Regrets, Resolutions and the New Year

New Year’s resolutions are a norm in our society.  January 1st is a good time to “draw a line in the sand” and make life changes.  Unfortunately, those changes often don’t last as long as the month of January.  I know that goal setting is an important part of a successful life.  So, how to we set goals that are attainable and that make it through the ENTIRE year?

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” 

Proverbs 16:9
My hallway view

I can’t begin the journey into the New Year without looking back.  Actually, there’s a part of me that looks back every day.  When I awaken in the morning, I see my husband and am reminded of the life we share.  But, from my bed, I can also see a photograph of my life the way it was in 2005.  It’s a photo of Terry, Zac, Gracie and me taken just a few weeks before Terry’s death.  Each morning, I have the opportunity to give thanks for what I had yesterday as well as what I have today.  Most goals begin with a look back. 

Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19

While memories can be seductive, I cannot live in the past.  There was a time when all I wanted to do was live in the past.  I didn’t want to move forward.  January 1 was a horrible day that marked another year of loss.  Setting goals for myself was the only way to move forward.  Simple goals were all I could handle:  going to work every day; walking around the block; journaling every day.  These very simple things were things that I could accomplish and enabled me to move forward with my life.  I couldn’t change the past, but with God’s help, I could live in the present and influence my future.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” 

Luke 14:28

Some of the most common resolutions concern losing weight, getting fit, saving money, etc.  The first quarter of the year is known as “the fitness season”.  It’s during this time that people are most interested in getting gym memberships, buying fitness equipment, hiring trainers and other avenues of getting fit.  It’s easy to set lofty goals.  When you are trying to lose weight, seeing the scale drop only a pound in a week is discouraging.  Yet, the healthiest and best way to maintain your weight loss is losing an average of a pound per week.  Some weeks, the best you can achieve is not to gain weight.  But, I know I get discouraged when there aren’t BIG changes to see.

Money Management is another good place to goal set.  Its probably not be realistic to set a goal of saving a $1,000,000 this year.  (Especially if you don’t have a net income of more than that!) But, there are ways to save.  Having money taken immediately from your paycheck to a savings account is a no-brainer for me.  I don’t have to think about it and the savings will add up. For me, I need a savings method that I can access, but not too easily.  I have a small investment account that is accruing interest and dividends.  The money is deducted each paycheck and I’m often surprised when I look at the amount I have saved. 

 “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” 

Proverbs 16:3

One area of goal setting that is often overlooked is tithing.  One of the hardest things for me to implement was tithing from the “first fruits”.  I wanted to be sure that I had enough money to cover the month BEFORE I made my tithe.  What I have learned through the years is the importance of making the sacrifice and tithing first.  My husband is very conscientious about tithing on every bit of income we have.  Being able to make an online payment has made this much simpler.  We give the first part to God.  Period.  I truly believe that tithing should be an integral part of every believer’s budgeting plan. 

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” 

Philippians 4:8   

As I look at the possibilities of 2021, I have set a few new goals:

  1.  Daily goal setting and journaling.  I’m not good at this.  I’ve been through several classes that taught the importance of handling each day as an investment.  This year I have invested in a Christian planner to use and I hope that it will keep me on track.
  2. Read through the Bible again (or more precisely, listen to the Bible).  I have started an audio study that will take me through the Bible in a year.  It’s amazing to me the new things I learn each time I do this.
  3. Find new ways to serve others.  I will continue to serve on my church’s prayer team.  I am also in discussions to begin a grief support group.  I want to help support others who are dealing with the death of a treasured family member.
  4. Build the “artist” in me.
    1. Refine my watercolor painting skills with on-line classes, etc.
    1. Continue to quilt and sew to create usable pieces of art
    1. Learn to use my embroidery machine

What goals/resolutions have you made for 2021? 

Have you subdivided your yearly goals into manageable monthly (or weekly or daily) pieces? 

Will you be a more complete person at the end of 2021 by reaching your goals/resolutions?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” 

Hebrew 12: 1-2a

BUT. . .

 “I’ll Follow You Anywhere” is a popular Christian song that we sing during our worship services.  The song is wonderful, but I have to ask the question:  Do we really take those words seriously?”

When I was growing up in youth choir, we spent quite a bit of time READING the words we were singing.  Mrs. Stapp wanted us to understand what we were saying through the songs.  We were made aware of the words, the punctuation and the meaning behind each verse.  That training has stuck with me.  If I am going to sing a song, if I’m going to say the words, I want to understand and stand behind those words. 

