About Me

Florida, United States
I'm a mother of two children, an inspirational and motivational Author and Minister. My greatest joy is to see people gain new insight and understanding about the amazing possibilities that life holds when we put put our faith to action. 'Shoes For The Spirit, is a book filled with real-life stories of people who have walked through great difficulty and have found the right pair of shoes for their personal journey. Whether or not you are a person of faith, there is something uplifting, guiding and compelling in this little book, for everyone. The accompanying CD, 'Songs For the Soul,' is a compliation of original orchestrated tunes, with voice-over verse layered on top of the music. This CD has great encouragement for all who take the time to listen. I hope all of you bloggers will read the new sequel to 'Shoes For The Spirit,' listed in the blog posts below, and if you're so inclined, will purchase my book and CD. You won't be sorry! Be blessed. Love, Tamra

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Patience is the Companion of Wisdom- Saint Augustine

I had just settled into my new home, all the furniture in place, the dishes neatly stacked in the kitchen cabinets, my daughter’s bed made- at least for the moment, my husband’s office organized, and my closet put together with every shoe in its own individual cubby (a delightful sight). I slumped into the rocking chair on the outside patio, proud of myself for the abundance of work accomplished and a sense of ‘ain’t this the life’, welling up in my tired but joyful soul. Finally, everything was absolutely perfect, like Mama always said, “Better than hot sliced bread with a slab of butter on a sunny, Sunday afternoon.”
Something slick, black and fast swooped by my droopy eyelids and caught my undivided attention. Two ebony crows were perched on my lanai, one arrogantly sitting on the head of my brand spanking new dolphin fountain, the other landing on the corner of my roof, and the two of them having quite a conversation about my house. Now understand, I’m no Dr. Doolittle, but I could see by the look in those beady black eyes, this couple of squawkers were most assuredly sizing my house up for a long, and lengthy stay.
I stole over to the planter and wrapped my fingers around a few of those perfectly round little rocks and gave a determined throw at the nasty bugger on the corner of my roof. Unfortunately, I’m no St. Louis Cardinals’ pitcher, and my little rocks never made it more than eight feet high, nor three feet forward. Plunk. They landed in the pool, dismally missing the mark. And still those crows stayed exactly where they perched, mocking me. Nasty crows.
There are chapters in life when we have to deal with the dark and dreadful things that swoop in and land on our hopes and dreams. I remember one of those incredibly trying times.
My husband and I had been married for five years when my beautiful little baby girl was born. I took her in my arms and counted those little pink fingers and toes, kissing each one as I counted. Her thick, black, curly hair and long eyelashes mesmerized me and I couldn’t get enough of her sweet baby smell. The best cologne God ever made.
Just a few days into her young life, the doctor came in with frightening news. He said there was something wrong with her liver; it wasn’t functioning properly. Her little body was filling up with toxins, and unless they could help her, she might die, or live with brain damage. The doctors said they hadn’t seen a situation quite like Meagan’s before and she became a case study for liver disorders.
Every few days we made the trek to St. John’s Mercy hospital for the necessary blood work- a needle in Meagan’s heel, to ascertain the toxicity of her blood. At home, we had a special black-light set up above her crib and she had to wear black eye covers, to protect her vision. For endless hours she lay under the purple lights to help lower the billirubin in her blood. Week after week, we’d go for more tests and more needles. I don’t know who cried the more- me or my baby girl. Days turned to months while the doctors searched for answers to her malaise.
We were finally sent to Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, where the liver specialists performed more tests and more blood work to see if they could help Meagan. All the while her prognosis would vacillate from grim to hopeful and the roller coaster ride was excruciating. It’s difficult to know how to plan a normal life when a child in the family is ill. Everything comes to a standstill and emotions are placed on a shelf somewhere far out of reach, in order to cope with the fluctuating variables. You don’t dare take them down and allow your heart to feel, or hope, but rather embrace a simple neutrality based on faith, to help you get through each day.
I thought I’d never be the person who would question God. I really imagined that if hardship came my way, I would merely accept it with stoic faith and endure whatever valley the Lord chose to take me through. I was surprised one day to find myself asking, “Why me? Why my baby girl? Why my family?” In the middle of the night, tears my constant companion, I wanted answers from the Almighty. There was, however, no still small voice of reply. This journey was not what I had planned for my lovely baby girl. Wicked Crows.
I’ve often wondered where God is in all of this. Was this part of His plan to develop character and integrity? Was patience the goal? Perhaps He was running a test as to human endurance and taking notes. All of this sounds far too calculated. My experience with God is one of great love and benevolence.
When my daughter was so ill, loving friends and family surrounded me. The best doctors were available to us and after a long and trying battle, my little baby pulled through the worst of her problems. She just turned 21 this year and is so full of life. We can barely keep up with her.
Just when we think we are finally on the right track, there’s always some nasty dark thing that swoops in and steals our thunder, some trial and tribulation, some unforeseen obstacle… a family problem, a divorce, a child that disappoints, a health issue….something unpredictable …that’s part of the journey. Nasty crows.
But I’ve decided crows are beneficial to our spiritual walk. Because of them, we develop the necessary character to face the next assault with maturity and integrity. We learn to use our experiences to help others dealing with similar issues. And we discover that God is always there in our brightest moments and our darkest hours to strengthen, love, and direct our path to a place of peace. How would we know of God’s grace, and benevolence if we were never called up on to endure hardship?
Don’t misunderstand me; I can’t stop those crows from flying over my patio, but I can sure keep them from building a nest there! My pitching arm is improving daily and so is my spiritual walk of patience.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Creation Speaks with a Powerful Word

Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the earth and all living things join in. Let the rivers clap their hands in glee! Let the hills sing out their songs of joy before the Lord. ( Psalms 98:7-9 NLV )

