Our Past Is Not Compelled to Cloud Our Future

Peanuts Cartoon--the PastDo you ponder long-ago scenes, sometimes with regret? Me, too. In fact, I have a yellowed Peanuts cartoon with which I identify. In it, Charlie Brown is on the pitcher’s mound as Lucy hands him the ball.

“Sorry I missed that easy fly ball, Manager,” she says. “I thought I had it, but suddenly I remembered all the others I’ve missed.”

As she turns away, she says, “The past got in my eyes.”

Sigh.

One morning shortly after I clipped the cartoon, I lived Lucy’s attitude. I was playing doubles tennis with a new partner, Iris. I missed a perfect forehand, then grumbled and apologized, embarrassed I had performed poorly.

I missed the next shot as well. Again, I apologized.

Iris said softly, “Play the next ball, Sandra.”

The next ball? Of course. I had been so intent on mentally replaying the missed shots that I missed the next ones—just like Lucy.

Unfortunately, I identify with the past getting in my eyes in more than just sports. But I’m learning. For me the first step is to ask the Lord to help me look at the event again, ask His forgiveness if needed and release the scene to Him. Memorizing Philippians 3:13 has helped, too: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,”

The image of “straining toward” the future instead of being bound to the past makes me take a deep breath and smile. Yes, freedom is just a prayer away.

I’m interested in what you think about the power of the past. What insights do you have for friends who dwell on long-ago scenes?

Posted in confidence, encouragement, regrets, self-talk | Leave a comment

Don’t Wait for Roses

000_photoSingle women, do you sigh over red roses in the flower shop? Do you long for that perfect man to ring your doorbell and say, “Hi. The Lord sent me” and hand you a bouquet? If so, please allow me to gently say, “Stop!” Waiting for someone to bring you roses—and fulfill all your other dreams—merely masks the joy in this day.

As I entered my second year of widowhood, friends asked when I’d remarry. I laughingly answered I wouldn’t ponder that until somebody arrived with roses. Then I changed the subject.

Later, I asked myself if I really would be attracted to a flower-toting guy. Then I made an important decision: I would plant my own garden.

Soon I was at our local gardening shop, buying rose bushes and peat moss. For the next several months, I pruned and sprayed—and kept fresh roses throughout the house, quietly marveling at the fragrant blooms.

That simple decision nudged me to ponder ways I could plant a garden in other areas, including changing careers. I smile now at the incredible path my life has taken. Oh, what I would have missed if I had waited for someone to bring me roses—and supposedly rescue me.

Hear me: This is not a demand for forever singleness. It’s an encouragement for us to learn more about the Lord’s strength—and our own. Yes, continue to pray for a future mate if you want. But in the meantime, let’s ask the Lord how we can plant our own gardens.

I’m confident you already have done exactly that. Perhaps in more ways than you realize. As you ponder your list, I’m sure you’ll smile. And I’m convinced the Lord will too.

Posted in appreciation, confidence, courage, encouragement, goals, perseverance, rescue, roses, self-esteem, self-talk, single mothers, widows | Leave a comment

A Good Lesson on a Grumpy Morning

Ever notice how the best lessons often come from unexpected sources? I learned that when I met a women who appeared to offer only an empty seat in her breakfast booth.

That New York day, my mirror had revealed more gray hair. I was feeling old as my young teens, Jay and Holly, and I left for our favorite cafe.

The counter stools were occupied first, so we usually sat in a booth. But that morning even those were filled. We waited by the door.

Suddenly, an elderly woman in the back waved at us. After our move from Michigan, we’d learned New Yorkers readily share space, so the invitation wasn’t unusual.

We smiled and walked toward the woman. Holly slid into the booth next to her; Jay and I sat across from them. I thanked the woman and made introductions.

She pointed to her ear and shook her head. Oh, she’s deaf, I thought.

We three sat silently while our hostess continued breakfast. Her arthritic hands cut poached egg on toast as I stared at my own hands, knowing they would look like hers someday.

I forced my thoughts to other details. The collar of the woman’s navy blue dress peeked over her buttoned maroon sweater. Her hair was silver and covered by a bright blue cap. What color had her hair been? Nondescript brunette like mine?

