Finances

Part of being an adult is paying bills.  I have a considerable amount of debt because in the past I lived outside of my means and charged things I couldn’t afford.  This year I made a vow to pay some of that debt down.

It’s always on my mind, but it started in earnest last December.  I had an overdraft charge because I forgot to deduct my car insurance (in my check register) which I had recently set up for automatic debit.  I went to the bank to ask if they would forgive the fee since I am rarely overdrawn.  They did but then tried to talk me into opening a new credit card with a balance transfer option.  We realized it would not help me, because you could not transfer from cards within the same bank which is what I needed.  But, they suggested I find another credit card company and open one and take advantage of that company’s balance transfer offer.  I found a new card company and was able to transfer one and most of another card to it so that I will not have to pay interest for 18 months.

I thought I was on my way! In January I slightly increased my giving at church and have maintained it. My birthday is in February so I was anticipating my car tag being due and a professional license renewal fee that would also be due.

My church was offering a Dave Ramsey course. I took one a few years ago but thought I would enjoy a refresher for free.  This time I embraced some of the ideas I had trouble with before and was surrendering to the plan.  However, I am making a career change and there was an online certificate course I wanted to take in order to help me get a job in the summer.  You have to spend money to make money, right?

I thought hard about how to pay for it.  Should I wait until I could save enough and pay for it? I checked on-line and they had a $100 discount for only a few days, so I decided to go ahead and pay for it.  There were payment plans but they worked out to over $350 more over time.  So, I took one of the credit cards I had just transferred from which now had a zero balance and charged the course to it thinking I’d get my tax refund back and by the time the bill came I could use that and some extra from my next month’s pay check to pay it off.  In theory this sounded like it would work out great.

But, my tax refund was not what I anticipated.  I thought I was getting back $375 in federal but I looked at last year when calculating my return.  This year I only got $46 back.  I did get some back in state money but nowhere near the course fee.  Then, I got sick and did not have enough sick time to cover all the hours I had to take off.  I was one full day short so I had a reduced paycheck by that amount.

While still reeling from that, I found out that my home’s escrow account had a shortfall last year, so I had to pay it plus higher monthly payments afterward.  It wasn’t much but enough to feel it for a moment and keep me from making headway on paying for the course.

Next, I walked out to my car one morning and it would not crank.  I had to buy a new car battery.  After talking to friends I found out that my new one cost much less than others’ had (but still about $25 more than what I thought it should).  I looked at the receipt and saw that I had been given a discount perhaps from the service manager with whom I had one date with a year ago.

My security alarm company was no longer in business, so I had to find someone else to take it over and begin monitoring it.  I had been putting off getting it updated, but felt like I needed to take care of it.  It was a little more than I anticipated–$175 to reset and switch everything over.  But, good news again, since my parents referred me, I got the next 6 months of monitoring for free and they got a $100 gift card. Cool.

But, by spring I needed an oil change.  I took it to the dealer and they said I needed $1,500 in repairs.  Where in the world was that going to come from??? I waited a few weeks then when I had some vacation time, I took it to a mechanic that had been recommended by a family friend.  Thankfully, they said it did not need all the work the dealer had quoted and it turned out to be $430 instead.

Then the next month my bathroom sink started leaking out the bottom pipe.  While I was getting it fixed, my dad persuaded me to get a new sink basin & faucet (the old one was rusty) and have the plumber install them while making the repairs.  So, all together that was another $430.

I got past that, then my car air conditioner started blowing hot air sometimes.  I have a black car and live in the south and it is just in time for summer.  I didn’t know what I was going to do about that.  But, thankfully, I think I’ve figured how to keep it blowing cool except if I make a couple of stops and have to turn off the motor for  a few minutes then crank it back up. Hopefully I can make it through the summer without having to get it worked on.  I’ve been riding with the windows down a lot which helps, but it can get pretty hot!!!

Now it’s time for my job to end. Tomorrow is my last day.  I will get paid for another 2 months.  I’ve had an interview with promises of follow-ups and am just waiting and hoping that will happen.  However, I received information about COBRA last weekend.  I had assumed that I would have benefits at least through my last paycheck.  However, there were no dates listed on the paperwork and it was rather confusing.  I got worried because I have no savings with all of the emergencies that kept coming up.  I used what I would have built my $1,000 emergency fund Dave Ramsey preaches about.  Also, the monthly COBRA fee was $200 more than what I anticipated so I really wasn’t prepared for that.  And, what if I have to wait 90 days to obtain benefits once I do finally find a new job?  This notice almost was my breaking point and is what made me sit down and start writing about it.  If I were a different person, I’d be thinking I was under some kind of attack. I am taking it pretty well but with a lot of anxiety.

