Is Your Vision Clear?

We are now almost one twelfth of the way into our new year; 2020. Do we truly have clear vision? Did we make traditional New Year’s resolutions? Has the treadmill become a clothes rack? Is the bicycle gathering dust? Have we overindulged on foods we vowed to eliminate or reduce in our dietary intake?

Instead of making a resolution; a firm decision to do or not to do something, how about making a commitment to do something? We have over eleven months ahead of us to see clearly. What would happen to our self-worth if instead of trying to eliminate additional body weight, we eradicated the burden of anger and grudges against situations or persons that have been causing us disappointment, grief or unhappiness?

What would the outcome be if instead of vowing to increase our exercise regimen, we pledged to add  joy to someone’s life that was dealing with adversity? I recently watched a movie whereby the medical staff went above and beyond making a young dying patient’s last hours filled with exultation and happiness. Even though the patient didn’t survive long enough to have lingering memories, the medical staff had the realization and memories they brought tremendous bliss to this dying patient’s final journey.

Have you ever conversed with someone whom hours or perhaps days later was deceased.? This happened to me several years ago. I invited a young woman to lunch who had been in my life decades earlier. I realized she was unhappy and I earnestly tried to encourage her. Less than a month later, her life was over. I grieved for days over her loss; wondering if there were something I could have said or done differently which might have altered the outcome. However, I gave the gift of caring and compassion, even if only briefly.

What kind of impact do kind words make when someone is despondent?  Recently I sent a short e-mail to a member in my connection group at church. I didn’t understand the impact it would make until I received a return reply that I had sincerely encouraged them.

My life began at an early age with challenges and heartaches which many will never experience. It is my desire these hardships will be a testimony for God’s glory. I’ve queried Him often as to what He desires I do with the struggles He’s placed on my life’s path.

It may be merely no more than a hug or a compassionate word that you have empathy for another’s despair. I’ve been reminded frequently that we should never tell someone we “understand” their sorrows, for each of us endure our own unique grief. Yet we have 2020 vision when we show someone we care.

Instead of resolving we will lose weight, exercise more or even make more money, why not allow our 2020 vision to eliminate unkindness and anger and fill our hearts with concern for others? Proverbs 10:12 NIV, “hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers all wrongs.”

 

Trash or Treasure?

Recently someone was sharing the icon they have on their phone; a man holding his nose with one hand, while grasping a bag of trash in the other, labeled 2019. Some may feel the past year was worse than the one ahead. Whereas, that is a positive outlook for a new year, aren’t some of the memories of the past year ones which fill our hearts with joy?

Perhaps last year held the memories of a lost job, lost home, a lost marriage or lost loved ones. Yet you may not have lost anything, but only gained.  Additionally, you have memories of family outings, vacations, birthdays, graduations or weddings. You have your health and the freedom to enjoy your family, career, hobbies and interests of life. Yet why was the previous year one to be shunned?

Even if hardships were placed on our path, should an entire chapter of our life be considered refuse? What is God teaching us with these challenges? If we could re-write our life’s book, what chapters would we remove, and which would remain? When I think of my own life, there are many things when I would have used a mulligan; a do-over”, but others though painful had lessons God desired I learn.

My life’s challenges have allowed me to now volunteer to organizations and people dealing with tremendous obstacles. Specifically, thinking of the experiences of this past year which had an impact on my life, one was returning to a community I so greatly desire to leave. As I have shared in previous blogs when I moved to TX in the fall of 2018, I had remarkable faith my OK house would sell so I could remain there, but God said, “no.”

I returned to OK with a burdensome heart, but with the realization this was another component of my life’s book; God’s plan for 2019. I left my church in TX which welcomed me and became family during my six-month residency. I grappled with which church God chose for me upon my return. Even though I visited several where I had been a member, I didn’t feel it was “my church.”

As I attended a local community party, a fellow church member who had been in my home often in previous years, invited me to resume my role  at the church, I called “home” for many years. God gave me the answer; return.  Yes, God truly speaks to us through others.