Had her swollen hands once held babies who grew up and left for exotic places, remembering her only at Christmas and Mother’s Day, if then? Had those same hands tenderly caressed the forehead of an ill husband who died, leaving her to grow old alone?

My self-pity continued as the woman put her knife and fork across the plate. She drank the last of her coffee, then leaned toward Holly. “Why do you go to bed at night?” she asked.

Because we had assumed she was mute as well as deaf, her question startled us. Finally Holly answered, “Because I’m tired?”

The woman’s eyes sparkled. “Because the bed won’t come to you!”

As we three chuckled, she tapped the table in front of Jay. “If I put a quarter and a five-cent piece here, and the five-cent piece rolled off, why didn’t the quarter roll off, too?”

At Jay’s puzzled look, the woman smiled. “Because the quarter has more sense!”

Her play on words made us laugh. We waited for another riddle, but she busied herself gathering her newspaper and purse. Holly stood to let her out of the booth.

She smiled at me, patted Holly’s shoulder, shook Jay’s hand and was off, her head up and her shoulders straightened—momentarily, at least—against the day.

That dear woman had provided unexpected joy. In those few moments, I’d seen no self-pity, no laments for what she had lost. She merely shared her private joy and had shown me a more noble way to face challenges.

As I smiled at her memory, I accepted my graying hair merely as another milestone.

When I’m her age, I told myself, I hope I’m teaching others to grab today’s joy. For now, though, I’ll concentrate on what I have left instead of what I’ve lost.

That’s not a bad lesson to have learned on a grumpy morning, is it?

What lessons have YOU learned from unexpected sources? 000_photo

Posted in aging, appreciation, confidence, encouragement, helping others, self-talk, widows | 2 Comments

When We Feel Unappreciated

IMG_0209[1]

How’s your day going? Are the demands exceeding the accomplishments? I know that reality, as do most of you—especially if you are a single mom. I’ve learned from experience how difficult that role is. Yes, we’d love to have a pat on our tired shoulders occasionally, but longing for praise takes energy away from the duties at hand. Besides, most folks don’t appreciate our challenges, anyway.

I saw that truth years ago when a relative and I drove to Kentucky to take my grandparents, Papa and Mama, and Aunt Adah back to Michigan for a visit. An eight-hour drive was ahead, so Mama had packed a lunch basket, topped with a bunch of bananas, and placed it beside her on the front seat. She put her cane against her leg, and settled in for the trip.

Road construction and numerous detours forced us to take alternate routes on narrow asphalt through the beautiful mountains. At another detour, we discovered a rock slide had covered the road.

As I marveled at the beautiful valley below, the relative let the car idle as he got out to survey the situation. Just as he climbed onto the rock pile, perhaps to see if he could get his Buick over it, the car stalled and began to roll backward.

I was in the back, wedged between Aunt Adah and Papa, but I threw myself over the seat, my foot knocking the lunch aside as I scrambled for the brakes.

When I got the car stopped, it already was several feet beyond the asphalt. Beyond that was a 500-foot drop into the ravine below.

With the car safely braked, I released my breath and tried to push my heart out of my throat and back into its proper position. Finally, I looked at Mama. Surely she had some praise for my quick action that had saved us from severe injury, if not death.

But she merely glanced at me as she picked up the scattered lunch. Then she muttered, “You smashed the bananas.”

So much for my need for appreciation. But I can’t fault my grandmother. Since she hadn’t recognized the danger, she couldn’t appreciate my effort. So remember this, single mother: You are accomplishing more than folks realize. And the end result is not smashed bananas. IMG_0213[1]

Posted in Appalachia, appreciation, rescue, single mothers | Leave a comment

The Warmest Gift

As a veteran widow, I thought weepy moments during church services were behind me. But during the recent Christmas program, I wiped my eyes often. It was time to draw upon the lesson I learned years ago.