I called Human Resources today to get answers.  I will have insurance for a month after my last paycheck which means I am covered for three more months.  That will give me some time to put money into savings so if I need to pay COBRA for a month or two I can.  I may need to look into the Healthcare Marketplace, but then I would have to start over with a new deductible so it may not really be a savings.  Knowing I still have time before my benefits end is such a huge relief. I really didn’t see how they could cut it off before that, but nothing surprises me these days.

The last two weeks while I have waited for a second interview I have been thinking about how the Bible says the birds are fed and the flowers are clothed so God will take care of us too.  I looked up the exact verses and took comfort in them:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  (Matthew 6: 25-34 NIV)

I’m not sure why I’m going through this right now.  However, the worst thing that has happened through all of this is I’ve only made marginal gains or maybe even owe a little more on my credit cards.  But for the most part the expenses I’ve encountered have been less than they could have been or were expected to be and many times I have been able to pay as the crisis arose so that it wasn’t really a crisis.

I know that God will provide but it is hard to have faith and believe without worrying.  In the past God has provided jobs at just the perfect time and my leap of faith in trying something new worked out.  Ultimately, it was not the best path for me, but God is telling me to try another path which I am now pursuing.  I believe He will guide my way and take care of me on my journey.

My prayer:

Dear Lord, please help me to have faith in your plan.  Please let your will be done and not mine.  Please put me where I can do my best and use my talents to help others as well as continuing to grow myself.  Please help me not to worry about the future, especially money, and help me to know that I will survive the hardships.

Help me to have faith that I can pay my debt later, in Your time, not mine.  Please let me surrender to You rather than trying to control things myself. Please help me to know that even if things get really bad and I cannot pay for my house and have to go bankrupt, that you will still be with me and help me through it.  Please comfort me and help me realize that is far from happening and to not doubt your power and how you send help through people and unexpected gifts.  Remind me that I may bend, but I will not break.

Please give me peace and security and help me to do what I can to help get out of my situation but let me not forget that I ultimately must rely on You. Please help me use these trials as a time to grow closer to You and grow in my faith.  Thank you Lord for all You do for me.

Amen.

I wrote this in late May.  I am still looking for another job and have a lot of “irons in the fire.”  Somewhere along the way, I prayed for God to somehow give me more money along with all these bills and debt. I really didn’t know how that could happen so I kind of dismissed the thought almost as soon as I had thought it.

I got a dreaded jury summons in June for county court.  I also had jury duty for 2 weeks in late February/early March of this year for U.S. district court.  Before I just had to call and never had to go in which was awesome.  I couldn’t believe I could have it twice in one year!  This time I got picked to serve on a trial.  Yesterday I finished 4 days on a jury panel.  I had to cancel an interview, but I will get $120 for my service and now have an interesting experience and new appreciation for our American legal system.  The manager I was supposed to meet with was understanding, said “no worries” and that she will let me know her next interview date.

Today, I received a check for $705 for damages to my front bumper caused by a guy who backed into me in a parking lot a couple of weeks ago while I was going to drop my resume off at a company I was interested in.  I didn’t get to leave my resume there after all that happened. I’m not sure if I will try to go back.

But, these two inconveniences meant money for me I hadn’t planned on. They’re not the way I would have done it, but God works in mysterious ways sometimes.  My car is 9 years old and already has slight damage on my rear bumper I never fixed.  I am planning on putting the money into savings and just living with the new additional minor damage.  Maybe if I was not going to get it fixed the Christian thing to do would be to let it go and not make the guy’s insurance pay me, but since I don’t have a job I can’t think that way and turn down a gift.

The $120 jury duty will cover the $96 ticket I got for running a stop sign two days before I got hit in the parking lot. That was just a bad habit finally catching up to me. In the words of Brad Paisley in If I Could Write a Letter to Me: “Always stop completely—don’t  just tap your brakes.”  And speaking of Brad Paisley, I saw his autobiography on clearance today for $5 so I splurged and bought it and will enjoy reading it!

So, moral to the story: God does provide.  I need to find a job within the next 3 weeks before my  final paycheck.  Yes, I have a small amount of terror running through my mind at that thought.  With this money it gives me a little extra cushion and a little more faith.

