My Wild Life

Briar Rose (a.k.a. Princess Aurora, Sleeping Beauty) lived hidden in the woods, and would sing to all of the birdies, and rodents, and forest creatures,

sleeping-beautyand they would sing along with her, and clean her house and sew her clothes.  Or maybe I have my Disney movies mixed up.  Whoever it was had some unusual friends and neighbors.

I don’t live in the woods, I can’t sing very well, and I hate rodents (who have never cleaned my house, or knitted me a sweater), but I can identify with Briar Rose’s turf.  This morning I was greeted with a loud ‘gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble’.  I looked out my window and saw a rather large turkey gawking at me.  He gobbled some more, and eventually flapped around and waddled away.  It’s not at all unusual to have to stop in the middle of our driveway to allow the herd of deer to cross.  A fox once terrorized my daughter as she parked her car behind our house.  And of course, there’s always bunnies, squirrels, raccoons, and an occasional skunk.  Birds build nests on our deck, or in our light fixtures, and sometimes at night I hear the hooo-ting of a hoot owl.

I know this is not so unusual, especially for Briar Rose, but my neighborhood is in the middle of a thriving community, not in some sylvan wonderland.

I got to wondering why all the wild life is migrating to our yard. I believe it’s because when the bulldozers and backhoes create havoc, replacing the woods with housing developments and shopping centers, the little critters have to go somewhere.  Their little lives get all topsy-turvey, and they become vulnerable as they wander into unknown territory.

I can identify with that scenario.  Sometimes things happen in our lives that turn us upside down, and force us out of our comfort zone.  I don’t like that.  Oh, I embrace SMALL changes to my environment… I love to rearrange furniture, to a fault.  Once, I moved the couch one night after my husband had gone to bed.  Later, in the middle of the night, I heard him yelp, after running into the couch, which wasn’t where it was “supposed” to be.  I heard him mutter something about not having his glasses on, and about “crazy Shanahan and his moving van”.

BIG changes to my environment, however, are not things I easily adapt to.  Empty bedrooms, and empty beds, do not define home improvement.  Big changes to my environment cause me to empathize with the little beasties in my yard, trying to find their place of rest.  Big, unwelcome changes to my environment bulldoze my haven, bury my treasures, and knock me down.

SeeingStarsAfter the stars quit buzzing about my head, and the fog clears a bit, I know that I have to get back up; I have to relocate from the place of despair to the neighborhood of hope, where belief in the goodness of God promotes my welfare and where dependance on the truth of His word nurtures confidence.

My wedding anniversary was this week.  What used to be a happy, delightful day has morphed into a remembrance of how my environment has been altered, and I’m still not used to it. It did, however, provide an opportunity to once again assess what I believe, and to choose to reconnect my heart to the promises of God.

One of those promises I cherish says that He will give me beauty for ashes, and the oil of joy for mourning.  Not just for my sake, but for His Glory. (Isaiah 61:3).  I’m relying on that.

(So next time you see me, you can tell me how beautiful, or oily, I look.)

Back to Sleeping Beauty.  When she got up, she was whisked away to live happily ever after.  But, in truth, she had faced some adversity in her young life. She was torn away from her family as an infant, had a contract out on her life, and suffered a coma after an attack by an evil witch.  Then her prince showed up and did battle for her soul.  As she rides off happily into the sunset, we tend to forget her trials and foes.

I think that is how God intends for us to view our lives.  We know we face some really difficult hurdles, heartbreaks, and things we are powerless to change.  Yet, we can trust in our Prince, and all of the power of His kingdom, to come and save us, to redeem the pain, and give us a different perspective.

Isaiah 61:3

To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.

The Trouble with Tribbles

Sometimes, I get bogged down by lots of little troubles.  They eventually seem to multiply and cloud my vision.

That kind of reminds me of one of my favorite Star Trek episodes.  Captain Kirkmccartney tribble was tricked into letting a visitor bring some ‘tribbles’ onto the Enterprise.  And soon, the tribbles were multiplying faster than they could count.  The tribbles were getting into the control panels and air ducts, and eating all the food. While not necessarily dangerous, they were a nuisance for sure.  Scottie finally got rid of them by beaming them over to an enemy ship.

Troubles are like that.  Especially lots of ‘little’ ones.  Dealing with them or even thinking about them can drain us of energy, joy and hope.  So, how do we beam them out into space so we can think clearly again??  One way is to practice being thankful.  I know that sounds trite, and you are probably rolling your eyes right now, but this is a reminder that intentionally being thankful for the things we do have can draw our focus away from obsessing over what we don’t have.

