Who Can You Encourage Today?

Kindness:  benevolence, humanity, generosity, charity, sympathy,compassion, tenderness, good will

Everyone needs kindness in their lives.  Who has God placed in your path or on your mind that needs kindness shown to them in some way or another today?

What about the mother who is discouraged and needs to know that someone is praying for her… Does she need a phone call or a note of encouragement? Does your pastor need to know that his hard work is making a difference and that you’re thinking about and praying for him and his family? Does that college friend of your child’s (whose home is far away) need a care package? Do you know of a teenager who is having a particularly tough time in school and needs encouragement? Do you know of a secretary who feels unappreciated at work?  How about the server who served lunch to you? How about those new adoptive parents or brand new parents? How are they settling in with their new child?

Your spouse, your children, friends, an aunt or uncle, Mom and/or Dad, cousins, your next door neighbor, your child’s teacher… there are so many people out there who, despite the happy faces on Facebook or when they first see you, are living normal, every day lives.  You know what I mean.  We all have struggles of some sort or another.

Who needs your encouragement today? What can you do to reach out to them today and let them know someone cares?

Busyness, Focus, and Living a Godly Life

Beware the barrenness of a busy life. ~ Socrates

It’s Saturday.  Another week has gone by and I’ve been so busy that, as I look back, I have no idea what half the busyness has been all about.  Recently I feel like I have been letting life happen to me…  and getting grumpy in the process.  That is a sad state of affairs!

I’ve done my usual running errands, dropping off and picking up kids, going to Tae Kwon Do Class, doing house work, and working in the office for our business.  The week has included volunteering, giving haircuts to the guys in my family, cooking meals, baking, shopping, planning, and making important phone calls.  And then there was homeschool.  Although I’ve tried to find time for writing, the only time to accomplish that seems to be in the wee hours of the morning (like right now,,, sleep was elusive and it’s 3:13 am as I write these words). Yet, with all of the busyiness there’s a sense that things have been left undone.  I have arrived at the end of the week feeling like time has flown by and left me as I ponder, “What important thing did I even accomplish?”.  My mind has not been focused and I feel like I’m being pulled in a bunch of directions.  Lately time goes by, but I don’t feel effective (or efficient).

Have you ever felt like that?

Talking things out has always helped me find answers and focus.  So, for those of us who are going through this, how do we get past it?  If we look at our lives and what we see as our purpose in this season of life, what is it?  Focusing like this needs to be a mindset.  I  honestly believe (from experience) that multitasking simply allows us to lose focus and do many things not so efficiently.

Focus on what is important in this season of life and get rid of the superfluous.

List your priorities.  My personal priorities in this season of life are growing in my relationship with God, being a godly wife, rearing my kids, and homeschooling.

How does one develop a personal relationship with God and why should that come before anything else?  Well, to answer the second part of that question, we women can’t be godly wives and mothers if we’re not taking care of the “learning to be godly” part of the equation.  But, what exactly does it mean to develop our relationships with God?  That part is simple.  Have quite time so that you can refocus on the rest of your daily life with a new perspective.  Get your Bible, a pad of paper or notebook, a cup of coffee or tea and sit down.  (I’m not a morning person, but I have found that doing this early when the kids are in bed ensures that it is, indeed, a QUIET time.)

Once you start your day with a focus on God, you’ll be surprised at how much you think about it at little moments here and there during the day.  When something comes up that you might be struggling with, thoughts of what God has been teaching you through His Word come to mind as a reminder.  Having God’s Word in your mind makes it easier to make the right choices, move past the issue, and develop the ability to show grace toward others in your life.  Even as I write this sentence, I’m reminded of what I’ve read recently and how it applies to actual situations in my life.

“A wife of noble character, who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”
Proverbs 31: 10-12 (NIV)

Being a godly wife becomes easier when I work on my own personal relationship with God.  Being in God’s Word in the morning helps remind me throughout the day to hold my tongue and be careful of what I say (James 1:26), remember that my husband was created with a need to be respected (Ephesians 5:33), esteem him and take care of his needs (Philippians 2:3-4), live a life filled with grace toward my husband as God has given grace to me (Ephesians 1:6), and so much more.   Because I’m focusing on changing myself (God changing me) for the better I focus less on trying to change my husband at all.  This stuff is tough.  Our natural tendencies are to look after our own needs and do what’s best for ourselves, try to change others, etc.

But, something interesting happens.  When I respond the way God asks me to respond, my husband’s responses toward me become more loving.  (Don’t take this the wrong way.  He’s an amazing man and far more filled with grace than I am.  I know without a doubt that he loves me with all his heart.)   It’s the same in reverse… when he responds the way God asks him to respond to me, it makes it so much easier for me to live “peaceably”, show respect, and live with grace.  I just wish that I’d remember that every day, all through the day, every time I’m tempted to tell him how he should be… every time I open my mouth to correct something… every time I choose to respond in a way that is contrary to scripture.  But, I do have hope that over time, as God continues to work in my life and as I continue to work on what He’s teaching me, those responses will become less and less a part of my life and godly responses will become more of the norm.

