Sunday, November 27, 2011

Post Thanksgiving

In the last four years, we have lost three parents between us. What no one tells you, is that with the proverbial "changing of the guard", there also comes changing traditions that are challenging.

Anyone who has lost a parent or other loved one will tell you, holidays are among the most difficult times to navigate. They are often steeped in traditions, created by the specific group of individuals who gather together to celebrate said holiday. For many, holidays are defined by traditions. When they change, it's as if the world has been somehow turned upside down.

Thanksgiving was a huge event on the Mandish side and, Christmas on the Matthis side. Both have been altered forever by the loss of two fathers and one mother. Things, they are a changin'.

Last year was the first year our daughter, Amanda, took on Thanksgiving in she and her hubby's home. In attempt to avoid having to dash from house to house, they brought both sets of parents to their home. I helped her with the turkey and many others brought traditional fare to add to the feast. The tables were beautifully set and the mood was festive. But-for me, it was very hard. It wasn't the same.

Instead of knowing every face around the table, I was surrounded by many with names I hadn't yet mastered. Instead of knowing all the stories, the children, the struggles they'd been through, they were, effectively strangers. There was none of the spirited conversation the Mandish clan is known for, no talking over each other, no---familiarity. It just felt wrong.

I have shared this experience with other family members on both sides and we all agree, we HATE it. I hate that the Matthis family doesn't go to Mom and Dad's on Christmas Eve. I hate that we don't all spend the night, wake up complaining the it was too hot, or too cold or that someone had snored too loudly. I hate that we don't eat my Dad's famous French Toast for breakfast. I even hate that we don't have the two hour drive home on Christmas morning, listening to Christmas music and looking forward to the next celebration. I also know that to go back is not an option. There is only one direction to travel and that is forward. I get it.

Time passes and some traditions must go by the wayside, out of necessity. We are now the older generation and we have to make adjustments that are often painful. It is a process that is wrought with melancholy moments. So, we incorporate what we can into the new, and let go of what we must from the old. We forge a new path that will be equally precious with the passing of time, but, may be a little rocky in this present day.

I was glad to tell our daughter that Thanksgiving this year was so much better for us than last. Faces were more familiar, expectations were adjusted, conversation was rich, laughter rang out and we truly enjoyed the new friendships we are forging. It wasn't the same as years gone by, but, it was good. By the time we left, our stomaches and our hearts were full. Same is not the gold standard; changing with the seasons of life, may well be.

I truly appreciate the ability to treasure so many sweet memories, but also for the blessed opportunity to choose to live in the moment. It is a gift to be thankful for. I am.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Every breath we take...

I rolled over in bed this morning, put on my glasses and picked up my phone, ready to scroll through the early posters on Facebook. The first post I read was about a young man on our church staff. When I say young, I mean young. Married to his bride less than a decade and father of two precious little girls.

I didn't know Ash personally. But, I do remember him sharing one evening during a service about how many years earlier, he had been contemplating ending his own life. Instead he walked through the doors of a place called Hope, and met the Savior. His life was forever changed. He became a bright light in a dark world.

He had been sick, but was still working. Still leading small groups. Still going on mission trips. Still loving his family. He was in church Friday night. But somehow between Friday night services and Monday morning, his body gave out. He left this life and entered the next.

We, (and when I say we, I mean, ME) so easily complain about meaningless irritations. We take for granted that we'll live to see another day. We fail to be grateful for so many blessings and instead complain about insignificant, trivial irritations. Then, in the blink of an eye, someone in our midst is taken from us. Gone forever from this world. Gone too soon in our estimations.

Every breath we take. We ought to be thankful. RIP Ash.

Friday, November 18, 2011

'Tis the season to be grateful...

Thanksgiving is just a week away. Early this month, I posted my annual challenge to my Facebook peeps, suggesting that each take a moment everyday this month, to post what they are most thankful for. I love seeing the challenge spread from person to person, knowing that being grateful is to be happy. I love to see blessings remembered and recounted.

I long to be known for a heart full of gratitude, regardless of the ups and downs of everyday life. And, I find, that focusing on it reminds me that there is much to be thankful for. Many days, I post more than once, and I often find myself thinking, what will I post next. I am oft reminded that acknowledging my blessing is foundational to believing and living as blessed.

I once gave a gratitude journal to someone I love, who often suffers from depression and self-focus. I shared with them that the practice of simply writing down those things I appreciated, caused me to rejoice in that which I had vs bemoaning what I lacked. I encouraged them to take on the challenge to see if it would have the same effect on them. Sadly, after less than two weeks of daily notations, they confessed that they intended to stop. Why? This is hard for me to imagine and harder still to believe, but, they stopped because they couldn't think of anything more to write.

My heart broke a little that day, knowing that most likely they were doomed to a life of never having enough, never recognizing that their life was truly charmed; not without sorrow or trial or pain, but, still-blessed. When you don't recognize the gifts you've been given, you are dooming yourself to discontent. That's a life I will not accept.

Be thankful. In all things. In every circumstance. It has made all the difference for me. It can for you, too.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

I woke up this morning to falling rain and hot coffee. We turned on the heat for the first time this fall and I returned to bed, with bible, lap top and journal in hand. I am preparing for a talk I will give in December at Mission Hills Church to the wonderful women who worship there.

Four hours later, I have a rough framework for what I'll be saying and an excitement about sharing what is good and true and right about Christmas...that Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving and that there is a way to enjoy the season that so many have come to dread. It's all about living with intention.

My lovely sister-in-love, Christine, recently expressed surprise at my mid-October attmept to schedule our annual Christmas baking date. My response was that I have learned to plan in advance in order to make sure that those things that are genuinely important to me don't get crowded out by things that are "urgent" but not necessarily important or valuable.

