Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Struggle is Real!

As I mentioned in my last post, my least favorite fruit of the Spirit is self-control.
Still is.
Except...
I challenged myself recently.

(I hope this doesn't sound like a self-serving post...it's not meant to be at all.
The struggle was/is real.)

I just completed a 21-day Daniel Fast. (Google it.)
Basically a vegan diet on steroids. (I've never been a fan of veggies.)
No meat.
No dairy.
No sugar.
No yeast.
No white flour or white rice.
And my achilles heel, no caffeine.

What's left? (Not much.)
Vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts, some oils and water...yes, just water to drink.

My daughter asked me to do it with her and I said, without hesitation, "NO!"

I went about my day as the invitation gnawed at my mind - and heart.
Why can't I stop thinking about it. I'm not doing it.
I'm not! (Food has always had a certain power over me.)
But the gnawing persisted.
So after a few days, my conscience was raw and I agreed to join her in the Daniel Fast.
Surely I can handle 21 days. (Don't call me Shirley!)

My other daughter joined us too. (Hooray! Doing this with my girls was amazing.)
We set a start date and a private Daniel Fast text group.
We were actually excited!
Because the Daniel Fast is less about food and more about our relationship with God.
Removing the junk and aiming our focus.

So we began.
And I'm not gonna lie...the first week was hard.
If you know me, you know how much I love my morning coffee...
and my late morning coffee...
and the occasional afternoon coffee...
ugh.
But after the first week, coffee wasn't a big deal.
Sugar was....and bread. (Oh, man, give this woman a hunk of sourdough slathered in butter!)
After the second week, bread and sugar didn't matter much either.
But two days before the end of the fast, my attitude changed.
The enemy challenged my resolve.
"Heather, you did it! Why wait two more days for a cup of coffee? Have one NOW!"
Good point! Excellent idea!
I complained a bit (a lot), but I stuck it out and completed the fast. (I'm a little proud of me.)
Yesterday I enjoyed a HUGE cup of coffee...and then another.

So what did I benefit from this exercise in self-control?
Perspective.
Focus.
Understanding.
Joy.

I spent more time with God, in His Word and in prayer. (Something I always struggle with.)
My body was clean of sugar (which I believe is the worst of all the substances I regularly put into it).
I could focus my attention better and the time I spent in prayer availed much.
I realized the joy (what?) of controlling my impulses to indulge.
It's not WRONG to indulge, don't misunderstand...
But the frequency and the REASONS I was indulging were all over the place.
None of them had value.
When I couldn't indulge due to my pledge to this 21-day exercise,
And posted on my blog my desire to work on self-control (accountability),
And asked God for strength - which He doles out generously,
I wanted to succeed more than I wanted coffee and sugar. (Insert shock here.)
Because my success would mean more than saying "no" to impulses.
It would mean saying "yes" to self-control...to learning so much about what that means in my life and my relationship with God.
I felt the attack of the enemy so often, but knowing that I was not alone in the battle, it was so much easier to change my mind...to block the nagging negativity.

As I mentioned, I'm back on caffeine. (Hallelujah!)
But sugar is a glorious poison.
I like the way I feel off of the stuff.
I won't shun it in its entirety.
(I won't be an annoying "No thank you, I don't eat sugar" person. I promise!)
I'm not going to study labels for all of its forms.
But candy and desserts will be treats...rare and delectable.
That will be my new boundary.
And here goes other exercise in self-control.
It never ends, folks.
As long as we're on this earth, we'll struggle to see the good of it.

Self-control is good.
Positive.
Satisfying.
And we have all we need to succeed.
Thank-you Lord!
(Now, I hope I don't forget this.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

My Least Favorite Fruit...


I was at a gathering the other night.
We were invited to stamp a word onto a strip of leather.
The word we wanted to focus on for 2019,
Or perhaps the word we chose for 2018.
I was immediately overwhelmed.
So many words...
I love words...
And to permanently stamp it into leather, well, what will I choose?

I thought about the Gifts of the Spirit:
Love (I love love.)
Joy (I'm pretty good at joy.)
Peace (I can always work on peace.)
Patience (Well sure, but how cliche.)
Kindness (I always try to be kind.)
Goodness (But of course.)
Faithfulness (Well, yeah.)
Gentleness (I could be gentler.)
and
Self-Control (Ugh. No. Self Control? Yuk.)

I took that as a sign.

I decided to stamp Self-Control.
It wasn't fun.
It's my least favorite of the fruits of the Spirit.
Probably because I consistently fail to control myself.
(Can I get an Amen?)

