Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ambushed




I knew enough to know I didn't want to be there.

My husband and I spent some time in Florida recently and took a drive down Route 1. We saw a myriad of red and blue flashing lights ahead of us as traffic slowed. We were stopped in a line of traffic as we craned our necks trying to catch a glimpse. Traffic started moving so we resigned ourselves to not knowing.

Until a car marked Sheriff drove towards us and then pulled across in front of us and parked. A uniformed officer climbed out and readied an assault rifle, pointing it towards a parking lot on the other side of the street. A parking lot next to the beach.

I just wanted to see the beach. Maybe catch a glimpse of a dolphin slicing through the water. Maybe see a sailboat pass. Instead I witnessed numerous cars and officers doing the same as our new friend. 

I am not an assault rifle girl. I'm a nail polish and cotton candy girl. As I watched the scene unfold I did what any girl-who-shouldn't-be-there would do. I ducked under the dash figuring if there was going to be crossfire I wasn't going to be in it.

In the parking lot were numerous officers, some with assault rifles aimed towards the red car and others with big dogs heading towards the red car. As they stormed the red car the officer in front of us jumped back in his car and moved to the parking lot. I barked orders to my husband, "Get me out of here!" He complied, though later admitting to wanting to stay and watch.

I recovered quicker than I thought I would. I've not seen anything like this in person before and was more unnerved by the fact that I've become de-sensitized than I was at what I witnessed.

We see things like this every time we turn on the television for entertainment or news. It's commonplace but it shouldn't be.

We shouldn't be able to simply brush off the bad. It should unnerve us. It should spur us to do good. Instead it's easily forgotten.

I'm glad we left when we did. They later caught the man they were seeking. I'm glad I didn't have to view it through the screen of my windshield. I'm already pretty picky about what I watch on television but you can believe I'm going to be even more so. I don't want to be desensitized. I want the reality of life to shake me. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Worthless

I woke feeling worthless today. It's likely the perfect storm of wintery weather, hormones, a dichotomy on the scale, and the nagging cold that won't let go.

I explained it to my friend this way, "I feel like a coin in a tin can. Rattling around and making a lot of noise but not doing anything worthwhile."

All this a couple days after someone fussed over me, "Oh Suzanne, you're so awesome," she said excitedly.

I don't like being fussed over. My close friends and family know this. It makes me very uncomfortable and gives me time to think about how un-awesome I am because I know myself better than anyone else does.

I see my faults and failures. I see the ugly hiding in my heart. I see the attitude that needs changed. I see the unmet expectations and the quiet harbor I find in closing myself in a shell.

Today has been full of cold wind, unending housework, and loads of self-doubt.

I wore my inflatable crown while I ironed my husband's shirts. After all, today is the type of day I bought it for. The type of day when I need to be reminded of my worth.

My worth comes in nothing of myself. There is nothing I can do or not do that makes me worth anything. My worth only comes in knowing I am unconditionally loved by my Creator. The simple fact that Jesus loves me without reason makes me want to peek out from my self-built harbor and embrace the day, no matter what it holds. When I'm tired and weary I need only reach my hand to Him. He will meet me and hold me. He will fill me with strength to complete the day. When I take my eyes off of me and what I see as worthless and allow Him to be my focus He changes the direction of my thoughts and shows me who I am.

I am loved - Psalm 103:11
I am beautiful - 1 Peter 3:3-4
I am wonderful - Psalms 139:14
I am worth dying for  - John 3:16
I am valuable - Luke 12:7

Emotions rise and fall and feelings can be deceitful. The truth outlasts the lie.







Monday, February 6, 2017

The Miracle of (My) Life

You are a miracle. You didn't arrive here by chance. It took centuries of decisions and roads traveled or not traveled to lead to your creation. We are made unique with our own stories. Here's mine:

In the year 1620 the Mayflower sailed from England to the New World. John Howland was a passenger hoping for a new life, a dream almost cut short when he fell overboard. He was pulled from the sea and I am a direct descendant of his.

My maternal grandfather was born in Italy and lived there until he was twelve, when, in 1920, he crossed the Atlantic with the same dreams as John Howland. He entered the New York Harbor and went through Ellis Island with thousands of other immigrants. He traveled from there to the Pittsburgh area where he met with family in Washington County.