It was a lovely azure blue-sky day in Colorado, with wispy, white clouds creating animal pictures in the sky. The drive out to Hanging Lake for our hike took about 40 minutes, and the view of the mountains was absolutely breathtaking. Spindly fingers of crystallized ice seemed to weave their way down the sides of the crevices as if to grasp the tops of the mountains. Every tree imaginable grew in proud rows, too numerous to count; a horticulturist’s dream.
As soon as we arrived we began our ascent with gusto. We had our water bottles, our sneakers and our big smiles. We were embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. The hike up to Hanging Lake is about a mile and a half and the terrain is steep, with boulders of all shapes and sizes to navigate. Occasionally, there are spots less vertical, where you can rest and catch your breath, but overall, this is a serious climb. I noticed I had to stop more often than I had planned, to rest, drink my water and slow my racing heartbeat. Of course, when you’re pushing fifty and still pretending to be 35, reality occasionally kicks you in the butt. After all, I am from Florida, where oxygen is a plentiful commodity! When you’re thousands of feet above sea level, the air gets a little thin. Enough with the pathetic excuses; let’s get back to the wonders of nature.
To the right of the path is a beautiful rushing stream that cascades past boulders, rocks and green foliage. Just the voice of the water is relaxing and as many times as I had to stop, I got a lot of opportunities to appreciate it. Little brown and black chipmunks skittered past my feet as if to welcome me to their habitat. The trees were so tall, I got a neck ache trying to see the tops and each tree had unique markings and personality. Running my hands over the rough and protruding grain of the trunk told me the story of their years in the mountain’s forest. If these trees could only talk, I’ve no doubt they’d be singing the praises of their Creator.
About half way up, there was an enormous tree that had fallen to the left of the path, its huge trunk nearly five feet in diameter. The spindly limbs, bereft of leaves and wildlife, his song now silent. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this fallen warrior, alone and displaced in a world of vibrant life.
Someone kept asking that irritating, but important question, “Are we there yet?” I realized with a bit of embarrassment that the person making that repetitive inquiry was me. The higher we climbed, the more difficult the journey. But the orchestrated sound of creation beckoned me on. Birds were singing little tunes in perfect harmony as if to encourage me to keep going.
The last leg of the journey to Hanging Lake is fraught with sheer drop-offs, jagged rocks and slippery dirt filled with tiny, laughing pebbles. It almost felt like sabotage to make me slip. I crawled my way up the last twenty-five feet, not daring to look down, lest the mountain take me. My son and husband were behind me encouraging me on as I painstakingly set one hand and knee in front of the other. People were lined up behind us wondering what in the world that crazy woman was doing, crawling like a baby. Perhaps it’s not as important how you make it to the top. It’s just important that you do.
When I finally stood, knees scraped and hands aching, I was rewarded with the most extraordinary sight. Before me was a lake so clear you could see the bottom, some 25 feet below, the color as green as a priceless emerald, a reflection of the sky above and the surrounding green trees. The lake’s shore is made of fragile travertine, dissolved limestone that is deposited on the rocks and logs. Layers and layers guard the shores of this remarkable lake. A tall, skinny tree had fallen in the middle of the water some years ago, and it was the only object marring the perfection of the otherwise perfect picture.
To sit quietly by the shores of this lake is to hear the sounds of praise from creation. Black Swifts- the only known population of these rare birds- make their home by Hanging Lake. To see them float by makes one all the more appreciative of the beauty of this rare and secluded place.
Two waterfalls, 30 to 40 feet high pour into Hanging Lake. The sound of the water cascading off the ragged cliffs and crashing into the green jewel below is mesmerizing. I found a little bench where I sat to take in the wonder of this tiny slice of heaven. I also needed desperately to catch my breath, yet again. I don’t know how long I sat there, but what I heard changed my heart in ways I’ll never forget.
The voice of nature speaks praise to the glory of God, teaching us by example the importance of our words and how they must give honor to our Creator. Psalms chapter 19 says it the best. The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or a word; their voice is silent in the skies; yet their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world.
May we too, choose words that continually bring delight to the Author of Life.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Dueling Duo- When Words Hurt

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. (Proverbs 15:1 NLT)

