Apple Cutting Lesson

“Will you cut an apple for JT, please?” I asked my husband when my son was only four years old. Don stared at me and asked how. I rolled my eyes and said, “You know how to cut an apple. Just do it.”

A few minutes later Don returned with the apple. He had cut it once down the middle. At this point I became highly irritated. “The seeds are still in it. He can’t eat it that way.”

Everyone knows how to cut an apple. You quarter it first.

quartered apple

Then cut out the core and seeds.

seeded apple

Well, that’s what I thought at the time. However, since then I’ve observed others (mostly moms) cutting apples and found out . . . I was wrong! You can cut an apple several ways!

You can use an apple corer slicer to cut an apple.

apple corer slicer

You can cut the apple four times around the core.

slicing an apple  sliced apple

I even know people who cut and eat the apple one bite at a time.

My point? Sometimes “my way” isn’t the only way, nor is it always the best way.

There is a general thought “out there” that disagreements are bad and should be avoided. Therefore, if you and I are discussing child rearing and disagree on the method, one of us must be wrong. This perception is inaccurate. Just like there is more than one way to cut an apple, there is more than one way to rear children.

More often than not, in our discussions and decision-making, we are not choosing between a right option and a wrong one (like should we commit adultery or not). Instead we are trying to find the best choice or option for the situation. For example, Kenneth learns best by listening, so I read to him a lot; whereas Melinda learns best by seeing, so she reads the material herself. In general, neither method is better. However, there is a “better” method depending on the child.

What I learned from my apple-cutting incident is that I should not judge another person based on his/her apple-cutting methods. Nor should I assume there is only one apple-cutting way. I should listen to others and observe their apple-cutting abilities before I jump in with my own superior tone on how to cut an apple. (I may learn something!) Above all else, I should value the relationship with the other person over having my own way—even if he/she is cutting the apple wrong. Because, really, in the end, does it matter how the apple is cut?

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Mother Teresa Style

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in . . . (Matt. 25:35).

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. (Matt. 25:40)

These verses impelled Mother Teresa to minister to the poorest of the poor in India. She stated she was not doing social work but God’s work. She saw each person she helped as Jesus Himself. She treated each person she met, young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, equally.

I admire Mother Teresa.

Journey to the Fatherless

At times I am overwhelmed by statistics stating how many people live in poverty, how many orphans go hungry, how many homeless die in the streets. It paralyzes me. Yet the enormity of the problem did not stop Mother Teresa.

“We will never be able to care for all orphans, cure all disease, feed all the hungry, or treat all the lepers,” she admitted. “Our purpose is not to cure the world’s problems, but to demonstrate Christian love.”

She accomplished this purpose by nurturing one person, and then another, and then another.

Hurricane Katrina

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the surrounding area, I traveled with a team to help clean up. We saw immense devastation. The extent of work that lay before us left me wondering what good we could do in a few days. Our team headed to a home and dragged fallen trees, limbs, and debris out of the yard to a designated spot near the street.

As I worked I thought of the starfish story—the one in which a child walks along a beach with washed-up starfish. As she walks she picks up starfish and throws them into the ocean. An adult approaches her and asks why she continues since she can’t possibly make a difference. There are too many. The child picks up another starfish and throws it into the ocean. She declares, “I made a difference to that one!”

I couldn’t help all the people in the New Orleans area, but I helped one.

I can’t adopt all the orphans in the world, but I adopted one.

I can’t feed all of my neighbors, but I can feed one at a time.

I can’t listen to every hurting woman, but I can listen to the one God puts in front of me right now.

How about you? What difference can you make to one today?

Selfishness, Conviction, or Fear?

Last summer Don told me his brother invited him on a mission trip to Liberia with a ministry his brother directs. He asked me, “Should I go?”

I don’t know if it was selfishness, conviction, or fear that made me say, “No, I don’t think you should go.”

Selfishness. I didn’t want the trip to cost me anything—time, money, or energy. As the wife of a pastor (and a man who travels on mission trips regularly), I knew some responsibility would fall on my shoulders.

Conviction. That’s a hard one. I enumerated many valid reasons I believed Don shouldn’t go—some of them were even spiritual and biblical. Besides, I didn’t “have a peace” about it. I rallied behind this particular reason for several weeks.

Fear. Ah, the root of many bad decisions. Fear is really a lack of trust and, at first, I didn’t trust Don was hearing from the Lord. Nor did I trust that God would allow Don to come home in one piece, if at all. As a friend of mine recently said, “Being in the center of God’s will is not always safe.” She referred to our physical well-being. God does not promise we will live our lives of faith without harm.

To my husband’s credit, he did not want to say yes to the trip until I gave him the green light. Unfortunately for him that didn’t happen. However, he wouldn’t say no either. So we came to a standstill.

