Spark of friendship


A sweet friendship refreshes the soul.
~Proverbs 27:9

Last Wednesday, Entrepreneur was scheduled for another set of CT scans to monitor the renal cell cancer spots in his lungs. While many friends are aware of the anxiety that always builds up to these appointments, one friend took their support a bit further.

No one is definitively claiming authorship of the mini mural that appeared at the end of my driveway Wednesday morning, but I have a good idea who the artist is. And, I love her for it. She is truly a sparkly person that dispels darkness wherever she goes.

I purposely didn’t crop out anything out of this photo or “pretty it up” in any way. I think the juxtaposition between the beauty of the chalk drawing and message with the raw reality of the concrete, asphalt and winter scruff makes the point quite well.

Playing along with Sparks and Awww……Monday. Annie’s Sparks philosophy is very simple.

The negative energy of the world has become thick and oppressive. Social media has become a part of this dare, negative storm. There is an obvious, universal need for more positive energy and peace. And, we can be a part of this affirmative change.

I believe we are meant to be lights in this world. If we allow our light to shine, we can see where we are going. It is then that we can begin to truly see each other clearly. There is hope. Together, we can light up the entire world!

 

Sandee’s Awww…..Monday is a simple blog hop where all that’s needed is a photo that makes the viewer say “awwwwwww.” How easy is that?

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An unlikely hero

Last week, while in Branson, we took in a theatre production at Sight and Sound Theatre. The shows are impeccably produced with special effects and talent that is off the charts. This show was about Samson….you know….the Samson of Samson and Delilah…the Samson with the long locks that gave him superhero strength. But, the story of Samson is so much more than that little biblical snippet.

The story of Samson doesn’t get much press in Sunday School. And when it does, his Herculean strength is what is highlighted. He’s not one the bible’s greatest hits like Abraham, Moses or David. Even though David’s life was full of screw ups, he is revered as a Jewish and Christian patriarch. Samson…..well, he could be the poster child for under achievement and a total lack of self-discipline. But his story is filled with redemption and grace even though there’s no happily-ever-after ending.

Born into slavery, Samson is a Hebrew living under Philistines control. The cultures were at odds with the Israelites trying to live to honor God and the Philistines living to worship pagan idols and indulge in anything that strikes their fancy. And, on top of that, God tells Samson’s mom before he’s born that he must follow the Nazarite Vow, which further separates him because he is not allowed to cut his hair, eat grapes, drink wine or touch a dead body. This makes him the object of much ridicule among the Philistines. Oh, and one more thing, God tells mom Samson is going to free the Hebrews from slavery from the Philistines. In return, God blesses him with strength beyond measure.

Samson doesn’t handle any of this very well. He’s called a girl because of his long hair. That is, until a display of super-human strength causes their jaws to drop to the floor. And, from that point on, the Philistine rulers plot everything from murder to turning him into their greatest weapon of mass destruction.

Samson never seems to embrace his calling…only wanting to live under the radar and do the bare minimum to get by. And he has quite the eye for the ladies….specifically beautiful ladies outside of his faith. Despite superhuman, physical strength, Samson battles temptations and enemies both inside and outside his body. By the time he is middle age, even though he is honored as an Israelite judge and rules for 20 years, he is considered uncontrollable and possibly beyond redemption. Hardly the ideal role model.

Enter Delilah, from the valley of Sorek, which in Hebrew means vineyard valley. Perfect. As a woman without a husband or tribe, she is on her own…making her receptive to opportunities for economic freedom. When approached by the Philistine rulers, she agrees to find out the source of Samson’s superpower strength….in return for monetary compensation, of course.

As every good Sunday Schooler knows, Delilah succeeds and Samson’s hair is cut, his his strength leaves, and he is finally captured by the Philistines. His head is shaved and, just for good measure, his captors gouge out his eyes, compounding his vulnerability by making him blind. He’s chained and forced to push a grain grinder in a circle all day, every until……

The Philistine rulers organize a huge celebration to honor their god of fertility, Dagon. And, as with any good party, the adult beverages flow freely. Three thousand Philistines party and praise their gods for delivering their enemy, Samson, to them. And soon Samson is summoned into the temple for their amusement.

Enter Samson. He’s placed between two main pillars of the temple. He’s blind…but no longer bald. As he takes his place between the pillars, he cries out for God’s mercy to restore his strength one last time. Knowing he will die when he brings down the house, he accepts his destiny and embraces his sacrifice with humility. God complies. Prophesy fulfilled.

