One person DOES matter

This nightly display in the community of Wajima, Japan, has its roots in tragedy. In March 2007, the region was hit by a powerful earthquake that injured more than 300 people and caused one death. As a memorial, people here placed candles around their rice fields. The candles were later replaced with solar lanterns—and the tradition continues today. Terraced rice fields are a common sight on the hillsides of this region. This particular field is in Shiroyone Senmaida, where the terraces slope down toward the Sea of Japan.
https://www.bing.com/search?q=Wajima%2C+Japan&filt…raceWajimaJapan%22&FORM=EMSDS0

This came up on my background today and I was struck by its beauty, but even more taken back by the story. I don’t know if this story is true, I found lots of information on the web about the lights, most of them travel sites, and no one else relayed this story. But I love the idea that while one person died in the earthquake, many were impacted and even more impacted by the beauty of this display every year.

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Luke 15:4-7

I’m the worst at not looking at the back story. This particular image however posed several questions I couldn’t reconcile with my frame of reference so I took the time to read the back the story. Scripture makes many references to sheep. I grew up with barn cats whose job it was to keep the mice population down and the snakes away. For a while we kept chickens and I have some great chicken stories. For some reason we had two geese once and they were mean. My boys have made me into a dog person, evidently. I’ve known several ranchers that were big into cows and I love to talk to them (cows) as I walk down Forester. But I know flat nothing about sheep. I have never really known anyone who talked a lot about sheep, except Jesus. But in Luke 15 we can understand I have 100 and one is missing. That’s more of a basic math word problem than an agricultural concept.

We have a particular obsession with counting the cost of catastrophes in number of lives lost. I think we are surrounded by so much death that we have to some how quantify it. How many lives does it take to make an event a tragedy? The reality is that it only takes one, if that one person was important to you. The issue with multiple deaths from one cause is that more people are personally impacted therefore more people are aware therefore it is more tragic no doubt. But those fantastic lights in Japan started from a tragedy that took but one life. Clearly not the most awful earthquake to strike, but from it beauty that has continued and grown for years. There is no government or organization behind the lights, volunteers have just kept it up and grown in to serve the community during the cold, dark, dormant months of winter.

One person matters. If I crush the spirit of one person with my words or actions, they walk away hurt and are more likely to hurt, because we know that hurt people hurt people. Kindness matters. Dr. Phil once told a fat lady she didn’t get to wear a sign on her big butt that said, “I’m sorry, I can’t help it my life is hard please ignore my giant butt!” (probably not an exact quote). While he isn’t known for tact or compassion, he is right that we don’t get to wear a sign (although I’d kinda like that butt sign) to justify our disposition. Like it or not we are judged by our actions. My mom used to tell us, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Honestly, I’ve never heeded that advice, but oh how much grief I would have been spared if I had! That could be a whole nother post, “Advice I should have heeded from my mother.”

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Luke 12:6-7

You matter. You matter enough that the creator of the universe has numbered the hairs on your head. That’s kinda a big deal, even if there are those of us who make that job easier for Him than others. I have this obsession with counting things. I try really hard not to but I find myself calculating things like how many years women in my family lived after their husbands die, how many days I had a husband, how many days my boys had a dad, how many days till schools out. I’m not built up nor encouraged by most of the counting I do, but as someone who stresses about hair loss, I’m particularly intrigued by the scripture that even the hairs on my head are numbered. If they are numbered, then their loss matters and I’m noticing that once gone, they aren’t coming back, and evidently that is significant, even to God. If the hairs on my head are numbered, then you have to notice the number changing, but the changing of the number doesn’t diminish your value. The verse says they are numbered, not qualified, not judged on their strength, beauty or vitality. They exist, they matter. You exist, you matter.

I have to take my one life, six hairs, many flaws and use them to light my tiny corner of the world. One day, friend Lee in Utah paid for the coffee of the person in line behind her. When she went back days later, the girls at the coffee shop were so excited to tell her that it had gone on for a bunch of cars until one jerk took his coffee, said, “Cool” and drove off breaking they chain she had started. Lee is quite a humble person. I’m sure she didn’t intend to start a positive chain reaction, nor shine light on the one person who broke the chain. But her act of kindness impacted many that day and me still to this day. One person started something great, one person ended it. I get to pick which person I want to be, over and over again, I choose. For each person lost, each hair that dies to leave his friends waving in the breeze alone matter to the creator of the universe!

What if we just make one person feel like they matter! What if we added our lights together and created a beautiful display!

