Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pilgrims, Indians, and Dinosaurs

For some reason, Casey is just crazy about holidays! Whenever he knows one is coming up, that's all he talks about! Maybe it's because they learn so much about it at school, and sing the songs, make the crafts, etc. I've heard tons of songs/chants about turkeys, pilgrims, Indians, etc. It's all so cute and it reminds you just how fun, exciting, and simple the whole essence of the holiday is (as well as our heritage). It's all too easy, as an adult, to forget the joy of a holiday (or any day/moment). It's nice to be reminded of the simple joys!

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday because it's nearly untainted by the media and doesn't come with a bunch of hype (well, other than hearing about "after Thanksgiving" sales). It's a time where we are reminded to think and reflect on our blessings and truly be grateful. It's a humble and beautiful thing, and something that should be done every day.

With that being said, I don't have much else to say because there isn't much I can add to something as pure and humble as Thanksgiving. As I said, I was reminded of just how simple and wonderful everything can be when you are looking at it through the eyes of a child. That's why I wanted to share this very cute (and somewhat humorous) picture that Casey brought home from school. I hope it brings a smile to your face and warmth to your heart as it did to mine (the part I thought was most funny is that he didn't forget to include a remote control! That's a boy for you, right? LOL!!). I asked Casey who the people were in the picture. The guy at the door is "Squanto", the one on the chair is a "pilgrim", and the one holding the remote is an "Indian". I think we will be able to make his Thanksgiving wish come true in regards to letting him watch his beloved dinosaurs on TV at Papaw and Mamaw's house, but I don't think that any real pilgrims or Indians will be in attendance around our table (although, I venture to say, I often feel as though my children act like wild Indians - and I don't mean that disrespectfully to any Native Americans who are reading). Although, the kids COULD wear the special hats that Casey made at school - one pilgrim hat and one Indian hat. That would make for a good picture! LOL

All the hand-print turkey projects, coloring pages, and other crafts have all brought a smile to my face. Though, the one thing that most blew me away was the beautiful cornucopia that he drew. At first, I thought it was a coloring page that he simply colored, but no.....HE DREW/COLORED it himself!! Personally, I marvel at his artistic ability and interest in drawing because I don't know that I could top him! Seriously, I don't think I could draw much better than him!! And, the best part is, everything he makes comes from that amazing pure heart of his! He's just so innocent and honest about what he's drawing!! And, once again, his depiction of Thanksgiving includes dinosaurs lol. He made sure to include many of them around the cornucopia. ;) I chuckle to think of a dinosaur sitting around the table at that very first Thanksgiving. Can you imagine trying to share a meal with a T-Rex (without BEING a meal?). Ha ha!

So, here's to hoping that your Thanksgiving is beautiful, bountiful, and humble!! Grace and peace to you as you reflect on all your many simple blessings!! And please know, I am SO GRATEFUL for all of you who are in my life!! God bless you all!!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bowls of Steel

Some of the most moving and teachable moments come when you don’t expect them. In a way, it’s almost like a sneeze. It comes out of nowhere, but it wells up inside you and then demands to be released. Often times, it can be awkward (and sometimes painful) but you feel relieved for having gotten through it and releasing the impact of that moment.

I had such an experience today as I sat down to read “A Simple Christmas” by Mike Huckabee. As most of you know, I had the opportunity to meet him (again!) at his book signing in Indianapolis. This isn’t his first book, but it’s the first book of his that I have read (thus far). While waiting for his arrival, I eagerly began reading it. Some of his stories are little humorous while others are more serious. Today, I read one of those more somber stories and the impact of it kind of snuck up on me (but gave me much to ponder and reflect on).

Mike Huckabee really knows how to tell a story, and the story I just read had to do with his Uncle Garvin. He shared about the good times he and his sister had with him and how they always looked forward to his visits. Uncle Garvin was a bachelor, and fairly well off (and always dressed in a suit). He described him as having to answer to no one, and being very independent.

