Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I love Christmas. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year for me. The decorations, the lights, the parties and everything else, but especially the spirit of the season are all every special to me. This past week has been a whirlwind of parties, get togethers and volunteering, coupled with weird exam schedules for my older kids (not to mention a heaping dose of PMS), so I struggled to find the spirit in the season; I just really wanted the week to end so that we could have a little down time with the family.

This morning, the first day of Winter Break, dawned clear and bright. I determined to get that spirit of the season back. I wasn't sure how I would accomplish this, however, because the first thing on my to-do-list was a major trip to Costco. Downer. I like to steer clear of warehouse and major department stores on a normal weekend and I usually won't even darken the door of one during the holiday season on Saturday or Sunday. I have issues with crowds, noise and claustrophobia, so I know my limits - not to mention that most people somehow leave their spirit of the season behind when they enter these stores. I was dead-set on making the most of this trip, though. I wanted to start out the Winter Break on a good note. I squared my shoulders and put on my determination.

I decided the best bet was to get there early, so I set out at 9:45. I grabbed my iPod out of my daughter's room on my way out the door- low battery. Typical. As I was driving to Costco, I heard the familiar rattle of an improperly closed passenger side door. Had I not just told my 12 year old to shut the door good when he got out of there not five minutes before? Grrr. Getting filled with the spirit of the season might be harder than I thought. I soldiered on though, I was not going to let my children spoil my resolve.

I reached Costco without the door flying open and spilling the mammoth contents of my van all over the road. Things are looking up. I was able to find a really close parking space on the non-busy side of the lot. This might work after all. I got my cart and I turn on my iPod to my Holiday Mix playlist and turn it up loud. That's the ticket. I probably have enough battery power for an hour. Should work out. I put on a smile and entered the fray. I quickly realized that most people weren't shopping for groceries, but rather for gifts, so the grocery aisles were pretty clear. Yay! I gathered all my items in rapid succession. No one cut me off, blocked the aisles or crowded around the end-caps (they weren't serving samples yet ;-)). Sweet.

As I approached the check-out area, I was pleasantly surprised to see several short lines to choose from. Blessing of all blessings, I chose a line that moved really quickly and in record time I had my full cart unloaded on the belt with the help of a generous worker with whom I chatted about cinnamon rolls while we got everything out of the cart. I gave my card to the checker and he asked me what kind of music I was listening to. I told him Christmas music and we talked about our favorite Christmas songs while he checked me out. It was so nice to have a friendly, personable exchange with both the bagger and the checker. He asked me if I had my $3 off coupon with me and I said, No, that I received the coupon book but my son had misplaced it when he was looking through it. He smiled and gave me the discount anyway. Score. Three dollars is not much, but, hey it will pay for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Lagniappe - a little unexpected extra. I like it.

I proceeded to the exit and the guy who checks the receipts at the door had a fantastic smile on his face as he asked me how I was doing. 'Great', I said. He checked my cart and said 'You have a M... I mean..'. I could tell he wasn't sure whether to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, so I said "I'm going to have a Merry Christmas, what holiday do you celebrate?' He chuckled and said "Me too, Merry Christmas to you." I said the same as I wheeled my bloated cart to my van with a smile on my face, loaded up my van and proceed home while humming along with my iPod that was still going strong after over an hour. Good stuff.

See what a little determination and a good attitude will get you? A peaceful, uplifting shopping trip to Costco six days before Christmas. It's a hoilday miracle. I found my spirit of the season today and it didn't cost me a dime. Indeed it is the most wonderful time of the year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I grew up in a Christian home and I knew we lit candles in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but I never really delved into the meaning of Advent any deeper than that until I was an adult and it became so much more meaningful to me once I knew all the significance of it. I thought I would pass along some of the things I have learned about the season of Advent, so that those who celebrate it can reflect on the messages of Love, Joy, Peace and Hope and for those who don't, to understand why we celebrate Advent.

The word Advent itself means the beginning or the arrival of something anticipated. In the Christian tradition, obviously, we are anticipating the arrival of Christ. The rituals that are observed in the four weeks leading up to Christmas day have specific meanings. Many churches mark the beginning of the season with a Hanging of the Greens ceremony. This is a service where we decorate our church with evergreen branches and various other traditional greens to signify the everlasting life that we anticipate in the coming of Jesus.

The centerpiece of the Advent season is the Advent Wreath. It is an evergreen wreath with five candles, four colored candles (3 purple and one pink) around the outside in circular fashion and one (white) in the middle. The reason for lighting candles is to symbolize the light of the world we believe Christ to be. Each of the four candles have their own connotations and when lit become our focus of the week up until Christmas day when the center, the white candle, representing the pure Christ child, is lit.

Different churches may light the candles in variant order, but what they represent remains the same. They are: hope, peace, joy and love. It is significant to me that we focus on these aspects of our faith, too often we focus on sin, legalism and penitence. All of those things have their place in Christianity, but Advent is about the hope, joy peace and love of our Savior and to focus on these attributes leads us to a deeper understanding of why Jesus was sent to us in the first place. It is good to have this time dedicated to such positive aspects of our faith.

We are already a couple of weeks into the Advent season, but I thought it would be a good idea to look up some scriptures for each of the five weeks for us to refer to as we get closer to December 25th. I hope all of you who call Christ your Savior will take a moment to reflect on the spirits of hope, joy, peace and love that are represented by the birth and life of Jesus. Take these attributes with you in your daily lives so that when you leave a place, the people with whom you have come in contact will feel the love of Jesus that you have left behind. Allow them to wonder why you are so joyful in your life, so peaceful when everyone around seems stressed, full of hope in the future instead of depair in our circumstances. This is the best way for us to show Christ to others. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

©KDV 2009

Romans 8:24-25 (New International Version)
24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Hebrews 10:23-24 (New International Version)
23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

Ephesians 2:17-20 (New International Version)
17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

John 14:27 (New International Version)
27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Philippians 4:1 (New International Version)
1Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!

John 16:22-24 (New International Version)
22So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

John 15:10-12 (New International Version)
10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

1 John 4:17-19 (New International Version)
17In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.19We love because he first loved us.

Luke 2:9-11 (New International Version)
9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christa]">[a] the Lord.

John 3:16-17 (New International Version)
16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,a]">[a] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

ONE CANDLE IS LIT ("Come surely, Lord Jesus")

Mary Anne Parrott, 1988, © 1995 Chalice Press
(from Chalice Hymnal, no. 128)

Come surely, Lord Jesus, as dawn follows night,
our hearts long to greet you, as roses, the light.
Salvation, draw near us, our vision engage.
One candle is lit for the hope of the age.

Come quickly, shalom, teach us how to prepare
for a gift that compels us with justice to care.
Our spirits are restless till sin and war cease.
One candle is lit for the reign of God's peace.

Come, festively sing while awaiting the birth,
join angels in dancing from heaven to earth.
Wave banners of good news, lift high thankful praise.
One candle is lit for the joy of these days.

Come, wander where lion and lamb gently play,
where evil is banished and faith takes the day,
a babe in a manger to fool the world's eyes.
One candle is lit for God's loving surprise.

Come, listen, the sounds of God-with-us ring clear,
and signs of a cross in the distance appear.
The Word once made flesh, yet the Word ever near.
One candle is lit for the Christ-birthday here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hero Worship

I have two teenagers and two tweenagers so, I often hear about role models and heroes - people who are looked up to, by young people who have not yet firmly decided who they are. These kids may be flailing around helplessly and grasping onto whatever seems stable to them in order to establish a base upon which to build their own character. What they do not understand at their age is that you can't build your life on someone else's base. Doing so leads to instability in your life and even more floundering about because you haven't built your own base on something real and substantial, but on what you perceive to be the ideal. You don't realize that what you see of famous and/or popular people is often only the surface of who that person is. There can be myriad cracks and instability in their base, but you would never know it by outward appearances; you would have to dig underneath the surface to see the condition of the base (or core) of the person.

