Why and How?

It seems to me that many questions beginning with the word “Why” require the questioner to do no more than think, while questions beginning with the word “How” often require the questioner to take action. That is probably why I prefer “Why” questions to “How” questions most of the time.

Right now a force of thousands of angry, marauding terrorists is summarily beheading, crucifying and otherwise killing anyone who gets in its way in Iraq.  At the same time, the whole world is quaking at the threat of the Ebola virus, which is cropping up in new places every day. Compassionate people are sickened to realize that people in some third-world countries have no option but to drink the same water in which cattle have urinated, defecated, and even died. We hear horror stories about elderly people in this country having to choose each month between buying food and buying medicine.

Why do all of these lamentable conditions exist? Why isn’t someone doing something? Why does God not step in and put an end to suffering and injustice? Why can’t everyone enjoy peace, prosperity, and health? Why is the whole world so out of balance?

Pondering such “Why” questions leads me every time to the same answers.   (1) These conditions exist because we live in a fallen world. Satan, though limited somewhat in the menace he can create, is having a heyday. (2) These conditions exist because people are free to do whatever they want to do as long as they can find a way to do it. People find ways to do some horrible things. (3) These conditions exist because most people in the world have rejected Jesus, who is the answer to every question, and Jesus refuses to force His way into anyone’s heart, thinking, or decision-making.

That is about as far as I can go in answering the “Why” questions. My answers give me no peace. I remain heartsick over the conditions outlined above.

My only hope of feeling any better, of obtaining any peace or sense of offering help lies in my willingness to answer some “How” questions.

  • How am I to respond to a God who maintains control and does not always act in ways that make sense to me? Answer: I am to respond by trusting His promises and by arming myself daily with Scriptures that reassure me of His infinite love for all people and His ultimate goal of saving the lost.
  • How can I make a difference amid all the chaos, sadness and depravity surrounding me? Answer: I can make a difference by knowing, standing for, and proclaiming the truth.  I can make a difference by serving, befriending, ministering to, praying for, and loving to the best of my ability everyone in my sphere of influence.
  • How can I protect myself and the people I love from falling victim to all the dangers that threaten us? Answer: I can protect myself and others from some of the dangers some of the time by being well-informed, attentive, diligent, and prayerful. I can’t protect anyone from everything.
  • How can I keep from being overwhelmed with despair, worry and sadness? Answer: I can keep from being overwhelmed by the existence of evil by choosing to think about those things that are pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. (Philippians 4:8)
  • How can I stop asking the “Why” questions? Answer:   Start asking the “How” questions and acting upon the answers to them.

Until Then

I hope one day to lose the weight I need to lose, establish an exercise routine that I enjoy and will stick with, and stop eating and drinking things that are not good for me. Maybe I will attain these goals, but until then, this is what I will do. I will thank God for my good health, buy and wear clothes that are appropriate for my size, smile, and use the talents and gifts God has given me. I will not make sad comparisons between me and the models pictured on the covers of glossy magazines, yearning for a face and body that I cannot have.

I hope that one day I will master the art of organization. My home will be tidy; my paperwork caught up; my flowers all watered, weeded and well tended; and my days all streamlined for maximum efficiency. Maybe I will attain that goal, but until I do, I will move forward and do the best I can. I will not beat myself up for my many shortcomings, tell myself that I am a lost cause, and resign myself to living in absolute squalor and chaos.

I hope that one day I will master my iPhone, my iPod, and Windows 8, but I know that I am not mentally as sharp as I once was. I forget facts I need to remember, call people by the wrong names, misplace things, and struggle to keep up with technology. I hope one day to function more efficiently, and maybe I will. Until then, though, I will not throw away my electronic devices, stop trying new things, cease challenging myself and become completely dependent upon my children to help me make phone calls, enjoy my recorded music and audiobooks, and post my weekly blogs.

I hope that one day I will listen more and talk less, encourage and not criticize, serve without whining, and surrender my stubborn will completely to God’s purposes. Maybe I will one day reach that plateau, but until then, this is what I will do. I will work on improving myself in all of those areas, striving for perfection but celebrating progress. I will not put a quilt over my head and denigrate myself into a depression that renders me useless.

