On Comparison

These two quotes below deserve a time of reflection, not only on the implications of their meaning, but on how comparison manifests in, and affects, our lives.  Comparison is shoved upon us by every form of media today:  Magazines show only perfectly air-brushed images of celebrities and then run how-to lists to make the reader feel they should reach for perfection in outer beauty; comparison has fuelled multi-billion-dollar industries in cosmetics, clothing, medicine and material possessions such as houses, cars, and gadgetry.  It has taught us to crave the latest and best as if these things were necessities, and not excessive luxuries; it has taught us to crave them at the expense of the poorest in the world, as industries strip natural resources and abuse the defenceless workers who are paid pittance so that you and I can buy cheap clothing, and foods and flowers that were growing in fields half way around the world the day before we buy them.  Comparison robs men and women alike of contentment, joy in the simple pleasures of life, and the discernment to recognise marketing bullies who knock us down, steal our peace, and then expect us to buy their products so that we can feel better about ourselves until the next time they come around…

 

Comparison

Comparison, Culture

On Boiling Water

Sometimes you may feel overwhelmed by what you’re going through; I’ve gone through quite a lot in my life, and I’ve learned that my mindset or attitude can greatly affect how I perceive my situation, and whether I’m drained by, or overcome by, my circumstances, or whether I gain strength and overcome them.  That’s the “boiling water” principle.

Boiling Water

“They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord.”

The Loops of Life

Sick and AwsomeIsn’t it amazing that the smallest of life forms can upend your life, change your priorities overnight, and put your schedule, and even deadlines, on hold?  Otherwise known as the flu bug.  It knocked me for a loop or three just after the New Year, and I’ve been battling it off ever since.  Everything, and I mean everything, gets put on hold at such times.

I’m sure you all know that there is no convenient time for a flu, but sometimes it’s easier on the schedule than others.   I’m grateful that it was after Christmas, because on Christmas Day I was at last able to complete the first draft of my next novel!  And later this month I don’t need it, because I get to go and stay in a posh resort overnight, also known as a hospital bed, to catch a few hours of sleep while they remove a few plates and lots of screws from one of my ankles, making it easier to get through airport security.  My bone will look a bit like Swiss cheese after they’re done, which means I get a few weeks of feet-up-and-read-lots-of-books time, followed by the ability to walk, exercise, and get a bit of muscle tone back.  Woohoo.

I began thinking about loops, in the wider scope, while I had some down-time this past month:  They come in all shapes and sizes; sometimes they’re hiccups in relationships, jobs, studies, goals or even social or environmental challenges.  Those loops, we can handle; they’re all essentially first-world problems, so I won’t complain; at least my loops don’t include wondering where my next meal will come from, where I’ll be sleeping tonight, or how to find clean water and a safe hiding place from men with guns hunting me down.  Even though my schedule has gotten thrown on its ear, and I feel like something the cat dragged in, I will count myself blessed.

If you’re going through loops of your own right now, look for the things in your life that remind you that you are blessed, and remember that jumping through loops will make us stronger in the end.

Gratitude

Deserve-our-gratitude-grateful-quotesSometimes despite the best of intentions real life takes over.  I’ve been silent in cyberspace for nearly a fortnight as real-world events took precedence over the virtual world.  I try to post only when I find something interesting to share or to write about, and can take the time to make it worth my time and yours; but we all know those times when our energy and concentration power are required by more pressing events or situations, and so I hope you’ll pardon me for having been silent.

With Christmas approaching, perhaps your thoughts are turning toward the season of giving, of slowing down to spend time with friends and family, and perhaps it’s also a time of contemplation about the past year and the future:  What would you change if you could?  How can you move forward and learn from mistakes or challenges, and take positive steps to see things change for the better in the coming year?  I don’t mean New Year’s Resolutions; those rarely hold for more than a week or two, because they are purely decisions of the head, and if our hearts are not in agreement with those choices, it’s only a matter of time before they fall flat.  If it’s a decision of both head and heart, why wait until the New Year?  The old adage holds true:  “We cannot be guided unless we are moving.”  The greatest journey begins with the first step, followed by the next, and the next… eventually we’ll arrive at our goal, but only if we step out first.