Take the story of the wise and the foolish builders in the bible (Matthew 7:24-29). Here, Jesus illustrates that a builder is wise to build a house on a firm, rock foundation rather than one of sand. This way, when the storm blow through, the house stays intact. The same can be said in your life, you have to build your life on a firm, carefully chosen base in order to have a foundation that will withstand the storms of live that will inevitably hit. It is hard enough to go through trials in life when you know who you are and you're sure that your foundation is firm. It is just fool-hardy to try to get through life on an unsure base: one that is likely shallow and mercurial.

This is a lesson I try to teach my teenagers as they are blossoming into adulthood - don't try to be like anyone else, just concentrate on being the best you that you can be. Everyone is such a unique and individual person and it is so much easier to shape yourself into the best version of you that you can, rather than twisting and bending around to make yourself look like someone else and basing your life on the unknown stability of someone else. This is not to say that you can't respect others and seek out people for advice and guidance, but you have to be careful about who you allow to mentor you. Do they simply want you to agree with them all the time and go along to get along, or do they truly want you to thrive in your own right? These are questions you have to ask yourself. I know the latter are the people I want to align myself with.

I guess I have just never understood the whole hero worship thing. Even when I was young and had low self esteem I still didn't want to emulate anyone else. I wanted to explore who I was, but I never wanted to copy anyone's life, looks, style, mannerisms, etc. I thank God that I didn't because goodness knows how many bad eggs I could have fashioned myself after over the years. No, when it boiled down to it, I knew that there was no one in the world who I looked up to in that way. I have always had only one hero in my life and that is Jesus Christ. He is the only hero I worship and the only one I want to be like.

That its, after all what being a Christian means. It means striving to be Christ-like. I want to be compassionate, loving, graceful, tenderhearted and merciful, just like Jesus. Even though I know I will never accomplish that ultimate goal, I know that with this desire as a base, my foundation will be firm. I will be able to confront problems, enemies, difficulties and heartaches in my life without collapsing into a heap of rubble. I can press on on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14).

So, when I hear anyone advising someone to be more like someone else, I bristle. No one should be giving that advice and no one should feel compelled to take that advice. In the end it will get you exactly nowhere. You need to be careful who you put up on a pedestal and look up to, they are liable to fall off that top spot and land right on top of your head. Not good a good scenario for either party.
© KDV 2009

A Picture Journal of Fifth Grade Camp

Check out my fun trip to fifth grade camp with my youngest son.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Painful, ugly stories are often hard to tell. Yet they are most often the ones that need to be told. Our stories of pain, depression, apathy and self abuse allow others to understand that they are not alone. When we dig deeply into our own sordid pasts, tell the stories we wish were not true, that is when we are most helpful to others. As with many difficult things in life, the first step is the hardest.

I grew up in a middle class home. A Christian home. I was not abused or tormented in any way. I was also never told that I mattered. I was never encouraged. For an introspective, sensitive child such as myself, this was the worst possible scenario. I felt guilty that I felt bad about myself. After all, there were many people in the world who had things much worse off than I. Who was I to wallow in self pity?

These conflicting emotions led me down an extremely destructive path for a number of years. I didn't really care enough about myself to care that I was self-destructing. I never actively tried to kill myself, but I certainly did not care if I lived or died. I wished many times that I had never been born. I had no purpose or future beyond taking up space on the planet. I pushed people away and then lamented that I had no one in my life who cared about me. I drank myself into oblivion in an attempt to numb my feelings of worthlessness. I slept with random strangers in an attempt to find acceptance. I starved myself in an attempt to be more attractive. None of it worked. I felt isolated, alone and scared and I had no idea how to feel any other way.

One morning, after a particularly intoxicating night out, I had a moment of clarity that pierced the darkness just enough for me to understand that I mattered and what I was doing to myself was not okay. That was the beginning of the end of the self loathing chapter in my life. Oh, the pain surely did not stop that day. Nor the next one after that, for that matter. I had a long row to hoe in order to undo all of the damage I had done to my psyche and to my body over the years. Some of the damage I had done could never be undone. I was left with battle scars - self inflicted wounds of the war I had waged with myself for such a long time. They are reminders to me to this day that I never want to be in that place again. I thank my God that I never have to be. Luckily I did survive. By all accounts I should not have, but I did and grateful I am for that.

I wish, that back when I needed help discovering my value in the world, there had been a group like To Write Love on Her Arms. It would have been a tremendous help for me to know that I was not alone in my misery - not in a 'misery loves company' type of way, but in a 'there is strength in numbers' sort of way. My dark night of the soul happened more than 20 years ago, however, so there was no Internet, no way to connect in a positive way with other people who were struggling like me. I did the work on my own to get better, but I feel it took me much longer because I felt such guilt and shame. I couldn't even share my most private thoughts with my family for fear of condemnation. I fear that even now. Guess I still have some work to do.

Yes, it would have been better to have had a shared journey with others. It is too late for that for me, but it is not too late for you to understand that you are not alone. There are people in the world who have been through or are going through just what you are. No matter how dark, depressing, anxious or destructive your life has become there is always someone else who can relate. Not only that, there is also always hope. No one is beyond redemption. No life is beyond hope. There are people who don't even know you who are willing to love you through the dark times and bring you into the light of a brighter future.

I am one person among many who loves you without ever having met you. That is why I have chosen to take a huge leap of faith and not post this journal anonymously as I first intended to. I have decided to be brave and put my past out there for you to see that past mistakes are not something to be ashamed of. I have also shown my support today for all who feel the pain of depression, addiction, thoughts of suicide and just plain self loathing by joining others in writing LOVE on my arms. It is my simple act of support to let you know that I know what you are going through. I know how you feel. I have been there. Let this day not be the end, but yet a new beginning. Let me and others like me love you.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Do you live with regrets or learn from experience?

I asked myself this question today as I perused the past 25 years of my life. I certainly had a lot of experiences and there are more than a few things I regret doing, but to be stuck in the regret would be to not learn from the experiences of the past and not learning from past experiences is perhaps one of the saddest ways to live.

I look at the girl I was at age twenty and I do wish that I could go back and tell that girl that she was way more than she gave herself credit for. She had so very little in the way of self esteem that it would be wonderful to be able to tell her not to give herself away so cheaply. I would tell her that she was smart, funny and not nearly as ugly as she thought she was. My eyes mist over as I remember how little she actually thought of herself - how many hours she spent crying and agonizing about her worth (or lack thereof). I would love to be able to save that girl just a few hours of agony, but since that is impossible, I must push on into the here and now and move on toward the future.

Even if I could go back and tell my 20 year old self the things I needed to hear at the time, knowing myself, I would not listen. I am a 'learn from my own experiences' kind of person and the only way to learn from experience is to experience life and then to take stock in the wrong decisions we made and either keep doing it wrong or try to change things and get it right. In my case multiple stumbles and wrong decisions are often necessary in order to learn the lessons that perhaps seem so simple to others. Who knows if I had actually known my worth at age 20 if that knowledge would have been of any benefit to me. It is useless to speculate, I suppose, but it is interesting none-the-less.

Yes, those experiences - good and bad, shaped the person I have become. We have to give in to the experience and cull out all the junk and keep the good parts that we learn along the way. I can regret that no one ever told me I was worth anything when I was young, or I can thank my God that he was with me even when I didn't think I was worth it. I can regret that I made some bad decisions that could have cost me my life, or I can thank my God that he saved me from myself and taught me countless lessons along the way.

The lessons that I learned made me who I am today. Having made mistakes makes me a more compassionate person. Having had low self esteem myself helps me to be more encouraging to the young people in my life. Sure, there are things I wish I would have done better and choices that would have made more sense, but I can't regret any of it. I have to think of my life as a whole and know that the journey is part and parcel of that life, not just the means to an end, but to be experienced. To live my life with regret would be my biggest regret.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How to be a good volunteer

I have been thinking a great deal about volunteerism and the use of our personal gifts lately. I volunteer quite a bit and often wrestle with whether or not to take on a volunteer opportunity. When I first started volunteering on a regular basis, I would pretty much say yes to everything and then I would find myself burned out and resentful rather quickly. Over the years I have learned that it simply makes for a smoother ride for all involved if I limit myself to jobs that I am really good at. It just makes so much more sense. I also never realized that in my eagerness to jump in with both feet that I was hindering others from realizing their full potential as part of the group. This realization brought me up short.

