself, and accuse God of being unfair.  I could live in despair the rest of my life or I could experience life for what it is and stop wishing for a different existence.  Nothing good comes from resisting reality.

Yes, I was alone, and I had a choice to make, and I made it.  I refused to be stuck in a miasma of self-pity and bitterness.  I decided to move on—to follow God’s plan for my life.  I learned how to be alone, and I did a good job at it.  For more than forty years, at God’s call, I traveled the world ministering in many places to people of many nationalities.  Life was good. 

In these intervening years, I have faced reality numerous times always choosing to move on.

  Eleven years ago I retired at the age of seventy-four.  I found a church, new friends, and became involved in a teaching ministry.  Life was still good.

However, this past year with this pandemic, my aloneness has been magnified in a way that I have not felt since the days of my longing for a husband.  Being alone is one thing, when you can go and come as you please.  Being alone, without choice, is something else entirely. 

I decided that I must have something in this house that moves and breathes and makes noise.  Some of you know that, without thinking things through, I chose to buy a puppy.  I could just imagine the fun we would have—no more being alone.

Now I am facing another reality—a life altering reality.  I have always contended that age is only a number, that the mind and the heart (the inner you) determines age.  I still believe that, and for most of my life, my physical being has kept up with my mental age.  That is no longer true.  Having just past my 85th birthday, I am beginning to admit that I don’t move as fast as I used to, that there are a few more aches and pains, that I am not always steady on my feet, and I am fearful of falling.

My puppy, Tobi, is currently in boarding school.  My nephew and his wife volunteered to potty train him, teach him to walk on a leash, and stop destroying everything, including me, with his sharp little teeth.  So now he lives, temporarily, at their house.  Obedience classes come next.

My nephew has determined that Tobi is an Australian Shepherd/Poodle mix.  He will not be a 15 pound adult as I expected, but more likely, he will weigh 35-40 pounds. They are afraid that, regardless of what we do, I will not be able to take care of him.

I am afraid that regardless of what we do, I will not be able to take care of him!  Coming home from visiting, I couldn’t really explain how I felt, but I didn’t feel right.  I finally recognized a lingering feeling of fatigue and disappointment, and perhaps the edge of depression.    

For the first time in my life I felt old.  It is hard for me to record that on paper, but remember, we are talking about facing reality.  

One reality is that, perhaps I waited too long for the puppy I always wanted.  I am still struggling with that, but I am determined to be optimistic believing that Tobi will finally be the sweet, docile companion that I long for.  I’m never going to feel differently about wanting a puppy.  It is the possible disappointment that I may have to learn to live with.

Physically, I am growing older.  That is the greater reality that I must own.  That is the truth that I must now deal with.   If I avoid the truth, I will miss the chance to grow and life will become harder.  So I’m looking at the truth with eyes wide open determined to do whatever is necessary to live with this truth.  It is amazing the effect this puppy has already had on my life.

Perhaps there is a reality in your life that is too hard to face.  It is easier to ignore it than to suffer the pain.  You feel that life isn’t fair and you don’t deserve this.  That may be true, but you will never move forward until you face reality.  Own the truth.  Ask God to help you see everything as it really is.  Then ask Him to show you the next step.  Your situation is not too hard for God. 

God promised Sarah that she would have a baby when she was ninety years old.  Hebrews 11:11 tells us that Sarah believed God, “…because she judged Him faithful who had promised.”

1 Corinthians 16:13 admonishes us to “Watch, stand firm in the faith, be brave, be strong.”

That is my counsel today.  Stand firm.  Trust in God.  He is faithful. There is nothing too hard for Him.  After all these years God has proven to me that He can do a better job of handling my life than I can.

 

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

 

 

After all these years, I know that God does a better job at handling my life than I can.

 

THERE IS A GOD IN HEAVEN

I ordinarily start my blog with a story or something that I have experienced.  That experience usually gives me a jumping off place for the nugget of truth that has been bouncing around in my noggin.

However, after listening a bit to news commentators talking about a second presidential impeachment, I find myself sitting here agonizing over the question, “How did our great nation, how did proud America come to such ruin?”  Now, you may think me over dramatic.  You make think me an alarmist, but I am looking at our country with eyes wide open, and what I see is heartbreaking.

How did we arrive at this seemingly insoluble conundrum?  It didn’t happen overnight.  Where did we go astray?

One morning recently, during my devotions, I read the 16th chapter of the book of Ezekiel.  The prophet records for us, in a nutshell, the history of Israel from its inception to its Babylonian captivity and its exile in other nations.  

