Looking Back With Gratitude

I am about to turn 42 and would like to take some time to reflect on my life. Especially, how much I have to be grateful for.

It is so easy to see the things we consider bad in our lives, the things we don’t like, the situations we want to end. It could be a physical problem in the form of an illness or disability. It could be the mental anguish of depression. It could be the loss of a family member due to them walking away or dieng.

No matter the situation, we all have been there. All we can see is the problems around us. We get so focused on what’s wrong that we can’t see the good in anything.

That used to be me. Don’t get me wrong, like anyone else, I still have my moments of an extremely negative outlook on life. As I get closer to God those days are fewer and further between. It’s when I start to drift away from God and put my primary focus on me and my problems that I start to get into a negative mindset.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. – Matthew 6:33 NLT

So the most important thing I am grateful for is my relationship with God. It is only through a relationship with Him that I can truly find satisfaction, joy, and fulfillment. I never truly felt free and like I could just be me until I had a relationship with God.

This was by no means an overnight transformation. I have seen some people who were lucky enough to have an immediate transformation but that wasn’t my experience. It isn’t typical. Like any relationship, it takes effort and spending time with the other person. Our relationship with God isn’t much different in this regard. The best way to get to know God is through prayer and Bible reading. If I don’t do this I slowly start to see a negative change in my attitude.

but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
Whatever they do prospers. – Psalm 1:2-3

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2

I am also grateful for my family. Too many families have a tendency to raise disabled children differently because of the disability. I saw many children who’s parents could care less. I also saw those who were spoiled rotten because their parents let them get away with murder.

My parents never fell into the trap of either extreme. When it came to my behavior, they had the same expectations they would have for any other child. People at our church and our extended family would tell them that they were being too hard on me. I am grateful that they didn’t listen to them. If they would have I would probably be a pretty miserable person.

They always encouraged me not to focus on what I couldn’t do but what I could do. I truly believe that is a huge contributor to my long life. Doctors said I would be lucky to live until I was 16. There was a time in my teenage years when this thought got to me but thankfully I snapped out of it. If I didn’t have a positive attitude I may have given up on life.

Of course, scientific advances in my lifetime were a big help too. There are medications I take that weren’t available in the previous generation, and not to mention portable ventilators. Before these people with breathing issues had to rely on machines called iron lungs which took up the whole room. Two more things to be grateful for.

Finally, I am grateful for my church family. I have found great encouragement from so many people who have come into my life. Some of them were only in my life for a season but were there at the right time. Other friendships have lasted ever since I became a Christian and continue to breathe life into me. I hope I have touched some just as much as they have touched me. That’s the whole idea. Isn’t it?

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24-25

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God as priority #1

I have written before about my lack of discipline when it comes to priorities. It seems like I have to keep learning the importance of priorities, especially when it comes to putting God first in my day. I don’t completely understand why I have such a problem in this area.

When I don’t put God first and start my day doing trivial things I feel off the rest of the day. Yet, I still go through short seasons of being distracted and putting spending time with God almost as an afterthought. My heart and mind are so easily distracted from the things that are the most important in life. I believe that the heart and mind work hand in hand when it comes to this.

In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus says:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Verse 21 shows how our hearts will follow what we treasure or consider important or valuable. If I consider something or someone important then I will think about and spend time on them, this includes my thoughts. When I decide to spend more time and energy on hobbies, games and entertainment than I do on God then I’m basically saying those things are more important to me then God.

If I continually look to the things of this world for validation then my heart will actually long for more of those things. But, if I look to God for validation and purpose, by spending time with him, my heart will long for more of him.

Last week I got an early birthday gift, a Blu-ray player. I spent at least three days watching movies and shows on streaming services and Blu-ray disks. Between that and an online game, which was having a competition, I didn’t spend any time with God except for church.

Because of this I started to struggle with focusing. My brain wanted to go a thousand miles a minute in twelve different directions. For me this can be dangerous. If I don’t control where my thoughts go it becomes very easy to relapse.

