Beauty for Ashes

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crown-less again shall be king.”  J.R.R. Tolkien

These are tough times when many have seen dreams dashed and hopes shattered. There is pain and struggle as people struggle to overcome or re-build their damaged lives. It is really unclear how many people are actually affected, because the hearty, proud and stalwart bread-winners of our country do not like to admit that they cannot help themselves out of a hole when they fall in one. Patience and understanding are at a premium these days, as well as compassion and HOPE.

Today I read an article which broke my heart. It was from a fellow-blogger who was discussing the reasons behind Sesame Street having to cover the issue of food stamps and childhood hunger. (You can read the article here.) The fact that this is even a question for any child SHOULD be heart breaking. Sadly, many of us have become immune to this issue, and many, many others. We give up, we discount our ability to help one, or two, or three or a few. Now, however, the problems are knocking at our own front doors like the Big Bad Wolf. Where do we turn for sympathy? Who do we ask for help?

It is discouraging for many of those who suffer from lost income, surprise medical conditions, crushing debt, hunger, homelessness, and the overwhelming feeling that they might not make it to see the fulfillment of their dreams. It is discouraging for these people to see and hear their more fortunate friends and family relate stories of shopping sprees, vacations, new cars, new houses, and promotions at work. There is so much trouble all around us, our sensitivity is incredibly crucial for those who are facing troubles that genuinely make them wonder how they will pull through this new test.

For those who have or are facing these kinds of trials, there is hope even in the midst of your suffering and confusion, and your dark night will have a dawn. Don’t you dare give up!!

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.                                                                                     

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
    foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
    you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and in their riches you will boast.

Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.

“For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
    and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
    that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations. Psalm 61


The Debts We Owe In Life

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward (American dedicated scholar, author, editor, pastor and teacher)

How many times has it been that you can look back and remember times when you worked hard, sacrificed, did without, accomplished great things, overcame difficulties…..and no one said a word?? We have all faced these situations in life, these times when we feel completely over-looked and taken for granted. The problem is, we ourselves are guilty of doing this to others as well.

Now, we can all relate to being under-appreciated. We should be very careful, then, about passing this feeling along to others. It is immature to use the excuse that no one thanks US, so it’s just turn-about and fair play, blah, blah, blah, if we do the same to others. Enough of our excuses. We know better. Period.

A couple of months ago, there was a miniseries on TV about the Hatfields and the McCoys. It was a great conversations starter with my hubby and I. For one thing, when it comes to getting even, no one ever wins, because it just keeps going on, like an eternal game of tag. Each side seems to be so offended at what the other side does and always surprised and enraged when they are reaping what they sow. My point in regard to being grateful, however, is this: If you want the world to be different, then BE DIFFERENT.

So remember the debts we carry are not all financial, but moral as well. No matter what our station in life or the size (or lack) of our bank account, we all have the ability to lighten someone else’s load by telling them of our appreciation, freely and frequently. Encourage people to do the right thing by you and others by saying how much they mean to us. Neglecting this is a lot like planting a wonderful garden and then refusing to water it. We can feed people around us or we can starve them. The landscape we live in will reflect on US.

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. James 5 : 1-5

Celebrating Along the Way

Most people are prisoners, thinking only about the future or living in the past. They are not in the present, and the present is where everything begins. 
Carlos Santana

Let’s put something on the table right now: I am crazy about the Lord of the Rings. I love the genteel way that women were treated, instead of objectified. I love the heroes who were willing to fight and struggle and sacrifice their own opinions and comfort in order to do what was right and stand up for the good things in the world.

Let’s consider Hobbits for a moment. Hobbits are very much in the moment, even though sometimes others don’t think their habits are practical or appropriate. In the movies, for instance, there were many times when the Hobbits stopped to celebrate with food or a pipe, or both. Sometimes, when danger threatens, or disaster looms, it may not always seem like a good idea to stop everything and celebrate, especially when surrounded by Nazgul.

