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The bank we’ve been using since moving to VA was bought out by another bank recently. Apparently this happens on a fairly regular basis. I remember it happening to us a number of years ago, but it really wasn’t that big a deal back then. They gave us some free checks and told us how it would work and life went on pretty much as usual.

However, that was before the kind of technology that we have now! Oh, my goodness! What a mess this is! In fact, it became so cumbersome that we decided to switch banks and I’m still remembering companies that I’ve forgotten to give the new routing numbers for bill pay. This morning I was thinking as I sat on hold with yet another company that every time I don’t have to put a stamp on an envelope to pay a bill, I need to remember how very, VERY difficult electronic banking is when you move or need to change accounts for any reason, such as a bank buy-out!

And it’s been two weeks and we still don’t have our new checks! Some companies need a canceled check by mail instead of a number by phone, and so we’re waiting impatiently to get those silly little printed papers in the mail. I’m watching the mailbox like a child at Christmas! As I sat on hold this morning, I was thinking about our grandchildren growing up in a world that won’t know or remember mailing checks to pay bills, paying cash for groceries or restaurants, of being careful your wallet isn’t stolen because that $20 in it is so precious. Instead they’ll be concerned about someone getting access to ALL their savings and cash online, or stealing their debit card, or even their identity!

And trying to set up the online budget with a new bank without losing the history of our billpay…oh! What tangled web we weave! (And we’re not even trying to deceive!)

Ok, now for the ‘cheese’ with my ‘whine’… : Every time I’ve sighed and gritted my teeth for the past two weeks, I’ve reminded myself how very, VERY easy this online stuff is once I get it all set up again. No more sitting for hours trying to find two numbers I transposed in the budget book. No more praying the bank statement balances. No more waking in a cold sweat in the night wondering if I may have forgotten to write something down or pay a bill. Or…if I did, remembering it can be done in 5 seconds online and going right back to sleep smiling. Yes, when I’m complaining about the inconvenience of modern technology out of one side of my mouth, the other side is grinning big time and thanking God I’ve lived long enough to really appreciate what will eventually come out of all this inconvenience and frustration. Memories of the old ways do not stack up as the ‘good ole days’ in regard to budgeting and bill pay. Give me technology! And Lord, maybe just a little more patience!technology

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This past week I learned of a dear friend whose marriage had ended a few months ago. My heart aches for her in a way I’ve never experienced before. I’ve been praying for her and reaching out to her, but inside I weep and I ache for her more than I ever have for widowed friends. I’ve questioned myself, and today I’ve decided to share these thoughts with others—to hopefully encourage us all to do better.

When a spouse dies, we gather around the one left behind. We visit, we bring food, we try to think of ways to fill that void in the lonely soul starting a new life and assist where they flounder. Death and being left behind is something all couples must consider and half of every couple will have to face eventually. Many of us begin preparing our hearts for that possibility early in life—to ward off total devastation and to not feel totally helpless in the event we would be the one left behind.

But do we ever consider what our lives would be like if we should be rejected? If our spouse walked out with life intact? I admit, that’s not something any of us want to think about, and as followers of Christ, it’s not the norm (thank God!), but it happens. And there we are—not only alone, but questioning our worth and questioning if we did something wrong or if we could have done something better. And who’s there to help with closure, with the lonely days and nights dealing with rejection as well as unwanted single life once more? Too often that person is left to fend for themselves and is even often somewhat shunned or judged by the very ones who should be coming alongside to strengthen and encourage—our very sisters and brothers in Christ!

Why do we do this? I think it is quite normal to shun what we don’t know how to deal with, but that doesn’t make it go away and does not change the facts. As followers of Christ, we need to look for opportunities to strengthen one another and assist one another, even the areas that make us uncomfortable and feeling awkward. Yes, there are often help groups for divorced people in churches, but does that provide all the assistance they need? What about friendship? What about assisting with errands, babysitting, home repairs, even housekeeping when the single person now has to earn a living as well as doing all the rest for themselves without a partner to assist and trade off with? Should we not have groups to step in and help long-term?