People I have interviewed with will be making decisions soon and there are more interviews forthcoming.  New jobs are posted nearly every day.  I really think everything will be OK. God keeps giving me these reminders with the strange ways in which He works. Again, it’s not the way I would have asked for if I had thought to be specific and it wasn’t necessarily fun or easy but in weird ways I never could imagine, my prayers are being answered and God continues to take care of me.    Thank You, Lord!!!

Prayer and Verses on Self-Discipline

Dear Lord: Please don’t let me continue putting off until later what I can do today. I do not know what tomorrow may bring or how many days I have on this earth. Please instill in me a sense of urgency and help spur me into motion rather than squandering my free time.

I know that I need to meditate and recharge to be able to have  the right mindset, but please help me find a balance or help me do small things then rest, or think of small rewards which I can look forward to in order to make the things I don’t want to do more bearable.

Help me not just to make lists, but to also do the things on the lists whether it takes a day, a weekend, or a month or longer to complete.

When I’m trying to break a bad habit or cultivate a new better habit, help me to get a few successes under my belt so that I do not want to throw it all away for a momentary and usually dissatisfying experience.

Dear Lord, thank you for being strong when I am weak. Thank you for being a rock that I can cling to.  Thank you for giving me courage in my storms. Please help me to call on you in my times of temptation and when I feel that I can’t go on or can’t do something.

Please help me put those negative thoughts away and know that I can do things and that you will help me and never leave me. Please help me know that I have great strength inside of myself and that if I can get my mind and attitude right that I can resist the things that are bad for me and stick to my plans and goals to help me achieve great successes in my life.

I know that times will be hard and I will want to give up, but please help me to keep fighting the evil forces and naysayers and those who try to thwart my attempts, and help me to block out Satan’s stumbling blocks and things that get me off track or divert my attention from the prize.

Please help me to think of my goal as not only selfish things to make my life better, but also ways in which I can glorify your kingdom and be a better witness to others: both other Christians and non-believers.

Help me to set a good example for others and be an inspiration to those who need it. Please help me find motivation and energy to tackle the things I dread.

Please give me wisdom and send angels of mercy in whatever forms you deem necessary who will help give me encouragement when I am down and help me refocus when I have temporary setbacks.

Please help me not to think of my setbacks as failures but rather as learning experiences so that I know what not to do next time. Please give me the motivation and willpower to be the best that I can be for myself and for you.

Thank you Lord for all you do and are for me. I ask this in your Holy name. Amen.

Here are ten Bible verses about self-discipline and self-control to meditate on:

They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. Hebrews 12:10

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. Romans 13:14

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.1 Corinthians 9:24-27

But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.  Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:31-32

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.  I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:9-11

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.  Revelation 2:10

Self-Discipline

I have recently written a couple of articles for Prayer Igniters International’s website http://www.prayerideas.org/. A portion of this post first appeared on their site. And, as you can see, I just figured out how to do hyperlinks.  I hope I’ve done them correctly & you can see what I’ve referenced for yourself if you choose.

A Bible verse I found when writing my Weight Loss Prayer is: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  Hebrews 12: 11.  This really resonated with me.  It reminded me of the discipline I found when I quit smoking then a few years later quit drinking and what I am trying to tap back into to lose weight.

What is self-discipline? Oxford Dictionary defines it as: “the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.”  You can almost use the words self-discipline and self-control interchangeably.  Self-discipline takes a lot of self-control stringed together.  Self-control is “the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires, especially in difficult situations.”

I googled “How to develop self-discipline” and two articles by Forbes were the first to pop up.  In the first one by Jennifer Cohen titled “5 Proven Methods for Gaining Self Discipline” Cohen wrote, “There are many important qualities that can contribute to a person’s achievements and happiness, but there is only one that begets sustainable, long term success in all aspects of life – self-discipline. Whether in terms of your diet, fitness, work ethic, or relationships,  self-discipline is the number one trait needed to accomplish goals, lead a healthy lifestyle, and ultimately, to be happy.” I believe that she is on to something.

Her five methods are: “remove temptations; eat regularly and healthily; don’t wait for it to “feel right”; schedule breaks, treats, and rewards for yourself; and forgive yourself and move forward.”

