Little Blessings

When we think of blessings, we think of the big things, right? Buying a home, buying a car, graduation, retirement. But today, I find joy in the little blessings. For the last couple of months, I had been walking such a dark journey through my depression that it has been hard to see the little blessings.

They came out in full force last night though. My younger son had a baseball game so we packed up to go to the ballpark shortly before 5:00. We were all excited because one of the original coaches of our team was in town and was coming to the game. Shortly after we arrived, the other young men on the team started showing up, and shortly after that, the coach arrived. There were hugs and handshakes all around and good conversation. The hallmarks of friendship or should I say family. It was a neat thing to see and certainly was a blessing to me.

As game time moved closer, I began talking with some of the fans who had come to cheer the team on. They were family members of the other young men–some I was just meeting and others I had known for a while. It was interesting to talk with people who were from different parts of my state. We noticed that no one from the other team had shown up. Our guys were all warmed up, and we were waiting. The umpires showed up, and we were still waiting. Finally, my husband, who is also one of the coaches, made a few phone calls and found out the other team wasn’t coming. Mistakes had occurred, and he hadn’t been notified. An aggravation to be sure, and I hated that our old coach wasn’t going to see a game. It didn’t seem to bother the team that much though, and they ended up practicing.

The little blessings continued through the practice. A friend of mine came out, and we all had a good time talking about anything and everything. I also had the chance to reflect over the last five years which is when my older son started playing in this league. We have been blessed by having both of our sons play in this league. They, and we, have gained forever friends, and both of my sons have learned important life lessons. Neither of them will ever play baseball professionally, but that’s not the point. They have spent time learning how to work hard and to get better at something, to form relationships with people, and to be physically active. All valuable lessons and all little blessings to me.

The end of the practice did not result in the end of the little blessings. My family, our old coach, and one of the other present coaches all went out to dinner. We had a great time talking about baseball and sharing memories of the last five years. My older son even Face Timed from college so he could say hello to his former coach and to the rest of us. We were there long enough that we closed the restaurant down. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. Since college, I think. This time though made me see much more clearly how God has been there for my family and has given us so many little blessings. May we all see the little blessings in our lives!

 

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Endings that Result in Beginnings

Celebrating Easter and Jesus’ resurrection yesterday brought this thought to mind, and I started thinking of how many endings that result in beginnings we have in our lives.

There are many of them, and they start from the earliest moments. There is the day we quit drinking from a bottle or breastfeeding; there is the day we are toilet trained. How about our first day of school? How about the ending of each year of school with the promise of a new year in just a few short months? How about graduations? It used to be that only high school and college graduations were important, but now we mark graduations from kindergarten, elementary school, and middle school.

And then there are the endings of adulthood that result in beginnings. College graduation that results in a first job. Leaving a job for another job. Leaving singleness behind as a result of marriage. Having children. Moving somewhere else for a new opportunity. Going through all the stages with your own children. Empty nest. Retirement. There are many endings that result in beginnings.

It might be noticed that I didn’t include one of the most important endings in that list. Death. It’s pretty important, I would think. It’s an ending, but most people don’t think of that ending as resulting in a beginning. I’m here to argue differently today. If you are a Christian, death results in the ultimate beginning. It’s when we go to be with Jesus, to be with Him forever in heaven. To be with Jesus and to be with God, Our Father. It was a profound thought. From when I accepted Him into my heart to the moment of death and then beyond, it’s amazing to think about where I’m going to be. Jesus made that possible when He was resurrected from the grave. Amazing and profound!

So, why do churches insist on focusing on the minutia instead of God’s amazing love and grace in what He did for us through Jesus? Why can’t we, the church, love people like Jesus loves us? God doesn’t want any of us to miss this opportunity as it says in I Timothy 2:3-4. “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.”

