Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sweet Charity

I have been hearing from a lot of Christians lately that surely this world must be coming to an end because of all of the depravity that they see around them. First of all scripture tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5 (as well as elsewhere) that the exact time of the second coming of the Lord is not known. So, why the speculation? I think it is because some believe that certainly God would want to get us (Christians) out of such a calamitous environment. It has just become too overwhelming to deal with. Secondly, the vileness that is going on in the world is nothing new Ecclesiastes 3 shows us that. It only seems that way to us because, again, it is too staggering to deal with. No, I don't think Jesus is coming anytime soon; especially while his people are being so disobedient.

The calamity is not in the evil of those around us, it is in our own villainy. We have become egotistical as Christians and we feel we are entitled to everything we have. Not only that - if someone else doesn't have as much as we do, then that is there own plight. We have the Marie Antoinette 'let them eat cake' mentality. I have a feeling God is appalled by that.

There was a good reason that Jesus came to earth not as a wealthy or even a middle class citizen, but as a poor man. He was a carpenter by trade. He worked with his hands. There is a good chance that he went periods of time without work because there was no need for a carpenter at that time or the project that he was working on was finished. He would probably have to wait for a while or travel to another town to find work. Do we think he was lazy? Not making good choices in his line of work? Maybe he should have used his talents in a different way. Then he may not have had to rely on the kindness of strangers or charity to fill in the gaps in his employment. I think not. Assuredly we would not fault Jesus for working in a low paying, physical labor job; so why do we find fault with those around us who make the same choice?

If you take a good look at scripture it clearly tells us that we are to take care of the poor among us. It shouldn't take governmental mandates in order for us to be generous. We should give freely knowing that the laws of reciprocity will surely be in our favor down the road. We never know what life situation we may find ourselves in some day. I know I don't want to be in a position to help someone right now and refuse, only to find myself on the receiving end of the charity next year and have someone deny me help.

Of course we shouldn't assist others out of fear or guilt. We should do it because correct thing to do - because Jesus told us to.

Deuteronomy 15:7-11 - 7 If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. 89 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: "The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near," so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.

Proverbs 21:13 - 13 If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor,
he too will cry out and not be answered.

Matthew 19:21 - 21Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

2 Corinthians 8:7-10 - 7But just as you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us-see that you also excel in this grace of giving. 8I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 10And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so.

A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back to School Update

The kids had a great first day of school. My seventh grader was a little bummed because he has third lunch, which is when mostly eight graders eat, but other than that I really heard nothing but positive things. I took a few pictures of them as we were leaving. I can't believe how much they have grown. Cliche, I know, but it is so true. Parenting makes time a paradoxical situation in which every moment is an eternity and it is over before you know it. I am trying to enjoy every moment and stage of their development as much as I can, since I realize that in the blink of an eye it will come to an end. *sniff, sniff*

Know it All

From a worldly point of view there is no mistake so great as that of being always right. ~Samuel Butler, Note-Books, 1912

Proverbs 3:5-6

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Don't you just love those people who always seem to know it all? You know the type I am talking about -- the ones who, during a conversation, often interject the word actually. "Well, actually, the chicken had to come before the egg because..." "Well, actually, I am a pompous ass." Okay they don't actually say that last one, but they might as well.

We all encounter these people in our lives. It makes me wonder -- what drives someone to be a know it all? Why do they feel the need to be right all the time. I think that the answer is fear. So many roadblocks in our lives can be attributed to that (not so) little word -- fear. I think frequently, folks feel afraid that if others see them as they really are, they will not be liked, so theyexalt themselves to expert in all subjects.

The problem is that one can never relax in this constant state of readiness. She ahs to always be ready with the correct information in which to stump her fellow confabulator. It has to be tiring, always trying to win an argument when the person she is talking to never even realizes that the pleasant chat they were having was actually a debate. She walks away with a victory in her pocket -- the fact that she actually knew the facts to a tee. However, her friend is shaking her head and wondering why she even bothers to have a conversation with her; it always feels like she is trying to one up her. It starts to wear on the friendship.