The last time Don brought it up, the deadline was fast approaching and a decision needed made. I finally relented. Actually what I said was more like,

“You are never going to convince me you should go on this trip. But I won’t stand in your way. If you believe God wants you to go, say yes and I’ll be okay.”

And I am okay.

I realized I could not keep him from going, nor should I. As head of the household, he could have forced my hand at any time. I’m glad that’s not how our marriage works. However, as his wife, I have an obligation to trust his leadership. God has spent years teaching me this lesson.

Don agreed to the trip, raised his support, and left for Liberia last weekend. He is due home March 2nd. While I haven’t felt the “peace” I seek, my fear is slowing dissipating and my trust in the Lord is strengthening. I have no knowledge Don will come home unscathed. But I rest in the knowledge that God is in control and knows what’s best for each of us.

If you want to check out Hope 2 Liberia, click on the picture below.

Hope 2 Liberia

Fairy Tale Ending

As a child I fantasized about Prince Charming rescuing me—from what I don’t know, because my childhood was virtually problem-free—and the two of us sailing into the sunset together. I dreamed about and strove toward this “happily ever after” I heard so much about.

sunset over ocean

Then life happened.

I won’t bore you with details—you have your own details. You know the story. You are coasting along minding your own business. Then WHAM! Life.

Divorce.

Miscarriage.

Death.

Unemployment.

Parenting a difficult child.

Chronic pain.

The “unhappy ending.” Or is it?

One homeschool day recently I was reading from Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher. The main character walks with a limp because her mother smashed her foot to keep the Sultan from taking her as one of his brides. At first the girl is bitter about the foot, but as the book progresses she learns her mother marred her out of love. It’s an excellent read and has many useful nuggets of truth. But on this particular day, this truth stood out to me:

But real life isn’t like that. Its endings are squirmier than the ones in stories. You try to tuck them in neatly and they kick the blankets off. The thing about life is, no matter what happens to you, it goes on. What seems like an ending is really a beginning in disguise.

I paused. Yes, that’s so true. My life had not ended when tragic events struck. In many cases, those very events were catalysts to deepen my relationship with the Lord or cause me to see a need in someone else’s life. For example, because it was so difficult to adopt Melinda, Don and I started an adoption ministry. Now we help others trying to adopt.

I was mulling this over when Kenneth spoke up. “That’s like death. You think it’s an ending but it’s really the beginning . . . of your eternal life with God.” WOW! Now that’s an ending to look forward to!

Jesus is My Valentine (And Yours!)

Roses are Red

Violets are Blue

God made a Valentine—Jesus

Especially for You!

The Kid’s Club kids decorated cards with this poem Monday. They were instructed to give the card to whomever they wanted. I was the recipient of my daughter’s card.

Valentine’s Day is a bittersweet holiday. For some, the day comes and goes without a hiccup. However, some women approach it with out-of-reach expectations. This leads men to tiptoe into the day fearing they will fail at expressing their love properly. And that’s just married couples!

I know these feelings and actions all too well. I used to be one of those women. My thoughts on how a man should express his love toward a woman far exceeded reality. For that reason I was typically disappointed. I know I’m not alone. I’ve counseled many ladies the day after Valentine’s Day.

After fourteen years, I have dropped my expectations on what the perfect Valentine’s Day looks like because, let’s face it, kids will throw up, keys will get locked in the car, and basketball practice will interrupt supper. In addition, my husband has learned a few things. He pays attention when I tell him my wishes. He (literally) takes notes and goes out of his way to make the day special. I am blessed to be married to a man who desires to express his love to me.

However, not all relationships work as well as ours. That’s why I love the above poem. When I first read it, the meaning escaped me. But after reading it a second time, I got it. Jesus is our Valentine from God! Our age or gender or marital status doesn’t matter. Jesus came to earth, died, and rose again for each and every one of us. He patiently waits for us to respond to Him. After we do, He saturates us with His love. He is the ultimate Valentine!

floating candle

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 9:38-39).

The Greatest Love of All, Was Whitney Houston Right?

(Author’s Note: Whitney Houston died February 11, 2012. The following piece was written shortly thereafter.)

Whitney Houston’s dead? I stared at my computer screen in disbelief. Sorrow filled me, and I contemplated her strong influence on others.

Whitney Houston’s songs inspired many, including me. As an impressionable teenager in the 1980’s, I purchased her albums and sang along with her proudly. The message spurred me forward. Her solid voice incited a can-do attitude, a desire to drive on whatever the cost. Her stance and air of confidence provoked a spark of excitement, a motivation to be all I could be, to push myself and accomplish much. In short, her message empowered.

Ready to take on the world!Associate of Science degree 1988

Ready to take on the world!
Associate of Science degree 1988

A generation of women listened to Whitney Houston’s songs and heard permission to reach for the unreachable and change the world by finding strength and love inside themselves. Houston desired to steer women toward something positive. Unfortunately, her message, while powerful and peppered with elements of truth, was misleading. It missed the mark regarding the source of true love and strength, as evidenced by her lifestyle.

