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Addie Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth

A Tale of Two Snow Days

 

It was Monday morning, and I breathed a sigh of relief as my boys boarded the school bus. After pouring myself a cup of coffee, I wrote a to do list for my day; work, a quick trip to the gym, errands, meal prep, more work.

 

“Go, me! I’m so organized and efficient!” (Insert self-congratulatory pat on the back here.)


I was just starting to hit my work stride, when I received a message from my sons’ school; school is canceled for the day, due to a gas leak. Come get your kids…like, right now.


Maybe some moms cheered for extra time to spend with their little angels; I’m not that mom. While I love my little men more than I can express, I had a to do list that was going to get done, darn it.
So, while my boys had a great day playing in the snow and watching movies, I spent the day in frustration. I couldn’t seem to concentrate on my work, as I had constant interruptions to help with building a snowman. But I also couldn’t concentrate on having fun because I was beating myself up for not getting enough work done. Can anyone relate?


That night I had a massive headache; I prayed that God would help me to be more present the next time my best laid plans needed to be laid aside. Three days later, He provided just that – six inches of snow in central Illinois – another mid-November snow day.


I was determined this day would be better for all of us. I drew some parameters – the boys could play video games or watch television while I did a couple of hours of work – then I would be present. I asked them to make a list of non-screen-related snow day activities, and we would do them when I was finished.  Later, I cooked a special brunch and we got busy crossing things off that list, rather than my usual to-do list; snowball fight, board games, drinking hot cocoa. I must admit, their list was a whole lot more fun than mine!

 

As the Bible teaches, The human heart plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps” (Proverbs 16:9).  Like an unforeseen snow day, sometimes our life plans change; perhaps an illness robs us of our independence, or a job loss forces us to forge a new path.  I pray that God will help me remember the lesson of the second snow day; to surrender to new possibilities and blessings that come from the unexpected.

 

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Allison Allison Welch Conversion Evangelization Ink Slingers Offering your suffering Prayer Spiritual Growth

What I Learned in the Walmart Parking Lot

Life weighed heavy on me: the loss of employment and relationships and financial difficulties that go with it; a son’s medical issues and the looming threat of the death of his well-fought-for dream; aging parents with health problems. And within weeks, I would live in an empty nest for the first time in more than two decades. The best of life, it seemed, was behind me.

As I walked to my car feeling sorry for myself, I noticed an older woman shuffling slowly toward me. She was leaning heavily on her shopping cart like a walker. At the rate she moved, it would be at least a 10-minute trek just to enter the store. I should be grateful, I thought.

As I loaded my purchases into the car, I felt a persistent urge to offer her one of the small pink mums I shouldn’t have bought.

“Would you like some flowers?,” I asked awkwardly.

“I drive a truck; I don’t have any place to keep them,” she said matter-of-factly. “But thank you.”

I fought back the familiar feeling of failure. Clearly, the persistent urge to reach out to her hadn’t been from the Holy Spirit. Or was it? The prompting, it turns out, was not about what I had to offer her, but what she had to offer me.

“Have a blessed day,” she said, as though it were secret code for I’m a believer, too.

“You, too,” I replied. We’re family.

“I will,” she insisted, “Every day is blessed.”

There was a pause where I began to consider her attitude. How does she do it? As if answering my thought, she added, “Some days are just more blessed than others.”

Walmart parking lot wisdom.

The priceless, eternal wealth of the Saints offered freely in the superstore’s parking lot…who knew? The sermon on the plain, the sermon on the mount. It comes to us from the elderly, the infirm, and the poor. Surrounded by suffering, they are blessed. Happy. Low in the valley or high on the mountain, independent of circumstances, blessings abound.

This elderly, infirm, truck-driving woman reminded me that God is good. All the time. God created good. “All things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). What is good is the only thing that’s real; all else will pass. Perhaps St. Teresa of Avila said it best: “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”

It’s okay to acknowledge the bad things that happen, but we should resist the temptation to dwell on them. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). This is where we are called to dwell: In the good. We must train our minds like athletes for the big game.

