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“I Only Make Them Once a Year . . .”

17 Dec

At Weight Watchers this week, we were talking about those things we eat at Christmas because someone says, “I only make them once a year and I made them especially for you.”

It is hard enough to hear, “I only make them once a year.”  It is hard enough to hear, “I made them especially for you.”  

But combine those two and it is hard to refuse the treat (usually baked goods), no matter how hard you may have worked to budget Weight Watcher points for your day/week/month. 

I thought right after that, while looking at a poster of plump blueberries and ripe strawberries on the wall of the Weight Watchers meeting, how we always want to make intricate desserts for those we love. God makes these lovely berries, as the most intricate of desserts for us.  Since He makes them, we can’t improve on them as a dessert.  We can just serve them.  Even sprinkling sugar on them really does nothing for them when they are naturally ripened.  They are perfection, without needing man’s touch.

They are almost too simple for us to serve to our loved ones, because God did all the hard work involved in growing them. They are totally gifts of His grace and bounty.  And we, being by nature works-oriented, associate our own hard, intricate work with showing love for our family and friends. Thus . . . we bake and bake.

We bake and bake even when we know that delicious fruit, served plain, would be best for us and for our loved ones (I am not advocating always avoiding baked goods, as we have Weight Watchers weekly points for just such things–there is a balance to be found, after all!).

And God outdoes us every time.  It is a gift of His grace that He does that.  Just by making His lovely fruits to grow. 

Then I thought of the seasons in which blueberries and strawberries are harvested fresh.  I thought I heard God saying, “I only make them once a year and I made them especially for you!”

And, with a fresh understanding of His grace, love for God surged through me.  He really is the best Friend and Familymember of all.  

Merry Christmas! 

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

1 Oct

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

And October is the month that many of us celebrate surviving breast cancer. I am now officially a five and a half year survivor, having been diagnosed in early April of 2008.

So many fears back then! So many victories now!

I remember lying awake the night before my surgery (a lumpectomy, so not even as painful or extensive a surgery as those many of my friends have endured) and thinking that I would never feel happy, or whole, or painfree again. Yet I still slept pretty well that night because I still knew God had hold of my situation.

And how marvelously He has brought it all back around.

He allowed me to survive. He didn’t have to do that. He would have still been a good God if He didn’t choose for me to have that ending.

He allowed me to get a good Navy contractor job the following year, after I retired from the Navy reserves.

He allowed for me to not only lose the forty pounds I gained during and after chemotherapy, but He allowed me to lose 70 more so that my health is actually much better now than it was in the years right before I got cancer.

He allowed me to start this blog, a true labour of love and a lifetime dream. I could never have imagined when I dreamt of being a writer as a child that someday I could put my thoughts out, worldwide, with a few clicks of a keyboard!

He allowed us to find Shepherds College, a wonderful special needs school, where our beloved son is now getting his education in horticulture.

And He allowed Noel and me to rediscover why we married each other almost 25 years ago.

Our trip back from Wisconsin was a dream! We spent three nights more in Racine after we left our son on his campus nearby, visiting Chicago by train during the day. We then drove to Philadelphia and spent three days there.

See our Liberty Bell shot, with me in (almost) breast cancer pink?

I thank God for giving me a godly, loving husband who shares my interest in art and history. The last three cities we have explored (Milwaukee last year, now Chicago and Philly), we have started with the art museum and worked our way outward. It is how we used to explore Europe, back in the day!

Oh, we have such fun!

Thank You, Lord, for letting me be a survivor! Lord, You are so good!

Congratulations to all survivors everywhere, especially Marci, Kathy, Barbie, Jodi and Jody, and Brenda (both of you)!

Why I Don’t Believe in Christian Self-help Books

22 Jun

This is almost one of those “just a thought” posts.

I can say in one paragraph, or maybe in one sentence, why I don’t believe in Christian self-help books.  

That sentence, actually a question, is “Well, which way is it?”

Either we are able to help ourselves out of our own difficulties, just by applying the proper methods with the proper amount of determination, or we are not.

If we are not, and I say that is the case, then heaping self-help kudoes on a stuck sinner only produces a stuck sinner who feels mighty guilty that he can’t break free!

I believe that Jesus did not come to give us a list of principles for pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  Jesus came to give us Holy Spirit power to revolutionize our existence.  

The Holy Spirit, by divine power, breaks the hold of sin over us.  We don’t do it by our own will, grit, or determination.  

If we don’t understand that, we can’t help stuck sinners get unstuck.  We will try to clean them up under our own power (and theirs) rather than realize that the source of power, like a bolt of lightning, exists totally outside of us before we are saved.

Then, when we are saved, the Holy Spirit indwells us and internalizes His power in us.  

But it is still His power.  We have to remember that. If not, we end up worshipping the power more than the One who gives it!

Yes, I am starting to categorically reject any Christian book where I see that you could remove Christ from the text and still teach the same principles.

Dale Carnegie is a cool writer and his secular texts have principles for interpersonal relationships that are based on natural law.  They work.  

