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

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

The Glass Half Empty

Why are our measurements and comparisons often negative?

When discussing the current pandemic, we focus on the number of current cases and deaths. While these are a valid numbers, why are the number of recoveries not mentioned?

Instead of celebrating that I have a safe home in which to live, I complain about the size or the style or the changes than need to be made.

I look at my overly full closet and moan about having nothing to wear.

My pantry and refrigerator are fully stocked, but I yearn to eat out in a sit down restaurant.

I bemoan coming to work (as an identified essential) while others are sheltering at home. But, I neglect to be thankful for an income and a faster commute.

I watch with fear as the price of oil drops and forget to enjoy the cheaper gas costs.

I whine about not being able to see/visit with my friends in family groups or at church. However, I overlook the opportunities this affords me to spend time studying, crafting and concentrating on my family.

It’s easy to concentrate on what we are missing or losing. This pandemic is affecting weddings and funerals, work and vacations. Maybe, this is a time to refocus on what is important. It’s the marriage that should be the focus, not the wedding. We should cherish the living instead of waiting until it’s too late. We need to count ourselves fortunate that we can work without letting it be the focus of our lives. And, the best vacations are all about spending time with the ones that we love and cherish, not the location that we visit or the entertainment.

Life will return to normal. We will get to have the celebrations as well as all the other options for entertainment and/or travel. Our routines will again take over our lives. One can only hope and pray that we do not forget the positive lessons that we learn right now.

There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:

A right time for birth and another for death,
A right time to plant and another to reap,
A right time to kill and another to heal,
A right time to destroy and another to construct,
A right time to cry and another to laugh,
A right time to lament and another to cheer,
A right time to make love and another to abstain,
A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend,
A right time to shut up and another to speak up,
A right time to love and another to hate,
A right time to wage war and another to make peace.

 But in the end, does it really make a difference what anyone does? I’ve had a good look at what God has given us to do—busywork, mostly. True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he’s left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he’s coming or going. I’ve decided that there’s nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life. That’s it—eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It’s God’s gift.

 I’ve also concluded that whatever God does, that’s the way it’s going to be, always. No addition, no subtraction. God’s done it and that’s it. That’s so we’ll quit asking questions and simply worship in holy fear.

Whatever was, is.
Whatever will be, is.
That’s how it always is with God.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 MSG

Flexible or Counterfeit?

We operate in a world that preaches tolerance, flexibility and understanding.  Not bad ideals to practice, in most cases.  I, however, have grown tired of being schooled on the “politically correct” response to every situation regardless of my own beliefs and emotions.  I understand that not everyone embraces my upbringing, my history or my moral compass and I have no intention of forcing my views onto anyone.  But, at what point do my actions stop being signs of flexible tolerance and become indications of an untrue and even counterfeit life?   Is there a line where I am expected to stand up and voice my standards and beliefs even if those very beliefs offend the social norm of today?

I grew up in North Texas in what is often called Tornado Alley.  Like many homes in that part of the world, we had a storm cellar in our back yard.  It had been built by my grandparents, and the door was covered in sheet metal and made a wonder slide for play time.  One day, I discovered that I could walk up the door if I rubbed gasoline (from the 5 gallon container for the lawn mower) on the bottoms of my rubber flip-flops.  I thought it was really neat.  That is until my mother discovered what we were doing.  I was told it was dangerous to play with gasoline.  I wasn’t sure I understood the danger, but I knew not to try it again.  Fast forward 30 years, when I met a friend who had been playing with gasoline and had been badly burned as a result.  Now, I understood the dangers of the highly combustible fuel as well as how fast fires can and will follow not only the liquid but the fumes.  My mother was not flexible in allowing me to have fun and play.  She knew I was playing with fire and did her best to protect me. 

You may be thinking, “Of course she would stop you.  So what?” This example is pretty cut and dried.  The danger was obvious.  The actions were expected.  So I ask:  How many times to we allow others (friends, children, family) to play with “fire” in their lives rather than offend/anger them?  There are so very many moral chasms that we allow others to delve into without saying anything.  After all, we live in a world where sex is casual, attaining personal desire is the #1 goal and faith is only discussed as the punchline of a joke.  We speak of religion without conviction and yet bristle when called religious.  Christianity has become a social tag and the Church a place to go on Sunday mornings IF I decide to get out of bed AND it will benefit me in some way. 