And not only within your church, but if we find a close friend of ours in this situation, I think it’s a no-brainer! We suddenly have a new job. A new responsibility to be there for this person—not only to be there to assist physically, but to be their listener, their encourager, even their ‘touch-er’. It’s a proven fact that touch is a very important part of our make-up and is needed by all of us—not just the touch that happens accidentally as you hand something to someone, but I’m talking about love-touching.

SO much focus has been put on inappropriate touching these days that we’ve swung way too far the opposite way for good health! I am so very thankful for my lady friends that hug me when they come and again when they leave. And I’m thankful for the gentle hug of a dear godly man now and again at church or in get-togethers with friends. When I was a child, my girlfriend and I always held hands as we walked to and from school together. There is a special bonding in touch of this kind, an assurance of acceptance and love that we all need to be emotionally balanced. Yes, I feel the need for this in spite of having a loving husband. How much more must my lonely friend have need of loving touch?

I guess I’m writing this today just to encourage us all to think of someone we know in this situation, and then to be intentional about coming alongside of them in every way we can. Hebrews 3:13 says: “But encourage one another daily…so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Not only will it be good for the one being encouraged, but it will be rewarding for the ‘encourager’ as well!

This week one day as I visited our son’s family to welcome our newest grandson into the family, our oldest grandson snuggled on my lap while I had a conversation with someone else.  At one point I felt him looking at me and when I looked at him he smiled and hugged me.  Then he whispered in my ear, “Grandma, you smell like your house.”  Now the way he was tucking his nose into my neck I could only assume that was a good thing in his eyes, but the unexpected comment and whole episode continues to hover in my mind.

Whether by choice or chance, we carry an aroma with us always.  Most all of us enjoy being around a pleasant aroma, but avoid as much as possible an unpleasant one.  And many times an aroma ‘takes us back’ to another place and time—as my odor made my grandson think of our home.

As I’ve been thinking about this these past couple of days since the incident, II Corinthians 2 has been in the forefront of my thoughts.  Verses 14-16 read this way in the NIV:  “But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.  For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.  And who is equal to such a task?”

Honestly, smelling good all the time is a challenge.  After a morning doing yard work in the heat of summer, or even heavy housecleaning, I do not want to be remembered for the way I smell!  And so, I intentionally shower as soon as possible and take care of any offensive odor immediately.  When I was in my early teens, my mother took me aside and had “THE” talk with me which included a gift of a fragrant container of deodorant.  She explained that with my body changes would come issues of odor, and the importance of keeping myself clean and smelling pleasant.  That little talk has always remained with me in that I try to be very careful not to offend in any way, but especially in the way I smell.

Fragrance is a gift.  A good smell can be relaxing and welcoming.  A bad smell can repulse us and keep us away from whatever or whoever is causing the offense.  A friend once told me that her memories of Indiana was from one time when they were driving through and apparently it was spring and the fields had just been spread with manure.  That smell is part of my memory growing up there as well, but for me, growing up there I knew that it was a short-lived offensive smell that would produce some of the best crops grown anywhere and the sweetest sweet corn in the world.  But the important thing is that the smell is what triggers a memory in our hearts.

Such is our reflection of Christ by the ‘fragrance’ we give off (our behavior, actions, reactions, etc.).  Just as my grandson thinks of my home when he smells me, I want my actions to be the ‘aroma of Christ’ to those around me.  I’m far from perfect and have erred much in my lifetime, but I pray those things can be tucked away as I do the smell of manure on an Indiana field, and the resulting maturity and forgiveness in me be seen as a good thing, creating the very fragrance of Christ to the world around me.

I’m an admitted worrier.  Typically not about circumstances, but almost always about doing things wrong.  What if I hurt someone’s feelings?  What if I should have said…what if someone misunderstood my intentions?  What if what I said was understood to mean something entirely different than what I intended?  What if I should have done…?  What if, what if, what if???

