Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Missing Thanksgiving Memories

This Thanksgiving and holiday season have extra meaning to me. I am a very sentimental person about holidays and traditions. I hold memories as treasures in my mind and love pulling them out and fondly reflecting on them. But there is a gaping hole in my memory treasure chest. As it turns out, I have absolutely no recollection of Thanksgiving and Christmas from last year. I know I cooked, but I can't remember what we had. I know I decorated, but I don't remember doing it. I am certain I purchased gifts, but have no idea what I bought. I know full well that my calendar was filled with Hanging of the Green, parties, and church activities, but for the life of me I don't remember celebrating. It as if my body went through the motions, but my mind was elsewhere. It was a dark season in my life as I began sorting through the debris of an imploding life. The cancer bomb dropped and my mind apparently took shelter. The only thing I remember is sitting in rooms crowded with people and feeling very alone as I tried to sift through all the thoughts associated with a new diagnosis, surgery, and the great unknown.

Now if you're thinking, "Oh great, Anna. I was reading this for a little uplifting, not to get depressed." then hang in there, it's coming! You see, gratefully the story didn't end there in the rubble and for that I am so very thankful.  I learned that when I felt the most alone, I was never by myself. As I dug through that debris that was intended to destroy me, I found God in a way I had never known him before. People say that it is easy to trust God when things are good. I am telling you that it is easier to trust God when things are bad. Strange, I know, but it is true. There is something about being powerless that allows you to truly experience HIS power. For that, I give thanks for the year that knocked me to my knees.

In the disaster zone, I discovered new truths about the human condition. I learned the true depths of my family's love for me. I watched my parents desperately wish to trade places with me. (Something that I wouldn't have allowed, even if possible.)  They stood so strong for me in the face of fear. That made me stronger. For that I am thankful. I found my sisters rushing to my defense just like we always bonded together when we faced struggles as kids. They stood in the gap for me. For that I am thankful. My nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins and in-laws rallied around me; prayed for me; shaved their heads for me (not my aunts, wink, wink); gave me gifts as physical reminders that they were with me all the way. For that I am thankful. And then there was my sweet husband. Early in our relationship, Rodney lost his father and then his mother to cancer. I remember a short time later that one of our dogs had to be put to sleep because of cancer and Rod stood in the yard brokenhearted; sad that even his dogs got cancer. I begged God at that moment that I would never have to put him through more of that, but God works in mysterious ways. I know this year was so hard on him, but we learned cancer can have a different ending, and for that I am thankful. It was clearly proven that I could count on him and that he meant it when he said in sickness and health. In the debris, I found my marriage to be strong. For that I am so thankful. My boys had to walk a path every parent dreads, but along the way they learned some lessons. They learned that God answers prayers. For that I am thankful. They learned lessons about perseverance, kindness of others, joy in sadness, and the power of faith. For that I am thankful. In the refuse, I found the blessing of friends and community. As you prayed for us, fed us, gave to us is so many ways, we were blessed beyond all measure. The kindness and generosity of people was absolutely overwhelming and humbling. For that I am thankful.

As I write all this, I am choking back tears, but they are not the tears of memories lost, they are tears about the memories made. You see, the past year was not the destruction of a life, but the remodeling of a new one. It is a life built up by an amazing God, a wonderful family, and the blessing of friends and strangers who are willing to help a girl along. It has been a hard row to hoe, but I was blessed in every moment of it. And for that I am thankful!

I pray that you are reflecting on all that you have to be thankful for today. Don't overlook the blessings that are hidden in the refuse of hardship. They are there to be found in your life, just as they have been in mine. Sarah Young, author of Jesus Calling, said, "Thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity...There is an element of mystery in this transaction: You give Me thanks (regardless of your feelings), and I give you Joy (regardless of your circumstances). I bear witness to the power of that exchange.