Points to ponder with this story:
• God is using each of us in ways that may not be obvious to ourselves or others. Samson’s destiny was to free the Israelites from the Philistines. While I’m sure everyone  thought this would be accomplished differently, God’s plan served more than one purpose. The consequences of Samson’s bad decisions placed him in the temple at the perfect time. If he had not been vanquished and captured, the Philistine rulers would not have been destroyed.
• Like with the Nazarite Vow, those who follow God are called to live within their culture, but to live lives separate from things at odds with what God deems as good. Samson didn’t do this well…and, if we’re being honest, neither do we. Our lives are contradictions between how we’re suppose to live and how we actually live.
• Samson’s disobedience resulted in him trudging in circles, pushing a heavy burden. Much like how giving in to temptations can take over, and our lives become a vicious circle of bad decisions.
• Similarly, we can become blind to our sin in today’s anything-goes culture. Many decisions in Samson’s life were made by what his eyes saw at that moment, overpowering better judgement. In the end, although Samson was blind, he could clearly see what he needed to do.
• Samson’s story explains the phenomena of God’s decisions to use tragically flawed people in powerful ways. Despite his anger issues, selfishness, carnal weakness for women, and out-and-out defiance to observe his Nazarite Vow, God did not abandon him. Instead, God came to him when he was the weakest and, in grace, strengthened him to accomplish what God had intended all along.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
~2 Corinthians 12:9

My One Word for 2018

In 2015, I began choosing My One Word for the year as a replacement for coming up with New Year’s resolutions. The goal is to help my attitude and attention focus on an aspect for my life moving forward into the new year. Doing it this way, instead of focusing on changing past behaviors, allows me to grow as a person and, hopefully, be better for the effort.

One Word for 2015: Fearless: This was the year after Entrepreneur was diagnosed with renal cell cancer. Overall, I think I’m stronger in the face of this challenge by focusing on trying to be less fearful of the future.

One Word for 2016: Present:  This was the year I wanted to focus more on being present with my grandbabykins and family without the distraction of social media. There were mixed results, but I’m more conscious now of how much time my eyes are focused downward instead of outward.

One Word for 2017: Joy:  I would have to chalk this one up to a FAIL. I tried. I really did. But Joy was elusive to me last year. Similar to 2014, Entrepreneur’s cancer manifested itself as a brain tumor in February. After surgery on Valentine’s Day, the rest of the year was spent trying to overcome the deficits that come along with brain surgery. Bells Palsy set in around April after radiation treatments. He started oral chemotherapy and the side effects have been rough. I did try to be open to moments where I felt a sense of Joy but they were few and far between…and maybe somewhat nonexistent. While 2017 did have some happy moments, I’m afraid I lost my Joy in the middle of the muck.

So, here I am…going into 2018 ready to focus my attention and attitude on another word. It’s a word I desperately need to focus upon in order to find last year’s lost Joy. And that word is:

Shalom

To many, Shalom simply means peace….or an absence of hostility. Honestly, I’d be good with less life hostilities.

But, what is peace? To those governing countries, it’s no other country trying to wage war against them. To parents, it’s the quiet that happens when children are not actively destroying the house. To others, it’s an absence of anxiety and worry. And still to others, it’s simply having peace of mind about a situation or circumstance.

Lasting peace is fleeting. There will always be war between countries somewhere in the world, The quiet, family household will always, once again, erupt in the noises of children. Worry and anxiety will always creep into our minds, destroying any “peace” of mind that might have been present.

True peace is fleeting when it’s dependent on us. Shalom has a much deeper meaning. Biblical Shalom is a deep sense of completeness or wholeness that settles our souls. It’s a feeling of contentment and harmony that transcends the circumstances of our lives. This kind of lasting peace, or shalom…wholeness, completeness and harmony…can only come from God.

The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: “The LORD bless you, and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.” ‘
~Numbers 6:22-26

When God spoke these words to Moses, he wanted him to understand there would be an inner peace and completeness only when they trusted in God’s protection, and had an understanding that He was in control, regardless of the circumstances.

Peace is dependent on the absence of something and is always fragmented. Shalom is more all-encompassing and lasting. It’s a positive force, not dependent on the absence of anything. It’s the gold standard of contentment in the middle of chaos, anger and despair.

For me, there is only one way to true shalom in my life. And, sadly, I tend to forget to trust in the One who is able to provide that for me. I tend to worry and be anxious about situations beyond my control. I run worst-case scenarios in my head when circumstances get dicey. My state of mind is as far from shalom as one can get.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
~Isaiah 26:3-4

This is my focus for 2018. Shalom is my goal through trust in the Prince of Peace, Jesus.