The first Christmas after my husband’s death, I dreaded the holiday. But I had two young children who needed me—and needed to see that other folks hurt, too. So I called the Salvation Army and offered our help. Our assignment was food delivery, so on a bitterly cold morning we lugged boxes to above-the-store apartments and weather-beaten houses. We offered a hearty “Merry Christmas” at each home, but the cold penetrated my heavy coat—and my heart. I was cold, the weather was miserable, and I wasn’t making a difference. After all, if we didn’t deliver the groceries, someone else would. Then we arrived at the last tired house. Inside, everything was clean, but the floor covering was worn to the boards. Only near the walls were pieces of tile, and the thin curtains had been mended countless times. As I set the food box on the kitchen table, the elderly couple thanked us repeatedly. Then their voices were wistful as they asked us to “stay awhile.” During our brief visit, I discovered the woman’s need for a coat. I held out mine.

She hesitated then said, “God bless you, honey,” as tears rolled down her cheeks. All I could do was whisper, “Thank you for letting me do this.”

My children didn’t speak until we were outside again and heading toward our car. Then my 9-year-old daughter turned to me.

“Mom! It’s freezing! And you gave away your coat!”

I squeezed her shoulders. “I know. But this is the warmest I’ve been in a long time.”

Yes, the help I offered to someone else actually helped me. That’s what I need to remember—no matter the season.

Posted in grief, helping others, single mothers, widows | 6 Comments

Ready If Needed

Do you ever wonder how much help you should offer those who go from crisis to crisis? After all, Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Does that mean I’m to rescue someone repeatedly? As I pondered this verse, I remembered a time when a friend was in financial trouble—again. I could help, but I wanted her to see God as her Provider instead of running to me first. However, I also didn’t want to ignore her situation. So I continued to pray and read Scripture, wondering if I should offer help.

The following Sunday morning, those thoughts were heavy as I entered my usual row at church. In the quiet moments before the service, I glanced around, taking mental roll. My friends Larry and Mary Ellen were sitting behind the elderly gentleman I’ll call Mr. Smith. The dear man was becoming increasingly feeble, but he insisted he would be in church as long as the Lord allowed. So every Sunday, we marveled at his determination—and held our breath each time he pulled himself to his feet.

On this particular morning, Mr. Smith trembled as he stood for a hymn. At the close, he wobbled as he backed toward his chair. Immediately, Larry’s arms were at his shoulders, not touching him, but ready. Mr. Smith made it safely—and hadn’t known Larry was ready to catch him.

I smiled, realizing I had witnessed how I should respond to my friend. I wasn’t to rush in and solve her problems, but I was to be ready to help—if needed. That settled, I sang the next hymn with even greater enthusiasm.

How about you? What have you learned about helping?

Posted in encouragement, helping others, rescue | Leave a comment

What Will People Think?

Have you ever longed for the approval of others? Most of us have at one time or another, maybe even though we’ve read 1 Thessalonians 2:4—“We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.”

My emotional skin is tougher than it used to be, but I confess that a disapproving comment or look can still hurt. Know what helps? An ancient fable credited to the Greek slave Aesop (reportedly born 620 B.C.), who tells of a man facing the same challenge.

The man and his son were going to market, leading their donkey and enjoying the beautiful morning. A neighbor saw them and said, “How silly that both of you walk when you have a fine donkey.” So the father put his son on the donkey’s back.

Soon another man said to the child, “How rude of you to ride while your old father walks.” So the child hopped off, and the father climbed onto the donkey’s back.

Then they met another neighbor who scolded the father, “You are terrible to ride while your precious child walks.”

So the father pulled his son up with him. Of course, another man saw them and exclaimed, “Your poor donkey shouldn’t have to carry you both!”

So the two slid off the donkey, and the strong father picked up the bewildered animal and slung it across his shoulders. As they continued toward town, they met another neighbor, who looked at them in disgust. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen,” he exclaimed. “Donkeys are to be ridden, not carried!”

See? We can’t please everyone, no matter how we try. So let’s set our goal on pleasing the Lord.

Posted in Aesop's Fables, appreciation, pleasing others | 4 Comments

The Beautiful Square Button

Have you ever felt inadequate? Oh, I have! In fact, over the years and despite my supposed accomplishments, I struggle with who I think I should be as a Christian woman. After all, shouldn’t I be slim, silent and musically gifted? Well, none of those attributes describe me.

