Thursday, March 22, 2018

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Some of us are gardeners and some of us definitely are not! In fact, many of us have what is humorously called a “black thumb” as compared to a “green thumb” that can grow nearly everything under the sun. And even worse, house plants turn their back on us, wilt, and die no matter what we do. It’s either we watered too much, or we didn’t water enough!

Many serious gardeners, though, know exactly what to do. They have a knack for preparing the soil just perfectly to produce a beautiful garden. Starting with a firm foundation is obviously a key ingredient, so they start with materials such as leaves, grass clippings and compost. The point is to arrive at soil that will drain well and be filled with air, minerals, and living organisms among other things.      

Much effort goes into producing a healthy garden. Besides a good soil mixture, there is everything from testing soil to creating the perfect texture and type, air, water, soil life, organic material, mulch, fertilizer, pH, and nutrient deficiencies just to name a few subjects in the libraries of a gardener. It could blow our minds just trying to grow a simple garden! But many, many people enjoy this amazing hobby and they are so good at it! We send out our utmost admiration if you are one of these!

Soil, Seed, and Spirit

Not all of us, though, have the same talents and gifts. Yes, some people are excellent gardeners and that’s good for the rest of us. But others naturally have cultivated their own “gardens” and have found great success. Think about what we would do if our children did not have the perfect math or music teacher. Or we didn’t have a great surgeon to perform our operation. Language translators, those who volunteer, people who use their gift of hospitality to serve others, and those who can brilliantly explain things to others.

Best harvest ever!
There are so many talents in our world it could take a book to list them. And, don’t forget this: we all have a special gift given to us by God. Oh, yes, we do! It may not be apparent right now. But down deep inside, if we really think seriously about it, we know what that gift is. It has been part of us from the first breath we took as a baby. Just like the good garden soil, we have a firm foundation. Now, it may very well be that we have not “watered or fertilized our soil” and, therefore, nothing has grown there yet. It’s dormant. But waiting.

We can find out what our unique gift is if we make a habit of reading God’s Word—the Bible—everyday. Several places in His book of instruction and knowledge list the many Spiritual gifts. If we get stuck, we can visit with a pastor for guidance. Many churches also have classes for discovering our Spiritual gift(s). If we approach God’s teaching on this matter with sincere hearts, God will gladly lead us to our purpose. He will provide clarity for the dream we’ve had from the very beginning. And then, He gives us the vision how to “produce good fruit” from our garden.  

Who Doesn’t Love a Good Story?

One of the very best stories (parables) in the Bible is about planting His seed. If you haven’t read it yet, we suggest stopping for just a moment and reading Luke 8:11-15. It all makes perfect sense. The blog today is the fourth and final post in a series about the subjects of seed and various types of soil. If you just joined us, you can go back and read the first three posts. Even if you are not the best farmer, your gift will produce a big harvest when you follow the master Gardener.

“This is what the story means: The seed is God’s message. And the seed that fell on the good ground is like those who hear God’s teaching with good, honest hearts and obey it and patiently produce good fruit” Luke 8:11, 15 NCV.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Getting Rid of Troubles

There are a couple interesting shows on TV about how we all eventually reach a point in our homes when we cannot ignore the numerous piles of junk any longer. Most of us even have the typical “junk drawer” where every bit and piece of our belongings end up in that one spot.

Stacks of magazines we keep for years thinking that after the first reading we will go back someday and re-read them. We justify that kind of hoarding as “reference material” and it makes us feel better than if we called it trash. Many of us gravitate to weekend garage sales (yep, I’m raising my hand too) and purchase another person’s junk they no longer want. Some of it is very useful but, occasionally we buy items just because they look like something we might be able to use. Then we throw them into a box in the garage, forget about them, and they end up in our own garage sale the following year. Oh, my!

Spring cleaning will soon arrive, and we start thinking of what we can do to clear out all the rubbish. If we never, ever discard anything--fearing we will need it someday--we could become a candidate for one of those hoarding shows. It’s like trying to claw our way through a jungle that is about to devour us.

Stress-Free Answers

Those are all lifeless objects that we think we need, so we keep them. It appears our hoarding gives us a sense of security, which of course, is false. But the same thing goes on in our brains, emotions, and spirits. We get bogged down worrying about every little thing, most of which we can do nothing about.

