Giving of Your Best

They were there to gather donations to fill the shelves of a local food pantry.  The boys, dressed in their troop uniforms, were greeting customers as they entered the grocery store.  Each patron received a flyer detailing what items were needed and then were sent on their way with a smile.

Many gave generously that day.  They maneuvered the aisles, their thoughts on those less fortunate, on those who were in need of even the most basic of supplies.  One cart after another was filled.  Cars were loaded with bright yellow shopping bags.  Many made cash donations.  It was a good day…a very good day.  The kind of day that renews your hope in humanity a bit.

How encouraging it was to see a group of young men working to benefit others, working to meet the tangible needs of those they may never meet face to face, may never speak to, may never know.  It was good to see their excitement, good to see their zeal, good to see their hard work.  It was also good to see the generosity of the local people.  They freely gave.  Some gave much, others gave little, but all gave.

That evening, my husband, who was assisting the troop that day, told me about an interesting encounter that he had earlier that day.  A middle-aged man had approached him during the course of the food drive.  After asking how much longer the boys would be working, the man made this comment:

“I will be back in just a bit.  I have some expired food at home that I’ve been looking to get rid of.  I’ll bring it back to donate”

My first instinct was to ask my husband if he was kidding.  He’s known to be a jokester.   But no sly smile crossed his face; no elfish grin emerged.  He was serious.

In all honesty, I instantly judged, criticized, and condemned this unknown man.  How insensitive and callous he was.   How blind he was to the needs of others.  He saw nothing wrong with tossing his leftovers, his expired goods, his garbage bound food, to those who had the simplest yet greatest need. Why not just go into the store and pick up a can of vegetables instead?  Why not simply walk past the collection sight like many others did that day?  Why would he offer less than his best?

One year has come and gone.  And as the troop prepares for this weekend’s food drive, I am reminded of that man.  With knee jerk reactions and condemnation  put aside, I turned my gaze inward.  Was I any different than that man?  Was I willing to give less than my best to others?  I didn’t have to ponder for long.

I remembered the time that I was rummaging through my boys old clothes.  I wanted to clear out everything that no longer fit or was in poor condition.  I systematically sorted the clothes into two piles.  One pile contained clothing that was still in good condition; I had planned to pass these pieces along to a friend.  The second pile was filled with everything else: stains, tears, wear, fraying.  I must admit that I bagged up that second pile of clothes and dumped them into a collection box.  I never gave thought to the young man that would be wearing that stained shirt or the woman who would be modeling those frayed pants, or the child who would be dressed in rags.  I gave them my garbage and never thought otherwise.

I was no different than that man.

Imagine if I had simply gone to the store and picked up a new piece of clothing…tags still on.  It wouldn’t need to be fancy or expensive.  I’m a great bargain shopper.  Surely I could have picked up something nice for merely a few dollars.  I’m sure we could have forgone a bag of chips that week or a cup of coffee.  Imagine the reaction of some one in need, someone who likely never has worn a new piece of clothing.  Imagine them, imagine the look on their face and the swell in their heart.  I wish I could have retrieved my less than best bag and substituted it with one new item.  I can’t look back, but I can look ahead.

Keeping the best for ourselves is nothing short of selfish and completely out of step with how the Lord wants us to live our lives.  The Lord who gives abundantly, who showers us with blessing upon blessing, who provides for each and every need, has not created us to live selfish, self-centered lives:

  • And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:16
  • My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:12
  • not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  Philippians 2:4
  • Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,  and he will reward them for what they have done.  Proverbs 19:17
  • The generous will themselves be blessed,  for they share their food with the poor.  Proverbs 22:9
  • Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.  Romans 12:13
  • You must present as the LORD’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.’  Numbers 18:29

Give of your best and nothing less.

 

Lyme Disease Prevention: 5 Tips to Be Tick Smart

Lyme Disease is no longer a Northeast problem.  It’s a nationwide issue.  While the CDC reports that nearly 300,000 new cases of Lyme Disease are reported each year, I estimate that the number is far greater.  And while I do not advocate staying indoors and avoiding the great outdoors all together, I do recommend that you take a few common sense precautions before, during, and after you head out to enjoy the world around you:

1.     Dress Appropriately

I have watched far too many children and adults camp and hike in shorts, flip flops, and tank tops.  I am always left scratching my head.  Wearing appropriate clothing while enjoying outdoor activities is the easiest prevention tip to follow.