It’s a dogs life

They say dogs and owners look like each other over time. I’m really hoping that is true because my dog is skinny and really struggles to gain weight! Except yea, oh wait, he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

I don’t know about all that, but I do know that my stupid dog forgot he had a dog door. When I leave for work I always leave him treats, a chew and tell him I’ll be back. Today, he was outside barking at a truck when I left so I just put his treats out like usual and left. I get home after work and he’s standing outside staring in the back door at me. I open the door to talk to him and he runs to the water and drinks and drinks and drinks, throws that up and drinks some more, then realizes he has treats. He had been outside all day despite the fact the dog door was 6 feet away — unobstructed. When he thinks I’m going somewhere and there is a chance he could go, he’s right by my side! When I’m just moving around the house he’s always in front of me trying to anticipate where I’m going like he knows all about me and my routine. Then he’s totally dejected if he’s wrong. He likes to lay on my bed and look out the window, keeping watch on his backyard domain. Until the time he jumps off the bed barking at a bird through the window, when he can easily run after it by using the dog door. I tell him, “Genius, you could use the dog door!” He looks at me and then runs out of the room, like, “Oh yeah!”

And yes, I remember, this is the dog I do not want. But we have learned to love each other and he is teaching me so much about myself. I have STRONG reclusive tendencies and he feeds that as I fall into the trap of I’d rather just stay home with the dog, I don’t want to leave him at home alone too long, I can’t leave him somewhere he’ll be traumatized and it goes on and on.

I’m sure I’m not unlike many people who life has taught us to be guarded. When we moved to Temple with little kids into a new neighborhood we became fast friends with our neighbors who had little girls about the same age as our boys. Then he was transferred and they moved. We were sad. Then a family moved in next door that had two little boys about the same age as ours. We were so excited. But their mom did not like us. Every time her kids were playing in the front yard, if we went out front, they went in. The kids would then play with each other through the fence, if she ever caught them, they went in. I invited them to story time at the library and she always politely declined, I quit trying. I’ve sadly never really been very neighborly since. I never wanted to invite that kind of passive hostility into my life again, so I’ve operated on the premise that it’s just better to smile and wave from a distance.

Then school finally starts up after a six month break because of the COVID-19 pandemic and our Head of School chooses the theme: “We’re better together” based on Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?” Hmmmm?

Then I saw this:

guilty! Then I saw this:

oops guilty again! Maybe I’m more like my dog than I realize. Then this blog post shows up in my mail box:

You my sisters, you and I have the opportunity to collectively believe that Light is greater than darkness. We have the faith that will move mountains, make a better way, and bring hope to a world fraught with scarcity and loss.

Perhaps not on our own. On our own we seem tiny and impotent. But collectively, I feel us illuminating hope beyond what anyone has seen, heard or understood.

Jami Amerine

I think what the stupid dog and I have in common is that we are both slow learners, unless it involves treats! And even then we may still just be in it for the treats. I’ve found that when God wants to teach me a lesson I’m slapped in the face by it over and over again. I’m starting to get the feeling that I need to work on this “humble and approachable” thing. And suddenly, the dog and I are exactly alike as I forget that I am loved and treasured and everything I needed was right there all along. Not to even mention that historically we know policies of isolationism have rarely lead to anything good! Policy change is slow and uncomfortable. But not impossible.

You’re not taking it with you!

You’ve heard the saying, “You can’t take it with you.”  I think it’s also important to focus on the up side of what we aren’t taking with us.  

I struggle with Christians who straight up get on my nerves!  Shouldn’t it be that as followers of Christ we can be above the animosity and annoyances?  Why are churches divided over music and worship styles?  Why can’t we interpret scripture differently?  Why are we so convicted of unconditional love yet are so unloving?  Why do Christians hurt each other?  I could go on and on!

There was one woman who particularly just drove me nuts.  We were on such different pages that I don’t even think we had the same book. On earth I’m pretty good at avoiding her, but do I really have to spend eternity with her?  Do we have to spend eternity with those who use no instruments in worship, the hymn people, the Jumping for Jesus band, the dunkers, the sprinklers?  It leads me, in my sinful nature, to want to determine who can go to Heaven and who cannot.  We treat eternity like it is the middle school clique where the mean girl decides who’s in and who’s out, and it can change on a whim.  We think we want to vote on who can enter Heaven because eternity with some people is straight up too long!

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in you own eye?

Matthew 7:1-3

But, who goes to heaven is not up to me, and I’m soooo glad!!!  It’s just another thing that if I were in charge of I’d so screw it up.  In my frustration God revealed to me that it is my sinful nature that gets annoyed with others.  Intolerance is not from God, we created that.  Therefore, that thing that you hate about another is their sinful nature and they aren’t taking that to heaven with them.  Not to even mention that part of you that has the negative feelings in the first place is your sinful nature and you aren’t taking that with you!  I won’t look on others with judgement in heaven, that is my sinful nature.  We aren’t going to be annoyed by ourselves or others in heaven, all that is of this world.  