Money, or the lack of it, causes us much stress as most of us know. Don’t get caught believing money provides happiness. It does not! How many famously rich millionaires do we know that are truly happy? It might appear that way at first, but an excess of money generally brings an excess of responsibility, which equals excess stress. Think of all those lottery stories of winners one year after their big win. Many of them are worse off than if they had never gambled because they cannot keep up with all their new possessions. Believe it or not, many fall into bankruptcy when the money is all gone!

Of course, money is not the only worry in life. We can get overwhelmed by relationships that have gone wrong, working in a job we hate, trying to survive after divorce, dealing with child custody, health issues, finding supportive friends, car repairs, anxiety, dieting, disappointment, and doubt. And on, and on, and on.

This is exactly why God commands us [Matthew 6:25-28] not to worry! Notice, it’s not a suggestion. He is serious about this subject. Why? Because worries are endless; they consume us. Only God knows our anguish when worry devours us. He never wants us in that state of unhappiness and mental chaos. And better yet, He has the answers to our dilemmas. He is just waiting for us to come to Him with our concerns.

Beauty Personified
God's world is a thing of beauty!

If we find ourselves completely worry-free (really?), the opposite problem may be our enemy. Pleasure. Too much of the wrong thing can steer us into a state of denial. We find ourselves hanging with an unsuitable crowd. Doing what we never thought we would. Ignoring our standards and principles. Filling every minute of the day and night pursuing bodily enjoyment, earthly treasures, and worshiping ourselves.

Please don’t get the incorrect idea here. God wants us to be happy and content. He is all about us finding our joy. Joy and love in friendships and close relationships. Discovering His plan and purpose for our lives can be the very best kind of pleasure. A fulfillment of everything we hope for. Living in God’s world, where He is ready and able to handle our worries and concerns, will provide us a way to grow stronger and stronger every day. Now, that’s a thing of beauty!

“This is what the story means: The seed is God’s message. The seed that fell among the thorny weeds is like those who hear God’s teaching, but they let the worries, riches, and pleasures of this life keep them from growing and producing good fruit” Luke 8:11, 14 NCV.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Going Deep

Some of us, if not most, have taken a college class of some sort—either for a four-year degree, just for a semester, or a night course. Maybe we have attended a seminar or two for our employers. Or, more popular in this electronic age, perhaps a podcast (a series of digital audio or video episodes) was more easily accessed to study a subject.

Whichever method we chose to “enlighten” our viewpoint and learn something new, sometimes it became more than we expected. More involvement was required (homework anyone?). Interactions with other participants working in teams seemed to slow us down or bore us. We quickly lost interest. Our brain did not comprehend our part in the process and therefore, the knowledge never had a chance to grow.

Can Anyone Relate?

It’s happened to all of us at one time or another. Nothing to feel bad or guilty about though. We simply didn’t check all the requirements of the course and ended up taking the class or seminar just because our best friend was doing it or because it sounded like the popular thing to do. That’s how it usually presents itself. And it’s always a bad idea!

The better choice is to find out what we truly like to do—and are good at--and stick with that idea even if no one else understands us. Even if others try to distract us or persuade us not to go that way, we know deep down inside what we want out of life. If not, then we can expect to feel less than fulfilled, frustrated, and ready to quit before the search has done us any good.

Listen, that is not us! We are stronger than we think, but we won’t really know until we go after what we were made for. After all, who got us safely here at this surprising point in life anyway? Let’s take a moment and be perfectly clear and honest. God did not orchestrate our divorce as many may think. In fact, He said, “For I hate divorce!” [Malachi 2:16]. But, He was right there beside us anyway holding our right hand and helping us to stand on our own two feet when we could do nothing else. Saving us from permanent harm. He was the One who kindly brought us to this point because He still has a plan and purpose for each of us, even now!

Teacher of Love

So, let that “lesson” sink deep into our brains so we won’t forget it. God has a message: He loves you—even as a single-again woman! He loves me! He loves each one of us! He can do nothing else because He is the very definition of love. Where we come into this plan, is to simply “signup” for His “class” on life and stick with it. He has been keeping that “syllabus” (our purpose) safely in His hand until we were able to accept His message.

