Thursday, August 7, 2014

Showers of Blessings

Ezekiel 34:26
And I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing.

The past week has been filled with turmoil, anxiety, and fear, but God has seen me through it and has helped renew my faith.

On July 25, my 75 year old mother fell. She had stepped up just one step and somehow slipped, taking a tumble. At the time, the only apparent injury was a pop knot on the back of her head which had not even broken the skin. For the next 3 days she continued to walk and function as she would have normally. I escorted her to the doctor where they did x-rays and CT scans and treated her arthritic knees with steroid shots. Then came Tuesday...

By Tuesday night Mom could not even use a walker. She was moving only 2 or 3 steps and her legs would give out. She had stopped eating and drinking. By Wednesday she was spending her day lying on the couch, sleeping much of the time. By Thursday we knew that it was time for further action. We took her back to her doctor, she was diagnosed with a compression fracture in her lower lumbar area, and she was admitted to a nearby hospital.

Since Thursday it has been an uphill battle: xrays, ultrasounds, IV drips, antibiotics, and scans. She was dehydrated, her sugar was high, her potassium was high, and her blood pressure was low. Once the blood pressure got regulated they began to look at every nook and cranny to see what else might be wrong. 

Sunday morning we arrived at the hospital to find that the orthopedic doctor was there. He took us to the hallway and told us that the full body scan had shown something in her throat (likely swelling or infection) and quote "something big" in her left hip. He then asked us if she had ever had cancer. 

It was at that point that fear set in. I heard the big C word and immediately began praying that her hip was broken. That I could deal with. All day Sunday I kept uttering prayers: prayers for healing mercy, prayers for less pain, prayers for God's will, and prayers for personal strength to deal with whatever came.

We got word Sunday night that they were doing an MRI to see what was going on, but Monday morning I was supposed to report back to work. I went to school early and worked in my room, like a dutiful teacher. Then, just before our meeting was to start, I went to see the principal. He was so gracious and kind. He could see that I was upset and really needed to be with Mom, so he sent me on my way.

I arrived at the hospital to learn that...... Mom was being released! The MRI had come back negative. There was NOTHING on her hip: no breaks, no fractures, no apparent lesions or cancer. When I told my husband about it he said, "But what about the scan?" I responded, "Either it was just a shadow or God took care of it." We began the process of getting Mom admitted to a nearby nursing home so she could receive therapy to get her back on her feet. Yesterday, she was actually released.

After getting Mom settled in her room and visiting awhile, I got into my car and headed home.Several miles out of town a gentle shower started to fall-

As the drops of rain gently hit the windshield of the car and the road ahead of me, I found myself mentally singing "Showers of blessing". My heart leaped for joy and I even had a second's worth of temptation to stop the car and run through the rain as I had when I was a child.

I began praising God and thanking him for his healing mercies, his strength, and his love. Just then the shower stopped and the sun peeked through the clouds. I knew that God had, once again, heard my prayer!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Vacation..... Finally

Mark 6:31
And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”

God truly does know just what we need and will find a way to provide it......... when we least expect it.

For the past month my two children and I have been trying desperately to convince my sweet hubby that it was time to take a break and get away. Each year it seems to get harder and harder to convince him that work will still be there when he returns.

Finally my son just sat down with a laptop and started searching for things. My husband had been talking about possibly going to Indiana. Indiana? Why Indiana? Who knows..... Anyway, my son (being the wise young man that he is) knew that his best bet to convince hubby to actually get away was to provide him with something that tied in with work.

Recently Hubby has been working with a local group of citizens to open a Pioneer Village, documenting the historical past of the county where he grew up. It just so happens that there is a Pioneer Village located at Spring Mill State Park in Indiana. Once Hubby knew that, he was ready. He took care of booking the rooms and the trip was placed on our calendar.

Little did we know just how much this time away would touch us.

We headed out Monday morning and dropped our daughter's Mini Cooper off to be serviced while we were away. Our daughter spent some quality time visiting her boyfriend who lives on the other end of the state and then we were off.

Our first stop was at the Pioneer Village itself. We were greeted by sight of dozens of historical reconstructed buildings full of artifacts and people demonstrating everything from leather work to pottery.

Along the winding path from building to building there were tiny footbridges built over the babbling waters that fed the nearby mill. It was the perfect place to stop, take a breath, and just enjoy a chat.