One morning a few days ago, I was being buffeted by thoughts of lots of little troubles.  My worrisome nature was actually feeding my anxious thoughts and they were multiplying.  I was not even remotely inspired to be thankful.

I do ‘devotions’ each morning in which I read from my Bible, and then read some inspirational messages on my Bible app. That morning, I read this from Max Lucado (it refers to “Joseph” from Genesis 41: 51,52*):

Choosing to Be Grateful

Gratitude doesn’t come naturally. Self-pity does. Bellyaches do. Grumbles and mumbles—no one has to remind us to offer them. Yet they don’t mix well with the kindness that we have been given. A spoonful of gratitude is all we need.

Joseph took more than a spoonful. He had cause to be ungrateful. Abandoned. Enslaved. Betrayed. Estranged. Yet try as we might to find tinges of bitterness, we don’t succeed. What we do discover, however, are two dramatic gestures of gratitude.

Most parents go to great effort to select the perfect name for their child. Joseph did. These were the days of abundance. God had rewarded Joseph with a place in Pharaoh’s court and a wife for his own home. The time had come to start a family. The young couple was reclining on the couch when he reached over and patted Asenath’s round, pregnant tummy. “I’ve been thinking about names for our baby.”

“Oh, Joey, how sweet. I have as well. In fact, I bought a name-your-baby book at the grocery store.” “You won’t need it. I already have the name.” “What is it?” “God Made Me Forget.” “If he made you forget, how can you name him?” “No, that is the name: God Made Me Forget.”

She gave him that look Egyptian wives always gave their Hebrew husbands. “God Made Me Forget? Every time I call my son I will say, ‘God Made Me Forget’?” She shook her head and tried it out. “‘It’s time for dinner, God Made Me Forget. Come in and wash your hands, God Made Me Forget. I don’t know Joseph. I was thinking something more like Tut or Ramses, or have you ever considered the name Max? It is a name reserved for special people.” “No, Asenath, my mind is made up. Each time my son’s name is spoken, God’s name will be praised. For God made me forget all the pain and hurt I experienced at the hands of my brothers. I want everyone to know—I want God to know—I am grateful.”

Apparently Mrs. Joseph warmed to the idea because at the birth of son number two, she and Joseph called him God Made Me Fruitful. One name honored God’s mercy; the other proclaimed his favor.

This reading made me laugh, and reminded me I needed to practice my thankfulness more often.  And, it lightened my load.

I think the word tribble is a combination of the words trouble, and fribble.  I imagine we all know the definition of trouble, but one meaning of fribble is to fritter away; waste.  I’m going to try to be a little less tribbleful, and a little more thankful.                                                                                       ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*Joseph’s story can be found in the book of Genesis, chapters 37-50. He named his older son Manasseh, which means“God has made me forget all my troubles”, and he named his second son Ephraim which means,“God has made me fruitful in this land of my grief.””

The excerpt is from “God Will See You Through”, You Version app.

What If…

What if Google

I’m a contingency kind of person.  I try to think ahead in situations, to anticipate what I might need to have or to do.  I think that probably came from traveling with small children, and trying to be prepared for anything.  Though I don’t travel all that much with small children any more, I still have that mind-set: What-if-it-ology.  What if it rains and we don’t have umbrellas? What if we have umbrellas but we really need rain ponchos?  What if we go to the Grand Canyon, and there’s a sniper on the loose, and we don’t have any snacks?  (Yep, that happened. And, we were hungry, and cranky.)

While I know some preparation is good, sometimes I think I need to ease up a little and try to not forecast all of the possible outcomes.  Because often, my contingency thinking draws me into awfulizing. The what ifs become nasty.  What if the car breaks down?  What if someone steals our stuff?  What if we go to the Grand Canyon, and there’s a sniper on the loose, and we don’t have any snacks?  There is a fine line between being prepared, and being fearful.  So, what is the antidote for fear?

I was reading my Bible the other morning.  The passage was about Abraham, when he was “a very old man, and the Lord had blessed him in every way.” Abraham commissioned his trusted, oldest servant to travel to his home town to get a wife for his son, Isaac. To seal the deal, Abraham told his servant to put a hand under his thigh.  I figured that was an odd custom of the day, so I googled it.  One explanation was that allowing someone to sit on one’s hand indicated submission to a greater authority, a trust in their leadership.

