Monday, January 2, 2017

Perspective

Happy New Year!

As 2016 was coming to an end, I spent some time thinking about things, as I am sure we all do. I had some thoughts about how much our lives are shaped by our perspective.

First, there is what I am calling the mirror vs. window perspective. Viewing our life like we are looking in a mirror isn't always bad. It is important to examine ourselves from time to time; however, it can also make things look bigger than they are. And no matter what, when we look in a mirror, we can't see any further than our reflection. It is easy, when looking in a mirror, to get stuck on every little thing we don't like. That blemish (problem) looks bigger every time we look at it. It never seems to go away, and the more we try to cover it up, the more we notice it. When we look into a mirror, it is nearly impossible to focus on anything other than ourselves.

This year, as I was driving one day, it hit me. When we view life through a window, we look outward. We can focus on the needs of others, the love of others, the beauty of others. When we can tear ourselves away from the mirror and look out the window, our perspective is totally transformed. When we can't see those "blemishes" we don't focus on them. That does not mean the "blemish" isn't there; it doesn't mean that we should not take steps to take care of the "blemish." It just means we don't allow the "blemish" to control us. When we look through the window, we find other things to focus on.

Second, there are those false perspectives that we form by watching others. Many people fault social media for these false perspectives. We look at the pictures of others, the posts of others, and we assume we know the whole story. How many of us really put it all out there on social media, and how do we really feel about those who do? Social media is just that--social--but it is easy to get wrapped up in all that we see. However, it is not just social media that can create these false perspectives. I mean, think about it, the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses" has been around long before social media. We can develop a false perspective just by observing someone at church, at work or in the neighborhood. We can look at the car they drive, the clothes they wear, and so many other things and draw all kinds of conclusions.

We can draw conclusions and make assumptions that lead us to believe we are too different to be friends. We can look at another person and believe their life is better than ours, less difficult than ours. It is so easy to believe erroneous information about other people, and it can prevent people from getting to know one another. When I look at another mom and only see the good stuff, I can allow myself to feel like I don't measure up. When I see another family having what looks to be a perfect night out at dinner, I can start wishing that my family dinner could be as nice as theirs. And on and on. The truth is, we don't know what goes on inside anyone else's home. I am pretty sure we all do it, though. we allow our perspective of others to be skewed by our assumptions, which, in turn, skews our perspective of our own lives! It is definitely a vicious cycle.

Finally, we must be careful about how much we allow our perspective to control our lives. I know I have said this before, and I will say it again and again because I think it is so important. Everyone has stuff. Some people put all their stuff out there, but most of the time, people keep their stuff hidden, their embarrassing stuff, their hurtful stuff--anything that they believe would make them look like less to others. The truth of the matter is that your stuff, my stuff can be helpful to others, and we can be helped by other people and their own stuff. We learn from our stuff. We grow from our stuff. And God puts people in our lives that we can help and that can help us. But if we are determined to keep all our stuff hidden, to appear to all the world like the perfect family, then we will miss out on the opportunity to serve and to be served. We need to learn not to trust our perspectives of others, at least not until we actually know them. We need to learn how to balance what we put out there. Obviously, some things are private, but when we don't share out of fear, we are cheating ourselves.

Let's be real in 2017. Let's get to know each other and discover how we can help each other. Let's remember that we aren't meant to take this journey alone. Let's share our stuff. Let's remember that we are all good at something and we all struggle with much more than anyone realizes. Let's do this thing called life and have a great year!


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Perfect Days

Wow! It has been awhile since I have posted! I guess we all know how busy life can get. I have had several ideas for posts, but sitting down to focus just has not happened--until now.

I don't know about you, but for me, most days are okay. Some are better than others. If I graphed my days with a line, there would be a line with very little variation, with an occasional high and occasional low. There are times when the lows seem to dominate, and there are times when where the line would be higher for days at a time. However, for the most part, the line would be pretty steady.

