A Vacation To Remember

Family vacation.  I’ve been seeing a lot of the usual posts and articles here and there about family vacations ….typical for this time of the year when most folks are dreaming of getting out of the house and enjoying some time outside in the sun, away from the daily pressures of one’s job.  One article in particular, written by one of my fellow WordPress bloggers, really brought back a lot of memories for me about a particular ‘family vacation’ from my youth.

My blogger friend had noticed several Pinterest posts from young moms who had created all kinds of 5 star traveling “accoutrements” to make the trip in the car ultra Disney-like with all kinds of fancy and abundant snacks, laminated maps, a special project kit every hour and even a pulley system….yes, I said a pulley system…whereby she would shuttle all these wonders from the front seat to those clear in the back.  Holy cow…..I wonder if they  remembered to bring the ‘silver spoons’ too!  My friend then waxed tongue-in-cheek about how vastly different her family vacations back in the day were, by contrast.  She regaled us with details that made me hoot with laughter…..not just because they were so starkly different from the privileged and pampered youth of today….but also because they were very reminiscent of my own experience as well.

I will preface the following remarks by assuring you that I loved my parents more than anyone in the world and they were very good people, only wanting the best for my sister and I. And, like most parents, they did the best they could with the resources they had….which were next to nothing compared to many today.  And if they were still alive and reading this, I have no doubt they would both laughingly agree with my observations.

To begin with, our budget as I was growing up did not even allow for family vacations. Period. When I see posts on Facebook of folks taking BIG family trips on ships and planes to destinations far and wide and many on the other side of the planet, and the fact that some take more than 1 of these types of excursions in any given season….I am in wonderment of their apparent resources that seem endless or at least way beyond anything of my personal experience. So, that being said, when my parents decided one year that we were going to take a vacation to Denver, Colorado to see my aunt and uncle that I believe my sister and I had maybe only met one other time in our young lives, it was like the first lunar landing, in our minds….thrilling beyond belief to just think about it!  Spoiler Alert ….As it turns out, this was to be the ONE AND ONLY family vacation we EVER took.  Making the experience even more important and memorable.

Of course it was summer, I was in 8th grade, so, roughly 13 and my sister Lisa was in 3rd grade, about 8. We had the pleasure of sharing the back seat of our old Buick LaSabre. Nope…no big fancy van or SUV for us. No bucket seats or TV screens on the back of the seat in front of us. Not only that, but our old Buick had NO air conditioning and NO radio….yep, quite the luxury vehicle it was not! But we started out from here in Ohio excited as could be nonetheless.  Notice I said “started out excited”….that will be important to note for later in the story. 

The fact that my 60 year old memory is, well…just that…a 60 year old memory…I’m quite sure I have forgotten some of the finer points of this excursion over the years.  However, whenever memories of this trip resurface, the very first thing that pops up in my mind is Kansas. Right after that, the words HOTTER THAN HADES and BORING come in second and third. I have no doubt those themes gained marquee-status because of our lack of air conditioning and the lack of music for my teen ears. Now mind you, I had tried to circumvent the music issue by bringing along my own very treasured radio that had been a very special Christmas gift. However, I was soon to find that getting reception while on the road was not something it was capable of.  So, I chucked it up onto the back dash….the big back dash under the big back GLASS window….to basically be forgotten until we reached our destination. 

By the time we reached Kansas, the novelty of this once-in-a-lifetime trip was starting to lose its’ luster. During our overnight stay in a motel, my sister had stepped on a part of a broken pop bottle with her bare feet…..yes, you Millenials may not realize that pop (aka Coke, Pepsi, Mt.Dew, etc.) came in glass bottles back in those dark ages. Bottles that we saved and then took back to the grocery store for a whopping savings of maybe 25 cents or so….for a carton of 6.  We also recycled them for other things…like filling them with water and attaching a little “sprinkler-like head” and using them to “sprinkle” clean laundry while ironing it.  Sorry…I know I’m blowing your socks off right now because most of you probably don’t even know what an iron is, let alone why we would be “sprinkling” the clothes with water while ironing.  Oh my…..I digress.  Back to the motel.  Anyways, Lisa now had her first souvenir of the trip…..a lovely little chunk of glass in her foot that I’m sure hurt with each step. Did my parents take her to the nearest Urgent Care center to have it removed?  Excuse me….I just spit up some of my tea while laughing. I have another shocking revelation that you may find hard to wrap your head around…..there was no such thing as an Urgent Care center…..anywhere. Nope, there were only emergency rooms and using one was not included in the meager budget for the trip unless there was perhaps blood from a major artery, persistent loss of consciousness or 3rd degree burns. The fact that my uncle that we were attempting to visit was an OB/GYN probably had something to do with that too. I’m sure my parents had full confidence that he could help solve this predicament, whenever we reached our destination.  So, back on the road we went.

As previously mentioned, my memories of Kansas were at the forefront of my mind……unending fields of yellow as far from the road as the eyes could see, interrupted sporadically by a few freakish-looking billboards for upcoming snake purveyors.  Yes….that’s correct, people displaying and apparently selling weird snakes.  I know, it seems surreal even to my own mind as I recall it now. Being a car full of snake-haters, we were not even tempted once to stop and take a peek, thank goodness. Kansas became like the infamous “Groundhog Day” movie….the same thing over and over. Lisa and I were baking in the back seat and became irritable and argumentative….foreign concepts….or not.  My dad, who was all about “making good time” soon got sick and tired of us asking “how much longer”.  I had long hair at the time and because I was hanging my head out the window like a dog so much, trying to cool off, it soon became so  ratted up that the thought of just cutting it all off down to my scalp seemed preferable to the pain of working out all the tangles with a comb.  Of course I did not…..I was a vain, self-conscious teenager after all….but the thought did flit through my brain.

Interestingly enough, I have no recall of any of the food we ate enroute. That alone confirms my thoughts on the subject.  To us back then, McDonalds was a ‘special occasion’.  I have no doubt, that, like my blogger friend’s trip, we too were treated to bologna sandwiches and thermoses of water or lemonade or something similar. I am quite sure my dad did not take us out to eat more than once or twice on that 2 day trip. A stark contrast to most of today’s families who not only set out with a bounty of snacks and goodies in their laps but then also usually stop at eateries along the way as well.

When we finally…and mercifully crossed the border from Kansas into Colorado, I remember vividly being shocked by the scrubby, tumble-weed-strewn terrain.  Being geographically challenged,  as I pretty much remain today, I had been expecting to see the gorgeous woods and mountains immediately.  As we got closer and closer to Denver, however, I was thrilled to see those majestic mountains come into view, the type of landscape that remains my favorite to this day.

I’m sure we looked a sight to my aunt and uncle upon pulling into their drive at last. Me with my Don King hair (you young people will have to Google that …or ask an old person), Lisa limping and my poor mom, who had badly sprained her ankle at home right before we left, also limping. My dad, who always had the ability to make you think everything was ok with him, was probably at the end of his rope too after 2 days of driving 3 women across country in a steaming hot metal box, with no sound but us whining and repeatedly asking our ETA.

