Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Little Things

Sometimes it's the little things in life that are the sweetest things of all. All those little blessings that we take for granted or overlook in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

I've been working for a little over a year now with a teenage girl who had severe reading difficulties. Last February, right after we started working, she was so excited because she read an entire book. It was a kindergarten short vowel words book, but it was the first book she'd ever read all by herself before. Very sad.

She's made progress by leaps and bounds since then, and we're now reading Anne of Green Gables. It's a bit of a challenge but she's doing quite well, and to jump from a short vowel book to Anne of Green Gables in just over a year is absolutely astonishing.

So anyhow, back to my little story -- I picked her up from school the other day and the weather was just so beautiful, so warm and sunny and springlike, that when we arrived at the library where we usually hold our tutoring sessions, I spied a large tree out in the middle of the grassy lawn beside the library, and suggested we go sit under that tree today. She was all for it, so we took our book out and read it under this tree.

While she was reading, I sensed someone coming and looked up to see an older woman walking by on the sidewalk nearby. She looked over at us, and smiled in such a way as to imply that it looked like such a nice thing to be curled up under a tree with a good book.

Had it not been for that woman's smile, I would have totally missed how blessed I was, but thanks to her, I was suddenly overcome with just how fortunate I was to be living in that moment. There I sat, on a gorgeous sunny spring day, under a big oak tree, with a child I adored who simply drinks in knowledge, sharing the enchanting joy of a much beloved book.

How much more precious could a moment be? I'm so glad I didn't miss it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

One Day at a Time

I'm a planner. I like to know what the future holds. I like it when things are predictable and routine. Not to say that I'm inflexible or that I can't be spontaneous -- I enjoy surprises as much as the next person, as long as they're good surprises. :) But when it comes to major life issues, I get really edgy when I'm not sure how things are going to pan out.

So you can imagine my battles with anxiety when my entire life is tossed up in the air and I have no idea when or where it's all going to come down. Right now, that's where I'm at. I know I'm probably moving, but I'm not sure when that's going to happen, nor am I sure exactly where. I know my job is changing to some extent, but it's anyone's guess as to how the issues with the agency I contract from are going to turn out. They could be little changes or big ones. And if they're very big, it's most likely going to mean that I need to seek a different employment situation altogether. And that, of course, ties into when and where I'm moving. And will the house sell? Will it sell fast or slow? What if I have to take a job elsewhere before it sells? Or what if I sell it too soon and I have nowhere to live here before I find a job elsewhere? All these questions and unknowns are totally stressing out this planning mind!!!!

I have to constantly remind myself that although I don't know what the plan is, God knows the plans He has for me, and they are plans to prosper me, and to give me hope, and a future. When I get anxious about all the decisions that have to be made, and the waiting that has to occur in the meantime, I keep reminding myself God is in control of the whole thing, He already knows how it's going to pan out, and I can trust Him that He'll work it all out for good.

But I still hate not knowing.

When discussing how to seek the will of God in matters such as these, I often hear people complain that if only we had the benefit of the Israelites in the wilderness -- the cloud by day and the fire by night. Why, how easy it would be to follow God's will if it were that cut and dried. But would it really be so much easier?

I don't think we cut those poor Israelites enough slack. We judge them far too harshly. I really don't know that we would have made any better decisions than they did if we were in their places.

I was listening to the book of Numbers this morning as I was getting dressed, and the following passage really spoke to me concerning my current situation.

Numbers 9:19-23

When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord's order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord's command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the Lord's command they encamped, and at the Lord's command they set out. They obeyed the Lord's order, in accordance with his command through Moses.

