Small miracles

Today’s post is written by a new guest contributor, my pastor & friend, Rian Puckett. Thanks for this reminder, Rian.

My keys were lost, I was late, and my blood pressure was rising.  I felt compelled to pray. Now I know that there are those who will hear this story and think “coincidence.” Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is that at that moment I felt compelled to pray and that which I prayed about was resolved.

That was the beginning of a series of small miracles that week. My daughter, who eats entirely too much sugar, had what we though was a routine cavity. However, when we went to the dentist, she refused to open her mouth. You want to talk about being frustrated? Here we were, taking off work to take her to the dentist and she is refusing to cooperate. A visit to the pediatric dentist in another town was scheduled for the next day which made me livid. My wife took off work to take her, and when they did their examination, they discovered that not one but two teeth on opposite sides of her mouth needed to come out. She had never even complained about the other tooth hurting! Fortunately we were in the right place to deal with the problem. I felt a little ashamed of my attitude the previous day. Because when all the events played out, I could see God working in mysterious ways, and I had to say “Sorry for not trusting you. Thank you.”

mountains-2648796_1280It is easy to forget to be grateful for the small miracles of every day. Those things that “just happened” at the right time. There is a story in the Old Testament about a prophet named Elijah who was looking for an encounter with God and had been instructed by God to stand on the side of a mountain. The account says that there was a great and powerful wind that tore the mountains apart but that God was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake and then a fire, but God was not in either of those. Finally, there was a gentle whisper, and Elijah recognized it for the voice of God.

I believe that many times the small miracles of our everyday are the whispering voice of God reaffirming involvement in our lives and reminding us that we are not alone. For this, I am grateful.

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Gratitude on a cardboard sign

Today’s post is written by one of my current college students, Kaleb Mendoza. I love his expression of gratitude in this essay. 

In everything you do and everything you accomplish, you should give grace for the opportunities you get in life. I am a very religious man, raised from two great parents who taught me the right way to life and to follow God. This one day changed my life for the greater good; it taught me to be thankful and to cherish my life, for some are struggling.

homeless-845709_1280In 2008, on a windy Thanksgiving morning, I was in a car with my family driving to my Grandma’s house. Like always, I had my headset on listing to old school hip-hop, preferably Notorious B.I.G. We finally came to a stop light after about 20 minutes, and I didn’t notice at first but saw a homeless man sitting there with a cardboard sign in his hand. As always, I really didn’t pay any attention to him. The light was taking forever to turn green. Then I noticed the man stand up from where he was at. As he stood up with his dirty blue pants, holey brown socks, red champion sweater, and a black beanie, I noticed him showing everyone his sign. While sitting in the car, I looked really carefully at the sign. I even squinted my eyes a little to get a good view. In light green sharpie, the sign said, “Be thankful, for some will do anything to be where you’re at.” Even though it was just some writing on a cardboard sign, that quote hit me real hard.

During the rest of the ride to my Grandma’s house, I sat there thinking about it. I started to wonder how that man had gotten to where he is at right now, or how much stuff he has been through. I then looked around in my car to see my sister asleep, then looked to my parents in the two front seats while they were talking. I couldn’t tell what they were talking about, because I was still jamming out to my music. Then I realized how blessed I was to have this wonderful family, blessed to be where I am at right now in my life. I could be in that homeless man’s position, watching families drive by on a Thanksgiving morning, lonely.

This one thing was running through my head the whole day, going from one family member’s house to another. I kept thinking about how blessed I was to have my whole family safe, in one place, healthy as can be. At the end of the day, I spoke to my mom about it. She told me, “There are some things that can’t be replaced, and you can’t take these things for granted. Be grateful, son, and give praise to the one who makes it all happen.”

Ever since that day, I have been so grateful for the things in my life that cannot be replaced. I see things differently now; I cherish life a lot more than I used to. I give praise to God, for he makes everything possible in my life.

This life-changing experience was one I will always remember. The outcome of this was very positive, and it affected me in a very strong way. It is positive for many reasons. It changed the way I viewed life, to not take things for granted. To love others, even though they don’t love you. For the rest of my life, I will tell this experience to my friends, family, and my kids so that they can see what I see in life.