” You make it easy to love You
You are good and You are kind
You bring joy into my life
You make it easy to trust You
You have never left my side
You’ve been faithful every time

All I want is You
Jesus, all I want is You”

From “I’ll Follow You Anywhere”
Songwriters: Jason Ingram / Brett Younker
Follow You Anywhere lyrics © So Essential Tunes, Be Essential Songs

The first verse of the song ends with “all I want is you.”  So, if everyone I loved walked away, would I be satisfied with Jesus alone?  After losing my first husband unexpectedly, I can state quite emphatically that my heart wasn’t echoing this verse.  I desperately wanted my husband back.  I wanted my old life and my old family back.  It took quite a bit of time to accept his death and to come to the point that Jesus was enough for me.  That may sound a bit sacrilegious.  I’m just being honest.  My human heart was broken and I wanted so much that I couldn’t find solace in Jesus alone.  It was my faith in the eternal plan of Christ as my Savior that moved me forward to find that peace and comfort once again.  So, I can sing those words, again.  I admitted to adding the following requests, though: 

  1. Keep my family safe
  2. Don’t allow pain in our lives
  3. Keep my lifestyle comfortable

The central message of the chorus is no matter where you lead me, I’ll go.  Is that true? 

“You are the refuge I run to
You are the fire that leads me through the night
I’ll follow You anywhere
There’s a million reasons to trust You
Nothing to fear for You are by my side
I’ll follow You anywhere”

From “I’ll Follow You Anywhere”
Songwriters: Jason Ingram / Brett Younker
Follow You Anywhere lyrics © So Essential Tunes, Be Essential Songs

So, many times in my life, I’ve been willing to go anywhere, but (insert here.)  I would serve anywhere, as long as it was still in: 

  • At first the USA
  • Then in Texas
  • Later in the Houston area
  • And when I had kids, in the same school district

My qualifications grew more restrictive as my life was more complicated.   I didn’t want to leave the comfortable nest I had created.   I didn’t want to rock the boat.  Raising my children was a priority.  I’m not saying that it was wrong, but I’m admitting that my parameters did change because of my children.  Truthfully, I believe that I followed the call and was serving exactly where I needed to be at the time.  But, I continually asked myself “Are you truly willing to go ANYWHERE?” 

” Oh Jesus, You came to my rescue
Took my place upon that cross
You redeemed what I had lost
Now my whole world revolving around You
Yes
You’re the center of my life
You’re the treasure, You’re the prize”

from “I’ll Follow You Anywhere”
Songwriters: Jason Ingram / Brett Younker
Follow You Anywhere lyrics © So Essential Tunes, Be Essential Songs

My husband and I have built our marriage around our faith in Jesus Christ.  We constantly seek His guidance in our lives.  Five years ago, I got very angry with God.  I had prayed and begged for a particular outcome and for some reason, He didn’t come through.  He said “NO!”  During that time of anger and upset, I was not treating God as the center of my life.  No, I was treating Him more like a Big Blue Genie or Santa Claus.  I made my wishes known and they were supposed to be granted.  I didn’t “treasure” my relationship with God.  I was just mad that I didn’t get my way.  There are still times that I question that “no”.  And, honestly, I haven’t stopped asking for favors from God.  However, I have come to understand and accept that the journey is often too important to avoid.  I need the time of growth. Or there is someone that I need to meet on the journey.   Or both!

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 

Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 7:14 NIV

Living the Christian life is hard.  Christ carries the burden of our guilt and shame, but living in a world filled with corruption and sin is difficult.  We want immediate gratification, recognition, comfort.  Christ doesn’t offer that.  In fact, we have been promised persecution, suffering and required self-denial as Christians.  Many call themselves Christians, but how many are really followers of Christ?  How many can say, truthfully, I’ll follow You anywhere.  That’s who I want to be, an unabashed, totally dedicated follower of Christ. 

What about you?  Are you ready to go ANYWHERE? 

How do I “Fear Not” when I am Afraid?

2020 has been a year we never expected.  Since March, our country and in many cases the entire world has been locked down.  Schools were closed.  Stores were tightly controlled. Offices were all but abandoned.  Traffic was non-existent.  The daily Covid-19 updates have become as important as any stock market or oil price index.  We’ve been told not to wear mask and then mandated to wear a mask or be fined.  Businesses count people to be sure the “magic” occupancy number is never passed.  Restaurants struggle with full costs with 50% capacity requirements.  Churches have been shuttered.  Weddings have been postponed or greatly reduced in scope.  Trips were cancelled.  We have hidden away in an effort to escape the corona virus. 