He said all of that changed when Uncle Garvin found out that he had cancer. In those days, it was pretty much a death sentence (and such was the case for him). Uncle Garvin ended up living with the Huckabees for the last few months of his life. Mike said it was such a difficult time. Being twelve years old, it was a hard adjustment to have to give up your room and help take care of a person who is having his life stolen from him before your very eyes. He said, “In so many ways, I became a man that year. I was forced to face the realities of death and the uncertainties of life. I saw life in its ugliest form, when a disease robs a person of his strength, his pride, his privacy, and his ability to choose even the simplest things. More than being robbed of my youth, I was endowed with an extra dose of maturity and adulthood the very year I would become a teenager, 1968.”

Though, as often times is the case, it’s the hardship that most shapes your character, deepens your faith, and molds you into a better person. He concluded the chapter with these words: “My sister and I didn’t get much that year for Christmas. We had been prepared to not expect much because all our resources needed to be used to care for Uncle Garvin and there really wasn’t time for much else. But in many ways, it was one of our most meaningful Christmas experiences ever, not because it was a happy one, but because it wasn’t. It was meaningful because through it we learned that the real meaning of Christmas is not giving toys but giving God’s grace in person to someone who is no longer in a position to give back. It was a very simple Christmas, and maybe the best one of all.”

The whole time I was reading that precious story, the tears were just streaming down my face. The way he recounts a story with such depth, detail, and emotion always touches my heart. He truly has a way of connecting with people, and it’s no doubt because of such wonderful people, like Uncle Garvin, that shaped his heart and life. Every experience, whether pleasant or painful, has developed his character and enabled him to “pay it forward” to others. I admire people like Mike Huckabee, because they never waste a moment. They cherish every experience and hide it in their hearts; sharing it at just the right moment with others so that their lives might be touched and blessed.

Oddly enough, my kids were watching an episode of “Arthur” on TV as I was reading that chapter. Amazingly, it happened to be an episode where the characters were dealing with the fact that their beloved school lunch-lady was battling cancer. One of the kids ended up writing to Lance Armstrong for help with coping with their friend’s disease. Lance made an appearance in the episode and offered his own advice and shared his story. I just found it stunning that God would bring two stories about cancer, perseverance, and love to my attention at the same time. I never saw it coming, and it was a tender and heart-wrenching moment for my sensitive heart, but it was such a blessing.

When you ponder and empathize with a person’s story, you open yourself up to sharing a portion of their pain. It changes you. It shapes you. It helps you to examine your own heart and gleam from their stories life lessons that can help you on your own journey. For me, it spoke richly of compassion, love, sacrifice, and faith. It also reminded me of my own “Uncle Garvin” (in my case, my Uncle Brett). Like Mike, I deeply enjoyed the few times a year I got to see my Uncle. He was a bachelor too, and was always doing his own thing. And, like Uncle Garvin, he struggled with the inevitable drawback of independence which is loneliness. Mike Huckabee said that Uncle Garvin would bang on a stainless-steel bowl with a wooden spoon in order to summon them to his room for whatever need he might have had at the moment. He said, “It would be years before I came to realize that he didn’t strike that bowl and have us running to his side simply because he wanted us to refresh his water, fiddle around with the covers on his bed, or rearrange the newspapers in the room. That bowl was a cry for something far more important; it was a call for the presence of another human being in that room so that he wouldn’t spend those awful and painful waking moments with a condition worse than a cancer --loneliness.”