For me personally, this arrival was marked forever in time as bitter sweet, because as we were unloading the car, I discovered that my precious radio…with the controls that slid up and down in slots on the front…had been slowly rendered mute, as the hot summer sun had beat down on it through that big glass window and melted the entire front to where the controls were all welded shut. This was quite tragic to my young teenage self who knew there would be no replacing it.  

Life goes on though, and we were very excited to see my aunt and uncle and their infamous huge German shepherd Max. I think I only saw Aunt Freda and Uncle Bob 2 or 3 times in the entirety of my life, but they left some pretty big impressions on me nonetheless.  Uncle Bob was to me then, the kindest, most gentle man I had ever encountered who, despite his gentle demeanor, also seemed to be the master of his domain. He had trained Max to be the most obedient dog I had ever encountered in my young life and I was quite fascinated with both of them. His orneriness popped up, though, when he took us, at breakneck speed around hairpin mountain roads on our grand tour in their station wagon.  Aunt Freda was also very kind and I remember watching her quietly and comparing her with her sister…my mother.  I believe that she and their other sister Marian had a boldness and innate confidence that my mother did not possess. She was the more meek and hesitant of the 3…except when it came to music and singing. That was her element and the one in which she excelled…..much like Aunt Freda, as I understand it.

Goodness……I digress terribly…..this is what happens once I start down “memory lane”….too many little alleys to get lost in along the way.

Back to Uncle Bob’s tour of Denver and the surrounding mountains!  A few things stand out all these years later.  He took us to a old “mining town” and to a Swedish smorgasbord there for lunch.  Is it just me, or does that somehow seem an odd combination?  Anyways, I remember that all the different foods seemed “white” and in white sauces and very unappealing to me back then….interesting because it was different from our normal fare, but not great. Maybe the forerunner of the Ikea cafe’.  He also took us to a ski resort high in the mountains where we found a large gift shop that I was enthralled with.  I must have bought some small trinket because when I went up to pay, the cashier told me that we had just missed John Denver who had been there just a short time before us.  To a dyed-in-the-wool John Denver fan, this was beyond tragic, to have missed one of my all-time teenage idols by a few mere minutes. And yet, it was also exciting at the same time to imagine that he had been there in the same spot too!

I honestly don’t remember too much else from that singular family trip…a few snippets here and there.  Yes, Uncle Bob DID dig the glass out of Lisa’s foot and I did manage to get all the gazillion tangles out of my hair. Alas, my mom’s poor ankle only got worse with the exploring of the mountains and probably ruined the trip for her, as she partially revealed much later.  And, as I recall, I think maybe my dad whittled around with a knife and managed to get some of those sliding controls on my radio to work again after we got back home. 

It’s interesting what one remembers from a “family vacation”. Sometimes it’s not at all what you would think. Regardless, though, whether they are the typically indulgent and bountiful trips of today’s families or the more frugal and sparse versions of generations past, they are times when togetherness is cherished and memories are made….good or otherwise.  

Here’s to wishing you a happy one this year!

Is Proof Important To You?

How important is “proof” of something? Is proof really necessary or can we get by without it?  In today’s society we require proof of all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons … proof of age, proof of ownership, proof of residency … the list goes on and on. The kind of proof I’m talking about today on this beautiful sunny Easter morning is a different type of proof with a world-wide outcome that affects every single human on this planet of ours … proof of life. Not just any old life…the life of Jesus Christ.

Whether you believe it or not does not change anything about the cold, hard facts. Jesus was savagely nailed to a cross and left there to die so that you and I could be forgiven for our sins … past, present and future. His poor beaten, bloodied and punctured dead body was tenderly wrapped in cloth, as was the custom of those times, and laid in a tomb … a rocky cave. A huge stone that probably took multiple people to push was used to seal up the only entrance to that tomb. Three days later that tomb was discovered open and the cloth that had wrapped Jesus’s body was all that remained inside. The people that had loved and followed him knew immediately that what he had told them beforehand was really true…even though they had not really been able to wrap their heads around it at the time.  He confirmed it later that same day when he appeared to a select few….not in the exact same body they had buried but in his “new, heavenly body”…like the ones those who live eternally in Heaven with Him will have some day. JESUS WAS NO LONGER DEAD, BUT VERY MUCH ALIVE!!  They saw Him and talked with Him.  Imagine the shock and shame felt by those who had laughed and scoffed, those who made fun of him and beat him and drove the huge nails into the tender skin of his hands and feet. And yet, as He hung there bleeding and in terrible pain and agony, He begged God, his Father to FORGIVE those people who had treated Him so terribly.  Jesus did that for US … to make it possible for us to join Him in Heaven some day after we die. 

He’s already done the hard part. All we have to do is believe it and then because we believe it and are so grateful for His unprecedented, unfathomable and gracious gift, we give the rest of our lives to Him and His service in whatever way He chooses to use us. We accept his offer to save us from an eternity apart from Him …aka Hell. The choice is ours…He has given us the freedom to choose. The Bible tells us that the path to Heaven will be very narrow, because most people on this planet will unfortunately choose the bigger path…the wrong path.  Each and every one of us has that very choice to make….which one will you choose?

Jesus didn’t have to give us proof of His life, but He did with the empty tomb. He continues that proof each and every day in the lives of those who love and follow Him; those who have accepted his offer. When they ask Him for help he loves nothing more than to shower them with comfort, peace, joy and the assurance that they will travel the “narrow path” and join Him someday in Paradise. All the Proof we will ever need is hiding in plain sight for all who truly want to see it.

Gettin’ Real …

How are you at tolerating discomfort? How about when someone is brutally honest and tells you something you don’t really want to hear? Well, this is your WARNING that tough stuff…..for some of you…..is ahead.  If you can’t take uncomfortableness, you might want to stop right here and skip on to the nearest post on rainbows and unicorns….or something equally numbing, because today, I’m ripping off the bandaid slowly….waking up every nerve ending along the way……and there is a really good chance you will not like it…not one little bit. 

You’ve been warned.

This coming Friday, “Good Friday” is the MOST important day in the life of true Christians. It is the day commemorating the afternoon when Jesus Christ, son of the only living God, was tortured terribly and died an excruciating death nailed to a cross…..for us.  He did it because, thanks to Adam and Eve and their sinful behavior in the Garden of Eden, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US….right from birth…. has “HELL” stamped on our “boarding pass”….our final destination after death. He died to SAVE US from that unspeakably horrible and totally final destination. The Holy Bible…..our “Owner’s Manual” for life….tells us in Acts 4:11 & 12 that “there is salvation in NO ONE ELSE….salvation is found in no other name than Jesus.”  That salvation…..that cancellation of the original destination and issuance of a new “ticket” to Heaven….is only given to those who ACCEPT Jesus’s offer. Those who believe in Jesus Christ….believe that He is the son of God….the only God….not the Buddhist “God”…not the Hindu “God”….not the “God” of Islam…..there is only ONE true God. Those who believe that he came to earth as a man to live like us, except totally sinless…totally. Those that believe that His message of hope and forgiveness and salvation was so totally despised by the wicked people led by Satan, and made them feel so guilty and threatened …….because they didn’t want to change how they were living and doing whatever they wanted in all their corrupt and immoral ways……that they decided to get rid of him and make an example of him by using the worst possible punishment of those times. He died that miserable death because our all-knowing God had ordained that blood was the only acceptable sacrifice for sin. To give us the chance to avoid going to Hell after death, Jesus stepped up to the plate to take that “hit” for us……He sacrificed His life and literally poured out his blood onto the ground at the foot of the cross…….in front of his dear mother and others who loved him …in order for those of us who accept His offer…..and ONLY those….to live in Heaven with Him after we die, instead of going to Hell. Those who can swallow their pride long enough to confess that they’ve made many mistakes and bad choices and that they are sorry for all those…..and that they truly want to change….they accept Jesus’s offer to help them become a better person….the person He specifically created them to be. Those who can stop rebelling and embrace the concept of submission have another option. Submission to Jesus’s plan for us…the specific and unique “job description” He created for each of us…….instead of just living for ourselves in whatever way we feel like living.