We are all gifted in different ways. I am going to use my Christian perspective here, but I believe this message is relevant to everyone, no matter what your faith base. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-28 we are told that everyone has a different, unique gift and that we should use that gift in alliance with one another. This passage also uses the body as analogy to show us the significance of each part. No matter how small or large, each part, when working correctly, makes its contribution to the smooth operation of the body as a whole. So it is with people. In a group, every person has a significant role in the group. Whether it be large or small, each member must pull their own weight or the group will fall apart.

To add to this analogy, I would like to offer this - not only does every part of the body have to be in proper working order, each part has its own unique role and shouldn't take over the function of another part. If it does, then the part being taken over dies away. For example, take a person with a particular problem with his left eye in which his eye is not communicating with the brain and therefore the affected person cannot see very well out of the left eye (amblyopia). It is not that the eye lacks the capacity to see, it simply lacks the brain recognition necessary for sight. Over time the right eye takes on more and more of the seeing power, the left eye get weaker and weaker until it finally stops functioning all together. This in essence renders the person blind in the left eye. The right eye sees most things well enough, the person is able to function well for the most part, but he is still blind in that left eye and the right eye is being strained beyond its capabilities. His body not functioning at maximum levels.

This situation can be avoided all together if the doctor places a patch over the stronger right eye of his patient, thus forcing the left eye to increase its development of communicating to the brain. If all goes well at the end of such treatment, the patient most likely will be able to see clearly through both eyes. At this point, the body is working as it should; all parts are pulling their own weight and everything is in balance.

I have seen this scenario played out many times in various volunteer organization. We are so passionate about the organization itself, we are willing to do whatever is necessary to keep the group running, even if the job we take on is not in an area which we are gifted. For a while the organization will operate well, but after a while the strain of overwork will cause problems for us. What we also don't realize we have done in our zeal is that we have taken away an opportunity from someone who is actually gifted in this particular area to serve the organization. Pretty soon that person becomes discouraged at not being used and stops working completely. Then we find ourselves in a really bad position; the whole organization is limping along instead of racing to the finish line because everyone lacks direction and motivation. It is time to regroup, but we have lost valuable time spinning our wheels doing work for which we are not suited and caused others to feel frustrated at not being able to do what they do best.

It is easy to stay motivated when we are doing something for which we have a talent. When everyone is working toward the same goal, in various roles for which they have a gift, then the group really shines. So, we really have to be careful in our areas of service to be cognizant of not only the goal, but also our position in helping that goal blossom. We want the organization to have unity and strength and this comes when all people involved are working the way that is right for them. Then we really don't have to worry about the rest of the group and we are free to focus on our own activity. We should never allow our own motivation to take over the opportunity for someone else to serve. When we are all using our gifts, then no one feels overworked and no one feels under-appreciated or unfulfilled. We end up with a group in which our goals are accomplished and everyone is a winner.

Friday, September 25, 2009

What did you just call me?

I know a lot people are growing weary of being politically correct all the time, but I still feel like I need to say something on this issue. Most of us are aware, though some not always compliant, that it is in poor taste to call someone or something retarded or gay. These words, when used out of context are rude to people for whom these words actually apply. There are also more appropriate ways to describe said people. Hopefully everyone is at least making an effort to not offend others and have stopped using these words.

Along the same lines though are a few other words that are bandied about in casual conversation, used inappropriately and can be offensive. Words like, bi-polar, shitzo, manic or mental. There are people who live daily with diagnosed mental illness. These people have feelings, rights and opinions just like everyone else. When these words are used to describe someone who is acting out of the norm or is perceived as being bizarre - it is not okay. It is rude and offensive.

This is what I tell my kids about the words they use to describe people: When you are describing some maladaptive behavior in someone and are tempted to use one of the words I have listed above, substitute your own name for that adjective. Does it still sound okay to say "Oh my goodness she is acting so Kim"? I don't think so. I think anyone would be offended if their own name where used to put someone else down. It doesn't seem so insignificant when you are the one who is being personified as some sort of freak of nature.

We should all try to be more aware of those around us and how our words can offend. Whoever said words can never hurt was so dead wrong. Words can wound like nothing else in my opinion. We are all different, unique and individual people. We should build one another up with our words instead of being disrespectful by our casual use of words that we really know nothing about. There are plenty of other adjectives out there that can be used instead of bi-polar, shitzo, manic or mental. We should expand our vocabulary instead of inadvertently offending others because we don't know what the heck we're saying. We should educate ourselves.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why I Volunteer

I do a lot of volunteer work. I do about 30 hours a week of volunteer work as a matter of fact. I don't say that to toot my own horn. I have an ulterior motive for my altruistic ways. It just makes me feel good. I feel almost guilty that it make me feel so good. It is almost like I don't even care what the cause is, I just love to volunteer for it. Well, that is not exactly true, because I do pick my volunteer opportunities carefully and I love all the places and organizations I volunteer for. For the past 10 years I have concentrated most of my volunteer activities at the public schools my children attend. This year they are in three different schools so it gives me a great opportunity to make a difference to a wider variety of students and staff. I love everyone at all three school, but my heart will always belong to the elementary school where my youngest attends fifth grade. All four of my kids have attended from kindergarten through fifth grade at the school and I have loved every minute of ever hour I've spent volunteering there.

This morning was a typical volunteer day for me. My daughter arranged a ride for herself to get to high school, which is a couple of miles away and starts an hour and a half later than the elementary school. This would allow me to drop my two middle school kids off a bit early and be at the elementary school with my youngest before the bell rang so that I could help out with Picture Day. As luck would have it, it was raining this morning and a two minute drive to the middle school took more like 15. I was in a rush when I arrived at the elementary school. The carpool line was really long, so I decided to circumvent the line and proceed to the parking lot. I signalled well in advance so that people would know that I was turning. As I made my turn, I heard a horn honking at me. I didn't think much of it because I just figured someone wasn't aware that I wasn't cutting in line, but only going around them to park. No big deal. I parked and got out of the car. As I was closing my car door an angry dad yelled at me, as he was getting his daughter out of the car "Hey, you cut me off back there!" I said "No, I didn't I had my signal on". He claimed I didn't and proceeded to tell me that if I did it again he would call the police on me. I just said "You know what, I'm not going to get into it" and walked into the building.

Later on I saw the parent telling the Principal about the incendent. Oh, well, what can you do, right? After all these years I just hoped that the Principal would understand that I am not a rude driver who cuts people off in the school parking lot. I mean, I do yell at people when I drive, but I don't make jestures or cut people off, especially in the SCHOOL PARKING LOT - that is another journal altogether. I have to show my face around that school, I love it there, I wouldn't do something stupid in the parking lot. I just hoped the Principal knew that. Luckily she did.

Fast forward a couple (four) hours into the ordeal that is picture day at an elementary school to the reason I love volunteering so much. I was still funneling the children onto the cafeteria stage when one of the grades came in to eat their lunches. I look over to my right and a cute little girl (the daughter of the man who had reamed me out) motioned for me to come over to her. I went over, figuring she needed help opening her milk - a frequent need for children her age. The kids are used to seeing me there and most think I work there, so they think nothing of asking me to do a task for them. So, I said "What do you need, sweetie?". She said to me "I just wanted to say I am sorry my daddy yelled at you this morning." I was flabbergasted. I said "Oh, sweetie, it's okay, no big deal, see I'm fine now." And then this little girl with big brown eyes looked at me and said "I just wanted to apologize because I knew my daddy wouldn't." O.My.Goodness. That broke my heart into a million pieces.

Incidents like that cement my belief that one person can make a difference in a child's life. Over the years I have had similar incidences, although not quite so dramatic happen with various students. I have felt their need and have taken the extra time to seek them out and say hi to them, ask about their day, look them in the eye and tell them they rock. There are kids out there, even in wealthy suburbs who are starving for this kind of attention. It is a tragedy that is happening at every school in every city across the nation. I have committed to standing in the gap for these children. Maybe, just maybe when they are needing a little pick me up, they will recall that I high fived them in the hall, remembered their name and said something positive to them about themselves. It may not seem like much, but it is the least I can do.

