What Tools Do You Have On Your Belt?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am currently working a day job in retail. This is not my forever job, and it’s definitely not my dream job, but it pays the bills (barely) and I’ve accepted it as a learning tool God has temporarily placed on my belt of, “Skills Diane Needs To Learn To Reach Her Full Potential.”

Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot in the couple months I’ve been cashiering. In an eight hour shift, I average around 40 customers an hour. That’s one customer every 1 1/2 minutes. And, boy do I have the stories to tell!

But that’s another blog post.

Suffice it to say, I meet all kinds. Fortunately, 99% are pleasant. But the variety of personalities and attitudes people portray while checking out is amazing.

So are their parenting styles.

As a result of witnessing hundreds of people in real life situations, i.e., it doesn’t get any more real than shopping for groceries with toddlers in tow, I’ve drawn this conclusion: INEFFECTIVE PARENTING ASSUMES CHILDREN ARE UNABLE TO CONTROL THEMSELVES, THEREFORE WE MUST MAKE CIRCUMSTANCES CONDUCTIVE TO THE CHILD BEING UNABLE TO MISBEHAVE.

EFFECTIVE PARENTING, ON THE OTHER HAND, ASSUMES CHILDREN HAVE THE ABILITY TO MAKE DECISIONS, AND HONORS THOSE DECISIONS WITH NATURAL CONSEQUENCES.

Case it point: A child sitting in the cart’s baby seat reaches over and pushes my buttons (the ones on my register).

The father, being the considerate man he is, apologizes.

His solution to the problem? He moves the cart away from the register. Which makes it impossible for me to toss his items into the cart without unnecessary force. I explain to him that I need the cart right next to the belt so I can be as time efficient and careful with his items as possible.

He’s bewildered. “But if we put the cart next to the register, then he (Junior) will push the buttons.” The poor man only saw two choices, neither of which respected the child’s ability to obey: Either let him push buttons to his heart’s content or move him away so that he is unable to do so.

Dad’s only solution was to manipulate the environment to prevent Junior from misbehaving, i.e., forcing compliance.

His parenting tools? Manipulation and force.

Another true case: A child sitting in the cart’s baby seat reaches over and pushes my buttons (the ones on my register). Yes, this happens a lot. Like every other customer.

The mother, being the considerate woman she is, apologizes.

Her solution to the problem? She tells Junior to stop pushing the buttons. When he stops, Mom thanks him for exercising his self-control. Note: Child is responsible for his own behavior.

Her parenting tools? Faith and respect. Faith in the child’s ability to make good choices and respect in responding appropriately to his choice.

I think it’s worth noting that, no doubt at some earlier time, Mom told Junior to stop and he didn’t so she promptly and appropriately responded in a way that let Junior clearly know that it was in his best interest to obey. Kids are smart. We’d do well to respect their intelligence and persistence, and teach them to use both to their advantage.

Witnessing this mother’s approach reminded me of how God parents us. He never forces or manipulates. He allows us free choice. We can chose actions and attitudes which bring blessings and good fortune into our lives, or we can chose options which bring us unwanted consequences. Either way, his love for us is unconditional. We can neither earn nor loose his love. It’s steadfast, secure, and eternal.

God believes in our ability to make good choices, and respects us enough to let us face the consequences, often using them as learning tools. We tend to see difficulties in life as bad. Rarely do we see them as the learning opportunities they are.

So, once again, I ask, “What tools do you have on your belt? Do you tend to use manipulation and force? Or do you use faith and respect? In both yourself and others?”

It’s only 9:30 in the morning and I don’t know what the day will bring. But I think it’s time I take inventory of the tools on my belt so I will be ready for whatever comes next.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Is Life So Hard?

A few nights ago I woke up at 1:30 in the morning in a near panic. The dream I awoke from had confirmed my worst nightmare: that of being homeless.

It isn’t easy for a single woman to make it alone in our society.  Daily I feel the pressure to be two people: breadwinner and homemaker; repairman and chef; decision maker and nurturer.

More times than not, I feel as if I should be in two places at once, too. I should be outside mowing the lawn while also in the kitchen preparing dinner. I should be working 60 hours a week to make ends meet but also take time to nurture my children and grandchildren. It’s daunting.

A while back my lovely daughter-in-law tried reasoning my fears away. “What’s the worst that could happen, Mom? We put your things in storage and you sleep on our couch.” I know she meant this to be comforting, but it did nothing to alleviate my anxiety. Can you imagine that scenario for more than three days? The memory of my dad saying, “Fish and company stink after three days,” pops into my mind.

I was my father’s caregiver for seven years. The first three we lived independently; the last four we shared a home. He was diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s and was also totally deaf in one ear and 80% deaf in the other. Communication was a struggle for both of us, not only because of his hearing difficulties, but because his mind would often not comprehend the words he heard.

