Sunny Pathway

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanking God for the Small Things

We had a wonderful pre-Thanksgiving sermon on Sunday. I came away with thanksgiving in my heart.

After that, my thoughts on Thanksgiving seem a bit strange and I feel foolish sharing them. But, I’m thankful for my fuchsia composition book. I'm especially thankful because it has lime-green polka dots. There are other colors, too—as you can see from the picture—but I like the lime-green against the fuchsia. Such an interesting and unexpected color combination.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m thankful for the basics: God, family, country. In fact, there are times when I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for them, and I understand these blessings make me rich beyond most people’s comprehension.

I’m also excited and thankful because my rheumatologist reduced my steroid prescription from 10 mgs per day to 5 mgs per day—and that I’ve experienced only minimal discomfort so far. (He said the Remicade would take care of it, and apparently it has. I’ve even been able to skip the bedtime snack some nights.) But I'm holding these feelings in check. Perhaps I’m afraid to get excited about health issues. I could make bold statements of faith, but has God directed me to go that route? I'm reluctant. I feel His message on the subject has been to look to Him and leave the outcome to Him.

However, on another level altogether, I so enjoy looking around and thanking Him for those little things—the small pleasures that bring smiles and encourage me. Things like my fuchsia composition book. I use it for journaling.

Since I’ve been blogging, I don’t journal as much as I did. But I still use it to record extraneous thoughts—and to record bits of info I think I might want or need. It's always in plain view, my fuchsia composition book with lime-green polka dots. And since God saw fit to create colors, I think He's pleased when I enjoy them.

So, with a joyful heart, may I recommend that you Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. (Ps. 100:4 NLB) Enjoy His blessings. Enjoy His colors. Recognize Him as your source and thank Him for the little things.

(We leave tomorrow to join our oldest daughter and her family for the Holiday. Blessings, and have a great Thanksgiving.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Trusting God for Weight-Control

I have a weight problem. In fact, I’ve had a weight problem so long that I barely remember life without it. But for several years, in response to God’s direction, I’ve been losing. Then, last summer, because an attempt to change my medication wasn’t working, my rheumatologist prescribed steroids as a temporary measure. After brief periods on larger amounts, the dosage was reduced to 10 mgs on August 29.

This is my second experience with steroids and I learned the first time around that I must eat. If not, my stomach goes wild; stomach ulcers are a threat. And so, I’ve gained ten pounds. On a normal day, I try to not think about it, but on Sunday I happened to catch part of a feature on a woman weighing almost 700 pounds. One line from her story caught my attention—she began gaining weight during her recovery from hepatitis.

This may sound like an excuse, but it’s my reality and I think others would benefit by hearing my story. My weight gain began when recovering from hepatitis while I was in my late 20s. The objective was eating protein to rebuild the liver. Even in the hospital, while hooked up to IVs, I ate two eggs, bacon or sausage, cooked cereal, two slices of toast, and a large glass of milk for breakfast. Instead of lunch and dinner, I ate two dinners. In the afternoon and before bed, fabulous snacks. With activity curtailed, I looked to food for stimulation.

When sent home, the recommended diet followed the same pattern. Because I wanted to get well, I followed it. Six months later my doctor declared a full recovery. I’d gained 30 pounds.

In a reasonable world I’d have returned to eating the way I ate before and lose the pounds gradually. Instead, I went on a reduced-calorie diet. I think I lost about 25 pounds.

During the following year I gained about 35 pounds—something like that. I do remember for sure that I went up and down for years—the numbers were always a bit higher on the scale when I went up than they had been before I went down. The yo-yo effect.

The last time I was satisfied with my weight occured over 20 years ago when I lost an amount I can’t remember for our youngest son’s wedding. Many told me I looked great.

You’d think I’d have been motivated to keep up the good work, wouldn’t you? Truth is, by that time I’d forgotten how to eat normally. I either dieted and lost or I ate and gained (and felt guilty). Eventually, I gave up. I remember telling Ken that I couldn’t live that way anymore.

I don’t know how high my weight finally climbed. I was too depressed and too defeated to address the issue—even for reasons of health—so I stopped getting on the scale. I remember thinking the Bible used food as a metaphor for God’s blessings. If food was a blessing, why was it a problem? But I don’t remember praying about food.

(I’m sorry—but relieved—that I can’t post a picture from that era. We didn’t have a digital camera then.)

Then a friend—a large friend—approached me about joining her and others in a program called “Weigh Down.” There I faced a horrifying reality—food had become a sort of God in my life. I looked to food for comfort, for excitement, for fellowship. And this is what I want to highlight. If you have a weight problem, however it started, it indicates a deeper problem.

In the program we had freedom to eat anything at any time—if we were truly hungry. We went through a process of identifying true hunger and then volume-control became key. I can’t say how many pounds I lost because I didn’t know my top weight; I went down several dress sizes.

