Jar Full of Money

 

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Let’s pretend you have a giant jar stuffed with hundred dollar bills, representing the days of your life. Seeing that you have a luxurious amount of money, you grab a fistful and head for your favorite shop. Anything you want, you take it off the rack and purchase it without even looking at the price tag.  It goes on like that for years. 

Then, sometime down the road, you take a look into your giant jar and realize that there is only a bit of cash and some loose change left, you can nearly see the bottom of the jar, and, suddenly, what’s left seems very precious to you. Now you are going to have to be more careful about how you spend it, and you find yourself wishing you would have invested what you had more carefully. 

Or imagine that you wake up one day and you’re really, really old and wrinkly.  Oh, choke, gasp, faint!  You look in the mirror, and things have definitely gone south.  But inside, you still want to go hang out with your friends. You still notice that handsome 20-something walking by you at the mall.  You still want to fit into that cute outfit and eat chocolate and pizza and listen to good music. 

You still wonder about your future, long to learn more, and have a million things you want to try. Someday.  Only now, you know your earthly somedays are limited, so you have to be choosier.    

Well, that’s kind of how it is. You look in the mirror one day, and you’re staring back at a face you barely recognize as your own.  It doesn’t get any easier to bear than if it really did happen overnight.   (So start adjusting your attitude about aging now, so you can love yourself and your life later). 

The great thing about growing older is the growing part.   When you stop growing, that is a kind of death, even if your heart is still beating. 

You don’t necessarily become wiser and more mature just because you’ve celebrated a few birthdays.  Wisdom and maturity are earned.  One of the marks of wisdom is humility.  The more you know, the more you know you don’t know jack.  Even when you’re an “expert” on a subject, there is always a higher, deeper level of learning. 

I’ve had younger folks tell me that I don’t understand what’s going on with them because things were different in “my day.”  That always makes me smile.  First of all, honey, my day ain’t over yet.  I’m still on the same Earth with you and my eyes are wide open.  Technology changes, scenery changes, but humans and human nature stay the same.  

It’s the same old thing, forever and ever and ever, just wearing different clothes.  It’s like the sky:  sometimes it’s cloudy, sometimes it’s bright, sometimes pink, sometimes blue…   but no matter how it’s all dressed up, it’s still the sky. 

This I say for my children, because I wish they would learn from my experiences instead of having to learn everything the hard way. 

Now that I’m a more experienced person, I always want to warn my kids about making the same mistakes I did. It’s sort of like I’m from their future. I already know that there are certain consequences for our actions, and I want to go back in time to tell them that they’re going to get hurt if they keep doing what they are! But what always happens in those Sci-fi movies when the person from the future does go back to try to fix things? Everyone just thinks she’s nuts.    

Now, just for fun, imagine time is growing short and someone says, “Here, take one of my days.  Do with it what you will.”  What a gift!  A day out of someone’s precious life. 

But, wait! That’s exactly what God did when you woke up this morning.  “Here, take this, it’s a day; do with it what you will.”  I think he is hoping, though, that we’ll give it back to him. “No, here, You do with it what You will.”  

I’m sure if you do that, you won’t be sorry.

 

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You Think You’ll Sink

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So strange to me how people often say, “I shouldn’t say this…” right before they DO say it. Made me think, Hmm, next time I think I shouldn’t say it, maybe I just won’t.   Because words do have the power of life and death. Words can heal or kill. God spoke everything into being, after all. The words we speak, thoughts we entertain, and fantasies we let play in our minds all have power to create and set things in motion.

For instance, you can’t be a happy person when you’re always speaking unhappy words. Not that happiness is not my goal in life; healthiness is.  But the healthier I am, the happier I am.

Yet happiness can be elusive. It seems to attach itself to the events in our lives; unlike joy, which is more of a frame of mind, and not so easily swayed. Joy seems to be more attached to faith and gratitude.  The attitude of joy is so important, in fact, that the bible says, “The joy of the Lord is my STRENGTH.”

When I was hollow, God filled me up with himself. But sometimes I can’t FEEL God’s presence and nothing in the world impresses me in the least. Sometimes I just want to sit around in a worn out t-shirt and sweat pants, eat cookies and chips, and watch cheesy sci-fi all day.