So, the servant submitted himself to his master’s directions, but a few moments later, like me, he started in on the what ifs. What if she won’t come? Then what??  Basically, Abraham told him not to worry, but to trust God to work it out. And if it didn’t go according to the plan, then there was a reason and the servant would be released from his oath. The man got everything ready for the trip.  He considered the possible contingencies and packed accordingly, taking ten camels, a couple of gold bracelets, a gold nose ring, lots of expensive trinkets, and of course, snacks.  When he arrived at his appointed destination, he stopped, and he prayed.  He didn’t pray that he would be successful to get kudos for a job well-done, but he asked God to demonstrate His love for Abraham by leading him to the right girl.

God marvelously answered his prayer, just as he’d asked, and by the next day, they were on their way back to Canaan (and she loved the nose ring).  Mission complete.

As I thought about what I’d read, I realized that the servant had just demonstrated trust.  He trusted his master’s judgment without necessarily understanding why, allowing that Abraham knew more about the situation than he did.  He submitted himself to Abraham’s authority, without the answers to all the what ifs.  He believed that God would answer his prayer because he believed God loved Abraham, he knew God had given Abraham a promise, and he knew that Abraham trusted God’s character.  The servant, very likely witnessed the ways that God had proved Himself to Abraham over the many years of his life.

So, the antidote for fear is trust.  The answer to unanswered questions is trust.  The balm for a broken heart is trust.  But the trust has to be placed in someone absolutely trustworthy, omniscient, and all mighty.  I can trust in God, because He is all that.  I can trust Him, because He loves me.  I can trust Him because He knows more than me.  I can trust Him because I have come to know His character, and have seen His Goodness at work countless times in my own life.

What if I never know the answer to my questions?  What if my prayers aren’t answered as I wish them to be?  What if someone I love dies?

I have found that the only way I can get out of bed every morning is having the same resolve Abraham’s servant had.  Even when I don’t like the things that happen.  I ask God to sit on my hand, and I choose to trust Him,

Endless Love

At this time of the year, many people are thinking about… love.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, the day we celebrate… love.

I read an article that posted the “Top 50 Love Songs of All Time“.  I was surprised to find out that of the 50 most popular ‘love’ songs, only 7 were from this century.  What’s that about?  Have we lost that lovin feeling? No more power of love?  Won’t love keep us together?

For a while, my husband and I led a group at our church designed to foster relationships, primarily with married/engaged couples.  Occasionally, starry-eyed couples, ready to embark on that journey called marital bliss, would come to us and ask, “what is the one most important thing for a marriage to thrive”?  Truly, we didn’t have a lot of expertise, but we had experience. And so we would share the one thing we believed necessary for a good relationship: love.

Not attraction, not chemistry, not affection, not animal magnetism, not warm fuzzy feelings — although all of those things are nice and may be part of the package, they aren’t found in the definition of love.

Many years ago, after we had dated a while, Bruce asked me to marry him.  To me, that meant having him as my husband, helping me, taking care of me, making me laugh, traveling with me, keeping me company, counseling me, loving me.  My ideas of marriage were based on what I would get, how my life would be enriched by adding him to it.  Fortunately, that engagement didn’t last.

We broke up. After almost a year apart, I still wanted him, so much that I was willing to give anything to make that happen. And that was the key.  For a life-long marriage relationship to flourish, we have to give.  I had finally reached the understanding that I wanted to be his wife, not just have him as my husband.  I discovered that this meant putting him first, considering his well-being over my own, wanting the best for him, because I loved him.  That next engagement did last, for 35 years.

When I was growing up, my mom would sometimes say, “T’is better to give than to receive”.  I would roll my eyes, thinking I probably wasn’t going to get that pony on my Christmas list.  She didn’t say “T’is” very often either, so that made it even more memorable.  But now that I’m all grown up, and then some, I would truly agree that I get so much more pleasure giving someone a special gift than I do from getting one.  Most of the time.

So in response to the starry-eyed lovers, we would reply… Put each other first. Give them your best, as best you can.  They, of course, would nod and smile, and cuddle as they walked away, thinking how easy that was. When you are trying to ‘win’ someone’s affections, you do that anyway.  Time and familiarity can erode that incentive.  The truth is, it’s not easy.  Because humankind is basically self-centered, we have to change our attitude, re-direct our motivations and overcome our ‘self’. This doesn’t come naturally. ‘Survival of the fittest’ is not a mantra for a happy marriage, or for any relationship.

