Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Blessing Received

It was one of those unexpected blessings that make life so sweet.

My sisters, Barb and Annette, and I try to have a weekend getaway each year. Just a few days ago we returned from our stay in Carlsbad. Here’s the view from our room.

Carlsbad

Nice, huh? There’s just something about the sight and sound and smell of the beach that makes me feel young again!

Being with my sisters makes me feel young too; it was a wonderful weekend full of shopping, chatting, and waaay too much eating! One morning we decided to walk off a few of those calories, and headed for the sea wall. We stopped at one point, looking for the dolphins that are often spotted off the coast.

There they were; a group of five of them! They slowly and gracefully frolicked, sometimes swimming in tandem, sometimes separately. There was such a poetry in their motion, and they swam pretty close to the people in the water. Some of those people never even saw them. We watched for about ten minutes before they swam out of sight.

 dolphins 5

What a sweet, sweet blessing.

Because we intentionally looked for the dolphins we easily spotted them when they showed up.

A few people on the beach stood there, pointing them out to those who cared to watch. Others were busy, caught up in reading a book, playing volleyball, or supervising their children. They never realized they had missed them.

So often I miss out on noticing God’s blessings, simply because I am too busy. I’m diligently putting one foot in front of the other, meeting the challenges of the day, and I just don’t stop and take the time to look for His blessings.

I’ve heard it said that if the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. Busyness robs us of being fully present, because we are rushing from one moment to the next. It is only as we slow down, looking for and savoring God’s blessings, that we find them. And Him.

He is found in the quiet of slow moments, and longs for us to notice Him, and His blessings.

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.                                                                                                           Matthew 6:30-32

Further reflection:

  1. Is being too busy to notice all of God’s blessings something you struggle with?
  2. What would you have to do to set aside regular time to be with Him, thanking Him for those blessings?
  3. Take out your planner, and put that time down in writing. In ink! Use that time to list all the specific blessings in your life.

Father, forgive me for the times I claim to be “too busy”. You have given me exactly the amount of time I need to do the things that matter! Please help me to slow down long enough to look around and notice all the sweet, everyday blessings that I usually rush past. And thank You, for the love that You have for me as You extend them.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Gift of an Ordinary Day

In many ways, it was just an ordinary day. In other ways, it was full of extraordinary happenings.

I woke up at the usual time. I got dressed, ate breakfast, and spent some time reading God’s word. I went to work, answered emails and phone calls, spent time with various members of my team, then prepared for a few meetings. I took a phone call from one of my kids during my break, and texted with another.

office

At the end of the work day I went home, ate dinner with my husband, read a little, and watched a little TV. About 10:00 I went to bed.

All in all, it was a pretty ordinary day.

What a gift. What an extraordinarily wonderful gift of a day!

I got to wake up next to my husband; rested and ready for the day. I got to spend time with the God of the universe as His peace and perspective and hope once again settled into my heart.

I got to go to a job that I dearly love, working with people I care about, for a cause I am passionate about, serving the One who called me to it. And I get paid!

I got to connect with family, who are second in priority to me right behind the Lord. All seven kids and 9 ½ grandkids are healthy and strong and doing well. My heart hurts when my family hurts, and it is full when I hear their voices sounding content. This day, it was full indeed.

Food tasted good, and there was a rich sweetness to the rhythm of the day. I laughed. I learned. I enjoyed. I loved. I lived!

It was the gift of an ordinary day, full of treasures to be savored.

And it is a gift that I do not take lightly.

Enjoy the little things in life…for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.                                                                                                               Pinterest quote

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.               James 1:17

Further reflection:

  1. Stop and reflect: do you tend to take your life for granted?
  2. Make a list of those everyday blessings that it’s easy to take for granted.
  3. Spend some time praying through your list, thanking God for the gift of ordinary.

Father, You are the giver of every good and perfect gift. The little things, they are what make up the pattern and richness of life. Forgive me when I take such things for granted, for they are what I would miss most should they be gone.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Take Out the Trash!

“Warning—bears in the area! Please dispose of your trash in the bear-proof dumpster.”

The signs were the same ones we had observed a few years before, when we’d had a couple of false alarms (http://www.aneverydayvoice.com/2012/01/bears-on-loose.html). This year my sisters and I had brought our families back to Hume Lake, where our gorgeous log cabin was big enough to house all fifteen of us. It had a beautiful wraparound porch outside the wall of windows. The windows allowed for lots of sunshine as well as a clear view of those warning signs.