In the second Forbes article, “6 Ways To Develop The Self-Discipline Necessary To Reach Your Goals” Amy Morin lists her six strategies as “acknowledge your weaknesses; establish a clear plan; remove the temptations when necessary; practice tolerating emotional discomfort; visualize the long-term rewards; and recover from mistakes effectively.”

In an article I found by Z. Hereford, he calls self-discipline “The Foundation for Success”. In the opening paragraph of their article on the subject much like the Forbes articles, it states, “No personal success, achievement, or goal, can be realized without self-discipline.  It is singularly the most important attribute needed to achieve any type of personal excellence, athletic excellence, virtuosity in the arts, or otherwise outstanding performance.” The article lists the ways to develop self-discipline as “start with baby steps; learn what motivates you and what your bad triggers are; make certain behaviors a routine; practice self-denial; engage in sports or activities; get inspiration from those you admire; and visualize the rewards.” The benefits this article lists (paraphrased by me) are building self-confidence,: being able to accomplish more and maintain a higher tolerance for frustration; conquering obstacles and handling negative emotions; obtaining better health and finances; developing a good work ethic; and finally, being able to reach your most difficult goals more efficiently and having life become easier for you.

So all this sounds good, but is self-discipline really the one most important thing we need to be successful? I would argue that the most important thing we need is God.  We need his love, forgiveness, strength, encouragement, grace, mercy, example of sacrifice, and His disciplining us so that we can learn to discipline ourselves. God is the fountain we should be drawing from to help us so that we can obtain self-discipline so that we may then succeed with our goals and aspirations, find God’s best for us, reach our full potential, and thrive.

I have been reading Your Great Name: Discovering Power for Your Life in the Awesome Names of God” by Michael Neale as part of my morning devotional.  One of the names listed for God is Jehovah Ez-Lami which means The Lord is My Strength. The scripture that accompanies this chapter is Psalm 28: 7,9: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him… Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.” Neale also quotes Mother Teresa, “I don’t think there is anyone who needs God’s help and grace as much as I do.  Sometimes I feel so helpless and weak. I think that is why God uses me. Because I cannot depend on my own strength, I rely on Him twenty-four hours a day.”

Isn’t that how we all should be???  But, if you are like me, I often rely on my own devices and strength rather than seeking assistance from God who can help me do what I cannot do on my own.  Because I do not ask Him for help, when left to my own devices, I often fail when attempting to exercise self-control and use self-discipline.

One of my favorite Bible verses is, “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:2-4 Perseverance requires self-discipline and it can often feel like suffering. It seems ironic to actually rejoice in suffering, but we can rejoice that it is only for a short time and that one day we will see the benefits which include building our character and giving us hope (not only for our remaining time here on earth but for the promise that all Christians have of paradise and an eternal life through Jesus’ love and sacrifice).

I found another translation of Romans 5:3-5: “Let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance.  And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation. Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.”  (The Amplified Bible)  I think it is interesting how different translations and reading just before and after a verse to get the context bring new meaning to scripture.

The Forbes thought of the day where I got some of the information I listed earlier, is a quote by John Quincy Adams: “Courage & perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.” I don’t know what talisman he refers to, but I’d like to think of it as the cross.  The former President was a devout Christian and for many years was a member of the American Bible Society.

One area of my life that I have been (for the most part) faithful and successful in is giving up something for lent.  (But, not so much adding something.) When you put it in terms of Jesus denying himself things for 40 days in the desert despite being tempted by Satan to my small temptations, it’s easy to deprive myself for a little while usually of some type of food or beverage such as Coca-Cola, or chocolate, or this year jelly beans and French fries, or one year pizza. Sometimes I continue well beyond lent, but sometimes the last days before Easter I’m chomping at the bit to taste whatever I have given up.  I wish that I could harness that strength and self-discipline every day and always think of it in terms of Jesus. But in reality, that is much easier said than done.  It is something I will have to practice.

I guess if you look at it as something you’re doing now, then create a habit and get momentum and build on your successes, then maybe your chances of success are greater. I quit smoking numerous times, even for one year and nine months once, but would always pick it back up.  Until, finally, when I was 29, I thought to myself, “I’m about to really be an adult. I need to quit this childish stuff.” I smoked the last 5 cigarettes in the pack in a row and got a nice little buzz. Then I thought I’ll just see how long I can go without one. It has now been 12 years that I have “stayed quit” as I call it. Do I still think about it? Yes, occasionally when I’m stressed out or have had a big meal and want something to top it off, but it’s not something I seriously want to act on or go back to.