I don’t know one woman who hasn’t tried to change her husband.  But, ladies, God gave you the husband you have.  He’ll work in you.  He’ll work in your husband.  Marriage is not a 50/50 proposition.  (I’ll give 50% if you give 50%.)  It’s a 100% proposition.  I’ll give 100% regardless of my spouse’s behavior or attitude.  It’s not your job to be the Holy Spirit in his life.  Its your responsibility to build him up, encourage him, love him, respect him, honor him, support him, be there for him… and work on changing what God wants you to change in your life, not in his.  Let God be the one to work in your husband.

“Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old, he will not turn from it.”
Proverbs 22:6

Rearing my kids and homeschooling is a full time job, in and of itself.  The thing about homeschooling is that it allows me to have input in my sons’ lives at all times (through teaching, through my example, through spending fun times together, through reading together, and in so many other ways).  There’s the formal part of school and then there’s life.  Homeschooling isn’t just doing school at home.  It is focusing on rearing my child and using all of life (from morning to night) to teach him in various ways.  So, regardless of whether we’re sitting down and doing math or social studies, going grocery shopping together, reading just for fun, baking cookies, having conversations in the car, taking care of the dog, or anything else, it is all an opportunity to speak into their lives and teach them about relationships, God, life, self-discipline, and a vast array of other things.

It’s so easy to be strict in order to keep order in the homeschooling process.  But, I have to keep reminding myself that my focus is on my children as a whole.

There is so much to distract.  It’s important to avoid the tendency to get on the computer and do something when my child is needing my attention (one of the reasons my blogs have turned from daily to… random).  If there’s not enough time to do everything, then I have to set priorities.  My children are a priority.

So, to answer the comment at the beginning about not feeling effective (or efficient), once the focus is clear then everything funnels through that priority funnel.  Spending time reading with, baking with (etc.) my youngest son is an effective and efficient use of time.  Spending time making up on-the-spot silly songs with my austistic son when they bring a smile to his face is an effective and efficient use of time.  Having my youngest do chores with me while we sing (for example, picking up toys from the living room floor and moving small furniture while I vacuum) is an effective and efficient use of time because we’re doing something together, learning how to focus on work, and making it fun at the same time.  Making time for my husband and actually listening to him while he’s talking is an effective and efficient use of time.  Spending an hour on Facebook is not an effective and efficient use of time if I have many other things that need to be done.

So many of us who have been career women before having a family tend to have a “corporate world” view of life.  Daytimers, schedules, meetings, lists of tasks and accomplishments, completed projects… My career defined who I was in my mind.  They’re all good things, but they don’t define our lives.  They don’t define who we are, in reality.  Using that sense of self-definition means that playing with my son is not an accomplishment.  But, just think… if, during playtimes, my son learns to talk with me while he’s little and we keep that line of communication open throughout his growing up years, he’ll come to me to talk when he’s a teen and an adult and may need advice, may need to talk something out, or may just want to spend time with his Mom.  The precident has been set from an early age.  He knows I’m there for him now.  He’ll know I’ll be there for him always… even if it’s just to bounce ideas off of someone.  He’ll be in the habit of connecting with us.  Those times are valuable and have more than one long-term purpose.

So, whether you’re an At-Home-Mom or a mom who works in the business world, don’t let busyness keep you from your true focus.  Don’t let the business world mentality impact how you see yourself and your accomplishments in life, in general.  That’s great for business, but life is much more than business.  We do need focus and purpose or life happens to us rather than us making things happen in our lives.  But, remember that projects and specific accomplishments are not the only things that validate our lives.

Well, I have written far more than I intended.  These are things that I’m continuing to work on.  Thank goodness my children and my husband practice grace towards me as I should be doing toward them.  I hope that my experiences have spoken into your life in some way and impacted your perspective of busyness, focus and living a godly life.

Blessings

I am so blessed.  My life has not always been easy.  In fact, there have been some extremely difficult times.  I wouldn’t say life is exactly easy now.  But, I do have many blessings for which I am very thankful.  What are they?

  • a husband who loves me and our sons
  • precious children
  • wonderful friends whom I love very much and who are a blessing to me
  • a church where I am taught from the word of God and encouraged to live a life honoring to God
  • family (siblings and a mother) whom I love and who love me
  • in-laws whom I think are absolutely fabulous

I could go on and on.

