A New Year’s Resolution

“When we grow closer to God, we do not become more spiritual, but more loving.” 

I am not sure who said this, but I have it printed on a card sitting on my desk at work. It is a constant reminder that when we are rooted in God’s love, it transforms us into more accepting, tender and tolerant people. Unconditional acceptance of others becomes effortless because we suddenly see them through God’s eyes. We are called to let God be God and we are to simply step back and embrace each other—not only as a body of believers, but as fellow travelers.

I know this isn’t an easy concept to grasp, even harder to actually live. When I look across my classroom at those 25 children, I want to see them the way God does. When I look at my family and friends, I want to see them as God does. When I look at myself, I want to see me as God does (this is a hard one). When I look at the Walmart cashier, I want to see her has God does. So, I ask myself—how can I get to this place. I refer back to the quote. In order to love people more, I must know God better.

As I look to the new year with resolve, it seems I need to bypass the “normal” resolutions and think of those which are rooted in more practical terms. I am not fond of resolutions perhaps because I am Type-A personality and feel like when I make a resolution and fall short then I have failed. So this year I am going to make a different type of resolution, one which I can perhaps attain. So here it goes: I am determined to continue on this life journey with a new resolve – to give more and take less; to love more and hurt less; to sing more and complain less; and to pray more and worry less. Most of all—I resolve to know God in a way that requires me to love more.

This I know for sure….

A Disclaimer!

Perhaps I need to take a break from blogging for awhile—seems that whenever I write a blog, it is like God says “lets see if she really lives this”. Now, I know that isn’t true, but every time I write—there seems to be a test of faith that follows. You shouldn’t write anything you aren’t able to back up— 

This I know for sure….

Season of Peace

For He himself is our peace… Ephesians 2:14

Resting in the peace that God feely gives is often difficult. The season of Christmas represents peace—peace beyond our understanding. It is at this time of year we discuss the need for peace, yet seldom do we seize it. As I travel this path that has become my calling, I have a heightened realization that I desperately need God. My weaknesses are magnified and my strengths haven’t mattered—this has made me totally reliant on the peace that God gives. Even through the desolation that accompanies difficulties, blossoms of peace peek through the desert of life. These blossoms of peace grow from the seeds of moments in our lives resembling – a kind word, a song, a new relationship, the laughter of children, hope for a future, or a feeling of self-confidence that has been long lost. We just have to be present to claim these gifts.

I have found God’s greatest work tends to be exemplified when life seems the hardest. Needing God has made me well aware of the fact that I am unable to travel alone. Even my strengths fail me through the journey without the empowerment of a heavenly father—my weaknesses seem to be magnified and my security wanes. Peace becomes a confidence I must act upon through the promises God has given. 

When life seems too difficult to tolerate, when circumstances seem beyond what we can handle, when we are too tired to take the next step on our journey—Christ becomes our peace. It is at this point that we must begin to claim the promise that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39). This is real peace.

Nothing in life is predictable. Life is often chaotic, but He is our Peace all we have to do — is claim it.

This I know for sure….

The Gifts of the Season!

It is that holiday time of the year. I am forced, as a public school teacher, to remain benign to the “Christmas Spirit”. Everything I send home must say “holiday” not “Christmas” and must never contain anything that might be construed as religious in nature. This got me thinking about the most wonderful CHRISTMAS gifts I have ever received. I remember getting the Chrissy Doll with hair that actually grew—of course I cut it within a week and never played with her again. I remember getting a Viewmaster slide projector as a gift from the church in St. Louis—wow, I loved that and played with it for almost two weeks before putting it in the corner of my room. There are very few gifts I have actually used or appreciated long after they were given. My husband knew that if it plugged in—it wasn’t a gift—what a smart man. The gifts I truly cherish are those not wrapped and placed under the tree, but given with love by those who have experienced this life journey with me.

Tom Paine stated in 1791 “and the slavery of fear made man afraid to think”—I am so very thankful for the gift of free thought that was not only embraced, but encouraged by my family. It is a gift that continues to give as we grow together and appreciate the thought processes we so eagerly mock within each other. 

The gift of friendship so freely given, is one I treasure. When I think of Christ and his close friendships, I feel I am luckier than he. I have had friends stick by me through tremendous heartache—no one has denied me or even given up on me. I read in many books not to expect my friendships to remain in tact through the grieving process; apparently, my friends beat the odds—they have not only stayed, but loved through it all and now they share in my joys as I regain a new normal. The gift of new relationships is also something I value this year. It is amazing to me how God provides just what we need.