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”  

Psalm 56:3 NIV

I will say that I have been amazed at the fear (and honestly the panic) I have witnessed among my friends and family.  Maybe because I’m a numbers person, I’ve not been as alarmed by the daily counts.  Statistics are just that:  statistics.  Without clearly defined parameters, statistics are often useless.  I have read the daily Covid-19 updates.  I have seen the upticks in positive tests.  It seems that the media uses raw numbers to fuel the panic.  I can’t help but ask about the parameters:   How many of the positive tests were retests?  What is the % of positive tests to the total number of tests?  What is the false positive/negative rate used to normalize the data?  Why are we not using the Diamond Princess (a quarantined, microcosm) for forecasting and comparisons?

“For the Holy Spirit, God’s gift, does not want you to be afraid of people, but to be wise and strong, and to love them and enjoy being with them.” 

2 Timothy 1:7 TLB

The schools are beginning to open up to the great relief (and even joy) of many parents and students.  There is still great fear.  But, if we look at previous years, the beginning of school always signaled the spread of colds, viruses, flu, etc.  This year, with sanitation as the focal point, I would think they students and teachers are safer than ever.  I fully expect that the Covid-19 virus will move from epidemic to a part of regular life.  It will never fully disappear.  We have to learn to live with it and its varying mutations much as we currently do with the various flu strains.  Just as we had to build an immunity to the viruses that caused measles, mumps, smallpox, chickenpox, polio, etc., we will have to find a level of immunity to this virus.   

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me..”  Psalm 23:4 NIV

Psalm 23:4 NIV

I know that this virus is virulent and can be deadly.  (I know the same thing about the measles.  I survived my 2 week bout with the measles during the outbreak of 1977.) For those that have lost loved ones to this pandemic, I have the deepest sympathy.  I know others that have recovered but are still suffering the after effects.  I have truly sorry.  But, at some point, we have to allow people the freedom to live the best life that they can.  We have to move forward in the best way that we can. 

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” 

Matthew 6:34 NIV

Today, I have a selection of masks to wear when I leave the house.  I have hand sanitizer in my purse, in my car and on my desk at work.  I’ve have grown accustomed to “attending” church in my living room.  I’ve learned to use Zoom and have actually connected faces to names in my weekly Zoom prayer meeting.  I’ve enjoyed the lack of traffic as I journeyed to the office as an “essential person.”  I’ve tried take-out from new places with varying degrees of success.  Curb-side pickup was already a favorite of mine and that hasn’t changed. I’m doing my best to be safe and free of fear.  I’ve grown accustomed to asking for permission before entering an elevator with another person. 

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” 

Psalm 34:4 NIV

I hope the day comes (very soon) when masks are an option not a mandate.  I look forward to seeing friends and hugging or shaking hands without hesitation.  I’m praying for all businesses to fully reopen and for people to be allowed to return to work.    

These are my goals for today:

  • To live my life as fully as God will allow
  • To follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in every undertaking
  • To be sensitive the fears and concerns of other with feeling guilt for not sharing those same fears and concerns
  • To avoid the frenzy that has become the media
  • To ask questions, seek the fact, act on the truth

What are your goals to get through the next few months, weeks, days or even hours?  How will you move forward?

Partnership or Merger

I’ve read several articles recently about celebrity couples that are divorcing.  Most of them contain a statement similar to this:  “they still love each other very much, but. . .” The current quarantining was listed as the turning point in many of the articles.  One entry said they have “felt more like brother and sister”.  All I can do is shake my head. 

What is Love?  Most of us begin our relationships in breathless anticipation.  The butterflies and warm bubbly feeling is intoxicating.  You don’t want to be separated from your beloved and eagerly anticipate your next encounter. Is that really love?   Although there may be some love involved, I think it has more to do with infatuation and even lust.  Infatuation is defined as “falling in love with or becoming extremely interested in someone or something for a short time.”  While the definition of lust is “a psychological force producing intense desire for an object, or circumstance fulfilling the emotion while already having a significant other or amount of the desired object.”  Not very romantic, but very often this is the starting point of love. 

How many marriages do I know that were built on the intense desire to be married? It’s being married, part of a couple that is the focus.  The “who” in the relationship is often secondary to the need to have someone to love.  The picture is all rosy and blissfully wonderful. It’s all about living happily ever after. The object is finding “A” person willing to become “THE” person.