In Egypt, Israel was likened to an exposed, uncared for infant, whom no one pitied.  She was doomed for destruction, but God looked upon her with kindness and tender affection.  He rescued her from death, saying “Live!”  Through the centuries, He multiplied this straggling band of 70 until they grew into a great kingdom.  

He made a covenant with Israel, and became her God and she His people.  He beautified and adorned her clothing her with fine linen and silk.  He placed a shining crown upon her head, and fed her with abundance.  He raised her from poor beginnings to a place of great reputation and renown, but when Israel had grown to maturity, she forgot that all she had and all she had become was a gift from God.

She grew proud and forgot her humble beginnings.  She looked on her glory as her own.  She recognized and adopted the worship of every heathen nation that offered alliance.  She no longer needed God.

Because of her sin and disobedience, God allowed her to be taken into captivity where she remained for 70 years, while her homeland lay desolate.  Never has she regained her greatness living a troubled existence for centuries.  But, God has not forgotten His covenant with Israel.

Ezekiel 16:60-62, God’s promise to Israel, “Nevertheless I will remember…and I will establish my covenant with you.  Then you will know that I am the Lord.”

I cannot help but draw a very close parallel between the early history of the Nation of Israel and that of our own beloved United States of America.  Think of our humble beginnings. Trying to survive in an uncharted wilderness, we depended upon God, who saw us through those impossible years.  I am convinced of!  It was God who caused us to multiply and prosper and grow into a great nation—a nation of great repute and renown—a nation admired—a world leader.

Why, because we included God in our lives.  He was essential to our daily living.  O, I know that many people did not follow God nor even believe in Him, but for most of the history of this country we lived and judged by Godly standards. Values, society and institutions were largely shaped by Christian and Biblical principles.  Without God there could be no American form of Government, nor an American way of life.

Our founding fathers separated church from state, but they did not separate God from state.  We are the ones who have pushed God to the sideline.  As we grew and prospered, we became proud crediting ourselves for our own success.   Growing proud, we forgot our humble beginnings.  We forgot that all we have and all we have become is a gift from God.

Leaders in our country today would like to erase or rewrite our history, but when we leave God out trouble multiplies and pandemonium reigns.  As He dealt with Israel, when she rejected Him, I believe God is now dealing with us allowing the unheard of, dangerous, destructive uproar in our nation, because of our arrogant disobedience and rejection of Him.

As a language student in Brussels, Belgium many years ago, I mingled with young people from all over the world.  Almost, without exception, those students longed for the day they could immigrate to the USA.  They would have gladly given up their own citizenship to become an American citizen.  I wonder now what people from other nations are thinking of the chaos in which we find ourselves.

I do not know the end result of all of this.  I do not know what will become of America, but I do know God is faithful to those who love, obey, and serve Him faithfully.  As with Israel, He has made a covenant with us.  

In Revelation 2:10 He assures us, “Do not fear any of those things you are about to suffer…Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Hang in there, my friends.  THERE IS A GOD IN HEAVEN and He is still in control.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

HOW DO YOU “UNBUY” A PUPPY

When I retired more than ten years ago, I wanted three things—a piano, a hot tub, and a puppy.  Shortly after I moved back to Arizona, I bought a piano, and for some reason the hot tub no longer appealed to me, but I never lost my desire for a puppy.  I have always loved dogs, but because I was forever on the go, I settled for loving someone else’s, my brother’s “Snug,” and my sister’s “Petey.”

For ten years now I have, from time to time, seriously considered finding a dog, but just never got around to it.  However, this pandemic, self quarantining, and serious physical problems drastically increased my feelings of aloneness.  I thought how good it would be to have something else in this house that moves and breathes and makes noise—someone to miss me when I am gone and be glad when I come home—someone to love, hold, and cuddle.

So, ten days ago, without a lot of consideration, particularly consideration of my physical limitations, I bought a little eight weeks old black poodle—black with grey and white markings.  He is absolutely gorgeous!  My brother, who is here for the holidays, did nothing to discourage my thoughtless decision.  After buying all the necessary paraphernalia at Pet Smart, we brought our beautiful little black boy home, and reality set in.  TOBI was NOT trained for the Potty Pad, and my Belgian rugs were in peril. His little teeth and claws are sharper than a darner’s needle and I have seven visible wounds to prove it.  Obviously, his owner had not been up front with her information.

