Saturday, December 28, 2013

Created to Be Happy

Have you ever taken time to watch the squirrels or the birds as they go about their daily business? They're busy, but as best I can tell, they're happy and content. The squirrels don't sit up in the trees and mope because they didn't like what they had for breakfast. The birds don't fuss about how much work it is to care for their babies or complain when it's raining. Watching these critters, I have been impressed time and again by their innate happiness. Even losing one of their family members does not dampen their spirit for long. Could these simple creatures hold a secret to happiness that the rest of us have been looking for? I believe they do, and it starts with God and His creation work.

When God created the animals, He gave each species a unique place in the world. No two species were exactly alike. Birds fly and fish swim because God created them to do that. If a bird had no wings, it would still try to fly because of instinct. However, God did not create birds without wings because that would be cruel. He gave them nice big wings, as well as hollow bones to make their bodies lightweight and better suited for flying. God knows birds will be happiest doing what they were created for, so in kindness, He gave them the means to do it. In short, He created them to be happy. Seeing their happiness must bring God pleasure and glory, for it bears witness to His kind nature. (See Romans 1:20)

If God created the birds with such care, would He not also have endowed each of us with the attributes we need so we can be who we were intended to be? Does it not make sense for God to create a lumberjack with physical strength, a company executive with a quick mind, and a mother with a sensitive heart? What then is wrong? Why do we not find the same contentment within ourselves that we see in the animals?

The answer lies in a key difference between animals and people: the ability to choose. Animals can't choose who they want to be; their behavior is hardwired into them. But we need to choose. We must choose to seek out God's will. We must choose to submit our personality, our mind, and our physical body to our Creator's direction. If we do, I believe we will find the same contentment the animals have; only ours will be better, for we will walk in communion with God Himself.

But how can we submit to God without losing our individual personality? If we let God call the shots, won't we become mindless robots?

No, we won't. Following God is not about being brainwashed. It's not about becoming a carbon copy of someone else. It's about discovering the unique person God created you to be. It's about uncovering all the special attributes He placed within you from the beginning and learning what they're really for. God does not want to change your personality, for He gave it to you for a good reason. The trouble is, we have abused His gift. We have taken what God gave us and used it to serve our own sinful desires. We have used it to do whatever we want. Our misuse damages God's gift. Through sin, our minds, our personalities, and our emotions become twisted and warped. We can't fix them, but we can repent of going our own way and abusing them, and ask God to repair them so they can be used for good.

Romans 6:13 (TLB) says, "Do not let any part of your bodies become tools of wickedness, to be used for sinning, but give yourselves completely to God -- every part of you -- for you are back from death and you want to be tools in the hands of God, to be used for his good purposes."

God wants to free us from our slavery to a life we were not created for (a life of sin, a life of doing things our way), and release us to live the fulfilling life He had in mind when He created us. In John 10:10, Jesus says, "The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly." Living life our way always leads to death, in some form. Living life God's way leads to life and peace. (Romans 8:6)

It all comes down to a choice. We can go on doing life our way, and misusing the gifts God gave us, or we can come to Jesus, admit we've been wrong, and accept His forgiveness and start discovering the life He created us to live. God wants so badly for us to come to Him and find that life. Listen to His words through Moses in  Deuteronomy 30:19-20: "I have set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Oh that you would choose life, that you and your children might live! Choose to love the Lord your God and to obey him and to cling to him, for he is your life and the length of your days."

If we learn to trust God and yield to His guidance in our everyday lives, we will tap into a powerful truth the rest of creation already knows -- God did indeed create us to be happy!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Neatness: Does It Really Matter?

I finally got done putting together the "media kit" to help market my book. So now I get to write whatever I want again. Being a random person, and not a very neat one (unfortunately), I thought I'd take this subject on.

Recently I read an article about a rehabilitation center in Vermont that works with women addicted to heroin. (Believe it or not, heroin is a big problem out there.) Among other things, the rehab center expects the women to follow a schedule and keep their clothes hung up and their belongings neatly put away. Another institution I visited recently requires those living there to shower every morning and clean their rooms daily. Rules like these make up the basic framework of any rehab program.

My question is, why? Why the emphasis on cleanliness and order? Is it really that important? Can't a person live a successful life despite a messy bedroom or an arbitrary bedtime?

Maybe not. Maybe Mom and Dad were right after all. Think about it -- if you can't follow a schedule, how hard will it be to get yourself to work on time? And how well can you treat your spouse and family when you're exhausted or crabby from lack of sleep? Or when you're rushing out the door five minutes late?

If you can't exercise the brain power to pick up your living room (I know, it can take a lot) or the self-control to mop the floor, how do you know you'll be able to train your children, run a business, or control your credit card spending?