These stories were a reminder to me of just how precious fellowship is and just how thankful I am for the blessed family and friends in my life who bring me so much joy! It also reminds me of just how great the need is to reach out to those that aren’t so blessed, and who are battling loneliness, grief, and illness. Some of them don’t have steel bowls to bang in order to be heard. For many, their cries are silent for whatever reason. They go unheard and unremembered; or we just become deafened to the sounds because we shut them out for any number of reasons. It reminds me of all the people I saw in the nursing home when I used to visit my great-grandmother in the last year or so of her life. They were aching for attention and fellowship; a simple smile, a kind word, a tender touch. My kids would excitedly run down the hallway as they smiled and watched. Some of them desperately begged them to stop because they wanted to talk to them, touch them, and look at them. Such simple things, but so necessary and fundamental! It was heartbreaking to watch them (and my Grandmother) sit there in the nursing home; just WAITING for those occasional opportunities for human contact and interaction. We underestimate just how precious and important it is! I’ll never forget how Grandma looked at me one time and said, “Never end up in a place like this.” Even though she was blessed more than probably most of the people there (because she had a lot of family that cared for her and visited her) it still had to be incredibly depressing and lonely. I can hardly imagine, and it makes me feel all the more blessed (and all the more guilty in the times I indulge in apathetic pity-parties in what I think are my “low” moments).

As we all approach the holidays, I will do more than remember these stories. I will try to make the most of every opportunity I have to answer the call of a banging bowl. Not only does it mean the world to those who are trying to sound the alarm with their wooden spoons, but it has an everlasting impact on oneself (just as Mike Huckabee shared). You never know if it’s going to be your last moment (or theirs). That’s why it’s important to make every moment count and to have the greatest impact possible! You never know when it’s going to end. For my family and I, Uncle Brett was taken so suddenly and tragically (by accident). For Mike Huckabee, it was gradual and they had to watch the process of death unfold before them each and every day. I don’t know which is more painfully difficult. I don’t think there is any way to compare because each situation is a unique horror all its own. Though, we all stand to gain the same opportunities, which are to grow in faith and maturity and to learn to appreciate and love both friends and strangers even more (which C.S. Lewis talks about in “A Grief Observed”. I HIGHLY recommend reading it!!).

Pain is a raw thing. Like anything that’s raw, it can be a hot and time consuming process to go through the heat and the flames that sear our hearts. But, as one of our pastors always says: “Feel the heat; face the fire; find the gold.” As we feel the heat and the pressure of each trying situation, we are obligated to face them. If we boldly confront the pain and embrace the gold we are meant to find in it, we will be all the richer for it. The heat isn’t a pleasant thing, but through it, we are refined and “steamed to perfection” and it “brings out the flavor” of our character into a better and more savory taste. We have more to offer the world after going through such times of testing, and it’s in that way that those times of pain can be a gift. Though, it’s up to us to make the most of it. It reminds me of a forward someone shared with me about an egg, a carrot, and some coffee grounds. Hot water does different things to each of them. Some are like the egg and they become hardened. Others are like the carrot and they become mushy and fall apart. Still others become like the coffee grounds in which the hot water brings out their flavor and the process ends up producing a beautiful end product. With each object, the effects of the hot water can’t be avoided or undone. The object will forever be changed after coming into contact with the hot water. The only choice we have in the matter is our reaction to the water. So, the question is, which of these three things will we choose to be?

Grace and peace to all of you, my dear friends!! May you all be blessed as you face each day! Every day is a wonderful new day that the Lord has made; one to rejoice and be glad of, regardless of our good or bad circumstances. We have the promise that everything will work out (Romans 8:28). Embrace it and believe it! Cherish every moment and make the most of every opportunity (and may you never look at a steel bowl or wooden spoon the same way again). Above all, allow each experience to shape you in a positive way that will glorify His Name! God bless you all!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

God on the Greenway: Yielding

If there’s one thing that I have learned the importance of, it’s the value of yielding!! I’ve learned this principle the most while running around town and on the River Greenway. Yes, I admit, I most enjoy running uninterrupted. However, yielding is something I have had to learn and practice frequently (especially if I want to live to run another day!). ;)

You might recall that I once blogged about how I had to stop and tie my shoes. I pointed out that it’s better to stop and tie loose ends at that point rather than risk being stopped more roughly via a trip or a tumble! It’s a surrender issue either way you look at it. Either you surrender and fix a problem (and possibly save yourself from unpleasant consequences) or, you surrender to your pride (and possibly pay for it later)! Regardless, I think surrender is often inconvenient and loathsome to us, but since it MUST be done (one way or the other) which choice is obviously the better one?

