True Cost of My Gift

Each birthday and Christmas I recall with a shudder, my parent opening gifts received from distant relatives.  Not because of eagerness that couldn’t wait until the 24th or 25th, but to assess the value of the gift.

The mercenary purpose of this open-as-soon-as-it-arrives practice was so that return gifts could be purchased with exact (or less – but certainly not more) estimated cost of each item.

It ruined things for me.  Not just the surprise, but the calculated shopping seemed to remove the mystery, intrigue and and even question if there was really love for the person to whom the gifts would be given.

I read a little poem recently that is ‘author unknown’ and attributed mostly to an African missionary, but here and there to a Native American, neither documented.  Now that I’ve researched it, I cannot believe I’ve gone this many years without hearing it or reading it, but it was such a wonderful pre-gifting reminder of the true meaning of a gift – any gift –  that I couldn’t resist posting it.

First though, I want to mention that those readers who know me, know that like much of America we have new financial realities, an expanding family, and a decades old desire to give material things to represent my heart and soul feelings for each person.  For years I did that.  When someone was sad, or sick, or needy, I would buy them something.  Or if there was a goal completed, a celebration in order, I’d want to give something representing my/our joy.  We couldn’t always afford all that giving and sometimes God guided specifically and provided.  That was one thing.  Other times we couldn’t afford the giving and I let the need become a call, and used credit to obtain what I could not afford.  That was a thing I long resisted to call sin.  In recent past years, our family has creatively tried to guide our giving with the heart (less cost/more thought), including restricting giving to the reminder from scripture to, ‘share what you have.’   Not what I wish I had, what I wish the other person had, or even what I believe the other person needs.  Sometimes, I’ve found, God was actually directing me to go out on a limb to share the burden with others who could provide (and who God wanted to bless with the gift of giving), even though it took longer than just charging it.  Sometimes God was encouraging me to pray for the need to be filled and believing He could and would fill the need without my help or instruction!

This little story is a great tool for me to analyze past gifts as well as present and future – to ask who was I honoring with the gift, and how did I or could I show honor with that gift – instead of that dreaded financial analysis for each gift – analyzing the gift with grace.  I pray my gifts of the past year have shown such grace, but this year I intend that each gift (whether words or time or material) will even more so be prayed over, thought over, planned, so I have time for any long walks before presenting my offering(s) of love.

Jesus took 33 years to plan and prepare for the long walk he took for me at Calvary on a road that bears one of my names.

That is why I’m still pondering on this story:

The African boy listened carefully as the teacher explained why it is that Christians give presents to each other on Christmas Day.  “The gift is our expression of our joy over the birth of Jesus and our friendship for each other,” she said.

When Christmas Day came, the boy brought the teacher a seashell of lustrous beauty. “Where did you ever find such a beautiful shell?” the teacher asked as she gently fingered the gift.

The youth told her that there was only one spot where such extraordinary shells could be found.  When he named the place, a certain bay several miles away, the teacher was left speechless.

“Why…why, it ‘s gorgeous…wonderful, but you shouldn’t have gone all that way to get a gift for me.”

His eyes brightening, the boy answered, “Long walk part of gift.”

Another chance to Watch God Work

Tomorrow is a new year and a ‘second chance’ for all that I meant to do last year.  But then, every tomorrow is a second chance, isn’t it?  Another blog discussion focused on whether next year’s focus, instead of resolutions that I should DO, should focus on resolutions to trust God more, to discern more and to not look back and question decisions and actions so much.  Another’s comment was instead of resolutions to focus on HOPE – the hope that God gives, that when I am following His will, Romans 8:28 will be evident (all things work together for good).

Hope of a second chance has been so evident as I look over the past year as well.  To hear my mother say, “I love you,” for the first time was the door of a second chance for good memories with Mom.

Traveling 5,000 miles with my sisters,  including bringing one of them to Mom for reconciliation after over 30 years, and watching them pray together (Mom’s second chance, and my sister’s to give up the grief and guilt of our past) and then to see them sing Jesus Loves Me.

