Standing the Storm

Last night during a very poignant Family Bible Study I discussed storms with my 18yo son Jesse . I said, “There’s two things about storms you can count on Jesse, they will come and then they will go. Storms don’t stay, they always pass through, albeit, leaving destruction in their wake at times. We can’t control the coming and going of storms, we can only choose how we handle them when they do.”

I’ve been facing some stormy emotions and decisions and changes here lately. I bet you know exactly what I mean. I’m sure you’ve been there. Torn between trying to be courageous and do what you feel is right and being frozen in fear wondering if you are wrong. About the time you get your thoughts straight your body does something to complicate things, an ailment or illness, maybe just flat out worn out. About the time you recover from or make peace with that you’re knocked off balance because someone you love is struggling and in trouble. Before long you find yourself feeling windswept and storm-tossed.

So, what can we do about storms, how can we get ready and weather what must be gone through whether we like it or not? Living in Alabama and it being this time of year, the epitome of a storm is defined as a tornado. I guarantee you there’s not many of us who haven’t got a few tales to tell. Some have seen them, plenty have retreated to basements for safety, a few have lost family, homes, businesses, churches.

Last night tornados were in Arkansas where my youngest daughter is visiting with my mom. We sat and watched the weather channel and I realized there was absolutely nothing I could do but, sit there and pray. Prayer matters, it is important and powerful. But, for me in that moment, I wanted to take some type of action. Fear tried determinedly to grip my heart.

This morning I am relieved that my family members are safe and saddened that others who were someone else’s family lost their lives. My prayers are turned toward the hurting and bereaved. Today, these same storms will be headed our direction. There will be plenty to do in preparation. I’ll make sure the basement is in order and water and supplies and flashlights. But, after a while, I will have done all I can. Then, we will watch and pray.

Just like I told Jesse, we can’t control the coming and goings of storms, we just get to choose how we handle them. The very worst storms that we face in life may have nothing whatsoever to do with weather – tornadoes, blizzards, hurricanes. The very worst storms we will likely face are matters of the heart. The loss of a loved one, the failure of a marriage, a child gone astray, a crisis of faith – these storms can destroy families, relationships and families. They can dash hopes and dreams, destroy plans and futures, demolish potential and sweep away years of invested love in what seems like a flash flood.

What then? What do we do then? When we’ve prayed and prepared and invested and tried and still the storm comes. Well, I can tell you what I’ll be doing. One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 6:13. The passage is best known for describing the armor of God a Christian should wear. But, the part that I have returned to many times is one phrase. ‘Having done all, NOW STAND’.

I’ve planted my feet firmly on a solid foundation of faith and convictions. I will do everything in my power to do what is right and what is wise and prepare myself. But, I will not crumple to the floor in a heap of whimpering defeat. I will not wrap myself in a blanket of fear and search for comfort in denial. I will not continue to do things the same and expect a different result. I will face my storms, I will take courage, and having done all, I will stand.

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From Where I Sit

From where I sit I can look out one window. There are lots of other windows here in the house, several others in this very room, but unless I change my position, I can only see out of one. What I see is my mom’s home and a big flowering azalea bush. I see bamboo chimes hanging there on the porch, they hang still this morning. There is no soft breeze to make them dance and sing. It is quiet, even here in the house with the hum of a rotary fan and the soft clicking sounds as I type this post. Inside this room, which we call our great room are random representations of who we are, our family and how we live. Acrylic paintings of owls hang in a haphazard manner near the door where someone brushed against them and didn’t straighten after doing so. The entire hearth is covered with boxes and bags of yarn and fiber art projects for the upcoming booth at a local craft festival and trade day. From where I sit I can see a Quaker Parrot, a giant breed dog and an outside cat that slipped in for a nap. An old piano stands music less against one wall, but, only because the child that plays it countless times a day still slumbers. There are azalea blooms from the bush outside the window sitting in a vase on the table. My youngest son brought those in with wide eyes of wonder. Two mostly empty (now) Easter baskets are also on the table near the flowers. School books, electronics, a stray blanket, a vacuum that wasn’t put away after it was used, a stack of Bibles, a collection of wicker baskets, several pairs of shoes. Too much stuff for too little space. That pretty much sums my life up if all you see is what you can see from where I sit at the moment.