When we are caught up in the excitement of a new connection and the possibility of finding that “one” person, we are able to overlook anything and everything.  There are no obstacles that cannot be overcome in claiming this relationship.  Much like the fog covers the challenges of climbing a sheer mountain, desire masks the issues that may cause problems in a long term relationship.  We disregard the things that would normally signal a need for caution.  Repeatedly, the warnings are dismissed.  It doesn’t matter if there are hints of anger, unfaithfulness, insobriety, detachment, or domination.  The tendency is to ignore differences in faith, questions about step-parenting roles, and the handling personal finances.   The hard questions are left unasked rather than risk lifting the curtain and ending the dream. 

There is a very big difference between infatuation and being in love. Infatuation is when you first see someone that you are attracted to and immediately feel there is a connection based on that whereas love is knowing the good and bad of someone and still loving them all the same.  One cannot be truly in love and be unable to acknowledge the negatives in the relationship.  Unconditional love, the love we all say that we want, means we face the good and the bad and love in spite of it all.  We are willing to work through the difficult things.  We are able to love through the darkness and get to the light. 

I understand the “brother and sister” statement.  I remember thinking this very thing about my first husband.  Our relationship was good, just not very exciting.  We had two very active teenagers.  Life was busy.  We spent our time together, but after 18 years I wasn’t breathless when he walked into the room.  Still, we looked forward to the future together.  There are worse things than being married to a really good friend.  Trust me.  Burying that friend, the husband I planned to live with into old age was far worse.  It had been so easy to take our marriage and our love for granted, that I had lost touch with how deeply in love with him I was.  I made a promise to myself to never allow that to happen again. 

Marriage is characterized as a partnership.  So, what happens if:   

  1. the partners fail to cooperate?
  2. they don’t participate equally, or don’t agree on major life decisions?
  3. they are no longer physically or emotionally attracted to each other?
  4. when one of the partners treats the partnership unequally?
  5. when one of the partners becomes too sick to do their share?

Do you dissolve the marriage partnership? 

I recently read an article by Steven Berman that states: 

“Real marriage is not an equal partnership.  It’s not a partnership at all.  It’s a merger, a permanent joining to create something new.

If you look at marriage as anything other than a lifetime commitment to a mate, you’re looking at something other than marriage.  You’re looking at a friendship with benefits, a shack-up, a good time, or a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend.  Adding a piece of paper to it labeled “marriage license” adds nothing to the relationship except a tax break.”

Steven Berman

Both of my weddings included the vows:  “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part,” Sounds pretty permanent to me.  Don’t get me wrong, if you are in an abusive relationship – get out!.  If you are in danger, you are not being cherished.  However, not getting your way, not being happy, or (especially) finding someone more interesting are not reasons to divorce.  Marriage is not about what feels good.  Marriage is about commitment.  Marriage is about giving up everything to join together. 

So, what happens when you miss the spark, when the grass looks greener somewhere else?  What’s a person to do?  Basically, fertilize your own grass and make it the greenest thing around.  Put in the work.  There’s a psychological term:  “Fake it till you make it.”  Basically,

“Faking it until you make it only works when you correctly identify something within yourself that’s holding you back. Behaving like the person you want to become is about changing the way you feel and the way you think.”

Psychology Today

Accept that you only control yourself and not your partner.   Understand happiness and contentment are a choice you make for yourself.  Stop placing blame and accept responsibility for where you are in this marriage.  Offer love with no conditions, no reciprocation.  And, I think most importantly, immerse yourself in God’s love and continually pray for your partner.  Not what you want to see changed, but for true God’s guidance for your partner.  In the best marriages both people are giving more than themselves, which is impossible if you don’t believe in anything more than yourself.  A union of two people beyond the physical requires something beyond the physical to bind us.  Emotions are not enough.

 “Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Ecclesiastes 4:12 NIV

Looking for the best that God has for you will bleed into your relationship(s).  As you focus on Him and His plan for you, the greener pasture becomes your own.  You are able to love even the most unlovable.  You will find happiness & joy in a way you never imagined.  Even if your marriage partner doesn’t get it.  God will and He will honor your faithfulness. 

“Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.” 

1 Peter 4:7-8 MSG

An Extra Piece

With all that is happening in our country and in our world, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  Today, we hear & experience concern about our jobs, our health, and our safety:  Do I wear a mask?  Will I still have a job next week?  Is it safe to venture out?  All of these questions are valid for some or all of us.  So what is to be done?

 I feel like a very small piece in a very large machine.  Honestly, I feel like the one item that isn’t really required.  You know exactly to which item I refer.  It’s that piece that’s left-over when you build or repair something. That ingredient in a recipe that you just don’t have.  Or the extra dish with no matching cup.   It doesn’t seem to matter and everything works without it, so it must be superfluous.  I identify with that item. 