My brother, who has fallen in love with this tiny mite, could spend every waking hour cuddling, playing and taking him out for a pee-pee, and I?  I have discovered that I do not move fast enough to scoop him up before he pees or poops on the floor.  When I do take TOBI out I am afraid of falling, and so on.  I have decided that I was out of my mind when I bought this sweet little creature.  My brother and all his help will be gone in a few days.  Then what will I do?  I can’t “UNBUY” him.  He is mine for better or for worse.  Some days I think I can manage him, and some days I am sure that I cannot.

Some decisions are reversible, but let’s face it!  We all, at some time or another, make decisions that we cannot unmake.  There are certain decisions some of us would rewind or delete if we could, but I can’t just throw Tobi out with the garbage.  I can’t ignore him.  He is a little being that needs feeding, loving, and nurture.  So, I have decided I will own my decision, because avoiding bad decisions is not the objective; owning them is.

I will admit that this decision was an emotional one, which came mostly from my heart.  When I saw this tiny black pup, all objectivity escaped me.  I just wanted to scoop him up and take him home, and that’s what I did.

I did not question myself before I decided to decide.  I did not consider the consequences nor think about the worst and best things that could happen.  Never once did I think about the changes this decision would create.

In the moment, it seemed I had made the right call, but now that the impact has set in, I realize that my judgment was cloudy.  Now, I am facing the cold, hard facts. I am not physically able to keep up with energetic little Tobi.  It is difficult to clean up the pee-pee and poop, and taking him out in the middle of the night is doubly difficult.

So!  What to do?  I cried all day yesterday, at the thought of giving him up.  How can I put him in the arms of a stranger?  

After much thought and a sleepless night, I have arrived at a temporary plan.  I will work diligently with his potty training, and teach him to tolerate the leash.  I will enroll him in an obedience training class, and I will be extra, extra careful, when I take him outside.  I should know before long whether or not this plan is working.  If not, I will entrust him to someone who will love him as much as I do.

I will make the best of the situation I have created.  The results are yet to be seen.  The Jury is still out.

Right now, you may be living through the last really bad decision you made.  Don’t beat yourself up over it.  While you can’t go back in time and change your choice, you can face the hard, cold facts, and make the best of the situation you have created.  And, you can make this situation a stepping stone to wiser future decisions.

Luke 14:28 (The Message) says, “Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it?  If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish.  Everyone passing by will poke fun at you. ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’”

Good Counsel:  Do some serious thinking before making your decision.  What will be the outcome of your choice?

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

GIVING WITH ALL YOUR HEART

Kohl’s Department store is airing a commercial, “Giving with All Your Heart.” It is the story of a lonely, isolated, bored little girl, who strikes up a friendship, through her window, with an elderly woman across the way.  The question posed is, “Will you be my friend?”  It is easy to see that the hearts of these two are fully engaged.  They are each offering warmth and love and regard for each other—the best gift that anyone can offer or receive.

I love buying or making gifts for others, and I sorrow that my list has dwindled drastically through the years.  Many family members are gone, and old friends my age have decided mutually that we can no longer afford it, so we have settled for loving one another over the phone.  I keep my eyes open all year for gifts that will make loved ones smile.  I also listen carefully to find what they are longing for.  I spent hours yesterday afternoon wrapping and beautifying my packages.  O, I know gift bags are now the thing, but a beautiful package is part of the gift, and says, “I really do value you.”

          Christmas is a time for giving.  That’s really what Christmas is all about, but it is not as simple as it sounds.  This year, in particular, a good deal of our shopping is done online.  I’m not really an online shopper—for I like to see and handle the things I buy, before I put my money down.  So, last week I went to a department store for the first time since February.  I was excited to go, but somewhat disappointed in what I found.  I went looking for pretty things, even sort of dressy things, but mostly I found sweatshirts, t-shirts, and laid-back stuff. Often, when we don’t find what we want immediately, stress and time limitation tempt us into buying just anything.

When it comes to gift giving, it is easy to give cash, gift cards, or something trendy.  However, that is not the hallmark of giving from the heart, but of obligation.  Giving from the heart means making someone else a priority.

There has been an example of that kind of giving setting on my buffet for forty-five years.  My first Christmas and birthday in Brussels, in 1975, was difficult for me.  Having been in country for less than four months, I was just beginning to adjust to a new life.  Then Christmas loomed on the horizon, and I didn’t know how I would survive without my family. 

