August 10, 2017-Aspects of Sadness

There are times in your life where you hit the ‘low’ notes. You come to a point where you wonder if you can keep going. Usually, these times coincide to the amount of stress you are handling.

At the end of 1991, I was working a part-time job (which I loved), dealing with a teenager, keeping up with housework, and experiencing the day-to-day dealings of a long-term marriage to the man I loved. In an instant, that changed when my mother went into the hospital. It was December 12th. A time when people were supposed to be happy, shopping, and thinking about snow and presents. My mother’s diagnosis of colon cancer didn’t fit in with that spirit.

She died forty days later after a few dedicated nurses stood firm against myriad doctors to allow her her last wish which was to die at home. She was in a coma at that point, but to this day I am convinced that she knew she had succeeded and passed peacefully away in her own bedroom.

Those days are a blur now. I remember simply ‘marching on’. In fact, my title for those time is my ‘Brave Little Soldier’ days. Everyone needed me for something–doctors, nurses, husband, father, daughter, employer. I was marching, but there were so many pieces of me missing that it was as if I ploughed through a fog.

There are many times when we feel as if we hit bottom in our lives. How do we survive them?

If we could guarantee a pill or a $19.99 ‘special’ that answered that question, we would spring to popularity.

No one, however, has that answer–but James takes a stab at giving us some clear direction.

James 5: 10-13-Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

So, first James reminds us that others have suffered. Since the beginning those that follow God are NOT given an easy path. In fact, they usually suffered MORE than those around them. They suffered through war, famine, personal attack, imprisonment, unpopularity, and many other situations. They ENDURED. James reminds us that they not only endured, they did so HAPPILY.

Say what?

Happy when sad?

Imposssible.

If not happy, then at least patient and eventually convinced that God was in charge and we needed to rely on His wisdom.

When going through the pits, don’t make foolish comments. Never Say Never Again is not just a James Bond notion. As unhappy as we may be, we are to be wise enough to keep from foolish dogma in making claims we may not be able to fulfill.

James gives us our solution to dealing with sadness.

PRAY…then SING. Most of the Psalms were actually made to be sung. The act of singing is comforting. Those in dire circumstances can often feel better when putting their feelings into music. We need only look at history to see how the gospel songs, the blues, even the art of chanting of prayers to music can lighten our paths.

To this day, I have no idea how i survived those forty days of suffering. I remember my father taking me to task for celebrating Christmas as we always did. His words stung me as he complained I was ‘unfeeling’ in celebrating. I knew, however, that he wasn’t so much striking out at ME but the circumstances which he could not control in losing my mother. I know my boss was unhappy that I was missing work (although I was going to the office almost every day and continuing to do my job as best I could in the circumstances!) Days after my mother’s death, she promoted my underling to my position. I was NOT a happy camper, as one might imagine.

If I learned nothing else during those times, I learned that prayer helps. People surrounding you can give aid and comfort…but God, alone, always walks with you.

So, pray, sing, and give over your sadness and march onward today. We will be ‘brave little soldiers’ at one time or another. Our ‘Commander-in-Chief’ rules over all and cares for us always…whether we are happy or sad!

 

August 7, 2017/Aspects of Wealth

“Money, money, money. Must be funny, in a rich man’s world.”

Yes, I loved ABBA.  (Although, what Hollywood did to MAMA MIA was disgraceful!) Note to all in show business who may read blogs—DO NOT HIRE PEOPLE TO PUT IN MUSICALS WHEN THEY CAN’T SING. YOUR AUDIENCE IS NOT AMUSED!!!

Getting back to the subject of money, we all may wish we had it–but we eventually learn the sad truth behind riches. Those that have lots of money spend their time wanting more. There never seems to be ‘enough’. You would think that having no financial worries would allow people to relax and become more charitable; to spread their wealth and be content–yet that is not what seemingly happens. No, take a look at people who have more money than they will ever need. Do they look happy? Some with money crave more power. Some decide ‘they’ have all the answers and wish to ‘teach’ us to obey their point of view out of pride. Some simply abandon all ambition and take the road of an hedonistic existence–little knowing or caring about anyone or anything other than themselves.

It’s sad but money isn’t the root of all evil…it simply forces the evil that is already present in humans more to the surface. I am sure that there are those who have wealth who manage to do great things. How else would we have had the experience of genuine philanthropy? But, as a whole, those with great wealth are always seeking something more–for money doesn’t love you back; keep all illness at bay; or provide true friendship.

God gives us many glimpses into what the possession of money can do to humans. He warns us that the money, itself, is NOT the problem. It is our attitude toward money that brings destruction.

1 Timothy 6: 7-10-For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;

When Jesus threw out the money changers at the Temple, I believe His dismay at their display revolved around how far the religious leaders of the day had lowered themselves to allow MONEY and its insidious force to corrupt the true worship of God. It wasn’t the changing of money so that people could buy their sacrifices that caused Jesus such disgust–it was placing it on the same stage of worship…as if equalizing God with money; the rich with blessings; the poor with pity.

