Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Pain of Giving Life

I was young, maybe 7, maybe 10, when I saw my grandfather jump over a fence and rush to a cow that was lying on her side, bellering out in pain. The cow had been in labor for a while but now something was wrong.

I stood tiptoe on the bottom rung of the gate, studying intently the wild eyes of the mama cow, like she was pleading with me to help her - but I was just a kid. I didn't know what to do. The truth was, there was nothing I could do.

I watched as grandpa took baler twine and tied it around two small hooves sticking out of the mother. I watched as my grandfather kicked the mama cow. Kicked her hard. And he kept kicking as she struggled to her knees, hollering in pain as she reluctantly made her way standing.

I watched as my grandfather started pulling on that twine. Pulling hard. Pulling hard on little legs sticking out -

"NO! STOP!" I screamed. "YOU'RE HURTING HER!"

I became so angry at my grandfather. Hating him for what he was doing - yanking and pulling and swatting at the mama so she couldn't lay down. Didn't he see how much pain this was causing? Why was he okay with her being hurt? Why was he doing this?

In the end, grandpa was right.

I wasn't a farmer. I wasn't able to see the whole picture. That the calf being born was having trouble coming out, which put the life of the mama cow in danger, along with the life of the calf itself.

I wasn't able to see that the calf had to be born. That it wasn't meant to stay inside it's mother forever. Staying meant dying.

I wasn't able to see that the pain the mama went through was a necessary part of giving her baby life.

But now I do.

Now, I see how Avery wasn't meant to stay in this earthly world. She needed to be pulled out so she could live on forever. As a Christian, Avery believed that this world was just a waiting room; a womb to grow in until it was time to be birthed into heaven.

And that birthing caused great pain. It hurt. It hurt so many people. I can't help but think about Jadrian screaming out at the accident scene, "WAKE! UP! WAKE! UP!" Oh, the overwhelming amount of confusion and fear and frustration and anger as to what she was witnessing: Didn't God see how much pain this was causing? Why was He okay with her being hurt? Why was He doing this?

I'm not God. I'm not able to see the whole picture. But I know this: earth isn't our forever home. And now I know that the pain a mama goes through is a necessary part of her baby's eternal life.

That calf ended up being more than okay. Gamboling across pens to lick the hands of children, growing up big and strong and, well, incredibly happy. Because it didn't hold a single memory of any pain or hurt it may have gone through to get there.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;
and there shall be no more death,
neither sorrow,
nor crying,
neither shall there be any more pain:
for the former things are passed away.
Revelation 21:4

Monday, February 24, 2014

How Clean is your Pantry?

There are times when I open my food pantry and all I see is nothing. Nothing worthwhile, I mean. Sitting on the shelves are boxes of rice, packets of chili seasoning, a couple half-filled boxes of Hot Chocolate packets. An old box of cereal waits for someone to finally roll down the liner. Crumbs in a potato chip bag that don't amount to anything wait for someone to throw them away.

I open the door and get quickly discouraged.

So, I shut the door.

And yet, I can walk to that same door, open it and see shelves stocked with delicious goodness! Spaghetti sauces and brownie mixes. A bag of plump potatoes and onions as big as my head. Cajun spices that make everything taste better.

Same pantry. Same door. Different vision.

It's what I choose to look at. It's what I choose to see.

Sometimes, life gets the better of me. All I see is the crumbs. All I see is the outdated crap that should be tossed away and yet I can't seem to figure out how to trash it.

Yet, at other times I have no trouble seeing past all that nonsense to gaze at all the good stuff!

When you think of it, we're all kind of like a walking pantry. Instead of food, our shelves are stocked with happiness and peace and fear and sadness and all the experiences that we've gone through in our lives. We get invited to peer into the pantry of our neighbors and co-workers and the other parents at the school - and we have a choice as to what we're going to take stock of. What we'll notice. What we can't seem to look past.

I know I should clean out my (personal) pantry - and I do from time to time. But a lot of the time when you open my door you'll just see a scattered mess. Things falling off the shelves all crazily displayed. And maybe you'll pass judgment and wonder why on earth I don't just straighten everything up so I can look as well put together as you.


Someday I'll toss out the stuff that shouldn't be stored and get rid of the stuff that's outdated and expired. I'll group together all the happiness and all the joy and stand all the boxes of strength side-by-side! And it'll be good.

But today, well, today my pantry is a mess. Today, if you can't see past the stuff that doesn't seem to be worth anything to you, you have a choice: Look past it and take notice of the good stuff, or close my door and walk on.

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, 
the one who is able to save and destroy. 
But you - who are  you to judge your neighbor?
James 4:12  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Where are the Gifts YOU received?