Have you ever been out to dinner with a couple who spend the entire evening throwing verbal barbs at each other? Makes for a fun night, doesn’t it? The tension in the air is so thick you can cut it with a knife and everyone within ear-shot of the sparing pair is affected by the strife.
I have vivid memories of a particularly gruesome New Year’s Eve dinner with a notorious couple, whose reputation for verbal warfare preceded them. I don’t know why I thought they’d behave differently that night- perhaps I hoped on such a festive evening they’d be on their best behavior. They were well aware that my husband and I are a peace-loving couple. Never will I make that mistake again.
From the moment we set foot in the restaurant, the assault began.
“Why did you wear those ridiculous pants with that shirt? Hello? Are you color blind?”
“It’s none of your business what I wear! What are you, my mother?”
“If I was your mother I would have stayed home tonight. Why would I want to go anywhere with you dressed like that?”
Jim and I glanced at each other, knowing this was sure to be an interesting evening.
“I thought I told you never to bring me to this restaurant again! What are you stupid, or is it early Alzheimer’s?”
“I can only hope it’s early Alzheimer’s, so I can forget that I ever married you.”
And on it went throughout the evening. Jim and I sat in silent wonder as the dueling duo went at it. Every nasty remark brought a hateful response and I didn’t hear them say one kind thing to each other the entire time. When given the opportunity, Jim and I attempted to change the subject to something more pleasant and hopeful, but our efforts were largely ignored. In fact, the insults escalated to the point that we excused ourselves from the table and left before the midnight toast. I was scared their verbal battle was going to escalate into a physical assault before it was over.
By the time we got to our car, my stomach was in knots; I felt nauseous and had a splitting headache from the tension in my shoulders caused by their fighting. Talk about the power of your words.
I hate to admit it, but I’ve thrown my verbal barbs from time to time and I’ve discovered that when I speak words that wound, kill and destroy, these are commonly the words that come back to haunt me. Cruelty begets cruelty and anger begets anger. Wars have begun over a well-placed word and marriages have dissolved over a careless declaration.
Proverbs 18:21 has this to say about our words. Your tongue has the power of life and death. Those who love to talk will eat the fruit of their words. (NIRV) This verse should make us pause and think about the things we choose to say to those in our immediate circle. It’s not only what we say but how we say it.
I spent time counseling this couple, attempting to help them find a place of peace in their relationship where respect and love could be cultivated. When relationships are combative in nature, and negative expressions have become commonplace, it’s difficult to change the behaviors that have become deeply rooted in the union. The tone of voice, and the inflection used with the words spoken can just as easily damage a partnership.
“She knows I love her! Why do I have to be the one to compromise?”
“If he really cared about me, he’d be the one to change his attitude.”
It’s incredibly important to realize that not only the words we speak but the delivery of those words have the ability to heal or to undermine a situation.
It’s certainly not impossible to alter and renovate the learned behaviors, but both parties must desire the modification and both must want the relationship to begin again on more positive footing. If the changes are not motivated by love, they just won’t last.
Spoken words are irretrievable. Hurtful words leave indelible marks on our heart. Though apologies are made and forgiveness offered, the statements wound the spirit and can be carried the rest of our lives.
Why is it we are so quick to lash out at those closest to us in moments of frustration or insecurity? Probably because we feel most safe with those people. But wouldn’t it be wise for us to cherish them for the gifts they are to us, rather than to attack them? May God help us to set a guard on our mouths and to give careful thought to the words we utter in moments of exasperation.
I’m sorry to say the New Years Eve couple didn’t make it. They divorced not long ago, and went their separate ways. One can only hope they gained some insight as to the importance of the spoken word to either create or destroy life. In truth, our most intimate relationships depend on this knowledge and what we choose to do with it.
Wise words are more valuable than much gold and many rubies. (Proverbs 20:15 NLT)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Creational Power of Our Words

The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary. (Isaiah 50:4 NLV).

Have you ever been witness to the words parents speak over their children? You watch the life drain from the eyes of the child and the innate joy turn to defeat and sorrow, merely by the tone and the words spoken by their caregivers.
On the other hand, when a child is encouraged and the positive attributes are pointed out to him or her, they thrive and flourish; a perfect example of the creational word.
I was fortunate in life to have a close and abiding relationship with my father. Virgil was always quick to point out my talents and achievements and to brag endlessly about my virtues to anyone within earshot. As a small child, I relished every moment I had with this doting admirer. He made me feel like the most important person on Planet Earth, and I really believe to this day, that it was his positive and encouraging words that helped shape my self-esteem. I believe I am the woman I am at this juncture in life because of the edifying and uplifting words my father planted in my heart.
On those days of self-doubt, I can still hear him cheering me on with his particular brand of encouragement. “You can do absolutely anything you set your mind to do. There is nothing you can’t achieve, if you just believe in yourself.”
Coming from a man with barely an eighth grade education who struggled with Attention Deficit Disorder, learning disabilities and color blindness it’s a wonder he understood the importance of positive affirmation. Even with his short-comings, he became the best ‘tool and die’ man at his company and created many tools that are still in existence today. He had an uncanny ability to see what needed to be designed and even though he lacked the necessary education, he was able to create it. If he had known about patents, he’d have had plenty of them.
After leaving the tool and die company, my mother and he bought an old, white, three- story home, renovated it and made it into a nursing home facility for the elderly. Together they positively impacted the lives of many people over the years. Their specialized brand of management and care-giving- one of affirmative reinforcement and promotion- caused everyone around them to give their best. They looked for the good in everyone from employee to patient.
I witnessed their interaction with employees and saw the response given to them because of their choice of words.
It was here I learned the value of speaking creative words of life over those around me, and over my own endeavors. More than just “positive attitude” this practice is about choosing words that bring vitality to the hearer. It can be absolutely life-changing!
I remember a young lady named Linda whom Mom and Dad hired to be a nurse’s aide. She came into the interview with her head down and her clothes askew. Her lank, dark brown hair wasn’t particularly clean and it hung in strings down her back. She mumbled answers in a low and unintelligible monotone with no eye contact.
Most employers would have ended the interview early and sent someone like Linda away. But Mom and Dad knew her background. Herrin was a small town and they knew she came from a home with very little love and attention and virtually no positive reinforcement. They wanted to give her a chance- so they hired her right on the spot and set her to work with the top RN on the floor.
Every day they stopped her, greeted her and affirmed her on each chore she was given. Every week you could see the flower begin to unfold, and within three months, everyone was marveling at the obvious change in Linda.
Her dark brown hair was pinned neatly into a pretty chignon, her uniform pressed and clean. She spoke with a new voice and attitude and began to believe she had something to offer the world. With the help of my parents, she went back to school and obtained her RN license and over time, became the head nurse at Hampton Manor. What an amazing example of the creational power of our words.
How do we integrate this life-changing behavior into our own lives? It’s one thing to understand the power we have in our choice of words and quite another to implement this knowledge into our lives on a daily basis. I fail miserably in this area regularly, and I’m without excuse; I grew up with such a wonderful example.
How can we be part of a counter-culture that creates life? How can we live in such a way as to inspire those around us to speak life-giving words rather than destructive and useless ones?
I believe God gave us a blue print for the words we speak when he gave these thoughts to the writer of the book of Ephesians. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (4:29 NLT).
It’s all a matter of choice. We must think before we speak. It’s time to realize the awesome power we’ve been given to create change in our own lives and the lives of those within our immediate influence. Don’t you think it’s about time we took our words more seriously? What transformations we would behold if we all made a distinct effort to possess the power of our words.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Posessing the Power of Our Words

