Sometimes words of wisdom are imparted to me just at the exact time I need to hear them most. Some folks call that coincidence. Some call it fate. I call it “a God-thing.”
We meander along in this life trying to make sense of it and live it the best way we know how. But sometimes, we get stymied by circumstances that leave us scratching our heads and wondering how in the world did we get here? Often the circumstances are stumbling blocks, sometimes they’re just huge obstacles in our way and we think there’s no way over this, around this, or through this.
Those are the times I wish I could say that as a believer in Christ, I always turn to God through prayer and reading His Holy Word. But guess what? I don’t always do that. Instead I try to muster up enough of my own wisdom and understanding to muscle my way through the hindrance before me. And only when I get totally frustrated and exhausted from trying to pummel through a situation on my own do I finally do what I know I should do. Call upon God.
The reasons I don’t always do so are many, I suppose, but it boils down to one thing. I am not a perfect Christian. I am a constant struggler. Maybe I’m just a slow learner, or maybe I’ve settled that worldly mantra of “I’ll do it my way” into my stubborn self. And that’s why I need those reminders – those God-things.
This past Sunday I listened to my pastor give a message on contentment and experienced yet again another reminder. Pastor reiterated the message to me that contentment is “adjusting to your circumstances.” Yep, there it was, big and bold right up there on that power point. And oh, I thought I had learned that lesson many years ago.
Back then, I struggled mightily with an issue which brought me discontent. We had lived in the Midwest for eight years as happily as oysters tucked into their beds in the bottom of the deep blue sea. You might say we were cultivating our own beautiful pearl there.
Our family of five was nestled in our comfortable home, we had great friends and neighbors, a caring church family, good schools for our children, fulfilling job for hubby, and numerous volunteer opportunities for this Mama…you get my drift. Life was good there or to quote Shakespeare in The Merry Wives of Windsor: “Why, then the world’s mine oyster.” A bonus was that we were also within driving distance of our families back home in the Northeast.
But the oyster was ripped open and that shiny pearl was plucked out and flung to the far side of the country. In other words, my husband got promoted necessitating a move to the Pacific Northwest. At first, it was a grand adventure for our family. Excitement reigned as we prepared for life in an area of the country we had never been before. New house, new friends, new community, new school, and new church to find. Beautiful, breathtaking sights to see. Yes, it truly was an adventure and we shined up our pearl of life which gleamed in our new surroundings.
But after a few years, something unsettling forged its way into my heart, mind, and soul. Discontentment. As good as life seemed living there, I couldn’t help but be saddened because we were an entire countryside away from our aging parents. And I couldn’t imagine staying there for the rest of our lives. The thought made me as gloomy and dreary as the gray, overcast skies that permeate that area of the country.
At the time, I was getting together once a week with a dear friend for Bible study and fellowship. She carefully listened as I shared my struggle and why I wasn’t feeling content where God had placed my family and me. Then she wisely and lovingly pointed me in the right direction – to God’s Word and prayer.
I started earnestly beseeching the Lord to help me find contentment right where I was – in the very circumstances that prompted my discontent. I praised Him and I thanked Him for the ways I witnessed a deepening of faith in my family because of our move and for the many blessings He had bestowed on us.
And honestly, just when I had finally arrived at the place where I could discard that downcast robe of discontent and don the contented coat of accepting my circumstances, things changed dramatically and dare I say it? Miraculously.
So here’s the thing. Lately, that old feeling of being dissatisfied with the circumstances of life has resurfaced. Yes, I admit I may have been hanging on to unrealistic expectations. Yes, I allowed myself to be controlled by circumstances. And yes, I found myself complaining instead of praising God and being thankful. See, Pastor, I really was listening!
Yes, that message I heard on Sunday showed me I needed to re-learn that lesson I thought I’d mastered all those years ago. And I needed a reminder of the color of contentment.
“Circumstances and situations do color life, but you have been given the mind to choose what the color shall be.” ~ John Homer Miller
Will I choose to let the muted grays, browns, and blacks of discontent color and darken my life, or will I choose the vibrant, glorious rainbow of colors that praising and thanking the Lord provides?