  • Wear a hat – Ticks love to hide in hard to find spots: behind the ears, armpits, groin areas, and in your head.  If you have a dark head of hair, finding a minuscule tick hiding in your mane could be next to impossible.  Wear a cap or camping hat to reduce the risk of ticks meandering about your head.
  • Wear pants – No one wants to wear pants in the summer; I totally get it.  However, your legs are the number one part of your body that should be covered while hiking or camping.  They will likely be the first parts of you to come into contact with ticks as you brush against trees, branches, tall grass, and bushes.  My kids wear lightweight, track style pants or lightweight camping pants.  The advancements in clothing are nothing short of amazing.  Lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking, SPF certified clothing is readily available to provide both coverage and comfort.
  • Wear long socks – I hate long socks.   I’m the first to admit it.  But ankle socks or peds just won’t cut it while camping and hiking.
  • Tuck your pant legs into your socks – No, this is not terribly fashionable, but it is highly effective.  Case in point, we were hiking a few weeks ago.  When we arrived home we found several microscopic ticks attached to one of my son’s socks.  Had he not been wearing high socks or had not tucked his pants into his socks, those ticks would have likely found a comfy home on his ankle or leg and would have started chowing down.
  • Wear a shirt with sleeves – Even in the hottest conditions, we wear long sleeved shirts while hiking.  We’ve invested in a good quality, lightweight, moisture-wicking, breathable shirt for each of our children.  These shirts allow them to remain cool and covered.  At a minimum, you should wear short sleeved shirts.  Avoid tank tops .
  • Wear appropriate footwear – Flip flops and sandals just don’t cut it.  Opt for hiking boots.  Even putting the tick issue aside, hiking boots are designed for your safety, providing traction, grip, and support over varying terrain.

2.       Stay on the Trail

While hiking, choose to stay on the marked trails.  Often times these trails are maintained by park service personnel.  In addition, with regular foot traffic, these trails stay clear of thick brush, high grass, and overgrown bushes.  Cleared trails provide a bit of space between you and those favorite tick hangouts.  Once you meander off the trail and onto unblazed territories, you will likely be walking through unkempt areas where ticks love to call home.   Grab a trail map and stay on the trail.  Here are some examples of good and not-so-good trails:

Good
Better
Best
Beautiful but not so good.
Really, you’re thinking of hiking here?

 

3.      Use a Good Quality Tick Spray

I am pretty cautious about chemicals.  While DEET is an effective deep woods option, it is also highly toxic.  I’ve avoided the use of traditional bug and tick sprays all together.  A friend of mine recommended a cedar based spray.  We’ve used it for years and it has proven to be highly effective.  It is expensive but so is treating an undiagnosed tick bite.  We use TickShield Tactical by Owens Organics.  I receive NO compensation for this recommendation.  I simply use it, like it, and have found it to be effective.  I recommend spraying both skin and clothing.

 

4.       Strip, Shower, Check

This is our family’s tick check routine.  After a time of camping, hiking, or extended outdoor time,  we follow these three simple steps.

(A)  Immediately go to the laundry room.  Strip down to your underwear, and place all of your clothing into the washing machine.  Look for any obvious ticks on your body.

(B)  Take a shower.  Use a washcloth to scrub.  Wash your hair thoroughly.

(C)  Before getting fully dressed have someone do a tick check.  A secondary person needs to carefully look over the back, neck, legs, feet, toes, head, behind ears, armpits, and arms.   Ticks can be tiny…as small as a pinhead, a fleck of dirt, or a dot on a piece of paper.  Sometimes they can be larger and more obvious.  Look each and every time.  It only takes one missed tick check to miss a tick.

5.     Use Common Sense

Don’t think that it won’t happen to you.  Don’t think that a tick is no big deal.  Don’t think that some people are simply paranoid, crazy tick lunatics.  Don’t think that Lyme Disease is no big deal.  Remember, the people writing these types of posts, the people tucking their pants into their socks, the people being adament about staying on a trail, are often the people whose lives have been forever changed by a single tick bite.  Heed their warning and advice.  None of us want to see anyone of you incapacitated.  An undetected tick bite today can cause debilitation five or ten years down the road.

You can read more posts from Life in the Van regarding Lyme Disease here.  Work from the bottom of the page, upward.


The Story in the Scars

It was the Saturday before my first day of middle school. I was scheduled to babysit for a family from our church.  When I arrived, the couple was finishing up a few last minute details.  Their youngest son looked up at me and asked, “Do you want to see my dog?”

Without thinking twice, I said, “Sure.  Let’s go.”

Never one to shy away from any animal, I went right up to the dog.  What happened next was a blur.  I remember bending over a bit when all of a sudden the dog lunged at me.  When I picked up my head, I instinctively covered my face with my hands.  The young boy, horrified, yelled, “My dog bit you,”  and ran inside.

I stood there covered in blood.

The boy’s mother, a nurse by trade, ran outside to see what had happened.  She took one look at me and ran back inside to grab clean towels and ice.  I was in no pain, but I could see that everyone around me was visibly upset which made me quite uneasy.  In a few short minutes, the young boy’s dad was driving me to the hospital.

The thirty minute drive seemed like an eternity.  Few words were exchanged.  However, I do remember the father repeatedly stating that he hoped that my nose was not broken.  Not terribly comforting words.

