Saturday, September 16, 2017

Guest Post - Savoring the Not-So-Perfect-Life

I would like to introduce you to my guest blogger today, Michelle Rayburn. Michelle is a sister writer and participant in WordGirls, an online group for writers and speakers to which I belong. Following her blog are answers to questions I asked so we could get to know her better. Feel free to drop her a note.


Savoring the Not-So-Perfect Life
by Michelle Rayburn

(For September 10 – National TV Dinner Day)

When I was young, my mother cooked most meals from scratch, baked six loaves of bread every week and canned enough vegetables to feed the neighborhood if we ever had to retreat to a bomb shelter. But on occasion, we had TV dinners when she worked the evening shift at the hospital and my dad had to feed us three kids.

September 10 is National TV Dinner Day, and it has me reminiscing about those foil-covered aluminum trays with frozen mystery meat and gravy, blobs of mashed potatoes, corn and chocolate pudding—because who doesn’t cook their pudding in the oven, right?

In those pre-microwave days, we peeled back the foil to reveal the ready-to-eat meal when the oven timer buzzed. The actual contents were always somewhat of a surprise compared with the images on the box. For one thing, the portions were more appropriately toddler-sized, and looking back, this explains why my dad chased his meal with a giant bowl of fudge ripple ice cream.

Nothing looked as appetizing as the box, either. The gravy sort of oozed from the mystery meat over to the corn, and pooled in the pudding.

Isn’t life a little like that sometimes? Before it becomes our reality, the idea of growing up, getting married, establishing a career or becoming parents looks magazine-worthy in the images we build in our minds. And after all the anticipation, we peel back the foil and suddenly it looks a lot messier than expected.

As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve learned some lessons to get me through my TV dinner life:

1.      Savor every bite of happiness. There is goodness there when we look for it. Turns out, even mystery meat can be delicious!

2.      Toss out unrealistic expectations and embrace the imperfection of real life. Accepting what I have instead of longing for a picture on a box has brought me such contentment.

3.      Enjoy the fun of the experience. For me, TV dinners weren’t really about the contents of the box. They were about the fun of doing something different with my dad—maybe even actually eating in front of the TV. Too often, I can miss life’s fun if I let complaining take over.

What’s in your TV dinner life? It’s a great day for a perspective change—and maybe a trip to the frozen food aisle, just for fun.

About the Author:
Michelle Rayburn is a writer and speaker who enjoys repurposing thrift sale finds into creative decorations for home and garden. She also loves finding gems in the trashy stuff of life. She is the author of The Repurposed and Upcycled Life: When God Turns Trash to Treasure. www.michellerayburn.com

 Where do you live and at what stage are you celebrating the Christian life?
I live in New Auburn, Wisconsin, in a house that used to be a church and parsonage. Not everyone has a house with a sanctuary attached! My husband is the director of maintenance at a Bible camp nearby, and we have been here more than 11 years. I have been a follower of Christ since I was a young child and have seen God shape and change me over the years. I’m in my late 40s and I think God is working on me more now than ever before. I’m really challenged to think outside of my “safe” circle of friends and to look for people who need hope, grace and truth.

Tell us a bit about your family:
My husband and I met at church in high school and have been married for 27 years. We have two grown sons (23 and 25) who are both teachers and we just gained a daughter-in-law this past summer. Over the years, our boys and our daughter-in-law have all been part of ministry at the Bible camp where my husband works and are they are active in their churches. We are thankful for the way God has put opportunities for growth and discipleship in their paths! As a mom of boys, I’m also thankful for the laughter they bring to my life. A little sarcasm here and there has helped me navigate through raising them. I’ve seen truck stop bathrooms that are cleaner than mine when my boys come out of there. A trip to E.R. after a motorcycle wipeout is apparently the perfect occasion for a selfie while you’re getting stitches. And, I’ve learned that cold cereal is an appropriate meal at any time of the day as long as you leave a thimbleful of milk in the refrigerator for mom to find the next morning.

What do you find is one of the greatest challenges of your stage of life? 
My biggest challenge is avoiding the temptation to sit back and enjoy the safety and shelter of contentment. I know that sounds trite, but let me explain. As an empty nester, I am at a place of contentment and peace. I work from home full time and go to a great church. I am married to my best friend and we raised kids who we love to hang out with. I’m an introvert by nature, and I love curling up in the hammock with a good book. So, when God challenges me to reach out to a neighbor, or get more involved in outreach at church, I’m tempted to play it safe and stay in my comfort zone. I say I want to reach the lost and broken people with a message of hope, but when it comes down to action, do I really do it? I have to constantly remind myself that there is no retirement age for being a disciple who makes disciples. 