Those who are rich must avoid snares that those of us who are ‘common’ do not address. For one thing, they never know if they are loved/courted because of their money. They become accustomed to being fawned over–not for what THEY accomplish, but for what they possess.

Riches may bring momentary pleasure but it is wise to remember as Timothy reminds us here that we bring NOTHING into this world and we will carry NOTHING out.

So what’s in YOUR wallet? What are you spending your time and energy creating? What takes precedence in your life? To whom do you declare your allegiance?

Christians must avoid the devil’s snares whenever they can. To do so, we must focus ourselves of studying God’s word, praying, and seeking His will. His care will provide us with whatever we need…

August 2, 2017/Aspects of Love

No, I am not writing about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical…IF you know that was the title of one of his musicals. Like all of us, Webber has been blessed with some spectacular triumphs AND failures. This musical was not one of his big hits (although I happen to love his tune, LOVE CHANGES EVERYTHING!)

I picked this title for my devotional today while sitting here watching my husband fall asleep with our dog laying between his legs for his daily morning: “I’m not really asleep…just resting my eyes,” moment. You see, after forty-five years of marriage there are a few lessons I have learned about love that I am willing to share.

There are many aspects to love–romantic love, parental love, brotherly love, even friendship love. Each type of love is different and includes different elements which change as we change.

Take romantic love. In the beginning we ‘love’ every aspect of our partner. We overlook the things that might take the outer gold-leaf off the package we are unwrapping. Their jokes are hysterical; their idiosyncrasies that seem so adorable at first; their looks, mannerisms, and behaviors are beyond reproach. After a lot of time, however, what first appeared adorable may begin to wear on the nerves. You’ve heard the jokes; you grow tired of the way he toes off his socks; you begin to tire of smelling Vicks when his sinus problems (which seem to happen far more often than you realized when dating) begin. All of those characteristics that you once deemed cute suddenly take on a different nature when you live the day-to-day existence of love-and-marriage.

Life mellows these instances just as it brings storms. Romantic love includes holding the basin as your beloved vomits; doing the dishes when he/she has been up all night with a teething baby; pacing the floor alongside your partner as you wait for an overly late teenager on a date. Or, as is happening now, watching your aging loved one sleep just to reassure yourself they are still breathing and count your blessings that you are still together, still in love—failing bodies, not withstanding!

The one aspect of love that seems to be overlooked in the world lately is that true love is never wrapped up in some package. God, however, can get to the heart of the aspect of love in a simple sentence: 1 John 4:8–He that loveth not, knowest not God; for God is love.

In that simple sentence, those of us who are interested in trying to understand all the aspects of love that we are searching for have been given the guidance for which we search. To truly know love, we are to look at God. A God who would conceive the idea of creating a mixture of infinite, holy, perfection, combining that with imperfect humanity so that this by-product would be brought into existence to teach us the ultimate depths of the ‘aspects of love’ by sacrificing His all to die in our place. This, this glimpse into the depths of how great a love God has for His human creations.

Love. True Love encompasses SACRIFICE. True love means being willing to love AGAINST what you may want. Putting yourself second. Giving when you would rather receive. Yes, as ALW wrote in his musical Aspects of Love: “Love, love changes everything.”

As we journey onward in life we will pass through many joys and sorrows. A lot, if not most, of them will revolve around our aspects of love. We will explore, discard, change, and redefine many of our attitudes toward love as we grow and mature. If we begin by focusing on the great love God provides, it will, in turn, influence us as we fashion our own attitudes toward love.

He that loveth not, knowest not God; FOR GOD IS LOVE.

When we begin on that premise we have found our answer…

July 29,2017/Ants

Anyone who has ever been cursed with having ants in a kitchen knows that they don’t give up easily. Those little buggers seem to spring up from nowhere.

At first, I blamed failing eyesight. Maybe I couldn’t see all the spills on my countertop? Maybe there was some speck of sugar or canned dog food that I hadn’t managed to completely clean? Maybe I had sung that old: THE ANTS GO MARCHING song I time too many as a child? Maybe it was a combination of all three?

Whatever the problem was the solution was as difficult as the ant. You don’t want to spray chemicals around a place where you make food–so we tried every natural remedy we read about: cinnamon, herbs, natural oils.

Ants are one determined species. They just don’t give up!!!

Would that we humans be as focused. God uses ants to illustrate just how industrious these creatures are when they approach a task. Proverbs 6: 6-8-Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

There is wisdom in watching the ant work. They send out soldiers to forage for food. Once they find it, they send word back to the colony to “Come and get it” and divisions of ants appear. Food that is far too big for one or two creatures is now shifted by group support and carried back to primary residence to be stored until needed.

Ants are pretty smart. They are ensuring a source of food for the times when food won’t be readily available.

Most children learned the fable of the ant and the grasshopper. Disney even set it to antimation. There is an important lesson to be learned from watching ants. Just as we all need time to rest in life, there is also a time to work and save. As with Joseph, we must all remember that good years have been followed by lean years…

It is to our benefit to consider the workings of the lowly ant and learn from it. Work hard and save…for winter may be just around the next corner.

