Well, Excuse Me: Careful What You Say

“Put those raw peanuts in the shopping cart,” my eighty-nine-year-old mother said.IMG_2686

“What do you plan to do with these?” I said.

“Make peanut brittle for Christmas, of course,” she curtly responded.

After a moment of thought, I cautiously suggested that I would make the peanut brittle under her excellent supervision. Mom was not happy about my plan, but she agreed. She loves making peanut brittle, but she could not argue with my concern for her ability to handle an iron skillet of extremely hot candy.

The next day Mom pulled her walker up close to the stove. She alternately stood and sat as she told me exactly what to do until the candy syrup was ready for the next step. Finally, she said the  candy was ready for the last two ingredients to be added. Within a minute, I would be pouring the finished peanut brittle on the pans I had prepared where it would cool.

Mom started to move out of the area so I would have plenty of room to pour out the hot candy. As soon as her back was turned, I said, “Do you have to stick your nose into everything?”

“Well, excuse me,” was her immediate response. I laughed which did not help the situation. I had been talking to my dog—not to Mom. As soon as Mom had walked away from the stove, my dog slid his body between the stove and me.

Sometimes what we say results in hurt feelings that we did not intend because the context of our words was misunderstood. As we communicate, we need to check to make sure the hearers understand our meaning. Cues from body language, facial expressions, or the person’s response must be taken seriously and corrected before the problem becomes a deep hurt when a negative was not intended.

I apologized to Mom and explained I was talking to the dog. She laughed.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:18

The Best Gift

IMG_0387 (1)I must admit. I am a gift buying failure. I am not naturally good at it. I try, but usually I fail.

Do you have anyone on your gift buying list who is difficult to satisfy. That person may always express appreciation, but you know the gift was not one that was really wanted. Some people make buying them a gift tough because they buy everything they want as soon as they want it. Some make gift selection difficult because they are older and are down-sizing. Some people just never give you any hints, or maybe I am just not observant enough to pick up on their clues.

Often I cop out and just buy a gift card to a location I think the person will like. Based on the popularity of gift cards, I am sure most people enjoy receiving them. I know that I appreciate getting gift cards.

Come to think of it, maybe I am a person who is difficult when it comes to gift buying for one or more of the above reasons.

The best gifts I have received involve the giver spending time with me. With that in mind, my husband and I came up with a special gift for his ninety-one year-old stepdad’s Christmas this year. We took him on a long “Sunday” drive and ate lunch at a restaurant for which he had fond memories but hasn’t been to in years. We meandered around the countryside visiting favorite locations, ate a leisurely lunch, and returned by a different scenic route. He had a ball reminiscing and commenting on things we saw. Great day.

Sometimes we need to slow down and spend time investing in relationships. Those are the best gifts.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. 2 Thessalonians 3:16

3 Reasons to Have a Family Christmas Spiritual Tradition

When I was seven years old, my brother and I received the most wonderful Christmas gifts. We IMG_0411each were given a Stori-viewer and a set of full-color picture story cards. These were not just ordinary picture cards. They were 3-D when displayed in the Stori-viewer. The pictures were intricately detailed scenes depicting the facts of Jesus’ birth as written in Luke 2:1-20. The sharing of these cards has developed into a family Christmas tradition.

In our family, the Stori-viewer ritual takes place before gifts are opened. Each person finds a place to sit in a circle which forms in the living room. The tradition starts when the senior male family member reads the verse on the first card. For many years Daddy was the one overseeing this event. He read the card, inserted it into the Stori-viewer, and passed it to the person sitting next to him. That person looked and passed it to the next person. Once the first Stori-viewer traveled about halfway around the room, Daddy would read the next card and start the second Stori-viewer. As the Stori-viewer made its way around the room, each family member viewed the scene.  Even babies were given looks.

This year half the family will be celebrating Christmas in Oklahoma and half in Kansas due to some health issues. The Christmas story cards and the Stori-viewers will travel to both celebrations. It is the tradition that binds the family together.

Why is it important to have such a family tradition?

  • First, it keeps the family focused on the real reason for the celebration of Christmas—the birth of Jesus.
  • Second, it provides an expected structure to the family celebration. The chaos of chatter and play stops. The family focuses on being a unit doing one quiet thing together. It creates a strong family unit.
  • Third, for a few minutes in a day full of gifts and gluttonous eating, family members focus on something other than themselves.

Do you have a similar tradition in your family? What can you do to start one?

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11

2 Types of Tears

IMG_0384I have been crying a lot. My mother recently passed away. It startled me to discover that my tears sprung forth for many different reasons, and I suspect that is true for most grieving people.

Death is all about relationships being severed. I cry because:

  • I know I will never see Mom again.
  • I love her and cannot imagine life with her absent. Oh the house is so quiet!
  • I wish I had followed through with all of my promises.
  • I wish I had spent more time with her when I was younger and too busy pursuing my career.
  • I regret thoughtless or angry words for which I did not ask forgiveness.