But I’m learning—finally—to encourage myself with the delicious thought that our heavenly Father creates individuals and not assembly line robots. Yes, I need to take care of my health and keep working on my weight, but it’s okay to be who I am.

As a fun reminder, I have on my desk a pint jar filled with antique buttons: tiny pinks from a baby’s garment, coarse browns from a work shirt, bright blues from a Sunday dress, and my favorite—a bold red, green, and purple square button that may have “fancied up” an otherwise drab winter coat.

I found the jar in an antique shop one day when I was convinced I’d never fit the “proper woman” mold I felt others wanted me poured into. Actually, the jar I bought sat next to one filled with only white pearl buttons. I ignored the pearl collection and purchased the jar filled with contrast and color.

Now, whenever I get into a I’ll-never-be-perfect mood, I need only to look at that jar to be reminded life would be boring if we all were the same. So if you’re a bold red, green, and purple “button” like me who doesn’t fit in the pearl-button world, rejoice! All of us are needed—and fit—in God’s perfect, interesting plan.

Posted in appreciation, encouragement, self-esteem | 6 Comments

“You Good Mama”

“You Good Mama”

This morning, Hebrews 3:13 reminded me of a stranger’s encouragement years ago: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today.”

My then-young children and I were on a church tour with a group visiting from Mexico City. We couldn’t communicate, but we smiled and nodded at each other as our separate guides explained the various historical sights.

For Jay, Holly, and me, the trip was supposed to be a diversion the year after my husband, and their dad, died. Instead on the first day, I briefly lost 12-year-old Jay, stumbled over 11-year-old Holly as she fearfully clung to me, was soundly cheated in a souvenir purchase, and reminded by the sight of couples that I was raising my children alone.

By dinner, I was convinced this trip was a mistake. As we waited in the washroom line, one of the men from our group put his hand on Jay’s shoulder, making sure he didn’t stray. I rested my arms on top of Holly’s head as she leaned against me. I was tired and defeated.

Then one of the Mexican grandmothers stopped, patted my arm, and said haltingly, “You good mama.”

Three simple words, but suddenly I wasn’t so exhausted, and my fear was replaced with the hope that maybe, just maybe, I could pull off this single-parenting thing after all.

In that moment, a stranger became God’s reminder he hadn’t forgotten me and that I could, with his help, raise my children.

That’s the power words can have. As we look around, we will see folks who need our smiles and our encouragement. And we may very well be providing God’s message for a weary soul—just as that grandmother did for me.

Posted in appreciation, encouragement, self-esteem, single mothers | 8 Comments

“Pray–While You’re Pulling Weeds”

As you face daily challenges, do you ever wonder how much is your part and how much is God’s? Oh, I do.

During those times, I like to ponder a childhood scene from my Kentucky farm days. Our community was filled with hard workers who prided themselves on healthy livestock, neat yards, and productive gardens. But one farmer, whom I’ll call Abe, preferred sitting to working.

In the morning, he’d sit on his porch and watch the sun rise above the rolling hills. In the evening, he’d watch the sun set behind the hickory trees at the back of his property. Each spring, in a burst of energy, he’d plant a big garden but then neglect it. His family often ran short of food and would need help from neighbors.

Folks frowned at his wastefulness, but my “waste not, want not” grandmother, Mama Farley, was growing increasingly frustrated. Finally, the day came when she grabbed my five-year-old hand, and we marched down the road to Abe’s house. As usual, he was sitting on his porch.

“Well, now,” he said. “What brings y’all out so early?”

Mama got right to the point. “Abe, you’ve planted another fine garden, but it’s going to weed—just like before. You’ve got a family to feed.”

He smiled. “Now, Miz Farley, the Lord always provides. All I have to do is pray.”

Mama frowned, but she stayed calm.

“Well, Abe,” she said. “Why don’t you pray while you’re in your garden pulling weeds?”

Oh, yes. So even these years later, I try to pull my “weeds” by doing what I can do. And I pray as I pull. What weeds do you need to tackle?

Posted in Appalachia, grandmothers, prayer | Tagged | 4 Comments