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

Romans 8:5-6

So living in light of eternity, I can be less annoyed because that annoying sinful nature, both yours and mine, aren’t stuck with us for eternity, they are a ‘this world problem’.  Now I am free to love the difficult because that which is hard to love is temporary.  I can also forgive what was once unforgivable, because the act that needs forgiveness is also  temporary.  That’s what it means to be free in Christ.  I look to Him and let Him deal with the mess, both mine and yours.  There is no sense in wasting my energy hating it.  Honestly, if given the choice, we wouldn’t choose to be annoying.  I need to give others a break and just be less annoyed.

The Fruit of the Spirit

My friend Reed Dunn says that the fruits of the spirit are in order and one fruit produces the next. He says you don’t come to Christ and jump into mastery of all nine fruits, you start with Love and the rest grow. I love that image because my growth is often retarded , which is particularly frustrating when one is in their 50’s. I always thought there was some age where I’d have it all figured out, all together, but that point continues to allude me. But if I look at the list as a progress chart and realize that pruning will take me back to the beginning, well the beginning is love and what a great place to start.

retard [ ri-tahrd] verb (used with object) — to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.); hinder or impede.

dictionary.com

I know I over use that word and many find it offensive, but I so clearly see in myself where my growth is so slow, development and progress are delayed to the point one would wonder if they even exist and the word just so aptly describes that process. I looked up the synonyms and none of them are any less offensive, yet still …

I have struggled with depression for years, probably much of my life. Depression makes me start every thought with, “I hate everything”. When my depression rages out of control every thought starts with, “I <expletive> hate everything”. Depression makes me focus on what I hate and it starts with looking in the mirror and thinking, “Ugh, I hate her!” My doctor says that it’s particularly hard for Christian women to deal with depression because the Christian culture tells us we struggle because we don’t have enough faith, we’re aren’t trusting in Jesus, we aren’t surrendering our lives, but it’s just not that simple. Depression is my low hanging fruit, my apple in the garden, it’s easy for Satan to convince me that there is nothing to love – the very foundation of the fruits and to destroy a house you really have to start with the foundation!

Russell and I used to have a lot of “heated discussions” because his argument was always, “That’s not right.” And of course 99.9999999% of the time he was right, but being right didn’t always acknowledge that my feelings don’t just change or disappear because they aren’t right. It may be 100% wrong to look in the mirror and say, “I hate her.” But the feeling is there and must be acknowledged. We learned in our “discussions” that sometimes you can either be right or have a relationship. I hated that he was always right, because that meant I had to be wrong, and who wants to be wrong, but in relationship you can understand another’s point of view and get beyond being right or wrong and reach a point of understanding. And understanding is way more compassionate than right and wrong.

Sometimes you have to choose to be right or have a relationship.

My Grandma used to say, “Do you blame me?” a lot! She’d be telling some story about what she’d done or how she’d been treated and continually seek approval. In retrospect, and after typing her memoir, I realize that validation was something she didn’t receive much of in her life and in her old age she just straight out asked for it. I, being who I am, loved to be out of eye sight of her, because she didn’t hear very well, and say, every time, “I do, I blame you!” (Forgive me Grandma, but Rice DNA is S T R O N G) But I totally get that need for validation! We all long for it. I don’t have the courage to ask, “Do you blame me?” because I know I am most likely to blame. But even when I am to blame and I have to start all over again, it starts with love. Even when I look in the mirror.

Some things, you just don’t have to tell people

I spent over an hour on hold for customer service today and when I finally got to the person I needed, the call was cancelled, whatever that means. So I call back, not knowing how to get back to that department because I had been transferred three times to get to the person I needed. I call back, and have to start over, I am not a happy camper!

However, I have worked in customer service before and been the poor soul who had to deal with frustrated people. I don’t want to be frustrated people, but in this human form—it is unavoidable.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want but I do the very thing I hate.

Romans 7:15

I really wanted to yell at the person I spoke to after an hour, after I had been disconnected and sweet Timothy didn’t bother to call me back, but as I waited on the next customer service representatives to ask me the same questions I’d already answered three times before, I wanted to tell him, “I really am a nice person, but…..” But then I remembered that I always tell my kids there are some things you don’t need to tell people. You don’t need to tell people that you are smart, pretty or nice! Every time you open your mouth, regardless of the words you use, you tell them the truth. You don’t need to talk to someone very long to figure out if they are smart, articulate, nice, funny, or NOT!