Finding the fellow who taped an important moment in Mom’s life 30 years ago and getting her a copy. Meeting a young woman who interviewed Mom for her life story and creating a book thanks to a Senior Wish Program.  Giving the gift of grace was rewarding, but exhausting and almost every time life’s circumstances took me away from ‘my’ writing, I’d get a little discouraged and question again if I’m really supposed to be doing this when my time keeps getting stolen, God would send some hope.  Sometimes it was an unexpected note of encouragement specifically about something I’d written, sometimes an email from an editor, sometimes a check or an acceptance for something I’d submitted months before, and two requests for material while I was with my sisters thousands of miles from home – material I just happened to have on my flash drive (took a few things to work on) and could send in immediately.  But always a second chance to be reminded that it is not ‘my’ writing – it is HIS story that I am telling, and that maybe that next story or first chapter just hasn’t happened yet!

Prayer is a second chance too – though it should be a first chance.  Haven’t we all heard someone say, all I can do is pray?  I know that God want’s us to do our part, but how do I know what it is if I haven’t been listening…instead running around ‘trying’ to resolve things on my own.  So many, many second chances He has given this past year.  So, really, even when I do automatically turn to the Lord and ask what should I do about this…it is another chance to watch God work.

The picture above was an amazing event.  I’d been sorting out papers, preparing for a court hearing with my Mom…for over 30 hours straight and was so exhausted. I kind of cried out to the Lord, asking, “What good is all this – how can any of this (to me useless work) produce anything for your glory?”  Mindlessly grabbing another stack of papers from a room full of boxes as I prayed, I was startled to see a yellow paper slide out and float down like an autumn leave and land (providentially) on top of the pile reserved for ‘trash’.  I couldn’t believe it when I read those words – Watch God Work!

He did, you know.  We had other miracles that day. An approval from a an insurance request from 18 months prior, the right people in the right place at the right time, an unexpected, previously unknown, Christian sister with a word of encouragement, and so much more.

Then I got to go to a dream conference in New Mexico – funds supplied through:

  • a partial scholarship
  • a gift of some old gold from a deceased friend who years ago said this is broken but might be worth something someday
  • three stories that just happened to sell the week I needed the funds
  • an old friend showing up unexpectedly who  felt she had to tell me about an airline voucher she had but didn’t need – and wondered if I had need of one
  • an unprecedented first-time ever bonus at a part-time job
  • a gift specifically to pay for a critique from someone who ‘wanted to be a part of the ministry’

and God worked out so many blessings at the conference – rich devotions, awesome speakers, great new friends, and wonderful affirmation and encouragement.

That’s just the tip of this past year… I should really go through my journals and make a list, but for now I’m looking forward to 2011 and…

watching God work!

Warning Lights

Why is it those pesky car lights only come on as you are about to leave on a trip of some length?  I panicked, and called my DH.  “Chill” was his advice. Not hard – it was 7 degrees out and I was headed to a Christmas party across town.

Once home, after partying with the image of a yellow engine outline flashing across my mind, we examined the manual.

Emission problem indicated.  My hero investigated and replaced the spark plugs.  The car was fine for my trip, and the warning light went off the day after he changed the plugs.  What could have been a big problem was reduced to do what is needed to avoid the problem’s escalating.

I was grateful for the warning light, and I wondered, are there other warning lights in life that I miss before an issue gets too big?  Emotional, physical, spiritual or mental lights that I need to check in the manual?

Emotional: feeling on edge, crying with no good reason – sad or joyful, basing actions on emotion – all warning lights to be carefully observed with questions to ask: In the Word daily?  Sleeping enough?  Hydrating enough?  Eating too much sugar or artificial foods? MSG?  Making decisions without prayer or counsel?  Try daily devotional or Bible Study like Woman of Faith ‘Managing Your Moods’.

