High-Five Thankfulness

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‘So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind’~1 Thessalonians 5:11.

We need to high-five each other more.  Almost a year ago, I felt God ask me to offer a weekly ‘blessing’ to our pastor.  Sending an e-mail each week to him letting him know that something he said resonated with my heart.  This exercise is not easy for me on several levels–especially given my track record with pastors.  Most of the time I feel like I’m the ‘sheep’ in the flock that pastors want to sell to market….  Fear sometimes grips my soul as I write out a piece of my heart to him.  In some ways, I feel healing coming to areas where hurts lie deeply from church experiences.  He has told me how much he looks forward to the e-mails, because he questions if anything he says in his sermons has value to someone.  Insecurities haunt the best of us.

We need to high-five each other more.  A friend has been incapacitated a long time.  At times, she expresses feeling failure that she isn’t well yet.  I encouraged her that she is moving forward and healing.  It just takes time.  As she takes baby steps and wills herself to accomplish her physical therapy, I see great courage and at the same time fear in her eyes.  What if her current state is as good as it gets?  Her insecurities give her one more obstacle to overcome on her quest toward health.  Her husband spear-headed a campaign to have 7 friends take a day of the week to text her encouragement.  I look forward each week to my day, and I text her ‘Praying for you’ on other days, as I think of her.  She has said that those messages all of us send help give her courage and feel less alone.

We need to high-five each other more.  I read an article giving statistics of what a mother’s job is worth (about $60,000/year).  The comment section was brutal.  A lot of people out there have ‘mommy issues’ or just plain ‘woman issues.’  I felt personally attacked as I kept reading (stupid mistake) the vitriolic discussions that claimed that being a mom is a cushy way of life.  Wow!  My insecurities about the choices I’ve made in life seem justified when I read some of those comments, and I’m tempted to feel like a failure with my life.  Thank you, Jud, for thinking more highly of what I do for our family than that!  A friend recently moved and said some really wonderful parting thoughts to me.  She was shocked (after reading my first blog post that explains the title of my blog) that I think of myself as an ‘extra’ or ‘supporting character’ in life.  Her words still encourage me to think kinder thoughts toward myself.

We need to high-five each other more.  Our insecurities may remain hidden, but they affect our lives and how we relate to people.  All of us need to know there are people who think the best of us and hope the best for us.  Are we willing to be brave and open with someone about what their life means to us?  A couple of lines in a text, email or note go a long way.  A sentence or two face-to-face or in a phone call can strengthen someone more than we realize.  In this world where people judge and convict others based on gender, sexual identity, political convictions, race and many other prejudices, may we learn and teach others to give kudos just as loudly when we see the face of God in someone’s character and acts of compassion.

In the approaching holiday season, let us take some time to give gifts of encouragement to others who need to know someone values them.

Have you experienced someone ‘high-fiving’ you?  What did that mean to you?  How can you ‘high-five’ someone this week?

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Who Are ‘The Least’?

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“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”  –Matthew 25:40

We sang a song in church today about ‘the least of these’.  Those words made me uncomfortable.  Who decides who qualifies as the least?  Do the people we decide are the least know that they are least?  Have we ever identified ourselves as the least?

I read an article about how we in the privileged groups ‘help’ the un-privileged.  The article addressed the crisis in the Philippines as they try to recover from the typhoon that recently decimated many villages and displaced countless numbers of people.  In the past, many well-meaning Americans have sent clothing items and products that actually hinder the recovery process.  Stiletto heels, breast milk, worn-out lingerie backed-up limited storage, airfields and relief workers’ time as someone had to sort through all of that stuff.  The article suggested that in times like this crisis, monetary donations to international relief organizations helped communities recover better because those organizations know the greatest needs that come with a large-scale recovery effort.  Living through the aftermath of disasters (natural and man-created), we see clearly the least.

But, in all honesty as those living in American privilege, we define the least as those in physical poverty–especially international poverty.  They are not us.  In America, we help, we save, we fix–we rarely express need.  Yet, given the mental health statistics and the plethora of counselors, therapists and psychiatrists in our country, we only bluff ourselves into believing we don’t need any help.  Vulnerability requires that we expose our weaknesses and level the playing field with whomever we consider the least.