There is so much around us that focuses on self, on things, on wants.  TV, movies and radio seem to encourage that.  People look at the grass on the other side of the fence, thinking it’s much greener.  So many seem discontent with their lives and want something different.  I’d like to encourage you to take a moment today and, even if you’re having a difficult time, think of the blessings in your life.  Write them all down so that you have a visual reminder.  Tape them to your bathroom mirror and read them every morning.  Add to the list.   I think that you’ll be surprised by how many blessings you see in your life that you didn’t even think of before.

If you’re having a hard time coming up with a list, think about some of these things.

Do you feel sick and “headachy” and have back problems and pains that just don’t seem to want to go away (I do), but still walk and talk and have independence?   If so, write that blessing down.  So often we can be feeling so bad that we keep our eyes focused only on the pain.  Lift your eyes.  See how you can grow through this experience.  See how you can be a blessing to someone else (which often brings blessings back to you even though that may not be your intent).

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If you are in a wheel chair and may never get out again, do you have people caring for your needs?  Are you capable of trying to learn to do more for yourself and gain a tiny bit of independence?  If so, write that blessing down here… and go to Joni & Friends.  Joni is a woman who is a quadriplegic and has been since an accident in her teens broke her neck.  She draws and paints pictures with her mouth.  (See the store section for a glimpse at her artwork.)  Watch her draw on YouTube.  I look at Joni and her glowing face, her joy, her sense of peace and freedom in spite of not having a body that will move and I realize that I have no reason to complain, moan and groan.  Perhaps she will encourage you, whether you’re in a wheelchair or not.

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If you’re in a marriage that makes you miserable is there anything that you can think of and write down that is a blessing?  Are you willing to try to focus on your spouse instead of yourself… such as being a blessing to your husband or wife for the next two months and see if that makes a difference in your marriage?

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If there is always month left at the end of your money and making ends meet is difficult, can you sing?  Can you be a blessing to someone else and focus on their needs?  Can you work toward being joyful because you have children or you have special friends in your life or any number of other things?

The point of this little exercise is that each and every one of us has some blessing in our lives.  Too often we ignore the blessings and focus on the difficult things.  Change your perspective.  Find those blessings and focus on them.  Look at others.  There is always someone who is walking in more painful shoes than you.  Or, if you feel that you truly are at the bottom of the heap, there are others who are just like you, but who live their lives to be a blessing to others.  There is always someone else who could use encouragement.

Sing when you work at home.  Determine that you’re going to go to work with an attitude that you’ll make it the best job you can possibly make it.  Be a blessing to your spouse, children and/or friends.  Make it a habit to see the blessings instead of focusing on the difficulties.  (That makes working through the difficulties a much lighter prospect.)  And, if you ever think you have it too bad and can’t even be happy, think of Joni.  Read her story.  Then do everything that you can to use your skills and talents to be a blessing to others.

You’ll be surprised how your perspective changes when you start realizing how many blessings you truly do have.  Like Joni, even if you can’t dress yourself and someone else has to take care of all of your physical needs, you’ll begin to find joy.

Showing Respect

I just read a blog that rather astounded me.  It was from a homeschooling mother who feels that she should not have to teach her child to be respectful toward others.  Her reason was that if her child had to show respect, that implied that someone else was more important than she.  So, I decided to look up the word respect and see why this mother had such a strong reaction against teaching her child to call adults by “Miss” or “Mister”.

You see, I always understood the word “respect” (in reality) to mean being polite and courteous toward others.

But, after looking up the definition in dictionary.com, I can see how this mother is upset by the Southern tradition for children (or those who are younger) to call their elders Miss Jane or Mr. Jason.   Her perspective of what respect is happens to be totally different than my perspective.  There were two different descriptions that apply to relationships:

  1. esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability;
  2. deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment

She evidently looks at it as a bowing down to another person in a way that makes one person less important than another.  I look at it as showing proper acceptance or courtesy and acknowledgement.

Acknowledgement?  Yes, acknowledgement.  Let’s say our neighbor is a woman in her 50s.  Has she earned the right to be respected?  Not necessarily, if one’s definition of earning that right would be being a doctor or saving his life or something.  Is she more deserving of respect than my son?  No.  By being respectful toward her, my son is not lowering himself as something inferior.  He is acknowledging her years of life experience and honoring her for them.  Should she be expected to call him Mr. for the same reason?  No.  She should speak respectfully to him instead of putting him down or any of a number of ways that can disrespect a child.  But, she doesn’t need to honor him for his many years of life experience that are far above hers because those years of life experience don’t exist for him yet.

If I speak to the President (not likely to happen since I don’t run in his circles), regardless of whether I agree with him or not and regardless of whether I think he’s earned that respect with his actions, I would speak respectfully.  Why?  Because of his position.   But, if I speak to the lady next door who is 20 years older than me (or maybe 50), does it mean that I shouldn’t be respectful just because she isn’t a President or a doctor, etc.?  Absolutely not.  Unless she invites me to call her by her first name, I’ll call her Mrs. Jones or Miss Stacy or whatever her name may be.  And my son, who is a lot younger, will also learn to be respectful toward her.