Luckily, I realized I was getting into dangerous territory before my brain went too far down that road. I was able to correct my behavior by making sure to meditate and spend time with God before doing anything else for the day. It may not sound like it but this is a big improvement for me compared to a year ago. Before, my media binges might last for three weeks instead of three days. Getting back on track is much easier after three days than three weeks.

I read a devotional a week or two ago that suggested that our hearts don’t long for God because we haven’t spent time truly getting to know him. If we knew him intimately and more fully our hearts would naturally long for him. I tend to agree with this. But it isn’t as if we can gain a certain amount of knowledge and then stop. It’s something we have to continually do.

In Romans 12:2 Paul tells us :

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The word translated as transformed means to be transformed after being with or literally transfigured. The same word used to describe Jesus’ change in appearance on the mountain top.

As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.  Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.   They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.  As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen. – Luke 9:29-36

Notice that this happened when Jesus was praying. If Jesus was praying in order to fully see heaven and audibly hear his Father’s voice what makes me think I can go days or weeks without spending time with God and still hear his voice. If I want to know his will I have to spend time with him.

Moses was completely human and he was physically transformed by being in God’s presence.

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. – Exodus 33:29

Moses was chosen to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the promised land. This was at a time when only a few chosen people were allowed to be in the presence of God. But because of the death and resurrection of Jesus we believers can come into his transforming presence any time.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16

Each and every one of us has so much available to us from God if we would just take the time to experience it. This is something we have to repeatedly and consistently make time for. In my experience, the more time I spend with God the easier it becomes to make him a priority. It takes time to develop the habit of spending time with God but it is worth it.

I don’t always do it perfectly but God knows I’m trying and knows how easily we humans get distracted. If you don’t spend time with God on a regular basis I encourage you to start. As for me, I plan on continuing to grow into a fuller relationship with God.

CARRY THE BELL

The following is NOT my work, but something that was sent to me in my email.  It meant a lot to me, and I would like to share it with you.

Just up the road from my home is a field, with two horses in it.
From a distance, each horse looks like any other horse.
But if you stop your car, or are walking by,
You will notice something quite amazing….

Looking into the eyes of one horse will disclose that
He is blind. His owner has chosen not to have him
Put down, but has made a good home for him.

This alone is amazing. But if you stand nearby and
Listen, you will hear the sound of a bell.
Looking around for the source of the sound,
You will see that it comes from the smaller
Horse in the field.

Attached to the horse’s halter is a small bell.
It lets the blind friend know where the other horse is,
So he can follow.

As you stand and watch these two friends,
You’ll see that the horse with the bell is always
Checking on the blind horse, and that the blind horse
Will listen for the bell and then slowly walk to
Where the other horse is, trusting that he
Will not be led astray.

When the horse with the bell returns to the shelter of the
Barn each evening, it stops occasionally and looks back,
Making sure that the blind friend isn’t too far behind
To hear the bell.

Like the owners of these two horses, God does not throw
Us away just because we are not perfect or because we
Have problems or challenges!

He watches over us and even brings others into our lives
To help us when we are in need..

Sometimes we are the blind horse being guided by
The little ringing bell of those who God places in our lives.
Other times we are the guide horse, helping others to
Find their way….

Good friends are like that… You may not always
See them, but you know they are always there..

Please listen for my bell and I’ll listen for yours,
And remember…

Be kinder than necessary-
Everyone you meet is fighting
Some kind of battle.

Live simply,
Love generously,
Care deeply,
Speak kindly…….

FOR WE WALK BY FAITH AND NOT BY SIGHT

Thank you Jean for sending me this email.

 

Using The Tools At Our Disposal

With my disability, communication is always a challenge for me.

Earlier today, I had a situation where I let frustration get the best of me. I allowed frustration over something that happened in one situation affect my response to another situation that was by far less frustrating. Both situations came down to communication.