The surrender/yielding issue has come up so many times in my running. One day in particular, I had it staring me right in the face! It happened as I was waiting to cross an intersection. I waited for the little white walking man to light up and when he did, I started running across. As I did, a huge tour bus (or something like it) was turning right in front of me!! I had a split second to decide what to do. If I continued, I would have been road pizza! But, because I YIELDED (even though I had the right of way!!) I was spared! I remember standing there in that intersection; looking at the short distance between me and the front of that bus and how close I had come. I looked up at the driver and threw my hands up in the air and said, “EXCUSE me!” I couldn’t clearly read the driver’s lips, but I think he/she was about as stunned as I was! I think they also knew that they were in the wrong and they waited as I finished getting across.

I thanked/praised God for saving me and for giving me the presence of mind to make the right split second decision. I wondered to myself about what I might have done had I had the mentality of, “No, it’s MY turn! I have the right of way! I shouldn’t have to stop! I’m going to keep going!” If I had an “about me” attitude, it literally would have killed me! The Bible isn’t making stuff up when it says: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.“ - Proverbs 16:18 (KJV). Pride can and will kill you, but yielding saves your life! “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” - Matthew 10:39 (KJV). If you live for self, you’ll lose yourself (soul). However, if you lose yourself for Christ, your retain your self (soul) and live forevermore!

Yielding is an issue of either stubborn resistance or humble surrender. I know our sin nature makes it incredibly hard for us to do the right thing, but it’s not impossible. In fact, I think it’s simple enough that a DOG can do it! You can train a dog to yield to its master can’t you? Why can’t we yield to ours? I saw the perfect example of that on another occasion when I was running on the Greenway. I was going past a couple walking their dog when I saw it lay down behind them. I didn’t understand what it was doing. Most dogs get excited and try to come up and sniff you or something, but not this one. I thought that maybe this dog was tired from the heat or maybe just wanted to sit and watch me go by for some reason. Or, maybe it was just being a little “difficult” with its owners and didn’t want to walk anymore. However, I found out that none of these things were true! When I passed them again, after I had turned around, the dog once again laid down when it saw me coming. I smiled and asked the people if she was hot or tired. They said, “No, we trained her to do that.” I was just blown away by that! I thought it was amazing that they had instilled in the dog that kind of humbleness and respect! Like I said, many dogs on the Greenway are so excited and wrapped up in their own adventure of walking, sniffing, and um…..well, you know…that they don’t have time to “wait” on anyone or anything (remember Hitch…the inspiring, but hyper, dog?). This dog was a refreshing exception! I was humbled and refreshed by her graceful behavior. She had respectfully “bowed” (in a sense) to me. She laid down and put me above herself. It makes me think of these two verses:

“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” - Philippians 2:3 (KJV)

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." - Luke 14:11 (KJV)

What would happen if we honored God (and others) more than ourselves? What would happen if we ALL put pride and selfishness aside? What if we stopped pursuing our own desires and agendas and just bowed down in respect, humility, and service a lot more often? Can you imagine how much sweeter this world would be if we treated one another with this kind of mutual love and respect? Personally, whenever I see a glimpse of this, I grab onto it and treasure it in my heart. I cherish those moments and use them as fuel for my own behavior. Of course, I’m not perfect, but I strive to have a yielded heart of servanthood and submission!

Grace and peace to all of you! I pray that each and every one of us will learn to put our pride aside and yield to the Father’s Will! Pride can only bring us misery and destruction, but surrender brings us joy and life!! Yes, it can be difficult, but it’s far less painful than self-made problems resulting from our refusal to yield!! God bless you all!!

God on the Greenway: Sunglasses

I love sunglasses! In fact, I have several pairs; all different colors and styles. As much as I love them for style, I also love them for their purpose. That’s why I often wear a pair when I am running on the Greenway. Otherwise, the sun can be nearly blinding!