Upon arriving at the emergency room, I was sent directly in to see a doctor.  My mother would arrive shortly after.  She came into the room and asked me to remove the covering from my face.  I did, and she promptly asked me to cover it again.

We waited for quite a while in the emergency room that evening.  A plastic surgeon was called.  I remember his name, Dr. Tuckman, which I thought was a rather funny, yet appropriate name for a plastic surgeon.  He was wonderful.   He was incredibly calm and had a soothing voice.  I remember him looking at me in the face, something that most had evaded doing that evening.  He had an incredible bedside manner.  He spoke very plainly and tenderly to me.  He assured me that he would work carefully and slowly to piece me back together.  He commented that once he had completed his work, there would definitely be some pain and my face would look beat up, but I needed to trust him.  He knew what he was doing and with time the scars would fade.

I would come to find out that my nose was severed in two, punctured, and torn.

I remember going home that evening and heading off to bed in silence.  The following morning I examined myself in the mirror and cried.  My face was discolored and swollen with lines of black stitches all over.  I was a mess.

With time, I began to heal.  The swelling and discoloration subsided, and eventually all of those stitches were removed.  What was left was nothing short of amazing.   Eventually my scars were undetectable to the casual observer.

I imagine that most of our bodies bear a scar or two, and each of them has a story to tell.  Some stories are painful, others humorous.  Some traumatic, others a badge of honor. Scars are evidence of both the pain our bodies have experienced and the healing that has taken place with time.  It is interesting how the two are married, how pain and healing work together hand-in-hand.  While scars typically fade with time, they never completely disappear.  There is always a remaining bit of evidence of past pain.

Not all scars are the same.  While some scars are obvious and out in the open for all the world to see, others are nearly undetectable or completely hidden from view.  Many people bear their scars alone or in secret:  The scars of wrong choices, missteps, and foolishness; at innocence lost, of sickness, of loved ones gone too soon; of harsh, cutting words, of disappointments, rejection, and failure.  Some scars cut down deep into one’s soul and change the very fabric and make up of who we are.  They shake our very core and change the course of life.

Most of us likely bear both types of scars.

There are so many people with a story, so many people whose scars speak.  So many people who have experienced hurt.  So many people who still look for healing from their scars.  For some, healing is elusive.  Many look for ways to soothe the hurt, to cover the pain, to forget it all together.

During this Easter week, I am reminded of how true and lasting healing is possible.  There is one set of scars that heals.

I can’t help but reflect on the ultimate story of pain and healing; the most powerful story found in the scars, the story of my Lord.  The Easter story doesn’t begin with Easter or Christmas, it begins before time.  Our Lord knew our desperate need; He was keenly aware of the separation that sin would cause between our Heavenly Father and His people.  In His infinite love He sent His son to be born a man with the sole purpose of dying to redeem me.  Me…an undeserving, sinful soul, in need of a way to Him.

So Christ bore my sin on the cross.  He was wounded for my transgressions.  He was beaten and scarred and became a vessel for the Lord’s wrath, all to pay the penalty of my sin.   All for me…for you…because of love.   Through His scars we can experience true healing, healing from our sins.  His sacrifice has loosened the chains that bind us, has bridged a great chasm, has restored us, has healed us in the truest sense of the word.  His resurrection defeated sin and Hell.

Would you consider who Christ is this Easter?  Would you contemplate those scars and the story they tell?  Do you search for healing?  You need not look any further than Christ.

 

But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.
 Isaiah 53:5

When God Leaves Mountains Unmoved

A few weeks ago my husband and I conducted a little experiment of sorts.  We gathered our children around the computer to watch a video clip of a church service from a very, very popular pastor.  This mega church leader and author is known for his uplifting, positive, and inspiring messages.  Regardless of how his message begins, the ending is always the same:  All will be well; the Lord will bless; you will be happy because that’s what God wants…your happiness.  The prosperity gospel defined.  This, my friends, is a dangerous, yet popular gospel and millions of people are drawn into the false hope that is preached.

We wanted to see if our kids could pick up on the erroneous ways of this kind of preaching.  Our children are getting older.  In a few years they are likely to be on their own, making their own decisions.  Would they fall for this hook, line, and sinker?

Well, we sat through roughly 15 minutes of the sermon.  Within two or three minutes my youngest, twelve, looked at me through the corner of his eye.  I looked back at him and asked, “What?”.  We paused.

“Mom, Dad; why did he just say that on the other side of the valley God has promised everyone blessings?”

Hmm.  “Hold onto that and keep watching,” we said.

As we continued we heard groans and comments from under the breaths of our boys.  Finally, my oldest piped up, “What in the world is this guy talking about?”

We stopped and talked for a very long time about what they had picked up on.  Blessings.  Happiness.  Prosperity.  Self.  Little God.

