Thursday, April 25, 2013

Throwing Out the Trash

I heard His voice in my own head, a little more than a year ago.  It was a quiet moment, toward the end of a busy day.  Quiet.  That's exactly what it takes to hear the Holy Spirit whisper into your soul.  Most of my days before that moment had been so overwhelmingly full that I couldn't hear Him over the screams of my "TO DO" list.  Some of my priorities and habits have changed since--I thought I would share the moment when I realized what needed to change most.


I stood in the kitchen, late on Friday afternoon, applying the last of the icing to my daughter's birthday cake.  I did a quick run through of what I had accomplished in the past week, and what remained to be done.  I've been focusing my energy in 2012 on getting rid of the junk in my life that is just holding me down, holding me captive, and holding me back from some goals I've had for a while.  Those goals:
  • a tidy, uncluttered home
  • a tidy, uncluttered TO DO list
  • a tidy, uncluttered mind
  • a tidy, uncluttered body
Seriously, is this too much to ask??  Ha!  You know, it probably is--but if one never has a goal, one never achieves it.

As I applied the cream cheese icing (my favorite!) to the cake, I realized that I had planned to get serious about returning to my pre-Holiday Season exercise routine this week (part of developing a tidy, uncluttered body).  In my mind I berated myself, "Sandi!  How could you make it through Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and not get in another day of walking!?  You know you were supposed to walk at least 2 miles, at least 3 times this week.  If you keep skipping your walks, you're never going to be able to run that 5K this Spring."

I searched my mind, trying to figure out what gone wrong with my plans.  Oh yeah--Wednesday evening I went shopping with my husband for my daughter's birthday gift.  On Thursday I'd undergone an outpatient medical test, and basically was wobbly-legged and swimmy-headed for the rest of the day.  Today I had rushed from work to pick up the last minute party supplies and then returned home to bake a red velvet cake and 18 chocolate cupcakes.  It was now 5:00, I was icing the cake, and Sabbath would soon arrive (Thank goodness!  I seriously need the physical, mental, and spiritual rest!!)  Never mind that I had walked about 3 miles on Monday & Tuesday.  And I had added about 20 minutes of Yoga to my day, every day but Thursday this week.   And followed my eating changes pretty successfully every day.  (OK there was a Krispy Kreme doughnut this morning. . . .)


That's what popped in my mind.  And I was right; I needed to stop talking trash to myself as if I were some sort of horrible person.  It was a big, busy week; I had survived it and even enjoyed huge portions of it.  At that moment, I realized the first, and most important, part of having a "tidy, uncluttered mind".  I must quit dumping garbage in my heart and mind.  I must stop listening to the people who never encourage me, but seem to have no difficulty letting me know what my problems are and what I'm doing wrong--including me.  I need to recognize that only the Holy Spirit has any business telling me what I need to change.  Oh, He might use some of the people in my life, and I'm cool with that.  But, if the only thing you have to tell me is what I'm doing wrong, then clearly you don't know me very well, and you're the last person I need to be listening to right now.  I'm starting with myself--no more trash talking to Sandi.

Now, I guess I need to add one more thing to my list of goals:
  • tidy, uncluttered conversations/relationships

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Her Children Call Her Blessed

"Her children rise up and call her blessed"--this excerpt from Proverbs 31 is the thought that keeps popping into my mind as I consider a list of my blessings.  It's such an active description--"her children rise up and call her blessed"--they don't just notice what's going on in her life and move on to the next random thought or activity.  Her blessings provoke them to action and to proclamation; a testimony to those with whom they have contact.  What do they notice; what captures their attention; what instructs them in a life lived well?  These are all worthy questions in considering our blessings. 

In my life, I must ask not only "What are my blessings?", but also "Do my children, my husband, the people in every area of my life, know what I consider them to be?"  If I am honest with myself, I'm certain they could easily compile a list of my pet peeves and household rules.  But, can they enumerate my blessings?  I can hope that I have lived my blessings out-loud for them--but have I?  One thing is certain, in order for others to be aware of the blessings that touch my life, I must first be aware of them and honor each blessing by acknowledging its role in shaping who I am. 