My contentment does not depend upon what my circumstances may be. My color of choice to pursue contentment is anchored to serving, praising, and thanking a Savior, Jesus.
The Apostle Paul said it best in Philippians 4:11-13: “I am not telling you this because I need anything. I have learned to be satisfied with the things I have and with everything that happens. I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I have plenty. I have learned the secret of being happy at any time in everything that happens, when I have enough to eat and when I go hungry, when I have more than I need and when I do not have enough. I can do all things through Christ, because He gives me strength.” (New Century Version)
It’s been said that time heals all wounds. While that may be true, some of us still bear the scars from those wounds and each time we look at them, we’re reminded of the injury we sustained.
I know this from personal experience as two prominent scars are visible on my abdomen – a three-inch horizontal one marking surgery to remove an organ gone haywire and a longer, uglier vertical scar reminding me of the vile C-word and the fear it invoked into my spirit until I let God’s peace envelop me.
Some of us bear physical scars to remind us of the times our bodies were damaged; others bear emotional scars from the very real pain inflicted upon us which mutilated our spirits.
It seems to me that our bodies heal much faster than our spirits. My son suffered a broken bone in his wrist during his high school senior soccer season. He sported a large cast which covered his arm past his elbow and half way to his shoulder just so that tiny bone would heal correctly. After a few weeks, he was as good as new and there was no visible reminder of his injury.
A fractured bone can usually be repaired, although sometimes other measures need to be taken. I once had a severely fractured tooth which caused me a bit of pain. It wasn’t a throbbing unbearable pain yet it continued to bother me. You might call it a nagging pain. Sometimes it hurt, sometimes it didn’t. My dentist determined it could not be repaired adequately so he suggested extraction. Since it was a wisdom tooth, I really wouldn’t miss it once it was removed and I would be free from the source of irritation.
Problem solved. But how do you go about repairing or removing the pain from a fractured spirit?
A couple of years ago, Papa and I bit the bullet and purchased a much-needed new vehicle. After only a month of driving our brand-new car, something distressing happened. On a day trip to the state next door, we were shocked to see it unfold in front of our eyes. Well, actually right on our vehicle’s windshield. A fracture. No stone or other object had been violently flung in our direction. A crack in the glass just suddenly appeared out of nowhere. And it grew and spread as it snaked its way across the glass.
Our new car with a broken windshield. Not pleasant but fixable. We called our insurance company who sent out a repairman straight to our driveway and soon we had a new windshield. No sign of the fracture.
Not all of our material goods can be repaired as easily. I’ve dumped more broken glasses, cups, and dishes into the garbage than I care to admit. Sometimes what’s broken stays broken. A fracture remains a fracture.
I’m reminded of a quote which I squirreled away in my trusty notebook. Margaret Mitchell, American author, wrote this line for character Rhett Butler in her novel Gone With the Wind: “I was never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together again and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken — and I’d rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken places as I lived.”
That quote caused me to consider something I’ve been struggling with in my own life. A kind of brokenness. I’m hesitant to share about it but I do so in hopes that it will give encouragement to any reader who may feel the same way. My hope is writing about it and what I’ve learned in the process will enable me to remember what was broken at its best rather than the shattered pieces that remain.
Let me explain. Several months ago, I suffered something that broke me. Not physically although it manifested its toll on my body in various, physical ways. Instead I smarted with emotional abrasions and lacerations, hurting me just as surely as a physical gash, from a group of people who I had considered friends.
That profound hurt shook me, rattled me, and yes, even broke me. One of my dearest friends worded it best when she suggested that I was suffering from a fractured spirit.
Was it the worst thing to ever happen to me? Absolutely not. So I told myself to just deal with it, get over it, leave it behind, and move on. I wish I could say that I took a quote attributed to Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius to heart: “Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.” But I didn’t. And it didn’t.
Instead, it was as if the scab covering the injury kept getting knocked off, re-opening the wound and reminding me how very hurt I was. The offense even began to haunt my dreams and I would awaken with emotional pain bubbling up and over like blood gushing from a deep cut. I continued to carry this brokenness around with me. Just last night again my dreams revealed how much this pain has fractured me and continues to throb like a toothache.