Everyone should know the joy that volunteering brings to your life. There really is nothing like it in the world. I don't want any kudos for the work that I do without getting paid. The benefits are so great and it makes me so happy that it really wouldn't be fair to get paid for it anyway. I never plan to stop.

Friday, September 4, 2009

How I deal with rejection

I have written here before about my love for words and my passion for writing. Not very many days have gone by in the past 40 years of my life that I have not written something. Some days it will only be a quick note dashed off to a child’s teacher; time constraints and life often get in the way of any real writing that I may have on my mind. That doesn’t usually stop my mind from writing, though. My mind is almost constantly in a state of thought, as I compose little snippets of this and that inside my head. It really wasn’t until adulthood that I realized that not everyone had these compositions swirling around in their heads all the time. I had no idea.
I certainly never thought of it as a gift. I thought of them as daydreaming; nothing more. Other people in my family were the gifted ones. My artist sister, my brother the musician, my father who builds beautiful furniture and my creative mother; those were the talented people. Everyone could actually see and hear their offerings - their art. I was just the kid who made up stories, read and lived inside her own head; nothing special there. Or so I was led to believe. I guess if you have no tangible offering at the end of the day it is not really worth much by the world‘s standards. Certainly, no one ever encouraged me to pursue my writing.
Funny thing happened a few years ago. I discovered the internet. I admit that I was forced - kicking and resisting into the World Wide Web. I had to learn how to send and receive e-mails or I was going to be left out of the loop in some of my circles. Anyone who knows me knows that being left out of the loop is a fate worse than death in my book, so I reluctantly learned how to use the internet. Once I opened the Pandora’s Box that is the internet, I discovered a whole new world. A world where I could write down those bits of composition from my head and with the touch of a button other people could read it. At lasts a tangible result of my ponderous, daydreaming mind. It was a beautiful thing. I began, slowly, to put myself (my work) out there and I was encouraged by the positive feedback I began to encounter. Bolstered by that positivism I began to venture out a little more. It is one thing for nameless, faceless people on the internet to read my work, but it is another thing all together for those who are close to me to read and analyze the things I write. I was finally able to bring myself to ask my family to read what I wrote, but it took some courage.
Here is something that some of you may not understand about writing. When a writer writes and puts her words out for the public to read, it is the same as a painter hanging her art on the wall of an art gallery. It is a piece of the artist. Her heart, her offering to the world, a sliver of her soul is on display. So it is with my writing. Every word is a brushstroke, every sentence a piece of a painting written on a blank canvas that when completed is an offering, a piece of my heart laid out for the world to judge. That is a scary proposition let me tell you. It leaves you vulnerable to the tempestuous judgment of others.
I have learned to accept that as I put my work, and thus myself, on display it is open season for criticism. I understand that some of the things I write about are not interesting to all who read it. That is to be expected. I also know that no one is going to agree with my position on every issue. I can live with that. The public, they are a fickle lot. I endeavor not to allow them too much power in my life. What is still difficult for me is apathy from those who claim to love me. It is rejection at its deepest level - right in the pit of my soul. I mourn the fact that some will simply never be able to give me what I need from them. For whatever reason, it is impossible for them. I accept that even as I grieve.
It is when I feel the sting of disinterest from those around me that I look toward scripture to encourage me. I know that my God alone will always be in my corner. He is the one bottomless source of encouragement that I have. It gives me immeasurable comfort to know that he is there. In those quiet hours of the night when I question my very existence he whispers in my ear - I created you and my works are wonderful. How wonderful to know that there was no mistake. He had a clear plan in mind when I he created me. No rejection, no apathy, no detachment felt by any human can touch the promise that God has spoken to me. Unconditional love and acceptance. It is a beautiful thing. How can I live in anything less than success and victory with my creator’s blessing and authority written on my heart? I can't. I owe God too much. And so, I press on.

Friday, August 7, 2009

How to Win so Your Oponent Feels Like a Winner

I spent the last two school years as the PTA President at my children's elementary school. I am not a natural born leader, I am not a traditionally organized person and I kind of inherited the job in an unexpected way, not because I was just dying to be in charge of the PTA. I quickly learned a lot about human nature and I treasure the invaluable lessons I have learned along the way.

One of the main things we have to do as a PTA President is to make as many people as we possibly can happy. This often means setting aside our own agenda for the greater good of the group. Admittedly that is a tall order. What it basically means is that as President we have tons of responsibility, some influence, but very little power. Someone seeking a power trip will need to keep seeking rather than sign on as President of a PTA - there is no power in it. It is a position of service and altruism.

It is best to remind ourselves often that we do have some influence, but last word decisions will not be made by us. There are administrators and school boards and parents and teachers and all sorts of people in a position to make decisions. It is the PTA President's job to work as closely as possible with these powers than be and help each of them to get as much of what they want as possible to keep them content. There will be times when a loud squeaky wheel will demand that things go according to their own personal plan. If that squeaky wheel is the school board or an administrator (someone with true authority), you will often have to simply accept their edicts and work on making the best of the situation. It does no good to antagonize those people. We will continue to work closely with them and having a pleasant rapport with them is paramount.

I have found that many adults have not grasped the 'life is not always fair' mantra as well as they probably should have and have encountered many a parent who feels that they should have what they want out of the organization. This causes some to develop an adversarial attitude with the people who really hold power in these types of situations. We then make the mistake of feeling that the decisions that are being made are somehow personal to us and become very hard to work with, like a petulant child who has not gotten his way. This is never a good idea. I have found that a little flexibility goes a long way in evening out the playing field and getting more of what we want out of the people who make the ultimate decisions. They come to trust our even-handedness and really want to appease us.

Flexibility and diplomacy. Those are the two most effective tools in the PTA President's toolkit. Preconceived notions and stubborn rigidity need to be checked at the door - they will not gain us anything in the way of achieving our goal of a harmonious unit. If one message is passed along it should be this - It's not about you. There are so many decisions to be made, so many egos to be massaged, so many land mines to maneuver around; our job is to successfully lead the way toward compromise. When all is said and done, we have to remember that the bigger picture is the children we serve. If they are not the beneficiary of our plan, then our plan is a fail no matter how successful it looks on the outside.

I tried to impart during my two year tenure the message that getting what you want is not necessarily a victory if you had to step all over those whom you are ultimately serving in order to win. In some ways I can see that I was successful in my mission; nothing is ever 100% a success, though.

In addition I see that that these lessons should spill over into all parts of our lives and in other relationships as well. Looking at the big picture is always a good strategy, as is remembering who we are trying to benefit. Reminding ourselves periodically - It's not all about me is just a good idea no matter what our endeavor. Getting out of the way and letting things work for the greater good is just a good life lesson, as well as a great way to run a PTA.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I Don't Want to Drink Algae

Every year in mid-July our local tap water starts to taste like muddy lake water due to an over abundance of algae called algal bloom in the lake that our water comes from. It is not harmful for us to consume because the water is treated before we consume it. It is not treated before the plant and animal life living in the lake are exposed to it, however.

A lot of people do not realize that this algal bloom when they are overfed. By overfed, I mean from unnecessary chemicals that people use in their own homes. Bleach, phosphates and other household cleaners are chief among the culprits because the algae feed off of them. Phosphates, used as a water softening agent, have been phased out of laundry detergents for this reason, but it has not been enough to stop the problem. There are still phosphates in dishwasher detergents and many fertilizers.

Most don't think of the impact that regular household bleach and other anti-bacterial agents in soaps and household cleaners have on our waterways. Look at it this way: The way that average Americans use antibacterial products is like pouring massive doses penicillin into our water every day. Just as overuse of penicillin will cause the body to develop a yeast (fungal) infection, so will the overuse of antibacterial products cause a development of too much algae (fungus) in the water. This is not conducive to healthy plant and animal life in the lake any more than it is conducive to healthy flora in our bodies whenever we take too many antibiotics. It really is that simple.

We all need to be aware that what we do inside our homes and on our lawns has an impact beyond simply having a cleaning home and greener grass. I have replaced all of my commercial products with environmentally friendly ones, but every July it is driven home to me the importance of getting the word out to others when I smell that earthy smell in my tap water. I volunteer for my city's environmental task force. We go to schools and other groups and educate them on the dangers of this phenomenon. I hope that we are positively influencing people but then every summer I get a whiff of the tap water and I am disappointed that the problem hasn't gone away.