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation…
~Ephesians 2:14

I wish nothing but the best for each and every one of you in 2018. Prosperity, good fortune and blessings, but most of all….Shalom!

The reality of Christmas

We Christians do Christmas extremely well. We’re all about the decorating, shopping, family gatherings, singing carols. In fact, we’ve romanticized Christmas to the point where the reality of it may be a little unrecognizable.

Let me take you back….waaaay back. Back to about 3-4 BC (around the actual date of Christ’s birth) and let’s look at reality.

Meet Mary; a young woman betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter. Probably an arranged marriage between this young woman and an older man of means. In the middle of wedding preparations, God sends an angel to tell her she is going to have a baby….before the wedding….and Joseph will not be the biological father. Engaged, unwed and pregnant during this time would have been a death sentence for adultery. Even though an angel eventually revealed God’s plan to Joseph, the damage would have been done to both their reputations as well as their families. Ridicule and scorn would have followed during the pregnancy and after the birth. Their life plans derailed. Their futures uncertain. But, Mary and Joseph believed in God’s prophesy to bring the promised Messiah. Their faith in God’s promise and trust in his plan over their own plans sustained them during this time of crisis and chaos.

The blessed event was probably not the sweet baby Jesus, cooing in a manger surrounded by halos of peace and joy. A very pregnant Mary and nervous Joseph arrive in the obscure Judean outpost of Bethlehem for the census to find they have no place to stay. Offered a room or area where animals are housed, Mary begins the very messy process of birthing a baby. In very unsanitary, smelly conditions….surrounded by sheep, goats, maybe a few cows and chickens, the Messiah enters the world. He arrives after 400 years of God’s silence in anything but a silent night.

And we really can’t have Christmas without shepherds and angels, right? But why shepherds? This occupation was considered one of the lowest form of employment. Because they tended the flock 24/7, they probably weren’t frequent temple attendees. They held no value in the culture except to take care of sheep…specifically the lambs used in sacrificial offerings in the temple. And, the very last thing they expected to see while in the field was the sudden, unannounced appearance of beings from another realm in the sky. Startled, terrified and confused might have been words used to describe their reaction. God announced to these men tending the sacrificial lambs the divine message of the birth of the ultimate Lamb to be sacrificed. But, given their social status, who was going to believe them?

The messiness of a livestock shelter and a feeding trough. Wealth and means were nowhere in sight. No, it was dirty and crude. Just the way it was supposed to be.

And now we get to the Magi. We’ve elevated them to “kings,” but in reality, they were men knowledgable in the sciences of that era, astrology and astronomy. Magi were common in the court of kings to interpret dreams and provide “wisdom” based on their knowledge of the stars and universe. Their understanding of prophesy would have been second hand at best, yet there’s the possibility ancient magi were trained under Daniel during his captivity in Babylon. As a prisoner, Daniel came to serve under the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (605–562 B.C.) when he offered to interpret the king’s nightmare. Impressed, the king made him “chief of the magi”….where he would have had opportunity to share the prophesies of Jehovah. And, that training would have been passed down through the centuries within the magi trained by a servant of God. These prophesies would have been coupled with their understanding of the stars and geography of the region. Their arrival may have been days or a couple of years after Jesus’ birth. This is unknown. But they did seek to find him.

Disrespected shepherds and pagan astrologers who may have came to know the God of Israel. These were the Messiah’s first recorded visitors. Not exactly the cream of the crop of nobility and influence.

Don’t get me wrong. I love all things Christmas. I love the sparkly lights, Christmas trees, carols, decorating, gift giving….the whole nine yards!

But, perhaps our love affair with Christmas should be less about sparkly lights and tinsel, and more about the reality that God used the bare minimum of accommodations….the lowest and most disenfranchised of witnesses….unexpected types of “wise” men…to announce to the world that this king would be unlike any they’ve ever seen on every level.

May you have the light and hope of Christmas in your heart today and always.

 

Dear Granddaughter…..

In September, we celebrated Peanut’s 9th birthday. NINE! It’s hard to comprehend it was nine years ago I was promoted to being a Nana. A lot has been packed into those nine years…sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago she was placed in my arms, but at other times, nine years seems to have flown by at warp speed.

I put together Peanut’s school photos from Pre-K to her current 3rd grade shot. While they are not drastically different, the person behind the face has transformed in hundreds of ways in just nine short years.

Since time is a fleeting illusion, I want to take a few moments and pass on some Nana wisdom to my first grandbabykin.

Dear Peanut,

You have always been and always will be loved. I loved you before you were even put in my arms as a swaddled baby burrito. That is not to say you don’t do unloveable things….and I may not like you at times….but I always love you and will always be here for you. You can bet on that and be sure to win every time.