Once our quick visit at the Village was over and the experience was documented in picture form, we traveled on the Spring Mills Inn, located in the same park. As we pulled up in front we knew that this was no regular state park lodge. I drew in one long slow breath of that mountain air knew that I could relax. The lobby, built with logs, was filled with rocking chairs, a fireplace, and even a checker board made from a log. A downstairs game room was filled with board games and jigsaw puzzles, all to provide some simple, old-fashioned fun. The inn itself did have wireless, but once you stepped outside there was no cell service (much to my children's distress).

Over the next day or two I wandered some of the hike paths, watched ducks floating on the water, smelled the flowers, and even took time to read a complete book on my Kindle, (though it felt a bit sacrilegious to be sitting in THIS chair.....

reading from an e-reader..... I truly thought that a good old fashioned bound book would have been more appropriate.)

It wasn't what anyone would call an exciting vacation. No amusement parks- no concerts- not even a visit to the inn swimming pool. It was however one of the vacations that will likely linger in my memory for a long time. Lacking cell service, our family talked more. My hubby couldn't get emails from work, unless it was during the time we were actually in the inn. That meant he had time to attempt to forget about work while we were out and about during the day. We picnicked, we walked, we did some geocaching, and we just enjoyed being a family.

I would DEFINITELY recommend the Spring Mills Inn for anyone who needs time to just withdraw from civilization and get away for a while and rest. I am so glad that God helped my son find that listing on the computer. Our family needed it..... I needed it..... and I am grateful for the experience.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Little Children

Matthew 19:14
14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Proverbs 22:6
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

This week has been very full: full of work, full of afternoon naps, full of fun, and full of blessings. You see, this week was VBS week at Warren's Chapel United Methodist Church!

My children and I work each year at VBS. I am the "crafts lady", my daughter is the puppeteer, and my son fills in by doing whatever it is they need.

We had the typical VBS stuff....

Singing.... complete with hand motions....

Our fearless song leader....

(Joan Campbell is actually much more than just our song leader. She helps organize everything in the months before VBS, recruits teachers, orders supplies, and keeps us all in line during the actual week of Bible School. Without her, I am fairly certain that we would NEVER be able to pull it off!)

There are puppets and Bible stories....

(That is my son, Keenan. This year he took on the task of actually leading the opening and closing portions each night as well as assisting with food and whatever else he was asked to do.)

Bible drills.....


and lots of FUN!!!

The week of VBS always makes me a little tired. Each day finds me preparing materials for that night. Each afternoon finds me squeezing in a tiny little nap. Each night there are hours of classes and chasing stragglers back to their original spot.  

Yes, I am tired, but I am also very blessed. I love seeing the children get excited about the Bible lessons and crafts. I love seeing them sing and dance along with the music. I love seeing "MY" middle school students take on leadership roles and help with the younger children. 

This year, as I sat in the audience, watching my son lead the programs and watching my daughter as she became "Rivet", I found myself thanking God for blessing my family. I am so proud of the character, strength, and leadership that he has instilled in them. They jump in to assist whenever asked and someone even jump in BEFORE being asked. Watching them as they lovingly helped a youngster with a craft or washed a face that had gotten dirty while enjoying snack truly made this mother's heart swell.

At the close of VBS they took a minute to thank Kari for her work as a puppeteer. A few weeks ago, Kari went to Union College for her orientation. While there, she met the minister of the campus church. We were telling him about some of the things that Kari helps with at church and when he heard that she was our puppeteer he became very excited. They have been thinking of starting a puppet ministry. Well, it just happened that Warren's Chapel had kept ALL of the puppets from Kari's five years of VBS. In the closing program, they thanked Kari for her assistance and presented her with all of the puppets so she can take them with her to college.

Seeing her smile, I know that these puppets and that smiling face will continue to train up little children. I also have no doubt that, come next summer, she will be back for year 6 and another new puppet!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Time Clock of Life

Psalms 31:14-15

But I trust in you, Lord;  I say, "You are my God." My times are in your hands; Deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.

I have always been one of those people who likes to be on time..... no.... scratch that. I have always been one of those people who likes to be EARLY. School begins at 8? Then I feel the need to be there by 7:15. I have to log into my computers, check for those important emails about the day's events, look over my lesson plans, and prepare any handouts for that day. That's one of the reasons that I hate my early duty days. On those days I have to be in my appropriate spot in the hallway at 7:30. No time to get myself "mentally prepared" for whatever lies ahead.

I have also always been one of those people for whom a calendar or planner is a necessity. I like to know what lies ahead for the next week and, if possible, for the next month. Meetings, games, obligations.... they all need to be written down on both the family calendar and my personal planner. That way I can check on a regular basis to make sure that I am where I am supposed to be WHEN I am supposed to be.

