Category Archives: Encouragement

A BALANCING ACT

Like most people, I have trouble carrying through with good intentions. My problem rarely is ignorance (not knowing what to do). Rather, my problem is inactivity (not doing what I know to do).

Gaining knowledge of what I should do is easy. A quick look around my house tells me what I need to do in terms of housework. I can search the Internet or see a doctor to learn dos and don’ts for caring for my body. Usually I have only to ask my family members and friends to know how I can help them. I can read the Bible to know what God asks of me.

Acting upon that gained knowledge is the hard part.

My natural tendency is, like water, to follow the course of least resistance. I see Hershey Kisses and I eat freely. I sit on the couch and work crossword puzzles half of the day. I leave dinner dishes to be washed in the morning. Daily time spent in the Word is hit or miss.

Doing whatever is easiest rarely means doing what is best. Often it means doing nothing.

Just as the cure for hunger is eating and the cure for tiredness is getting rest, the cure for inactivity is becoming active. Becoming active always requires effort.

Failing to put forth effort results in many unpleasant consequences. Your house gets out-of-control messy. Your weight increases and the state of your health declines. Personal relationships grow weaker and fewer. The intensity of your spiritual life dwindles, and what is commonly referred to as your “quality of life” starts to stink.

Thus, all of us face this decision: Will I follow the path of least resistance and pay the penalties that ensue, or will I put forth the effort required for living the life I want to live?

Many people try to do both. They laze their way through days, weeks, and months until they become miserable enough to be motivated to become active. Then they put forth effort for a while until they get tired and gradually slip into inactivity again.

This is no way to live.

But neither is a life of constant activity a good way to live. Balance is needed.

This is what balance looks like for me. My house is reasonably clean (not immaculate), I am eating, sleeping, and exercising reasonably (not focusing solely on one), my friends and family members are close but not suffocating me (I need some alone time.), and God’s peace indwells me (I am experiencing joy, not guilt.)

Maintaining this balance requires me to establish good habits. Good habits ensure that I give proper attention to my body, to my relationships with other people, to my house and other responsibilities, and to my Christian walk.

I compare myself to a high-wire walker. He reaches his destination safely but not without making adjustments along the way.

Like the tightrope walker, I usually know when I am veering off course. The sooner I make adjustments, the sooner I am back to where I want to be.

If a tightrope walker follows the path of least resistance, he will hit the ground. Figuratively speaking, the same is true for me.

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PANTS ON FIRE

Are you a liar?

I am not asking if you have ever told a lie. All of us have lied at least once. I am asking if you habitually speak untruths. Is lying your “native language,” as it is Satan’s, according to John 8:44?

I knew a man for whom, as far as I could tell, lying was his first language. He lied even when lying was of no benefit to him. He lied about what he ate for lunch, which shirt he wore the day before, and whether or not he liked cheese pizza. When he was caught out in an absolute lie, he lied about having lied in the first place.

I am not a liar except in one area of my life. I lie to myself. I tell myself on Monday that I will thoroughly clean my stove on Tuesday when I know I probably won’t. I tell myself eating two ice cream sandwiches won’t sabotage my attempt to lose weight when I know it will. Most of us indulge in this kind of dishonesty when we want to do something we shouldn’t do or don’t want to do something we should do.

But my lying to myself does not end there. I habitually speak untruths to myself about myself. According to me, I am stupid, mud-fence ugly, unreliable, and a lousy housekeeper. My hair always looks awful, I can’t cook, I have no self-control, and I can’t compose any piece of writing worth reading.

None of those brutal accusations I throw at myself are true. Occasionally I am unsuccessful in achieving a goal, but by no means am I the total loser I tell myself I am. So why do I habitually speak painful untruths to myself about myself?

Do I think that by telling myself these untruths, I will be motivated to become a higher achiever? Will demeaning myself prevent me from becoming arrogant? Or have I, like the man I mentioned earlier, just become so accustomed to this kind of lying that I continue the habit even when it is of no benefit at all?

In chapter 4 of the book of Ephesians, Paul exhorts Christians to avoid all sinful behaviors: stealing, indulging in feelings of bitterness and wrath, practicing lascivious living, and lying.

Right in the middle of that chapter he writes: But speaking the truth in love, (you) may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.

 I routinely speak the truth in love when I am talking to others. Perhaps I should employ that practice when I speak to myself about myself.