Last summer, several months before his death, I wrote this journal entry:

“This morning after awaking, Dad came out into the hallway and saw me in the other room. “Diane?” he called. “Can you help me?”

“’Good morning, Dad,” I responded. “I’ll go get your breakfast.”

“But what he heard was silence. What he saw, was me walking away. What he felt, was rejection.

“How often does God retreat into the Heavenly realms out of our sight to prepare things on our behalf, but all we hear is silence? What we see is him walking away. What we feel is rejection.”

I was reminded of this in the wee morning hours as I scoured my Bible for something that would bring peace to my troubled soul. I wanted proof that just because I couldn’t hear God, he could still hear me; I wanted reassurance that just because he appeared to walk away, he was still working on my behalf; and I wanted evidence that even though I felt rejected, I was still foremost on his mind.

What I found were familiar verses once again brought to life. That’s why the Bible is referred to as the Living Word of God – because at times it literally comes alive and speaks directly to our souls.

I’ll share these verses with you here because, even if your financial situation is more stable than mine at the moment, we all face fear at one time or another, for one reason or another. Fortunately, God’s promises cover them all.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today (Matthew 6:24-34 New Living Translation).”

What hit me like a slap on the face was, “You mean, by worrying about money, by worrying about the possibility of being homeless, I’m worshiping money?” This was new to me. I thought we worshiped money by indulging our every whim when our money could be put to better use. But do these verses actually say that I’m a slave to money if I worry about a lack of it?

Martha Beck is a life coach who I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand she says some outlandish things that send my religious background teachings into a spasm; on the other hand she shares some truly profound truths. One thing she says that I totally agree with is that all fear is based on either the fear of lack or the fear of attack.

So, if I understand this correctly, I’ve actually been worshiping money through my fear of lack? Wow. I’m humbled. Now that I see what’s been going on, what do I do about it?

Concrete answers to my financial dilemmas eluded me in those early morning hours, but that’s okay. My mind was being transformed. I was beginning to see things in a new light. I began to realize that this is faith in action: Believing we are being cared for by unseen hands and comforted by an unheard lullaby.

We don’t have to understand the scheme of things or immediately fix all problems. Our task is to believe God is who he says he is, have faith that he will accomplish what he says he will, be authentic, love freely, forgive freely, enjoy our blessings, persevere, and allow hope and passion to reign in our lives.

Security cannot be found in the promises of political leaders, or in our bank accounts, our investments, or even in our own hard work and ingenuity. True security lies in doing the best we can with what is presently within our control, and then trusting God with the rest.

So, regardless of the screaming insanity of my outward circumstances, I am ultimately safe. My needs will be met.  Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow; maybe not even in the way I expect; but they will be met at the right time in the right way, according to God’s grace and mercy.

So, let’s go back to those verses where Jesus says God will provide for us as he does the birds in the air and the wildflowers in the field. Obviously, the makeup of our society and culture today differs from that of Biblical times in Palestine. Therefore it’s only logical that we ask ourselves, do these promises of Jesus still hold true today? Do they apply to us as well as to those he spoke to on that long ago hillside?

I believe yes, the message is the same, even if the specifics of our lives and needs may differ from those who were able to see and hear Jesus in person. The point is, God loves us and cares about every aspect of our lives and he knows our needs better than we do.

So why then, can we point to so many areas in our lives that are unresolved? Why do we seemingly experience one problem after another? Despite our sometimes frantic efforts to improve our situation or the situation of those we love, why do dysfunction and disease and death oftentimes prevail?

Why can we point to so many “good” people who suffer atrocities at the hands of abusers? Why aren’t they delivered? Where is God while they cry out for someone to intervene?

Other than the fact that I really don’t know, an insert in The Life Recovery Bible sheds some light on this dilemma.

“We may feel as if our life is a battlefield. We may be a prisoner in the ongoing war between good and evil. When we turn our life over to God, will he rescue us and keep us safe?

“Five hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Zechariah wrote these words: “Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey – riding on a donkey’s colt. {This prophecy was fulfilled by the coming of Jesus (see Matthew 21: 4-11)}. I will remove the battle chariots from Israel and the warhorses from Jerusalem. I will destroy all the weapons used in battle, and your king will bring peace to the nations. His realm will stretch from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth. Because of the covenant I made with you, sealed with blood, I will free your prisoners from death in a waterless dungeon. Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles” (Zechariah 9:9-12).