This famous Emerson quote has long been a favorite of mine.  I have it on the bulletin board above my desk at work where I see it each day.  It may be that I have read it too many times; perhaps I have stopped considering what it truly means.  In order to live as a blessed person, I must be ever mindful of my blessings!  There is no other way for others to be aware of my blessings--I must audibly acknowledge them; I must be on the look-out for each blessing that comes my way, each and every day.  To that end, my list would begin like this:

  • I was raised by in a Godly household; influenced by a mother who lived her faith in her daily decisions, both large and small.  She remains, to this day, one of the most passionate advocates for Jesus that I have ever met.  My childhood and adolescence were, through her deliberate choice, filled with education, activities, and church responsibilities that tied me to God and to His church in ways that have lasted all my life.
  • My husband loves me unconditionally.  It is a rare man who knows how to love his wife as Christ loves the church.  I'm not saying he's perfect, but I am saying that in 29 years, I have never once doubted his passion and fidelity.  I wonder each day how we could come to love each other more and then wake up the next day to find that we do.
  • My children are my favorite companions, next to my hubby, and I could not possibly be more proud of the young adults they have become.  Each time I look down the pew at church and see them there with me--of their own volition, not my insistence--I praise God for them and pray for His continued work in their lives.
  • I have an extended family that loves me, supports me, prays for me, and accepts me.  Not just my relatives--but my husband's family, also.  How many women can say that their mother-in-law is one of their dearest friends?  I can!
  • My co-workers are a family away from home and I am able to work in an environment where it is easy to speak about my faith and to receive the encouragement of others who love the Lord.  We have celebrated together and we have grieved together and I look forward to seeing them each day.

Clearly, my blessings are enormous and touch every facet of my life.  I could go on for pages about the ways that God has filled my life with security, peace, and joy.  He has also used some tragic events I have experienced to point out these blessings and to teach me to treasure each one.

And so the choice is clear:  think and speak about my peeves and annoyances OR think and speak about my blessings.  I choose the latter, in hopes that my children will be able to rise up and call me blessed.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Written Just for Me

Every day we encounter written information or warnings and we ignore them, assuming that it doesn't apply to us.  During the years I worked in the hospital, I encountered many a well-meaning friend or family member who assumed that the "No Visitors" sign on the door couldn't possibly include them.  Our office has signs posted reminding patients and family members to turn off their cell phones once they head into the exam room areas--but every day I encounter patients who ignore this request and will even keep talking on their phones when we enter the room to speak with them or provide care.  And, even though we like to laugh at the need for warnings on take-out coffee cups that the beverage it contains is, indeed, quite hot--people still arrive at the ER with burns on their legs due to placing the cup between their legs while driving.  Yep--we are a society willing to ignore just about any warning we encounter.  It seems we must learn every lesson the hard way!

This is a problem I have struggled with at times, in reading my Bible and experiencing what it means for me in the 21st century.  Sure--those words of warning, encouragement, and direction were appropriate for the B.C. era and the First and Second centuries--but, how do they apply to me?  Today.  In my fast-paced, technology-infused, and ego-driven society.  

Here is a beautiful promise from God:

  "Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and He saved them from their distress.
He sent out His word and healed them;
He rescued them from the grave. 
Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love
and His wonderful deeds for mankind."
Psalm 107:19-21 NIV

I'm learning the value of taking something from God's word and re-writing it with my own name in it.  At first blush, it may seem like theology mixed with a healthy dose of psycho-babble; that's certainly the presumption I made before trying it out for the first time!  My experience was anything but trite and shallow.

Sandi cried to the Lord in her trouble,
and He saved her from her distress.
He sent out His word and healed Sandi;
He rescued her from the grave.
Let Sandi give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love
and His wonderful deeds for her and for all mankind.

It's truly powerful stuff!  As I reconsider this passage from Scripture, it strikes me that God promises to save me in my distress and then, immediately after that, says He sent His word and healed me.  Too often I interpret "save me in my distress" as "remove me from this bad situation" or "make this bad thing stop".  But, that is not what He promises!  He promises to save me and to heal me and to rescue me from the grave.  The bad stuff is still going to happen--but it doesn't own me; it doesn't define me; it doesn't predestine me.  God is my Master, my Savior, and my Companion in all things and across all time.  He has paid my debt; He is transforming my heart; He is making me fit for a home in Heaven.  That is what it means to be rescued from the grave--from the eternal death my sin has earned--and given the eternal life He has redeemed me for.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Serenity or Stress

I can remember it hanging on the wall of my Grandparent's house--a small piece of wall decor with the Serenity Prayer on it.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
Courage to change the things I can;
and Wisdom to know the difference. --Reinhold Niebuhr

That was the first place I encountered this ages-old piece of advice.  I probably read it a hundred times, and familiarity with this saying diluted its meaning for me over time.  This week, while reading "Stressed Less Living" by Tracie Miles, I ran across it again.  Literally.  I just ran right past it; read right through it; paid it no attention at all.  Wisely, Tracie had included a couple of other versions of this prayer, which she shared in the next couple of pages.  At the unfamiliar wording, my brain slowed down just enough to absorb an old truth that I needed to embrace. 