Like it or not, (and I really like it!) Christmas is coming. News flash: It happens every year at the same time. So, take a few minutes and figure out what's important to you this year and what's not. And plan accordingly.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Big Sky

There's a reason they call it Big Sky Country

They say you can't go home again. I hadn't been back to Montana in several years. So, when the occasion of my Aunt Wilma and Uncle Ray's 65th Anniversary celebration came up, I decided it was time. Time to return to my birthplace,to the place where my first memories were formed, to the house my mother was born and to the family still there. My first home. MONTANA.

I convinced both my mom and my sister, Debi, to join me and we set off on our summer adventure. What an adventure it was. There were so many wonderful moments contained in a few short days, too many to recount them all here, but, so worth the remembering and giving thanks for...

Time with my mom and my sister in the place where our first memories as a family were we are on the steps of the Sacajawea Hotel in Three Forks, the first town we lived in as a family. We stopped to visit with Cotton and Madeline Todd. I remember sleeping over at their house with their daughter Donna when I was a very small girl. For most of my life, I thought I had imagined that they'd had a horse sleeping behind the sofa. Turns out it was for reals. Gotta love 'em. Good people, life friends.

Staying in the warm and beautiful home of my cousin Linda and her husband Mike. They were so gracious and hospitable! Reconnecting with her was such a blessing and such fun!

Visiting with many cousins, aunts, uncles and life long friends we seldom get to see.

Hanging out at the Garden Cafe in Manhattan, and visiting my favorite little vintage shop on Main Street.

Sitting on Wilma and Ray's porch, eating steak from the Oasis and laughing with loved ones who came from near and far.

Hearing the distant train whistle blow and running across the road with my sister to feel the whoosh of the train passing by as we stood along the tracks.

Attending the anniversary celebration in the basement of their church and realizing the minute I got there, that this was the place where I had attended Vacation Bible School as a child. Vivid memories of this room washed all over me!

Sitting up late with my cousin, sister and mom, having a glass of wine, (okay, maybe two) and hearing stories out of my mother's mouth that left me laughing so hard I was gasping for breath!

The sky. Oh, the sky. It's hard to explain, but, it's really different there. Expansive. Vast. Majestic. Expressive. Enormous. Unobstructed. God's creation shouting!

It was only five days, but, it was a little slice of heaven, and--you know what's next--I'm grateful.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Oh Mickey, you're so fine..."

Today is my beloved's birthday. Number 69. EGAD. Although, as he was quick to remind me, today, as is my custom, I will begin referring to him as "almost 70". (Just a little birthday gift from me to you, Dear).

It's hard to believe that he is on the cusp of becoming a septugenarian. He, who I met when I was but a teen, when he was a twenty-something and quite a handsome specimen. (I noticed. He didn't). It wasn't until many years later, when I was the twenty-something and he was a tad over 30, that our lives intersected again and we progressed to love, marriage and the road of a life shared. That was over thirty years ago. What a ride it has been.

We've travelled a "long and winding road" together, with no shortage of perilous turns, falling rocks, deer crossings and steep falls. Those very trials were a blessing in my life, driving me to my knees, causing me to rely on the only One who knew what I needed, and who could carry us through. For that, I am eternally grateful. But, we are here, today, having weathered the storms, and celebrating the gift of Michael Simon in my life.

So, today's a day to celebrate you, my love. But since it's all about me, let's talk about what you mean to me and why...

Because of you, husband, I am a wife, a mother and a grandmother. Further, I became a part of an amazing "bonus" family, who have become as dear to me as my family of origin. Because you believed in me, I have pursued things I might never have done on my own...I learned to live within my means and as a result, we've been blessed with financial security, or, as Francis Chan whould say, we are "filthy rich"! You've made me angrier than anyone I know, and yet, you've made me laugh harder, too. You are the one I fall asleep with every night and wake up to every morning. The one who washes the dishes after I cooked, the one who empties the trash (it's your only job, after all) and mows the lawns and fixes everything that can ever go wrong in our aging home.

You sit beside me at church every Friday night, welcome the many people I invite into our home and who sit around our table... you sacrifice your privacy in order to accomodate my love of fellowship. You are generous with your daughters, sharing your time, wisdom and resources to let them know how much you love. You give lavishly, with an open hand to those in need, whether to an unknown family in Viet Nam, or a young woman without a strong family to support her. You've opened your heart and our home to make it a place of refuge and joy for so many.

We have built a home, a family and a legacy. We have a past and a future. But--today we have the present. I'm so thankful for that, and for you. Happy Birthday, Mr. M. "Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Father's Day

This year, Father's Day falls on the 19th of June. The 20th will be the 3 year anniversary of my Dad's passing. I miss him so. I know that we often magnify people in death, beyond what they really were in life, but, in my Dad's case, it just isn't true. He was some kinda wonderful. I'm thankful that I told him so regularly, when he was alive.

When he was alive, I spoke to him nearly every morning. As I drove to work, I'd dial him up and talk to him, about various things. When I made a sale, he was the first person I'd want to call, because I knew he genuinely shared my joy. He loved to hear stories about my work. Somedays we talked tomatoes- how many we'd each picked the night before, how big and how beautiful and tasty they were. He taught me how to grow tomatoes, you see. He was the master. Sometimes we'd talk about what was on his agenda for the day, or how I was doing at work. Other times he'd tell me how far he'd ridden on his stationary bike that morning. Before his ankles went bad, he used to take morning walks in his neighborhood and he'd tell me how that went.