“This is what the story means: The seed is God’s message. . .The seed that fell on rock is like those who hear God’s teaching and accept it gladly, but they don’t allow the teaching to go deep into their lives. They believe for a while, but when trouble comes, they give up” Luke 8:11; 13 NCV.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Keep Your Eyes Open!

Anticipating a long road trip can be very exciting, especially if we have never before visited the destination. While traveling, it’s important to keep our eyes open and take in all the sites or else we can easily miss unbelievable landmarks. It’s easy to see the terrain in one area is very different in another area.  

Softly rolling hills that burst with patchwork colors from local farms in the “Plains” states are a feast for the eyes! We get a sense of exactly where our food is harvested and brought to our grocery stores. Lots of water in both the northern Great Lakes region and in the constant “wetness” of the Northwest keeps everything green with its own type of natural “irrigation” system. If we are not into daily, massive humidity, the dry Southwest will be our favorite places to park for a while. We have so many options.

There is an infinite number of things to see in this country and if we are planning vacations, we can’t go wrong by giving the “good ole USA” a chance to amaze us. The best of the best sights are the out-of-the-way places such as: 

Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana 50 miles from New Orleans

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado (what? really?) where sand sledding and sandboarding are unique adventures

Plum Island, MA offers a secluded, 11-mile long sandy beach

National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is a great place to explore to your heart’s content! 

There are numerous other sites just like these. No sense having to stick to the commonplace for a vacation!

A Blessed Nation
No, this isn’t an advertisement for great vacations. We are just pointing out the vast landscape that we, thankfully, live on and can enjoy day in and day out. Land (or more exactly, soil) is where it all begins. We build homes on it. Great cities, too. Bridges that connect us. We construct roads to travel on. Farmers scatter the seed that produces good food for our table. We are truly blessed.

Ready for harvest!
Still, all this construction and growth is really difficult to soak into our brains and understand. It’s always been there (or so we think), therefore, we don’t even give it a single thought at times. Maybe some of our great-grandparents, though, had stories to leave us telling of hard times building this country from the ground up. Or maybe we’ve read about or seen documentaries of the 1930s Dust Bowl or the Great Depression and the devastation they brought.

We suppose some people have no comprehension of the birthing of this nation if they have not read or studied it. Maybe some do not even believe most of the historical stories they hear. If it’s not on YouTube or the latest website, it seems beyond their grasp. That is exactly the importance of visiting our own national sites in person whenever we can. If we don’t ever do that, it will remain a fictional mystery.

The Beginning
There is one important book whose stories have also been discredited from the very beginning ever since the invention of the printing press (yet, it has never gone out of print!). It’s called God’s Word—or more commonly, the Holy Bible. 

It’s a biblical and true historical account of God’s creation since the beginning of time itself. God’s own breath inspired every single word found in its pages just to benefit each one of us! Yet, we must ask ourselves, do we believe God? Do we believe in God? Is his “seed” taking root in our lives? Or is it just lying lifeless alongside the “road” we travel?         

“This is what the story means: The seed is God’s message [the Holy Bible]. The seed that fell beside the road is like the people who hear God’s teaching, but the devil comes and takes it away from them [doubt] so they cannot believe it and be saved” Luke 8:11-12 NCV.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

How Can We Break Hostility?

Striving for harmony
Family relations are all important to each of us. That is because our family is permanent and we will forever be part of them. But these connections are not the same for everyone. We may treasure all the time we can get with family members and stay as close as possible with them. Living in close proximity to each other--so we can enjoy fun activities and outings together--is attractive to many of us.

But this closeness is not always the case with others. Family relations may be strained and lack affection and love. They don’t contain ingredients of harmony and peace. In fact, in some situations, two or more parties within a family may even be exhibiting hostility for various reasons.

Get the Snow Shovel
It’s difficult to determine what brings discord among family or friends. Usually, one particular event involving the other person has set off the cycle of irritation and frustration, that then “snowballs” into a monster of a storm. Just as snow is beautiful as it is falling, it can become a hazard quickly if the accumulation is not kept from piling up. Eventually, someone has to be willing to shovel it away.   

