Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Roaming Through the Wilderness of Sin – Day 21

We’re a little less than half-way through the Lenten Period and I’d love to report that I’ve been doing swimmingly with my fast from complaining but…it’s truly astonishing how easy it is to slip into grouse mode!  Even when I am consciously trying my best not to complain, I’ll suddenly realize I am in mid-complaint! Usually, though, it’s not something I figure out I’ve done until I reflect on the events of the day; frustration I felt, conversations I had.

Even if I haven’t literally voiced a complaint, they still find their sneaky slithery way into my thoughts, sort of like that infamous snake I’ve heard tell of who hung out in a garden with some naked folks.  If I notice they’re there, I have a choice to either try my best to banish them or to give up and let them have their way.  If I don’t notice their presence, the risk is high that they may fester, which almost guarantees they’ll gush forth at some (most likely inopportune) time.  Obviously the best course is never to allow them entrance in the first place but that, I am finding, is easier said than done.

As it would happen, two of my scripture readings this morning dealt with complaining. In Exodus 17:1-7, I read about those ungrateful, whining Israelites having a hissy fit in the Wilderness of Sin (yes, the actual name of the Wilderness) because they’re thirsty and there is no water and what the heck is Moses trying to do to them, kill them?  Where is this God, anyway?  This after “this God”, with the help of Moses (whom they are ready to turn on and stone to death), just delivered them from 400 years of oppression and slavery, and, yet; they are already complaining and ready to give up and go back to being slaves.

“Oh those wacky Israelites!” those of us who know how the story turned out might be thinking smugly to ourselves, “All they had to do was put their trust in God; obey him and love him, and everything would eventually be ok!” 

Yeah, well.  Thousands of years later, nothing much has changed.

Not one thing God has done for us has passed before we begin to complain that He’s letting us suffer in our own Wilderness of Sin.  I know I do.  The Lord saves my beloved Pete…I start grousing about the cost of the new food he needs to be on.  The Lord has provided clients for our business…I am pissed off about the income tax we now owe.  My dear neighbor across the street is wasting away from cancer; I am healthy…I grouse about “being fat”.  His wife is soon to be a widow for the second time; my husband is a very real presence…I complain that he snores, or is distracted by his work, or…or…or…

Then, when real tragedy strikes, do I complain even more, or do I cry out to God to help me?

Thankfully, God is faithful, even though I am not.

The other passage I read was: “And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”  1 Corinthians 10:10.  I’ve run across a few people in my life who were miserable; who spent so much  of their time in the occupation of the “C’s”:  Controlling, Criticizing and Complaining”, that the dissatisfaction and anger emanated from their entire being. 

Bitterness takes its toll, indeed.  The destroyer destroys completely.

It’s true, I think, that misery loves company. Many times when I’ve been riled up about something, I want to share it with another person.  I feel the need to state whatever my complaint is and get agreement from them that, yes indeed, it’s terrible!  Then, off we may go together down a long path of whining and complaining that ends up getting us both lost in the wilderness of a total waste of time. 

Other times, the person to whom I’m speaking may chose to not buy into my rant.  My husband is good at this; he’ll simply look at me.  Admittedly, it’s a bit frustrating at first, but, really, what can I do but shut up at this point?  More often than not, whatever the nit-noid was eventually dissipates into the void.

And, when something is important enough to be addressed, hopefully, then, I’ll have the strength to do so because the wind in my sails wouldn’t have been blown away by trivial matters.  I must recall all of the times I’ve found strength to get through a difficult time or situation; and to remember from whom my strength comes from.

“I know what it is to have little and I know what it is to have plenty.  In any and all circumstances, I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13

Thanks be to God.

Mrs. B

Monday, March 24, 2014

Cailyn and Lucy

Cailyn was recently here for a few days.  As always, Lucy was totally over the world excited to see her "big sister".

Got to thinking of all the times they've spent together; their "slumber parties" and romps on the floor; not to mention, naps in the sunshine.

Here are pictures:

January 2007

March 2007

February 2008

March 2014

Bittersweet, really, to see how much they have both changed and yet, stayed exactly the same!

