Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What did I Have in my Hands?

I had the car in my hands. . .and the knowledge to check it out. . .and the last name of the owner and where he had the car serviced.  And using what was in my hand, I was able to make a call and find out that the car needed about $1500-$2000 worth of work that the owner declined to have done in June. 

So although I am looking for a car again, I did get to see what using what is in your hands can do.

Time and People in my Hand

I approached yesterday with much trepidation, after all, 30 days of focusing on What’s in My Hand (OK actually 30 days focusing on anything for me) seemed a little unlikely. 

I thought most of the way to church about my formless day—what was in my hand were these elusive things called time and people.  Although I thought I might recognize people in my hand and respond appropriately (smiling, making newcomers know they were welcome, praying with someone crying etc.), I wasn’t so sure what using the time in my hand might look like. 

Immediately after church I left for “Lunch” at Costco – the buffet left me starving, and I admittedly didn’t look for people on the way to the parking lot to talk to.  Two breads on a spread that was only half as long as usual—thankfully I am not gluten (or butter, God forbid) intolerant—but I digress. 

Leaving Costco I headed to Robb’s to scoff down all the pre-packaged goodies I could get into my famished body-- but that left us at the odd time of 2PM.  The lack of indecision combined with the heat of the day and, perhaps, the importance we were placing on “what’s next” caused a little tension and found myself expressing my annoyance.  All the plans I had for ministering to complete strangers today had little impact on ministering to the man in my hand.  Part of being faithful with the people in your hand is opening up your heart and taking time to understand them—all of them.

The Pirate game started at 1:35 and I believed the music at the winery to be over at 3.  So by the time we would get to the game or music they would be half over.  We sat in the running car facing out of the driveway waiting for a direction.  Finally he said, “Let’s pray about it”.  Whew, good idea.

No lightning bolts came down.  No booming heavenly voices.  Neither of us “got” anything but the baseball game seemed more complex and the outdoor music at La Casa Narcissi seemed more of an environment to map out the plan he wanted to attack for the week so we headed there.  We sat alone and people-watched just relaxing and munching on calamari. 

The music actually was supposed to be from 2-5 so our choice turned out to be a good one.  Then at 5 another performer joined the current one and they played together for a while longer turning a good thing to a God thing.  Sabbath rest accomplished.

At one point enroute home Robb spotted a Nissan Murano for sale on the side of the road.  We pulled over to take a look—it was in great shape and priced right.  Larger than I needed but I saw how much time the car search had sucked up thus far and I wanted it over.  We called the number to test drive it.  The owner had just put it out 3 hours before after beautifully detailing it.  It was garage kept and you could tell he was meticulous about it.  They were selling it because they needed something with a third seat for the dog. 

I’ll take it to the dealer to be looked over today. 

To recap, I saw myself fail with the “man in my hand” . . . but took the failure as a lesson.  I think we did well discerning what to do with the time in our hand and were rewarded with not only an accomplished rest, extra unexpected music, but also, perhaps, freedom from having to restart the car search.  That alone redeems hours of time and frustration.  This could be an interesting month.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

What’s in Your Hand?

What’s in Your Hand?

I can’t seem to get the phrase “What’s in Your Hand” out of my head.  It seems that that is the phrase that God has me contemplating lately. 

Honestly, up to this point, I had spent most of my time contemplating what is “not” in my hand.  I need a new car because mine won’t’ pass inspection without work that far exceeds the value of the car.  I need a house as the one I am living in is essentially owned by the state due to my mom’s nursing home debt.  I need a phone because the one that I have has reached the (planned by the phone company) end of its life and has snail-slow speed and erratic battery life.  I am a writer that writes far too little and hasn’t submitted much for publication lately.  I’m an aunt, sister, and daughter who isn’t deepening relationships.  These are the data points that consume most of my prayer life—what I don’t have. 
But God has been focusing me on something different- What’s in Your Hand?