I put myself in those Israelites' sandals as I heard these verses read. For two days, or a month, or a YEAR? Can you imagine? You're following this cloud, and it stops. You have no idea if you're going to be picking up and leaving again come morning, or if you might be stopping here for a few days, or you might be living here for the next year!! You have no way to plan anything. Do you unpack your things and settle in? How long do you live out of your "suitcases" expecting to be leaving the next morning before you decide you must be staying here for awhile and unload everything? How do you set up playdates for your kids and dinners with your friends when you have no idea if you'll be on the road again? I would find such a life so totally frustrating and would be anxious all the time. And can you imagine after a few months goes by? Good grief, God, I thought you were taking us to some Promised Land and here you're leaving us stuck out here in the wilderness for months -- are we EVER going to get anywhere? Or for those who were among the "over 20" set who knew they weren't going to make it to the Promised Land, EVER, what must they have thought? They probably loved staying in one place for a year -- and dreaded seeing that cloud moving them onward. Onward to where? Why must we pack up our things and move when You've already told us we don't get to enter the Promised Land anyway? Why can't we just settle somewhere else and stay put?

No, I don't envy the Israelites, and I don't know that I could have been as obedient as they were in this order. I might have obeyed it but I certainly wouldn't have had a good attitude about it!!

So anyway. I guess God wants me to take a lesson from the Israelites today and live day by day, waiting for His leading, and trust that He will get me to my Promised Land in His good timing. I have absolutely no reason to be anxious if I truly believe what I say I believe. And so I will remind myself each morning to look for the cloud to see if it's moving, and not worry about where tomorrow's cloud might take me, but just keep following today. I only hope I can be as obedient as the Israelites in this particular matter... :)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bad Habits, Hungry Children in Africa, and Other Odds and Ends

So back in February when I was doing all the Compassion blogging, I mentioned that there was a teenager in Uganda I had my eye on and was hoping someone would sponsor him. I never followed up on that comment.

Somebody sponsored him. I did. You see, four sponsored kids was a stretch. I just really didn't feel comfortable sponsoring a fifth child. It's not like another charity where if you find yourself in over your head, you just call a phone number and reduce or discontinue your donation. There's a real child on the other end here! I knew if I decided to sponsor a fifth child, I had to commit to continue that support until the child exits the program. Yes, Compassion does allow you to discontinue your sponsorship if you should need to do so, and they will look for a new sponsor for your child and they won't be dropped from the program, but I personally could just never do that to a child.

Well, young Milton was really on my heart for a couple of weeks. I really felt God was leading me to sponsor him, but at the same time, I knew the money to do so simply wasn't there. I've heard many a sermon about going out on a limb and trusting God to supply the need and all of that, but to act on it? Well, that was scary.

In a ministry team meeting a few weeks previously, it had been shared that the money Americans spend on ice cream in a year is nearly three times the amount it would take to supply enough food to everyone in the world (this amount being in addition to what is already being given), and nearly twice the amount it would take to supply not only food, but also clean water and health care to the entire world. (again, the additional amount needed to meet these needs)

It really convicted me -- that's just ice cream! How much other trivial stuff do we spend money on every day? If we just gave up HALF our ice cream intake each year and gave that money to these causes, everyone in the world could have enough to eat, clean water, and health care!? That is just mind-blowing.

So as I became convinced that God definitely wanted me to sponsor Milton, and convicted regarding the ice cream statistics, I made the connection between the two and realized that what I was being asked to do was to give up something I currently was spending approximately $32 a month on and give that money to sponsor Milton instead. The money would thus be supplied. I really put a lot of thought into what that could be. I rarely eat ice cream, so that couldn't be it. I thought through my daily and weekly purchases, and was glad as I realized I'm really not much of a trivial spender. I have a lot of things, but those things are already purchased. As far as ongoing expenses, I'd already given up a lot of trivialities, such as cable tv, netflix, newspaper, etc. The remaining expenses were pretty essential. (And I'm self-employed and internet is a necessity for my business so not even that could be gotten rid of, thank goodness, because I'm afraid I'm just not good enough at heart to give up the internet even to save a starving child -- what a woefully selfish person I am...)

So anyway, after great thought, I finally settled upon my "sacrifice". Potato chips. It's a good idea anyway. It's my one unhealthy habit still remaining after working hard for many years to totally "clean up" my diet. But I was so addicted to potato chips that despite my high priority on my health, I just couldn't bring myself to get rid of them.