Sunday was one of those very good days, near perfect even, a definite high point on my graph. The day started with church with my family. Then we had lunch. Following lunch we had a day of Christmas decorating traditions. We picked out our new ornaments and got our tree. All the boxes came down from the attic with all the Christmas stuff. Our traditional Christmas decorating music, Kenny and Dolly's Christmas album, played on the record player--yes, you read that correctly, record player. Everyone was chipping in and involved in the process.

Once the tree and inside of the house were decorated, we went to our favorite restaurant for dinner. When we got home, we finished the night by watching Polar Express and having hot chocolate and smores.

I should probably clarify that my youngest child is 10. I have sons who are 15 and 19. Gone are the days when they didn't have options for their Sunday afternoon and evening. In fact, I knew I was going to have all of them through the decorating, but I knew my oldest child had made plans for the evening, prior to our dinner and Polar Express plans. Here is another reason it was such a special day--he canceled those plans--his choice. We were all there willingly, and we were all enjoying one another. Even my 24-year-old stepson joined us for part of the day.

I have to admit that I was overcome with emotion several times that day. We do things as a family pretty regularly, but to be all together all day with each and every one of us involved and engaged does not happen often these days. Schedules are crazy between work, school, church, and extracurricular activities. I was very thankful all day.

Later during the night, once the movie was over, I walked into the kitchen. I asked a question in a silent prayer, "Why can't every day be like this day?"
Suddenly, the answer was crystal clear. If I had Sunday every day, what would make it special? If I had Sunday every day, would I have stopped to observe, to soak in the moments? If I had Sunday every day, would I have even recognized the significance of the day? If I had Sunday every day, would I have stopped to be thankful, so very thankful?

I am sure the answer to each of those questions would be no.

Does this mean that the next time I have a bad day that I will immediately think about the good days and feel better? Nope. Probably not. But maybe, just maybe, I will remember to give thanks more often. And one thing is for sure, I will look forward to the almost perfect days, knowing that there is one somewhere around the corner.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Counting Blessings

Yesterday as I was driving around town, to this appointment and that, while thinking about the to do list waiting on me at home, I began to feel stressed. The last few weeks have been rather crazy, with a mix of both positive and negative things. As my stress level rose, I remembered something I had seen before...Too Blessed to be Stressed. Hmmmm. Then I had this thought---what if I took every item on my stress list and turned it into a blessing? Challenge accepted.
1) Stressed about all the places I have to go...appointments, kids' activities, etc--I am blessed to have a vehicle that runs and takes my children and me where we need to go when we need to be there.
2) Stressed about all those activities--I am blessed that God provides the means necessary for my children to participate in the activities they love.
3) Stressed about the condition of my house--I am blessed to have a home, a home in a nice neighborhood that I love. Sometimes, it is messier than I want it to be. But when I get the time to pick it up, it is the same house. The piles of books and shoes and dishes I haven't gotten to can't change that.
4)Stressed about those piles of shoes, etc--I am thankful for the children I have and the stuff they have to leave all over the house. Don't get me wrong. I do make them pick up after themselves, and sometimes when I realize they've all walked in and dropped everything at the front door, I am annoyed. But it really isn't something that needs to cause me stress.
5)Stressed about the books and papers--I am blessed for the privilege of homeschooling my children. Nope, you will not be seeing my home in the pages of Better Homes and Gardens anytime soon. That is okay with me. I am blessed to have what I need to teach.
6)Stressed about all the grading I have to do--Well, again, I am blessed to be able to homeschool my children. On top of that, I am blessed to be part of a co-op where I get to teach other homeschooled kids literature and grammar, which I love.
7)Stressed about my husband's car breaking down--Lots of blessings here--I am thankful that the car got him to a safe place before quitting. I am thankful my mom was available to help out with picking up the kids. I am thankful that he was able to get the car home without calling a tow truck. I am thankful that my God parents have a vehicle my husband was able to drive. I am thankful that my husband is a good "fixer" and was able to fix the car without taking it to a shop.
8)Stressed about sibling rivalry--I am blessed to have three amazing children who dearly love each other. Even though they sometimes drive me crazy with the nit picking and fussing, I know the good far outweighs the bad. I know they get along more often than not. I just have to remind myself of this fact...often,
9)Stressed about getting it all done for everyone who needs me to do anything--Whew. Tough one. The fact is I can't. I am blessed to be surrounded by people who will help me. And most importantly, I am thankful for grace. Grace from those around me when I mess up, and grace from my Heavenly father. I am thankful that I don't have to get it all done and I don't have to be all things to all people. And when I start to forget that and that stress creeps back in, I can give it all to God.
10) Stressed because I didn't have a number 10--just kidding.
My life is full of things I can be stressed about, as I am sure yours is as well. But every one of those things that stress me out comes from a blessing of one kind or another...and often lead to even more blessings. So I am trying to live with this as my motto...Too Blessed to be Stressed (feel free to remind of this when you see me about to pull my hair out).

