12/30/17

Start Again, but THIS time ...

To be honest, I stopped making New Year's resolutions years ago. My hashtag now is #NewYearResolutionsNOT.

But that doesn't mean I don't take time to stop and reflect, observe and correct—and pursue a fresh start in so many areas of my life.


I like goals... not resolutions.

But that doesn't mean I can't approach those goals with resolution! And that doesn't mean I can't take those goals to the Lord every day and admit my total dependence on Him.

It's taken me many years to even begin realizing: Apart from Jesus, I can do nothing! (John 15:5)

I have no doubt many things would change if I would remember that every single day.

It's not so much about making huge changes in my life as it is listening to the Lord, learning from my mistakes and tweaking my choices to better serve God, others, and even my own legitimate needs.

For example:

1. This year, I'm starting my Bible reading plan again; but this time I'm forgetting about all the "shoulds" and focusing on delighting in and pleasing the Lord as I read. It's too easy for me to get caught up in perfectionism and make my reading a matter of performance and "checking it off my list.

So what is my reading plan for 2018? Keep moving forward on what I started last year. Be faithful.

2. This year, I'm noticing what hindered my health choices in 2017; but this time I'm challenging myself to slay those dragons, or at least locked them up and give the Lord the key.

For me, it's all about daily surrender so the Lord can conquer my gluttony addiction.

3. This year, I'm finally writing a book. I thought about this for years, but this time I'm actually setting in motion a plan of action for bite-sized productivity. 

The truth is, I've been a great starter for years. And a lousy finisher. So this time, to help me facilitate my goals, last week I started reading Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff.

That one choice was amazing, eye-opening and motivating.
So ... my New Year's advice for my friends?
If you don't do anything else in the New Year, get Finish and read it. Don't quit the book until you finish it (HA!). And put what you read into action!
I think that will help you with whatever else you decide to do in 2018.


If we don't stop, be still and consider 
what hindered us last year, 
and ponder what needs to change, 
we'll likely repeat last year's poor choices.

I don't want that. You probably don't either.

Finishing should not be a foreign topic for Christians.
  • Paul urges us to "press on toward the goal" for our reward (Philippians 3:14).
  • He also says, don't grow weary of doing good so you can reap at the right time (Galatians 6:9).
  • We must count the cost for pursuing our goal (Luke 14:28-30).
  • And throw off hindrances and sins that hold us back from the "finish line" (Hebrews 12:1).
  • The good news is, we can trust the Lord to complete His work in us, one day at a time (Philippians 1:6).
  • But we're not to become lazy. We need to put forth our very best effort—cooperating with the Lord and striving to please Him! (Colossians 3:23)
It's almost 2018. And it's never too early to say, "Finish well!"

What will you do differently THIS time?


12/23/17

Hallelujah! Our Savior Prays for Those He Came to Save.


When mothers, fathers and relatives see a newborn, they often dream of what their child may become someday.
"Will my daughter be a great artist... or a scientist?" 
"Will my son be a teacher... or a baseball player?"

I wonder if Mary and Joseph thought ahead to the days when Jesus would be a man. 

We do know Mary "pondered" and treasured many things in her heart.

We get a glimpse into her ponderings:
  • She pondered the angel Gabriel's words about her pregnancy (Luke 1:26-38). She said, "How can this be....?"
  • She pondered the Shepherds' testimony about her newborn son (Luke 2:8-21). 
  • Some years later, she would treasure her Son's own words as they left the Temple together (Luke 2:51).
Feeling so greatly blessed, she understood something of the greatness her Son would someday manifest from his humble birth (Luke 1:46-49).

But I wonder whether she fully understood, until perhaps after Jesus went to the cross, that her son would also be her Intercessor.

In His great High Priestly prayer, Jesus prayed for those who followed Him while He was on earth, as well as those who would believe through their testimony (John 17:20-23).

The writer of Hebrews said of our Lord, "...he always lives to make intercession" for those who draw near to God through Him (Hebrews 7:25). Though His work was "finished" on the cross (John 19:30b), His loving care for His own continues throughout eternity. 

We were not only saved by His death, but by His life (Romans 5:10); and now our exalted Lord is interceding for us before God's throne (Romans 8:34) as our great Advocate—always pleading our case—when the accuser, our enemy, comes against us before the Father (1 John 2:1). He is our all-wise and worthy Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5).