He touched people wherever he went. Earlier this month, I received a letter in the mail from Angela. She was his waitress at the Early Bird Cafe, where he often went for breakfast. Three years later, out of the blue, she sends me a letter, telling me how blessed she was to have known him and how thankful she was that she did. Who does that? Someone who knew greatness, that's who.

He was a hard worker all of my life. He worked multiple jobs, seven days a week for most of my life. He never complained about not having a day off. Really. I cannot ever remember him complaining. He was up at the crack of dawn and didn't get home until long after dark. But, he did not complain. His first job was helping his dad in the corn fields of Iowa, picking corn and throwing it in a horse drawn wagon.

He had a variety of jobs throughout his life. He worked on the railroad as a brakeman. He collected scrap iron for pay, worked in a lumber mill, as a school janitor, owned his own janitorial service, drove a trash truck and ultimately became the head of maintenance for the Redondo Beach City School District before his retirement.

He was a happy man-a man content with his lot in life, with the blessings he'd been given. He was generous, sometimes to a fault. With his time, his money and his help. He was a helping hand to more people than I can count. Probably to far more than I even know. He was gentle and kind, and long suffering. He didn't expect much from people. He just cared for them and gave himself to them. He was, as a friend would say, "a soft place to land". He was the one who baked a pie for a neighbor, or fried and delivered chicken for his friend who had Alzheimer's and lived in an assisted living community where the food wasn't so good.

He was soft hearted. He loved babies. Loved his kids. Loved my mom. He could easily be brought to tears by simple kindness. The last time he visited my home, he walked into my kitchen, and upon seeing the new room we had built, his eyes filled with tears and his chin wobbled. I'll never forget that. I knew why. He was overwhelmed with pride and happiness for us. That's how he was-always wanting the best for us, and willing to sacrifice to help us get it.

When he was in the hospital, he knew what was coming. He talked to me about cleaning out his shed, and taking care of my mom and even about me getting a new car. He always thought I needed a new car, because I drive my cars for a decade or more, generally. He offered to help. I assured him my car was good and that there's was already money budgeted for a new one before long. It was important for him to know we'd all be taken care of. After he was gone, the shed got emptied. We bought a new car. And-as promised, I'm doing my best to take care of my mom, too. It was the last promise I made to him and I intend to keep it.

For more than half a century, I was blessed with a wonderful dad. I don't wallow in sadness because he is gone. I revel in my "good luck" to have had him for so long. I am grateful for the foundation he provided, the kindness he modeled, the work ethic he instilled and the tenacity he gave to every effort. He molded me. He blessed me. He loved me. Far more than I deserved. I am grateful. But-I still miss him--everyday.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Walking through the valley of the shadow of death...

Loss. Sorrow. Grief. In the last week or so, there have been numerous implosions of sadness around me. A high school friend sat at the bedside of her dying daughter who was buried today. A long time friend said goodbye to her father for the last time. Another friend, in Oregon, received a call this week notifying him that his mother had suddenly passed following a hip fracture. At this moment, my oldest and dearest friend's father lies in a hospital in Ohio, demanding to go home. When he does, hospice workers will accompany him in order to provide comfort measures for however much time he has left. I have two dear friends awaiting test results, knowing well the results could bring their worst fears or their greatest hopes. Another friend suffers a different kind of loss. The failure of hope, because someone she loves has disappointed her, again. Sadness comes in all shapes and sizes. One size does not fit all.

We cling so tightly to this life. Most likely when mine comes to an end, I too, will struggle to hold on in order to stay just a little bit longer. We have lives we love, people we don't want to leave behind. I am no exception, but, I do believe, in my heart of hearts, that when I have crossed over to my heavenly home, all the concerns that made me want to stay--the unfinished business, the hopes not yet realized, the goals not achieved, they will all pale in comparison to what I will know there as I sit at the feet of Jesus. We who walk this earth hold so tightly to dreams we want to see fulfilled. A child grown into a man. An education completed. A baby born. A wedding ceremony performed. A family at peace. These are the dreams we live for. They are worthy pursuits and when realized may bring unspeakable happiness. But they are imperfect dreams, and we who travel this planet, cannot conceive of dreams more precious, dreams more exquisite; dreams of heaven, perfect dreams realized.

When my own father was dying in a hospital, I, long before my siblings and my mother were able to acknowledge it, knew that the end was most assuredly near. I knew too much. It's not that sorrow didn't apply to me. It surely rocked my heart to the core. But, I didn't ask why. I know that the same God who gives, takes away. I know that there's never a good or right time. I acknowledge that it's easier to let go when a life has been long and well lived and more difficult when it's early- in what we see as an unfinished life. Still. I cling to the belief that life here is not life in it's entirety. There is more. I believe that as surely as I believe the sun will rise and fall everyday. I honestly don't believe anyone who has prepared for eternity by accepting Jesus' gift of salvation, has ever arrived in heaven and wanted to come back to this life. Heaven is richer, more beautiful and more joyous than our finite minds can grasp. One does not move from the ghetto to the palace and then ask to return the utter poverty they were rescued from.

The greatest sadness for me is not the loss of one's presence here on earth. That, because, I believe there is a life beyond. The greater sorrow is if that one has not prepared for the life beyond earth's borders. One's eternal destiny is the most important goal of all and one that requires our attention now, while we still have time to determine where we will spend it. A life lived only for pleasure and temporal things is a life ignorant of true meaning, a life cut short too soon, whether 16 or 96 years long. To share that truth with those who don't know, is a sacred and critical responsibility. The gift of God is eternal life, available to all who will believe. As one who has gratefully received that gift, I am responsible to share it with others as the Lord provides opportunity.