Of course it is not just household use of these products that is causing algal bloom, but also industrial use. The problem seems overwhelming to me when I think of how widespread the predicament is. That is when I realize I can only do what I can. I can't stop the whole phenomenon myself, but I can do my best to use non-harmful products myself and caution others to do the same. I have been very pleased with my choices. My family is also benefiting because they are no longer exposed to harmful chemicals inside our home and we are having an effect on the world beyond our front door. This is important to me and, I hope it will become important to everyone else as well. Together a huge difference can be made.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tooth Pain Is the Worst

I had to have a tooth pulled yesterday. This particular tooth has been a problem for about 10 years. I first broke a filling out of it when I was pregnant with my last child. I didn't want to get it fixed while I was pregnant because I wasn't sure about the epinephrine in the Novocaine shots they give you to numb you up. I didn't want anything to mess with my blood pressure and perhaps harm the baby. It wasn't hurting, so I left it alone for the time being. When it did start hurting a while later, I went to the dentist and had the filling replaced.

It was a big filling, but it lasted a few years and then it started to hurt again. At that time I got a root canal and a crown put on the tooth. About a year ago I noticed that the tooth felt as if it were loose. It wasn't loose though and didn't hurt at all, so I ignored it. About 6 months ago I began to get some swelling along the gum line that would come and go, like I had injured it with a sharp piece of food or something. Again, I ignored it, because the tooth itself did not hurt.

Then, about a month ago it began to hurt when I bit down on something hard. The pain was not that bad, so I put off going to the dentist out of laziness. I thought it was getting better and I was lulled into a false sense of complacency.

A week and a half ago, I woke up and realized that I could not put off going to the dentist another minute. The gum around the tooth was severely swollen and it felt like it was going to explode. The pressure was so intense that I felt like I was trapped in it. The only way that I can describe it, is that it was similar to claustrophobia, in that I felt like the pressure was closing in on me and that I couldn't escape it. The dentist took some x-rays, gave me some pain killers and antibiotics then sent me to a specialist to re-check the root canal.

At the specialist's office, it was discovered that the tooth was broken at the root level, under the crown it was fractured and abscesses and would need to be removed. At that point I was relieved. I was ready to pull the tooth out myself with a pair of pliers. The next day, I went to the regular dentist to have the tooth pulled. It felt so good to get that tooth and all its poison out of my body.

I was reading Psalm 38 today as a part of a 150 day challenge I am doing. The pain that David describes in this passage is the way I felt about that tooth. I don't think that my bad tooth was a sign from God of my sin, or a judgment being rendered to me, but I can see where it would feel like that at times. Especially back in David's day when there was very little medical care, and the way the body reacts to germs was not as well known as it is today. I can also see it as a wake-up call of sorts.

In reading about the type of abscess that I had on-line, I was stunned to know that in years past, people died from this sort of infection. Where mine was situated was on the top, so the infection often (and still can) go into the brain and kills the patient. I also have a added risk of a tooth born infection becoming a blood-born infection that could travel to my hip replacements. I knew all of this in the back of my mind, but I still put off going to the dentist. Why?

I am not afraid of the dentist. I don't enjoy it, but I don't fear it either. I think the reason that I didn't go was simply because I didn't think anything that bad was going to happen to me. That is pretty foolhardy, since the chances of having a disease that requires one to have both hips replaced by age 44 is pretty far-fetched too, but it happened to me. It was really just stupid for me to wait to go to the dentist.

I did read that some people do put off going to the dentist when they have this sort of infection because, since the abscess is draining, the pain is not that bad. It is only when it gets to a more advanced stage and the pressure/pain becomes markedly worse, that people seek dental help. This is what happened in my case. Still no excuse, but a reason nonetheless.

So, please, do not put off going to the dentist. Moms would not hesitate to take their child to the dentist if they had this kind of problem, you should make sure that your own dental health is in good order. It could be a matter of life or death.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

4th of July Celebration

He went to my folks house to celebrate. My kids had a lot of fun blowing up things, luckily only inanimate objects and not living things. Here are a couple of picute from the evening.

Beautiful Fireworks


Playing Football

Doggie Cousins

Me, one of my sons and Tinkerbell.
My gang plus an extra.

Days 17/20 - 150 Day Challenge

Psalm 17
This Psalm is a tough one for me to digest because on the surface it seems to say that as long as we live in line with God, then everything will be smooth sailing. That all sounds well and good - kind of makes me want to stand up and fly right, that way nothing bad will ever happen in my life. Problem is, bad things happen to Godly people all the time, so how do we square that up?
It has always been a puzzlement to me because I have received many blessings in my life that I feel are a direct result of my faith. There have been other things that have happened in my favor that, although less directly tied to my faith, I feel still feel happened because I was faithful. These things that occurred, be they big or small were things that I didn't deserve any more than the next person in the pew beside me on Sunday morning.
Then at other times when I think that I have been abundantly faithful to God's call and things don't seem to be going so well, or the plan that I tried failed. Why is it that things never seem fair? Could it be that our 'righteousness' is not as inextricably bound to our blessing as we think?
I believe that we have trials and blessings in our lives simply because that is the way life is. Were it not for trails, our blessings would feel flat. Were it not for blessings, in times of trial we might lose hope. Either way, God is there with us to help us through the trying period, or to rejoice with us in our victories.
In my search for inspiration for this post today, I came across this song Over My Head by Brian Littrell. The song sums up the way I feel about the ups and downs of live better than I can. I know that problems will come up in my life, just as I know that I will be blessed beyond my wildest dreams at other times. I know I am in over my head in life, but I find it such a comfort to know that my soul has found its place of rest in God.

Psalm 18
*It has been a very long day. I finally had time to sit down and write my post for today's Psalm. I got it all written out and hit the spell check button and then my browser crashed. Will I never learn to save my draft before I hit spell check? I don't have the heart or energy to recreate the whole thing tonight. It was all about how God is like a heavenly Father to us. He not only protects us in the way a parent protects and teaches a child to defend himself, but He also teaches us how to be great advocates for our own children.

Psalm 19
This is another on my favorite Psalms, especially the last verse. I have prayed the prayer that the words of my mouth (fingers) and the meditations of my heart would be pleasing to my God many, many times.
I also love the reverence to nature in this passage. It is impossible for me to look around at all the wonders of the natural world with out believing in intelligent design. I know there is a lot of science that can answer many of the questions about the natural world, and I believe in science to. I just happen to believe that God created science.
I enjoy the beauty of nature even though I would not consider myself an outdoorsy gal. I prefer to enjoy nature from afar most of the time. There are times, however that you need to actually be in the midst of it to truly appreciate the allure of nature. For instance, I had seen pictures of Niagara Falls for many years. I thought the scenery was gorgeous, so I decided to visit there on vacation with my husband two summers ago. No picture I had ever seen did justice to the majesty of the place. You have to be in the midst of it - to hear the roar of the falls and smell the luxurious landscape of the surrounding area. I was completely taken by the whole region. I found God in a new way as I marveled at the scenery.
In the Contemporary English translation of this passage in verse 9 it mentions that the worshiping of the Lord is sacred. When we hear the word sacred we think - set apart for a divine purpose. This is the way I see this scripture in relation to nature. God has set apart these natural phenomenons for a divine purpose - so that we can see his divinity in it. It brings us closer to him as we see the astounding beauty that surrounds us and worship God in doing so.
Once I realized this I became much more aware of the loveliness in nature and began to be much more of a tree hugger than I already was. Protecting this graceful earth became a dedicated passion of mine. It became an act of worship for me to do my part in saving as much of my small corner of the universe as I possibly can in my lifetime.
I think we all should.