Oh I felt that…..your squirming in your seat at the word “submission”. I can imagine the slide show in your brain flipping to a famous scene of people in a tent lined up accepting little Dixie cups of “KoolAid”…followed closely by the subsequent “dirt nap” that never ended.  Nothing could be further from the truth my friends! That was at the hands of someone on the opposite “team”….someone working for Satan. 

I am reminded of an event at least 22 years ago when the world-famous Christian rock group from Australia, the “Newsboys” performed at little old Triway high school’s gym. I was in the audience that night and it was a life-changing moment for me and probably many others. My family and I were seated on the bleachers and there was a young man in front of me. The lights were turned very low and as the heart-stopping rhythms and lyrics of hope, God’s truth and goodness filled me more and more, I began to notice that fellow in front of me. He appeared “wild” with the inability to pay attention or sit relatively still…and it got worse and worse. I cannot begin to explain it in a way that will convince you of what I truly believe  was going on.  The Bible tells us that the closer you get to God, the harder that Satan…and all his “workers” will try to stop you and defeat you, trip you up in front of others and convince you that you’re being a fool and whatever other tactics he can use in his desperate attempt to keep you away from the one and only source of love, power, worth, identity and eternal life in Heaven. If you are a Believer, you know that, along with God and His army of angels, that gym that night was also filled with Satan and his henchmen as well. I believe with all my heart that those two forces were dueling it out over that young man…within him.  As his heart was pulling him closer to God, Satan was pulling out all his stops trying to get him to stop listening, stop feeling the love, stop paying attention. 

If you are squirming now…..if this information I’m sharing is making you feel really uncomfortable and skeptical and like laughing or making fun of it…………have NO DOUBT ABOUT IT……there is REAL “spiritual warfare” going on right now for your soul.  Satan doesn’t want you to accept God’s offer. That would spell failure for him. He wants you to think this is the most ridiculous pile of nonsense you’ve ever read….truly.  I didn’t make that up…..it’s in the Bible…all of this, for that matter…read it for yourself. No, “submission” to Jesus does not mean you won’t ever sin again, and it does not mean that while still this side of Heaven you won’t have pain, hardships, and loss. What it means is that from that point…the point that you submit…you will be forgiven for all you have ever done and that He will help you get through every single moment of your life….no matter how hard….from that point forward.  He will be your best Friend. He will comfort you and guide you and help you make decisions. He will fill you with peace…if you trust him, and stop trying to control things yourself. That’s what submission to Jesus looks like. No spiked KoolAid needed.

The last “boarding call” is coming over the speakers…..are you going to accept the offer to exchange your ticket for a beautiful, sunny, final destination where there is no stress, no crying, no sadness and no tears? Or are you going to keep the ticket you already have?  Have no doubt….all the most brilliant minds and resources of NASA will never be able to create anything to protect you from the fire and heat if you stay with your current ticket.

Who Are You A “Rep” For?

What kinds of “reps” do you encounter in your life? Who do they “rep” for? Over the course of my career in the medical field, I have encountered many “reps”, short for company ‘representative’ … drug company reps, medical equipment reps, nursing home marketing reps, home health care reps and the list goes on and on. I was also married to a sales rep for 24 years. Lots of exposure to “reps” of all kinds. It can be a very demanding, time consuming and challenging type of profession. My devotional for today talks about another kind of “rep” position….this one supersedes ALL others and is intended for ALL of us, no matter if we FEEL particularly capable or not.

This devotional that I’m referring to really hit me like a brick this morning….every bit of it. As I’ve shared before, I have followed Dr. Charles Stanley for many years and consider him to be one of the most devout and trustworthy “reps” when it comes to explaining God’s Holy Word – the Bible, to us. He is the author of this and I want to share all of it with you.  It’s based on Ephesians 5:1:

“ The Father cares for you so much that He made you in His own image.  To be His child. To be His representative in this world.  Think about how profound that is.  It means He created you with the ability to experience Him in a deep, intimate relationship.  Likewise, He made it possible to pour His life into you and work through you in ways that will impact eternity.  His desire is that when people see you, they are reminded of Him and give Him the glory.

So no matter how you feel about yourself, embrace the truth: You bear the image of the living God.  You have the capacity to know Him, walk with Him, and carry out His wonderful plans – with His power, wisdom, and leadership.  He loves you, enables you, and works out His will through you.  Pondering being created in His image not only will bless your life, but can absolutely transform the world in a manner you never imagined possible.  So walk in His ways. Obey God and do your best to represent your Father well.”

Let’s break it apart a little. God created the very blueprint of each and every living organism on this entire planet. Think ……I mean REALLY THINK about the unimaginably complex anatomy, physiology, and biology involved. We are talking “MAD SKILLS” here people!!! Truly supernatural skills.  Skills unequaled by anyone else …past, present or future.  He is truly the MASTER scientist and artist.  Think of His artistry alone…..all our different faces with their subtle and not-so-subtle nuances, all our different types and color of hair and all the beautiful shades of our skin in this world….He created those with His palette of “Heavenly watercolors”, if you will. All the different sizes and shapes of our bodies in all different degrees of strength, frailty, and capability.  He created all the different animals and creatures of the sea and air too, but do we look like them? Can we do what they do? He created all the beautiful trees and plants from the mountains to the deserts to the jungles. Do we resemble those? Can we do what they do?  The answer is NO, we cannot. God designed us on his “heavenly drafting table” and then created us Himself to be exactly the way He wants….not like the animals or plants, but like Him….”in His image”…..specifically for His purposes. Not for our purposes….not to work like a fiend for the goal of becoming a millionaire or in order to acquire a new car every year or two or in order to have a big fancy house filled with all the nicest furniture or in order to send our kids to ivy league schools, or even to simply “be happy”.  Those are NOT in the job description of the “rep” position He created us to fill.  Contrary to popular thought, He did not create us to “be happy”. Oh no my friends, He created us for a much higher, more challenging “position”. The animals are simple creatures who perhaps can just “be happy/content” as they go about their simple lives. We, however, are capable of much more complex thought and action, by God’s specific design. In turn, we are also EXPECTED to carry out our more important role as well….to let Him flow through us, to be to others what He wants us to be….what He would be to them. To share the “company information and specifics”….to share His love and truth and His message of salvation, in hopes of gathering others who know nothing about his “product” to join His team. Sound familiar? Oh we each are unique and, by His design, the way we will accomplish these tasks will look a little different than the way our believing friends or family members might go about it. We are all created to be his “reps”…..a “God Rep”, if you will. Picture that on the badge you wear to work everyday. “Jim Smith, God Rep”. Guess what…if people know you are a follower of Christ, you are already wearing that badge. Whether you realize it or not, you are “representing”…..every day and everywhere you go. Are you fulfilling your assignment in the job description He created? Are you gathering others for His team? Are you sharing the “company information”?  What kind of a “Rep” are you?  