My grandfather married a woman who spent most of her life in the hills of West Virginia. They had a baby girl in 1931 and over the next ten years suffered the loss of a stillborn boy and the death of another daughter. A final pregnancy resulted in the birth of my mother, born in 1941.

My dad was born in 1940 in Providence, Rhode Island. He had a happy childhood until his parents divorced and, in trying to take care of him, he was sent to boarding school in Massachusetts. Left alone with feelings he didn't know what to do with he pondered the meaning of life (for more on this click here) and wondered if there was more to it all.

Dad graduated from the University of Rhode Island and enlisted in the army. He was sent overseas and was stationed in Munich, Germany.

My mother graduated from business school and accepted a secretarial job with the CIA in Washington, DC. She had the opportunity to transfer to Europe and took the position which moved her to Munich.

These two were introduced by mutual friends and after dating and breaking up and dating again (on both sides of the ocean) they married in 1966 and settled in Rhode Island.

Having grown up by the shore my dad was an avid fisherman. He scheduled a fishing trip in October of 1968 but my mom talked him out of going and I entered the world nine months later, two days after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

If any of the above hadn't happened I wouldn't be here. If John Howland had been lost at sea there would have been no me. If my grandfather had stayed in Italy I wouldn't be here. If my parents hadn't moved to Germany I would not exist. If my dad had gone fishing that night I would not have been created. These are the few twists I know about, imagine how many others are unknown. Your story is the same. It took a lot to make you. Time and distance worked together. God had your life planned from the beginning. He knew you unformed. He knows your days. You were not a mistake or an accident.

Your future is unwritten. Your story hasn't been fully told. What mark will you leave on the world? What is it only you can do?

All of us can show kindness. We can give hope. We can carry peace.

Use your life for good. Let your light shine.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Praying for Miracles - What is our Part?

Prayer requests.
In ministry we've heard them all.
"Pray for my gas," was one that shut down open prayer request time at one church we served in.
"Pray for my hangnail," was one another pastor heard.
"Pray for my son to get a new job where he can make more money," is one a mother said to me on a Sunday morning.

Some I've prayed include:
"Please help us get out of debt."
"Please take this illness away."

What part do we play in having our needs met?

The pastor who was asked to pray for the hangnail told the man, "Go home and cut it off."

The answer to my prayer about getting out of debt took several years of hard work on our part. The miracle was finding a book about being debt free.

The answer to my prayer about taking my illness away lied in finding a four month detox cleanse diet that cured me of my ailment.

My mother-in-law was able to avoid taking medicine for a diabetes diagnosis by simply changing her diet and adding in some exercise.

Sometimes the answer to the words we pray is within our reach, all we have to do is move. Sometimes we have to do something.

Is it easier to pray and hope for a miracle? Sure, but when you're able to use wisdom and the Lord's guidance to receive the answer it means so much more.

Knowing how hard we worked at getting out of debt after learning how to do it gave us a sense of pride in our accomplishment and is a testimony to others that it can be done. We also willingly allow our mistakes to serve as examples of how not to spend.

Joel VanBriggle is a friend I've known since he was born. He's currently serving as a Missionary in Belgium and has been in ministry for several decades. He recently started a conversation on Facebook by asking this question:

"Is it possible that our practice of praying for miracles is just an excuse for doing nothing?"

He received some opposition to his statement, because what's social media without someone being offended? He further explained by saying,

"By definition I would say that miracles are those things which only God can do. Too often I have seen people pray for miracles for things that people can and should do. I was reading in Acts 2:42-47 where the early church sold property and possessions to give to those in need. They were devoted to each other and made sacrifices. I have prayed and have heard prayers, "God, would you provide for Frank's college tuition," or "Lord, please provide Sally with a reliable car." These are situations where we can be part of the answer, but unfortunately instead of being part of the answer we pray an easier prayer, asking God to do a miracle. We do need to pray and believe for miracles, yet when possible we should do everything we can and let God handle what we can't."

Sometimes the answer to prayer is in our hands. God wants to use us in many different ways. You might hold the answer to someone's prayer.

Maybe we should begin to pray more for wisdom and guidance so we can meet the needs of those around us.

"Lord, open our eyes and help us to do what we are able. Let your light shine through us to change lives."

