Thursday, March 31, 2011

When Right Seems Wrong

    I saw a very moving video this morning.  It was about a woman's collegiate softball player, who in her senior year, hit her first home run.  This Western Oregon player ran for first and missed touching the base.  She turned around to touch the pad but her right leg stayed in place.  She tore her ACL.  Crawling to the base, she hugged it, in obvious pain.  As everyone stared in disbelief, her coach asked the umpire if her teammates could help her.  He informed her that it would be a two run single.  The run would not count.
    Looking on, one of the opposing team asked if they would be allowed to help her.  The umpire told the Central Washington player that it would be allowed.  The opponent flagged a fellow member, and they picked up the injured ballplayer and carefully walked her around the bases.  They gently lowered her left leg down at each base, so her foot could touch the pad.  As the women looked up, they saw emotional tears throughout the ballfield.  The gallant teammates said that they helped their injured opponent, because she deserved it.  Central Washington lost the game that day by two points, yet the two helpful players were winners.  They helped their opponent acheive her goal of getting a home run.  They knew it was the right thing to do.
     The right thing to do.  How often have we heard those words?  "Do the right thing, Do what's right".  We grow up hearing those words of wisdom.  At times it is easier to do when we are alone. Yet, when we are with others, the decision can be more difficult.  If  'the right thing' is contrary to popular belief, that can pose a dilemma.  We don't want to look odd or different.  If we are in a large group, we can risk the anger of the whole assembly. 
     The young ballplayer that took it upon herself to volunteer to help her opposing teammate, risked the ire of her whole team.  She didn't call a meeting of the entire squad to discuss what should be done.  She consulted the umpire, and then marched over to the injured player.  She knew in her heart what she had to do.  We should take heed to her example.  
     Harper Lee, in To Kill A Mockingbird, stated "Before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself.  The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."   That still small voice inside the athlete that probed her what to do, encourages us to do the same.  Something that doesn't make sense in the face of public opinion, many times could be the correct choice.  
     While the world teaches us to look out for ourselves, God tells us to do the opposite.  Righteous is defined as "characterized by uprightness or morality".  It is used 238 times in the Bible.  Righteousness is used 302 times.  God clearly deemed 'the right thing' as important.  The Ten Commandments are based on righteousness.  They are the Heavenly Father's guidelines for us to live a morally upright and blessed life.  The first four commandments deal with our relationship to God, and the next six direct us how to interact with our fellow men and women. 
     What are some of the circumstances in which we must choose to do the right thing?  Perhaps it could be loving the unlovable.  It could be someone that others refer to as "weird" or "odd".  Maybe the majority think this person is strange and do not want to waste time trying to befriend them.  You could be the person that God has chosen to love them unconditionally.  You could be the one that holds the key to unbolting the shackles of their locked and lonely world.  Everyone needs to be loved.  Don't close your heart to the possibilities.
     You may find yourself in a situation where you differ from the majority in a morality dispute.  The idea that "everyone does it" can be found almost anywhere.  It takes great courage to stand in the face of 'majority rules' and stick up for what is the right thing to do.  Will others look at you as eccentric?  Probably.  But that is the risk that we all take in order to live upright lives.  It is more important on how we look to God...and to the man or woman in the mirror. 
     For at the end of the day, whether or not we live with another person, we don't live alone.  We have to live with ourselves.  We have to look within ourselves every day and determine if we have lived that day to the best of our ability.  Did the choices we make please God...or please the majority?  Did we change something in the world for good or help it to stay the same?   As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "The time is always right to do what is right".

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Things That We Think


I was thinking....  What does it mean to 'think'?  The dictionary definition of the word is 'to have a certain thing as the subject of one's thoughts.'.  What is the subject of YOUR thoughts? 

We think of countless things in a an hour...even a minute.  What do we choose to think of?  Many times it is our day's activities, or projects we are working on.  We think of our loved ones and remember times we have had with them.  At times our thoughts are so intense that they keep us up at night...ruminating around in our brain, until sleep is impossible.