It is indeed impossible to always be right about everything. Furthermore, we weren't put on the earth to know all of the answers all of the time. As a Christian, I believe that God made us with an inquiring mind that seeks to know the answers to all of life's queries. It's true that we have a tremendous capacity for knowledge, but we will never know it all.

It is my belief that only God knows all the answers. That is why scripture cautions us not to lean on our own understanding, but to acknowledge God in all ways. It is only then that who we are to be can come to fruition. If we hold so tightly to our own intelligence that we are living in fear of being wrong, then we are surely not living our best life.

God longs for us to live victorious lives. He wants the best for us, just as we want the best for our children. We must learn to let go of our own pride and relinquish our hold on our own perception of perfect understanding and concede that God alone knows it all. It is a lot less taxing and infinitely more joyful.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Back to School

At the moment, my house is quiet with anticipation; expectation of the long awaited first day of school. There is nothing like the first day of school. It is the chance to start things anew and look at things with a fresh perspective. Without these kinds of fresh starts, life would surely become stagnate. I know that for the last few weeks, stagnate is what I have been feeling. I need a brand-new beginning, there is no doubt about it. I know my kids do as well.

In just a few minutes the quiet anticipation is going to turn to buzzing expectation. I will miss my children dearly. They are really cool kids and they are fairly amusing to hang out with; however there are a few things that I will not miss. Like the plethora of discarded drinking glasses that invariably pile up no matter what 'system' I enact. They also will not be able to graze at the trough that is our pantry all day long like they do during the lazy days of summer. No, they will have to wait until after school to come home and have a 30 minute eating frenzy, as they are forced to 'starve' all afternoon with no snack at school. I am not sure if they eat more while grazing or during the binge, but at least the abandoned granola bar wrappers and yogurt cups are restricted to a finite period of time. That way I can make one clean sweep of the house and pick them all up at one time instead of shrieking at them all day to pick them up.

I will also not mourn the loss of their constant and continuous bickering. This last few weeks they have felt the incessant need to irritate each other. It is too haot ot go outside and do much of anything, and I ran out of money to throw at them for entertainment, so they took up pestering one another as amusement. Have you heard of an experiment in which rats where placed in a cage without enough space to accommodate all of its inhabitants? Well, what happened was the rats started tearing each other apart. This is what occurs in human specimens in August, in Texas where there seems to be no place to escape the confines of their domiciles -- They fight to see who can be ousted from the cage to insure proper elbow room for the remaining inmates.

We used to start school in early August, thus allowing our children and their ensuing scratching, biting and clawing behavior to be the responsibility of the public school system. Alas, that is no long an option. The powers that be in Austin, Texas have seen fit to mandate that no public school be allowed to start classes before the last Monday in August. I feel certain that it was a teacher's lobby group that pushed that legislation into action. No way would any other special interest group benefit so much from this regulation. It surely was not stay at home moms of four kids who pushed for it.

It is a time for renewal today, however. A season for change and a shift of focus. It will be nice to have a routine again and to try to get some perspective.

Okay, the are up now, so I can't think straight any more.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Learning is Not Just for Kids

When I was young I was sure of everything; in a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before; at present, I am hardly sure of anything but what God has revealed to me.”
- John Wesley

As I get older I realize just how little I really know. There are so many things yet to be learned and explored. The old saying that youth is wasted on the young really has a ring of truth to it. If I knew half as much as I thought I did at 22, I'd be a genius. Some wisdom in life can only come from, There is no substitute for life experience. I now know that I really am not as smart as I thought I was. I am a little wiser now, but not nearly as wise as I will be in 5,10,15 years. I can't wait to learn new things and gain more insight into life's mysteries.

As far as my relationship with the Lord is concerned, I want to be emptied of all preconceived notions that I have. I want to forget what the world tells me is the truth and concentrate on what God reveals to me as the truth. I anxiously await these revelations. There is so much glory and power in God's word. I don't want to read it with my own understanding. I want to read it like it was meant to be read - with humility and openness.

Proverbs 3:5-6:
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

1 Corinthians 2:6-10

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9However, as it is written:
"No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him"10but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

Monday, August 18, 2008

It Will All Work Out

No matter what happens... somebody will find a way to take it too seriously. ~Dave Barry, "Things That It Took Me 50 Years to Learn"

Luke 12:24-28

24Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 26Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!