When we lived in Alabama, I taught several Bible studies for women in our church.  Most of the women who came attended AA meetings and fought hard for their sobriety.  A couple of them asked us to go to one of their annual meetings.  Jud and I both point to that experience as what ‘church’ should look like.  When Jud and I commented to a group of people we’d just met that we felt humbled and honored to be included by our friends, they looked sheepishly at the ground.  They said that most people not in the program didn’t feel honored to be around them.  One of my friends said to me in her gravelly, southern voice, “Maggie, I know you’re not an alcoholic woman; but you’re one of us.”  Probably the highest compliment I’ve ever received.  I knew I couldn’t ‘fix’ their alcoholism; but I could walk their path alongside them.

I could learn vulnerability from them.

I could learn how much I need what they had learned–how much I needed community.

I could learn how much I am the least.

The Message paraphrase of the Bible interprets the least as ‘someone overlooked or ignored.’  I like that description, because all of us fit into it.  If we all fit into the description, perhaps we will empathize when we see someone or a group that churches or societies overlook and ignore.

The poor.

The powerless.

The judged.

I want to listen more before I jump to conclusions about what someone needs.  Before I assess how to fix someone’s situation.  I pray that people will not see me as their savior.  I pray that people will see the love of Christ in me and be drawn to Him as their savior.

Who have you considered ‘the least’?  How have you wanted to avoid being ‘the least’?  When have you identified with ‘the least’?

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Remembering Veterans

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As a retired military dependent, I have a view of Veteran’s Day that not everyone gets to see.  Jud retired after 20 years in the service (plus 4 years before that at a military university).  I spent 17 of those years supporting his part in protecting our country.  Many people question the need for the kind of military we have, and many question the ethics of war.  I, too, question many of those things–especially since my boys reached the age that they have to register for Selective Service.  However, today I put that inner and political debate aside and want to honor those who offered themselves up for our country.

Jud, I choose you to represent how I feel about all veterans.  You epitomize all the best attributes of who we want to serve our country.  You have ethics, integrity, empathy, courage.

I remember arriving as your new bride in Alamogordo, New Mexico.  I can still feel the shock when you had to deploy a week after we married.  Those twice a month deployments taught us both to value our relationship and carve out regular ‘date nights’ from the beginning of our life together.  I remember the ‘bomb me’ vehicles in Germany (the license plates that American military families had with a prominent USA on them).  I remember the ‘bomb me’ shiny officer ranks you had to wear on your hat.  The joking helped ease the stress of knowing how real the threat of death could be.  I know firsthand the long hours, the family’s sacrifice, the delayed holidays, birthdays and anniversaries that come with a 24/7/365 job.  I have seen the conflict in your soul as you participated in war and training that pushed the boundaries of sanity.  I love you for that conflict and hope that other leaders feel the same.  Although most of your military career you participated in top secret missions, as those declassified over the years I’ve had a renewed sense of pride for the lives you saved in issuing warnings.  As your career progressed and you began teaching and training younger men about space power and military ethics, my gratitude for veterans increased.  We need more people who have digested the ugliness of war and grown in wisdom to come alongside the next generations of soldiers.  They need mentors who will help them process what military life shows them.  The lectures I got to hear made me see how incredibly gifted you are at communicating philosophical ideas in tangible language.  When you took your cadets each class on a ‘field trip’ to the Air Force Academy’s cemetery so that they would think about the legacy of military service, and you showed them Mark’s grave, I wept with you at the end of the day.  I remember the 9 months you worked construction after retirement so that you could ‘beat the military out of you.’  After 20 years serving in the military, transitioning from that world to the civilian world created challenges that you faced courageously.

While you served with focus and responsibility, you never insisted that your family conform to a ‘military mindset.’  Thank you for separating your service to our country and your service in your home.  Thank you for letting me be your wife and not a military wife.  Thank you for letting us always be a team and letting me be your support through those years and beyond.  Thank you for making us a priority and embracing our home as your place of refuge from the craziness of bureaucracy.  Thank you for recognizing when those bureaucratic rules began to impinge on our family.  I love you, respect you, honor you.