I’m not an alcoholic, but have definitely abused alcohol in the past and finally realized drinking was something I shouldn’t do.  I do sometimes want one, but luckily, God has provided things such as smoothies, fruit drinks, and non-alcoholic beer which let me have the taste I like and would miss, without having the unwanted alcohol too.  That makes me happy. I’ve learned that a lot of times when we sacrifice something, God provides us with something just as good or even better to replace it.

I often make lists of what I need to do and then find satisfaction in checking things off as I complete them.  It may take a long time to get to things. Sometimes I have to create a second list for more long term items or I keep making new lists and the same things wind up on the new ones.  Making lists helps me prioritize what needs to be done first and is most important from things that can wait.  It also helps me group like tasks together so that I can maximize my time and am not running back and forth across town. It helps me develop a strategy and plan to get things done.

Often times, for me, just getting started (like doing work at home, or studying, or chores, or especially mowing the lawn) is the hardest part. Most of the time once I’m doing it, I end up enjoying what I thought would be unpleasant or seemed to be too large of a job.  Once I actually get started I can spend hours happily doing the task and it is not as bad as I envisioned. Procrastination and inactivity only makes the dread worse and builds up the anxiety and makes it seem more daunting than it really is.

In the past coming up with a schedule for working out and sticking to it was what helped me be the most successful. I try to do that now, but all too often life seems to get in the way of my plans. Sometimes it is other obligations, but more often I think I’m too tired to exercise.  However, when I push myself to do it anyway, although I’m still tired afterward, it’s different.  I feel invigorated and energized and healthier.  When I string several days together at the gym I feel better and begin to really see the difference.

I think and have read that self-discipline is doing things we know we should do even when we don’t want to or feel like it. It’s also self-deprivation which is not fun but necessary. It doesn’t have to mean you can’t be nice to yourself by moderation or finding other rewards, but sometimes moderation is not possible because we can’t handle it and will backslide and sabotage ourselves because yes, we are just that weak.

But self-discipline is not just about changing bad habits. It is also necessary to accomplish the goals we set for ourselves such as finishing a degree or getting a certain job, saving for a car, paying off debt, or any number of things which make our life better or are dreams we have which may have seemed unlikely in the past. With hard work, determination, and self-discipline, we can do most things we set our mind to if they are part of God’s plan for us.

Well, this is getting pretty long, so I’ll post the prayer and the Bible verses that go along with this in my next blog.

Learning to Trust God When He Speaks to Me

A few weeks ago a new friend said she was adding me to one of her answered prayers list after she had prayed for my interview which went well.  Since she told me about her list, I’ve been thinking of writing down my own list of answered prayers.  (I already write 5 things I’m thankful for each day in a gratitude journal after reading about it in a devotional.)  I finally decided to begin a list of answered prayers Wednesday  after noticing all the check marks I had on my prayer list of things that had come to pass.  I ended up with 39 answered prayers!   

Also, that morning I was using a technique I had read about (writing to God then writing down what He speaks to you).  I’ve done it a couple of times now but wasn’t sure whether I was really hearing God.  This time He told me a lot of  reaffirming things He’s already said and showed me but that I have stubbornly questioned whether it was really Him speaking or what I wanted to hear (whether it was my will and not His will). Near the end of our conversation, He told me “I will show you a humming bird today so be looking for it”.  (I hadn’t seen one at the feeder at my house all year.) 

I thought He meant at my feeder, but as I sat in my swing on my deck (which is on the other side of the house from the feeder and where I have also seen them) I realized He could have meant anywhere and not just at my house.  I wasn’t sure what I needed to do for it to happen. Later I realized I couldn’t make it happen, but it turned out I had to do my part by putting out fresh nectar.

It wasn’t until late in the day that I realized the feeder was empty. I didn’t get to spend much time looking at the feeder because I took a long nap in the afternoon.   I had also been afraid to change the nectar because I thought the hummingbirds may not find it in time for it to come true that day. 

When I realized the feeder was empty, I looked at the bottle of nectar I had.  It was yellowish and I thought it was supposed to be clear.  I looked for an expiration date because I had it a few seasons and realized it had expired in August of last year.  I felt bad that was what I put out this spring and what they seemed to be drinking because the liquid had been going down in the feeder. 