Mrs. B

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Let No Evil Talk Come Out of Your Mouth -- Day Nine

Long before I returned to God, I used to keep a collection of what I referred to as “Cool Sayings”; tidbits of advice and pithy remarks discovered in books or articles; most attributed to a famous person, several from anonymous sources and even a few to people I personally know.  I think I amassed over five typed pages of these fonts of wisdom with each one speaking to some part of myself; something that I needed to hear just at that particular point in my life when I stumbled across it.  Here are a few of my favorites:

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”  George Elliott

“Never give way to malice.  It turns the best men into fools.”  Henry VIII (he should have taken his own advice, methinks!)

“There is a time for departure even when there is no certain place to go.”  Tennessee Williams

“I’ve seen a heap of trouble in my life, and most of it never came to pass.”  Mark Twain

“The sea that calls all things unto her calls me, and I must embark.”  Kahlil Gibran

“And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.”  Abraham Lincoln

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Old age ain’t no place for sissies.”  Bette Davis

“You can tell a lot about a person’s character by the way they play cards.”  Kathleen Wheeler

“And remember, my sentimental friend.  A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”  The Wizard to the Tin Man from the movie “The Wizard of Oz”

I could go on and on!  But, here is the quote that embodies the theme of this blog post:

“Change your thoughts, and you change your world.”  Norman Vincent Peale

If you think about this, isn’t it the truth?  So very simple, so very true; not always so very easy to accomplish, however.

Like eliminating any bad habit, tackling negative thinking takes time and energy.  It’s also takes patience and persistence.

About a year ago, I was reading one of my daily devotional books “Jesus Calling” as I do every morning.  On this particular day, I was in the midst of some minor crisis of thinking brought on either by the reality of events or perhaps just the way I was contemplating them.  Basically, what that day’s message said was (paraphrasing):  “Trusting (in Jesus) keeps one from obsessing and worrying (not that I have an issue with THAT, ha ha ha) and having a thankful and grateful heart keeps one from the “sister sins” of criticizing and complaining.”

Profound.  Because, seriously, how can ugly crap pour out of your mouth if it’s already filled up with the sweetness of gratitude?  How many of us would pop a delectable morsel of our most favorite food or drink in our mouths, only to pollute it by also stuffing some noxious substance in there with it?
There’s a lot of noxious complaining that occurs on Facebook.  Perhaps one of the reasons I don’t mind quite so much giving it up for Lent is that it’s kinda nice to get away from some of that negativity.  This realization got me to thinking that I’m sure I do plenty of my own belly-aching, whether on Facebook or otherwise.  “How much time do I spend complaining?” I wondered.  I didn’t know, but, I decided to give the complaints up for Lent and find out.

So, here we are Day Nine of Lent and I’ll be totally honest.  Giving up Facebook is TONS easier than giving up complaining.  I really didn’t realize how much negativity creeps in throughout the day, how many opportunities there are to BITCH.  Because I am conscious of it now, I have literally bitten down on my tongue several times in the past week to keep from saying something that is not deserving of entering into the air space between me and whomever I’m talking to (or me and no one, if I happen to be sitting by myself somewhere irritated about something).  I’ve learned (and I know I’ll keep on learning in the next month) that there is a huge difference between acknowledging an issue and requesting or desiring a change vs. going on and on and on and ON about it. And, I’ve noticed the times I fail and engage in the on and on and on behavior, I feel really crappy.

Right before Lent, I read a great article on the difference between constructive and destructive complaining.  Actually, I’d call the constructive complaining “feedback”. 

Constructive:  “Waiter.  I ordered my hamburger medium rare and this is well done.  Please take this back and bring me one cooked the way I ordered.”

Destructive:  “Waiter. I can’t believe this.  I ordered my hamburger medium rare and you brought me this inedible piece of shoe leather.  What?  You didn’t write down what I said?  I demand that you bring me what I ordered ASAP or else I’m walking out of this joint! (to dining companions) Crap!  I can’t believe this!  Doesn’t anyone know how to do their job these days?  This place is over rated and expensive.  You’d think they’d at least be able to hire staff that could find their butts with both hands.  I don’t know, what do you think?  Should we just get up and leave?  Screw them.  I’m not paying for my beer and they can forget about a tip!”

