As most of my readers know, our family has been struggling with financial troubles over the past few years.  Needless to say, we were a little concerned that we wouldn’t  even be able to afford Christmas presents for our boys this year.  In addition, as the holidays approached, we were in danger of having our power turned off.

Then the week before Christmas we had 3 pleasant surprises.  First, we received a check from a class action lawsuit – just enough to pay our utility bill.  Next I found out I had won an Amex gift card in an online giveaway.  Finally, Art’s parents sent us a Walmart giftcard to cover Christmas food and beverages.  Now we were set for groceries, gas and a few Christmas presents.

Art and I agreed not to buy each other presents.  We got excited about picking out a few gifts we thought the boys would really appreciate – they both got electric blankets and two other small gifts.  I found some special deals on gift cards and baked furiously so we would have gifts for our parents.  Finally, on Christmas Eve night, we looked happily at the tiny pile of gifts under the tree and breathed sighs of relief.

Christmas morning went as expected – everyone was pleasantly surprised by what they received.  The boys had picked out some very thoughtful gifts for us as well.  That afternoon, Art’s parents came over for dinner, which in our house is cold cuts, cheese, rolls, crackers, and various snacky items.

Afterwards, we had the second round of present-opening.  I did not expect that Art and I would have any presents to open as Art’s parents had been helping us out financially for the past few months and we all were in agreement that it was most important for Bud and Boo to have a good Christmas. But as the gifts were distributed, everyone had one box to open.  I was directed to open mine last.

Imagine my shock when on ripping open the paper I saw a netbook!  I was completely tongue-tied.  It took me a minute just to be able to blurt out an intelligible “thank you” to my in-laws.  Bobbie said later she could tell by the look on my face it was a complete surprise.  It turned out when Art found out his parents were insistent on buying us presents, he told them not to buy him anything but a bottle of Jack and to take the rest of the money they would have spent on him to buy me a really nice gift.  My old computer is a desktop in the middle of the family room.  I share this space with both boys and their computers, plus their friends and the occasional dog. Art knew I needed a computer I could move around with me; taking it into the bedroom or to the library so I could be alone with my thoughts and  work on my blog.

After the in-laws left, I lost it.  I loved the gift, but I couldn’t justify it in my head.  I didn’t deserve all that sacrifice.  I told Art how I was feeling and he told me he and his parents wanted to give me the computer.  I realized that it wasn’t about whether or not I thought I deserved the gift.  It was about the gift freely given.  I was reminded that none of us deserve salvation either – yet there it is – freely given, as it says in Romans 3:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Just as I try to daily honor God’s gift in the way I live, I will also try to honor my Christmas gift by using it to the best of my abilities to write a successful blog.

As always, thank you for being part of the journey.


Who Dat?

There’s a very old saying that originated in New Orleans back in the late 1800’s.  I don’t know how I first heard it, but I used to say it to my boys when they were little.  It goes something like this:

“Who dat?”

“Who dat who say who dat?”

“Who dat who say who dat who say who dat? …

I thought of this little saying the other day when I was having some problems with discernment.  Sunday was not a great day.  I woke up not breathing very well, so decided not to go to church.  I did some chores, surfed the computer, did my devotions, wrote my blog, balanced the checkbook, and it all went downhill from there.  We were about out of money with 2 1/2 weeks until the next paycheck.  I was worried, but I didn’t want to worry anyone else, so I stuffed it down (always a bad idea).

Art & I went to the grocery store with the rest of a gift card his parents had given us.  The register rang up a loaf of bread for 20 cents more than the price I had been told online.  Art wanted to ask the cashier about it, but I begged him not to.  Is that the point we’re at now?  Arguing over 2o extra cents for a loaf of bread?  I’m pretty sure the cashier gave us the 20 cents back just so we would stop arguing with each other and leave.  I felt like I was going to cry, but I didn’t want to, so I stuffed it down (another bad idea).

Later that night we were making dinner and discussing the future.  Art and Boo are both starting at our local community college in January.  In September, Bud will be joining them.  How exciting to have all 3 of my men furthering their educations together!!  But that wasn’t on my mind Sunday night.  I asked Art if he was going to get a job while he was in school (you may recall that Art has been unemployed since June 2009, not for lack of trying).  I don’t even remember his reply – I’m sure it was something like, “Of course I’m going to do the best I can to find something.”  All I remember is I freaked out.  Let all the fear and sadness that had been building up inside me all day out in one spew of anger at someone who didn’t deserve it at all.  And he talked back a little, but mostly he took it.  And then we ate dinner and walked the dog and I went to bed.