If you, dear reader, long to know what it is that gives me this hope--the hope that takes away death's sting, I long to share it with you. I cannot tell you you will not face sorrow. I cannot promise that. I still cry bitter tears. I still have a dread of life without those I love most. I still pray for healing and reconciliation and the end of pain. But, in the end, I know. I know that one day, on the other side, the pain will end, the tears will be wiped away and death will be no more. Because Jesus said so. And I believe it.

I do love this life I've been given. I truly do. I am blessed beyond anything I ever imagined. But, when my time comes, don't grieve for me. Don't call me back. I'll wait for you. Be there.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Gratitude: What's all the fuss about?

Decades ago, under the teaching of my Pastor, Zac, I was fortunate to learn the incalculable importance of having an attitude of gratitude. Since that time, it has become a core value in my life and in my daily walk through this world.

Clothed with a sense of gratitude, versus a sense of entitlement, I have come to recognize that without the foundation of thankfulness, I am doomed to the "then I'll be happy" syndrome... when I am out of school, when I can get back to school; when I am healthy, when I have more money, when I am through this trying situation, when I am married or when I am out of this marriage; when I get a new job or when I can stop working; when I have a child or when my children are grown; when I have a better place to live, when I have that new car, or position, or notoriety. You get the picture.

I sincerely believe, that until you grasp what it is to be thankful, you will most likely not experience what it is to be happy. Author, Speaker and Radio Host Dennis Prager first made me consider this in his book, "Happiness is a Serious Problem". His premise is that happy people make a better world and that gratitude is foundational to happiness. I concur. But, I think that gratitude is the more serious problem, not happiness. Grateful people are inherently happy people- pure and simple. If you aren't happy, you most likely don't recognize how much you have to be grateful for. There. I've said it. Sorry if you are offended, but, I stand firm in my conviction. If you don't believe me, ask Corrie Ten Boom or Joni Eareckson Tada or Viktor Frankl , all well known individuals who have suffered more than most of us will ever be called to. Ask my friend Tran, whose son was killed while stopping at the side of the road to help a stranded motorist or, Christianne who will likely spend the remaineder of this life in a wheelchair. Consider my cousins, Dona and Gene, who lost both their mom and their brother in tragic circumstances. Then, there's Cheryl, who lives with pain everyday of her life and my friend Pat, whose sweet Dad suffers from Alzheimer's Disease. Let's not even think of overlooking the the legions of people who have been deeply wounded by either family or friends they believed would never fail them.

Each of these I've mentioned are examples of the joy that comes from acknowledging a God who loves them and believing that He is in control...a God who gave all so that our failures could be forgiven. A God who promises "a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11). That same God who urges us to "enter into His gates with Thanksgiving" and, in all things to "give thanks". These folks are real people who, in the midst of their suffering, choose to live their lives with an attitude of gratitude.

We are all wounded soldiers, aren't we? Some in our bodies, some in our spirits, but, we've all suffered pain and sorrow. Many of us have fallen short of what we hoped to become. All of us have known the disappointments of life. Some of us live with physical pain, others with emotional scars.

Too many of us believe that if the stars would just get aligned correctly, we would be better off. We would bask in the warmth of true contentment. Further, we're pretty sure that, we are just a slight shift in the universe away from being happy. The truth is that if we could truly grasp the wonderful truth that there is a God in Heaven, Who, by the way, really does have it all under control, we could then surrender our frustration, our anger, our disappointment and our fears. We would acknowledge that while we cannot see the future, He can. We could then focus on the good, in this moment. We could rest in the arms of a God we know has promised to work it all for our good. (Romans 8:28) Truth is, happiness is impossible without gratitude. From gratitude springs the ability to recognize that there is much to appreciate in the here and now.

May I challenge you, dear readers, to take on a practice I undertook may years ago?

It's so simple. You can do it. Begin and end each day with an attitude of gratitude.

That's it. Simple, right? There are many ways to make it happen.

For me, it means writing down and/or speaking to God the many things I am thankful for, in that moment, for that day. It may take some practice, but, I promise, it is a learned skill that get's easier with repetition. Yesterday, as I was anxiously anticipating oral surgery, I paused to thank God. Yes, I really did. I thanked him for the ability to have the surgery done, for a good periodontist to do the procedure, for his kind staff to set me at ease, for the funds to pay for the procedure and finally, for the many dear ones who had encouraged and prayed for me. As I gave thanks to the God who provided it all, I was filled peace and calm as I headed off to my appointment.

Gratitude. It's what's for breakfast...and lunch... and dinner. Then, you'll be happy!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Taking a Breath

See these two? My husband Mike and my daughter Amanda. Two of the most well organized, well ordered human beings on the planet. They thrive on order and I live in a constant state of chaos. How did we all end up together? I assume that God put them with me to keep me from spiraling out of control. What was in it from them? The strengthening of their patience muscles?

I have been working hard. Probably a little too hard. I am weary. When you're driving home and it's still daylight, and you walk through your back door before 6pm and your thought is, "This is how normal people live," it might be a sign that something's out of whack. Ya think???

I don't know when this affliction hit me. I worked for nearly 17 years in the same company and pretty much the entire time I was able to live like the normals. I maintained some semblance of order in my home. I worked Monday through Friday, pretty much 9 to 5 and only worked extra hours on rare occasions. There were the occasional projects, the infrequent business travel and the moments with impending deadlines. But, they were the exception. Now they are the rule. Why? And why, pray tell, do I create messes, literal messes, everywhere I go?

My husband playfully accuses me of "forgetting" to come home from work. I have never actively sought promotions...I've never been a "climber". I've never been obsessed with being "the" best, but, with being my best. Still, I've too often allowed myself to be talked into taking on more responsibility than I say I want. In doing so, I don't have time for the things in my life that I say are most important. What is that?