If I looked through the “peep hole” of my door of 2019, there was some trash which needed to be discarded. I chose to look through the bright, picture window to see budding trees and flowers from 2019 that will burst forth in full bloom from the beauty of God’s plan for me. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Not Just a Cup of Coffee

Perhaps the chestnuts are not roasting, nor do you have a sleigh with ringing bells. It may not be cold or snowy for a white Christmas. For most however, you are with family or close friends. Some are totally alone today; their family lives too far away or are no longer with them. The friends are scattered, so they spend their holiday in isolation. What about those whose family live close by and yet choose to exclude their loved ones?

For over four decades, when the Thanksgiving table had been cleared and the annual football games began, I was well underway with my plans and preparations for the Christmas holiday.  Aside from the gift shopping and wrapping, there was the baking to share with family, friends and neighbors.

For many years, custom making Christmas gifts or holiday outfits for my children was as much a tradition as the sugar cookies and fudge. Although my budget was limited in those early years, my desire to provide “perfect as possible” memories was limitless. I have always believed my time and effort were the greatest gifts I could give to others, with my family being the largest recipient.

My desire to share God’s love with others is a gift I’ve offered graciously. It has allowed me to invite more than one guest to our dinner table when I realized they were spending the holiday alone. However, for eight years while my children, their families and my then husband, Charles celebrate with one another, I’ve been alone.

Because I had spent another Thanksgiving alone less than a month earlier, I began praying earnestly that God would not allow a repeat performance.  Countless times I have volunteered at homeless shelters or community dinners, but it has become emotionally difficult; always a reminder of my seclusion.

I didn’t know if my prayer would be answered “yes” or perhaps “dittoed” as the others. God hadn’t caused my family to exclude me, but He allowed it. I always realized there was a reason which only God understood. As my pastor reminded me last year; the more I’m alone the closer God and I become.

As I casually walked into Starbucks on December 17th and met a total stranger, he queried of my holiday plans.  Sharing I would be alone, his reply was more rapid than a cheetah chasing his prey. “Oh no, you will be with my family. There is no need to be alone.”

I was tearful, as I had given this gift to others and now God was giving it to me. I would spend Christmas with him and his family in a nearby town. I didn’t hesitate, even though I knew nothing about this man whom I had met only minutes earlier. I realized this was God’s reply, so no reason to be disquieted. Matt. 25:35 NKJ, “…you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you took me in.”

Your First!

Do you remember your first? Tall, short, slim or full? Noble, Scotch or fir?  Was it in your first apartment as a single professional, or perhaps as a newlywed?  Over the years I’ve heard countless stories from those sharing their memories of their first Christmas tree.

The sixties offered little variety for artificial trees. There was a sparkling aluminum or a live tree, but the artificial, green trees were rare. If you were among those “in vogue” the “color wheel” was a required accessory for an aluminum tree.  Select monochromatic solid, baubles, sparsely hung on the branches, plug in the color wheel and “oh la la” you might have been chosen to be in Architectural Digest.

One of the most elegant trends may have been the full, flocked trees; designed to add a winter element for even desert dwellers. If you couldn’t afford to have the tree professionally flocked, the options of “flocking in a can” were readily available for any budget.

For my then husband, Charles and me our sixties tree, was a relatively short, but very full scotch pine; my first tree purchased from rows of aromatic firs and pines. Unlike my own children, Charles and I brought no ornaments from trees of our youth.

Our barren tree necessitated a trip to the local discount store. The horizon of baubles and lights was more limiting in the 1960’s. Nonetheless, it was exciting to peruse the aisles of Christmas decorations to “make a statement” for our first tree.

The tree would be bedecked in red; ornaments and lights. The red paper and plaid bows for the gifts beneath completed the “just right” look. Those original lights and decorations remained until God blessed is with the best Christmas gifts possible; our children. As they received ornaments, the solid red, glistening balls soon found safety tucked away in a box. The “baby’s first Christmas, rocking horses, toy soldiers and fairy princesses took their regal position on our tree.