This great work on our behalf should cause us to bow before the Lord in unending gratitude and give us courage to ask great things (Matthew 21:22; 1 John 5:14; John 14:13; 16:24; Hebrews 4:16).

As the great Scottish preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne, said:

"If I could hear Christ 
praying for me in the next room,
I would not fear a million enemies. 
Yet distance makes no difference. 
He is praying for me."

Did Mary and Joseph fathom the extent of Jesus' great work on our behalf? Did they understand He would be their Mediator and Intercessor?

Regardless, we know... because the Bible tells us so.

Hallelujah! 
Our Savior prays for those He came to save!
And because of Him,
we can come boldly to God's throne of grace.

12/2/17

Cleaning Out the Christmas Clutter

I opened up box after box of Christmas decorations this year and sighed.

"When was the last time I used that?" I said. "And that. And that!"


Year after year, I have re-packed Christmas-y items that I never used. I just couldn't seem to part with them.

But this year, I changed my perspective and took action.

As I unloaded the "Christmas boxes" and put up the tree and all the decor around the house, whenever I came across a never- or seldom-used holiday item, I set it aside temporarily.  

Then I followed a plan.

I decided:

1. To throw out everything that was broken beyond repair.
2. To mend anything that was still usable and potentially "keep-able."
3. To ask my children and nieces if they wanted the things that are still nice, useful or heritage-based.
4. If they didn't want them, the items would be donated to a women's club who sells things—even Christmas things—in January. The women use the funds to contribute to college scholarships for high school seniors in their town.


Less stuff just makes more sense. 
Release it and let it go!

Releasing things makes sense spiritually too.
I'm asking the Lord to help me clear out the clutter in my life that obscures seeing and worshiping Him. 
What kind of clutter?

1. I need to examine the clutter in my CALENDAR.

Instead of taking time to be still and meditate on why Jesus came and what He is doing in my life, it's off to another concert... off to another party... off to whatever!

Busyness does not contribute to godliness at any time; and "crazy-busy" gets in the way of our celebration of the Lord's birth.

Pursue peace. And if you're not sure what that looks like, talk to the Lord. He is not a God of confusion, but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33a). Plan time to sit down and be still before the Lord so you can rise up to praise Him! (Psalm 46:10)

2. I need to examine the clutter in my PRIORITIES.

I need to get back to the basics: God, family, ministry.

Other things may be good. But when life gets busy, we have to focus on the best!

We don't want to honor the Lord only with our lips at Christmas, but also with our hearts (Matthew 15:8). Focus not so much on fleeting things that eventually fall apart; focus on things that are "above"—the things that are worthy and eternal (Colossians 3:1). Focus on Jesus! (Hebrews 12:1-2)

3. I need to examine the clutter in my CHECKBOOK.

Do I really need this thing or that? Does it truly contribute to Christmas joy, or will it simply be another thing to pay off later or even to regret purchasing.

Sometimes the things we think will be "treasures" end up being trinkets. And they steal away the focus of our hearts.

     "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21).

4. I need to examine the clutter in my ATTITUDES.

When stressful times come—and Christmas can be a stressful time—it's easy to get upset, "short" with family and friends, crabby and complaining.

I can let bad attitudes negatively color the environment and clutter what could be simple and beautiful. Or I can choose to respond in love and wisdom, giving people grace just as I would want grace too.

"Do all things without grumbling ... Let love be genuine..." (Philippians 2:14-15; Romans 12:9-10).

I encourage you to do what I'm doing—draw away from the busyness long enough to actually examine personal clutter.

Why?

We can get comfortable in our clutter and forget what life feels like without any clutter:

It feels like FREEDOM!

Is there some sort of "clutter" in your life? Can you "release it" and let it go so you can experience more freedom and joy?

I truly believe cleaning out the Christmas clutter will prepare our hearts for worshipful opportunities we might never imagine possible. 


Graphic adapted from a photo by Cheri Durbin at Morguefile.

11/21/17

Grate-full or Grateful?

I overheard a woman the other day in a parking lot, obviously upset. "He really grates on my nerves!" she told her friend.


I didn't stick around to hear who the "he" was or the reason for the irritation. But I did come home and study the Word that afternoon.

"Grating" things or people have an unpleasant effect on us. That which "grates" us annoys, irritates and exasperates. 

"Grate" comes from the medieval Latin word grata.