In life, however, there can be periods of time when we seem to be constantly facing danger, hardship, or disappointment. It IS important to stop and smell the roses along the way and learn to celebrate along the way to our dreams. Maybe you didn’t land a great job (or any job, as is still the case for many) yet. Maybe you are going through unpleasant relationship issues or battling health problems or find yourself mired in legal proceedings. We are all going to be beset by “stuff” from time to time, many times, for longer than you imagined you could endure.

This doesn’t mean, however, that your life should be free from release, rest, and down time, even in the midst of your trials. For one thing, if you are able to actively enjoy things in your life even though the big picture is not going your way, you prove that you are more than just your circumstances. You show the world that life does not have to be perfect in order to find meaning and enjoyment in the midst of it. When you are willing to invite a fellow traveler into your life by means of encouragement, help, companionship, and compassion, you are punching a giant hole in the darkness that hovers over this world. Not everyone will understand when you celebrate your milestones and make the best of a tough situation, but you will be much happier on the whole because of it.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter —
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousnesswill go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. Isaiah 58 : 6-12

A Safe Place to Land

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Maya Angelou (American Poet, b.1928)

They say that home is where the heart is, a safe place, where you can just be who you are and have people understand and love you. For some people, home is a place, for others, it is a person. Like a nest, home is where we begin, the place from which we launch out into the world to try our wings. I have come to a place in my life where a peaceful home is one of the things I cherish the most. After all the nicks and cuts and terrors and complaints and toil of the day, it is good to be able to breathe the free air.

I remember going to my Grandma’s house as a little girl. She would give me chocolate milk with a special straw cup, scrambled eggs with real butter, Honey Nut Cheerios, and she would serve her store-bought assortment of Mother’s cookies on a silver tray. She had special embroidered guest towels and a special dining nook where I would pull the curtains around myself and play under her table like a fort. I even remember the smell of the wooden table legs and the carpet. She had a special cabinet that always held coloring books and Play-Doh. I miss my grandma very much. Being at her house always felt like home.

I want to be that safe place for my kids, whether I live in a colonial style mansion or a little apartment; I want to be the caretaker of that safe place they can always go to breathe and just be. Not everyone is blessed with a safe place, but all of us can BE a safe place. Think of those things that you treasure or wish you had had back then all those years ago growing up. Be the one who gives comfort, not always the one who takes it. The world needs more safe places, and more givers, after all.

“All good things arrive unto them that wait – and don’t die in the meantime” Mark Twain (American Humorist, Writer and Lecturer. 1835-1910)

I have found as a parent that many of the things I wished for growing up, I can still have in my life on the giving side. I can laugh in company while watching cartoons. I can enjoy baking cookies or making banana splits. I cannot become a child again, but I am getting the gift of seeing what so many of my unspoken wishes are like up close and personal.

You cannot give a hug without getting a hug back….eventually. 🙂 Every time you give to someone, you also benefit. You will receive a little measure of happiness every time you put someone else first. Don’t just be the little blue bird egg, safe, secure and protected, be the nest and help someone else to grow.

 Answer me when I call to you,
    my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
    have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
    How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself;
    the Lord hears when I call to him.

Tremble and do not sin;
    when you are on your beds,
    search your hearts and be silent.
Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
    and trust in the Lord.

Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?”
    Let the light of your face shine on us.

Fill my heart with joy
    when their grain and new wine abound.

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety.  Psalm 4: 1-8

Sticky Hands, Deadlines, and a Steep Uphill Climb…

“The greater difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.” Epicurus (Greek philosopher, BC 341-270)

When people picture a struggle, they may see in their mind a crew of a ship, valiantly battling wind and wave to keep their vessel afloat. Others may have an image of a mountain climber, solitary and alone, fighting gravity, the elements, and his own physical limits to reach the summit of the mountain and plant his flag on top. Still others may be inspired by scenes of the Special Olympics, where athletes prove to the world how they can overcome by strength and determination. All of these things matter. Every one of these pictures gives us a little insight into the nature of struggle, overcoming, and fighting to win a prize.