Psalm 20
This Psalm to me is a prayer of blessing to others. When become Christians and experience the blessings and love of God, we automatically want that same feeling for those around us.
I liken it, in a way, to a feeling of being in love. Remember when you first fell in love with your spouse and you wished that everyone you knew could feel the way that you felt? That is the way that we, as Christians are about our faith. We want to share that special feeling with everyone around us, so that they can experience it too.
In our zeal to share that enjoyment, though, we need to be mindful that not everyone is looking for the same thing we are. This passage even says that some believe in other things.
Of course this doesn't mean we can't pray blessings for others. I do it all the time, but we should be respectful. I have encountered some non-Christians who do not wish to be prayed for and they feel condescended to when a Christian says they will pray for them in regards to a problem in their lives or for salvation.
This passage is also a prayer that the desires of ones heart will be given and that his plans succeed. This is a prayer that I pray for my children on a regular basis. I know that there is nothing more blessed than to be given what you long for and to have your plans work out. I pray that my children would be able to experience this blessing in their lives.
I would be lying if I said I didn't care if my children chose Christianity as their faith base. As a mom and as a Christian myself, I greatly hope that they chose that path for their lives also. I won't stand in their way if they choose something different, but I pray daily that they will choose what I believe to be the truth. I also teach them the lessons of my faith and help them to sort out the complexities of it's tenants as they grow. I don't think this is much different than any other mom would do, no matter which faith one subscribes to.
Yes, I long for my children to know the God that I know. I yearn for them to feel His grace and compassion. I want for them to find the path that I believe He has already set in place for them. I pray that they would feel confirmation of their place in this world, that their plans would succeed.
I believe that there is only one who loves these beings, my children more than I do and that is God. I trust him to lead them, guide them and make them into the contributing members of society that they are destined to be.

© KDV 2009

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Days 12/16 - 150 Day Challenge

Psalm 12
It is our tongue that get us into trouble most often, is it not? We speak without thinking. We talk trash about our neighbor. We angrily rail against our adversaries. There are so many ways that our tongues can trap is in wrong behavior.
Remember that old saying 'Sticks and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me? That statement is absolutely wrong. Proverbs 15:4 tells us that kind words heal and that deceitful words really hurt, and it is true. Words can wound us so much more than physical wounds because they last longer. We never know when something we say will stick with the recipient of our words long after the fact.
I am reminded of an incident that happened when my 11 year old was in 2nd grade. One of his friends called him fat. Now, mind you, my son is not overweight in the slightest. He has always been in the 25th-50th percentile in weight and height for his age. That didn't matter, he still thought he was fat. He came home very concerned about his weight. This one comment caused him much anguish over the course of a couple of years. He still brings it up periodically even though I have reassured him over and over that he is the exact right weight that he should be. It saddens me that one mean comment by child can cause so much pain to another.
It is the same in our adult lives. We are still wounded by hurtful words that others fling at us. It may not stick with us quite as long as it did when we were children, but unkind words still sting. It behooves us all to do two things. Number one: guard our own mouths and number two: mentally combat the hurtful words of others with the truth.
Watching what we say to me is the easy part (most of the time). It means requiring ourselves to think before we speak. To all of our speech we should apply the fruit of the spirit litmus test. If the words are not loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle or self-controlled then we really shouldn't say them. Now, I realize that sometimes that is easier said than done, but we should strive towards that as a goal nonetheless.
When we encounter cutting words from some else, we have to immediately ask ourselves 'is that a true statement?'. If it is, then perhaps we have some changing to do in our own lives to bring our character in line with the ideal. If it isn't a true statement then we need to replace it with a true and positive statement about ourselves. This will help combat any negative self talk that goes on inside our heads so that we don't start to believe lies about ourselves.
Satan loves for us to put each other down with words. He also enjoys us feeling down about ourselves. It is a great victory for him to have us at each others throats. We have to fight against that urge. In order to do that, as Christians we have to rely on our Lord to give us refuge and comfort.
Whenever we feel the urge to wound, we have to remember that everyone is His creation and loved by Him. Whenever we say unkind things to someone else, it is as if we are saying it to Him. We also must be mindful of our own value in God's eyes. We were made for his purpose (Philippians 2:12-14) and we can't fulfill that purpose if we are arguing amongst ourselves all the time.

Psalm 13
This Psalm really spoke to me today. For many years I have felt God calling me to do something in the way of ministry. Growing up I always felt that God had a special plan for me, but I never knew what it was. Plus I always felt like Gideon in that I didn't feel worthy of God's call, so mostly I tamped it down lest anyone think I was trying to be boastful.
Then one day I stumbled upon the unlikely ministry of Internet blogging. I began to write things about my relationship with my Savior and much to my dismay, people read it. Not only did they read it, but they were touched by it. This was both exhilarating and humbling at the same time. I appreciated the responsibility I had in my representation of God and his love for people. I made sure that I was prayerful in my writing. I wanted to be a help, not a hindrance. I adopted the practice of praying, from Psalm 19:4 that my words and meditations would be pleasing to God before I sat down to write. Many is the time that God told me not to write something I was planning on writing and turned it into something totally different.
I do have a point that pertains to this Psalm, I promise. :)
As time wore on I realized that along with the people who were touched by my words, there was another group who were opposed to them. This caused me great pain, because the adversaries were not always non-Christians, but yet some of my fellow Christians. It was hard for me to imagine that my own 'brothers' and 'sisters' were so against me. I spent many hours in anguished prayer trying to sort out this puzzling development. I continued to get the same message from God : Press on.
I certainly don't believe I have unlocked any secrets of scripture or anything like that; there are no secrets in the scriptures. They are all there for any of us to read and prayerfully consider. I also don't think I am beyond being taught by others. Whenever I encounter someone who is opposed to what I am doing/saying, I pray that if there is any truth to their admonishment, that I would be able to see it and correct it. If I am told to correct something I said or did, then I do it. It is not always easy to suck it up and admit fault, but I try to do as I am called to do.
Here's the point I promised to make:
There have been many times I felt just as the Psalmist felt in this passage. I felt that those who were against me were rejoicing in times when I had to humble myself and admit I was wrong. I wrestled with my thoughts and cried out to God to just make them leave me alone. I admit at times I felt He was hiding His face from me.
It was then that I realized it was me who was hiding from Him. He was asking me to fully trust in Him - to fix my intentions on His unfailing love. As long as I followed what He was calling me to do and earnestly sought His approval in my life, I would be okay.
Of course, that doesn't mean everything will be smooth sailing. I will still encounter opposition. I can't please everyone or satisfy all, but I don't answer to people. As long as God knows my heart, that is what matters to me.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me.

Psalm 14
In this Psalm we see that the Psalmist was incredulous that anyone would not believe in God. This is a common thought among Christians. What seems obvious to Christians is much more ambiguous to non-believers.
It can be hard not to get frustated with others when they don't believe as we do. Conversing with them can feel like we are beating our heads against a brick wall while talking in circles. I does little to convince them to come to our way of understanding.
That is why I gave up proselytizing years ago - no one was listening. I was never much of an evangelist anyway, it is not my gift, but I did accompany my mother on her evangelism calls as a child. I saw how futile that tactic was as door after door was either not answered or we were 'politely' told they weren't interested. I vowed then to find a better way. I felt conflicted for many years though because weren't we supposed to 'go out into all the world and preach the gospel'? Surely not doing that was a sin.
Then it dawned on me that there are many ways to 'preach the gospel' and that God did not expect us to simply stand on a street corner and exhort or knock on doors to recruit. I learned that he has uniquely gifted each one of us and with that gift we are to follow his lead and spread the gospel, which means Good News, by the way, to others.
I found that I had a talent for writing, so I was convicted to use that gift as an not only an offering to God, but also as a tool to show others the good news of Jesus. In other areas of my life, I try to let the love of God shine through my service to others. This has been a fairly effective way of spreading the gospel, I think.
I am not looking for notches on my belt. I don't expect anyone I come in contact with to convert to Christianity. I don't make friends with people simply to convert them. That is not my mission. I choose my friends because they are wonderful, caring, honest, trustworthy, smart, etc. not for any other reason. My mission is simply that when I am around they would feel the love of my God.
So, while I can understand the frustration of the Psalmist that everyone around him seems to be a Godless heathen, I wonder why it bothers him so much?