The thing is, I won’t stay seated in this position, I will move (eventually) and when I do my perspective will change. If I would but stand and take just one or two steps closer to the window I could see the little goldfish pond that my husband and boys lovingly hand dug one Mother’s day many years ago. I could likely also see a chicken or a rooster scratching around looking for a breakfast bug. I could look down our beautiful driveway and consider the comings and goings of the day and week ahead. I could see a beautiful hanging basket that one of my oldest sons brought me for an Easter present yesterday. I could see a bike thrown carelessly in the yard and likely a basketball near by. There on the porch I’d see the pile of ‘outside’ shoes that are kicked off from busy little feet as they come and go. I could see the sun trying to peek through the overcast skies. I could see an upturned chair and the remains of sidewalk chalk art. Less than perfection and lack of order. That pretty much sums up my life if all you see is what I could see if I stood up and made a few steps.

But, then, if I turned away from that window and wandered through this cluttered house and peeked in at a whole slew of sleeping kids, I’d see things differently or perhaps I should say I would see different things. I’d see two ten year old boys, who are not twins, sleeping in bunk beds in the room that is supposed to be the dining room. I’d see a teen girl who is feeling lonesome for her sister who is off on a visit to Mimi’s house. I’d see another teen boy who is the one who will make the piano do extraordinary things as his fingers caress it’s keys. I’d see our oldest teen who will no longer be a teen at the conclusion of this year, sleeping in on his one day off. I’d see an empty bed where my son who graduates this year, next month, as he has been at work several hours at one of his two jobs he holds. Too many teens and tweens, seven to be exact. That pretty much sums up my life if all you see is what I could see wandering through this cluttered house.

On the other hand, if I’d just go back to where I sat in the first place and kneel in prayer, or maybe bow my head if bending my knees onto the hard wood floor would be too much of a distraction, I’d surely change my view and vantage point. Likely for a moment I’d remember the days gone by, the prayers prayed and answered. I might take a brief trip down memory lane and revisit days of miracles and rejoicing. A tear might slip down my cheek as I consider where I’ve been and where I am now. I might just catch my breath as I recalled days of a tidier house and yard with less clutter and stuff and children and remind myself that I’d rather have this mess of a life and house than the empty arms of yesterday. Then, I’d talk with my God, who truly listens and cares and is able to do what I can’t about what concerns me and troubles me. And if I were to be very still for a while in HIs presence, then I might catch a glimpse of the hope of tomorrow, the dreams and plans of the future. It might be almost overwhelming to think of all that could be and all that might be required to achieve such wonderful things. After all, if we are to catch a glimpse of such things, we may have to change our position, relocate our vantage point, refocus our view, and look at things differently.

So, today, when I step on a lego, sweep the floor for the millionth time, drill on the multiplication tables once again, make myself get on the treadmill and walk my miles, make those calls, pick up those prescriptions, and cook yet another meal, I’m going to be sure to pause and consider that in a short time, just a few steps in another direction, I will see things differently. There’s no need to feel stuck or frustrated or impatient with the limited view from this very spot. If I will be brave enough to go where I haven’t been before, I will see what I haven’t seen before and experience the same wide eyed wonder when my youngest brought in the azalea blooms. Hope, potential, promise, adventures, and lots of it. That pretty much sums up my life, if you could only see what I see, from where I sit.

Humility without Humiliation

Honor is the difference between humility and humiliation. Humility is what we choose for ourselves when we serve, trust, obey and prefer others. Humiliation is what another person would put upon us. Humility leads to a building up of character and encourages spiritual growth and maturity. Humiliation leads to a tearing down of character and thwarts spiritual growth and maturity. In the simplest of terms, humility is constructive while humiliation is destructive.

“Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor.” Proverbs 29:23

Humility is based in grace while humiliation is based in shame. Humility is a state of mind that says I am not better than others, my opinions do not matter more than other’s, I am not above serving another person. Humiliation says that we are less than others, our opinion does not count and we must serve to matter. Humility says I have something to say but, I will temper it with kindness and love. Humiliation says I have no voice, no right to speak up,

“You rescue the humble, but you humiliate the proud.” Psalms 18:27

Humility is a virtue, a trait to be admired and a goal worth reaching for. Humiliation is a flaw, a trait to be avoided and never worth pursuing. One leads to opportunities and possibilities. The other leads to dead ends and ditches.

“You think you’re better than I am, using my humiliation as evidence of my sin.” Job 19:5

Now, that we’ve considered the differences in these words that appear very similar at first glance, let’s take them off the shelf and examine them more closely. Let’s consider them as parents. If you aren’t a parent, consider them as a spouse or a friend, consider them as a teacher or a student, consider them as a whatever you are to another person. Let’s consider them as they apply to the relationships in your life.

