“Stop Staring at Me!”

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That’s me, lying out there in the driveway! It’s also my husband and children, in full view of anyone driving by our house. As a matter of fact, we even posted numerous signs announcing we were putting ourselves out for public display! Are we crazy? Well, yes, but there’s a reason this time.

We are having a garage sale. Have you ever hosted or even considered hosting a sale? Think long before committing to doing so. Most people I know do not choose to have a sale because it’s fun. Much work goes into gathering, sorting, cleaning, pricing, and displaying items to be sold.

The hours are long. The continual lifting, arranging, and folding prove tedious, especially since some people consider tossing clothing back onto the pile acceptable. The customers vary widely, as do the languages, at times. Decision-making unnerves me, so the negotiating challenges my confidence. I mean, what should I say when they tell me my favorite sweater isn’t worth a dollar?! Come on now!

The fact “my life” is spread out on tables makes me feel completely vulnerable. Each item I place out tells part of my story, and most hold a memory only for me. Now my clothes, my family’s clothing, household items, knick-knacks, furniture, and home decor bear the scrutiny of strangers!

Knowing this, I spend time cleaning every item until it shines. I use laundry detergent, glass cleaner, and elbow grease. I want to make a good impression, even though my visitors will likely remain only strangers. After all, who wants to buy something they hesitate to even touch?

The worst reaction comes from those who wander my spread out belongings with only a brief glance from the end of the driveway, and then turn to leave with a smirk or scrunched up nose. I choose to think they were looking for something specific and knew with a scan it wasn’t available in my driveway market.

But, in the back of my mind, I wonder: did they not like my life choices? Are my belongings THAT antiquated or undesirable? Is the stuff I’m offering below their high standard? Well, okay then. “Have a nice day! Thanks for stopping by.”

I try to to make eye contact with each potential customer and offer a kind comment. However, underneath my cheery facade, as I watch them toss through my items, I feel they are pawing right through my life. Some “look” by acting as a periscope in the middle of the driveway, while others spend twenty-five minutes scoping out each item. To those, I often want to shout, “Stop staring at me!”

I’ve met some delightful people. I especially love watching them become giddy over finding a treasure among my goods.

Regardless of the responses, I’ve accomplished my two main purposes – uncluttered my home and made a little extra money for special times.

I’ve done many garage sales over the years. This year, however, I came to a new realization: I will leave a positive or negative impression by what I display. The only evidence they have to judge remains on those tables.

How much more true is this in my spiritual life? God desires to use my life as a display of His love for the world, as a testimony to His goodness. Every morning I awaken, I will be a walking, talking example. Will my life leave a good impression or a bad impression of Him?

My life acts as evidence by which the world will judge the character of God. People will desire Him only if I represent Him rightly. The responsibility is profound.

If I am to depict Him truthfully, I must keep my life clean. I must spend time reading His Holy Word, speaking with Him, and asking Him for the strength to be a good ambassador of His love. I must guard my actions and my words.

My garage sale lasted two days. My testimony lasts a lifetime. Who knows how long He will use me? I don’t know.

But I know I have this moment.  I want to make Him shine right now, while I have the opportunity to bring Him praise.

I want the world to want Him!

“Ye are our epistle written in our hearts,                        known and read of all men.”    II Corinthians 3:2

“We are ambassadors for Christ.”   II Corinthians 5:20

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What a Web!

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I have watched a spider weave its web and decided I’d make a lousy spider. (And that’s fine with me!)  My lack of patience and weaving skills would lead to a quick demise if I were.

Although I vehemently dislike them, I’m always fascinated to find a spider resting in the center of its amazingly intricate handiwork. I’m glad to see it positioned there so I know exactly where that eight-legged creepy crawler is, thus lessening the chances of feeling it crawl up my leg. I’m also relieved to see it before I walk into it, eliminating the jumping and swatting involved in removing the sticky strands from my face and hands. Ewwww!

But the web itself is mind-boggling. Once in a while, I’ve felt guilty for ruining the little creature’s masterpiece when I’ve run into it. Admittedly it’s not my first thought, but I do eventually feel a bit sorry. The effort put into so beautifully connecting each strand is stunning. The tiny weavers work with a definite plan in mind. Even a casual observer can immediately see an obvious pattern. There is nothing haphazard about it. Webs are beautiful, especially when caught in the sunlight or covered in frost.