My self-conversation then might sound something like this:

Though I am not beautiful or a candidate for induction into MENSA, and my home will never win the Good Housekeeping Award and the meals I cook won’t grace the cover of Taste of Home, and though I will never win a Pulitzer Prize for Literature and will occasionally disappoint myself and other people, I am capable of functioning in a responsible adult manner. I am thankful for the gifts and abilities God has given me, and I will use them to serve others and to bring glory to God.

This is who I am, and only a liar will say otherwise.

In 2018, practice speaking the truth to yourself about yourself. And don’t forget to do it with love.

 

Three Stories

STORY #1

My sister Joni is a book-lover. Yesterday she went to a large book sale, looking in particular for picture books for her grandchildren. After shopping for a while and selecting quite a stack, she took the books to the check-out desk and asked the clerk to hold them for her while she continued to shop.

When she finished shopping, she went to the desk to pay for the books she had chosen. The clerk looked at first flustered and then apologetic.

“Another woman told me we were holding those books for her,” she said. “She has already paid for them and left the shop.”

STORY #2

I once worked with a young woman who loved nice clothes. One Monday morning she was wearing a new mid-calf sheath that looked especially nice on her. I complimented her on it and then noticed something awry. The price tag was sticking out of the neck opening in the back of the dress.

“Ooops,” I said. “The price tag on your dress is sticking out. Let me cut it off for you.”

“No!” she snapped. “Don’t cut it off. I bought this dress to wear to church yesterday for Easter. I’m wearing it again today. Then I’m going to return it to the store and say it didn’t fit. I do it all the time.”

STORY #3

When I was teaching English to adults many years ago, a student came to me at the end of class. She told me she could not submit her term paper, though it was due.

As she was driving to class that day, she said, she had car trouble. She stopped at a garage to have a mechanic look at her car. For some reason, she took her term paper into the garage with her and accidentally left it there. Since the paper was still at the garage, she wanted me to excuse her from turning it in on that date.

I said, “Go back to the garage and get your paper and turn it in to me before the end of the day.”

The student called me later in the day and told me she went back to the garage and found her paper, but it had gotten covered with grease. She knew I wouldn’t want to read a term paper that was messy.

I told her to bring the paper to me anyway. I would evaluate only its content, not its appearance.

I never saw the paper, and the woman eventually stopped attending class.

The untruths described above are fairly insignificant. But, if I know nothing else about the women depicted, I know they are not completely honest. This proves the saying, Tell a lie once and all your truths become questionable. (Pinterest)

When I was a little girl, the words lie, liar, and lying were not used in our house. An untruth was referred to as a story. The one telling the story was a storyteller, and the act itself was referred to as storytelling.

 If my mother suspected I was being less than truthful, she asked me, “Are you telling me the truth or are you telling me a story?”

In the three scenarios above, the woman who took the books that were not hers, the woman who “borrowed” a dress from a store, and the woman who failed to turn in her term paper all told stories.

I wouldn’t ask either one of these storytellers to housesit for me or to hold my purse while I was in the restroom. Trust that has been broken is hard to put back together.

Luke 16:10 reads, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

That is why a mom drags her kid back to the convenience store to return a swiped candy bar. She knows that a stolen candy bar today may be a stolen car years later.

Limit your storytelling to the sweet fairytales you tell your children at bedtime. Demand complete honesty from them, and from yourself.

 

Count the Costs

Relationships are expensive.

Ask any mother. A mother loves her children “to the moon and back,” as she often tells them. She spends years nurturing, protecting, feeding, clothing, educating, consoling, encouraging, disciplining, and every other ing word that can be applied to child-rearing. She would have it no other way.

But ask a mom if motherhood has cost her anything and she will tell you it has indeed. She sacrifices time she would like to spend doing any number of other things. She sacrifices money to buy textbooks and bicycles when she wants to spend that money on a new couch or an outfit for a special occasion.

Ask any married woman if being married has cost her anything and she will tell you it has indeed. She is no longer living only for herself. Her husband’s needs and wants become as important as her own needs and wants. She doesn’t buy a family car or even redecorate their bedroom without including him in her decisions.

A woman who is fortunate enough to be married to a good man pays less in the marriage relationship than the woman who is married to a not-so-good man. But both women sacrifice something of themselves in the marriage relationship. That is what “the two become one” means.

Friendships are costly. For example, I occasionally surrender my restaurant preference and eat at a place I don’t particularly like because my friend enjoys eating there. I sacrifice time with my family in order to spend time with my friends. My friends do the same things for me.

