Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Name Them One-by-One

There's an old hymn that Johnson Oatman, Jr. wrote in 1897.  It goes, "Count your blessings, name them one by one, Count your blessings, see what God hath done!"

This morning Jonathan was looking for a particular button-down shirt and couldn't find it.  He looked in my closet (where I hang the clothes that are washed and need to be ironed), he looked in his closet, the guest room closet and several bags he had recently used while traveling.  He looked in the dryer, washer and all of the laundry baskets.  I also went behind him for a cursory review of things.  The shirt was gone.  He left to take the kids to school and I went to iron the #2 choice shirt for the day.  As I was getting the iron out of my closet I looked one more time in the "to be ironed" section of clothes and sure enough, tucked behind another shirt was the one we had been searching for.

How often has that happened to you?  The thing you are searching for is right under your nose the entire time?  And you've wasted a lot of energy and effort looking for it.

I've been thinking along those very same lines lately about my life.  There are so many blessings right under my nose and I often look right past them.  Since the horrific events that occurred last Friday in Newtown, CT, I think many of us have been challenged to take a closer look at how we view priorities in our lives.  I have spent the last few mornings before school cuddling my babies as long as I could before they had to get ready.  I have hugged, played and listened much more intently.

A few weeks ago our preacher, Bill, said "Don't let the urgent supersede the important."  He was referring mostly to the hustle and bustle that comes with Christmas, but it's applicable to every day in our lives.  Since we moved into our house 3 years ago we've wanted to do some remodeling - the kitchen, master bath and floors all need updating.  But it's not the end of the world if it doesn't happen.  We are blessed to have enough space, live in a safe neighborhood and have all the creature comforts we need.  It would be nice to do some upgrades but I feel convicted to not complain about the current state of our home. 

Yesterday I was at the Family Dollar and there was a lady with about 15 items in her buggy.  I had a ton of stuff so I let her go in front of me even though I had already loaded most of my things on the checkout counter.  She nervously watched as her items were scanned and she held a roll of quarters ($10) in her hand.  She questioned the clerk a few times about some of the prices that rung up.  She stopped the clerk before her buggy was empty.  I told her not to worry, just to add my items to hers and I would take care of it.  She about fell over.  She exclaimed, "Thank you, Jesus, for sending an angel!" She cried and hugged me.  This was over about $15 worth of merchandise.  I can't imagine being so worried about spending $15.  I'm not writing about this so you think I'm an angel.  I want to share it because it profoundly impacted me.  I take for granted that I can run to the Family Dollar on any given day and buy whatever I need (or want).  I am BLESSED beyond what I even fathom.

I haven't done an actual count but I've probably had at least 50 different people do something nice for me or my family the past 14 months.  It's incredible to consider that so many have made sacrifices, big or small, for me.  Even the phone calls or cards that probably don't mean much to them are significant to me.  I am extremely grateful for the blessing of loved ones in my life.

I am praying for so many people right now:
  • A classmate of the kids' who has non-cancerous tumors on all of his vital organs.  The ones on his brain are causing lots of seizures.  His parents are struggling to get him the medical care he needs.  It's a financial burden and they're having to take time off work to care for him.  And so I'm thankful for the asthma and ear infections that my kids get.  They are nothing compared to what this family is experiencing.
  • A friend's child struggles with grades in school.  She worries every week about how she's preparing him for tests and that she's doing enough for him.  My kids don't struggle with schoolwork.  Without having this friend to share her worries with me I would have taken Beau & Lydia's good grades for granted.
  • A friend is in remission from cancer.  He worries often that the tumor(s) will return.  My dizziness and "quality of life" issues pale in comparison.
  • The parents who are burying their children in CT this week.  As I read the list of names and dates of birth I froze as I realized most of them were born in 2006, the same year as Beau & Lydia.  My heart physically hurt.  Those parents aren't "stressed" about making sure every gift is bought and wrapped or that they have the perfect thing to wear to the holiday party.  Makes my worries about those things extremely petty.
It's so easy to just get through every day, getting things done, focusing on the urgent and not the important.  And we miss the blessings that are right under our noses.   Even when things are bad, even when we really are sick or finances are a mess, there is usually something that we have to be thankful for.    Sometimes the kids will fuss about something silly and I'll look at them and say "Waaaah!"  If God wasn't so merciful he'd probably do the same thing to me and probably on a daily basis.

