In Faith, I Trust

I’ve mentioned before that my personal commitment to writing a spiritually-related Sunday blog post is great motivation for me to stop and acknowledge spirituality as a part of my life.

Spirituality is the one thing I can let slide without immediate consequences.  If I don’t help the kids with homework, they don’t learn; if I don’t clean the floors, the playground sand takes over; if I don’t write, I go crazy…and that’s not good for anyone.  And if I don’t tap into my spiritual self?  I function just fine, until I realize I’m lost.

Lacking inspiration, I read through several entries in my Life’s Simple Guide to God book.  In the past, I have read single entries that spoke to me.  This week, several entries seemed like they were written for me.

  • I read about how our burdens become lighter when we turn them over to God.  “If you’re carrying too many burdens – even if they seem to be good and noble – lighten your load.”
  •  Another entry reminded of the importance of fully trusting God.  “When your heart is open, your life is open for a miracle.”
  • Finally, I read an inspirational piece urging the replacement of fear with faith.  I like the quote they included, by Frederick W. Cropp – “There is much in the world to make us afraid.  There is much more in our faith to make us unafraid.”

Earlier this week, I took my older son to a Cub Scout orientation meeting because he’s decided he wants to join.  As I signed him up, the den leader explained how 5 new boys were signing up and they would likely need to start a new den.  I thought, ‘Okay, fine.’ But when he didn’t break eye contact, and continued with, “We need parent volunteers,” I squirmed a bit.

“I can bake cookies or something.”  I hoped this would appease him.

Nope.  I heard the Jaws music in the back of my mind.  I felt trapped.

“We need den leaders,” he said.

“I’m not the leadership type.”

“Neither am I,” the man responded.  “At our next meeting, I’ll make a hard press for volunteers to step up.”

I thought that was a hard press.

I can’t come up with a reason why I’m not the leadership type, other than the fact I don’t like it.  I’ve managed people, but it’s easier not to.

I can, however, think of other excuses reasons not to volunteer.  (1) I don’t have time, (2) I don’t know how to interact with a group of five ten-year-olds, (3) I have zero knowledge of Cub Scout activities (4) I’m afraid.

There it is.  The thought of leading a group of kids in anything makes me break out into a cold sweat.  Quite a feat considering we’ve had record high heat for several weeks now.

So, I turn this burden over to God.  I open my heart and trust him to guide my decision of whether to lead or not to lead.  If this challenge is necessary for my growth, then I will accept it.  If my load is to be lightened by passing up this request, then that’s how should be.  As long as fear isn’t the deciding factor, then I will know faith prevailed.

Is it wrong that I secretly hope that someone else steps up first?

How do you work through dilemmas?  Do you follow your head, your heart or both?  How does faith factor in?  When do you find peace with your choices?

Loving Enemies

I sit on the periphery of the playground, watching girls play hopscotch and my grade-school crush toss a football to his many friends.  He is popular, and I am mostly invisible. My lunchtime recess is spent sitting on a two-foot tall log, wondering if fourth grade will be any different than all the grades that came before.

One of the popular girls taps me on the shoulder.  She invites me to play hopscotch. Still stunned that they would even ask, I tell her I can’t because I don’t have a trinket to toss.  She suggests my necklace and I run my fingers along the gold chain and the small pendant dangling from it.  It’s a gift from my grandma.  I choose to join, hopeful that they have decided to be my friends.

We play hopscotch for the next twenty minutes.  The bell rings, signaling the end of recess, and everyone rushes to gather their things to go inside.  I search the painted boxes of the hopscotch board.  My necklace is gone.  It’s the third one I’ve “lost” and I know my mom will think I’m irresponsible.  I also know that I’ll let her believe that because, in my mind, it’s better than her knowing I’m gullible.

After every sting of betrayal, I often felt anger – even hatred.  I vowed to never trust them or be duped into giving them anything.  I wanted to be invisible and I wanted them to go away.  I didn’t wish them harm; I just wanted them to disappear, like the mate to the sock that’s been sitting on my dryer for eight months now.

It’s safe to say that I never felt love for my tormentors.  I never prayed for God to warm their hearts or bless them with happiness.  My (selfish) prayers begged for an end to my suffering.  It took many years to forgive them and accept that their taunting was necessary to make me, “me.”