I have never been on a rowboat in a storm, let alone a member of a crew fighting to save their ship in one. I have never been that interested in climbing a mountain. I also have almost zero athletic inclination or ability, so I doubt I’ll be inspiring anyone soon with images of me dashing across a finish line. We all have our own brand of struggle, however. Mine comes in the flavor of a large family that needs me to participate, referee, and basically be there. As I try to balance my time between my children and my husband, I am also trying to earn my bachelor’s degree online in the field of visual communications. There are a lot of hours and concentration and hard work required for this to be successful. Our family is also trying to begin a new life after relocating 2 states away fro where we began. We look for work, we try to raise our kids, I go to school, make dinner, etc., all while trying to help the kids re-establish themselves in a new place. Did I mention we are also staying with relatives right now?

“Great minds have purposes; little minds have wishes. Little minds are subdued by misfortunes; great minds rise above them.” Washington Irving (American Writer called the first American man of letters. Best known for the short stories The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. 1783-1859)

It is important to remember that everyone has something that makes their life a struggle from time to time. Not all of us bear the same burdens either in nature or duration. There are things that I may find difficult that someone else would think easy. There are things that I have a fairly easy time of that would put someone else in a cold sweat. Fear is a very personal thing, after all. Maybe this is why we all go through such different trials in life. The purpose for all of it (or maybe some of the purpose) is to make us into the kind of people that are able to lead through adversity, stand firm for our convictions, do the right thing when it is unpopular, give up our own wishes for the good of others, and so on.

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of liberty must undergo the fatigues of supporting it” Thomas Paine (English born American Writer and political pamphleteer, whose ‘Common Sense’ and ‘Crisis’ papers were important influences on the American Revolution. 1737-1809)

There are many who would think my struggles right now are a walk in the park and I should puh-leese quit whining about it! This isn’t the most difficult thing I have ever attempted, of course. The chaos brought by child rearing is something people don’t really understand until they have stood in your chocolate milk soaked shoes with a screaming toddler, 3 moody middle-schoolers and a drama queen teen while you try to fix dinner, field phone calls, finish up your assignment that is due today, and keep the twinge in your temple from turning into a pounding headache. Bonus points if you can do it all without raising your voice. LOL

The point, of course, is NOT that my children are a constant chore, hassle and trial to me and I wish I’d never had them, no way! I struggle in life because of them, because they are worth the fight and aggravation and work. (I grew up as a lonely single child, a surprise to my much older parents whose families were raised and gone, so family means a lot to me.)

We all have dreams and they are worth a struggle. They are worth the fight of a steep uphill climb. Don’t give up on those dreams. Every day you persevere you’re getting stronger and closer to the person you will need to be to see those dreams through to the very end. Strong shoulders are needed to bear the weight of dreams. Consider this your time of training.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12 : 1-3

In the Palm of Your Hand

“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”

Charles R. Swindoll(American Writer and Clergyman, b.1934)

If you only took the time to understand how much you can accomplish with a moment. A single choice, when added to and built upon another choice and another, effects such change in your life that it can only be outmatched by the changes that single choice first started in you, yourself. We are more than what we eat. We are also what we do and think and say and believe.

If your mind is full of walls and barriers and obstacles, your words will tend to highlight the things that make it difficult for you to succeed. Your actions mirror the things that you think and talk about. For all intents and purposes, you ARE the terrible things you think you are and are trapped by walls impossible to climb, break, or otherwise escape… but it doesn’t have to be this way.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas Alva Edison  (1847-1931)

The Underground Railroad, was a network of people who helped many slaves find their way to freedom. It was dangerous, frightening, and also illegal. Sometimes, in order for us to overcome hardship in our lives, there is a certain amount of struggle. The brave individuals which were able to escape and begin new lives believed that it was worth the risk, worth fighting for with their lives.