An unknown person once said, “Moving on is simple, it’s what you leave behind that makes it difficult.” How true that is. What I was forced to leave behind in order to try to recuperate from this distress was a huge part of myself and what helped define me as a person with purpose. I even had to leave some relationships behind. That’s the difficult aspect of it all – trying to fill the void left in my life. By this fracture.
How do you heal a fractured spirit? You don’t. Not by yourself. No amount of time or attempt to move on will smooth over the rupture and make it as good as new. No ranting or railing or tears of sorrow and frustration will right it and cover it with a mending cast. Even forgiveness does not totally erase the pain inflicted because while we can and should certainly choose to forgive another’s offense, in our humanness, it’s hard to forget.
No, there’s only one way to make a fractured spirit whole again. You call in the Repairman. You make repeated trips to the Great Physician. You pray. You confess any sinful part you had in the cause of the distress and you ask forgiveness. You allow the healing balm of His Holy Word to sink into your spirit.
Words like: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” found in Psalm 34:18 and “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” in Psalm 147:3.
Being fractured in spirit happens to us all. It’s a mistake to think that just because you’re a believer in Christ you won’t suffer in this life. Even if the anguish comes from the hand of a friend, a fellow believer, or family member, the wound will harm and do damage. But it damages you even further if you continue to carry it around. Then it may even fracture your spirit.
I know that turning to the One who’s always there, who always hears my prayers, and who can heal the broken-hearted, crushed spirit is the only prescription that will work for me. But here’s the thing. I have to choose to do that.
The Lord hasn’t made my fracture disappear (although He could if He wanted to). Instead I believe He wants me to humbly come to Him and lay my broken burden at His feet and leave it there. Only then can He can transform my wounded heart and infuse me with joy.
“Your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” ~ John 16:20
My friend – the one who recognized my fractured spirit – recently told me that as she prayed for me and my damaged heart one day, God spoke a word into her heart for me. What was that word? Exuberance.
Oh my. At that time, I was feeling anything BUT exuberant. Exuberance? In the midst of such deep emotional pain? Exuberance? When I battled daily with feelings of hurt, anger, and injustice? Exuberance? When I have no clue what I am supposed to do next to fill the void left by this fracture?
I realize this is just one more step in knitting my fractured spirit into wholeness again. And even though I’m not feeling it, for this day – today – I will choose this word exuberance. I will choose joy. I will choose enthusiasm. I will choose cheerfulness. I will choose liveliness and energy and every other synonym for exuberance. I choose to embrace that word.
And tomorrow I will make that choice again. And again. And again. If you’re spirit feels fractured, you too have a choice. What will you choose?
Some folks seem to think bad things come in threes. I often heard my grandparents talking about death that way. If someone they knew passed away, the old wives’ tale was that two more soon would follow suit.
I don’t believe that terrible things come in threes. Well, wait a minute…I will acquiesce to the saying “leaves of three, let it be.” Otherwise, I’d contract an itchy case of poison ivy from that three-leaf plant and that would be bad. But I prefer to take the optimistic approach and believe that good things come in threes. Why else would the genie, when you rub Aladdin’s lamp, appear and give you three wishes?
In Latin, the phrase “omne trium perfectum” means exactly that – everything that comes in threes is perfect or every set of three is complete. And for me, that Latin phrase does hold true. This week’s photo challenge is “Three,” and that word prompts me to consider all the truly wonderful things in my life that have come in the perfect combination of three.
Consider my family as a case in point. I come from a family of three sisters and we three are especially close. My husband grew up in a family of three brothers. Now of course, our families, just like everyone’s, aren’t perfect but we did grow up in loving homes. When the two of us married, we had no idea that our own family would be completed with three children – the delights of our hearts.
And we couldn’t have imagined in our wildest dreams that all three of our adult children would marry in the same year. Yep, three weddings in one year! Those three weddings brought three more people into our lives to love – one daughter-in-law and two sons-in-law who do fit perfectly into our family.