My husband uses the term “American Christianity” to describe today’s social/religious Christian tag.  American Christianity tends to focus on:

  • The importance of the individual not the corporate vision or destiny of “the Church”. 
  • Individual prosperity instead of stewardship; using faith to attain stability and comfort versus encouraging taking risks to advance the Kingdom.
  • Self-fulfillment and happiness rather than glorifying God and serving humanity.
  • Promoting a consumerist mentality with regard to the home church and not the equipping for ministry; A culture of entertainment that replaces the pursuit of God.
  • The church as a building instead of a body that exemplifies a lifestyle of worship, community and Christ following.
  • Efficiency of worship but not the effectiveness.

While each individual believer is responsible for applying the Word of God to his/her own life, scripture was given to the Church.  When you read the Old Testament, references are made about the Nation of Israel.  In the New Testament, the community of faith (the Church) was the focus of scripture.  As believers, we are to be a PART of the Body or The Church.  We are not ‘stand-alone’ in our beliefs. 

Only in the United States do we believe we are “owed” prosperity.  Rather than being grateful for all that we have in our country, we pray for greater things:  bigger houses, nicer cars, better paychecks.  It would never occur to most American Christians to sacrifice in order to provide for the community around us.  At most, we give a tithe and expect a big return as a result.

If I hear one more person say “I deserve to be happy”, I will scream!  No one ‘deserves’ to be happy.  Did you read that correctly?  NO ONE DESERVES TO BE HAPPY.  An individual can CHOOSE to be happy in any situation.  When MY happiness becomes my prime focus, I cannot focus on God.  And just to close any gap that may exist:  God will NEVER use sin to bring you happiness.  An adulterous affair may add a level of excitement and fun to your life, but is it worth the sacrifice of your reputation and trustworthiness? 

I struggle with entertainment value attached to our American church services.  I struggle as a worship leader and as a participant.  I know the danger of getting caught up in “performing” on any given Sunday. The need to be part of the worship with the body fades if I’m not on stage.  The accolades from others become my “worship” and I no longer look for ways to grow in my own spiritual life.

I believe we need to attract people to our church services.  But, more important, I believe we need to be examples of a lifestyle of Christ following.  When we show that worship is more than filling space in a church building once a week, we influence the community is a greater way.  We make effective our worship and our lifestyle.  People are attracted to the genuine.  Worship as entertainment will lose its appeal if there is no depth to it.  That’s why we are seeing an upswing in small group/family life worship.  My pastor has said “The Row doesn’t know what you need, but the Circle does.”  The Row represents where you sit in a church service.  The people on either side of you have no idea what’s really going on with you.  The Circle, however, represents the family life group.  That’s the small group that hears you share on a weekly basis.  That may not be efficient, but it’s definitely effective in growing your spiritual side.   

I want to be flexible with people.  I want to be that person that loves regardless and sometimes in spite of the situation.  I need to be a part of weekly worship and daily growth in order to be my best self.  I cannot pretend to be something other than who I am.  I will not be a counterfeit in this world that promotes individuality but demands conformity. 

“Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” 

James 1:26-27 MSG

What Does it Mean to Love?

Easter Sunday has come and gone once again. The chocolate bunnies and candy eggs are now sitting on the clearance aisles. I have always enjoyed Easter eggs; the dying, the hiding and the hunting. Some of my fondest memories are of the egg hunts at my grandparents farm with my cousins and family members. Eggs would be found for days around the yard after Easter. I looked forward to the new dress, the shiny new shoes and maybe a new hat. Easter was the beginning of spring. A new beginning for the year. But, I’ve learned that Easter (or Resurrection Day) is so much more than frilly dresses and colorful eggs.

Easter is all about Love. True, deep and passionate love. It is a blueprint for each of us to know what it is to love sacrificially. In short, the meaning of Easter is how we, as Christians, are to love. Period.

The week before the crucifixion, Jesus is honored with a dinner and a very expensive anointing. Mary knew the meaning of sacrificing for one you love.


Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. Lazarus and his sisters invited Jesus to dinner at their home. Martha served. Lazarus was one of those sitting at the table with them. Mary came in with a jar of very expensive aromatic oils, anointed and massaged Jesus’ feet, and then wiped them with her hair. The fragrance of the oils filled the house.
Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, even then getting ready to betray him, said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold and the money given to the poor? It would have easily brought three hundred silver pieces.” He said this not because he cared two cents about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of their common funds, but also embezzled them.
7-8 Jesus said, “Let her alone. She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.”
 Word got out among the Jews that he was back in town. The people came to take a look, not only at Jesus but also at Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead.

John 12:1-10 MSG

Have you ever kept something precious for yourself? I have! I used to hide my Christmas candy. It was something I felt the need to share. It was MINE! Mary offered something not only special, but very expensive. A gift borne out of love and devotion.

Later in the week, Jesus would celebrate the Passover with his disciples. It was customary to wash the feet of the guests before the meal. Not one of the disciples was willing to do this. But, Jesus was willing.


Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron.

John 13:3-5 MSG


Have you ever heard or uttered the phrase “It’s not my job”? My husband and I have various responsibilities around the house. On more than one occasion, I have used this phrase to get out of a less than pleasant task. Washing feet would be one of those things I would not want to do. But, Jesus took a servant’s position. It may not have been His job, but it was His pleasure.

Jesus lived love. How different would our lives be if we followed His directions to ” Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.” Would my marriage be better if I loved my spouse more than I love myself and put my bucket list down and honored him instead? How would my children react if they witnessed that they were more important to me than my own agenda or enjoyment?

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

“But remember the root command: Love one another.

John 15: 9-17 MSG

Jesus knew what was coming. He knew the next days would be brutally painful. He knew. And, He continued to love and to sacrifice for us.


Then he told them, “My soul is crushed with horror and sadness to the point of death . . . stay here . . . stay awake with me.”
He went forward a little, and fell face downward on the ground, and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup be taken away from me. But I want your will, not mine.”

Matthew 26:38-39 TLB

Christ took the punishment that I deserve. He stood in the gap for me. He was beaten and murdered to give me the gift of God’s love. All that is asked in return is that I put my faith in Him and love other’s just like He loves me.


He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
    Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
    We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
    on him, on him.

Isaiah 53:5-6 MSG

The next time I’m upset because I didn’t get my way, I will remember what Jesus did for me. When loving another person means walking away from my own pursuit of happiness, I will choose to walk in Love. On those days when I think I am being asked to give up too much too often, I will rethink my own comfort and walk the walk that Jesus taught.

What does Easter mean to you? Is it just a time for games and bunny rabbits? Or, is there a deeper meaning to this day of celebration? Are you willing to truly love in the sacrificial and passionate way that Jesus taught? What does it mean to Love?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Most anyone can sing these few lines of the song:

                “R-E-S-P-E-C-T

                  Find out what it means to me

                  R-E-S-P-E-C-T

                  Take care. .T -C-B “

When Aretha Franklin recorded this Otis Redding Song, she declared she was a strong & confidant woman who has everything a man could want.  She demands his respect.  But, what is RESPECT?

I ask the question because we don’t seem to understand the term in this day and age.  Respect is given to a person we admire, to a position of authority or honor, or to a boundary that denotes space or possession.   Respect can be defined in several ways and the definition in which I am most interested is: 

“to consider worthy of high regard”  syn: admire, appreciate, consider, esteem, regard

Throughout my life, I have known people that I personally had difficulty respecting. Due to personal or work ethics, I did not respect anything about them.  I could however, respect their position of authority.  It was easy to complain and whine about the how unworthy these persons were.  It often proved to be very difficult to give respect to the position they held.  But, I knew it was necessary for me to do just that.  In a business setting, I could force myself to give at least a token respect since my job quite literally could depend upon it.  Unfortunately, I think it can be particularly difficult to respect a position or a stand, when the offense is from a member of our family or the Church. 