I recently watched a TED talk by Brother David Steindl-Rast, of the Gratefulness movement; for him one of the keys to finding moments of gratefulness in everyday life is to “Stop. Look. Go.”:  To pause in our hectic lives and take a moment to smell the roses; to open our senses to the world around us and become grateful for the things we take for granted, such as clean, flowing water on tap (even cold and hot), or for the roof over our heads.  The more we look around, the more we’ll find to be grateful for.  The “Go” part of that equation is to act on that gratefulness – passing it on to those around us.  Positivity and smiles are contagious, and they are magnets that draw people; negativity and scowls are also contagious, but they will repel and isolate us.  We all have times of trials, difficulties and challenges; how we choose to face them decides whether they master us, or serve us.  One example from my own life was this past summer, described in the article, “I got Staffa’d“; I chose to be grateful in the midst of it, and it made it much easier to master it.

Whatever you’ve got planned over the coming weeks, I’d encourage you to take a moment to stop, look and then go; become aware of things in your life to be grateful for, look around and see how you can bless others, and move forward with a fresh awareness of the beauty of life.

My husband and I end each day by reading the “Celtic Wheel of Prayer” together aloud; each day includes this:  “As I end this day in Your (God’s) safe-keeping, I count three blessings before my sleeping.”  Perhaps it is something you could integrate into your own habits – it’s a great way to increase our awareness of daily blessings, and things we have to be grateful for!

Ps.  If you’d like some ideas for advent calendar- and stocking-stuffers, click here.

The Glory of Vocation

VocationToo often society teaches us by example, peer pressure or spotlights that the vocations of doctors, lawyers, teachers and missionaries are better than those of the truck driver, house wife, rubbish collector or construction worker.  But how would the first lot get anywhere without the second?  Martin Luther said, “God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.”  If you are a follower of Christ, any job you do to his glory becomes a vocation.  If you’re a bar tender, pour that beer just right, smile and serve with kindness and respect; if you work in a moving company, pack your clients’ furniture and belongings with care and competence.  In fact, anything we do should be a ministry of competence.  Glory can be described as “Honour, admiration, or distinction, accorded by common consent to a person or thing; high reputation; renown“.

A sermon I heard recently was about vocation; one of the quotes was from Eric Liddell:  “I believe God called me for a purpose; but he also made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure.”  Eric knew that running in the 1924 Olympics was what God had given him to do, and he did so with competence, but also conviction; he is famous for having refused to run one of the races because it was on a Sunday.  He refused to give in to international pressure, and God rewarded him with a gold medal in another race, and the fact that he set a new world record with that race.  He won his greatest medal, however, when he passed from this life and God said to him, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Martin Luther wrote, “All our work in the field, in the garden, in the city, in the home, in struggle, in government – to what does it all amount before God except child’s play, by means of which God is pleased to give his gifts in the field, at home, and everywhere? These are the masks of our Lord God, behind which he wants to be hidden and to do all things.”  For me, this means that whatever I am doing, when I am doing it for the glory of God, I feel his pleasure.

Because I am called to be a communicator, when I write – whether it’s a devotional for a blog or a published book, or a science fiction novel, I feel God’s pleasure.  When I clean house and take care of my family of two, or cook for guests, I can do so to the glory of God and feel his pleasure.  When someone sweeps the streets, collects rubbish, repairs roads, or drives a truck that delivers groceries, they can do so to the glory of God.  “Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavours, even the best, will come to naught.  Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavour, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.”  – Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavor

When we do whatever it is we do with compassion and competency, doing our best, learning to enjoy the simple pleasures and spot the blessings in everyday life, conducting ourselves with honesty and integrity, treating everyone we meet honourably (regardless of their behaviour), we are doing so to God’s glory.  Such a life led is what St. Francis of Assisi meant when he said, “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary use words.”

Ephesians 6:7-8 (NIV)

“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do,whether they are slave or free.”