 I decided I would try making sugar water rather than buying more nectar.  It was my first time making it. I called a friend and asked her what ratio of sugar to water she uses.  I didn’t  have much of the day left because it was after 5 p.m. and I had to eat and get ready for a Bible study. It didn’t take long for the sugar to dissolve after heating it and then for it to cool and me to fill up the feeder and put it outside.  I was hoping while I showered, the hummingbirds would be finding it.  I looked for them before I left, but was running late so I didn’t get to look for long.

 It was 8:30 p.m. when I got out of class and it was sprinkling and almost dusk.  (I had forgotten about it and spent time talking after we got out of class.) When I got in the car I remembered God’s words so I eagerly drove home to see if I could see a hummingbird.    I wondered if I still had time for God to show me one.  I wanted to believe and I was afraid of what it would mean to me if I didn’t see it.  My friend had mentioned she never sees them in the early morning or late evening so I was worried.

 When I got home, I stayed in my car which faces the feeder. In past years I have usually seen hummers when I am in my car.  I finished my drink and listened to the radio while I watched. Sure enough, after about a minute, through the raindrops on my windshield, I saw the tiniest of hummingbirds come to feed there.  It came back several times.

I was so happy! And, what God had been telling me was about my future spouse and children which I have waited on and prayed for a long time.  And, I have heard that hummingbirds mate for life, so I thought it was a very good sign that God gave me. 

It helped me realize that I can and do hear God talk to me and that it is not just my voice in my head.  It was a bit of a breakthrough on my hope, faith, and belief journey. I slept really good that night feeling like I was wrapped in God’s loving and comforting arms.

Now I just need to remember this when I start doubting what He tells me.  I pray that what He said about my husband and children will happen like He’s said and that I can have faith and believe that it is true while also being patient and letting it happen in His time.

I hope you hear God speak to you today and that you find your hummingbird.

 

 

I missed Christmas this year

Before I got ready to go to church this morning, I was listening to my country gospel CD.  I haven’t listened to it in several months.  My favorite songs are “Peace in the Valley” and “Beulah Land”.  I began thinking again that I would want those played at my funeral. Death sounded nice. I don’t really want to die, but in this Christmas season, I have been thinking of Jesus’ death, instead of his birth.

For the longest time I’ve been going to church only in time to hear the sermon.  I like the music at the beginning but it just seems to last too long so I skip it. It’s not that I don’t wake up early enough to get ready. I’m usually up hours before the service begins. I just get caught up with and carried away doing things then don’t leave enough time to get ready.  Today I had to prepare to teach the Sunday School lesson so I was not distracted with other tasks except preparing.   There were only three others there besides myself due to the holidays. I stumbled my way through, but I think we all learned something from our discussion.

What I wanted to write about was the church service (the contemporary service comes before Sunday school at our church). The music was acoustic.  Normally there is a praise band.  Two of the students who I watched develop as musicians in youth group played and sang along with the praise band director as a trio with just their guitars. The young woman and man are both now freshman in college and had returned home with their first semester under their belts. They sounded beautiful. They sang songs that I knew from my time assisting with the student ministry so I was able to sing the words and actually feel them rather than trying to pick up a new melody and stumbling over the words which is often the case during the usual Sunday Contemporary Services.

The sermon was “Christmas… What’s next.” The associate minister who preached that day, Brenda Westmoreland, asked the congregation, “Did you miss it?” Were you too busy, did you not make time, did you not think about it?  I realized guiltily that I had missed it.

I brought my Christmas decorations out of storage over Thanksgiving break, but I didn’t decorate until mid December.  I debated whether to even go to the trouble of decorating since I had waited so long.  I remembered last year I went through the same dilemma. I did decorate last year and was glad I did, so I went ahead and decorated this year. I didn’t put that many things out though. I meant to put my nativity scene out but I wanted to dust where I was going to put it and never got around to it.  The boxes that I store my decorations in stayed in the living room. I never put them away, because since I waited so long I didn’t want to have to carry them down then turn around and carry them back up the stairs in a couple of days.

I listened to Christmas music by choice at home and in the car for most of the month, but I never really got into the mood.  My Christmas shopping didn’t take long.  It didn’t seem like it was really here. I went to Christmas Eve service.  The message there focused on Mary and her role in the birth of Christ.  I just really didn’t appreciate the significance of this birth this year. I’ve heard the story many, many times before. It was kind of like Christmas, yea, Jesus was born.  Instead, I was worried about what family members were going to be there and who would be missing when we celebrated, and forgot the reason we were celebrating.

