If You Must Criticize

By Marcy Barthelette

“The truth hurts,” but not so much when offered in love.

My husband never meets a stranger. He perfectly illustrates the old saying, “A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met.” In fact, recently we were camping with our daughter’s family and were ready to take dinner from grill to table when we realized Ken wasn’t there. Our granddaughter quickly pointed out that he was talking with strangers again, so we promptly sent her to the neighboring site to retrieve him. No matter where we go, Ken can always find someone to chat with for a while. He has such a reputation that when we see a conversation beginning, the rest of us groan and roll our eyes, knowing that whatever we happen to be doing will be delayed for a while.

All that talking and listening has equipped him with valuable insights about the people around him. During his state park career, he made a point of learning about the people who worked in each of the facilities he served. Maintenance and office staff typically worked in the park nearest their home and those staff members knew their park, but Ken didn’t. The superintendent was often the new kid on the block, so it was important to listen to his staff in order to make himself aware of their specific skills and also any family issues that might need to be respected. The information they offered helped all of them to work more efficiently. He also made a point of inquiring as to their hobbies because things they loved to do in their leisure time could lead them to being placed in a role that no one even knew they possessed the skills for. I know few people who are able to assess an emergency better than Ken and then react in a way that will facilitate a better outcome for everyone involved. His ability to methodically assess conditions and predict how an individual may react to situations has served him and others very well. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years about preventive behavior.

One of the most rewarding parts of his position in parks was to guide summer youth workers coming to the parks through government programs. Many of them had little guidance at home and limited opportunity to interact with adults outside the home. He enjoyed watching them grow under his leadership and at the end of every summer, each participant was required to attend a mock interview to help prepare them for a very competitive workplace. He scored them on everything from appearance to language and use of vocabulary. He taught them the things that didn’t elicit a positive response from the potential employer as well as what was typically expected from an interview. He helped them understand how to greet the interviewer confidently and dress effectively for a good initial impression. They learned that the brand on your clothing was much less important than cleanliness, a good appearance, and a positive attitude. Believe me, some of them came to the interview requiring abundant constructive criticism and Ken delivered it with care.

Some of us are reluctant to accept constructive criticism and I often find myself included in that group. Sometimes we react differently when a spouse offers criticism as opposed to a friend or a total stranger. But it’s important that we employ the same skills we use on the job to the family and friends relationships in our lives. It’s often easier to listen politely to a stranger than to patiently hear what a person close to us has to say about our job production or personal behavior.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up. I Thessalonians 5:11

That’s where Ken shines. When someone is struggling with an assigned task, he takes the time to look at every angle, to consider which skills a person has that might better qualify him or her for a new position, one in which success would be more likely than in the job currently held. He then opens the conversation with kindness and praise for the good things the person has accomplished and offers options to move the person into a new position that could lead to greater satisfaction for everyone in the workplace. All of us are more likely to respond to criticism positively when we feel respected and appreciated. The same principles apply to both work and personal environments. They even extend to volunteer programs in churches, schools, parks, etc. The next time you find yourself wondering what to say when someone needs correction, think first about ways to build that person up and not tear them down. If you must criticize, do so in love.

Before you speak the truth in love, consider where a person seems to shine, what gifts he or she can bring to the job (or family). Be ready to present options that will maximize the individual’s potential and expand God’s kingdom.
Tony Dungy & Nathan Whitaker, The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge

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When God Says No

By Marcy Barthelette

I say this because I know what I am planning for you. I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future. Jeremiah 29:11 New Century Version, NCV

It was probably sometime in 1986 when our kids were experiencing those tumultuous teen years that we decided it was in their best interests to relocate. Understand, we didn’t ask their opinion. Ken and I simply decided that if they chose to pursue a college education, it would be beneficial to live in a school district that offered more in the way of preparation than the tiny district they had called home for several of the more important years of their lives, at least in their opinions.

At that time, we called one of the most beautiful settings in all of Missouri our home. Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park offers the crystal clear waters of the East fork of the Black River tumbling over giant Precambrian boulders and creating a myriad of pools that delight swimmers of all ages. Nature’s water slides outshine anything man has ever created for water recreation. Beautiful hillsides surround the stream and beckon the adventurous genes in every experienced or would-be hiker. The park boasts an enormous bounty of wildflowers and wildlife, many found only there or in very few places. Its very unique ecosystem is studied by scientists and nature lovers from far and wide. We had all flourished in this environment but it seemed to be our time to move on.

