Outcomes: Out Of My Hands

Got expectations? How’s your serenity? According to the Big Book* of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), our serenity (sense of wellness, peace of mind) is “inversely proportional” to our expectations. Therefore, when we anticipate a particular outcome with a person or situation, our serenity is low – especially when they are not cooperating with our plans! When we leave outcomes in God’s hands, our serenity level is high. AA made the prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr famous: God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Ah, yes – the wisdom to know the difference… It is not wrong to have expectations. It is a problem, however, to expect or demand that life go our way. The disciples on the road to Emmaus had expectations. They were bemoaning the death of Jesus, “but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Hindsight is 20/20. We know that the outcome God planned through the death and resurrection of Jesus was far beyond their expectations. There is a lesson for us in that. I believe that God’s plan for me is always the best plan, but sometimes I am like my friend who said, “I never let go of anything I didn’t leave my claw marks in!” That is why I am grateful for that famous author, “Unknown,” who wrote this prayer: Lord, I am willing to receive what You give, to lack what You withhold, to relinquish what You take, to suffer what You inflict, to be what You require. I like peace of mind, so when I am asking God for direction regarding my hopes and dreams, I pray with my hands open and palms up, as a gesture of surrender of that thing or person to God. In April I signed on with an agent. He is currently representing my book proposal to a number of publishing houses. My hard work and dream of being published is out of my hands. I had the courage to change what I could: I gained new skills at writers’ and speakers’ conferences. I have honed my craft. I have followed the suggestions of mentors. And then, I did the work.  Whatever the outcome, I gave my best effort. I can live with that. My goal is to hold loosely to expectations. This week I am praying with open hands, palms up: Lord, I am willing to receive what you give… Today’s Challenge: How about you? Got expectations? Want serenity? Consider this: Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. The LORD works out everything for his own ends….In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:3, 4 & 9). * Alcoholics Anonymous, Third Edition, New & Revised 1976 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc, p. 452.  ...

Strangely Wrapped Gifts

I agree with Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get.” The same can be said of the White Elephant gift exchange my friends and I have each Christmas. We attractively wrap items that are no longer of use – that is, if they ever were of use – to help lure an unsuspecting participant to choose it when the game begins. When the night is over, we are happy to be rid of our own hunk of junk, but we go home with someone else’s. I once brought a coconut that was carved into a monkey’s head and came home with a miniature guitar that screeches tinny heavy metal music. Usually when I bring my White Elephant gift home, my foremost objective  is to promptly dispose of it…unless, of course…I plan to re-gift it at next year’s exchange! When life’s troubles land on our doorstep, we want to be rid of them faster than last year’s White Elephant gift. However, some of the most treasured gifts I ever received came strangely wrapped within the package of an extremely painful time. I never would have chosen it for its outward appearance. My husband’s illness and death were never on my gift wish-list; neither was single parenting. However, experiencing the comfort of God’s presence and His grace in the midst of that package of trials gave me a gift of faith and forced spiritual growth that I admit would not have happened in calmer times. The loss of my husband gave me the incredible gift of perspective. The problems I have faced in the twenty years since Jon’s death pale in comparison. That, in turn, continually gives me the gift of hope: If God was able to deliver me then, I am confident He is more than able to do it now. Another gift that comes with our pain is an equipping for ministry. The apostle Paul begins his second letter to the Corinthians saying, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor.1:3-4). We are uniquely qualified to comfort others facing similar trials. That, my friends, is the ultimate re-gifting experience. A woman once called and said, “You don’t know me, but a mutual friend gave me a CD of your retreat workshop, ‘Staying Firmly Anchored in the Storms of Life.’ I just need to ask – how did you survive the death of your husband?”   Our stories were remarkably similar: We both lost our husbands to Leukemia and were left to single-parent young teenage daughters. I shared stories of God’s faithfulness to me and my girls. She said she was encouraged, but wished she could see me face-to-face as she had so many questions. She said, “I don’t suppose you ever come to Grand Rapids” (I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, over 500 miles away). I explained that, as a matter of fact, I was coming to Grand Rapids in a few days to visit my daughters who attended college there. She graciously declined my offer to meet, “I don’t want to take time away from your family.”  My daughters had class in the morning so I assured her I was available. We met in a coffee shop, and for three hours, exchanged stories of God’s goodness and special care for widows and the fatherless. We both went away encouraged and agreed that our encounter was another gift from God, strangely-wrapped in our mutual loss. Most of us would not choose painful times just to receive gifts of grace, but when we rest in God’s sovereign goodness, like the psalmist, we can say, “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me” (Psalm 66:16).  Re-gifting by telling the stories of grace received may just be the best “Thank-you” we can give God in return. Today’s Challenge: Life is like a box of chocolates: We never know what we’re going to get. When – not if – troubles come, let us tear off the strange wrapping and receive the extravagant gifts of grace offered within. Let us give thanks to the Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). Then, let the re-gifting begin!...