Who Are You Watching?

Who are YOU watching?  No, I don’t mean watching as in creeping around, peeping-tom style looking in people’s windows at night. That’s a whole different kind of “watching”. That kind will get you a first class ticket to watching from behind a set of bars.  I’m talking about the role models and the people you watch, consciously or sub-consciously, those who influence you and your decisions in life. You may not have given it much thought, but the people you watch or look up to or seek advice from are critically important to your future.

As I was growing up and especially as I entered my teen years, my mother was my very best friend, confidante’, laughing buddy, role model, Christian influencer and “fixer-of-all-problems”. When I left home to go to college it was the hardest thing in my young life at that point.  I was terribly homesick and missed my mom and her ever-ready words of comfort and guidance. I was a very fearful, insecure and “nervous Nelly” type. For this reason I hated being the oldest child. I always wished I had had an older sibling…especially a brother, to look out for me and to “blaze the trail” ahead of me. I hated being the first one to have to step out and experience things alone. Oh not outwardly, I was always pretty good at keeping that under wraps from all but the most discerning eye. 

This departure from my mom and the place in which I felt the most secure created a “void” that seemed to follow me pretty much everywhere I went for many years. New things and changes were always the hardest for me. With every new situation and every new job I always found myself gravitating towards the older, more “mother-figures” in the group. In their presence, I felt more secure and safe from the ever-changing, “scary” unknowns abundant in people my own age. I think it also made me feel more like I was with my dear mom, who I still missed so much.  Perhaps this is why I have always felt a strong love for senior citizens and a calling to work with and for them in my career.

The people we “watch” and follow have a huge impact and “footprint” in our lives, even if we don’t always realize it at the time. Like a bird gathering bits and pieces from here and there in order to build her own nest, we gather “bits and pieces”, attitudes and values from our “mentors” and those we spend the most time with as we are building the “nest” we call life.

In recent years I have looked back over my life and my nursing career and noticed a very interesting pattern. In all but one of my different jobs, there has been at least 1 person who has filled this “position” in my life.  Someone I look up to, whose advice I seek, whose behavior I observe and sometimes model and who I usually hold above others in many ways.  In my case, I have been mightily blessed in the fact that I believe God chose all of those women to go along beside me in each of those difficult jobs in much the way my mother would have. Thankfully all these ladies were….and still are, wonderful Christians and very good “role models” and influencers. Whether they knew it or not or even regardless of whether I always was aware of it, I was “watching” them. They were having an impact on my life…..good or bad. 

You may be asking, what about the one job where there wasn’t a person for you to “watch” and be guided by. Well, I wondered about that myself, especially since, for the first time in my life, I was almost the oldest one in the large group in which I worked.  I came to the conclusion that maybe God had decided it was time for me to be the one “watched”. To help guide those younger and/or in need of comfort like I always had needed. That was a new and rather startling thought for me, and me being me didn’t necessarily feel worthy of that possibility. I now believe, though, that He was introducing me to that as a concept that I needed to embrace.

I think it’s a pretty well-known fact that the values, beliefs and life-styles of the people we “watch”  and hold in esteem often become our own over time. That is why it is so critically important that we choose wisely the people we spend the most time with. Each of our days are made up of choices….hundreds of them. They may seem small but when accumulated over time, they can create BIG results…..good or bad. 

In my devotions today, I’m reading in 1John: chapter 2. In the footnotes I found something very very important and perhaps “convicting” in one way or another to most of us, myself very much included.  It talks about having the right “values” and urges us to be sure that we have GOD’S values and NOT the “world’s” values.  It notes that having the “world’s” values is characterized by 3 attitudes:

1). A craving for physical pleasure – a preoccupation with gratifying physical desires

2). A craving for everything we see – wanting and accumulating THINGS; bowing to the god of materialism

3). Pride in our achievements and possessions – obsession with our status or importance

On the opposite side are God’s values, that we should strive for:

1). Self-control

2). A spirit of generosity

3). A commitment to humble service

 Then it asked the million dollar question, “do your actions reflect the world’s values or God’s values?”

Obviously, there is much more to the development of our attitudes and values than who we are spending time with and who is “mentoring” us. Whether or not we know Christ as our personal Savior is first and foremost in that development, but WHO we are “hanging” with the most, who we hold on a pedestal, who we seek advice from often determines whether or not we actually ever even find Christ in the first place. 

So, this begs several questions……WHO are you “watching”?  Who might be “watching” YOU? Do you need to change who you’re watching?  Do you need to make changes in your life and make better choices for the benefit of those who might be watching YOU?

How Healthy is Your Tongue?

Have you ever said the wrong thing at the wrong time and ended up creating a terrible mess, hurting someone’s feelings …or ruining a long relationship?  Unfortunately, I daresay we all have at one time or another. I know I have. Some of those things I remember, and regret terribly; others, I honestly don’t remember, but I’m sure that does nothing to lessen whatever impact they may have had at the time. My devotions today included the reading of James, chapter 3; an entire chapter devoted completely to the subject of controlling our tongue and having genuine wisdom…the kind from God……as opposed to that NOT from God.  What an eye-opening book James is!!!  Truly!!  It gives believers very detailed information on how we should be living…..and speaking……and likewise, how we should NOT.

James starts out by comparing our tongue to the small bit in the mouth of a large horse…it is totally what directs his path. Or the small rudder on a large boat….it totally directs its’ path as well.  Likewise, our tongue is a very small member of our much larger body. However small its’ size though, its’ effect should not be underestimated. Its’ power to control an outcome is huge….just like the bit and the rudder.  What we say and what we don’t say are both very important. Examples of an “untamed tongue” include gossiping, putting others down, bragging, manipulating , false teaching, exaggerating, complaining, flattering, and lying. We are advised to ask ourselves 3 questions before we speak:

  1. Is what we want to say true?
  2. Is it necessary?
  3. Is it kind?   

James then reminds us that a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. Likewise, “the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness , corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.”  Yes, you heard me correctly. The Bible … the best, most riveting non-fiction book you could ever read, tells us that the tongue’s wickedness has its’ source in hell itself. Satan uses the tongue to divide people and to pit them against one another. Shallow and hateful words are damaging because they spread destruction quickly and no one can stop the results once they are spoken.  We dare not be careless with what we say, thinking we can apologize later, because even if we do, the scars remain.  A few words spoken in anger can destroy a relationship that took years to build. Before we speak, we need to remember that words are like fire – you can neither control nor reverse the damage they can do.

