Thursday, April 28, 2016

You've got a friend

I would like to share with you about a friend of mine...I will call him 'Ted.' He is an 89 year old man who has dabbled in so many arenas in life. He has a plethora of knowledge and his stories? Well, let's just say you never know where those are going to take you. Ted is almost always smiling and full of life... especially with his young wife who is, yep...around 70 years old! 

You are probably wondering where I am going with this man's story... so I will just get to it. Today Ted and I had a little one-on-one time. He told me some jokes, shared some of his stories (a few of which I've heard already) and then he made me cry. Lost in thought and reminiscing, Ted began sharing how he is discovering more and more that all the money and all the possessions in the world do not matter. This smiling man was suddenly getting choked up on his words and had to actually remove his glasses to wipe his eyes. (This is about the point where I let my tears find my cheeks.)

He said, "Its the people in our lives that matter -  Friends, family - don't you forget that, Michelle."  

Ted has spent his life working for things. He has a beautiful home in an upscale neighborhood, he has traveled to many places. His common phrase is "Ive made so much money, but I spent so much money, too." The money he earned allowed him to experience things that many people never get the opportunity to. And let's not forget, Ted is on his 4th marriage to his "young" bride, as he says. 

Unfortunately, he spent so much time working and trying to make money that he lost connections with many people that were important,  including his own kids. Ted didn't realize the result of his choices until he reached his 80's. And once he reached this age he began outliving all of his friends he has known for years. "One by one...they are just gone," he said. 

Now, at 89? He has many things, but feels so alone. Those things, after all, don't make good company. They don't provide love, warmth or even conversation. (Well, maybe one-sided conversation for some folks! ha)

It broke my heart listening to him. It also got me thinking...

1. I am sure he is not the only person that feels this way later in life. 

2. We all hear these stories and know that God and family and friends are much, much more important than anything money can buy... but not all of us live in this manner. 

1 John 2:15-17 (ESV) says Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions - is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Some people get this. Some people don't. Some people even like to make us think they get it, but they truly don't. Looking closely at the above verse, we can see that "the world is passing away" and if we are chasing after it, that means we will pass away, too. But, "God abides forever." If we live out God's will for our lives to show him how much we love him, then we will have eternal life!

Our hearts are big, but not big enough to hold love for God and  for the world. Matthew 6:24 (NIV) says, No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

If you don't love God and live for God, then you are living for the world. Check the focus of your eyes before its too late!! Let Ted's story keep you from repeating his choices.

And last but not least, I think it is important to mention... Even when you are in your loneliest place, you've still got a friend. God is always by your side... no matter where you travel or what you are doing.  John 16:32 (NIV) ...Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Content..to be or not to be?

Content. adjective. Pleased and satisfied: not needing more (per Webster). Synonyms: contented, fulfilled, happy, cheerful, glad, peaceful... I think you get the idea. Therefore, contentment would mean the state of being pleased and satisfied. If you are full of contentment then you are full of satisfaction. 

So, are you content? Big question - and very subjective, I know. Contentment is a learned trait. We are not naturally content, are we? No... but we do have natural traits. We have worries, doubts, fears, complaints. Many of us tend to be competitive by nature, always trying to prove an act or a point. Some of us always have our eyes pointed at a person or a prize that we are trying to conquer.

In Philippians 4:12 we learn that Paul actually learned how to be content. He says, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." (NIV)

In order to be content, we must find a new attitude and a new outlook on life. Both can be found with a stronger faith... a deeper connection to God. Paul tells us - "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace.." Philippians 4:6-7 And, after all, being at peace is a sign of being content.

In theory, this sounds easy. But contentment can be hard to find no matter what your current mood.

For instance, when we are happy and feeling good, its easy to feel content. Though, are we really content in the biblical sense? Are we content because we are God is filling our heart and know that we are thankful for all that he has given us and are eyes are focused on Him alone? Are we doing all that we do because of HIS plan? Or, are we content because we have that steak and lobster and the latest HBO series to watch on our comfy couch tonight with our bestie? See the difference? Having nothing and being content simply because we have a strong relationship with God is quite a bit different than lobster with your BFF.  

But what happens on a bad day? What happens after an argument with a loved one, or when you are fired from your job? What happens on those days when you cry out in desperation because nothing seems to be going your way? How can we be content then? Sometimes, oddly, we find more contentment when this happens. Its times like these that lead us to God out of despair. We don't know what earthly thing or person can make things better ..."It will take a miracle, I better pray!" How many times have we said that??? We turn to our last hope... we turn to God... and that is why we tend to find a bit more peace in rough times. 