Consider this: Every.  Day.  Is.  Blessed. Some days are just more blessed than others. 

Homework:

What weighs heavily on you, readers?  It’s okay to acknowledge it, just don’t live there. Name the distractions and discouragements and offer them to God, asking him to do what he does best. He can transform them, making them work for our good. Amen and alleluia.

Now, go!  Collect your blessings!

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Ink Slingers Mary Beth

Jumping Off the Complain Train

Sometimes, I’m a willing passenger. But most of the time, I promote myself all the way up to chief engineer.

I’m talking about the Complain Train that I frequently find myself on. Let me tell you, last night I was definitely the chief engineer, taking the lead and steering my complain train all over the place, not stopping for anything or anybody, spewing complaints left and right.

How I relish my role as engineer of the Complain Train! Look out world—like it or not, this train is coming through! I say. Complaining makes me feel validated. And heard. And it gives me an opportunity to let off some steam, much like the Seinfeld episode where Frank Costanza establishes a holiday (“Festivus”) where one of the main activities is the “Airing of Grievances,” (i.e. “I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!”).

Except the Complain Train is a train bound for nowhere (isn’t that a song?). It has no triumphant ending, no satisfying resolution. There’s no pulling into a station with a great sigh of relief and feeling of accomplishment. The Complain Train is nothing but an unproductive, herky-jerky, never-ending ride through Frustrationville, Crabby Corners and Waste-of-Time Town. It’s a fruitless journey.

And that doesn’t take into consideration what this harmful habit does to the state of my soul.

Because Sistas, here’s the truth about complaining: It steals my joy. It brings down the people around me. And it does absolutely nothing to change my circumstances. In fact, verbally flinging all that unhappiness into the atmosphere “boomerangs” the words right back into my brain and magnifies them even more. When we complain, the problems often become bigger, not smaller, especially when we aren’t really in the mood to look for solutions to those problems. Sound familiar? **raises hand**

I don’t purposely summon the Complain Train. I don’t seek it out or buy tickets in advance. It just seems to show up and I simply hop on with no hesitation. I don’t even think about it, I just get on and go. Not good.

I need to figure out how to permanently derail this train. What better time than the start of a new year, right?

In 2018, I hereby resolve to:

  • Pray to be more mindful of what triggers my complaints. When I become more aware of the situations (and people?) that compel me to climb aboard the Complain Train, I can pause and reframe the situation in a more objective (and at the same time probably a more merciful) manner. If my pet peeve is standing in a long checkout line, I can put myself in the shoes of the unfortunate cashier who is not in charge of staffing but who probably wishes she was. “Poor me” soon becomes “Oh, that poor thing!
  • Pray to speak only positive, encouraging words about people and to people. This can cut down on both complaining and its close cousin, gossip.
  • Practice counting my blessings and developing a habit of deep gratitude that simply overwhelms any impulse to complain.
  • Pray for others more often and more fervently. By focusing on the intentions of others, I am less likely to shine a spotlight on my own concerns.
  • Serve others less fortunate than I am. It’s a fact that on days when I get to serve as a hospice volunteer, I do not find myself anywhere near the Complain Train.
  • If I truly need to vent, I can choose to use my prayer journal to outline the problem and prayerfully seek the solution. Jesus is big enough to handle my complaints and loves me enough not to keep me wallowing there.
  • Just flat-out hold my tongue. Like my mom used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!” And, more powerfully, as St. John of the Cross instructs us: “Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.” Boom.

Goodbye, Complain Train. This passenger is ready to disembark and hang up my chief engineer hat for good. Or better yet, maybe I’ll look for a Mercy and Forgiveness Train—All Aboard!