Physical:  out of breath, legs hurt, trouble sleeping – or waking, digestive issues, allergies.  Ask – questions for Emotional issues and add: Daily exercise?  Stretching?  Regular hours (pattern) to wake and sleep?  Try the Stupid diet, do a detox or try Oxycise.

Mental:  sluggish thinking, forgetful, cannot add numbers as quickly as I used to, can’t recall names, constantly losing or misplacing things.  Ask: questions and recommendations for previous topics and add:  Review daily schedule – more planned than there are hours?  Spending any time organizing?  Do you have more things than you use?  Find ways to get oxygen into you like add ½ tsp. of chlorophyll to bottle or glass of drinking water, Oxycise 10 minutes a day (preferably twice a day at first),  Take a walk – outside.  Bring in some houseplants.

Spiritual: worried, depressed, lost interest in spiritual gatherings, defensive attitude, spending more time alone.  Ask: questions and recommendations for previous topics but first employ spiritual remedies:  Read something from Bible every day.  If possible journal letters to God.  Write worries on paper or in journal and visualize putting them in God’s hands.  Each week later check what has happened (most worries never come to pass, others are often worked out without continual focus or fear).  Hand write out one verse a day (or a week if you prefer) and put it in your pocket for review throughout the day.

My lesson – Pay attention to the warnings, and take action before the warning becomes an emergency.  As the book illustrated above says:  Just do something!

Ezekiel 33:5 tells me about someone who didn’t accept the warning:

But had he taken warning, he would have delivered his life.

Christmas Expectations

Since my focus is not on gifts anymore, though we do exchange so that everyone receives something, my expectations have changed.  I used to plan gifts and surprises and foods for weeks, my focus totally on the look of astonishment or remarks of pleasure that would bring me satisfaction of a job well done.  I’ve learned to instead look forward to the time with each one, and yes, the fun of creative gift-wrapping for those who have the time in our busy worlds.  Ken and I used to purchase a ‘big’ gift for each other and exchange that at the family Christmas.  With tighter finances, we agreed to smaller gifts which we exchanged early Christmas morning before the gang arrived.  A lot of my expectations have changed.

Our family has changed too as the kids and grandkids mature with their own families and relocate with jobs and college.  This was the first year to have 6 missing from the family and I assume much will continue to change as our “little ones” leave the nest.  My Mom is also in a nursing home and due to her changing emotions I hardly know if it would be a good thing to call with Christmas greetings or not. (That’s Mom in the picture holding me when I was even shorter!)

Some things, however, have remained unchanged.

My sweet hubby’s enjoyment and anticipation as I open his ‘trick’ packages, trying to guess what he got and which box, if any, contain a gift. The house bustling with a baby, teens, a new fiance’, newlyweds and all those in-between.  The fragrance of all the yummies  everyone brought.  Laughter as we pile up on the sofa for a traditional and silly versions of the Christmas family photos.  The sound of football in the background, hilarity around table games, and the men dozing off a bit from too much food. The fun of opening the creatively disguised gifts (a cat, a star, a huge ball of yarn, a frozen gift-card for a ‘cool’ gift, etc.), and the pre-gift sharing about the meaning of the day – the birth of Christ.

In the past some of my expectations dimmed because the hope had been on believing we could read each others’ mind and find/get what we each wanted.  This year my hope was in memories with Christ at the center.

I was blessed with the opportunity to share the story of God enabling me to give my Mom the gift of grace (Rooted Living digital magazine), and the story of the first year our family ‘adopted’ a family for Christmas (Chicken Soup – Christmas Magic).  These memories helped root our focus of the day with thankful hearts.

The weather and roads were clear and everyone arrived at almost the same time.  Two of the men pleased us by sharing something about the birth of Christ, with a meaningful way to apply the truth to our lives.   Our price limit for gifts is small, yet the gifts were  fun, useful and personal things.  And my Mom – she called, thanking me for “all the loot”, and for taking such good care of her, closing with “lots of love” – the first time I can recall her initiating such a comment.