If we stop and think about the relational fallout, we can see that it required two to keep the anger going back and forth. And it requires two to come to an agreement. An unwillingness on either side to forgive the other will result in, perhaps, a lifelong break that will affect all others they each come in contact with during their lives.

Excellence in Friendships
Reconciling with a family member or developing a relationship with a new friend is motivated solely by love. Without that one element, all other characteristics we claim to have, such as peace, patience, joy, kindness and goodness among others, lack honesty and authenticity.

Since we are humans, obviously, we will not always like what others do or say. This is where patience comes into play. We will be called on to be kind and give the other person the benefit of the doubt. It requires listening with both ears to their side of an issue; to put ourselves into their shoes. All of this is part of love. So we can see, without extending love, there is no receiving love!

Can we really afford to throw out all the love we can get along with the trash? Let’s not even talk about the other person here. Let’s see what happens to ourselves when we casually discard what God intended for us.

Most of us have heard the beautiful Biblical verses from 1 Corinthians 13 normally used at weddings (but they speak to any type of relationship including family and friends) that begin, “Love is patient, love is kind… .” But many of us don’t ever remember what that passage says about the results of choosing not to love another. It might help us to place these reminders on our walls:

Without Love. . .
  • Make your life like beautiful music
    We sound like resounding gongs or clanging cymbals.
  • We are nothing.
  • We gain nothing.
  • Envy, boasting, and pride will grow in us.
  • Rudeness and selfishness will be a part of us.
  • We will display anger and keep a record of wrongs.
  • We will ignore the truth.
  • We have no protection, trust, hope, or perseverance.
  • We are imperfect.
  • We are childish.

Renewed Momentum. . .
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love! 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)

Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family. Proverbs 18:24 (The Message)

Monday, March 5, 2018

When Will Your Life Thaw?

Great news: Spring is only 15 days away—or so says the calendar on March 20th for the Northern Hemisphere. Some parts of the country, however, are still experiencing an over-abundance of winter! When is the thaw, we wonder? Blizzards, winds, and digging out from all that snow is not the best way to enjoy this time of year. It all looks beautiful, but only if we are inside and not having to drive in it. And, yet, being able to spend time at a ski resort speeding down a slope, ice skating, or snowboarding are all fun for many people. 

So, until Spring arrives in our yards, we could use that softly falling snowflake out our windows as a sort of life metaphor. Most people have heard that “no two snowflakes are the same.” Ever wonder why that is true? The very simple, basic answer is that water molecules in the air stick together to form unique crystals. And millions of them fall into our world all at once. To further investigate this unique and beautiful story, click on this link: Snowflake Magic

How’s the Visibility?
After reading all the scientific magic of snowflakes, let’s go a step further and ask, why did God (the Creator of all things) go to the trouble to make snowflakes to begin with? Wasn’t rain enough of a miracle? Well, maybe, just maybe, because he was giving us an easy way to observe that snow makes every object and situation in our lives beautiful.

That may be a stretch, but we can’t deny it certainly makes us slow down and gaze at the wonder and beauty of it all. Yes, there are days when the accumulation of snow makes life difficult when we need to drive somewhere. Or endless shoveling is required just to get out the front door. Or dressing the children in all their boots, mittens, and jackets to go to school is a major event. Life can be hard to deal with in any season.

Snow gives us a visible “reason” to see life in a different way. Rain wasn’t enough—God took rain and froze it into crystals, so we would take note there are always options when we are looking for answers. Our real-life situations can often overwhelm us. Maybe all we need to do is change what we are doing. If one way doesn’t work, another probably will if we give it a chance.

Do This, Not That
Options are out there, but we need a desire and an open mind to find them. Ready to try something different?

Do this: take a risk and find a new job that’s satisfying
Not that: staying in a job we hate

Do this: retire early and enjoy life
Not that: working until we are burned out because everyone else does it

Do this: Downsize and simplify
Not that: Living among more and more clutter in a house that’s too big

Do this: Find out what God’s purpose for us is all about (hint: we all have a dream)
Not that: Sitting back and becoming discouraged and bitter

Do this: Be the best we can be no matter the direction we go
Not that: Showing up with a bad attitude and toxic, contagious thoughts

The Best is Yet to Come
When we put effort into understanding ourselves (who are we?) by understanding what God has purposely made us for (what is our gift?) and why we are in the situation we are in (ignoring options), then we will be headed in the right direction.