To steal a line from the 2016 Cinderella remake, Be kind and have courage. Both are difficult to do. Kindness may be becoming a lost art in our “me first” culture. It takes a lot of work to be kind to people, especially when you don’t like them, are mad at them, or see them as different from you. Extending kindness to family members is sometimes especially hard because there are times we make more of an effort to be nice to people outside our family and save the worst for those closest to us…who love us always!

Have courage. It’s scary to try new things. It’s scary to step out of our comfort zones in the way we think and act. I know this from experience. it was scary moving to a new house and school when I was in 3rd grade. It was scary to move to a new town after Papa and I got married….a town where I didn’t know anyone. It was scary when Papa and I moved to Columbia…a town where I didn’t know anyone either. It was really scary when Papa was told he had cancer. It’s also scary to do the right thing when you think others will look at you differently or not like you anymore. This is especially hard when your friends are doing things you know aren’t right, but you want them to like you so you’re tempted to do those things anyway. Don’t. Have the courage to stand up for what’s right.

Keep your faith strong. So many people walk away from their beliefs when they get older, thinking faith is something only for children. Our culture doesn’t encourage strong faith in God. It does encourage strong faith in doing whatever we think will make us happy…or is convenient…or easy. Being an authentic Christian is hard work. It requires we believe and do the right things even when we don’t understand or see the reason. Many times you will be tempted to not make your faith a priority in your life. But, dearest Peanut, your faith will sustain you in those scary moments when the storms of life roll in and tear your life to pieces.

Trust. Trust those of us who love you that the things we do are to help grow you into someone others will respect; someone YOU can respect. Growing up is hard, and there are many times when you’ll think you know what’s best….but you won’t. I ask you trust even when you don’t agree; even when you don’t understand. It’s related to believing and trusting God has a plan for your life….a good plan….even though many times you’ll feel like you don’t agree or don’t understand why things are happening the way they are.

Love yourself. Not in a narcissistic way, but love yourself as a person of worth. It’s easy to feel like we can never measure up to our culture’s ideas and expectations. I want you to always love who you are, flaws and all. That is NOT to say you shouldn’t try to change areas of your life that need improvement. And, this is not reason to excuse bad attitudes or behavior. You are a child of the King….who loves you unconditionally. If you can love your imperfect self, you can love others despite their imperfections too.

Peanut, you are strong-willed and incredibly talented in many areas. I encourage you to use that strong will and those talents in positive, constructive ways…and never be ashamed of the things you have accomplished and will accomplish in the future.

In the years to come, you will face many challenges and ride the roller coaster of emotions. I hope by keeping these things in mind, life will be a bit smoother….for everyone involved!

Love always,
Nana

 

Beautiful Coincidence

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above[a] proclaims his handiwork.
Psalm 19:1

Eclipse 2017 is on the books. For most of the country, it was a celestial event that won’t soon be forgotten; an event many of us may not ever see again in our lifetime.

So how special was it, really?

Yes, it was an event that doesn’t happen every day, although an eclipse of some sort happens in our world more often than we realize. But every time it happens, people stand in awe. Astronomers and those with more knowledge than I say the moon is traveling away from the earth and in a few million years, earth probably will not even have the type of total solar eclipse we just saw because the moon and sun will not be perfectly aligned in size.

But for now, what are the odds of the moon and sun appearing nearly the same size from earth’s perspective? There are mathematical calculations that have to do with angular size that are far above my pay grade, but they explain the coincidence of how the moon can appear to be the same size when calculating angular size in relation to distance from the sun.

To further make your brain hurt is the statistic that the sun’s diameter is about 400 times larger than that of the moon. Add to that, the sun is about 400 times farther away from the moon. This results in the sun and moon appearing nearly the same size as we stand on earth and view into the heavens; which is why we are privileged to periodically witness a total eclipse of the sun.

The closest comparison of what we experienced yesterday may be duplicated on Saturn with one of its moons, Titan. I’m not sure that counts, as no one can stand on Saturn. Earth is the only known planet where living beings are able to enjoy this type of celestial display.

A beautiful coincidence?

Guess that depends on what worldview a person holds. Personally, I don’t believe in coincidence when viewed as events or discoveries that seemingly happen completely at random. And, I’m not talking about the person sitting beside you who is wearing a hat, or watch or the same kind of shoes. I’m talking about “coincidence” on a much larger scale. There is a magnificent order to things in the universe, our world and within each of our bodies. And, I believe, that is by design.