Influence through Empowerment

Now, decades later, I aspire to empower others, especially my teenage children. But I don’t want my message to fall short. While attending college, I found the true source of love and strength, not in myself, but in Jesus Christ. It’s that message I hope to pass along.

Most women yearn to make a difference. And we do—probably more often than we comprehend. We don’t need to produce hit songs, stand on a platform, or be a boss to influence others.

I say a sweet, “Hello,” to the checkout lady and invoke a smile. I whisper, “I’m praying for you,” to my husband and reassure him. I tell my daughter, “You’re beautiful,” and reinforce God’s view of her.

Destructive or Life-Giving

Proverbs 18:21 tells us, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” I understand the accuracy of this Scripture because of personal experience.

“I don’t love you. I don’t want to be married anymore.” Those devastating words rang in my ears nine years into my first marriage. That short but potent message penetrated my heart and mind, throwing my life into a tailspin. I couldn’t change the reality of my situation, but I could decide whether I would allow those rejecting words to influence my thoughts toward myself. Was I truly unlovable?

I sought counsel. My wise friend spoke these words of truth, “You have been functioning for others’ acceptance. But your Creator loves and accepts you as you are, not based on your performance. When you understand who you are in Christ you can function from His acceptance.” That message inspired me to find my worth in Jesus alone.

Intentional or Unintentional

We can use our influential positions to send intentional messages. We can plan our words with specific goals in mind.

When a friend calls for advice, I ponder her dilemma, pray, and choose my words deliberately. When an organization asks me to speak at an event, I mull over my speech for days. I understand the words I string together, the point I portray, will mingle with and possibly affect the listeners’ belief sets and responses. I want my words to be biblically sound—to guide my listeners toward God and His Word. Even in a secular setting, I can cautiously formulate my statements so as not to mislead.

On the other hand, we sometimes send unintentional messages. Perhaps we speak without thinking or we don’t fully grasp how far-reaching our circle of influence extends. But we should heed James’ words before opening our mouths. “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark” (James 3:5).

People around us are watching and listening. My son’s friend hears me rebuke him during a church service. Am I soft-spoken and loving or am I short and quick with my words? The impression I make will influence the friend’s picture of me, my church, and Christian behavior; perhaps even of Christ himself.

Our Responsibility

It’s important to remember as we speak to those within our circle of influence we are either pointing them toward the greatest love of all–God  or away from Him. Even our smallest remarks or comments can make a difference in someone else’s life.  A carefully spoken word will encourage, but a haphazard remark can dishearten.

We may not hold the audience Whitney Houston did. However, we each maintain some influence over other people. Therefore, we should think before we speak. Praying about our words and remembering, as Christians, we represent Christ will help us use our influence wisely. Whether we are at home talking with our family, at work speaking with a co-worker, or at church leading a women’s Bible study, we have a responsibility to send clear, concise, and purposeful messages. Our messages empower. Our words matter.

Witness

I stepped off the airplane and headed toward baggage claim. As I rounded the corner, I spotted him . . . my husband. My heart leapt! An unexpected surprise! I had driven to the airport, so his presence was unnecessary.

I smiled. “Why are you here?”

“I missed you,” he replied. “Besides, I want to be here—I am the witness to your life.”

I knew the reference. It was from a movie we had watched together, Shall We Dance? In the movie, the main character, played by Susan Sarandon, explains why people get married. “We need a witness to our lives . . . in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. . . You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.”

Don’s declaration means that he not only loves me, but he values me and our time together. He treasures the time we spend together and desires to know me—the whole me—intimately. He expresses this in numerous ways. He cheers for me. He listens to me. He consoles me. He counsels me. He encourages me. He helps me. He leads me. In essence, he emulates Christ. And because of his actions, I better reflect Christ to others, especially our children.

Which makes me wonder . . . shouldn’t I be the witness to my children’s lives? Who, besides the Lord, cares for them more? Don’t they need someone to hold them when they are hurt, pay attention to them when they are discouraged, and listen to their stories even when they go on and on with no ending in sight?

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So when you see me shout the loudest after Melinda makes a basket, know it’s because I am her cheerleader.

track meet

When you see me yell, “You can do it!” as JT runs past me at a track meet, know it’s because I am his encourager.

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When you see me assist Kenneth during a magic show, know it’s because I am his helper.

drummer

When you see me attend a rock concert in which Kevin is the drummer, know it’s because I am his promoter.

graduation

When you see me wipe a tear as JT and Kevin walk down the aisle in their caps and gowns, know it’s because I am their teacher.

I am the witness to their lives.

What about you? Whose life are you witnessing?