According to Nelson Algren, “the journey is all”. I actually appreciate the gift of “the journey”. I am grateful that there is a God who loves and cares for me and wants the best for my life. I value the one who leads me through the maze of life’s decisions. I am not sure where I would be at this point if it weren’t for extreme faith, but I DO know where I would be without it.

Supportive family is a gift I am fortunate to have received. Not only am I blessed with amazing parents who, after 40+ years are still in love each other, I am also blessed with brothers who mean the world to me and sister-in-laws who are equally a part of my heart. I am fortunate that my family has loved me through these past months with intensity and resolve to see me through to the other side.

The love of my children is a gift I treasure beyond words. They love so completely and so meaningfully. I honor who they are and who they will become. They have so much of their earthly father within them that I know they have tender hearts. They have enough of their mother that I know they have some “spunk”. I am truly privileged to be their mother. 

I am thankful for the promise of tomorrow. I am forever grateful for the hope of a future and an openness of love that is always there for the taking. I am opening the gift of hope—hope that our lives with be stronger and that love will one day fill our home again. God is so faithful to complete all we ask and hope for.

Finally, I am grateful for the gift of Jesus Christ. The hope that his birth represents is simply astounding. I am normally a big Easter fan (it is my favorite holiday), but if it weren’t for the amazing birth, there would never have been a resurrection and without the resurrection there would never be hope. This is the HOPE that insures all of us a future filled with confidence and anticipation.

Throughout this holiday season……

THIS I know for sure….

A Lesson in Need

It is the season for spreading joy throughout the land, right? It is the time for helping those less fortunate—I am all for that—I am all about helping others. It makes your load lighter and creates within you this awesome sense of gratitude and goodwill. Today I received an email from an organization, of which I am involved, that included the following message:

“This year we have adopted two…. families who are in need. We are collecting money as well as gifts. Below are some items we are seeking for these two families..” What you will find following is a condensed (very condensed) list of the items submitted by this needy family. Marsha commentary will be in italics and bold.

On the list were some very reasonable items including: Uno Spin, The Game of Life, earrings, necklace, Old Navy gift card etc.. I have no problem with these items. They are expected to be on the list of someone less fortunate.However, the list didn’t end there. Here are some of the “other” items on the list: Ipod Stereo that fits an Ipod Nano – seriously—they have ipods how horrible life must be since they only have a Nano and not a 30 gig video ipod?; Lion King 1 ½ (DVD full screen) – what happens if I buy the regular screen version; Mario baseball for Gamecube, NGC Pokeman TD gale (game for gamecube) – GAMECUBE are they kiddin’; Silver Ipod Nano – oh, one of them doesn’t have an ipod—ok I am going to stop here except for one other interjection so as not to become too overly sarcastic; Coach, Luis Vuitton or Guess brand purse – sure—let me run out and purchase a $400-$700 purse for the needy – seriously.

When did we get to this point? When did a family in need require an “Epson Stylus Photo R340 Printer”? Could it possibly be that we no longer have a distinguishable line between what we want and what we need? My brother related a story he heard about a father trying to instill the concept of “need” in his son. The son wanted a pair of $100.00 Air Jordan tennis shoes. His father said “Son, I have $40.00. You WANT a pair of Air Jodan shoes. Seems to me you NEED—–$60.00.” Funny as that maybe—it hits the mark. Truth be told, the son didn’t really NEED the shoes at all.

I will confess—I have not had much success instilling within my own children a sense of gratitude for what they are so fortunate to have, but you can bet that is at the top of my Christmas wish list now. I want them to understand the difference between want and need. I wish for them to know that we have far more than most folks in the universe and for that we should be extremely grateful. I also want them to know that there are those TRULY less fortunate who wake up every morning with empty stomachs and wonder where they will sleep for the evening. I want them to understand that in Jesus’s words “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God”. I yearn for them to grasp that it matters very little what we possess, but life’s riches are measured by the relationships we develop and the love we share. For myself, I desire a spirit that truly gets what being poor means and a gracious heart that is content with what I already possess. Living in the land of plenty we lack much in the way of gratitude.

This I know for sure….

Balance for Our Existence

To live a life of gratitude
To live a life of gratitude
is to open our eyes to the countless ways
in which we are supported by the world around us.
Such a life provides less space for our suffering
because our attention is more balanced.
We are more often occupied
with noticing what we are given,
thanking those who have helped us,
and repaying the world in some concrete way
for what we are receiving.
-Gregg Krech-

This past weekend was Thanksgiving, traditionally a time of reflection. For me; however, it was more about remaining in a state of gratitude. This state of mind began from a poetry lesson I shared with my students during writing workshop before the holiday. They were to create a poem of thankfulness from a mentor text. Following a discussion regarding the way the poem was structured, we soon began to discuss the author’s word choice. We were most impressed with the author’s ability to describe what she was thankful for without actually printing it in black and white. This became the part of the poem we wanted to emulate in our own writing. 