Think about your kitchen grater or a rasp in a toolbox, and you'll get the idea. Some people or things scrape against us and make us feel raw. We might feel like our lives are shredding apart around them. Some people describe grating as "rubbing me the wrong way!"

Some things grate—or bother —us more than others.
  • Whining people grate on me. 
  • Constant chattering grates on my husband. (It's a habit I'm earnestly trying to conquer!)
When our lives are "grate-full," we may need to examine our own hearts.

It might not be things and people grating on us. It might be our wrong responses to people and circumstances (and perhaps, that's grating on them)!

The Bible uses words like "fool" and "vexation" in describing grating behaviors—a strong warning not be become a "grater" (Proverbs 12:16; 29:11).

A similar word, but with an entirely different meaning is "Grateful." It's from another Latin word, gratus (not to be confused with gratis). Gratus means "pleasing, agreeable and thankful." Grateful is loosely related to "grace!"

The application here is so obvious.

When life (things/people) grate against me, I need to give people more grace, and I need to be prudent (Proverbs 27:3b), humble, gentle, patient and loving (Ephesians 4:1-3) and at all times, grateful (1 Thessalonians 5:18; Ephesians 5:19-20).

That is God's desire for all of us.

As we allow the peace of the Lord to rule in our hearts, we will learn to live in unity and gratitude (Colossians 3:15). 

Everything we do and say as Christ-followers should be done as His representatives on earth, and Paul says, in light of that, "give thanks to God" (Colossians 3:17). 

One of the ways we bring glory to God is in responding to the grating people and circumstances of life from His perspective, with His wisdom and grace, and in His strength. 

That means responding wisely and with grace when we:
  • are behind an impossibly slow car on the freeway;
  • are at Thanksgiving dinner and have to listen to Uncle Joey's jokes the umpteenth time; or
  • are standing behind a "screamer" in Walmart (the child, not the struggling mom).
Responding rightly often takes growing trust in the Lord, because sometimes we just can't understand why He allows the "grating" in our lives. And no wonder. . .
The grating process hurts!
But it can be hurt with purpose. When we surrender to God's working through difficult people and circumstances, this painful "grating" can scrape off our rough edges so we will look more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29).

So when your days are most "grate-full," ask the Lord to help you trust Him more. 

Ask the Lord to help you be more grateful!

 - Dawn
 Graphic adapted, courtesy of webandi at Pixabay.

11/4/17

Hope Hidden in Caring for Aging Parents: An Interview with Cynthia Ruchti

Cynthia Ruchti is well-known and loved for her stories about hope. I asked her to share extensively concerning the topic "Caring for Aging Parents," an important issue for so many today
in the "sandwich generation"—between caring for children or grandchildren, and caring for aging parents. Caregivers definitely need HOPE! 

Don't miss the note a random BOOK GIVEAWAY at the end of this post!

1. Cynthia, when did you first start thinking about the topic of aging parents?

I think almost everyone would answer this as I will: "Not soon enough." Many of us don’t think about planning for retirement until we notice that first gray hair, or until friends around us are talking about retirement. Other financial priorities seem to rise above saving for retirement—like groceries, mortgage, car insurance, new shoes for the kids. 

But many times, there’s a deeper emotional reason for our postponing topics related to aging parents. It’s uncomfortable to consider what aging will do to our parents, and to us. The pain of sending our kids off to college is tempered by the new adventures that await them. Retirement brings a way of life that requires adjustments, but also offers new freedoms and choices. But the season of caring for aging parents can only end in one way—with a final goodbye. 

Even when both adult children and aging parents are confident that heaven awaits, losing a parent is one of the deepest of losses. It’s in our nature to postpone thinking about that season as long as possible.

I started thinking about aging parents the day my father died of a sudden heart attack at 64, which I then considered too young and now consider WAY too young. I will never know what my father would have been like in his 70s or 80s. He was such a learned man, with an unshakable faith in God. I miss him every day. 

My introduction to the concept of aging parents was the harsh truth that I would not have my father present in my life when he (and I) aged. Those thoughts ramped up when my mother’s health—almost simultaneously—began to deteriorate. We journeyed together through seventeen years of various intensities of caregiving.