The ultimate definition of love is found in 1 Corinthians 13, parts of which are probably familiar to many people.  One versions of it says: Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Doesn’t force itself on others. Isn’t always “me first.” Doesn’t fly off the handle. Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others. Puts up with anything. Trusts God always. Always looks for the best. Never looks back. But keeps going to the end.

Maybe reading that makes you think, “Yeah! That’s what I want!  Bring me that person!”   The key to getting that person is being that person.  Give that kind of love.

You probably won’t find that message in the ‘Top 50 Love Songs of All Time’. gibbons Yet, I don’t think anyone would admit to being a self-centered sweetheart, either.  You wouldn’t hear the Partridge Family singing, “I think I love me“, or Stevie Wonder crooning, “I just called to say I love me“.  The Beatles wouldn’t have shouted, “I love me, yeah, yeah, yeah,” and the Teddy Bears wouldn’t have been on the charts for weeks with “To know, know, kno-ow me is to love, love, lo-ove me, and I do.”

If we get it right, if we can master giving love to one another, love will keep us together.

And The Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day

As I sit and write this, it’s another cloudy, grey day in Pittsburgh.  There’s something about cloud cover that can bring me down.  Not the fluffy, white cotton balls that dot the blue sky and spark imagination on a sunny day. It’s the monotone, grey blanket that shrouds the pretty blue, stifles possibilities, and can accentuate discouragement.

Discouragement.  That’s a yukky thing.

Though I can be Discouragement’s pal every now and then, I know that it is not something that God wants for us.  Just doing a quick word search in my Bible, I found 19 references to God directing his mighty men and women to NOT be discouraged.  There are even more references to God telling them to be courageous, to have courage.  Having courage does not only mean to be brave, but also means having determination and strength of spirit, confidence.  It means to be encouraged.

I love to be around people who are encouragers.  They speak life. They impart courage to step out into our destiny.  They kindle a spark of hope that ignites a forgotten dream.  They bring blue skies and scatter the cloud cover.

My husband, Bruce, was an encourager.  It was a genuine gift he gave to others.  When he embraced this gift, he flourished, and so did those around him.  Many years ago, he had taken one of those personality tests that tells what Biblical character you most resemble.  He was honestly depressed because he wanted to be Joshua, a great leader and mighty warrior.

He was Barnabas.

Barnabas’ given name was Joseph, who lived around the same time as Jesus. His friends gave him the handle, Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement”.  It was a complement, of course, and Barnabas was a key player in the early church.

Bruce took the test again, several months later, maybe hoping that he might get a different result, and be Caleb, or David. He was still Barnabas. I’m very glad about that, and ultimately he was, too, and seized his destiny.  I still hear often from people who were blessed in unique ways by his encouragement.

There sure are enough things around us to bring us down.  Deer and Antelpe playLet’s take the
counsel from the Old Testament and breathe courage into one another and whoosh that cloud cover away. That doesn’t require false complements or pie-in-the-sky hope. Just the effort to look for good things instead of bad.

It’s not coincidence that so many songs bemoan the grey skies, yet delight when those blue skies are smilin’ at me.

I read a book many years ago (Hide or Seek, James Dobson) that spoke of the importance of purposefully and consistently building our children’s self-esteem and confidence with our words and actions.

Our inner circle of friends and our homes should be areas where seldom is heard a discouraging word…

Things My Husband Taught Me (Part 2)

In addition to encouraging me, helping me and being my biggest fan, my husband was a fun, and funny, guy. He brought out the zaney in me.

We found that life can be just a little bit less complicated if you…

“Never take yourself too seriously.”

This adage was always something paramount with Bruce.  His sense of humor was one of the things that drew me to him early in our relationship.  On our first date, he bought us ice cream cones, and I fell for the old, “this ice cream smells funny…” routine.  With great concern, I smelled his ice cream, only to have him smash in my nose.  Fortunately, we both thought it was funny (um.. the first time), and I did agree to go out with him again. He prized my “high JTA” (Joke-Taking Ability).

Our family vacations were never boring.  Once while having dinner in a Colorado Springs restaurant, we all ordered our meals singing like opera singers to our waiter (and he sang right back to us!).  Another time, we spent the day as “The Billy Goat Family”… no kidding.  Another time, we were in a restaurant, and when the waitress came, we kept addressing an empty chair at our table as Raymond.  The waitress brought him an iced tea. She got a big tip.

