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? 

Three score & One

Today, I am 61.  I am 31 years past the dreaded 30th birthday.  Hard to believe, but I’m still a living, functioning member of society.  Life does exist beyond the 30’s.  In this time, I have been a daughter, a student, an employee, a wife, a mother, a widow, a Mumzy, a 2nd wife and a stepmom.  I’ve experienced many things, both good and bad. In my 3 score and 1 year, a lot has happened. 

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

RRoman’s13:1-3 MSG

I was born during the Eisenhower administration.  In my lifetime, there have been twelve US Presidents:  one was assasinated,  one resigned, one survived being shot, two were been impeached. The Supreme Court has seen 26 justices.  Politics are never more evident than in today’s social media world.  As I type this, one more justice is awaiting confirmation and the possibility of a 13th president hangs on the November election.

When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

Psalm 8:3. NIV

I followed the NASA missions and celebrated the triumphs  and mourned the disasters.  I remember the Apollo 1 fire as well as the Challenger and  Columbia disasters.  Before Tom Hanks brought it to life on the screen, I sat in my 4th grade classroom and listened as Apollo 13 made it safely back to earth.  Skylab was launched and crashed to earth and  the International Space Station was built. 

Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.

Psalm 30:2 NIV

Todays young adults have never experienced measles, chicken pox or the mumps. I’ve had all three. I also have a small pox scar on my left arm. (I tried to explain the process to my kids and they just don’t get it.) I remember the sugar cube with the polio vaccine.  AIDS, Ebola, Zika, Bird & Swine flu and now the coronavirus have all become part of our normal vocabulary. 

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.

Psalm 127:3 NIV

In these 60+ years, the nuclear family has moved from the normal to the exception.  In my teen years, if you were having sex it was a secret.  Today, if you are NOT having sex it’s an embarassment.  Marriage is a convenience that is shunned by some and fought for by others.  In the process of raising strong women, we have taught them that it’s “your body and your choice” even if that means murdering a part of yourself.  I believe in choice.  I just differ on the point at which that choice should be made.  I have to join those that opine what would happen if our government supported adoption as strongly as it supports abortion rights. 

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Colossians 3:13

I’ve watched (and participated) in the social media growth.  I love being able to stay in contact with friends and family on a daily basis.  I despise the vitriol that is evident across the pages, however.  I’ve watched as a good friend attacked another dear friend over a perceived political slight.  I’ve been unfriended for being too “religious”.  I’ve had to hide or unfriend some newer acquaintances that are just too militant and/or negative.  I miss the days when you could have an opinion without being afraid of the attack.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Galatians 6:2

My college days were spent in east Texas at SFASU.  In the early 80s, coming “out of the closet” seemed to be the thing to do.  I did not always understand, but I have always believed that you have a right to love and be loved.  So, while I may not have embraced the lifestyle, I still chose to embrace the friendships.   I had an older friend and family member ask me how I reconciled my gay friends with my personal beliefs.  She had been the recipient of an unexpected and unwanted sexual overture with a roommate during her college years.  As a result, she was struggling the some of her favorite student’s lifestyle decisions.  I explained that I loved these friends for who they were not their orientation.  I have since realized that this is true of many things.  I can love my friends even if we disagree about politics, religion, sex or any other difference.  If I am invested in the person, the rest is just “window dressing”.  I would hope that is reciprocated. 

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

EECCLESIASTES 4:12 NIV

I’ve lived in the country and the city and learned that there are good and bad aspects to both.  Community is where you decide it is.  No matter how large or small the city, you live in your own small world.  You make your home where you choose to find your contentment. 

A person’s days are determine;  you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.

Job 14:5 NIV

I have no idea how much life is left in the 61 year old body.  I do plan to continue to expand my horizions.  I’ve taken up watercolor painting and quilting since my 60th birthday.  In the past year, we’ve added two miniture goats to our family.  They have been an education.  I’m still active in my church and strive to be more than a “religious” person and I will conintue to share my beliefs.  I love our blended family and look forward to our family continuing to grow.  I continue to treasure the friendships I have from all of my years.

This is Sixty-one.  This is me.  I’m more comfortable in my skin that ever.  I look forward to the journey around the sun.  I hope and pray you make the trip with me. 