In the first situation I repeatedly had to repeat myself because of my poor speech. Some days no matter how many times I repeat myself, I’m not going to be understood. I should mention that this happened when I didn’t have access to my computer. Of course!

What made this more frustrating was the fact that I have given my nurses a tool to use in those situations where understanding me is especially difficult. She didn’t use the tools at her disposal. Then, she got upset with me for getting frustrated with not being understood. At that point, I went from frustration to anger.

To make my day worse, although I thought everything had settled, I had another communication situation.

I have been playing an adventure of DnD (Dungeons and Dragons in non geek speak). We take our turns by posting messages online. We started a game that is more complicated than we were used to. The DM (person running the game) recently wrote complaining about our slowness post and our missing clues that she thought were easy. We straightened out that rough patch. There was a learning curve and she eventually realized that. And we felt we were finally getting used to the format.

Then the DM writes a post that was unclear and confusing but we didn’t catch it until two days later. She completely overlooked two people’s actions which confused things. I had already taken my turn and would have done something else if I had the right information.

Anyway, this frustrated and angered me. She complains we aren’t getting it and then can’t be clear. I wrote asking for clarification but ended up coming across as attacking her. After she replied being offended I reread my message and if it wasn’t for four words she wouldn’t have felt attacked. Four little words changed the whole tone of the message.

I was frustrated when I wrote. I broke my own rule about not writing messages when angry. This teaches me the importance of watching how I speak to others and my attitude. Our choice of words and even our tone can make a big difference.

Here was another situation where I was reacting rather than using all the tools at my disposal.

You’d think I’d learn.

We can all learn a lesson to use all the tools at our disposal. God has given us the tools to hear and understand him but we have to be willing to use them. He has given us the Bible and Holy Spirit. If I read the bible I will gain a greater understanding of God and how he wants me to live and behave.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – James 3:16-17

He gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us, remind us of the word’s of Jesus, and even give us the words to say when sharing the gospel.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. – John 14:26

And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.  Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. – Mark 13-10-11

You’d think I would stop getting myself frustrated with God, when I have these tools at my disposal but don’t always take advantage of them. I am not the best at using these tools consistently but I am growing in this area. I currently am doing a bible in a year reading plan but deeper study is lacking. The Holy Spirit dwells in us but we seldom fully listen to it. That little voice telling you to reach out to that friend you haven’t seen in awhile is usually the Holy Spirit. That voice telling you to read a book and keeps telling you when you don’t is him also. All that is necessary to develop an ear to hear the Spirit is to spend time in prayer and repetition. I’m talking conversational prayer, not a list of requests.

I need to also remember that I AM also a tool. I also have to learn that people need to see Jesus through me.  I need to remember the importance of watching how I speak to others and my attitude. My choice of words and even my tone can make a big difference in showing God’s love, and defusing a difficult situation.

I can either tear someone down or build them up. I can inflame a situation or diffuse it. I know for me it is difficult to control my tongue if I let my emotions take over and get the better of me.

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. – Proverbs 10:18

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. – James 3:9-12

That is why I have a rule against reacting in the heat of the moment when my emotions are running high. The hard part is catching myself when I am about to break that rule.

Sometimes I am forced to give an answer in the moment. But usually I can wait to address whatever the issue may be. I find it helpful to meditate, pray or vent to a friend. I usually need to do all three. Prayer and meditation help to change my focus which gives me the distance I need from the situation to be able to respond appropriately.

Venting to a friend helps me to get rid of some of the stronger emotions. Sometimes after doing this the problem doesn’t seem quite so big. Also, a lot of times my friend will see something I don’t or help me to remember that the other person is a child of God and needs grace.

I obviously don’t do this perfectly but I’m growing.

If you are like me and usually stuff your emotions until you explode then you have to find the right balance through the Holy Spirit.  Don’t use this as an excuse not to express yourself and take care of difficult situations. But that will be a discussion for another day.

Although I get all frustrated and angry, I must remember too to use all the tools that God makes available to communicate the love of God to others.