One day, shopping with my roommate, I fell in love with a little “English Royal Crown Derby” bone china bird.  He is blue, white and gold, not three inches long from bill to tail. I oohed and aahed and longed for that little beauty, but English Royal Crown anything was too expensive for a rooky missionary, so I reluctantly left him behind.  Imagine my surprise and joy when I opened that small package on my birthday, three days after Christmas, and found that delicate little bird.  My roommate didn’t have any more money than I had—it was a gift from the heart. 

Giving from the heart means putting thought and effort behind the gift.  It really is the thought that counts.  We need a mind with a heart.  We need to let our feelings shine through, and guide us to giving something special, and “special” doesn’t necessarily mean grand and expensive. Give because you want to.  Give out of an expression deep within. That’s what my roommate did.

Scientific studies show that giving from the heart without strings attached or expecting something in return results in the release of hormones such as Oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle hormone.” The ability to give freely produces in us a sense of health and happiness and overall well being.  In contrast, giving with expectations of getting something in return can leave us suffering pain, stress and feelings of separation.

Giving with all your heart means giving with love.

That’s what God did.  Love is the basic substance of God.  “God so loved that He gave His only son,” the first Christmas gift.  And Jesus gave His life, so that I might have the gift of life.  What marvelous examples in loving and giving!

Luke 10:27 tells us what we may do to show our gratitude, “…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  If we love God that way, then we belong to Him completely.

Loving God and loving our neighbor is basic to our existence.  Neighbors are not always easy to love, but God said we are to love even our enemies.  Real love values the differences, and uniqueness of others.  We talk about, sing about, and write about love all the time, but how do we love our neighbor as ourselves? 

We love our neighbor by giving of ourselves.  We give our time, our energy, our help, our substance, and our love to those who are hurting and in need.  

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, “…in as much as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me.” In a very real way, every small act of service, kindness, thoughtfulness, and caring that we do for someone else is an act of loving God.

This Christmas I want to give as God gives.  I want to give with all my heart both to God and to others.  Instead of stress, frustration, and depleted energy, I want to experience the JOY OF GIVING!

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

THANKFUL, OH REALLY?

I am almost certain that everything that can be written about Thanksgiving has already been written.

O, people will meet together, if they are allowed.  They will eat turkey and watch football games, but in this Pandemic year, where we have lost loved ones, homes, jobs, and are perhaps struggling to keep food on the table, many will find little for which to be thankful. 

We have been left numb and dazed wondering how much worse things can be.  

I heard a story yesterday about a sweet little bird that sang all the time.  One day, while vacuuming, the lady of the house accidently sucked the little bird into the vacuum.  Frantically she unzipped the bag and fished out the little warbler covered with dust.  Running to the sink she turned on the cold water and washed the dust away.  By then the poor bird was shivering   violently, so she grabbed the noisy hair dryer and dried him off.  What trauma for such a tiny creature!

When asked how the little bird was doing, his owner said, “Well, he doesn’t sing much anymore.  He just sits there and stars off into space.”

Like that little bird, you may feel as though you have been sucked into a great, dark place covered with the ugliness of life.  Life, as we have known it, has changed drastically, and most likely will not return to the normal that we have enjoyed for so long.  Perhaps, you have experienced so many catastrophes this year that you have lost your song.  Now, you are just staring into the future wondering what in the world will happen next.

A friend, a friend who has suffered much this year, said to me, “You know 2020 is going to become a swear word.”

Not understanding I questioned him.  

“Oh,” he said.  2020 has been such a disastrous year that in the future, when one thinks of it, he will only want to swear.”

I felt sad for my friend, and for all of us.  I hate this pandemic and the things that have transpired as much as anyone.  I hate being alone most of the time.  I hate that some of my acquaintances have sickened and died.  I hate being separated from my suffering sister.  And I long for the day I can leave my house without feeling at risk.  I want it all to be over as much as you do.

However, looking back on this year from a perspective of one, two or ten years, I believe we will be able to see the good things that have taken place.  Think of the beautiful, healthy babies that were born this year, the Sweethearts that have found each other, the families that have rediscovered themselves, the kindness and generosity of neighbor to neighbor, the food banks that have spread feasts on empty tables, and the doctors and nurses and other first responders who have helped to save lives.  Then there are those who, in this time of need, have come to trust in Christ.  What could be better than that?

I know!  I know!  You can find a negative for all these things I have mentioned, but let’s quit looking at the negative for a little while and concentrate on the blessing remembering above all, that regardless of the way things look now, God, who loves us passionately, is still in control.