I never thought that I would be thankful for the nuisance, but it was a backhanded blessing! For that I am thankful. For God I am thankful. For you, I am thankful! Now I better get to cooking. I have some celebrating to do!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Secrets of the Snow

I love snow days! The treadmill of life comes to a screeching halt as we find ourselves surrounded by snow and icicles. We release control in sweet surrender and snuggle in for the day. We don't have to feel guilty for our luxurious laziness since it is shared by all around us. What a gift! As I sit enjoying the silence of the snow, I am reminded of these things:

Small, but United
Isn't it amazing that something as small as a snowflake can change the course of our day? Of course it isn't just one snowflake, but the compilation of many. There is power in the accumulation! Each snowflake, individual in its own design, joins with others equally unique to change the landscape of the land. I love that. It reminds me that little things make a difference. It reminds me that there is power in unity.

In the Details
And let's talk about the individual design for a minute. How incredible is it that of all the flakes in my yard, no two are alike? Talk about attention to detail. I read that although possible, it is very unlikely for any two randomly selected snowflakes to appear exactly alike due to the many changes in temperature and humidity the crystal experiences during its fall to earth. Aren't we much like that? We are all made up of the same material, and yet turn out so differently based on our life experiences. I love it that we are so diverse. I love it that God pays attention to details!

Did you know that snowflakes aren't white? They are actually clear ice particles that reflect the full spectrum of color, therefore appearing white. It is the reflection that makes the appearance of pure white snow. That reminds me of a verse from Isaiah. "Come now, let us settle the matter," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." The reflection of Christ's sacrifice for my life,and my acceptance of that gift, changes the appearance of my sins in God's eyes. He no longer sees me as I am, but only the pure white reflection of his son. Thank you, Jesus!

Be Still
The snow has made me be still. Not of my choice, but certainly to my benefit. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10.  "He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes." Psalm 147:16. The snow today is from God and He can speak to you through it if you listen. While you are snuggled up today, listen for the sound of snowflakes. In their silence, God is speaking!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Impossible: Your stories

I love to start a lazy Saturday morning with a mug of Pumpkin Spice coffee and my computer. Quietly catching up on the news of the world and my Facebook friends usually gets my day off to a relaxing start, but today I found so much sadness. There were typhoons, murders, loss of loved ones, missing children, financial troubles, and all sorts of mayhem. I found myself thinking how sad the world has become and thinking how impossible it seems to overcome all the obstacles that exist. It made me remember a post I put on my Facebook page a few months ago. I posted this picture of ants and asked people to tell me about a struggle they had faced that had seemed to big to overcome. The responses were nothing short of inspirational--true stories of Overcomers.
Are you facing the impossible? Struggling beneath a burden that you don't think you are strong enough to bear? So were my friends. As you read their stories, watch for the commonalities. Their struggles were different, but their victories have a common thread. I am touched by their tales of triumph. They bring me hope! Read each one and be encouraged!

"What is something big that you never thought you could do, but then discovered you could?" Here are their unedited replies:

·         Be a parent to a difficult child!

·         Be away from my hubby for so long while I was in a different state helping with grandbabies.

·         Graduate high school.

·         Get my Masters degree in Education.

·         Getting a divorce and starting over by getting my Masters degree at the same time.

·         Many years ago, riding to the top of the Skylon Tower in a glass-enclosed exterior elevator so that my family could eat at the revolving restaurant looking over Niagra Falls.

·         Learning no matter what my childhood was or my chronic health issues are, I have a lot to offer and give and I am worth loving!

·         I went back to school after age 40, made straight As, and then ended up becoming a principal. All were totally God things!

·         Be blessed with the return of my voice after living almost a year without no more than a whisper. This blessing prompted my return to Wayland to complete my degree and I am now one six weeks into my eighteenth year of teaching second grade. Sure am thankful for God’s plans for me!

·         I didn’t think I could handle all of the business, family, and other issues that fell in my lap after my mom died, and it turned out that I really couldn’t handle all of those things- BUT GOD held my hand and handled all of it in such an amazing way!