Why?  Because showing respect toward one’s elders is simply “good manners”.  I strongly believe (and have experienced in life) that people who have good manners and are respectful towards others receive respect in return.  People who are not polite and have lousy manners… well, they aren’t exactly earning respect for themselves, are they?

Culture has a lot to do with it as well.  In this homeschool Mom’s blog she mentioned Germany.  In some cultures people call each other by their first names when they get to know each other, regardless of age difference.  In other cultures, like here in the South, it’s disrespectful and shows poor manners to call someone who is older than you by his/her first name unless invited to do so.  So, if I lived in Germany, I would respect that culture and say it was OK for my son to call a 70 year old man Johann if that’s what he asked him to do.  But, I moved to the Southern States as an adult and do not live in a culture such as in Germany.  My son is growing up in a culture where it is impolite for him to call a 70 year old man Joe unless specifically invited to do so by Joe.

I think that the Bible sheds a clear light on the matter of respect.  It says we are to show respect regardless.  We don’t show respect only if someone else shows respect toward us.  We don’t show respect only if they’ve earned it.  We simply honour others.

Romans 12:10 has a very simple instruction.  “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love, give preference to one another in honour.” (NASB) Another version says it in a slightly different manner:  “Love one another in brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honour.”  (ESV)

To teach my son to disrespect adults in this Southern culture by calling them by their first name (when that is uninvited) is simply unacceptable.  I want him to grow up to be a man with excellent manners who has no problem being respectful and showing respect even if people don’t necessarily deserve it, because that is the kind of man who has the quality of character to earn respect.  Yes, I want my child to be respected and I would not put up with adults talking to him in a disrespectful manner.  I will not put up with him speaking to adults in a disrespectful manner, either.  Nor will I disrespect another adult in this Southern culture and tell them that they must call my child Mr. if they want him to call them Mr.

Culture has a lot to do with it.  Good manners have a lot to do with it.  But, most of all, we show respect and honour to others regardless of whether we think they deserve it or not because God tells us to treat others that way.

Independence – Live My Way or Trust Him

I grew up in boarding school away from my parents.  We lived in Africa and at the time my parents had no other options presented to them for educating their children other than boarding school since both of them were required (by the organization that sent them to Africa) to work full-time.  (I can only imagine how my Mom and Dad felt sending their precious children to boarding school.  It must have been incredibly difficult for them.)

Mail was extremely slow so “correspondance courses” (the equivalent of homeschool in those days… hmmm, am I dating myself?) weren’t preferred because there wasn’t any immediate (or even fairly quick) response in grading and feed back on work that had been completed and mailed in.  That made school a long and drawn out process.  Some of the people who worked there (like my parents) lived so far in the boonies that they had to take planes to get to their stations and land on dirt airstrips in some dangerous situations because there were no roads.  So, mail came when the plane came… not every day, not even weekly.  Others lived on main roads (which were most certainly NOT highways or smooth streets) and may get someone from the organization delivering mail a little more often, but still not daily or weekly.

Thankfully now, in this day and age of technology (satellite and instant connection), wonderful homeschooling programs, improved local schools, changed policies in many organizations that operate oversees in third-world countries, and other things, there are plenty of options for parents to choose from as they make decisions about educating their children.

I was the kind of child who could be put into any circumstances and find a way to adapt and get along, for the most part.  There were other children who had a much harder time doing that.  In the boarding school there were some wonderful staff and teachers, there were some who evidently (from our perspective as children, at least) would rather not have been assigned to working with us, and there were one or two who were abusers, unable to control their tempers, directing perfect control over the children through fear, and still able to present a perfect front to the other staff so that no one would know what went on privately.

I can’t tell anyone else’s story and don’t wish to bring up huge conversations about any particular school or accusations against any particular person or people (hence use of the generic “Africa” and “boarding school” as opposed to the specific country and school).  My parents put their trust in these staff and, in my case, one of them in particular completely broke that trust.  I was abused as a child.  But, even though I won’t be telling her story, I will say that my sister was there with me and stepped in to stop anything that she saw or sensed.  I remember as a little girl sneaking down to her dorm room and crawing into bed with her where I felt safe from time to time.   My mom and dad weren’t there, but at least I had a place where my big sister could put her arms around me like a shield.  And then came the day when she left boarding school and I was “alone” there.  (I was the youngest of my siblings.)

Over time I’ll write about various things that I learned as a child in boarding school.  But, today I want to talk about something in particular.  One of the things that I learned was independence.  I didn’t need anyone.  I could do things on my own.  I learned to avoid trouble with adults and yet to still stand between bullies (children) and a few being bullied (children).  To be honest, the boarding school experience built in me a spirit of independence that is unusual in a child.  (I believe that most, if not all of the kids I went to school with would agree that they also developed a similar spirit of independence.)  So, how has this played out in my life?