So then, if no human being can fully “tame the tongue”, why should we bother trying? Well, listen up…..I’m about to tell you. Even though we may not achieve perfect control of our tongues, the Holy Spirit will help us learn self-control. Remember that we are not fighting the tongue’s fire in our own strength. The Holy Spirit will give us increasing power to monitor and control what we say, so that when we are offended, the Spirit will remind us of God’s love, and we won’t react in a hateful manner.  When we are criticized, the Spirit will heal the hurt and help us to not lash out.

Say what??!!! Who is “the Holy Spirit” and how on earth would he do any of this?  This doesn’t make a bit of sense!  As I said in my last post, if you are an unbeliever or a “scoffer” in regards to all of this ….. someone who has not accepted God’s offer of salvation, this will all seem like silly, stupid mumbo jumbo and you may be tempted to stop reading and laugh all this off and decide that I’m a “total whack job”. Pump the brakes…and I’ll explain.  The Holy Spirit is part of God. I know it’s hard to wrap your head around because it seems so unlike anything we have experience with. The Bible does tell us that some things truly are beyond our understanding and only God knows about and understands them fully. This is where trust and faith in His word comes into play.  God has a “triune” or 3-part “presence”, if you will.  God himself, God in the Holy Spirit, and God as Jesus.  Don’t overthink it. None of us will ever fully grasp it until we get to Heaven….those that have that as their final destination, that is. The Holy Spirit is that part that God promises to place inside each of us who make the life-changing decision to accept His offer of total forgiveness and salvation. When we make this choice….and it IS a choice that EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US IS GIVEN TO MAKE… kinda like when Ethan Hunt chooses to accept each of his assignments in the Mission Impossible series….God then fills us with the Holy Spirit. If you haven’t made the choice to accept Christ’s offer, you do not have the Holy Spirit living in you and are missing out on all this help that we’re talking about here. He has many jobs, once He is part of us. Things He wants to help us with and WILL help us with.  One of those is to help us control our thoughts and our wiley, wicked tongues.  Talk about a TALL order!!  He really has his work cut out for him, because we all have trouble in this area and need His constant love and guidance where our speech and thoughts are concerned. 

Speaking of thoughts, James has some pretty profound information on true, genuine wisdom in this chapter as well. It has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence. You may have a PhD in astrophysics or biology or math or psychology or you might be a brain surgeon…but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are “wise”. You may just be intelligent. Intelligence is just the acquiring of knowledge about something. Intelligence allows someone to give several reasons WHY his car broke down. True wisdom is practical and helps us take ACTION…..it helps someone choose the MOST LIKELY REASON WHY the car broke down and then TAKE ACTION. If it is wisdom from God, it is also “divine”, which means it goes beyond common sense. It allows us to CHOOSE joy, even in the middle of horrific trials. True wisdom from God is also “Christlike”. It does not include a critical attitude. It does not involve thoughtless or selfish requests. True wisdom can be measured by someone’s character. Just as you can “identify a tree by the type of fruit it produces”, you can evaluate your wisdom by the way you act. As the footnotes to James Chapter 3 point out, “foolishness leads to disorder, but wisdom leads to peace and goodness. Careful, winsome speech and wise, loving words are the seeds of peace. God loves peacemakers. Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition are inspired by Satan. It’s easy for us to be drawn into wrong desires by the pressures of society and even well-wishing Christians. By listening to the advice: “Assert yourself”, “Go for it”, “Set high standards”, we can be drawn into greed and destructive competitiveness . Seeking God’s wisdom delivers us from the need to compare ourselves to others and to want what they have.”

In contrast, “wisdom from above is first of all pure.  It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others.  It is full of mercy and good deeds.  It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.  And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness”…verse 17.

I don’t know about you, but this chapter has given me a TON to consider and think on. The need is great…..to be more mindful of what we say and how and when we say it. To be ever-sensitive to what God’s Word says about our speech and what it is….and ISN’T supposed to be, which is usually the total opposite of what our horribly messed up society tells us.   Kindness, sincerity, and gentleness are superior to the thoughtless, selfish, aggressive “bull-in-a-china-shop” manner so prevalent in our world today. The challenge to accept or ignore this directive is ‘on the table’…..which one will you choose?

Hidden Treasures …

I don’t know about you, but I love to discover “hidden treasures”. They can be found in all different forms, shapes, and sizes. No, I’m not talking about physical treasures….although I definitely love to find those as well…..things you forgot you had, a super-good deal at a store on something you’ve searched for….the possibilities are endless. No, what I’m referring to are the treasures I’ve been finding in my daily devotions and prayer time. Life-changing little ‘nuggets’ of gold that I just love to come upon out of the blue.

I’ve been working my way through the New Testament over the last several months and have never felt more interested in a topic nor have I ever felt as close to the Lord as I feel at this point in my life.

I have had a time of prayer and devotion most mornings for years now but with varying degrees of attention, comprehension and interest, to be fully transparent with you.  One of the blessings, for me, of this time of COVID quarantine, however, is added time. Since I’ve been working from home from the beginning of this ordeal, I no longer have a 40 minute commute every morning and having that extra time with God has been a monumental blessing to my spiritual life. I’m not kidding…..”monumental” is quite literal in this instance. I now never miss a morning of devotions and look forward to it like never before. I have felt myself changing more and more with each day, becoming more peaceful, more content with all the different aspects of my life….both positive and those not-so-positive. I am so eager to open my Bible each morning and read another chapter. The Lord has truly filled me with a sense of awe and wonderment over everything I find there. As I pray and ask Him for wisdom and discernment to help me understand it the way He wants me to and to then apply it to my own life, He does just that. I, who love words and love to use them very descriptively, find it hard to adequately describe to you how this new, more intense time spent with Him affects me. I am a lover of many things and tend to feel very deeply about everything I do. I love to learn new things in my hobby of drawing and painting. I love to listen to new music, try new recipes and on and on. Nothing, however, draws me in quite like this has. Even though I grew up going to church and have been a Christian all my life, I feel like I have entered a new and different “level”, if you will. The best “level” yet. The things I’ve read before are now NEW to my eyes and my heart and I feel so “renewed” and hopeful. It’s truly like what Paul describes in Acts 9:18 when God blinded him for a few days and then all of a sudden something like ‘scales’ fell from his eyes and he could see again…..truly see….and he was a totally new man from that point on. Totally devoted to serving Jesus.  That’s how I’m feeling more and more. Oh, do not think for one minute that I think I’m perfect or will never sin again. Absolutely not! Unfortunately I will still sin, because I’m human. Only God is perfect and without sin. But I feel myself changing…becoming less sinful, with my desires and priorities slowly lining up more with His. I am not the same person I was even a year ago. I need nothing more to remind me than to go back to the beginning of this blog about 4 years ago to see how very much I’ve changed. As I do that, I’m a little disappointed in some of my thoughts and areas of focus from back then and have been tempted to delete previous posts. However, I think maybe it’s best to leave them….as a reminder of how far I’ve come. 