These tears are all about me. I cannot take her to lunch at Cracker Barrel, I never again will sit by her at a grandkid’s ballgame, nor will I read the Christmas story with her ever again. These self-centered tears are a necessary and healthy part of grieving.

However, for me the selfish tears are balanced with tender tears of joy—joy of:

  • having experienced Mom’s love
  • having her as an example of hard work, ingenuity, and creativity
  • knowing that Mom loved Jesus
  • knowing she is in heaven
  • looking forward to the time I will eternally worship Jesus along side Mom and Dad.

I am reminded that all of us have control over what kind of tears will be shed the most by family and friends. We have an opportunity to leave our loved ones with predominately joyful tears because Jesus invited us to reside with him for eternity after we accepted him as our Savior.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20

Bad Things Come in Threes

These pessimistic words were rudely pronounced when I informed a friend that a lifetime IMG_0378neighbor had died. He was number two. My mother’s passing the week before was number one. The implication was that someone we know is going to die soon. And someone probably will.

How can these prophetic words not be true? I know many older people who are not very healthy. Winter is especially hazardous for them with slippery walkways, flu, and pneumonia threatening. If we include all kinds of bad luck, I can say that the prophecy has already been fulfilled. The recent rains have made a mess of the construction site where we are trying to build a shop. Construction is hopelessly behind schedule.

Beyond the fact that such negative sayings do nothing to help anyone deal with life’s challenges, I do not consider any of these things as negatives. My mother was a spunky ninety-year-old and lived an active life until her last week. Mom declared in no uncertain terms that she did not want to lay around in bed waiting to die. She was granted this desire because she was only incapacitated for eight days before she passed from this life to her eternal residence in Heaven. Our neighbor was ninety-one, and he passed in his sleep. He was still living at home with daily visits from local family. His extended family loved him deeply. He lived a God-blessed life. As for the rain, we did not want it at this time, but I will never complain about rain when crops need moisture and ponds are not completely full.

How we see things is our choice. I choose to not let my thinking be controlled by the old saying about bad things coming in threes. That is man’s fatalistic thinking. The recent events may be challenging, but it takes very little effort to see how God is working in each of the “bad” situations to bring good things to those who choose to see His work around them.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Joyful Grief: 4 Reasons I Find Joy in My Grief

Joy and grief are opposites for most people. But for me they go hand in hand.

Mom has left us to live in paradise.

Mom has left us to live in paradise.

My mother passed away last Monday. It left a huge hole in my heart.

Mom lived with my husband and me for the past nineteen months because it was no longer safe for her to live by herself in the farmhouse where I grew up. Mom was becoming frailer due to back pain and other health problems. However, her mind was good and she insisted on living life to its fullest—sometimes much to our chagrin.

The last two weeks have been tough, but God has blessed us in so many ways—excellent medical care, expressions of love from friends and relatives, and my out-of-state nieces and their children were able to see mom four days before she passed. Even though my grief is often expressed through tears running down my cheeks at odd moments when memories emerge, the joy is just as strong for these reasons.

  1. No long-term suffering: Mom, in no uncertain terms, told my brother and me that she did not want to lie around in bed for months before she died. (I do not know why she thought we could control her medical condition!) Mom had her first attack as we were driving to a restaurant where my brother was meeting us after Sunday morning services. Eight days later she died peacefully with my brother and me at her side.
  2. Mother’s positive influence in this world: Mother touched many people in both secular and church settings. She loved helping young people gain skills that would contribute to them becoming productive adults. Her greatest joy was when a child came to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
  3. Expressions of love: I have been overwhelmed by the many cards, messages, texts, and calls. I knew I had an amazing mother, but to have others tell me how she affected their lives produced a gratifying joy.
  4. Heaven is home: Mother is singing praises to God with my daddy, my brother, and my nephew.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Control: Who has it?

IMG_0153My life is out of control.  Can you relate?

My good intentions are sabotaged with the demands of daily life. The unexpected takes over. My husband forgot to tell me about a change in his schedule, Mom wants to start a new project, or the dog gets sick on the living room carpet. You know what I am talking about. We all experience similar interruptions daily.

Interruptions are not necessarily a bad thing. Some are fun. Some are frustrating. Some provide surprising opportunities to witness through our words or actions. I get that. But a series of interruptions that has gone on for months has crippled my plans. As soon as I negotiate one crisis and began to settle into a day or two of normalcy, the next mini-calamity arrives. Nothing really bad has happened. I have to admit that many of the interruptions in my plans have become blessings. The point is that MY PLANS ARE NOT HAPPENING.

So how have I responded to this reality?