There are seasons when the blessings are tucked away in an obscure place and we have to search a little harder and be a little more creative in where we look.  Other times - I'll even go out on a limb and say most times - the blessings are there right under our noses as we search and search and search without ever seeing them.  We wake up every day with a choice.  We can choose to see the clouds or we can find beauty in the sky that God hand-made no matter how stormy or ominous it looks.

I hope everyone reading this knows, believes and accepts what Christmas is really about.  It's about Jesus Christ choosing to leave heaven and take on human form because he loves us that much. 

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” ---Luke 2:10-12

Merry Christmas from The Gregory's

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Father of All Time

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do ---Ephesians 2:10

My sweet little daughter is an early bird.  She would come down from her room at 5:00 every morning if I let her.  For about a year now, the rule has been that she can’t come downstairs before 6:00.  She has a Hello Kitty digital clock in her room so she can keep track.  Sure enough, 95% of the mornings, at 6:00 I hear footsteps down the stairs.  On weekdays she crawls in bed with me until we have to get up and get ready for school and on weekends she’s allowed to turn on TV.  She told me that she often wakes early and watches the clock, counting down to 6:00.  I had the bright idea a few days ago to adjust her clock by 20 minutes, allowing me a little more shut-eye (my mom thought this was cruel to keep her waiting longer but I just thought it was smart). So, the very next morning she came down when her clock said 6:00… it was 5:40 a.m.  Yep, in all of my brilliance I adjusted the clock in the wrong direction.  DUH!  (My mom laughed at the irony).  Anyway, I have since readjusted her clock and this morning I saw her sweet little face at 6:20.  Success!

I often worry that I’m not doing everything God wants me to.  I worry that I’m supposed to be serving somewhere or doing something.  I pray and pray but still haven’t felt led to do any more than I already am.  I wrote in my journal last week what I felt God saying during one of my conversations with him:
Be still and know… I will show you everything when the time is right.  For now, study hard – my word, keep getting to know me, keep writing, keep deepening your thoughts and knowledge of me.
The incident with Lydia’s clock made me realize that no matter what, we can never manipulate God’s timing.  We can’t wish or will for things to happen when we want.  We can't work harder, be better or act right to make him adjust his clock.  In today's world there are so many classes of people, so many delineators; but one thing all mankind has in common is the restraint of time.  No matter how rich or poor, good or bad, we all get the same amount.  And we are held accountable for what we do with that precious resource.  That terrifies me.  I am terrified that I won’t know when the time is right or that I will disappoint God.  That he will shake his head in sadness because I blew it.  

I wonder how often David questioned God’s calling to be king during those years he ran for his life from King Saul.  He wrote the Psalms so we get a glimpse into his thoughts during that time.  I think David must have wondered if God would ever release him from his circumstances so he could fulfill his greater purpose.  At other times I know David rested peacefully in God’s sovereignty:
All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  ---Psalm 139:16
I often think and ask, “I really thought you would use this horrible experience for good.  But honestly, God, if I’m sitting here not serving, I’m not accomplishing anything for you.  So, if you’ll just go ahead and let me get on with it, I think that would be great.  So, what is it you want me to do?”  By doing that I’m probably moving the clock in the WRONG direction, just like I did with Lydia’s.  And God is getting a chuckle out of it, just like my mom did.

I have to continue to pray for God’s guidance and timing every day.  I wish I could just pray it once and then move on.  But the worries and anxiety that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to return fresh regularly.  Just another goal to strive for while God whispers, "Nicole, all the days ordained for you were written in my book before one of them came to be.  Why don't you just get through the one that's before you now and let me take care of the details of the ones to come?  I've already prepared it all in advance.  It really will be easier that way.  I promise.  You can trust me."