But, with time, we may discover how important that one item, as small and insignificant as it seems, really is to the whole thing.  Have you ever had washers left over when putting together a project?  You wonder if you missed a place for a minute.   But, it’s just a washer, right?  The problem comes later when the screw pulls loose because the washer wasn’t there to keep it tight.  The entire project may collapse because that one, insignificant piece wasn’t used. 

I enjoy baking sour dough bread.  When I first began learning how to bake sour-dough, I had some pretty dismal result.  Once, I didn’t have enough all-purpose flour for the recipe.    So I used self-rising flour as a substitute.  It looked the same and I’d seen baking shows use it as a substitute.  The bread was dense and had a very salty taste.  Self-rising flour has salt added.  I didn’t adjust my recipe to account for that because it was such a small amount.  Another time, I was in a rush to get my bread into the oven. I didn’t wait for the sour dough sponge to double in size.  I rationalized that it had grown some and that was enough.  Again, the bread was very dense and not particularly pleasant to eat.  The smallest ingredient, or the smallest amount of time, can make all of the difference.

So, how does that relate to my life today?  I live in my own little bubble.  How do I make a difference?  I make a difference when I treat others the way I want to be treated.  I don’t have to wait to see how I will be treated to be kind, polite and helpful.  If wearing a mask in public makes others feel more comfortable, then I’ll wear a mask.  If spraying my credit card or cash with disinfectant makes the cashier smile, then I’ll do that.  Others may not be able to see me smiling behind my mask, but a pleasant hello and a wave may convey the thought.  There’s so much going on around us and so many emotions that are being rubbed raw by the current news, common courtesy and consideration goes a long way. 

 I’m realize that I am not going to make a huge difference in the political arena.  It doesn’t matter how loudly I talk or how passionate I am about the current climate, I’m probably not going to be “known” to the people that make decisions.  But, my voice, my letter or my phone call, when considered in context with many others, will be recognized.  I don’t understand all of the race issues.  But, I try my best to see people as who they are.  I want describe others as nice, beautiful, helpful, kind, grumpy, rude or just weird instead of black, white, male, female or any other racial/sexist designation. 

I may be too simplistic in my ideas.  But this is the only place I know to begin my battle.  I change my little bubble which may affect another little bubble and continue on down the line.    I can only change myself and try to have an impact on others.  Sometimes, you need the extra dish for the special treats. That’s my hope, anyway.

‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ 

Mark 12:31 MSG

Fishing or just Fishy?

I have heard different versions of the idiom “fish or cut bait” for as long as I can remember.  If someone is dragging their feet in a situation, fish or cut bait was a way to tell them to get busy or get out of the way.  There are so many times when it’s easier to stay busy or “fish” without really committing to anything.  For some, it’s hard to understand why it’s so difficult. 

Change is hard.  When change is thrust upon me, I have been known to dig in and do my best to stay put.  It’s not always possible to avoid or to predict change.  When my husband died, my brain knew he was gone, but my emotions were in denial for a very long time.  I went through the motions of moving forward.  I put on a good show.  The reality, however, was that I just chose not to face things that were too difficult.  My house fell apart around me.  I spent money on things I didn’t really need.  I buried myself in my kid’s activities.  I refused to really engage in moving forward with my life.  And, I did a pretty good job of fooling everyone, including myself for almost ten years. That’s when I realized that I wanted to live again.  Love again.  And to do that, I had to commit to pulling my life together.   

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” 

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

The decision to love again was a simple one for me.  The reality of opening up my heart and confronting ALL of my feelings was a lot harder.  I had to admit that I loved Terry with all that I had for a very long time.  I had to face the pain that comes with that kind of love.  I had to sort through the various emotions and process them.  My husband had been gone almost ten years, but allowing my heart to love again felt dishonest, disrespectful.  Again, my brain was very logical about it all.  It was my emotions that were struggling.  I had to make the decision to move forward.  I had to decide where and how I wanted to live my life:  in the past full of memories or in the future adding new memories to my list.  It kind of sounds like a “no brainer” as I type these words, but the struggle to fish or cut bait was very real to me during that time.  I could continue to sit and watch my life as a spectator or I could commit to accept the joys and the pain that come with actively participating in life. 

