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Poem: The Weirdest Dream

You were here with me (in a room, in the
sun, by my side, one on one).  I could see
you so clearly, feel you, even, and smell
all your scents – you know, the natural ones;
the perfumed ones; your hands – so warm, so strong
and comforting (all, your essence) – so missed.
I talked with you; laughed with you; saw your smile,
as if never gone; in my arms, alive.

I rolled over and reached for the phone.  Hi,
Mom… “Hi, baby, what’s wrong,” you would ask me.
I just had the weirdest dream about you….
We would talk; our closing of choice being,
“I love you, baby.”  Love you, too, mommy.
Rolling over, as sleep left me, my smile
faded.  Glancing, pitifully, at a
telephone with no connection to you.
How can it be, you’re not here with me?
These dreams only intensify my pain. 

Lost so absolute and unexpected.
Time doesn’t heal the wounds – it spreads them out
to de-intensify… or to numb one.
Memories… they don’t fade, as we sometimes
wish they would – they become detailed through our
rose-colored 20/20 hindsight, as
we see our past as we wish we’d lived it;
perfect and happy, absent of pain and
misunderstandings; moving together,
not apart, one unit, blessed throughout time.

The Weirdest Dream from Clichés: A Life in Verse by LaShawnda Jones

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Thank You, Lord.

Thank You, Lord
For bringing me to this point today.
Thank You for not leaving me where You last placed me.
Thank You for keeping me and loving me.
Thank You for peace.
Thank You for the storms.
Thank You for the fire and cleansing.
Thank You for pain and healing.
Thank You for my assignment.
Thank You for the many battles in this warring world.
Thank You for rest.
Thank You for victory.

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To God be the Glory

To God be the glory.

I wish to begin with the full understanding that I give all the glory and credit to God for the woman He has created me to be and for the woman He is continually forming me into.

I’m in awe of how He has designed and chiseled me according to His vision and plan. I am amazing! I am wonderful! And I have the capability of being fully authentic and absolutely fearless!

Emotionally, I was chased into hiding a number of years ago. Slowly, over the last couple of years I have struggled to bring my full being fully into the light. All of me, all at once – continually and persistently – into the light. I didn’t think I had any appreciation for the darkness until I began to explore the illusion of my own invisibility. I could sit back and watch life happen to others. I could give myself time to sulk over my wounds. I could plan and fantasize about a more perfect tomorrow… thereby minimizing the triumphs and worries of today.

When did I begin to believe the lies about me? When did I first believe, like a memory, the false image of what my life would be? When did I stop appreciating my own power? When did I stop recognizing my own beauty? Wonder of wonders, I am here! Of all the impossibilities in the world, I have developed a voice that has cowed and destroyed demons attached to my life and banned them from my present and my future. Of all the unthinkable happenings in the world, a neglected and forgotten girl-child grew into a fiercely independent and productive woman who seeks to love and nurture those in her care.

We look to others for safety and security, but humans are not equipped to give each other the safety and security we truly need. We yearn for partnership and community, but each can demolish our awareness of our true self. A good portion of my youth was wasted waiting for someone to rescue me from a living nightmare. Then one day, God provided an opportunity for me to be my own hero. He rescued me, but He GAVE ME the will to stand up and walk, opportunity to reach out and seek helpers, and the voice to speak against the violent oppression in my life. When I look back on what I thought my heroes would look like throughout my life – mom, dad, uncles, aunts, grandmothers, a husband, education, faith, fitness, a good salary – I am relieved that none ever lived up to my needs. For if they had, they may become idols in my heart and mind. Instead, when I look back on how I escaped and survived disasters throughout my life, I see the weak little girl, the awkward teenager, and the lonely solitary woman (internal images of myself) who decided to get up and walk through the doors God opened for her. I see me guided and protected by my Heavenly Father.  The only one able to make a way through cement boxes thrown into the deep sea of hopelessness. I have learned through the long years of my desert crossing that God provides beyond the needs of our human relationships and beyond our understanding of His master plan. In my relationship with my Father God, through His Son Jesus, and by His Holy Spirit, there is nothing I lack.

There are battles He fights for us and there are battles He sends us into for victory in His name for His Kingdom. Our job is to learn to hear the difference… discern our obligation to His instruction. Nothing we encounter or overcome is for our lives alone. Our Heavenly Father has made it His business to build victorious warriors. Know your battle. Learn your strengths. Keep praises to God on your lips and songs to Him in your heart.