Other stuff
I had about 3 good weeks with lots of relief from the dizziness but for the past week I've been dizzy again.  I e-mailed my doctor at Mayo and he assured me setbacks at this point are normal and that we're still on track.  Even though I still don't feel good, this is very comforting and encouraging.  I continue to be amazed by every aspect of the Mayo Clinic.  I e-mailed my doctor at 2:42pm and he responded in detail at 3:06pm.  I waited at a doctor's appointment with Beau today for 2 hours and yesterday at another doctor's office for 2 hours with him.  If the world-renowned Mayo Clinic can run so efficiently, why can't other health care providers (that's a rhetorical question; I don't expect a response)?  I shouldn't complain because I am so thankful for our insurance and access to good healthcare.  But after I've seen it work so efficiently and that it can be done, it's hard to deal with anything less.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Stranger in a Strange Land

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us ---1 Peter 2:11-12

I am getting out more and more these days - praise God!  It's awesome, but it's also extremely WEIRD!  I have flashbacks to movie scenes where someone was abducted by aliens, taken to outer space and put through an indescribable experience, then transported back to earth and popped straight back into their old life.  They have so much to say to everyone in their lives but they can't get the words out right and since the people they are around didn't actually go through what they went through, they can't truly articulate everything they are feeling in a way that others can understand.  That's me right now!

The only real-life thing I can liken it to is pregnancy.  In the first trimester before I was showing I wanted to float around everywhere I went telling everyone my news.  I didn't want a single stranger to see me and not know the exciting secret I was carrying.  I wanted to hold a sign, to write it on my forehead, to tell everyone.  In the moment I heard those 2 heartbeats inside me I was different; never to be the same person again.  I was no longer Nicole the wife, I was Nicole the wife and mom.  My role and who I was at the core was altered forever.  And I wanted people to know it.

I ran into a friend the other day that I hadn't seen since before last October.  She asked, "How have you been?"  Now for any of you reading my blog for the past nine months how could I possibly answer that question in the 60-second time I had with her?  I couldn't.  I gave my standard response, "I'm good.  I've been sick for over a year with Meniere's Disease.  It's not life-threatening, but it is life-altering.  I quit work, I rarely drive and I don't go places by myself.  BUT, God has taken me on an incredible spiritual journey and He has stayed faithful and for that I am so grateful."  It's like trying to write a novel on a post-it note.  I worry that's not a good enough answer.  Just like when I was pregnant I want the world to know that I am different.  At 40 years old my slate has been cleaned and my frame of reference for everything I think, say and do is completely changed.  When I read Paul's writings, I think he experienced that.  He wanted everyone to know God's goodness and everything about God and what he had done in his life and at times it seemed he would burst if he couldn't tell people.

I realize that it will take time to tell my story and that my life will have to show for itself what God has done.  And I struggle with that too.  Because although God has cleansed my soul and changed my heart, he didn't take away any of my personality - I'm still stubborn, bossy, opinionated and Type A.  So I'm learning to show who God is while trapped in this human, flawed body.  I've joked with a few friends that I've met this year, "What if you don't like me when I'm well and you see who I really am?"

All Christians should struggle with our strange world.  If we truly are changed, if God has really worked in our lives, we should want to shout our stories to the world.  We should feel weird and uncomfortable walking around here.  The challenge is how we do it.  I've been to retailers when they are having some sort of promotion.  All the employees are wearing buttons that say, "Ask me about our layaway options" or something along those lines.  Maybe that's what I need to do.  Create a button that says, "Ask me about the miracle that I experienced."  Maybe not.  I guess I'll keep thinking about it...

Other news
As I mentioned, I'm getting out more and it truly is incredible.  Not only am I getting out more but I'm not having to fight through the times when I am out.  Before when I was out I was still in a state of constant dizziness but now I'm having moments of clarity.  Yesterday I ran too many errands and was really bad off last night and today.  But the cool thing is days like yesterday help me learn my boundaries.  And you know I wrote about having to put my kids on the bus to ride home and I felt God was making me give up yet another thing?  As soon as I was obedient in that, I am now able to pick up my kids.  Coincidence?  Not likely.  The really great thing is their teacher is so wonderful that she is giving me the flexibility to call the school if I am having a bad day and she will put them on the bus for me.  It's a no-lose scenario.

I have felt God leading me into another project.  I am putting together a "Joy in the Journey Resource Kit."  It's a compilation of scriptures, books, bible characters and lessons that have helped me through the suffering I have been through.  I continue to hear stories of people with medical conditions and diagnoses far worse than anything I could imagine.  Perhaps through my experience I could share with them some things that helped me cope.  It's just a few pages and I can mail it or e-mail it.  If you know of someone who might need this, please let me know.

And finally, I am trying really hard this month to focus on Jesus and not "Christmas."  It's hard to do.  I especially want my kids to understand this is about Jesus and nothing else.  Enjoy this month and don't let the stress of "Christmas" divert you from the real reason we should celebrate.