Consider my faith as another example of threes. I am a Christian, a believer in Jesus Christ, and my faith is centered on the Trinity, three in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You can’t get more perfect than that!
Consider my choice of location. After wandering from one area of our country to another due to my husband’s job demands, we chose to leave that all behind, pack up our belongings, and move from one side of the country to the other back to our home state. This is where we’ve planted ourselves for the last 16 years. Is it a coincidence that we chose to move nearby our favorite city, the one with three rivers? The perfect place for us.
I’m not a genie so I can’t grant three lovely or perfect wishes for my readers, but I can leave you with a quote that may inspire you to embrace three keys for living.
“Three keys to more abundant living: caring about others, daring for others, sharing with others.” ~ William Arthur Ward
And I’m fulfilling the photo challenge by sharing these three family photos with you.
It’s been a quiet week at Mama’s Empty Nest. We’re still ensconced in the winter season and snow continues to blanket the earth. Somehow, snowfall makes everything seem more hushed, more silent, more subdued. Even the wild creatures that visit the plot of land that we call home must be huddled down, burrowed in, and waiting for warmer weather as evidenced by the lack of animal tracks in our yard.
In the stillness and tranquility of my home this morning, when the only sounds that reach my ear are the refrigerator singing its humming song and the furnace kicking in to shoot some heated air up through our vents, I contemplate. Winter proves a good season for doing so.
This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is treasure. Treasure. We all have our idea of how to define treasure. And the old saying comes to mind – one’s man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
It seems we humans continually either search for treasure or attempt to acquire treasure for most of our lives. For some, material possessions are the treasures they seek. That might be a special piece of glittering jewelry given by a loved one or handed down from one family member to another. Some folks count their abundant bank balance as a treasure while others always wish for more to stockpile. Silver, gold, and precious gems come to mind as treasures held in high esteem.
I wander through the quietness of my home and glance at items in each room and am reminded of a quote I recently read by an architect named Le Corbusier (1887-1965): “The home should be the treasure chest of living.”
My home does resemble a treasure chest, at least to me. My eyes fall upon treasures here and there. This. This is a treasure. A piece of jewelry created in a far-off land and bestowed upon me when my soldier husband came back after a year-long assignment halfway across the world over 30 years ago.
There on the china cabinet shelf in the dining room. Those are treasures. Beloved items passed down to me from my parents and my husband’s parents. Items that belonged to our grandparents. Surely these are treasures.
And there. The piano gracing the living room, the instrument I longed for and we saved to purchase all those many years ago. A source of beautiful music and hours of enjoyment. A musical treasure for certain.
Yes, there are many treasures in my treasure chest of a home. Physical things. Tangible treasures. Perhaps not much in monetary worth, yet valued and cherished by me. But as a believer in Jesus Christ, I’m reminded what He told us about earthly treasures.
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” ~ Matthew 6:19-21
So yes, my worn copy of the Bible, with passages underlined and starred, with notes scribbled in the margins. God’s Word surely is a treasure to me. Yet, as much as I cherish my personal copy of His Word, that treasure could be replaced with a new one. And much of God’s Word I have hidden in my heart.
So what precious riches which I’ve carefully wrapped in love and stored away into my treasure box could I live without? Truthfully, all of them. Yes, I would be saddened to lose them but they are merely things.
There is one treasure, however, I value more highly than any other. And it’s not stored in a jewelry box, a glass shelf, or on my desk. It’s not a tangible item adorning my treasure chest home. Instead, my treasure is stored away in the recesses of my mind.
Memories. Those are the treasures I cling to most. They appear in my mind as I survey each room of my home searching for hidden treasure. Each item I spy prompts a memory. My eyes linger on one photo on the family room fireplace mantel. It is my favorite photo of my children and it brings back memories as if they just happened yesterday.