I read a statistic a couple of days ago that every 65 minutes, a veteran commits suicide.  22 suicides a day.  We need to feel the weight of gratitude toward our veterans.  Many of them have sacrificed physically, mentally and emotionally for our country.  Many of them leave the military broken physically, mentally and emotionally as they have seen things no one was created to see.  Many of them struggle to lead ‘normal’ lives after their service.  I am thankful that our healthcare system is dispelling the stigma of mental health issues.  We need to dispel those stigmas outside the medical community so that shame does not keep us from vulnerably sharing the struggles with depression, anxiety, PTSD and all the other disorders that our brain develops as we try to cope with severe trauma.

Our veterans continue to define ‘heroic’ when they seek help and healing.  If you know a suffering veteran, encourage them to exemplify heroism to us all by humbling themselves and using the health benefits they have earned.

Thank you to all veterans for your service and sacrifice to our country.  We owe it to you to support and encourage you and your families when you transition out of military service and back into the civilian world.

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Beloved Gift of God

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My darling youngest son, you turned 18 today.  How can that be?  How can this young man before my eyes be you?  Your name means ‘beloved gift of God.’  And you live up to that name.

I prayed for joy with all of you.  Joy flows out of you and is all around you.  I remember telling you recently that often I would send you to your room after you had disobeyed to wait for your consequences.  You thought it was because I was incredibly angry with you and needed to calm down.  Most of the time, you waited because I couldn’t stop laughing.  You all are the joy of my heart.

I remember Gammy marveling at you when you rolled over the day after we brought you home from the hospital.  I’ve never stopped marveling at you.  You astounded Poppa with your sports ability–especially throwing and catching.  And now you are a top shot putter in the state.  I remember your energy far surpassed mine, so you motivated me to exercise and improve my energy and stamina so that I could keep up with you.  I remember when you were 2 and we all went to one of Dad’s work functions at a home with a lot of land.  You walked away across the field, never looking back, and sat down just before you got to the trees …  with your back to us.  I wondered what you were thinking.  I would wonder that a lot through the years.  We kept our eye on you and Dad finally went and sat down with you before coming back to the group.  I remember lunches at Village Inn–chocolate chip pancakes and club sandwiches–when you were in kindergarten.  I remember dancing at the dentist office to the elevator music, singing and praying before bed and you dancing to the songs Dad would play on the guitar.

Before each of you were born, Dad would poke my stomach to see what you would do.  Em kicked back–no one was going to take up her space!  We knew she would be a fighter, a challenger.  J just rolled over and repositioned himself to accommodate the new normal of his environment.  You didn’t move.  You didn’t kick.  You just blew it off.  Our concern began….

Instead, what we’ve found turned out to be a free-spirit in terms of peer pressure.  You have always been well-liked; but you never seemed to care what others wanted you to be.  Because of that attitude, you are a leader.  Your teachers all have said how kind you are.  Parents of classmates would wax  lyrical about you and smile warmly at me when they found out you were my son.  A couple of teachers commented how inclusively you treated all your classmates.  In gym classes, you wanted everyone to have a turn and would even toss or throw the ball to the girls to give them a chance to shine.  Other classmates said that you would stick up for them and protect them.  You make others feel good about themselves by embracing them in your world.  

I remember praying for each of you and asking God to reveal what part of Him you contain.  With you, I see a pastor’s heart–I don’t know if you will ever be a church pastor; but you have a deep caring and empathy for others.  I remember one Sunday, you were about 8, you came to me with your Bible open and said that you’d been reading about how the Israelites had hurt the heart of God so often.  You continued that it made you think of how many times you had done things that must have hurt the heart of God and it made you sad.  We prayed for God to reveal more of His heart to you and the ability to live out His way of life.  You trotted off and all was well with the world.  I pray now that you will not let others shape your identity.  You are big and strong.  You have a protective nature; but I pray that you will allow yourself to need protecting sometimes.  People look to you as a role model; but I pray that you will embrace God’s humility so that you can use the power others give you in their lives to point them to Him.

When I see you all grown up, and yet behind your beautiful blue eyes I also see the little boy who still lives in you, my whole being swells with pride.  I’ve often said that as a mom, my goal is to work myself out of a job.  I’ve done my job well.  I know you don’t need me like you used to when you were little young.  You are confident and appropriately independent.  My role in your life has changed through the years.  I miss the ‘little boy’ years; but I look forward to where God takes you through life.  My mama’s heart still worries, still panics, still wants control.  But as with these first 18 years, we will grow together and figure out our changing roles with each other.

I know one thing will not change.  I will forever love you and be proud that you are my beloved gift of God.

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