I often quote the old adage, "a good man knows his limitations," as my reason for not wanting to move higher up the ladder in my profession. I know what I'm good at and I know my failings. But, for the good of the teams I've been associated with, I've agreed, more than once, to take on responsibilities that have driven me to my knees. Is that the point? I don't know. I just know I'm tired and that I want to balance this teeter-totter out.

I have long struggled with balance. I work so long and so hard that I am too tired to go to the gym, or leave too late to get to a class. I end up eating on the run more often than not and then, eating what is expedient vs what is healthy and might take some preparation. I am looking at my dresser right now and it is covered with paperwork needing to be filed, magazines and books waiting to be read and bills waiting to be paid. There are clothes waiting to be hung up, shoes on the floor and a pile of laundry waiting to be taken downstairs to be washed. A state of disarray. It's a wonder Mike doesn't completely lose his mind. UGH.

I wrestle with order and balance and consistency and it's getting on my last nerve. Why is it that I cannot leave work on time? Why is it that some people create order and others create chaos? Don't get me wrong, I am able to get things done. Lots of them. I love my work. I love my family. I have a happy home. I am active in my church and I have more friends than I deserve or have time to keep up with. But, it is all in the context of my always fighting the chaos and longing for the order that others seem to come by so effortlessly. Is this the "Tyranny of the Urgent" lived out?... A life where all the urgent things get done and as a result, many of the truly important ones do not? Am I so wrapped up in the pressing issues of the day that I am missing what has lasting value?

As I've been focusing on spending money more wisely the last few months, I've flexed the muscles of self-discipline and have grown in the area of self-control as it pertains to spending. At my small group last week, someone noted that when we grow in self-control in one area, it generally will spill over into others as well. I can only hope. Sometimes I fear I am genetically wired to be a mess. My mother has many of the same struggles and has never been able to gain control over them. It makes me want to set a match to the stuff and start fresh!

Making the problem more obvious, my coworker never leaves at the end of the day without her desk being completely clear. Mine looks like a cyclone came through. At home, my husband is a creature of habit and never leaves anything out of place. My daughter and one of my sisters are both so organized that I've suggested they become professional organizers. I'm not sure how I missed that boat, and I really want to be on it.

Perhaps as I've chosen to be mindful about my spending, and accountable to my readers, I can obtain a greater measure of control in this this area, too. I've read all the books, all the hot tips. And like diets, they all work, when you work them. It's that consistency thing where I lose it. Maybe you've got some wisdom to share. . Maybe you can share ways you've fought these same demons and overcome. I am teetering on the edge of despair and could use some hope. Do you have some to share?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Shall We Pray?

The last couple of weeks we have been bombarded by images almost too awful for our little minds to comprehend. Earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand and now the devastation of an even larger one in Japan. In a time where every moment in every corner of the world can be instantly and forever captured by a phone or a camera and shared with the world in seconds via the Internet, little is left to our imaginations.

Who can ever forget the footage in Japan-the quake and tsunami that followed? The river of water racing across dry land, covering towns and fields and communities, taking with it untold lives, cars, buildings and homes. Entire homes! Last I heard, there were four complete trains missing, swept away into what? It's the Wizard of Oz on crack. There will be no Oz and there will be no going back to Kansas by the click of ruby slippers. Hundreds are missing and the count is rising every hour. Our hearts are heavy with each new piece of information we take in, each new photograph or video brings further sorrow.

Meanwhile, we sit in our comfortable homes and carry on with our lives. Soccer games, shopping, going out to lunch. A trip to the gym, reading mail. What are we to do? What should we do? What would God have us to do? Maybe we need to stop and ask. And then, we actually need to do something. Too often we stop short of the action that is so needed and which is the very act of obedience that He is forever calling us to.

Some can give. To the Salvation Army, or the Red Cross or World Vision or other reputable organizations on the ground already who will put your donations to good use. I was able to go online and make a donation in less than 90 seconds without ever having to leave my home. I just felt compelled to do something and that was the start. Each of us can pray. Wherever we are, whatever our lot, we can pray, today, for the people whose lives have literally been swept away in a few minutes of absolute terror. We so often overlook this most valuable act which costs us nothing but a moment of time. We throw our hands up, frustrated at our helplessness, overlooking the most valuable offering of all, prayer, for those in need. It is the most precious support we can give.

In the days ahead, the images appear with less frequency and the news will spend less time on the events we are now seeing every time the TV is turned on. The news cycle will go on to something more current and more titillating. For now, use the images for good. Each time you see one, make it your aim to take that moment to pray for the people who so need us to lift them up to the Father. Good can only come from this horrible catastrophe if we as a people will rise up and cry out to the God who can do what we are unable to. Our resources are too limited and the distance too great, but we serve a God who is able to do far more than we can even imagine. When we pray. So, I challenge you to pray. Pray for:

~Revival for the hearts and souls of the people of Japan. That they would know the peace that comes from knowing the Saviour, even in the midst of devastation.

~The physical needs for food, water and shelter.

~An astounding outpouring of generosity from those of us who can afford to give, that we would be compelled to give above and beyond what we think we can.

~The reunion of families torn apart

~That our hearts and minds would not forget, that our prayers would not be just today when the images are freshly imprinted on our minds, but, in the weeks and months ahead.

~For the workers there who will serve those whose lives have been shaken to their cores. Give them strength and faith and the resources they need to help those in need.

~For opportunities to share the Gospel with others here, who are scared by these horrific events and shaken to their cores.

