Friday, September 15, 2017

August 26, 2017

Today I rode along with my husband for 136 miles to South Bend, Indiana. Except for the fact that it allowed me plenty of conversation time with my husband, I had no other valid reason to go. Dave had an appointment there with another agent from his office, and I was going to find something to do in the area while he was gone. 

We stopped first for a quick bite to eat, and the ladies' room had an "out of order" sign. This frustrated me, since I'd spent a couple of hours in the car, but I figured I'd find a restroom elsewhere. Little did I know that God would use an "out of order" bathroom to send me out in search of a bathroom and dessert. 

Dave left after dinner, and I drove around and spotted a Dunkin Donuts shop nearby. Perfect! I could grab a cup of coffee and a donut and read my book to entertain myself. The friendly girl at the counter threw in an extra donut, after learning that Boston Kreme is my favorite and that I'd chosen it over birthday cake earlier this year. I sat reading my book and sipping my coffee, but I later spoke with the friendly employee. I told her about The Thankful Principle, and I shared that it's a life-changing message. She was excited to talk to me; however, she later informed me that the lobby would be closing at 7:00 p.m.. No problem. I knew I could sit at the empty picnic table I had spotted out front and read while I waited for Dave. 

As I walked out of the donut shop, I observed an older gentleman enjoying a cup of coffee and reading his newspaper. I walked up to the table and asked him if he'd mind sharing the table with me, since the lobby was about to close. I learned Al was a retired factory worker, army veteran, father of three, and a widower. He was animated and jovial, and I entertained him with my stories, too. He told me about being raised in church and about being currently "in a backslidden state" (his words). As I spoke about my faith and shared testimonies with him, I could tell that he was inspired. Earlier, I had given him my business card that is a replica of my book cover. He originally put it in his newspaper wrapper with his newspaper, but near the end of our 70-minute visit, he was sticking it in his wallet. 

Funny how God used a broken bathroom to get me to the perfect destination.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Be on Guard

Earlier this year, I heard the riveting testimony of a young woman from my church. She shared the redemptive story of a mother who loved her in spite of her many years of drug addiction. It was a painful, agonizing path of destruction that wreaked havoc on an entire family for years. The Prodigal Son story had nothing on her. She had lived it to the fullest.

Her path to destruction started with one terrible idea, and this one temptation might even be viewed as a "normal" rite of passage to many.  After all, kids will be kids. Right?  However, this one awful decision would later bring much pain and misery to her life.  At the age of fifteen, this young girl was enjoying a cruise vacation with her family.  Wanting to appear more mature, she had the thought that it would be exciting to sneak into a club on board the ship and get drunk.  This foolish plan led to a young man taking advantage of her and raping her aboard the ship.

She did not tell anyone what had happened.  In the years that followed, the girl fell into self-loathing and was drawn into a downward spiral of abusive relationships, alcohol, recreational drugs, and finally heroin abuse to numb the pain.  It caused her to leave her family for long periods of time, and on occasion she even stole from them to support her drug habit.  In spite of everything, her mother continued to love and pray for her daughter, although she could not condone the lifestyle her rebellious daughter was living.  

At her darkest hour, the young woman had her life threatened, but something in her welled up.  She cried out to God for help.  She was able to get back to her family and go into rehab and finally receive the grace, love and forgiveness that only God can give.  Today she not only has a Christian marriage, but she is the joyful mother of children.  God has also led her to further her education to work in a field that helps others who have been involved in substance abuse. 

When I heard this story, I was proud of the courage that it took for this woman to share her testimony, but the thought kept coming to me:  What if she had not made that fateful decision on the cruise in the first place?  What if she had stayed away from the club and the alcohol that night?  How different would her life had been?  

I thank God that in her case, the enemy did not win.  Instead of being a sad statistic, the grace of God has turned her life into something beautiful.  Her story is a cautionary tale, but it is also a redemptive one, too.  Praise God!

 As I was thinking about her message, I ran across this passage from Psalms. 
"How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word."  Psalm 119:9 (ESV)

Can God forgive our mistakes?  He definitely will, if we come in sincere repentance; however, it is far better for us to stick close to God's word, which helps us to guard our thoughts and our hearts.  I once challenged my students at a Christian school by posting a banner on the wall that said the following: "Are you willing to stand up for the sake of righteousness?"  Of course, I had a few obnoxious ones who would walk up to it and say, "No."  However, I hope I planted the seed in many to do what was right, even if it was difficult.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Do Not Fret

How often do we allow anger to get the best of us?  If you're like me, it does rear its ugly head from time to time.  After all, we are human.  However, it doesn't have to rule our lives, nor should we use the excuse of being human to remain unwilling to change and improve.

