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 wold 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!

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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.

Am I the storm?

Fate whispers to the warrior,
“you cannot withstand the storm.”
The warrior whispers back,
“I am the storm.”

~Unknown

When I came across this quote, it really struck me as a powerful way to combat the fear, doubt, worry, anxiety and sheet exhaustion that goes along with the battle with cancer. While I’m not the one with the horrid disease, when cancer strikes, it affects the entire family. So to read this quote seem like it would be empowering, right? We look fate square in the eye, lean in close and, with an antagonistic smirk, declare we are the storm.

I don’t know about you, but left to my own capabilities, I am anything but the storm. In fact, left on my own, I tend to struggle to stay afloat in the pity puddle created through worry, fear and anxiety. And closely related to those are the ugly cousins of resentment, irritation and impatience.

Left on my own, this is more what I tend to do.
I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and tempest. ~Psalm 55:8

No, as much as I would like to identify as a warrior who can confidently take on what may be considered the lies of Fate (or the Devil in some quote variations), I cannot do it alone. I am wonderful at talking the talk, but sometimes walking the walk is a completely different story.

I need the rest of the army….and let’s throw in some marines, navy seals and air force fighter pilots as well. And let’s make sure the commander is one worthy of taking on the brewing storm.

Your right hand, O LORD, is majestic in power, Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy. ~Exodus 15:6

That ideal Commander-in-Chief would be the one who not only has the power to create the storm, but the one who also is sovereign over the storm.

And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. ~Matthew 8:24-26

And that army of warriors? Those would be everyone who has come to our aid in prayer. And, we have awesome prayer warriors…from here in our church to across the country…and jumping across the pond as well. Without these intercessions, I assure you we would be feeling more overwhelmed and lost than we already feel now.

Some days I feel strong and fearless in the eye of the storm. But then there are the days when I feel like a single drop just might drown me. Lately, some complications have arisen that are testing both our patience and resolve. And, I can confidently say I’m somewhat terrified. And, there are many nights after he’s asleep where I find myself feeling overwhelmingly sad that there’s a chance all the plans we’ve made for the future just might never happen.

So, am I the storm? Not hardly. But when I’m aligned with the one who created and has the power to calm the storm…and with those who know how to use the powerful weapon of prayer…and the mere mortals in whose hands we put our health care….

…we can become the perfect reciprocal storm.

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

Might have been bad timing….or not?

Can you believe I chose “Joy” as my One Word for 2017?

Joy. Really?

When I picked this word back in January, my crystal ball was evidently malfunctioning. For who in their right mind would choose Joy knowing their husband would be facing brain surgery in a month and a half? How in the world is one to be able to pay attention to Joy in the middle of crisis and chaos?

I had good intentions choosing Joy for my word this year. Yep, those good intentions were to try to see moments of Joy around me. But it’s oh so much easier to notice Joy when life is beautifully smooth, isn’t it?

Joy seems more elusive when we’re weary with one challenge after another. It’s hard to see the Joy in life when we’re up to our eyeballs in worry and anxiety. Choose Joy is a phrase batted around by those trying to offer help for people facing hopelessness, despair and uncertainty. Like “choosing” joy is as easy as choosing which pair of shoes to wear…or choosing what to order for dinner.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. ~Matthew 6:34

Isn’t that the truth.

Back in January, it was so easy to write that Joy doesn’t come from a worry-free, prosperity-filled life. In a more self-reflective moment, I wrote this:

I believe Joy is something felt deep in the soul. Something apart from the temporary warm fuzzies of pleasure and happiness. It’s something intangible that grounds the mind, despite the circumstance. Joy settles deep in the heart and soul, creating peace and a strength that makes a person feel they can endure the worst life will throw.

Very profound if I do say so myself. I just don’t know how well I’m doing in this department while in the middle of these “circumstances,” which are hard and more than little overwhelming at times. Left on my own, I don’t feel anything has settled in my heart except mental exhaustion, much less peace and strength.

But there I go again, confusing Joy with Happiness.

I have discovered my hindsight is working fairly well. In hindsight, I’m thankful for the flu. Yes, you heard correctly. I got the flu the Sunday before we were to leave on vacay. By Thursday, Entrepreneur was showing the first signs of it. A flu headache, coupled with the headache he already was experiencing is was drove us to the ER…and to the discovery of the cancer mass.

As terrifying as this event has been, in hindsight, I see it did provide opportunities to repair some family rifts, and opened up heartfelt conversations that otherwise might not have happened. I suppose there are things to be thankful for in the middle of chaos. Focusing on being grateful can result in experiencing Joy.

So, even though 2017 has not started the way I’d hoped, I am going to try and feel those moments of Joy in the middle of chaos and confusion by focusing on being thankful and grateful.

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