We are told in Hebrews 4:16 to "...come boldly before the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Let this be our mission. To ask, and then to act. Hearts and minds and lives depend on it. Please join me in this mission, here, wherever you are. I'd be grateful if you would. More importantly, God will be honored and He will act. Be a part of something world changing. This moment.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Know Spend Zone

Yes, it has been over a month since I posted last. I temporarily took on some additional responsibilities at work which have left me with virtually zero free time in the last 5 weeks. The good news on that front is that as of Monday, reinforcements are on the way and no one is more grateful than I.

Working extra hours has certainly helped in my quest to spend less, spend what I do with full awareness and give more more willingly. It's like a God given restraint. When you don't have time to take a lunch, you certainly aren't going to spend money on it. When you leave work long after the sun has set and when the stores are nearing closing time, the danger of spending at all is lessened. When you arrive home to a stack of mail you are too bleary eyed to spend much time on, it's a lot easier to toss the catalogues from favorite retailers without so much as a glance.

All that to say, I am still on my quest to spend less and be more aware when I do part with my money. Thanks to the aforementioned circumstances, it's actually been something of a breeze lately. But, to quote an old platitude, "God isn't finished with me yet." Just when you think you're handling something pretty well, you get taken to the next level and things start heating up again. Hence, the great, green wallet scenario unfolds.

A week ago last Friday we went to church. I opened my purse and removed my wallet to take out a check for the offering. I re zipped my purse and then I placed my wallet on top of it. I had a momentary thought that I should put it back inside immediately but, quashed the idea and there it stayed. An hour or so later, services ended and we got up to go home. I grabbed my purse and we were off. If wasn't until much later that night I realized my wallet never made it home.

I mused to Mike the next morning, that if you're going to lose a wallet, a church is the best possible place to do so. This despite my knowing that a stranger to our congregation entered our building a few months ago, ripped an offering box off the wall and made off with it's contents lickety split. I was still pretty confident it would show up. I called my friend, the always helpful Nancy, who intervened and was able to reach one of the stewards at our church building. I drove there and was met by Roy, a steward who is also deaf. The sad expression on his face and his shaking head made it very clear that the wallet was gone.

My beautiful, soft, classic emerald green wallet, gleefully found on a sale table at Nordstrom many months ago, was gone forever. That along with sixty dollars in cash, ATM cards, credit cards, my driver's license, a thirteen dollar Ralph's voucher and two full Pinkberry punch cards. All MIA. Ugh.

Do you find it as interesting as I do how God makes sure we hear what He has to tell us? I begin a new year quest to spend less, give more and be a better steward of what God has given me. Next, I'm preparing to lead a small group of young women in a study on money. Then, my wallet disappears. As Alannis Morrisette said, "Isn't it Ironic?". Yes it is. But, more to the point, what I refer to as a divine co-inky-dink.

As I've prepared for our small group study, I've been reminded that money is not the root of all evil, as the scripture is often misquoted. 1 Timothy 6:10 actually says, "..the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil..." The truth is, my attitude about my money is more important than how little or how much I have. Larry Burkett, in his workbook, "How to Manage Your Money" suggests we USE things, LOVE people and SERVE God. I hate to admit it, but, sometimes I get that a little confused. Too often, I love and serve things that were meant to be used. Sometimes I use people when I should be loving and serving them. You get the picture.

Losing a wallet is really no big deal. Even a pretty green one I really liked. It's an inconvenience but it's not the end of the world. No tears were shed, except for the sad individual who is so miserable that they'd go to such lengths for a relatively small amount of money. What a sorrowful thought that is. But, I'm thinking it's just as sad if I'm working too much and hence not having the time and energy to serve God by loving people. If I work to provide things I can use to serve and love, I'm on the right track, but, it's a tricky road.

I'm still learning, still stretching and still trying to spend less, give more, and spend with KNOWLEDGE-fully cognizant of how I'm using my resources, and, to what end.
I haven't had a mani-pedi in nearly three months. I'm using generic products more often and have discovered some of them are more than adequate at lesser prices. I actually bought Folger's coffee last week instead of my usual Starbucks brand. (I know-I'm a bit spoiled) I'm not saying that all of these changes will stick for life, but, I am in a constant state of recognition that I should really know exactly how I'm spending the money I give so much time and effort to earn.

There's the challenge. The KNOW spend zone. Get in it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Intention VS Mindless VS Losing my Mind

It's time for another thrilling update on how not to spend money mindlessly and get your life in order at the same time.

First, I must confess. I did a McDonald's drive through for dinner Friday night enroute from work to church. It wouldn't have been so bad, but, what I chose came to $6.81 when I could have easily filled my stomache on half that. Que sera. They say confession is good for the soul. Shouldn't I feel better?

I got on the freeway Monday morning and there was someone looking for a hand-out. Ah! An opportunity to give more. Sadly, I didn't have time to dig out any money so I missed the opportunity. Later, I made a point of pulling out a few dollars and placed them in an easily accessible place in my car. Next time, I'd be ready. Friday morning, there's another guy. I picked up a three $1 bills and held them up...he quickly moved toward my car, I handed them to him, said, "God bless you" and went on my way. When I exited, just past LAX, there was a young woman at the off ramp as I waited at the signal. I started to pull out more and then noted that she was sitting on the ground, talking on her cell phone, laughing rather gaily. I opted not to spend any money here. Seriously! The happiness didn't bother me, but the cell phone put me over the edge. What's wrong with this picture? Remember, I vowed not to spend mindlessly. Maybe I'm wrong, but to have given her money would've felt mindless indeed.

Later that same day, I went to Home Goods, ostensibly to buy some items for work. Predictably, the moment I entered the door, I found beautiful print 120" table cloths. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find table cloths long enough for my dining room table? Very difficult indeed. I had it in my cart and I was justifying it like mad. But, at the last minute, I came to my senses and put it back where I'd found it. I reminded myself that I have an adequate supply at home and although it was beautiful, it was not a necessity. The good news? When I got home and re-measured my table, I realized that my table is 138' long with all the leaves. It wouldn't even have fit! That was a close one, and it would have been all for naught!

