Archive | February 2010

SPACED OUT, STRESSED OUT

I am once again packing a suitcase for Ecuador. No, not because I am going again (wish I was!), but because I have an opportunity to send some things down to the Naranjos with friends who are going to visit them. You might be wondering how I could possibly have another full suitcase for them when I was just there a few months ago and took everything but the kitchen sink with me at that time. I look at that suitcase myself and am a little amazed, too!

Most of that large bag is filled with clothes for Fernando. A friend had a huge stack of clothes that were brand new and never worn and, miraculously, just Fernando’s size! The friends going to Ecuador were more than happy to take whatever we needed to send and told us to go ahead and fill up the suitcase as long as it didn’t go overweight. So, there are nice hand-me-down clothes for Matthew that I couldn’t fit in the last time I went, birthday gifts for Sara and Matthew (b-days coming up in April), wireless microphones for the church, matzo bread for the Biblical dinners Fernando does, and cans of cherry and blueberry pie filling, chocolate chips and Hershey kisses for Laurie. And of course, this Grandma can’t send a suitcase down there without throwing in a little surprise for each of the kids!

I started packing the bag last night and finally realized there was no way it would all fit in without using space bags for the clothes again. Those new-fangled little contraptions are quite the thing. Well, I suppose they aren’t so new-fangled anymore. They’ve been around for several years, but my first experience at using them was when I went to Ecuador in November. You’ve probably seen them advertised on TV. You put the clothes or blankets or whatever in a space bag, seal it, attach a vacuum hose and suck all the air out of the bag. It totally flattens the bag, making an almost flat, hard and wrinkly package. They worked great for me the last time. I was a little worried the clothes would be all wrinkled when I took them out of the space bags, but actually they weren’t too bad. Of course, you still have to be careful about the weight when you’re flying, but it sure helps to get a little more into a suitcase.

They say those space bags are handy for storage in the home, as well. Closet space is at a premium in my house. This is an old house (over eighty years old) and they just didn’t make closets back then the way they do now. The closets in our bedrooms upstairs are narrow – barely a hangar width – and although they are somewhat deep, it is difficult to reach the back of the closet. The small door is at one end and once there are clothes in the front of the closet, it is almost impossible to reach past them to the things in the back. A walk-in closet would be a huge luxury for me! Never fear, though. I have a huge closet downstairs called a basement. I pity my daughters if we die before I get around to cleaning it out!

I suppose space bags are a sign of the times, as are all the other space-saving gadgets and gizmos we see for sale these days. There are whole aisles in the stores devoted to plastic bins and totes, organizer systems, cabinets, wardrobes and so on. I recently bought a box of Wonder Hangers – another “As Seen on TV” gadget that holds five garments in the closet space that would normally hold only one – in an effort to maximize my closet space. Builders keep building bigger homes with huge closets and even bigger garages, and still we need a great big storage shed on top of that! When we get all those spaces filled up, back to the store we go for more storage bins!

Does it seem to you that maybe we just have too much stuff? There is a reason closets were small eighty years ago when our house was built. People did not have all that stuff! The only things they had in their closets were the clothes they wore. When they outgrew something, they passed it on; otherwise, they wore their clothes until they wore out. They weren’t shopping for new things every other week. Even if I fit into everything in my closet (which I don’t), I could never wear everything in it if I tried! My basement is filled with forty years worth of books, memorabilia, equipment, and things for which I’ve barely spared a passing glance in decades. It’s time to clear out!

*
Why are we so consumed with material things, anyway? If I spent less at Wal-Mart on things I don’t really need, I would have more to give to those who do have needs, or for things that have real eternal value. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21) Why fill up my earthly home with worthless stuff, when Christ is preparing a mansion for me in heaven?
*
Those humble little space bags are a picture to me, as well, of another characteristic of our modern, American lifestyles. Not only do we have a space management problem, but we also have stress management problems. I look at those hard, flat, wrinkly vacuum-sealed packages and am reminded of how the demands of family, work, extra-curricular activities and the general busy-ness of life can suck the energy, passion and joy right out of our lives. Staying home with Robbie allows me a more relaxed lifestyle, but I feel for some of the women who are closest to me. Between caring for little ones, home-schooling several ages at once, babysitting grandchildren after working a demanding job all day, running kids from one sport or youth activity to another, helping friends, working in the church, being a wife, cooking, cleaning, and all the other things it takes to run a home and family, it is no wonder they are totally drained at the end of the day.

