Life Lessons: Taught By a Toddler

Many years ago, we had an eighteen-month-old foster daughter who was the sweetest little girl you’d ever want to meet. We took her into our family when she was three months old, just a little bundle of potential, but already I could tell she’d be a loving person. And always ready for fun.

She loved to play dolls with my five year old daughter. They were inseparable really. It was heartwarming to see how well they bonded, which made my toddler’s behavior one day so unexplainable.

She normally woke up from naps with a huge grin and a hug for mom. But not that day. She was grumpy and quick to dissolve into tears. Even the offer of her favorite snack wouldn’t lure her into a good mood. What’s going on?

No fever. No new teeth popping up. Hmmm. I was really hoping it wasn’t the ‘terrible two’s’ making an early entrance.

After two days of this, the whole house was tipping to one side. None of us could figure out what was wrong. Our little girl’s once booming appetite continued to nosedive, right along with her attitude.

Day three arrived. So did the answer to her sudden change in personality. I walked into her room to get her ready for the day, and noticed some random red spots on her tummy. Looking a her back, yep, same thing. Holy Cow. This child has the chicken pox.

Of course she’d feel crabby. My five-year-old had her own case of it two weeks before, and I just figured that our toddler dodged it. Yeah well, not so much.

Whenever I think back to that morning, I’m reminded of the saying, “You never know what people are going through.” I thought my toddler was just acting out. Little did I know she was beginning her battle with that hidden virus.

I’ve encountered salespeople who were rude, short-tempered, or just downright dismissive. I’m sure you have too. It’s very easy to get offended, or to be tempted to respond in kind. “How sad that people can let their negative emotions pop to the surface so easily,” we think. “Why can’t they just look at the bright side of life?”

But now I understand a little better. How do I know what that rude salesperson is facing in his own life? Flat tires. A failing relationship. A rejection letter in response to an application. These are only a few of the reasons that could have reached into his life and tipped the scales toward bitterness.

Maybe that person is really suffering today.

And whether it’s true that the crabby, impatient people we meet are facing hardships or not, I can still respond with calm and patience because I’ll just never know. I think it’s much better to treat someone with kindness and think the best, than to get angry and think the worst.

Our foster daughter sailed through the chicken pox, and went on to be the happy little girl we knew she was.

That gives me a lot of hope. Who knows? With a little kindness and patience from me, that sales clerk might make a fast recovery too.

 

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Dear Friends, I’ve decided to take the summer off from blogging. We have some trips planned, and family visits too, so I know it would be hard to keep up here. I hope you all have a restful and blessed few months, and I’ll see you back here in September!

I may still post on the Facebook page for the blog from time to time, so I hope to see you there.

 

Hiding From God

I don’t know about you, but to me, some days are just harder than others. Every line I’m in somehow has the longest wait. My car is in the shop. Again. (No kidding, it really is in the shop for the second time in three months. Oy!) I get tired and cranky from all the disappointments and broken plans, and all I really want to do is sit by myself, close my eyes, and hope Calgon takes me away.

Life is like that. Plans change, rain falls and stuff breaks. Like the time I was cooking some ground turkey in the deep sauce pan, and somehow managed to drop the glass lid onto the floor. My kitchen floor is ceramic tile, so guess who won that match-up? Shards of glass exploded out of the lid, sliding all over the kitchen floor. Sigh.

Or the time I was playing at my friend’s house when I was in grammar school. After a rollicking game of badminton, we threw down our racquets to head to the house for a snack. Not looking where I was going, I stepped squarely on the racquet handles, cracking two of them clean through.

When bad things happen, it makes us all want to step into a concrete bunker, close the door, and hide from the world. The thicker the walls the better. No one can get to us there – and we can’t possibly break anything in there either. Surrounded by our thick walls, we’ll be safe from disappointing anyone, especially ourselves.

Setbacks in life can not only make us want to hide physically, but spiritually too. We know we shouldn’t get so frustrated by life, but somehow irritation has become a default button. We don’t want the Father to see us this way…so we hide. Feeling too mad or sad to pray, barriers begin going up around our souls. Maybe now we can mope in private, unseen by anyone, including God.