 

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Ink Slingers

Green Bean Benevolence

 

“Make sure you take time to connect with the people you’re working for,” our parish priest advised us as we prepared to depart for our home improvement mission work deep in the hollers of Kentucky. We had our project lists in hand, our tools at the ready and our trucks loaded with supplies. All 22 of us were eager to dive in to the manual labor required over the next five days. But our pastor wisely counseled us to put down our hammers and paintbrushes and invest in the relationships with the homeowners we were serving as well.

That advice paid off for me. In green beans.

I am blessed and I know it. I have money to pay our bills and even put some away for the future. I have shelter. I have clothing. I have health and family and friends. While I do not have what anyone would consider a wealthy or high-class lifestyle, and I do have my own particular life challenges, I want for nothing. Nothing. And I have always been taught to share what God has so generously given to me through tithing, donations and volunteering. For these opportunities I am extremely grateful. But over the past year or so, my giving had started to become too planned and programmed. It was a duty that had found its way into my checkbook software program and was mindlessly and wordlessly completed. And every once in a while (*winces*) I would catch myself “patting myself on the back” for my focused attention to that almsgiving. Yep, I got a little prideful with what I thought was my oh-so-generous giving from my abundance on a regular basis. Talk about twisting a good thing into a sinful thing!

But then God sent an elderly man who lived in a shack in the hills with no bathroom and no running vehicle and no reliable income to jolt me right out of my self-righteous la-la-land. I was doing as we were instructed—getting to know our homeowners as we worked to convert a room into a bathroom, replace doors and flooring and put up insulation and wallboard. The man’s wife was easy to converse with and she was a joy-filled, saint-in-the-making witness of service as she cared for her adult grandson with special needs. But her husband was a different story. His behavior was a bit unpredictable and we weren’t sure how to best approach him. When he mentioned his patch of green beans growing behind the house, I followed a Holy Spirit nudge to talk with the man about our mutual gardening interests. He lit up when I asked to see them. He led me to a fence behind the back porch where he had expertly strung twine and about a dozen rows of vines were producing gorgeous green beans by the bowlful.

“Here!” he said with a big grin as he picked a handful of beans and held them out to me. “You can have the first ones.”

I was dumbfounded. “I can’t!” I sputtered. “They’re yours!” I knew this man had gone hunting the night before in order to have meat for the table that day. I wasn’t about to take any bounty from his garden.

“Take them,” he insisted. “The Good Lord wants me to share what I got.”

Well, shoot. Didn’t I just get knocked off my high horse, as my dad used to say. Here was this man with few resources offering me the first fruits of his garden without batting an eye, while I had sat in my air-conditioned office the week before, calculating my annual gift-giving totals that really didn’t hurt my bottom line much at all. Ugh. Suddenly I was on the wrong side of the lesson Jesus taught about the rich people giving from their surplus versus the poor widow giving her two mites from her poverty. I was deeply moved and deeply humbled.

Generosity is not supposed to be complicated or executed out of a sense of obligation; it’s a virtue. It’s supposed to come from the heart, spontaneously and simply and as a lifestyle practice, the way my Kentucky friend does it. It should be born of a sense of abundance, no matter our circumstances, because we have a foundational trust in Jesus as our provider and sustainer. And because we realize that everything we do have has been given to us. But I had forgotten all that. I had turned giving into a checkbox on my to-do list, an assignment to complete, and had consequently drained the task of all its essence. “Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing,” said St. Therese of Lisieux. My mindless, wordless, arm’s-length giving is in need of an injection from the Holy Spirit, I wrote in my prayer journal the following morning. Sharing what I have should come from a place of love and gratitude. It should encompass practical efforts like giving money or food, and also include sharing time, words of encouragement and praise… and my faith. I needed this unexpected “green bean benevolence” reminder that my life should be a living, breathing, constant “thank you,” which consistently compels me to be joyfully generous every day and in numerous ways.

I sincerely thanked my teacher for the unexpected gifts he bestowed on me and, fighting back tears of conviction, I put the beans in the dashboard of our truck so I could take them home and set them on my desk. They are a reminder that I can do more and I can do better. And I can do it with greater love.