There is not a lot we can do sometimes to alleviate some of the stresses of life – other than to just say “No” to some of the extras that really aren’t necessary, that is. Our families need us, our homes must be cared for, and being a Christian woman just means giving of ourselves. We need to learn to set priorities in our lives, however. I have resolved in my life this year to strive toward making the things of the Lord a greater priority in my life, beginning with a better prayer life and more time spent in the Word. If I put those things first, I am filled and life cannot so easily overwhelm and drain me. I don’t want my life to be hard and flat and wrinkly like those space bags when the vacuum has sucked out all the air. Jesus went on to say in Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” When we make Him the priority in our life, He helps us through all these other concerns and challenges. We are not drained, but filled as He blesses us with all that we need.

Our lives in twenty-first century America are vastly different than life was in Jesus’ time in Galilee two thousand years ago, but His principles and promises are just as relevant for us today as they were back then. No need to be spaced out and stressed out when our eyes and values are on Him!

TO WIN THE GOLD

Have you been watching the Winter Olympics this week? We very seldom watch sports on television. Bob is more an outdoorsman, preferring hunting, fishing and hiking to organized sports. I am so glad I am not a football, baseball, basketball or golf “widow.” I know there are some women who will sit down and enjoy a game on television with their husbands, but I doubt very much if I would be one of them. Superbowl Sunday and the World Series come and go with scarcely a glance around here. When Bob watches television it is almost always cowboy movies or news programs. I’ll admit – I’m as much a news junkie as he is, but when it comes to watching “Dances with Wolves” or “Rio Bravo” for the fortieth time, I draw the line there, also!

Every couple years, though, when the winter or summer Olympics occur, we get sucked in to this amazing world showcase of youthful athleticism. Who can resist the grace and beauty of the figure skaters, the strength and endurance of decathlon racers, or the mind-boggling courage and skill of the snow boarders? Suddenly we become “expert” armchair judges of quadruple salchow jumps and triple backflips. From the opening ceremonies to the closing ones, we are fascinated by the pageantry, competition and, frequently, the drama that is played out right here in our living room. Ever the patriots, we are moved by and take pride in Team USA, as if we had a personal stake in each of young American athlete’s well-being and success.

I have never been an athlete. At this age, I will never be one. I probably would keel over if I had to run a block! I remember as a young girl, though, watching the figure skaters and dreaming of being able to glide on ice as beautifully as they. Now I see my granddaughters having the same dreams. Before they left for Ecuador the last time, Sara and Gabi asked me to make posters for them on my computer of figure skaters and gymnasts to hang in their room. A few, like the young athletes in Vancouver, have those dreams and act upon them. The rest of us merely dream.

The apostle Paul often used the picture of running a race as a symbol of our Christian life. Hebrews 12:1 says, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” He goes on to say in I Corinthians 9:24-27 that it takes discipline and self-control to run the race well and achieve the prize. “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”

I know I do not have the discipline or strength that is needed to run a physical race. I have several family members who are runners, though, and I admire them not only for their discipline, but also for the perseverance they have shown as they have battled injuries and even age and still continue to run. My cousin Jon runs marathons regularly. It is his goal to run a marathon in every state of the Union, and I know he is getting close to achieving that goal. Good for him!

I am in for the marathon, however, in this race that we call life! When we read these passages that speak to what we must do in our spiritual life to finish the course we see several things that will help us to persevere.

First, we are to “lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily besets us.” Sin weighs us down and stands between us and our goal. Although we, as believers, are ultimately saved from our sins, we still, as long as we live in this mortal body, will struggle with that old sin nature. That is why we need to daily confess our sins to Him and keep our lines of communication and fellowship with the Lord clear. What good is a coach if there is no communication between him and the athlete? How can we run a good race when we are weighted down?

Then we are to “run with patience.” I am sure my cousin Jon would tell us that it takes a great deal of patience to persevere through all the training and the long miles of the marathon itself. I doubt I would have the patience even if I could hang in there physically! I just want to get there! Life’s race, though, is full of obstacles and detours, and only God Himself knows “the race that is set before us.” We don’t have a choice in the course – we must persevere through it nevertheless.