1. Gripe: All this did was to make me and everyone around me miserable.

2. Get angry/throw a temper tantrum: A bad idea (see above).

3. Laugh it off and say, “That is just life”: This approach was the easiest, but it left  me frustrated. I suspect God has been testing my obedience to his direction for me to write because writing is the one thing I consistently have not been doing. Well, sort of. I write all of the time for myself, but God is directing me to write for others. My lack of productive writing time has led me to question whether God really wanted me to share my writing. 

4. Use small segments of “found time” better: In theory this should work well. In reality, it only somewhat works because my days have been jam-packed. Normally the only “found time” I have is when I am drained at the end of the day.

5. Seek God’s direction: Well duh! Why did I not do this first? Finally, I reached the best solution to my frustrations with the unexpected happenings in my life. I have quit hitting the panic button–well most of the time. A peace overtakes my mind when I remember to ask God what I am to do, when I am to do it, and how he wants me to achieve his project.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33

I resolve to daily give God my projects and my schedule. What area of your life do you need to relinquish control to God?

What Did You Say?

Do you listen to hear or do you just let the sound hit your eardrums? Is your mind on what is being said or on what you will say next? Or even worse, are you thinking about a completely different topic—what you will eat for supper, who will win the World Series, or the misbehaving kid across the street?

I, like most people, am so poor at listening—truly listening—that I miss the blessing of hearing with my heart. Yes, I listen. But often it is surface listening. I am “protecting my turf” listening—absorbed in self and not the speaker.

When I was helping Millie Young, a retired missionary, write her book, I recorded our sessions. Often I heard Millie make a seemingly off-hand comment that was profound. Yes, I physically heard it, but I did not understand until I reflected on the significance of the gem Millie had expressed. Here is one of those passages.

1-2-2001_039 (2)“During the first few years I was on the mission field, much of the success that my fellow missionaries and I had in Colombia was in the poor areas of Medellín. I believe this is a fairly universal pattern in third world countries. The conversions begin with the lower class people because they have nothing. They cannot say they do not need Jesus. So they bring a different attitude to learning about Jesus. A faith in Jesus gives them something to live for.”

This comment bounced around in my brain for several days. Could it be that the reason we do not have revival in the United States is because we think we do not need Jesus because we are so prosperous?

Are we so busy thinking about our comforts, our desires, and our things that we do not recognize our need for God?

He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Matthew 11:15

Are you listening?

It’s Never Too Late

What is your dream? Do you think it is impossible? Maybe you are hoping that you will do it someday.

Realistically, some things are impossible. For example, I am not going to become a gymnast at my age. I really do not desire to perform a competitive floor exercise. Just the thought of it makes my joints rebel.

But most of our simpler everyday types of dreams are possible. What would you like to do this spring? So many of life’s simple pleasures are worth pursuing. Why not try one of these in the next couple of weeks?

  • Take a leisurely walk with a friend
  • Ride a bike through your neighborhood
  • Sip a glass of iced tea with someone you have not seen in a while
  • Tiptoe through the tulips—No, scratch that. The garden owner will probably object.

You get the idea. We sit around thinking we are missing out. And we are because we are looking at the big stuff and missing out on the doable stuff.

Instead of dreaming about a better life or an exciting experience, start doing. Plan and complete one simple desire this week.   Click to Tweet

As we drove by the local nursery, Mom mentioned that she would like to buy a flat of IMG_1878flowers (36 small plants) for me to plant in my front flowerbed. My elderly mother always loved working in her flowerbeds.

Well, forty-five minutes later we emerged with four flats and numerous other pots of flowers and vegetables. She had a wonderful time.

I will be busy the next few days planting with some help from her. (I wonder how we will keep her walker from accidentally breaking off plants.) Oh well, she is living her dream.

Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Psalm 119:37

Fruity to the Core

 

“I am a good person. I cannot think of any sins I need to confess to God. I do not do anything wrong—not really. I am better than most people that I know. I believe there is a God. That is good enough.”

These words are not ones I hear from others. They are mine. Too often they invade my mind after I have finished some meaningful Christian activity. What is wrong with me?

Yesterday I purchased some huge strawberries. I could not wait to bite into the juicy fruit. But when I took a bite, the strawberry was dry and pithy inside. It had deceived me. On the exterior it looked red and juicy. On the inside it was hollow and pithy. It had been grown to deceive. It had been overly fertilized so it would grow to enormous size quickly—leaving the center hollow and white.

IMG_0497The strawberries I grow in my garden are smaller, but they are solid fruit–juicy and red throughout. They are lovingly grown—weeded, watered, and fertilized—to produce nutritious, tasty fruit.

Is your spiritual life like the overly-fertilized, fast-growing, but hollow in the center commercially grown strawberry. Or have you carefully tended to your spiritual growth through frequent prayer, daily Bible study, and regular worship of God?

What is your core like? Be truthful with yourself. God knows your true heart. Self-deceptive, half-hearted worship robs you and me of the true joy of living for our Lord.

I desire to be a fruity to the core Christian. Do you?

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways. Psalms 119:2