 

 

 

Fall into gratitude

 Today’s post is written by my friend Kimberly Studdard, a truly beautiful soul. Thanks for sharing this, Kim!
This is truly “that” time of the year. The summer begins to fade. In our area, we go from extremely hot and humid to cool then cold, sometimes in the same twenty-four hour period. The sun begins to shine less. Our surroundings can be somewhat gloomy. Fall awakens, and then winter awakens.
I am one who gets depressed or down in the dumps in the fall/winter of the year.
I have learned I cannot accept that for myself.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI will graciously put my flip-flops away and embrace the shoes. I can also be grateful for having warm clothing to wear during this transition. We heat with wood heat in our home. There is nothing like the fire from a wood stove. Some evenings on the weekends, we may bring the little people over. These little people we call our grand-kids. We build a fire in the fire pit.
The flames at times may be roaring and crackling. If we look closely, well, maybe not TOO closely, we can see smiles and happiness in the silhouettes of red and orange
bursting from the fire. Upon occasion, we may roast hot dogs and have s’mores. One of our family favorites is apple cider and just a touch of red hots added. There is nothing like apple cider with a kick.
My husband and I sit in the porch swing and watch the kids running and playing. They may get the glow in the dark football or darts out to play with. That is when there are no cares in the world.
During this time of the year, it can get very hectic. I have a tendency to allow myself to become entangled with the stress. I can step back from that and allow myself to realize during these crazy times (as I see them) that we can allow this to be the best of times. While we enjoy one another, we can also embark in the memories we are creating.
Our youngest son is just a few years older than our grands. He will be going off to college in a couple of years. He will still play, scream, and enjoy his nieces and nephew.
The times we create are to cherish now and later in life. Time changes; people change. Kids grow up. Any time I can be a part of creating a happy memory, I look forward to the opportunity.
This year I will set aside the negative and embrace what God has blessed me with. I will be thankful for the cold weather. I will be thankful for family. My gratitude will fill the cornucopia of the holiday seasons upon us.

Turning points

Dear One,

When you died about one month ago, you caught me off guard. You became suddenly ill, and 24 hours later, you were eating pizza, fruit cake, and pudding cups in heaven.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can’t say I didn’t see it coming. There was something inside of me that whispered, “Go see her more often” about one year ago. I don’t know if it was in reaction to Big Jim, my father-in-law, moving on to The Great Resting Place, or if it was because Maggie finally became a better traveler and visitor. Regardless, I’m eternally grateful for God’s voice nudging me to visit you more often.

Even though you suffered from mental illness, you were almost always pleasant, welcoming, and in good spirits. Your little smile and bright eyes let me know you were enjoying our time together, even if you preferred that I do most of the talking. When you had something to say, it was always smart, quick-witted, and on point.

I remember two turning points in my relationship with you.

One was when Mom and I visited you at the time of her high school reunion. We stayed with my uncle, but we came to see you almost all day long while we were there. As the day evolved into evening, we knew we needed to head to Mom’s reunion.

As we drove away from your apartment, Mom continually expressed that she just didn’t feel right about going and leaving you all evening.

“Mom, then we just don’t have to go to your reunion. What are you going to regret if you don’t do it in 10 years?”

That was about 10 years ago. And Mom still doesn’t regret turning the car around, picking up a pizza from your favorite diner, and surprising you by spending the evening talking and laughing, just the three of us.

The other turning point was when we visited after your mother died. We didn’t attend the funeral, but we’d been invited to look through her belongings to see if we wanted  specific items before they were sold or given away. I’ll be honest–prior to that day, I lacked compassion for your mother and only saw her in negative light. Something about sifting through an entire apartment’s worth of silent items spoke to me.

Then we visited Mom’s cousin. I wanted to do nothing–even though I was only a junior high student at the time–but sit and listen to Mom’s cousin recant your life experiences, both as a child and into adulthood. These were stories you had never told me yourself, and chapters you rarely flipped back to, probably in an effort to avoid those memories. Being sent to live somewhere else as a child–not knowing why. Undergoing exploratory, inventive procedures in a time when doctors didn’t understand that what they were doing did more harm than good. Being homeless. Feeling alone.