Whew.  Just writing that got me tense!  Ok, most of us wouldn’t complain quite so drastically about an over cooked burger, but, you catch my drift.

In this example, not only is the complainer angry and out of control, imagine how the waiter is feeling, as well as the dining companions.  I can’t think of any positive vibes flowing from this exchange.

I’ve handled some challenges  well this past week; recognizing that it’s ok to feel disappointed and/or desire a change but complaining will do little good.  A few others, well, I’ll admit to feeling some boiling blood and my mouth started flapping on its own accord.  Afterwards, not only was the unfortunate situation still there, I felt physically unwell on top of it.  Thankfully, I managed to keep from being rude or abusive to anyone but admittedly, I was thinking rude and abusive thoughts.

But, hey.  How great that I have the opportunity each day to wake up and try harder, not just for my own benefit, but for the benefit of others. 

Although I still cherish all of those “Cool Sayings” I have stored away in a Word document on my computer, I find myself now turning to the Bible and all of its wisdom when faced with any and all situations and challenges.  These, too, present themselves to me just at the time I need to hear them.  I now have a long (growing) list of “Cool Scripture Verses” stored in my heart.

“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”  Ephesians 4:29

Mrs. B

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Give and Take -- Day Two

Another thought for consideration is this.  Lent doesn’t necessarily have to be all about giving something up, it can also be centered on adding something, or doing things differently.  Taking on.  Perhaps that works better for some, the idea of adding rather than subtracting. Good examples of this are “I am giving up watching T.V. for one hour per night and I will spend that hour doing “X” instead”.  Maybe “X” is a healthy physical activity or spending quality time with a spouse or family member or focusing on one’s spiritual growth by reading scripture.

Two years ago, I gave up Facebook for Lent.  Initially, I received a lot of flak about it (“I thought you were supposed to give up booze or red meat or candy for Lent!”) but I didn’t listen because I knew it was going to be tough for me. And, it was. There was quite a bit of reasoning behind why I chose to do this, not the least being, it seemed to me that I was spending far too much time on Facebook.  Yes, I might scoff at those who are enraptured with watching “Dancing with the Stars” or “American Idol”, but, of course, that would make me a hypocrite, wouldn’t it?  When it all comes down to it, a little bit of certain things is an indulgence, more than a little bit could possibly mean an idol.  Ok, ok; no one is worshipping golden calves here, but the more a person studies the Bible, the love story of God’s chosen people and their covenant relationship with Him, the more you realize that idols are really anything that keeps you from honoring God.  Is Facebook evil?  Is T.V. evil?  Is reading romance novels evil?  It’s all wrapped up in what else you are doing in and with your life. 

Anyway.  Two years ago, I was successful in my Lenten Journey.  Afterwards, I had all sorts of interesting insights into the experience, as well as ideas on how I would approach my relationship with Facebook (and other social media) in the future.  If you’re curious,  read this.  I’ll tell you up front, I’m being totally honest by divulging this entry to you because, after you read it, you’ll realize that, although I was successful in giving up Facebook for Lent, I haven’t exactly kept all of my promises.  I’m wondering if this might sound familiar to some of you.  We try, we succeed.  We screw up.  We’re forgiven.  We keep trying because we’ve been forgiven.  Or, as one of my Pastors would say, “We just keep swimming”.

Back to the give and take.  If you give something up, it sort of stands to reason that by filling the void with something else, you don’t miss what you gave up quite so much.  When people are attempting to quit smoking, they might replace the cigarette in their fingers with a carrot stick or pretzel rod.  Or, they may find ways to fill the time that they would have spent smoking by taking a long walk or going to see a movie.  Someone facing the end to a relationship may find themselves seeking out other people to spend time with so they are not lonely.

With regards to Lent, I think it makes perfect sense that, when you give something up, you should be replacing it with something that will bring you closer to God.  In this, the possibilities are endless, limited only by our imaginations and our pride. Heck, even if a person chooses not to give anything up, there isn’t any reason why they couldn’t simply add a new behavior for this period of time.