Lately, our family calendar has looked more like this:

My daughter just finished her senior year and, between her clubs and organizations, the track & field/cross country team, senior obligations, and school obligations for both my husband and I, our time was full! 

School ended about a month ago and I really thought things might slow down a bit, but my sweet hubby took over the role of music director for the local community play. Hours and hours of practice, lighting setup, reading through scripts..... Then my son was recruited to do lighting...... He joined his dad for hours of practice, lighting setup, and meetings to discuss changes.... Then my sweet daughter agreed to help with the sound, so she rode along every night for the practices, lighting, and meetings. (You get the picture.)

To be fair, my family members are not alone in their inability to be idle. Next week is VBS and I have once again signed on as the crafts teacher. When I am home I feel the need to be constantly on the move: cleaning, cooking, or preparing crafts that I can sell at the Christmas bazaar this year. I will likely go into school at least a week early to prepare and organize my classroom and begin my yearly "mental preparation" for the task ahead.

In recent months I have been trying to be more deliberate with my choices of duties. Whenever possible I have stopped to think about, and pray about, each decision. Is it the Lord's will for me to take the duty on? Would I be doing something that would teach ME something? Would I be helping someone in need? As Psalms 31 says, my time is in God's hands. 

As I was reading another chapter of Karen Ehman's book, Let. It. Go., I was struck by the following suggestion: "Don't take on more than you can pray for." WOW! At school every day I encounter students and families who are in need of physical healing, spiritual healing, or an improved sense of self. I try to pray for as many of those as possible. With each new duty that I undertake, I find myself involved with another group. With each group I find myself faced with more and more people who are in need of my prayers. 

It goes even further than that. When my daughter joins something like the track team, my husband and I become involved too. Right now the team is facing a very difficult year. There were several long-time team members who graduated with my daughter. They now have only a limited number of runners left. On top of that, the coach has left our school system, so the team is looking for a new leader. Needless to say, the team is on my prayer list as well. 

What would our lives be like if we truly only undertook those obligations for which we could daily pray? Our calendar would definitely be a little less full, but it would also have an impact on the commitments that we do make. Surely the time that we do spend on those tasks will be more meaningful, more heartfelt, and definitely more representative of God and his unlimited love. 

What about you? Do you find yourself faced with that calendar overflowing with obligations? How do you gain control over your time while still allowing God to take the driver's seat? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment and help us all as we fight this seemingly never-ending battle. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Taking the Back Seat

Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

Psalms 46:10

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

I have never been good at taking a back seat. I like to be the one in control. In school I always tried to take the leadership role on group projects- that way I could monitor progress and make sure that everything was done on time and to my standards. I don't even like to sit in the back seat of the car when someone else is driving. If I am not the one behind the wheel, then I at least want to be in the front passenger seat so I have a clear vision of the road, any impending dangers, and the direction that we are going. 

I am sad to say that I often take that same position when it comes to things that I should place in God's hands. Sometimes I find myself a bit uncertain about God's plan for me at a given point in time. I THINK I know what God's will is, but then I find myself second-guessing and thinking that maybe I am reading it all wrong. Sometimes I think that I just know what needs to be done and I step in and try to do it my way.

I suppose that I come by it naturally. Most women that I know like to be in control of things too.

As I was reminded in chapter 3 of Let. It. Go. there is even biblical evidence that being in control is a characteristic shared by many women. 

Let's start with Eve herself, back there in the Garden of Eden God warned Adam "you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die." When the serpent told her that this was not the case and that it would merely open her eyes and make her like God, Eve decided to take control of the situation and eat of the fruit. Then she also offered the fruit to Adam and he ate. We all know the consequences of their actions. 

Eve isn't the only woman who went with her own desires. As Lot, his daughters, and his wife fled Sodom they were instructed not to look back and not to stop. Lot's wife decided that she had to see what was happening and, against instructions, gazed one last time upon Sodom, at which point she was turned into a pillar of salt. 

So..... now I know that there are others out there just like me..... women who like to be the one making the decisions and guiding the action.  What next?

Well....... as I was reading Chapter 3 of Karen Ehman's book there were 2 times that my "light bulb" came on.

I can try and try and try to be in charge so that things will go MY way...... but there will ALWAYS be times when things DON'T work out. At some point there is always going to be a kink in my plan, a fly in my ointment, or someone else who ends up on top. No one single person can get everything that he or she wants. Instead, I need to remember what Psalms 46:10 says. I need to be still and recognize that God has a plan too and that I need to be willing to slip into that back seat and cruise along at his speed and in his direction.