God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change;
Courage to change the only person I can;
and Wisdom to know that person is me.  --Author Unknown

How many times, in this activity-stuffed, sensory overload world that I live in, do I blame my stress on my circumstances?  I feel the pressure building in my life; I feel the turmoil in my gut as each event goes by; I toss and turn in bed, ruminating over the day's events--and the "If" list begins to form.  I don't count sheep as I lie awake wishing for sleep.  I count the "ifs" in my life--IF:

I had more money 
I had more time
I hadn't said that at work
I hadn't agreed to participate in that project
That person hadn't spoken to me that way
I hadn't eaten that dessert
My commute wasn't so long
They had returned my telephone call
I hadn't spent two hours on Facebook
My boss understood how much pressure I am under
My family was easier to get along with
And, the list goes on and on. . . .I'm sure that almost everyone has a list like this! Some of my "ifs" involve choices I make, but so many involve things that others do; many times it is the things I believe others do to me that create the most stress.  In the self-centered part of my psyche, I may want to believe people actually do hurtful things intentionally, but I know the truth--they just didn't realize they were upsetting me or making the situation difficult.

But, the stress is real.  The pressure is always there.  The feeling like the world is about to spin out of control is overwhelming, at times.  And I lash out in frustration and pain and fear.  At whatever or whoever is closest at the time.

My mother-in-law uses a pressure cooker to prepare potatoes sometimes.  Maybe you've used one or perhaps you've never seen one.  It is a large pot with a lid that has a rubber gasket around the edges; you place the lid on the pot and lock it into place.  On the top is a tiny stem valve with a "rocker" that sits on top of it.  It doesn't take much liquid to prepare vegetables in a pressure cooker--the steam created does much of the work.  Not long after placing the pot on the heat source, the temperature rises to the point where the rocker begins to swing back and forth on the valve, releasing only enough pressure to keep things under control inside the pot.  As the heat rises, the rocker swings more and more violently on the valve--it is the only source of relief the pot has.  Once the cooking time has passed, the pot is removed from the stove, but you cannot open the lid immediately--if the pot were opened before cooling, the results would be painful.  The lid wouldn't smoothly release--with the slightest movement of the lid from the "locked" position, it would explode off of the pan, and quite probably injure the cook. Instead, you must place the pot in the sink and run cold water over the edge of it to cool it and lower the internal pressure.   It doesn't take long to cook potatoes in a pressure cooker, and if you remove the pot from the stove after the correct amount of time, you have unbelievably tender potatoes.  But, if you leave them under pressure for too long, they explode and scorch.

I wonder how much I am like that pressure cooker sometimes.  Each of the "ifs", the circumstances, in my life are like the another degree the temperature rises.  At first, the heat is low and the need for the release valve is slight.  If I keep the temperature on low, keep the release valve open, and remove the heat source when appropriate, the result is excellent.  Stress is used in a healthy way to transform my hard heart into a tender one, just like those potatoes.  But, if I let the temperature get too high, if I don't keep the release valve clear of debris, if I allow the pressure to build, I am no longer tender of heart--I am ruined.  And if someone in my life comes along, like an unsuspecting cook removing the lid of the pressure cooker too soon, they are injured by the explosion of my stress all over them.

And, more likely than not, it is the people I live with that get to experience this.  I let life goad me all day long, and then take it out on the first person who crosses me at home.  Maybe they are doing something irritating, maybe they are doing something I have asked them not to do so many times that I have lost track of the number, maybe they even said something unkind.  But, I'm pretty sure they don't deserve the injury that occurs when they lift the lid off of the pressure cooker that has been my day.

It's not what they do and changing them won't bring the serenity I so desperately need.  The only change I can effect is the one in me.  I need to read the owner's manual on my own pressure cooker life and let Divine intervention clear the release valve in my soul.  I need the courage to change the only person I can, and the wisdom to know that person is me.