When I was engaged to marry my husband David, my father warned him, "Marcia has a short fuse, but she's quick to forgive."  I hated to admit that he was right, and at times when I am easily provoked or angered, that thought still crosses my mind. At least my dad gave me credit for my willingness to forgive easily.  I do not like to leave things unsettled between myself and others, and if I am unable to make peace with someone right away, it weighs heavily on my mind.

Once, when I had only been married for a little over two years, a visiting friend stayed with my family for three months.  One evening, I had gotten upset with my husband and blurted out something in anger.  I later realized that I was in the wrong and even apologized to him.  For some reason, the earlier heated exchange with my husband highly upset my friend, who refused to speak to me for a couple of days.  This really provoked me because the rule in our home was to not let the sun set on our anger, and I truly did want to make peace with her.

When my friend finally decided to speak to me, she remarked, "When I get married, my husband and I will do all of our arguing behind closed doors." Indignantly, I let her know that we were arguing behind closed doors, but she happened to be behind them. As a single person, she had grand ideas of how marriage was going to be for her, but the reality was that she would never know how the dynamics would work until she actually married.

When my son was in elementary school, he had trouble figuring out how to deal with his anger. Sometimes, he would destroy something in his room, like a toy or a school paper.  Once he ripped a pillowcase to shreds.  I worried about him and prayed he would not continue on that path into adulthood.  One night, as I was tucking him into bed, I asked if he would like for me to pray with him about his anger.  He agreed, and I rebuked the spirit of anger in him and prayed over him. Afterwards, he said, "Mom, it felt like something leaped out of my chest."  He was a changed boy.

More recently, I spoke to a single mom who confessed that she had gotten sucked into an argument with her ex-husband.  Normally, she tries to handle things peacefully from her end, and she immediately regretted that she had gotten down to his level and screamed back at him.  The same week, she had been reminded of the love passage in I Corinthians 13 several times.  It was in a sermon at a church, in an online daily devotional, and even on Christian radio.  God reminded her that love is patient and kind and not easily angered.  She realized that she needed to continue responding in love to a man who seemingly has a hard heart.

Psalm 37 is one of my favorite passages to share with someone who is going through a difficult situation or is feeling mistreated or misjudged by others.  It has brought comfort to me many times, but in the past year, the second half of verse eight really stood out to me for the first time:  " not fret--it leads only to evil." Forgiveness replaces fretting and can keep us in a right relationship with our Heavenly father, as well as others.

Do not fret because of those who are evil
    or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
    like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight 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 righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
  do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

 (Psalm 37:1-9, NIV)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Older and Wiser

I know that a true lady isn't supposed to reveal or age; however, last month I turned fifty, and it wasn't as tough as I thought it might be. After all, I cried when I turned thirty and forty.  For me, those milestone birthdays weren't particularly pleasant at the time, so based on those past experiences, I wasn't certain if I would actually be able to enjoy this milestone birthday.

At the time of my thirtieth birthday, I had several young children at home, and some of them were sick.  It was rainy and gloomy all day long--one of those terrible, no good, very bad days.  After a frustrating day as a stay-at-home mom, I was in tears by the time my husband had come home from work.  Somehow, he soothed me and made things better by whisking me off to a special dinner outing for just the two of us.

On my fortieth birthday, I was dealing with teenage drama in my home and had gone through a particularly trying afternoon.  (If any of you have read my book, you know the kind of drama I am talking about.)  My husband had thoughtfully brought home Chinese carryout and a grocery store cake that night.  Unfortunately, my birthday cake was more of a coffee cake with glaze and not something a bit more festive with icing.  How could someone who had been married to me for sixteen years not realize that such a major birthday merited frosting?  The cake was the last straw in a day that had not gone very well up to that point.  I suddenly burst into tears at the sight of it and ran upstairs to my room to be alone.  As I sat sobbing on the bathroom floor, feeling like an idiot, my concerned husband came upstairs to check on my well being.  I explained that it wasn't really about the cake, and I was sorry for seeming like such an ungrateful woman.  I shared with him about my earlier frustrations that had finally reached a boiling point.  I let him know that I was sorry for ruining dinner and that I really did appreciate him for trying to celebrate my birthday with the kids.  He understood and was kind enough to just let me vent.  A month later, he redeemed himself by bringing home a store-bought, properly iced cake with the words:  Happy 40 1/12 birthday.  Being the nerdy math teacher that I am, I told him that I had actually thought about the fact that I was 40 1/12 years old that morning, so it pleased me that he would think of such a thing.