Philippians 2: 1-8 (MSG) says this:

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”

If Christ was able to put aside his own status and take on the status of a slave, then shouldn’t I be able to offer grace to those people that just drive me nuts?  Christ knew that Judas would betray Him.  Yet, He still included Judas within the twelve.  He still showed love and compassion to His betrayer.   Is there anything in my world that excuses me from giving that same love and compassion and even respect to others in some form?

Respect is almost a foreign concept in our world where “self” is the most important part of life.  We are told:

  • You deserve to happy.  Don’t waste your life.  Chase happiness.
  • The harder you work, the more you will get, and the happier you will be.
  • It’s a dog eat dog world.  Grab what you can before it’s gone.
  • Whoever has the most “stuff” wins.

When I, ME, and MINE are the most used terms in my vocabulary, esteem of others is impossible.  If I refuse to take responsibility when I hurt or offend another person, I show just how much I respect them.  When I gossip, complain or talk about friends or family to others, I lose the respect and trust of the very people I am attempting to impress.

There are lots of areas where disagreement is not only possible but encouraged.  We see that evidenced in all areas of politics.  And I’m using the term “politics” quite broadly.  Aside from the government, politics encompasses the total complex of relations between people living in society.  We see politics in our family and business relations.  We have seen the politics of the Church evidenced from the time of the Pharisees all the way through the various denomination squabbles of today. 

We can have disagreements.  We can have convictions.  But, ultimately, we have to find a way to be “deep-spirited”:  especially within the Church.  In my younger days, I had no patience with anyone that didn’t follow the letter of the law.  I was a self appointed judge and jury who practiced religion.  And no matter how meticulous I was, my actions were worthless because my motives and actions were not based upon the grace that I myself had been given.  There are areas that are not up for debate, but that doesn’t mean that I have the right to run roughshod and force-feed my convictions to others.  As I matured, I realized the need for tenderness.  I found that allowing a person grace and compassion was much more effective in guiding them to the truth.  And, along the way, I discovered that some of my “laws” were really based on religion not faith.  Respect doesn’t mean I have to agree with you.  I don’t even have to approve of you or your actions.  But, I do need to respect the person that God has lovingly created.

That’s a hard pill for this controlling person to swallow at times.  I’m still learning.  I’m still trusting.  I pray that I’m T-C-B:  Taking Care of Business.

Hopeful Intentions in 2019

As 2019 begins, many will make resolutions and plans for the year.  A few years ago, I was challenged to choose one word that would be set my vision for the year.  That year my word was “dream.”  I had forgotten what it was to have dreams.  I had become accustomed to just getting by: one day at a time.  I recognized that I needed to dream again.  I needed to set my sights on something new and better in my life. 

This year, I have two words.  The first word is “Hope”.   Hope was the word given to me when I took a “Word of the Year” quiz.  I can always use hope.  The other word came to be a bit more subtly.   During my quiet time, I heard this word whispered into my heart: “intention”.  So, in 2019 I will focus on living my life with hope and intention.  How do I accomplish this?

First, I wanted to know what these two words mean.  I found that they are very similar. 

INTENTION

noun

a determination to act in a certain way : resolve

Synonyms

aim, ambition, aspiration, design, dream, end, goal, idea, ideal, intent, mark, meaning, object, objective, plan, point, pretension, purpose, target, thing

HOPE   

noun

a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Synonyms

Aspiration, desire, wish, expectation, ambition, aim goal, plan, design

What does it mean live a life of intention and hope?  Is it just setting goals or objectives and wishing it all goes well?  Choosing a word (or words) each is year is different from resolutions.  Resolutions seldom work because they are based on the type of person I’m tired of being.  I focus on the negative and are expected to be “broken”.  Instead, I want to focus on the person that God wants me to become: the transformation process.

A wise friend of mine has pointed out that a person’s focus can be found by reviewing their calendar and checkbook.  We spend our time and money in the areas that are the most important to us.  I don’t hesitate to keep my business appointments in my Outlook calendar.  I have all kinds of bells and whistles to remind me when to pay bills, when to get up, when to take medications, when appointments are scheduled.  So, why don’t I use these same reminders for my personal life?  If I intend to spend more time in Bible Study, I should block out that time in my calendar instead of saying I want to “read the Bible more”. 