God is not susceptible to proofs and disproofs. If you believe, the evidence is all around you. If you don’t believe, no evidence can be enough. 
~Andrew Klavan, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ

Yesterday’s event was jaw-dropping awesome. Unless I travel, I will probably not be privy to another one that can be witnessed close to where I live. For me, I’ll be eternally thankful that the God who set these mathematical specifications in place did so on the only planet known to humankind that could actually enjoy it.

Beautiful coincidence.

Playing along with others over at Peabea’s Pictorial Tuesday.

Why I wear a cross

Do you wear a cross necklace? If not, you probably know someone who does. Do you ever wonder why?

I’m not going to debate whether a cross is a pagan symbol for various Sun-deities. Nor, am I going to debate whether Christians should or shouldn’t wear a cross. I’m also not going to debate whether Jesus was crucified on a “cross” or a “stake.” A case can be made for the later from some Greek translations of the New Testament, but that’s splitting hairs and we’re not going there.

It’s true, the cross symbol predates Christianity centuries before Jesus was crucified. It wasn’t until around 430AD that crosses began to be seen in churches. Over the centuries, this symbol has been both celebrated and perverted by religions worldwide.

In today’s culture I believe the cross has been domesticated…tamed to the point of being irrelevant. It appears on so many things, and its original intent (pagan or sacred) has been largely lost in translation. We see celebrities and athletes adorn themselves with crosses….sometimes in numbers that would cause drowning if they ever fell into deep water. They must be super religious, right?

I have a small cross I wear pretty much 24/7, but not as a fashion statement or good luck talisman that protects me from bad juju. There are no special powers about this piece of gold. I don’t pray to it or worship it in any way.

Soooooo, why do I wear it, you might wonder? After all, a cross or crucifix is representative of one of the most horrific methods of execution known to humankind. History states it was probably the Assyrians and Babylonians who originated this method of torture; but it was the Romans who perfected the art around the first century. It was so torturous that, by decree except in cases of treason, it was rarely used on Roman citizens.

According to Britannica.com:

Usually, the condemned man, after being whipped, or “scourged,” dragged the crossbeam of his cross to the place of punishment, where the upright shaft was already fixed in the ground. Stripped of his clothing, he was bound fast with outstretched arms to the crossbeam or nailed firmly to it through the wrists. The crossbeam was then raised high against the upright shaft …. Next, the feet were tightly bound or nailed to the upright shaft. A ledge inserted about halfway up the upright shaft gave some support to the body. Over the criminal’s head was placed a notice stating his name and his crime. Death ultimately occurred through a combination of constrained blood circulation, organ failure, and asphyxiation as the body strained under its own weight. It could be hastened by shattering the legs with an iron club, which prevented them from supporting the body’s weight and made inhalation more difficult, accelerating both asphyxiation and shock.

If the sacrificial death of Jesus was needed to redeem and reconcile humankind back to its creator, there surely were less gruesome ways other than crucifixion to make that happen; surely there were quicker methods that would have accomplished this atonement. Why so much brutality? Why so much savagery? Why death on a cross?

What’s missing from our 21st century view of the cross is exactly that….the raw realization of that brutality and savagery Jesus experienced….for his creation. Why did Jesus, the incarnate God, choose to suffer to this extent at the hands of evil? Why…since at any point he could have stopped all of it by simply stepping down off the cross…did  he voluntarily endure six hours of pain, broken bones, thorns pressed into his head, and eventual suffocation of his human form? Would blood from a finger prick make the same statement? It surely could have sufficed for a blood offering. How about a quick spear through the heart? Surely that would have been preferable to six hours of agony.

Which makes this historical event all the more an epiphany moment for me. The cross is representative of both darkest evil and radiating goodness. It’s message is one of both humble surrender and powerful victory. For six hours, evil was unleashed and allowed to do its damnedest against God the Son. And in the end, it appears evil was successful in silencing both Jesus and the movement.

Until three days later when the seemingly impossible happened. Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection are the perfect bookends to show his sovereign power over sin and death. And, the fact that so many people witnessed and encountered the risen Christ after the fact makes this seemingly impossible event all the more relevant. The authority of the empty tomb trumped the agony and savagery of the cross. It was the ultimate statement that evil did not, could not and will not win in the end. And, that is why this “movement” exploded during the centuries that followed. Too many people witnessed the impossible and Christianity became impossible to stop, despite continued torture and crucifixion of its followers.

That symbol of torture is my reminder of hope; it’s my reminder of how much pain Jesus suffered for my sake; a reminder of how much my life means to God.

A finger prick could never mean as much.

Playing along with others over at Peabea’s Pictorial Tuesday.