Hopes and Dreams

Got hopes and dreams? It’s the stuff life is made of. But what happens when our hopes and dreams are put on hold for what feels like forever…say, forty years? Okay, so I didn’t just pick that number by random. That’s how long I have waited to be free to pursue my dream of having a writing and speaking ministry. I began my first social work job shortly after I became a Christian in 1972. However, my life’s passion has been to share stories of God’s goodness and faithfulness. My husband and I worked with the Youth Group at our church. Apart from interviewing clients and completing the required forms for my job, my writing and speaking was limited to preparing Sunday school lessons and delivering an occasional devotional. Ten years later, during a career hiatus to raise my family, I was the volunteer director for a pro-life organization (currently the Life Outreach Center). I spoke to altar societies and various church and community groups and led board meetings. I wrote presentations, a volunteer training manual, and thank-you notes to our supporters. When I returned to my social work career, an avalanche of paperwork buried me. I worked in the field of Substance Abuse for twenty years. I interviewed and counseled hundreds of clients. I wrote creative treatment plans, progress notes, and endless reports. I created presentations for high school assemblies and senior citizen centers. I told stories of God’s goodness to my co-workers at the lunch table at work. On a limited basis, I spoke at retreats and church-sponsored events on evenings and weekends. I was published several times. But I wanted to do so much more. What has kept me from despairing when my dreams seemed out of reach for the past forty years?  I surrendered my heart’s desire to God. With palms up I offered back the gifts He gave me, giving Him the right to use them how and when He chooses. Robin Mark’s song, “All For Jesus” was my prayer song for the past decade. I retired nearly three years ago. I am free – free, at last – to pursue my hopes and dreams. My prayer (with all due respect) is: “Put me in, Coach…” In April I signed on with an agent. He is representing my book proposal to a number of publishing houses. A magazine editor is considering an article I submitted. I have a workshop to prepare for the Gitche Gumee Women’s Retreat in September. My website, blog, and Facebook page are up and running. I am even on Twitter. It’s happening! Actually…it was happening all the time. I see now that I was living my dream – writing and speaking – albeit on a smaller scale and in different venues than I envisioned. Scripture tells us to not despise “the day of small things” (Zechariah 4:10). We are also told that if we are faithful with a few things, God will entrust us with many things (Matthew 25:21). I have learned to dream big, but to never turn aside from humble beginnings. Consider this: Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him (Psalm 37: 4-7 NIV). Today’s Challenge: How about you? Got hopes and dreams in a file marked “Someday”? Have you surrendered the outcome of those dreams to God? Is there some footwork you can do today to take you one step closer to making your dream a reality? My fellow dreamers, God bless as you pursue your hopes and dreams…and as you wait patiently for Him.      ...

Heaven on my Mind

What’s on your mind today? I’ve got heaven on my mind. Today marks the twentieth year since my husband’s death. The “new normal” that began on this day in 1991 is now, more or less, “business as usual.”   I was surprised by the pocket of grief that I tapped when I entered my Facebook status this morning: “20 years ago, my husband left this world. Looking forward to a warm reunion.” I included a link to “Far Side of Jordan,” sung by Johnny & June Cash. It’s happened before. Grief can hit when I least expect it. In 1999 I went to see the movie “Message in a Bottle,” based on the book by the same name. I had a general understanding of the storyline: grieving husband finds new love after the death of his young wife. Kevin Costner (easy on the eyes) was in the lead role.  Robin Wright Penn played the woman who helped him let go of the past. By this time in life, I was hoping to find love again myself. I vicariously enjoyed watching this new love blossom…until Nicholas Sparks, the author of the book, killed off Costner’s character. Whatever happened to “and they lived happily ever after”? Indeed, what happened to my “happily ever after”? Not everyone gets a fairy-tale ending in this life. My reaction to the movie ending caught me completely off guard. A tsunami of fresh grief swept over me. I left the theater, drove home and collapsed on the couch. I cried gut-wrenching sobs for a half-hour. I dug out my husband’s wedding ring and wore it to bed that night. My grief seems much more manageable today. I’ve learned not to suppress it. The tears came several times this morning – and I let them. I took a break from my writing project and sat outside to regroup. It was a beautiful August morning. Birds flitted back and forth. I put sunflower seeds on the porch for the chipmunks. I did a little therapeutic weed-pulling in my flower garden. I spoke with my daughter on the phone. After a simple lunch, I was ready to get back on with the day. As quickly as it came, my grief subsided. Recently I read the best seller, Heaven is For Real. It pumped my longing for heaven up to a new level. I am content to be earth-bound for the time being, but I look forward with great anticipation to my reunion with Jon and other loved ones. I have a good life. I am enjoying retirement. I plan to be around for years to come. But just for today – I have heaven on my mind. How about you? Have you thought of heaven lately? Who do you look forward to seeing there?...

Welcome to my blog!

I am so excited to start this new adventure. Thanks for joining me. This blog and website are the launching of my writing and speaking ministry, Holy Ground All Around. I am honored that you showed up to share this momentous and historic occasion with me. Who knows the places we will go in the days ahead! Wherever we go, I’m glad that you are coming with me. Adventures are much more fun when shared with friends. God bless you and be with you…until we meet again. P.S. Check out my next post: Heaven on my Mind