All of this reminds me of the words of Jesus in Luke16:10: "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much."

If you're living a successful life despite having never learned to keep a schedule, take showers, and pick up after yourself, congratulations. Personally, I can't do it.

When the disorder in my life reaches critical proportions, I sense my control over myself and my life is slipping. I have to do something, because I know what will come next -- depression, followed by increasing disorder and a host of ugly temptations. What do I do? I start by resisting all distractions and making my bed. Including smoothing out all the wrinkles. It only takes two or three minutes, and by the time I'm done, I'm feeling better. Then I comb my hair, pick up my bedroom, and go on doing seemingly unimportant, pesky little chores until my life is under control again. It's a simple approach, it doesn't take a lot of time, and it always works for me.

I think Dad was right after all. Order and cleanliness IS important, whether you're a recovering addict in a rehab program, or just an ordinary person learning to balance priorities. Take a few minutes every day to maintain a foundation of order in your house and your life, upon which you can build successful relationships and everything else you need in life. It will be time well spent!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Butterfly Tales

It's that time of year again when monarch butterflies lay their eggs on my red swamp milkweed. That would be fine, except the plants are in pots, for sale at our nursery. The little striped caterpillars aren't content staying invisible, eating the lower leaves; they want the flowers. So do the black solitary wasps, the butterflies, the bees, and the customers. Last year, the fight over who got the flowers grew intense. The caterpillars got the bad end of it. They all started dying.

I felt bad about it. I love butterflies, even though their offspring do eat my plants. So, armed with ice cream buckets and screen covers, I began kidnapping the baby caterpillars. They did well in the buckets. Within a few weeks, I had big orange butterflies. It was a lot of fun, and only cost me a few minutes a day. So when the season ended, I stashed the buckets in the back room to use again.

Butterflies of all kinds seem scarcer this summer. But the swamp milkweed remains popular, like a singles bar where lonely butterflies can hang out and sip nectar until they find a mate. Sometimes it's a long wait. One monarch grew so desperate he started chasing a great spangled fritillary. Later on, he must have found a proper mate, because shortly after that, I found my first monarch caterpillar. Out came the bucket again.
One of last year's butterflies prepares to take his first flight
That first caterpillar was soon joined by three others. What a hungry bunch they were! They seemed to know instinctively that the summer is ending and they must grow as fast as possible. The three bigger ones have now made chrysalises; a fourth will follow suit in a few days. I can't wait to balance the newborn butterflies on my finger and watch them take their first flight.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Memories of my friend Polly

On June 15, 2013, my beautiful and inspiring friend, Polly Sharp, passed on to heaven at the age of 95. Though I miss her, I have to smile too, picturing her unbridled joy as she meets her Savior face-to-face!

Polly never let old age get her down. A few years ago, she still listed hiking as one of her hobbies. She drove her little blue car, nicknamed "Missy Blue," at teenager speed. Even a few weeks ago, she was talking about growing strawberries again. I never felt like I was hanging out with an "old" person when I was with Polly. One night as we were leaving writer's guild (which we attended together), Polly broke out in this wild whoop. When I asked her why, she said, "You won the contest!" Well, yes I had, and I was happy about it, but she was beside herself! That was Polly -- always thinking about other people. Maybe that's why she was such a joyful person.

Polly had a great sense of humor, was constantly making friends, and wasn't afraid to take on new projects. At the age of 94, she wrote, illustrated, and published a children's book (her first). I am so proud of her! So many other people would have made excuses that they were too old or might die before they could finish such a huge undertaking, but not Polly! She told me, "As long as I'm still here, there must be something God wants me to do."

What I remember most about Polly is her cheerful smile. Polly was the most upbeat person I've ever known. She had plenty of physical limitations that she could have complained about had she wanted to, but she wasn't that sort of person. Polly loved life and the people in her life, and it showed in her face and her attitude. All of us who knew her got to see a bit of Jesus.

May God bless you, Polly, for being my friend and for being a true inspiration and a reflection of Jesus.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Do You Feel Unworthy?

Do you feel, deep inside, that nothing good will ever happen to you? That you are somehow excluded from the best of God's blessings? Do you feel unworthy, broken, ashamed, second-rate? Do you feel that even though your sins have been forgiven by God, you don't deserve joy, happiness, or a close, loving relationship with God? I know I do a lot of the time. Come along with me and meet a man who might have felt the same way: the prodigal son in Jesus' parable in Luke 15.

He says, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men." Luke 15:18-19

If you're familiar with this story, you know the father (who portrays God) didn't listen to his son's declaration of unworthiness; he went right ahead and welcomed him back with great affection and joy. The boy was fully reconciled to his father and even closer to him than before. This is a wonderful picture of how God receives us back from our own wanderings in sin.

