Friday, June 9, 2017

Gardens and Hearts

For many years I could not for the life of me grow anything. I killed a cactus, bamboo, any and all plants. The exception to this was crepe myrtle and I didn't even plant it, the former owners of our home did, I just left it alone and it thrived.

I tried a few years ago to grow bell peppers, they were doing well until my husband put up a black out curtain. At that time it became out of sight, out of mind and nature took over the rest. By the time I remembered them,  they died from too much sun and not enough water. I decided I was a plant killer in my own right.

None of this would have bothered me except that my Grandma Taylor had an amazing green thumb and her garden thrived under her care. She even tried to teach me once but became frustrated with me and gave up. In my defense I was 15 years old at the time so my commitment level wasn't what it should have been. It didn't help that we had a neighborhood cat that wouldn't leave the flower bed alone. I gave up and figured it was a problem. Every once in a while I would try again only to have to give whatever plant I attempted to grow to Grandma. She finally asked me to stop trying because her house wasn't large enough for me to continue my efforts in a college dorm.

Now I am in my 40's, my husband and I joke that I don't need Gardening for Dummies. I need the remedial version. Except I am actually growing a tomato plant and it is thriving! We grabbed two Mortgage Tomato plants a few weeks ago and then transplanted them a week or so ago into terra cotta planters (they are rather large, so the roots have plenty of room to grow).  I looked this evening and joyful realized they are healthy and thriving and soon we will have tomatoes!!

I would love to say this bravery is because I read some book that helped me see the mistakes previously made, but my confidence comes from knowing Chris and Sarah have experience successfully growing plants and my willingness to listen and learn from them and my cousin, Dawn, and a good friend in Massachusetts. They are more experienced than I and as such, I would be wise to listen and learn from them.

Like learning to garden, we have to be willing to learn from  God and other mature Christian if we want the garden of our heart to grow and thrive. Like a garden we need to work at keeping out the weeds, watering our hearts and strengthening our hearts by spending daily time in the word. 

I wonder if Jesus wasn't a gardener growing up because he uses the Parable of the Seeds,
Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
Matthew 13:3‭-‬8 NIV
http://bible.com/111/mat.13.3-8.NIV

And then he explains,
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:  When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.  The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.  The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.  But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Matthew 13:18‭-‬23 NIV
http://bible.com/111/mat.13.18-23.NIV.
We can spend time with God daily and let his word and Spirit take root in the soil of our hearts or we can be stubborn and refuse to learn or listen to those more mature than us in our walk.

Which seed will you choose to be? And how well will the garden of your heart thrive?

Have a good weekend.
In Christ,
Maureen

Helping Hands

As a young woman I remember when people didn't even stop to ask if a person struggling needed help. By struggling I mean they faced an injury to themselves or a family member. People organized meals, some people would show up and help with yard work or clean dishes, little things that people needed done and yet they would never dream of asking people to do for them.
What happened to that tradition? When did we as a society become so self absorbed that we never think we should jump in and help.
So here are some suggestions of ways we can help people in our area or that we know who face a tough time.
1. Depending in the season mow their yard or shovel the snow from their walk ways. By the way this is a great idea even if a person isn't facing tragedy but is maybe older and struggling.

2. Fix and bring a meal. People won't ask for help,  we need to become a community that jumps in and helps even if we aren't asked. Being a country that is largely created by emigrants and those who learned to be reliant in themselves it is easy to see why we hesitate to ask for help or accept it. And yet when we refuse to allow others to help us we rob them of an opportunity to learn the adage, It is more blessed to give than to receive. 

3. Go and sit with people whose loved one is facing surgery or who has gone to the hospital no matter what.
I'm guilty if not jumping in and doing this. Granted for now it is tougher to do with us being a one car family but what was my excuse before then?!

4. Pray for and with people during tough times.

5. Bring meals to people.  With modern technology it is easy for people to sign up to make a meal for people these days.
As an addendum to this I would add to make sure there are not food allergies or food restrictions. Some people may be diabetic, have high blood pressure or they may have severe good allergies.

6. Offer to watch any children for as long as necessary and stick with it.

This seems like a small list, but every little bit we do to help others can make a difference. We can still be a community who helps,  who shows we care and are more than just obsessed with our technology.  After all, Jesus said any of these we do for even a small bit is just as if we are doing them for Him. Whether it is making a meal or helping in what seems a small way can be helpful.

Have a good week.
In Christ,
Maureen

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Great Expectations






                           How Bold Are You?