Paul talks about the athlete keeping his body under subjection in order to obtain the prize. So too must we be disciplined in our spiritual lives — obedient to the Lord in all things and following His will for us. That includes those very basic areas where it is so often difficult for us to be disciplined –reading His word daily, having a consistent and fervent prayer life; fellowshipping with other believers regularly and so on. If I cannot be disciplined in those simple things, how can I hope to run to my utmost ability?

*
II Timothy 4:7-8 says, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” At the end of the race is the prize! It is not Olympic gold but something far greater – a crown of righteousness from the hand of our Lord Himself. To receive my reward from Him for a race well-run, and to hear His words “Well, done, thou good and faithful servant!”— now that is a prize worth running for!

BETWEEN IRAQ AND A HARD PLACE

Our son-in-law David received word this week that he will be going to Iraq in April. He has been in the Air Force for over fifteen years and is a major – soon to be a lt. colonel when he pins on in a few months. He has never been deployed overseas before. That might seem unusual for a career officer, but considering the field he is in – space and missiles – perhaps it is not so unusual, after all. He is more a “rocket scientist” than a soldier and even now is working in a sort of think tank, doing research.

Julie and David have known all along that when you are in the military, being deployed comes with the territory and that it could actually happen someday. You have to be prepared and willing to go wherever they want to send you. After all these years, though, and doing the kind of work he does, it seemed unlikely, perhaps, that it ever would happen. It came as a shock when out of the blue the other day he got his orders.

Their initial reaction was just that – shock. Julie cried. David was dismayed. He was about to start colonel school. And the worst was that they are so close as a couple, and their family is so very close as well, that the thought of being separated was awful. When Julie told the children, they cried and cried and cried. They didn’t know much about Iraq since their parents never have the news on in front of them, but they had heard other people ask for prayer for so-and-so who was going to Iraq, or talk about someone who had been killed in Iraq. Their worst fear was that Daddy might have to go to Iraq, and now it was happening.

Joshua, who is nine, was mad – mad at the military. “Why can’t he just tell them no?” he asked, sobbing.

“He has to go, Joshua,” Julie tried to explain to him. “If he tells them no, they would put him in prison – military prison.”

Joshua continued to cry, but slowly stopped. Julie could see the wheels turning in his head. “How long would he have to stay in prison?” he asked hopefully.

Julie couldn’t help it. She burst out laughing. “Joshua, your daddy is not going to prison! He’s going to go do his duty and we will all get through it just fine!” Joshua had the grace to look a little sheepish, and after that the worst seemed to be over.

They went to meet David for lunch, and when she told him what Joshua had said, he, too, laughed. “Hmm,” he said, “let me see – six months in Iraq – or 50 years of hard time in prison, a dishonorable discharge and losing my retirement? I think I’ll go to Iraq!”

Within a few hours the whole family was doing just fine. They spent time together reading some of the promises of God and praying. They counted their blessings and thanked God for the good they could see in the situation – David would be gone only six months instead of a year; he was going to Iraq instead of Afghanistan; they were settled in their new house and would be fine here at home; maybe the Lord had a special mission for David to accomplish, some life to touch while he was gone. In the meantime, they would simply trust God to take care of them all and bring them back together soon.

There are times when we are between a rock and a hard place and there is absolutely nothing we can do to help ourselves. We feel helpless to control the situation. How we handle those times makes all the difference in the amount of pain or suffering we will experience. If we are bitter or fearful or angry, we make it so much harder for ourselves. There is a lack of trust on our part in believing that God always works in our lives for our best. That lack of trust robs us of the strength, peace and comfort that the Lord is so ready to give us in those troubled times.

An attitude of gratitude, on the other hand, helps us to see the bigger picture as we count the blessings of God in our lives. Taking the focus off the problem and putting it on our Problem-Solver who tells us to cast all our cares upon Him for He cares for us strengthens our faith. (I Peter 5:7) As we remember the great things He has done in the past and thank and praise Him for those things, we can trust that He will uphold, provide and protect in the future, as well. “The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.” (Psalm 126:3)

I know Julie’s family will come through this time of testing just fine. They live by faith, and have taught their children well to do the same. They thank Him in the good times, and they thank Him in the bad times, as well. “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)

LIFE – EXPECTANCY!