But there’s hope for anyone who find themselves a prisoner of emotions. Just as a father calmly sits down next to his child sulking in the time-out chair, our heavenly Father quietly walks effortlessly right past our defenses. There is no wall or fence that can hold him back from his beloved child. To him, we are his cherished little ones, and no mere concrete barrier will keep him from us.

Even if we are tightly wrapped up in our emotions, he can set us free. Our Father comes to sit close, to wrap us in his embrace, and to start pouring out his healing love and renewing grace. Finally free of negative feelings, we can leap into his arms.

It’s such a comfort to know that although we may try to hide from God, he has no interest in us staying hidden. As long as we want to be his, he won’t hold back.

He comes without delay, his tender devotion ready to soothe and heal. And then, we can begin again, wrapped in the light of his love.

 

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Photo credit: Abigail Keenan, Toa Heftiba, Bible pictures

So Many Choices

A new day dawns 365 times in a year. I don’t know how old you are, but if you do the math, it’s not hard to be impressed. So many days. So many new beginnings. So many choices.

Some start each day with a groan and the snooze alarm.

Some start with the certainty that they will be amazed and gifted.

Some dread the new day, some revel in it.

But one thing is certain. We all have the honor and privilege of opening our eyes and activating our power of choice. All day, the events and circumstances of our lives call us to decide the best course of action. From the moment the alarm sounds in the morning, to the last prayer on our lips as we drift off to sleep, we decide how we greet and treat this day.

When the end of the day does arrive, in our quieter moments, the just-lived day unfolds before us, playing in our heads like a sports highlight reel. The questions of ‘what happened today’ and ‘how did I respond’ find an answer in short bursts of memory that begin slowly, but then pick up steam. Soon, the choices made and the results of them wash over us like an ocean wave.

The good decisions, the victories and generous acts performed, those are the comforters. Faced with helping ourselves or our neighbor, we activated the grace in our souls to create moments of heaven on earth. Not only did joy come to the ones we served, it came to us too.

But not every choice was a good one. As much and as hard as we try, falling short of the goal to make healthy and loving decisions for ourselves and for others…well…it happens.   We are human, armed equally with grace and weakness. Not to mention short attention spans in the spirituality department. So sometimes weakness wins out, and remembering those moments is anything but comfortable.

Finally, before heading off to bed, we are faced with the biggest choice of the day.

Are the mistakes we made today allowed to cling to our weary minds, flooding the soul with waves of sorrow? Or can we instead challenge ourselves to learn from the less-than-our-best moments, ask for forgiveness, and then allow the mistakes to sink into the ocean of mercy that is God?

Until we can make peace with ourselves and God and perhaps whoever we hurt that day, tomorrow will not dawn full of promise. Instead, it will find us waking with souls filled with the heaviness of regret. That’s no way to begin a day.

We all have the grace of choice, and can begin each day with joy and wonder. Yesterday is gone, and all that should be carried forward now are the lessons learned from it.

Wiser and more understanding, let’s be on our way in this new day, ready to make better decisions. May we never forget or refuse to gratefully accept the renewed mercies of God.

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Beheld and Beloved

Today I am excited to share this space with my blog-friend, Jean Wise. Jean and I have been connected through our blogs for several years. She always has wonderful ideas and thoughts to share, and is a prolific writer. 

When she asked me if I’d be interested in swapping blog posts, of course I said ‘Yes!’ This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this, but I think you’re going to like what you read. Say hello to Jean!

~

I took an online class last year on creativity. One assignment was relatively simple. Find a photo of yourself when you were young, for the purpose of rediscovering our childlike sense of wonder and creativity. We were to ponder that child and answer the questions: What do you see when you look at her? What creativity inside of her made her shine?

I never expected to experience a deep transformation from such an easy project.

As I dug through the musty box of old photographs, I stumbled upon two black and white pictures of my dad and me. I sat back in the chair with my shaking hands gently holding these forgotten memories like fragile treasure. My heart overflowed with tears.

In the first one, we are laughing, check to check. I could almost hear the giggles and delight of just being together.