We were thankful that the boys picked up on the false nature of this teaching.  As we ended our time I pulled up a picture of the arena filled to capacity for one of the church services.

“Is that a concert,” one asked.

“No, it’s one of the church services.  This church has a membership of over 40,000 people.  They meet in a 16,000 seat arena.  There are a lot of people who fall for this and cling onto a false sense of who God is and how He works in our lives.”

You may be asking, “What’s wrong with someone giving hope to others?  Doesn’t God want us to be happy?  Doesn’t the Bible say that He wants to bless us?”

Our happiness is not God’s first priority.

I am not a Bible scholar, but I am unaware of any verse in the Bible that tells me otherwise.  We are a people of happy endings and lovers of a rags to riches story.  We want to hang onto the hope that God will fix, bless, and prosper.

He may.  But, He may not.

It is very easy to get pulled into this thinking.  Very easy.

A few weeks ago I was working on my last blog post.  It was a tough, pointed one that came from a very personal place.  This was a heavy piece.  I had read my rough draft to my husband before publishing the article.  He had suggested that I needed an ending paragraph to tie everything together.  He was right.  As I reread my piece, I was compelled to end the post on a high note…to leave some encouragement with people.  I typed away.  Once completed I had asked a dear friend to read things over one last time for me.  She did.  In her honesty (the mark of a true friend), she questioned my last paragraph.

What was in that paragraph?  The promise that God would make beauty out of the ashes.  The false promise that all would be well.  The misguiding promise that God is planning to fix all problems and provide a storybook ending.

I had done it.  I had written the happy ending.

I got to work and rewrote the ending paragraph so that it was Biblically sound.

This now leaves us with a question:  What happens when God doesn’t make everything all right?  Here is where the false teaching of prosperity and happy endings causes the most damage.  If we expect God to fix everything, and He doesn’t, we are often left feeling angry, let down, and bitter.  Our perceived lack of action from the Lord drives a wedge between our relationship with Him.  We begin to question and doubt His goodness.  We doubt His love.  We question His sovereignty and authority.  We doubt that He has a plan.  We simply begin to doubt Him.  Our doubting brings us exactly to the place where satan wants us to be.   Doubt does not come from a loving heavenly Father; it is a tool used by the evil one to draw us further away from the Lord.

I do not need to search for long to come across instances where the Lord chose not to remove hardships.  The life of Paul…imprisonments, shipwreck, snakebite, house arrest, beatings, stoning, mockings, plots of his death, loss.  Most notable is Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a persistent condition that many have speculated about.  The word thorn is best translated “stake”.  From this we can assume that this condition was significant and intense.  Three times Paul petitioned the Lord to remove this thorn from him.  In His will, the Lord said no.

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12: 7b – 10

As was with Paul, sometimes the Lord does not remove our thorns.  He permits them because He has a far greater purpose in them, a purpose that in our limited minds, we can not comprehend.  Storybook endings do not necessarily fit into the Lord’s earthly plan for us. Yet, through pain and sickness and loss He moves and works and refines, drawing us closer to Himself to make us more usable.

We were recently driving home from a college visit in Virginia.  Everyone in the car was snoozing, so as I was driving,  I turned on the radio to help me stay alert.  An unfamiliar song was playing.  As I listened to the words in the quietness of the car, I was brought to tears.  The words of this song summed up perfectly everything that I had been experiencing over the past few weeks; it brought all of my Bible readings and discussions regarding blessing, prosperity, and happy endings to full circle.   Here are a few snippets of the lyrics as well as a link to the song (with the lyrics).

Even If
by Mercy Me

…It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame
Like I am right now

Chorus:
I know You’re able
And I know You can
Save through the fire
With Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

But God when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Give me the strength
To be able to sing
It is well with my soul

Chorus:
I know the sorrow
I know the hurt
Would all go away
If You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

You’ve been faithful
You’ve been good
All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You can

It is well with my soul

Like many of you,  I’ve experienced hardships of many kinds throughout the course of my life.  There have been times that my faith has faltered.  There have been times when I have ached for the Lord’s hand to simply move and heal and fix.  And while there have been times that the Lord has indeed moved and answered, there have also been times of silence.  There have been times when the mountain in front of me has remained unmoved as part of God’s plan.  Through it all my God has been good.  He has been faithful, and my hope still does rest in Him.

Are You Willing to Let the Lord Write Your Child’s Testimony?

As parents it is natural to contemplate what paths our children will take.  We look at their strengths and weaknesses and speculate what the future will hold.  We imagine how their lives will unfold.  We hope for smooth sailing, straight roads, and few bumps along the way.  We pray for health and success, safety and provision, triumphs and victories.  Down deep, we hope for ease and often pray for it expecting God to work within our pre-approved framework. Continue reading “Are You Willing to Let the Lord Write Your Child’s Testimony?”