But if someone writes a Christian version of a Dale Carnegie text, claiming that his principles, based on natural law, are a checklist for our spiritual growth, I reject that claim.

Natural law is great, but there is nothing natural about the Holy Spirit of God.  

He is out of this world.  And His work in our lives is bringing dead sinners alive, not taking people who are already pretty good and making them better.

Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3 that there are natural things and there are spiritual things.  They can resemble each other, but they are not the same.  

Let’s remember to keep them separate.  When the Holy Spirit raises a dead sinner to life, His work is nothing short of miraculous.

Praise God!

Playing for Keeps (A Breast Cancer Meditation)

17 Jun

 

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We have had an epidemic of breast cancer at our church these past five years.  

At least it seems so.  

In reality, one out of eight women gets breast cancer in her lifetime.  Usually at a more advanced age, though.  Of the five women who have gotten it, three were in their forties, including me.

Three were also in church leadership, including the pastor’s wife and the wife of the college dean.  Two of us were just very active volunteers (the other one has since moved to another city).  

For privacy purposes, I am conglomerating the data like that.  I can tell my story, as it brushes up against theirs, but their stories are theirs to tell (or not).

The latest American Cancer Society statistics show that the risk of death from breast cancer is now one in 36.  Of course, outcome has much to do with how early the cancer is caught.  I may have had the most advanced stage of all five of us, as I was stage IIB.  I had one positive lymph node, which set off an alarm and indicated I would probably want chemotherapy, just in case.  I chose chemotherapy.  Five years later, I have never been healthier!

I was also the only one who was able to just have a lumpectomy, but every case of cancer is different.  With the others, they were worried about cancer spreading in the breasts; with me, the worry was that it would spread to other parts of my body.

So, what do we learn from a potentially deadly disease like breast cancer?

We learn to live each day as though it could be our last (because it could–no one, however healthy, has the next day guaranteed).  

We learn gentleness with other people.  We learn that some things just aren’t worth turning into a fight.  We learn that not every issue is priority one, so we pick and choose what we go after.

If we are Christians, we learn that Christ is everything and more.  To live is to face life with His strength.  To die is to face eternal life with His strength.  It isn’t just that we will live forever, but that we will live forever with Him.  He has bought and paid for that on our behalf.  

We learn to play for keeps in life.  There is a lot of petty stuff out there, not worthy of our time.  We can choose to avoid that.

We can protect those we love.  We can realize our special bond with fellow breast cancer survivors and honor it.  We can pray for everyone.  We can keep a smile on our faces and joy in our hearts.

We can choose to do all that and more, in the strength of our Saviour, no matter what happens.

God bless ya’ll.

 

Part III, Vanity Series: Using Superspiritual Language for Everything!

20 Apr

Psalm 39:5, “Behold, thou hast made my days [as] an handbreadth; and mine age [is] as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state [is] altogether vanity. Selah.”

I have changed my mind on something as I have aged.

God’s reputation is paramount; mine, as long as it does not discredit His, is not very important.

Therefore, when I meet someone and sense that I am being scrutinized to see how “spiritual” I might be, I no longer play the game that I used to play.  

You may have played it, too, if you call yourself a born again, fundamentalist, or evangelical Christian.  

It consists of two people circling each other, like dogs sniffing each other.  As they circle, the two people throw out spiritual terms that are in vogue right then.  Lots of them.

It is like a secret handshake.

It is also a competition most of the time, I am convinced.  

I try to “outspiritual” you while you try to “outspiritual” me.

I am not a player in that game anymore.  Two reasons:  1) God knows my heart and that I belong to Him and long to serve Him and 2) if someone is my friend long enough, they will know my heart, too.  If they don’t stick around to become an actual friend, what do I accomplish by winning the competition of the spiritual vocabulary?  Not much.

I don’t need to feed my ego by way of using more spiritual language than the next person.

A recent example is when we got our two “adopt-a-missionaries” at church.  People we correspond with all year long, praying for them and uplifting them in any way we can.  

I know one of them from Facebook; I know the other because his mother attends our church.  I zapped both a note, telling them to send up prayer requests and we would be happy to pray.  I did not include a spiritual bio of myself, nor anything to make myself seem special as their “adopted prayer partner” this year.  I didn’t even realize that till later.  

And I smiled when I realized that.

They don’t need to think of me as anyone special.  I will pray.  That is all they need to know.

Now Jesus is special!  If I can uphold His glorious Name that others may see it, life is worthwhile!!!

Part II, Vanity Series: Christian Hedonists vs. the Morale Suppression Squad!

20 Apr

When I was in the Navy, we often joked about the Morale Suppression Squad!  We would make statements like:  “Leave is cancelled until morale improves” or “Beatings will continue until morale improves.”  The point was ironic, but pretty obvious to everyone who heard it.

In the last several years, I have become aware of the phrase “Christian hedonist,” authored presumably by John Piper, who wrote a book with that title.  I have also seen a torrent of vitriol be poured out on John Piper by our own fundamentalist Morale Suppression Squad about his use of that term.  

