Knowing When to Quit

Fifteen years ago, year one into my marriage, I took great pride in my “home-making” abilities. I always kept our floors spotless, I was the dusting diva, and dinners were timely and creative. Sounds great, perhaps even admirable, right? Except for the fact that maintaining a spotless house left little time for kingdom building. As time progressed and I grew closer to God, my priorities did a 180. Although initially I tried to do it all–led a Bible study, then came home to scour my house. Participated in all those mommy and me programs then tagged on an extra hour to my day to make up for lost time. But running ragged doesn’t leave much time for resting in God’s presence and I soon realized something would have to give. Not that I let my house go from spotless to slums, but I learned to let go and let God, to not sweat the small stuff, and focus each day on leaving the good to aim for the better.

The biggest lesson I learned? Sometimes I need to lay everything aside and pull away. Leave the dishes in the sink, the unread emails in my inbox, and the dirty laundry in the hamper so I can recharge.

It’s been sixteen years and no, our house hasn’t collapsed, my family hasn’t become malnourished, and the laundry did not exponentially multiply. In fact, I’d say the opposite happened.

Join me today at Jewels of Encouragement as I talk about why it’s okay to quit…for the day.

After you read the article, stop and consider how you might put this idea into practice in your life. Staring at our to-do-list, it’s easy to get wrapped up in our daily tasks–to feel like they have the power to make or break us, but God’s bigger. He’s in control, and it’s His responsibility to carry His plans for our life to fruition. Our job is to listen and obey. The two go hand-in-hand. If you’re like me–type A on overdrive–it’s easy to get stuck in “obedience” mode, but if we don’t take the time to really listen by connecting on a heart-to-heart level with our Creator, how do we know we’re acting in obedience?

Listen to God’s heart cry to you:

Isaiah 65:1 “I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for Me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am.'”

The Trickle Affect Part III

Recently I read the novel, Demon, by Tosca Lee. It is an intriguing look at the fall of man and God’s redemptive death on the cross through the eyes of a demon.

In the novel, the demon took the main character to an elaborate house. His dream house. Then, while he stood there, the house crumbled before his eyes and he realized it’s all but an illusion, a smoke screen, distracting him from what really matters. This image stayed with him through the rest of the novel, causing him to look past the superficial, to dig deeper, to question the substance and importance of everything he did and saw.

About five years back, we were living in Louisiana in our “dream home.” My husband was a top executive for Kansas City Southern and everything appeared to be going according to plan. At least, on the surface level. Until my husband went through a period of unemployment, we had to rapidly sell our home, load our newly purchased furniture into storage where it accumulated cobwebs and heat damage, uncertain of what lay ahead.

It was a frightening time, and honestly, one that rocked my faith for many reasons. Those who I wanted to count on started to judge my husband, leaving me in isolation. As events appeared to mirror some painful moments experienced in my past, fears and wounds previously shoved down resurfaced, until God cut through the exterior, straight to my heart. And in an unexpected moment of clarity, I understood what it meant to allow God to be your all in all. I knew if my worst fears were to come true, our family would be okay. We would have God, and that was enough. For years I’d said that, prayed that, sang that, but I didn’t truly get it–own it, until God stripped all the other stuff away. In that moment, I realized when it’s all said and done, only those things done in faith will matter.

Not that the house was bad, nor my husband’s job. They were tools, to be used for God’s glory. But when our eyes turned from God to the gifts He gave, they lost their value. They tarnished, tarnishing our hearts as well. They clouded our vision and it took a bit of spiritual eye-salve for God to turn our focus back to the bigger picture.

Honestly, now that the “stuff” has returned, it’s easy to lose site of the ultimate reality–God and His saving message. It’s easy to focus on the gifts instead of the giver, to think it’s all about us, for our pleasure, for our glory. But it’s not about us. It’s about knowing Christ and making Him known. God is a God of love and mercy, and He loves to bless His children for sure. But ultimately, He blesses us so we can be a blessing. Join me on Edwina’s blog as we talk about part III of the trickle effect: Blessed to be a blessing–surrendering our gifts and talents to God to be used as He wills. Laying everything at the foot of the cross so God’s love can be exponentially expanded through us.

