Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Back Away From the Caramels and No One Gets Hurt

When I was a little girl, my family received a box of chocolates every holiday season. It was a big rectangular box with two layers of yummy chocolate. My sister and I would argue over the caramels. Most of the time, the boxes came with a lid that had a diagram of what each piece was filled with ... but, sometimes there was no list. And, on those occasions, it was "first come first serve". If you got the caramels, you were the lucky one.

One Christmas, I decided ... I WAS getting ALL the caramels. I waited until no one else was around and I poked my finger into the bottom of each piece of chocolate. I found all the caramels, ate them and then left the rest in the box. At the time, I thought it was a pretty sly idea. The next day when my Mom went to get a piece ... yeah ... not so sly. For some reason, she noticed the hole in the bottom of each treat. I tried to convince her it wasn't me but it didn't work. I was punished ... but, I am pretty sure I heard my parents laughing about my ingenuity.

The next holiday, I knew better than to try any trickery to getting all the caramels. I took whatever piece I got and ... I ended up finding out I liked lots of different chocolates.

Life is a lot like that box of chocolates without the "map list." Forrest Gump was right ... Life is like a box of chocolate ... you never know what you're gonna get.

Do you ever get tired of waiting to see what God has planned? Do you ever find yourself trying to figure it out on your own ... like poking a hole in the bottom of those chocolates?

I do. Sometimes, I try to convince God that I deserve all the caramels ... all the things that I like best. But you know what? If all I ever tried was caramels, I would never find out that I really like orange filled chocolates and the strawberry filling isn't too bad either.

If all God ever gave me were good days ... I would take them for granted. When He lets me struggle or gives me a little challenge ... it makes me stronger and I've found out that I like the strong me. I appreciate the warm sunny days because I know what the cold days are like. God knows what's best for us. Sometimes His best might be a box full of ONLY caramels. But, other times it's a box filled with surprises.

Caramels are still my favorites but I have found pleasure in all the flavors.

Philippians 4:12-13 "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Glass Half Full

"So Daddy, how's it look? All healed up good?" my niece, Hope, looks up at her Dad as he cares for her still healing cosmetic ear.

"Not yet." My sister and brother-in-law chime in unison.

Hope has gone through multiple procedures over the past 5 months. All in efforts to form ears for her. The first round of surgeries went well. Her body accepted the first cosmetic ear without any problems. But, this second ear ... not so well. After the initial implant of cartilage from her ribs, there was need for a skin graph and now ... there is another hole in the skin.

For my sister and her husband, this is tough. As parents they want to tell Hope all is well, things are great and healing is going perfect. But, to tell Hope that would be a lie. Her life will be filled with medical procedures and health care due to her Treacher Collins. Facts are important. And ... the fact is ... this ear might not "keep" ... her body might reject this implant.

So, in the quiet of the evening while most parents are tucking their children in after a bedtime story ... Hope's parents are lovingly giving "facts". They tell her what's happening in a way that makes sense for her little mind. And ... then they ask how she will feel if this ear doesn't work. Most people would wonder about asking when it should be obvious how Hope will feel. But, this is the magic of their family. They communicate in this way ... this way that opens doors for conversation that might otherwise be really hard.

"That's ok. I got one ear that's pretty. If God decides not to let me keep this ear, that's ok." Hope smiles.

In the moment my sister shared this story with me ... I felt completely defeated. Defeated by my own ungrateful attitude. In that moment, Hope taught me something. I've been viewing my glass as half empty instead of being grateful that it's really half full.

Hope is ready to accept God's will for her life. At a young age, she has found gratitude for the small miracles. She is, as her mom put it ... "Always a glass half full kind of girl."

That's what I need to be ... glass half full.

My husband was laid off from his job in February of 2009. In November of 2009, he found part time employment that pays half what he made each hour at his factory job. No benefits due to part time employment. Needless to say, we've been struggling financially. But, to be honest, I'm able to handle the financial struggle pretty well ... it's the emotional side of it that hits me hardest.

Anyone who knows me knows I would love to be a "stay at home mommy". So, my husband getting to fill the shoes I've always wanted to wear ... that's been tough for me to accept. He's home with the boys while I'm at work full time.

I've spent a good deal of time grumbling to God. Grumbling about Him letting Jerry have what I want. I have told myself lots of times that this is a "bad attitude" and an ungrateful attitude. I have a great job. A job other people would love. One that comes with benefits and with an employer that respects family time. I should be thankful for this job. But, I keep coming back to ... what I want. I keep seeing my glass as half empty.