At those times in my life, my attitude has to be enough.  I have to look for the beauty in my life just as I would search out the beauty in a human being.  Because it is there, you just have to DECIDE to find it.   I have to speak words of life; God’s truth about my situation rather than how I feel about it. That’s part of what helps us to become mature.

When I start to doubt that my attitude matters, I remember how I learned to swim when I was in my twenties, but still could NOT float on my back. Every time the water started closing up around my ears, I got panicky and started flailing around till I sank like a rock into the bottom of the pool.

Then one day my sister said, “You sink because you think you’ll sink. Think you’ll float…”  After that I began to believe that if I think I’ll sink in other endeavors, I probably will. And if I think I’ll float, I probably will; because, believe me, it worked in the pool.

The Best or the Beast

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When God brings a new person into your life, consider the relationship a gift, and be careful how you open it.  When you open yourself up to love, you open yourself up to joy and to pain. 

If there is one thing that I have learned from opening myself up to love, it is that not everyone has the same capacity to love as others.   Your definition of love may be unique.    

Love is your purpose in life.  Relationships are what matters most: your relationship with your Maker, yourself, and others. 

You’ve heard it say that you reap what you sow. It’s certainly true of relationships. The mending you do will always make you stronger.  The hurting you do will always come back to you. 

Love is a power that can move mountains.  It is stronger than death.  Real love is always healing. 

Some people think of romantic love as a weakness, perhaps because it is wild and does what it will with your heart. ‘Makes you feel helpless and even downright sick at times!  It takes courage to love.  It is never useless.  Even unrequited love has purpose.

 

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What is unconditional love?  Does it mean to stay in an unhealthy relationship and allow yourself to be damaged?  No.  God expects you to take care of yourself.  You can love someone from a distance.  Unconditional love doesn’t require you to throw yourself in front of an oncoming train time and time again; and that’s what a habitually abusive person is like. 

If you truly love someone, you want their growth as well as your own.  Sometimes love means making boundaries. 

Forgiveness means to decide to let God deal with the person who did you wrong.  It means that you’ve decided not to harbor bitterness and hatred, which can only make you ill.  It does NOT mean to forget what the person has done or put yourself in danger.

I don’t believe forgiveness means to skip over the feelings part of the process.  Let yourself feel hurt, betrayed, angry, or whatever comes natural.  But also learn to deal with your feelings in a healthy, constructive way.  

It’s wonderful when love is accompanied by warm fuzzy feelings, but feelings are not what love IS.  Love is in your attitude and the way you decide to behave towards someone. 

Feelings are fine, but they’re fickle.  I hear people on TV all the time saying, “Follow your heart.”  Follow God, the rest will fall into place naturally. 

That goes for romantic love, but it also applies to the love we have for family. 

We are here together to support and learn from each other.  One of the ways we learn and grow is having to deal with people who really rub us the wrong way. Perhaps the greatest lessons we learn in life are from our hardships and struggles. Hard times seem to provide us with the opportunity to practice behaving and believing a different way; a chance to depend on Creator for strength and get closer to him.  Our struggles can also reveal to us the amazing strengths and talents we already possess. 

When I was a kid, I made the mistake of watching The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie, and thinking that all families should be like them. 

Sometimes the words, “should be,” are very dangerous and daunting.  It’s like trying to fit a size 22 shoe into a size 10 shoebox, and with your foot still in it.  Just won’t work.  And you can spend all day trying to make it work, or you can find a size 22 shoebox.   As a young single mom, I wasted way too much time trying to fit our little family into a should-be box. 

We have argued, fought, laughed, cried, slammed doors, and felt like strangling each other.  We have hugged, kissed, come together in times of need, betrayed each other’s trust, called each other dirty names, and been each other’s biggest fan.  We have been a family. 

I have caught myself saying that my family and I had, at times, a “bad” relationship.  But, it’s like everything else, you have to be careful what label you stick on it.  It was never, ever a “bad” relationship.  It was hard occasionally.  But hard things don’t necessarily have to be BAD things.  It depends on how you use them.