Of these three costly relationships, friendship offers the most flexibility. Parenthood and marriage are lifetime commitments and deserving of extreme sacrifices, when necessary.

But a friendship can grow and thrive or it can lessen or even end. There are people with whom I choose not to be a close friend because their friendships cost too much.

Some of these “friends” expect me to become who they are; they want me to think, talk, and act exactly as they do. I am not willing to pay that price.

Other “friends” lead me slowly to sacrifice my established life values. They encourage me to spend too much money, to be hypercritical, or to be less than truthful. With friends like that . . . well, you know.

Still other “friends” live lives of nonstop drama and ask me to be their great “fixer.” They beg for my help but refuse to accept the help I offer. Mostly, they want a sympathetic ear and my permission for them to remain in their chaotic, unproductive lifestyle. I finally conclude that such people are not looking for friends. They are looking for enablers.

I don’t, of course, ignore or demean these people. I am kind to them and help them when I can. But I cannot afford to be a close friend to them.

I must not conclude this discussion of costly relationships without mentioning the cost of following Jesus. In Luke 14 Jesus cautions us that the cost of following him is high. He uses sobering phrases like “hating your own father and mother,” and “giving up everything you have.” Those words sound severe, but we must remember that securing a relationship with us cost him everything.

Pray that God will give you wisdom as you establish relationships with people. Pray also that he will never allow you to put a relationship with anyone above the one you have with His Son.

“Old” Gets a Bad Rap

I looked up the word old in my Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. These definitions were listed.

  • dating from the remote past
  • persisting from an earlier time
  • of longstanding

Those definitions are fine when I am talking about cars or movies or clothes. However, when I am talking about people, the terms seem decidedly negative. They certainly do not make me feel happy to be in the over-60 crowd.

Therefore, when the word old is used to describe a person, it is more encouraging to state what the term does not mean.

Old does not mean useless or unproductive.

Old people have more and better life stories to tell than most young people have. Maybe that is why Laura Ingalls Wilder did not write the first of her childhood memoir books, Little House in the Big Woods, until she was 64.

The paintings of Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known as Grandma Moses, hang in famous museums all over the world. She began painting when she was 74, a new hobby she took up because her hands had become too crippled by arthritis to hold an embroidery needle.

Old also does not mean unattractive.

I Googled “Beautiful Old People,” and read numerous lists of easily recognized names: Helen Mirren (72), Tina Turner (77), Liam Neeson (65), and Denzel Washington (62).

Who composed these lists? If, as the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then anyone with eyesight can recognize beauty.

I have beheld many beautiful old people, but not one of their names appears on the lists I found online.

Through Google Images, I found this photo, courtesy of Pinterest. This old woman’s face speaks of strength and endurance. Her eyes and smile tell me she has a sense of humor.

Based upon appearances alone, I would rather spend an afternoon with this lovely woman than with Jennifer Lopez.

Old does not necessarily mean needy. It is true that as we get older, we lose some physical strength, but most of us can take care of ourselves.

I am revealing one of my pet peeves here, but I cringe every time a clerk or salesperson addresses me as “Sweetheart” or “Dearie.”  To me those words mean “You poor, doddering old soul, you obviously need special treatment.” I am not poor or doddering and I do not need special treatment.

In addition to all these admirable qualities, according to the Bible, old people also possess other benefits and blessings.

  • Job 12:12 reads: Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old.
  • Proverbs 17:6 proclaims: Grandchildren are a crown to the aged.
  • Isaiah 46:5 records this promise of God: Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.

Most old people are productive, beautiful, and competent. God says we have gained wisdom and understanding. Many of us have been crowned with grandchildren. Best of all, God continues to sustain us. These are all wonderful assets to possess.

Celebrate your age, whatever it is. Childhood offers freedom and fancy, middle age brings opportunity and responsibility, but only old age gifts us with understanding and reflection.

Image result for you are never too old to set a new dream

Chances Are

A few weeks ago I wrote about my pink geranium plant that I thought was nearing the end of its life. Leaves were turning brown and fewer and fewer new blossoms appeared.

I have been surprised to watch the plant since I wrote that blog post. It has been given a new lease on life and is blooming almost as heartily as it did when I first brought it home.

I have no idea why my aging geranium has re-bloomed so beautifully, but I know our God rules over all of nature. He enabled the plant to produce new blossoms. Though I had all but given up on the plant, God was not finished with it.