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.

PSALM 139:13-16 MSG

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

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

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

Lessons from Theodore

Theodore

We have 4 small dogs.  All of them are rescues.  Three of them came to us as puppies.  They moved right in and made themselves comfortable.  Our most recent addition is Theodore.  He’s a rat terrier found wandering a country road.  He had fleas and dermatitis when he was found.  Theodore was 5 years old when we got him.  We know this because he was chipped and the rescue organization talked to the breeder.  Neither the breeder nor his first family would take him back.

When I first met Theodore, I was amazed at how very stiff and almost distant he was.  He’s a very muscular dog and can jump over 3 feet, straight up.  We jokingly call him Stick Dog because he never seems to relax.  His legs are always stick straight.  He liked attention, but he never seemed to settle in one spot for very long.  It was obvious that Theodore was comfortable.  His skin had cleared up and his coat a returned.  He was getting good food and putting on weight.  He had learned his spot in the dog area.   On occasion he would fall asleep in my lap, but not very often.  I had resolved in my mind that he was just a loner. 

Early in December, however, something changed.  It was like Theodore realized that he was in his forever home.  He was suddenly a lap dog.  He’s still stiff and likes to know what’s going on EVERYWHERE in the house.  But now, he’s the first to crawl up for cuddles.  He has “his spot” on my right side and it doesn’t matter if one of the other dogs in lying there.  Theodore will maneuver his way into HIS spot.   He will stand outside my bathroom window and bark while I get dressed to remind me that he needs to come inside.  The more that time passes, the more at home he seems.  He even jumped up and down to be picked up just a few days ago.  That was a new thing.  It has been amazing to watch the transformation of his personality. 

Theodore’s journey has made me look at my own walk of faith.  As a young believer, I treated my relationship with God much as I would Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.  If I was good enough, or gave enough, or had something to trade, I would be “blessed” with a happy, pain free life.  If things didn’t go well, then I just wasn’t good enough.    I could never relax and really trust God to work, because I was too busy being BUSY.

Through the years, I’ve learned and adjusted.  I’ve read scripture. 

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”  Romans 2:12 TLB

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” Jeremiah 29:11 MSG

Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!  He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He gives me new strength. He helps me do what honors him the most.   Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way.  You provide delicious food for me in the presence of my enemies. You have welcomed me as your guest; blessings overflow!   Your goodness and unfailing kindness shall be with me all of my life, and afterwards I will live with you forever in your home.”  Psalm 23 TLB

 I claimed these scriptures.   I used them as proof that God would take care of me.  In some ways, I think I tried to use them as blackmail to get what I wanted in life.   I assumed that I would live a long, happy, care-free life.  My family and I would serve Him and be under His protection.  We were and we are.  BUT, my idea of protection and God’s were not the same. 

While God promises to ALWAYS care for me, He has never promised that things would be easy and free of trouble.  In fact, He said quite the opposite. 

”And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.”  Ephesians 6:12 MSG

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”  John 16:33 MSG

I think as a citizen of these United States, I have been spoiled to expect an easy life.  I don’t have any idea what it means to be persecuted.  So, when I hit a rough patch in life, I get all upset and feel sorry for myself.  Bad stuff will happen.  Even in our country, bad stuff happens.  The worst thing I could imagine happened to me when my first husband died.  I screamed and begged and cried out to God during that time.  I tried to figure out what I had done wrong to deserve this tragedy.  It took several years to come to terms with Terry’s death.  I had to recognize my own selfishness.  “I” was not being punished.  God has a plan for each of us.  Terry got his reward earlier than we expected.  It was a hard lesson to learn.  I’m still not totally sure I understand it all. 

“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”  Romans 8:26-28 MSG

As I have become more comfortable in my faith, I have learned to relax and depend upon God.  Trials come.  There are situations and consequences in my life right now that I would definitely prefer not to confront.  I really don’t have a choice.  There are some regrets about past life choices.  There is sorrow in the consequences that must be faced.  But, ultimately, God is still there for me.  There is forgiveness in every situation.   There are blessings and joy to be found. 

” Then, when Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his wealth and happiness! In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before!