The second photograph, Dad cradles me as a baby. Our eyes only gazing on the other as if no one else existed. His protective hands holding me. A sacred moment captured on grainy film.

As I pondered those photos, I experienced such a tremendous sense of being deeply loved. The power of that moment overwhelmed, yet healed me. I was no longer the one holding the picture; I was the one being held.

Anthony DeMello wrote, “Look at God, looking at you…and smiling.”

I experienced God’s smile that day.

We have this wonderful God who sees us. Whose eyes never leave us. Who continually watches over us in love and delight. God wants to be with us and have a relationship with us. He wants to hold us in his arms. God behold us as we behold him.

To behold is to look at something deeply. This word mean to “hold” it carefully and deliberately in our attention. It involves stopping, being still, really taking the time to see something as it is.

God sees us as we are and loves us all the more.

I struggle with the idea that God delights in me and loves me unconditionally; after all who am I, but a mere flawed human and he is God.

Beholding slowly transforms us. Our inner mirror is cleansed to reflect God. We become what we gaze upon.

After being pulled into that photograph and drenched in loving memories, I know I am a beloved child of God. That day God’s heart touched mine and my misconception of not being good enough, not worthy of his love, faded.

Behold and Beloved. That old photograph revealed a glimpse of heaven. I beheld his smile, his love, his presence. I rested in God’s behold and become beloved.

I gazed at God and felt his loving gaze in return. And I was changed.

May you experience the awesome love of God and be held in His gaze.

 

 

Jean Wise is a writer and speaker at retreats, gatherings, and seminars. She has been a spiritual director since 2006 and works as a Deacon for her church. She is an RN, who retired from the health department after 26 years to concentrate on a speaking and writing ministry. Since then she has written numerous books which are available on amazon (healthyspirituality.org/amazon) and writes on her blog at healthyspirituality.org. She lives in northwest Ohio with her husband, enjoying their empty nest.

 

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Post It Notes for Pizza

Last month, I was visiting my my blog friend’s site, when I viewed a video that really touched me. Linda, at Linda’s Peaceful Place, offers several videos in each of her posts to view, and I’m so glad I ‘clicked’ on this one.

It really shows how a simple idea can bloom and bring joy and comfort to people who desperately need that in their day. It’s a really short video, just a hair over three minutes, but well worth the time. I think you’ll be just as inspired as I was.

~

I am going out of town today to be with my daughter and her family. She is giving birth to baby #4 on May 1st, and I will be helping with babysitting, and whatever else is needed. To my blog friends: I won’t have a chance to visit you on your blogs this week, but I’ll be back next Sunday.

Have a blessed week, and please pray for my daughter, her family, and the safe delivery of a healthy baby boy!

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We Are Easter People

This past week, I’ve been busy taking down our Easter decorations. Of course, it’s not the huge job dismantling Christmas is, but there’s still plenty to do.

I had plastic eggs placed strategically on bookshelves, a wreath of brightly colored eggs on my door (I see a theme here), and a ring of Easter grass on my dining room table. I love the colors and the joy it all brings, so taking everything down always makes me a little wistful. With everything packed away, the house is back to it’s usual self.

Life has drifted back to normal too. Each day, I open my newspaper and read as I sip my coffee – and what I see isn’t always uplifting.

Photo Credit: alexandru-stavrica

Photo Credit: philip-strong

There are heart wrenching stories of people’s lives and families torn by poverty. Children going to school depending on free breakfast and lunch programs. The world news isn’t much better. North Korea, Russia, border walls, health care, global warming. Holy Cow. Put me in a time machine, I want my Easter back! I want the joy, the hope, love and peace.

I think that desire is a common theme in our culture. Show me the joy. Give me the victory, because I don’t want to see the hard stuff, and I sure don’t want to live it. But that attitude, my attitude, is not living the identity we own as Easter People.

Easter People live in hope.

They know that life is filled with sorrows, mistakes and misunderstandings, but refuse to pulled down by them. If there is a need, no matter how large or small, they are the first ones to fill it. They don’t despair in tough situations and they don’t let you despair either.

Easter People pray.