John 6:40 also expresses this thought well. “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

God doesn’t mean for any of us to perish and wants all of to have the chance for the ultimate beginning that results from an ending. May we all take that step of faith!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

God Will Never Leave Us

When I woke up this morning, I was slightly discouraged because I had not heard from one of my Christian friends who I had contacted yesterday to get some counsel. Life has been doing its best to overwhelm me recently, and I didn’t think I was doing the best job of handling it. I’m not the kind of person who tries to contact ten or more people at a time so when I didn’t hear from that one person, I wasn’t sure how to feel or react. Before I could say or type words that might have been damaging, God spoke to me.

First, I should say that I generally start every weekday morning with writing in my journal. It gets me in the frame of mind to write and gives me a pulse on whatever’s going on in my life. Have you ever seen this quote from Pat Conroy about writing? “Writing is the only way I have to explain my own life to myself.” That’s me in a nutshell. Sometimes, the only way I have to understand things that happen in my life is to write them down.

Anyway, back to the journal. I was writing and writing and writing. I turned the page and noticed the Bible verses that were printed on that page and the facing page. The first one I read was Hebrews 13:5. “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.'” Whoa! That was one I needed to read. God put it in my path at just the right moment. Even if no one else is there for me, He will always be there.

The second set of verses was just as profound. Isaiah 49:15-16 says, “I will not forget you. I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” God doesn’t forget us. He doesn’t forget me. Even if my Christian brothers and sisters abandon me, God will never leave me. I needed to read those verses too.

That was all it took. My heart and my load lightened. I finished writing in my journal and had the idea for this blog post. There were more verses than I could count when I employed the search function of my Bible app. I liked this one from Deuteronomy 31:8. “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

I also liked this one from Psalm 55:22. “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.”

My favorite though was from Matthew 24:35. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

I’m so grateful that God put these words in my path at just the right moment. They have sustained and strengthened me and reminded me of who needs to be first in my life. Now, if I could only figure out how to stay willing to live in community when my Christian brothers and sisters let me down. But, I think that might be another post. 🙂

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Cliques in Churches

This might be uncomfortable or even a painful thing for some of you to read. You might even be saying to yourself, ‘There aren’t any cliques in my church.’ God is calling me to write this though, and I think your eyes might be opened by the time you finish reading.

First, here is the definition of the word. A clique is a “small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them.”

Does that sound familiar? Eleven years ago, my husband and I were considering pulling our children out of public school to homeschool them. There were many reasons. Our children didn’t fit in public school. One was gifted; the other was being bullied. As we did our research, we found so many pluses to this mode of education, we decided to take the leap. It worked out well for us. One of our children has graduated from our homeschool and is on the president’s list at his college and the other is a junior in high school.

Their achievements though are not the focal point of me writing this post. As we got involved in the homeschool community, both online and in real life, we found many people who had been wounded by the public school system. So many, in fact, that they formed their own clique. They didn’t want to be involved with anyone else but homeschoolers. That felt funny to me, but I wanted to be accepted so I didn’t say anything.

Years passed, and we moved to the state we now live in. I was more confident as a homeschooler, and we started forming relationships with people who were schooled differently. I remember the first year my older son played baseball. Even though he had not played for several years and was a homeschooler, he was warmly welcomed onto to the team by his coach and his teammates. The only thing that mattered to his coach was his work ethic. He worked hard that year, and in subsequent years, and became a better baseball player. Those boys are all in college now, but I have fond memories of a group of boys from different backgrounds coming together to play the game of baseball. Not a clique in my book.

But, there were and still are cliques in our current city, and a lot of them have to do with money. They consist of people whose children go to certain public or private schools who think they’re better than everyone else. These students have the attitude of their parents and think they are entitled. They behave badly and think the adults around them should pick up the pieces of their mistakes. And they are exclusionary–both students and parents, a fact brought painfully home to me when my son was given ugly stares last weekend when he was taking the ACT at one of these schools. I’m not trying to say that every family who has students at these schools is like this, but enough of them are that I count these schools as having their own cliques.