Psalm 15
In today's Psalm, the person whom David is describing sounds like Jesus. Who else can say his walk is blameless? No one but Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we all strive for that perfection that Jesus embodied, but we can never achieve it.
Of course, knowing that we can't acheive perfection does not give us license to simply do as we will and continue in our old sin patterns. Romans 6 clearly states that even though the grace and mercy of Christ is always extended to us, this is no reason for us to continue to give up trying to be like Christ.
This is undoubtedly a very daunting task. To speak the truth in love, to say no slanderous words against another, to keep our promises even when it hurts, to give of our money (and ourselves) freely to those in need. These are just some of the characteristics of Jesus and even to be true to these few attributes is hard for us. But try we must.
There is a lot for us to strive for in those verses. Perhaps concentrating on one thing for today will help us to focus more clearly on God's intentions for us. Let's focus today on speaking the truth in love.
This is a sometimes misunderstood responsibility. In Ephesians 6, Paul admonishes the people in Ephesus to speak the truth in love to one another. We must remember that Paul is writing to a congregations of believers, so whatever he is telling them is meant as a directive on how to treat those within the body of believers. We can't augment that to mean we, as believers should treat non-believers the same as we treat those within our own faith community.
Does this mean we aren't supposed to speak the truth of God the way we see it? Certainly not. It simply means that we are obligated to one another to speak up when we see a fellow Christian in an activity that contradicts scripture.
Here is the tricky part, though, there are so many divisions among Christians, different sects and denominations, that it is hard to dissect what the truth really is when it comes to the small details of our faith. The list is endless of the points that can be quibbled about when it comes to Christianity.
There is however one truth that is absolute in the Christian faith - a belief in Jesus as our Savior, that he was both God and human at the same time, that he came to us as a servant to fulfill a mission in his death and resurrection. On this point we cannot quibble. To us he was not simply a good man, nor only a prophet. He was (and is) or Lord and Savior. It is the one thing, when all the other squabbles fall away that fastens us all together.
So, when we hear a brother or sister who declares themselves a Christian but does not believe in Jesus in this way, we must speak the truth to them in love. That is what we are required to do and that is what Romans 6:14 means. It means that those who are no longer babies in the faith, take the newer Christians under their wing and make sure that this truth is not overlooked.
I admit that I am rather progressive in my biblical interpretation, but on this fact I do not waver. I don't assault others with my beliefs; it is their right and privilege as a person with free will to choose as they see fit to worship. But for those who are under the umbrella of Christianity, I will speak the truth of our faith to them. By the blood of Jesus we are made whole because he is our Emmanuel - our 'God with us' - nothing less.

Psalm 16
This Psalm has long been my favorite Psalm. I believe it embodies the spirit of our lives as Christians. It speaks of the greatness of God as our refuge. It praises Him for giving us good counsel. It gives us hope that we will always be with Him.
Many is the time I have come to this passage for solace when I felt like things in my life were hopeless. The promises in it's words really resonate with me.
I first found this Psalm close to 20 years ago. I had, at that time, renewed my faith, after having been away for several years. I never really lost my faith, I guess you could say I put it on hold for a while. I was still a believer, but not much of a follower. Lucky for me, even while I was not following, God continued to protect me. I can see that now, even though I could not at the time.
There are a number of incidents I can point to in retrospect where God truly saved me from the grave. Why He did that for me, I am not sure, except that the words of Philippians 1:4-6 rang true in my life. God wasn't finished with me.
When I found Psalm 16, I felt it had been written especially for me. I had been very quilt ridden for my years of living away from my Lord. Then I read this passage and felt instantly at peace. I knew that, as the Psalm said, "The boundary lines had fallen for me in pleasant places." Hallelujah! What else could anyone want in life?
From then on, I have gone back to these words many times. I have dreamed of my 'eternal pleasures at His right hand' even while I understand that I have work to do here in this life. Somewhere along the line I adopted the mantra 'Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet'. There will be many times when set-backs happen and I don't seem to be moving forward, I still have things to accomplish and plans to carry out.

©KDV 2009

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Church Casts Out Evil Homosexual Spirit

I was at the gym today and happened to catch this report about a church in Connecticut that attempted to drive the 'evil spirit' of homosexuality out of a teenager in attendance at one of their church services (watch the video at the end). I was agog at the video to say the least, and was eager to hear what the Pastor of the church had to say about the situation when she was interviewed later in the segment.

Day 11 -150 Day Challenge

Psalm 11
So what are we, as Christian believers to do when people are tearing at us from all directions?
We have all had times in our lives when everything and everyone seem to want to bring us down. There is an action in human behavior called leveling wherein to feel better about our lives we do one of two things - bring others down to our level or elevate ourselves to theirs. Too often we go the route of bringing others down to our level instead of finding ways to make our own lives better.
God does not enjoy watching his children argue and fight with malicious intent. He examines the intentions behind all of our actions. Sometimes we have to argue, since there are things worth fighting for. It is the intention behind the arguing that God is looking at. Are we arguing to fight oppression, bigotry, poverty, biblical ideology? Those are all important and seemingly righteous activities, but not all who fight for these things are doing so with pure intentions. Only God knows the actual intentions of a person's heart. He is the one who should appraise it.
Yes, in our faith we believe that there will come a time when judgments will be made - when everyone will have to give an account of their actions. Even though God already knows our hearts, he will assess them again at that time. It is not for us to say how and when this judgment will take place. There is no way of knowing the mind of God and trying to figure it out in human terms will always leave us frustrated and with unanswered questions.
Better we should just concentrate on ourselves and try to enhance them as we can. Taking refuge in our God and direction from Him is a good place to start. For us, as Christians, it is really the only place to start.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 10 -150 Day Challenge

Psalm 10
Today's Psalm to me is about the inconsistencies in life. Why do 'bad' people thrive while 'good' people suffer. This is one thing that is really hard to comprehend. It never makes sense why God would allow this to happen. The thing is God allows a lot of things that he does not ordain.
There are often accolades and prizes to be won in this world for unscrupulous behavior. God has given us all freedom. choices, options - better know as Free Will. We are free to make our own choices and at times the wrong choices seem to work for us. Take a big example like Bernie Madoff - he made a lot of money and received huge praise from a number of people until the whole house of cards he had built came crashing down around him. This kind of success is fleeting at best, as are most successes that we have here in this world.
As Christians, we know that this world is not our home. We are only here for a short span of time compared to the time we will spend in heaven. So, we shouldn't count on worldly accomplishments to sustain us, we should have our hearts fixed on the abundance of heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).
This doesn't mean our actions here don't matter, it just means that we have to put things into perspective. God has given us a desire to live here in this life even though we understand that this is not our permanent home. That is yet another concept that is hard for me to grasp. Why make us in a way that we strive so hard to be happy here on earth, all the while knowing that true happiness can never be achieved?
It is my belief that the reason is fairly simple - to show others His love. That is ultimately the only 'good' thing I can do here. It doesn't matter how much wealth I accumulate, or how many awards I win. It only matters how many people I showed the love of God to.
That is my prayer.
© KDV 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

150 Day Challenge - Days 7-9

Psalm 7 Day 7
You have done this to yourself. What goes around comes around. You made your bed, now lie in it. Those phrases are no doubt familiar to us all. We know that when we mess up, we have to be ready to reap the consequences of our ill-conceived actions.
Being a Christian does not exempt us from doing the wrong thing sometimes. We all have fallen short in our attempt at being righteous (Romans 3:22-24). Even though we have been justified (absolved) of our wrongdoing through Jesus death, that does not mean we no longer have to suffer the consequences of the misstep.
It is just like when our children misbehave. When we catch them being naughty, they may genuinely be sorry for what they did, but we still discipline them. It will help them remember not to do the same thing again the next time if they suffer through a day without their beloved video game than if we had just let it go once they became remorseful. So it is in our lives with God. He still disciplines his children just as we do with our own.
Most likely the discipline comes in the form of natural consequences. For instance if we are rude to people who serve us, the people behind the counter are not likely to go out of their way to accommodate us. The consequence can even be further reaching in that the next time we find ourselves in a position to serve, we may be faced with rude patrons. It is that negative reinforcement that keeps us from being rude the next time we are tempted to be short with someone in service.
This is just a small example of how all of our lives are intertwined. It gives a representation of how what we do affects others and in turn affects us. That is why it behooves us all to live by the Golden Rule. It just makes good sense.

