Careless

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I learned to care less about what didn’t matter. (I hope that lesson sticks!) My list of things that matter is much shorter than it used to be. Past decisions, other people’s choices or opinions, plans that don’t affect me, social intricacies, small inconveniences… This doesn’t mean I care less about others around me, but rather that I am careful to conserve my mental and emotional energy for that which I can affect. My feathers don’t ruffle quite as easily as they once did. Computer problems? They look pretty small now. Traffic? Unexpected chores or needed repairs around the house? They aren’t so irritating any more. My “Type A” has slipped, and nicely so.

At times peace and worry warred within me, but peace won out every time. More than one friend commented that she could hear the peace in my voice. I could neither explain nor take credit for that. I began to journal all the “small” miracles that were sprinkled into my days.

  • A good friend, a nurse with very particular views about local medical options, raved about the doctor who would be doing my surgery, as well as the oncologist who would be assisting.
  • The depth and breadth of care and prayer astonished me. Friends and family near and far encouraged me with gifts, cards, texts, and promises of consistent prayer.
  • Just one hour of shopping and $50 yielded four simple dresses I would need after surgery when my body swelled.
  • More than one “chance encounter” led to times of prayer with someone who cared.
  • I was hit with an intense bout of the flu just two weeks before my surgery. How could that be a blessing? It allowed me to see the gaps in my recovery plan. I learned what to buy and how to prepare for several days of limited mobility.

Then the day of surgery came. It was successful. I had very little pain throughout the entire process, astonishing all my caretakers. Many of the post-surgical discomforts I had been warned to expect simply never materialized. No complications arose. No further treatment was prescribed. I am well, and I am changed.

  • I am living more deliberately. I’m more aware of the blessing of tasty food, a soft pillow, a hug from my husband, time to rest and recover…
  • I am expecting less of myself and of those around me.
  • I asked myself why I wanted to be healthy—to keep living—and I’m acting on my answers.

I don’t take my healing as the promise of an easy future. On any day, life can turn in either direction. The gift of getting to stay alive will not be without its moments of pain. And so, joy can only come from trust every single day. Circumstances, no matter what they are, just don’t cut it. Life changed in a moment last July. That may happen again. I have no promise of a similar outcome. I do have the promise of similar peace. So do you:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).

Next Week: Care More

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And Then We Danced

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Just 24 hours after “the call,” we were on a plane to my niece’s wedding in South Florida. What a gamut of emotions assailed me as we traveled! Sometimes I felt out of breath, as if my body just couldn’t acclimate to the news of pending change. I called my brother and sister-in-law to tell them the news. Their response was, as expected, loving and compassionate. The surprise was my brother’s closing words, “I feel led to say this to you. Allow yourself to have human emotions as you go through this.” My siblings and I don’t often say, “I feel led to say…” Yet that was just what I needed to hear. How easy it is to think that a life of faith means a life of stoicism. Untrue!

Two days later, I realized I was breathing normally and, most of the time, keeping in tune with the activities and conversations around me. Then came one of many shining moments. Steve and I were on a dance floor crowded with other wedding well-wishers, and I realized I wasn’t worried. I was happy. Now, truth be told, when first hit with the news of cancer, I was in a place of “Don’t Worry. Be at peace.” Happiness was still a bit out of reach. But here I was, just a few days later, truly back in a place of joy. This was a miracle, God’s grace in action, another reminder that the One who loves me most was and would continue to be carrying me through the hard times ahead.

Soon thereafter, I called my sister. Sympathy and compassion flowed through the phone. Then she, like my brother before her, ended her call by saying, “I think I am supposed to say this to you.” Her message was a different one, though, “Stop taking care of anyone else. Take this time to take care of yourself and to let other people take care of you.” Those of you who know my personality know that these words were spot on. They replayed in my head many times during the days of preparation, treatment, and recovery. But on that day those words also reminded me that we serve a supernatural God, one who gave both of my siblings words of advice that I needed to hear. I received them as a precious gift.