A Crown Of Glory Or In Need of Clairol

Throughout the Bible, the elderly are portrayed as wise, honorable, invaluable members of society. Gray hair is viewed as a crown of wisdom and the young are instructed to treat them with respect. When addressing Timothy, Paul says to see to it no one looks down on him for being young–implying that others would have a tendency to do so.

Wow, have we flipped this! In America, the young are treated with great honor and the elderly viewed with contempt. And our elderly feel it. At a time when they should be reaping the rewards of a life well-lived, they are often shoved aside and overlooked. They are stripped of their dignity, and that, my friend, is a very hard pill to swallow.

As a teen, I worked in a nursing home and my heart often ached at the blatant disrespect I saw shown to numerous residents–because they were reduced to numbers, a task on a long to-do list. I also saw a pattern. Whenever a once independent resident fell and broke their hip, placing them in a position of dependency, this resident rarely recovered. Once their independence was taken, so was their will to live. We can’t prevent broken hips or degenerated muscles, but we can treat our elderly with the honor and respect they’re due. We can refuse to rob them of their dignity and self-respect. We can build them up, showing them by our words and actions that they are valuable and useful.

And most importantly, diligently teach your children to do the same by:

1) Teaching them to be respectful to all adults–and holding them accountable when they’re not.

2) Demonstrating respect daily. (Do you get frustrated by an elderly driver and verbally complain? If so, you’re teaching lack of respect.)

3) Visit a nursing home occasionally and encourage/allow your child to see the heart and struggles of others.

4) Use this verse often as you train your children: Leviticus 19:32 Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD. (NIV)

As you read today’s story, stop and think of someone you know…an elderly woman in Bible study, bent forward with osteoporosis and shriveled with age. The countless men and women living in nursing homes throughout the country. Those isolated in low-rent apartments. Each time you encounter one of society’s wise and honorable, pause and think of a tangible way to show them respect.

Sunday Shoes by Jo Huddleston

The old man lives alone now, since his Ginnie passed away in her sleep six years ago. His two grown children live up north and visit only two or three times a year.

He still does his own cooking, foods he likes. He cleans house, when and where he thinks it needs to be cleaned. I come in every Friday to do his laundry. That’s the only day my husband has off from the plant and can stay home with the children.

Sometimes while I’m at his small house I straighten things up a bit.  Most times he fusses when I do, but I believe he really doesn’t mind all that much.

One thing he does mind, though. They won’t let him drive his car anymore.

I was there that day the two young deputies came to the house. Jacob knew they were coming. The doctor’s office had called to let him know they’d contacted the sheriff. After Jacob had the small stroke a while back, the doctor told Jacob he shouldn’t drive anymore. But Jacob went right on driving to the bank to deposit his Social Security check and around to the courthouse to sit with his friends on the shaded benches.

“I believe I should be able to drive if I want to.” He looked up from his rocking chair when he answered the deputy.

“Mr. Whitley, please give me your driver’s license. We don’t want you driving anymore.”

“I don’t think that’s right, you telling me I can’t drive my own car,” he softly protested.

“How old are you, Mr. Whitley?”

“Eighty-three.” The words added to his indictment.

“Sir, please, let me have your driver’s license.”

Outnumbered and obviously discouraged, Jacob took his thin wallet from his back pocket and slid the license from beneath is clouded window. His wrinkled hand trembled ever so slightly as he surrendered the precious possession.

Still he pleaded, “I need to drive my car. You ought not do this to me.”

Taking the license and making some notes on his clipboard, the deputy informed Jacob that his driving privileges were now revoked and he no longer had permission to drive his car. Although kind to Jacob, the two young deputies couldn’t understand Jacob’s high value of independence.

“It’s not right. I’d sooner lose my right arm than not be able to drive myself around.”

But the deputies had left the porch and only the breeze and I heard Jacob’s appeal.