 Anyhow, just because one thing is good doesn’t mean the other thing is bad.  It is dangerous to compare yourself, your family, your relationships, etc. to what anyone else is or has.  Because, believe it or not, everyone has problems and things they don’t like about themselves and their lives.    

When we argue with others, we tend to think of ourselves on opposite sides, with the problem dividing us.  But this should not be so of the people we love! We are on the same side, with the problem on the other side.  We shouldn’t be fighting each other; we should be fighting the problem.   

The thing about family is, sometimes they get the brunt of each other’s frustrations and anger.  They get to see the ugliness in you and never stop believing in your beauty, because, if you are human, both are just as real. Subconsciously, you may even take your STUFF out on the people closest to you because you trust them to keep loving and believing in you.

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I think this goes for both the family you were born to and the family you make of friends along the way.   They seem to have the ability to forgive the beast in you and bring out the best in you. 

It’s no accident that we’re in this particular time and space with the people who influence and enhance our lives.  Think about the media, events, and attitudes of our time and how they have helped shape your own character and personality.

 

When it comes to my family, we may not always see eye-to-eye, but we’ll always be joined heart-to-heart.

 

 

 

 

Cool Side of the Pillow

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What time is it? Three a.m. Figures. The baby didn’t even wake me up and here I am with my eyes wide open and my heart racing. Did I have a bad dream again? I don’t remember.

Toss. Turn. Flip the pillow to the cool side.

Ah! Gotta get some sleep! The alarm is going to go off at seven and I’m going to be exhausted again today! How will I get all my work done?

Ouch! There’s that stupid pain in my neck.

Toss. Turn. Flip the pillow to the cool side.

Hug my body pillow up close to me.

Hmmm, I wonder what I should make the kids for breakfast. Not that the baby will eat anyhow. All she wants are sweets. Xavier will eat anything. Unless he wakes up grumpy again today.  Grrrr. Why am I still awake? I guess when I take the boys to school today I’ll go ahead and mail those letters to my son. Please, God, go ahead of those letters and open up his heart to receive what I have to say. I get tired of our constant wars.

Toss. Turn. Flip the pillow to the cool side.

Wait. Is my tongue swollen? Am I having an allergic reaction to something? Slow down, heart, we’re going to be OK. My tongue feels normal sized. Weird.

It’s fear messing with you. You know the drill.

Is it raining out there? Did I park my car under the trees again? Hope no branches fall out of the trees and onto my car. Or my house. Wouldn’t that stink if a tree fell over and crashed into my house and it came right through the attic and landed on my bed?

 

What this? It’s that pain in my chest that I’ve been having for three weeks. I should get it checked out. Dad did die of heart disease. If he would have gone to the hospital when he started having symptoms, we’d probably still have him. Is this heart disease causing this pain? I have no other symptoms. Wait…wait…oh. Gas. Dang. Maybe my gall bladder is acting up.

Stop it, stupid. You’re making yourself nuts. I see where Chelsea gets it! You have to be a better example. You know this is anxiety and you have to talk to yourself a different way or you’re going to end up with a full blown panic attack.

Toss. Turn. Flip the pillow to the cool side.

Poor Chelsea. I know how she worries. I just wish she wouldn’t take her stuff out on me. Please, God, pleeeeeeease! After all these years of begging and crying and speaking Your word over this awful mental illness…here it still is, eating us alive. Tearing us apart. Causing us to make destructive choices. This can’t be Your will! It can’t be! Please move now! What are you waiting for?! We are a mess.

Sorry for yelling at You. You must see how much this hurts me. Ugh! Why can’t I sleep?

Toss. Turn. Flip the pillow to the cool side.

Go to sleep, Cindy! Shut your eyes. Stop thinking. What time is it?  3:45 a.m.  Nooooooo!

Ok. GO TO SLEEP!

Crap. I can’t breathe on this side. Asthma sucks!

Toss. Turn. Flip the pillow to the cool side.

Did I deposit that money into my bank account yesterday? Oh, no. Tell me I put that money in the bank. Settle down. If you didn’t, you can do it this morning after you take the boys to school.