There is so much that could be missing from my life… if I choose to focus on the emptiness. Yet, there is so much that is so amazingly awesome when I choose to focus on the fullness instead. Each step of our process and growth is a choice. Don’t believe the lie that where you are is where you are meant to stay. Don’t eat the lie that what you have is all you are meant to keep. Don’t internalize the falseness that who you are today is all you will ever be. You are created to BECOME so much more. Today is a building block for tomorrow. Embrace the fullness of today – opportunities to love, deepen your faith, embrace heartache and joy, share your story, be hospitable, offer refreshment – whatever today has for you to receive or give, do that… so tomorrow, you will answer similar opportunities with the wisdom of experience and the patience of a teacher.

To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

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Do you handle contentment as well as you handle adversity?

Lately, I’ve been struggling with being content with my blessings (read: overflowing cup of grace). I’m used to having just one more hurdle, yet another obstacle, and some more unforeseen challenges to get through before I could breathe easy about a plan, an opportunity or change. I’m used to the prize being visible but forever out of reach like a mirage of water in a sweltering desert. I’m used to not getting what I truly want and learning to appreciate what I get. That’s been my life.

How would I act if I got what I wanted? If my most earnest prayer was answered? Would I remember that I had asked to be blessed and embrace the responsibility of receiving God’s favor and grace with wisdom and gratitude? Or would I lose sight of the blessing and treat God’s favor as a common unremarkable thing?

Photo: Hope's Call by Lisa Richelle
Photo: Hope’s Call by Lisa Richelle

I would like to say without a doubt that recognizing my blessings and receiving them with contented appreciation is natural for me. But what I’ve come to realize in this season of abundance is that contentment requires as much hard work and focus as perseverance in hardship. It’s easy to lose sight of a blessing – you’ve already received it and can look for new challenges. But who forgets the weight of the world when it’s pressing down upon them? No one. Focusing on our difficulties is what comes naturally, but when we are consumed with thoughts and anxiety about what we don’t have, we are robbed of appreciation for what we do have.

This week the thought crossed my mind: What would I do if this blessed situation was a difficult problem? Immediately, strategic plans for fixing the problem came to mind. There is always something to DO to eliminate a problem. But what does one do with a blessing? The most obvious answer is: Enjoy it and share it. But that doesn’t sound much like DOING anything. Here lies my problem.

I don’t have an established behavioral pattern for when things go really well in my life. The closest situation I can think of is writing and publishing my own books. That’s great, yes, but when do I enjoy finishing a book? I haven’t. Marketing, promoting and selling the book then becomes the focus. And even in the midst of that cycle, my mind is planning and outlining the next book project. Same scenario in my job-that-pays-the-bills. Every year, I get praised for putting on a great annual conference. And every year I smile and tell the praisers, “Thanks… until next time!” I’m already thinking about what didn’t go so well and how to improve it next time.

I know you’re thinking – WOW, what a problem to have! But what this tells me is that I have a deficit of gratitude and thanksgiving my heart and spirit. I should be able to appreciate and honor completion (conclusion; fulfillment). I should fully experience something coming to fruition (realization of something desired or worked for; accomplishment)in my life. It shouldn’t be an afterthought to honor a process that bears fruit (come to a satisfactory conclusion) on my journey. It’s nonsensical to labor over a plant and ignore it when it blooms. That’s essentially what I have been doing – ignoring my blooms.

My Dear Heavenly Father has been blessing me enormously. I am grateful and I have given repeated and profuse thanks, but I haven’t paused to rest, enjoy or soak in all that He has done for me. I want to reach out to my Lord as much, if not more, when the blessings are raining down as I do when it’s hard to even hope for a favorable outcome. I have never just sat and marinated in a blessing. That changes now. Going forward, I’m taking the time to rest in and fully experience my blessings. For the first time in years, I am actually planning a vacation to just stay home and enjoy my life.

What I’ve learned in this season is that there is a time to simply sit and enjoy the fruit or your labor.

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“I am the MOST loving, forgiving, and selfless person EVER!”

“I am the most loving, forgiving, and selfless person EVER!”

Right? Surely you’ve had your moments of greatness that may have lasted into a lifetime or a lifestyle?

“When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? No, he says, ‘Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.’ And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’”   ~ Luke 17:7-10

That sounds like a harsh word from Jesus! Talk about “tough love!”