It is true that I am overweight and disinclined to exercise, somewhat prone to messiness, a bit of a chalkboard thinker in a touch-screen world, and decidedly deficient in all the Christian virtues. Those are not admirable qualities, but they do not cripple me. In fact, they rarely prevent me from accomplishing the things I truly want to accomplish. Therefore, instead of focusing upon my limitations, I will focus upon doing what I can do and helping other people to do the same.

May God help all of us to adopt the attitude of Edward Everett Hale, who said: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

FULL PRICE, PLEASE

I’ve learned a few things in my sojourn on the earth:  Dust always returns.  The bank’s numbers are usually right.  Money-saving gimmicks are often more trouble than they are worth.

A few weeks ago, three friends and I had dinner at a local restaurant.  Two of my dining companions had brought coupons, which they wanted to share equally among the four of us.  One coupon offered $5 off a $25 purchase.  Another coupon offered “Buy one entree and get a second one for half price.”

As we buttered and ate our complimentary dinner rolls and drank our glasses of iced water, we strategized.   How could we obtain the most benefit from our coupons while ensuring that all four of us spent approximately the same amount of money?  Cell phone calculators were activated.  The server made two trips to our table to take our orders before we perfected our money-saving scheme.

Finally, we ordered and ate our meals.  When the time came to pay, we flashed our coupons.  The server’s countenance visibly wilted.  “I’m not sure I can divide the bill up this way,” he said.  My friends and I looked at him with irritation and disbelief.  “Why not?” one of us asked.

Then we all began talking at the same time, pointing to various plates and bowls on the table and explaining the specific requirements of our coupons.  The poor man eventually took our coupons, our checks, our money and our credit cards and headed for his register.  For all of our effort, each of us saved little more than a dollar or two.

Clipping coupons, chasing sales and taking advantage of special offers rarely save me money.  Odds are that having a coupon will require me to drive out of my way to visit the particular store that offered the coupon, only to find at checkout that: 1) The coupon expired yesterday.  2) I am 75 cents short of making the minimum required purchase and must add an unwanted magazine or pack of gum to my cart at the last minute.  3) The coupon I so carefully studied and clipped is still lying on my kitchen island next to the crumbs of the bagel I ate for breakfast.

Last week I called a service provider my husband and I have used for several years.  I explained to the person on the phone that since my husband has retired, we have less money to spend and needed to cancel that particular service.  The representative quickly asked, “Could you and your husband afford this service if I lowered the price from $50 a month to $25 a month?”

“What?” I almost screamed into the phone.  “If this service is available for $25 a month, why have I been paying $50 a month?”

I wish stores, restaurants and service providers had ONE FIRM, FAIR PRICE for every item, required no coupons or bulk purchases, and had no sales, blue light specials or reduced rates for qualifying customers.  The price of the blouse or steak or pest control service is $39, no matter who buys it, when it is purchased and whether or not other items are paid for at the same time.

I never seem to grab the brass ring when it comes to money-saving gimmicks.  Stop the merry-go-round.  I want off.

Issues with Reality

I have two granddaughters: an intelligent and beautiful five-year-old with lovely brown tresses and her adorable and spunky, red-haired sister, who is two. I refer to them respectively as Sparkle and Twinkle because they are bright spots in my world, my little Stars.

Yesterday the two girls were at my house for a few hours. Twinkle (the two-year-old) and I were playing with a purple, glittery, stuffed dolphin. With our help, the dolphin leapt from chair arm to chair arm as he sang and danced and entertained both of us. Sparkle (the five-year-old) was doing her own thing with a pink and white stuffed dog.

At one point in our play Sparkle looked critically at the dolphin show Twinkle and I were enjoying and announced, “Dolphins can’t really do those things, Grandma.”

“I know,” I replied, “but your sister and I are pretending and when you are pretending, dolphins can do anything.”

“But I don’t like the way you are playing!” she stubbornly insisted. “Stop it!”

“No, Sparkle,” I replied. “You do not get to tell your sister and me how to play.”   At that, Sparkle’s face clouded over and she ran from the room.

Sparkle had just experienced a momentary issue with reality. Grandma and Twinkle could indeed play however they wanted to play and she could not intervene. Her power and control did not extend to dictating how her sister and her grandmother played, and she bristled against accepting that fact. In fairness to her, she recovered from her little snit quickly. She came back into the room carrying a Dora the Explorer jigsaw puzzle, which she happily assembled as if she had never experienced the momentary annoyance.