The topic I read in my Life’s Simple Guide to God book that reignited these memories was titled “Pray for Those Who Curse You.”  The referenced scripture shined a spotlight on one of my deficiencies:

[Jesus said] You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.—Matthew 5:43-45

I don’t waste time “hating” those who have hurt me, but I have yet to say a positive prayer for the enemies who have wronged me.  Just as I grew from my experiences, I hope they also gained knowledge which molded them into caring adults, capable of compassion.  I hope they found the security in themselves to feel confidence without stealing it from others.

Do you love your enemies?  How do you know you’ve accomplished forgiveness?  When praying for an enemy, what do you pray for?

Siamese Twins and Shields

No, not Siamese Cats with Shields

I had trouble thinking of a Sunday spiritual post; mostly because my mind is cluttered with other things this week.  I made some distracted prayers for guidance, in between my prayers for others that were suffering this week, but nothing surfaced for the first few days.

Each day, I read and comment on several blogs.  On Wednesday, I read Hilary Clark’s post about worrying.  I am a worrier, so I could relate.  On Thursday, a funny post by Amanda Hoving about stress dreams prompted me to share my waitressing nightmare.  And then on Friday, I read a few pages in my Life’s Simple Guide to God book.  The topics?  “Let Go of Worry” and “Get Serious About Laughter.”

I could be mistaken, but I felt the guidance I prayed for led me here.  I’ve found that worry and stress are like Siamese twins, in that when one finds me, the other is just an arm’s length away.  Laughter acts as a shield, preventing stress and worry from overwhelming me.  Unfortunately for me, three’s a crowd, and laughter doesn’t generally hang around with stress and worry, without special invitation.

My worry has no limits – it ranges from the tiniest details to the state of the world.  In a given week, I can worry about forgetting to do something I have committed to do; whether something I said could have been interpreted as hurtful; I worry about the deterioration of social skills, and society in general; corruption in our government; the state of the Middle East and whether hatred will destroy us all.  See?  You name it; I worry about it at some point. 

Stress is a bit sneakier.  It’s like a snowball rolling down a steep hill, gaining in size and speed throughout the day.  The kids are slow getting ready, so I leave fifteen minutes late; already late, there’s an accident on the freeway; it’s time for a meeting and my notes have gone missing; a project document encounters an error and closes without saving my changes;  well, you get the idea.

The guide retold the story of how Jesus fed more than five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish (and had leftovers.)  I’ve always liked this story because it illustrates how things can work out even when they seem impossible.  Instead of worrying, the disciples let Jesus handle the situation.  Life’s Simple Guide to God offered the reminder that our needs are never more than God can handle.  We just have to recognize our needs versus wants, and trust, even in uncertain times, that He will not fail to provide.

Even knowing this, sometimes stress and worry affect me like the weariness before a cold and not even copious amounts of dark chocolate improve my spirits.  I know I should accept that worrying is not productive.  Easier said than done.  I read some verses in the Bible about worry that I enjoyed:

Matthew 6:25-27

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life much more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

It’s true that worrying doesn’t change what will be.  Since I can’t stop it, I fight it with laughter.

The guide suggests that God wants us to laugh and that joyous outbursts are pleasing to Him.  I loved this quote from the book:  “Don’t take life so seriously.  Be willing to laugh at yourself, laugh with others, and laugh with God.”  It’s hard to stay worried or stressed when laughter surrounds us.

Now’s a good time to laugh with me …or at me, if you must!

Have you drooled on a good book lately?

How do you ease your own worry or stress?

I Need Less Talk And More Walk

Life’s Simple Guide To God is turning out to be a creepy book.  Seriously, I’m getting jumpy and starting to look over my shoulder so often that my neck is getting stiff.  It’s like the authors have a window into my mind and wrote this book just for me.  I know that sounds egocentric, but the world is flat and all roads lead to ME, right? [For those who haven’t grasped my humor, this was my unruly sarcasm coming through.]

Okay, I’m back.  I was having trouble coming up with a topic for my Sunday post.  I thought I’d write about the women’s retreat I went to a couple weeks ago, but right now, none of the topics are begging to be written.  I opened up my Life’s Simple Guide To God book and flipped a couple pages (I haven’t read it for several days) and found this subject:  Practice More Walk, Less Talk.