So the Lord blessed Job at the end of his life more than at the beginning.” Job 42:10,12A TLB

“We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.”  Colossians 1: 11-12 MSG

The “I” in Christmas

I think one of my favorite Christmas memories is from 1982.  That was my first Christmas totally on my own.  I had moved to Houston for my first “grown-up” job.  This was the first Christmas that I purchased all my Christmas gifts with my own money.  I loved shopping for the perfect gift for each family member.  And what was even better?  I didn’t have to limit myself to just one gift.  I set my own budget and made my choices.  It was great!

My next Christmas memory is from 1988, the first Christmas that I didn’t spend with my parents.  It was the 2nd Christmas after Terry and I were married.  I was pregnant with our son and we spent that Christmas in Houston.  We were serving part-time in a church north of Houston and Christmas fell on a Sunday that year.  The church leadership decided that we should have our normal Sunday School and Church service that Sunday as well as a Christmas Eve service on Saturday night.  We spent weekends in a drab little house next to the church.  The furniture was old, the bed uncomfortable.  Our tree, gifts and dog were all in our apartment back in Houston.  After the Christmas Eve service, Terry and I went back to our little weekend house.  While he prepared spaghetti for supper, I went into the bedroom and cried.  I was homesick and (if I’m honest) a little hurt by the lack of consideration from our church.  After some discussion, we loaded up the spaghetti and headed back to Houston for the night.  We got back to our apartment about 11:00pm.  For our Christmas gifts, we had agreed to a dollar limit and decided to fill a stocking for each other.  So, late that night, we feasted on spaghetti and opened our stocking gifts.  We drove the 2 hours back to the little church in time for Sunday School the next morning.  I was so grateful for the tenderness and understanding of my husband that Christmas.  At was the greatest gift.   

It’s hard to pick a favorite Christmas with my Kids.  I loved shopping for them and seeing their excitement.  I think I enjoyed even more, the days when we would take them shopping for each other.  I will always remember the excitement of looking for the “best” gift for a sibling or a parent.  I believe we taught them that giving is what Christmas is all about. 

I find it disappointing when I see the joy of Christmas giving transformed into the greed of Christmas getting.  When I hear comments like “No one asked me what I wanted” or “I don’t want some cheap thing, I want a REAL gift” my heart sinks a little.  I don’t think it’s wrong to ask for input on Christmas gifts.  But, I think it’s also acceptable to be creative and give from the heart.  A handmade gift tells such a different story than a mass produced one.  Have I gotten things I didn’t need or want? Yes.  And, I try to find something to treasure in each gift, even if it’s only the thought. 

Too many of us get caught in the trap of chr”I”stmas where “I” is the most important part of the word. When that happens, it’s all about ME:

  • “I” want (fill in the blank)
  • “I” need to be central this holiday season
  • “I” will not be inconvenienced. 
  • “I” don’t care what you need unless it works for me. 
  • “I” deserve to be happy.

The holiday season can be very difficult and life experiences often exaggerate issues. 

The family that is missing a key member for the holidays, grieves for the loss of the person as well as many customs.  You may not be able to carry on all of your traditions. Why not try something new this year.  Don’t be afraid to be original.  After my husband died, I didn’t want to celebrate.  It took a few years to face Christmas with any type of joyful spirit.  When we were ready, we changed a few things.  Our tree was no longer traditional.  It was white and decorated in pink, purple, orange and lime green.  We used flamingos and boas to liven it up.    We still added a Santa figure to Terry’s collection and a house to his village.  But, we found new ways to move forward.

Blended families may being a competitiveness to the holidays.  There may be a desire to provide the “best” experience.  And, when adult children marry it adds another level of stress to the holidays.  There are expectations of family traditions from every branch of the family.  It can be exhausting trying to live up to it all.  Young families need to set their own traditions and accept that not everything will remain the same.  We celebrate the Sunday before Thanksgiving and Christmas with our children and their significant others.  That’s frees up the actual holiday for whatever the individual family groups need/want to do.  I’ll spend some “Mumzy time” with my grandson as well. 

Too often, the holidays are a stress on the budget.  You may feel the need to spend money you really don’t have and as a result, go into debt.  I think I forget the lesson from the story of the Little Drummer Boy.  He gave what he had.  He played his drum.  It didn’t matter that there were greater gifts being given.  He gave what he had.  When we give the best that we can, it shouldn’t have to live up to anything else.  It is the BEST.