Truth is this world, and yes our own country, is not a very welcoming place today.  Those of us who have openly declared ourselves to be followers of Christ sometime imagine that we are exempt from hurts and bad things.  We think, “If I do everything right, bad things won’t happen to me.”  Of course that is not the case.  We all live in a sinful world, and often suffer the same sorrows no matter how good we are.

Matthew 5:45 tells us, “He (God) makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.”

We need to look a little closer to find again our thankfulness.  Sometimes we can’t see the trees for the forest.  The BAD looms so gigantic before us that we fail to see the GOOD.  Each morning, when I ask God’s blessing on my breakfast, I first thank Him for “this new day.”  For I realize that, at the age of eighty-five, everyday that I live is a divine gift.

In Psalm 90:10, Moses said, “The days of our lives are seventy years…” There is the belief that God has allotted to us 70 years to live here on this earth, and if we live longer it is a gift from Him.  So, according to this I have had 15 gifted years.  I cherish them all and long for more.

People, who have no time for God, fail to give Him credit for anything not knowing that He wills every breath they breathe and every day they live.

In memory of the Pilgrims we set aside one day each year, and call it Thanksgiving.  To my way of thinking, everyday should be a day of Thanksgiving.

Psalm 100:2-4, “Come before His presence with singing.  Know that the Lord He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.  Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise.  Be thankful unto Him and bless His name.”

In the middle of this pandemic, you can learn a new song, a song of praise and thanks to God for so many gifts that we enjoy everyday.

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

 

TRY, TRY AGAIN

If at first, you don’t succeed,

Try, try again…

This well-known proverb is traced back to 1840, and is credited to Thomas H. Palmer, an American educator.  However, the adage was popularized by Edward Hickson in his morals song.

Then your courage should appear,

For if you will persevere, 

You will conquer, never fear.

Try again.

If we strive, ‘tis no disgrace,

Though we did not win the race.

If you find your task is hard,

Try again.

Legend says that the essence of this expression has its roots long before this date.  Robert the Bruce, a 14th-century king of Scotland, after suffering a major defeat at the hands of the English, went into a cave to hide and lick his wounds.  While there, he watched a spider try to spin a web.  Each time the spider failed, it simply started again.  Robert was so inspired by the little arachnid that he left the cave and lead his troops in a series of victories against England.

How often have you been advised to “try again?”  “Just try again,” Mama said.  “Try again,” your teacher encouraged.

Some years back, when I was being prepared for surgery, a sweet little nurse attempted to slip a needle into my arm in order to open a portal for anesthesia and other medication.  She must have tried six or eight times.  Each time was more painful, and each time she apologized. 

When her supervisor came by to check on her, he asked, “Do you want to try again?”  

“No, she doesn’t,” I said.  I know she had to keep trying, but not on me.

Remember when you were learning to tie your shoes?  You tried and tried and tried again.  At times, you probably wanted to give up, but you kept trying.

Remember when you were learning to write?  You clasped that fat pencil in your little hand, and clenched your tongue between your teeth, and tried desperately to trace the letters perfectly.  It was hard, but you kept trying.

Maybe you remember when you were learning to drive with that old stick shift.  It was hard to shift gears without stalling, but you tried again and again.

Someone has said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  Then stop.  No use being goofy about it.”  Some people feel that way.  After a couple of tries, they just give up, but you kept trying, because you wanted to succeed.

I admit that we do not all succeed to the same degree.  We seldom reach perfection in most things we attempt.  Some of us are born with certain talents—musical, artistic, technical.  If given opportunity, those with talent excel in a particular field, but they do not, overnight, progress from being talented to becoming a virtuoso.  There’s a lot of trying before perfection is reached.

All of us struggle with certain things in our lives.  Though, I had piano lessons, and I can read the music, and I know the fundamentals, still my playing is sort of at the beginner’s level.  Yes, I am sure that had I tried harder, I would be better at it, but I am also sure that I have no real talent for it.  However, I must be careful that I don’t use that as a cop out for everything.

I believe we struggle most in our spiritual development.  As we develop spiritually, our lives become increasingly aligned with God’s truth and purpose for us.  Soul, spirit, mind and strength are transformed, and we begin to understand what God’s good, pleasing and perfect will is.  Then what do we do?

If you are a true follower of Christ, you will desire to please Him.  So we ask, “What does it take to be a good person?  The answer is simple.  Obey God. That’s where we get into trouble.  We want to, but we don’t want to.  We want our own way, but God has certain statutes that serve as guidelines for our behavior.  He has commandments that He expects us to live by

Psalm 19:8-11, “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes…more to be desired are they than gold… And in keeping them there is great reward.” 