Five Lies We Believe

Lies well-packedScanning through Facebook, I constantly see lies being perpetuated.  They are the kind of pervasive lies that everyone seems to believe, or not even question whether or not they’re true, false, or even have any benefit before they post the tripe.  We need to perpetuate truth and positive thinking, not nonsense and bad attitudes; so I’m sick of seeing the following lies:

Mondays stink. Mondays are no different than Tuesdays through Sundays, folks.  If you’ve used the weekend (if you did not have to work) wisely and had some time-out, you can go into the new work-week refreshed.  But if you believe the lie, you’ll ruin your weekend by dreading a day that will come as surely as the sun rises in the east and has no intrinsically negative value attached.  “Monday Blues” are hogwash, plain and simple!  Morning and mourning have nothing to do with each other.  It’s about attitude – and if you choose to have a negative one about Monday, you’ll have a lousy day; so choose to see it as the blessing it is.  Be thankful that you have a job, and that you live in a country where days off are part of the work philosophy.

The first year of marriage (or the seventh) is really difficult. Who says that besides those who are just repeating tripe, and therefore eventually believing it and fulfilling the self-curse?  If you learn healthy communication, how to address assumptions and misunderstandings, and how to honour your partner in public and private in word and deed, you can not only survive the first year intact, but you will be stronger and more united with your marriage partner than before.  Every marriage has difficulties; but if husband and wife stand together as a team, they can win together – it’s worth every effort.  I’ve been happily married 22 years, and the first year of our marriage was only difficult in that I had come to a foreign culture, language, mentality and lack of local friends, and all that with depression; but it never once came between my husband and myself, or was a strain on our relationship, because of the principles listed above.  We came out the other end of my depression 3 years later, stronger and more united.

Most marriages don’t survive. If marriage partners remain single in their habits, or selfish, demanding instant solutions and fulfilment of childish expectations, then yes, I agree with this.  But I can honestly say that out of the circle of friends I have, which spans the globe, I only have 3 friends who divorced; I know literally hundreds of married couples who’ve been married 10 years or more; so I don’t know where the pseudo statistic originated, but it’s simply not true.

“As the truth about these much lower divorce rates begins to spread, (Shaunti) Feldhahn believes it will give people hope, which is often a key ingredient to making marriage last. She said hopelessness itself can actually lead to divorce.  ‘That sense of futility itself pulls down marriages,’ Feldhahn said. ‘And the problem is we have this (American) culture-wide feeling of futility about marriage. It’s based on all these discouraging beliefs and many of them just aren’t true.’ – Shaunti Feldhahn (quote from this CBN article.)

We will gain weight over the Christmas holidays. There’s truth in that statement, but only if you use that as an excuse to eat more.  If people would simply eat the same amount they usually do, they may even lose a bit depending on their amount of movement through their daily lives compared to the running around people tend to do around the holidays (sitting at work vs. shopping, finding a parking spot farther away than usual and walking to the stores, going from house to house, etc.).  The temptations are greater around the holidays, to be sure; but trust me, you cannot gain weight merely by seeing the cookies, cakes, pies and lavish table displays.  If you eat more than usual, exercise more than usual.  Find out what your body can do, and push it just a wee bit farther.

Take smaller portions than usual; focus on soups, which are filling and leave you satisfied longer than solid foods; consume low-fat dairy products – they will bind to fatty molecules from other foods and help carry the excess out of the body.

Compared to (someone else), I’m not good enough. First of all, it’s nonsense to compare apples to oranges, or bananas to palm trees!  Every single person is unique!  That’s the beauty of life!  So be the best you can be, and if you want to be better at a particular skill then take lessons, practice, or learn more about it, or teach yourself regularly.  But don’t let vagueness handicap you; if it’s a vague “not good enough” feeling, it’s a destructive lie.  If it’s “not good enough at cooking/tennis/playing an instrument,” then it can be a constructive force to drive us to improve ourselves.

Stop believing lies!  If any of these things ring true in your life, then it’s up to you to change your attitudes, habits and mindsets to reflect truth.

Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

On Building Strong Character

The training and instruction of a child takes the investment of time, energy, love, patience and clarity of priorities (being the individual needs of each child, coupled with the principles you want to instil).  Without that investment, the child grows into an adult unable to function to their full potential.  Whether or not you have children, you can be the one person who might change a child’s life forever; make it a positive change!

Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
Build Strong Children

(Image Credit: Unknown)

Thoughts from a Wheelchair

WheelchairOn our recent holidays, I was injured to the point that I was out of commission as far as walking for 6 weeks, give or take.  The injury happened at the beginning of our 2½-week holiday; the situation was what it was, and we made the best of it.  The injury could have been far, far worse, so we are grateful for God’s mercy there, as well as sending just the right people along in the moment of need.  But what I want to address today is something that I experienced on the day of our journey home:

We were able to book wheelchair assistance through all airports on our way home; in all three airports, I had widely different experiences.  I have always been aware of the fact that someone in a wheelchair needs special consideration, and has needs different to those of people who are physically independent.  But it was a valuable experience for me being the one in the chair and out in public this time; it’s something I think everyone should experience at least once, whether you’re injured or not – just to become aware of another perspective.

Some people felt free to stare at me; I know that many were merely curious or concerned about how I’d been injured, as my disability was obviously a temporary one with an injured foot bandaged (I dislocated my ankle).  But I’m tempted to ask, since when is staring at a person polite?  Wheelchairs tend to intimidate people – they don’t want to ask personal, intimate or impolite questions, and that’s right.  But I know from friends who are permanently in wheelchairs that they’d rather be asked politely what their disability is than be stared at or ignored.  And that brings me to the other reaction.

This second reaction, and one which was far more frequent, was that of being completely ignored.  Sometimes it was intentional, but more often than not I was simply invisible.  People would rush past me and jerk my foot off in their path with them as they went, without so much as an apology.  They would swing their backpacks into my face, knowing full well a wheelchair stood beside them.  Such blatant insensitivity was a bit of a shock to me, to be honest, and a few of them had better be glad I was unable to rise to the level of their face, because I might have been tempted to get in it…

Another sensation I became aware of, in empathy with those friends who are permanently in wheelchairs, was that of being at the mercy of those assigned to you.  At the first airport I was put into the hands of a completely indifferent, bored young woman who wasn’t interested in the slightest in even friendly chat; she was glad to be rid of the wheelchair duty, and frankly I was glad when my husband took over and sent her on her merry way.  To get me onto the plane (which was on the tarmac with stairs two out of the three airports…), they waited until everyone else was on (I’d been told I’d go on first to enable me to get to my seat safely), and then put me in a freight train-sized mobile lift machine with room for 20 people, raised me to the level of the plane, and rolled me in; the machine brought the analogy to mind of killing a gnat with a shotgun… a bit of an overkill.  Crammed into an economy seat that never has enough leg room at the best of times, I had to endure a short hop flight of 50 minutes to our next airport, my leg propped up across my husband’s knees into the aisle, exposed to everyone who walked by and took it with them in either direction.  I was in tears of pain by the end of that ordeal, but not once did a single person apologize for injuring the wounded, or even wait for me to get my foot out of their way.

The next stop, I was hefted and strapped into what amounted to a manual pallet jack for people, without padding or shock absorbers; three wheels “climbed” (read “jerk-drop”) the stairs to lower or raise me one step at a time.  The two men who were assigned to move me were plainly from the luggage handling department, and they’d never sat in such a contraption; I was jarred and jerked down the stairs like a piece of luggage, then sat in the wheelchair and zipped through the back doors and into the airport security area through the crowds with not a thought to how it might feel to the person sitting in the chair; groups of people were ploughed through using me as the breaker.  All that, to be jerked back up the contraption into the SAME plane.

The third airport, home at last, we had a finger dock, and I was simply able to hobble down the aisle and sit into a chair; the person assigned to me was friendly, genuinely concerned for my safety and well-being through the crowds, defended my personal space from backpacks, elbows and feet, and was personable.  She accompanied us from the gate to the taxi.  She was a balm to a frazzled soul.

If you were seated in the wheelchair, how would you want to be handled?  How would you want to be seen, or taken into consideration?  Do you know anyone who has to go out into the public with a disability of any sort?  Sometimes the invisible disabilities are just as challenging in a very different way, because if a person might be sympathetic to someone with a clear disability like a wheelchair, or cane or seeing eye dog, they won’t realize the person with an invisible disability needs just as much consideration and patience.  Think of things like MS, or chronic fatigue, being deaf, or other disorders that limit the person in various ways.  I have such an invisible disability, called Marfan’s Syndrome; even people who know me and know theoretically that I have limitations tend to overestimate my ability to keep up e.g. on a group hike, or underestimate my disabilities and simply think I’m being difficult or wanting extra attention, or just lazy, none of which is the case.  I know my problems are nothing compared to many friends who struggle with terminal illnesses, or disabilities that limit and have lethal potential; everyone has different struggles; but I’ve found that attitudes help or hinder, enable or disable.  I can learn to rise to (or above) my challenge, but having a supportive environment goes a long way to helping and enabling too.