I’m currently in Hebrews Chapter 8 right now and I personally love my New Living Translation, Life Application Study Bible because not only is the verbiage written in an easier to understand way, but then there are TONS of deeply meaningful and helpful footnotes for most of the verses.  The footnote for today’s reading really REALLY popped out and spoke to me.

It’s for Verses 10 & 11:

If our heart is not changed, following God’s rules will be unpleasant and difficult. We will rebel against being told how to live. The Holy Spirit, however, gives us new desires, helping us want to obey God. With a new heart, we find that serving God is our greatest joy. Under God’s new covenant, God’s law is inside us. It is no longer an external set of rules and principles. The Holy Spirit reminds us of Christ’s words, activates our conscience, influences our motives and desires, and makes us want to obey. Now doing God’s will is something we desire with all our heart and mind.”

So, how do we have a “changed heart”…..a new heart?  Well, it starts when we accept God’s free gift of salvation. So what does that really mean? He extends the “invitation” to everyone…..yes, I did say EVERYONE…..but we have to take action to accept it. We have to confess to Him….not to anyone else who walks this planet….that we have sinned in our lifetime….we’ve made bad decisions, we’ve had wrong thoughts, we’ve had times when we have not done the right thing….maybe we’ve hurt people…..the possibilities are endless. It matters NOT. If we truly repent….and there is a difference between “confess” and “repent”… confess just means to list off our offenses , but to repent involves listing them, feeling sorry about committing them, PLUS we also then have to take action to CHANGE our behavior in such a way that we are sinning less and less instead of staying the same or sinning even more. We have to stop engaging in things that set us up for continued failure and “infractions”, if you will. If we TRULY repent and TRULY believe in Jesus and believe that He is God’s holy Son, who literally allowed himself to be nailed to a cross in order to forgive YOU and me for our sins, so that someday…..IF AND ONLY IF we accept this sacrificial gift from Him…..we will spend eternity with Him and all the others who also accepted this gift….in Heaven. When we make the decision to take this step, God blesses us with a “new heart”……a changed heart. You will never be the same again. In a GOOD way…….a very good way.

Now, if you happen to be a very staunch “non-Believer”, this will all seem like ridiculous science-fiction mumbo jumbo to you. You may even be laughing your socks off right about now. We know that. The Bible tells us that that is the exact reaction of many people who have rebelled against this whole topic.  Take note, though…if you rebel too hard for too long, you are in danger of the Lord just letting you harden your heart….and you may never soften it enough again to see the Truth. This is no surprise. Scripture lays it all out. Just like your physical heart, with it’s arteries all clogged up, your “spiritual” heart, if hardened, leads to death. Death. There are no second chances with death. No opportunity to turn around and say, Oops…I think I made a mistake..can I please have a “do-over”. Nope, nada, not happening. Death is 100% final. Death without Jesus, though, is literally Hell. Yep, I said it. People “pussy-foot” around about that a lot these days but that’s the bottom line. A bottom line you don’t want. So unbelievably terrible that none of us can even begin to fathom the horrors it beholds.

As I wrote this today, I was reminded of a very important time when my life  took a very hairpin curve. Exactly thirty years ago this month, I experienced both the worst and the best days of my soon-to-be 60 years on this earth. After my 1st round of chemo for Stage IV lymphoma, when I was so terribly sick….too sick most of the time to even care for my 18 month old daughter, the Lord spoke to my heart and I went through a very profound “born-again” experience. I remember vividly the feeling of utter joy, despite the dire situation I was in. Those two events changed the entire trajectory of the rest of my life. Sometimes the Lord has to use drastic measures to get our full attention. I’m so glad He did.

There’s a lot to unpack in this today. Lots of food for thought. Serious, life-altering thought. Hopefully, though, you will do more than just think about it. As I write this, I pray that God calls to your heart ….maybe via someone you know or something you read….that you will soften your heart, open it up enough to be willing to hear what He has to say…..and take His outstretched hand and hold tight. Allow Him to hold and hug you tightly and love you into His everlasting arms. The wonderful hidden treasures that will unfold from that point forward will be beyond your imagination and understanding. His love and forgiveness knows no bounds.

Have A Car? Doesn’t Mean You’re Going Anywhere …

If you’re like me, you love to hear about acts of kindness, those true “feel-good” stories we just don’t hear enough of. They’re especially impactful to me when they involve young people just starting out on their journey through life. Even more specifically, I love to hear of young people going out of their way to be kind and helpful to senior citizens…..or at least to folks much much older than they are.  It gives me a shot of much-needed hope for our future. If there’s anything we need in bucket-fulls right now, it’s hope! Here’s a little squirt of it for YOUR bucket.

When going from a married “state” to an unmarried “state”, there are many  challenges for the newly single woman. I am not “newly” single but I could give you quite a long list… but that’s not what this article is about. One of the things towards the top, if not the very top, for me personally, is the challenge of dealing with car problems. I have dealt with many issues personally and in my long career as a nurse that are much more serious but, quite frankly this one always pushes me over the edge. I confess … I tend to push the panic button. I’m not proud of that…but it’s my reality….so I’m owning it.  It’s an area where I feel totally out of control and at the mercy of people who I hope will not take advantage of my ignorance.  That is quite a terrible feeling.  When you’re married, your husband usually takes care of all the car issues, thankfully so, and I was always very grateful for that. Even if your particular spouse isn’t “car-savvy”, at the very least , you have someone you can discuss it with and who can help you make intelligent decisions, drive you around until your car is fixed, etc. When you’re single, it’s ALL ON YOU.

This morning I had a 10am appointment to get to in Wooster. I decided I better leave at 9:15 so that’s when I went out to get in my car. I was totally shocked,especially since it’s only 3 years old, to find that my car wouldn’t start. It has a push-button start… no key like the ‘good ole’ days. I tried it a second time….nuttin’.  My stomach took a nose dive and the adrenaline started surging. One of my many faults is that I HATE asking for help. However, knowing that I needed to get to that appointment,  I sent out a couple S.O.S. texts. Immediately after that….because, as you probably know, when you’re panicking, you usually aren’t thinking clearly… I remembered that I had purposely purchased a handy little gizmo several months ago that I keep in my car that is intended to jumpstart it….without assistance from anyone else…. in just this kind of case. Of course, that requires that you first remember that you have it and then you need to know how to use it. Neither was the case this morning.  I quickly got it out and started frantically reading the instructions. About this time I saw my brother-in-law and increasingly frequent “rescuer” walking down the street with a similar device to help his flustered sister-in-law.  Within 5 minutes, my car was started and he had shown me how to use my own “rescue device”. As a bonus, he was also kind enough to show me the PROPER place to put the end of the “stick” that holds open your hood.  Low and behold, it is NOT the “hole” I have been using for the last 43 years that I’ve been driving. Insert emoji with huge big eyes and look of shock.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times…..someone…perhaps some nice retired man who is mature enough to be patient with women and won’t yell at them or make them feel stupid for asking dumb questions…… needs to provide very basic car care and home maintenance classes for us women folk !!!  Please……men….get on it!!   I digress.   Kindness number#1 encountered.