It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it. ( Isaiah 55:11 NLT)

Anytime Mother wanted to maker her point she’d always call me Tammy Lynn. Middle names were given by mothers to make children sit up and pay attention, a sort of call to order when important things were being spoken.
Mom used to say with that some day you’ll see that I’m right tone of voice, “what you say is what you’ll get, so be sure to think before you speak, Tammy Lynn.”
I can vividly recall the days when I was thinking about what kind of man I might marry. I was quite certain I had absolute control over that decision and emphatically proclaimed that I’d never marry a drummer, as drummers were entirely too noisy. I’d certainly never marry a man named Jim, because that name was for whatever reason, unattractive to me at the time.
God has a witty sense of humor and never forgets our edicts. That’s probably in order to prove how little we know. As irony would have it- I did both. I married a drummer named Jim. Go figure.
That was 27 years ago this August, and in all those years I’ve had countless experiences with the power of the spoken word. Not every one believes in the creation story as presented in the book of Genesis, but I do. I believe that God spoke the universe, the sun, moon and stars, the ocean and all living creatures into existence as an example to us. We have phenomenal power in the words we speak to either create a life of joy, prosperity and health, or to create hatred, calamity and illness.
If you don’t believe me- take a day and make some careful observations. Listen to the words that are spoken by those around you- at home, at work, at the grocery store, or any public place. Pay attention to the dialogue you hear on television. We are constantly speaking our destiny into our lives. Not only are the words we speak impacting our direction and future choices, but they have a profound effect over other people on their direction and choices.
I remember when I began toying with the idea of writing a book. I knew absolutely nothing about the publishing industry, or about the actual process of authoring a book. I believed I could do it, and knew I had something valuable to share with others. But the naysayers were everywhere! “It’s impossible to get a book published today.” “It takes much too much time to write a book, and you will never finish it.” “Why would you want to do something like that? You have children to raise!” And on and on it went. If I had listened to every negative word spoken about my dream, my first book would still not be in print. So instead, I surrounded myself with those who shared my vision, and understood my heart. “That’s a great idea!” “When will it be finished?” “You absolutely need to do that.” “There are so many people who can benefit from your experiences.” See the difference?
Every day I sat down at my computer and told myself I had something valuable to say. My words could change lives. And they have and they do. That’s the power of the word- whether we speak it, or write it- we have incredible authority in the words we choose to use because they are an extension of the spirit within us.
If our spirits are tapped into the Creator of all things, then the way we view our world and the way we express those views is altered by the greatest force the universe has ever known. I love this promise in the book of Isaiah. “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the Lord. 59:21( NIV)
What an incredible promise for those who believe and make an attentive choice to speak faith on a daily basis into their own lives and the lives of their families. We can have what we say, and we can be what we speak. My prayer daily is that my words would magnify and glorify God and my speech would edify my own spirit, and the spirits of those within my direct influence. I think David put it so eloquently when he said this; May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. ( Psalm 19:14 NIV)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Sleeping Peacefully

I will lie down in peace and sleep, for you alone oh Lord will keep me safe.
Psalms 4:8

Not long ago there was a movie out with Al Pacino, (one of my favorite actors) titled Insomnia. I was intrigued, but refused to see it...sorry Al. There was no way I was about to risk exacerbating a problem I’ve been battling for years. You know what I’m talking about? When you see an enactment of a difficulty you’re currently facing; it really doesn’t make the problem go away but instead focuses more energy on the issue.
Since I was thirteen years of age, I literally have been plagued with an inability to fall asleep. Imagine my frustration at a teenage sleepover when all the other girls were cutting z’s and I was still up at 4AM watching the latest rerun of ‘I Love Lucy.’
Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when I’m perfectly normal and I nod off without a struggle. I feel excited that the problem has abated and I’m somehow free from the imprisonment. But, if a stressful situation arises, or I’m anxious about my children, finances or work-related activities my eyes won’t close for days. I’ve literally gone for seven days straight without sleep. I know that’s hard to believe but it’s the absolute truth.
I’ve read every book about sleep disorders I can get my hot, little hands on (my body temperature seems to rise when I’ve had no sleep). I’ve also researched every holistic method of treatment available. I just love how all these self-help books give wonderful ideals of the perfect solution to my on-going problem. Guess what I discovered? Bananas promote sleepiness. Why didn’t I think of that? Apparently the tryptophan in this luscious fruit has an amino acid that’s linked to healthy slumber. Eating jasmine rice four hours before bedtime is suppose to be a miracle in a grain. Have you ever heard of jasmine rice? Me neither.
Some of them offer a certain amount of relief but no absolute answer has come from any of the sources. Sleeping pills give me a few hours but leave me feeling like a zombie the next day.
And yes, I’ve prayed a lot about it, had others pray for me too and researched every verse pertaining to sleep that I can find. I’ve exhausted the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance! I feel like I don’t have enough faith in this particular area of my life.
Don’t you find that it’s so easy to have faith for someone else’s issue, but so much more difficult to believe for your own? Why would God care about my sleep patterns? He surely has far bigger problems to solve. World hunger or a cure for cancer would certainly take a much higher priority. I feel ridiculous asking the Almighty to help me lay my weary head to rest.
The thing that really gets my goat is how easily my husband can go to sleep. He can sleep anywhere. If he sits down on the couch he can pass out in five minutes- his head cast to one side, his snores coming in a rhythmic tempo of relaxation. I just watch him in amazement. How does he do that? It doesn’t matter what’s going on his life. Wall Street could be crumbling in a twisted heap, a hurricane could be ripping through our city, and the house could be on fire. None of it would matter. Jim would still be sleeping. I really resent him for that. Or maybe I’m just jealous. Either way- it irritates me.
I have to tell you, a short temper is a constant nagging trait of the insomniac. If my son asks me too many questions on a day after several nights of minimal rest I’ll take his head off with a quick slice of the verbal sword. I can hardly believe what comes out of my mouth when I’m sleep deprived. Jordan just looks at me like I’ve lost my mind and should make a very serious attempt to find it. My husband is a smart man and makes a point to steer a wide path around me on those days when he’s heard me wandering the house at all hours of the night. Yes, he wakes up, hears me tripping over furniture in the dark and promptly falls back to sleep.
The side-effects of long term sleep deprivation is something I’m extremely familiar with. Besides the obvious foul temper and the shaky hands, there is also a loss of equilibrium and verbal acuity. But the worst part of it is the forgetfulness. Why am I writing this article?
It’s a good day today- I slept six hours last night. Nearly a record. I’m up for Olympic Gold in the ‘Forty-Winks’ competition. My mind is a little less foggy; my speech isn’t laced with the wrong verb tense and the incorrect adjectives. I’m not slicing heads off with my verbal sword and I’m fairly pleasant. I’d probably remember your name if I met you. God be praised. I’m always so thankful on those days when the night before has awarded me rest.
I’m learning to find peace regardless of my physical struggle, or current situation. Like Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed, or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want, and whether or not I get any sleep. (I added that last little sentence to the scripture. I’m sure the Lord won’t mind. )
How do I find peace? I choose to be thankful. And in my thankfulness there is rest, whether I’m fully awake or dying for a lack of sleep. Either way, I have a deep sense of calm and contentment that this life and all its painful struggles can never take away from me. God inhabits the praises of His people and when I’m praising Him, I’m choosing to be appreciative of all His blessings. My mind doesn’t dwell on the negatives, and worry takes a back seat to serenity. That one choice of my sleep-deprived will, can make all the difference on how I get through the day- or the night.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Peaceful in Spite of What we See