Well, once I got to bed and had time to reflect on my day I realized what I had done and I felt absolutely horrible.  I started beating myself up, telling myself I was a bad wife, bad mother, etc.  I cried and cried.  Art came to bed and I couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t even mad at me.  He said we are all in a difficult situation and he understands that sometimes it’s just too much to handle.  I think I actually felt worse – that he could be so understanding.

Then I remembered something Renee Swope said in her book A Confident Heart:

“Condemnation sweeps across our thoughts with generalized statements (bad wife, bad mother). That is the accuser.  His tone is condemning, questioning and confusing.  His accusations lead to guilt and shame.

The Holy Spirit’s conviction will be specific.  He will reveal a sinful action or attitude and instruct us on what we need to do to right the wrong.”

So I took a deep breath and realized I was listening to the wrong voice in my head.  I switched my thinking from I’m a horrible person  to  what can I do differently next time?  If I had expressed some of my fear and sadness earlier in the day, allowed myself some grieving time, I wouldn’t have felt the need to lash out at Art.

Next time I screw up (and I know I will),  and the voices in my head start speaking, I’m going to ask them “Who dat?”

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  – Romans 8:1

Head Sense vs. Heart Sense

As you may recall from previous blogs (A Business Lost, A Business Lost;Skills and Relationships Gained), our family is in the midst of some pretty hefty financial difficulties.
Well, Friday was the big day.  The notice was posted on our front door that our house is due to be auctioned off at the end of the month.  Fortunately, we had already contacted a realtor regarding a short sell and had already begun showing the house.  A short sell will buy us a few months more in the house while the bank is negotiating the sale with the buyer.  Hopefully by the end of that time we will have found a new place to live.
So here’s my dilemma. Intellectually I know that we need people to look at the house if we want to sell it.  And most people aren’t even home when buyers tromp through their doors.  My problem is I work from home 75% of the time and Bud is homeschooled.  So we pretty much have to be here when the house is being shown.  And emotionally that is very difficult (head sense vs. heart sense).
The first day we had 4 showings scheduled, back to back, right after I got off work.  Then 3 the next day, and so on.  By Wednesday I was ready to break.  Don’t get me wrong, everyone was very nice, and even though they felt “judgy” to me, they probably weren’t.  The problem was I couldn’t get anything done.  I felt like my whole life was consumed with making sure the house stayed clean for the showings.  I started questioning whether we’d even made the right decision.  After all, if we didn’t get an offer in time, we were going to lose the house at auction anyway and if things continued the way they were I wouldn’t even have time to pack the house! (You can see how my brain tends to jump to extremes).
Well, it just so happened that right about the time I started bawling, telling Art I just couldn’t do it anymore, our realtor called and asked if he could come over for a few minutes.  I really didn’t want to see him in the state I was in, but I didn’t feel like I had a choice.  He lives just down the block from us, so he walked up in about 5 minutes, just long enough for me to pull myself together a little.
Ray (our realtor) told us that our house was progressing at a rate he hadn’t seen in a long time and had not anticipated.  We already had promises of two offers and he thought we would be submitting the best one to our bank by the end of the week.  Once the house status changed to “sale pending” the showings would slow to a near stop.  We could get our lives back again and we would buy the time we needed.  I took a deep breath for the first time in a long time.
Then Ray did something marvelous.  He asked if he could pray with us. We all huddled together and as he prayed I could feel myself tearing up again, but this time with tears of relief and peace. God sent us just the right help at just the right time so we would know we were doing just the right thing.