Since that day his step is slower and more shuffled, his daytime naps longer; his eyes look beyond me when we talk. When I come by to take him to the bank or to church on Sunday, he’s uncomfortable. But he has resigned himself to sit in the car’s passenger seat. He nurses a silent rebellion.

Today, I decided, I’ll spruce the house up a bit more, make it a little brighter for Jacob. I glanced out the window. Rooted as usual in his wooden rocking chair, Jacob moved only to swat an occasional fly with his rolled-up newspaper.

I’d just finished with his bedroom when Jacob appeared in the doorway.

“Eleanor, what are you doing? Where’s all my clothes?”

“Oh, Jacob, you startled me. I thought you were on the porch.”

“I was. Where are all my things I had there in that chair?”

“Jacob, I wanted it to be a nice surprise for you. I’ve rearranged things so it will look a little better in here. See, I’ve set your Sunday shoes in the bottom of the closet and hung up all those clothes. I’ve even put this big picture over the bed, so you’ll enjoy it more.” I was proud of myself for being so helpful to Jacob.

“I didn’t want any of those things moved!” He’d never raised his voice to me before.

“Jacob, look how nice and roomy everything is now. I’m sure you’ll like it once you get used to it.”

“I don’t want to get used to it! Do I come to your house and move the pictures around and put your clothes where you don’t want them?”

His words yanked me from my assignment.

“Of course I don’t?” he answered his own question. “You wouldn’t like it any more than I’m liking it, either. Why are all you people treating me like this?” His eyes glistened with tears he could barely hold back. He slumped heavily into the empty, overstuffed chair, his dignity stripped away.

His frustration found its voice. “First my Ginnie goes and it’s never going to be the same. Then the doctor says I’m liable to have a big stroke anytime and tells me to quit my cigars. Next the police come and take away my driver’s license. And now, you. I didn’t think you’d turn on me too. I don’t have any living left.”

What had I done? He looked up at me as if he were the child and I the scolding parent.

Without a word, I went to the closet. I removed the several shirts and pants I’d just hung up and flung them carelessly over the chair, some falling across his lap.  Jacob watched quietly.

Finally, I picked up his Sunday shoes from the closet floor and tossed them—first one and then the other—toward the middle of the room.

I smiled at Jacob, understanding that the scattered clothes helped him to regain a measure of his treasured independence. The tight corners of his mouth slipped slightly upward and his chin rose noticeably. The Sunday shoes would hold their place in the middle of the floor, right where Jacob wanted them.

*      *       *

Jo Huddleston is a multi-published author of books, articles, and short stories and teaches at writers’ conferences. Visit with her at her website http://www.johuddleston.com or at her blog http://johuddleston.blogspot.com

If you have a short-story, kiss from God story, an overcomers story, or a word of encouragement you’d like to share, shoot me an email at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail.com.

The Blind Leading the Blind~Allegorical Excerpt by Shellie Neumeier

One summer we went on a joint vacation. A large number of the people who joined us were unsaved and honestly, I found it quite frustrating and uncomfortable. Our daughter was young at the time, at that tender age where you want to saturate them with goodness and shield them from all evil and harm. Only every time I turned around, provocative television shows blasted, adults swore, talked of things that made me blush, let alone our daughter, and downed one beer bottle after another. It wasn’t long before the Momma-Bear in me raged! My first reaction? I wanted to leave, and take our impressionable daughter with me.

Then we went to church and God opened my eyes, allowing me to see their blindness. This didn’t lessen my desire to protect our daughter, but it did deepen my compassion for the blind around me.

The sermon was on Revelations 3:14-21

14“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

   These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

   19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

   21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (NIV)

Laodicea was a wealthy city and home to a medical school that produced a highly sought-after powder used to treat eye disease, but they themselves remained blind. God told them to put salve on their eyes so they could see–to view the world through an eternal perspective. They’d become blinded by their wealth, their life of ease and their comfort.

I believe God is saying the same thing to us–open your eyes to the blind all around you.