     If I have learned anything in almost 43 years of living it is that doing something new is scary.  However, it can also be exhilarating.  When I was 16 years old we had an amazing youth group come visit us.  They were from another church in Missouri.  These youth had decided to bravely pray and ask God to use them to minister to other youth groups and He used them in a mighty way. Nothing seemed different about them at first, until the evening of their special service.  They came walking in singing Rich Mullin's Our God is an Awesome God.  I had heard this song before, but in that moment, as they sang, God was in that sanctuary and I knew I was in the presence of the most high God. I had asked Jesus into my heart at age four, but I had never been sanctified and I wanted that.  As this group of brave teens sang and entered into our sanctuary, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I needed more than just a four year old's desire to please and love God, I needed his Spirit in me.  It took me years to realize that was the moment of my sanctification.  That moment changed my entire life and any possibility of me walking away from my faith in Jesus Christ, died that very day.

     Tonight as I spoke with the church teens, our lesson was from You Can Do Hard Things - it is a teen devotional on YouVersion Bible.  We talked about God's expectations for our lives, which are pretty high versus the world's expectations, which are pretty low even I felt the spirit of conviction.  The world says we are incapable as teens to do anything amazing and we should mess up. But God sees us as a child or an adult and He knows that even teens can be great.  The world wants to lull us into complacency, it has low requirements for us.  God says, "Follow me and I will make you fisher's of men".  Jesus didn't say it would be easy, but it is certainly never dull.  And because when I hear God speak I am willing to leap into action on His prompting, I had some good examples of great expectations and how they can become amazing journeys with the teens. We laughed and enjoyed the meeting.  But the highlight for me was seeing their eyes engaged and lighting up as I challenged them and encouraged them that they CAN BE AMAZING if they will allow God to use them.  And then I acted up on that expectation.

    Tonight I challenged them to pray and ask God to make them bold for Him and brave enough to move out of their comfort zone - and then asked one of my shy teens to please pray for us.  It took him a few minutes to breathe deeply, but he did it.  And even if it may have seemed short to others, I thought it was beautiful. I am so proud of him.  :D
 
     Here is the biggest thing in all of this.  We do not know what tomorrow brings for us. If I know one thing it is that nothing is guaranteed, I knew this after losing my Dad when I was small.  While Jesus told us to not be afraid because God took care of the flowers in the field and the birds in the air, he also warned us that we didn't know when God would come again.  He can come like a thief in the night or we can die tomorrow.  We just don't know.
   
     Now for the tough questions.  Are you stuck in a life that is comfortable?  If you are would you willingly shake off what would be comfortable to meet God's great expectations?  What could God do if you allowed him to move you into the uncomfortable places but you trusted Him and his wisdom?   Even more to point I ask this. . .Are you ready to be bold?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Perspective

                       What Is Your Perspective?

     Growing up I usually saw the glass as half full.  However, during my teen years and early college years the glass definitely felt half empty.  Instead of seeing that God could use my trials as a way to relate to others, I saw them as one more way in which I was different from other people.

    Somewhere along the way that began to shift, I am not 100 percent certain when exactly, but it did.  Maybe around the time I read Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life (a good book to read by the way, I highly recommend it) combined with Sarah coming to live with us.  Either way I began to realize I could choose to focus on the negatives in life or I could choose to see the blessings.  A funny thing happened...as I chose to shift my focus it shifted my attitude.

     A good example is yesterday I got my left pointer finger slammed in between a dining room chair and the cushion.  It hurt... A LOT!  I could whine about how it hurt even now (it's a 1 on the pain scale really so I'd be a HUGE whiner if I whined about it, but stick with me for the purposes of this blog)  however, I choose to be very thankful that I caught my pointer finger instead of my ring finger.  You see I have permanent nerve damage in my ring finger, so what is manageable now on my pointer finger would hurt significantly more.  I know this because I have had the misfortune of slamming said ring finger in a car door - it takes much longer for it to stop throbbing than my other fingers.

     Another good example: We are currently a family sharing one vehicle.  I could whine and moan and groan about how inconvenient it is.  And believe me it is inconvenient on Sunday's if Chris works.  Instead, I choose to focus on this is a great opportunity to focus on homeschooling and doing what I should be doing instead of what I like to do which is to run around and take mini-drives to explore. While that may not seem positive, it really is very positive, because it helps us focus on what is necessary instead of caving to temptation.

     King David understood the importance of perspective.  Continually in the book of Psalms as he laments, we see him turn his lament into praising God for his mercies and grace.  King David quickly realized that without God his life would be nothing and instead of whining, he chose to praise God even in the storm.  

    How do you choose to view life?  Is it full of looking at the negative side of things?  Or do you choose instead to count your blessings?
I have found that counting your blessings while sometimes more difficult always seems to improve how I see life.