The Hard Way: Teachable Moments

So if you read my blog from Monday: The Hard Way, you know that last Sunday night my youngest son had a teachable moment.  Sometimes we, as parents, need to let our children take the path they choose, even though we have (strongly) recommended otherwise.  The consequences of these bad choices can often result in such teachable moments.
I like to think that now that I have been an adult for some 26 years, I don’t run into problems like these anymore.  But doesn’t God give us teachable moments as well?
Art and I don’t call them teachable moments.  We call them those times when God hits you over the head with a hammer and says “Wake up!” because you really weren’t listening to begin with.  I guess teachable moment is easier to say, LOL.
Moses had a teachable moment when he encountered the burning bush that didn’t burn up.  Now if I heard a voice talking to me out of a burning bush I would probably think I was going crazy, wouldn’t you? But Moses listened to what God had to say.
God told Moses, “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10)
This is about the time that Moses started doubting. “What if they ask me who sent me?” he inquired.
God said, “Tell them I AM WHO I AM sent you.”
“But what if they don’t believe me?” Moses asked.
So God gave Moses two signs to show the Israelites to prove his divine calling.
Then Moses said, “But I’m not a very good speaker.”
You can tell God is getting frustrated with Moses at this point. “Who gave you your mouth and the ability to speak?  Wasn’t it me?  Then don’t you think I will give you the words to say?”
Moses answered, “Look God, just send someone else.”
Exodus 4:14 says Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses.  Can you blame him?  Moses just wasn’t listening.  God agreed to let Moses’ brother Aaron be the speaker, but he told Moses he would still have to perform the signs and tell Aaron what to say.
Moses finally saw that God’s way was best and went on to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
One of my teachable moments happened about 7 years ago when Art decided to start his own business.  After months of research we decided to open a retail golf shop, found the franchise we liked, got approved as franchisees and even found a funding source, but try as we might we just could not find the right location.  Everything we looked at was too expensive or the wrong size.  Meanwhile, I was  not very enthusiastic about the idea.  I just wanted to continue to homeschool my kids and live the life we had.
In April 2004 we had one more location to look at and I  didn’t want to have anything to do with it. I told Art I was done. He was going to have to start his business without me.  He begged me to come along with him just to look at the place.  “If this site doesn’t work out, we’ll call it quits.  I’ll even take you out to lunch.”  That did the trick.
Well, we got to the location and it was way too big and way too expensive and was going to require way too much work to fix up.  I tried not to get that gloaty look on my place as we drove away to look for a lunch spot.  I could tell Art was really upset.  We ate our lunch mostly in silence.  Then Art suggested we drive the back way out to the freeway.  It was a road we had never taken before.
As we were going around a bend, I saw a building with a For Rent banner on it.  “What would it hurt?” I thought, so I encouraged Art to pull over.We looked at the floor plans taped to the front door.  The building was the right size and the right price.  Still, I was skeptical. Hadn’t we already decided we were done?  I peeked in the window to try to get a better view.  And there I saw it.  A tile entry.  Almost the exact tile entry we had seen in a friend’s golf shop and decided would be perfect for our own.  I just couldn’t argue with God anymore.  That teachable moment had come.
What are some of your teachable moments?

Image credit: Copyright © 1980 – 2011 All Rights Reserved Deborah A. Reeder

The Hard Way, Part 1

Sunday was rough for our family.  Bud had been sick with a sinus infection for about a month; on antibiotics since the previous Tuesday.  He hadn’t been sleeping well and had gone to bed early (for him) Saturday night after getting in trouble for coming home an hour past his curfew.  Sunday morning I woke up having some difficulty breathing (we call them Mom’s “bad breathing days”). Around 2 p.m. I was worn out from the effort, so I laid down (propped  up) to take a nap.

I woke up about an hour later, took some meds and laid back down to rest and watch TV.  Bud knocked on the bedroom door and stated he needed a ride.  I told him to ask Art, who was out putting up Christmas lights.  Bud said, “He can’t. He’s busy.”  So I drug myself out of bed, put on some clothes and got ready to go.

I got the feeling Bud was trying to get out of the house without talking, so I asked him what had happened the night before and why he was so late home.  He said, “All I’m going to say is that as soon as I get a job and save up enough money I’m getting emancipated and I’m out of here.”

I said, “You’re getting emancipated because you got a punishment for breaking a rule?”

He said, “No, because you guys have too many expectations of me but you don’t treat me with the respect I deserve.” Now due to Bud’s health problems, we are actually easier on him than we were on his brother at the same age, so this was out of left field for me.  I countered some of his issues, but he was not in the mood for a discussion.

Finally I said, “At least you can say please when you ask me to give you a ride since I had to get out of bed to do it.”

Bud replied, “Well I have a bad headache.  If you can’t take it I can just walk.”

“Fine, then, ” I said.  “Go ahead and walk.  I’m going back to bed.”

A few hours later, Bud called and told Art he needed a ride to the ER since his headache was much worse and he wasn’t able to eat.  I stayed home while all this was happening as I didn’t think it was a good idea to expose myself on a bad breathing day to all the possible germs in an ER.  I was very nervous.  The doctors were trying to rule out meningitis.  I was beating myself up for being a bad mother and texted a good friend so I could vent.