Now, to the saddest part of this post and the main subject–cliques in churches. I have experienced cliquish behavior in churches more times than you can count. Conversations that stop when I walk up. Implications that I’m not as good as other people because I can’t do certain things. Attitudes that imply other people are better than me because my child doesn’t go to a certain public or private high school. I gave up on God, for a time, many years ago because of this behavior. If other Christians couldn’t love me, how could God love me? I don’t believe that anymore. I refuse to give up on God or His love for me again just because other Christians are cruel!

If I did, what would be the point of these verses? I John 4:7 says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

How about I Thessalonians 3:12? “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”

Here’s another one. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

And finally, the verse all of us can probably quote by heart. John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

“Whoever believes in him.” Not whoever believes in him and makes a certain amount of money. Not whoever believes in him and has a nice home. Not whoever believes in him and has a certain color of skin. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Jesus accepts everyone who comes to Him.

But, we still have cliques in our churches, and that is heartbreaking. No wonder people come in and don’t want to come back. They don’t see Jesus’ love in the people who are already there. These are people who long to be loved and accepted, who need to be loved and accepted for who they are, by us if they are going to see Jesus’ love. And many times they are not. Instead, they see activities that cost money. They see people who don’t understand the situation they’ve come out of. They see people who are going on cruises together. They see people whose children all go to the same school huddled together in a small group. And they see exclusion from church activities or opportunities for services because they’re not considered desirable enough. So, then I’m left with the question, ‘Can Jesus’ love really be seen when we divide into cliques?’ The answer is obvious, and it is sad.

I’m not perfect with this, not by a long shot. I remember my early years of homeschooling when I would trash public and private schools because of how we had been wounded and because I wanted to be accepted in my homeschooling group. God has convicted me in a big way though especially with behavior I’ve seen in recent weeks and how it has wounded me. We are to love everyone in Jesus’ name and not be a part of cliques in the church. May we all remember what Jesus did for us on the cross this week!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

 

God’s Presence

Some people think that God can only be present in a church, and others think the only place they can find Him is outside of the church. I’m here today to tell you that both of those are incorrect. God can be found anywhere–in the church and outside of the church. In fact, this past weekend I found him in many more places besides the church.

The action started Friday night when we traveled to our older son’s college to see the show he was going to be in. He had talked about this for months and had asked us to make a point of coming. So, my husband, younger son, and I piled into the car right before 4:00 to drive down to his college. It is usually a trip of under two hours, but it took two and a half because of all the traffic on the interstate. We were going so slowly at one point that I despaired of getting there on time. But, we passed the accident that was blocking traffic and were able to start driving at a more normal speed. We made it to the college shortly before the program started and found our seats. No time for dinner, of course, but I ate a candy bar and was fine. I was excited. I hadn’t been to a show like this in a long time. Before long, I was tapping my toes and having the time of my life. My husband had his arm around me, and we were enjoying our time as a family. The songs weren’t Christian; in fact, most of them were unfamiliar. That didn’t bother me though. We were spending time together as a family with none of us having any responsibilities, and I could feel God’s presence around us. It was fun. There were several solos, and there were three shows put on by the social clubs. Our son was in the last show, and the group did a wonderful job. In fact, all of the clubs did. After the show was over, we saw our son to congratulate him, ran an errand for him, and got some dinner before getting back on the road to our hometown. It was amazing! Even the journey back in pitch black darkness held God’s presence. I got to witness His amazing creation as we spoke of the show, and everything that had happened. A good time was had by all.

The next day consisted of sleeping in and then running errands. Just normal things. We had planned on sleeping in since we knew we wouldn’t get in until late the night before. As we rode to our first errand at a local store, I saw the blueness of the sky and the puffy white clouds. I felt a calmness of spirit I hadn’t had in a while. God was present in the normalcy of life. We finished our errands and went back home. I was able to get some lesson planning done and to take a nap that afternoon. A calm and relaxing day.