I hate getting up early. I hate this cold weather, too. I hate having to go out in this weather so early. Why did I have to be born in Ohio? Why couldn’t I be born in a tropical place? Does having me in this time and space really matter? Does God really have a reason for all of this? Does God even know I’m alive? Why won’t He give me a good night’s sleep?

Toss. Turn. Flip the pillow to the cool side.

Ok. Listen, you dummy! You are going to have to give your cares to God and trust Him or you’re really going to go bonkers! I’m warning you!

I do trust Him. I trust Him to do whatever pleases him. But for some reason that always seems to hurt me.

Stop it. Stop it! STOP IT RIGHT NOW! You big baby! You know you’re going to have to stop being so negative and start to speak life, like Toby Mac says. I love that song. That’s a good song.

OK. well, what is the truth, then?

That God sees you. That He hears your prayers. He’s at work. It might take a while, but He’s at work.That He has a reason for everything and His timing is perfect. And He loves you. Meanwhile…

Yeah, meanwhile. MEAN while. Why it gotta be so mean?

Shut up and go to sleep.

Toss. Turn. Flip the pillow to the cool side.

 

Broken

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Maybe I’m better broken. ‘Cause I remember me before. And I don’t even know how it happened, really, but I have a theory.

Let me start by saying that it would totally ironic if God isn’t in this, because the whole point of writing is always, always, always to please him. I mean, yeah, it’s fun, it’s challenging, it’s supposed to be entertaining and informative, but if God isn’t in it, what’s the point?

When I wrote my first short story at six, I wasn’t even thinking about God. I can’t remember if I knew about him yet or not. I also didn’t know about abuse, rejection, bullying, or any of the other things that would color the opinion I had of myself and the world. Those things shaped me. Or bent me out of shape.

Other ingredients got added to the recipe that finally made up ME. Writing, the love of family, developing good and lasting friendships, music, movies, books…  But the dough was unalterably soured. 

So I hid behind my hair and lived in a fantasy world, started experimenting with different personalities to see if one of them would be acceptable. I sat in trees and smoked cigarettes and dreamed of being someone tougher, prettier, with big brothers to protect me. I wondered if I was from another planet sometimes. I hoped so. I longed for the mother ship to return to Earth and rescue me.

Then I grew up and had children of my own. By then I had heard a little bit about God and he seemed pretty cool. After a lot of trauma, in fact, I put my life in his hands to see what he might make out of it. 

Then I went wandering off. I thought I’d go back someday, but I was headed for adventure, and God was in my rear view mirror.

A reject walks into the mall and tries on a really short skirt. She timidly wears it out to some clubs and gets so much attention that it inflates her ego to the size of Texas. The ego begins to wreak havoc that goes on for years. She can’t go back to being that reject she once was.

And here’s what’s weird about the super sexual wild woman who left the church for the bar life: one day she stumbles over God again, only this time, she finds a way to make him fit into a mold of her own making. Even when she scans the bible, she finds verses that tickle her ears and gives credence to her now Native American/New Age/Christian belief system.

My lord, she is smart! How can these numb skull Christians look down on her beliefs when they are clearly on the pages of the bible. Look! Here and here and here! I’ll show you! I’ll write a book that will put you all to shame. I’ll teach you all about the truth. I’ll show you how unloving and unkind it is to criticize my way of life. I have a connection with God that you only wish you had! We’re buds, God and me. Surely you can see that?! Don’t they realize how super spiritual I am?

Hello, God? Where are you, anyhow? My heart is broken and I’m grieving and scared. Are you testing me?

God, it’s me again. I feel so cold and alone. Where are you, anyhow?

Lord, don’t you see what’s going on? Don’t you see me going through all of this hard stuff? I can’t bear it! WHERE ARE YOU?

I hate you! I hate you for letting me suffer all the time. What kind of a loving person, with all the power there is, would allow this to go on and on and on?

Hello… God? I’m sorry for what I said. I know you want to grow me. I just can’t figure out where you are, and I’m scared. I know what the bible says about you not giving up on me or leaving. But why do you have to feel so far away?