Saturday, February 7, 2015

What have you learned today?

I dropped one son off at Tae Kwon Do, as usual, on a Friday morning. My daughter and I then headed to Chic-Fil-A for a quick visit with my other son, who works there. Driving slowly down the road, I realized the cause of the hold-up was apparently a broken down vehicle in the lane. The driver, a woman, was waving people around in an exasperated fashion.

My daughter asked what was wrong, and I explained that her car was apparently not working. Very soon after passing the car, I felt that nudging, heard that voice. You know the one. "No one has stopped to help." "You could pull over to help." "In the grand scheme of things, where you're going and what you're doing, isn't that important." I, of course, argued. "What can I do?" "It's not like I can push her car out of the way." "I am sure she has a phone and already has help on the way." Then my daughter interrupted my internal struggle with these words, "Okay, Mommy, I prayed for her."

Ouch. I pulled onto a side street and turned around. I said to my daughter, "We are going to head back and see if there is anything we can do to help. I just feel like God is telling me to go back. We might not have enough time to go see Bubby, but this is important."
From the backseat, a cheery, "Okay."

As I approached the location, I saw that she was gone. I didn't see the car anywhere. It had only been a few short minutes. Hmmm...I tried to find an explanation for my daughter, a way to explain why I would feel that nudging when the situation had obviously been resolved.

"Even though the car is gone, it is still important that we turned around because..." (I was getting ready to say that we obeyed that calling, even if that was all we did) when my daughter interjected, "Because I got to see that God answered my prayer right away."

Wow. Yep. I was schooled by my 8-year-old. That really isn't anything new, if I am totally honest. I have definitely decided that God uses children to teach us stuff all the time, stuff about him, stuff about ourselves, stuff about trust and faith, and so much more. The important thing is to listen. I know for me when the days are crazy and hectic, and I am stressed, I am more inclined to turn a deaf ear, to ask for quiet, to focus on....me. That is exactly what I was doing that morning. I wasn't even stressed, but I had a plan and I was going full throttle ahead. I was not going to be interrupted. Until I was.

I am so thankful for a God who doesn't turn a deaf ear, a God who doesn't give up on me. I am so thankful for my children, these amazing instruments of joy, love, grace and...instruction.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reflections