Of course, there are often days where sunglasses aren’t extremely needed. Either it’s cloudy, or the sun is almost set for the day (I usually run in the evenings). I often start out wearing them and then perch them on my head when it starts getting dark. However, the darkness is so gradual that I often end up wearing them for longer than necessary. Then, when I finally realize how dark it has gotten, I take them off and I’m like, “Whoa!” I feel a little disoriented for a second as I adjust to the dim light. What a difference! It’s like a veil being lifted!

Every time I have done that, I think about the metaphorical sunglasses we all wear. They are like masks. I read once that people who habitually wear sunglasses sometimes do it as a comfort or as a way to kind of hide behind a wall. It’s a form of protection (besides the obvious protection from the sun). I’ve caught myself doing that. When you wear sunglasses, no one can see your eyes and look into them. The eyes are the window to the soul; the lamp of the body (Matthew 6:22, Luke 11:34). Sometimes, like on the Greenway, I like “hiding” myself from people. I don’t want to look at them or have them look at me. I’m focused on my run and I don’t want to be bothered. So, if I have my glasses on, they can’t see if I’m looking at them or not and wouldn’t be able to make a judgment about whether I was staring at them or ignoring them. It’s kind of like in the movie “Big Daddy” where Adam Sandler’s character gives the little boy some sunglasses so that he can put them on and be “invisible” if he feels shy or scared. That’s another reason I like wearing my glasses on the Greenway. I’m not only shielded from the glare of the sun, but of the glares (whether real or not) from others. I become invisible! ;)

That’s probably why I forget to take them off when I should. I become so comfortable in them that I don’t want to take them off; even as my view becomes darker and darker. It’s SO EASY to end up doing that in real life as well! We are wearing our metaphorical sunglasses. Whatever style or shade of lens we have, we are shielding ourselves from something and building a false sense of security. Maybe some are wearing the “invisible glasses” (like me). Or, on the flip side, maybe they are the “LOOK AT ME!” sunglasses. You don’t want to be invisible. On the contrary, you are practically BEGGING for someone to notice you and pay attention to you! So, you do that by setting yourself apart with a “trademark” kind of look (like Dennis Rodman who is so “cool” that he has to wear them all the time).

In addition to whether we want to be noticed or not, we also got different “shades” don’t we? Some glasses are nearly transparent; open, inviting, and not really trying to hide anything. Then, you have the REALLY dark shades or shades that are tinted different colors. You know how there’s that saying about having the rosy tinted glasses? Yeah, some people view the world in beautiful shades while others see the world as a dark place.

In all instances, I think there comes a time where we have to take the glasses off and face the sun (more specifically, the Son). We have to break out of our comfort zones and allow the light to shine in our darkness. Yes, we often fear the light and think it will be too much, but how soon we forget all that the light chases away (and that light brings warmth as well as clarity). Light is GOOD! It opens our eyes to the fact that darkness isn’t our comfort or our friend. It’s LIGHT that liberates us!

Psalm 84:11 says: “For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” (KJV). God is my light AND my protection! Pretty awesome! He is my lamp who turns my darkness into light (2 Samuel 22:29). I don’t have to grope in darkness like a drunkard (Job 12:25). I choose light, for it is better than darkness (Ecclesiastes 2:13). I will live as a child of light (Ephesians 5:8) for that is what He calls me to do (1 Peter 2:9). I do not belong to the darkness (1 Thessalonians 5:5). I will do my best to make sure His light shines in me and that my light will burn brightly and not be a dark one (Luke 11:35).

Grace and peace to all of you!! I pray that you are all walking in the unveiled light of God’s glory!! There is warmth, beauty, and clear sight in Him! If you haven’t experienced it, I pray that your day is dawning and that you will “see the light” (Matthew 4:16). John 1:5 says: “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” I pray that everyone will indeed comprehend and understand the light that is shining in their darkness. It is Christ reaching out to save, heal, and restore!! God bless you all!!