That’s pretty much all I like about spiders.

But someone asked me a simple question this morning that made me think about those webs. It’s a question I’ve often been asked, but today it triggered deeper contemplation.

The question? How did you and your husband meet?

My normal answer is this: It all began in 1977 at a lock-making factory in Indianapolis.

But not today.

Today I pondered the question and came up with a more accurate answer. Our story began long before my husband’s parents welcomed a bouncing baby boy and my parents welcomed a bouncing baby girl. Our story began an eternity ago.

Our marriage came about from a spectacular plan woven by a Master Designer. The webs of our lives are enormous. Not too long ago, I sat down and tried to draw a web depicting our family heritage. I simply could not complete it beyond a few generations. I kept getting lost in the twists and turns of my diagram.

You see, two generations ago, my paternal grandparents immigrated to New York City from Sweden. They moved with many Swedes to Chicago, where my father was born. My mother is an Indiana farm girl. These two met in Indianapolis at a major downtown corporation. My dad was infatuated with the dark haired girl who sang in the company choir, and he’s hung on to her ever since. That’s just a small piece from what was to become my marriage. My husband came from Michigan. But we met when his family moved to Indianapolis.

All over the world, through hundreds of years, couples met and married from various circumstances just so God could bring that crazy skinny boy who worked in the parts crib to the attention of the young girl working in the 77K lock department. God knew the guy who didn’t merely push the cart down the aisle, but rather shoved it and jumped on for the ride, would continue to make me laugh for almost thirty-three years of marriage now. The Weaver of our lives wove the sweet web that brought us together, not by chance, but according to His perfect plan.

I could never have fathomed such intricacy. But, praise God, He’s known it and established it from before time began. In His great and loving wisdom, He prepared the strands which would bring us together.

He has a Master Plan at work. The plan affects not only my marriage, but also my day-to-day life. He continues to put me in touch with people who need me and those whom I need as well. The circumstances of each meeting fulfill His desire for my life and theirs.

So why do I fret? The happenings in my life originate with a wonderful Designer Who makes no mistakes. God knows the plan He has for me is good. He assures me of this in Jeremiah 29:11.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil,                                          to give you an expected end.”

I find myself thinking about my special place in God’s eternal web, and I renew my desire to fulfill His purpose. I’m eternally grateful the weaving is not up to me!

Remember? I wouldn’t even be a good spider!

 

A Was And Will Be

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Why is it momentous that on this very day in 1977, I marched across the platform as a seventeen year old high school graduate? It means it’s time for my forty-year reunion!! How in the world did that happen? I remember laughing with my classmates as we looked ahead and joked about our twenty- and thirty-year reunions. Forty years wasn’t even on the radar at that point.

Though small, our class covered a broad spectrum of personalities. Thanks to Facebook, I’ve reconnected with some of them. Seeing one another’s profile pictures should somewhat ease the surprise of what time has delivered to each of us when we meet at the reunion. Amazingly, our differences are much fewer now than many years ago. Our experiences have rearranged our priorities and mellowed and matured us.

I cannot help but reminisce a bit about those days long past. Just this week, several of us chatted about our old choir dresses.  Those “uniforms” certainly ran the fashion gamut! I could not be cajoled into wearing any of them now, even if I could fit into them.

In high school, I was a first soprano, but since I could read music, my choir director often asked me to sing alto, and sometimes even tenor. I enjoyed the variety. My senior year, I accepted a dare and timidly tried out for a part in the operetta “The Mikado.”  My horror at being chosen almost warped me for life, but it was a fulfilling experience.

Gymnastics in junior high school, and cheerleading through high school and college highlighted my school years. My summer was spent playing neighborhood games of freeze tag, hide-and-seek, and kick the can each evening until the porch lights came on.

In sixth grade, I took baton lessons in hopes of achieving the same success my Aunt Karen did as a majorette. I felt pretty cool, and I loved the sparkling, red-sequined outfits. I still remember parts of some routines, but I’m no longer twirling. (Stop laughing, dear Reader! It was good while it lasted.)