Leaving Little For Those We Love

Yesterday I opened the refrigerator door and found this:

dscn5902

I’ll give you a brief moment to locate the problem (although I am confident that you saw it immediately).

  • Too many eggs?  Yes, but not the problem.
  • Refrigerator way too organized…kind of like it was staged?  Well, yes.  I did indeed tidy up my fridge knowing that I’d be posting a photo.  But still, not the problem.
  • Way too many vegetables?  One can never have too many fresh vegetables!
  • Aloe Juice, really?  Yes, it’s great for an upset stomach.

This is the problem:

dscn5900

The guilty party, whose identity is still unknown to me, decided that instead of finishing all of the orange juice, they would kindly leave a mere sip for the next poor soul.  This is kind of a big deal in our home.  I rarely purchase juice, so to have orange juice in the refrigerator is an event.  To have this amount of orange juice left in the container is a crime.

I imagine that some of you are shaking your head in agreement.   You’ve experienced the nearly empty milk container, the crumbs left in the bottom of the cereal box, and the ice cream container with 1/4 teaspoon left.  How frustrating it can be when we are left feeling unsatisfied!

I believe that the frustration that develops from these incidents has little to do with juice, cereal, or ice cream.  The frustration comes from the fact that someone thought that the next person to come along would be satisfied with little.  They believed that the left over scraps would be just enough for someone else to get by with.   Somehow that person was content with filling their cup to capacity, while leaving the next person’s cup nearly empty.  The real root of our frustration is the selfishness of the other party.

Staring at that nearly empty orange juice container got me thinking.   How often do I leave little for the ones I love?  It’s likely more than I may realize.

In a time of full schedules and over-commitment, where our time is portioned out into neat bundles,  we can have the tendency to push our loved ones to the last vacancy on the list.  We use the little spare time that we do have and selfishly cling onto it often filling it with mindlessness and nonsense.  Are we filling our cup to the brim, but leaving nothing but crumbs for those around us?   Our spouse, our children, and yes, most often our Lord, are left with the remnants, the bits and pieces of what we decide to leave them with.  Somehow we believe the lie that they will be satisfied with the little we give.  Somehow we envision that a relationship can flourish and thrive when we leave those we love most with the smallest bit of us.

It won’t.

This is an area that I have been greatly convicted about in my own life.  I can spend far too much time on the computer.  Much of my time is spent doing things that I must do: preparing for school, doing lesson plans, planning activities for some of my boys’ groups, and running our produce co-op.  I try my best to work on those things early in the morning or late at night.  But if I am honest with myself, there are times that I can get distracted from the work at hand.

Distractions can lead us down a road of cute puppy videos, gluten free recipes, silly quizzes, and games.  Nothing satisfying.  Nothing of significance.  All void of meaning.  Distractions take us away from what is most important.  Distractions rob those around us.  Distractions announce our priorities without us uttering a word.  Distractions flat out can waste our precious time.

I completely understand that a balance needs to be found in life.  Work does indeed need to be completed.  Errands do need to be run.  And, yes indeed, you do need to find a bit of down time to relax, rest, and recharge.

The problem rests in our habits, in the everyday patterns we form.  Is checking your email and browsing online taking priority over prayer and time in the Word?  Are tweeting and texting causing you to tell your child, “Just one more minute,” for the fifth time in a row?  Is a good book or just one more chapter replacing a goodnight snuggle with your spouse?  Occasionally? Or, everyday?

I am rather confident that if each of us really evaluated our day and honestly looked at how we spend our time, we could identify areas where change is warranted.  Certainly we could make a list of things that can wait.  We could prioritize and make time for the things that truly matter.  We can make sure that our loved ones are not feasting on leftovers.

The other day hubby and the boys were playing football.  I thought that this would be the opportune time to complete this post, a post that has been sitting in my draft file for nearly six weeks.  So I got to work.  After typing a mere two sentences, my older son came inside and asked, “We’re walking down to the high school track; want to come.”

I paused before I opened my mouth.  There was a huge part of me that simply wanted to get this post done and finished.  But then I realized that my sixteen year old son had just requested to hang out with his mother.  Really, do I even need to think about this?  Not at all.   I closed out the post, strapped on my sneakers, and enjoyed the beautiful weather and fresh air my family.

Just this evening, as the boys were finishing up showers and such, I sat down to put the finishing touches on this post.   Shortly after I sensed someone behind me.  It was my youngest son.

“Wow, you finished up quickly,” I said.

“Yep,” was his simple answer.

“Want to do something before bed?  Play checkers?  Battleship?”

“How about you finish up what you are doing first,” he said.

I paused.  I knew exactly where that would lead.

“Nope.  This can wait.  You are far more important than this.  Grab a game.”

I mention these incidents not to boast but instead to illustrate that we are given many opportunities during the day to make choices.   With each decision we make a choice to either fill someone’s cup or to leave it nearly empty.