But...Love has elements of self control.
Even joy and peace require self-control.
Patience and kindness, same thing.
Faithfulness and gentleness, absolutely.
Self-control is the last fruit of the spirit mentioned and it seems pivotal to all of the others.
WE control ourselves...or don't.

As a child many of us were told, "Control yourself!"
At precisely the moment when it was nearly impossible because we were so mad or upset or sad, that screaming or crying was all we could do (as a child).
Self-control is usually addressed in failure...
When we get angry,
When we eat to much,
When we gossip,
When we overspend,
When we don't do what we should do,
Or do do what we shouldn't. (ouch)

But what about the positive qualities of self-control?
What about the fact that the only thing we can control in this life is ourselves?
Let that sink in...
We have NO control over anything else.
We can't control our kids, our spouse, our neighbor, our coworkers, our boss, our circumstances, our environment, our house, our job, disease, the weather...the list is endless.
We control nothing but ourselves.
But...
We CAN control ourselves.

The enemy is prowling around, paying very close attention to the crop of my least favorite fruit.
Where self-control is plentiful, his power is diminished.
Self-control isn't the finger-pointing, condemning fruit we make it out to be.
It's power against the enemy!

So this year, as I contemplate my hyphenated word: Self-Control,
I'm not going to focus on my lack of self-control,
but how I can cultivate it in the nooks and crannies of my life and bind satan's condemning power in the process.
I'll try to pay attention in those moments when I don't fall to the floor kicking and screaming,
when I don't overeat or overspend or say that thing I know I shouldn't.
And celebrate the God-given GIFT of self-control.

Which brings another word to mind...Perspective.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Focus


Serving.
That's my new focus for 2019.
I was a little down the other day.
Pity party time.
My daughter invited me to feed the homeless with the youth group.
I'd done it before and enjoyed it, but I didn't really want to go.
I had a list of reasons why I shouldn't go...
Why I couldn't go.
But I went.
I was annoyed all the way to the church...
About my little problems.
But as soon as I arrived and began cutting donated cakes and pies and putting the pieces onto plates, I forgot all about my angsty issues.
All of the volunteers were happy.
They were eager to serve and much to my surprise, I was as eager as they were...joyful even.
The doors opened and the bedraggled bunch filed in.
I couldn't stop smiling.
Four teens and I were scooping ice cream.
How did we get so lucky?
We get to give ice cream to people who rarely taste the stuff.
"I haven't had ice cream in so long," one guy said.
I gave him an extra scoop.
Ice cream is heaven on earth and that guy needed a respite.
One by one, we dished joy to the downtrodden.
And my heart was filled.

How does God do that?
It makes no sense.
How can a tired, defeated, weary heart be ENERGIZED by GIVING to someone else?
I didn't think I had anything to give.
Yet the joy poured out.

I've been asking God to lead me.
To lead me to how He wants to use me.
And He showed me.
Serve.
More.

In that fog of self absorption...of thinking about MY problems...
God reminded me that focusing on OTHERS is the remedy to the angst of life - to sadness, upset and annoyances.
Focusing on OTHERS brings relief, joy and deep satisfaction.
So that is my focus for 2019.
Serving.
What's yours?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

His Indescribable Gift...

Who remembers the Sears Wish book?
I'm pretty sure I drooled over this very catalog.
I would have been twelve years old. I dogeared pages, wrote lists and imagined getting every single thing I desired from that wonderful Wish Book.
Christmas in 1977 wasn't like Christmas today.
My family lived on a very tight budget. Credit? No way.
Today we live in a world where stuff is plentiful...whether or not it's affordable in the moment.
Even though this wish book invokes memories of childhood desire, I'm glad I didn't receive the treasures of every dogeared page.
I'm glad my parents carefully chose gifts for me and didn't stack boxes to the ceiling, feeding the greed monster that lives in all of us.
I'm glad God doesn't give me everything I want either.
Sometimes I think of some of the things I begged God for.
Relationships when I was young...I'm so thankful for the husband he gave me.
Stuff I knew I couldn't live without...my friends got some of that stuff and they were no happier for it.
As an adult, I wanted children right after we got married. I'm so glad we waited five years. We were so young at that time (19 and 20).
There are so many times I didn't get what I wanted and I'm forever thankful for that. Time always revealed the blessing of a "no" answer to my prayers.

I wanted to write a book when I was in the thick of mothering.
I felt God say, "Wait. I'll tell you when to write."
So I did.
I set my desire aside.
Dogeared the page, nonetheless, but set that wish aside.
The Lord is faithful and He's taken me on a winding road to publication.
A short story was published this fall, and from that endeavor, I was invited into a critique group - challenging me to become a better writer.
I'm grateful for the freedom to follow every rabbit trail on this path to publishing a novel.
I couldn't have done that and mothered my children well.
He is so wise.