It is New Year's Eve.
I guess it is normal on this day to reflect. To ponder. To look ahead.
This year is the first year in awhile that I haven't been counting down the minutes to the New Year, the fresh start. 2014 was an alright year.
It wasn't perfect. In fact, it started with a devastating loss-one that I know my family and I will always feel. It is a loss that has forced me to answer very tough questions, especially from my little girl. It is also a loss that brought me and my family closer to God. It is a loss that allowed me to see God working through other people. It is a loss that forced me to allow others to do for me, to be a blessing to me. It is a loss that gave my sons the opportunity to give to me. Given the choice, I would still choose to not have experienced the loss. But I can still see how God has worked in my life and the lives of others through the loss.
This year I have watched my oldest mature and grow into a young man of whom I am quite proud. I have always been proud of him, but this year I can really see the man he is becoming. I have been able to watch him excel at two jobs and learn enough about himself to learn what he might want to do with his life.
I have gotten to watch my younger son learn more about himself as well--and to make some very grown up decisions about his life. And I have watched my daughter's faith continue to grow through her prayer life--even when the answer is no or not yet.
I have learned so much about and from my kids this year.
This year I continued to grow closer to my husband, and I actually have learned more about having a Biblical marriage as well. I have finally realized the importance of putting my husband before my kids, and I am working on it.
Most importantly, I have finally figured out that my being where I am is no accident. These kids didn't happen by accident. I didn't just stumble into this life.  I definitely don't do it all right all the time, and when I try to do it on my own, things don't go well. But even when I make mistakes, I am where He intends me to be.
I still have so much to learn. I still struggle with doing a consistent daily devotion and praying as much as I sometimes think I "should." I still deal with mommy guilt and mommy doubt and all those other "Am I good enough" questions.
But something about this year has just been different. I am excited about 2015--not because I am so ready for 2014 to be done but because I am excited to see what 2015 holds.
Someone told me once that her 40's were her favorite decade. When she said it, I couldn't believe it. It seemed so old, so far away. Hahaha. Now I get it. Well, I don't really get it, but I identify with it. I don't know what it is about my 40's. I am just different. I guess maybe part of it is that I finally stopped trying to change the people and circumstances around me. I decided to stop spending the majority of time with people I wanted to change and instead started spending time with people I enjoy just the way they are. I have realized that there are some people I will always be able to count on and some I will never be able to count on (and being related by blood doesn't always have anything to do with it). I have stopped trying to move the people in the never column into the always column. That doesn't mean I can't still talk to and have a relationship with the people in the never column...it just means it isn't the same kind of relationship I will have with the people in the always column. I have realized that God has provided me with the people I need in my life...but all the people in my life aren't necessarily there because I need them. I realized that if I am not happy with something, then maybe I am the one who needs to change.
 I have finally learned that if the voice I am hearing in my head is tearing me down, then that is not God. I have learned that God doesn't deal in guilt trips. I have learned that I will never have it all together, and that is okay. If I was perfect or could achieve perfection on my own, then there would have been no reason for the Cross.
I can't really say that 2014 had fewer ups and downs than previous years. I guess perception is important. And I am thankful for the ways God has given me to look at my life this year.
I am excited about 2015. I am excited about what God has planned. I am excited to find out what he has for me to do this year.
I still don't plan to have it all together. I know I will make plenty of mistakes. I know I will fail...sometimes little and sometimes big. But I know I won't be alone.
Happy 2015 everyone. Let's do this!