After all, the Good Lord wants me to share what I got, too.

 

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Amy M. Ink Slingers

Planning for the Unexpected

Plan for the Unexpected

“Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’” -Luke 9:62

           As we enter the second week of 2017, I am finding I’m having trouble getting myself into the present.  I’m stuck looking back at 2016.  It was a year of medical problems for our family.  We had four different people in the hospital, two surgeries, two broken bones (different children).  It was a year full of physical therapy for our oldest as he tried to recover, then prepare for surgery, then heal from surgery, and recover once more.  And it was also a year of great joy as we welcomed our youngest in May.
            Two of the hospitalizations were planned (the birth of our daughter).  One of the two surgeries was scheduled months ahead, and we were well-prepared to deal with the recovery process it involved (our son’s surgery).  The other surgery seemed to come out of nowhere.  My husband became sick, was admitted, and had surgery within 48 hours.  It was a whirlwind.
            The preparation for the first surgery didn’t make it less scary than the second.  One way wasn’t better than the other, in my opinion.  We called on faith and prayers in both situations.  I can’t say I felt God’s presence more in one surgery than the other.  He was there in both, in the people helping us with our other children and in the peace that only He can give in our hearts.
            Four years ago, my husband lost his mom the day after Thanksgiving.  She had been in the hospital for over a month and had been sick for many years.  When she passed away, he was at her side.  It was sad, and we miss her.  However, we felt she was at peace.
            Six weeks later, on the feast of the Epiphany, we returned home from church to a phone call from a local police department.  They had been called to do a well-check on my husband’s aunt.  She had died suddenly overnight.  His mom and aunt were twins, but his aunt seemed to be in much better health.  We didn’t expect that phone call at all, and the grieving process was much different.
            As 2016 drew to a close, we lost our two furry pets.  Our cat was 18, and we were seeing signs of decline, so we tried to prepare ourselves.  Then, Christmas night our younger dog started acting sick.  By the middle of the night, we were aware that it was serious.  We started to get dressed to take him to the emergency vet, but he died before we left the house.  We were devastated.  Less than a week later, our cat passed away.Planning for the Unexpected
            In each of these situations, there was a planned and an unexpected.  Looking back at each, preparing and planning helped, but no amount of control would make it easier.
            The more life throws at me, the more I try to control my circumstances.  I need to do x, y, and z by a certain time in order to consider the day “successful.”  Pulling in tighter, circling the wagons, so to speak, doesn’t help build trust, increase faith.  Knowing my son was going to have surgery and six extra months of physical therapy didn’t guarantee he would be ok.  He is still relearning how to run, waiting to be able to jump, only halfway through his therapy time.  My husband’s surgery happened before I could worry about it or try to control the outcome.  He needed surgery and needed it now.  It wasn’t a time for debate.  It was in God’s hands from the beginning.
            Losing our pets so close together brought back a lot of the time when we lost my husband’s mom and aunt so close together and also at the holidays.  I feel like I’m getting somewhat lost in the past, dwelling on what has happened and how it affected us.  How can we control situations better in the future?  How can we keep ourselves and those we love from being hurt?
            Dwelling on the past isn’t what Jesus wants for me, for us.  He wants us to go forward, living each day for Him and in His will for our lives, striving to be with Him one day in heaven.  That day may be years from now and expected or may come suddenly.  It’s up to us to be ready for the unknown, not by guessing what could happen but by trusting in the One who knows how everything turns out and only wants the best for us.
            At the beginning of 2016, the events and situations in which we found ourselves as the year unfolded had never crossed our radar.  As much as we planned and thought about the future, these things still caught us off-guard.  Yet God was still there in our midst.  He was still the Guiding Light.  We needed to stay in His shadow and let Him navigate us through the storms.  Once we let go of the helm and let Him take over, He will shelter us in the rain.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” -Jeremiah 29:11