When “I” become the center of the holiday season, I miss the reason of the season

When “I” stress about living up to the expectations that others set for me (or my gifts), I ignore the true gift that we celebrate each Christmas.

When “I” focus on what makes ME happy, I don’t have time to see what others need or have to offer. 

I need to keep the holidays in focus.  I need to remember that it is CHRiSTMAS and I have a very small part of it.  The joy of Christmas is in celebrating the birth of Christ, the greatest gift EVER!

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Luke 2:8-20 MSG

When Faith Fails

Webster’s dictionary defines faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something”.   In Hebrews 11:1, we find the Biblical definition of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”   Several times through the years, I’ve heard speakers use a chair as a tangible example of faith.  You see the chair.  You believe the chair will support you.  You have faith in the chair even though you have not proven that it is strong enough.  So, what happens when you step out “on faith” and sit on the chair, only to have it collapse beneath you?  Was it your faith that failed or was it the chair? 

Most of us would agree it was the chair that was at fault.  We will look for a reason to blame the failure.  Maybe the chair was designed for a child and you were just too big for it.  Possibly, the chair was cheaply constructed and the connections just “let go”.  Or, maybe the chair was just old and brittle and was no longer safe for use when you sat in it. Folding chairs are often have a weight limit.  It doesn’t matter how much faith you exhibit, if you choose a chair that is undersized, defective or unsafe, you will have to face failure.  But, I doubt you will swear of chairs for life.  You will choose to sit in other chairs.  You will just be more discerning about your selection of seating. 

So, when we perceive that our faith in God has failed, what’s the issue?  Did God really fail, or did we put our faith in the wrong things?  Too often, I approach God with my list of wants.  I want Him to fix a relationship or a situation.  I want responsibility for which I’m not really prepared.  I want things to stay the same and never change.  I want “stuff” and “things” that I think will bring happiness into my life.  When I treat God like a Genie in a bottle or a kind of Santa Claus, there are more failures than successes in my life. 

What about that relationship?  Are you asking God to fix the other person?  Are there issues that are incompatible with your goals and dreams?  What if you focused on growing yourself and becoming the better person?  Faith is NOT “a magic wand” that will make all of the issues disappear.  Just like a chair, you need to be aware of the things the other person may bring into your relationship: bad temper, sexual promiscuity, control issues, poor spending habits, stinginess, ego are just a few.  The other person may need to be “fixed”, but it’s not your place to decide that.  You are only responsible for repairing the areas of your own life.  I believe in marriage.  I also know that marriage is hard.  Really hard at times. It’s even harder when you refuse to see the danger signals in a relationship.  

How do we define success?  In our society, success is often measured by the car that you drive, the diamond that you wear, the house you buy and the admiration that others heap upon your accomplishments.  I work near the River Oaks area.  I drive through neighborhoods with large beautiful houses.  While there’s a part of me that would love one of these homes, the practical side of me can only see the bills that would have to be paid to maintain such a home and the hours of cleaning that would be needed.  Too many people saddle themselves with debt in order to be seen as a success.  When a young couple is just starting out, there are enough stresses in a new marriage without adding extraordinary debts.  An extravagant wedding (that is over far too quickly) is too often the focus instead of the marriage that is to last a lifetime.  The first home doesn’t have to be a show place.  It doesn’t even have to be your “dream” house.  Work up to that.  Give yourself time and room to grow.  Concentrate on who you are, on what kind of family you want, before you commit to a huge mortgage and car payment. I have faith that all my needs will be met.  But, all the faith in the world will not erase extravagant decisions and the resulting debt that I choose to make. 

No relationship, job, success or amount of money will “make” you happy.  Only you can choose to find happiness in a situation.  Faith may not make you warm and fuzzy.  Faith is not about “ME” and my happiness.   Anytime, I place the responsibility of my happiness or (the blame for my unhappiness) on another person’s shoulders, there will be failure.  Being happy is a choice that ONLY you can make.  Nothing will make you feel happy. 