I know I can’t stop talking about Jami Amerine’s new book, Well, Girl, but she talks about how there is no but in a real I love you and there is no but in a real I’m sorry. Adding the word but is like using a verbal delete key. When we say I love you, but … it totally negates the I love you, because I love you implies unconditionality. If there is a but then you have to question, do I, really. Like wise if I tell the customer service representative that I am really a nice person before I’m short and irate and rude to him, am I? A nice person? Not in his opinion, not when I become the customer that gripped at him because I was on hold for over an hour, got disconnected and wasn’t given the courtesy of a call back. It wasn’t their fault. It isn’t their fault that I absolutely hate to have to call and straighten out messes on the phone and I’m a wee bit angry and bitter that I lost the husband that would sweetly deal with all the things I didn’t want to. So it begs the question, am I a nice person?

I don’t get to decide that! I can’t wear a shirt or get a bumper sticker that announces who I am. I get countless opportunities to interact with others that allow them to draw the conclusion. Like I’m on trial and trying to convince a jury of my peers that I should be judged as nice, kind, compassionate, whatever. I can’t even pay someone to plead my case for me–its just me!

So disclaimer: that time I was not nice to you, please know my identity was stolen that day and once it is returned to it’s rightful owner, I will do better. Because my identity is in Christ. And as he has forgiven my sins, I have no right to be tacky to others, but I still have sin that needs to be forgiven.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Customer Service Update: I was on hold for another hour, never got to talk to Timothy again, and finally gave up and wrote them a letter. We’ll see if that works or not! Thanks for letting me process my frustration here instead of to the customer service reps on the phone. I still have more calls to make to get my “To do before school starts” list finished, and I feel much better about them now!

The latest: Redemption – I got an email asking me to complete a survey on my customer service experience. I was happy to oblige! Will a real person read it?

Well, Girl Book Launch

I hear so many negative comments about social media and I get it, there is no shortage of negativity there — but I’ve come across some great opportunities as well. Several non-profits have posted Amazon Wish Lists on Facebook and you can just click, buy stuff they need and it’s shipped straight to them. It’s dangerous, but I love it. I’ve signed up to volunteer for several organizations around town to do some cool things like pick up donated bread from HEB for a local food bank. I can’t do a lot of things, but I can pick up bread! This summer I saw a link from a blogger I follow that said, “Sign up for my book launch team.” I never heard of a book launch team, but hey, it’s summer — I’m in!

So I join the book launch team for Jami Amerine’s new book, Well, Girl, An Inside-Out Journey to Wellness. I have to admit that I really didn’t look at the book title before I joined the team. I’ve enjoyed Jami’s wit and insight on her blog, LOVE the vandals, her affectionate term for her youngest kids and just finished her first book Stolen Jesus which I also loved. How could this go wrong? Then I get my info email about the team, then I read the full title of the book and think, “UGH, I don’t want to read about wellness or a journey, I done ready know I gotta fix the inside to impact the outside, but I signed up, I really got nothing better to do”, so I press forward.

What exactly is a launch team? It’s a group of people that agree to read your book before it is available to the public, help promote the author and their book on social media and be the first to post online reviews of the book. It’s been interesting to see how the whole process works and I’ve learned the most about how Facebook algorithms work and how people use them to promote their business. That’s one of the reasons I’m better about liking, commenting and sharing business posts from people I know — they need us! Plus I got to have a zoom meeting with the author and that was super cool!!!

The big thing though, is the book. I mentioned I signed up for this team without really knowing the title. I read the Well, Girl part but not the An Inside-Out Journey to Wellness Part. I was less than enthusiastic about that! But I committed to read it so I did. I was not disappointed.

Although I did not want to read another ‘this is how to make your life better by exercising and eating right’ self-help book, it turned out to be so much more. Jami encourages you to live your life for Christ, period. It’s not about the diet, the regiment, success or failure, it’s about living every aspect of your life for Christ and allowing Him to make you whole. Whatever you need to work on physically – you can do it – thanks to Beloved Living. As a dieter, you finally come to the conclusion that any diet will work once you set your mind to it and actually do it. In Well, Girl she examines our self-talk, self-doubt and inability to live as one treasured by our Creator that just left me so encouraged and built up.

All is not lost. There is no harm, no foul. He sees us, and He is pleased with us. You and I are His babies, His darling daughters, and nothing can separate us from His love. Nope, nothing, not even that. It is easy to mistake Him, for under the heavy hand of the law and the earthly understanding of “do good get good, do bad get bad,” we are often left with a broken heart. For if we are good, why is there bad? This is performance-based love that we often project onto God because it’s everywhere else in the world…and this keeps us trapped in old cycles because we’re sure we’re not doing enough right.”