Well, first of all, how would you feel if you were assigned to be a dorm parent to 26 little girls or boys?  How would you handle that situaiton?  I look back and am amazed because, as an adult looking back, I can see the effort they put into taking care of so many children from 1st graders on up.  Yet, in reality it was really not possible to be able to give much individual attention to each of the children.  The dorm parents had a daunting task in taking care of so many children coming from so many family backgrounds and parenting styles, so many personalities and temperaments, various ages and levels of maturity within the same ages, so many needs.  On top of being dorm parents, these staff also had other responsibilities… nurse, principal, teachers, etc.  In hind sight I’m astonished that anyone thought it was logical that they could effectively accomplish as much as they did.  They must have been exhausted… and often.  No one can keep giving and giving and giving of themselves without getting worn down after a while.

So, even though this is a part of my story of how people and circumstances affected my life (and not always in a good way), I have to stop for a moment and say THANK YOU to the staff at that school!  Thank you for working so hard.  Thank you for doing your best to teach us.  Thank you for spending time with us even though you were stretched thin.  For those who did extra things like having little girls over to your apartments to teach them something fun like how to bake cookies, thank you!  For those who observed and noticed when a child really was sick and needed the nurse or the hospital, not just playing sick to get out of school, thank you!  For each of you giving up your comfortable lives in your home country to go to Africa and teach children, be dorm parents and do many other things in a boarding school, thank you.  For those of you who actually showed us God’s love through your very life choices, actions, words and deeds, thank you!

For my favorite teacher, thank you for your joy and obvious love of teaching and of children because you motivated us to want to learn.   You have gone home to be with the Lord now, but you motivated a lot of students and left them with wonderful memories of you.

For my favorite piano teacher… the one who taught me my first two years… thank you!  I loved music and you encouraged that.  I wanted to do my best for you.  I saw you as a sweet, kind, gentle, loving woman and wanted to be around you.  Thank you for everything that you poured into each of us kids.

Now on to part of my story.  Instead of relying on any adult in my life as I was growing up, I learned to resolve problems on my own and do things myself.  Unfortunately over my lifetime that complete sense of independence has translated into not really needing anyone… including God.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am a Christian and I love God with all my heart.  But, one of my biggest struggles has been to learn to depend less on myself and depend fully on God, His plan and purpose for my life, and His guidance.  There have been so many times over the years when I’ve been tempted to do things my way because that’s what I learned to do from the time I was a little child.  There have been times when I knew that God was there, but He seemed far off and, at times, I seemed to be the only one with a vested interest in my life and choices.

But, that is all a lie… false thinking.  First of all, God is fully vested in my life (and yours).  He created each of us.  Jesus Christ (fully God) allowed Himself to become a tiny baby (fully God and fully human), be temped just like we are, live the human experience with struggles and pain just like we do, and yet live a completely sinless life.  He freely gave His life to pay the penalty of sin for me and for you.  And, He rose up again three days later, victorious over sin and death.  I would say that He is fully vested in each of our lives.  It’s up to us to acknowledge that and come to Him.

But, more than that, I am not God.  I am not the Creator.  I do not see the big picture of what my life is going to be like.  Someone in my past (I don’t remember who) once gave an example of needle work.  We look at the work on our lives from the bottom and see only the cut threads, criss cross areas, and mess.  But, God is making a picture out of our lives.  He sees it from the top, the perfectly stitched needlework of our lives and what they are going to be like in the end.

So, independence from everyone, including God, is a foolish thing.  Although I can plan for my version of the future, all I can see is here and now.  Why would my independence and personal choices be wiser than God’s?  He’s the One creating a beautiful picture out of my life.  I only see the parts and pieces in the here and now.  God IS the Creator.  He does see the big picture.

He knows that experiencing only sunshine in our lives will bring nothing, but more independence and lack of growth.  He knows that if I go through struggles I will learn and grow just like a garden needs rain to grow and produce.  He knows that if He rescues me from the consequences of all of my poor choices I’ll never learn and will just keep making the same poor choices.  We all have to pay the consequences of our poor choices. Unfortunately, because of sin, there are plenty of consequences out there that are not of our own making, as well.  He knows that if I go through struggles not of my own making and learn to turn to Him, beauty will come out of ashes… the oil of joy for mourning (Isaiah 61:3).  I can learn to lean on Him, learn from Him and allow Him to change me into a person who is beautiful on the inside, understanding and caring of others because of those experiences.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that God created us to be social creatures.  In His Word, He tells us that we need to worship Him together, encourage each other, love one another, lift each other up, pray for each other, serve one another, listen to each other, care for each other and so much more.  The theme is “community”, not independence.  There is no such thing as complete independence from each other in the Christian life.  We need each other.  God also knows that we (with our various personalities, perspectives, styles, etc.) will rub each other wrong from time to time.  So, learning to serve those who rub us the wrong way… learning to pray for them, love them, listen to them, work with them, care for them… that helps sharpen us and develop growth in us.  (“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpeneth another.” Proverbs 27:17)

So, independence from others and especially from God is neither wise nor good.  God is not a far away God.  He says to us, “I will never learn you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  “I am with you always, even to the end of the earth.”  (Matthew 28:20)  He created us.  He has a plan for us.  He is fully vested in our lives.  He will never leave us.