And so, the interview process began, and Ken felt really confident that he had this move in the bag. He had spent four years at the Shut-ins, a long time for a superintendent to stay in one place back then, and he was a good friend of the District Supervisor for the intended new assignment. But guess what … the answer was no. We were devastated! In hindsight, we realized that park was not a location we really wanted but we carried around our disappointment like a badge of honor until the next opening presented itself and we jumped on that one too. This time the answer was yes but though Ken accomplished a lot during our short stay and learned vital skills for the future, the park was not a good fit for our family and we really began to question our haste in moving. Finally, the superintendent position at Montauk State Park opened. It turned out to be just the right park at the right time. All of our kids graduated from high school during our tenure there. The park provided great part-time jobs for them and they all made good friends, enjoyed the sports program and other extracurricular activities. We loved our time there and always feel as if we’re coming home when we go back for a camping visit.

Sometimes the best things come to us by following a labyrinthine path, one which seems never-ending when we’re in the midst of it. We’ve always felt that God was in control of our moves from place to place, though there were occasions when we momentarily questioned His decisions. In the end, He always knows best and we can save ourselves a lot of grief by accepting His “NO” as just another fork in the road.

If God must choose between your earthly satisfaction and your heavenly salvation, which do you hope he chooses? Max Lucado

God’s ultimate concern is that we hear His calling, accept His will for our lives and live according to His teachings. And that brings us right back to His “gift” of free will. It lies at the core of everything we say and do. Our world offers more temptations than we can begin to count and often they’re disguised so craftily that we just can’t help ourselves. All the glitter around us seems so alluring and just when we’re about to take that dangerous step that could jeopardize our relationship with Him, God decides this is the time to just say “NO. I want my child to really think about this.” When everything is going wrong and you just can’t seem to get back on track, step back a bit and take a good look at what’s happening. Is the decision you are about to make really good for you, or will it just make you more appealing in the eyes of the world? God may be trying to tell you something that will impact everything in your future. It just might be a good idea to pay attention to His “NO.”

Many plans are in a person’s mind, but the Lord’s purpose will succeed. Proverbs 19-21 CEB 

 


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An Appropriate Answer

By Marcy Barthelette

To give an appropriate answer is a joy; how good is a word at the right time! Proverbs 15:23

We were standing side by side at the pharmacy and she looked totally spent. Our prescriptions weren’t ready and so I opened a conversation with her. She’d been caring non-stop for an ailing husband over a long period of time and felt helpless and exhausted. I tried to lighten her burden with a few moments of friendly dialogue but her weariness was clearly too profound to be affected by the mere conversation. My prescription soon arrived and, as a conversation ender, I told her that I hoped her husband would soon be better. She answered, “That isn’t going to happen.” I’m sure my breath caught for an instant, but the words, “I wish you peace” just rolled off my tongue and, for the first time, she almost smiled. She then thanked me and told me that was exactly what she needed to hear.

I know that response didn’t come from me. I’m the one with no filter on my mouth … no, I don’t swear, but I do often speak without thinking through my responses. Those words had to come from God through me. He used me as a conduit to comfort another person. That was a humbling realization and it made me wonder how many opportunities I had missed because my mind was too busy with other things to let my heart take control.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10 NIV

You know how it is, you’re driving down the freeway and a thoughtless driver cuts you off at an exit. The spontaneous reaction is anger and frustration. Maybe you can’t even say an audible word but your actions convey your message quite clearly. Your child comes bouncing in the door after school asking a million questions and begging for a snack but you mentally shove those pleas aside because you’re in the middle of a good book or stressing over something job-related, especially now that so many people are working from home. Your spouse blows through the door, tired and hungry, asking what’s for dinner and your response is something like, “Really? Couldn’t you at least say hello first?”

These situations may seem to pale in comparison to the lady in the pharmacy, but if we address those we care most about with indifference or greet a careless traveler with anger, is it likely that when push comes to shove, we’ll be open to a proper God nudge. If it were only God’s choice, he’d just clean up our hearts and make us responsive to the needs of others. But God’s nudges are a two-way street. He nudges but we have to be ready to absorb that nudge and act on it. I could have said to the woman, “Take care,” and walked away but that nudge was so strong that I had to wish her peace. I had no idea it would produce such a profound effect, but God did. I didn’t even have time to question my response. God knew her need and telegraphed it to my heart. And, wonder of all wonders, I was listening at that moment.