And, then, of course, you know how it goes... the rough times dissipate and we begin to see the light. Once we are happy again, a good percentage of the time, our eyes go back on our earthly idols and we forget who got us through that dark moment. And we say adios to contentment!

See, being content isn't just a feeling. Its the result of a relationship. And not just any relationship, but a relationship with God. In good times and in bad times, we need to remember Him. We need to practice putting our faith in Him. Praise Him. Thank Him. For Paul said, "I can do all this through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:13. There isn't anything anywhere that could help us maneuver our way through life except God. His peace "... will guard your hearts and your minds..."4:7 And only then will you finally be able to live out the true definition of the word - Content.

If you haven't read Philippians chapter 4 in a while, why don't you read it today? 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

More than an hour

Do you ever feel that you sit in church and the pastor giving the sermon throws out thoughts and ideas that amp you up and get you ready to take on the world - with God right by your side? But when you leave, you are right back to where you started... as if church is a great goal board that falls under the cliche - out of sight, out of mind. Why is that? Why does this happen? I hate to burst your bubble, but 1 hour in church each week does not give you a free pass to meet "the" man one day. 

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I've been reading it again lately and it always gets me thinking. In chapter 5 (NIV), the first verse says "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen, rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong." Yes, listen and do not open your mouth to spew out nonsense, and for no good purpose. 

Listening should be our number one priority when we walk into church. We may be well trained at doing this for an hour or so. We may listen to the pastor speak, we may nod, we may hear about church happenings and events and we may even put them on our mental calendar! We stand up, we sing songs such as "Open the eyes of my heart Lord... I want to see You," or "My Jesus, my Savior, Lord there is none like you... " But then what happens? Church ends and we get up to wish everyone well for the week to come, share a few laughs, give a few hugs. Then we go on about our life. Yes, we may feel an extra little pep in our step for a moment, but does it last? Do you work to make sure that it lasts? Many of us don't. We move on through the week slowly creeping back to our foolish, selfish ways... letting God drift further and further away. Well... until the next Sunday.

Feeding yourself breakfast one day each week does not mean that your body does not need nourishment for the rest of the week -  no matter how much you eat at that breakfast! Our physical bodies run on energy from food and water, but, emotionally and spiritually, we need nourishment, too. God can give us that. But, we need to make sure we give more than 1 hour a week to Him!

I mean, Ecclesiastes 5:2 can kinda put you in your place, if needed -- "...God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few." BAM! Nothing like pointing out just how inferior we are (for lack of better terms). After all, He is God Almighty, our Father, Jehovah, Yahweh, The King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, our Savior, the Most High! And you and me? Well, ha ... yeah.. exactly... we have a hard time shutting up for an hour each week. Sometimes less. 

It is always best to come honestly before God (I mean, he knows everything anyways... you cannot hide). "Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth with declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise." - Psalms 51:15-17 (NIV)

Doing anything part way is never the key. Going to church and not giving your whole self is pointless. God just doesn't want you to sign off on an attendance sheet and he surely doesn't want your payment in the form of tithing to justify forgiveness for your foolish ways. No. He wants you to come before him, praise Him, worship Him, learn from the teachers he has sent to you... and do this all with YOUR WHOLE HEART! 

Yes, sometimes it is hard to focus when we have so many earthly things going on in our head. But make a point... this weekend when you attend church... to remember why you are there. It is not to just socialize, or catch up on Facebook, or write a mental grocery list, or even to count how many blue cars drive by. In fact, consider it a dinner date with God - a time to fill yourself of spiritual food. Then, use that food to begin fueling your week. Just don't forget to turn to God daily to keep that fire burning. 

I'll end with a little side of Whitney & Mariah for ya.. 


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Farewell, peace. And bugs.

I have turned into a bit of a grump today. It all started when I woke up this morning and realized that I couldn't focus, for whatever reason. For the last 5 days I have woke up, put on shoes and a sweater, grabbed a cup of coffee and boogied my way on out the front door of this cabin to sit on the porch and have my quiet time. This has been a time for me to read, write and, most importantly, talk to God. In all honestly, it has been my favorite part of the trip. 

But, not this morning. No, sir. I got up and came outside, sans coffee, and couldn't focus on anything. I couldn't get through any but two pages of my book and writing, well, that just didn't happen. I tried talking to God but my focus was so bad that I probably had the poor guy spinning in circles. 