Lord…I’m broken. I can’t do this without you. I can’t even want to. I can’t like you. I can’t love you anymore. I can’t get out of bed. I can’t imagine a good future. I need you to change me. 

Cindy?

Yes, Lord?

That’s what I was waiting for. Now let’s get to work.

 

Taking Part in Your Own Creation

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Every day we’re taking part in our own creation.  We can’t scoop up a handful of earth, breathe into it, like God did, and make a man.  But we can make choices every step of the way that are either constructive or destructive by nature.  We are always in a process of BECOMING.

The food we eat, books we read, interactions with others, music we hear…  it’s all a part of who we turn out to be.  You may feel powerless to live a good life, but you have the power to grow, to love, to encourage, to listen, to pray, to learn…

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Only you and your maker know what and who you are meant to be.  You can only be perfectly YOU.  An apple makes a pretty funny looking banana, doesn’t it?  But that’s not what it was meant to be. And it’s not who you are compared to someone else that matters.  It’s who you are. PERIOD.  You know what’s funny?  The way you stand out IS the way you fit in.  Think about that.  You fit into the whole scheme of things because of the very traits that make you unique.  No one can fit that place in the puzzle but you.

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I love to think about the fact that God wanted me to be.  I don’t know why, but he did.  He thought about me and how many days I would have on Earth before one of them came to be.  He prepared work for me to do, and he made me with the ability to do that work.

When I consider these things, it makes me feel pretty good about myself.  It gives me a hint of my value to my Maker, and it gives me a clue how valuable others are to him.  When you begin to understand your own worth and love yourself, it follows that you are more aware of the worth of his other kids. That makes me think that people who don’t really love themselves will have a hard time giving love to anyone else.

 I think a lot of us spend way too much time trying to get the approval of  others. “Likes” on Facebook and WordPress are encouraging, but what if we write what we think is a work of art, and no one else thinks so?

If you’re looking to get your parking validated, by all means, take advantage of it.  But if you’re looking to another human being for applause and approval, cut it out!  It won’t work, and here’s why:  no matter what anyone else thinks of you, if you’re not comfortable and satisfied with yourself, it won’t matter.  You’ll just keep going from person to person like an addict looking for his next fix.  But once you start to appreciate what’s good about YOU, (your strengths, talents, ideas…), you won’t need that stamp of approval from anyone else.

You’re not just some evolved ape-man that accidentally came to be.  You’re someone’s masterpiece.  When your Creator made you, he didn’t use the wrong ingredients or let you bake too long.  Everything he did, he did with a purpose.  PERFECTLY.  Knowing that helps me to live a life of purpose, with or without anyone else cheering me on.

Think about it: you try on a pair of jeans at the mall and they look FABULOUS!  They make your hind-end look just right.  But when you try the jeans on in front of a mirror at home, somehow everything has changed.  Has your butt actually grown six sizes since you left the mall?  Or could it be that not every mirror gives a true reflection?  It can depend so much on the angle, the lighting, the shape of the mirror…

Likewise, not every person you know will give you a true reflection of yourself.  The feedback you get from others depends so much on their own attitude, what kind of mood they’re in, how they perceive things…

Every time you start to doubt that, just go try on another pair of jeans.  Or a bathing suit.  That’ll teach you.

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Not worthy.  Not capable.  Not beautiful.  Not special.  Not lovable. Not strong.  Not true!

Don’t let yourself get tied up in NOTS!

 Sometimes ya just gotta change the way you talk to yourself ABOUT yourself.  Have you ever failed at something and called yourself a “failure?”  “I failed,” and, “I’m a failure,” are two different things.  One admits only that you’re human and not flawless.  Get over yourself!  Do you expect perfection from others?

Or are you someone who can’t accept, “good enough?”  Try your best.  YOUR best, not someone else’s best.  But beware of striving for perfection.  NO ONE IS PERFECT.  Demanding perfection from yourself is just failure waiting to happen.  Waiting for perfection is waiting for nothing.  An imperfect something is better than a perfect nothing any day.

 You’ve heard the saying before, “Consider the source,” right?  Really think about that on two different levels:  Consider THE source, God.  The source of life, truth, healing and love.