Psalm 8 Day 8
Sometimes I am questioned about my zeal with environmental issues. My husband wonders why we need to pay 3.00 for a dozen eggs from cruelty free grain fed chickens when the conventional ones are less than half that. I am asked why it is important to buy credits in wind energy when the electricity we now use is working well enough.
My answers are simple - I need to be a good guardian of the earth, its plants and animals because God has given me this responsibility. It is my belief that God gave humans authority over the earth because he expected us to be smart enough to take care of it, not so that we could simply do with it whatever we wanted.
Our lives have grown so convenient and every one of those conveniences takes its toll on our environment. Pollution in every area has become staggering. Even in these lean economic times we are still a throw away society. Gone are the days when our grandparents mended a pair of socks so they could be wore again. How many of us would do that? So much easier just to buy a new pair, they are just a couple of dollars a pair after all. If, however, we actually look at the true cost of a pair of socks, from the environmental impact of cotton farming to the sweat shop labor to the over packaging of the final product, we might think twice about simply tossing a pair.
This is what it means to be a good steward of what we were so freely given by our creator - to take care of the land and animals that are in our charge. In order to do this we have to be thoughtful about our purchases and lifestyle. We have to think bigger than just ourselves because what we do impacts more than just ourselves. The world is our oyster, so let's not trample them to death just because we are hungry for more.

Psalm 9 Day 9
This was a difficult Psalm today. When I read these passages, I always try to find something to take away with me - something I can relate to. This Psalm, however seemed to be very personal to David. It was obviously written at a time when his enemies were circling about him like vultures. He spent a great deal of time in this position, so it stands to reason that a number of his Psalms would deal with this situation. It makes it hard for me to read these scriptures and really relate to them because I undoubtedly will never encounter the same type of suffering that befell David. I can learn from it though.
Through all of David's tumultuous life, he relied on God to save him from his enemies. Sometimes David's enemies where from the outside and sometimes from within his own tortured soul, but regardless of its origin, he leaned on God to help him deal with his suffering. It makes me wonder, though, did he deserve to suffer because of his disobedience to God? Was he being punished?
In the world their will always be those who have a lot and those who have little. Does this fact mean that those who have little have somehow brought disfavor onto themselves? In 21st Century America a lot of people feel that this is the case. The poor are scorned as lazy, deep beats and moochers. I have heard it said so many times - Everyone should just be responsible for oneself, get a job and be a contributing member of society, if they are unable to, then they just made bad choices, therefore deserve to languish in their poverty.
This thought process just doesn't square with scripture to me, however. In this passage the poor are mentioned twice (verses 9 and 18). In those verses it says that God listens to them and that they should never lose hope. Giving to the poor is mentioned several times in the New Testament also. Jesus told his followers to give freely to the poor, never expecting repayment (Luke 14:12-14). It is then, he continues, that they will receive blessings.
So, how does giving to the poor tie in with this Psalm where David is seeking refuge from his descending enemies? I think it illustrates that no matter what our problems are, that just like David, we as believers can call on our God for redemptive power. Often we will find the power manifests itself in the form of helping others. When we are at our lowest and we help someone who is really down on their luck, it lifts our spirits and causes us to understand the true power of God resides in all of us, in the form of love and charity.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Day 6 150 Day Challenge

Psalm 6
In this Psalm, David's pain in almost palpable to me. He seems to be in deep distress. How often I have been in that same place - a place where regret for my actions weighed so heavy on my heart that it was difficult to breath much less get past it.
What a joy to know that God is always there to show me mercy. If it weren't for his mercy and grace I would have died of guilt a long, long time ago. I have felt that deep ache in my bones that David describes and it is only through my Father that I am able to move on and forgive myself as He has forgiven me.
Thankfully I have a God who holds nothing against me. The love of God keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:4-6). This is the kind of love we are supposed to model in our own lives. It is truly hard to do sometimes, but try we must. How can we expect mercy and grace to be extended to us if we are not willing to extend it to others?
I know that there are things that I have done in my life that some would think are unforgivable, but in my God's eyes no one is beyond redemption. So, I have to feel the same way about other people. Perhaps they have caused me such grievous pain that I feel it is just beyond forgiving them for. I have to remember that God has already forgiven me for things that in the worlds eyes are unforgivable, so I have to look at my neighbor through the eyes of God and forgive them too.
There will always be times when I fail, but I am grateful for a God who picks me up, dusts me off and sets me back on my path. This is what I am also called to do for others. I have to see that others will make mistakes, but that doesn't mean they are evil people, but yet fallible, just like me. When I take the time to notice the humanity in everyone, it is much easier to forgive my 'enemies' as God forgives me.

Friday, June 19, 2009

150 Day Cahllenge - Day 5

Psalm 5
Do you ever get that feeling that the walls are closing in on you? Like the flames are licking up on your heels no matter how hard you try to run from them? That is the feeling I get from the author of this Psalm. He goes to bed feeling heavy and wakes up feeling heavy instead of refreshed, yet he is hopeful that the Lord will listen to his groans and painful prayers.
This got me to thinking about hope. There is an old hymn that, in part says 'My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness'. As Christians we do build our hope on nothing less than Jesus blood and his righteousness. Nothing less will fill the void that can be filled with Jesus.
Without hope what do we really have? Fear, anxiety, worry - none of those emotions will produce a positive outcome. Who among us has added even a minute to our lives by worrying? (Matthew 6:27) No truer words have ever been spoken. It is impossible to solve a problem by worrying it to death.
Hope does not disappoint. Let me repeat that. Hope. Does. Not. Disappoint. That is so important for us to remember because we can get so caught up in our suffering that we forget that it is through the suffering that we are gifted with perseverance and it is via that character producing perseverance that our hope springs. (Romans 5:1-5)
Although it seems that at times we are being attacked from all sides, we should not see that as an oppression. We should count it a joy that we are able to be strengthened by our pain.
I don't know about you, but at times, I wish that I could be a little less refined and feel the fire licking at my heals a little less often. But suffer, I must. I have to fix my eyes on God though, because surely God has great plans for those whose suffering is great. The enemy doesn't bother tormenting those who pose no threat.
So, If we find ourselves in these situations where the walls are closing in, we should remind ourselves that 'to those whom much is given, much is expected'. (JFK) If we trust God and place our hope in Him, he will show us where to go from here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

150 Day Cahllenge - Day 4

Psalm 4
How often do we get angry when other people put us down? I know it is an anger trigger for me. I read somewhere (I wish I remembered where) that anger is really just a mask for other emotions like fear, hurt, anxiety, embarrassment, etc. This does makes sense to me, especially when it comes to other people slandering our name and character. It hurts. That hurt then turns to anger as we want to get back at the one who hurt us.
As Christians we are called to love our enemies instead of giving way to anger and retaliating. This is not an easy task. It is yet another thing that I am unable to do on my own. I have to call on the strength of my God in order that I do not fall into sin and reach back and hurt someone else as they have hurt me. Do I succeed in withholding my wrath 100% of the time? Not even close, but I press on.
We are also called as followers of Christ to present ourselves as living sacrifices to our God. Daily we have to renew this sacrifice so that we can remember who we are living for. This helps me when I encounter someone who says a hurtful word against me. I remind myself that I represent God in all that I do and say, so if I react unkindly to that person, I am not exemplifying God.
It helps me to bear in mind that those who say mean things to me are often only doing it because of their own pain. They have been hurt by others and have not yet learned how to deal with their distress, so they pass their hurt on to me. It is up to me to stop the cycle and turn it around.
This is something that we can all learn - how to turn suffering into blessing. Instead of reacting in a negative way to the hurtful words, we have to see the wounded soul from which the comment came. This helps us to get beyond ourselves and minister to the other person. Often a kind word or two is all it takes to disarm someone. Then they see that we are not really the enemy they thought we were to begin with.
The trick is to remember to do this in the midst of a stressful situation. That is often times easier said than done. This is where we come back to committing ourselves daily (or hourly) as living sacrifices to our Lord. When we do that, then we aren't drawing from our own strength and understanding, but yet from God's strength and understanding. It is the only way that I can react positively to a negative.
© KDV 2009