July 26, 2017/Rest

We recently returned from some time visiting friends and attending a convention that my husband wanted to visit. It was an interesting trip in many ways. Gaining the chance to spend time catching up with friends is always welcome; it’s the travel on the highways getting there that plays havoc on the nerves.

No one obeys the speed limit any more…even when that limit is 70 on the interstates. Most of the population are talking on cell phones as they drive (even truckers), and many refuse to wait one second while you pull over, preferring to cut in and out of traffic.

My usual comment is this: “We are all going six-feet-under. Why in the world are so many in such a hurry to get there?”

This vacation definitely brought us some lessons…some of which were unpleasant. We simply can’t do what we used to–driving the distances we once did; staying out as late; eating what we like; or keeping up the pace without napping. It is tough admitting that the old mare is not only gray, she is in danger of going to the knickers!!

Thankfully, God has given us some advice. Matthew 11:28-30-Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Life likes to pretend that all races go to the rich, the powerful, the strong, and the mighty. Yet, Jesus was intent on emphasizing His attitude on life in the above verses. HE IS MEEK AND LOWLY IN HEART. Do not for one moment, assume that He is weak. Far from it. Christ will return to usher in the time period of the upcoming final judgment where we will all stand before God. What Jesus wanted us to understand was that life’s battles are not always what they seem. Our souls can find rest in Him for He stands with us. His love is enough to change the darkest minds and hearts. His  encompassing grace and mercy offers forgiveness to those who deserve none. Having Jesus Christ as our example allows us to find true rest in our souls even when we are forced to accept situations beyond our control and understanding.

I did a lot of praying on vacation. “God keep us safe. Please protect us from the storms. God give me strength. Thank you, God for this food. Thank you, God for the chance to see a good friend. Please God, bring us home safely.”

My prayers, naps, and the prayers of others gave me a blessed assurance and allowed me a time of comfort and rest….

July 24, 2017/Following the Leader

Who among us hasn’t played ‘following the leader’?

It is a game that most youngsters love to play because they love to imitate. Little boys will often watch their dads shave; little girls love to get into their mother’s make-up and pretend. It is part of the childhood patterns of learning.

Sheep also employ a ‘follow the leader’ mentality. If you can get one sheep going, most of the time the others will follow. You see, sheep have figured out that ‘with many comes protection’ from their enemies like wolves. That is why it is so easy for dogs to herd sheep.

The Bible uses sheep to illustrate this very idea. We must choose wisely when finding a leader to follow.

Psalm 23 is David’s personal journal of where he is with God…so it is not surprising that he finishes this beloved psalm with praise.

Psalm 23:6-Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

David is now speaking to His personal shepherd; the One who he follows. He has acknowledged that his God provides, protects, fills, restores, and anoints him with more than he needs. David states his thankfulness for God’s mercy and goodness–and proclaims his allegiance to his Lord.

Many know the basics of the twenty-third Psalm. Not all, however, who can quote it understand the realities. David has used his work as a shepherd knowing how easily sheep are led. He has found that having God as his leader is the best one for him. He knows who he walks behind.

God is David’s leader and he swears his allegiance in no uncertain terms.

Would that we all come to understand exactly what David is saying to us.

Be wise in choosing who you follow.

July 19, 2017/Shadows

Walk a deserted street and suddenly the shapes and shadows that would appear normal in light appear scary. Images of trees and their shadows in photography taken in broad daylight turn spooky when those same photographs are taken as the light fades.

So it is with people.

Some of us ‘fade’ as we age. The joy in our eyes and hearts begins to flicker and die. We see the shadows of what WAS rather than what IS.

Psalm 23:4-Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

David understood not only the hardships of being a shepherd but the dangers. Enemies of the sheep were dangerous not only to the animals themselves but the humans that protected them. Shepherds had thick rods they used to ward off animals that would attack. Sometimes, these staffs worked and the predators would turn aside to attack a different day. There were other times, however, that the protector would be mauled by the predator…and there were no doctors or cell phones to call for help out in the countryside.

Evil. Hardship. Death. All of these surround us. None of us know which day, which moment may be our last. We kiss our loved ones and go off to work under a bright blue sky with no notion of the sudden earthquake, storm, or accident that may befall us.

David also knew that even in the dark moments, God was with Him. David understands the concept of evil but also knows that having Do means that he doesn’t have to FEAR the evil. God has provided him weapons to fight against the ‘evil’ that surrounds him.

David’s greatest perception  is his acceptance that God is with him always. David has no doubts. He is placing his faith and trust in the God who he has met while tending his father’s sheep day and night in the fields.

David has conquered the shadows that surround him; now he walks in the darkest night knowing that it will bring no surprises for the light that accompanies him can vanquish that darkness.

Light and shadow.

Take time to look at God, the eternal light, with the faith of David. No matter how dark or dangerous our world seems, if we allow Him, God will light our path with an eternal light that will never be vanquished.