I have been reading about struggles of women and other vulnerable groups in other countries who have fought for the right to freely and safely walk the streets, speak in public, drive, hold a job, raise their children the way they deem best, and many other things those of us in the West take for granted. These things have been denied to them for a long time. The act of public protest and dissent is often like stepping in front of an oncoming train. There is a lot of suffering and pain, even to the point of death. These courageous individuals also believe that some things are worth a fight.

“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” Abraham Lincoln (16th US President (1861-65), who brought about the emancipation of the slaves. 1809-1865)

Is there something standing before you like a wall, dark and forbidding, which you think you can never overcome? It may seem impossible, it may seem frightening, it may seem foolish to even hope. However, MUCH has been overcome in the past, MUCH is being overcome in the present, and MUCH will be overcome in the future. Do you realize that there is no difference between those who overcome and those who stay shackled in life (sometimes literally)? The only thing which changes the outcome is choice. You can make a choice. You can make a couple of choices. You can make many, many choices. After you do this, changes begin to happen, in your life and in yourself. You are only a few choices away from a different life if you so desire.

“Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more” Anthony Robbins

You have a gift which you may not realize you have. You have, in the palm of your hand, the gift of free will. This is not the gift of someone else’s free will, but yours. This gift is more precious than most things you can name, and with it is a responsibility to choose what is right. Choosing between right and wrong is elementary, though many seem to choose wrong in spite of this.

The gift of choice also means we must choose what is right for us. If your dream is to do something that your friends and family have never done, something that shows your talents, then it is not only desirable but your responsibility to choose to do the thing which makes you happy. None of us are supposed to live our lives as drudges, stumbling around miserable and inept in someone else’s idea of “the perfect life”. I, for one, am not good at things I don’t enjoy, and even some of the things I DO enjoy are hard work for me. But I press through the difficulties (not always with a good attitude, I’ll admit), because of the glimpses I have seen of what awaits me on the other side.

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3 : 10-14

Rockin’ the Journey

Whoa, we’re half way there
Whoa oh, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand and we’ll make it I swear
Whoa oh, livin’ on a prayer                                                                    

Livin’ On A Prayer lyrics
Songwriters: Bonjovi, Jon; Sambora, Richard; Child, Desmond

That’s it, keep going….you’re almost there….now a little to the left….a little to the right now…..keep going, keep going, you’re getting warmer, you’re starting to sizzle, you’re burning hot…….

Each of us is on our way somewhere. Sometimes the road stretches out further and further in front of us and we aren’t quite sure if we have enough gas, enough snacks, enough patience, or enough stamina to make it all the way. There are plenty of times when we may have every inclination to turn around and go back the way we came, instead of pressing on toward our goal. The path of least resistance doesn’t make us particularly happy or give us satisfaction or a sense of accomplishment, but it is much easier than trying to force our car’s screaming, protesting transmission up yet another steep incline.

Let’s take an imaginary trip together in our imaginary RV. (Notice: I am not really an “RV kind of person”, this is just for demonstration purposes.) We have our fridge packed, plenty of fuel in our tanks, with a little to spare for emergencies, a cold soda within reach in the cup holder, and our most comfortable non-embarrasing-should-we-need-to-get-out-in-public travel outfits. We’re taking things pretty easy, enjoying the time spent in one another’s company. Our destination: the Grand Canyon.

Along the way, there are lots of things to see and do. Some of them are pretty distracting. We might find a train museum, or a little art gallery, or a cute little burger stand with a stream running along side and shady places to eat at picnic tables. We might see unusual birds, striking sunsets, dazzling lightning storms, or cascading waterfalls along the way that beckon us to stop for a bit and practice our photography skills. We might also encounter flat tires, tourist traps, getting lost, having our wallets stolen, and throbbing sunburn.