When we remembered you the evening after you died, these untold stories are what I reflected on in my mind–not because I wanted to focus on what felt sad and painful, but simply because these moments made you who you were. I can be grateful for you even though parts of you were broken.

I do not regret who you were nor wish to change my time with you. I know all of you, and I accept all of you. You were always enough.

 

How to move

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI woke up humming a tune.

“Whippoorwills in the willows…” I love that little song. It takes me back to a sweet time in my life when I had fewer cares and responsibilities, a time when love enveloped me like the warm comforter I nestled in as I awoke with the June sunshine streaming in through my bedroom window.

I have always heard “be where your hands are.” My mentor wrote this line to me this week, “Let your head be where your hands and feet are.”

Same essential meaning, but it hit me differently. Yesterday morning, I found myself nearly paralyzed in bed. This inability to move (and unwillingness to get up–it was half inability and half desire) only lasted for about five minutes, thankfully, but it was long enough for me to pause and reflect on the cause. I was unable to get up and make my daughter a cup of strawberry milk and to make my coffee for five minutes because I was humming a little sad tune from a movie I watched during a beautiful time in my life. I was reminiscing. And I was grieving.

When my head and thoughts are reflecting on the past and meditating on memories, I am completely incapable of being in the present. I’m unable to move. I’m unable to go forward. I’m unable to take actions. I’m unable to do stuff. I’m unable to have fun with my kid. The entire time I was floating through the memories of hearing that song then—and humming it again 18 years later—my daughter tugged on my arm, jumped in my bed, and even told me jokes. I half-listened, half-smiled, and half-replied to her. I was half-there. But I’ve been taught that half measures avail me nothing. And living a half life isn’t really living my life, either.

If I’m grateful for the RIGHT NOW, I’m capable of getting up, getting out of bed, and making strawberry milk and coffee in the morning without any problem, without any hesitation. I can do that when I switch my thoughts and focus from back then to right now.

Sometimes I do that easily, as I did yesterday morning, by simply making a mental choice to stop thinking about the past. Sometimes it’s not as simple, quick, or easy. I need to reach deep into my toolbox for help. I pray and work through the Steps of recovery, admitting I’m powerless over my desire to live in the past. I admit that I’m incapable of being where my hands are and ask for God to restore me to sanity. That’s expressing willingness. I say, “Help me, God!” I’ve never known a time when I’ve asked God desperately for help, and He’s pooh-poohed my genuine, unselfish request to make a change.

Another practical way I focus on what I’m grateful for—which switches my focus from then to now—is by paying attention to what I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. And I give thanks to God for those things right away, and usually aloud. Does that make me seem like a weirdo? Maybe, but usually I’m home with my daughter, so who really cares? I’ll thank God for the smell of hot coffee as it’s brewing, for the warm sunshine on my blanket, and for the sparkle in Maggie’s eyes every morning. When I’m thanking God with my mouth, my mind doesn’t have as much control over me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m then capable of reading, praying, and meditating and putting first things first. I can make homemade muffins for the cutest four and a half year-old girl in the world. When my head is where my hands are, I’m grateful for where my hands are. When my head is living in 60-second snapshots from the past, I’m not able to see our gray kitten’s fur standing up on end, chasing a bird. I’m unable to hear Maggie giggling while chasing him across the yard. I can’t laugh in response. I choke down fresh farm eggs and homemade chocolate cake; food is bland when I’m in a time warp, either reliving something sad and beautiful or wishing I’d made different choices.

Thankfully, I’ve been taught how to live here. I’ve been taught how to live HERE, where my hands are, where I exist, in reality, where the clock is ticking on the table next to me.

Brokenness–Uselessness?

Special thanks to Betty Gail Jones for serving as today’s guest contributor and sharing her reflections with us.

Ajay is now the ripe old age of six and lives in the United States with his parents.  I am still learning how to better live by watching him play.