Instead of allowing myself to become depressed about my birthday this year, turning fifty brought some reflections on the previous decades of my life that have been filled with many blessings.  In my first decade of young childhood, I accepted Christ and had a great military brat childhood, including moves to New Mexico, California and Germany.  I was blessed with godly parents and four siblings.

After turning ten, I moved to my mom's hometown of Parsons, Kansas, and got to know my maternal grandparents.  During my teens, I asked to be filled with the Holy Spirit, which brought about a deeper walk with God and more boldness in sharing my faith with others.  I also began to use my musical skills as a pianist in school music groups in junior high, high school, and college.  I later began composing and singing original Christian music. I went off to a Christian college and formed lifelong friendships.

My twenties brought college graduation, my first teaching job, and the start of my freelance writing career.  I also got married, became a stepmother to my oldest daughter, and gave birth to three more children during this decade.  My thirties included a six-year stint as a newspaper columnist, an opportunity to write advertising, the beginning of my college teaching career, two major family moves, and my oldest daughter's marriage.  My forties graced me with two lovely granddaughters, another daughter's wedding, my husband's survival from cancer, publishing my first book, and my first missions trip to South Africa.

I am so thankful that God has been present in each decade of my life, and I am overwhelmed by all the wonderful experiences and people he has placed in my path. On numerous occasions, God has been faithful in his provision, hope, love, healing, grace and peace.  When I am discouraged, I merely have to look back on the many answered prayers and remind myself that God is ever faithful to meet every need.

I would have to say that my fifties are off to a good start.  My first grandson was born in late April, just a few weeks after my birthday.   This year, I didn't cry on my milestone birthday.  I was surrounded by many loved ones who made an extra effort to make it a joyous event.  I share my birthday with my granddaughter Chloe, now 4, so we had a party together--complete with icing on the cupcakes.  The day after my birthday, I asked my husband, "Were you surprised that I didn't cry on my birthday?"  He remarked, "You didn't have anything to cry about." That is true, but that might not have stopped me in the past.  I'm glad my husband doesn't mind putting up with an emotional, sentimental wife.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.   I will sing the Lord’s praise,    for he has been good to me.  Psalm 13:5-6 (NIV)

Friday, March 14, 2014

God Uses Our Imperfections

I am a perfectionist when it comes to certain areas of my life.  Sometimes I demand too much and feel frustration when I fall short of the standards I have set for myself.  I am often my own worst critic, and it's that little voice in my head that sometimes brings on feelings of inadequacy.

Long ago, I knew that I was not cut out to have an immaculate house, especially when I was raising young children. I cringed at the lack of time spent in prayer and Bible reading, when I let life get in the way.  I would regularly compare myself to women who seemed more polished and fashionable and feel I came up short.   

It has taken years of growing in maturity to realize that in spite of my shortcomings, God can use these very imperfections and failings for good.  Perhaps my slightly messy house has made someone feel more comfortable in my home.  Perhaps when I haven't felt overly polished, someone was more at ease in my presence.  My numerous mistakes as a wife and mother have brought me great wisdom that I have often used to encourage others.

Just the other day, I was being overly critical when rereading my book The Thankful Principle. I should have phrased something differently here or included a certain detail there. I was mentally beating myself up over small things.  However, I realized that it doesn't have to be perfect to change lives. God often uses imperfect things to fulfill his purpose. 

I am grateful that God turns these negative situations and the imperfections in my life into something beautiful. Every day, I want to be more like him. 

2 Samuel 22:31
“As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Salvaging Valentine's Day

When I was a young wife, I was out at the mall with my visiting parents.  I was about to spontaneously buy a flower for my husband, when my dad suggested that my motivation in doing so was because I wanted my husband to buy flowers for me.  He was right, but I didn't realize that was my motive, until he pointed it out to me.  My father is a former Air Force chaplain, and he once shared a story of a beautiful woman who came into his office for counseling.  She complained that her husband never complimented her good looks, and she added, "I always tell him how nice he looks when he gets dressed up."

My dad commented, "Let me guess.  When your husband gets dressed up, he calls it a monkey suit."

She said, "Well, yes he does."

Dad continued, "So when you tell him how nice he looks, you're telling him that he looks like a monkey.  You need to find a way to compliment your husband in a way that makes him feel more like a man."

Together they discussed her husband's skills as a mechanic, and she was encouraged to go home and tell him about how much she appreciated the fact that he always kept their cars running well and what a good job he did.  The following week, the woman waltzed back into my father's office and exclaimed, "He told me I was pretty!"