When we see others with physical disabilities we feel compassion and we long to help. When we see others with spiritual disabilities–spiritual blindness–we grow angry and uncomfortable and try to pull away. Even worse, we expect them to see things through our eyes, forgetting they are blind. What they need is an ever-present, compassionate guide who continually points them to the light.

As you read Shellie Neumeier’s excerpt, taken from an Interactive Spring Story highlighted on her website, ask God to open your eyes to all those running around deaf and blind, enslaved to sin. You hold the key to freedom. Will you share it with them?

Blinded

by Shellie Neumeier

Dear Diary,

The day before yesterday should have been the best day of my life. And it had been until…

“Harper, come out here.”

…the sun flare. Mom’s pretty freaked. Can’t blame her. I’m not freaking…

“What are you doing in there?”

I’m hiding. Who wants to face this world? It’d be different if we were at home.  Josie’d tell me to relax and enjoy ‘cause all the schools will have to shut down. I’d even be nice to Alex if he would shut up long enough for me to get a word in. But that won’t happen now. Not when we’re stranded two hundred and forty-three miles from home. Some college visit, huh?

“Did you hear that, Harper? The news guy said it’s worldwide. Can you imagine? Everyone within view of the sun’s flare is…is…blind.”

We were lucky. Arrived in Madison about an hour before the big flare. When it hit, white light flashed and left total darkness in its wake. After the flash there was nothing but silence. Seconds later the sounds turned horrific. Cars crashing, planes rushing the ground, and screaming mothers everywhere—mine included.

“Channel four says a handful of folks still have their sight. The sighters, as he’s calling them, were the ones inside and away from the windows.”

I’m never coming out of the bathroom, again.

I laid my pencil beside the hotel notepad and leaned my palms against the bathroom vanity. It felt cool to the touch, calming in a way. Mom’s feet shuffled across the worn carpet and stopped outside the bathroom door.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“Harper, please come out. We need to talk.”

We needed more than talk. I faced the mirror and stared at nothing. For a moment I wondered if I’d ever see the note I just wrote. At least I’d never have to worry about Mom reading it.

“Harper?” Mom’s voice lowered to a hushed whisper as if she thought she might scare me. Too late.

I sucked in a deep breath and felt my way to the door knob. Of course I knocked over the make-up bag left on the vanity and listened to the sound of my lip gloss rolling across the counter. Something clattered to the floor, but I left it there. What good would make-up be to a blind girl in a sightless world?

I cracked the door and hesitated. Where was she? “Mom?”

Her hands grasped my forearms and she pulled me into the room. When the side of my knee hit the bed she let go. The mattress groaned when I sat down and tipped when she did.

“Somehow we have to get back to your dad and Alex.” She pulled the comforter taut between us.

“You gonna drive? Or shall I?”

A breathy grunt sounded more than a little upset. “No need to get waspish, Harper. We’re going to have to work together if this is going to work.”

“If what’s going to work?”

“I’m going to hire one of those sighters to drive us home.”

I turned toward her voice. “What? Seriously? You’re going to hire a total stranger. To drive our car. All the way home?”

“Yes.” One word, that’s all she said. She’d made up her mind. With a pat of her hand on mine I imagined the motherly smile she always gave at moments like this.

I gripped her fingers with mine. “Then let me find the driver.”

She pulled her fingers free. “Absolutely not. It’s one thing to have you leave to get us food, but I won’t have you traipsing around out there. Not…like this.” Her side of the bed rose and her footprints padded across the room.

“Like what? Blind? Say it Mom.” I stood and tried to follow her, but my foot caught on the bed’s post sending a bolt of pain up my leg. I bit back the scream that ached to press through my clenched teeth. For the first time, I was grateful my mother couldn’t see my face.

[This is an excerpt from the Interactive Spring Story highlighted on my website. Every Thursday, readers choose between plot options and move the story along according to their design. Check it out: http://shellieneumeier.com/2011/04/blinded-our-spring-interactive-story/]

Married for almost 20 years, Shellie and her husband have four wonderful kiddos and two goofy greyhounds.   After receiving her undergraduate degree from the UW-Madison, she acquired an early childhood education certificate and served in youth, children’s, special needs and family ministries.  