At that point we stopped, opened our writer’s notebook and for four minutes brainstormed what we were thankful for. I asked my fifth graders to think outside the box on this one – to think beyond what the average 10-year old might write and come up with things they were thankful for from the heart. After four minutes of brainstorming, we met on the class carpet to share—and oh my goodness, it took every thing within me to hold back the tears. Let me share with you a few of the lines from these awesome fifth graders:

For the horn that lets me express my inner soul,

I am thankful. (OK she is gifted)

For the beautiful music my saxophone makes without words,

I am thankful.

For the pleasure of being able to be taught by a woman who has been through so much,

I am thankful. (yep-this one brought a tear)

For the tiniest surprises in life which brighten my day,

I am thankful.

For the courage to stand up for what I believe,

I am thankful.

For the pleasure of expressing my thoughts and feelings through writing,

I am thankful.

For the ability to know bad times will get better,

I am thankful.

This exercise, shared with my class, created in me a most grateful heart. I could have written these lines, but they came from those special children I get to share life with each day. I am an extremely blessed woman. I never want to take that for granted or cease to have a grateful heart, no matter my circumstances. Fortunately being thankful has become a constant state instead of one visited every now and then. Gratitude has created, not only a balance for my existence, but “less space for suffering” as well.

This I know for sure….

Patiently Surprised!

I am terrible at waiting. If you asked anyone who really knows me, they would agree. Patience is not a virtue that I posses. I admire people who are patient. They seem to be satisfied with their circumstances and with life in general. Waiting is an excruciating process for me. Walmart check out lines—-just forget it- waiting for my turn is agonizing. The ugliness of my personality seems to demonstrate itself best in situations where patience is required. This lack of ability to wait seems to extend to my life circumstances as well. It appears that I am not adept to waiting on the Lord either. I want answers – now. I want to know how it will work in the end—-now. I was reading a Henri Nouwen devotional this morning and he alleges that “Patience does not mean passivity it is active waiting in which we live in the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.” Nouwen is speaking of waiting patiently on God in terms I had never thought of before this moment.

If I am to buy into this Nouwen idea of waiting on God, then I truly am more patient than I thought I was. Nouwen continues to write “Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants.” Contently waiting for God is grounded in my ability to grip the difficult moments of life and “suffer” through them in order to fully appreciate when the answer finally comes. I am to experience my circumstances through the lens of how I am “wired”-meaning that each of our journeys will be unique, but I am NOT supposed to simply wait as I  would to check out at Walmart. It isn’t a passive stance. It is actively working through life’s circumstances and embracing the invitation to grow. Yes, this does require a different type of patience, one that is grounded in action and results in blessings beyond our imagination.

This I know for sure….


“The Bible talks plentifully about joy, but it nowhere talks about a ‘happy Christian.’ Happiness depends on what happens; joy does not. Remember, Jesus Christ had joy, and He prays ‘that they might have MY joy fulfilled in themselves.'”
– Oswald Chambers-

Happiness, what an ambiguous word! If you asked 100 different people the definition of happiness, you would get 100 different definitions. A couple months ago I was eating lunch with my father when he asked me if I was happy. I thought about the question for a moment and answered that I wasn’t sure if I was happy, but I knew that I was content. To me, happiness is directly connected with life circumstances (what “happens”); those conditions beyond our control. The tapestry of life we weave directly affects our temporal happiness. At that moment with my father I couldn’t say that my “life circumstances” were at the “happy” point. Happiness is fickle, it changes as we change. Fortunately, life circumstances do change. If we are at a point where happiness seems elusive, our situation could change and bring us into a happier state.

Contentment, on the other hand, is measured by the ability to rest in our circumstances knowing that we can overcome the difficulties of life and maintain a sense of self though it all. Happiness may not be attainable due to life situations at a particular time, but contentment is always within our grasp. Choosing to be content is within our control alone. The desire to live life, no matter the circumstances, with an attitude of fulfillment paves the road of contentment. For those fortunate enough to experience happiness from life circumstances coupled with contentment from a settled state of mind are then able to experience the final step – true joy.

This I know for sure….

Giving In!

There has been a persistent voice inside my head this past year that seems to have said “How can you possibly go on with your life. The love of your life is gone from this world; you have overwhelming responsibilities as a parent, teacher, friend, sister and daughter. There is nothing electronic that works in your house (sorry-had to add that one). What makes you think you can move past this hurt and pain? THIS is your new life, get used to it—buck up. Your former identity is gone and this is what defines you now. What was is no longer yours.” And, for the past 14 months, I have listened and bought into this load of nonsense. Could there be anything more self-defeating, could there anything more stifling to living life? I don’t think so. 

Fortunately along side this persistent voice there as been a softer one. It sings a much different song—it sings of hope and promise and of living a life again. It is one that is familiar, even though I don’t always listen to it. It reminds me of precious memories, which will always be a part of who I am, but also reminds me of promises made to the one I loved about going on with life and living and loving again. See, Don and I had this conversation. I think it is one that you usually have at some point if you have been married 24 years. It is the “What- would -you- do if- something- happened- to- me?” talk. I remember ours very well. When Don asked me this question, I remember saying “Well, I will NEVER even look at another man—and I will wear black every day, sit in a dark room and sway back and forth because just the thought is too morbid to even imagine”—well, IT did happened and IT was too hard to imagine, and just when I am inclined to go to that dark place and begin swaying back and forth, I am reminded of his answer back to me. In his stern, but gentle voice he said, “Marsha, remember that I want you to be happy. I want the children to be cared for and loved and whatever has to happen to meet those ends—-you have my blessing.” Then, of course I replied with something silly like – “OK—fine but lets not talk about it, because there is NO way you are going before me.”

Fast forward to November 2006 and guess what?—It has happened, and I am left with a wonderful blessing; even if I am just now figuring that out. (SIDE BAR – If you are married and reading this, I challenge you to have this conversation with your wife or husband and truly there is only one way it can or should end and that is with each of you giving the other a blessing of continued life for the one who is left behind). So I am beginning to listen to this softer voice, knowing it has been there all along. I am sure it is the promise that not only Don would want for us here, but one our Heavenly Father always has for us. Each day this voice becomes louder and resonates with hope and joy. It is a new song:

Isaiah 61:3

And provide for those who grieve in Zion-
To bestow on them a crown of BEAUTY instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness 
Instead of mourning,
And a garment of praise 
Instead of a spirit of despair.

I love this new song:
So I am giving in—I am accepting the blessing. This is the song I am now going to sing and hope others are able to sing it along side me.

This I know for sure….

Addendum to Simply Being Present OR A Lesson on Grief.

I just returned from a YWBB (young widow) dinner in Chicago this weekend. I found this one to be quite different from the rest. In talking my feelings out with a friend following the dinner I was able to come to some conclusions.

Grief is extremely self absorbing. It is truly ALL about you because the grief is so personal. I don’t say this in a negative or derogatory sense. It simply is. Grief is not a linear process; meaning that you don’t go through this step of grief and are finished with it never to return. No, you deal with this step of grief and may take 10 more steps forward only to find yourself back to step one in a few days. When I first started this journey I wanted to “fix it”. I am a teacher-a terrific problem solver and I looked for the formula to “fix” the grief I was feeling so that I could begin to heal. Well, it simply doesn’t work that way. I was looking for the “mark” of healing. This weekend it become apparent to me that yes, healing has not only begun, but God’s promise of becoming whole again is real.

I wish I could paint a masterpiece like DaVinci’s “The Last Supper” that would give you an idea of what the YWBB dinners are like (please don’t email me, I am in no way comparing this group to the Lord’s disciples). We sit around a table sharing a meal, but no one, not even the new members sit in the same chair for more than 20 minutes. There is a constant movement around the room that rivals musical chairs. It is as if we can not get enough of each other’s lives, each other’ stories or each other’s insights (“the church” could sure learn something from this group). For months, I ached for this attachment. I needed to go to the dinners because I was hurting and needed to be with those who “got me”. This dinner (November 4, 2006) was different. For the first time, I couldn’t wait to help another going through the initial steps of grief. I wanted to, for the first time, give and not take. It wasn’t until after the dinner that I realized that was my “mark” that healing was underway. It was no longer about me, but about someone else. It was no longer about my support, but about finding ways to give it. It wasn’t about my own self absorption, but actually WANTING to be apart of someone else’s. I believe this is a gauge of healing no matter your circumstances. When you get to the point where it is less about you and more about others—healing can begin to complete its work in your life. Healing can not only begin…….but for the first time becomes possible.

This I know for sure….