I thought of that yesterday as I wrote about Ecclesiastes–about how Solomon thought there was no higher call than to be rightly related to God, then to enjoy our work and play while on this planet.  

While I am not a theologian, I very much can see what Solomon (and John Piper) are getting at.  There is the idea that when God says, “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Psalm 37:4), He does that by way of changing us into His image, bit by bit, so that one day we look up and see that we have actually incorporated His desires so deeply into our being that His desires are our desires.  Then, when God gives us the desires of our hearts, He is actually giving us what He willed all along!!!

I understand that to be the idea behind Christian hedonists.  In fact, they say, “God is most glorified in us when we are most delighted in Him.”  Being delighted in God is no small thing!

Meanwhile, there are truly those who are very suspicious of any display of delight, even delight in God.  “Surely that person must be up to something and surely it must be no good,” these folks sniff.

I hold that idea up when I talk about being absolutely delighted by the place we are in life right now.  Noel and I are 61 and 54, respectively, and we have worked long and hard in our professions.  We now are reaping some rewards of that and are enjoying that reaping process.  We are also enjoying sharing those rewards with others, like the less fortunate and the people who minister in the church (because, face it, they are never paid enough for the hard work they do!!!).   

We will be taking some vacations as a couple once our son goes off to college.  We have updated our wardrobes (well, I have; Noel has always been somewhat of a “clothes horse,” LOL!).  We have done some necessary upgrades to our home within the past five years.  

I think the youth call that “living large.”  Not in the sense of “rich people large” but in the sense of “comfortable people large.”  

A wonderful time of life, and I thoroughly thank God for it.  I delight in Him, first and foremost.  If everything material vanished tomorrow, He is the One to Whom I would still cling.  In fact, the One who clings to me.  

Far as I understand it from Solomon, and from Jesus, that is the basis for delight in this life.  It is not our job to go looking for trouble.  It will find us eventually, as it does everyone <smile>.

Meanwhile, if anyone wants to ask me, or you, to wipe that silly grin of delight off our faces, I am going to tell them “no.”  

You should consider doing the same.  It is not a definition of spirituality to go around looking as though we have been sucking on sour lemons.  What about that would attract someone to Christ?

Think about it.  Know where you stand, and why.  

 

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Part I, Vanity Series: All is Vanity!

19 Apr

All is Vanity!

Last night at Bible study, we finished our study of the book of Ecclesiastes.

I have enjoyed the study, much more than I have enjoyed Ecclesiastes in the past. I always thought it was a kind of depressing book. I see a lot of optimism this time around.

“Vanity” in Ecclesiastes is related to a vain or puffed up person, but more deeply related to “emptiness.”

And to soap bubbles. A pastor once defined that Ecclesiastes sort of emptiness as analogous to soap bubbles, fleeting and easily burst. Which I guess can relate to that puffed up person, too.

Last night we were asked to pick a verse for the week, from chapters 9-12, that especially appealed to us.

I chose 9:7, which says, “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.”

I like that. Simplicity itself. Enjoy your life because you are rightly related to God.

Sometimes we make that too complicated. There is a whole segment of Christianity that wants to say if something is not specifically mentioned in Scripture, we should not do it. And they say we especially should not enjoy doing things that God did not specifically tell us to do.

Like twirling around in a field of spring flowers, joyous at the sunshine pouring down on you. Or rejoicing in hot, aromatic coffee being poured for you from a white china pot into a fine china cup in a hotel dining room. Or glowing at the joy of being able to afford a new dress that is just right on you!

We talked a lot about the next two verses in chapter 9, which are related: “Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that [is] thy portion in [this] life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.”

That certainly makes a case for enjoying marital bliss, doesn’t it?

More subtle is the part about the white clothing and the oil. There is the spiritual application–the Holy Spirit washes us white at salvation (clothes us in white clothing, in the symbolism of the Scriptures) and He anoints our heads with oil, His very presence (oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit throughout the Scriptures).

But I don’t think it is a stretch to see more in that passage. White clothing would be appropriate, beautiful attire (there were not many dyes back then, so white or natural-colored clothing was a lot more common). Oil was the perfume of that day.

I think it is showing it is okay to rejoice in that new dress, as I did the other day. And in the new bottle of perfume to go with it.

As I said to my core leader on the way out of class, I am kind of in a “”soap bubble” season of life right now, one that is very real but very fleeting, too (because more serious seasons always come along eventually!).

I am thrilled about my weight loss. I am thrilled about buying new clothes, cosmetics, and jewelry, because for the first time in my life I can both afford to give to charity and have nice things for myself and my family. It is a lovely season.

I won’t always feel so mountaintop high about a new dress.

But, in the meantime, I believe God loves my smile of joy when I find one that pleases me (and my husband!) well.

Remember, we can’t take our possessions to heaven, but God does give them to us on earth for a season. I believe if we are grateful for His gifts to us and responsible stewards of them (not selfish), He is glad when we rejoice in His generosity.

He is the giver of all good things.

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