2. Does the Bible have anything to say about caregiving?

I’ve long been confident that there is no subject we will face that God doesn’t address directly or indirectly in the Bible. It shouldn’t have surprised me that the Lord had so much to say on this topic. Some of the references were pointed—Honor your father and mother”—with no endpoint or disclaimers to that directive. The New Testament speaks against those who failed to care for the elderly within their own family. 

But others didn’t appear related until I stared at them for a while, like a puzzle that only comes to light after you’ve looked beyond the obvious. 
  • If God is slow to anger, for instance, shouldn’t that be a model for our caregiving? 
  • If we’re taught to treat each other with respect, why would that not apply to caregiving for aging parents? 
  • If the fruit of the Spirit (as expressed in Galatians 5:22) lists evidence that shows up relationally—patience, goodness, faithfulness, kindness—we don’t have to wonder about the attitude we’re to have in caring for our parents as they age.

3. How can we care for aging parents when there are still demands on our time at home?

The wise caregiver knows it is for a season. That season may be weeks, months, or years. But it is temporary. 

What may need to take a backseat for a while in order to care well for our parents in their time of need? The answer may be obvious—a hobby or an “extra” volunteer responsibility. Or it may be less obvious and more sacrificial.

The only way I know to walk that line—balancing personal health, family health, work needs, and caregiving—is to stay attuned to the whispers of the Only Wise God. If we try to manipulate our schedule to do it all, or use human intuition alone to decide whose needs come first right now, we are prone to failure and frustration. If, however, we invite God to speak to us, show us, make it clear how we can best glorify Him and follow His leading at any given moment, we will find ourselves surprised and blessed by the ways He works it out.

4. In the midst of caring for aging parents’ physical needs, there are also emotional, mental and social needs. How can an adult child access what is the most urgent need at any given time? Does a caregiver have to “be all” in a parent’s life?

Having our relationship with Jesus in good repair energizes us for the hard things. Letting our relationship with Him take a backseat drains every part of us. Not sleeping well, not eating right, not breathing fresh air exhausts us. Caregivers can’t afford to be drained spiritually, mentally, emotionally, or physically.
A caregiver is constantly doing triage. 
Who’s “bleeding out” at the moment—my aging parent or my teenage son? An emergency surgery may take precedence over a momentary meltdown…or the meltdown may require us to shelve our pride and take help wherever we can find it. 

Your husband/sibling/child doesn’t do well with emergencies? He or she may have to today. And isn’t that how we grew in our abilities to cope? We dove in and did what we could?

When pride is shelved, we’re free to admit to ourselves and to others that we are not our parents’ or our children's’ or even our spouse’s be-all and end-all. Only One can adequately fill that role. 

Our parents may prefer us to tuck them in at night, for instance. But they may discover by necessity that having a granddaughter tuck them in, or even a trusted church friend, can offer a tender moment they would have missed if they had their way, or if we assumed we were the only option.

5. How does a caregiver maintain her own sanity and well-being in the midst of caring? What spiritual truths or scriptures can help?

God has a special warehouse of supplies for caregivers. He allows caregivers access to a secret stash that others don’t need or might not appreciate as much. Uncommon fortitude. Heavy-duty versions of patience. 

In the book As My Parents Age, one of the reflections (pp. 80-81) looks at the principles in 1
Corinthians 13 as it applies the concept of godly love to godly caregiving. 

That section reminds us what pure-hearted caregiving looks like:

Love for my aging parent is patient.
Love for my aging parent is kind.
Love for my aging parents isn’t jealous. It doesn’t resent the attention the parent requires.
Love for my aging parent doesn’t brag. It isn’t condescending.
Love for my aging parent isn’t arrogant.
Caregiving love isn’t rude. It doesn’t seek its own advantage.
Love for my aging parents isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep a record of complaints. Clean slate every morning.

When we look at that list, we can feel even more inadequate. But it’s important to note that His kind of love is what God promises to supply to those who ask Him for access to His storehouses. It’s much the same as the list of fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. It isn’t human-manufactured artificial love, joy, peace, patience…. It’s a harvest that comes from our allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us.

That counsel might seem like it ignored the question about sanity and well-being. But instead it speaks directly to those needs. We can only do so much. God has no such limits.

6. Sometimes caregiving is just plain difficult and a caregiver feels like exploding—in tears or laughter. Is there any wrong way to be a caregiver? And how does a caregiver deal with feelings of guilt?