She enjoys teaching her teens how to drive and chauffeuring her preteens across Wisconsin.  Once in a while, she gets to read big people books (the kind without pictures) and loves it.

Shellie writes because it keeps her away from her husband’s power tools and because every now and then, she doesn’t have the choice, it just takes over.

Find out more about Shellie and her writing at http://shellieneumeier.com
And for all our young, aspiring writers out there, visit Shellie’s online writing conference for authors under 20:

http://NextGenWriters.com

Perpetual Offenders: When to Stay and When to Walk Away

Forgiveness itself is hard enough, but what about those wounds that continue to occur? I don’t have an easy answer for this one, except to say, according to the Bible, there’s no disclaimer on forgiveness. I don’t read, “Forgive, unless the person is unforgiveable.” Or, “Forgive X amount of times, then, if the person refuses to change, walk away.”

Now, there may be times when you indeed need to walk away, if, as my mentor puts it, the person is toxic. Meaning, if their behavior causes harm. For example, if you are with an abusive husband. Then, forgiveness still must occur, but perhaps without reconciliation.

Other times, God calls us to forgive and endure, as He does with us. For me, it helps to bring it back to a human level. By this I mean, first, I remember my actions toward God. Perhaps someone continually rejects me or pushes me aside. Standing as the offended, it’s easy to walk away from the offender. Standing as the offender in the presence of a Holy God, however, alters my perception. The pain of the situation may remain, but it is colored by understanding.

Second, I remember the extent of sin.

According to the Bible, unregenerated man is sinful to his core. And even the regenerated man still fights against the flesh, not always victoriously. We operate from a sinful nature, often causing pain to ourselves and others. When I view people through this biblical lense, their sinful behavior and callus actions are less likely to catch me by surprise. To the contrary–I come to expect them.

Let me illustrate. A few weeks ago, I volunteered in our church nursery. The children ranged from infants to toddlers, and a few toddlers in particular had a bit more of the terrible twos than others. Imagine my frustration if I’d expected them to act like miniature adults!

False expectations often cause just as much pain, perhaps even more, than the actual offense itself.

A few years ago our daughter transitioned from homeschool to institutionalized schooling. This was a very difficult transition for her. Not only was everything done in cursive (which I never taught–I spent more time teaching typing and computer skills. grin.) But she also had to learn to manage homework, learn the expectations of teachers, assimilate with other students, and the list goes on. Initially, she messed up, forgetting to turn in papers, completing the wrong math assignment, things of that nature.

One night as I tucked her in, she cried and said, “It feels like I never do anything right! It feels like I’m always getting in trouble.”

To which I replied. “You’re a kid. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Now, don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying I want her to fail, nor that I don’t train, set boundaries and provide consistent consequences when boundaries are broken. What I am saying is I approach parenting with an understanding that she’s going to mess up. She’s a kid–it’s in her nature. This enables me to deal with each situation from a more rational, less-reactive stance.

I believe that is the same approach we must have when we view others. Humans are going to fail us, gauranteed. We are to love them anyway. We are to seek reconciliation anyway. Unless the individual poses a threat to us or someone we love, God wants us to forgive 70 X 7 times, and I don’t believe He intends us to keep a tally, washing our hands of the matter after the 490th offense. When God says 70 X 7, I believe He means, however many times are necessary. In the Bible, seven is a number of completion and perfection–forgive perfectly, to completion. Forgive fully.

Forgiving, however, does not mean inviting others to tread on your back. In the story I shared, although I forgave our daughter, I still set boundaries. Sometimes we need to do the same in our relationships. This is often the case when dealing with family. Often in dysfunctional families, family members behave in predictable patterns, ourselves included. If an offense continues to occur, we may need to evaluate our role in it and set boundary lines accordingly.

The Hardest Ones to Forgive by Ane Mulligan

Although I don’t believe in denying or suppressing emotions, I do believe in approaching them with caution and balance. There are times when our reasoning must over-ride our emotional response. This is often the case with forgiveness. Most often, I believe the determined choice to forgive comes first. The emotions follow as God aligns our emotions to match our choice. Today Ane Mulligan shares how this proved true in her life.

