Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Up and Ahead

The farmer has long days this time of year, which means the farmer’s wife also has long days this time of year. They are physically long, but they are also mentally long. The amount of rain isn’t right. The sun is too hot. The machines aren’t new. The plants aren’t behaving. The markets aren’t behaving. The public fusses and complains about the way agriculture is doing (or not doing) it’s job. The kids want more fun, more toys. Mama wants more quiet, and cleaner floors.  The hand that does the feeding gets bitten, instead of thanked.

I remember the boss I had at my first real job out of college said to me, “There is no glamor in this job. And no thank-you’s”.  I was speechless. Deep down inside, at 22 with my degree in hand, I wanted glamor. I wanted a thank you. I definitely wanted money and as much happiness it could buy me. Obviously I was too young to know that these were all the wrong ways to achieve a content life.
The thankless jobs are all around us. I can rattle off so many…educators, medical professions, military, law enforcement, politics, agriculture…now that I think about it, I don’t know if I can name many jobs that are glamorous and full of appreciation! This is the reality of the world we live in. Recent events in our country that are fueled by violence, ignorance, arrogance, and bad judgement threaten to leave us feeling hopeless.  The downward spiral of negativity takes us to the exact destination where it always ends up: discontentment.

I wonder, how can we change this? How can we break free from the negative forces that weigh heavy in our culture? Our simple part is gratitude.  Life has to show you through your thankless job, your dashed dream, your lack of money that there is more. Learning that lesson isn’t for the weak- it takes strength to rise out of those types of expectations. It takes strength to put your contentment in moments of gratitude. It takes experiences to give you perspective. And it takes gratitude to give you peace. Looking up and ahead instead of down and around.

I don’t know what the next year holds for me, for my family. With my Dad enduring a difficult diagnosis of Stage IV Melanoma throughout his body, I don’t know what each day of the future will look like. (Of course none of us really do, but we sure fool ourselves into planning and plotting every detail as best as we can, don’t we?) Because of the simple fact that if I don’t smile, I will cry, I have had to come up with practical ways to keep my tears from overtaking me.  Everyday, I write down a list of what I am grateful for. Throughout my day, I look and point out what makes me smile, who shows me love and grace, and I tell my kids, “Look! Isn’t that wonderful?” Say those things out loud, tell your friends and family how much something meant to you, look someone in the eye and say, “I really appreciate what you did.” Gratitude moves you from a selfish place to a giving place. It turns dark moments into hope, and it helps others do the same. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Vacation Bible School and Brain Cancer

Vacation Bible School week at church is one of those times when you plan on blessing others with what your church can provide the kids with...but you always end up getting a blessing yourself from an unexpected source.  Our church's VBS was 2 weeks ago already.  It runs like a machine, really. Kids are dropped off, we feed them a meal, we teach them songs and stories about our faith, we play games, we pray over them, we laugh together, we become friends. I hadn't though of it before, but it's really a good model of what every parent wants to provide for their children: a loving, safe place to grow into the person God wants you to be. A place where someone tells you, "You matter. You are loved. I believe in you."  As the week went on, the fun increased, the relationships deepened, and our ministry we provided increased. As we sensed the deeper needs of the kids coming, we were able to meet those needs with food, clothing, and prayer. To some of the kids there, we were a parent to them. To others, we were another positive voice in their life. All were treated equally, all were loved and cherished. And once again, I received a huge blessing from an experience where I was the one supposed to be blessing others.

For me, VBS week was a week I will never forget because this year, it was the week I found out my father has brain cancer. And not just brain cancer, but lung, kidney, and colon cancer as well.  As I was caring for and loving kids I had never met before, my mind was racing with memories of me as a young girl with my Dad. I have the best Dad on planet Earth...hard working, smart, kind, funny, committed, brave. You name it- he's been it for me. Everything I was trying to do for these VBS kids in one week was just a reflection of what had been done for me my entire life by my own parents. When I would see a child come to VBS in clothes too small for them, I would start to cry because my parents were always able to provide clothes for me. When I would see a Mom and Dad come pick up their child from VBS and give them a huge hug, I would start to cry because my parents had done that for me, too. I felt so much gratitude in my heart for my parents that week. I knew my Dad was sitting in a hospital hearing bad news, and yet he was still cracking jokes, smiling, staying positive and putting his faith first.

I've spent lots of time the past few weeks marveling at how many people are pouring out love and appreciation for my Dad during this rough time for him. He's not famous, he's not rich, and he hasn't won any special awards. But my Dad has been all-in his entire life. He's never backed down from what life had for him- he has always stayed in the game regardless of if he would win or lose. He has spent his life making sure others were encouraged and lifted up. His message to me, for as long as I can remember, has been: You matter. You are loved. I believe in you.

I keep trying to help my Dad through this tough assignment we've been given, and yet he keeps blessing me, my sister, and my mom with more love. What if we all had a Dad like that?