Then I told my parents. Dad, now 82, is a two-time cancer survivor. The first time, half a century ago, the doctors told him to get his affairs in order. They told my mom to take comfort in the fact that the disease would progress quickly. When they heard my news, they were well qualified to offer encouragement, “God wastes nothing. You are dearly loved. This can turn out well.”

Next Week: Careless

Beth on Being Happy*

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*By Beth Smith

Is it true that the only difference between a yard sale and a trash pick-up is how close to the road the stuff is placed?

Why don’t we ever hear father-in-law jokes?

If you take NyQuil and NoDoz at the same time, will you dream you couldn’t sleep?

Life is full of questions, some funny and some serious. Here’s a common one. How can we be happy? We can start by being ready to laugh at life and at ourselves, quick to look for the humorous side of things. Laughter doesn’t solve our problems, but it can make them easier to bear for a while.

Most of us think we can be happy only when things are going well, but the Bible tells us how to be happy Christians no matter what. The Amplified Bible uses the word “happy” as a synonym for the word “blessed.” So, in looking to be happy, we can look at how to be blessed. The book of Psalms tell us that blessed or happy is the man (or woman) who:

  • is forgiven of sin (32:1).
  • trusts and takes refuge in the Lord (34:8).
  • helps the poor and weak (41:1).
  • continually sings praises to God (84:4).
  • fears the Lord and delights in obeying him (112:1) .

Proverbs says those are blessed who

  • keep God’s ways (8:32).
  • listen to God (8:34).

And Matthew chapter five lists these qualities of a happy person:

  • aware of a need for God.
  • gentle and lowly.
  • desiring righteousness.
  • merciful.
  • pure in heart.
  • peacemaking.
  • persecuted for following God.

Obviously, God has plenty of advice for us on how to be happy. I want to stress just two ways today. First, we need to be happy and thankful for a heavenly Father who loves us enough to discipline and correct us. Sometimes, when things are hard for me, when I am not getting my own way about things, I can almost hear God saying, “I’m allowing this situation only for your own good, because I love you. You need to change something in your life. I want you to be happy, and you will never be happy or have joy on the path you are following right now. Come on, follow me.”

Hebrews 12:11 tells us that, while discipline is painful, it leads to a rich harvest of right living. So, as odd as it may sound, we need to be happy that God will discipline us.

Here’s a second way the Bible tells us we can be happy and blessed. “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.” (Psalm 128: 1-2).

What does this tell us we should do? Fear and follow. Acknowledge our Lord as the Almighty God. Worship him. Obey him. Emulate Jesus. Will that be hard? Yes, because our flesh is weak and rebellious, and because Satan does not want us to be happy. But Jesus wants us to be happy – to be blessed and full of joy.

How can we become happy Christians? A full answer to that question would surely fill at least one book. These principles do not cover everything, but they are a great place to start:

  • Worship God.
  • Obey his commands.
  • Receive his discipline.
  • Follow his instructions.
  • And do it all with joy.

Talk Less. Smile More.

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About a month ago, my brother told me about Hamilton. The book, yes, but also the Broadway show. Some of you are wondering how I could have gone so long without knowing about the runaway hit. Others are wondering why I would even take time to mention the guy on our ten dollar bill.

Hamilton was our first secretary of the treasury from 1789 to 1795. He was also the chief author of The Federalist Papers, but was perhaps most famous for losing his life in a duel with Aaron Burr. Now he’s also famous for being the subject of what may become the most popular show New York has ever seen, nominated for a record-breaking 16 Tony awards.

This line from the play is making its way to tee shirts and posters,

“Talk less, smile more.”

In the play I think it means “Shut up, and keep your opinions to yourself.” In real life, I think it could mean this: Learn to listen. Encourage others. Be kind. Be friendly.

Barry Corey, president of BIOLA University, has written a book about kindness. I’m almost finished reading it and will certainly have more to say about it soon.  I love this line about listening, about simply paying full attention to the person in front of you. “Presence is more eye contact than it is saying something profound. Presence happens when you give your spouse the gift of conversation when you would rather exercise the gift of lawn mowing.”  (Corey, Barry H. Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue.    100.)