I have often thought about this simple advice of honoring others in a manner that they can receive.  When I had been married for several years and had a young family, another young mother in her 30s called me on the morning of Valentine's Day.  She was fuming mad and in tears.  She went on to tell me about the fact that she had presented her husband with a card and a cute teddy bear, and he didn't have anything for her that morning.  (He probably planned to pick something up on the way home from work that day.)  Immediately, I thought about my flower story and quickly thought about how I could help diffuse the situation.

Knowing her personality, I knew she could easily stew all day, and even if her husband did bring home a gift, she might fling it back at him in anger.  I told her the flower story and the story of the mechanic's wife.  I let her know that a teddy bear was probably not something her husband would desire as a gift, but she was giving him what she might have wanted.  I told her, "You have two choices:  You can feel sorry for yourself all day and be in a bad mood when your husband gets home from work and your two boys get home from school, or you can do something positive." 

I gave her a positive plan for the day.  I suggested that she take a nice bath, pamper herself, put on a nice outfit, and do her hair and make-up.  I gave her permission to do whatever she wanted to do that made her feel good about herself.  Next, I told her to plan a nice dinner that day as a surprise for her family.  I told her to make a big deal about it and show her family how much she loves them.  I said, "Get out your best dishes, a tablecloth, and candles."  I knew that if she put her energy to use in a positive direction, she would really bless her family and feel better, too.

The next day she called and excitedly told me, "Your plan worked!"  She went on to tell me how thrilled her boys were when they got home from school and saw that their mom was making them a special dinner.  When her husband got home from work, he presented her with a card and a gift, which she happily received.

Valentine's Day is a difficult holiday for many, whether single or married.  If you find it depressing because you are alone or not in a relationship, find someone else in a similar situation who could also use some love and encouragement.  Get a group of friends together to do something fun, make a big deal out of the day with the children in your life, and focus on loving acts of kindness.  My children are now adults, and they still look forward to Mom's heart-shaped waffles, topped with strawberries and whipped cream.  When they were little, I might have even added some cheap Valentine's decorations to the festivities.  As they grew older, we would have a family gourmet dinner, and they would have the fun of trying new things and eating off of the good china by candlelight.

My husband and I decided years ago that romantic events, like Valentine's Day and our wedding anniversary were sometimes stressful because he couldn't read my mind.  He wisely began asking me about my expectations just prior to the event.  Being a practical person and not wanting to break the budget, sometimes I request something as simple as him making me a gourmet dinner at home, watching a movie together, or a simple lunch date.   I appreciate his thoughtfulness in honoring me in this way, and it has saved a few tears.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."  (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, January 10, 2014

New Mountains to Climb

I am the type of person who enjoys a good challenge...sometimes.  Perhaps it is because certain things come easy to me.  Often I delight in the personal satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment that follows when I tackle something that isn't quite a piece of cake.  However, in reality, challenges can be more frustrating than I would like to admit, and it would be much easier to stay within my comfort zone, rather than deal with a challenging situation.

When I interviewed in 1985 for what would later end up being my first teaching job, I thought I had wasted my time in driving 240 miles round trip for the interview.  Essentially, it was a one-room school house at a small Baptist church in Missouri.  I could not imagine myself teaching multiple grades in a single classroom, but when they offered the job to me, the Lord led me to accept the position.  I taught grades K-6, 8th, and 10th  (9 different levels) in a school of around 20 students.  Although I did have parent volunteers in my classroom, I was constantly juggling my duties and trying to make sure I met the needs of my students.  It wasn't easy, but it was obvious that God had placed me there. I stayed for two years.  Looking back, I'm not even sure how I managed to do it, and it makes me dizzy just thinking about everything that the job required.  Frequently, I prayed and cried out to God.  Sometimes, I communicated with God through my musical compositions.

"Lord, you've searched my heart.
You know every part.
You know me so well.
You know me.
When I feel ashamed,
Lord, you lay no blame.
You love me so well.
You love me.

And it's such a mystery.
What do you see in me?
There must be something
That I can do for you.

Use me.  Lord, please use me.
And through me, may others know you, too.
Lord, you know I want to be used by you."

--a portion of the lyrics from "Use Me" (copyright 1985 by Marcia Day Brown)

Currently, as I am looking at my responsibilities coming up in my new position as a center director for a mathematics learning center, I feel overwhelmed at times when I realize how much I need to learn to perform my duties successfully.  Panic can easily set in and bring worry and stress.  However, when I remember what God has helped me to accomplish in the past, I know he will guide and direct me in my present situation.  I need not be anxious about anything, and when I do begin to feel stressed, I only need to remind myself of Philippians 4:6:  "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (NIV)

It's comforting to know that my heavenly father does not want me to worry.  He wants me to come to him with each and every need.  Big or small--it doesn't matter.  He cares about meeting each need, if I am willing to ask.