Part of this is developing our faith journey in knowing that God loves each of us just the way we are, right now, today. And just like the snowflakes he created, we are all unique and wonderfully made! Believe it!

“The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry” Isaiah 55:10 NLT.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

One Breath at a Time

How long can you hold your breath? The world record is 22 minutes and 22 seconds underwater. Wow! This is way longer than what the average, healthy person can do at approximately two minutes. Obviously, it is much, much easier to simply take one breath at a time as we are meant to do, even though we might observe a toddler holding her/his breath during a tantrum for a very long time.

Some musicians practice taking deep breaths, so they might play their wind instruments properly and have the sound come out beautifully. Athletes too are required to have great lung capacity for stamina and endurance if they want to succeed. And, of course, it’s common knowledge that taking long, slow breaths and releasing them through the mouth can reduce blood pressure, stress, anxiety and keep us calm.

Life is inherently difficult and learning to deal with stress is a major accomplishment. But just know stress management is an entire world all by itself. Doctors of all kinds have spent their lives studying and writing about this important subject and, since this writer is not a doctor by any means, we are not attempting to cover the curriculum that fills colleges on this matter.

However, we can try and offer some sensible and practical points that may lead us into a better frame of mind on most days. Since we are all humans, we may be familiar with stress just a little bit, right? So, let’s begin here finding some answers simply based on the fact we are women, and, we have hormones that rage at times! Oh, yes! We can all relate.

The Why
If we can understand a little bit about why stress happens to us, it can help us to deal with its effect. As we mentioned, it starts with female hormones and let’s just state here that if stress is extreme and severe in your case, then this is a matter to discuss with your doctor. But what else? Consider if any of the following may be affecting your situation:

--Wearing too many “hats”
--Trying to please everyone
--Poor nutrition
--Substances, legal or otherwise
--Sleep disorders

These are just a few. The causes of stress can fill volumes of books and do. So, if you are serious about tackling this problem and learning how to reduce stress in your life, start searching reliable sources. Here are just a couple to start off:

--So Stressed, The Ultimate Stress-Relief Plan for Women by Stephanie McClellan, M.D. and Beth Hamilton, M.D.
--The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook by Martha Davis, Ph.D., Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, MSW, and Matthew McKay, Ph.D.

The How
There are plenty of ways to de-stress and the books above show us how in detail. Just to give you an idea of some practical methods to make part of your life, think about these:

Time-management. Don’t overdo and try to cram everything into one 24-hour period. We’ve all done this. Experts suggest keeping a log or journal for a week or two to discover where all your time goes. Remember, first things first when it comes to your time [what’s important].

Nutrition/Sleep/Exercise. If your life is not as healthy as you would like, start with small steps and go forward. A lack of these important aspects are roadblocks to de-stressing.

Organization. Many women today are taking part in simplifying or downsizing their lives and homes because it has been proven chaos that surrounds us causes stress. It’s worth attempting. Start small.

10 Answers Right Now

Sometimes we just need an immediate solution. Keep a list of these handy:

1. Visit a flower shop and just smell the blooms or buy a Gerber Daisy for your desk.
2. Take a bubble bath while playing music
3. Enjoy a treat of tea and scones, coffee and chocolate muffins, etc.
4. Use an adult coloring book—it’s not silly, it’s very relaxing
5. Read a book in bed and you’ll sleep like a baby
6. Go out and photograph nature
7. Plant a garden indoors or outdoors
8. Draw or paint a canvas
9. Continue or start a scrapbook
10. Call a friend and go to the movies

Add to this list every time you think of something that makes you smile. You might even fill an entire journal with ideas!

Meet the Counselor
Did you know we have a “live-in” Counselor right in our homes? It’s true! A tiny baby was born one night in Bethlehem and they called him Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace! That certainly sounds like someone we need on our side, especially in times of stress. His “office” door is always open. Go right on in—you’ll be glad you did.

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?” Luke 12:25-26 NLT.