I’m leaving you with a gift, peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives, so don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:26-28

I remember the day I first noticed the patchy, red, scaly raised area on my lower left shin. It was about the size of a dime. I had just read an article in the local newspaper about skin cancer, and was more than a little alarmed over this new discovery. I booked an appointment with my dermatologist for the next day and made a quick journey to his office for a diagnosis. Dr. Kane studied the area with intensity and told me with absolute certainty that the spot was not cancer, but a far less frightening proposition- psoriasis. Relieved that I would live and not require an invasive surgical procedure, I purchased the prescription for a topical steroid at my local pharmacy and put the intrusion out of my mind. Little did I know this quiet invader would become a constant and deliberate stalker over the years; one that would steal peace and erode confidence.
It’s almost funny how something that begins so innocuously can over time evolve into an overwhelming and pre-occupying tyrant. Since the birth of my daughter nearly 22 years ago, I’ve been plagued with psoriasis and have observed its gradual victory over my once clear and unblemished skin. Stress brings out the worst in the monster and since the last few years have been inordinately stressful to put it mildly, I’m beginning to feel like Job in the Old Testament Bible story- covered from head to toe in unsightly red itchy, painful sores. Long- sleeved blouses and long pants are anything but comfortable in the humidity and heat of Florida. But, we girls are experts at hiding the unsightly, aren’t we?
Since psoriasis has become my constant and undesirable companion, I find myself looking on other women with jealousy. I see their smooth, clear skin exposed under flirty dresses that skim the knee with beauty and elegance and I imagine the horrified looks on the faces of those who happen to catch sight of my condition. On occasion, I have been caught without the proper coverage and on those unfortunate instances come to the painful realization that it’s better to hide than answer the questions of curious onlookers. People are frightened by what they don’t understand. I’ve become an anomaly-something I never expected to deal with in my life. In our society beauty is defined by exacting criteria and I’ve spent my life in front of cameras, working on television and on the public stage. Now that my definition of beauty has been drastically altered, I’ve been forced to look inward to discover the essence of a splendor not defined by human criteria. This is a journey I didn’t want, or expect to take.
The truth, and I hate to admit it, is that I’ve been deeply depressed over the necessary changes in my life. There are days when I can occupy my mind with more worthy thoughts. There are other days when I simply want to hide in the corner of my closet and wallow in self -pity. I’m fully aware which of these is the more virtuous. To heck with virtue! I just want to be normal again.
I’ve asked God on many occasions over the years to take the psoriasis away, and to relieve me of this unfortunate ailment. I’ve seen God heal people of far more serious disorders. But as Paul said in Second Corinthians chapter 12 in the New Testament, “I was given a thorn in my flesh…and three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, ‘My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.’ And so, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger and certainly more compassionate, not to mention humble.
Maybe that’s the point. Perhaps God desires to teach me humility and the heart of compassion. Both attributes I really felt I possessed. I now know with absolute certainly that I was lacking in both departments. Having never walked in the shoes of those plagued with such maladies, how could I have a genuine and deep- seated compassion for their pain? I couldn’t. I had merely a dismissing and superficial sympathy, rather than genuine empathy birthed from personal experience. I now know the embarrassment and the feelings of shame associated with physical problems that are beyond my control.
I know this sounds completely nuts and I’m shaking my head as I write it, but I’m actually thankful for this challenge. I’m learning to see others the way God sees them, to look on their hearts rather than outward appearances. I’m learning to accept what I can’t change and to be grateful for the things I can. I’m learning to appreciate the beauty in life that supersedes worldly viewpoints of magnificence- and I’m discovering things about myself I would never have known had I not been forced to endure this hardship.
God has really interesting ways of developing our character. When we journey to a place of true intimacy with Him, He sometimes takes us down roads that are extremely uncomfortable. He shakes our definitions of faith and stretches our boundaries. In these times we question who we really are in Christ, and what holds us to our faith. Is it mere tradition and religious expectation? Do we live the Word, or do we simply know it by learned rhetoric and rote memorization?
Psoriasis is teaching me what it means to walk in peace and to trust God on a very personal level. I’ve read this particular passage over a thousand times and applied it to the various trials I’ve endured over the years. But never has it been as poignant to me as it is at this juncture in my life. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6&7
You know what? It’s true. His peace does keep us in the midst of the storm. His contentment is our comfort and our constant. It defies human reason and explanation. I haven’t given up hope that I will one day be healed, but in the meantime I’m gleaning new insights in my spiritual journey and learning to walk the path of serenity in the presence and mercy of the Lord.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Peacefully Parenting