I try to remind myself that anything worthwhile requires time…dedicated time, not distracted time.  There are no shortcuts here.  We cannot expect to have meaningful relationships with our children if they do not have our undivided attention.  We cannot have a strong bond with our spouse if we continue to feed them our leftovers.  We cannot expect a closeness and oneness with our Lord if the world takes priority over the Word.   That is reality.

So the next time you are left with a drop of coffee in the pot, or an 1/8 of a brownie, or the last blueberry in the container (seriously, how mean can you be?), let it serve as a reminder to take a different road and to leave our loved ones filled to the brim.

A Tale of Two Christmases

It happened every year.  Two Christmases.  Two days that were as stark a contrast as could be.  Two Christmases  – one meager, one abundant.  One Christmas, simple, sacrificial, full of significance and hope.  The other, extravagant, a balm to soothe the guilty soul, void of meaning.

If growing up in a divorced home had one perk, it would be this:  double holidays and birthdays.  As a young child I quickly made the connection that a double holiday equated to double the number of gifts.  A birthday with mom, a birthday with dad.  Christmas at home, Christmas with dad.

Christmas at home with mom was simple.  We enjoyed decorating together.  The moments we spent hanging our knit stockings on the banister, adorning our tree, and arranging hand painted figurines were cherished family times together.   Evening car rides were highlighted by our traditional Christmas light search. Eight track tapes played Christmas music throughout the house, and I sang along with vigor.  The weeks preceding Christmas focused on Christ, on His birth, and on the hope that it not only brought to a searching world many years ago, but on the hope to which it could bring to men today.  Even at a young age I understood the significance.  Christmas was not about the gifts under the tree but rather the gift of Christ.

When Christmas morning arrived my brother and I would quickly run downstairs to peek at the tree and the unwrapped gifts.  And while the spread of gifts was sparse, there was never a frown, never a complaint, never a dissatisfied twang between us.  We knew.  We simply knew that Christmas was a sacrifice for our mother.  We understood that mingled between the stress of paying the bills and feeding her family was the desire to somehow have a Christmas with gifts under the tree and trinkets filling our stockings.  More times than not there was someone who helped, a secret someone with an envelope to ease mom’s burden.  We knew.  So after we forcibly pried our mother from her slumber, we enjoyed Christmas morning together.  We slowly opened gifts and were thankful.  We read from the Bible and were reminded of Christ’s humble earthly beginning.  Christmas was special and full of meaning despite of, or because of, it’s simplicity.

Christmas at home with mom meant Christmas with Christ; it meant Christmas because of Christ.  He was never given a back seat, was never an after-thought.  He truly was the reason for the season.  He was and still is the grandest gift of all.  No wrapped gift checked off a wish list can compare.  An empty stocking or a solitary present under the tree could not put a damper on Christmas.  We knew…we simply knew what Christmas was all about, and it filled our hearts with great joy, a joy that spilled over even after the last ornament was tucked away.   Despite our needy state abundant joy, happiness, and hope was to be found on Christmas day.

Shortly after Christmas, my brother and I would spend a few days with our dad to celebrate the holiday.   The relationship we shared with him could best be described as strained; he had left when we were quite young.   Typically, we were less than enthusiastic for our normal weekend visits.  But Christmas visits?  Well now, that was another story.  See Christmas with my dad was the epitome of abundance and excess.  We came to know from experience that our dad would shower us with a copious amount of gifts.  Anything we wanted was ours.

When we would arrive at dad’s house, we would immediately run to the living room.  I imagine that our mouths gaped open at the sight of the mountainous pile of gifts.  There were boxes big and small, all brightly wrapped.  There were bikes and play cars, televisions and stereos, even a pinball machine one year (no joke).   There were years of such abundance that we lacked adequate room in the car to transport both children and gifts back home.

Despite the plethora of gifts, Christmas with dad was always lacking.  It was missing something that no earthly, material gift could replace.  There was a void present that no number of gifts could fill.  Had there been no gifts, there would have been no Christmas in my dad’s home.  What was missing from these Christmases was Christ.  Christ’s absence was very obvious to me.  His name was never uttered.  He was never referenced to.  His image never seen.  No nativity, no manger.  No opening of God’s Word.  My father never understood Christmas.  He never experienced its significance.  I would have exchanged every gift ever given to me simply for him to have known who the Jesus of Christmas was and why He came.  Dad never realized that Christ is the true giver of joy, and apart from Him, joy is at best momentary and fleeting.

As I reflect on these two Christmases,  I am thankful that the Lord allowed me to experience both.  They have been etched into my memory and serve as vivid reminders of what Christmas should be, as well as what it must never become.