When we’ve found our way back on the road and have double and triple checked that we’re going the right direction, we notice that not too far ahead of us is a mountain. As we grow closer to this mountain, we can see the slender hair of our road zigging and zagging up the side. You check the map. This is the only road. You groan at the very thought of driving this pull-out-all-the-stops monstrosity you HAD to have to take this trip up that steep road. (Sorry, I told you I wasn’t an RV person.)

When climbing long inclines, your RV needs to be operated within its power band.

The power band is a span of engine RPMs where you have the maximum horsepower available to handle the extra load imposed when going up long inclines.

This becomes even more noticeable with diesel engines…. (Link for this info)


Now, say we’ve been on a really long drive in this RV, hundreds of miles long. The Grand Canyon is a long way away from a lot of places. We’re on the way to the Grand Canyon, and we’re starting to see it on road signs we pass. The distance is shrinking mile after mile. When we’re about 50 miles away, our engine starts to overheat, we’re out of the good snacks, you and I are feeling worn out and cranky, and on top of all of that the baby is out of diapers. Oh Boy! * Hold that thought *

When I was younger, I went on a trip to the Grand Canyon with my Grandma. It was a long, hot drive. I was very excited. I had never been to the Grand Canyon before. When we got to the park, the road wove in and out of the rises and dips of the high desert landscape.We rounded a bend, and there it was, gaping like a hungry giant’s maw, stretching on and on into the distance. I jumped out of the car and ran for the guardrail to peer over the edge…and received a sharp reprimand from my mother. I cautiously, continued on my way toward the guardrail, and marveled at the sight of this one-of-a-kind wonder. It was well worth all those long hours in the car just to see such an impressive thing. True story.

My grandma absolutely refused to get out of the car. So, after we had urged her repeatedly and in vain, we spent a little time there and drove home. Now, over 20 years later, I still remember this incident. It always seemed like such a waste to me, such a pointless thing for my grandma to go all that way, and then stop before she got to the point of the trip. Isn’t that like working all the way up to payday and then refusing your check?? That’s like a big steaming plate of what’s-the-point topped with crazy sauce and a side of DOH!! (I loved my grandma very much, but sometimes she just made no sense to me.)

* OK, back to our RV trip. * So, we’re getting close to our destination. We see the signs everywhere that prove it. The road has gotten a little rough and our tempers are shorter than they were when things were smooth, we had our favorite radio station, and there was plenty of our favorite treats to go around. Now we’re stuck with a steaming radiator, the radio is stuck on the farm report, and the snack bags are full of greasy crumbs. What should we do? Should we press on, or give up and turn around? It might be a little more familiar, but think of what we’ll be missing!

When we’re in the middle of our life journey, we will have times when things go a little rougher than others, but we cannot give up and go back home. In order to be different than the person we’ve always been, in order to have a different life than the one we’ve always had, we’re going to have to complete our journey. We cannot just decide it is easier to stay the same. We’re not happy this way, but the travel time seems so long and the trip is so hard. The destination is at the end, not in the middle. We need to keep this in our minds next to the place where we keep our name. The point is not to stop, but to keep going.

“…Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus…” Philippians 1: 6

Drain the Cup

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman (American Theologian, Clergyman and Activist. 1900-1981)

Sometimes, the cup we are handed is full of lemons; sometimes, it is full of lemonade. Whatever we find in the cup that we are given to taste at this particular point in time, it might be important to note that, as at dinner time at your mother’s house, you won’t get a refill or something new to drink until you finish the drink you already have. Another way of saying this is that life is full of seasons, to a purpose.

Every part of our lives, each individual cup full of life circumstances, has things that can benefit us. For example, bitter coffee wakes us up, sour wine can relax us, tart lemonade refreshes and cools us. Too much of anything can be bad for us, but we can pull purpose for our lives as well as grow-up lessons out of each situation which faces us. A long wait can teach us patience, and if we can take our eyes off of our watches, we might look up and see the people around us, who could benefit from a smile, a “thank you”, a prayer, a word of encouragement (Nice shirt!). When our eyes are focused so close to ourselves all the time, we many times get the impression that the world revolves around us and no one is as worthy of blessing, respect, authority, or notice more than we are. The world is full of these kinds of people already and the results are plastered across cemeteries, the newspaper headlines, and missing children’s stories, among other things.