But what if the son had resisted his father's shower of love and acceptance? Let's rewrite the story a little and see what happens.

The son leaves the pigpen and returns home to his father. While he is still a long way off, his father sees him, and feeling compassion for him, he runs to embrace and kiss him. But the son backs away, saying, "Father, I have sinned and I am not worthy to be called your son. Let me be as one of your hired men." 

Without waiting for a response, he runs for the machinery shed, where he hides in the corner. He didn't look into his father's face back there on the road, didn't hear his exclamation of joy at his return, didn't wait for his embrace and kiss -- he just blurted out his pitiful confession and ran to the shed.

The father pleads with the son to come out of the shed; to come up to the feast at the house; to let him clothe him in the best robe and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet and reinstate him as his beloved son, but the son will have none of it. He feels too ashamed, too unworthy. He's content just to have a roof over his head and a plate of cold scraps to eat. It's all he deserves. He says, "Father, I know you forgive me. I'm so happy you forgive me and you're not going to judge me, and I'm happy to work for you in the fields. But I'm such a big sinner. I'm not worthy to be your son. I'll just stay out here and live like a hired man."

The son has not received his father's full forgiveness. He has not been fully reconciled. And the father's heart aches. His son has returned, yet he has not. They have no relationship. The son remains distant and afraid, endlessly trying to pay for the wrongs the father has already forgiven. He cannot bring himself to receive something he doesn't deserve, and his deep inner need for love remains unmet. And he won't reach out for love and deeper forgiveness, because he feels too unworthy.

Are you hiding in the shed in some area of your life? Believe the words of God about the completeness of Jesus' sacrifice and His forgiveness toward you, and dare to step forth and start receiving the wonderful gifts your Father desperately wants to give you. Dare to glance into the face of your Father and see the expression of love there. Let yourself imagine a life in which you have nothing to be ashamed of, in which you are worthy and can freely receive every blessing God has for you. 

It's really true. If you've put your trust in Jesus to save you from your sins, you ARE worthy. Your sins are GONE. As it says in I John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

If you're forgiven, you have nothing to be ashamed of. God has placed within you something holy, something worthy, something worth loving and respecting and listening to. You have true value, because when God forgave your sins, He also took away the old, bad person you were, the sinner that wasn't worthy of anything but judgment, and He replaced him with a new, holy person, one that has His nature, one that is worthy and capable of receiving His blessings. 

"Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God." 2 Cor. 5:17-18a

Let's come out of the shed; the Father has waited long enough.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

One blog, two URL's

So last night I decided I didn't like the URL on my blog (that's the web address you have to type in to get here) and I changed it. Blogger was okay with that. But then, like the dangerously indecisive person I am, I decided I didn't like the new URL half as much as the old one. I clicked on an old link for my blog this evening and turned up a blank page with a message that the blog at mychroniclesofhope didn't exist anymore, and that the address was not available for new blogs. However, once I located my errant blog, I discovered I could change the URL back! So now I have TWO URL's permanently available to my blog, giving me the freedom to make my blog instantly disappear whenever I please :) I could add a couple more and make a "bouncing blog" that's never accessible when you try. So be nice to me on here, or you might not see my blog again for awhile!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Publishing acceptance leads to excitement, worry

It's been almost a week since my publisher called and said he'd like to publish my book. No more rewriting! I was ecstatic... until worry set in. It always does. When unexpected or scary things happen, I automatically stay up late and wake up early so I can mull over all the "what if's." Not that worrying helps anything; on the contrary, it casts a great deal of confusion over everything just when I most need to make good decisions.

After losing sleep and declaring myself a professional worrier, I think I'm finally getting used to the idea of getting published. I think it's going to be fun. I'm not even sure what had me so terribly worried. Although, come to think of it, I have no idea what I'm going to do with myself next winter. Further editing of this book will be out of the question by then. It's definitely time I started worrying about that.

Or perhaps it's time I learn better ways of dealing with the unknown. As it says in the Scriptures, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Philippians 4:6 Sounds like a much better option to me!

Friday, March 29, 2013


 Slaying boxelder bugs while sitting on the couch wasting my evening. I should write, but I’m too sick and too tired. I should go to bed, but I’m too responsible. The dog is supposed to go out at eleven and it’s only ten thirty… thus, I am forced to continue the time-wasting scene a little longer. 
Yes, the bugs. There are four dead now. Another is buzzing around but hasn’t come within my reach yet. All said, maybe I should go to bed anyway. Someone else might be willing to put Daisy out for me.