“Jesus fulfilled part of these prophecies when he came the first time. He delivered us from death by shedding his own blood to seal our pardon. When he comes again as he promised, he will bring peace on earth. For now, we can take refuge in Jesus. When the war is over and Jesus is crowned King of kings, he will repay all those who are his, two mercies for every woe suffered in the war! No matter how terrible the battles we face, we can turn our life over to God and have a sure hope for the future. (The Life Recovery Bible, p. 1181)”

What I gather from these verses is that God’s provision for us is threefold:

  1. In the past: God provided eternal salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin, fully and completely, for everyone who acknowledges him as their Lord and Savior.
  1. In the present: Jesus promises that God knows our every need and that he will take care of us in this present age.  Life may not hand us the smorgasbord we think we deserve, but we are promised soup for the day.
  1. In the future: God promises that when he comes back to earth and establishes his new kingdom, that he will repay all who are his with two mercies for every trouble we suffered here on earth!

I don’t know about you, but that sounds fair to me.

So, regardless of how discouraging and hopeless our present circumstances may appear, the war is not over and the winner is yet to be crowned. I’m grateful that I will be among those in God’s army of believers and will share in the spoils of war for eternity.

If you can’t say for sure that you will be among God’s people on that day, please contact someone you know who has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and is actively living for him, or contact me anytime with your questions and concerns.  But regardless of what you do, don’t let the sun set today without knowing for sure who’s side you will be found on when the final battle is fought, because, we already know who’s coming out on top!

Do You Believe in Fairy Tales?

As a little girl, I believed in fairy tales.

I believed in Prince Charming.

And I was convinced that just when I needed him most, he would appear on his mighty steed, sweep me off my feet, and deliver me to safety within his fairy tale castle.

Then life happened. Blow after blow after blow to my idealistic beliefs finally brought me to the conclusion that maybe the naysayers had been right all along – Prince Charming simply did not exist. With my head hanging and an errant tear running down my cheek, I was forced to let go of my childhood fantasies and face reality.

Here’s the thing about fantasies. And dreams. And hopes. Since they resonate deep within our psyches, regardless of how many times we shoot them down, they pop right back up. They simply refuse to die.

So, this morning while I was staring out the window at the eastward moving clouds, I remembered once believing in Prince Charming. The way the morning sun peeked out between the clouds and cast golden rays across the heavens somehow made me think about past hopes and dreams – even those that never materialized such as the elusive Prince Charming. The memory of those beliefs, however, brought a smile to my lips as I felt the warm, safe feeling that had accompanied those childhood expectations.

And then, a sudden realization struck me – Prince Charming was not mythical and he certainly was not dead. Regardless of how many times I tried burying him, he was alive and well. I just didn’t recognize him because he looked different than I imagined.

Instead of being a handsome prince, he’d taken on a different form; several different forms, actually. My brother and sister-in-law, for instance, who have helped me financially; my daughter-in-law who took me out to Applebees and surprised me with flowers; my daughter who bought me a gym membership so we could work out together; my son who took me for an afternoon to the beach, just the two of us. My best friend who has been bathed in my tears over the 25 years I’ve known her who still answers the phone when in a shaky voice I ask, “Do you have a few minutes?” Knowing she’s in for another down pour, she once again tenderly responds, “Sure. What’s wrong?” The ladies at the Women’s Resource Center who tell me I’m beautiful and marvelous and so very talented that I’m sure to get that dream job!

So many times we miss the real thing because we’re looking for it to appear in a specific way or form or time so, even when its right in front of us, we look past it. In our never ending search for love, we fail to see that it’s already there.

Just as my view of Prince Charming has changed, my definition of a fairy tale life has also evolved. I used to think it would be one without problems – a picture perfect life consisting of one happy event after another. But now I define a fairy tale life as one spent doing what I love.

My life is not perfect, but it’s the path I’ve chosen. Every day I make it a little bit better, aligning it closer and closer to my values, priorities and goals. It’s a work in progress, for sure, but little by little, I’m creating the life I want.

I read, I write, I craft, and I design interiors. My websites, although not perfected, are up and running. I’m showcasing my work. I’m being authentic. I’m living my life with passion and purpose. That’s my definition of a fairy tale life. While I used to envision it in terms of comfort and ease, I now measure it according to the satisfaction and fulfillment I feel after a long day.

Okay, so I also have a day job working in retail. Not my idea of a fairy tale job. But it pays the rent so I do what I have to do, and then use my off-work hours doing what is meaningful. It’s not a life of ease, but it feeds my soul.

So, yeah, I believe in fairy tales.

I believe in Prince Charming, too.

He shows up every day in the hugs and kindness of those dearest to me and I see his character and values lived out in those I love. Last night I was invited to dinner with two couples from church. I swear I saw Prince Charming mirrored in their smiling faces. As they genuinely asked me what made me tick, I felt validated; accepted; appreciated.

So, do you believe in fairy tales?

Do you believe in Prince Charming?

Well, you should because if you look closely enough, I bet you’ll see him in your life, too.