So I intend to ask myself every day for the next 30 days, “What’s in Your Hand?”
Today is Sunday.  I will go to church, pick up some things for work at Costco and make a return at Office Max.  That should put me at about 1PM.  What I have in my hand is all of the people I will come in contact with and the balance of this day of Sabbath rest.  The big, un-replenishable thing I have in my hand is time.  I have the blessing of that time not having to be used on a project but a gift of rest.  Do I go to a park or a pool and read a good book? Do I take a hike and pray?  Do I go to a Pirate game?  Go visiting?

How do I use the gift of time in my hands today?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Down to a Piece of Paper

I wasn’t expecting. . .and thus I wasn't prepared for the sadness and finality of it.  I pulled close to the ATM machine on this rainy November Pittsburgh morning.  Generally I would have gone inside to make the deposit but the lobby wasn’t open yet; a blessing in retrospect. 

I inserted my card and typed in my PIN like I had 1000 times since I was sixteen but when I went to deposit the check it was as if I was letting go of my Dad on a little piece of paper.  This was the last thing to note Dad is gone.  The last thing to indicate, to cement, to make final that he is not coming back.  I almost didn’t want to make the deposit --as if it’s being sucked into the system somehow was voluntarily saying I willingly agreed with the fact that he was gone. 

In some families this may be thought of as money the individual didn't get.  To others this type of money may seem like  an unexpected windfall.  To me, however, this is unexpectedly more significant.  

I don’t know why I let myself, but I read the accompanying letter once again.  “DEATH BENEFIT STATEMENT” in bold letters across the top in black and white.  Cold and devoid of feeling.  Canada Life Assurance Co. . . .sending a Death benefit--ironic.  Beneficiary-me, a policy number, a claim number.  Insured-my Dad’s name—all spelled out like it never was except in the most legal of documents.  A name nobody probably ever called him except in the most significant of situations. . . a name his parents probably yelled out for emphasis.  And now no more will it ever be uttered that way, spoken sternly or even said. . .because he was gone. . .sucked into an ATM with nothing to show for it but a receipt that would fade within a year. 

What were the thoughts when that policy was first initiated?  No one could have predicted the life. . .or the death. . .or all that happened in between.  Love, babies, betrayal, triumphs, losses, losses, losses.  And now he is my loss.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Forgiveness and Compassion

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:34 (NIV)

As much as I know that we are to stay away from anger and bitterness and forgive everyone “seventy times seven”, this doesn’t come automatically for me; I often have to consciously stop and think about it to make it a reality. While sometimes anger or resentment builds slowly because I have not chosen to rebuke these feelings, there are times when the moment sneaks up on me and I am in a rage before I even know what hit me.

Most of what I call “injustices” in my life, however, are small in the grand scope of things. I let a stray word, harsh text or unreturned phone call ruin a perfect day. I can’t say that I have had an experience anything nearly as severe as the injustices surrounding Jesus’ death--yet even on the cross, watching them divide his garments, he was not only forgiving them, but asking God to forgive them.

Jesus knew that it was Satan in them that was responsible for their ill behavior. He offered them compassion and forgiveness instead of judgment—even in his time of distress. Choosing compassion over judgment is what he calls us to as well.

More often than not, that stray word that almost ruined my day was not intended in a mean way. The abrupt text wasn’t meant to be harsh, but was the byproduct of someone in a hurry. And the person who failed to return the phone call had a perfectly good excuse. By not immediately flying off of the handle and instead seeking to understand. . .which takes a bit more patience. . .the “unjust” action is usually understandable and I am able to approach it with not only understanding, but compassion.

Lord, help me trade my ungodly feelings to compassion for those who hurt me. Help me see them through your eyes and not the jaded eyes of this broken world.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

White Birch Logs

Before I formed you in the womb I knew [and] approved of you [as My chosen instrument], and before you were born I separated and set you apart, consecrating you; [and] I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah 1:5 AMP

Blessings don’t always come in the way you think they will They aren’t always large. . .or profound. . . or public. . .or, sadly, noticed. Yet blessings and miracles are there every day for those willing to look for them.