My children’s and grandchildren’s trees are filled with memorable ornaments from parents and grandparents. Scattered among those cherished “Hallmark” ornaments or those reminiscent of family travels, are the special “one of a kind” handmade treasures.

I oohed over many of my children’s handmade ornaments as they carefully removed them from their boxes. I ponder often over these cherished gifts.  Do donors whom so affectionately created these realize that decades later these gems still hold an esteemed position among the other more costly adornments?

As I shared previously, this is the first year in the past 52 years that my house is barren of Christmas decorations except the tree; displaying dozens of ornaments from places visited and memories lived. Each is special, but one which brings an abundance of tears is an ornament bestowed to Charles and me in commemoration of our 25th wedding anniversary.

It was a gift from a beautiful young lady whom God called to be one of his angels when she was only 19. The ornament holds our “engagement picture”. For the past eight years as I’ve removed that ornament, I’ve wondered if I should display it for the memories open the “floodgate” of tears. Yes, I do for the memories of that time were a huge chapter of my life. As I behold each ornament, I think of I Cor. 13:13 NIV”…But the greatest of these is love.” Jesus is truly the “reason for this season.”

 

 

What Joy?

I had planned to continue sharing about some of our holiday traditions. However, as I read my devotions today, the author spoke of David’s cries and pleas to God. Even though David became a great king, his life was also filled with much tragedy. In Psalms he cried out to God for mercy. Patricia Raybon writes, “David didn’t let his own limits, including sin, stop him from going to God with his need…He’s ready to hear us, especially when we need Him most.”

I realize for many this isn’t the most joyous time of the year. It is a time filled with needs greater than desires.  In our own community last week there was the announcement that over 800 individuals were losing their jobs. When you multiply that by the family members for each of these employees that is several thousand people whose Christmas was altered in only a matter of minutes.

In many of those homes, the trees were bedecked with bight baubles and lights and beneath they were laden with gifts. Now the family budget may be strained from purchasing these gifts. The plans of traveling to visit family may necessitate they remain home. Preparation for the large holiday meal may be altered because of a trip to the local food pantry.

In another home, a visit to the doctor provides a diagnosis of a terminal illness or a life altering disease.  A mother gives birth to a long-awaited child only to realize that precious baby has a serious birth defect. Her child will never be able to run and play with others. As sirens shriek, rescuers race to the auto accident only to realize they are too late; it was fatal.

Hundreds of lives are impacted daily by what occurs in a second. For we all realize within a minute, within those 60 seconds, our lives can go from what was our routine; our normal to being permanently changed and for some destruction beyond repair.

Each of us know someone or we have experienced our own “in a moment” experience which has permanently altered our lives. What do we do? How are we going to continue? Some situations which are traumatic now bring change to our lives, which may genuinely be a gift from God. A lost job can change our future with blessings beyond description. The new job which was God’s gift may provide the family more than ever envisioned. For others the change is so great, their lives will never resume normalcy.

In my own life, it was words which took only seconds to speak, yet negated the past 52 years of my life and amended any future years God will grant me.  Even though God does not always will such events of our lives, He allows them. We must then decide how we will handle the circumstances bestowed upon us. Psalm 6:9 NIV, “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.”

Stop Throwing It!

“Stop throwing it. Place a strand on each limb individually.” Those were my mother’s words (paraphrased from decades ago). For my siblings and me, we were hopeful the “Tinsel grinch” might have stolen it from the attic. Yet alas there it was! If you are a “boomer” or older, you will recall those long, often tangled, pieces of tinsel.  As my siblings and I tried  to “hurry up the process by adding a “glob”, mother always “caught us.”