This morning, as my sister told me about Hope's acceptance ... I realized I could learn a lot from Hope. I need to accept God knows what's best for me and my family. I need to be ready for whatever He has planned. While I'm waiting to find out what's going to happen next ... I need to have joy in the small miracles.

Do you ever find yourself with a glass half empty? Are you struggling to accept God's will in your life?

Is your glass half full ... or half empty? Today, mine is half full ... maybe if I look close enough I'll find that my glass is overflowing with blessings.

Malachi 3:10 "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Make it Quick!

I have a five year old boy ... Can I get an AMEN from any parent who has been through this stage???

Out of our three boys, Kregg has the strongest will. He's a blessing in Buzz Light Year pajamas and a terror in an "I'll trade my brother for a tractor" t-shirt.

Last week, he decided to push it to the limit. Jerry and I were sitting at the dining room table eating supper with my parents. Kregg and James (our 7 year old) were playing Wii in the living room. Arguments began to burst from the two boys as each of them decided who should be winning the Mario Baseball game. I broke in to let them know anymore outbursts would result in "timeout" and further punishment.

A few minutes later ... more yelling, fighting and mean talk between the brothers. As promised, they were told to turn the game off and find a seat at the kitchen table for timeout. James went with a puckered lower lip and slumped shoulders ... Kregg on the other hand ... well, that was totally different. Whenever he's in trouble ... he lets the world know how mistreated he is by his mom.

As Kregg passed me, he said ... "Make it quick, I've got a game to play."

Yes, he did! I am not making this up. He knew the minute the words left his 5 year old lips ... he was in Trouble!

I punished him ... the going rate for disrespect is anywhere from no games for the day to no games for a week. He landed somewhere in the middle.

After dealing with this situation, I was griping to the Lord about ... what on earth made Kregg think he could talk to me that way? What on earth made that boy think he could set the boundaries? Kregg doesn't make the rules. This is MY house and he should go by the rules!

Ouch! I do that EXACT thing to God!

On any given morning, you can find me at my table ... bible open in front of me and my cup of coffee steaming right beside me. The question is ... Do I tell God to "make it quick" because I've got a busy day? Do I ask Him to hurry up and answer my prayers because I've got a life to live? Am I disrespectful to Him in His house?

Yes, I think I am ... at least sometimes.

If I'm not careful ... I can become the 5 year old who wants what she wants and expects everyone to just follow my lead. I need to be the woman God called me to be ... the wife who takes the time to encourage her husband (who has lost a total of 43 lbs!! WhooHoo! Go Jerry!), the mom who takes time out to enjoy the ramblings of three great boys, the daughter and sister who can be depended upon no matter what ... the daughter of God who can slow it down long enough to enjoy time with my Father.

Do you ever tell God to make it quick?

Jeremiah 29:12 "Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What's in Your Suitcase?

"From Denver to Washington D.C., we're seeing countless flight delays due to bad weather." The blond news anchor smiles for the camera. "Snow fall has hit record highs in the DC area. Numerous homes are left without power and motorists are left stranded unable to navigate through the drifting snow and increasing ice. If your travel plans include flying into or out of the DC area, we suggest you check ahead for any flight delays." Again, she smiles for the camera, pauses and then ... "As always with any trip, be sure to pack your patience."

For the first time in several years, my husband and I spent a weekend away. Just the two of us. I sat on the hotel bed propped against pillows and watched the local news. Everything was centered around the recent snow storms. I listened to the weather and then the news anchor as she advised everyone traveling to include patience in their suitcase.

She encouraged travelers to take something with them that would not only make the lives of their fellow travelers easier but their own lives as well. Patience would be important while they dealt with delays and possibly grumpy airport staff and patrons. Having patience would get them through the day and on to their destination in a much better spirit.

No matter the destination, we spend days going over what to pack in our suitcase. We make sure we'll have exactly what we need for any degree of weather, any event we might attend while away and maybe even a few extra things in case of emergency.

Planning for each day of our lives should be a lot like planning for a vacation. No matter where you live, what you do for a living or what point you're at in your life ... this world is only your temporary home. Your final destination is to be with Christ in a New World. While you're traveling through this temporary world, it's important to be sure you have everything needed for each day.

When you're facing a tough day ... pack strength. When the day ahead is a little scary ... pack peace. If your week is filled with difficult people ... pack patience. Robe yourself in the armor of God. He would not have included the scriptures based on armor if we didn't need them.

Think about that for a few minutes ... each scripture of God's word was planned by Him. He knew the encouragement and knowledge we would need to face each day. And ... He included Ephesians 6. So, while you're preparing for today ... take time out to be with Him. Ask Him for the strength, peace and patience you need for your travels. Ask Him to go with you on this long stretch of road.