What is one of the greatest blessings?
Besides my family, I am so blessed to have a circle of four friends who I meet with weekly for accountability and fellowship. I have learned so much from them, and we laugh together, cry together and share prayer requests regularly. They can be honest with me and challenge me when I need a friendly boot in the pants. I call them my soul sisters.

What do people find most interesting about you?
People are surprised that I am an introvert, since I love public speaking. I enjoy one-on-one connections and ministering to women when I’m at an event speaking, but in between, I sometimes have to force myself to leave the house. I would prefer a cup of iced coffee, a good dark chocolate and a book or an art project over a party or social event. I also love technology and found it funny that I had a smart phone before my oldest son, AND that I had to show him how to use it when he got one. Yeah, backwards, huh? I geek out on electronic gadgets, musical equipment, computers, website design and layout and anything that involves technology.

Thanks, Michelle, for sharing your heart with us.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Book Review: Mentoring for all Seasons--Sharing Life Experiences and God's Faithfulness


Whether you’re interested in sharing what you’ve learned in life or need encouragement to get through life--this book is for you. There is no more blessed experience than mentoring. I and my two mentees, Kim and Janine, were privileged to have our story included in the Prologue of this book. We began meeting almost 20 years ago and continue to meet weekly to discuss Christian books. Our mentoring has turned into ministry, and we speak at about 20 events a year as Friends of the Heart, which is what we are—and what you’ll become through a mentoring experience.

Author Janet Thompson covers every phase of the mentoring experience in this book—from the newlywed season to the aging and dying season. The Appendix alone is invaluable with topics such as Mentor-Seeking Checklist and Some Mentor Do’s and Don’ts along with resources for specific seasons and life experiences.

Thompson stresses that our first mentoring relationship is with our children: “If we don’t teach our children to follow Christ, the world will teach them not to.” In a day of lagging church attendance, she suggests that if young adult women were more faithfully mentored in the church, they might be more inclined to stay: “These young adults need a caring, praying mentor to help them stay faithful to their Christian beliefs and lifestyles.”

After opening with Thompson’s personal story of how she was led to become a mentor, Mentoring for All Seasons is broken into two parts: Section One: Christian Mentoring 101 with information about why mentors are needed to bridge generation gaps; Section Two: Life Seasons of Mentors and Mentees (M&M’s). Stories from both mentors and mentees break up chapters. Thompson also includes scripture for stage-related challenges. End-of-chapter questions give more food for thought.

This would be a great gift book for anyone involved with women’s ministries. Or why not give it to someone with whom you might want to start a mentoring relationship? I was amazed by the sheer quantity of information Thompson shared. I doubt you’ll find any other book on mentoring that offers this depth and detail. It’s a five-star read!




Friday, September 8, 2017

Book Review: Bonhoeffer--Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy


A brilliant young man, Deitrich Bonhoeffer (1912-1944) considered a career in academia but wound up a much-loved pastor. Thoughtful, yet with a sense of humor, Bonhoeffer preached the centrality of the cross of Christ. During World War 2, this man of faith inspired all who knew him.

He and his twin sister, Sabine, two of eight children, grew up in Germany accustomed to the cultured life of the privileged. Through his studies and travels as a young man, he rubbed shoulders with many of the esteemed theologians of the day. While he disagreed with those of a liberal theological slant, he did so in ways that preserved friendships. His studies for a time brought him to America.

The beginning of this book explains the world situation and how Adolph Hitler convinced the German people that he was simply rectifying wrongs that had occurred to them as a people after World War 1. It’s hard to understand how he turned them against some of their own—the Jews.

Deitrich was not deceived, however, and spoke for those who could not speak for themselves. For a time he accepted a pastorate in England, believing that from there he could gain the ear of British leadership and convince them to stop Hitler. He eventually felt he had to return home, however, to suffer with his people and to join a resistance movement.

Once Hitler realized Bonhoeffer was part of that movement, he made sure he and other leaders were executed just before the war ended. Bonhoeffer left behind his dearly loved fiancée.

Almost 50 pages of notes, bibliography and an index closes this 576-page tome. But it’s well worth the read. The legacy of Bonhoeffer lives on to inspire all who love the Lord and hope to remain faithful to Him regardless of political conditions.

 This man’s legacy is one of faithfulness to the biblical Word of God—both the Bible and the Christ. Whether a scholar, a pastor or a member of the resistance movement that opposed Hitler, he sought God’s will and direction. And that direction led him from seminary where he stood for conservative Christianity to the pulpit where he preached the cross, from his privileged family to Flossenburg where he was executed.

Along the way he spoke truth: “Christianity preaches the infinite worth of that which is seemingly worthless and the infinite worthlessness of that which is seemingly so valued.”