    By the way something else happens when you choose to see the positive...you are less afraid of living your life.

I hope you all have a good week.
In Christ,
Maureen

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What is love?

     I have been thinking a lot lately about love.  What is love? What does love really look like?  What does it mean to truly love someone.  How can we show love to each other and our significant other?  More importantly do we go out of our way to show the people in our lives that we love them?
     Chris and I have now just celebrated 16 years of marriage.  While our first five years were not awful, they could have been improved upon by each of us.  I was naive and foolish and didn't safeguard my marriage as I should, letting Chris know what I thought was okay and what I absolutely wouldn't tolerate.  In my effort to be a kind, caring and understanding wife, I did not realize that not everyone had our best interests at heart.  Not just our marriage, but us as individuals.  Growing up in a family who loved me unconditionally left me ill prepared for the harsh realities of the real world.  I did not realize that some women see a wedding ring as a challenge to go after a man.  Or that even though someone talked a good talk about their relationship with Christ, it didn't always mean that they were above board. Things happened that at the moment seemed disastrous, but God turned them into a great catalyst to encourage us to make our marriage strong or fireproof if you will.  So I thought I would share some of the ways we keep our marriage fun, strong and affair resistant.

     1. Build Each Other Up: We make it a point to build each other up.  We both make it a point to tell each other how wonderful we find the other person. We share what makes us proud to call each other wife/husband.

     2. Help Heal Old Wounds:  My dad died when I was young and my mom remarried for 2 years to a man who was emotionally and psychologically broken...that brokenness spilled out into his relationships with my siblings and myself as well as Mom.  This created in me a fear of abandonment and truthfully, a fear that something bad could happen at any time to Chris or the girls.
     Chris grew up being told he wasn't smart and that his younger brother was smarter, would grow up to be successful and affluent.  Worse is that teachers in private and public school fed this lie.  It left Chris feeling as if he had married a woman who was smarter than he.  This is absolutely and unequivocally untrue.
    Chris does things like calling when he is running late to help me know he's still coming home.  I build up his ego about his intelligence.  We both tell each other we think we have a sexy partner.  These are a few things I can share that we do....we have a few things I won't share (because my mom and pastor may read this).

     3. Flirting:  Flirting is important.  Whether it is something as simple as a wolf whistle at your spouse or pretending to be a stranger hitting on your significant other, it works.  More importantly we find ourselves often laughing and have a good time.  It also usually ends with some kissing.

     4. Date Your Mate: This one is very important.  Especially if you haven't do this in a while.  Sometimes we go out someplace nice.  But often our dates are simply going to McDonald's for a drink and talking.  Maybe we take a nice walk together, but it is about carving out time for just the two of us without children around or fighting.

     5. Little Things:  It's not just the big things that make a marriage, it is also the little things.  Surely, this one isn't a surprise.  A good marriage is about the little things.  Making your loved one's favorite meal, warming up the bed with a heater blanket, opening the window before they head to bed because they like it cold or even warming up the car in the morning so they aren't freezing as they commute or start the day.  When we do the little things for our spouse or loved one, it says I am paying attention. I am listening to you and trying to speak your language.  These little things can make the difference when facing big problems.

     6. I LOVE YOU MORE:  When my mom married my dad, her father told her something very wise.  He told her to make sure she and Dad said, I love you everyday.  She then shared it with us when we married. This tidbit of wisdom holds Chris and I in good stead.  It works to strengthen our marriage.  But our favorite way to say I love you hands down is the I Love You More Game.  Sometimes it's as simple as we are playfully arguing over who loves who more.  Other times we have reasons why we love the other person more.  Sometimes it's a fairly simple answer as "I love you more because I took you out for sushi and I didn't really want sushi" or it can be as complex as "I love you more because I didn't tell your family off or someone that would have taken it out on you".  Chris won a few years ago by telling me he loved me more because after I left very upset and took a walk to talk to a girlfriend he told his family off for me.  He won.

     7. Defending Your Spouse:  Standing up against your family for your spouse is VERY important.  I hate confrontation but Heaven help anyone who messes with Chris or the girls.  I will find it within myself to tell you off if you hurt them.  The same goes for Chris.  We do everything we can without reason and God's will to protect our family.  By the way this includes defending your spouse against a child from another marriage - that one is very important. 

     8. Be flexible.  This one is very hard sometimes.  As I grow older I struggle more to be flexible.  After growing up moving often and having a lot of instability in the last 16 years I have learned to love stability.  It doesn't mean I still don't get bitten by the moving bug occasionally, but it happens less often now and I find contentment in staying home.  However, there are times it's important to be flexible.  Whether it is about your spouse's raise not being what you know he/she deserves or giving up plans because you know it isn't in the budget, flexibility is necessary.