I have been asking and praying the wrong thing..............  Like some of you, no doubt, I have found myself sometimes praying, "Lord, take this from me," or "Lord, solve this problem." On page 53 of chapter 3 the light bulb came on again and let me see that I needed to be saying, "Lord, what are you trying to teach me?" or "Lord, use this to show me how I can be closer to you." 

This brought to mind a hymn from my childhood, "Nearer My God to Thee." Darkness may come, my pillow may be a stone, but God can use those circumstances to help me draw closer to him.... to learn more about his perfectly designed plan for me and for my life.

Listen closely to the words of this sweet hymn. During the coming week, look for opportunities when you can take the back seat and allow God to be the driver. Allow him to reveal his plan and his reason behind that plan. Draw nearer to God and allow him to be in control.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Choices and Control

Today I started a new book study. 

I have had the book for a while, sitting there on the shelf. I think God was just waiting for the right time for me to pick it up and start reading. Today I read the first two chapters and within those thirty three pages my heart was "poked" at least 4 to 5 times.

This book is meant for folks like me: those women who like to take charge and be in control of everything within their lives. Sometimes we get so good at controlling that we allow ourselves to venture over into territory that really isn't ours- it's God's.

Chapter one talked about some of the different faces of women who like to control....

1. The Yes Woman- A woman who always says yes when asked to do things, though it might be something that is inconvenient or that she doesn't really have time for... (OUCH, I felt that poke...) Why does she agree? Subconsciously, she agrees because she thinks that when it is her turn to ask for something, others will return the favor.

2. The Enabler- This woman goes around taking care of everyone else's problems.... The kids leave their homework at home, she will make a special run home to pick it up. Sometimes she even takes the blame for mistakes made by others. She tries to control what the world thinks about her family and those closest to her.

3. The Martyr- This woman will sometimes pout to get what she wants. If others see that her feelings are hurt, they will let her have her way- much like parents sometimes do with young children.

4. The People Pleaser- This woman is always doing what people want to make them happy. She tells people what they like to hear and may even change her mind about something simply to ease another person's feelings. (OH... did someone just tap me on the shoulder?)

I have known for a long time that I like to be in control of things. I don't like the way it feels when I give up that control. One of my best examples of this came several school years ago.

I have twenty nine years of experience within middle school classrooms- most of those were spent teaching English/Language Arts. Several years ago, the state of Kentucky decided that it was going to begin assessing arts and humanities. Yep- at the end of each school year, students would take a state assessment in reading, math, social studies, and...... art, music, dance, and drama.

Having a test which would be part of our accountability required a greater emphasis on teaching arts and humanities as well, so the administrators began tossing around ideas. One day I received word that they wanted ME to teach an arts and humanities class. WHAT? My certification may have allowed me to teach any subject grades 1 through 8, but I really didn't feel prepared. After all I could only remember one single art class and one single music class during my college years. What did I know about arts and humanities?

The next week or two were filled with many conversations..... and tears. I cried on my husband, I cried on the principal, I cried on the Superintendent, and I cried on any friend who cared enough to listen. What it came down to was this.... I didn't feel that I could do this job and I REALLY didn't want to.

Sometimes our wishes are not fulfilled and this was one of those cases. I received word that I was definitely going to be teaching humanities the next school year and I was told to make a list of items or materials that I felt were necessary. That summer was filled with lists, orders, and planning, but when school started I felt somewhat prepared.

For the next five or six school years I taught some form of a humanities class. Sometimes it was scheduled so that I kept the students for a class period all school year and other times it meant that I only saw a group for six weeks. What stayed constant through the whole thing was my dedication to the job and.... (Don't tell anyone...) my love of the job.

I remember taking students out into the hallway and lining them up in pairs to learn a simple box step, I remember the art showings of their creations, I remember watching musicals with them and talking about WHY musicals were still a valid way to depict a story, even in today's society. Most of all, I remember the yearly student musical that was presented after end-of-year testing was done.

We had three of them, each one complete with cd accompaniment and scripts. We rotated scripts each year, so students never saw the one in which they would actually perform. They did everything from costuming, to stage preparation, to acting and singing. They fussed and complained at the beginning; but, much like myself, when they finally gave up control and realized that it was going to happen, they really enjoyed it! It was one of the hardest things that I did all year, but it was also the most rewarding!

This was just one of the times in my life when I have been forced to give up control. It didn't feel good at the time. I went into it kicking, screaming, and crying..... I fought against it.... I tried to beg my way out of it. Nothing worked, yet when I finally relinquished control and accepted that it was going to happen, I found the whole experience to be one of the best in my teaching career. 