Photo by asenat29/Jonathan Lim Yong Hian 
via Flickr Creative Commons
It makes me sad when I hear someone say they don't have any special skills or talents. I believe with every fiber of my being that every single person brought to earth holds something special inside them, given as a special gift from God. I mean, do you really expect me to believe that God is busy passing out all these special unique qualities to everyone but forgot about you? Or suddenly had a brain freeze and couldn't think of one single thing to give to you? Trust me. You have special talents.

I think just like when we try to find the special gift to make a birthday special, or an anniversary gift reflect the love we hold in our hearts for another, or a special something to show the appreciation we feel for someone - God showers us with gifts to show His love for us. And I think He really wants us to use our gifts to honor Him and help others. It's His way of saying, "Here. Take this. I know you will do something fantastic with it!" 

I once spoke with a local potter who told me that the saddest thing for him is when he goes to someones home and they point to a display case, behind which, a few of his pieces sit behind glass. "I make these to be used," he told me. "I want people to take my coffee cups and sit around using them, talking with each other, sharing, making memories."

God doesn't want our talents to sit unused on a shelf.

How do I know what my talents are? 

Easy. Ask yourself, ask others and ask God.

C'mon. You know what you enjoy. You know what moves you and stirs you. Your interests are a pretty good indication of where your talents are. Think there's nothing better than watching someone hungry eat? Maybe your special talents and skills rest with feeding the homeless, or motivating others to make family dinner time a priority.

Ask people who know you what they think your talents are. Take a survey: ask your children, cousins, friends, co-workers, people you regularly do business with. Shoot, put it on Facebook! I think you'll be surprised by the answers. And I'll bet good money you won't hear twenty people say, "nope. Sorry. You got none. Nothing. Nada. No talent for you!" More than likely, you'll come to realize you're being told the same thing over and over. Everyone says I am steady and sure in the face of chaos. Huh. Maybe they're on to something. (Maybe it's time for you to check out volunteering with your local Red Cross!)

Still not sure these are your talents? Pray. Ask God: he knows what He's given to you! But make sure you listen to His answer.

What do we usually do with our talents? 

Too often we minimize the talents we have. Maybe it comes from being taught not to brag. But just as we shouldn't make something bigger than what it is, we also shouldn't make it smaller. Imagine if I had searched for the perfect gift for my friend and later overheard her say, it's just a candle. I mean, just about everyone has a candle. I'd feel so hurt. I tried to get the one that looked just right, smelled just right, and she didn't think it was that big of a deal.

Imagine how God feels when he overhears us telling people the talents He gave us aren't anything to be thrilled over.

We spend too much time comparing our talents to those of other people. It's easy to do, because for some reason our society gushes a lot over the Big Ticket Talents. You know, singing, dancing, painting, drawing, acting. Somehow we think if we don't share in those talents we got the short end of the talent stick. I sometimes wonder why our society doesn't give the same air time to people filled with quiet compassion, or the capacity to be a great listener.

We foolishly think we deserve something better than what we got. I remember when my Dad got me that crappy car when I turned 16. All I did was complain and compare it to all the super cool newer cars that I passed by. I was basically (and quite rudely) telling my Dad he got me the wrong gift. Turns out, it was actually the perfect car for me! It was reliable and safe and included gas mileage I could afford. (All things I didn't appreciate were exactly what I needed.) I don't know about you, but I don't want to be the one who goes up to God and asks for the receipt so I can return His gift and get one I think I deserve.

What should we do with our talents?

Ultimately, it's up to you. They're your gifts. They come with no strings attached. You can decide to use them or waste them. Just understand that God will probably eventually want to know why you didn't do anything with them. (That's when you can tell Him you just didn't like His gifts or thought you deserved better ones. I'm sure He'll like that.)

But let's say you want to do something you're just not sure how your talents and skills can glorify God. Get together with some friends and have a brainstorming session. Search the Internet by entering your skill and the word charity in the search engine. Or ask random people how they see a certain skill set being utilized to help others.

  • Got a talent as a hairdresser? Once a month offer to cut/trim hair for free to children of low-income families or to shut-ins.
  • Possess a keen business sense? Mentor people to help them get back on their feet. Maybe this includes how to use social media as marketing, or what to expect during interviews.
  • Experience a joy of cooking? Partner with a church and offer free basic cooking lessons to teens or young single mothers.
  • Love bringing a character to life through acting? Volunteer to help with your local elementary school's reading program.

Don't be surprised if your talents change.

Maybe you've spent your whole life using your special talents of accounting by helping others balance their checkbooks, pay their bills on time, or do their bookkeeping, but lately you've felt a tug on your heart to do some more knitting. You keep seeing things in the newspaper or online about programs that provide homemade blankets to children at hospitals. This might be God's way of encouraging you it's time to use another talent.