As Hitler and his cronies turned against the Jews and then against the church, he said, “A state which includes within itself a terrorized church has lost its most faithful servant.” In spring, 1933, he proclaimed that it was the duty of the church to stand up for the Jews.

Well-liked even by those who guarded him during his years spent in concentration camps, Bonhoeffer stayed true to his faith and encouraged those around him. His story encouraged me, and it will encourage you.



Wednesday, September 6, 2017

In Honor of Read a Book Day - Book Review: Flickering Pixels - How Technology Shapes Your Faith


Most things in life have an upside and a downside, and technology is no different, according to author Shane Hipps. He agrees with Marshall McLuhan who says “The media is the message.” What this means is that the media, the way of communicating, is every bit as important (maybe even more important) as the message communicated when it comes to influencing the receiver.

By medium is meant “anything that stretches, extends, or amplifies some human capacity.” For instance, the telephone extends our voices. Cars extend our feet.

And newer mediums tend to make older methods obsolete. For instance, the Internet provides communication formerly offered by the telegraph. But while these tools bridge distances, they create barriers between people in the same vicinity as they stare at cellphones instead of each other. Another quote from McLuhan: “We shape our tools and afterward our tools shape us.”

In fact, according to Hipps, the flickering pixels of television re-pattern neural pathways of the brain that are opposed to the pathways required for reading, writing and concentrating. This reduces our capacity for abstract thought.

And as we reveled in the advances of the printing press, our ability to remember things shrank. Technology has transformed us from groups who verbally shared stories to individuals who may or may not verbally communicate with their communities. And the printed page contributed to everything from pew arrangements (who knew?) to linear thinking to present the gospel. However, this mode of communicating devalued our appreciation for mysticism, intuition and emotion.

Hipps relates all this to faith. The printing press fostered the development of systematic theology. But with the development of the camera, society became more visually influenced. Therefore the emphasis is shifting from believing to “following,” from systematic theology to the new discipline of practical theology, where beliefs are judged by fruit. Here the bad news is that, as images become more important, we become biblically illiterate.

Therefore, according to Hipps, the message of the gospel must be conveyed through the medium of the church’s life as a direct reflection of Jesus. He asks: “Why would God choose such a frail, failing, and inconsistent medium to embody his abiding message? Is it possible that God chose a collection of bent and bruised hearts to bear the message of redemption and reconciliation because that is a message in itself?” 

Footnotes and a list of resources offer more food for thought. This book is an easy read in length and readability, but I’m still pondering Hipp’s conclusions and what they mean for people of faith in today’s technological world. You will too. Give it a read.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Finding Your Way . . . To God



We sometimes think we’re headed in one direction when we’re actually traveling the opposite way.

On the way home from visiting friends, I punched into our phone’s GPS the address of a granddaughter’s soon-to-be college apartment. Our route took us left, then right, then left, then right. We twisted and turned along our way until we finally arrived at our destination. I then punched in our home address and looked forward to driving home on an Interstate highway.

But again, the friendly voice from my phone directed us left, then right, then left, then right. After about 30 such turns, I recognized the name of a street we had traveled on to our friend’s home, so I called my friend. She informed us we were getting farther from the Interstate and explained how to get back to the highway we wanted.

The next day I checked the settings on my phone. To my dismay, the GPS was set to “avoid highways.”

Isn’t that like our route to God? We think we know the route we should take. Be good, do good, and someday we’ll meet our kind Heavenly Father who will welcome us into heaven. Go to church, give to the needy, get active in the community. Those are all good things to do.

But the only route that leads to our Heavenly Father is Christ who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

You see, God is perfect, holy, and only a perfectly holy person can come into His Presence. In case you haven’t noticed, we do not fit that description, at least I don’t.

And that’s why we need Christ. He came to earth and lived a perfect life and offered the sacrifice God required to pay for our sins. When we embrace Him as our Savior, He clothes us in His righteousness, and God accepts us into His Presence.

Good deeds and good behaviors certainly show our appreciation for what Christ has done, but only the perfect sacrifice of Jesus paves our route to heaven.

Although I’m sure my phone’s GPS would have eventually gotten us home over back roads, “avoiding highways,” there is no road that leads to God without Christ. Be sure your mind is set to “embrace Christ” rather than “avoid Christ.” He alone is the way of salvation.

Please share this post if you find it helpful.

Have a blessed fall.

Shirley

Upcoming Engagements:

September 8-9 – Friends of the Heart at Three Springs Ministries Retreat Center, Morris, with Coudersport CMA Church, “If Our Closets Could Talk.” If you’re interested in attending, contact us for more information. Our full schedule is listed at www.friendsoftheheart.us.