     9. Save Your No's:  If you say no to your spouse all of the time, after a while it loses it's power.  Plus, you aren't your spouses parent.  It's one thing to say no to your children often, because children come up with some crazy ideas sometimes.  However, it's important to make sure you always saying no to your spouse.  Also by saving your no for something important, it holds more weight.  At this point in our marriage if I say, No, Chris knows it's important for him to listen and vice versa. 

     10.  Sometimes it pays to be stubborn.  In 2005 we had a problem arise.  A woman attempted to break up our marriage.  She could have succeeded, except I am thankfully stubborn when needed and this was one of those times.  I refused to quit and give in to what someone outside of my marriage wanted.  We are now celebrating 16 years of marriage and she is nowhere near our family.

     11.  Dream with your spouse.  Some of us are not dreamers by nature.  I understand that, but dreaming is important.  Dreaming is half of the fun.  Chris and I often dream about what if something exciting happened.  For example:  What if we won the lottery?  You have to buy a ticket to win, which we don't, but that isn't the point of our dreaming.  It is about dreaming of endless possibilities and how we could make a huge impact.  Chris is dreamer, I love this about him.  If you aren't used to it, learn for your spouse how to be a dreamer.  It makes life more interesting and it breathes life into your marriage.

     12.  Marriage Before Children:  Children grow up and leave home, your spouse doesn't, and you CHOSE your spouse.  You made a conscious choice who you wished to marry.  You do not choose your children (obviously, adoption is an exception to that statement) and children leave as they mature and are ready to leave our safety.  DO NOT CHOOSE YOUR CHILDREN OVER YOUR SPOUSE.  Do not put your children before them.  It's a recipe for disaster and many marriages have fallen apart because the spouses choose the children over their marriage.
These are just a few of the things we do to keep our marriage strong.  I hope you all have a good rest of the week.

Another exception to this last piece of advice is if you discover your spouse is abusing your child, emotionally, physically or sexually (or all three), PLEASE LEAVE AND PROTECT YOUR CHILD.  This is one of the few exceptions to number 12.

In Christ,
Maureen

Monday, January 30, 2017

New Beginnings.

 Lily Christmas 2016 snuggling with her new toys she received as gifts.

I have a confession to make.  For years I didn't understand why people spent insane money on their pets.  Cute outfits, toys galore, expensive dog treats, crazy veterinarian bills, the list goes on, but I think you get the idea. We had several failed attempts at owning a pet when Chris and I first were married and living in Wichita.  In ten years of wedded bliss we owned three dogs, a cat and a goldfish that only survived 20 hours in our home (see past blogs for explanations of this phenomenon).  I decided maybe we should not own a pet, period. Then something odd happened.  Once we felt more settled here in Washington state, we finally purchased a house.  After five years of renting apartments, we found ourselves looking for homes.  We began looking in May, but it took a little while and looking outside of the county we lived in to find our dream home. But we finally found our home and it is perfect for us.

As we grew comfortable in our new home something began tugging at me.  Maybe it was my friends who post photos of their pets because they love them so much or maybe it was really for Elizabeth.  Whatever the reason, I felt it was time once more to search for a pet.  This time though I took a different approach. In the past, we decided to get a dog and just jumped into it with little regard for what we wanted in a dog or which animal would be a good fit to our family.  This time, I spent months researching dog breeds looking for a dog that would emotionally be a good fit for our home and children.  But more importantly, I took it to God in prayer.  We began by praying for our cars, which one did God want us to have in 2008 after I read an article in the Sunday School paper about the subject.  It worked very well, so we began praying about our housing, our moving, college choices, how best to help Sarah, etc. . . but we had not prayed about any of our pets, because we were a little late catching up in the prayer game. 

This time I was determined that we would do this the right way, so I began praying for wisdom about the dog that God knew we needed.  I saw several and wanted to meet them but one thing after another stood in our way.  I also felt led to allow Chris to choose our dog, he grew up with dogs, whereas I did not meaning he understands them much better.  After weeks of searching and looking and praying, a young man posted on a Facebook pet finder page that he had a Labrador retriever mix dog just a little over 1 year old for sale for $200.  He loved the dog, but he worked a lot and so he wanted her to have a home where people stayed home more and she could interact with humans and receive the attention he felt she deserved.  Since we are currently doing the one car family thing, this was a perfect fit for us. We met Lily in October and took her home with us that very day.  We stopped and invested in a leash, training chain (without teeth) and dog bowls and food. We took her home and the two weeks adjustment period began.  It had some rough spots - she liked to poop in the house, but thanks to some good friends on Facebook and a friend who is dog lover in Massachusetts and a lot of research we were able to stop the accidents. 