I spent more time reading the Bible over the break. I spent more time praying. I spent time trying to hear God speak to me.  I watched a You Tube video of Third Day’s “Love Song” that has scenes from the movie “The Passion”.  I flinched when I saw Jesus being beaten and wanted to turn away when I saw the agony.  I pondered Jesus’ suffering and death, but it didn’t really hit me that he would not have been able to die for our sins if he hadn’t been born. That is the reason we celebrate. His birth actually probably took place in the Spring, but December 25th is the day that history has chosen to recognize and celebrate the miracle of him coming into the world.

People have sometimes made the connection we wouldn’t have the resurrection without the birth.  I remember hearing it, but I had to be reminded by our preacher today.

She said it’s not too late to celebrate Christmas and mentioned Epiphany. She said that Christmas day was only the beginning of the season. The wise men did not make it to see Jesus until several days later (we celebrate it on January 6th). I know that Catholics celebrate Epiphany (it’s only skimmed over in the Methodist church) but I’m not sure I ever really knew what it meant. If I did, I forgot.

The very busy minister told us as her daughter had said to her, “Be intentional about slowing down and leaving time and room for Jesus”. She said that business is a sickness. She said to pray, read scripture, and spend time with God in his living word.  She nudged us with Gods words, “Be still and know that I am God” and added “a small voice speaks love into our hearts.”  She challenged us to do something for someone else (not just family or friends). Jesus taught us to love one another as thy self.  She left us with the reminder that God comes near and calls us to Him and service in His name not unlike Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds.  We need to be listening for what He wants us to do and how we can make the world a better place.

Last night my roommate and I were discussing when to take the Christmas decorations down. Some say it’s bad luck to leave them up after New Year’s. Others say it’s bad luck to take them down before New Year’s.  I say take them down on January 1st so you’re covered, but in church this morning I had an epiphany of my own.  I decided I would put my nativity scene up when I got home and would leave my decorations up this year until after Epiphany so that I can enjoy them while I contemplate what Christmas means since I missed the point this year.

Sunday’s Lessons–Communion and Being a Christian

I’ve been wanting to write a blog about church last Sunday, but have been busy trying to get things set to start a new job.  I have been so stressed out about getting my references to respond and receiving a formal offer for the position, but now things are looking like they may work out today.  The company should have received my last reference this morning, so I hope to hear from them with good news today.  I finally feel a sense of peace, so I wanted to relax and write while I still have a little free-time.

During the sermon entitled “A Stranger Becomes Known” the lesson was based on Luke 24:13-35 when Jesus first appears to the disciples after the resurrection and they do not recognize him. The things our preacher Jody Alderman said related to the verses were good, but what stood out most to me is Jody said: “We don’t control Jesus—Jesus is working in the world.”  And when someone says “They have found the Lord”, he said “Jesus is/was  not lost—we are/were.”

It was communion Sunday and I got to serve the congregation for the first time.  (I had served the youth during their summer “Teens Love Christ” retreat a few summers back, but this was my first time serving the church.)  I really enjoyed the experience, seeing everyone and saying “His blood poured out for you”.  I loved lowering the cup so children could reach it and smiling at my friends and those whom I don’t know their names.  I thought it was cool how Jody said that the servers would give them the bread because Christ gave his grace and forgiveness to us and we cannot take it by taking the bread.

On the third day, Jesus had not revealed himself yet, and the disciples were bummed out because they had been so sure that he was the Messiah but he hadn’t done what he said he would do.  However, they finally recognized Jesus later that day on what we now call Easter when he broke the bread to serve them.  The disciples had thought “the crucifixion was the end, but it was only the beginning”.

Jody also told the story about a reporter asking an abbot about the Christian experience.  The abbot replied that “You fall down, you get back up. You fall down, you get up.  You fall down, you get back up.”  Jody said we can’t get stuck.  We need the resurrection.  Jesus wants to unstick us and the resurrection is the whole point of the story—the heart of the gospel. He asked “We have heard it, but have we experienced it?” The crucifixion and resurrection were God’s deliverance of Israel.

Next, in Sunday school, we finished our study about world religions rounding it out with Christianity.  The preacher in the video (Adam Hamilton) that went with the series talked about the reasons that he is a Christian and what we should say if someone asks why we are one.  I thought it would be good to have ideas of what to say, so I took notes.