I can only recall a few instances when I felt so strongly after receiving a God nudge, a nano-second impulse, that I simply obeyed. There was no time to question the impulse … I was told exactly what to say and my heart responded. How many more times has He tried but my heart just didn’t hear?

I wish I could say that my lesson was well learned that day and that I have listened to every nudge since, but the truth is I still respond without a filter when a situation or individual catches me off guard. I typically regret my response as soon as it leaves my mouth. I’m going to try and work harder on that particular personality trait. Maybe one day, God will honor me with another important nudge and my heart will be listening. In the meantime, I’ll try and respond to all those around me in a voice that echoes His Word.

God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way.

He wants you to be just like Jesus. Max Lucado


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Moving Into God’s House

  By Marcy Barthelette

Your potential is the sum of all the possibilities God has for your life. Charles Stanley

I love moving. My history attests to that statement. If my count is right, I have lived in twenty-three different houses, enjoyed one vacation home, and tested many different types of camping equipment. I relish the hunt for a new place, though I confess that I don’t enjoy home purchase closing procedures; they often drain the joy from the process. I delight in drawing blueprints of where my furnishings and accessories will fit into new spaces. The challenge of logistically bringing all the pieces together gets my juices revving. I even enjoy just dreaming about a new place, drawing floorplans, and as I age, I look at ways to make my footprint smaller, live in less space with less stuff, and just enjoy God’s creation all around me. Tiny home living fascinates my imagination and I’ve drawn plans for very small dwellings, challenging myself to find space for all the things I need along with some of my favorite creature comforts, always increasing my living area by incorporating lots of outdoor space.

I’d love to begin the search for a new home today. My mind is definitely up to the challenge but my body may not be as willing to cooperate. So, I’ve been going about the business of making small changes in my current home. Decluttering has been a major goal in recent weeks. We’ve emptied closets and drawers, pantry and laundry room, searching for anything that needs to leave. Those items have been bagged and donated to worthy causes. Then comes the task of finding innovative new ways to store away the things that don’t need to be seen and effectively displaying treasures that offer clues to who we are. In a way, we are moving without changing our physical address. We can attain a feeling of newness without the hassle of packing, unpacking, and dealing with movers. We can create new small areas within our home to accommodate our hobbies and interests and we can improve our outdoor space with new appointments that reflect our love of nature.

Moses prayed: Lord, you have been our home since the beginning. Psalm 90:1

Several times recently, I’ve heard it said that we should move into God’s house and I’ve pondered what that would look like. A physical move here on earth involves collecting and filling many boxes and, if needed, contracting a moving company, contacting the Post Office to make the address change, arranging to disconnect one group of utility services and connect another, cleaning and polishing two residences, one for yourself and the other for someone new. We leave a well-used comfortable environment to arrive in unfamiliar surroundings. Yes, we become somewhat familiar with the neighborhood just by spending a few moments here or there during the process, but it takes living in that new home to really get acquainted with it and with the people surrounding us. Familiarity typically equates with comfort, of one sort or another.  What will it be like moving in with God?

I’m asking Yahweh for one thing, [David] wrote, only one thing: to live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty, I’ll study at his feet. That’s the only quiet secure place in a noisy world. Ps. 27:4–5 MSG

How will our new living space look and feel or will there be a designated space at all? Will our bodies require food and water or will there be nobody as we know it? We are told there will be no pain but is that because our bodies no longer exist? We know everything will be different but we’re not sure exactly what that means. So God has given us the opportunity right here on earth to take those first steps toward moving in with Him. He sent His Word to us through believers of the past and He expects us to spend time with the Word in quiet contemplation. He keeps the line of communication always open. We can call upon Him at any hour and expect to be heard. Prayer is such an easy thing and yet we try to make it hard. Just to immerse ourselves in conversation with Him — that’s all He asks. He provides for our needs, not necessarily our wants, but always our absolute needs. Unfortunately, we don’t always recognize the difference. Once again, we return to the inevitable freedom of choice that is a constant in our lives. Will we choose correctly and move into a space that offers comfort from the chaos of the world or will we stumble blindly in the darkness around us, never feeling the hand of God at work in our spirits? Of all the moves we will make in our lifetimes, this is the only one that really matters … this move determines our eternity!

LORD, I love the Temple where you live, where your glory is. PSALM 26:8


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Human Faith or Animal Instinct?