Monday, January 23, 2017

I Want Natalie Grant's Toaster




I don't follow many celebrities on social media. Several Food Network chefs, Tom Hanks (he does this glove thing when he's out and posts pics on FB), Amy Grant (obviously), Natalie Grant, and some other Christian artists and authors. 

And yes, authors are totally celebs. 

Natalie Grant is one I follow on Instagram. Instagram has a feature called My Story at the top of the app. Few people utilize it: my friend who posts his daily workouts, a Pittsburgh Foodie account with the scrumptious flavors of my city, a friend living in China who shares interesting pieces of her new world, and Natalie Grant. Natalie recently shared her new toaster in one of these clips that disappears after a day or two. She showed us its features as if she were a QVC host trying to sell the most incredible new product, and convinced me that it is indeed the best toaster ever.

It's the Breville Lift and Look Touch 4-Slice Toaster. 

It's a work of art.

It has a button to push that will lift your toast up so you can look at it and see if it's done.

I need this toaster.

Another button is labeled A Bit More. Toast not done quite enough? Push the A Bit More button. Then push the Lift and Look button to see if it's the right shade of done.

I need this toaster.

It has a slide-out crumb tray. My toaster doesn't do that. Mine has the flip-type crumb catcher that just makes a mess.

I need this toaster.

It's shiny and new. It does better things than my toaster. It's deluxe and the $79.99 price tag is only slightly off-putting.

I need this toaster.

I mean, Natalie raved about it. I can't stop thinking about it. Lift and look. Lift. And. Look.

It's the toaster of my dreams and I don't even eat toast.

This is how the comparison game deceives us into believing we need what someone else has. This is how easily we are tricked into feeling what we have isn't good enough. This is how coveting begins. 

"It's only a toaster," you might say. True, but what if I allow that to creep in? What could I covet next? Maybe something a little bigger like a new car. I mean, my car isn't the roomy SUV my friend has. My car doesn't have heated seats. My car doesn't have the capacity to haul half of my possessions.

Still not convinced?

What happens if I'm not satisfied with my marriage? My husband and I don't go on regular vacations yet I see pictures on Facebook of my friends and their trips all over the world. I see your husband buying you a new diamond ring just because and it triggers envy in my mind which makes me feel my marriage is less than.

Just because someone else has something that appears shinier and better than what you have doesn't mean it's true. Be satisfied with what you have instead of concerning yourself with what others have. My toaster isn't perfect but it does what it's supposed to. My car isn't my dream car but it gets me from here to there. My marriage will never be perfect because we're just two people trying to get it right, but I'm happy and blessed. Focus on the good and the rest will be blurred away.

There's a reason God included, "Do not covet" in the Ten Commandments. He knew the roads it could lead us down. Coveting takes our eyes off of our blessings and strips us of joy one thing at a time.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Life is Not a Hallmark Movie

Every year it seems our society is more obsessed with Hallmark Christmas movies than the year before. We are now able to enjoy them in July as well as during the holiday season. Who doesn't love a sappy-happy movie where everything works out just fine?

Life is messy yet the movies and entertainment we choose can blur our reality. The family dinner that looks perfect on screen or even in our Instagram photos doesn't show the harsh reality that life hurts. Plastic smiles don't reveal the tension between family members. Posed pictures don't whisper the gossip between those who no longer talk to each other. No matter how hard we try to make everything just so we will never be able to attain how life is portrayed on screen.

It isn't real.

Movies, books, and television shows create an illusion of how we want life to appear and we can be overwhelmed when trying to accomplish this or even be left discouraged and depressed when it can't be done. Some of us try to project an image of a perfect life as we plaster our social media pages with pictures of the parties, d├ęcor, and other things we dress up our days with. My friend Ella crafts and sews her home into submission but I know the sadness she secretly hides behind her picture perfect home. We share secrets.

My life resembles the before picture in a shampoo commercial more than a Hallmark movie. I recently made a triple-layer chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting (all from scratch, thankyouverymuch) to take to a dinner party. I spent four hours on this cake. Four. Hours. From start to finish. I was quite proud as I gently tucked it into my Tupperware cake carrier. Locking the sides in I pushed away the premonition I'd had all day that this cake was going to end up on the floor. I picked the carrier up and took it into a cooler area of the house so the frosting would set. As I got ready to put it down one locked side let go and the cake and bottom of the carrier landed on the floor. I stood, frozen in place, and screamed a drawn out, "No..." at the top of my lungs. There was no time to make another. Not even enough time to make my no-fail brownies. There was time to clean up the mess and toss the whole thing in the trash, call our hostess to see if we needed to stop at the store for a dreaded store-bought dessert (no need, thankfully), grab the pasta salad made the day before, and drive the ten miles to our celebration. Sans cake.