After a few hours and some tests it turned out that Bud was dehydrated, which combined with not eating had exacerbated the pain of his sinus infection.  He stayed in the ER on an IV drip for another hour and also had two shots of painkillers.  By Monday he was back to his old self.

Here’s what my friend told me when she heard the good news: “When he’s feeling better, you use this moment as a teachable moment, that as wonderful as it seems to have all the advantages of being an adult, it’s not always as fab as you might think.”  In other words, sometimes parents really do know best.

Tune in on Friday, December 2nd to read The Hard Way Part 2: Teachable Moments.

No Punishment; No Fear

It’s no secret that my family has been through some rough times over the past couple of years.  We have dealt with the failure of a business, bankruptcy, unemployment, cyberbullying, and other issues which I hope to deal with in future blog posts.

Through it all I have managed to hold on to my hope.  I remember Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you.  Plans to prosper you — not to harm you.  Plans for hope and a future.”  Sometimes I wonder how long I will have to wait for God’s promises to come true, but we can talk about my lack of patience some other time, LOL.

For a long time after events took a bad turn I have wondered what we were doing wrong and why was God punishing us? I felt almost paralyzed with the fear that if I did the wrong thing we would never get out of the mess we were in.  Maybe we would wander around stuck in the same loop like the Israelites did on their way to the Promised Land.

Then, while reading Renee Swope‘s A Confident Heart, I was reminded of the story of Simon Peter.  As Renee says, “His biggest failure came the night of Jesus’ arrest, when Peter denied he even knew him, three times.”  But despite Peter’s failures, He was also “the rock” on which the early church was built.  “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

I slowly came to the realization that if I never tried a new direction, I would never be able to move on.  That God was not punishing us for our mistakes, nor does He judge us by them.  Through God’s grace and the resurrection of His son, Jesus Christ, we are redeemed.  If we sin, or try and fail, God forgives us, and helps us to see the way to make things better the next time.  His love is unconditional and He would rather have us try and fail and try again than to hide our light “under a basket” (Matthew 5:15)

In the past few weeks I have had the courage to commit to this blog.  I hope that it has helped my readers as much as it has helped me.  I finally feel like I am able to “let my light shine.”

How are you letting your light shine?  Please let me know in a comment.

Time to Heal

Last year I started a new tradition. At the beginning of the year, I picked a theme for personal growth.  2010 was my year of forgiveness.  My husband, Art, and I went through a Lenten study on forgiveness at our church in March of 2010 and I was finally able to do something I thought would never be possible. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do; I forgave the man who murdered my biological father.  The latter was finally achieved by understanding that justice is not mine, but God’s.  It is not to my benefit to continue to harbor anger against someone, no matter what they have done to me.

Mind you, forgiveness doesn’t have to mean forgetting.  The old adage, “Forgive and forget,” is just not fair.  Forgetting about a heinous crime is not possible and forgetting that someone has perpetrated abuse on you could prove dangerous if the perpetrator chooses to repeat that abuse.

2011 is my year of “no fear.”  I started the year reading A Course in Weight Loss by Marianne Williamson.  Lesson 1, titled “Tear Down the Wall” has an exercise in which we are asked to imagine that all our painful feelings are bricks in a wall that is keeping us from trusting and fully connecting with other people.  We are to name our feelings, write them down on slips of paper and then attach names of people or events to each one.  The emotion for me that had the most events and people attached to  it was fear, but I also noticed that I had quite a few people still attached to anger.  It was then I realized that sometimes, fear and lack of forgiveness go hand in hand.  Our reluctance to forgive can cause a lack of trust towards people who have never hurt us.

Currently I am in a study focused on Renee Swope‘s,  A Confident Heart.  This book is all about losing our doubt and fear of failure and moving on to the life and goals that God has intended for us.  An exercise Renee suggests is to make a timeline of painful moments in your life.  Doing this exercise, I came to see I was again harboring some anger towards people from my past, including toward myself for things I had done to hurt others and myself.  Fortunately, I watched Melissa Taylor‘s vlog from October 13, 2011,  and learned  another aspect of forgiveness.  As Melissa says, “I have to keep reminding myself that I forgave that person.”

Renee Swope suggests that we pray over each event, asking God to “heal your heart and your hurts.”  She also reminds us of another reason why forgetting about our past is not an option: “God could use my mistakes and hurts for His greatest purposes.”  As an example, as a result of being rejected and teased by other children, I taught my children to reach out and friend those who others made fun of or ignored.