In elementary school, I dominated the pogo stick. My small frame allowed me great endurance, allowing hundreds of jumps at a time. I remember having a big grin on my face with each “boing.” Traditional jump-roping, Chinese jump-rope, four square, and an occasional kickball game occupied my recesses.

I earned all possible badges in Pioneer Girls Club. I was a champion reader in my fourth grade “Reading-Bowling” contest. I won a few spelling bees. In third grade, Mrs  O’Brien encouraged me to be a writer when I grew up. (Obviously, I’m still working on that.)

My earliest memories are of being allowed to walk down the street by myself to the neighborhood mailbox and of winning the “Button, Button! Who’s got the button?” game in nursery school.

But in 1977, I put those achievements behind me and embraced young adulthood. Many of the “action verbs” that had previously comprised my life waned and some disappeared altogether. I soon became a college graduate, a novice teacher, a glowing bride, a grad school graduate, and young mother of three.

Now, (insert drumroll), I am a semi-retired school teacher, a middle-aged pastor’s wife, an ambitious author, and Mimi to five precious grandchildren.

Some day in the future, I hope to be an accomplished author and perhaps a great-grandma! I also yearn for a spectacular view of the Aurora Borealis (Great Northern Lights) some day.

That’s my life: what it was, what it is, and what it may be in the future.

Most of my musings require past tense verbs. It’s what I used to be. It’s past.

Only few sentences refer to my current opportunities and abilities, although I find plenty to keep me busy.

A mere two sentences are required to extrapolate my future.

The point of my musings? I am a finite being. My life consists of stages – the past, the present, and the future. I was; I am; I will be.  I must use my abilities and opportunities while they exist, knowing time changes them.

But God is different. He’s the great I AM! Everything is present tense for Him.

Oh, how I praise Him for His infinite capability! Everything God could do in the past, He can still do today, and He will be able to do equally well in the future. He never wearies or weakens. He will never change since He has no room for improvement. I can always depend upon Him to be able and accessible.

No one else can claim to be unchangeable. I’m so thankful I can count on my God!

“For I am the LORD, I change not.”                                            Malachi 3:6

“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever!”          Hebrews 13:8

Note: I never won a trophy. 😉 Most of these awards belong to my children. The ibuprofen and Bengay are mine! 😳

Say What?

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My husband, a genuine extrovert, loves people. I do, too, but as an introvert, I love them from a greater distance than he. Socially, we perfectly exemplify the “opposites attract” notion. Wherever we go, my husband extends our time out by stopping to chat with whomever he can engage in conversation. In the neighborhood, I’m known only as “oh, you’re that lady whose husband . . .  .” And that’s just fine with me.

Last year, a young couple with three little children moved in next door. Normally, my gregarious husband would know their names by now, but all we generally do is wave at them.  Other than adding a smile, that’s about it. They moved to the United States from Myanmar and speak, I think, Burmese. Although I taught English for many years and know a bit of French, and my husband knows an ounce of German, we are both ill-equipped to speak Burmese.

Obviously, language has created a barrier for us. These folks seem sweet and their children appear well-behaved, but we know little else about them.  We have introduced ourselves as best we could, but it is impossible to effectively carry on a conversation with them. They came to our garage sale last spring. I could not answer their questions about the items they were interested in, but they made several purchases after we jotted down some prices for them. Numbers do translate.

Last summer, we took them a Ziploc bag of freshly-picked red raspberries from our backyard. Judging by the amount of smiling and vigorous nodding, they appeared to be delighted with our small gift.

We did not see them much over the winter months, but once in a while we heard their oldest child (probably about six years old) outside blowing the whistle we had given him at the garage sale. (We know they are smart when they send the child outside to play with a whistle!!)  We get a kick out of hearing him blow a few times before walking back indoors.

This week, I shared another token of friendship with the sweet momma. I had made Mother’s Day gifts for our church ladies – a teacup glued to a saucer and filled with a lovely, live plant. I had a couple extra after the others were delivered, so I decided to share one with her.