The morning after Christmas Aimee and her fiance’ Erik went one direction to have their engagement photos taken while I went another, missing a traditional farewell.  On my way to completing an errand that evening, Aimee called on my cell saying she’d missed her farewell hug, wondering if it were still possible.  Turns out they were about to head home from her other grandparents home which was 3 minutes from where I was headed!  We met at the nearby Burger King… can’t you picture the scene:  White car, loaded with family, gifts and Quill,the sweetest black lab ever, pulls into the lot and parks facing the street.  No one gets out.  A few minutes later a red car pulls in and parks a few feet away.  Simultaneously both car doors open.  A tall blond women climbs out of the white car, as a petite silver-haired grandmother runs around the red car, meeting in a fierce hug.  Words are exchanged, but the only ones heard are from the young blond as she turns back to get into the car:  “I feel better now; we can go home.”

I couldn’t stop smiling all night.  Thank you Lord for a blessed Christmas.  All expectations exceeded.

Speaking with purpose

John Piper’s book “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” has touched many in my world.

A dear friend who is in the last stages of cancer commented today that she has been focusing on saying words of love.  Not a demonstrative person, this effort does not come as naturally or as quickly she explained as words of disagreement or anger rise up in all of us.  Consequently it takes choice, focus and planning to speak from the heart with such purpose.

My little sister prayed and focused on what she would say when she reunited with our mother this spring after 32 years.  Her speech was gentle, loving and healing. It was speaking with purpose.  My grandson planned for weeks what he would say, and how and where he would say it, when he planned his marriage proposal to Kaylyn.  That too, was speaking with purpose.

Surely we do speak through our actions, and there are many different ways to show affection and appreciation.  Yet I believe every man, woman and child needs to sometime hear the words – not necessarily like a constant beating drum, for that too would become less meaningful, but combined with love’s action.

My dear friend is living with purpose and right now focusing on speaking with purpose. This is one of those things she calls a ‘gift’ from Cancer.  She doesn’t want to waste those gifts, but purposes to use them – fulfill them.

I’m thinking many things in life are like cancer, eating away at us – our body, emotion, mind, and soul – trying to take over and rule our destiny.  It can’t – unless we allow it.  Instead we can purpose to speak only that which is healing, encouraging, uplifting.   And I’ve read how the early Christians had to be careful to whom they spoke, and would begin their greeting or conversation with half the fish sign shown above, often drawn in the sand with their foot, then waiting the response or acknowledgment.  They were purposing that their words be identified with Christ.  Thanks to my dear friend and her ‘gift’ of insight, this too has been my renewed goal:

1Peter 4:11  tells us that “Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God”

and goes on to share the purpose “so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ”

Living Without

You know me, I went searching for the word without and was fascinated to be reminded of the Israelites time in the desert away from their gastronomic favorites from Egypt.  Deuteronomy 29: 5 and 6 says:  I took you through the wilderness for forty years and through all that time the clothes on your backs didn’t wear out, the sandals on your feet didn’t wear out,  and you lived well without bread and wine and beer, proving to you that I am in fact GOD, your God.

This portion of scripture was from my food blog which will end in just a few weeks.  It was thought provoking to consider the Israelites doing without a favorite food for not 40 hours or 40 days but 40 years!  As I was pondering that I thought about this columns new Living Without Credit resolution.   Looking back at these verses, I’m reminded that the Israelites also went without new clothes or new shoes for 40 years!  Wow.

Now I know my closets have too many clothes and shoes.  Yep, I’m guiltily admitting I have a closet for clothes and a closet for shoes.  It’s sad to find things in the closet I’ve never worn that I can certainly live without.  I’m correcting that by putting at least 12 things a week on Ebay until that is greatly thinned out.  I’m seeing what I can live without.  I’m excited to see the results of my first week’s sales which end later tonight.  I’ve also got more things ready to go up and then the next stack will wait until after Christmas.