I didn’t feel calm and relaxing the following morning. Sundays are usually busy and frantic for us during baseball season. Couple that with feeling like I needed to put on my standard shields of pretending like everything was wonderful, and I was not in a good place. At least I wasn’t until I got a text from my husband who had left for church early to work on the sound board. He said that someone was waiting for me and was looking forward to seeing me. In fact, two people were–the young children of his colleague on the sound board and two of my favorite people. They always greet me with excited hugs and have the purest joy. That’s what I like about being around young children. There’s no pretense with them, and there’s no pretending. I played with them until Bible class and we all went our different ways. After class, I went to get them as their mom was working that day, and they sat with me during worship service. I saw God’s presence during the sweet time I spent with them even when I helped them with communion.

I took them to children’s worship shortly thereafter and went back to listen to the sermon. My attention drifted because I was still thinking about my time with the kids. The relationship I have with them contains an honesty that I think God wants to have with us. But we, being adults, think we have to be guarded around our Christian brothers and sisters. At least, I do. Not sure about you, but I’m betting nine times out of then, you probably think the same thing.

Anyway, after the service, I got to minister to a friend of my mine who has a family member with health problems. Two other friends came up, and we were all sitting and talking. The prognosis doesn’t look good, and she was struggling. I told her I would pray, and we all told her that God would meet her family member wherever she was, that it didn’t have to be in church. God is everywhere, not just in church! I could feel God’s presence in that situation too.

And finally, I went to my younger son’s baseball game. He plays in a high school rec league in our city, and yesterday, we had the opportunity to play in a historic ballpark. Every time we have been there, I feel like I have been transported back in time. I took pictures and had the chance to relax while I watched the game. I enjoyed getting to be outside in God’s creation. This was where I especially felt God’s presence. He ministered to me where I was, and it didn’t matter that I had not been in a church for most of the weekend. God is everywhere, not just in church, and I pray you feel His presence today.

God’s blessings on all of you!

Forty Reasons Why I Write

Thought I would focus on my writing side today since I read about this challenge on the Positive Writer blog and decided to participate. http://positivewriter.com/reasons-why-write-challenge/  I’ve written about the reasons why I write before, but it was more of a telling of my own story and what led me back to writing after going away from it as a young adult. Writing down the reasons themselves will be a good exercise for me. So, without further adieu and in no particular order, here are the forty reasons why I write.

1) I write because I can be honest with myself.

2) I write because I need to get the words out of my head.

3) I write because it’s the best way I communicate. When I talk, I have a tendency to stumble over my words. I don’t have that problem with writing.

4) I write because I like telling stories.

5) I write to give people hope.

6) I write to help with my depression.

7) I write because I want to keep a record of my life.

8) I write because it helps me not to feel alone.

9) I write to honor the gift my Lord and Savior has given me.

10) I write because it helps me be a better teacher. (I homeschool my son.)

11) I write because it helps me make sense of the craziness in this world.

12) I write because I like “happily ever after” endings.

13) I write because I want to leave something of myself behind.

14) I write so I can write the bad parts of my life in my journal and leave them there.

15) I write because I like finding just the right word to put in a sentence.

16) I write because I can’t imagine giving it up.

17) I write because it’s my way to escape.

18) I write because I dream.

19) I write because I like to see filled up pages.

20) I write because it reflects who I am.

21) I write because I want my grandchildren to read what I wrote just like I read what my grandmother wrote.

22) I write to share my faith.

23) I write because I would like to be on someone’s bookshelf or Kindle one day.

24) I write because I want to encourage people.

25) I write because I like to build different worlds.

26) I write because it takes me back to my childhood.

27) I write because it helps me remember.

28) I write because I’m not the typical woman my parents would like me to be.

29) I write because I’m a geek and a nerd.

30) I write so I won’t be confused.