Yesterday was Robbie’s 34th birthday! He enjoyed going to Grandma’s house and having aunts, uncles, cousins and especially Grandma make over him. We had also celebrated his birthday big-time last week when we were at Julie’s house in Alabama with his nephew Benjamin whose birthday is the day before Robbie’s. Benjamin, who turned 12, is really into Bionicles so he wanted a Bionicle Birthday. (In case you don’t know what Bionicles are, they are robot-type creatures by Legos.) That was perfect for Robbie. We jokingly call him our Bionic Man since he is fuel-injected (he is tube fed through a g-tube) and battery-operated (he has a battery pack implanted near his collar bone for his Vagus Nerve Stimulator.) There is a special bond between Robbie and Benjamin. Benjamin has always had such a love for Robbie and playing with him and paying him extra-special attention. I made a birthday poster for them that said “Bionicle Buddies” but it could have said “Best Buddies.”

Thirty-four – going on two. Robbie is so sweet and precious to us, but we can see the last few years have taken a toll on him. He is much weaker physically than he used to be, unable to stand at all now or even sit in his wheelchair for longer than thirty or forty minutes at a time. The seizures have probably done a little more damage mentally, as well, over the years. He definitely is not the same person he was nine years ago, although if anything, he is more loving and sweeter than ever.

It was nine years ago today that they called a code blue on him in the hospital. We did not know if he was going to pull through. In fact, the doctors did not give us much hope at the time and even asked if we wanted a “do not resuscitate” order on him. Of course, we said no, but thus began the long hard journey of holding our breath and holding onto hope. The first two years after that fateful day were an emotional roller-coaster for me as we sat by his bed and struggled to keep him alive. We were in and out of the hospital and faced one crisis after another, but eventually he began to stabilize and we could breathe a little easier. The last few years have been fairly uneventful with him – praise the Lord!

Years ago they told us that the life expectancy for people like Robbie was the mid-thirties. We have heard that repeated several times. After having almost lost him nine years ago today, and several other times since then, we consider these last nine years “bonus years.” I must admit, as each birthday has passed since he turned thirty, I am conscious of the countdown clock ticking away and wonder if we will still have him for another birthday. Now here he is at thirty-four, the beginning of his mid thirties. I know it does not matter what “they” say – God is in control and holds Robbie’s life in His hands. He has Robbie’s days numbered (and ours, as well) and only He knows that number. Job 14:5 says, “Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass.” And though I do not worry about it, I am aware that our years and months and days with our precious Robbie may be short.

I think I look at this a lot differently than I did nine years ago. At that time it was such a traumatic shock to suddenly be faced with the prospects of losing our “baby,” whom we had cared for almost like a baby for twenty-five years, that I could not face the void his loss would make in my life. Oh, I knew in heart and mind that God’s will is always loving and best, and that I could trust and accept His will for Robbie and for us, but still this mother’s heart was breaking. Now, after nine years of seeing how Robbie’s life is so limited in quality and scope and physical comfort, I think I will be able more easily to release him to Heaven and the new life he will have there when the time comes. I talk to him almost every night as I’m tucking him into bed about how wonderful it will be in Heaven when he will be able to walk and run and dance, talk and sing and eat! He always grins and gets all excited! I know my heart will still break when the time comes, but I think now, after all his little body has been through, I will be able to focus more on his gain than my loss.

Life expectancy. We probably all expect we will live well into our seventies anyway. The life expectancy for Americans right now is 78.2 years (75.6 years for men; 80.8 years for women.) Surprisingly, the United States ranks 38th in the world for life expectancy. There are no guarantees, however. Bob frequently reads the obituaries and often shares with me as he reads. I am always struck by how many people die in their thirties and forties, and even twenties. We never know what a day will bring forth, do we? We expect to do this or do that, expecting that life will go on as normal.

Perhaps we would be better off to not have an expectancy for how long we live, or even how we will live, but for what the Lord has prepared for us someday in Heaven! That is an expectancy and hope that I can count on! I Corinthians 2:9 says, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Jesus made a promise in John 14:2, 3 that “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” I am excited to see what He has prepared for us! I am excited to be there with Him! And of course, I am excited for Robbie for all the wonders that he will experience there, too!

My husband often says he is looking forward with expectancy to what the Lord has in store for us next. I, too, look forward to seeing what happens in our lives here on earth. But even more, I am looking with expectancy to the new life we will have when this life is over! Our years on earth are numbered and whether they are twenty or one hundred, they are but a drop in the bucket when compared to all eternity. How wonderful that when we have Christ as our Savior we can look forward with expectancy to glorious, everlasting, eternal life!