Let me tell you a story…

There was once a young woman who spent her entire existence at the beck and call of other people. (We’ll call them “Everyone Else.”) If Everyone Else needed her here, she came. If Everyone Else needed her there, she went. She truly believed in being present. She thought being used was a good thing – she felt as if Everyone Else’s use of her was validation of her existence. Then one day the young woman realized all her usefulness had been used up – or rather her presence was no longer needed or wanted because Everyone Else had outgrown her… or their lifestyles had changed… or they had become distracted by Someone Else who met their needs more immediately. All those who used to want the young woman around were seeking after Someone Else. So the young woman skulked away in dreadful sadness because she had applied so much importance to how important she was to others. Unfortunately, her sense of self had been tied up in how Everyone Else valued her.

In an effort to reinvent herself, to realign her values, and to make sure No One Else was ever again in a position to discard her so carelessly, the young woman began hoarding her love, forgiveness and generosity for herself… with the intention of lavishing her gifts only on Worthy Ones. In her mind, Worthy Ones would know how to love her back. They would be gracious in forgiving her lapses, and they would be equally generous of themselves and their time.

Years passed and then more years passed. Soon the young woman was looking back over decades of wasted time as an old woman still living alone in the fortress she had built to protect herself from all her would-be destroyers. Worthy Ones had never crossed her path… or if they had, perhaps they hadn’t considered her Worthy Enough to stop for. Sitting on a stockpile of treasure she had hoarded for herself (all her love and her willingness to express it however and whenever needed) the old woman finally realized it did her no good to have love if there was no one to give it to.

To her horror she realized that running away from selflessness led her straight into the most egregious form of selfishness (sin) imaginable. She hid her treasure and blessed no one.

“Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’

“But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’

 “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  

~ Matthew 25: 24-30 NLT

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Two Life Living Lessons from Mom

The two most memorable lessons I learned from my mother are:

1. Treat others as you want to be treated.
2. You can’t hate for anyone.

Nearly everything I learned from my mother, I learned from watching her live; observing how she interacted with and treated others. Occasionally, I ignored one of her lessons and took my cues from how people treated her – dismissively, disrespectfully or abusively. When I responded to them in kind, mom would rebuke me with a great deal of irritation, “You don’t do what other people do! If they jumped off a bridge would you follow behind them?”

I’m sure a couple of times I responded with some slick comment, like, “It depends on how high the bridge is….” In my youth I didn’t understand why she got so angry with me for defending her against people who claimed to love her but treated her so wrong….

What I’ve learned since is, I am like a mirror and a sponge. I soak up everything in my environment and reflect it back to its source. Usually with an intensified twist. So, when I fought mom’s attackers back (usually verbal), I was fighting for a knock-out. I was never interested in back and forth or tic for tac; I wanted to shut the other person down. Had my mother allowed that destructive, errant willfulness to develop, I would have perhaps grown into an angry, hateful, vengeful adult. Emotionally crippled. Spiritually deficient.

On the flip side, when I reflect back any measure of love, kindness, or appreciation within my sphere, it is magnified with a radiance that creates a special space for relationships. My mother re-focused my rare aggressive energy onto things I could do to improve difficult situations, “Instead of doing this, try doing that,” she would say. I didn’t understand it at the time, but she was training me to be a very tolerant, forgiving and resourceful person. Her position was not that ill treatment should be tolerated, however, only that it shouldn’t be responded to with more wrong behavior. In other words, don’t stoke the fire – turn the other cheek. I used to tell her I was out of cheeks.

Mom died fifteen years ago – I was barely a legal adult, but she prepared me well for life. Amazingly, I am still learning about her and still growing from the lessons she imparted so many years ago. I appreciate her more with each year I live. Her most powerful lesson to me was that not even for her should I dishonor myself (the God in me) by returning evil for evil.

If you can’t even hate a person who’s mistreating your mom, then who can you hate?

No one.

Every day I work on being the best person I can possibly be in every interaction I have. I admit it’s a struggle sometimes. Some days my best may be a mere fraction of what my best on better days may be. But I always strive to acknowledge and root out any destructive willfulness that may be looking for a knock-out. I thank God for the loving nurturer He graced my life with. Mom gave the best of herself and she nurtured the best in me.

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.  ~ Matthew 7:12

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury:  ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.  ~ Matthew 5:38-39

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.  ~ Matthew 5:43-45

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.  ~ Proverbs 22:6