31) I write because I want to make a difference

32) I write because I like creating something out of nothing.

33) I write to bring closure to my past.

34) I write because I want to be heard.

35) Writing is cheaper than therapy.

36) I write because it has changed my life.

37) I write because it reflects more of who I am. (I’m not just a wife or a mom.)

38) I write because I like creating characters.

39) I write because I like it when someone tells me my writing meant something to them.

40) And finally, especially this week, I write so I won’t be jealous that half of my town is in the Caribbean for spring break. 🙂

Temptation

As defined by Wikipedia, temptation is an “immediate, pleasurable urge and/or impulse that disrupts an individual’s ability to wait for the long-term goals which the individual hopes to attain.” It can also mean “the state of being attracted and enticed” like when you want to eat a piece of chocolate cake, but know that you shouldn’t. Since this is a Christian blog though, the definition of temptation I will be referring to is the “inclination to sin”.

It’s not that the other definitions don’t matter. I think in some instances, they can be intertwined. For example, that piece of chocolate cake. In most instances, having it wouldn’t affect us in the long-term. But, what about the person who struggles with taking care of their body like God says they should? What about the person who buys themselves an indulgence? Some people can stop at only one, but others would keep going on and on and wouldn’t be spending their money the way God wants them to.

So, everyone has been tempted and can be tempted. Even Jesus was tempted. My church is doing a year-long series of sermons about keeping our eyes on Jesus, and the topic of temptation was brought up recently. I’m thinking most of us are familiar with that story in the Bible–where Jesus was tempted after forty days and nights of fasting. Satan tempted Him on three occasions. Matthew 4:3-4 says, “The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.””

The other two occasions had Satan telling Jesus to throw Himself off the highest point in the temple because the angels would save Him if He did and offering Him all the kingdoms of the world if He would only worship him. Verse 10 of Matthew 4 says, “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.””

I have a head understanding of these verses and of what God wants from us. Doesn’t prevent me from getting tempted though. In fact, the other week God reminded me of my own brokenness. I talked to someone who freely admitted to having been in jail. I was astonished because that has never happened to me before. I did a pretty good job of not showing my astonishment. (Actually, that was because God was giving me very strong urges to keep my mouth shut for the questions that would normally be asked on such an admission.) Afterwards, I thought about the encounter and how I had done well enough to never be arrested in my years of living. God knocked me down pretty fast. He pointed out that though I had never murdered anyone, I had lied. I’ve never stolen anything either, but I’ve judged those who have. I’ve not made a golden idol to worship, but I’ve considered other things more important than God. I’ve been jealous of people who have more than I do, and I haven’t rested on the Sabbath. I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. We’ve all sinned. Some sins are just more noticeable than others.

I say all this about temptation today because of the other part of what was stated in the verses I quoted. Jesus had been fasting when He encountered Satan. He had been doing without food and water. This is not something I encounter often in the western world. Especially for forty days and forty nights. Western Christians aren’t big on depriving themselves of anything, and it is not a concept I’ve been able to apply well to my own life. But, last week I decided to take a dare. We have been talking about fasting at church on Wednesday nights this month, and my older son got to attend one of the classes last week while he was home from college. Our pastor spoke of how he had given up coffee until Easter and encouraged us to fast from whatever was preventing us from getting closer to Jesus. We got home from church, and my son said there was no way I could give up coffee. Oh, the wisdom of a college student. 🙂 I took the dare and made the promise. No way was I going to let my son hold one over on me.

I am now at five days without coffee, and I can tell this is going to be one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I use coffee to wake up in the mornings, and it’s been hard to be without it. But, I’m going to honor my promise to God and to my son for two reasons. One, I’m stubborn and don’t want to hear about my failure forever, and two, most importantly, because I want to honor my Lord and Savior.

I also know I’m not alone in this endeavor. God is with me as it states in I Corinthians 10:13. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” I think this sums it up.

God’s blessings on all of you today!