I knew that Lily really considered us her family when Chris took the girls to the church Halloween party and Lily went running down the driveway.  I was terrified that she decided to leave and attempt to find Andrew.  When I got down the driveway, she was there looking around and I realized...she was looking for Elizabeth.  She doesn't like it when Elizabeth is gone. I considered that excellent progress and she improves constantly. 

So here we are now with a dog that is 16 months old and somehow I don't know how we ever lived without her.  I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be so attached to a dog or any animal.  She likes to sleep on our bed after Chris goes to work in the wee hours of the morning, she makes sure he gets up and that I take her out first thing when I wake up.  We have a good routine down for her now and she enjoys it as much as we do.  But the best part is that Beka who was at one time very afraid of Lily is now very affectionate and Lily often kisses her and follows her around.  As time goes on I foresee them bonding further. 

We have a lot of changes that have happened over the last few years.  My Facebook friends know, but somehow in having Lily, it feels as if our family is complete and all is right with the world again. 
Have a good week and God bless you.

In Christ,
Maureen

Friday, January 10, 2014

Fasting for Lent

Lent is coming, it starts March 3rd for Protestants I believe and that's good.  Our family has decided to fast from TV.  We are already cutting back now to get the girls used to the idea of not using TV as entertainment, but it's coming and it's been coming for a while.

I should explain something - I grew up poor.  Not a little poor, I mean really poor - free lunch poor, wearing hand-me-downs from other girls in church  because we didn't have the money to purchase new clothing poor.  We couldn't afford to go to the skating rink on Friday nights or to the movies a lot with friends.  I started babysitting in seventh grade to make money to join the youth group on trips or to go on their different functions.  I also used that babysitting money to purchase new contact lenses (it didn't really work out very well, I discovered I HATE putting foreign objects in my eyes).  Through it all, we had one consistent form of entertainment - besides the school or public library - TV.  It may not seem like a big deal, but if you can't afford to go hang out at the same places most of the kids in your school can hang out because you lack the financial means you have to find a source of entertainment.  We found cable tv.  From this sparked a love of all things movie, tv, vcr/dvd related. 

For years I would wait to do my school work until after my favorite shows came on - it definitely hurt my college grades.  It also hurt my physical health because sitting for hours on end isn't good for you physically or emotionally. 

June 2013 I realized that July was coming and I usually try to fast then to spend time in prayer for Human Trafficking.  This year, however, I chose to fast from social media to just focus on my spiritual growth.  My husband and mom didn't think I would make it 31 days, but I did and I realized some things. 

1. By shutting off the noise from the computer and unintentionally the tv (it just sort of happened in conjunction) I had the privilege of growing in Christ.  I found myself spending my days in quiet mediation.   Another by product?  I didn't feel the need to talk as much either. 

2.  While I like having Facebook to stay in touch with friends I had lost contact with after high school and college and Twitter to keep me accountable in my daily Bible reading, I didn't really miss social media or TV as much as I thought I would. 

3.  The study that showed that TV keeps your brain active?  It's spot on, at least for me.  In shutting off the computer and the TV, I slept better.

4.  I became more physically active and I liked it. 

5. What is on TV is not what I want my girls learning.  Especially as they grow older.  I don't want the girls bombarded with images that encourage sex before marriage, and other things that we know are not in line with God's word. 

6.  There is nothing new on TV these days.  All of the concepts have already really been done, they just keep recycling them over and over and trying to package them differently. 

7.  I feel called to cut the cord to TV for the girls and our family.

Our family currently does one year subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.  I spoke to Chris and at first he was like "NO!"  He enjoys unwinding at night with a little comedy, but within a few days he agreed to give up TV for Lent as a family.   

My hope and my prayer is that at the end we are able to just walk away and use our DVD's as family night entertainment if we decide to have movie night.  I would love to see our family become the family that only watches a movie occasionally and it's more Christ-centered.  This is easier to achieve since there are awesome churches and Christian artists coming out with new movies.  PureFlix has been very instrumental in bringing more wholesome, Christ centered and family oriented movies to the Christian household and of course, Sherwood Baptist Church came up with Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof and Courageous and more to come I hope. 

What will you give up for Lent?  Is it going to be something tough to give up? If you don't have to struggle to give it up, doesn't that defeat the purpose of fasting?  So if you had to give something up that would hurt and thus encourage you to lean on Christ, what would it be? 

I hope you all have a good rest of the week.
In Christ,
Maureen