What are you wishing for this Christmas and in the New Year.
Have you asked God for it?
Seek God's wisdom this season and see where He leads.
His gifts are always good.

His best Gift is the One we celebrate this season.
May you grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:18-20)

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Merry Christmas every one!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Characters...

The Bickering Bickersons
Last summer, at my mom's garage sale, an old man with a long, white beard approached the table where we were taking money and bagging treasures.
His hands were empty...he wasn't buying.
He said, "I bought a pair of shoes from a drug dealer. I don't know what he laced them with but I've been tripping all day!"
Then he walked away.
That's a character right there.
We've all encountered the joke-telling old man who approaches strangers, drops the funny and makes a hasty exit.
I love those guys.

Characters are everywhere.

I love the talkative, oversharing toddler,
The classic church lady with the single arched eyebrow,
The constantly bickering married couple (the bickering Bickersons),
The insecure, but hilarious teenage boy who hasn't a clue how funny he is,
The flamboyant older woman - gaudy, colorful and, best of all, owning it,
The self-absorbed soul, always positioned near, and peering in a mirror while conversing with others,
The loud laugher (guilty), unable to rein in their delight to a socially appropriate level,
Friendly grocery checkers, bantering about their kids, the weather, sometimes dropping inappropriate personal information leaving the hearer unsure how to respond,
The teenage girl, unaware of her beauty, disguising it under a heavy mask of makeup,
A quiet, big-tipping gentleman blessing tired waitresses,
The old couple holding hands as they walk through the park,
The tired mom in the grocery store carrying on a loud conversation with her toddler in the hopes someone, anyone will notice that she's a good mother (we notice, you are),
The former high-school all-star who isn't any more, but lives or rather, re-lives that glory,
The all-knowing neighbor, keeping tabs on everyone within a two-block radius, and reporting that knowledge to anyone who will listen,
The fashion-impaired woman (guilty again) who consistently mis-buttons her shirt or mis-matches patterns, but not in a hip, new way,
The cheerful mechanic or contractor or repairman bearing bad news with a knowing smile - knowing a good payday is coming,
The chatty dental hygienist, asking questions you can't possibly answer with your mouth wide open,
...and so many more...
Which brings me back to the joke-telling old man...
I've met hundreds of them in my life.
I can't remember all the jokes,
But I'm glad I remember the essence of the old men who told them.
After all, it wasn't the joke that was funny, it was the person who told it!

Keep your eyes open for characters...perhaps you're one of them!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thanksgiving...


Since it is Thanksgiving, I will produce the obligatory list of things I'm thankful for, but with a twist.
THIS Thanksgiving, an acrostic poem of words I like and why I like them. (Not sure why an acrostic is called a poem, but whatever.) Sure, it seems boring and maybe it will be. (I hope not)

And to clear myself of any guilt for not mentioning the obvious things I'm thankful for: Here they are...
My family and friends, my Savior and my country.

On with the "poem"...

T - Tribe. The idea of tribe was a bit lost on me for most of my life. I equated "tribe" with large groups of cliquey women excluding all others. Not so. Regarding friendships, I related to the saying, "I'd rather have four quarters than a hundred pennies." Like most people, I've been burned. It happens when you "collect pennies". So I am guilty of being guarded when sharing my life with people. Even so, my little growing tribe of sisters is precious. As my hair has grayed (amazingly fast once I stopped dying it - go figure), the wisdom of those white strands seeped into my noggin. I'm better at finding kindred spirits and avoiding danger.

H - Harmony. Alone in my car, when I'm singing and worshiping God, I sing harmony. Horribly. (I literally apologize God when it's really bad.) I was thinking about harmony the other day. It adds beautiful depth to music...and when we live in harmony, work in harmony, we are much more productive. Harmony is a choice though. You have to work at it. I hope my harmonizing continues to improve. It will, with practice. Harmony brings joy...in all things.

A - Aqua. I love that color. It represents water, purity, happiness. It is fresh. It is eye-catching.

N - Nest. I'm a mother...of grown children, but still. You never stop being a mother. My nest may be empty but my heart is full. My home is different now - emptier - but it brings me great joy. I host my writing group every week and it buzzes with life. (I love that.) It is nearly ready for the eventual return of my kids. They'll all be home for Christmas and I can hardly wait!

K - Kitchen. Odd, I know, but I love to bake and at the moment there's a hole in our kitchen ceiling (a tiny leak in the master shower - Yay, new tile in the master bath..gulp). Since we've got to patch the hole and paint, the kitchen is on my mind. We'll eventually paint the cabinets - or maybe not - and what color should I paint the walls? I love these conundrums (another favorite word) and perusing Pinterest to solve them!