Because I want to be intentional about how I spend my time, I need to be aware of my time, also.  Much as I have to plan how to spend or same my money, I need to do the same with my time.  I already know how much time I spend commuting to and from work, the hours that I am in the office and how much sleep I need.  I also know my basic commitments for church and life group.  That’s where my calendar begins.  I also know that I NEED to spend time with my husband and my children as well as friends.  It’s all too easy to say “we should get together” and never actually do it.  Scheduling a date night with my spouse is an easy way to be sure we get some quality time together.  Instead of waiting for one of the kids to call me or drop by,   need to put some time in my calendar to check in with each of them.  If I am intentional about spending time with my children every month, I will set appointments with each of them throughout the month.  It doesn’t have to be a huge event, but I MUST decide to schedule and follow up on these times.  The same thing goes for friends.  I need to spend time with friends to keep me grounded.  Finding a convenient time for both of you may take some work, but the effort is priceless. 

While I’m being intentional with my time, I need to schedule time to refill my own reserve.  It’s not only okay to take some alone time, it’s important to do so.  I need to block off time each week for my “creative” side to emerge.  I need to release myself to create.  As a student, I spent a lot of time practicing my music.  As an adult, I have been known to think of that time as a “waste”.  But, I’ve learned that I need that time. 

Does every moment have to be scheduled and every dollar earmarked?  No, definitely not.  I want to be intentional with my life, not controlling of every aspect.  There is also value in being spontaneous, flexible and generous. Calendars or the budgets should never be your master, just helpful tools to guide you.  When 2020 arrives, I want to look back at 2019 and not wonder where I spent my time and money.  I want to know that I invested wisely in the lives of my family and other around me. 

So, the challenge for this year:  Be Intentional with Hope.  Don’t sulk because you haven’t received a phone call from a loved one:  CALL THEM FIRST.  Don’t wait for friends or family to suggest a visit:  INITIATE THE SCHEDULE.  Stop with the passive/aggressive comments and just reach out to the ones you want to be near.  Life is too short.  Make the trip.  Spend the time.  Be intentional in 2019.

Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ.

Wake up from your sleep,
Climb out of your coffins;
Christ will show you the light!

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!

Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.

Ephesians 5: 11-17  MSG

Lonely in a Crowd

Have you ever found yourself filled with loneliness while you are in a group of people? You look around at those surrounding you, but you don’t connect. You may not have anything in common with others in the room. Or, there may be underlying tensions that keep you separated. This kind of loneliness is difficult at best and isolating at worst.

As I have been thinking about the Christmas story, I began to consider the journey that Mary and Joseph undertook to get to Bethlehem. Usually it is depicted as a solitary and lonely journey: just the two of them traveling on a deserted road. But, this year it occurred to me that they were probably not all alone on that road. The entire Roman Empire was traveling to ancestral hometowns.

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant. Luke 2: 1-5 MSG

It’s quite possible that Mary and Joseph were traveling on a very busy road. There were very likely other relatives making the same trek. But unlike other journey’s that would be made as part of a large family caravan, Mary and Joseph were very alone on this journey. The reason is clear: Mary was Joseph’s pregnant fiancee, not his wife. Her pregnancy was an opportunity for gossip and judgement and maybe some shame and scorn from family members. We don’t really know details, but Joseph’s original reaction to Mary’s news gives us some insight into how this pregnancy was perceived.

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. Matthew 1: 18-19 MSG

As I think about Christmas in 2018, I wonder, how many of us are surrounded by people but still feel totally isolated? There are many things that can contribute to the isolation. The normal tensions that exist within a family unit may result in a feeling of detachment. New family situations that result from death, divorce or a even new marriage may greatly influence the family temperament. A death in the family will make traditions either too precious to forget or too painful to observe. Each family member will react with different expectations or preferences. Melding or ignoring the new needs may create a strong resentment within the family. Divorce always stresses and changes the family dynamic and as a result the holiday season. When anyone within the family gets married, old traditions are stretched and strained. Now there are multiple family traditions and locations to be considered and blended. Seemingly small things like what food will be served, special church service attendance, multiple family gatherings as well the cost of gifts can become contentious. Hurt feelings and blame placing only contribute to feelings of isolation.