Last year, I gave up alcohol for Lent.  Although it wasn’t always easy, especially when dining out or when we had company, it wasn’t dreadful, either.  I wanted to see that I could do it (probably not a bad thing for all folks who drink alcohol to try from time to time) and I did lean heavily on Jesus during this time lest I be tempted.  However, a few weeks in, and I wasn’t even thinking about it overly much.  Believe it or not, given up Facebook proved more challenging.

So here I am in 2014 and once again, I’ve decided to eliminate Facebook from my life until Easter.  Why?  Because it’s still a stumbling block; it remains too much of a time suck.  Although I like to believe that my on-line persona has improved in her kindness towards others, I’m still a long way from exhibiting grace. Giving up Facebook this time, however, is a tad trickier because much of what I do on my phone and laptop is automatically connected with Facebook; plus, it’s still my number one go to place to get connected with my family and friends.  Sad, but true.  I find myself wondering if, like two years ago, I’ll pass the next month and a half in relative solitude since people seem to have forgotten how to call or email or text (let alone read my Blog!); yet, I am reminded of the duality of this (and the subject of this post):  I am giving Facebook up but I am using that time to do other (hopefully) God-pleasing activities.  “Give me the desire to obey your laws…keep me from paying attention to what is worthless”.  Psalm 119:36-37 (TEV).

Mrs. B

Up Next:  Let No Evil Talk Come Out of Your Mouth

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What’s Lent Got To Do With It? – Day One

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first Day of Lent.  All across the Globe, folks are participating in the season of Lent by attending special church services and, in all likelihood, “giving up something for Lent”.  Traditionally, this requires some sort of fasting activity, and its purpose is to bring to mind Jesus’ forty days of fasting while roaming in the wilderness just prior to beginning his ministry; as well as to join us in solidarity with him as we recall that Jesus, too, was continually tempted by evil during this time and other times in his life.  Just as Jesus relied on his Father to deliver him from those periods of trial; so we, too, must rely on God to give us strength in our own struggles.  Obviously, this is something we should do every single day of our lives, but the Lenten period serves as a yearly, focused reminder that we’re probably failing miserably in this regard and need to get back on track.  Is it any wonder, too, that the beginning of this period is the day after Mardi Gras; arguably one of the most self-indulgent days of the year for many?

Frankly, for most of us, making the connection between giving up something for a month and a half to trusting in God is a stretch.  For many, this can turn into a silly, if not pointless activity.  “How can giving up (fill in the blank) bring me closer to God?”  

Good question, and one which I believe can be answered by “It depends on whether you take it seriously” and “It depends on what you give up”.

I’ve only recently returned to this practice of fasting.  I remember half-heartedly going through the motions when I was a teenager but I’m almost certain I never made it through Lent without eating a chocolate bar or chewing a piece of bubble gum or arguing with my mother.  This is not to say that young people today cannot take Lent seriously; I just wasn’t ready to do so when I was 16 years old.  Heck, I wasn’t ready to take anything seriously when I was 16 years old.  In later years, I never remotely considered attempting a fast during Lent because nothing to do with God or Jesus or religion or anything at all of that nature was on my radar screen.  In the spring of 2012, I was finally ready to take it seriously.  WHY that was the case is another long story covered elsewhere in this Blog (see He'll Meet You Wherever You Are )

I don’t think I need to spend much time explaining what I think taking something seriously means, but just to cover that base for a moment;  if I am going to do something; to commit myself to a person, a relationship, a vocation, an activity, an event; I always ponder long and hard before I do so.  Perhaps not everyone does this to the degree I do, however, I have to believe that most people have at least one or two areas in their lives that they are quite serious about and very committed to.  If you can’t wrap your mind around the seriousness of participating in fasting for Lent, I’m not sure you should even bother to attempt it.  In my opinion, someone going through the motions without any true desire to grow from the experience risks hypocrisy.