Because of:

  1. The eye witness accounts
  2. The picture God created—Jesus spending time with sinners
  3. The Christian ethic and Jesus calming the waves.  Jesus washing the disciples’ feet like a slave.  Jesus naked and bleeding on the cross with a crown of thorns on his head and the compelling picture that brings to mind. How Jesus was raised from the dead in triumph.  To the speaker, that is the most compelling picture of any religion.
  4. The price Jesus paid on the cross and its power
  5. The hope in Christ with life after death
  6. Our own experience of Christ—the peace, joy, meaning and richest moments we have experienced with and through him
  7. How it relates back to faith and how you can be a better spouse, parent, sibling, friend, etc., because of having Christ in your life
  8. Refusing Christianity is like getting an invitation to a party but choosing not to go.  But, what if someone doesn’t get the message in a language he or she understands or never got the invitation at all like small tribes in remote areas who have never been exposed to missionaries or the story of Christ? The speaker and I believe that God is love.  Jesus on the cross prayed for his Father to forgive them, “because they know not what they do.”  The preacher comforted me in saying he thinks God has a way of applying the merits of those who have never been exposed to the Gospel and looks at how they have lived their life—their works—whether they were like Christians even though they did not know Him.
  9. The speaker on the video left us with the question, “What will you say when you face Him? What will He say to you?”  I believe if you are exposed to the Christian message and God and Jesus as how I perceive them but refuse to accept them, that it means you will be sent to Hell.
  10. I hope that you believe.  I know there are a lot of questions that I have had and still have, but if we truly want the answers, we can find them out.   It’s hard to comprehend how “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”  (John 3:16) Especially, when we are so unworthy of His love.  But, it is true.  I hope you have faith or can develop it, because faith is believing without seeing and trusting in the Creator, a Father, who loves us so much He sent his own son to die for us so that we could be reconciled to Him and our sins forgiven, so that one day we can live eternally in Heaven with Him. Peace out

Today Has Been a Good Day

Today has been a good day. I got a long, restful night of sleep after Friday’s insomnia. This morning I spent some time in my little books reading passages in “From the Back of My Bible—Timeless Truths for the Soul” by Emolyn C. Lambert and “Forbidden Fruit Creates Many Jams—Roadside Church Signs Across America” by Mary Katherine and David Compton. Next I went to Norcross First United Methodist Church and received an awesome sermon and got to hear some of my favorite young adults sing. Then I heard a thoughtful Sunday School class lesson. Next, I went to our Senior Celebration where we celebrated our high school graduates and sent them off into the big world of college and adulthood. Then, I came home and snoozed on the couch while listening to country music. Next, I ordered a watch on-line at a discount and talked with a lovely lady who called me about my order. I spent several minutes here and there throughout the afternoon sitting in the swing on my deck watching and listening to the birds and soaking in the sun’s rays. I had good conversations on the phone with different friends and family. Then I got a craving for key lime ice cream so I went to Kroger. I couldn’t find it but I found Blue Bell’s homemade peach ice cream instead which was even better. Next, I watched “Rising Star” and voted (using a free phone app) on people that I hope to hear on the radio someday. Technology is so cool! And, I read a challenge on Facebook to document the “Good Stuff” by taking a photo a day for a year and see how your collection unfolds and I started by posting one I took at the Senior Celebration. Now I feel inspired to write to summarize this morning’s sermon by Jody Alderman because it was good and set the tone for the whole day. Here is what he said:

People often think they need more money, power, status, pleasure, etc., etc. But, that is not what we need. We need to live in the present. He listed 10 ways to live in the present that he encouraged us to write down (which I did and am glad I did!).
1. Slow down and rest in God’s love. He quoted the scripture, “Be still and know that I am God.”
2. When you pray, stop giving advice to God. Listen to him.
3. Break your routine—do something new—like showing kindness to a stranger.
4. Be thankful.
5. Give someone a compliment. Encourage, brag on them, be a giver.
6. Be aware of nature both the big and the little things and thank God for the beauty.
7. Take a quiet walk and think of it as a time for God to love you. Live in the grace of God.
8. Give yourself a break. You are not perfect and do not need to impress anyone. Nothing you do will make God love you any more or any less.
9. Smile at people.

I think I combined two of them, because I only wrote down 9 numbers. He said a lot in a few short minutes but I think I got the main ideas. It spoke volumes to me. I have been doing some of this already, but today I just soaked it all up living in the present and loving it.