There are people everywhere that struggle with making similar decisions.  And, unfortunately, many of those people are in an unending cycle of martyrdom.  The need for attention, support and even adoration from others because of their ordeal (real or imagined) is more important than living, changing or progressing.  Have you ever had a friend that keeps reconciling with an ex?  There may be a list a mile long of the problems that come with that particular relationship.  All logic is superseded by the need to have “someone”, even a bad someone in their life.  For a while, things may go well.  Life is great.  But, those bad behaviors resurface.   And, it’s now your responsibility to sympathize with your friend, to encourage her to be strong, to relieve her of any blame.  The cycle will continue, over and over, as long as the game is played.  It’s easier to sit on the bank and pretend you are fishing with a knotted and tangled line than it is to cut the line and move to another spot. 

“One who has isolated himself seeks his own desires; he rejects all sound judgment.

 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in disclosing what is on his mind.”

Proverbs 18:1-2 NEV

Our world is more interested in the sob stories than in the happy endings.  Check out what you watch for entertainment.  I grew up watching Gunsmoke and Bonanza.  There were sad story lines, but the good guy always triumphed in the end.  There was always an upside.  In every episode, decisions were made and life moved forward.  In some of my favorite shows today, it’s sometimes hard to decide who the good guy is.  We root for the anti-hero; the brooding, suffering guy that’s just doing “the wrong thing for the right reason.”   We adore and celebrate the darkness.  And, we seem to need to emulate it. 

I believe that we can grow and mature through our trials and mistakes.  In an attempt to reconcile ourselves with the flaws that come with being human, we too often elevate these very flaws and venerate them as favors.  We become enamored with the cracks that appear in life due to the struggles we endure.  We seek the compassion and tenderness that is provided by our support system rather than strive to advance and perfect our own lives.  It’s not easy to admit mistakes and correct the path forward. 

When we are told to fish or cut bait, it doesn’t mean you have to walk away and start over.  It just means you have to be committed to the path you choose.   Invest fully in life choices.  Stop complaining and looking for sympathy. Embrace your decision and don’t apologize.

So what will it be?  Do you fish where you are; or, do you cut bait and move forward? 

“Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” 

James 3:17-18 MSG

WHO NEEDS PEOPLE?

“People,

People who need people,

Are the luckiest people in the world”

“People”
Jule Styne (music)
Bob Merrill (lyrics)

There words are from the 1964 song by Barbra Streisand.  I have come to a greater understanding of the meaning during the past weeks.  While I have been very grateful to keep in touch with my small group, my prayer team and my church family through Zoom, WebEx, Email and Streaming platforms, I have missed the physical connection.  I miss the greetings and interaction with Billy and Carol every Sunday in “our” seats at Regal.  I miss the hugs, laughter and discussion time with Otto, Sharon, Richard and others in our small group time on Wednesday.  I miss sharing the joys and concerns of others during prayer time every Sunday with Dawid, Jane, Robert, et al.  I miss hearing all of the voices together with the worship team in corporate worship time.  I crave the actual physical interaction that comes with each of these groups.  Hebrew 10:25 states:

 “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Hebrews 10:25 TLB

Attending church services has been a part of my life for years.  But, I now realize how very precious that time together truly is. 

The Pandemic has also highlighted a few other things in our lives (some good and some not so good.) We have seen firsthand how self-serving actions can cause others to suffer with the toilet paper shortage. Panic came to the forefront and hoarding was the name of the game.  I’ve lived through a few hurricanes and floods that caused Houston to shut down.  But, I don’t think I’ve ever see things quite as bad, especially when there were no real shortages.  There were people out to make a buck through stockpiling, but there were also people that were willing to give.  One example is “Katy Neighbors Helping Neighbors”, a Facebook page started to share needs.  If someone need baby wipes, or formula, or cleaning supplies or anything else, they could post their need.  Usually, someone would offer to share or knew a store that had it in stock.  I saw LOTS of sharing and meeting needs on that site. Food pantries were stretched to the extreme, and people stepped up to help and meet the needs. 

Families have been forced to be together.  Kids are doing school on line from home.  Parents may be working from home.  There’s no escaping with restaurants only serving take-out and malls and movie theaters closed.  I’ve seen parents step up and get involved with their kids school time.  Game nights (or afternoons) have come back into style.  This has been an opportunity to learn something new through on-line classes.  I’ve heard of some grandmothers that have done sewing and/or cooking lessons with their grandchildren via facetime or other apps. There has been time for family walks or bike rides, family meals, or just family time. 

How wonderful and pleasant it is
    when brothers live together in harmony! 