S - Strength. It was a challenging year. I never imagined losing a parent. (Why would I want to imagine that?) I made a wonderful discovery, though. I am strong. I have strength. And when my strength wanes, God offers His. I leaned in and soaked up His strength when mine was nowhere to be found. And here's the best part. God's strength is there for the asking. He doles it out as we need it, not before - not when we anticipate the need - when we actually need it. I like to prepare. I like to have extra on hand. This year, I learned to accept grief as an offer of strength from God and it built my faith to know I could trust Him to give it right when I needed it.

G - Grace. I could go on and on about grace. It is the gift of God...two more fabulous G words! But grace...undeserved favor...wow. My church has Grace in it (The Graceworks) and my writing group is called The Grace Writers (as well as my novel). It's no coincidence. Grace is something the world needs. It's something I hope to pass on...to spread...to write about.

I - Inspiration. It's all around me. I find inspiration in the beautiful world we live in. Nature is a treasure trove, but even more, people. I love people. I love watching them and studying them. (Confession: I love reality TV because I can watch people I wouldn't normally see in my world.) In reality, though, (see what I did there?) we inspire each other. Do I inspire others? That's my hope. I am so inspired by so many people in my life and for that I am thankful!

V - Vivacious. There is a person I notice wherever I go. The old woman living vivaciously. She has pink, sparkly hair and colorful clothing - preferably mismatched but happy - and glasses, large and bold. These women are rare and interesting and fun. There is a woman who prances around Yelm Highway in heels, a hat and a suit straight out of the eighties. She has perfect posture and is perfectly out of place. I don't know her but I love her. I hope I am vivacious as an old person. (Old-er person - gray hair notwithstanding.)

I - Inclusion. It's a wonderful thing to be included. We've all experienced being invisible, overlooked or intentionally DIScluded. That's no fun. In fact, it's dismaying. But to feel inclusion - to know you belong. That's precious. Over the past year or two I've found many inclusive people. People who welcome strangers and celebrate change. I try to be that way too. I know I fail, but the more I practice it, the easier it becomes.

N - Niche. Everyone wants to find their niche. I wish Thanksgiving had a C in it. Because I equate finding one's niche to contentment. I've found my niche a few times in my life. The niche changes, grows and morphs. It's all a process. I hope you find your niche too...and consider...maybe your niche is right where you are. Perhaps embracing the season you're in IS your niche. By being content where we are, we free our mind to settle into God's plan.

G - Grateful. It's what Thanksgiving is all about - being grateful. And I am so very grateful for all of the blessings in my life. If you're reading this right now, you're one of them!

What words are you thankful for?

May your Thanksgiving weekend be filled with family, friendship and the blessings of the season!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Two Golden Rings during The Great Depression...


When I decided to write Two Golden Rings for the anthology, Christmas in Time, I did some research on the era.
What an interesting time.
Struggle and heartache permeated those years following the stock market crash of 1929.
In my research, I read a book, The Secret Gift by Ted Gup.
It told the true story of Mr. Gup's grandfather, Sam Stone, who had weathered the crash and had some extra money to give away in 1933 when Canton, Ohio was overwhelmed with struggle. That Christmas, Mr. Stone put an ad in the newspaper offering $10 to 75 families, no questions asked. Just write to "Mr. B. Virdot", describing your desperate need. When the letters poured in, he decided to answer 150 of them with a $5 gift.
Mr. Gup was not aware of Sam Stone's kindness until he discovered a suitcase filled with letters after his death. His grandfather kept the letters telling of utter desperation. They were proud people who didn't want to ask for money, but since it would be discreetly given, and since they were so desperate for the basic needs of life, they wrote. There were other letters in the suitcase as well. Thank you notes describing how the modest gift had been spent and what it meant to them.
Mr. Gup set out to find the families of the letter-writers, and discovered that the $5 gift had made a world of difference to some of them, filling them with hope and changing the trajectory of the family. For others it made for a nice Christmas but not much more. Some families struggled for generations. The book chronicles those stories and weaves in the account of Sam Stone's life as well. It's a fascinating read.

I tried to capture some of that tension in my story.
The desperation of need and the desire to be self-sufficient.
The pain of loss and the desire to be whole again.
The hope of provision and the devastation of disappointment.
Ultimately, I wanted to tell a story of the faithfulness of God - because He is - so very faithful!

You can buy a copy of Christmas in Time here.

I hope my story blesses you this holiday season!