In this topic, the authors point out that while our words are good, they are not enough.  If we encourage others to put their faith in God, our lives should reflect that we have put our trust in God.  If we tell others that we should love each other, but don’t follow through by loving people in our lives, then we are hypocrites and our words are diluted, if not meaningless.

This is so true – our actions do have so much more impact than our words.  With my kids, I am constantly talking to them about manners.  I remind them to say “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome”; scold them for interrupting; lecture them that burping doesn’t belong at the table; and nag them to use napkins instead of their shirts.  Still, in nearly every social situation, they need a nudge to shift their manners into gear. 

A few weeks ago, we took the kids to a theme park.  I spent most of the day in the kiddie section with my younger son.  I noticed that many of the ride operators looked bored and that not many people acknowledged them, so I made a point to say “thank you” as we exited each ride.  To my surprise, my younger son started saying “thank you” after a couple rides.  I practiced the walk with my manners, and he took notice – more so than me telling him to be polite. 

Kindness Can Brighten Someone's Day

After I returned home from the women’s retreat, I was so excited to read more of the scriptures that were referenced, continue with my reading of Matthew in the Bible, and possibly learn more about myself.  I learned more about myself all right.

I discovered that I’m a lazy procrastinator.  Well, to be honest, that’s not a complete surprise – procrastination runs in the family, along with stubbornness and diabetes.  Now, if I can’t make time to do these things I really wanted to do, you can imagine where this leaves the tasks I don’t want to do, right?

I’ve talked about embarking on this spiritual journey, but this week, it was all talk – there was no walking.  I felt farther from God than I have in a long time.  I’m left with a vague sense of failure because this week, I let others’ negativity bring me down, my patience went missing, I worried about the state of the world and spoke in anger – and I did this all by myself.  At no point did I say a prayer and ask God for strength, patience, peace or understanding.

Acknowledging failure is the first step to unburden myself from it.  I truly dislike the idea of scheduling every detail of my day, but I’ve seen that left to my own devices, important things won’t get accomplished.  So that my spiritual journey doesn’t stall, I’m going to have to schedule reading and reflection time every night. 

I don’t expect perfection from myself, but I do challenge myself to put forth my best effort (which I did not do this past week).  I won’t dwell on this because I look down this past week’s long tunnel of failure, and beyond that, I see the hope of next week and the opportunity to be a better “me.”

How do you get yourself “right” after a week that’s gone “wrong?”

Daily Inspiration

Earlier this week, I started reading Life’s Simple Guide to God.  The cover of the book sums it up best when it describes it as “Inspirational Insights for Growing Closer to God.”

I bought this book last summer, along with about fifteen other books, during a great online sale at Barnes & Noble.  It’s small, so I dropped it into my laptop bag (which houses my laptop used for work) and thought it would be great lunchtime reading.  You guessed it:  I’ve never opened the cover until a few days ago.

Each “inspiration” is a 2-page spread, beginning with a scripture reference (which is good, so I can read more in the Bible.)  The first day, I opened the book to find an inspiration titled “Be On The Lookout For Miracles.”  Luke 19:37 was referenced: 

As they reached the place where the road started down from the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

I found this a bit amusing because I recently wrote about miracles, so you know I believe in them and search for them like constellations in the city sky.  (I find more miracles than constellations, in case you were wondering.)

On day 2, I flipped the page to find “Adjust Your Priorities” and a reference to Matthew 6:33:

[Jesus said,] Put God’s kingdom first.  Do what he wants you to do.  Then all of those things will also be given to you.

I laughed (am I supposed to laugh at words of inspiration?) because I’ve been writing recently about life’s demands eroding away my writing time.  The message was to seek God’s presence for the strength to face each day.  A part of me wondered if it was possible that I’m not supposed to be writing.  I hope not, because I enjoy writing.  (If my computer is destroyed by spontaneous combustion, I’ll take that as I sign I should be doing something else.)

It was a little eerie to have the first two days be so relevant, so I scanned the topics for the next couple days:  Let Go Of Self (they pose the question, “what have you done lately for someone other than yourself?”) and Give Up Your Grudges (with the question, “whom do you need to forgive today? Do it.”)

I think God is trying to tell me to get over being mad about the empty toilet paper holder and to go replace the cardboard cylinder with a new roll.

Have you found any books of inspiration that have meshed with your life?