It could be argued that the only WRONG ways of caregiving are unlovingly, uncaringly, selfishly, or resentfully. Those attitudes are hard to hide.

Guilt can cripple a caregiver. Few caregivers I’ve spoken with believe they did enough, spent enough time and energy, gave enough. Setting those feelings aside is part of good caregiving. 

If we’re caregiving as if it’s a race or competition for adequacy, as if anyone—including God—is grading us on the curve, or as if imagining that one more hour or one more hug would have changed less-than into more-than-enough, we’re missing the point. And we’re handicapping our abilities. 

Rather than focusing on the goal—loving the one in need in Jesus’ name and by His strength—we focus on our stride, our posture, how much we’re sweating. What runner can cross the finish line victoriously if consumed with their perspiration?

In addition to providing what we need to caregive well, God offers us a way to defuse guilt-bombs. Psalm 51:2—“Wash me completely clean of my guilt.”

7. What if parents live far away? How can we be caregivers then?

Long-distance caregiving brings added challenges. It’s both heartbreaking and in some ways a “guilty” relief to not be near enough to be involved in day-to-day caregiving. 

Technology can help bridge the distance. That may mean connecting with aging parents via video calls in addition to phone calls, or enlisting the aid of a private social media group to keep family members informed and updated, or connecting online with an aging parent’s neighbor or church friend. 

One universal longing in the heart of aging parents is to know they’re not forgotten, not cast aside.

8. Caregiving can cost adult children financially, but there are other kinds of sacrifices caregivers make to meet needs. Can you address some of those “costs”?

Caring for aging parents exacts a toll in energy, certainly, and time, which often translates into an agenda cost. Our agendas bow to the on-call needs of the aging parent.

Relationally, caregiving can mean some of our traditional friendship activities are put on hold during that season.

Despite the natural depletions in our physical and emotional bank accounts, wise caregivers know to keep making deposits in order to caregive for the long haul. But any sacrifice motivated by love is eventually rewarded. Our reserves are replenished by the God who says, “Well done.”

9. There eventually comes a time when we have to say goodbye to our parents. How do we do that gracefully, even victoriously? How do we deal with the grief?

Hospice workers tell us that those who have the hardest time coping with a parent’s death refused to admit it could happen. Or those who assume if they pray more diligently, investigate one more treatment, encourage better, they can prevent what is inevitable for all of us.

Three keys to navigating that inevitable goodbye with grace are:

  1. Watch for the memory-making moments, even near the end.
  2. Trust our loved one into God's hands.
  3. Allow our grief to find its unique way of expression.
·   
Some of us need the tears—lots of them. Some need to talk it out. Some need quiet to process alone. Some write about their grief, paint their way through, stand on the edge of a lake and let their sobs ring across the water. If we try to pattern our grief on someone else’s experience, we find ourselves frustrated and mired. 

Understanding—and being prepared for—waves of grief that hit us unexpectedly and often at the oddest times will equip us to embrace the fullness of that season, its tough and tender, traumatic and hope-hemmed aspects.

10. Is there anything else you think adult children—especially Christians—need to know or remember in regard to caregiving?

Familiar Bible verses remind us to do to others as we would have them do to us (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31). When caring for my mother in her final days that stretched to years, if I wearied, that biblical principle buoyed me. If I fell into feeling sorry for myself or resenting the intrusion of caregiving on my carefully-laid plans, God reminded me that the day will likely come when my daughter or sons will be tasked with caring for me. 

How would I want to be treated? With respect. With tenderness. With kind consideration. I’d want them to listen even if I didn’t make sense and demonstrate that I wasn’t forgotten. 

As I ran errands for my mom or rubbed lotion on her feet or held her in my arms, I pictured years down the road when the one being held would be me. It softened both my voice and my touch.

What is your greatest care-taking struggle with aging parents? How has the Lord helped you in this worthy-but-difficult responsibility?

NOTE: Share your comments here 
or on Dawn's Facebook page or Cynthia's Facebook page,
where this article was also shared)
if you would like to be entered into a BOOK GIVEAWAY 
for Cynthia's new book, 
As My Parents Age ... a random drawing ending Nov. 8, 2017.



Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed in Hope through award-winning novels, nonfiction, and devotionals, and through speaking events for women and writers. She's the author of 21 books that tackle tough topics tenderly. You can connect with Cynthia on her website or Facebook Reader Page to find out more about her current and upcoming releases.