SNGBruce often looked for humor in situations to try to lighten the load.  This was a great insight for a man surrounded by a house full of females (even our dog was a girl).  It sets the stage for patience and forbearance with a myriad of emotions and thought processes that a man may not even begin to understand.  With this flexible attitude, it makes it easier to not overreact, and to wait for things to play out before jumping in.

Bruce always treated our daughters with great love and compassion, but cautioned them not to get too caught up in the drama.  While many men, when confronted with daughters’ tears and emotional moments, would turn to their wives to ‘handle’ the situation, Bruce made himself available with a listening ear, a strong shoulder, and a wise, Godly perspective.

Of course, all of our daughters learned first-hand “this ice cream smells funny” trick, too, and they took up the heritage.  I’ll never forget the awe-struck expression on my father-in-law’s whipped-cream-laden face after our oldest daughter ‘got him’ (apparently he was the one to teach the trick to Bruce).   This zest for seeing the humor in things was passed on to our girls, and they are also some of the funniest people I know (for example… Masochist Mama).

And,,, no one could make me laugh the way Bruce could.  I really miss that.

Things My Husband Taught Me (Part 1)

So, I’m writing a book.

I’m about half-way finished with it.  From time to time, I imagine I will be posting snippets here from that book. Basically, it’s a book about the journey of the past two years, and my hope is to honor my husband and to give glory to God, without being boring.

One of the chapters deals with things my husband ‘taught’ me.  Often I hear him as the voice in my head, recounting things he had spoken as words of advice, or caution, or encouragement.  Some of these things are very personal, and some, I believe, merit sharing.  They were gleaned through the eyes of adversity, sorrow, joy, delight, and a long road of learning and growing in a personal knowledge of God.  Most are not profound, or new, but they became the mantras for our family life.

“Choosing one thing, means not choosing something else.”indiana jones

I’m a big SciFi fan, so I have a grasp of the notion of alternate realities, and parallel universes.  I’m not saying those things are real, or that I even understand the physics behind the theories, but it is kind of obvious that if you choose to go one place, or to do one thing, you eliminate the possibility of going somewhere else at that moment or doing something different at that time.

If we choose to marry one person, we don’t marry another; if we choose to go to Idaho for our vacation, we choose not to go to Texas.  That’s not to say we cannot do some of those other things later, but it means that the choices of each moment affect what happens next.  If we miss our flight to one place, it may mean we miss the connecting flight to somewhere else.

That same idea was made clearer to me as a result of Bruce’s death.  I was left behind, shell-shocked, broken-hearted and wondering where God was in all of this. I could think of a lot of other scenarios that, in my mind, would have given God more Glory – witnessing His healing power sure would have been one of them.  I told the doctors and hospital staff that I was believing for a miracle.  I was faced with two choices, really: to trust in the Sovereignty of God… or not.

Before this accident, I would have staunchly stood upon my ‘soap box’ and told you that I totally trusted God and His will for my life.  That trust had already been tested and purified many times in my life.  But this test, was almost beyond me.  One morning, as I sat and read my Bible, and feebly tried to pray, I realized that I had to actively make that choice once more.  I had to consciously and without reservation reaffirm that I do trust God, that I trust His thoughts really are bigger than my thoughts, His ways are always right, and that He is God and I am not.

Philippians 4:7 says, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  I used to think that meant that in troubling times, God’s peace would be so miraculously great that I wouldn’t understand how I could be at peace .  I have come to know that a parallel meaning to that verse is: I will find peace in knowing that God is sovereign, even when I don’t understand what He is doing or why.  Because I make the choice to trust God, I am choosing not to trust my emotions or limited understanding.

I am grateful that Bruce chose me for his wife, and that I chose him for my husband.  Looking back upon our dating relationship, I realize there were strategic moments in time that scenario could have changed if even one or two variables were put into play.

Likewise, Bruce often told our daughters to choose their friends wisely.  He was a friendly, outgoing man, and recommended being friendly and accepting of others.   But he also told our girls to choose their inner circle of friends carefully, because those people will be the ones who speak into your life.  They will either build you up or drag you down. They will either propel you toward your destiny, or keep you from it. They will bring out the best in you. That advice has served them well.

Bruce had a gift of encouragement.  He was a big part of my destiny, and even now, his voice in my head encourages me to go on.  And, he always wanted me to write a book.