As Rose Sweet writes, in her book A Woman’s Guide to Healing the Heartbreak of Divorce, “Forgiveness is a process, not an event.” I see that the year of forgiveness and the year of no fear may alternate on my calendar for the rest of my life.

Hold my Hand

I carried my youngest son on my hip until he was about 3.  He weighed 30 or so pounds by then and after I went to the doctor for what I thought was pleurisy and turned out to be strained muscles from carrying around that much weight, not to mention displacing my hip that far for him to ride on, anyway, after that I made him walk on his own.  I held his hand, but he had to walk on his own.

We all get to that point sometimes where we feel like the person in the “Footprints” poem, who says to God, “But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?” to which the Lord replied, “Those times when you see only one set of footprints, it is then that I carried you.”

Thank God for those carrying moments, but sometimes we want God to carry us even though we don’t NEED God to carry us.  Like my 3 year old son.

I remember one time hiking up to Eagle Lake, near Lake Tahoe with my husband.  I was pretty out of shape at the time and with my asthma, the elevation, at about 5600 feet was really getting to me.  My husband kept encouraging me along, reminding me that it’s only a mile to the lake and it’s all downhill on the way back, but I finally just gave up.  I sat down on a rock and refused to budge.  Finally Art looked at me and said, “Well, I’m not going to carry you down.  You can do this.  Just take your time.”  And I got up and held his hand and made it to the lake, which was a spectacular view (see my “about” page) and the walk back was completely downhill.

So sometimes I think we WANT to be done.  We want God to pick us up and carry us until the rough part is over.  But God knows what we can handle and He tells us we can do it – He will hold our hand and guide us, but we need to get through this on our own two feet.  And think of how much stronger we are for having done it with God’s help, rather than having God do it for us.

…but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.

 — Isaiah 40:31

Pray Without Ceasing

In the time of Daniel (as in “and the lion’s den”), people who didn’t like Daniel convinced King Darius to issue a decree forbidding prayer to anyone or thing other than the king for the next 30 days.  The punishment was to be thrown into – you guessed it – the lion’s den.

Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Daniel 6:10)

Daniel made a conscious choice to pray, and so do we – every day.  It is important to set aside special time every day to consciously praise God for His wonderful works, thank God for everything we have been given, confess to God the things we have done wrong or left undone and ask God to meet our needs and the needs of our neighbors.  The bravery Daniel showed by consciously praying at an open window during such a time is undeniable.

But there is another aspect of prayer – the breath prayer.  As a wise woman once told me, “Prayer is like breathing: you don’t think about it; you just do it.”  If we keep Scripture and Godly music in our hearts, then many times throughout the day as situations arise, a verse or song lyric may just pop in our heads and remind us of God’s love.  That is also a prayer – the kind of prayer Paul talked about when he exhorted us to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

“Think of prayer as the breath in our lungs and the blood from our hearts. Our blood flows and our breathing continues ‘without ceasing’; we are not even conscious of Jesus keeping us in perfect oneness with God but if we are obeying Him, He always is. Prayer is not an exercise; it is the life of the saint. Beware of anything that stops the offering up of prayer. Maintain the childlike habit of offering up prayer in your heart to God all the time.” Oswald Chambers (My Utmost For His Highest)

I don’t know if I could be as brave as Daniel if faced with something as horrific as the lion’s den.  But I like to think that my breath prayers would continue, as automatically as my breathing, no matter what the circumstances.

A Giving Heart

This  month I am participating in Deepak Chopra’s 21 day meditation challenge.  It’s free to join at https://www.chopracentermeditation.com/bestsellers/meditation_summer/register.asp.  The meditation for today was on Giving.  In the visualization, the leader suggested that we think of a tangible object that means everything to us.  I could really only think of one thing – my house key.  I know it sounds silly – not my wedding ring, not pictures of my family – my house key.  But to me, having my own key has always meant that I belong – that I am someone.  And now that we are in imminent danger of losing our house, I suppose that key means even more.

In the next part of the visualization, the leader suggested that we give our object to someone who we love dearly.   I realized that in handing over the key to my house, I was also handing over the key to my heart.  And since the person I love dearly is my husband, I knew that he would always let me in, even if I didn’t have the key.

All this reminded me of a song I learned a long time ago.   The Magic Penny:

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And it’s true – love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.

Who can you give love to today?