I cant quite put my finger on what my issue is today other than the fact that I have to leave all of this tomorrow. Good reason, right? I have to go back to the hustle and bustle of life and the important things are going to get a smaller piece of the pie I have to offer. Before you decide to try and give me a lecture on time management skills, I know all about them. My problem is that I have too many things I want and need to do that force me to have to spend less quality time on everything in general. So, in turn, my attention to reading and writing and talking to God are just, well, different. Instead of my quiet mornings, I will be rushing to get to work, talking to God on my commute, rather than a picnic table in the woods overlooking a lake. My reading will take place at night, and will usually consist of having only one eye open, comprehending about 60% of what passes through my brain. 

I'm not complaining. Really, I am not. I have just truly enjoyed this week and it has opened my eyes to what my world could be like. One day. At a different time than this. I've been reminded of important things that I let slip away on any ordinary day. Life can be much simpler than I tend to make it. 

Moving in slow motion to not miss anything, walks and talks with the big guy, the outdoors (including the sounds, the bugs, the whole nine yards), cooking on the grill and campfire,
time with family playing games and watching scary movies in the middle of nowhere (come on, you know it sounds fun... Especially when you are looking up at this while watching.. )
On a side note, I will tell you that we scared ourselves so badly with the movies and the "what ifs" that we had to hang blankets and towels over the windows that didn't have curtains! Sad, I know.

All in all, I think I am going to take away with me the idea that our lives are not set in stone... things do not have to remain the way they are. In fact, forgetting to leave it in God's hands and run throughout the day at a speed that leaves no time for anything is, well, pointless. And meaningless. (thinking Ecclesiastes here.) 

Only I can work to change that. And, I guess, even though it'd be nice, I don't have to have a vacation cabin in the woods to do so. I can turn my own home into my own retreat. God will be there. Always.

Until next time... stay blessed, my friends. And, if ya have a quick moment, say a prayer for our safe travels.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Shh..

For the first time that I can remember (or appreciate, I should say), I am spending a week in the most peaceful place I have ever been to. Its not fancy, no. Its not exotic, either. In fact, I didn't even have to get a plane to get here. But the views and experiences I have had in just 24hrs have me already planning my next trip. 

We are in Blue Ridge, GA. In case you are unfamiliar, this is located at the southern base of the Appalachian mountains. Very backwoods when driving here, but super friendly folks. Our cabin didn't even fully match the pictures we saw when booking... but the view... breathtaking. We could have been handed a tent and a sleeping bag upon arrival and I think I would have been completely fine with it, as long as our eyes could remain plastered on the scenery around us. 

My plan for this vacation was not to have any exciting, busy adventures. It was to do the exact opposite. I planned to use this time for reflection and relaxation. I want to read, write and work on growing closer to God. Armed with my bible, books and an open mind, I am doing just that. 

But first, let me tell you about one of the most beautiful things God has shown me since arriving. Stars. So many stars. I knew that living in the city we miss out on the extent of the amount of stars that make up our universe. However, I thought that surely at some point during my existence I had been in a dark enough area to see those missing stars. Last night, though... it had me shouting out! I could not contain my smile nor my awe. AMAZING! The most BEAUTIFUL sight! I had no idea how many stars actually floated above us! 

So there we were - my partner, my stepson and myself - in the darkest of the night, unable to see even our hands in front of our faces. The sound of pure silence was all we could hear. Well, that, and the sounds of pure joy escaping our lips. We were so cold, yet couldn't stop staring. 

This moment led me to two feelings. 1. Our God is a magnificent painter. The backdrop to my life that I had never fully seen is stunning. But while discovering this, I discovered something else...

2. We are so incredibly much smaller than we tend to think that we are. I guess that is why they say we all come together to create a masterpiece. Not one person can do this on his or her own. We are tiny pieces to a much greater puzzle. Sometimes we may tend to forget this. I know that I sure do. 

I was sitting outside this morning next to the fire I built (yes, I got my first fire going in the outdoor fireplace this morning), sipping my coffee (trying to warm up), and reading my bible. I was reading in Colossians when my partner looked up and asked me a question... Now, this was a type of question that I could answer and be selfish or answer and be selfless. Ironically, I just happened to be on the verse that read "...Don't be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world." Colossians 3:5. I hadn't mentioned this to her... but I knew it was not just a coincidence that all of this took place at the same time. And yes, I chose to not be selfish.

This was just a reminder to me that it is not all about one's wants and desires. That this world is vast and we are each just a teeny, tiny piece of it. Go about your day today - and everyday - loving each other and watch the beautiful patchwork unfold.

P.S.... you cant see the stars, but look at the heart in the middle <3