Living Without also applies to visualizing others in greater need.  My dear daughter reminded me of the times I’ve gone to Goodwill with little funds to fill a need and been thrilled to find exactly the right item.  That thought helps me to look at each item and ask can I live without this.

It came to my attention that a neighbor needs a warm winter coat size large to extra large.  I don’t have one of those but perhaps someone who lives nearby has one they can live without.  If so, please contact me.  I believe this type of action will also be an evidence as in the verses from Deuteronomy of God’s presence and providence.  I love to see His hand at work, and to look back and see what God has done. Living without has never been so fun.

Spring is coming – start a January box

A little early on the announcement?  Not really… just want to give you a heads up to the untruth of many urban stories about Christmas being a time of high risk for suicide an depression.  Although there are certainly many who feel the discouragement of the economic situation and being lonely during holiday family times, Christmas, Thanksgiving and other major holidays are actually a time of reduced risk for suicide.  Experts reason that it could be due to the many expressions of compassion during the winter months, and special collections by the Salvation Army, homeless shelters and other humanitarian groups.

Perhaps like me you’ve ‘walked a mile in those shoes’ and been in the situation of not having food or finances for the type of meal or celebration commonly advertised. I’ve also experienced the danger of comparative shopping after listening to family or friends share their shopping lists, and spending more than I have.  I always eventually realized many truths later – including that the feelings of depression arose from a period of focusing on perceived needs or wants for my family or myself.  Every time the focus got moved to others – especially others that were in the same situation or even less fortunate, the sadness lifted.  Times when I/we were able to spend time with or help others in whatever small way were uplifting – even though the circumstances of our difficult situations had not changed.

There are many who are still without work and the homeless shelters are usually full most of winter.  Call your local agencies and check their needs.  Look around your own neighborhood and see if a package of mittens and gloves, or pajamas and cocoa could encourage a needy family.  Toss an extra package of food in the grocery cart for the food banks, and then start filling a January Box. As you are making preparations slip an item or two in the freezer to share in the coming months. When you shop all those great deals at before and after Christmas sales, add some games and a few packages of socks, mittens, or underwear to the box.  When you have leftovers, package single servings to bring to a senior who lives alone.

Plan now what you can share, or where you can schedule to visit beginning in January.  Whether it’s sharing a loaf of bread, a plate of cookies, or a pot of soup, a gas  or grocery card, or spending time visiting and reading  at local nursing homes, Childrens hospital, homeless veterans housing, Pacific Garden Mission, Salvation Army or other local Missions, you will be uplifted.  The hope you share could even change the statistics for the time of the highest rates for depression and suicide – January first through the spring.
Even more important than “giving” Christmas is living it. So when all the hustle and bustle is over, sit down and write a card to your local VA hospital or to: A recovering American Soldier c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center 6900 Georgia Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20307-5001 and drop it in your January box.  When the decorations are gone and voices of carolers are no longer heard in the halls, the soldiers will greatly appreciate receiving a visit or a mail call.

Let a January box be among your resolutions for this coming year.

Nursing Home Angels

Yesterday I was reminded once again that I never say thanks often enough.  I spent the day with my Mom at a nursing home and was impressed with the loving care she receives.  Staff in each area we went personally greeted Mom, several volunteers stopped to chat and encourage her, and staff went out of their way to encourage me to let them know any needs they might be missing. Mom used the buzzer a few times and help was there in seconds.  PT came in to check how an adjustment to equipment was working out, and Mom’s meal ticket noted items she preferred and items she disliked (which they guarantee not to serve). Cheerful joking helped the medicine go down, and encouragement to come see me if you feel lonely (when Mom got sad that I was about to leave) was touching.  Volunteers came by too with little gifts like crafty angels personally distributed, Christmas carol singing, cookies and cute little wrapped candy gifts and on and on.

So many caregivers are helping my mom, and though some might say it’s their job, I never feel that way.  When I complimented the staff, one said to me that if a person is not able to visualize their loved one with each person they care for, they would be missing a vital qualification.