To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.” ~ Leo F. Buscaglia (American guru, tireless advocate of the power of love, 1924-1998)

When we fail to learn the important life lessons early, we will get another chance, and another, and another. The message we seem to miss so many times is “clean your plate” or “drain your cup”. How many times do we really want to go through this same thing in this same way? Wasn’t it enough the first time? Drain the cup, learn your lesson, and move on. Be healed, be stronger, be wiser, be free!

Just as important is enjoying the drink when it is especially refreshing. We really need these times of respite in order to be able to face life’s hard times. Therefore, when you are handed a particularly delightful cup, drain it, and be rested so that tomorrow doesn’t find you weary, stressed, and unprepared. We do not always get to choose what we hold in our cup; but if we can learn to drain it even to its most bitter dregs, we can move on to be happier, more generous and whole human beings. That, I think we can all agree, is something that will benefit everyone.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4: 8-13

Quirks, Raincoats, and the Smell of Fresh Papaya

I have a daughter who is bright, nerdy like her mother, and a budding photographer. On her way to school this morning, we had a chat about this unexpected gift that is developing in her. I, myself, had for a long time cherished the hope of somehow being a photographer; but it was somewhere further down the list of dream job priorities than “famous-singing-princess-astronaut”, so I have let that dream fall by the wayside. Beside the fact that, unlike my lovely daughter, I have no innate talent in this direction, photography is something I have learned to appreciate as a spectator, as I have many other things I have held up for inspection along the way to becoming an adult.

We all have our talents and quirks and knacks for things. All three of my sisters as well as my mother have an amazing talent for home decorating. They know how to put things together. They have the ability to tie pretty bows on things. I do not have either of these abilities, but I have many others. 🙂 I know many people who like to do the same things, but the levels of ability vary with the person. We are all unique. In fact, our individual talent sets, abilities, and tendencies are so distinctive that it could almost be compared to each of us having our own personal culture or language.

For example, I have this certain raincoat that I bought out of necessity when I was expecting my last child. It is long, belted, and bright turquoise. It’s also about 4 sizes too big for no-longer-pregnant me. Nevertheless, I LOVE this coat! For one thing, the size of it means I can wear bulky clothes underneath it without getting that “bunched up” feeling. I once wore it for Halloween with my huge rainbow umbrella, caked-on “Endora” eyeshadow,  a messy bun, and a plush cat toy sticking out of the pocket. Nothing says “crazy cat lady” like a get-up of that caliber, am I right? Still, to this day, I love to wear this enormous raincoat. It makes me happy sometimes, to simply go against the grain of what most people think of as desirable or normal. Who’s life is this anyway? Again, we have another example of unabashed uniqueness.

Let us consider a freshly-opened papaya for a moment. I have always thought of papaya the way I do other tropical (and to me exotic) fruits, like guava, cocoanut, pineapple, mango and dragon fruit. They are out of the ordinary treats from far-away lands. They are to be loved ad savored above such paltry and common-place things as apples and oranges, puh-leese! (Some of my childish ways have hung on a bit into adulthood, I’m afraid. I DO love apples and oranges, to be clear.) But one day I had the opportunity to visit one of our local markets that boasts a rather large ethnic section. So, there was the papaya, looking strangely other-worldly, foreign, and therefore desirable. 

“What a treat!” I thought to myself. “I will surprise my kids with this exotic delight!”

OK, so my exact wording may have been slightly different. My memory is somewhat fuzzy on that account. So I brought it home and told them of my wonderful idea. I told the about the exotic and rare treat I had in store for them. Their eyes lit up. After all, if Mom thinks it’s a wonderful thing, it must be, right?

