Thursday, June 26, 2014

From Grief to Gratitude

Up and down the aisles of the craft store I wandered, looking for the items I needed to make a watering station for my backyard birds, my mind filled with thoughts of a dear friend who excelled in the making of crafts of all kinds. Surely this must be her favorite store, I thought, with the abundance of materials to work with as well as the the spiritual connection that was evident in the music playing softly in the background and the theme of many of the items for sale on the shelves; two passions satisfied in one shopping trip!

With Father's Day approaching, I realized that the day would be a difficult one for her, having just recently lost her dad and with her loss still so fresh. My heart went out to her, knowing how much she must be missing him. But God didn't let a melancholy mood settle down on me, reminding me instead that all of us who have lost our dads and are thinking of them on that summer Sunday can turn our thoughts from grief to gratitude by gaining new purpose in our lives from the loss we've been through.

I never had the privilege of meeting my friend's dad, but I feel like I know him somewhat from what I've seen in the lives of his family members and heard from their lips as they've spoken of him. I know that he was a good, honest man with a passion for God, a zest for living and a joy that spilled out of his heart and overflowed onto all those around him. I can see him in his granddaughter, who is so full of love for her the younger grandson who is actively in pursuit of his dreams, and in the older one who joins his mom in being simply two of the happiest people I've ever known. As a group they refuse to blame God for taking this amazing man away from them but instead thank Him for giving him to them in the first place, and they celebrate his life by the way they live their own.

When Jesus' disciples asked Him to show them the Father, Jesus replied, “...He who has seen Me has seen the Father...” (John 14:9). He had made His Father visible by the things He did and said, and now He passes that purpose on to us. Just as people can catch a glimpse of what our earthly fathers might be like by watching us, even more can they catch a vision of our heavenly Father in their associations with us, in listening to the words we speak and watching the way we live and relate to one another.

Obviously, one way we can make God known is to simply talk Him up. The evening I spent answering my youngest son's questions about my own father brought my dad alive in my heart once more. I was thankful all over again for the time we had together, and found not sadness but incredible joy in sharing details of what he was like and the lessons he had taught me, even in our difficult moments. In the same way, those who have a passion for God find that their thanksgiving for who He is to them overflows in renewed joy that is evident in the testimonies they share. All of us who know Christ have a story to tell that will help some hungry soul understand God's heart toward humanity a little better.

Our actions speak louder than words, however. When people see the characteristics which define God in action in our lives, they get a visible picture of what He must be like. Especially on those days when the death of someone dear to us consumes us, He encourages us to shift our focus from lamenting our loss to giving thanks for all we have gained in the time we were together, and then to take that love we still have to give and spend it lavishly on the lives around us. To the extent that we give love away, He will refill our hearts with more of the same.

We have a good example to follow. When Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, His first action was to look to Heaven and give thanks. His words and actions that followed brought life, love and joy to all who were near. Ours will do the same.

We are born to one dad, and born again to Another. Look around at your spiritual siblings and realize that you can be your father's son or daughter in more ways than one. You don't have to wait till June to honor your Dad. When you make it your mission to make Him known, every day is Father's Day, and celebration the inevitable end result.

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing, You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness”.
(Psalm 30:11)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Do Nots and Donuts

It was still early in the day when the elderly man came through my line at the grocery store with a mixed assortment of items he wanted to buy, the last of which was three glazed donuts tucked inside a bakery bag, it's top carefully rolled closed. He was in the process of paying me when his wife suddenly showed up beside him, having stopped at the store unexpectedly and spotted him there. They smiled and chatted briefly...until she caught a glimpse of the bakery bag and rightly discerned its carefully concealed contents. Her demeanor changed instantly.

“You bought donuts?” she asked incredulously. “You knew we were going to have breakfast...”

“I know,” he stammered, “but I just wanted to get these.” It was obvious to me that for some reason, whether for health concerns or because they had made other breakfast plans, donuts were on a forbidden food list, and with the purchase he had clearly crossed an invisible line. Noting the look on her face, he turned back to me and said, “You don't do marriage counseling, do you? I think I'm going to need it...!”

On my next break I told the tale to my husband via text message, and his finger-tapped response to me was, “Wise counseling would have been to confiscate the donuts and bring them home to me for further study.”

I laughed as I read his reply and then shook my head, thinking to myself, “Men and their donuts. What are you going to do?” But the truth of the matter is that both men and women find themselves tempted with forbidden sweet treats, not just inside the grocery store, but within the boundaries of the marriage relationship as well. Taking the person standing beside you as your lawfully wedded spouse also entails promising not to engage in behavior that would in any way damage the relationship you have legally, emotionally and physically given yourself to. With every “I do” spoken at the altar comes an unspoken but equally binding “I do not” list that ensures the sanctity of the verbal commitment.

No two such lists are exactly alike. While there are some basic entries common to all; each couple's list is as unique as the individuals in the union, and it evolves over time. As the years go by, each marriage partner learns what upsets their spouse, and that item is then added to the list of actions and attitudes they have learned to avoid. Common sense counseling advises both couples to stay away from the items on the list if they do not want to upset their beloved.

We feed whatever we give our attention to, however, and if we are constantly focused on what we can't have or shouldn't do, soon that's all we think about. Those thoughts grow until they eventually become actions that can destroy in an instant the trust and compatibility in a marriage that took years of effort to build. A better way to marital happiness is to concentrate on developing the sweetness of the relationship itself so that you are not tempted to look elsewhere for the joys you have at home. Develop an “I do” list of actions that delight your wife or husband, and you will find that as the list grows, your happiness together does as well.

A day or two after the donut episode described above, I saw another man who regularly does the weekly shopping duties for his wife because she doesn't enjoy the trip to the store. Doing the chore for her is a simple way to make her happy. His visits always end the same way. As I slide each item across the scanner he says, “That one's for her...that one's for her...that one's for her...”, until we come to the last item, which is likewise always a couple of donuts in a wax paper bag. As I reach for those he always says, “And those are for me, my treat for doing her shopping!”

As he walked away, I realized that that man has found more than donuts in his bakery bag; he's learned that doing whatever he can to make the one he loves happy brings it's own reward.

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love...”
(Galatians 5:13-15 MSG)

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