Perhaps that is what we each need to do as we look around us at all the people who help us daily – at the gas station, the grocery store, the pharmacy, at school, at work, at the doctors offices, etc.  A simple thank you for doing what they have to do, but doing it cheerfully, doing beyond what they have to do, or doing something I need doing and don’t know how to do, wouldn’t want to do, or couldn’t do without them, means so much.

Thank you nursing home angels for all you do – for my loved one and and all the other loved ones.  Thank you to all the volunteers who bring extra cheer and thank you to all the unseen workers that make Mom’s space a clean, healthy, and cheerful place.

Thank you to all the angels in my life.

Shopping locally

I knew the challenge to not use credit would be there because so many things are on sale this time of year.  Cancelling the email ads telling me what I was missing

It's not mine, unfortunately.

helped a lot. Even more than that, shopping locally, having the item immediately in hand, and knowing I won’t have to mail it back if something is wrong underlines the right decision.  Hubby loves that we stick to the budget and call each other if expenditure is over a set amount.   I had ordered a coat for my Mom before making my no-credit pledge and finally got it… only to find out it was shabbily made and I had to return it.  This expense is supposedly “only” $6.50 but keep in mind that I paid $8.99 to get it here.  So this will add up to future savings – no more $15.49 just to get something in hand, find out it is not as nice as advertisements – and reviews – stated and return the lemon.

A bonus was spending time with a friend as we both picked up needed items.  I also enjoyed the places that had Christmas music instead of some of today’s nonmelodic offerings which make me want to run – out of the store.  That’s ok with Ken 🙂 – hmmm – wonder if he put them up to it?

Justt before I made the credit pledge I was in Michigan eating out with cousin Gene.  The Oriental restaurant brought us “fortune cookies” after our meal.  We often have fun with these little gems and Gene made the decision of who would get which cookie.  His and Marge’s were the typical fortunes that ‘something good will happen’ but mine!  We all burst out laughing when I read “Do not spend more than you need to – it is important that you be extra frugal this year.”  I immediately called Ken to see how he set this up a state away, and of course he swore he knew nothing about it.

Sure.  Likely story.

I am what I eat?

Relating that saying to my body and health… especially based on well-known past history… that would make me a chip for sure – either one giant (mumble, mumble pounds of) chocolate chip, or a walkin-talkin-MRS. Potato-Head chip.

But seriously, since I found Setting Captives Free, I’ve been focusing on eating at The Lord’s Table  which basically means presenting myself to the Lord first (as His temple) for all four fillings – spirit, emotion, mind and body.  Then when I’m inputting the fruits, vegetables, proteins, flan, etc. that are good for my body, I’m taking them in as they were meant to be – as physical food – not as a comforter, not as soul satisfying – tasty, but not as spiritually nourishing.  It’s been an exciting journey.  The old cravings are gone and new healthier ones are here – proving that…

If the core – my spiritual self – is functioning as intended, all outlying areas will be well fed.  Christ is described as ‘the root’ and if a tree’s root has access to proper water and food, it supplies the branches or vines to lively health and even reproduces fruit that can bring life to others.  Similarly when my spirit is abiding (living in) Christ, his power, strength, life-giving force, works through all the other areas of my life.

He alone can bring stability to my moodiness; conquer mental issues of bitterness, loneliness, lack of acceptance or love.

He alone can give me the guidance and even the will to want to eat and drink the right things that will build up my physical body and to have the strength to keep that body (God’s temple) under control and able to participate in physical activity.

He alone can provide the boundaries and victory that keeps my mental faculties sharp and active.

He alone can provide the spiritual intimacy that breaks all barriers, and gives the model for all other relationships in my life.

So it’s true spiritually too, I am what I eat… and I believe others can definitely tell where I’ve been feasting.

Join me at The Lord’s Table – it’s free! –

Psalm. 34:8     Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 119:103     How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!

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