Well, the program came to an end, I was sidetracked by an event, lost my focus, and gained about 15 pounds. I was afraid to try anything that might begin the yo-yo effect again, so I visually monitored my food intake and stopped gaining. No fun, but it worked.

Then steroids entered the picture and I learned about a churning stomach. But this time I knew God could intervene. When the steroids were removed from my list of meds, I prayed desperately and I felt God gave me a directive: Don’t eat anything in the evening after dinner.

That was it?

Sometimes a little difference makes a big difference. Although I didn’t lose by making that change, I stopped gaining. It was a start, and I knew God was interested in my weight, that He would help me.

Three months later I prayed specifically about food again. This time I felt He suggested I stop eating salad dressings. I was primed for this—was tired of bottled dressings and a friend had been promoting alternatives. I lost a few pounds after that adjustment. Today I totally enjoy salads by dressing them with oil, balsamic vinegar and seasoned salt.

The next thing He impressed upon my heart was giving up soda. That was hard, but today I only drink soda for a special occasion. On a normal day, I don’t miss it. Although I don’t understand the chemistry, after that change my appetite seemed to decrease and my weight continued moving down slowly but consistently—until my recent experience with steroids when it began going up again.

There have been a few other changes—some temporary. I believe God was in some of them. My tastes have changed somewhat.

Tomorrow I see my rheumatologist and, because I’ve stabilized, I’m hoping he’ll begin weaning me off the steroids again. Perhaps because of that silly TV program—I was never even one-third of her weight—I’ve been thinking about it. Whatever happens, whenever I go off steroids, I know I’ll think of dieting—be tempted to kick-start the process of losing pounds quickly. But I can’t. Dieting puts the focus on food. Yes, I need to control food. I can only do that by putting my focus on God.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all your do, and he will show you which path to take. (Prov. 3:5,6 NLB)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Heart to Heart, Spirit to Spirit

The most important aspect of life is connecting with another personality—heart to heart or spirit to spirit.

Ken and I attended several special sessions at a local church this week. On the one hand, we learned nothing new. We might be able to say the conference wasn’t for us.

But it was, because our hearts were touched—by the way the speaker connected to his audience and by the way he somehow made me realize anew the importance of connecting to others. At one point he shared a story about taking one of his sons on trip when the boy was 4 years old, a son that tragically died at the age of 22. The child needed correcting all day for wandering or for generally putting himself in danger. But when the day was over he buckled himself into the center section of the truck's bench seat so he could lean against his dad, and then he proclaimed it had been the best day of his life.

The father/speaker’s point was that he loved being with his son and didn’t dislike the son when he needed correcting—and that our Father in heaven feels the same about us. God loves to be with us and doesn’t dislike us when we need correcting.

I agree with and appreciat his point, but came up with my own point: connecting with another personality makes life worth living. Be that person God or another human. You could see it in the father’s face and hear it in his voice. The memory was life to him, even after the son was dead.

I skipped church on Sunday morning. After a Friday evening meeting and three meetings on Saturday, I moved slowly. But God and I had a special meeting while Ken was gone. I asked Him five questions that have been plaguing me. He didn’t specifically answer any of them, but He gave me one big answer that encompassed two of the questions and touched on the others. I was more than satisfied—mainly because I felt we had connected.

I read a book recently titled Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. Bell makes several points, but in the end, the book is his story—his testimony, so to speak. The portion that spoke to me was the section on asking God questions. The types of questions he referred are no longer issues for me—questions about God’s nature, evil, etc. I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I’m content with the revelation I have. Except as it relates to my current daily life!

While reading the book, however, I realized I had been slow to come to the Lord as a young woman because I didn’t dare ask those unthinkable questions. When I finally got mad enough to question Him loudly and angrily, He met me. The same is true now. I can suppress frustrations, pretend everything is fine, but reality is that I need to be honest with God about the things that bother me.

On Sunday morning I was honest. And we connected.

I’m not going to tell what I thought He said. I have to walk it out first. But I do want to say that sometimes one moment of connection can sustain a person for a long time.

When Ken and I were dating, we had a special evening. Ken visited me regularly the summer after my mother died in a car accident. One weekend we went to a drive-in movie theater—does anyone remember those?—to see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It was cooler than usual that evening so I made hot chocolate as well as popcorn. Somehow, magic was in the air that night. Nothing monumental happened, we simply connected to each other, heart to heart and spirit to spirit.

There have been many times when I've drawn upon that memory—when it sustained me. (Even though, when finally we saw Seven Brides for Seven Brothers again, we both wondered what had been so special. Certainly not the movie. It was the magic of being together.)

I believe this is true in our relationship with God as well. It was true for Abraham who waited and waited for God to give him the promised son. People have come up with various answers as to why God took so long to answer Abraham's prayer, but the Bible doesn’t provide that information. There are things we can’t figure out on our own—or demand to know.