At this point we could go one of two directions. We could go down the path of what has been done to you in the past, but that would mean turning around and going backwards. Sometimes, we need to do that, but, this time, today, let’s move forward and instead of focusing on what has been done, let’s focus on what will be. Almost without exception, every person reading this (and those who aren’t) have within their sphere of influence people who they can practice humility or humiliation with.

As parents, our opportunity to build up or tear down is obvious. No matter how much they may protest or resent the fact at times, our opinions matter to our children. Our opinions of them will form how they see themselves and will be cemented into their souls. Even when they manage years later to undo the damage of humiliation, the scars and tender places will remain.

So, how can we teach humility without humiliation? How can we encourage rightful remorse without heaping on despair and despondency. The last thing we want to do is make our kids feel that all hope is lost. As a Christian parent, I am all about accountability, repentance and consequences. As a Christian parent I am all about mercy and grace and forgiveness.

Here are some steps I try to follow to achieve humility and avoid humiliation.

1) Hear my children out, let them have a voice even when the ultimate decision is my choice.

2) Consider carefully the consequences. Am I setting a precedent? Am I out to prove a point of my own?

3) Offer hope, a way of retribution, a path that leads to restoration. A way to make things right.

4) Are my words and actions building up or tearing down my child? Constructive or destructive?

5) Be extremely cautious when delivering ultimatums. Ultimatums can lead to points of no return.

If you are thinking, it is too late, the damage has already been done, practice some humility and ask for forgiveness, admit your mistake. Humility will give you the courage to try again in spite of what you know about yourself. Humiliation will have you discouraged and hanging your head in shame. The difference is huge. The choice is yours. Choose wisely.

“Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12

Great Divide (Ch15 excerpt)

Posting this in participation with a blog hop. Christian Fiction Friday.

This is a portion of a chapter from my fictional work in progress that I hope to publish very soon. In this story, disaster has struck and a family must make adjustments to survive the stress of being separated from each other for a season. Throughout the tale of crisis and hard times, I worked hard to interweave moments of comedic chaos. Just like real life, even in the hard times, a smile, a laugh, will help us catch our breath and press on. Enjoy!

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength. (Proverbs 17:22 NLT)

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“We’re down to the mystery packages,” I announced. I plopped them down on the butcher-block worktable. “Wonder what is in them?”

“What I’m wondering is why did we wait until now to look.” Granny raised an eyebrow as she turned one of the packages over in her hand.

“That’s a good question to which I have no good answer.” I grinned in reply with a twinkle in my eye. “Should we play a guessing game and see who comes closest.”

Granny chuckled as I called the four children over to join in the fun. “Before us lie four mysterious packages! Anything could be in them, anything in the whole wide world!” Their eyes widened in wonder as they listened attentively. “Furthermore there will be prizes for the best guessers!”

I went to the pantry and pulled out four Blow Pop Suckers. The game was on! Each of us declared our thoughts on the subject. The final answers were: Popsicles, Ice Cream, Fruitcake (Granny’s guess), Pizza, Frozen Waffles and Cold Hard Cash (my guess). Imagine our surprise when we discovered two raccoon tails, and apparently pelts of squirrels and beavers.

I squealed and danced a little jig as the furry items fell onto the table, much to the boy’s delight. Granny laughed until tears fell onto her cheeks. All of the commotion then led to a barking frenzy from the dogs who thought we must be in some sort of mortal danger. My quick retreat from the table knocked one of the raccoon tails onto the floor. Aslan grabbed it and ran. At nearly 100 lbs, running through the house could only lead to disaster. Jasper was not to be easily beaten and being the Jack Russell that he most surely was, he grabbed hold of the part of the tail that was hanging out of Aslan’s mouth and held on for all he was worth. Aslan began to shake his head vigorously and still Jasper held firm. Gypsy was beside herself as she was certain it was her job to round up everyone and bring back some order to the chaos being the herding dog that she was.

All I knew was my end table had been upset and a lamp dangled precariously by its cord while a chair had been knocked sideways. It could only get worse. Out of desperation I opened the front door wide to usher the out of control dogs into the yard. As I did, I came face to face with a tall and distinguished looking man. I don’t know who was more surprised, him, me or the dogs. The raccoon tail was dropped and I slammed the door as quickly as I had opened it.

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I’d appreciate your thoughts and insights from this teaser. Are you intrigued? Was it easy to read? We’re you drawn into the action? Could you see it? Thanks for sharing.