The Law Of Big Cherries

I allow myself two indulgences on a regular basis. Kirkland brand Dark Chocolate Covered Super Fruits, and hot chocolate. Now, before you remind me of the potential adverse effects of dairy and sugar, let me explain. I rationalize that indulging once a day in these somewhat nutritious treats keeps me away from the really bad stuff. Most of the time, anyway.

So, like I was saying, a bag of this yummy chocolate covered dried fruit seem to find their way into my cart whenever I shop at Costco. From there they go into a glass canister in my pantry. If you have any questions as to their exact location, my three-year-old grandson would be happy to show you!

Every afternoon I swoop my hand into the canister, snagging the largest pieces which are, of course, the Bing cherries. After a few days the cherries are all eaten so the next to go are the cranberries. By the end of the week, only the little blueberries are left. They all taste good, but somehow I’m a sucker for those big beautiful cherries. Just one will fill my mouth with chocolatey yummy-ness that triggers serotonin in my brain to take me to my happy place. Somehow this feeling just can’t be duplicated with the smaller, although just as tasty, cranberries and blueberries. It’s a tactile thing. In this case, bigger is better.

A few weeks ago I had a brilliant idea. Since the cherries are my favorite and will inevitably be eaten first, why not just sort them into two groups to save myself the hassle (and un-sanitary-ness) of raking my fingers through the canister? When I pour the fruit out of the original packaging, why not just pick out all the cherries at that time and put them in a separate bowl?

So, that’s what I did. I put this bowl of cherries on my desk (for convenience sake) and the cranberries and blueberries in the usual canister in the pantry.

But a funny thing happened. As I perused my bowl of cherries, they seemed to have shrunken. They didn’t look big anymore. They all looked small. I actually found myself searching for the biggest cherries in the bowl full of big cherries! By then I realized I had reached an all time low.

I also realized something else. Drawing upon my limited knowledge of physics and psychology (that’s reassuring, isn’t it?), I came to this conclusion: Without the little ones, the big ones don’t look big. I call this the Law of Big Cherries.

Profound, huh? So, why don’t the big cherries in a bowl full of big cherries look big? Why does big only look big when compared to small?

I don’t have an answer for that. It’s human nature, I guess. Even if life was the proverbial “bowl full of cherries” we all long for, we probably wouldn’t appreciate it anyway. We seem to need the boring times and even the bad times to fully enjoy the good times. It’s as if, without comparison, we don’t recognize true worth. It may be unfair, but it’s true.

We apply this not only to snacks, but to all areas of life. Comparison is a valid way of determining what we want most. It’s a method of choosing what we consider to be the best for us.

But sometimes we take it too far in ways that don’t benefit either ourselves or others. That’s when our preference for the “big cherries” becomes a mode of judgment against ourselves and others.

Comparison may prove to be in our favor: “Um. Compared to him, I’m not fat at all.”

Or, comparison may prove to be condemning: “Wow. Compared to her, I’m fat.”

We use logic every day to judge people and circumstances. But this logic is almost always based on comparison.

While comparison may prove useful in a number of situations, we need to be careful that we don’t let comparison become the standard. It’s too easy to judge something’s worth based on how it stacks up against something else instead of making a determination based on it’s own merits.

When my cousin and her husband recently shopped for a new motor home, comparison  was a useful tool to find what worked best for them. Comparison separated the “too expensive” from the “do-able,” and the “not necessary” from the “needed.”

In some cases, comparison is based on absolutes. As in, “It would be unwise to extend ourselves that much.” Other times it’s based on preference. “I really like the casual feel of that decor rather than the traditional feel of the other one.”

In my case, I prefer big cherries. Someone else may prefer the medium sized cranberries because of their tartness. Another person may prefer the cute little blueberries. These are preferences.

Absolutes are different in that they do not change, regardless of our beliefs or opinions about them. Comparison neither elevates nor diminishes an absolute. The sun rises every morning whether or not we want it to. If we jump off a ten story building, we will die, regardless of whether we think we should or not.

Wisdom knows the difference between absolutes and preferences.

In God’s Word, we find the one, true standard. It isn’t based on comparison.

God loves us. He doesn’t love me more or less than you. His love is true, all encompassing, with everyone every day.

God forgives us when we ask. It doesn’t depend on whether I sinned more or less than anyone else. It is full and complete, every time.

God promises to watch over us every day, even in the midst of our problems. It doesn’t matter if my problems are bigger or smaller than your problems. He sees and cares about them all.

I’m so thankful God doesn’t operate by the Law of Big Cherries. For, when He looks down upon us, He doesn’t play favorites. Each one of us is the apple of His eye.

In case you’re wondering, I got rid of the bowl of big cherries and dumped them in the canister along with the rest. I discovered I prefer searching for the big ones while they look big. For me, that’s the challenge and that’s where the reward is found. At lease as far as chocolate covered cherries are concerned.