The photo taken when they were young and we lived in the Pacific Northwest sits inside a frame that reads: “Children are special. They grow and change. Children question everything. Children laugh, frown, grin, pout, and smile. Children give meaning to silly things, small things, big things. They give meaning to us. They teach us to be open again, to appreciate everything, and take nothing for granted. Children teach us what’s important because sometimes we forget. They show us what it means to be young at heart. Children are our future. Children are life.”
Surely, my children are my treasures as well as my husband, my family, and my friends. But life and all of its memories is one of the most precious treasures we can ever possess.
“Memory is the treasure house of the mind wherein the monuments thereof are kept and preserved.” ~ Thomas Fuller, Clergyman 1608-1661
Nuts. It may be a word you’d use to describe me and most days, I’d probably agree with you. Some days I’m a tough nut to crack. Even I can’t figure out why I do the things I do or think the things I think.
But lately nuts have taken on a new significance in my life. I know, I know, I’ve always been surrounded by nuts and you may think you’re one of them. But seriously, due to some less than satisfactory medical reports that both Papa and I have recently received, apparently we need to change our ways and nuts may help.
Nuts! When the report is less than acceptable, it’s time to re-think the diet. From all the information I can glean, eating nuts is a good change to start with. According to an article I read from the Mayo Clinic, most nuts contain some heart-healthy substances and another great way to get more fiber into your diet.
I’m kind of finicky about nuts though. There are certain nuts that I’m just not that crazy about eating and I don’t care for nuts in my food. I’ve never liked nuts in dessert – none in ice cream, brownies, or cookies and I don’t like pecan pie. We don’t eat a lot of desserts anyway with the exception of Papa’s addiction to ice cream, but that’s one of the changes that will need to be made.
I can tolerate a few nuts on a green salad, so that’s a plus. But I’d rather just eat nuts plain. By themselves. Just nuts. So we’ve started stocking our pantry shelf with some of the heart-healthier nuts like walnuts, pistachios, and almonds. That way we can just grab a small handful when we get the urge to snack.
Just yesterday afternoon, I grabbed a few pistachios. And that set my mind in motion.
Unlike me, a pistachio is not a hard nut to crack. Most of the time, they’re already partially cracked open when you take them out of the bag. Eating pistachios is simple. Crack open the shell, peel off the skin if you like, and get to the good stuff.
Nuts are kind of like us humans. I know, here’s where my nutty thinking comes in, but bear with me here. We all have a shell just like nuts do. Some of us have really hard shells that are difficult to penetrate. Often it’s because we want to protect ourselves, keep people and the emotional roller coaster ride that comes with them at a distance so we don’t get hurt or fall out of the coaster car.
Once you’re able to break through the shell barrier of a nut, you often find skin covering the nut meat. When it comes to skin for us humans, some of us are thick-skinned and it takes a lot to hurt our feelings or upset us. But some of us surely aren’t; we’re easily bruised and battered by words and actions because our thin skin just doesn’t protect us the way it should.
Inside the skin, the tasty nut resides. When you peel away that skin, the nut is totally revealed. You might say it’s the heart of the nut. And isn’t that like us humans as well? When you get to the heart, the true self is revealed. The heart is who we truly are.
What comes from our heart speaks volumes. It can be as tasty and good as this pistachio or rotten to the core. It disappoints me to crack open a nut’s shell, peel off its skin, and find a decaying nut meat. And it disappoints us to meet someone like that as well. The shell may look beautiful and inviting, the skin may be lovely, but if the heart is ugly, the taste is horrible.
So this is what I’ve learned in my middle age and the nuts I’ve added to my diet have helped me figure that out. I need to stop worrying about my shell and my skin and concentrate on my heart. Just as the pistachio may be good for my physical heart, I need to partake of something that’s beneficial for my spiritual heart as well.
For me, that’s meditating on God’s Word. It’s my compass for life; it’s the way to a sound heart and soul. And it reminds me to focus on others, not myself. I need to stop worrying about the appearance of my shell and skin and concentrate on the soundness of my heart.
When people see me, what do they see in my heart? A heart filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? If not, I’ve got to change my ways and shed some shells.
“Perhaps middle-age is, or should be, a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of the ego.” ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh (American writer and aviation pioneer, 1906-2001)