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I think one reason is that it kicks off a lengthy holiday season, but there are other reasons as well.
There are no "requirements" for this holiday, aside from having food. There are no stockings or baskets to fill. There are no candles to light or presents to buy. There is no candy to buy. There is no place to go to swat bugs and watch fireworks.
Please don't get me wrong. I really enjoy all of the holidays I just mentioned. I just like Thanksgiving more.
With the exception of Black Friday (which now begins on Thursday, something I won't be getting into at this time), Thanksgiving is completely non-commercialized. We don't have required Thanksgiving apparel or songs...it is completely about the people...and the food.
I love spending the day in the kitchen making the dishes that we only have once or twice a year. It really doesn't make sense that I don't get completely stressed out in the kitchen. I usually do make a list, based on how long each dish takes to prepare, to plan out the day. Beyond that, my mom and I just do what we need to do. It amazes me that there are times when just getting a regular dinner on the table can almost push me over the edge, but I can put a Thanksgiving Feast together with little to no stress. Isn't that strange?
Not really. I think it all has to do with attitude. Perspective. During the week, there are places to be and things to do and sometimes dinner is just one more thing that has to be accomplished. Not so with Thanksgiving.
On Thanksgiving, it is all about the meal...no rushing to go anywhere. It is all a labor of love and gratitude. The friends and family members who join us bring dishes as well. And the entire day is spent laughing and talking and sharing and...being thankful. Isn't that really the bottom line?
During this time of the year, we are reminded to be thankful. It is hard not to be reminded when you're saying Thanksgiving several times a day leading up to the big day.
Doesn't that just change everything? When we focus on what we have instead of what we don't have...when we look at all the good stuff instead of thinking about the bad...it is much easier to have the right attitude and act accordingly.
I love Thanksgiving. I love being surrounded by family and friends in a home filled with the smells of amazing dishes. I love hearing the kids of all ages talking and playing and laughing. I love seeing the parade, and then football, on the TV, even if the volume is turned down.
How different would my life be if I could somehow be as thankful on Friday as I am on Thursday? And the next day? And the next?
Can you imagine how different life would be if we could focus daily on all that we have rather than what we don't have?
Please don't misunderstand me. I know there are bad things happening everywhere all the time. I know there are people out of work and in trouble and dealing with hunger and loss.
I also know that God calls us to give thanks always...to praise Him always...He doesn't say we have to like everything that happens to us or every situation we are in...He just tells us to be thankful while we are there.
That is my challenge to myself. Every time I start to grumble, I want to replace it with something I am thankful for. When I am about to lose my mind because my daughter has been talking constantly form sun-up to sundown, I am going to be thankful that I have a healthy, amazing daughter who wants to talk to me. When the kids are fighting and driving me crazy, or getting along and driving me crazy, I am going to be thankful that I have them here with me where I can hear them annoying me. When my husband does something that gets on my nerves, I am going to be thankful that I have a husband who works to support this family and who loves me and his children. When I am driving (Oh, this is a big one for me), and someone does something that aggravates me, I am going to try to be thankful that I have a car to drive to begin with. When the laundry just won't stop, I am going to be thankful for the clothes we have, and when I notice how much I have to do to clean the house, I am going to be thankful that I have a home.
I know I will fail and fall short. But when I do, I am going to be thankful for a God who forgives with his amazing grace. I know the hard times will still come, but I am going to be thankful for my faith.
Want to join me on this challenge? How could we change the world with a little more thankfulness instead of "wanting more-ness"? Who knows? It's worth a shot.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Real Christians

When I started this blog, I didn't intend to write an entire post about my faith. I knew my faith would be evident throughout my other posts because it is who I am. I didn't think I would actually write a post about Christianity primarily. Quite honestly, today I felt led to do so. It started while in the car with my daughter listening to a Christian radio station. I had heard the song before, and I have always liked it; however, today it just begged for a response from me. I think it's only fair to reveal the song and some of its lyrics.

Do Something by Matthew West
"I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, 'God, why don’t You do something?'
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, 'God, why don’t You do something?'
He said, 'I did, I created you'

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

I’m so tired of talking
About how we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, 'somebody else will do something'
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire
I wanna be the one who stands up and says,
'I’m gonna do something'"

I guess maybe this is one way for me to do something. I am watching Christianity become more and more hated, more and more controversial. I have actually started seeing the persecution of Christians here in this country, and even in the proverbial "Bible Belt." I believe one of the biggest problems is that so many of us don't "do something." Sometimes that something might be as simple as standing up and saying what we believe. So...here I go.

Here are some things I have heard throughout the years. "Christians are hypocrites." "Christians are judgmental." "Christians hate (fill in name of group here)."

I would like to address these statements.