Maybe Christmas seems to lack significance in your life.  Maybe you find that despite the fact that gifts are in abundance and your stocking is filled to the brim,  your heart feels empty, like something is missing.  I would challenge you to consider Christ this Christmas.  For only Christ will fill that void.  Only Christ will satisfy a hunger, a deep longing for something more.  Only Christ will bring hope, joy, and peace into your life.  I pray that this Christmas you will discover that tiny babe in a manger and see how your life can be changed forevermore.

Maybe you don’t know who this Jesus is.  Why did He come to earth in the first place, and why should it be important to you?  I would encourage you to take the time this Christmas season to listen and discover the Jesus of Christmas.

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Giving Thanks in All Things

As we gather together over the coming days our minds will naturally reflect upon all that we have to be thankful for.   And while it is important for us to reflect and remember that we are truly blessed, while we need to remind ourselves that we indeed have much, will we remember the challenges of this life?  Will we allow our thoughts to go back to the tough times?  Will we give thanks for those valleys?  For the struggles?  For the life lessons learned through failures, tears, wrong turns, and mistakes?  For us to truly say that we give thanks in all things, we must look at those times where the Lord was at work and call them good.

God’s intervening work in our lives is part of a master plan, a script crafted before our first breath was taken, a course plotted before time began.   Rarely are our stories uneventful.  They are often dotted with high mountain top experiences and low valley moments.  Our natural tendency is to give thanks to the Lord while we stand tall upon the mountain top.  We praise Him for victories; we call Him good when all in our life appears good.

But what about those valleys?  What about those not-so-lovely moments of life when we are stretched beyond our comfort zone, when we are struggling, when God’s refining work is indeed remaking us?  Honestly, calling God good in those times can be challenging.  Yet, again, if we believe that God is good, we must acknowledge that He is ALWAYS good.

As I reflect this morning on what I have to be thankful for, I am allowing my mind to go back to the unsavory moments of my life.  I am permitting myself the time to remember the low times, the scary times, the times full of tears, uncertainty and anguish.  For when I recollect those moments now, I can truly see the goodness of the Lord; I can see how His hand was at work in my life.  I can see that His glorious plan for my life was unfolding, and I give thanks.

So today I offer thanks.  I give thanks to the Lord for He is keenly aware of me and my state.  I give thanks because my life is not insignificant to Him.  I give thanks because He cares enough to intervene.  I give thanks because He changes paths and makes a new way.  I give thanks because I am never too far out of reach.  I give thanks because God is not finished with me yet.  I give thanks that I can come before Him just as I am so I no longer have to remain just as I am.  I am thankful for forgiveness, grace, and mercy.   I am thankful for my story…full of miry pits…with its moments of despair and hardships.  I give thanks for the gut wrenching moments and extended seasons that have allowed me to see the goodness of God, to see His hand at work in my life, to see hope and change.  I thank Him for sickness and loss and failings.  I am thankful that I can stand outside of the valley and truly say God is always good.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
I Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

If You Are Upset About the Election, I Understand

If the result of this week’s election has left you angry, scared, and concerned for the future of our country, I want you to know that I understand how you feel.  I have experienced those same feelings.  I know what it is to have a flood of anger rush over you.  You scratch your head, “What were these people thinking?”  I know what it is to feel a deep concern for the direction our nation is headed.  I know how it feels to experience fear over what kind of nation our children will grow up in, what kind of nation they will raise their own family in, what kind of a nation you will grow gray-haired and old in.  I know what it is to be gravely concerned about the security of this nation. I know what it is like to look at the television with tears in your eyes as the election results come in.  I know what it is to grieve for a land that you love and call home.

I know how you feel, because I felt the same rush of emotion eight years ago, then again four years ago.   I was not part of the exuberant mass of people applauding President Obama’s election.  I remember feeling a momentary sense of pride that our nation had broken the racial barrier, yet I was deeply saddened.   I was saddened because I did not align myself with his platform.  Our vision for this country was not the same.  The policies that he wished to implement were not in line with mine.  I felt so strongly that his leadership would take our country to places I was not willing to go.  That night I was sad; I had a heavy heart.

I was not alone on that evening.  There were tens of millions of Americans who had the same concerns as me.  Millions of Americans who cast a different vote from the populace.  Many of those people were instantaneously labeled as racist.  How could they be anything else, right?  People who had never met me, talked with me, seen my life in action, assumed that I had an anti-something agenda.  They were unable to understand why I would vote otherwise.

My opposition to President Obama had nothing to do with the messenger but everything to do with the message.  And you know what, that is fine.  In nearly every single election, tens of millions of American citizens disagree with the President-Elect.

Our nation is not populated by programmable robots.   We are individuals from different backgrounds; our life stories are different.  Our struggles and passions are not identical.  That is America.  You and I have the right to be different.  My beliefs do not have to be your beliefs.  Your passions do not have to be mine.  Anything less than that is frankly unamerican.