So, the next time you think that you must be independent of everyone including God, think about the following verses.  (Look up www.blueletterbible.org, type in the reference, and read the verses for yourself.  Blue Letter Bible is a website that has the Bible in various versions printed on the web.  You can actually go on there and read from chapter to chapter if you don’t have your own Bible.)

Matthew 6:8 – God knows your needs before you even ask Him.
I Timothy 6:17 – Don’t trust in uncertain riches, but trust in the Lord.
Ephesians 6:10 – Trust in God and in the power of His might.
I Timothy 5:11 – Encourage one another and build each other up.
Ephesians 4:7-12 – God gave each of us special gifts and capabilities for the purpose of “edifying” each other.

These are only five of many, many verses that tell us that we need each other and God, something that we know deep down (whether we want to admit it or not).  I hope that my life lesson will be an encouragement for you.  If you don’t know God, start reading the Bible and seeing what God has to say about you, about Himself, and about life.  Ask Him to really reveal Himself to you.  If you know God, I pray that this will be an encouragement for you to trust/rest in God in all circumstances and live in community with your brothers and sisters in Christ so that you can encourage them and they can lift you up and encourage you.

A Firmly Rooted Tree

Right on the corner of our property our “signature” oak tree has been living, tall and beautifully shaped… so big, I might be able to reach half way around the base with my arms.   Of all of our trees, it has been my favorite.  It seems like it must be at least a hundred years old, maybe even two hundred, as huge as it is.  I wish I had a picture to show you, but since it seems like it’s been there for ever, I have not been in a hurry to take a picture, opting to get the flower bed in around it first.

I wonder what that oak tree has seen over the years.  Have children climbed up into it and played?  Has it provided the shade for enjoyable family picnics over the years?  Was it ever a romantic meeting point between some young man and woman?

Our property must have been a farm at one time.  Trees and scrub brush have grown up over much of it and wild-life is enjoying the cover.  There were very old log buildings in some places and foundations dotted around the place where old buildings had once been.  My husband and I had not long ago finished hauling rocks from the foundations of old buildings to build a low, rustic, rock wall around that huge oak.   Then my husband cleared out the weeds, put down black plastic so they wouldn’t grow back, and filled in the area with top soil.

I had wanted lillies of various colors all around the oak.  So, my husband finished planting them.  I watered the entire area until some of the lillies started coming up, then focused on watering just those plants.  Little by little plants started popping up out of the ground.  Surprisingly, a few had already bloomed even though their stalks were very short.

On Sunday we went to look at the property where we plan to build a house to enjoy seeing the results of work that had been done in the last couple of days.  (To be honest, it was too hot for me.  My husband was the one out there breaking his back getting work done.)  We go there often to work… and look… and think… and dream… and plan.  One day our house will be built and we’ll move our family in.

It was early afternoon, right after church, and as we noticed black clouds with high thunderheads starting to  fill in the sky around us, my husband said, “We’d better get home before that storm hits.”  Not 10 minutes after getting into the house high winds started laying our garden flat.  Then came rain and hail.

It didn’t last long at all, but it did a lot of damage in our area.  Power was out in a lot of homes because trees were lying on power lines.  Trees had gone through the roofs of some houses.  Cars were pelted (and some totally ruined) with golf-ball-sized hail.  Thankfully, our house and vehicles survived and our garden plants later started to stand up up again.

Later my husband went back to the property on his way back from running an errand and called me with bad news.  Trees here and there on our property looks like a huge hand had twisted the tops off.  My favorite tree had gone down.  We all went over there to see the damage.

My husband and some friends went over there on Monday to cut up and haul off the wood.  The tree is so huge, they couldn’t get it all done so will be back again today.  There’s no point in letting that go to waste.  It can be used for firewood in the winter.

While they were working, my husband looked down in the hole that the tree had made and discovered why this massive tree  went down.  It has lasted for so many years, but the sheer winds got to it because it had become heavy and was growing around a huge boulder.  Oaks have tap roots that need to go down deep in the ground.  Instead of having a deeply grounded taproot, this tree had spread roots in all directions over top of this massive boulder.  It had survived storm after storm over the years without a sturdy taproot going straight down.  But, this storm was one too many.  There was a hollow area in the middle that was over the boulder that just didn’t give it enough of a foundation to withstand the turbulence of those sheer winds, despite roots that had spread around the boulder.  It needed that tap root in the center, but the taproot had never grown firmly down into the ground.  The boulder was in the way.