I, too, often want to push back against reality. Everywhere I look I encounter miserable situations over which I have absolutely no control, and I bristle against accepting my lack of power. As I write this, Christians around the world are suffering persecution and literally being put to the sword. Close friends are coping with dire sicknesses and injuries and the loss of the people they love most. I am heartsick.

The fact is that short of begging God’s mercy on these people and doing whatever small things I can think of to try to help them, I am useless. My power and control do not extend to remedying the suffering and injustices of this world.

When accepting my limitations becomes a problem for me, I sometimes choose to indulge in my own version of Sparkle’s little snit. Like her, I look for relief from the pain of facing an unpleasant reality. If I am not careful, though, in my search for comfort, I default to an unhealthy way of coping with my disappointment. I dig into half gallons of ice cream or indulge in long naps of escape or zone out in endless games of Spider Solitaire on the computer. I run from one problem area in my life, accepting limitations, to another: abusing food, abusing sleep, or abusing the mind-numbing pseudo-relief of computer games.

The next time I have an issue with reality, I hope I’ll choose a less destructive and more healing therapy. Maybe I’ll take a prayer walk or soak in a hot bath while listening to Christian music. Maybe I will simply work a Dora the Explorer jigsaw puzzle.

You Might Be a Grandma

I will begin by apologizing to any men reading this article. I do not intend to embarrass anyone.

I have a 5-year-old granddaughter who is intelligent, inquisitive and incredibly fun! I will call her Sparkle. Sparkle is like a little sprite. When she is at my house, she pops up unexpectedly wherever I happen to be—in the laundry area, in the kitchen and even in the bathroom. On Monday I was dressing in the bathroom, thinking that Sparkle was busily engaged watching Nick Jr. on television in the living room. I had my jeans on and was addressing my top half, fastening my bra in the front with the intention of turning it around the right way immediately thereafter. Suddenly, from behind me came Sparkle’s confused comment, “Grandma, I think you have that on backwards.”

I am happy to be a card-carrying grandma, and maybe you are too. Suffice it to say: You Might Be a Grandma If:

  • Your patio door is covered with tiny handprints that you cannot bring yourself to clean off.
  • Your shopping cart contains, in addition to Centrum Silver Multivitamins: Thomas the Train Toothpaste, Hello Kitty Band-aids, a My Little Pony sticker book, and a giant, economy size jug of Gazillion Bubbles.
  • You get a 30% off coupon from Kohl’s and decide it is a perfect time to buy yourself some new clothes. You exit the store with a total of six outfits: two in size 6X, two in size 2 Toddler, and two in size 18 Months.
  • Your granddaughter tells you that you look beautiful in your tent-size, sparkly, butterfly print bathing suit, and you believe her.
  • You wear your red and green striped, light-up, candy cane earrings in June because your grandchild picked them out for you that morning.
  • You tie a sheet around your neck, cape-style, and play Superheroes in the front yard while wearing hair curlers.
  • Some of your best friends are Big Bird, Peppa Pig, Max and Ruby, and the Bubble Guppies.
  • You have a bouquet of dandelions on your kitchen table; a collection of pretty, dried-up leaves on your coffee table; and so many crayon drawings on your refrigerator that you’ve forgotten what color your fridge is.
  • You can read The Cat in the Hat without once having to look at the words.
  • You offer adult guests a glass of iced tea and ask if they prefer the Cinderella glass or the Dora the Explorer one.
  • You always have time to have a tea party, play Patty Cake, draw a hopscotch frame on the sidewalk, push a swing, work a jigsaw puzzle, kiss a boo-boo, read a story, color a picture, or rock a baby.

The writer of Psalm 128 speaks blessings on the people of God, and one of them is this: “May you live to see your children’s children.” I have found this to be a blessing indeed. All you other grandmas say “Amen!”

My Quest

Diogenes of Sinope trudged through Greece carrying a lantern and looking for an honest man. Ponce de Leon roamed the earth in search of the Fountain of Youth. My goal is a less lofty one: I want just once in my lifetime to buy the right purse.