Psalm 133:1 TLB

As we begin the process of reopening Texas and the rest of these United States, I hear mixed messages.  There is frustration that things are not moving faster.  And, there is the fear that we are moving too fast.  I hear about the need to return to work as well as the complaints from those who receive more on unemployment than they do at their job.  I see the excitement for the return of socializing mixed with concern over the continued social distancing guidelines.  It’s easy to fall prey to fear and depression that accompanies the seemingly overwhelming task ahead of us.  We are approaching a “new” normal.  Masks will continue to be the accessory of choice for many.  Hand-washing has moved up in priority (where it should have been all along.)  I’ve joined the ranks of actually USING the hand-sanitizer I carry with me.  Fist bumps will replace handshakes.  Air hugs and kisses may be the “thing” for a while.  We will survive this time.  We will adjust.  I refuse to give into fear mongering. 

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. 

Matthew 6:34 TLB

What has your experience during the Covid-19 pandemic been?  Have you found meaning in some of the “norms” that you took for granted.  Have you spent time with your family and strengthened those ties?  Are you ready to step back into the reopened world? 

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.

     He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.

 Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.

 You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.

 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23 TLB

Is Chaos a Choice?

I like routines.  I survive with the illusion of being in control.  I do not accept change well.  My first defense is just to ignore what’s swirling around me and wait for the dust to settle.  But, the dust isn’t settling very quickly this time.  The world is caught up in the chaos for disease and failing economies.  I track the oil prices on my phone; not a comforting activity right now.  Social media has been both a help and a hindrance recently.  There are lots of resources being offered up, but the panic buying (hoarding) has also been fueled by some of the posts.  The news media seems to be more intent on scaring up a story than providing facts and information in a calm and helpful manner.   It’s hard to know what is real and what is just hype.

We are encouraged to practice social distancing.  Schools are on extended breaks.  Universities are moving to online classes only.  Some businesses are instituting remote work.  Other are beginning the furlough process (Unpaid Corona Vacations) for employees.  Restaurants have shifted takeout only.  Churches are using the internet to meet.  Stores are closing or cutting hours.  Groceries are scarce at times.  And, Toilet Paper has become the prime indicator of how well we are doing.  When it rains, it pours!  What are we supposed to do?

Chaos is defined as “a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order.”  I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m living the definition of chaos.  Over the past few months, there have been several very unsettling events that have thrown my life a little off-balance.  They didn’t happen to me directly, but they have affected me just the same.  These events brought change to MY normal and I reacted emotionally and spiritually.   As I have been trying to recover my balance, the stock market crashed, oil prices tanked, and the Coronavirus pandemic took center stage.  Although, I continue to go to work each day and I may seem to be in control, my mind is reeling as my world seemingly spins out of control.  I have to fight the urge to go into “Fix it” mode. 

My morning devotion was in Psalm 37.  One verse in particular (a very familiar one) answered the question “What am I supposed to do?)  Here are several versions of the 7th verse of Psalm 37:

“Quiet down before God, be prayerful before him.  Don’t bother with those who climb the ladder, who elbow their way to the top.” 

the Message

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” 

New International

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.” 

King James

“Be still before the Lord; wait patiently for Him and entrust yourself to Him; Do not fret (whine, agonize) because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.”

Amplified

Be still.  Right.  Easier said than done.  I do not WANT to be still and wait.  I want things back to normal.  But, right now, being still is the best thing that I can do.  I can be still in my home, away from the rush.  Families will have the time to eat meals together, to play games together, and to just BE together.  There are no extracurricular activities that require our attendance or attention.  We can choose to use this time to connect deeply with our spouse and/or children or we can waste the time fretting and binge watching on the internet.   We can moan about having to eat at home or enjoy the creativity of prepping meals together, even if that means helping to unpack the take-out.  We can worry about where the economy is headed or take advantage of opportunities to save money during this distancing period.  We can allow the chaos to eat us alive, or we can turn to God and allow Him to speak to each of us in the quiet.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to spend more time in the quiet.  I’ll practice being still before God.  I will spend time in His word.  I will once again spend time drawing, journaling and creating in order to connect with my refuge and my strength. 

I choose to see this chaotic time as an opportunity to reconnect, to return to my roots, to grow in my faith. I will be still.

1 God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields[d] with fire.
10 He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.’

Psalm 46: 1-10 NIV

Huffing and Puffing

Straw, Sticks or Brick?

We’ve all heard the story of “The Three Little Pigs’.  The first little pig built his house out of straw.  The second little pig used sticks.  The third pig used bricks.  The wolf was able to “huff and puff” and blow down the first and second houses, but the brick house withstood his efforts.  As a child in VBS, I also remember singing the song about the foolish man and the wise man:

The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
And the rains came tumbling down

The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
And the house on the rock stood firm

The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
And the rains came tumbling down

The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
And the house on the sand went smash.