As I approached this 2018 holiday season, it was too easy to dread the upcoming holidays. This is just my fourth Christmas as part of a blended family that includes my husband, and our five adult children, two daughters-in-love and a precious grandson. We are still figuring out how to build our own family traditions. Trying to coordinate our blended family plans with their own extended family events can be overwhelming. I love looking for that perfect gift for each person in my family and it gets more and more difficult the older they get. And this year, I determined to enjoy this holiday time. This year, I will give full attention to my family and not be overtaken with self doubt and feelings of failure when I do not meet the expectations of others. I cannot keep everyone happy. That is a choice made by each individual.

This Year, I will focus on the celebration of the birth of my Savior.

“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


Am I Human or Just Dumb?


To err is human, to forgive divine. All people commit sins and make mistakes. God forgives them, and people are acting in a godlike (divine) way when they forgive.

“An Essay on Criticism”  by Alexander Pope

We all make mistakes in life.  Some are more painful than others.  The assumption is that we learn  from the mistakes and  do not repeat the same one.  The reality is, you can can only make a mistake once:  the 2nd time is a choice. So, if we keep making the same mistake/choice, does that mean we are just dumb?  All through life, we learn things.  Sometimes, we take the advice and teachings of those around us.  But, there are the times that we get burned testing our boundaries.

When I was a child, I was fascinated watching my mother test the heat of the iron.  She would touch her finger to her tongue and then touch the the bottom plate of the iron.  I decided that I wanted to iron my paper doll clothes.  So, I did all of the things I had observed my mother do in the past.  Except, I didn’t lightly touch the iron.  I pressed my index finger to the metal plate.  I had been told many times not to touch the iron because it would burn me.  The pain and the resulting blister (and the scorched paper doll dress) were reminders to heed the warnings. 

But, my need to prove myself didn’t stop there.  It was around the same time of my life.  We were at an Easter egg hunt at my grandparents farm in Foard City.  It was a big family get-together and there were lots of eggs to find.  My Aunt Ruth, who was just a few years older than me, stopped me and pointed out some pretty pink flowers and pointedly told me NOT to pick them.  I went on about the business of hunting eggs, but I kept thinking about those bright pink flowers.  Ruth and I often would go pick wildflowers around the farm and I wondered why she was being so selfish about those pretty flowers.  In hindsight, I don’t think I had even noticed the flowers before being told to leave them alone.  But, now, I was obsessed with them.  I decided to show my aunt that I could pick any flower I wanted and deliberately grabbed the bright pink blossoms with both hands. 

Prickly Pear Cactus

If you have ever encountered a Prickly Pear Cactus, you know about the sharp spines.  I didn’t manage to pick any of the flowers, but I did get both hands full of needles and spines.  All because I was so caught up in having my own way and not paying heed to warnings that I had received.

From the time of Adam and Eve in the garden, we have been inclined to test every rule and push every boundary.  If the speed limit is 60 mph, we drive 65 mph or more.  A sign that says “WET PAINT” is more of an invitation to touch it than a warning.  We make dumb comments for excuses when ignoring rules or warnings: 

  • “It’s just a little white lie.  It doesn’t hurt anyone”
  • Texting isn’t a problem when I drive”
  • “If I can serve my country at 18, I should be able to drink!”
  • “It’s not cheating on my spouse if I’m not happy.  I deserve to be happy”
  • “God wouldn’t have brought him/her into my life if He didn’t want us together.”
  • “As long as I go to church on Sunday, I can do anything I want.”
  • “I don’t need a church to feel close to God.  I am a spiritual person and do just fine on my own. 

And my favorite dumb comment. . .

  • “It’s just sex.  It’s not important.  It doesn’t mean anything”

I have done things in my life that were just dumb.  I would bet most people have.  I have hurt other people and I’ve had to apologize for my actions/words.  And, I’ve been wounded by people for whom I cared deeply and then I had to learn to forgive.  I’ve got a good grasp on the “err” and “dumb” actions.  The “divine” part is a little harder. 

I’m grateful that God is divine.  He is forgiving and merciful.  I try to remember that I really don’t want life to be fair, because I want the benefits of mercy in every situation.   Even so, I know there are consequences when I step over the line.  The results may not be as evident as a blistered index finger or a hand full of cactus spines, but there are penalties that have to be paid.  Whether it is a fine for a speeding ticket or the loss of the trust and respect of my loved ones, there are always consequences. 