By Marcy Barthelette

Do you feel it? The crunch of dry leaves as temperature and humidity levels drop. Do you smell it? The scent of burning leaves from a neighbor’s yard or an occasional wood fire wafting from a nearby chimney. Do you see it? Pumpkins and scarecrows and jewel-toned mums have taken center stage. Do you hear it? The howl of the first cold snap of the season and the chatter of squirrels frantically scurrying about storing food for the coming winter.

Fall has definitely arrived and our yard is a very busy place at this time of year. You see, we are blessed to have both pin oak and bur oak trees, producing both the smallest and the largest of acorns, and they are literally alive with activity. Those little gray bushy tails seem to be everywhere at once, climbing one tree then swinging across and racing down another. In their quest for acorns and nuts, it seems they must burn more energy than could possibly be provided by the nutrients they consume.

Our pin oak produces prolifically every year but the bur oak only has a banner season once in a while, thank goodness! Two years ago, it was so heavily laden, it was a full-time job to collect the acorns as a matter of self-defense. Bear in mind, bur oak acorns are very large, sometimes to the size of a ping pong ball. By the time you add their

 mossy ringed cap, they become quite a hazard in the yard. Not only do they wreak havoc on mower blades but you can easily find yourself in a heap on the ground if you step on one the wrong way. We piled them at the base of the tree thinking it would make the task of gathering easier for our quirky little friends. Yet they, to our great surprise, left them under the tree and went about the business of preparing for winter in their tried and true way, which always includes burying countless acorns in my flowerpots and landscape beds. Springtime brings a flurry of tiny oak trees the critters have forgotten. During the course of that winter, however, the acorn pile beneath the tree began to disappear a few at a time and by spring, little was left but caps and shells.

The squirrels prepared by instinct. They couldn’t reason that we had created that pile of acorns just for them but when the weather became brutal and their stashes were depleted, they ate whatever was available. They behaved instinctually but were also opportunists.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

We, humans, take for granted that our homes will be warmed in winter and we can go to the store to replenish our food supply. We aren’t forced to rely on the efforts of our summer and fall laborers to supply our winter’s needs. At least, not in our times. While we often exercise our instincts in making decisions, we have faith that what we need will be there for us. The big question is, where do we find our faith. Is it found in amassing wealth or things? Can our family and friends be counted on to provide for our needs?

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-encompassing power is from God and not from us.

II Corinthians 4:7

I recall thinking as a child that the jars referenced in this scripture were glass jars filled with modeling clay in a variety of subtle hues. So when I heard the verse, I pictured all kinds of interesting creatures and structures that I could create with the soft, pliable clay. When I was a little older, I realized God’s Word described jars that were made of clay, hardened to protect their contents, and in Jesus’ time, all manner of things were stored in them. They might contain spices or grain. One might use them for hard biscuits or sweet treats. They were the equivalent of our glass and plastic containers of today.

 

God uses the metaphor to help us understand what we should be storing in our spiritual “jars of clay”. He fills us with just the right amount of strength to help us pass through troubled valleys. He creates a humble heart that allows us to accept His instruction. He knew we would be reluctant to accept all His decisions for our lives so He provided patience enough to wait for His good timing. When someone around us is in need, he gave us compassion and a generous spirit to share what we have. The qualities God stores in our “jars of clay” are endless. His mercies are endless.

God created our cute and industrious little squirrels with the instinct to gather and store in order to survive a long, cold winter. He gave us faith enough to believe that He will always provide. But He also gave us free will to decide what we will store in our jars. He chose to give each of us the power to decide whether to fill our jars with the sights, sounds, and smells of the world or with the promises of His Holy Word.

Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. Ephesians 5:1


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Changing the Color of Your Spirit

By Marcy Barthelette

The farmer sows the word. Mark 4:14 NIV

Ever noticed those big-leafed bushes with the giant balls of color dancing at the ends of their branches, often becoming so heavy they weigh down the branch that tries to support them. They’re called hydrangeas and, whether planted in drifts or as an accent piece, they are quite the showstoppers! Hydrangeas also offer an enchanting phenomenon in the garden. The Bigleaf varieties possess an unusual ability to change their bloom color when we amend the soil around them. Keep in mind, only the Bigleaf varieties can be altered. White varieties, such as Oakleaf and Snowball, will always be white. But give the Mophead and Lacecap varieties of the Bigleaf hydrangea family an opportunity and they’ll reward you with an explosion of your color preference. Just by altering the Ph levels of the soil, you can make it easier or more difficult for the plants to absorb aluminum ions from the soil, thereby affecting the color.

Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life. All of these functions, in their turn, modify the soil and its properties. (Wikipedia)

Before making amendments to your soil, it’s a good idea to get a soil test through your local Cooperative Extension Service or a commercial soil laboratory and always take any questions and concerns you may have to a gardening professional, especially when dealing with chemicals. It’s also important to consider the plant neighbors near your hydrangeas that may be adversely affected by any changes to the soil makeup.

Bring to your project a small cultivator to loosen the surface, a spreader, a hose, your gardening gloves, and a generous sprinkling of patience. Take care to keep the soil disturbance shallow so as not to damage your hydrangea roots. Spread the amendment material evenly all the way to the dripline, the outermost edge of the plant’s

 growth. If you desire a blue bloom, add a purchased acidifier such as garden sulfur or aluminum sulfate. For pink to red blooms, add lime. Keep in mind that lime can cause leaf yellowing, so it is important to water the area thoroughly after application. Typically blue blooms require acidic soil with a Ph level below 6.0 but to achieve pink shades you will need to encourage alkaline soil with a Ph above 7.0. Don’t be surprised to see some purples emerge if your Ph is between 6 and 7. Remember your color basics, blue plus red equals purple. 

If chemicals aren’t your cup of tea, you may want to consider a natural approach. Coffee grounds, compost tea, vinegar, peat moss, pine needles or pine bark mulch will add acid for the blue tones. Wood ash can be used to neutralize the soil for pink shades. Whichever color or method you prefer, amendments must be added 2-3 times per year, and don’t forget the patience factor in this equation. Changes don’t happen overnight. Add another dimension to your project by amending one side of the plant with an acidifier and the other with lime for a bush that is half blue and half pink. Your non-gardening friends will be amazed at your abilities.

But what about the soil that nurtures our spirits? How do we test it? What additives have we applied? What tools do we bring to the garden? How do we nourish a spirit that puts faith into action and makes mercy a major key to our identity? Where do we go when the road gets bumpy and sometimes the ruts seem too deep to climb out of? What kind of seeds do we sow when we feel on top of the world, seeds of gratitude or seeds of arrogance?  How do we change the color of our spirit?

Are you living a life that qualifies as “good soil”? Is your heart open for His word? Do you pray and allow his love and guidance to permeate your spirit, taking away worry and removing the parts of yourself that are no longer necessary? Everlasting Father, I long to grow your word in my life. Help me work the soil of my spirit. Daily Guideposts One Minute Devotion, May 7, 2021

As for my hydrangeas, I just let nature take its course, and this year I had blue, pink, and purple blooms all at once, I suppose signifying a Ph level at just about dead center. That’s fine for my soil and my hydrangeas, but for myself, I need to examine all that my “spiritual soil” is currently offering so that I can determine any course corrections that may be needed and then make the necessary amendments. Now, let’s see — where did I last leave His Holy Word? Looks like my spiritual soil could use a little amending! 


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Dirty Hands….for Good or Evil?

By Marcy Barthlette

Hands have always conveyed a powerful image for me. As I write, my hands are clean and swift on the keyboard, but a few hours ago, they were deep in the dirt. It’s that time of year when perennials find themselves moving to new homes in preparation for hearty spring growth. It’s also one of the things I like best about perennials, much of the maintenance surrounding them can and should be accomplished in fall when other gardening projects are winding down. Transplanting them now allows for healthy root spread over the winter and gives them a jump start next year. Come spring, we will be cleaning up from winter, planning vegetable gardens, and gathering annuals for a big splash of landscape color. Mowing will be seemingly out of control for weeks and summer activities always color the landscape of our lives.

But now, life is slowing down, finding its comfortable ruts and that’s a relaxing departure from the craziness of camp and vacations, baseball, and swimming. After all, football is predominantly a weekend sport so that leaves lots of hours for dreaming about how the lawn should flow into the coming year. In truth, I’ve been pondering my changes for the past few weeks, envisioning how this area will look if I transfer that plant to another location. I am blessed with a good eye for imagining how things will appear when refigured but I had to wait for cooler mornings and evenings in order to put my plans in motion.