Helicopter used as home

Ajay’s dad standing near downed helicopter in Nepal, converted into makeshift home

My grandson, Ajay, is four years old.  When he got off the plane after evacuation from his home in Nepal due to a massive earthquake, he was clutching the body of a yellow toy passenger jet with no wings.  The tail fins and also the main wings had been broken off.  Lest you think differently, it had not lost its wings due to the massive destruction of a natural disaster, but due to the natural disaster of a four-year-old boy’s play.  I pondered it.  He had a firm grasp upon this fuselage, and one knew it must be precious – for he had not thrown it aside nor left it behind as they began their long journey to the United States.

Why would he have kept it?  Knowing that he has crossed the ocean on such a plane not less than eight times in his four and a half years, surely he was aware that the main component, which would enable this plane to fly, was missing.  It was a broken toy.  He had a couple of other nice planes that were whole and complete, yet he carried this small crayon-shaped piece of tin across the ocean as one of his choice toys with which to play.

Ajay and cars

Ajay

One day, when all was quiet and he was having “down time,” I observed his intense personal playtime.  He had all of his cars lined up as always and had created a masterful airport out of blocks.  The planes were docked at their gates.  The cars and planes moved at his will.  As I glanced over my computer, I could see the broken plane lying on the ottoman airport in front of me.  A finger-driven truck rolled over to the plane under Ajay’s keen supervision.  In a soft voice, not meant for a by-stander’s ears, he said in his best ‘truck” voice, “OK, now we have to move this broken plane over here to get fixed.” Ah-ha! I had a great revelation with which to make a great application!  The broken plane was not only cherished, but could still fulfill the purpose for which it was intended!  It was made for play and even in its broken state had usefulness.

I began to think of what I had previously pondered in broader terms.  What if we treated people like Ajay had treated his plane?  He could have thrown it away when it became quadriplegic, in its own way.  When the first wing broke off, really even then, it might have been considered useless as a toy plane.  As it became more and more damaged, he could have thrown it into the bottomless pit of broken toys and never played with it again.  When scurrying around gathering the most precious items with which to evacuate a devastated country in a possibly compromised apartment with the ground still shaking violently periodically, he surely could have overlooked this already shattered toy.  Side by side with the complete and whole airplanes and other precious treasures, the fuselage went into the backpack.  And now, he was using the airport crew of his own making to support and fix the yellow passenger plane, which was broken.  There was no doubt of its beauty and usefulness… just as there is no doubt of the beauty and usefulness of people who have experienced trauma or pain that has left them disfigured or impaired in some way.   They may not be used in the exact same way as before, but if only someone would pick them up and show them they are loved, wanted, and needed, they could still fulfill their purpose for which they were created.

Later, I took that little yellow body, got out my scissors and some black foam board, drew my best idea of what an airplane wing might look like.  I restored it using my trusty hot-glue gun and materials that I already had on hand.  It wasn’t perfect, and we had several repairs that had to be done over the course of a couple of weeks, but that airplane was now fit to fly in any little boy’s imagination!

 

#firstworldprobs

One in 10 children lives in a country or region defined by armed conflict. This means about 230 million children grow up in the midst of war and serious conflict, according to the 2015 UNICEF Report. Many of these children experience bomb attacks in their schools and homes. Many of them are kidnapped, raped, sexually abused, recruited as soldiers before the age of 12, if they’re not killed. MANY of 230 million children live this way.

migrant-mother-1397009_1280

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

From 2013-2015, at least 70,000 children were born on the floors of refugee camps. These floors are typically dirt floors.

In 1993, the UN General Assembly declared an elimination of violence against women and created an action plan. 20+ years later, one in three women still experience physical or sexual violence.

At least 200 million women and girls have experienced female genital mutilation in 30 countries, most of them experiencing infection as a result. Almost all experienced this mutilation before the age of 5.

As of 2012, according to UNICEF, 2 million children were subjected to prostitution in the global commercial sex trade. It is estimated that 600,000 to 800,000 women, children, and men are bought and sold across international borders every year and are exploited for forced labor or commercial sex (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime).

I don’t always get what I want in life. My life has not always been a cake walk. Yet when I reflect on the reality of the world around me—the WORLD around me—it helps me regain a realistic perspective.

I don’t know why, but I have nothing but #firstworldproblems.

God forbid I ever forget that and unjustly spend my time focusing on or whining about problems—including politics in this relatively peaceful country of mine–which are not really problems at all.