That is because our God is patient. He does not give up on His creations as quickly as we mortals give up on projects or even on ourselves or other people.

Who but a patient God would not have given up on Jonah, the disobedient prophet; David, the adulterous murderer; Saul, the enemy of Christianity; or me, a sin-stained and unworthy woman?

Most of us have heard our God described as the God of the Second Chance. That is true, but He is more than that. On the website www.gotquestions.org I read, “God is not only the God of second chances; He is the God of another chance. This is good news because most of us mess up the second chance fairly quickly.”

It is ironic that a perfect God does not give up on His imperfect creations, but we imperfect creatures often give up on a perfect God.

I am reminded of the Prodigal Son. When this young man was pig slop deep in sin and wastefulness, he gave up on his father’s willingness to accept him back. As the story goes though, the boy’s father was watching diligently and hoping against all hope that his son would return.

No doubt the wandering son had known his father’s great love all his life. Did he think his father had changed, had become a critical, exacting, and unforgiving father during the son’s absence? Did he believe his father loved him only when he was obedient?

Who would want a parent like that? Not one of us is obedient in all ways at all times. But God’s love is not based on performance. 1 John 4:8 tells us “God is love.” God will not go against His own nature. God loves because love is Who He is.

Of all the beautiful qualities of love such as patience, kindness, protectiveness, and others listed in 1 Corinthians 13, I am especially comforted by this quality of God’s love: Love keeps no record of wrongs.

I am confident that when the son described in Luke 15 returned home to his father’s loving acceptance, the son wasn’t reminded daily of his former offense. His father did not say to him, “You had better not mess up this second chance because you won’t get another one.” The father spent his time rejoicing that his son had returned.

I will not berate my geranium for the time it spent not blooming. Rather, I will just enjoy its beautiful presence in my life.

Though you may have given up on God, He has not given up on you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ahhhhh, Retirement

I have always been a slow starter. Now that I am retired, that slowness has decreased to a crawl. Some days my morning doesn’t get started until early afternoon.

Retirement living is wonderful. Rarely am I in a hurry. I can do what I want when I want most of the time. But as my dad used to say, “You can get too much apple pie.”  He said this when he was bored with some activity that should have been pleasurable.

I am not exactly bored with retirement, but like any other good thing, it can become tiresome. I look around for something to do.  My house is reasonably clean. Laundry is under control. No grandchildren are available for me to play with, and I have nowhere I absolutely have to go.

I consider my options. I could spend the day reading books or watching old television shows on Me-TV. I could don a headset and lie in the hammock listening to soft rock music from the 70s. I could sharpen my pencil and sit down with a crossword puzzle book. Those are all enjoyable pastimes for me.

Doing any one of those things occasionally is pleasurable. Doing only those things all the time, however, is not.

Like most people, I want to accomplish something worthwhile. I need a purpose, a reason for getting up in the morning. When I move listlessly from one unproductive activity to another, I feel useless.

A particular French word describes this condition. It is the word ennui (pronounced “on,” as in the word honor, and “we” as in the word we).

The Merriam Webster dictionary states this: Ennui generally refers to the feeling of jadedness that can result from living a life of too much ease.

Does that mean when I feel restless and unmotivated, it is because I am living a life of too much ease? Ouch!

Experiencing ennui is not merely unpleasant. It is actually dangerous.

Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, said, “Ennui has made more gamblers than avarice, more drunkards than thirst, and perhaps as many suicides as despair.”

That is another way of stating what we read in the book of Proverbs: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” (Proverbs 16:27 TLB).

When I was a child, feeling restless and bored, my mother showed no sympathy for me. Her response to my whining complaint of “There’s nothing to do,” was quick and certain.

“I’ve got plenty of things for you to do,” she would say. “You can start by dusting the living room, and when you’re finished with that . . .”

My mother knew the best cure for ennui was activity, particularly activity that helps someone else.

Around us live people with significant needs. Many need friendship, encouragement, or physical help of some kind. These people don’t battle ennui because they aren’t living lives of too much ease.

If you are feeling restless and unmotivated, find an activity that helps someone else. Volunteer at a hospital or food pantry. Spend an afternoon babysitting a busy mother’s children. Sign up at the library to tutor an ESL student. Visit a nursing home and strike up conversations with people who are lonely. Pick up litter in your neighborhood.

God didn’t create us to live lives of boredom. Go find a purpose.