Yet asking clears the air.

I would never recommend staying home from church. I’m not even willing to say it was right to stay home Sunday. I’m only sharing one story out of a lifetime of stories. Left alone, however, I drew from some of the sustaining moments God has given me over the years. Then I asked some of those troubling questions. The heavens could have been silent. I knew God didn’t have to meet me or answer my questions.

But He did.

Since then? Well, last night I had two incidents with the car—while on my way to a meeting I had had questions about. Did I misunderstand God’s message? Or am I being tested?

Nothing is ever easy. So I have to draw from the sustaining encounter. Almighty God let me feel special, connected. Awesome.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A New Project

Today is election day and I don’t want to write about it. But after realizing it might be harder to avoid the subject tomorrow, I decided I’d better not postpone Sunny Pathway until morning.

My big focus the past week has been overcoming jet lag and coming down from the adrenalin high of visiting our family in a foreign country. To be honest, after arriving home a week ago on Sunday eve, I barely pulled myself together to write last week’s blogs.

This last Sunday, however, I came out of a fog and began working on something I’ve been thinking about for several months.

For twelve years—from July of 1981 through June of 1993—I wrote a short, short weekly column.

It began when I was writing a monthly personal column with a gentle Christian slant for The Back Forty. The publisher of the Daily News of Wahpeton, ND, - Breckenridge, MN, asked me if I’d be interested providing a weekly column for the church page of that newspaper. I thought through aspects of the project, wrote samples, and submitted them to him. He came up with a title—Thoughts for Inspiration—and a format. And we were in business.

From the beginning I tried to write ahead—fewer deadlines that way. Usually I could do one in the morning and one in the afternoon—two days a month seemed sustainable. Occasionally I spent several days on one short column. No problem. Research and soul-searching was part of the joy.

But eventually the columns became familiar territory. And all sorts of events occurred with one common denominator—they kept me busy. In time, I could churn out four or five columns after our evening meal and drop them off in the morning. The excitement was gone.

Even worse, I realized one day that I no longer consistently prayed for Thoughts. This was Christian material. What had happened? Something had to change. And when I humbled myself that day to pray, I felt God told me I needed to give up the column.

Hard. Really hard to give up something that had meant so much—more than my other writing because the focus was God and His Word. The final blow came when I realized the columns had become part of my self-image.

I cleared my decision with Ken. Then I wrote several months ahead to give the publisher time to find something else, made an appointment with him, and told him my decision.

I wasn’t done writing just yet, however. Among other things after that, before Ken and I retired I published five issues of a Christian tabloid-size paper I called Avenues.

While closing down Avenues I had a strange impression. I felt that someday I’d publish the Thoughts columns. I paid attention to the idea because it came out of nowhere, but the only kind of publishing I understood at the time would require a book or a magazine format—hard copy publication. Impossible. I didn’t have the money or knowledge to take on such a project; I put it on hold.

When I developed serious health issues, we moved from the lake into a condo in town to make life easier. During quiet times I began exploring the internet—and Ken grew so tired of me encroaching on his space that he decided we needed a second computer. Wow.

I somehow discovered blogs—and started a couple of my own even when not quite sure what a blog was. And I realized blogging was a form of publishing! I could publish my Thoughts columns on the internet!

That’s what I plan to do. I’ll publish them daily, Monday through Saturday beginning on January 1, 2009. I’m using the original name—Thoughts for Inspiration. Because they don’t quite fit the devotional format, I added a subtitle—Daily Words of Wisdom. Hope that isn’t too grandiose.

I’m more excited about this than I was when I began my current blogs. Just the same, at some point on Monday morning, while rereading the columns—all 624—I thought I might give up the idea. I’d started Sunday evening and realized I’d be at it not only all Monday but most of Tuesday (today) as well. I needed a confirmation that this was right if I was to continue. I asked God if He was really in this—and I told Him I could give it up—even if I’d be embarrassed because I’d contacted the Daily News and received permission for reprinting them,

Several hours later I wondered whether I should publish five each week, one for each work day—or six, one for each day but Sunday—or seven. And somehow, I knew in my knower that six was the number. It took at least another half-hour before I realized I had my confirmation: God provided direction for the details because He was in the big picture.

After that, everything went better. Now I’m thinking the biggest challenge will be organizing and deciding what will be published—I won’t need all 624. But even though that will be frustrating, it will be satisfying.

I'll need to collect more photos as artwork (I have some). I'll need to find a server who will send them out as emails so I won’t be tied to that daily chore. There’s the gruesome job of typing (or keying-in if you are part of the younger generation) them into the computer. And the dreaded proof reading. Not so great.

Just the same, I’m eager to launch this project that seems so special. Lots of work and lots of prayer. Hopefully, there will also be lots of fun.