At times our thoughts are not so nice.  We remember individuals that have hurt us...deep wounds that will not heal.  We think of situations in which we didn't make the best choices, and fret about what may have happened had we not made them...the dreaded what if's.  What if I hadn't said this, or done that?  Would the outcome be different if I had done this or that?  You can be overcome by your  rationalizing...even to the point of addiction.

God knew that we would have a tendency to be controlled by our thoughts. What do we do when our brainwaves are consuming our lives?   He gave us a solution, right in His Word.      

Phillippians 4:8 

  Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

He tells us to think on things that are true and honest.  Things that are factual and real.  This can be a problem, as at times our perception of reality can become warped.  We need to look at the facts of a situation and not embellish or add onto the reality with our imagination.

God tells us to think of things that are just.  That means to be guided by truth, reason and fairness.  To look at all sides of a situation...not just one.  If too much pressure is applied to one side of a straight board it can become warped.  In the same way, when we lean too heavy on one perspective, at times our thinking can become distorted.

Think on things that are pure and lovely. Things that are untainted with evil, free of contamination.  Are my meditations contaminated with ugliness?  It only takes a small amount of poison to contaminate a lake or river.  It only takes a tiny distorted notion to contaminate one's thinking pattern.  If something is lovely, it is free from unpleasantness or hatefulness.  That can be a very hard area to stay away from.  Bitter thoughts can tend to grow like crabgrass in our brains.  They can overtake us, as weeds do to a garden.  We have to be vigilant in snatching them up and out of our thought patterns as soon as they begin to creep in.

Whatsoever things are of good report refers to admirable, positive things.  This statement probes us to focus on the good things that are happening in our lives and the lives of our friends and loved ones.  Very few people have NO positive things that happen to them.  Sometimes you may have to look a little closer, but when you do, you can usually find something in your life that will bring you joy.  Speaking of joy, many people have a misconception about what joy is.   It is not being giddily happy all of the time, and ignoring the tragedy and strife that comes our way. To be joyful means that you know that despite the outward appearance of your circumstances, you have peace and contentment in Who holds the answer to your difficulty.

If there be any virture and if there be any praise, think on these things.  I believe this section encourages us to look for the good aspects of a situation or person.  Look for something to praise someone for.  It is so easy to see the wrong that people do, what they didn't do right.  Look how easy it is for us to see the negative parts of ourselves and what we could have done better. I believe God wants us to focus on the 'right' things that others do.  To look at the good possibilities of unexpected situations.  Now obviously, there are some incidents that are devastating and beyond comprehension.  I'm not talking about those situations.  I'm speaking of the day to day occurances and interactions with people.

Is all of this possible? From personal experience, I believe it is.  People have called me if I don't see the bad part of circumstances or people.  That's not true at all.  I DO see the negative side of people and things...but I CHOOSE not to make that my focus.  For the most part, I CHOOSE to look for the positive aspect of a situation, and the good in people.  It isn't always easy, and I do fail on occasion, but I keep trying.  Some people may find that strange, but for the most part, that outlook has made me a happy person.  It is a habit that I've gotten into, and now it is an automatic response.  If someone says something a little 'off' to me, I don't automatically take it personally, thinking they are secretly trying to hurt me.  I just ignore it.  If someone is having a bad day and wants to start an argument, I keep my mouth shut.  They can't argue by themselves...and it saves future hurt from someone saying something they shouldn't. Does that mean that I let people run over me?  No.  I stick up for myself, but will not stand and argue endlessly with someone who has a different opinion or idea.  Their opinion is just as important to them, as mine is to me.  It's more of a matter of respect.  All scripture is present for a reason.  I think God placed these verses there to help us learn how to be joyful and happy Christians despite our outward circumstances.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Time of Our Lives


Ecclesiastes 3

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Our lives are composed of a series of times. They are gifts from God. As someone wisely said, what we do with them is our gift to God.

You never know how the Lord is going to use the circumstances in your life to bless someone, and stretch you at the same time. You never know when you get married, what God will ask of you and your spouse…what sacrifice He will ask you to make as a couple. Steve and I have found this out, in the last few months.

In October, Steve’s step dad, Toliver had to have double bypass surgery on his heart. A few days afterward, he had a major stroke, and was put on life support. Although presently improved, he still has a feeding tube and is in a rehab center. When Toliver went into the hospital, Steve went to stay with his mother. He didn’t realize at the time, that it was going to be more than a short stay.

His mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s, severe dementia and other health issues. I first noticed the extent of the forgetfulness a year ago, Thanksgiving when she came in the kitchen to help before dinner. I suggested she make her beloved mashed potatoes, and she had a hard time remembering how to make them. Things began to slowly go downhill over the next year, and by this past Thanksgiving, she was a totally different person. One that barely remembered who people were, and sat quietly talking to herself. It was so sad. This was a woman who knew her Bible inside and out, reduced to not remembering why she was in church…calling it “school” . This was a woman who was the church pianist for decades, now plunking away at notes that did not coincide. She was very afraid, and could not be left alone.
Then came the task of finding a caregiver.

His mother would not live with any of her children. We knew that would not be an option. Steve’s brothers have had major health issues in the last few years, and because of that and distance, they could not physically help out, but they were wonderful emotional support. Steve’s sister’s spouse was infirmed, so she could not give her full time care. Steve took on the role of caregiver for his mother and as representative for Toliver. He has been self employed for quite a while, and in the past couple of years, the jobs have been few and far between. We have wondered why God didn’t provide full time employment for him. Now we knew why. God needed him to fulfill another job.

At the end of November, Steve moved into his mother’s home. Most of the time he was able to come home for a couple of hours a day to see me, while his sister stayed with their mom. Usually, he was able to sleep at home one or two nights a week, then went back to his mother’s the next morning. During those evenings, his sister had to leave her sick husband to come and stay with their mom. Between the two of them, they did a remarkable job in caring for her.

This was a very difficult thing for Steve, on many levels. He, like a lot of men, is not exactly a caregiver at heart. This was a major stretch for him. It was also not easy for him to be away from me. In most cases, the longer two people are married, the more they do become connected…become one. For us to be apart was not an easy thing, for either of us. Yet, God used that time to reinforce our bond as husband and wife, and we became closer than ever.

Many people would not have tolerated living apart from their spouse. I hear young people all of the time stating what they will put up with and what they won’t, from their mates. It seems to be all about them. I’m not talking about serious issues, like infidelity, or abuse, but little, insignificant things. The vows to love, honor and cherish, involve thinking of what is best for the other person. That’s one reason why it was so difficult for Steve to be away from home. It was so hard for him to know that I was home alone at night. He worried about me, as my health has not been that good over the past few months. He wanted to be home, yet he knew his mother needed him. On my part, I knew that this was something that Steve had to do. It was not about me. I had to focus on what he needed…what I could do to support him.
Emotionally, he needed to be able to see me when he could. Since his time at home was not always predetermined, I made him my priority and kept my calendar free from activities and outings.
Was it easy on either of us? No. But life is never easy for anyone. Would we change any decisions we made? No. We knew we did what God would have us do.

As time passed, the dementia got worse, and his mom began having more health problems. This took a major toll on both Steve and his sister. They kept putting off the inevitable until they had exhausted themselves physically, mentally and emotionally. Eventually, she had to be taken to a facility where she could best be ministered to. That was the most difficult decision that Steve and his siblings had to make, but they did so out of love for their mom. I admire all of them for their trust in God for strength, and their reliance on each other for support. They should feel no regrets.

I appreciate Steve, for he did what the Bible says...he honored his mother.
Exodus 20:12 "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. 

He took care of her, and with the Lord's help, he did something that didn't come naturally to him.  This was also a wonderful example to our two sons, of the importance of parental devotion.

When I was younger, I anticipated the different times of my life…the joy of being married and having children. I knew that some day we would face the infirmities of old age and retirement, but didn’t think too much of the in between years. I didn’t contemplate the intricacies of taking care of our parents at an older age. My parents passed away when I was fairly young…both parents were gone before I was 35. I think we normally go through this time of our life when we are middle aged for a reason. As we get older, we begin to feel the fingers of time creep up on our bodies. Mortality begins to sneak into our minds a bit more, as we begin to taste the appetizers of aging. We can see clearer, the closer we are to a situation. We realize that at some point, that that will be us in that vulnerable position; that will be us, who will look for mercy, kindness and understanding from others.

Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.


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