When hardships come (and they will) and nothing seems to be going my way, does it mean that my faith has failed?  Does it mean that God has failed and I should just write him off?  After struggling with these questions after the death of my husband, I have to answer “no” to both questions.  Because my faith says that God will meet my needs, I am reassured.   Because my faith says that God loves me as a Father loves his child, I am comforted beyond measure.  Because my faith does not depend upon “happy endings” and smiley faces, I stand confident that no matter what, God is still in control.  My faith has changed through the years.  It’s not as me-centric.  My faith is stronger because of the rotten things that have happened.  My faith stands even when the miracles I beg for do not occur, because I know there is a reason.  Ultimately, my faith tells me that I’m not promised this world. What I am promised is an eternity with my God.  That is my hope.  That is why my Faith never fails. 

Trust, Hope & Love

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

We have a blended family that includes 5 adult children that range in age from 20-30 years old.  We are firmly entrenched in the marriage stage of life.  So far, we’ve had 3 weddings:  Zac in 2016, Kyle in 2018 and Reagan was married this weekend.  Three down and two to go. 

As a parent, there are lots of thoughts and emotions that arise when one of your children moves toward marriage.  You want the best for your child.  You pray they are making sound choices.  There’s the joy (and lets be honest the stress) of adding another person to your family as well as the new extended family.  Weddings are fun, beautiful, joyful, frustrating, tiring and hard work.  And, after the party is over, the REAL work begins in earnest.

Marriage is a constant exercise in give and take.  According to statistics, almost 50 percent of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce or separation.  Researchers estimate that 41 percent of all first marriages end in divorce.  Of the remaining 50 to 59 percent of marriages, I wonder how many would rate their marriages as “successful”.  I love being married.  I was married for 18 years, widowed for 10 years and celebrate my fourth anniversary in a few months with my new husband.  I had a successful first marriage and I consider my current marriage a success. 

So, what makes marriage so difficult?  I think the answer is pretty simple:  selfishness.  When I concentrate on “ME” and “MY WANTS”, I cannot put my marriage first.  My selfishness takes precedence.  I recently saw a sign that said:                   “Want a bad marriage?  Put yourself first.                                      “Want a good marriage?  Put your spouse first.                                   “Want a great marriage?  Put God first.” 

There is so much truth in these words.  If I concentrate on what God wants, I will take care of my spouse.  It doesn’t matter if my spouse reciprocates.  I am still responsible for seeking a Godly marriage.  And if my spouse also seeks a Godly marriage, so much the better!!

We’ve all heard and/or read 1 Corinthians 13, also known as “The Love Chapter”.  I find that putting scripture into my own words, makes it a little more real to me.  This is my personal interpretation of a few of the love verses. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 13 (Melissa’s words)

Love is valuable.  It is worth everything to me. 

Love keeps going even through the hard times. 
Love gives to others instead of taking for itself.
Love
is happy in its’ own yard.  There are no greener pastures.
Love doesn’t exist only when it gets attention.
Love doesn’t allow my selfish wants to conflict with those I love.
Love doesn’t manipulate to get its’ way.
Love plays 2nd fiddle at times. 
Love is calm in the face of conflict or disappointment.
Love has learned the art of forgive and forget.
Love doesn’t take pleasure in making others beg for attention
Love speaks the truth (even when it hurts.)
Love withstands any attack.
Love is from God and trusts that He is in control.
Love often wears “rose colored” glasses and sees the good in a difficult situation.
Love never asks “what if” and longs for something (or someone) else        Love stands firm and stays true to its’ vows and commitments.

There are three things that will make me successful in life:  Trust, Hope and Love.  And Love is the one that is my focus. 

We all crave love.  We want to be adored and cherished.  Too often, however, we confuse lust with love and settle for less than the best God has for us.  We have found that we can avoid solving issues within relationships by moving on to new relationships.  There is excitement in the chase.  We use the excuses “I’m just not happy and I deserve happiness”, “We’ve just grown apart and have nothing in common”, or (the biggest lie from Satan) “God wouldn’t have brought him/her into my life if He didn’t want me to be with him/her.”  Just as Eve allowed the Serpent to persuade her to eat the forbidden fruit, we listen to the world and throw love and commitment to the wolves in order to have a moment of excitement and fun. 

As my children begin and continue to grow their marriages and their own families, I pray that the words of 1 Corinthians 13 will ring true and keep them on the true path. 

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7,13 NIV