This is okay! In fact, it's expected. God wants us to grow and evolve and try different things just like we want our own children to be multifaceted. With each talent we express we're going to meet new people and discover new things about ourselves and the world we live in. Embrace the change! Besides, I'm pretty sure that if God wants you to move and you stubbornly refuse to, he'll find a way to make it happen.

Danger, Will Robinson!

So, here's the thing about gifts from God. They're given to us to be used for good and not evil. If I give my little girl a princess wand for dress up and she turns around and starts using it as a sword to beat her brother with, I'm not going to be too happy. In  fact, I'll probably very quickly find a way to put that wand out of her reach until she's learned how to properly handle the gift I've given her.

Let's say you've been blessed with the special talent of being an incredible mother. I'm talking about someone patient and loving at all times, able to bake cookies with the 2-year old and actually enjoy it, takes the kids to the park and is thrilled with spending 45 minutes pushing the same kid on the same swing even though they totally know by now how to pump their legs - that's awesome! That's such an incredible gift! But if you're using your talent to tear people down, you'd better check yourself.

God wants us using our gifts to build others up, not belittle them or condemn them for not doing as good a job as you think they ought to be doing. He didn't give you that gift so you could be pompous, judgmental and walk around feeling holier-than-thou.

Here's a hint: if reading that just elicited an unexpected and uncontrolled internal reaction, you probably need to rethink what you're doing with your talents. Because if you don't, I guarantee God's going to help you figure out a way to set things right... and it might not feel so good.

Go get 'em - but not on your own!

This week, I challenge you to really look at what your talents and skills are and not discount what you are made of. Remember, it's not all about those Big Ticket Talents. What you have makes you special and that's just the way God wants you to be! Embrace His gifts! Now, think of a way you can use that gift to help build others up.

Look, I don't know about you, but at the end of my life I want God to hold my face tenderly in His hands and whisper, "Well done, good and faithful servant. I am so proud of what you have done in My name!" The only way that's going to happen is if I always put God first. I want to go wherever God leads me, using whatever talent He gives me, in whatever way He asks me to do it, without complaint. If He needs to close a thousand doors to get me to walk through the one I'm supposed to, I'll do so willingly and faithfully. And whatever He asks me to do, I desire only for Him to receive all the glory.

Above all, 
love each other deeply, 
because love covers 
over a multitude of sins. 
Offer hospitality to one another 
without grumbling. 
Each of you should use 
whatever gift you have received 
to serve others, 
as faithful stewards of God’s grace 
in its various forms.  
If anyone speaks, 
they should do so as one who speaks 
the very words of God. 
If anyone serves, 
they should do so 
with the strength God provides, 
so that in all things 
God may be praised 
through Jesus Christ. 
To him be the glory 
and the power 
for ever 
and ever. 

1 Peter 4:8-11

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love Sent from Heaven

It was Valentine's Day today. Brody had to bring Valentine's for his class. He's in 3k. I bought them last night. It hurt.

You see, Avery was my girl! She was organized and thoughtful and sensitive and all those things totaled a well thought out plan to be executed in advance. She would have come to me weeks ago with an idea. More than likely a very detailed plan that would require a lot of hard work. And she would have had a list of people to bring Valentine's to. Friends, teachers, bus drivers, the mailman, people down the street she saw one time getting into their car that she felt called to give something to so no amount of persuasion would convince her otherwise. Because that's what she did. She loved on people whether she knew them or not.

And I would have been somewhat embarrassed because I wouldn't know what to do with all that kindness and compassion, but I'd give in anyway and do it her way. And a part of me would think I don't want to be around on the day she figures out that the world is not as good as she sees it.

So, this year I tossed something together last minute, not even bothering to try to explain what we were doing and why. I dropped Brody off at school and drove to Walgreens and parked the car. Then I sat for a second. And I looked at the sky and tried to see the light through my tears. And I sat with tears streaming down my face not caring who saw because Lord, sometimes this hurt is so hard.

Then I pulled myself together, wiping my snotty face on my coat sleeves and taking in a deep breath. I grabbed my purse and found my debit card and went searching for the Walgreen's Balance Reward card because the last thing I wanted to do was stand in a line forced into idle chit chat while frantically pawing through the contents of my bag, barely holding it together. But I couldn't find the stupid card. I knew it was in there, so I started pulling things out...
after another...
after another...
I had started crying but ended up laughing because I didn't even realize I had all these pictures! I love how God takes care of me, giving me what I need exactly when I need it.
Of course my baby girl would say Happy Valentine's Day to me! That's what she does. She loves on people. And I had to admit, even when the hurt is really, really hard - the world really is as good as Avery saw it.
In other news, Avery was featured in the February, 2014 edition of the Irish American News. Another sweet hello on Page 35! Check it out! I think it's a great article that came just when I needed it!

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