I do not know her name, but I couldn’t miss her excitement when I held out my gift to her. She was bubbling and grinning and trying to show her two tiny girls. As her husband came in from working in the backyard, he, too, had a big smile when he saw the plant. I received much handshaking and multiple bows. Then he followed me back across the driveway to help me with the gate as I tried to maneuver two grandchildren, one in my arms and one walking at my side,  into the yard and keep our two dogs contained at the same time. His assistance was greatly appreciated.

And I understood all of it! So did they.

We understood because kindness and thoughtfulness know no barrier. Their language is universal.

Regardless of the lack of words, I enjoyed a delightful exchange with my neighbors. Kindness did the communicating for each of us.

I wish I could assure my readers I always remember to show kindness. I don’t. The purpose of this post is not to brag, but rather to remind myself of my need to excel in kindness. I think the memory of the sweet exchange with my foreign friends will serve as a reminder for many days ahead. I hope so. Some day I hope to walk across a bridge built by kindness in order to share the love of Jesus with them.

Although kindness often costs little to nothing, its value remains priceless. Being kind might require a few moments, a quick word or action, or the exercise of a smile directed toward a stranger. It could cost us a spot in a grocery line or traffic lane. It might entail the bending of a back or a knee. Perhaps it will mean someone else gets the credit. But the result brings joy. It could change someone’s entire outlook on life, causing them to realize there are still nice people who care or, perhaps, ease a burden they’ve been carrying. Yet, even when kindness seems unappreciated, the doer still finds satisfaction.

And our deeds are noticed. By-standers see it. Our families see it. And, most importantly, God sees it. God is, by nature, kind. Surely His heart rejoices when His children follow His example.

Never before have I been so impressed with the value of kindness, a universally understood language. I hope my actions will do a lot more “talking” from now on!

“And be ye kind one to another.”

Ephesians 4:32

 

Disaster Area!

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As soon as I bumped that old, thick-glass jar, I knew trouble was coming. But that didn’t deter my hands from grasping the air in hopes of catching it before it made contact with the porcelain tiled kitchen floor.

In vain.

CRASSSSHHH!

I’ve dropped numerous dishes over the years. That was not unusual. The odd element was the distance the shards covered. The fairly large jar had flown into more pieces than I had ever seen. Instantaneously, the jar became . . . well, not a jar, and never again to be a jar.  The remaining fragments covered my entire kitchen floor. Obviously, the greatest congregating happened at my feet. I felt their sharpness hit my shins, ankles, and feet. It stung, but I was unharmed. That was the good news.

The bad news? I had on no shoes or socks. As I peered around for a place to step that would not result in pain, no clear area appeared. I considered a little hop further out to avoid disaster. NO. There was glass literally everywhere. No space appeared large enough for a foot. I was a bit panicked, especially as I heard my two year old grandson coming to inspect the disaster. I shouted for him to stay away, explaining Mimi had broken a jar and the glass could hurt his little feet. He obeyed.

But my little feet remained in peril!

Glass had scattered to the wall by the kitchen table, to the carpet’s edge and beyond into the living room, under the appliances, into the dogs’ dishes, into the great room, and clear out into the laundry room. It was everywhere! It was almost comical that a movement of perhaps two inches could cause a disaster area at least twenty-five feet wide! Almost comical.

Finally, using some awkward ballerina-type moves, I reached a safe place to put my feet on the floor, receiving only a small knick in return. Once I was properly shod, I began the tedious clean up. I worked hard to remove all traces of glass, finally feeling satisfied it was safe for a shoed toddler.

That was last week.

A few days ago, my husband reported finding a fair chunk of glass.

The next day, he found more.

Today, I found another piece.

We cannot figure out where they are coming from. The rugs were shaken and washed. The floor was thoroughly swept. All initial traces had been removed. We thought. Now I’m beginning to believe we will never see the last of that jar. It just keeps showing up, often in areas far from the point of impact.

Life can be like that old glass jar. In one careless moment,  situations can shatter at our feet, and the repercussions reach areas we could never have anticipated. The rippling effect can carry the damage hastily and irretrievably outside our control. Once in a while, the effect is devastating.

In this case, damage was minimal. I had a broom and dustpan, a vacuum, and a washing machine, everything I needed to eliminate all noticeable evidence of my carelessness. But when new pieces show up, I am again reminded of my mistake.