As I write, I have completed all my proposed changes and am elated with the new look. When the plants come into full growth next year, it will be lovely. I’ve spent many hours crawling on hands and knees and have acquired the requisite amount of bruises for my effort. And as for my hands, I’m seldom happier than when I can hold those filthy trophies high in triumph and can share some bulbs or starts with friends and neighbors. A clean and polished gardener can be equated to a skinny chef. It’s hard to be successful in the kitchen without sampling the product along the way and it’s impossible to maintain healthy plants without getting your hands into the action. To this gardener, dirty hands are a measure of dedication. Of course, next year the process begins all over again. I’ll see the landscape in a new light and playing in the dirt will once again reign supreme in our yard. That’s another beautiful attribute about perennials; they adapt quite well to change as long as we provide the needs they crave.

But those who do right will continue to do right, and those whose hands are not dirty with sin will grow stronger. Job 17:9

It would appear that Job had a different approach to dirty hands. Perhaps he was concerned about the way humans claw at each other to reach the top of the power ladder first or the way in which we treat a neighbor who doesn’t look like us. It could be that he was thinking of unkind words spoken in anger or behind someone’s back. Whatever kind of metaphorical dirt covers our hands and our hearts, it needs to be washed clean and only God can do that. He will if we just ask.

Oh, the power of our hands. Leave them unmanaged and they become weapons: clawing for power, strangling for survival, seducing for pleasure. But manage them and our hands become instruments of grace — not just tools in the hands of God, but God’s very hands.  Max Lucado, Just like Jesus

I once compiled a photo essay of hands getting dirty to serve others. There were master gardeners helping to beautify neighborhoods and establish community gardens. Images of handymen making repairs for seniors or working alongside others who were unable to get the job done on their own. A very poignant image showed the hands of a server in a soup kitchen passing sustenance into the hands of a hungry and very grateful recipient.

And there were hands busy preparing bags of non-perishable food goods for starving people in the far reaches

of our globe. These images, among others, solidly proclaimed the message that one picture is worth a thousand words and that dirty hands are often a requirement of helping those around us and around the world.

Don’t we want our church to be known as the hands that dirty themselves doing God’s work? Find your passion and get your hands “dirty”, for “goodness” sake!


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Finding God in the Aftermath

By Marcy Barthelette

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Philippians 4:4

Sunday, September 12, 2021: Today was the day we went back to church — for the second time!

Back in April Ken and I had completed the vaccination process and begun venturing out. It was so wonderful to hug our kids and grandkids again, to join with other believers in an in-person church service rather than watching online, to eat out occasionally, and even to enjoy a couple of camping trips. Then Delta came calling and by mid-July, we were back into isolation. Let me tell you, it was a lot harder the second time. Our little taste of freedom made us reluctant to retreat but for our own safety and that of those around us, we decided it was best for us to lay low for a while and let this wicked new strain of the virus settle down a bit.

On this first Sunday morning physically back in church Pastor Dennis reminded us how our nation came together after watching the World Trade Center crumble to the ground on what we refer to as 9-11. People everywhere were jumping into situations beyond their typical strength and capability just to take care of those who were injured, those who hadn’t heard from their loved ones, those who were dealing with trying to understand, and those who didn’t survive. People who couldn’t physically be there stood by roadsides and waved flags, they flew the flag above their homes and they joined together in prayer and unity. Prayer and Unity! Those words were key to emerging from such a tragedy and moving forward to create a better world for our descendants to inherit.

No one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. I Corinthians 2:9

Today we see ourselves in the midst of an epic pandemic while cleaning up after a major hurricane and fighting wildfires in the west that are sending plumes of smoke across the nation. And that’s just a fraction of what’s happening in the US alone. How are we, as a nation, responding? Certainly not as a unified America. Yet, in the aftermath of these tragic events, there is a whisper of God in the air. It comes through the nurse holding the hand of a dying COVID patient. It is present in the smiles of the people when a Convoy of Hope driver pulls into a storm-ravaged city with a truckload of much-needed supplies. It is felt as electrical repair personnel from many states restore power to the people of Louisiana. And around the world, it appears in the form of an American Red Cross volunteer offering a hug and the basic necessities that bring

 opportunity for survival.

Our nation finds its strength in unity with one another and unity with God. We have been known, since our very beginning as a Christian nation, and yet, along the way, we have wandered from our roots, just as the Israelites did in Biblical days. It’s time for us to rally in one accord, to remember who’s really in control, and to let His light shine through in the way that we live. Will it be easy? Absolutely not! But with God, all things really are possible!