So, how many of us truly heed the warnings of these two children’s stories?

We live in a “microwave” world.  We have no patience to wait for anything.  We eat fast food, drink coffee from pods, use credit to the extreme, treat sex as a dating option, and seek “happiness” above all else.  We’ve lost the need or the desire to plan, wait and/or build something of value.  We struggle and come apart over the “stuff”.  We live in a culture that confuses wants with needs.  I NEED a bigger house.  I NEED a new car.   I NEED the new phone.  I NEED to be happy.  I NEED to have the BEST. 

Instead of being content with what we can afford, we buy and sell and trade.  We save for the temporary things that we will tire of when the next newest thing is unveiled.  But, we forget about investing in the things that matter.  We are so intent in our pursuit of happiness, that people and relationships become secondary.  We don’t take the time to repair and/or build our marriages or relationships.  We treat relationships that should be the most precious with less regard than the latest IPhone. 

As we build relationships, we establish a solid footing for marriage.  We build the brick house for ourselves.  When sex becomes the basis for my happiness, I build a house of straw or sticks without a foundation.    A challenge or problem within the fragile walls will knock it down.  I know that I’m old school.  I do believe in the marriage vows “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.”  Unfortunately, the truth of many a marriage is this:  “to have and to hold today, (unless you disappoint me or become a bigger liability than an asset to my happiness) or until something better comes along.”

I do believe that we have to return to our strong belief in family values.  I do not advocate the “Leave it to Beaver” life, but I do believe that marriage and family have to come first.  My children were always important to me.  I was the typical Momma Bear and they knew they could depend on me to stand up for them.  However, my husband came first.  If I did not focus on building a strong marriage, my kids wouldn’t have the family that they needed.  These are the “bricks” that I have found critical to a successful life/marriage:   

  1. My Relationship with God
  2. My Relationship with my spouse
  3. Taking care of my children

I met both of my husbands through church.  Faith has been a huge part of each of my marriages.  Without God, I could not have survived some of the things I have endured.  We believe that God is in control.  We have to trust in Him for all our needs. My kids were also raised in the church.  I would make a pallet on the floor of the gym where we had services and lay my baby on it while I practiced the hymns and/or offertories on the piano.  Gracie learned hymns in the womb with I practiced.  The church was a 2nd home to my children.  Sunday’s were not optional.  We would be in church that day.  Never a question.

Date nights every month away from our kids are important.  When my children were small and money was tight, we were known to drop them off with a sitter and go home to watch TV alone.  It was what we did as much as just building time together, alone.  It’s important to spend time growing together.  It’s so easy to get pushed apart with children in the house.  There’s so much to do.  Sleep is often at a premium.  It’s work to remain a couple and not just co-parents.

I’ve spent my life being a working a mom.  I went to the office and sometimes traveled for work.  I don’t think my children ever felt slighted.  In fact, after being laid off and home for 9 months, they were ECSTATIC when I returned to the work force. 

There are many, many options in life.  I would challenge myself as well as others to decide which battles in which you engage.  Is the fight for newest or the best “thing” critical to your life? Or, will it just bring a moment of happiness and feed the “NEXT” wolf? Will my house stand against the huffing and puffing?

Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

 “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

 “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”

Matthew 7:21-27 MSG

And, This is my Hope

(Part 3 of 3)

“So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
And I will cling to the old rugged cross
And exchange it some day for a crown”

The Old Rugged Cross

There’s nothing that I can do to change the past.  I can only hold fast to the truth.  The Crucifixion was a horrible event.  But, I can celebrate the empty tomb.  Because Christ went to the cross and died for me, because He was raised again on the 3rd day, I will strive to honor Him.  The Cross & the empty Tomb are intertwined into my life of faith.  It is because of Him that I can have peace through the daily grind. 

“At the crack of dawn on Sunday, the women came to the tomb carrying the burial spices they had prepared. They found the entrance stone rolled back from the tomb, so they walked in. But once inside, they couldn’t find the body of the Master Jesus. They were puzzled, wondering what to make of this. Then, out of nowhere it seemed, two men, light cascading over them, stood there. The women were awestruck and bowed down in worship. The men said, “Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery? He is not here, but raised up. Remember how he told you when you were still back in Galilee that he had to be handed over to sinners, be killed on a cross, and in three days rise up?” Then they remembered Jesus’ words.” 

Luke 24:1-8 MSG

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”

1 Corinthians 15:3 NIV