Taking it seriously, then, should lead a person to give up something meaningful.  So, what should it be?  There are plenty of folks that use this period of time to commit to giving up a bad habit, and I personally think that’s just fine because it’s an excellent opportunity to be reminded how we should rely on God to see us through the challenges and the temptations.  And, as an added bonus, if a person can successfully eliminate whatever the bad habit or behavior is during this forty or so days, they've made big strides and will probably be able to maintain this success after Lent is over.  They will also be in good company with others during this time, a huge, ready-made support group, who will also be struggling through their own particular trials.  Yes, sometimes misery does love AND NEED company. 

But what about those who may not have an obvious bad habit or behavior? There is a story in the Bible about a rich young man who, upon hearing about all of the wonderful things Jesus was teaching and doing and also observing the band of Disciples surrounding Jesus who were both  following him and learning from him; approached Jesus and asked what he had to do to get in on this game, to get into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus initially told him “the basics”; love God, obey the commandments and the laws.  The young man was really happy and pleased with himself because he was already doing all of this.  But Jesus went on.  “Sell all of your possession, give the money to the poor and follow me”.  Oops.  Not what the young man wanted to hear, so he walked away, feeling sad and sorry for himself.  My reason for bringing up this story is that Jesus looks into each of our hearts and sees what we need to give up in order to truly follow him.  Circling back to us giving up something for Lent, it could be something different every year or perhaps the same darn thing that  remains a stumbling block in our faith-walk.  Whatever the case, there is something for everyone.

My guess is, after prayerful consideration and perhaps some nudges from the Holy Spirit, you may already have a pretty good idea of what it should be.  Remember.  It’s not something simple, just ask the rich young man.   If you find yourself toying with the idea of giving up something you don’t even do in the first place (in my case that would be watching T.V.) or something you don’t have any sort of problem not doing (for me that would be smoking) or some activity you are already not doing due to your life circumstance (in my husband’s case that would be sleeping because he’s a CPA and it’s tax season), then I suggest you circle back to the “take it seriously” part before proceeding any further.

Mrs. B

Up Next:  Give and Take

Saturday, March 1, 2014

My Dear Margot

My Dear Margot:

Three years ago today, we said good-bye.  I don't know that I've told too many people what happened that late morning; Father, of course, and a few others but mostly I've kept it to myself because it was such a poignant moment between the two of us.  Surreal, too; but then again, the entire situation was totally incomprehensible to me, from the moment you told me of your diagnosis to that early pre-spring day you slipped away from me forever.  Losing you was devastating to me, but in your parting, you gave me a gift that I can never thank you enough for.  

Over the course of the months after your death, I came to realize my life was built on a foundation of sand. Anything, either positive or negative, had the potential to shake me to the core, a core I kept quite hidden from everyone, including myself.  Somewhere in the middle of all of my thoughts and actions; my emotions and resulting behavior, was "the" question, "Why?";  followed in quick succession by "What now?"  Practical as always, I initially distracted myself from dwelling overly much on these questions by doing what most folks do when someone close to them dies, all of it necessary and perhaps even a bit helpful to the grieving process.

Knowing your wishes, Father and I contacted all whom you wanted contacted, bequeathed all you wanted bequeathed and donated clothing and other items to organizations that we knew you'd approve of.  We spent the weeks following your death getting things done;  not overly surprising, given both of our personalities. During those days and nights, we had long conversations about you, sharing memories, stories and at times incredulity that this had happened to you and to us.  True to your desires, we declined to place an obituary in the paper or hold any sort of service.  I know this was difficult for some of your friends to understand, but they honored our decision.  I found out later that your friends from your book club ended up holding their own service for you and I'm sure others did something similar.  Father and I decided, after some amount of time had passed, to write a memorial, a story of your life and character, something that would honor your memory.  It took us a while to get it done because we both wanted it  to be "perfect"; in fact, it took well over a year but it was most certainly a labor of love with many others contributing to its compilation as well.

I began to tackle that project shortly after your passing.  Mark and I were still living in North Carolina, although it was now clear that we'd be moving to Florida and plans were in place to make that happen. During the first eight months of our life in our new house in Florida, I worked on your book, picking the perfect pictures to go alongside the story of your life that Father and I were writing. Looking back, I know this was cathartic; in fact, I think I realized before I even began that it would be since I'd done something similar when I lost both Nigel and Clyde.  Still, underlying the process that would led to a physical product, something was bothering me.