You would think we would have learned our lesson about not leaving our bagged garbage outside the cabin. It wasn’t as if it were all that difficult to take it to the bear-proof dumpsters that the camp provided.

  bear sign - bears on the loose

But we hadn’t.

In our defense, fifteen people can generate a lot of trash!

The first night of our stay we were tidying up after dinner. Someone who shall remain nameless…okay, it was me!...bagged the rubbish and set it outside the front door as we rushed out to hike in the early evening. Returning home, all fifteen of us walked by those same smelly, trash-filled bags.

Did any of us stop to contemplate the possible consequences if we didn’t take it to the dump? I did, but I was fatigued by the exercise and walked by, pretending that I didn’t.

Fast forward to11:15 that same night. My sister, Annette, and her husband, Ken, were reading in the living room when they heard heavy footfalls on the porch. Bear! They ran for the darkness of the kitchen. Heart pounding, Annette watched from there as Ken inched towards the window to watch. The massive bear swung his heavy head towards him, glaring with his beady little eyes.

Did the bear see the two of them? If he did, he must have felt that they were of no consequence as he continued to lumber around. Riiippp… the bags he found quickly gave way, no match for his long sharp claws. Annette and Ken were powerless to do anything except watch as the bear’s feast began.

He was in no hurry to leave, either, but continued to peer in the windows as he ambled around the porch. Eventually he wandered away into the dense, low-hanging trees and disappeared from sight.

In relief Annette and Ken both let out the breath that they hadn’t realized they were holding.

The next night there was no question as to whether or not to deposit the trash at the dump. It was done—yes, by one of the men—and without comment. No one wanted a return visit from that bear.

It seems the bear didn’t care what we wanted. At the same time as the night before, he showed up looking for another meal. All fifteen of us sat in the darkness together, having wondered if he would return. It was eerie to watch. If his muffled grunting was any indication, he was not very happy that we had failed to provide him food.

Every single night we were there that bear came to visit. Having been rewarded with food the first night seemed to ensure that we were part of his foraging routine. It never got easier to watch him prowl around, only separated from us by the thin pane of window glass. We had heard stories of bears that actually broke through glass to gain entrance if it smelled food. Our bear’s sheer bulk and malevolent eyes convinced us that he was fully capable of doing exactly that. But he never did.

If only we had taken care of the little thing, taking out the trash, we would never have had the big problem with our large, uninvited guest.

Sin, like trash, stinks.

It’s easy to rationalize the small stuff; a bad attitude, a little white lie, a sharp tongue. We reassure ourselves that we’ll clean up our act soon. But it’s so easy to let things slide, and all that sin just begins to pile up.

Oh, we can sanitize it; bag it up so we don’t notice the ugliness and stench of it. But God knows what’s inside. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account“. (Hebrews 4:13)

And sooner or later someone or something will come along and that awful bag of sin will get ripped open. When that happens, we can no longer deny the ugliness of it.

So what do we do? How do we get rid of it?

First we must confess it, knowing “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). A simple, heartfelt admission of guilt is all it takes: “God, You’re right about this, and I’m wrong. I really blew it. Please, forgive me.” Just a sincere apology that He is so quick to hear. An apology that leads to a change of heart, a change of attitude, and a change of behavior.

God not only forgives, He also gets rid of all that stinking sin for us.

The sooner we do it the better. Before the sin becomes a habit. And like that bear, one that is much harder to get rid of.

So let Him take the trash out for you.

Further reflection:

  1. Hebrews 4:13 says Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” So take a few minutes. Ask the Lord to show you any sin you are allowing to pile up in your life.
  2. If there, confess it to Him. Receive His forgiveness.

3. Rejoice in this truth: “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14

Father, I know I cannot hide anything from You, for You see into the very depths of my heart. I long to be clean in Your eyes. Would You please show me where I am allowing sin to build up? Thank You that You are waiting for me to confess it as sin, so You can cleanse and forgive me when I do.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bears on the Loose!

Bears are definitely not my favorite animal. Not only are they big and mean looking, they also have the audacity to think they have a right to inhabit the great outdoors. That created some real problems since my sisters, Barb and Annette, and I often took our families on vacation to the mountains.

One summer we took our families and rented cabins next to each other in the Sierra Mountains at beautiful Hume Lake.