When you are interacting with others, again, consider the source.   Consider who they are and why.  Consider their intentions. People behave towards you the way they do because of who THEY are, not because of who you are.  This is something I learned about God.  He loves me because he IS love.  He’s good to me because he’s good.  Not because I deserve it.  I could never earn it.

Likewise, you have to decide what kind of person you want to be and start behaving like that person. Treat others the way you do because of who YOU are, because of what’s inside you.

It’s hard not to be manipulated and thrown off track by the words and deeds of others, but try to stay focused on the goal.  And when you are side-tracked, learn from it.  Don’t let guilt stop you.  Get back on track.  Guilt is destructive.  It does nothing but separate you from God and your own good intentions.

You are not a hypocrite if you behave a certain way though it betrays your feelings.  Ugliness and beauty live together in the human heart and struggle against each other constantly.  The one you let drive you most often is the one that will grow. Sometimes your actions will come from what’s rooted inside you, but sometimes your actions will take root and become a solid part of your true character.

Practice, practice, practice.  Everything worth being takes practice.  You have to have a concrete plan in mind in order to be able to drive yourself towards it.  Right?  You can’t just say, “I wish I could do this,” or, “Maybe I should do that,” or you’ll be all over the road.  Explore.  Get to know what it is you want to do with your life.  But once you figure it out, GO for it.  Set a clear goal and decide what steps you need to take to get there.  Then start taking those steps!  Sometimes making a list helps to make your ideas more solid.

And there you are, taking part in your own creation, so to speak. Hope you’re having fun with it.

 

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Just Stand There

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I had one of those end-of-the-world dreams where the Earth was being ripped apart at the seams. Fire shot up through the dark chasms in the ground. People were running mindlessly, hysterical, trying to escape, trying to find a safe place to be.

I stood there on the top of a hill watching in horror, wondering what to do. My kids were all off in different directions. How could I get to them? How could I protect and comfort them? There was no way to contact them. No way to even tell them I loved them one last time.

For some reason, in my dream, I was most worried about Nathan, my wayward son. I put one foot forward thinking I would at least try to find him. Then got stuck in place. I had to accept that it was impossible. I would never see my son again.

Suddenly there appeared a giant black bird in the sky. My heart started pounding. Terror compelled me to run. But where could I go? No! I thought. God will protect me. So I planted my feet and I stood there on that hill, waiting for God to come to my aid. 

It was then that I realized the huge bird hovering over me was the mother ship, come to take me home. I was overcome with joy and peace! I would make it! I would be saved! But that was soon replaced with grief over leaving my babies behind.

Then a strong, gentle voice came from behind me saying, “If it can find you, it can find them, too.”

Ok. That might not have been “one of those dreams” that came directly from God. ha ha ha  It was a mix of belief system, imagining, desire, fear, and  a whole lot of Sci-Fi.  Yet, God has been able to use that dream on more than one occasion to give me peace and to remind me to stand my ground. He’s in charge. He’ll take care of me AND my babies.

The thing is, the panic I felt standing on that hill is underneath it all, somewhere down in my gut. A soul-tormentor, to be sure.  I suffer so with this anxiety that I often let it drive me in the wrong direction. It takes me to doubt, to bitterness, to sobbing in the shower, to anger and rage towards God…  because the thing is, planting your feet isn’t a one time deal. Once those feet are planted, and you’re trying to be still and wait for God, that doesn’t mean change is on the horizon. Days may pass. Weeks, months, years may go by, and everything is a mess. And you’re a mess. And the pain is too much to bear.

But God is an ever-present help in trouble. While he’s working on the situation, he’s also working on you. He’s creating a warrior. He’s teaching you to trust, to endure. He’s refining you. So you stand there, and you stand there, and you stand there…

And that is where I’m weak. I stand there. I crumble. I try to run away. I stand there. I shake my fists at the sky. I cry. I complain. I fall down. I stand there.

I’m learning who it is who holds me fast. I can see who it is who picks me up and sets me on my feet again. And it ain’t me.

Thank you, God, for your faithfulness. ❤