I stewed over the caketastrophe and cringed when I realized this was a lesson in humility. I was a little too proud of my creation. I knew it would be the shining star at the party. I was ready for the praise it would garner. And there would have been praise. Instead I shared my cake fail with the group, I popped the bubble of any idea that I have it all together and just let my humanity shine, because the truth is life is messy. Real life bears no resemblance to the fictional world we surround ourselves with. Real life is my friend Colleen who watched her dog relieve himself on her decorated Christmas tree. Real life is Melissa who forgot she put her pumpkin pie on the hood of her car until she stopped at a stop sign and watched it slide and crash. Real life is knowing not everyone at the dinner table gets along. Real life isn't pretty but it's the truth.

Let's put aside chasing perfection and not be afraid to live life honestly, in it's messiness and ugliness. It's in the middle of the mess we learn and grow.

I'm making another cake today. A simple carrot cake with cream cheese icing. It isn't going to look perfect but it will accompany the simple meal I'm cooking for a group of Godly men who are visiting for dinner tonight. While they are here they will make decisions and pray for our church. Instead of patting myself on the back for the work of art I'm baking, this time I'm praying for the people and words spoken in my home this evening.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Big Important Thing




I hate when skinny people say, "I forgot to eat," because who forgets to eat? It's like forgetting to breathe, I've not had it happen. In fact, I've remembered extra meals. There are things I have forgotten though.

It was 1980-something and I'd forgotten the secret thoughts written in a devotional journal in middle school. This particular book was set up like a diary with scriptures and inspirational sayings on each page. I wrote sporadically through it, everything from what I had for breakfast, what the weather was like, who my current crush was, and what I really thought about the kids in my youth group. I've been journaling,  writing in diaries, and blogging for as long as I can remember and have more notebooks I should probably burn than ever need see the light of day. I'd long forgotten about this book until I found it one weekend while I was home from college, it was shelved in the library of the school at the church I attended. My parents donated it along with several other old books of mine without my knowledge. I gasped when I realized it had been checked out of the library by the next generation of youth group kids, siblings of the ones I'd written about. My secret thoughts were now being passed around and giggled over by girls with bad perms and braces. I grabbed the book of secrets and found the school principal and asked for my book back even though I knew it was mine. He readily agreed to return the book to me and I packed it away where it lingered for several decades until it was rediscovered not long ago. 

The familiar feelings of oh my goodness, everyone knows flooded my mind as I flipped through the pages and reacquainted myself with the me of 30+ years ago. I reassured myself with the the thought of while everyone knows not everyone cares, because what's important to me isn't as important to everyone else. And that's okay.

My writing is important to me. I love the outlet it gives me, the freedom I feel after expressing my thoughts, and the playing with words. I love it all. I love it when I am a featured writer on a ministry blog, when someone shares what I've written, and when I get a note letting me know my words have helped someone grow. It makes me want to jump and celebrate when my ministry through writing touches lives. I don't share how important this is to me with too many people because I also know that my big important thing isn't at all important to you. And that's okay.

We are supposed to be different and while we celebrate each other's accomplishments we need to remember that our journey, victories, and ministries are ours. Not everyone has the same passion for what we are passionate about. This is true even in the church. While you may be burdened to feed the homeless, minister to prison inmates, visit nursing homes, go on missions trips, or even teach a Sunday school class, not everyone will feel the same as you. This is okay. What isn't okay is when we get offended because people don't share our burden. As the body we all have different functions. Your burden will help you reach people I won't reach. My burden will do the same. Work in your calling without making others feel guilty. I had a friend who took in rescued animals and wanted to get as many of her friends to do the same. She felt it was her duty to let the rest of us know how lousy we were as humans because we didn't do her thing. That's not right. We need to encourage each other to find our passions and excel in them. While I may think human trafficking is the worst problem in our world you may think abortion is. One is not more important than the other. 

Celebrate and encourage one another. This is how we win. This is how we let our lights shine.