Amerine p. 59

I loved the part in the book where she says, “I believe that the enemy uses shame to keep us stuck.” She bases this on the definition by Cary Scott that, “Guilt is being sorry for something you have done. Shame is being sorry for who you are” (Amerine p. 48). There is no shame in where you are, just be willing to improve and leave the guilt of bad decisions behind.

I still think I like Stolen Jesus a little better, but Well, Girl is well worth the read!

Get your copy here: https://amzn.to/3gaj5v6

Follow Jami at http://sacredgroundstickyfloors.com

or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sacredgrounds.stickyfloors/

On Grief and Friendships

Someone posed the question at GriefShare: Do you think grief re-writes your address book?

I love the trees when their leaves are gone. They point to the beauty around them, birds nests, sunrises, sunsets, blue skies and gray skies. They also reveal damage from parasites and damaged limbs that need to be removed. Photo credit: Me 3/1/2018 7:34 a.m. headed out on a morning walk.

We used to sing this song in Girl Scouts, “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” Grief changes you, it changes your relationships. We tend to view friendships as either forever or failures but God places people in our lives for a season and seasons change. Old and new are both treasures!

I used to think that friendship was give and take. That the people I’ve been there for would be the people that were there for me, but that’s not always the case. God is dynamic and so are our relationships.

I think He places people in our lives for a purpose. We remember those who have been there for us in the past fondly but there is no obligation, you don’t owe them, they don’t owe you. As a follower of Christ you realize that we are obedient to Christ’s calling in our lives. When he shows a need, a place we can serve others, our obligation is to honor Him by serving others. Friendships based on debt don’t work. I can like you, I can think fondly of you, but I can’t keep score of kindness offered and treat it as a debt to be paid nor expect any kindness I’ve extended to be repaid. I can only grow from it and pay it forward. Kindness makes both the giver and receiver better.

Sadly no caption needed! Gardening and photo credit … me.

I think He places people in our lives for a season. When a deep freeze hits in the winter some plants do not survive, some are permanently damaged, some bounce back. Plants require different kinds of care in different seasons and we’re like that too. Sometimes we need more water than others, sometimes we need fertilizer, sometimes we need constant attention to rescue us from the brink of death, sometimes we don’t survive and sometimes we thrive. But none of the seasons are forever. They may seem like forever when you’re in them, they may last longer than we want, but they always change.

The rings in a tree tell us about the climate and atmosphere throughout the trees life, no year is the same. Photo credit: stolen from the internet https://www.the-scientist.com/reading-frames/opinion-tree-rings-as-soothsayers-67130

I remember growing up my dad used to burn the lawn in the early spring. It was fun getting to catch the grass on fire and keep it in check with the water hose but it left our yard black and dead looking and horrible. But then it came back so beautiful with all the bad stuff burned away. I still look at pampas grass and think, “That would look so much better if it were burned in the spring.” The pain in our lives also breeds new life, sometimes we have to be burnt to be beautiful.

to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

Isaiah 61:3

I think we get into trouble when we expect things from a relationship that only God can provide. It’s in our relationship with God that we can survive and thrive with ourselves. Time alone with God fills a need only God can fill. When we expect that unconditional love, acceptance and grace from humans, we will be disappointed. Everything outside of God is temporary. You can survive the loss of a spouse, a child, a friend, a parent, a grandparent because God never abandons you. You can ignore him but that doesn’t impact His existence. We tend to look at other’s loss and think, “I don’t know how you could survive that loss.” The truth is neither does the survivor. You survive by putting one foot in front of the other and every day choosing to move forward.

I think that is living in light of eternity. When we live knowing that the only constant relationship is with our creator we can put our other relationships into perspective. We can see our spouse, children, siblings, parents and friends as the gifts from God that they are. Treasures for the time we have them. Time isn’t the only measure of the depth of a relationship. A spouse lost after a few years or 62 years is still a huge loss. A child lost at a couple of minutes or 70 years is still devastating. Depth isn’t quantified just by time.

I heard one time, I wish I could remember where, that we have 30 seconds to respond to a prompting from the Holy Spirit. If you don’t act on it within 30 seconds you’ll either forget or talk yourself out of it. I don’t know if the 30 seconds is accurate but I know that when you have that idea, action is required – act now! It could mean the world to someone else, it could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship, it could be kindness from a stranger that makes their day better and it will definitely leave you better! Let God be the author of your address book.