"Christians are hypocrites."
Why, yes, yes we are. We are that a whole lot more. We are sinners. At this point, I will shift to the pronoun "I." I don't want to assume anything about anyone else. I mess up. I expect certain behaviors from my children, and sometimes I don't model the same behavior. I get road rage. I sometimes use words I shouldn't use. 
"Christians are judgmental."
This one is tricky, so let's look at it from two different directions. First, yes, I can be judgmental. I can hear a parent yelling at his child harshly in the store and think bad thoughts, and then yell at my own kids in the van on the way home. I consider that to be judgmental. Second, I can be caring. Yes, caring. It has gotten to the point where if a Christian sees someone participating in an activity that is dangerous in whatever way and addresses it, that Christian is judgmental. We have become a world where anyone can do anything and as long as no one appears to be getting hurt, then it is fine. Here is the problem with that: people do get hurt. Maybe a solid example will help because I am starting to confuse myself. If I have a friend who is struggling with her marriage, a marriage that has problems but nothing like abuse or infidelity, and I encourage her to try to make it work, if I warn her about the consequences of divorce, I am not being judgmental. I am being caring. If I notice the child of a friend misbehaving, and I address the behavior or discuss it with the parent, I am not being judgmental. I am loving them. Now, I know sometimes we get a bad rap because we base our "suggestions" on our own personal opinions or beliefs. Unless we have been asked for our opinion, that might be a problem. However, if we are coming from a Biblical standpoint, then we are doing what the Bible tells us we should do. And a quick aside, as a Christian, if someone comes to me in that way, I also need to be careful as to how I receive it. I need to listen. 
"Christians hate..."
I guess this one is related to being judgmental. There are people who call themselves Christians but speak and act out of hatred. That is not okay. But assuming that all Christians are like those few is no better than assuming everyone from the Middle East is a radical Islamist. Take a moment to look at all the good Christians have done. Most of the time, Christians are out doing good to do good, to love others as we have been loved, not for the recognition. Please trust me when I tell you that there is a lot of good going on out there. It just doesn't hit the news. True Christians do not hate any group of people. We hate sin. Our sin. All sin. We don't hate people. I know this one is tough. It has gotten to the point that if we don't like something someone is doing then we must hate that person. Wow. Talk about extreme. 

It occurs to me here that Christians are being forced to change their vocabulary, what they read in public, and so many other things because someone might find it offensive. But when a Christian expresses having a problem with something, anything, someone else is doing, that Christian is being judgmental and hateful and sometimes even hypocritical. Wow...all three in one.

So what makes me different? How, as a Christian, am I different than anyone else? I have already admitted I am a sinner who messes up on a regular basis. I am forgiven. And because I am forgiven, because God sent his only son to earth to die on a cross for my sins, I am compelled to extend that grace to others. I mess up at that sometimes, too. God is a just God. And he couldn't just forget about all this stuff we do against Him. For centuries, people have tried to follow God's law on their own. It hasn't worked out very well. But He loves us. He wants to have a relationship with us. So he sent Jesus to die on the cross, and Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for everyone who will believe in Him. 

"I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:7
Wow. That sounds so limiting. It isn't. It's there for anyone. 
Why do I believe? How do I believe? This is confusing. It's like a cycle. Do I believe because I have faith or do I have faith because I believe? I don't have all the answers. But I know who does. 
Like me, my life is not perfect. We live in a fallen world. God doesn't cause bad things to happen, but he does allow them. I don't understand his plan, but it isn't for me to understand. I understand that every time I desperately needed to go across the country to be with my cousin when her son was fighting brain cancer, the money appeared. Every time she said she needed me, the money appeared. It happened over and over again. It didn't rain down from the sky, but we would suddenly have it. My husband would get a bonus we weren't expecting, for example. One time, friends from church helped make it happen. But it happened. I have a life full of examples like that. 
There are Christians in my life I like. There are Christians I don't like (gasp). There are non-Christians I don't like. There are non-Christians I like (gasp). Becoming a Christian didn't elevate my status as a person. It didn't make me better than anyone else. I do strive to live a better life. I do try to live by God's commands in the Bible, but I fall short repeatedly. Hence, the need for the cross. 
I am a sinner. But I am a forgiven sinner.
I praise God for that. I don't do nice things because I have to in order to be forgiven. It was totally free! For me. I didn't pay the price; Jesus did.