I’m up at 4:00 am writing in my blog because my son had a nightmare.  He crawled into bed with us and lay there for a while until he had calmed down.  Once he was calm and sleepy again I tucked him back into his bed.  But, when I went back to bed, I couldn’t sleep.  There was too much on my mind and a sense of urgency to share it with you.  This tree came to mind and with it a lesson that it can teach us.

You see, spiritually we have tap roots as well.

Psalm 1:1-3  “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers.  But, his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water which yields it’s fruit in its season and it’s leaf does not wither.  And in whatever he does, he prospers.” (NASB)

What kind of foundation do we have?  As a “tree” are we growing over top of a huge boulder, unable to grow a tap root deep down that will keep us standing firm no matter what the storms of life bring us?  Do we have shallow roots that will allow us to be uprooted when things get tough?

Do we think we’re Christians because we’re good people?  Do we think we’re Christians because this is a Christian nation?  Do we think we’re Christians because we go to church?  Do we think we’re Christians because our parents were and we grew up in a Christian home?

Each and every one of us is responsible for our own spiritual life.  We will not be going to heaven hanging onto our parents’ coat tails.  We will not be going to heaven because we are part of a group that meets together on Sundays or Saturdays or whenever your church meets.  We will not be going to heaven just because we’re good people.

God is a holy and pure God.  He cannot look on sin of any kind.  And even if we have so much self-discipline that we are able to completely control ourselves and our actions so that everyone around us looks at what we are on the surface and thinks we’re incredible people, God knows our very thought-life.  He knows us deep down inside.

Isaiah 53:6  “All of us, like sheep, have gone astray.  Each of us has turned to his own way.  But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”

Only someone with perfection could pay the penalty for our sins.  God gave us the opportunity to spend eternity with Him when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect and sinless life and to pay the penalty for our sins by dying on the cross.  The punishment for sin is death.  We will all die physically.  But, we’ll also “die” spiritually.  Spiritual death means separation from the light, life, love and warmth of God forever and ever.  But, God loved us so much that He didn’t want us permanently separated from Him.  He wanted us to be with Him.  Christ, the Son of God, died so that we don’t have to spiritually die.  He died so that we could live in victory over sin.

He died so that we could be planted by the streams of living water, growing our taproot into Him, the most solid foundation possible in the storms of life.  He did this for us as a free gift.  All we have to do is accept that gift, turn away from sin and walk with Him.

Tough times will happen in this life because we live in a fallen, sinful world.  The consequences of sin are all around us and seen in many ways.  And we have to pay the consequences.  But, when we’re firmly planted and rooted in Christ Jesus we can have victory over our own sin and when “bad things” happen, we are able to stand firm.  We won’t break in the sheer winds, hurricanes and tornadoes of life.

And, because those tough things can and will happen, being firmly grounded and rooted in Christ during the turbulence of life allows us to grow and become stronger.

When He is our foundation, we are never alone in the storms of life.
When He is our foundation, we can endure trials with joy.
When He is our foundation, we can become the people God created us to be.

Remember, that person who is like a tree in Psalm 1 meditates on God’s Word day and night.  That means that we take time to read His Word daily, learn what He says and think about those things.  We ask Him to show us what it means if we don’t understand.  We meet together with other Christians (go to church, small group meetings, etc.) to listen while the pastor, who has studied God’s Word, explains it to us and to encourage each other in our walk with God.  His Word is His letter to us and helps us grow that spiritual taproot.  That is the thing that enables us to understand more about God and about ourselves.  That is what allows us to grow to the point of being able to produce amazing fruit in various ways in our lives (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – Gal. 5:22-23).  That fruit is tangible proof of our relationship with God.  And it is all possible because of Jesus Christ and what He did to save us and give us the opportunity to spend eternity with God instead of being eternally separated from Him.

I’m being extremely straight-forward here because this is extremely important.

Do you know Christ as your own personal Savior?  Are you rooted in Him so that you can stand firm in the storms of life?  If not, I have shared what faith in God is all about under the My Faith tab on my blog.  Take time to read it.  This is the most important decision you will ever make in your life.  Life is short.  One strong wind can blow a tree down on your life.  Anything can happen at any time.  What matters here is important, but our focus must go beyond this life to the choice we have before us… eternal life (living with the Living God in His Light and glory, experiencing peace and joy forever) or eternal death (because of your choice to deny Him, being forever separated from the Living God and going on in aching darkness forever separated from the Source of Light, peace and joy).  The purpose of this life is to prepare us for eternity.  Make your choice for Christ today and then put everything you have into learning about Him and living for Him.