Robb had suggested two weeks ago that I replace the dusty, crumbling gas “logs” that have been in my fireplace for more than the forty-five years it has been capped off, with white birch logs. I would add it to my list of things that I somehow think are going to miraculously appear which currently includes: living room furniture, dining room chairs, new walls in both my kitchen and spare bedrooms. . .you get the picture.

I would have no idea where to get birch logs. I had never seen birch anywhere in log form outside of Christmas card photos. The fact is, I see very few birch trees alive. And lets just say I happened to run into a fallen birch on one of my travels—what is the likelihood it wouldn’t be damp and full of bugs or that I would have a saw or an axe to cut it up?

The following week I was on a work retreat at a twelve-room bed and Breakfast in Ohio’s Amish country. A fire was set in the fireplace in my room and it wasn’t until it was roaring that I noticed that it was set with white birch logs. Although it was too late to save the burning ones, there were several still wrapped in the canvas carrier on the hearth.

The following day I asked the innkeeper if I could have the ones that were left. He went on to tell me, for no apparent reason, because I surely didn’t ask, about how there was one lone birch tree on the property and that it had died and was cut up for firewood.

Here are the numbers as I see them. One birch on the whole property that died on some date in the past, was cut down, split, dried and out of twelve rooms that checked out the day I arrived, there were an armful of its logs sitting, waiting for me on my hearth.

If we ever think God doesn’t have a plan for us or that life is a random series of events, I just can’t believe that for a moment. Before I was even born God planted a birch tree in Ohio 200 miles from where I live. It grew, died, dried and was cut up and delivered to the room I stayed in on a particular evening in April. I never would have stayed there except for it being a Living Social deal that was about to expire the following week. Me and the tree ended up together one Monday night. Coincidences just aren’t that great. God, however, is. If God cares about our details. . .down to the wood that will never burn in our capped off fireplaces--how much more must he really care about us?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Hands and Feet of Christ

For just as the body is a unity and yet has many parts, and all the parts, though many, form (only) one body, so it is with Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12 AMP

After my parents were divorced finances were difficult. Fortunately, My Mom, a new Christian, had a group of strong Christian friends who supported her spiritually and helped her grow in Christ through times of praise, study and prayer meetings. I don’t’ see many prayer meetings anymore, but these women prayed together every Thursday.

Each Christmas Eve my Mom, sister and I looked forward to bundling up and walking to church. The sidewalks of our quaint suburban were lined with luminaries made of paper bags, mason jars or milk jugs. There was a certain reverent hush as the candlelight danced on the blanket of snow giving the town a magical, hopeful glow.
The pine scented church was abundantly decorated with green-lit trees. Nestled among a dozen trees in a front alcove was the manger scene--everyone present except Jesus.

Exactly at midnight, the choir director’s wife would begin to sing “Oh, Holy Night”. As the song ambled toward its crescendo, Jesus would be carried slowly down the center aisle and placed in the manger.

It was a time of reverence, wonder and awe. Not because of the gifts we would receive, but because of the gift we already received—Jesus.

The year I turned nine, we walked home from church as usual, basking in the warmth of the music and the enchanting glow of the candlelight. When we reached home and opened the door, each of us, including Mom, was amazed. Pouring across the floor in front of the fireplace was an avalanche of gifts. It was obvious to this nine-year-old and her younger sister that Santa had indeed been there. It was more than we expected; more than we needed. We would have been content to spend the day together with a few gifts from the dollar store, but God and his people had other plans.
My Mom’s prayer group “got it”. Although it didn’t need to be a time of extravagant gift giving, God had given the rather extravagant gift of His son. . .and they, His other children, made in His image, followed suit. Not to impress, not out of obligation, not to have a “good deed at Christmas” crossed off of their to do list; they gave out of His love and extravagance toward them.

Like most Christmases, I can’t remember what I received, but what remains is the memory of friends who not only saw a need, but took time out of their busy holiday schedules to make a plan, meet the need and demonstrate His love. Friends who were truly His hands and feet.