I wish I’d been more careful. I wish I hadn’t been in such haste to finish those dishes. I wish the noise hadn’t scared my grandson. I wish.

But wishing doesn’t matter. I cannot change the past.

But I can remember the lessson. I can try to be more careful, knowing the effect of my thoughtlessness could be more widespread than I ever imagined.

I can be more careful with my actions, with my choices, and with my words. I can work to avoid the messes impetuousness can make. I may not be able to “unbreak” the jars I’ve shattered, but I can strive to break fewer in the future.

And, when I fail, I can again be thankful for God’s cleansing forgiveness.

“Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth;

keep the door of my lips.”

Psalm 141:3

No Grace Yet

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I have a technicolor imagination. It can be a blessing . . . and a curse! In my case, it’s often the latter. An idea doesn’t cross my mind as merely a black and white, two-dimensional thought. Oh, no! It parades across my imagination, waving multi-colored banners, every detail glowing and growing in the few seconds it takes to strut its proud self across my cerebellum.

Do you play scenes in your mind as I do? I’m not talking about dreams. I’m talking about scenarios that well up with no voluntary effort. These vivid ten-second dramas result from a husband or child being late coming home, an undiagnosed physical symptom, an overwhelming obligation, a curious look, an unexpected comment, or a myriad of life’s day to day unknowns and insecurities.

Last week, I was looking into the future rather dubiously, measuring my perceived capability against an upcoming obligation. After my measurements were complete, I was fairly certain the commitment was going to kill me outright! Not a good feeling. Furthermore, I was sure death was the only possible escape. I was trapped – I was going to die an untimely death, one way or the other.

The day came. And it went. And I survived!

Amazing! None of my fears were realized!

My imagination had painted only the worst case scenario. Vividly. The yellows had indicated my fears, the greens were envy of those more capable, the reds were blood from the wounds of my defeat, and the blues . . . well, the blues explain themselves.

Generally, I’m not a pessimist. I consider myself a realist.  I’ve tried to follow the advice my father repeated to me many times as I was growing up: hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

He also told me numerous times that about 95% of the things I worried about would never happen. I always answered him the same way – “So the more I worry about, the less bad will happen. Right?” He had a way of looking at the ceiling when I made remarks like that. Poor guy! He’s still so patient with me!

I remember worrying for almost three years about my firstborn leaving the nest and flying away to college. Up until about two months before he left, he was not going to actually fly anywhere. He was going to drive. But the Lord changed his plans at the last minute, and he DID FLY to college. In California! To a place I’d never been. With people I’d never met. To the middle of the desert!! (Okay, it was only the southern tip of the desert, but it was close enough to the middle for this momma!) I was fairly sure I would be the first mother to actually die from letting one of her beloved children leave home.

But I didn’t die. I cried some, but I didn’t die. Neither did he. Not even when he spent time on a college mission team in Uganda, Africa. As a matter of fact, at one point on that trip, he found himself alone, surrounded by a group of angry Al Qaeda (something I’d amazingly never even imagined!!), pushing him around because he (as an American) had killed Hussein. He escaped, very shaken, but unharmed. Now had I been there with him, I would have . . . well, . . .  I would not have been able to help him. I’d have fainted! Big help, huh? But in my vivid imagination, I would have protected him.

False! Wrong again.

Another time, I was told my daddy might have cancer. I told my friend that he didn’t. I knew he didn’t because if they told me he did, my head would blow up. I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

But my daddy did, indeed, have cancer. It was really bad.

And my head did not blow up. At the moment I was told, God gave me grace. I didn’t like it, but I could accept it and deal with it. The day before his diagnosis, I hadn’t had the grace. I only had technicolor imaginations. But when I needed it, God provided peace.

God healed my father. God protected my children. He helped me through my looming obligation this past week. He has delivered grace to me time and again as I have needed it. Not a moment sooner.

If God dispersed grace on a weekly basis, I would use it all by Monday evening.  I’m thankful He doesn’t dole it out that way. He gives me grace for each day. His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:23) I needn’t dream up any fearsome situations. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Romans 6:34) I only need mercy for this moment.

I still battle vivid imaginations, but I am working on turning the station from the Cartoon Network of my mind to the Spiritual Reality Station of God’s Word. He’s helping me. Day by day.