Maybe they aren’t perfect, but they know who is. They know that prayer is heard, and that prayer changes things. If you need the support of prayer in your life, ask an Easter person. They never say no.

Photo Credit: Ben White

Easter People care.

If you’re having a bad day, and even your friends don’t have time to hear you, Easter People always find a way to listen. They know that you are their brother or sister, and want to support and carry you in your challenges. Easter People know your rising time is right around the corner.

It’s very easy to be blinded by the ‘big picture’, and feel like there’s just nothing we can do. But there’s always a way to help, there’s always a place for a willing heart. As Easter People, we work to develop the eye of God, to see the needs and reach out in compassion.

Easter isn’t just one day, it’s a way of living. Our world will always have sorrows and challenges, but that doesn’t mean we have no hope. Our identity as Easter People means we always rise. And the best part is, we don’t do that alone. We carry our brothers and sisters with us.

 

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He is Risen!

Easter has finally come, the hope of new life is fulfilled in the rising of the Lord from the grave! We are no longer people of ‘no hope’, we are people living in the secure future of being raised with him.

Photo credit: Pinterest

Photo credit: Latimer Minster

Turning our heads and hearts from Lent, may we all take the grace we’ve been given in our sacrifices and prayers, and be eager to activate the joy and holiness of this new life.

May your Easter be a festive celebration! Today is the anniversary of your personal promise of salvation from Our Lord.

God bless you and yours this Easter, and may you be flooded with the enveloping love of a Savior who was willing to suffer and die so you could be with him forever. Alleluia!

 

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Random Acts of Kindness

The United States is one of only a few countries in the world that sets aside one day a year to celebrate acts of kindness. February 17th this year was “Random Acts of Kindness Day”.

I don’t have anything against Random Acts of Kindness Day, it’s kind of fun. But as Christians, we have lived for centuries with an age-old call to serve our neighbor. So the urgency to be kind should be so rooted in our souls, that having a day set aside for it should seem…redundant. Kind of like “National Chocolate Day”. Why? Why do we need that? (Every day is chocolate day at my house.)

But performing loving acts of kindness is a little more challenging than loving chocolate, isn’t it? There are a lot of reasons why that’s true, but I can think of three. Three reasons that hold us back from reaching out to others.

Loss of Control

When we step out to help someone else, we’ve lost control. There’s no way of knowing how that offer of help will be accepted, so we get a little nervous and start second guessing ourselves.

“If I run ahead and open that door for her, will she think I’m weird?”

“Well, I’d make a pan of brownies for them, but does everyone like brownies?”

I can say with confidence that no one thinks an open door is weird. Brownies? Everyone loves those. Believe me, that’s just nerves talking.

The Big Picture

Instead of figuring out what can be done, we’re blinded with the giant problem. Nothing I do will make a difference. Why even try?

Sometimes situations are overwhelming, but doing something small can be huge. When my dad died, my church friends provided food and drink for my family at the wake. Did it take away all the pain of loss? No, but we felt so loved, and so relieved to have that one chore done.

Fear

A friend told me that she was afraid to ask God what he wanted her to do. She didn’t want to volunteer in Venezuela, or move to New York to work in a soup kitchen. God might ask her to do something too big, and it worried her.

Well, this is what Mother Teresa of Calcutta said about that, when she was asked, “What can we do? How can we make a difference like you?”

“Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right where you are – in your own homes – in your own families – in your workplaces and in your schools.”

Kindness doesn’t have to go to another country or state to serve. The needs of those around us, in our families and communities are just as immediate as the ones overseas or in another state. My friend had nothing to fear.

This Holy Week before Easter calls, nudging us to step outside of ourselves. Let’s overcome our thoughts of looking silly, seeing only mountains and being afraid.

Together we can be the hands and spirit of kindness in our families and communities. Today would be a great day to start.

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His Name Was Grace

Ok. You got me. His name really wasn’t ‘Grace’, but let me tell you why that name absolutely fits.

I was living far from home for the first time in my 23 year-old life, when I became the proud recipient of a shiny new medical insurance card. I felt so grown up. Of course I’d never have to use this card, I’m young and invincible.