Matthew 6:34

34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

I have discovered more about human nature and my own personality since I have been PTA President this last year (and continuing this year) than ever before in my life. I never really looked at myself as a glass is half full type person. I truly thought I was a pessimist for most of my adult life. I always envied people that I new who were enthusiastic and bubbly, forever wearing a smile on their face.

The thing is, I spent the better part of twenty five years with a undiagnosed form of depression called dysthymia. This was clouding my perception of reality and my concept of who I actually was. It was not until I was pregnant with my fourth child at age 35 that I began to realize that there might be a reason why I could never shake my funky feelings. I had been told since I was a child just to snap out of it, or to pray for release of these feelings. These were all things I had tried fervently to do over the years. I really felt I had failed as a Christian if I sought medical intervention in this area; however I really felt that in order to be the mom I needed to be for my children -- I had to do something different.

After talking to my doctor about it, he put me on a low dose of Zoloft. Once the medication kicked in, I cannot tell you the difference there was in my outlook. I remember thinking "Wow, this is how normal people feel all the time!" I was truly astounded at the alteration of my moods. I have since learned to deal with the fact that my brain chemicals do not work the way most do. I will forever be on antidepressants. They make me normal. They bring the real me to the surface. It is my belief that God led me to the medication so that I could be more of who I really am. I don't feel that I have failed in my relationship with God by taking my medication any more than I feel my son is sinning when he takes his asthma medication. He needs it to live, just as I do with my antidepressants.

So, that story leads my back to my observation. I really am a very optimistic person. I just never had the chance to truly know it. My mantra is generally "It will all work out." This tends to frustrate some who do not share my outlook. They want to worry and fret. It is who they are. When they see that I am not stressed, they are inclined to get more anxious in an attempt to transfer their stress on to me.

No where has this been more evident than in my tenure as PTA President. At first I thought "Well, everyone else is worried -- maybe I should be too." But why? Everything does tend to work out. Plus we are talking PTA here, it is not the end of the world as we know it if we run out of (fill in the blank), or a parent doesn't like the set up of our event. We are volunteers, doing a job that not many people are willing to step up and do. I am always agreeable to step aside and let someone else try their hand at it if they believe they can do a better job.

I want things to run smoothly. I desire to make as many people as happy as possible, but I realize that perfection is impossible, so why worry about it. I enjoy my job and feel fulfilled in my role as a leader, but seriously -- not everything has to be taken so...well...seriously.

Lighten up, ladies -- you will live so much longer and be so much more cheerful in the process.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kill Them With Kindness

"I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again." ~William Penn

Passage 2 Peter 1:5-7:
5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.

Passage Proverbs 11:17:
17 A kind man benefits himself,
but a cruel man brings trouble on himself.

Passage Proverbs 14:21

21 He who despises his neighbor sins,
but blessed is he who is kind to the needy

Passage Luke 6:35:
35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

Passage 1 Thessalonians 5:15:
15Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

How do you measure success? Is it how much money you make? What kind of house you live in? What kind of job you have? These are all external. Sure it shows the world that you have achieved, but is it really a success? Real successes in life are the kindnesses we show to others - the things we do when no one is looking.

For some reason we seem to be programed to crave external validation. As children we cry "Look at me, look at me!" so that others can see how high we can swing, how fast we can run, how we can ride a bike with no hands.

We have to learn at some point in our lives not to need others' attention to our successes. We should mature to the point where our source of validation moves toward the internal. Where we are able to pat ourselves on the back and know that our accomplishments are more than just how many things we can amass. It is about the kindness that we show to others, the shoulder we lend, the hand that reaches out, the ear that listens - those are the measures of real success in life.