Eight years ago I had a choice.  I could become angry and bitter, or I could accept that President Obama was my president.  I chose the later.  President Obama was and is my president.  While I have disagreed with the majority (not all) of his actions, I have had to respect the fact that the majority of my fellow Americans wanted to give him a chance.  I had to accept the fact that they were unhappy with the path the previous administration had taken them down, and they wanted change.  That is the beauty that is America.  If you are not happy with the status quo you can cast your vote for change.  We are a privileged people who have this power and ability.

So this week the people spoke.  They sent a message that they were not happy with the path that our country is on.  They want change.  They used their power to send a message.  The majority of Americans spoke, and change will come.  And you know what, that is fine.  While I did not vote for Hillary Clinton, because again, I did not agree with her message, I have my concerns with Donald Trump as well.  Let it be known that the candidate of my choice never made it past the primaries.

So as I watch protests and the burning of my American flag by American citizens, I am grieved.  I am grieved for some who cannot accept loss.  I am grieved for some who cannot function in the face of disappointment.  I am grieved for those who label their opposition as racists, bigots, and homophobes.  I am grieved for some who fail to understand the very fabric of these United States of America.  I am grieved to see my nation evolving into an intolerant land where those who have opinions and beliefs that are different are deemed a hateful threat and won’t be tolerated.  I am grieved that we need safe spaces and days off from school to cope with loss.  I am grieved for some who call for changing the Constitution because they didn’t get their way.  I am grieved that America has lost sight of what America is and what it means to be American.

It is my prayer, that just as I had to do eight years ago, people will realize that their fellow Americans…good, hard-working, concerned, Americans, wanted change.   Please don’t label them as evil.  Please do not see them as the enemy.  Please remember that this is what America is all about.  Should the next four years not be to your liking, you have the power to petition for change through your vote.

How Will My Life Change After the Election?

It was roughly three years ago.  I was in my kitchen preparing lunch.  As I typically did, I turned on the radio to catch up on some news and the political talk of the day.  I listened for no more than five minutes then promptly turned the radio off in frustration.  I dried my hands and picked up the ringing phone.  It was my husband.  He usually called at lunch time to check in with the boys and me.

“I can’t do it anymore,” I snapped.  “I can’t listen to the radio.  I can’t watch the news.  I can’t read the paper.  I am powerless to change any of this.  I just can’t do it anymore.”

Those were the first words that spewed from my mouth after my husband said hello.  I continued to explain that all of the political banter and divisiveness was affecting me.  Thinking about all that was wrong with our country was stirring up such angst within me that it was interfering with my primary roles in life.  I was a Christian, a wife, and mother.  The worry, concern, and disgust I had for the state of government and politics in general was taking a toll.

So from that day on, I tuned out.   No more radio, no more political talk, no more evening news, or internet searches.  No more blood pressure rising.  No more frustration over what I was powerless to change.  No more.  Simply no more.

I was going to put all of my efforts into the things that I could change, the things that I had control over.  My walk with the Lord.  Rooting out the unlovely parts of me.  Supporting and loving my husband more.  Being there completely for my kids and not letting my frustrations become theirs.  Although I had already been in the Word, been loving and enjoying my relationship with my husband, and spending good quality time with my boys,  there was this distraction, this gloomy gray cloud that hung over me.   I’m sure it robbed me of joy.  I know it robbed me of peace, and most importantly, it shifted my eyes off of the Lord.  That needed to change.

I really lifted this up to the Lord, and not surprisingly, He provided me with the direction that I needed.

I realized that the Lord had planted me in this time, in this country, in my state, as part of my town.  He placed me on my street, in my house, with my family.  All within His plan for me.  He called me to make this place, my home, my place of influence for Him.   Paul effectively stated the same belief:

…and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation… Acts 17:26

While this little ol’ housewife from New Jersey wasn’t going to influence the face of Washington, the Lord did grant to me great influence in the lives of the people who are around me.  In fact, He has given you that same calling, that same influence, to be  a light to those around you.  Maybe that means your spouse, your children, your neighbors, your co-workers, or your friends.  The last thing this world needs is one more person jumping into the political debate.  The first thing this world needs is one more person spreading the Lord’s message of love and salvation.  Only then will the world truly change, only then can the face of Washington and our politicians truly change.

Now please realize that I am not advocating completely turning a blind eye to what is going on around you.  I am not saying that you should throw your hands up in the air and sit back and watch the government have its way.  No, not at all.  You do have a voice; I have a voice, and it should be used.  I am simply saying that if you find yourself in the position I was, where your mind is preoccupied, distracted, and troubled, you need to change gears.  You need to re-evaluate your priorities and remind yourself that there is One who is in complete control, even while the world seems to be spinning out of control.

So as I prepare to cast my vote this Election Day, I am reminded that regardless of the outcome, my life will not change.  I will still be a wife: I will still be a mother, and I will still have the same calling as a child of the Lord.   No change of leadership, no changing of the law will take that away.