Today I did what I've been threatening to do forever. I went online and reviewed all my deleted email for the last couple of weeks. You, know-the ones you get all too frequently and usually delete without even opening them? Everyday, I tell myself, "UNSUBSCRIBE, you dope!" Well, today, the dope, did. I will not miss all the updates from Loehman's, Bev Mo, Career Builder, Ethan Allen, World Market or any of their friends. I eliminated more than twenty source of temptation and irritation. Yes! As I aim to spend less and spend intentionally when I do choose to spend, I don't need all these establishments whispering in my ear about what they have to offer and at what rock bottom prices. Simplify. Simplify.

I am working this, but, I have to confess; this is sooo not easy. It's changing the way I think. I am realizing how much I bought into the L'Oreal mantra, "You deserve it." Whether a mani-pedi (haven't had one since before Christmas, thank you) a grande, non-fat cappacino (I used to think the non-fat part made it a sacrifice) or not renewing the pile of magazine subscriptions that morphed into more things on my "To Do" list; they all have taken time and money that have kept me from doing what I really value. That, and taking up time and energy and space, making this already disorganized soul feel completely overwhelmed. STUFF! Ugh!

I'm pressing on. It should be no surprise, but somehow it still is, that when God starts whispering in my ear about something He wants me to listen to, I hear it everywhere. At church, on the radio, in my morning devotional time, and from others. Just yesterday, a new friend (who, by the way, knows nothing of this journey I'm on) said, I have a book for you...I think you'll like it. The name of the book? Simple Abundance. Really?

I'm still listening and the whispers are getting louder every minute.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rocky Road

Tonight, my friend Tracy has inspired me to do a little blogging on the fly. She had a little post on facebook that read, "I wish I could eat as much ice cream as I want." That's all it took to inspire me to sit down and blog about one of my favorite subjects: Ice Cream. Rocky Road to be precise.

You see, I cannot speak of ice cream without thinking of my Dad. The man loved his ice cream. I often laughingly told him that he had ruined all of us kids for ice cream outside our home. When we were young, he would offer us ice cream and then would serve us up cereal sized bowls, brimming with multiple scoops for a little after dinner snack. We're talking super-sized before it was fashionable. We didn't realize it at the time, but we were probably taking in a day's worth of calories in a single sitting.

I remember on more than one occasion, as a kid, being offered ice cream at someone else's house and being sorely disappointed at the portion size. The offering would usually be a meager little single scoop. As the child of Ray Matthis, I would look at it in silent amazement, always polite and appreciative but the voices in my head were screaming, "ARE YOU KIDDING, ME? ONE SCOOP? SERIOUSLY???" And then, finally, I'd think, "why bother???"

When my dad was in the hospital, at the end of his life, we spent long days with him. The last week or so, we'd leave the hospital, usually after midnight to go home and get a few hours of sleep before heading back up to be with him. As we'd drive home on empty streets, often, as if magnetized, our car would end up at Millie's Coffee Shop. Before we knew what was happening, a waitress would be placing hot fudge sundaes in front of us. One each. We NEVER share ice cream. We would tell ourselves, with wry little smiles, "Dad would want us to do this." It was true.

When he was gone, when his memorial service was over and when the last guest had left the church, a small group of family members headed back to the house. I picked up pizza and 2 gallons of Rocky Road Ice Cream on the way home, to fortify the troops. There was little interest in the pizza, but before the night was over, every scoop of ice cream was consumed. I shared with those who didn't know, how integral ice cream was to our formative years and how Dad loved it and made us love it, too. When a bowl was empty, it was time for a refill-as if we were all bellyed up to the bar and we kept ordering another round. We did it for Dad, in honor of the wonderful gift of ice cream and in memory of the many times in our lives that we had enjoyed it with him.

Now I'm sharing the love with Ruby. His first great-grandchild, she was born shortly after Dad died. At two years of age, she already has a great appreciation for ice cream. Generally a McDonald's soft serve cone, and generally not massive quantities, but, I take great joy in telling her, "Poppa Ray loved ice cream, too!"
From here to eternity, I will think of Dad when I eat ice cream, celebrating him and the love of it we shared.

There's no doubt in my mind what our first meal with him in heaven will be. Massive quanities of ice cream! Hopefully, our heavenly bodies will be fat free, but, the ice cream will be the real thing!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Let me count the ways...

Has it really only been eleven days since my last post? How many times have I been tempted to spend mindlessly? The morning following my post, the first visitor to my office was a co-worker knocking on my door to deliver Starbucks Cinnamon Via Coffee. Yes, I had asked her to buy them for me. Yes, it had been a week earlier. Egad! Sheepishly I shelled out $14, lamenting that in less than 24 hours, I was, already breaking my spend "fast". Nevertheless, I promptly extended myself a large dose of grace and resolved to stay focused and aim for my goal. In the ensuing days, here's some of what I've discovered:

1. I had no idea how often I mindlessly spend money on food and beverages ingested on a whim. Coffee, ice cream, frozen yogurt, a donut. My car is pulled like a magnet to a refrigerator. Last Sunday I was early for a meeting at church so I instinctively pulled into a nearby Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I parked in front and was ready to open the door when I remembered my vow to spend intentionally vs mindlessly. Step away from the barista and no one will get hurt! Relax. I stayed in the car and drove it around the corner next to an enormous trash receptacle. Instead of sipping a nice hot Wintergarden Tea Latte, I spent the next hour purging my car of trash, organizing an overabundance of "stuff" and still got to my meeting on time, without opening my unusually fat wallet.