If you want to make God laugh, make your own plans. A routine trip to the dentist turned into a not-so-routine trip to the oral surgeon. X-rays revealed four impacted wisdom teeth pressing on my molars and making a general nuisance of themselves. The time had come to rethink the rental agreement they had with my gums.

The surgeon told me that it would be an easy process (for who?). I’d have the teeth removed in his office, and I could have the procedure under local anesthesia (you can’t be serious) or IV sedation (now you’re talking). I’d need someone to bring me, take me home and stay with me for “a day or two.”

As I sat there, trying to digest that information, I wondered how I’d get the time off work. I had only been in Tucson a month or so. The only person I really knew moved there with me. She was a new hire at her job too. Even if I asked her to help, how would she get time off?

Who can you count on when you don’t know anyone? Mentally flipping through a short list of acquaintances, I remembered that guy in my apartment complex who was so helpful when I moved in. He had stored some suitcases of mine when I couldn’t move in right away. We had become friends, and I knew he was a student at the U of A. I wondered if he’d mind driving me to the appointment, and then checking in on me every once in a while.

Long story short, he did drive me. When I was done, he escorted my woozy self to his car, my jaws firmly clamped on bloody gauze – what a sight that must have been. He picked up my pain meds, 7Up and soup, and then slept on my living room floor for two nights. I never felt so cared for and safe.

My neighbor was grace. I was new in town, and I needed a friend. I sure had one didn’t I? If I never believed that grace comes through especially when I need it, trust me, I learned it then, and I know it now.

Grace. The power, the presence and the love of God, all wrapped into one. I have the eyes to see it now. I watch, amazed and grateful, as it flows through all of us who choose to become the hands and feet of Love in this world.

My husband-to-be was the embodiment of grace those two days, my gift from Love that didn’t want me to be alone. I never expected it, but through my ‘Grace’, I experienced the gentle, protective hand of God.

 

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Mountaintop Moments

We’ve all set goals. Starting out at the base of the mountain, we climb step by step, working hard to get to the top. The steeper the climb, the more joyful the celebration at the summit. I’ve had many mountaintop moments in my life, but two of them stick out in my memory.

TEC Retreat

When I was in high school, my sister and I went on our first retreat experience. It was called “Teens Encounter Christ”, or TEC. I remember being really excited about spending time with other girls my age who wanted to deepen their faith. We’d be gone for three days and two nights, so it was quite a commitment.

Every effort I made was met with joy. I joined a small group to attend talks, have discussion time, eat and pray together too. One of my small group leaders was named Marita, and I told her I was going to name one of my children after her.

After three days, it was time to pack up and head home. I definitely didn’t want to go back to my regular life. I’d experienced so much friendship, faith and fun that I was surely on the highest spiritual high of my young life.

Please don’t make me leave.

College Graduation

I attended a small, all-women college in Minnesota, where I studied nursing. The town was small, but so pretty. It was close to the Mississippi River, with bluffs rising up from the ground, standing like soldiers around the town. The fall season splashed the leaves with every color, and in the winter, we could rent cross country skis and slide around the silent white campus.

I did join the swim team, although it was a small one, making it to the state finals sophomore year. I was also involved in choir, school government and a TON of studying.

In May of senior year, my parents made the six hour trek to see me graduate. It was such an emotional experience. I was excited and relieved beyond belief to have made it to that day. But I was also incredibly sad to say goodbye to the great friends I had made, and the beautiful city and campus.

Please don’t make me go.

In both of these situations, I asked myself, “Why can’t I stay right here forever?”

Well. Because there’s so much more waiting for me.

All I could see was the joy in being where I was. But if I had stayed eternally frozen at the TEC retreat, I wouldn’t have graduated from college. If I hadn’t graduated, I wouldn’t have had the joy of a career in nursing.

Emotional and spiritual highs are wonderful, such a sweet part of life. But they aren’t places to stop and break out the camping gear. They’re springboards to the next adventure. Take it from me, savor those lofty peaks, but don’t forget they’re just one wondrous step on the journey.

So don’t stand admiring the view for too long…the next summit is waiting.

 

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