So, I went on over to Wooster and took care of business and while driving back, decided that, based on the fact that a battery in my last car only lasted 2 years and this one in my current car was 3 years old, I decided I should probably just bite the bullet and go down to Advanced Auto Parts and buy a battery and ask them if they could please install it.  My brother-in-law offered to install one if I decided to go that route, but…..as I mentioned above, I HATE asking or having to depend on anyone else, whose responsibility it is NOT.  A new battery was not in my budget whatsoever but I felt stressed just thinking of the possibility of getting stranded somewhere in the dead of winter with a car that won’t start. As you can clearly see, I’m still not remembering the device I own to mitigate this type of scenario.  So, this seemed essential.

I have always put a high degree of faith and value in “experience” and therefore usually gravitate towards someone in my general age-range, give or take a few years, when it comes to things of this nature. When I walked up to the counter at Advanced Auto,  I was greeted by a tall young man….emphasis on young…. as in even younger than my own daughter. Now, I need to pause here to share a little factoid with you that is important to this story.  There are places I am very comfortable in and others that I would choose to avoid like the plague.  Walking into a car repair shop, the service area of a car dealership and even places like this auto store that are known to be largely occupied by men fall into the latter category for me.  I am HIGHLY uncomfortable and intimidated by such settings. Thankfully, I also possess the ability to hide that feeling fairly well to the casual observer. So, it’s not like I am coming in to their domain looking like an hysterical nut or anything but inside I’m wishing I could be just about anywhere else at that moment. So, in light of that fact, the reception I encounter is critically important to me, and a determinant of whether or not I ever patronize that business again.

Well let me tell you. That young man was so very polite and such a great customer-service-minded employee that I hope his boss realizes his worth. He offered to go out and test my battery before ringing up the sale.  I took him up on it. Guess what, my battery is just fine. However, there was quite a lot of corrosion seeping out all over the terminal.  He proceeded to educate me about batteries in great and interesting detail, how they’re made, how they work and he answered all my questions in a very intelligent and educated manner. He then proceeded to tell me about a little kit there that I could buy that would take care of that corrosion. I bought that and 2 gallons of washer fluid. Like a gentleman, he carried out the washer fluid for me and put it in my car and then proceeded to open that little kit and cleaned off the corrosion and applied the contents himself. All while sharing important information with me that I need to know. And he did it all in a very kind and patient manner….the epitome of conscientiousness. He saved me quite a chunk of much-needed money today but also cemented my decision to go back there when I DO need a new battery…and for anything else car-related as well. In the kind of world we live in today when so many people are so focused on themselves and really don’t care about the quality of their work, good customer service is what makes many of us choose one business over another. It’s the “bees knees” to this grandma!

I learned a lesson today too, as I often do. Don’t assume that just because someone is very young, that they might not know what they’re doing or talking about.  Also, don’t assume that all young people are going to provide a less than ideal  experience. Note to self: you were young once too. Imagine how young parents must have felt when you, the 22 year old nurse fresh out of college, was starting an IV in the scalp of their precious, sick baby’s tiny head. How soon we forget. 

So, there’s your “squirt” of kindness for today….and some hope for our future.  Kindness is king. Pass it on.

To Be Thankful … Or Not… Your Choice

If you’re reading this, you have at least one thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.  Our Lord, in His great wisdom, mercy and grace, chose to wake you up for another day.  That alone is cause for great thanks and celebration.  Chances are, though, there’s more to be thankful for…..much more. Let’s explore that.

First, I have a confession to make. Despite the “political incorrectness” of it all, as well as the big “hit” it may deliver to my “witness” as a Christ-follower,  in recent years, I have not always felt “thankful” at this time of the year.  In the last 9 years, since my divorce and then the death of both of my parents, I have hated the holiday season. Yes….I said it….I have HATED  all the happy-go-lucky holiday festivities and decorations and sappy, unrealistic Hallmark movies that feature seemingly happy couples and families EVERYWHERE. I’ve dreaded it BIG TIME….and privately breathe a sigh of relief on January 1st when all the festivities…..and expectations of “joyfulness” are over until the next year.  For me and millions of others, this “magical” time of year is a painful reminder of loss and hardship. The nature of my work with senior citizens over the last 16 or so years brings the faces of dear old souls to mind who have very few resources and no friends or family who will spend any time with them over the much acclaimed holidays. So sad. For me personally, this season brings memories of beautiful times and beautiful people that can never be experienced again, which equals pain. With all of the typical family-related movies and events of the season, I remember happy family gatherings….big ones as well as those with just the 3 of us. Christmas mornings filled with joy as my little jammie-clad family opened treasures from each other followed by even more fun when my parents arrived. Big gatherings with all my aunts and uncles and cousins….great food and great stories. Music was also a huge part of the Christmas holiday. Now, I can barely listen to any of those treasured songs without a waterfall of tears because I hear my mother’s beautiful soprano voice in all of it…..pain again. 

As a born-again Believer, I feel shame that these feelings often overshadow what I know to be a life full of many blessings. They are not right or worthy to take up real estate in my brain. Yes, I am forever thankful for God’s great gift of salvation and that very fact is the most important one I cling to. However, I am still human and still struggle with certain tough things, like we all do. I’ve learned over the years, though, that the best way to get yourself out of a “funk” is to make a list of the things you are or should be thankful for. Once I get started, it’s hard to find the end, there’s always much more than I remembered. Life is like that. If we’re not careful, we can allow ourselves to wander way too close to the edge of the “pit of despair or discouragement”.  The edges of that pit are very squishy and slippery….made worse by our tears….and it’s way too easy to lose our footing and slide into the pit. Satan cheers up and down when that happens, because he knows how very hard it is to get back up and out of that pit once we fall down in it…..and he doesn’t want us to get out. He loves to see us in misery. That’s why it’s critically important for us to steer clear of the edges of the pit in the first place.  How do we do that?  Well, ladies and gentleman, I do NOT claim to have all the answers, because as you can clearly see, I am 100% human, fallible and a constant “work in progress”. There is a place, though, where I have found and am continually finding the answers….truly….and that is in God’s word, the Bible. It is 100% true and factual…..the total opposite of “fake news”.  The answers I’m finding there, as I read a chapter every morning before starting my day, are gradually working to ease that pain around the holidays as they urge me…and all who find themselves in similar situations… to focus on what we DO have…..those things we should be thankful for.  For me there is much. I’m thankful for the large, obvious things as well as those that may seem very insignificant. It’s easiest to start with the obvious, materialistic things …. a warm home that protects me from the elements, clothes to wear, food to eat, a car to get me from point A to point B, art supplies,  etc. The non-materialistic things come slightly harder…..a good, safe neighborhood, a decent job that allows me to pay my bills, the beautiful scenic area in which I live, family and friends that are close by and those not so close, my cats, a body that, despite being “broken” with illnesses  and without any visual appeal anymore….still allows me to function and to think and to work productively.  The last category is more subtle, perhaps, but no less important. The ability to notice and be appreciative of the little “treasures” that God lovingly hides in the nooks and crannies of my days in order that I might happen upon them and experience a little joy in the moment……a smile from a stranger when I’m feeling blue, a letter from a friend when I’m feeling particularly lonely, a hug from someone when it’s been a very long time since the last hug from anyone, the chance encounter with the ‘critters’ I love to see out in “nature”, the beautiful shining sun, a friendly store clerk or the stranger you encounter in the grocery who shares a word or two with you. My day is FILLED with all these kinds of things, and I could go on and on. We all have them…we just usually take them for granted and overlook them. Make no mistake my friends, nothing is “random”…these come from the “air traffic controller” in the “control tower” of our lives.   I challenge you to sit down each day and examine it for all these kinds of little things. 