2. Costco is a dangerous place. I went there intending to get a refund on window treatments ordered back in December. (didn't want you to think I'd gone completely over the edge) After getting our AMEX card credited, I decided to take advantage of the great prices and pick up a few groceries- the one purchase I am allowed with minimal restriction. I soon realized how great the temptation walking past that human with a clicker would be. Jeans! ( I have three pair at home!) Olay Regenerist! (oh yeah- I said I was going to use what I already have before buying more) Books! ( oh, that's right--I'm going to read the books I already own before I add to my collection) Yes. I won this little battle. I resisted the books, all the clothing and lotions and left with ground turkey, multigrain Cheerios, eggs and bread-cheapest Costco visit ever!

3. Giving feels better than buying. I wrote a check for a young woman friend going on a missions trip this summer. I had ample money to do so because I'd made a few small changes in my spending. She was appreciative and I am blessed, knowing my small check will reap eternal rewards. I spent most of my day off last week with another young woman Mike and I love dearly and are trying to help. Giving is more than money, it's also time and attention and patience. Make no mistake,we are the real recipients of the blessing.

4. Sometimes unplanned spending is the right thing to do. Friday night I scooped up my one and only grandgirl, after leaving work and only an hour before church. There simply was NOT time to go home, prepare dinner, cajole a 2.5 year old to eat and still get her to the church on time. So- we eschewed McDonalds and went to Denny's where Ruby inhaled chocolate chip pancakes and milk while I enjoyed a Grand Slam breakfast, compete with fruit, grits and eggs. We were served promptly, ate and paid our $11 bill gladly,leaving a kind waiter a near 50% tip. My pleasure. (by the way, leftovers provided the next mornings breakfast as well)

5.If I'm not going to buy, there's no need to shop. My daughter Amanda, invited me to go with her to our favorite antique flea market on Sunday. My first response was, "Yes!" When I waffled a bit later, I reminded Amanda that I was trying to avoid spending so I had to think it over. She quickly brought me to my senses, asking "what is the point?" She was 100% correct. Why would I go if I had no intention of buying? The point for me was that I welcome any opportunity to spend time with her, but, in retrospect, I don't have enough self-control to avoid that temptation right now. Hopefully, I'll get there. For now I won't be going. Instead, I'll get to see my astute daughter tomorrow afternoon when she and Danny drop off and later pick up sweet Ruby. They're going to dinner alone and we'll enjoy Ru. Win-Win- and not a dime spent.

It's been more of a challenge than I expected, but I'm holding firm. It's all good, and I'm pressing on.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Spend less, Give more.

Life is complicated. And, for me, it's messy. Too messy.

It's a new year and as I do every new year, I resolve to get organized. Mind you it's a life long struggle of monumental proportions. I, who am married to a creature of habit and the mother of a girl who has all her ducks,all in a row, all the time. It's daunting! Look at this closet belonging to my granddaughter, Ruby- it's perfectly ordered by her mother, my Amanda. This girl, who rightly described herself as one who has "a place for everything and everything in it's place" went on to describe me as "someone who also has a place for everything: when she puts something down, that's it's new place".

It is no lie, that after my father's death, when I opened his dresser drawer and saw multiples perfectly white, perfectly folded and perfectly stacked undershirts next to similar stacks of underwear and socks, that I nearly fell to my knees and I actually said out loud, Oh, Poppa, why could I not have inherited that "neat and orderly gene" from you? Why? I who need it so much?

A few years ago, I read a newspaper article about a small group of friends who committed to not spending unnecessarily in the year ahead. There was a general recognition among them that maybe they were doing a lot of unnecessary buying and they challenged themselves to stop. They were amazingly successful, even committing to making gifts instead of buying them. I read it and thought, it would be a double win for me...I'd spend less, AND I'd have less to manage.

I started out with good intentions, but, I only lasted a few weeks. I lost focus and I didn't have the strength to do it. But, I'm thinking it's time to try it again. I look around at my piles and I know I just own too much STUFF. My closet is packed. How many white blouses does one girl need? And, dare I say, how many pairs shoes is one too many? I need to try something radical, so, why not start here? I am not sure the full scope of what I will do or how long I will last, but, here is what I'm going to aim for.

Buy only what is genuinely needed Use what I have before replacing it (thinking make-up, hair products, lotions, etc)When I do need to buy something, try a less expensive option and see if it works wellTake lunch to work instead of resorting to fast foods or expensive lunches outUse the greeting cards and stationary I've already purchased Read the books already on my shelvesBless those who need a blessing instead of indulging my every desireListen to music we already own vs adding to an already huge libraryStop renewing subscriptions of magazines I don't have time to readUse the clothing already hanging in my closets and in my drawersGive away clothing I haven't actually worn in the last yearContribute more to missions and other causes I believe inBuy more fresh and less processed foodBrew my own coffee in my own kitchenStart a giveaway box for the Salvation Army and donate monthly Give money more often to the guys on the freeway on ramp
Take dinner next door to our recently widowed neighbor and eat with him Spend more time in my backyard this summer, nurturing tomatoes that we love

The writer Ethel Barret, said once, that we spend money on things we don't need, with money we don't have to impress people we don't even like. I don't know if that's all true of me, but, I think it's time to think more about where it's all going and what I'm carrying into my home. I want to be intentional about how I'm spending the money I work for and what I'm giving up my time to maintain.

Okay. It's a start. No guarantees, but, I'll let you know how I do. I just want to get this stuff under control before it consumes anymore of my time and attention. I have so much to be thankful for. So many blessings. I want to spend more of my time on the people I love and less time taking care of things I don't really need. Game on.