Sometimes I find myself trying to control things in my life that are really meant to be God's. There is an old saying... "Let go and Let God." I am one of those people who finds that difficult to do. I feel like I need to be constantly doing MY part to have things work out. Instead I need to trust in God to take care of whatever and just have HIS way..... That is why I am reading this book.

The subtitle on the cover says, "How to stop running the show and start walking in faith." That is what I want to do. If you too are a woman who likes to control perhaps you will want to get a copy of this book as well. I have only read 2 chapters and I can already tell you that I HIGHLY recommend it!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Just RELAX!!

Exodus 33:14

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

This week I decided to focus on two of the happiness triggers rather than one; they just seem to fit together so nicely! Play and Relaxation are two things that I have not had a lot of time for lately. The last few weeks have been full of the usual end-of-school-year hustle and bustle: exams, trips, and ceremonies. Yesterday that all came to an end.

My "baby" graduated high school.

With this epic event, comes the inevitable question from family and friends---- "What will you do in the fall when the house is empty?"

You see, they know me TOO WELL!

They know that I am one of those people who is constantly on the go- planning, doing, redoing, and then planning something else. For the past few years life has been full of track meets, academic matches, school ceremonies, and school sponsored events.  Since I am a teacher, some of that won't change. I will still chaperone some dances, attend the obligatory ceremonies, and spend my usual extra hours planning my lessons or teaching after school, but much of my personal time will now be empty. I, myself, have wondered what I will do.

I am not known for my ability to play or relax. (Just ask my family.) I am the one who usually plans the vacations event by event. I usually have an itinerary all planned out and I HATE it when the weather or something else gets in the way of accomplishing those things on the list.

God doesn't want it that way, though.

He does want us (me included) to work hard to accomplish those tasks laid before us, but he also wants us to take time to relax, breathe, and just have fun. He even reminds us in the book of Genesis that HE rested on the seventh day after he had finished HIS work! 

Coming from a typical Eastern Kentucky household- rest has NEVER come second nature to me. Growing up I watched my father work long days in a strip mine, coming home with his face, hands, and clothes blackened with coal dust. He would enter the back door, set down his lunchbox, and head for the bedroom where he would exchange the coal dust stained clothing for a set with farm dust. At that point he would allow himself a brief stop for a glass of cold water before heading to the cornfield, hay field, or garden. Saturdays meant long hot days outside: planting, weeding, harvesting and for me- doing laundry, preparing meals, and washing dishes.

I entered the world of work early, as a seventh grader. My mother took a job at the local nursing home, cleaning on the 3 to 11 shift. That meant that it was my responsibility to see that supper was on the table, dishes were done, and homework was finished each night. I adopted my mother's healthy work ethic and it has served me well for many years.

But times have changed.....

Back when I was growing up we didn't have so many modern conveniences. We washed our dishes by hand, there were no microwaves, and I even remember using a ringer washer! Now I have a dishwasher, the microwave is one of our FAVORITE kitchen tools, and I couldn't make it without my automatic washer and dryer. 

These things, and others like them, have made our lives easier, allowing us to complete tasks more quickly and providing us with more free time. You might think that this would also mean more relaxing and down-time, but for a person like me, that isn't the case.

Many times I find myself sitting there on the couch, flipping through a book, flipping through the television channels, and THEN looking around the living room, trying to make sure that there isn't SOMETHING.... SOMEWHERE..... that I should be doing. I really need to stop doing that!  The dust will be there later.... (Trust me.... I have experimented.... There isn't a little elf that comes in and does the housework when I don't!)  

This week I actually allowed myself some time to relax and do something just for fun. No.... I didn't go to a water slide or play a video game. I sat down and crocheted WITHOUT a pattern. I searched through YouTube and found some videos that taught new crochet stitches that I hadn't tried before, I watched the videos, and then I got creative....

Here is the end result....

a colorful owl pillow for our high school library. (The owl is our mascot.)

Some people might not think of crocheting as relaxing, but it certainly is for me. I enjoy watching my fingers guide the hook and the yarn through loop after loop. I get an inner smile (and sometimes an outer one) as I watch my creation take shape, and I love playing with various colors and textures of yarn creating a unique end product.

I challenge you to find the thing that provides YOU with relaxing play! It might be something artistic, it might be just taking time to read a book, or it might be actually getting out and getting physical playing tennis or some other sport. Whatever it is, make time in your busy schedule to relax and to play. I leave you with one final Bible verse........

1 Timothy 6:6

“But godliness with contentment is great gain.”

This week, be Godly..... but allow yourself some time to be relaxed and content as well!