Year after year as our Dad went to attic to retrieve the tattered box of ornaments and lights , there were always a few “rodent gifts.”  I would shriek and jump back while Dad quickly reprimanded me, that I was larger than the mice and they were more afraid of me, than I of them. Dad, never had that fact correct, for I was petrified of mice and rats which made weekly visits to our small, meager house.

As a poor family, we never had a  carefully selected tree from the local tree lot or nursery. Ours was plucked from the native firs which graced the side of Oklahoma country roads. They were never pretty, but it was God’s gift to us. The decision on which tree would be hewn, was made with precise deliberation; one closet to the road and the easiest to cut down with a small hand saw. Thus, the trees were never large and took little time to decorate, with the exception of the labor intensive, individual embellishment of tinsel strands.

As we took each old, fragile, glass ornament from the musty cardboard box, it was seldom there wasn’t one which wasn’t missing much of the glaze or paint; most often exposed glass with minimal embellishment.  Nonetheless the tree of my youth was beautiful to us. How I would cherish one of those ornaments from those trees, but after our parents ceased setting up a tree, I never again saw the ornaments.

Perhaps the greatest beauty of those trees of yesteryear, was the bubble lights. When I visited my brother a couple of years ago during their Christmas celebration (in February upon the arrival of my nephew from his 3rd deployment to the middle east), I was enthralled to see the bubble lights on their family tree. Yes, my sister-in-law purchased those for him; nostalgia. I felt my heart bound a little more intensely as I recalled those scraggly, but “beautiful to us” trees of our youth.

Decorating a Christmas tree, no matter the size, nor the variety or cost brings joy to families. It is a reminder that God has given each of us another year of life and blessings. In 2004, Pope John Paul said “the Christmas tree exalts the value of life, as in winter what is evergreen becomes a sign of undying life, and it reminds Christians of the “tree of life”.  Psalm 96:12, NKJ “Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice.”

Deep Roots

Many of us may move frequently from our city or state, leaving one chapter of our lives to begin another.  We sincerely never know if we may again encounter characters from our book of life. For this reason, it is important that the footprints we leave be smooth and gentle, not robust and deep.

When I was a new bride, my greatest desire was that I be able to remain in the same town for the duration of my life; putting down deep roots and stability. Because my parents had uprooted us countless times during my upbringing, I envied the fact my then husband, Charles had lived in the same house since he was a young boy. He had friends whom he had known as a child, teen, college student and adult.

However, that dream would never be a reality, but merely a desire. Charles changed careers numerous times, each time abruptly uprooting us. Whereas, he had a built-in community; his colleagues, it was necessary that with each move, I start anew. I had the task of locating a new job, settling into a new house and community. Such moves also necessitated changing all aspects of our lives; church, physicians and as importantly making new friends.

With each move, the friendships were more difficult and never permanent. No matter how diligently I tried to maintain those friendships, I had been a newcomer and now was merely as a falling leaf. I was there for a season, but replaced by new leaves which would bud the next season.

Having moved from and returning to my current community five times, a couple of years ago I had the privilege of again encountering one of these characters from my life’s book; a wonderful and lovely lady, “Mrs. C”, my children’s grade school principal. Little did I know when they left that school decades ago, that I would be sitting at her table, enjoying a Christmas luncheon with her, not once, but twice.

I reminisce of residing in our home and community those many years ago when our children were young.  I never imagined when I frequently interacted with Mrs. “C” while my children’s “homeroom mom” that years later I would be joining her in friendship in her home.

Ironically, as I opened the door of that same house where our children spent those youthful years, unbeknownst to me, I was also frequently warmly, welcoming into our home Charles’ long-term mistress, Debbie. Each time Charles relocated, I was uprooted, yet his roots with Debbie remained intact from 40 years prior. I have often asked God why I didn’t know. What would I have done differently when opening our door to Debbie, had I known she would be the one Charles would love?

I’m reminded God doesn’t always desire our choices as humans, but He allows it. With our choices are consequences. Hebrews 10:36, NIV, “you need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.”