I tend toward the gift of lawn mowing. OK, actually in my case it’s the gift of clean the house, or cook, or run errands, or do laundry or write another blog. But I want to learn to talk less, and do a bit less, and smile more, and listen more. I want to get better at considering the person in front of me to be more important than the list in my pocket. I want even my face, the smile on my face, to convey full engagement to those around me, to say, “Listening to what you have to say is more important to me than asking you to hear what I have to say.” That’s a simple (maybe not easy, but simple) way to love those around us.

Talk less, smile more. Wait a week, then email Steve and ask him how I’m doing with that! (And let me know how you are doing with that as well.)

Weed or Flower?

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No, it’s a flower.

Or maybe it’s a wildflower, but I’m not really sure.

I spent some time today researching the difference between weeds and wildflowers and found this delightful quote.

“What’s the difference between a wildflower and a weed? Nothing more than society’s judgment.”

Maybe plants and habits have a lot in common. We often let society determine which habits are “weeds” and which are “flowers.” And society often changes its mind.

  • Chick-fil-a is closed on Sunday. That’s a bit out of place these days, but was a common practice for many businesses when I was a child.
  • Sex and violence were far less common elements of network television programming years ago. On the other hand, many a TV cowboy or detective lit up a string of cigarettes while solving the problem of the week.
  • Once upon a time we all ate less sugar and processed food, but we hadn’t really given much thought to organics yet.

Society is an unreliable compass. We know that truth in our heads, but do we embrace that it as fact in our hearts and show it in our actions? We are often called to a life that is out of sync with what is cool. Our wildflowers may look like weeds to others. (I mean, really, why would anyone want to fast periodically, or get up early on a Sunday morning to head out the door, or give away a significant portion of every annual income?)

Sometimes what we identify as a weed is labeled as a wildflower these days as well. (While we know better, it can be easy to allow certain sins into our lives, because they simply aren’t as clearly labeled as sin these days.)

So, as always, it’s back to The Book. We have to take our cues from The Manufacturer’s Handbook, regardless of what is “in” or “out” in popular culture. And we can do just that, with great result, because the Bible and its Author do not change. They do not lie. The Lord who loves us set down many do’s and do not’s for us long ago for our good and for his glory. Living his way works well.

I hope you’ll adopt some new, true-flower habit this week, and maybe yank a weed or two out of your life as well. Want to tell me about it? Your comments mean much to me, so write away!

 

The Cloak of Invisibility

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Harry Potter. I’ve been watching this series of movies with Steve over the last several weeks. Some are delightful. Some are surprisingly dark. I’m not here to extol or vilify J.K. Rowling, though. Rather, I’d like to focus on one of her many creative inventions—the Cloak of Invisibility.

Harry receives the cloak as a gift. It allows him, no surprise, to become invisible each time he hides beneath it. Thus he is able to escape danger on occasion and to become privy to otherwise forbidden conversations. I’d like to have such a cloak, wouldn’t you? No such luck.

However, there’s another cloak of invisibility we can have—that we are actually instructed to use on many occasions. It’s the cloak we can don whenever we are tempted to flaunt our efforts, to have our good deeds recognized. The Bible talks about not “letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing, about doing our good deeds in secret.” This is somewhat counter to our current culture, but can still become our personal mode of operation. It’s the aftermath that’s tricky.

Following our Lord’s direction, and blessing someone in a secret way, can be great fun, actually. The trick is to give God the silent glory and then remain silent about the situation henceforth, never “accidentally” slipping into “wasn’t that cool?” mode.

Need some encouragement to keep with the invisibility plan? First, take a gander at Matthew six. Then consider enjoying this novel: Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas, © 1929. It’s the story of a man who decided to put his cloak of invisibility to good use throughout a lifetime filled with acts of kindness. If you choose to read it, let me know what you think!