I need a new purse, but I hesitate to buy one because my closet is full of wrong purses. I have purses with straps too long and straps too short and purses insistent upon toppling from the passenger seat of the car and landing upside down on the floor if I so much as tap the brake pedal. Several of my purses eat pens while manufacturing paper clips. I have purses that require me, when reaching inside for my sunglasses case, first to pull out my cell phone, wallet, car keys, tissue pack, lipstick, checkbook, hand sanitizer, compact, breath mints, photo of the grandkids and a dozen scraps of paper. I hate every purse I own.

I am not a fashionista. Names like Coach, Gucci and Vera Bradley do not allure me. I choose function over form when it comes to purses and everything else I buy. The perfect purse will stand upright on its own when full or empty, even if that requires some kind of weighted bottom. It will have only one strap and will be made of sturdy material. This handbag will possess an adequate number of compartments and will close securely. Surely I do not ask too much.

Off I go to my local department store and enter the accessories area. My eye is caught immediately by a cute straw handbag in a nice, neutral color. A quick look inside reveals, however, no compartments, meaning that everything I carry would amass together in the bottom like a pile of rubbish. Next, I examine a black handbag made of good quality leather and possessing a suitable number of inner pockets. However, this bag has two straps. I know from experience that one strap would rest as it should on my shoulder and the other one would forever tickle my elbow. I move on to look at a pretty, flower print bag made of quilted fabric, but even on the store shelf it has collapsed in upon itself, looking like a sleeping duck. Is there no purse that meets my reasonable requirements?

In order to clear my head and renew my energy, I determine to leave accessories for a while and browse through home furnishings. On my way to the bedspreads, I pass the hardware department. There, prominently displayed on a shelf, is a tan, leather tool bag. It has a weighted bottom, one sturdy handle, and enough pockets to allow both my lipstick and compact to occupy their own niches. I quickly note that the bag is also available in nylon, canvas, and quilted denim—a new look for every season. The bag has a secure top closure, and even the price is reasonable. My heart races as I realize that the perfect bag for me has existed all the time. I was just shopping in the wrong department.

Less Is More

I hate excess. My friends will tell you that I am on a never-ending quest to downsize. If my closet contains clothes that I routinely reject when choosing what to wear, I get rid of them. I am not deterred by such thoughts as, “These pants will fit after I lose some weight,” or “I paid too much money for this dress simply to give it away.” If in the course of a three-month season of the year I choose to wear, wash and re-wear the same five tops, slacks, capri pants, and dresses, my closet should contain 20 items. Do the math.

My kitchen has been streamlined to meet the same guidelines. I have no use for multiple sets of dishes, glasses or flatware. Having to reach around or un-stack 15 serving bowls in order to get to one of the three I always choose to use can send me into a panic attack. When it comes to certain household items, one is enough for any home: one melon baller, one yardstick, and one fever thermometer. No mosquito that gets into my house will escape death while I try to untangle one of eight fly swatters that are hanging on a single nail.

However, I have not completely mastered the art of minimizing. I check out more library books at a time than I can possibly read. No matter how many boxes of pretty greeting cards I own, when I visit Family Christian Store I come home with a new box of DaySpring cards. I have trouble resisting the urge to buy picture books and jigsaw puzzles for the grandkids, scented candles and oils for my house, and adorable fabric panels to be turned into baby quilts.

Plus, I tend to hang onto some bad habits despite the fact that they threaten to destroy my peace and damage my witness as a Christian. I make judgments about people. (Does that woman not realize that every single food item in her shopping cart is pure junk?) I hold grudges. (I’ll never forget the day she said to me, “It’s about time you did something different with your hair!”) I give priority to the wrong things. (I’ll play just one more game of Spider Solitaire and then I’ll do my Bible reading.) I am quick to speak and slow to listen. (“Don’t bother trying to explain. I already know what you meant when you said that.”)

At a deep level I know that less judging, less grudge-holding, and less procrastinating will result in my having more serenity, more friendships and more positive influence upon others. Yet, I have as much trouble eliminating bad habits as Lady Macbeth had in scrubbing blood off her hands. Try as I may, a trace of the evil remains, takes root, and eventually blossoms into full-blown ugliness.

I get tired of fighting the same battles over and over. Even if I managed to avoid saying mean things yesterday, I must wage a new war against gossip and criticism today. Why can’t ridding myself of bad habits be as easy as throwing out an old, bent spatula?

For friends who share common interests with me and enjoy reading lighthearted, inspirational, and entertaining articles, many with spiritual applications.