Although I will miss my favorite tree, I am thankful for the lesson that it provided for me and the opportunity that I have to share those thoughts with you.

Have a blessed week.

What Kind of Person are You?

Remember the old phrase, “You watch your tongue!”?  Usually it was said if a child chose to swear or say something unkind.  I haven’t heard that for a long time.  In fact, many parents these days are not choosing to teach their children to develop self-control.  But, that is such an important aspect of life… in business, at home, with friendships, and in many other areas of life.

One of the aspect of self-control is choosing to control our actions and our words.  God built in each of us the capability of building other people up.  The influences around us (including radio, TV, books, movies), negativity in our world and more gives us the natural inclination to tear others down.  It’s easy to slip into a mode of negativity.  It takes purpose and effort to be the kind of person who consistently chooses the positive over the negative.  That is something that I constantly have to work on.  Sometimes, before I know it, words have come out of my mouth that may tear down my husband in some way or another and I have to stop myself… and apologize.  But, the sad thing is that once words are said, they can’t be taken back.  They can chip away at relationships, whether those relationships be parent/child, sibling, friends, spouses or business.

What kind of person do you want to be?  A positive one or a negative one?  Someone who builds others up or tears others down?  Someone who chooses to be kind or unkind?

James 3:5  Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

I like the description in this verse.  I used to live in California.  One time there was a forest fire not far from us.  Evidently, it had started because a careless person had thrown a used cigarette out the window.  One slightly smouldering cigarette lit the dry grass around it on fire which turned into a blazing forest fire that did massive damage.

That’s the way our words can be.  One thoughtless statement can cause a lot of hurt.  One bit of gossip, even if not meant unkindly, can end up harming someone’s reputation and causing serious trouble.  Thoughtless words to your son or daughter can smoulder in their soul and cause damage that ultimately takes years to overcome.

Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

How true.  So how do we make sure that we are the kind of people who build others up?  What we put into our minds eventually comes out in our actions and words.  So, we need to be careful.  My oldest child is my step-son.  He’s 8 years younger than me, but introduces me as his “Momma”.  He’s autistic and thinks like a 5 year old so I tend to think of him as my “big little boy”.   He first came to live with us 8 years ago.  TV had been a major part of his life.  In fact, soap operas were what he loved best.

He was incredibly manipulative and miserable and unkind… and he really couldn’t do anything for himself.  He was used to be waited on hand and foot… and he was used to ruling the roost.  If he didn’t get what he wanted when he wanted it, he would throw a fit.  Sometimes, he would just decide to have a fit for no apparent reason.   I quit my job so that I could work with him full-time.

Over the next couple of years we were constantly investing positive input into him.  He lost 80 pounds and I worked with his doctor to get him phased off of all of his medication.  Once he started feeling better, his mind was clearer and he started being able to learn.  This really is another story for another time, but I had to at least say this much because of the importance of positive input.

As the saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

I decided, about 6 months into his living with us, that soap operas were no longer allowed in our house.  All I saw in the soaps was negativity, back stabbing, mean-spirited attitudes, gladness when someone else was hurting, and all kinds of other miserable attitudes.  The interesting thing about that was that in a couple of weeks after cutting the soaps off cold, our son’s attitude started changing.  Instead of garbage going in we were uplifting him, encouarging him, praising him for each and every accomplishment.  He got lots of hugs.  We sang songs together (many of them made up on the spur of the moment) just for fun.  There were lots of games and learning became fun.  We talked about God and how very much Jesus loved him.  We talked about how proud we were of each new thing he learned and did.    He was receiving positive things into his mind.  He is now our cheerleader, for the most part.  He is loving, caring, and thinks about others.  He discovered that he could learn and do things on his own and has learned so many things.  The change in him is phenomenal.

Philippians 4:8  “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

This doesn’t just work for autistic people who think like 5 year old children.  It works for each and every one of us.  What we put into our minds ends up coming out in our actions and words.  So, if we want to be the kind of people that others enjoy being around, the kind that lifts others up, the kind that invests in the lives of others to see positive change, then we need to start putting good things into our mind.

Memorize scripture that encourages positive thinking or that talks about how amazing our God is, how much He loves and values us, and what He’s done for us.  Read books that are positive and uplifting and encouraging.  Listen to messages that are life-changing.  My pastor has been teaching through the book of Hebrews.  It’s is jam-packed full of incredible truths.  I got a CD of each of the messages so that I can listen again.  There are lots of inspirational books, movies, magazine articles and so there is really no reason for filling our minds with garbage.

What are you putting into your mind?  What are you surrounding yourself with in your life?  Take a good inventory of your life and see if changes need to be made.   Garbage in, garbage out isn’t just a saying.  It really happens.  Get rid of the garbage so that you can move forward, grow, and develop to be a positive person.  You’ll be surprised at how much your life will change!