·         Leading the Children’s Ministry at our church.

·         I buried my youngest child.

·         Walk again.

·         Find joy after a devastating year of burying my sister, a divorce and depression, with 2 babies to take care of and working full time. Jesus was, and still is my rock!

·         Being a single parent. I regret some decisions I made, but we both survived. God is good.

·         Raising a child with special needs. She and her sister are the joy of my life. I learn from her every day.

·         Learning to feel hope again after Jacob (son) died, knowing that God never left me and He did have great plans for me. He waited for me to stand up again and blessed me with two more children that I am thankful every day for.

·         I never thought I could live 11 months alone without my husband. I have learned to fix things in the house. I mow, weed eat, and edge the yard. I work my three jobs and take care of it all. When Michael passed away, I really did not think I could go on without him.

·         Having hope and faith to continue fertility treatment even after many losses and voices telling me to stop. And accepting I have no control. And somehow I was blessed with a miraculous gift that I do not deserve, nor do I take for granted.

·         Surviving the loss of my best friend and husband and the fear of living alone thanks to many colleagues, friends, family, and God’s love and faithfulness.

·         Staring a life on my own after a divorce of a 20 year marriage and learning to love and honor myself along the way. And best of all…falling in love all over again with Jesus.

·         Never thought I would be a very good mom. But I have two amazing adult children. I love them both so very much.

·         Single motherhood, and cancer top my list, but many times its is little things that my worry causes to feel like big things…every time He’s here…EVERY TIME! So blessed!

·         There is a list of bigger-than-me things God has enabled me through. Each one felt impossible. Each time HIS mercy proved greater than my fear. They’re part of my God-history…faith encouraging faith! I am so grateful!

·         I didn’t think I could carry on after my son Brynn was killed. But I knew my God was bigger than my problem. Ants carry things so much larger than their size and weight. But they don’t let that fact stop them because God created them to be achievers that overcome obstacles. Every day we are faced with some obstacle to overcome, whether it be small or large. Habits, conflicts, strife or death of our loved ones---God created us to be achievers as well. We just have to focus on Him and take his hand and walk on water (the impossible) with him.

·         This is not something I had to overcome, but I know God prepared me for. I had always been an exerciser, but never had done weight training. I kept being more and more convicted that I needed to be weight training. I hated the thought of it, but did it anyway and really liked it. After a while, I was asked to take on a ministry at our church of home repairs for those who couldn’t afford it. I would have to be on a roof for two days. I never got sore. I know I could never have done it if God hadn’t prepared me before hand for something I never imagined I would be doing.

·         Having a child in high school and not knowing what road to take for my future. Now I have a son in college who amazes me! I myself am going to get my masters! I have taken us down many paths, but God’s love never fails! I am blessed!
Let’s just say God has carried me more than I have walked! I have many blessings that have grown from those hard times, like watching my daughter go through chemo.

·         Being a single working mom with no family her and being able to raise my boys alone. God is with us every second, He protects us and blesses us beyond what I ever dreamed, but there are moments I feel like that ant.

·         WOW…I would have to say two divorces and starting over twice. Having threats on my life from the first divorce. Being a single mom with a daughter and having a virus that attacked my muscles then a stroke a month later that put me on food stamps with a 7th grader. That left me with a left sided weakness to deal with. With God’s help I kept pushing and went back to work. I was able to get a college degree. God is good!

Did you see it? Over and over the one thing that got them through was not their own strength, but God's. I am a personal testimony to that as well! The world is filled with impossibilities. We are faced with challenges that are way too big, but we don't have to do it alone. "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." Phillipians 4:14. "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." Romans 8:37 We can overcome because God gives us strength. Are you facing "The Impossible"?  The word alone reveals its lie. When you are faced with "The Impossible" read it this way, " I'm Possible". God can see you through!