Most of all, be sure to take the traveler partner who knows all the directions. The One partner who can help you when you get lost or turned around. The One who is the very best company while your on the long stretches of road that are so tiresome.

Now it's time for me to go check my suitcase and be sure I've got what I need for today ... what's your suitcase filled with?

Ephesians 6:10-18 "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."

Monday, February 8, 2010

How Are You Today?

Indiana was freezing this morning. A harsh 8 degrees according to my kitchen window thermometer.

I pulled into work and started the walk from my car to the building. Freezing!

I looked up to see ... "How are you today?" ... That's what I call him anyway. I have no idea what his name really is. All I know is this ... He is an older gentleman who walks from his employer to the gas station every morning. He gets a cup of coffee and sometimes a newspaper. Then, he walks back across the parking lot to his job. I can't remember a morning when he hasn't been there, walking back with a hot cup of coffee in one hand and waving his other hand at each person that passes. The gentle wave is followed by "How are you today?"

This morning I did NOT expect to see him, not with it being this cold out. But, there he was ... a cup of coffee and a wave.

I waved back and smiled, "That's a cold walk for you today!"

"It sure is." He paused, "Hey, I haven't seen you for a while. You been good?" His words created a fog between us. Another indication of the extreme cold.

"Good! No complaints here." I pulled my coat a little closer.

I passed him as he replied with ... "Ok, you take care."

"You too!" I waved and hustled into the building.

I was puzzled ... I've seen him every morning for probably the past year. I know I spoke to him each morning last week. Yet, he said ... "I haven't seen you in a while." Why was that?

Later that morning, a cup of coffee in my hand and sitting in front of my computer ... it struck me ... I was smiling. Not one of those pasted on smiles ... the ones I'm sure I've given more than once. I was really smiling. I looked right at "How are you today?" and I smiled, I stopped and listened to him.

I know this because I had a bad day yesterday. A day that left me feeling hurt and frustrated. I spent a good deal of time in prayer this morning before work. I made the decision to smile at those around me. Why? Because the look someone gave me yesterday and that person's actions ... hurt me. I know they had no intention of hurting me but it hurt anyway. After thinking long and hard about it ... I decided that it was possible I had somehow hurt others by looking at them without a smile or without kindness in my eyes. My actions had probably been hurtful without my even realizing it.

"How are you today?" didn't recognize me ... Wow! A smile makes that much difference! Wow, God makes that much difference!

So ... "How are you today?"

John 13:34-35 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Heal the Wounds, Leave the Scars

I remember the day was humid. As I readied myself for work, I had a sense ... something was wrong with one of my boys. I gave them over to God, each of them. I left for work ... I was wearing a khaki skirt, a pale yellow shell and plaid short sleeve shirt.

Later that day I would wish I had worn something different. I'd wish for long sleeves and pants ... the ambulance ride was cold, I shivered most of the way from Marion General to St. Joseph.

On August 10, 2007 ... God spared my oldest son. Somehow, someway ... God chose to keep Clay on this earth. The medic in the ambulance and the burn clinic physician ... they would agree.

Clay was helping my father on the farm. It was a usual day ... cleaning up debris around the fruit trees, cleaning out the trash bins from the garage, shop and both our house and my parents. Clay had been responsible for taking out the trash and burning it for over a year. He knew safety ... He knew aerosol cans weren't safe. Somehow, the cans got into the trash and ended up on an open fire.

As the heat from the debris grew ... the cans exploded ... up and out onto Clay's body. I drove as fast as possible from my work ... to my parents home ... to the emergency room. I remember Clay's screams ... "God make it stop, make it stop ... make it stop burning." I remember ... I couldn't catch my breath ... I remember ... the smell of burning flesh.

At the emergency room, Clay received pain medication through an IV. I sat next to him, wishing I could hold him ... somehow take away the pain. I couldn't even wipe his tears ... to do so would have pulled skin from his face. I watched as his skin blistered, broke open and rolled off to reveal other layers of skin.

I listened as the nurses and doctors talked back and forth. I couldn't understand everything they said, they whispered and looked at me with sad faces. I caught bits and pieces of their words ... "skin graphs, third degree burns, lung damage, permanent scarring." The lead doctor came in, he held Clay's hand and looked at me. "We've done all we can, we'll have to move him."

"Which floor? Do you know which room?" I needed to call my husband and tell him where we were. I needed to tell him ...

"No ma'am, not here ... we're moving Clay to St. Joe burn clinic."

"What? I don't understand. Why?" I think I was in shock. I couldn't understand what he was trying to say.