The next time you see someone in a wheelchair, or with a disability of any kind, put yourself in their seat.  How can you help them?  How should you be more patient with them?  How can you ease their way?  There is a Native American proverb that says, “Never judge another until you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins” and I can say without a doubt that it’s wise advice.

If you struggle with a long-term illness, or disability, please take a moment to be encouraged by Grace Quantock.

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On the Question of Temporal Being

Cardinal 2, Kindle DimensionsI’ve recently published The Cardinal, Parts One and Two; it’s hard to describe the feeling of a project that you’ve lived so intensively in time, energy, research, editing, plotting, creating and going through the entire process of graphics, layout, formatting and publication, and once it is finally finished and released into the world; it’s probably not all that dissimilar to giving birth, except this pregnancy was several years in the formation, and once it’s born it immediately takes on a life of its own out in the big, wide world (and just like teenagers, it calls home once in a while and asks for money – that would be investing time into marketing and promotion, in the books’ cases!).  It becomes a separate entity to myself, and the book it had been so long in my own mind might not match what readers perceive or envision for the characters I know so well, but that’s part of letting go and allowing it to grow.  I thought I’d share a brief excerpt from the Cardinal, Part Two:

“How did you do that?” Jon asked after they’d returned to Aradan’s room and closed the door.
“It is not something explainable in human terms,” Aradan replied.
“Is it…? Was Jesus…?”
“One of us? No. He truly was the Creator embodied on earth… in the form of a man, much like this vessel I am in now, like the one you are in. He came to Aquillis as well, but we responded very differently than Man-Kind. My giftings are merely evidence of God’s infinite character just as you and your giftings are. Intelligence, creativity, talents or giftings… they are all expressions of his being… the supernatural fingerprints of our Designer, if you will, just as a potter leaves his fingerprints in the clay of a vessel he forms.”
“So… you don’t look like this,” Jon gestured from head to toe, “on your planet?”
“We have no need of this vessel there… it would be incompatible with our environment.  But we do not look all that different; it is as if this human vessel is an outer layer, a suit, with the perfect form of who we truly are just beneath the surface. It will be the same for you once you’ve passed through the veil of mortality to immortality … when this vessel,” he pinched Jon’s arm lightly, “is shed, releasing your essence – your spirit – to journey to your chosen destination.”
“You mean heaven… or hell?”
“Precisely.”
“So… you believe they exist?”
Aradan laughed. “You humans… you’re so fixated on this temporal journey called Life that you fail to realize… this is just laying the foundations for reality beyond this material existence! The choices you make while in this mortal time frame determine your destination and home beyond it. And yes, they both exist: Just as time is one dimension and space another, so heaven and hell both exist; other dimensions altogether, perceivable only once you’ve left your mortal frame behind.”

Huesler, Stephanie (2014-11-12). The Cardinal, Part Two (Kindle Locations 3003-3020). Stephanie Huesler. Kindle Edition.

Acclimatization to God

Ecclesiastes 3:11
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
God has set eternity in the human heart; that’s why the following are fundamental questions in every heart and mind:
“Who am I?”
“Why am I here?”
“What’s my purpose?”
In my experience, the answers to those questions can only truly be found in the context of a personal friendship with the Creator, the Master Architect of our lives and the universe in which we exist.  And even though I have had such a friendship with God for over 40 years, I can say with confidence that I cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end – in other words, our finite minds can never comprehend the vastness of the Lord of the Universe – at least not in our limited forms, though when we leave finite behind and pass through the veil of death, we will be able to comprehend far more.

2 Corinthians 3:16-18

“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

If God were to completely take away the veil of the finite for us right now and reveal himself to us in his fullness, our physical being would literally not be able to withstand the force; much like multiple G-forces would so contort the human body unprotected, it would likely kill us.  Instead, God reveals himself to us gradually; the closer we come in our relationship with Jesus, the more we can know and learn about him because we transform in his presence, or “acclimatize” to his presence.

Cross, Salvation