Don’t worry about anything. Instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank Him for all He has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. Philippians 4:6

Of all the people I’ve loved in life and all the individuals I’ve cared for, I’ve never known greater love for any living thing than I do for my children. When my daughter was born I changed so completely, it took me by surprise. I went from a self-involved workaholic to a doting, over-protective mother. As any parent is aware- that need to safeguard and shield a child never leaves us. Mother was still trying to take care of me at the age of eighty-five! Now I understand the saying, “once a parent, always a parent.”
Meagan has been a particularly stimulating child even from the day she took her first step. Her body clock was wound tightly, and her engine never seemed to need a rest. She could doze for a fifteen minute nap and hit the floor running for the next four to five hours. A human Energizer Bunny!
When she was five she decided to hide in the local Target store, and Jim and I were absolutely frantic. After fifteen minutes, we had the front doors closed and locked and brought in the security guards and numerous personnel to find our wayward daughter. Thoughts of abduction flooded my mind with fear as we searched every nook and cranny in that huge mega facility. After a full thirty minutes and many hysterical tears, she leaped from one of the overly crowded rounders in the women’s clothing department and gleefully shouted, “Mommy, Mommy, you can’t find me!” This was a precursor of things to come…
Meg’s idea of fun is to push every button and to crash through barriers. She is a dare-devil in every sense of the word, completely fearless about things that would normally frighten ordinary people. She loves to drive fast and has several speeding tickets to prove it. Our day in court before the judge was very sobering…at least for me. I believe Meg thought of it as just another adventure!
Selling her car, taking away the computer and shutting down her cell phone have been necessary disciplinary measures for my adventurous child. And even then- she seems to find ways around what she views as mere inconveniences. I’ve never met anyone more resourceful. I have every confidence that one day she will somehow channel all that wily ingenuity, and there’s simply no telling what she will accomplish.
During those sleepless nights when I’m tossing and turning, waiting to hear her key in the door- I remind myself of all the amazing things God has done for my audacious and daring child. Like the time she flipped the new four-wheeler at her Uncle Richard’s farm and it landed full weight on top of her. She walked away without a scratch. Or, the time
she developed a systemic kidney infection, due to the fact that she pushed herself to the point of exhaustion. She had a temperature that escalated to 107 degrees, and the infection was so wide-spread we thought we might lose her. I sat by her bed in the emergency room for hours, holding her hot and fevered hand until she once again became coherent. Thankfully, God intervened on her behalf. Of course, there were bike crashes and car accidents- all which could have left her seriously impaired. But, God was always there to look out for her when I couldn’t.
The boyfriends I haven’t been comfortable with, the parties she doesn’t think I know about, and the endless array of other worldly concerns mothers share, keep me on my knees before God as my daughter travels this unhurried road to maturity.
Meagan is my steady lesson in maintaining peace. There have been times that I’ve been absolutely despondent over her choices and I’ve felt it had to be some flaw in me, some shortcoming in my parenting skills that caused her deliberate behavior. I’ve wanted to go back in time and do things differently- to offer more comfort, more of my time, less of my criticism, more of my compassion. I think parents often blame themselves for the perilous roads their children choose to travel. No doubt, I have made mistakes and I wish I could rectify them. But time is not a gift that can be recaptured. All we have is this moment. And in this moment, I choose to be thankful for those beautiful gifts I recognize in my amazing child.
From the time she was talking, she’d stop me from stepping on a tiny ant on the sidewalk- feeling sympathy for its lowly estate and right to life. Her contagious laughter brings a smile to the face of anyone who hears it. Her zest for life makes the dreariest day come alive and sparkle. She can kick a soccer ball with such intensity and drive; it makes me want to shout at the top of my lungs. Her loyalty toward the friends in her life is something truly admirable, and it offers me great peace to know these gifts are resident within her, an endowment from the hand and heart of God.
I know I have trained her up in the reliable and constant ways of the Lord. So when I hear that little voice in the Target store calling out to my heart, “Mommy, Mommy, you can’t find me!”, I have immeasurable peace in the knowledge that God always knows exactly where my beautiful Meagan is, and He will always be there to guide her toward the right path, one step at a time.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Peaceful in the MIdst of the Storm

“O lord, no one but you can help the powerless against the mighty! Help us Oh Lord our God, for we trust in you alone.” Second Chronicles 14:11