When I choose to dwell on all the many things I DO have to be thankful for, I begin to feel a lot better about everything….including the holidays.  Even this “COVID Thanksgiving” that I will only be sharing with my cats.

I’ll never be perfect or even close to it and I suspect I will always have a bit of a struggle with the holidays, as many of us do….as I’m always going to be a work-in-progress. God will never be totally finished with me until the day I walk through the “Pearly Gates”.

I’ve heard it said that many people tend to give what they themselves like or need to receive. Other people…not so much.  Either way, though, it’s true that ultimately, “what you sow, you shall reap”.  So right now would be a good time to sit and ponder all the many things, great and small, that you have to be thankful for and then go out and share some kindness with any and all in your “sphere of influence”. It will come back to you, giving you even more to add to your “thankful list” next year.

Thankfulness is a choice. Choose wisely.

Words…”Cheap”…or PRICELESS ?

When’s the last time you sent someone a card, a note or a letter?  No, I do not mean an email. Nor do I mean a “message” through Messenger…. or any other electronic form of communication.  When is the last time you took the time to sit down with a blank note card or a piece of paper and a pen and wrote at least a few sentences to someone, addressed an envelope, put a stamp on it and dropped it into the nearest mailbox?  If you’re like many in this world, it has been a LONG time……too long.  I’m on a mission to change that.

As I ponder my 59 1/2 years on this side of the dirt, one of my happiest memories that began very early was when I received mail. I use the generic term “mail” because back when I was a young lass, I was so tickled to get ANY mail that I went through a phase where I would send for FREE information of all kinds……..things like travel brochures, clothing catalogs, and information on beauty products, etc…..in order to experience the “thrill” of finding something with my name on it in the mailbox.  Of course I’m referring to the years I was still living at home with my parents. I can’t really explain it other than to say that for me, getting something in the mail (other than bills of course) has always felt kinda like Christmas. The travel brochures and catalogs were fun but the real JACKPOT was when something personal arrived.  I’m talking about a card or letter sent specifically to me from another human being who knew me. This person actually decided to take time from their life to sit down, compose their thoughts and share them with me via pen to paper…put it in an envelope, attach a stamp and drop it in a mailbox.  I didn’t know it then, but this happens to fall into the category of what I now consider to be “quality time”……someone taking their valuable time to specifically think of and communicate with ME…one of Gary Chapman’s infamous “love languages” from “The 5 Love Languages”. That is probably my top ‘love language’ and perhaps why it has always meant so much to me to get cards and letters in the mail, albeit very rare these days that that happens. To me it feels like a little slice of “encouragement pie”…..a delicate, life-affirming and life-sustaining “pastry” that we all need on our tables every day.

Speaking of encouragement, I have a rather interesting story about that very thing. Many of you know the bulk of this story already but almost no one knows this next little part I’m about to share. As you may or may not know, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma (Hodgkin’s) 30 years ago this December. I was 29, had only been married about 3 years and had a sweet little toddler to take care of. Four months prior to my diagnosis, my young husband……young in the sense of our marriage,…not the fact that he was 10 years my senior, had an emergent and life-threatening cardiac event that had life-long implications. So, it came as an extra shock and burden to us when my diagnosis was uncovered just a few months later. I’m sure you can well imagine the thoughts and fears running amok in my brain. Thoughts like I may not live to see my daughter go off to kindergarten or be here to teach her all the things she will need to know to navigate life, let alone just be around when she needs a mother. I am, however, a woman of faith and about a month after my diagnosis and the beginning of a very tortuous chemotherapy regimen, I felt the Lord speaking to me in a very big way. No, not audibly…..in my heart and mind…..and He was calling me to turn around and become an Encourager of other people. At that time, I completely renewed my faith and my life as one of His children. I immediately began to hunt for cute little cards and sent them to people who helped me and people who I thought might need a little sunshine in their day. That connected a few “dots” for me…..maybe that is why I loved getting mail so much. God was preparing me for a Job Posting he was designing just for me.  I now knew even more, first hand, how encouraging it is to receive a card or letter in the mail that the sender wrote and sent purposefully……and how very fulfilling it is to be the sender of such love for your fellow man as well.  From this I went on to making my own cards out of all kinds of pretty little bits of this and that. I started collecting rubber stamps…of which I have way too many… that I also used in this card making adventure. That lasted a couple years, I suppose.  Fast forward to now. Much has changed…especially in the last 9 years. My household has gone from 3 to 1, unless you add in my 2 cats. My rubber stamps have been untouched for years now and I haven’t made a card in my former method for years as well.  Life is very different.  However, I am thrilled to share that my “calling” has been re-energized over the last several months…..perhaps a positive result of the long period of solitude thanks to COVID.  I have been diving back into my love of art for the last couple of years now and have been doing a lot of experimenting and learning new things.  I have found a way to combine my love of art with my calling of being an Encourager. I am turning my original watercolor paintings, in all of their humbleness, into note cards, and having the time of my life doing it!!  Trying to learn all the technology involved with that has been a challenge and I’m still learning every day but it is so rewarding to hold each card in my hand and hope that it will make it’s way into the hands of someone who needs a little sunshine, a little original handmade art and a generous helping of encouragement in their day. The birth of “Teresa Miller Art” at TeresaMillerArt.com is my new “baby”.  

My hope is that taking time to write a card or letter to someone you care about or even a total stranger that you want to encourage for some reason will once again be “a thing”. Because to my way of thinking, it’s a very good thing for all of us, no exceptions. Now more than ever, people need physical confirmation….something they could hold in their hand and read over and over…..that there is another human in this world that is thinking of them and cares about them.  Let’s resuscitate and breathe life back into the grand old art of letter writing!  Help someone find joy in the simple act of going to the mailbox…..how easy is that!!! We ALL need something to look forward to each and every day.  I urge you to grab the nearest pen and a card or piece of paper and jot down a heartfelt little sentence or two to someone you know who could really use it. If you’re someone who sends Christmas cards, why not take a few minutes to write a couple sentences in it….don’t just sign your name and pop it in the mail, anybody can do that and it doesn’t really carry any “warm fuzzy” feeling to the recipient .  Tell them how much they mean to you or how much you enjoyed something they did or said, share an old memory with them or just say “Hi”.  You may never know how much of a difference that could truly mean to someone. You may end up on the receiving end of a blessing you could never have imagined or experienced otherwise.