I thought at first what was bothering me was a combination of missing you and irritation at a few people for not providing sufficient care for my feelings. During that time there were, of course, people to offer me love and sympathy, but I'll admit I was surprised with the lack of care I received from some people. Thankfully, though, I was also bowled over with gratitude from care I received from unexpected sources, in some cases, people I didn't know very well at all.  Throw in the stress of a move, selling a house, buying a  house, and Mark starting our business, well, I suppose there's no shortage of reasons why I may have felt a bit wiggy at times.  But what was truly bothering me was something I know most people feel when they lose someone, "What's the point?"

Then, for some incomprehensible reason, Mark and I decided to start attending our local Methodist Church. I know that you and I rarely spoke of God or religion, and I have to say, in addition to missing you in a thousand other ways, I wish so much that you were here to share in this new journey with me.  Of course, I would have wished for you ultimately to come to believe in Jesus Christ, but it's even more base than that; I know you would have been fascinated and interested in the changes going on within me.  Whether you agreed or not, you would have listened.  I've said many times that you were always my biggest fan and champion.  I know without a shadow of a doubt you would have cheered me on and supported me in all that I've come to believe and act upon in these past two and a half years.    

That foundation of sand I spoke of earlier is being replaced by sturdier stuff.  Fears, worries and my ever-present desire to control everything are fading away into longer and longer moments of peace, patience and trust.  What some people don't get, but I think you would, is that this is more important than anything else because it frees me to go help someone else.  Isn't that what it's all about in the long run? Love God.  Love Each Other.

My decision to pursue being a Stephen Minister is a combination of who I am, who I've always been, plus all of the seeds that were planted along the way beginning from when you first told me of your diagnosis through the completion of my Disciple study when my fellow Disciples encouraged and supported me to pursue it as a direct acknowledgement of my spiritual gift of care giving.  As I've been sitting here this morning reflecting on you and your life; on us and all that we shared together as stepmother, stepdaughter and friends, I realized that God truly does bring goodness out of every situation, even the most heartbreaking ones.  I know you'd get that.

So, on this day three years ago, you were lingering.  Everyone at Hospice was surprised that you were holding on.  I'd been down in Sarasota visiting with Mom and Dad; Father was at home waiting for me to arrive.  Before I left Sarasota, I'd called Hospice to talk with them; they told me you were resting comfortably but not coherent.  As such, I didn't plan on stopping in until later, after I had the chance to get Father.  Yet, as I drove by Hospice, a strong feeling came over me, an urge, to stop.  When I walked in, the nurse seemed surprised to see me but led me into your room where you were indeed resting quietly.  I thought I'd said my final good-byes to you two days earlier before I went down to Sarasota and yet, as they'd told us, you were lingering.  I walked over to your bed and took your hand and told you all that was on my heart.  I reminded you what your friend Heather had asked me to tell you, that she'd meet you in the garden when her time came.  I promised to be there for Father.  I assured you that we'd be alright and, as I kissed your forehead, I whispered to you that it was time for you to go.  Saying good-bye was always hard for you, I know. As I wrote at the end of your book:

"Margot hated to say good-bye.  Anyone who knew her well knows this.  If someone was visiting and it came time for them to get in their car and leave, or, if she was the one doing the leaving, she'd have to choke back the tears.  She wasn't even always able to be present when a person was leaving. In fact, it wasn't until much later in my adult life that she would be present when I left...as I came to understand her sadness, I made a point of leaving her a note to find after I left...Usually, it was simple, like, 'Thank you for everything!  I'll see you again!  I love you!'  So, yes, good-byes were tough. It's tough for me now to finish this up because it is, in essence, like a final good-bye...If I know my Margot, she's up in Heaven figuring it all out...keeping busy while waiting for her loved ones to arrive...And so my dear Margot, until then.  'Thank you for everything!  I'll see you again!  I love you!'"

In the fifteen minutes it took me to drive from Hospice to the house, you left.  

And everything changed.