*     *     *

The Hardest Ones to Forgive by Ane Mulligan

Sometimes, the hardest person to forgive is the one we love the most. We expect better from them. I can’t even remember what the argument was about, now, or what he said that hurt my feelings.

But I definitely remember the feelings. You know the “poor me” ones. Why is it wallowing in self-pity feels so good? I stood at the kitchen sink, long after he’d gone to work, washing the same cup over and over again and crying.

Of course, y’all know that’s exactly when the Holy Spirit decided this was an excellent time for an attitude adjustment. Well, I couldn’t agree more. The hubs certainly needed one!

Oh … You meant me? ME?

 

I argued with the Lord for a while. I mean really. After what I’d been subjected to, I needed some more wallow time. Finally I said, “Okay, Lord. Take these feelings from me. I forgive him.”

I dunked the cup back in the water, splashing soap bubbles up in my face. As quickly as I’d handed over my feelings to God, I snatched them back. “But he was so mean.”

Disclaimer here: the hubs was not mean. It was a clear case of I was right and he was wrong and refused to admit it—wink.

This tug-of-war with my self-pity went on for another 20 minutes. Finally, I gave up and gave into God. I let Him take my feelings and work on me. He could work on the hubs later.

I dried the cup and put it away. Then I tried to tap into my feelings again, but the Lord had done what He promised. They were gone. There wasn’t one iota of self-pity left. I’d truly forgiven.

What a freeing feeling. I had to laugh. I could hear the Lord chuckling at me and laughter is so contagious.

Hmm … I may try that next time.

Ane Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet iced tea. While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, she’s worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), business manager, drama director and writer—her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for fiction (try saying that three times fast). She’s editor of the popular literary blog Novel Journey—one of Writers Digest’s 101 Top Websites for Writers, a humor columnist for ACFW’s e-zine Afictionado, and a past Board member of ACFW. She’s published dozens of plays and numerous articles and won several awards in contests for unpublished novels. A mom and grandmother, she resides in Suwanee, GA, with her husband and one very large dog.

You can find her at:
Her personal website Southern-fried Fiction
Come back tomorrow as we discuss how to handle perpetual wounds. What do you do when the one you’re trying to forgive continues to hurt you?

The Story Behind Breaking Free

Sorry to all my subscribers for the double posting today, but I promised I’d route you over to Nicole Miller’s blog so you could read a little about the story behind my Operation First Novel finalist, Breaking Free, formerly known as Impossible Choices. Last night I watched a DVD my editor at Christ to the World, Art Criscoe, produced and in it, he talked about the beauty and freedom of grace. He used two illustrations that were very powerful: One was that of a bird in a cage. The bird represents us, enslaved by sin, prior to Christ. But then, he opened the cage and although he didn’t use a live bird, the audience could envision this previously caged animal suddenly taking flight and soaring on the wind. Next, he had the audience sing the first line in Amazing Grace. Do you remember it? “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Then he paused and asked a very heart-pricking question: What does grace sound like? And in answer, he picked up a long metal chain and dropped it in a box.

What does grace sound like? It sounds like wings taking flight. It sounds like a melody released from a once bound throat. It sounds like chains falling as the redeemed step out to walk in newness of life.

Earlier today one of my friends asked a question that seems to swirl around the Christian writing community. What can writers write about and just how real should our novels be? In my story, Breaking Free, I write about the enslaved, and God’s love for them. Because truly, we’re all in need of grace. Or, as I wrote on my one sheet, we’ve all got inner demons. Some just scream louder than others. But the good news is God is bigger than our sin and when Christ sets us free, we are free indeed!

Once we’ve been set free, our job is to show others where to go to find that same freedom. Jesus alone offers freedom.

Visit Nicole Miller’s To the Heart of History to find out more.

(If you are interested in watching the DVD, shoot me an email and I’ll see what I can do.)