It’s time to stop playing the blame game and to get on with living. We can find lots of unpleasantness buried deep in our own hearts that need some serious tending, so let’s stop worrying about things we can’t really change and concentrate on those we can. I’ve heard it often said that the only attitude we can change is our own and I feel certain that I need to take a good hard look at how mine can be improved. How about you?

Where do you turn when trouble haunts you? Who do you blame when everything seems inside out and backward? How do you deal with anger toward God when things go badly? Who do you thank when you feel on top of the world? Think about that. Who do you turn to when all is right in your world? It’s easy to turn to God when help is needed but harder when times are good. Those are the times when we start believing in ourselves more than our God. It is said that a lot more praying happens in lean times than when we prosper.

In 2005, Carrie Underwood launched her country music career with a song called, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”. It vividly paints a picture of a young woman driving the road toward home, to mom and dad, with her baby in the back seat. In an instant, she finds herself careening toward oblivion and in that instant, she knows she can’t do this alone and she cries out, Jesus, take the wheel. She miraculously survives the crash and surrenders her life to Him. The chorus goes like this.

Jesus, take the wheel, take it from my hands cause I can’t do this on my own. I’m letting go. So give me one more chance and save me from this road I’m on. Jesus, take the wheel.
Written by Brett James, Hillary Lindsey and Gordie Sampson

Whether you interpret the lyrics literally or metaphorically, the result is the same. We can’t live this life alone. You may release your wheel in a private and very personal conversation with God or you may find Him working through one of the many people who devote their lives to helping others. Whatever road you’re careening down; a broken marriage, a child lost, a terminal illness, your job given to another; it doesn’t matter. If the excitement of the wedding day is now over or you have given birth to a tiny child, your work has just begun. If you just finished college and are wondering where you go from here, you have important decisions to make. If you’ve just been given a clean bill of health, you now have a future ahead of you. Aftermath occurs following any event, good or bad. The choice is ours, to scoot over into the passenger seat and let Jesus take the wheel or not. He’s always waiting right there, always. He’s there before, during, and after anything we ever experience. So let Him have the aftermath of every good or bad moment and turn it into something beautiful! He promised He would and God doesn’t break promises!

….until you grow old. I am the one, and until you turn gray, I will support you. I have done it, and I will continue to bear it; I will support and I will rescue. Isaiah 46:4 CEB


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Great Expectations….oops

By Marcy Barthelette
Failures are fingerposts on the road to achievement. C.S. Lewis
 
While many Americans traveled, barbecued and otherwise recreated over the Labor Day holiday weekend, our home was a beehive of activity. Yes, there were just the two of us at home, but we made enough messes for half a dozen people. I’d been studying our third bedroom (AKA puzzle room) for a long time, deliberating a strategy for organizing that space. It had become a catch-all for, you guessed it, just about anything.

We have a very large storage cabinet that served as a home for our giant analog TV in its earlier life. But since we entered the digital TV age years ago, it has housed a host of family projects. Bottom line, it was too big for that small room, so it was moved to the larger, master bedroom and the contents were sorted and some eliminated.
 
Then, after placing all remaining furnishings in corners to free up floor space, we began the back-breaking task of assembling new matching bookcases. Tools and parts were scattered everywhere! We completed the two smaller units in fairly short order, once we agreed on the intent of the instruction booklet, which left a lot to be desired.
 
After a dinner break, I decided I wanted to, at least, arrange all the parts for the first taller unit to get an early morning start. One thing led to another, and I just couldn’t walk away without attaching a few pieces. Never mind how tired we were or that our knees rebelled vehemently against any more bending, kneeling, or crawling on the floor. I had to make a little more progress before bedtime. And, as you probably already realize, that was a perfect recipe for failure. The top board was inadvertently placed backward and had to be removed, whereupon one of the connecting dowels came loose and when I attempted to reattach it, I placed it in the wrong hole. When I couldn’t push it in, I resorted to the hammer and tapped too hard. The dowel plunged through the side piece, splintering it in a very prominent position. I don’t forgive myself easily for making careless mistakes, but Ken came to the rescue, and we glued and clamped the piece back together as well as can be done with splintered pressboard. Work came to a halt for the night, leaving me an abundance of time to contemplate my immense failure of the day.
 
Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:1
 
Failure is a phenomenon known to every human who has ever lived. Notably, Thomas Edison is said to have failed a thousand times before the electric light bulb became a reality. However, he considered his “failures” as mere steps in the process. And Michael Jordan is quoted as saying he lost over 300 games (more than many NBA players have court time in), missed over 9,000 shots (more than an average NBA player ever takes), and missed twenty-six game-winning shots when handed the ball with the expectation of success. Yet these two men are considered two of the best success stories of modern human times.
 
Of course, our little tale of organizing our puzzle room can’t begin to compare to the aforementioned achievements, but the point about failure is that it can be a very efficient teacher. When we learn from our mistakes and move on to a better way of thinking or doing, failure has been a productive tool. A good night’s sleep is a great asset as well. The morning after my epic failure, I turned that nasty-looking patch job into a corner where no eye will see it except our own, and that of the Heavenly Father, because he knows all our failures before they even happen. If only we could forgive and forget as quickly and effortlessly as He does.

Of course, our project just kept growing because when you move one thing, another piece of the “puzzle” needs to be adjusted as well. Ken sweltered in the hot shed looking for just the right boards to complete every little detail and I did a lot of the bending and crawling, but we made it. Our room is organized and much more spacious. What am I doing now? I’m looking for my next project, of course, and I’ll take all the lessons I learned from the failures of this project into the next.
 
Remember that failure isn’t part of your identity; it’s simply part of your journey. If you have failed at something recently, jot down some of the lessons you learned from it and use them to persevere toward your goals.
Tony Dungy, Uncommon Life Daily Challenge

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The Ultimate Fixer

By Marcy Barthelette

No one fixes broken things better than God. Author Dan Walsh

We’re walking down a street and Ken sees the glitter of metal and he is compelled to check it out. He picks up everything; nuts, bolts, screws, washers; you name it. He takes it home to store in one of his many jars just in case it’s needed in the future. And he doesn’t stop there. When a neighbor sets out items tagged with a FREE sign, he just naturally gravitates toward whatever treasures might await his transforming hands.

My husband has been a fixer since he was a young boy. He relished rescuing broken things, taking them apart to learn how they worked, and reassembling them to continue a productive life. At about thirteen, he tired of the household chores that he deemed “girl’s work” and he negotiated with his mom to be in charge of fixing anything around the house that was broken or needed replacement parts. It was the perfect arrangement for him and his family, relieving him of the dreaded “girlie” chores and keeping the home in good running order.

I, on the other hand, tend to prefer replacement over repair when I feel the “injured” item is beyond any reasonable expectation of becoming reliable again. The difference between our two very differing perspectives is the criteria for declaring an item a candidate for repair. I believe in giving almost everything a second chance but fifth or sixth chances just don’t enter my mindset. Even when his projects prove themselves unable to be used for the purpose they were intended, he strips them down and salvages any parts that may be usable,
and adds them to his collection of well-labeled and well-organized pieces that may someday give new life to another project.

But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by His marvelous grace. Galatians 1:15

And with that said, it’s obviously a good thing that God still has control of this world because I am a very broken vessel and according to my approach toward multiple chances, I would have been cast on the trash heap a very long time ago. Unlike that repaired item that I no longer trust to do a job and not let me down, He offers me a fresh new page in the book of my life each and every morning. I can choose to grab that opportunity and soar with it or remain bottled up in my own little world longing for perfection, not only from myself but from everyone around me. You know what, that’s just not going to happe  n, so perhaps I’d better start learning to repair things that are broken. Perhaps I need to take a serious look at the way I treat others and maybe there are things I can change in my approach to them that will change their response to me. But if it doesn’t, I need to offer them my forgiveness and another chance. And if I’ve been neglectful of my behaviors, it may take a few more of those chances before they are ready to accept the newly repaired me.

But here’s the meat of the story. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, that was man’s idea. God took what was perfect—His Son—and broke Him, in order to make us whole. Gwen Ford Faulkenberry

God uses us in our brokenness to help bring healing to others. He doesn’t require that we be perfect or even well repaired, just willing. And, by the way, when something breaks down in the midst of a project and Ken is able to fix it from his precious stash of oddly assembled spare parts, I am very grateful for his steadfastness in saving everything and always believing that anything can be repaired. I am blessed that he was chosen to be the human conduit to my “Ultimate Fixer”.

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes, we are healed. Isaiah 53: 5 (NKJV)


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