Now here's the funny part. I didn't decide to totally stop eating chips. I was going to vastly reduce the amount eaten. Limit myself to maybe a couple of bags a month, instead of the 3-4 bags a week I was accustomed to eating. Yes, I am a potato chip fanatic. They were a healthy brand, at least!! :)

So anyhow, I make this decision -- greatly reduce the chips, it's good for my health, and it will save me the amount of money I need to sponsor Milton. So I sponsored Milton. The very next time I went to the grocery store, I laughed as I noticed they were out of the particular type of chips I always purchase. "Didn't trust me not to get them, I see, so you took care of it for me," I laughed with God.

But the next time I went, they still weren't there. And I looked carefully and the STICKER WAS GONE!!!! It's been two months now, and they're still gone. I haven't had my potato chips that I was totally addicted to in TWO MONTHS. And they say you can break an addiction in that amount of time, but my friend, they are wrong. I crave those chips every bit as much today as I did the first day I was deprived of them.

Another odd thing has occurred lately. I've been dropping pounds like crazy. I had no idea why. It was becoming quite alarming -- I was losing about a pound a week, and I don't have it to lose. I was thin before; now I'm dropping to dangerously low weight levels!! I tried eating more, and more, and more, but it was never enough and the pounds just kept going away. I know, I know, there are many out there who would kill for that problem, but let me tell you, it can be very frightening to have your weight dropping so quickly to levels that make you look positively emaciated. At last, it finally occurred to me. THE CHIPS!!! Of course!!! 3-4 bags of chips a week, a fattening food, suddenly GONE from my diet altogether! No wonder I'm dropping weight like crazy!

So last week I purchased one bag -- just one -- of the most similar chip on the shelf. The same BRAND. Just a plain chip instead of rippled. How different could it really be??? And remember, I said I was reducing my chip intake, I never said I was giving them up completely!! So I felt perfectly entitled to that bag of regular chips. Especially since I can't seem to stop the weight loss any other way.

That chip was just not the same. Not the same at all. I won't be settling for THEM again.

I've gone so far as to look up the company to see if they stopped making the rippled chips. After all, the other five varieties sold by this brand are still on the shelf at the store!!! And I certainly bought enough of those rippled chips that the store should not have discontinued them for lack of sales!!!! The company apparently still makes them. And I can order them online for $36 a case.

$36 for a case of potato chips. $32 for Milton's monthly support. Do I really need those chips?

I didn't think so.

Want to give up your own "potato chips" or "ice cream" or whatever it may be, and sponsor a child? Click here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

If His Eye is on the Sparrow...

... then I have to wonder what on earth He's thinking about this robin on my deck.

I have an insane bird living in my yard. Several days ago, I kept hearing a bang outside -- every few seconds, I'd hear it again but it wasn't a consistent rhythm. I finally went to investigate but saw nothing unusual. I went back to getting ready for work, and within a minute, I started hearing the noise again. I checked again, but nothing. I began to walk back to the bathroom but then hesitated, just barely within sight of the kitchen window and the french doors in the dining room next to it, the area from which the sound was coming.

I stood quietly waiting and sure enough, about a minute later, the sound began again, only this time I could see what was causing it. An enormous robin was standing on my deck just outside my french doors, and kept flying halfway up and slamming into the glass. Again and again, he did this, until I walked toward the doors and he flew away. I opened the door, looking around to see what the attraction might be. No nest in sight anywhere. Nothing unusual at all.

And yet as soon as I left, he did it again. And again. And again. All morning long (at least until I left for work) this robin kept flying up and slamming into my door.

The next morning, I heard the familiar noise again. I kept trying to scare the bird off, but he just kept coming back for more. I have no idea why this bird wants in my house so badly, nor why he hasn't figured out after a hundred attempts that he can't get through that glass. At last in frustration, I got a blanket and managed to hang it inside the door, thinking that if it no longer looked clear, he would stop. He did, but made a couple more attempts first!!

So I left the blanket hanging there a couple days, and no longer did I hear this crazy banging on my door. I figured it might take a couple days for the bird to find a new occupation and break the habit he has apparently formed of slamming into my door.

Last night, I took the blanket down. As I write this post, I hear the consistent BANG! SLAM! FLUTTERBANG! CRASH! against my door again.

Are there any bird psychologists out there? WHY does this bird want so desperately to get in my house, and how can I make him stop!?!?!? He is driving me nuts!