I made a big production out of getting a cutting board and a big shiny knife. And as I expertly cut the football-sized fruit down the center, a dreadful smell filled the room. They were surprised alright. Maybe it was just the seeds, I thought. The kids wrinkled their noses. I tried not to wrinkle mine, and laughed off a nagging voice at the back of my head telling me that things you put in your mouth should NOT smell like week-old garbage. Nevertheless, I pressed on with the task of cutting large wedges of papaya for myself and my children. OK, I lied a little bit just there. After that smell, I was quite prepared to shamelessly use my children as guinea pigs and make them go first.

As anyone who has ever had fresh papaya will know, the smell did not diminish with the removal of the seeds. Now with the smell of fresh papaya filling the house, the kids took turns trying the papaya, and finally, so did I. Hastily apologizing to my children for making them eat something that tasted like rotting meat, we pitched the entire thing into the garbage, had a good laugh, and proceeded to eat, instead, the several ripe mangoes I had also purchased that day.

Curious to know more, I looked up “papaya stink”, or something to that effect, on the internet. As it turns out, the smell is completely normal for ripe papaya, as was the reaction of myself and my children. This is just more proof to what I’ve been saying all along; we are all unique, which is a really generous way to describe the first person who ever smelled a papaya and decided to go ahead and eat it anyway.

However the stories of our lives go, we are individual as snowflakes. We were each created to fill a special place. Though it may seem random and chaotic the way we are tossed out like jacks in the world, it is rather the serendipity of the Creator, who loves us as the distinctive, colorful, oddities that we are. He sees us as we really are, and His delight in us should be the end of the matter.

 Sixty queens there may be,
    and eighty concubines,
    and virgins beyond number;
 but my dove, my perfect one, is unique,
    the only daughter of her mother,
    the favorite of the one who bore her.
The young women saw her and called her blessed;
    the queens and concubines praised her. Song of Songs 6: 8-9

Making Peace With Frankenstein

“Oh! no mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then; but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.” Mary Shelly, Frankenstein

Frankenstein is a character that is familiar to many of us, even if we have not actually read the original story (it’s in my to-read list on my Nook) ; and we have come to recognize the many variations this creature has taken over the years. We see the stitched forehead, the bolts in the sides of the neck, the stiff posture, and we immediately recognize who is being portrayed. Many things have been written and filmed about this creature. Sometimes, Frankenstein is misunderstood, sometimes feared. Oftentimes, Frankenstein is hunted with the goal to destroy this aberration, this perversion of nature.

For the many people who have seen this as a sad story, the reactions are different; compassion, regret, sorrow, and pity may move us to wish the story ended differently for the creature, and he had been given another chance, or a different beginning. Perhaps, we feel sympathy, because we see a little bit of this creature in ourselves. After all, we have an innate ability to goof things up; and in all likelihood, life has encouraged the tendency in us to be less than wonderful. We lost our temper that one time…We let an opportunity pass us by…We let that person slip out of our lives…We messed up…We got it wrong…We failed.

BUT!! It doesn’t have to be the end of the world! We are ALL that we are, but we are ONLY what we are. We have the potential to be amazing OR disappointing. Human beings have to accept the good and the bad, because that’s what it is. The amazing thing is that we don’t have to go it alone and stump along incomplete for the rest of our lives. We can be restored to wholeness and soundness. There is Someone who stands with His arms open, waiting to receive us in all our deformed awkwardness. All we have to do is to run to Him and fall into those arms. He loves us. He cherishes us. He longs for us to receive this amazing, shocking, undeserved love that He freely gives.

This person is Jesus, who died for us, and rose again. His act of love echoes through all of time, losing none of its power as each generation faces the choice to accept Him or reject Him.

You and I are Frankenstein; but we need to accept the fact of our brokenness and need before we can be healed.

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:5-17