 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make your path straight."
 Proverbs 3:5-6

Special thanks to: Kit Buckner, Connie Durhan, Jana Dulaney, Kenny Border, Anita Young, Cheryl McNight, Vicki Talafuse, Cindy Andrews, Sarah Masten, Mary Katherine Fairbanks, Renee Alley, Veronica Harris, Karen Caballero, Terri Nichols, Dana Davis, Cheri Ray, Leigh Corbin, Amanda Freeman, Edwina Townsend, Kristy Harrist, Becky Black, Brenda Lathan, Jane Furlow, D'Ann McGuire, Darla Stidham, Stacey Rogers, Linda Crisp
Thank you for sharing your victories!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Life Interrupted

Wednesday was a crazy day. My calendar was booked from beginning to end with no room for mistake, but mistakes happened! A presentation that a group of us had spent hours working on mysteriously disappeared from existence. Life Interrupted. In a day where there was no time, we scrambled to recreate that which was lost. Later in the day I was setting up a room divider. As I secured it in place, the tool whipped around and hit me right on the collarbone. The nurse feared it was fractured. Off to the doctor for me. Life Interrupted. My plans for the day evaporated as quickly as a mist. Do you have days like that?

As I sat in the doctors office waiting for my x-rays to be read, I thought of the phrase "Life Interrupted". I started to grumble in my mind about life being interrupted and then it was if someone hit me in the forehead (think V-8 commercial) with a new thought. The thought was this: The troubles that come along don't interrupt life, they are life. John 16:33 says, " I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." See, it is biblical. We will have troubles, they are part of life, not an exception to it.  Life is filled with ups and downs. It isn't just the good times that make up who we are, it is the annoying times as well. We aren't living only when life is smooth, but also when life is frustrating. I began to realize a few things about myself and about interruptions.

On Planning
I tend to think that because I can plan my calendar, I can plan my life. My first lesson was a reminder that none of us are truly in control of our lives. (You'd think I would know this by now!) We may try to plan our destiny, but sometimes there is a greater agenda. Proverbs 19:21 "Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." I may not always understand His purpose, but I don't have to fear it or fight it because, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11. On the calendar of life, I really must switch to pencil; for my plans are tentative upon a grander design.

On Power
I also recognized that (brace yourself, this will surprise some of you---not!) I am a bit of a control freak. I like to think that I am strong, independent, and in control. When things go beyond my control, I am not a happy camper. I get frustrated and anxious. That frustration leads to worry. "What about the meeting I am missing?"; "What about the cost?"; "How will I squeeze everything in now?"; "What about...?" Matthew 6:25-27  says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"  The main difference between me and a bird is that I think I am in control. In all reality, we are not so different (no bird-brain jokes here, please). Like God provides for the birds, he will provide for me. That provision comes even in, and sometimes through, life's interruptions. The power I have is a fa├žade. Worrying will add no time to my life or my day!

On Perception
 My final lesson was on perception. When something else comes along that wasn't in my plan, I perceive it as an interruption. I grumble about the unexpected throwing me off my path. I have a feeling that if I ever get to a point that I can perceive the "interruptions" as part of the plan that I won't struggle as much against them. If I can begin to somehow leave room for the unexpected in my mind, and trust that God will handle those things as they arise, I will not be as insulted when they occur. Rather than perceiving troubles as interruptions, I want to change my perceptions and view them as opportunities. Opportunities for growth, opportunities for God, opportunities for grace.

How about you? Have you experienced Life Interrupted? Does planning, power, and perception throw you off as well? How do you deal with it? Any other control freaks out there?  Pulitzer Prize winning author, Carl Sanburg, said, "Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me." Sometimes blessings come to life through the unexpected and unplanned-- You know, the interruptions!

  "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."
James 5:14

 I would love to hear the lessons you have learned on the topic. Leave your thoughts in the comments on my blog or on my Facebook.