And so, I have made a New Year’s resolution that I have every intention of keeping until it becomes my very lifestyle!  I want to learn to become a forgetter!  Oh, not the car keys and where I put my purse last, but things that I’ve done or said.  My nature is to worry and worry about the possibility of being misunderstood, or of unintentionally having hurt someone.  From now on, I’m leaving that in my Father’s hands!  God knows my heart, and finally I’m going to trust HIM with it!  I still have every intention of being careful of my words and actions, but then I’m letting go!  I will trust the results in God’s hands.  It might seem a bit naïve, but I know my God is capable of making good come from all that I say and do—especially when it’s done and said in His name!

Now this may seem like a no-brainer to you.  But for as long as I can remember, when I wake in the night I suddenly begin re-enacting the day just past, or sometimes things that are in the distant past, and wish I could re-do things I did, re-state things I said, even undo some of the actions I’ve committed.  But the fact is, I can’t!  And stewing about it only makes it bigger and puts wedges between me and others.  It makes me feel insecure and even worthless.

When I feel insecure and worthless, I am of no value to anyone.  I can’t think straight and I can’t and won’t do the things I should.  I just want to hide.  And so…I am refusing to re-think anything.  If I catch myself thinking of something I said or did I will remind myself that I’m forgiven and I plan to immediately put it out of my mind and think about something good that happened TO me.  I’m not even going to think about something good that I did, because that, also, begins to grow out of proportion and a good deed turns into vanity and self-righteousness and pride.  (Oh, Satan is SO subtle!)  No, my New Year’s resolution is to spend my thought-life on things I can do that will help, encourage or uplift, or on God and His goodness to me.  If my mind wanders into these negative waters that I know will quickly become deep and dangerous, I will intentionally change my thoughts.  It makes me think of Philippians 4:8 which says:  “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  If we could all put this verse into practice in our lives, a lot of psychiatrists would be out of work!

Yes, “Whatever a man thinks, that he becomes” is true and puts the ball in our own court.  It’s our choice!  Do we want to become maudlin and morose?  Or do we want to be happy and content?  For me, I choose the latter, and starting today, I’m taking control of my mind!  From now on I choose to be intentionally naïve!

The new year is well underway with scrubbed-white skies and mostly stark houses with the Christmas decorations tucked away for another year and gardens yet a dream to come.  Our house is still glowing with the Christmas just past still quite evident, and I loathe the very idea of putting the decorations away this year.  What has changed in me?

Thankfully, I still have one last Christmas tea happening here this afternoon, so I’ve a good reason to keep things ‘merry and bright’ around the house for a bit, but my heart knows the glow will have to go soon.

P1010979I have delightful memories of the merry season.  It has truly been just that for us with grandchildren-a-plenty delighting us with fun memories and lots of guests stopping in for a few hours or days, travels to unfamiliar places to exploP1010995re Christmas in history, and even an hour tucked here and there to sip a hot chocolate and rest and meditate on God’s greatest gift of all.

One of the very fun things that happened this year was a visit from some dear friends for a couple of days over New Year’s Eve P1010990and New Year’s day.  What fun it was for us to spend time with the Brandles, catching up on the past 6 years of their lives, enjoying their talents (Christina was actually my violin teacher in Upland, IN, and Stefan was our boys’ dearlyP1010999-loved computer professor at Taylor University), and simply praising God together for the years past and the years to come and for Who He is.

And so, this morning as I work around the house and feel the quiet once more surrounding me, I gather the warm memories together and cling to them with smiles.  I look at the glowing ChP1010985ristmas trees, the nativity, the greeting cards and pictures and know they must be tucked away soon, but the joy will last.  The memories will filP1010982l my soul with warmth and I’ll face the year ahead with anticipation of many more blessings to come.  God is SO good!

Just now as I listened to my Christmas station on Pandora while doing some desk work, I heard a song that I’ve heard many times, but apparently never really listened to the meaning behind the words.  Or maybe as we are expecting the birth of a granddaughter any moment, the very anticipation shaded the song a new color for me.  I believe the singer was Michael W. Smith, but I’m not even certain of that.  At any rate, the words that grabbed me were something like this:  “Go to sleep my…little one?”  Shoot!  I can’t even recall the exact words, but it was basically saying, “Go to sleep my little one and rest.  I know You are God Almighty, but for just this moment, just be my little baby.”