It is most difficult to write when I’m suffering through great adversity, but I find often the writing is then the most candid and accurate. I’m facing many trials and difficulties at this juncture in my journey, but I realize I’m not the only one looking for peace in the midst of the storm.
I think financial problems are one of the worst trials we face, because they affect the core of our desire and our need. Women have a special longing to feel safe- to know their homes are not threatened, to know that their children have what they require. We also want our men to feel the contentment associated with the knowledge that they are good providers.
Single women have other fears. How do they pay their rent or their mortgage? How do they cover their medical bills? What about the car payment?
When even one of these areas, or God forbid, all of these areas are in jeopardy, women have an innate pressure to solve the problem or to help repair the damage. I call it the Florence Nightingale syndrome. I’ve met few women who don’t make every effort to rise to the occasion when life’s complications occur. It’s simply a nurturing instinct- to protect and preserve.
But sometimes we can’t fix things. Sometimes the problems are beyond our ability to repair, or even to relieve. That’s when we feel most desperate, and those are the times we hate the most.
I am smack dab in the middle of one of those times. Due to a change in the economy my husband has to make changes in the way he handles business. I’ve taken on an extra job in order to facilitate monthly financial commitments and all of these monetary stresses take a toll on us, physically, spiritually and emotionally.
Usually my brilliant husband can come up with a suitable game plan to relieve our financial burden. He always has in the past, and frankly, I haven’t had to worry too much about our money issues. But, I can tell by his furrowed brow, distracted demeanor, and the way he tosses and turns through the night, that the financial issues are pressing. Money worries take a serious toll on a marriage. They divide and often times conquer. I know we aren’t alone in this sorrow. There are many others who share our worries and concerns and who are trying to keep their homes and families together in spite of challenging odds.
Where am I going with all this? To the Word. To the Lord. To the foot of the cross and to the faith I know will get me through these complex times. I’ve been through them before, perhaps not to this particular magnitude, but I’ve been through very hard times in the past and the Lord has never failed me. Not once. He’s always made a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, a door where there was no door.
One of my favorite scriptures that I read over and over again in times like these is found in the book of Philippians; Don’t worry about anything, instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. 4:6
And this is the key to peace- we must think of all those things we have to be thankful for, especially in trying times. Our health, our loved ones, dear friends, a good meal, a blue-sky day, laughter, a walk in the park, a hug from our children, the loyalty of a pet, gas in the car, a good cup of coffee. The list of gratitude’s is endless if we take the time to evaluate all that we have to be appreciative of. If we tell God how grateful we are for our blessings, he is willing to hear our petitions and to answer them. Don’t we want to do all we can for the child who is grateful? It’s no different with our Heavenly Father and all the more in these pressing times when trouble is so close at hand. Nothing takes Him by surprise- and he is fully aware of our dilemma.
It’s in these times of great anxiety that we discover the difference between faith and trust. I believe faith is a choice to envision with spiritual eyes what our natural eyes don’t yet see. While trust is the absolute confidence that all will be well- that God will unquestionably meet the need, in His way and time. Without these challenging periods, we would never learn the depth of our walk with God, or the level of maturity we still need possess. He allows the thorny patches in our road so that in our pain and suffering, we turn to our Lord to help us endure the hardship. The more we trust in Him, the greater the depth and intimacy of our spiritual relationship.
And so, to Him I go once again- with a thankful heart for all He’s done, and with my petitions for the pressing needs at hand. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds tomorrow. I trust the Lord to keep me stepping peacefully, as my mind is fixed on him.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Perfect Place to Find Affirmation

How precious are your thoughts about me oh God. They are innumerable. I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand. When I wake up in the morning, you are still with me. Psalms 139:17&18

I believe our journey in life is a process of discovery. Some of us are born with huge amounts of confidence and move through life without self-doubt and insecurities, while others seem to be plagued from day one.
In spite of the talents God has given me, I’ve never felt completely comfortable to express those gifts. Fear has often consumed me when I’ve attempted to sing or play the piano- even though I have worked very hard to bring those gifts to a place of excellence, even perfection. Mother started my piano lessons at the age of six, and I continued my studies for the next 23 years. You’d think all that practice would make perfect! When I’m at home, singing or playing to an imaginary audience, I’m fine- no stage fright or nausea, But, get me in front of a crowd, regardless of the size- and I’m a wreck. Even thinking about a performance will make my palms perspire and my stomach do flips.
There have been many times of triumph, where I have successfully performed the music without mistakes or concern, but more times when I have fallen short of the mark, disappointing myself and those in the audience of listeners.
Those inconsistencies wreak havoc with the self esteem. Oh how I admire those talented individuals who, time after time, stand before the crowd without an ounce of self-doubt and deliver their offering with such grace and composure. I envy their assurance and self-possession.
Why is it some of us suffer from a lack of self-esteem? I had a doting father who was quick to affirm me in every way possible. He thought everything I did was ridiculously spectacular. From homework to piano recitals- I could do no wrong in his eyes. Mother on the other hand, was far less complimentary. Her favorite saying was always ‘pretty is as pretty does.’ It wasn’t until I was a mature woman with children and responsibilities, feeling fat, frumpy and haggard, that my mother told me I looked lovely.
The most severe onslaught to my self-esteem took place during my 25 years of marriage. My husband didn’t grow up with kindness and encouraging words- and consequently was clueless as to the art of their delivery. After years of living with a man who was unable to compliment or confirm, I felt inadequate, unattractive and incapable. The fragility of our self-esteem is often made the more vulnerable by our environment and the people who are in our lives.
I’ve meet a countless array of women who have offered up the same complaint. They have allowed their self-esteem to be compromised by the people closest to them. The God-given talents and abilities are over-shadowed by the contempt, jealousy and need to control demonstrated by those nearest. It’s the one’s who are dearest to our hearts that have the ability to deliver the most fatal blows.
I’m sorry to say, that I have looked for confirmation, affirmation and love in the wrong places from time to time. And I’m sure many of you have too. These unsuitable paths have offered a temporary fix to my lagging sense of worth, but certainly no permanent answer. The end result is dire uncertainty and a dark dismal road with no end or destination. When we look to individuals to build our confidence, we will be constantly disappointed. Over the years, I’ve made that predictable mistake, and have always found it to be true. We can not develop our self-esteem by depending on the accolades of others. This is a foundation that is sure to crumble. There are simply too many variables in the character of men or women, to base our importance or rest our confidence on the words of human wisdom.
We must know who we are in Christ Jesus. This is the beginning of our journey toward discovering our self-esteem and it is also the destination. In Christ alone do we find the purpose of our lives, the use of our talents and the will to continue the passage in spite of self-doubt. Our Creator is the only one who knew us before we came into existence. You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13 He endowed us with our abilities and foresaw the ways in which we would utilize our gifting. God has given gifts to each of you from His great variety of Spiritual gifts. Manage them well so that God’s generosity can flow through you. 1 Peter4:10 And most importantly, He loves us even when we don’t live up to the gifting or make the most excellent choices. Do we find that to be true of the people in our lives?
I now know that regardless of my musical performances or the directions I may choose in my pursuit of contentment, the Lord is my only constant. I’ve learned to ask myself this question; ‘who am I going to lift up today?’ I find when I choose to exalt the Lord, rather than self, and make my choices about Him, rather than me, the deep seated fulfillment I attain offers the greatest increase to my self-worth.
He’s the rock I stand on, the lifter of my head, the healer of my distress and the comfort of my spirit. He is the author and finisher of my faith. He is the lover of my soul. There is no other place I can go to find authenticity. There is no other path for my feet, or road to travel. I belong to Him and He, to me.
Jesus is the gentle protector of my self-esteem. He defines who I am in every way that bears importance. The words of others pale in comparison to His words over me.
How precious are your thoughts about me oh God. They are innumerable. I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand. When I wake up in the morning you are still with me. Psalms 139: 17&18