"We've done everything we can here. We aren't equipped to handle this type of burn. And ... I think he may have breathed in the fumes." The doctor's face seemed sad.

I went through the motions. I filled out the paperwork, answered all their questions, told my friend to call Jerry (my husband). He had been working third shift and was home asleep. Someone needed to wake him up, tell him we needed him.

The ambulance ride was cold. I sat in the front with the driver. Clay was accompanied by a medic. Today, I can close my eyes and see that medic's smile. I remember he kept reaching up and touching my arm ... "Ma'am, your son's doing well. I'm keeping him comfortable." I remember his smile was genuine.

The burn center was hot, the rooms smelled sterile and clean. I felt sick at the smell, the move from cold to hot and then back again to cold in the waiting room. The nurse took me downstairs to fill out more paperwork and then back upstairs to wait again. Each person told me ... "prepare to be here for a week. This type of burn will require constant care and supervision ... at best." At best? What did that mean?

I sat in the waiting room, my face buried in my knees ... I knew my husband's footsteps before I saw his face. I heard him approaching and then fell into his arms. Fear, fear ... took over every inch of my spirit.

Moments later, the doctor came out with two interns. He introduced himself and then said this ... "You can take him home."

"What?" I think my husband and I spoke in unison.

"Listen, I don't know what happened but that's not the same boy Marion General called me on a few hours ago. I was expecting far worse burns and a lengthy stay here in our burn center." He shrugged.

Jerry and I followed the doctor to a room down the hall. I remember the room was white, everything was covered in thick plastic and ... it was hot ... so hot I felt sick. On the table, Clay sat with his head resting against a white pillow. The nurses showed me how to clean and dress his burns.

And ... we went home.

Later that evening, I learned the doctors at the local hospital thought Clay had breathed in the fumes. The result would've been permanent lung damage. They also felt he had third degree burns on every portion of his skin not covered by clothing.

To this day, I believe something happened in that ambulance. To this day, I believe God spared Clay's life for a reason. Someday, I will sit back and smile ... I'll say ... "That's why, that's the reason Clay is here."

Today, Clay has two small scars on the inside of his right arm. The remainder of his skin has healed ... completely.

Those scars are a constant reminder of God's mercy ... What scars do you carry as a reminder of God's mercy and grace?

Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Esther 4:14 "For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

That Stinks!

"I'm sorry about the mess. I came straight here from picking my kids up from daycare. I don't have a diaper bag ... I'm really sorry." The young mom looked at me with embarrassment. She watched her 2 year old son slide off the sofa in the credit union lobby ... leaving behind a wet stain.

I had a choice to make ... judge her ... or accept her just the way she was. Accept her 2 year old son, just the way he was ... dirty diaper and all ... or, I could let my actions and body language make her feel worse than she already did.

He had blond hair, blue eyes and an orneriness to top almost any little boy on earth. He was into everything, crawling on and off the chairs, pulling magazines and pencils off the table ... ornery. His mother kept apologizing as she rocked her infant daughter and tried to calm her 2 year old.

"It's ok, really. Honey, I've got three boys of my own. Don't apologize." I gave her my best smile and handed her son a pad of notebook paper and a small box of crayons.

"Thank you." She let out a sigh and her entire body seemed to melt.

I helped her resolve the problem on her bank account and she left with her children.

Long after she left, I was still thinking about her and those two children. What was it that struck me about this young woman? Why did my heart ache for her?

My heart ached because I saw something in her ... I saw in her eyes ... defeat. A defeat I recognized all too well. She'd been judged in the past and because of that judgement, she assumed I would be upset about the dirty diaper, upset about her ornery 2 year old ... upset about the smell her son left wherever his little body went. I wanted her to know ... it's ok ...

Little ones have accidents, they have bad days, they mess up and they even act "ugly" sometimes. And, sometimes ... sometimes ... someone sees your hurting mommy heart and they care ... they care enough to come along side you and help. They care enough to say ... "it's ok" and then to help clean up the mess from the dirty diaper. They help pick up the crayons when your child throws them in the middle of a temper tantrum. Sometimes, they see your child through God's eyes.

As God's children, we screw up. We have bad days, throw fits even. How is it that when we act this way ... we want God to look past our failures and see the good in us? But, when we see other people acting out ... we judge them ...

Have you ever been judged? How did it make you feel?

Think about that ... then make the choice to look beyond other people's faults and see them with God's eyes.

I've lived both ways. I've judged others and I've accepted others. Trust me ... you will be amazed at how good it feels to love someone. You'll be amazed at what you see when you stop and take time to look with the eyes of your Father.

Jeremiah 17:10 "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve."