Whatever you do, do it well

Yesterday was my birthday. The older I am, the more reflective I become at milestones such as anniversaries and birthdays. The closer I get to 50 (still in the future but looming ever nearer), the more I seem to wrestle with life choices: what do I really want to do with my life, how do I want to be remembered, what can I do that will make a difference, and what changes ought I to be making to better utilize my gifts and the time I have on this earth? These are all questions that come to the forefront of my mind during these times of contemplation.

Looking back, I remember accomplishments of which I am proud, such as returning to school after a 13 year hiatus to complete a Masters Degree with 4 children ages 12 to 1 underfoot. But, strangely, as proud as I was to have completed that degree, and to walk across that stage to accept my diploma, there was something else that happened on that day that made me even prouder.

Shortly before the graduation ceremony there was a reception for the graduates and their families with the faculty and staff of the school. I was pleased to have the opportunity for my husband and four sons (then ages 16 to 4) to attend this function with me. Several of the professors took the time to congratulate all of my boys, husband included, for their help in my accomplishment, recognizing the sacrifice that our entire family had made. It was an enjoyable time with my teachers, classmates, family, as well as additional faculty and staff, including the school President.

A short time later, we all assembled in the auditorium for the graduation ceremony. My name was called and I proceeded across the stage. Imagine my surprise when I shook the President’s hand and he leaned in to say, “You have very well behaved boys.”

Oh, how my heart swelled. On a day when I was being publicly recognized for an accomplishment the world values, I was privately commended for something which I valued even more.

Last night, reflecting on life on my birthday eve, my husband shared a verse with me that puts life contemplations into perspective. Ecclesiastes 9:7ff. encourages, “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.” Looking back on my life choices I realize the blessings of a life lived in relationship with God. Looking forward, this verse also gives me a plumb line to live life fully. As I read further in Ecclesiastes 9, I realize that I can relieve a lot of the pressure I have felt in making my life choices so complicated and monumentally heavy by following the words of the writer.

It is not so much about what we choose to pursue as it is about doing well with whatever we choose.

 

 

 

Perspective

On a week when I was feeling a little miffed about some changes in monetary obligations in the approaching new year, with upcoming increases in a house payment and insurance premium, an air conditioner going out in a vehicle (in a state that still gets hot enough to require it, even in December), and a clogged clothes dryer vent that creates a potential fire hazard, I was not necessarily in the best mindset as I headed to the laundromat with 5 baskets full of my family’s clothes.

Avoiding using our dyer as we attempted to clear the clogged vent had created a mountain of work. Several attempts to unclog the vent from both access points in and out of the house proved unfruitful. So, as we investigated how to reach the inner working in the labyrinth of tubes deep within our home, the laundry piled up. (Note to builders: all dryers belong on an exterior wall with minimal footage for the lint and air to vent outside, in as straight a path as possible.) Friday night, after attending a holiday festivity in the park, we drove past the local laundromat on the way home to assess how busy it was. The place was empty. I went home, sorted and gathered up everyone’s garments from the week, then hubby delivered me back to the self-service laundry.

As we entered, there were two guys up front, and a couple spooning on the bench in a back corner. As soon as I walked past, the couple hurriedly rose, collected their items and departed. The younger of the two men up front finished his laundry and left about the time I completed filling all my washers, converted my bills to quarters, and started the machines. The remaining man left momentarily, but quickly returned and walked past me with his backpack on his shoulder, disappearing around the corner in the back of the store. I settled onto a bench, pulled out a book and began to read.

When my first wash cycle ended and I rose to retrieve and move my items to a dryer, it took me past the back corner where I noticed the older man had laid down on the bench, using it as a bed, with his pack as a pillow.

While a few other people came and went in the next hour and a half, the man dozed in the back of the laundromat, seemingly oblivious to the bright lights, the beeping of the machines as they ended their cycles, and the whir and click of all the motors in force.

When I finally gathered up my several containers of freshly laundered clothing to place in my van to take home and put away in individual drawers and closets in separate rooms for my family, I couldn’t help but think of a man with one backpack sleeping on a bench at the back of a laundromat. It gave me a completely different perspective on my earlier frustrations and complaints of the day. Sometimes I see blessings as burdens and need a reminder of all I have to be grateful for. Sometimes it takes a change in perspective.

“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13

Patience

Making soup in the morning to cook all day in the crockpot, my youngest son sidles up to me to cook alongside. Taking a deep breath, I remind myself that it is good for him to show enthusiasm to learn this new skill, and resign myself to the longer time it will take to complete my task.

Patiently, I teach him how to safely peel and chop the carrots, celery, and onion. Resisting the urge to take over and complete the job for him, I show him how to use the back of the knife instead of the blade to scrape the veggies off the cutting board into the pot. We take the time to smell each herb and spice before adding it, and discuss each step as we proceed. Finally, we set the lid on the pot and the lesson is complete. Glancing at the clock, I notice an hour has passed. One hour to peel and chop 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks, and 1 onion…a job I would have finished in 15 minutes.

Sometimes when I have the opportunity to slow down to a snail’s pace in order to come alongside a child who is learning, I am reminded. Reminded of my own Heavenly Father’s patience as he comes alongside me as I learn. I make mistakes, and he gives me additional chances to try again, day after day. His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22).

Everything is Hard Until it’s Easy

Each of our four sons played soccer their kindergarten year, and my husband was purposefully their first coach. He always taught them one important lesson in that first season: everything is hard until it’s easy. In other words, practice, practice, practice. This admonition to work at what does not necessarily come naturally (until it is no longer work) extends beyond the realm of sports, however.

When first married, it did not take long for us to realize that there were certain skills that my new husband was better at than me, and vice-versa. In the matter of spiritual practices it became quickly apparent that I was stronger in the area of prayer while he was more disciplined in his Bible reading.

Fast forward 26 years and I have to say that while he has grown in prayer, it has been a constant start and stop struggle for me to become a more consistent Bible reader. I finally realize that it is because I have not practiced the above mantra of keeping at it during the hard times. My problem is that I continually give up too quickly. But, I am learning something from one of our boys.

Our third son is an avid soccer player. One summer he spent an afternoon in the back yard practicing juggling a soccer ball in the air with his foot. When he started, he could only juggle the ball one or two times before it would hit the ground. Several minutes of effort later, he had increased his juggling to 3, 4, and then 6 times without it falling. But, as several more moments of effort went by, frustration began to set in. He was no longer seeing progress, and often fell back to only 2 or 3 juggles before losing control.

Here came the gentle reminder: “Everything is hard before it’s easy.” Over and over again, the ball was picked up, and the count would begin anew. Tears were shed. Tears of disappointment at his slow progress. Tears of anger as the ball was kicked savagely against the fence in frustration. All day long, and into the days and weeks ahead, he labored to improve his score; bouncing, and bouncing that ball on that foot, over and over and over again, ad naseum.

Gradually, his efforts were rewarded with incremental progress. Currently, his foot juggling record is at the impressive number of 20. The amount of effort required today to achieve this feat is minimal. The tears and sweat and agonizing periods of practice are but a faint memory. What once was hard, has now become easy.

So it is with spiritual disciplines as well. I realize now that in order to become more practiced in being a consistent Bible reader, I must have the same tenacity about it that my son did with his soccer juggling. When a habit becomes hard to maintain, rather than giving up, I must push through and do it with vigor and determination to stick with it rather than surrendering to complacency.

I encourage you to join me by choosing a spiritual discipline that you want to get better at (such as daily bible reading, or prayer) and begin to practice it today. But, don’t give up when it is hard to continue. Pick it up, and begin again. Remember, everything is hard until it’s easy.

 

Parents Are Children Too

Parenting continues to teach me new things about God and my relationship with him.

When one of our sons are absent from us for an extended period, I crave to hear from him, to know how he is doing, to be made privy to his thoughts and actions. I wish to connect to him in any way to bridge our physical distance.

My yearning to hear from my child increases the longer the silence extends. I hunger to hear the intimate details about his life. I wonder how he is doing, where he is going, and with whom? How thrilled I am when he confides in me. I dream with him for the future as I am privileged to learn about his inner thoughts, hopes, and desires. I grieve with him as I learn of his disappointments and heartaches. Good or bad, as a parent, I desire to be a constant presence in my children’s lives.

And, then, I realize…my Heavenly Father desires the same connection with me. How saddened he must be when time goes by without a prayerful word from me, his child. How he must long for me to share my intimate thoughts, hopes, dreams, and desires with him. My disappointments, heartaches, and tears do not go by unnoticed, or uncared for, by God.

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8

Just as I long to hear from my own children, God desires connection and communication from his children as well.

Teach me to be more consistent in my communication with you, Father.

 

 

 

 

 

Be a Locavore

We were in Stephenville, TX for a child’s soccer game. Rather than drive an hour home for lunch, we used the AroundMe app to find a place to eat. Big O’s Simply Delicious Deli popped up, with great reviews.

The owner greeted us with a thick European accent. Upon asking, we learned he came to Texas from France, by way of Ireland.

What brought him to the Lone Star State, I wondered? “Love!” was the immediate reply. Aww!

As we inquired about the menu, he allowed me to sample each of his homemade sandwich spreads and sauces, then insisted I taste each of the soups. The line behind me lengthened, but the proprietor refused to rush me. He reveled in having acquired a new patron, and preened a little like a male peacock over his food wares. As he handed me several condiment containers of soup to sample he said, “This is the only place in town to offer you shots of soup.” 🙂

We were more than pleased with our individual lunch choices. My husband enjoyed his gyro, my soup hit the spot, and our son’s BLT was thick and flavorful. This has typically become our experience when we have skipped over the known chain restaurants to search out the local options.

Our next visit resulted in our youngest child declaring the owner to be the the best chef he knows. He enjoyed interviewing the culinary artist on how he learned to cook so well, specifically because the basmati rice was delicious despite his self-proclaimed dislike for rice.

Each time we forgo the usual franchise options to seek out local food establishments, not only is the food often delicious, but we frequently make a connection with a fellow food enthusiast or a lasting memory. So much more enjoyable than just stopping to fill our food fuel tank. I encourage you to discover your own local establishments. You’ll likely enjoy the flavor, as well as the flair!

 

Fill Your Pitcher

Do you ever feel pulled in so many different directions at once that you fear that you are about to snap under the strain?

Or, do you feel like a pitcher that is constantly being poured out of in order to fill others’ cups?

In the book Gifts from the Sea, the author, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, describes woman this way and warns against pouring out of yourself to the point of running dry. She states:

“Eternally; woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim”

When I consider how I pour out of myself into the lives of others (spouse, children, friends, church family, etc.) it emphasizes to me the importance of refilling the proverbial pitcher. Yet, with so many cisterns in the world from which to draw, how can we choose from which well to fill ourselves?

I believe there are a few scriptures that can answer that question for us. As we consider how, and with what, to fill ourselves, notice Romans 15:13 that states how, as we trust in God, he will fill us with joy and peace, and we will overflow with hope.

Could you use more hope, peace, and joy in your life? I know that I could. I must learn to trust God…and get ready for the flood.

My prayer for you, and me, is the same as Paul in Ephesians 3:16-19.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

In both of these passages, the imagery is one of being filled to fullness or overflowing. These are not measured out doses to be drained away before replenishing. He will fill us up completely, full to the point of overflowing. How much better equipped we will be to pour out into the lives of others when we are full of what he provides.

The answer then, is to run to God’s reservoirs!

“But those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

 

 

 

 

Trust

How would you answer the question, “How do you grow your faith?”

Considering the answer to this question in a group discussion recently, one answer was to spend more time with God, both in prayer and his word. Through the course of the discussion, the subject of trust was raised. There was an emphasis on the idea that the more time you spend with someone, the more you trust them. Immediately, my mind jumped to the difference in trusting people and trusting God.

“Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” (Psalm 36:5)

God is ALWAYS trustworthy. People, not so much.

Try spending more time with God.

 

 

Moan, Groan, Gripe and Complain

Whenever someone begins to become a little whiny in my husband’s family, my mother-in-law has been known to say in jest, “Moan, Groan, Gripe, and Complain!” It is always said very lightheartedly, accompanied by a smile, and received with the good humor with which it is conveyed. But, despite the moment of levity, there is a gentle reminder.

The warning to refrain from complaining is not new. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul warns the readers  to avoid some of the mistakes from Israel’s past. In verse 10, he states, “And do not grumble, as some of them did–and were killed by the destroying angel.” He includes this admonishment, according to verse six, with other examples “to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.”

Complaining can become such an easy habit to slip into. However, to become a grumbler is to set our heart on evil things rather than fill it with good. As the mouth speaks what the heart is full of, I am adopting this phrase to encourage my own family members to not be people who moan, groan, gripe, and complain. 🙂

April Showers Bring May Flowers

May is often a hectic month with graduations, end of school events, Memorial Day weekend, and volatile, stormy weather. With a child who has a late May birthday, the culmination of these events nearly always interferes with party plans. Traditionally, intricate plotting and rescheduling is required (and one year, a full out cancellation after 3 reschedules).

This year, as I sent out rescheduled plans due to a severe thunderstorm forecast, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much the old adage “April showers bring May flowers” rarely seems to be true in our lives. The last several years, May has been full of tornadoes and life transitions. We have moved in May twice in the last 2 years. “May flowers, my foot,” I thought to myself as I reflected on how weather was once again interfering in birthday celebration plans.

Then, I remembered the child that the celebration is for. I remembered that he was due mid-June. But, 11 years ago, I woke up at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning, Memorial Day weekend, to discover my water had broken. The baby was coming three weeks early! I hadn’t even finished packing my hospital bag. Waddling to the car, I listed items for my husband to grab. “And, the baby name book” I instructed over my shoulder. “You haven’t picked out a name?” our sitter exclaimed, incredulously. “I thought we had more time!” I wailed as I stepped outside.

Having chosen not to find out the sex of the baby before delivery, we discussed options en route and settled on a girl’s name as we parked in the hospital lot. Around noon, a lady from church peeked in our hospital room to check on our progress. “Do you still have that baby name book?” I asked.

“Do you still need it?” she answered with surprise. Unable to speak, I nodded vigorously. Realizing the moment was imminent, she handed the Bible name book to my husband and stepped out of the room. As the doctor coached my final pushes, my husband frantically flipped through the pages, throwing out suggestions that I kept declining with vigorous shakes of my head. “Are you sure you don’t like this name?” he asked, revisiting a name we had previously dismissed merely because a son had a close friend with that moniker. “What does it mean?” I panted. “Gift of God,” he replied. I nodded in affirmation. We decided on a middle name (from a grandfather who died before my husband was born) and one final push later the doctor announced, “It’s A Boy!!”

In hindsight, I have realized that God was indeed giving us a gift. For three autumns in a row, we experienced the joy of a new pregnancy. Yet, the first two of those pregnancies both ended in miscarriage. So, the arrival of this May baby was like a field of flowers after a few years of “April showers”. Which means that whatever inconveniences and frustrations we have in trying to celebrate this gift of God in our lives (from life upheavals to bad weather to scheduling conflicts) he is worth the effort in the end. And, he is a reminder that God really does send flowers after rain.