We were warned about bears in the area and cautioned never to leave our bagged trash outside our cabins. For some reason bears consider that as an invitation to a picnic. Instead, we were to dispose of the garbage in the bear-proof lockers that the camp provided.

Inevitably my husband, Alan, and I got lazy and neglected to follow through. We left our full trashcan out on the deck. It only served us right when we were startled wide-awake in the middle of the night by a loud crash!

The trashcan rattled as some kind of animal knocked it over and pawed through it. The scraping, tearing, grunting sounds that followed only confirmed our worst suspicions: a bear had decided to make our leftovers his dinner!

bear for take out the trash

Alan and I lay frozen, paralyzed with fear and unwilling to leave the security of our bed. Neither of us would look at the other, fearing that the dreaded “You take care of it!” look would be in the other’s eyes.

It wasn’t until the next morning that we dared to venture outside. Sure enough, the rubbish that had once been neatly contained in Hefty bags was scattered all over the deck. While that annoying bear had left a big mess for us to clean up, it was our own fault. It was the logical consequence for ignoring the oft-repeated warnings of the camp personnel.

“Oh well”, we thought. “At least it makes for a good story.”

When Annette came over to inspect the debris, she laughed as we recounted our terror in the night.

“No bear did that.” she said. “See those raccoon paw marks? The only bear here last night was in your imagination!”

I hate it when she’s right.

Nevertheless, the idea of a bear took root.

The very next night Barb and her husband, Cam, had put their three kids to bed in the upstairs area of the cabin and were enjoying the quiet. Belatedly, Barb remembered that their trash had been left on their front porch. With the memory of the “bear” that had visited us the night before still fresh in her mind, the fear of attracting a real one battled with the fear of actually meeting it in the dark if she were to venture out.

She wrestled with the dilemma for a time, but figured she wouldn’t be able to sleep if she didn’t take care of it. With great reluctance she made her way downstairs.

The front door creaked open, and Barb peeked nervously into the darkness outside. Glimpsing the trash bags lined up right at the edge of the dimly lit porch, she gathered her courage about her and made a dash for it. She was hoping that if she moved fast enough the bear that was surely lurking in the area wouldn’t have a chance to react.

No such luck.

As soon as she was close enough to lay her hands on the trash she heard a low, menacing “Grrrr” behind her.

Terror-stricken, she froze. Then adrenaline kicked in, and Barb dropped the trash and dashed for the safety of the front door.

The next sound she heard was that of her husband, Cam, howling with laughter! The ferocious growl of Barb’s bear had been nothing more than his idea of a practical joke.

The only bear around on either night existed only in our imaginations. There never was a bear, but our belief that one existed affected our behavior as surely as if there were.

Fear is like that. Most of the time it is entirely groundless and the thing we fear most never happens. Nonetheless, we behave as if it will. Left unchecked it robs us of the peace, the joy, and the trust that is promised to us as children of God.

Yes, we know we don’t have to live in this kind of fear because “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). We know God’s word encourages us more than eighty times to “fear not”.

So what do we do? How do we fight against it? Fear is, after all, a natural human reaction.

We only need to look at Him. All-knowing, He is aware of what we fear. All-loving, He cares about our circumstances. All-powerful, He is in control of them. He is so much bigger than our fear. He is with us no matter what and promises to always be so.

When we focus on Him rather than our fear our spirit is calmed, allowing faith to take over. Fear shrinks in light of the bigness, the goodness, and the power of our God, allowing room for faith to change our perspective and dictate our response. Then we are able to “Cast all our anxiety on Him because He cares for us” (1 Peter 5:7). And as we lean hard into Him we begin to trust Him differently. More fully. More completely. More confidently. Because that trust is not misplaced and does not disappoint.

Looking at Him instead of our fear is a choice.

I choose to recognize that He is bigger than my fear.

I hear He’s not even afraid of bears.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.         Isaiah 41:10

 Further reflection

  1. What do you fear most?
  2. How do you allow your trust in God to outweigh your fear?
  3. Write Isaiah 41:10 on a 3 x 5 card and put it in your wallet (verse is written above). Pull it out and read it every time you feel the first stirrings of fear.

Father, You are Almighty God. You spoke all of creation into being and nothing is too hard for You. Today I choose to acknowledge that you are bigger than anything I fear. I trust you to be with me in every situation. Please help me choose to respond to life’s circumstances with faith rather than fear.