So, go out today and commit a random act of kindness. Notice how good it makes you feel? That's what I'm talking about.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Don't be a fake

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. ~e.e. cummings
Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess, and to gain applause which he cannot keep. ~Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, 1750

If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise. ~Johann von Goethe

Romans 12:4-8:
4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Being who you really are no matter what other people think is really hard. As we are growing up we take cues form those around us as to what is acceptable behavior and what is not. It becomes painful at times to exhibit behavior that is out of the norm. I am not talking about socially unacceptable or rude behavior; I am talking about unpopular behavior. I am speaking of such things as being a bookworm in a family of jocks or musically inclined in a crowd of intellectuals. We try to conform and fit the mold that we believe will gain us the most acceptances by the widest audience. This is really counterproductive. It will never lead to lasting fulfillment in life. It will never garner us the true acceptance that we long for because we can’t forever keep up the fa├žade of being something we are not.

It is easy on websites such as Myspace, Cafemom, etc. to be a chameleon, skipping from one forum to the next and fitting in to whatever tenor is prevailing in that forum. Again we are not being true to ourselves and for those of us who are Christian – we are not being the way God intended us to be. He has a master plan for each of our lives and if we don’t seek his wisdom and discernment and grace we will never find our authentic self. We will go through life just being who we think we should be, saying yes to things that we are asked to do because someone else feels we are qualified based on the false self we have presented them with.

We have to be who we are – no matter where we are – no matter who accepts us. Chances are we are just in the wrong crowd anyway if we aren't accepted for who we are. Time to move on and make new friends based on our real selves. It is the best way to go and the older I get I realize it’s the only way to make true friends and find lasting acceptance and real happiness

Monday, August 11, 2008

Trying not to lose hope.

Hope is expectant and confident for better things in the future. People who are depressed often feel hopeless -- like there is nothing better down the road; they will always feel low. I think that is probably the worst feeling in the world.

A lot of negativity has been going on in my life recently. It would be easy to slip into a pit of despair. Summer should be a time of relaxation and renewal, but it doesn't seem to be working out that way this year. Unfortunately life does not always give me what I want. There is good and bad in the world. I can't have one without the other.

I have grown weary from frustration that I can't fit everything into a neat little box. I don't understand what motivates people to make the choices that they make. It seems so simple that it is perplexing to me that people find themselves in awkward positions. Could they not foresee the result of that action? Have they not learned the meaning of cause and effect yet? Alas it is not so simple. I have not walked a mile in their shoes, as they have not walked a mile in mine. I have not always made the right decisions either. I can't forget that, lest I start to take inventory of their wrongs.

Life is full of turning points -- standing at the crossroads which choice do I make? There is always a point at which I can turn back and not feel the regret of a wrong path taken. It is at these moments that we find out what we are made of -- what we put our hope in. I can't make a wrong decision and hope for the best. That would be foolhardy. I have to hope for the best first and then my decisions will follow suit.

In my case, being that I am a Christian, I place my hope firmly at the foot of the cross of Jesus. He did not suffer and bleed and die for me so that I could throw caution to the wind and live my life willy-nilly. I am asked to make the hard choices sometimes. I am asked to turn from myself and carry my cross along with the one whom I serve. This means I will have to deny myself things that take my eyes off of my God. It is the action that separates me from my God, not the temptation. It is said that nothing can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, but that is not exactly true -- my own choices can alienate me from God's love.

The choices that I have seen made by some friends still bewilder me. I would hope that I would not make those same choices. I really want to put my God and my family before myself. I can't let my fear stand in the way of the victorious life my God has planned for me.

It is my belief that it is fear that is the common denominator behind wrong decisions. Fear of abandonment, fear of not measuring up, fear of failure -- these are just a few of the fears that motivate bad decisions. I have to put these fears behind me. When I trust in something bigger than myself, it is easier not to be afraid. Fear can't grow inside of hope; there is nothing for it to take root in. So, it stands to reason that if my hope and trust are fixed on things besides myself, I will not have fear. It is still not always easy and perfection is impossible, but it gives me something to reach for.

Romans 5:1-5

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Psalm 27:1-4

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation—

whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life—

of whom shall I be afraid?

2 When evil men advance against me

to devour my flesh,

when my enemies and my foes attack me,

they will stumble and fall.

3 Though an army besiege me,

my heart will not fear;

though war break out against me,

even then will I be confident.

4 One thing I ask of the Lord,

this is what I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord

all the days of my life,

to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord

and to seek him in his templ