A favorite verse from the Old Testament talks about consequences and forgiveness:

If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust swarms to eat up all of your crops, or if I send an epidemic among you,  then if my people will humble themselves and pray, and search for me, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear them from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:13-14 TLB

There will be payment for breaking the rules,  choosing to rebel or ignoring the guidelines and instructions you have been given in this life.  Usually, the retribution is much worse than the enjoyment of the moment of rebellion.  My prayer is that I become more divine, more God-like in my choices.  I must face my issues and follow the best path, not necessarily the one that benefits me the most.  I must forgive those that cause me pain and be willing to pray for them, even when I just HATE doing that.  I must honor my promises and my vows in all areas of my life. 

What do your choices in life say about you?  Are you just human or moving toward the divine?  How many will admit to just being dumb when it comes to making decisions?


Where Is the Joy?

I admit it, I struggle during the holiday season.  There was at time when I loved getting ready for Thanksgiving.   Planning the perfect meal.  Visiting with family and friends. We even went to the big parade in downtown Houston.   I think I was more excited than my kids about Christmas.   I loved the excitement and the fun of the holidays.  It was a wonderful time.  There are many wonderful memories.

But grief changed all of that.  The idea of planning and cooking became a chore.  So, we started eating out.  It took a few years before I could face putting up a Christmas Tree and even then it was totally different from what had been our “norm”.  Instead of red & green, it was pink, purple and lime green.  We used feather boas instead of tinsel.  It was as far away as I could get from the memories of Christmas’ Past.  I couldn’t seem to entirely enjoy the holidays because I was haunted by what “might have been”.

Three years ago, our holidays changed once again.  We now have a blended family.  We now must consider all five of our kids and their spouses/significant others and their schedules.  They have other interests and families to consider.  It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of fighting for time.  And the holiday events become competitions instead of joyful celebrations.  Quality family time is lost in the quest to get to every house and every meal.

Honestly, my response can be much like the toys on the Island of Misfit Toys from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”:  feeling sorry for myself and expecting to miss the fun and excitement again this year.  It’s too easy to  feel that no one cares.  It’s very convenient to focus on “ME” instead of looking at the larger picture.

I’m really trying this year.  I want to be excited about the holidays.  I don’t want family quarrels to overshadow what should be a joyful time.  I don’t need to feel like I’m placing 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) in a competition that doesn’t even exist.  I’m trying to accept that perfection should not be my goal this year.  And, I’m focusing on building special memories wherever  and whenever I am able.  It may be a quiet meal with just my husband on Thanksgiving Day or a bigger, busier meal with most of the crew over the weekend.  Both, are times to create memories.

I know there will still be tender places.  Putting up the holiday village that belonged to my late husband or unwrapping his Santa collection will be bitter-sweet.  I’ve already got a new Santa Ornament to add.   Pulling out the old ornaments from the early days of our children will unlock some emotions, both good and bad.   I’m on the lookout for a 2018 snow globe to add to the collection I began in 2015 on our first Christmas as Mr. & Mrs.  Douglas. And, I’m prepared to accept the critique of “too much purple” on the tress.

This year, the big tree will go up early (at least for me!)  I’m working on handmade angel ornaments for a smaller tree.  I’ve already planned a Holiday dinner for my co-workers and I look forward to sharing our home and hospitality.  Christmas gifts won’t be flashy, but I hope that they meet a need for the recipients.  We will be baking goodies and sharing with the neighbors (and trying not to over indulge in the sweets.)  There will be carols and hot chocolate and I  will try to be present in the moments as they occur.

This year, I will strive to give thanks for the numerous blessing in my life: my family, my job, my home, my church and so many more that I tend to take for granted.  I will try to remember that the excitement of Christmas is not about the gifts we give, but about the love that was gifted to us through the birth of Christ.  I will remember that time spent with our friends and family is precious and not waste it wishing for something different.   This year, I will accept the emotions as they arrive, deal with them and move forward.

This year, I will find the Joy in MY holiday season.