So, we try to please God.  We try to keep His commands, but what do we do when we are tempted and we fail?  And we do fail!  So we start over like the little spider.  We try again, and again, and again, and with each try we become a little stronger until we are victorious.

James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he is approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

In Revelation 3:10, Jesus promises, “Because you have kept my command to persevere, (because you never gave up, because you kept on trying) I also will keep you from the hour of trial…”

Understand!  Jesus didn’t leave us with a bunch of rules and then desert us.  NO! 

We have His promise in Isaiah 41:10. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, yes I will help you.  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

So, take a lesson from that tenacious little spider.  If he can spin a web, so can you.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

TAKING SHORTCUTS

Don’t you love shortcuts?  At some point in our lives, we have all tried them.  And of course, if one is available, why not?  They are amazing!  Naturally, we want things to be easier, faster and better, but shortcuts don’t guarantee success.

Near the end of a two day drive from Fort Worth, Texas I decided to take a shortcut.  I was only fifty or sixty miles from home, but after covering over one thousand miles, I just wanted to get there.  The sky was dark and rain threatened, so the shortcut sounded like a good idea.  Decision made, I left Interstate 10, and started cross country. Whether or not I missed a turn I do not know, but only a few miles into this adventure, I found myself on an unpaved road.  Not only was it unpaved but it was muddy and full of ruts.  The wind was boisterous, and before I knew it, I was attacked by an army of Tumbleweeds, some of them nearly as high as the car.

Tumbleweeds are plants that flourish in dry regions (Arizona).  Some grow to be more than 6 feet tall.  They are tumbled or blown about by the wind, and where there is one there is a battalion.  Swerving time after time to miss the onslaught, I was fortunate to avoid an accident.  Then the rain came in torrents, and those final miles home took twice as long as the ordinary route.  So much for my shortcut!

In my Home Economics Class in High School, I remember taking other shortcuts.  My Mother had taught me to sew on her old treadle sewing machine when I was eight.  By the time I was a teen, I was making some of my own clothes.  So, I didn’t have time for all the steps required by my sewing teacher nor, I thought, did I need them.  

After cutting out my dress, it was necessary to pin all the seams together, and baste (sew) them by hand before I could sew them on the machine.  I couldn’t be bothered by all that, so I pinned, and sewed, leaving out the basting.  My teacher was very unhappy with me.  Actually my dress turned out beautifully, but not my grade.  By taking a short cut, I forfeited an “A,” and I never did like “B’s.”

Someone has said, “If you take shortcuts, you get cut short.” 

I have come to believe that.  Short cuts may seem profitable in the short term, but there are no shortcuts to anyplace worth going.

Short cuts are human nature.  We painstakingly seek out the shortest route from point A to point Z, without considering the consequences. Then we look for loopholes in order to justify our actions.  We deliberately take actions that can, and ultimately will cause harm to us.  Why are we willing to risk it all to save time?  Can a few minutes or a few hours be that important?  Think of it!  If seven billion people on this earth take short cuts, it’s easy to see why so many bad things happen each day.

We cut corners because it is easy.  “Why make your bed, when no one sees it?”  The belief that we can rely on shortcuts to happiness, joy, rapture, comfort and prosperity leaves a multitude of people, rich or poor, starving spiritually.  For shortcuts not only cause physical harm, but also mental anguish, disruption of life, and family stress.

Someone has said, “All of life is like a dress rehearsal.”  We are all being watched.  The old song says, “There’s an all seeing eye watching you.”  God sees and weighs our actions.  He tests us to see how responsible we really are.  Our lives are a simple conglomerate of all the little things we do each day.  How we do the small things is, inevitably, how we do the big things.

We may risk shortcuts on the job, or in every day chores, but there is no shortcut to a relationship with God or the gift of eternal life with Him.

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  

Isaiah 30: 21 tells us, “Your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.”

Matthew 7:13-14 carefully describes the way, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

In His Word, God is saying to us, “No matter how hard you try, your own way will not work.  It will only lead to death.  I show you my way.  When you are tempted to go this way or that way, walk in my way.  The gate is narrow and the way will be difficult, but it leads to life everlasting.  

Don’t look for shortcuts to God.

Be assured.  He will always be there to support and encourage you to make the right choices.

REMEMBER THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!