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Our Self Esteem is God's Design

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my spoke man to the world.” Jeremiah 1:5

Recently my beloved mother passed away. She was a delightful 85 years old, and would have turned 86 on June fifteenth. I had her for 47 years, but 47 years was not nearly enough. Neither for me, nor for any of us who knew and loved her.
Her funeral was a cornucopia of people from all walks of life, various faiths, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. There was one resounding quality in mother’s life that brought all these people together in a tiny, overcrowded and uncomfortably warm room. They all wanted to give back a little bit of what she’d always given to them- love, acceptance and encouragement.
When I was a small child, my parents owned a nursing home called Hampton Manor. It was located on a narrow winding street, on the north end of town, surrounded by big gnarly trees with canopies of lovely green leaves, offering their shade to anyone passing by. There were beautiful flowers planted out front- all pinks and reds, because these were Mother’s favorite colors. Their fragrance welcomed every visitor who entered Hampton Manor.
“How in the world are you today, Mr. Pulley? You must be fine, because how could anyone be anything but fine on a day like today!” Mother’s positive demeanor and uplifting cheerfulness had a way of setting the mood for all the visitors who entered that home. Her beautiful smile could light up a room.
She knew every patient- all one hundred and fifty by first and last name, their personalities, like and dislikes, their family’s names, what they preferred for dinner and certainly what they didn’t. No matter how cantankerous some of those folks could be, Mother always knew precisely the right thing to say to quiet the troubled soul.
My summers were spent as a teen working in the nursing home, feeding patients, changing bed sheets, wheeling people down the hall in their wheelchairs and basically learning the art of the nurse’s aide. I found out then, just how hard my mother worked. I discovered how taxing people could be when not feeling well, or when they realized they were in the twilight of their lives.
Mother was always thinking up something to keep people in touch with the present, not allowing them to live only in the memories of their past. She’d organize picnics outside on the grounds and have visitors bring their pets to the event- a hilarious blend of critters and patients, all co-mingled together in giggling heaps, surrounded by metal walkers, wheel chairs and IV bags. It was quite a sight.
We celebrated every fall by the return of the Geese traveling south for the winter and the patients would make arts and crafts to commemorate the return of the winged wonders. There was a little pond close by the nursing home property and the geese knew exactly where to go. Every year, curious faces of all ages were pressed against windows in silent awe as the beautiful creatures made their graceful descent. It was a time of curiosity and fun at the nursing home as the wandering geese returned home. Mother encouraged a sense of exploration and mental stimulation for those in her care, as she was by nature a fun-loving and inquisitive person.
After hours in that place, walking endless miles from the north, south, east and west of the building, she’d still find time to come home and make the most amazing meals. My personal favorite was fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and her special home-made rolls. The smell of that food made everyone’s mouth water and we would dig in greedily with no thought about anyone else. Mom would always get stuck with a wing, or some other unfavorable piece. She’d just smile and say, “Oh honey, don’t you know the wing’s the tastiest of all?” Who was she kidding?
As I grew older and had a family of my own, I came to realize just how amazing my mother was. She handled both a wonderful career and a family with great finesse, and I never heard a word of complaint. She was grateful for all God’s great gifts and the wonders of life, her family and her ministry to those less fortunate.
My mother’s self-esteem, her confidence, came from the knowledge that she was doing exactly what God had called her to do. She was fulfilling her purpose and carrying out the mission appointed to her. She was making a difference in the world- one life at a time. My mother’s greatest gift was the ability to look beyond her own anguish and see the suffering of others.
I find myself getting so caught up in my own world- the struggles and battles of my existence. I often forget that there is a world of people who are at the same moment dealing with pain and heartache.
Watching her example, I understood that all of us have been given gifts and talents- unique abilities to make a difference in the lives of those around us. It may not be as considerable as caring for one hundred and fifty needy patients in a nursing home. It may be as simple as considering the requests of a neighbor, or reaching out to a friend. But our self esteem is surely bolstered to new heights when we take the time to extend a helping hand to those in need and find a way to use our God given endowments to produce a positive change in the world around us -one opportunity at a time.
Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my spokesman to the world. Jeremiah 1:5