Suddenly I saw Mary in a whole new light.  Even though it makes a sweet song, the truth is that even for one moment as a newborn baby, Jesus was NEVER less than GOD!  He did not become God as He grew, or even on the cross.  He was never just an innocent tiny baby to be nurtured and loved as a normal child—not even for that moment.  How Mary must have ached with this knowledge.  He was never really hers to teach and to train and to love.  Yes, He was a child to be fed and clothed, but from the moment of conception He was different.  He was, and still is, GOD!

Every mother that holds her newborn child in her arms knows that precious being is filled with potential, even potential to change the world around it.  But Mary held her child knowing He would not only change the world and mankind, He had created the world!  I cannot fathom that.  And I wonder, did she know how much He would suffer?  Did she comprehend the sacrifice He would make?

Christmas has always been a joyful yet solemn day for me, but suddenly today it took on new meaning.  It’s as though my mother-heart has been filled with a new gift.  I suddenly don’t just enjoy and honor this day as the birthday of our Lord and Savior—it is also a day of honoring Mary’s huge sacrifice.

When Mary visited her relative, Elizabeth, she responded to Elizabeth’s greeting with these words:  “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.”  (Luke 1:46b-49 NIV)

My question is this:  Do we truly reverence Mary as the mother of God?  Do we give her the homage and honor she so deserves?  Are we calling her ‘blessed’?  I confess that I have been very lax in this area.  But as of today, that will change.  As I stand before my little crèche and see the representation of that holy night, I will thank God for Mary’s servant heart.  And pray that my own heart will be touched by hers.

Thank you, ‘blessed’ Mary!P1010917

As I sit toP1010915 write this little essay, I find myself being very hesitant to make myself this vulnerable.  But the Lord has been nudging me for a couple of weeks now and I have put it off for one reason or another and finally admit I will have no peace until it is said.  So if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to share my opinion—on the ‘Christmas Season issue’.

To me, Christmas is the MOST glorioP1010913us season and holiday of the whole year!  Yes, Easter is blessed and holy also, but none is as glorious as the birthday of our Savior and Lord.  Yes, I know that many people have exploited the Holy Day by encouraging us to change it into a Santa holiday, but…it’s our own choice to make it what WE want it to be.  I personally have never seen how Santa fits into it at P1010912all, so that little myth has no place in our family’s celebrations.  In fact, when our oldest son was a small child a lady pointed to a Santa figurine and said, “Look, Nathan!  Who’s that?”  My small son looked at the funny plump fellow in his furry red suit a bit, then looked at me and said, ‘Mommy, do I know that man?’  I have to admit that she and I were both a bit shocked at his ignorance, but it made me realize how unimportant the whole Santa concept is.  We’ve always enjoyed Christmas immensely, and Santa has no part of our celebration.P1010911

However, Christ does!  He’s what it’s all about.  And the point of this little article is this:  Why, oh why, do we feel it is so important to keep Christmas confined to a single day or week or even month?  Why do we feel we have to keep Thanksgiving and Christmas so segregated?  When I think of Thanksgiving, I absolutely LOVE that it is so close to Christmas that it can be combined into the Christmas season.  I know many godly folk want to make Thanksgiving a time of thanking God for our material blessings more than our spiritual ones, but not me!  Out of every gift God has ever given me, I am the most thankful for the gift of His Son!  And for forgiveness!  And for hope!  Yes, I’m thankful for my healthP1010910 and for food and for a roof over my head and many, many material things.  But I thank Him for all of those things every day of my life.  At Thanksgiving I like to center my thankfulness on the gift of His Son—and of salvation!

And because Christmas is such a very special part of our Thanksgiving, I love to have our home decked out as early in November as I can get to it!  While many are looking at dead leaves and rotting pumpkins, our home is glowing with the magical look of this most holy season.  And if it offends you, I’m truly sorry.  But if it helps you to understand those of us who have our homes lit up and glowing, then I’m truly glad!  Happy Thanksgiving and merry, merry Christmas to you all!P1010917