Joyful Words Blog
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.
– Psalm 119:105
– Psalm 119:105
There is a time for everything…Ecclesiastes 3:1
Have you ever noticed how things seem to change in bundles? I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, it’s just an observation. It’s almost time to say good bye to one of the calmest, most peaceful, prayerful, pleasant summers I can ever remember. I got a lot of little projects finished, successfully ignored some icky projects, did some great reading and for the first time in my 22 years of parenting spent some time all alone in my house. This was most likely the last summer everyone will be living at home so I completely enjoyed the minutes we all spent together…I especially loved the times we were all parked at the table together. The supper conversation has changed dramatically over the years. Not once this summer did I have to remind anyone to sit still, chew with your mouth closed, mind your manners or finish your vegetables. There was a day when I didn’t think I’d ever get through a family supper without barking those words! The truth is, some of my quietest moments were at the dinner table. I was quiet because I enjoyed listening to my kids talk about work, school, careers, and sports. There were so many minutes of complete blessing! It was such an awesome summer that about half way through I was afraid I wouldn’t want it to end but I’m ready to turn the page.
School starts on Tuesday and I have a feeling the peace and quiet that has surrounded me this summer will be gone in an instant. It’s back to bells and voices and schedules and games and events and a new batch of middle lovelies every 50 minutes. I will trade my quiet days of scrubbing, baking, reading and praying for days filled with energy, questions, lessons and loudness; and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m excited for Jason and Kevin as they spread their wings and live without my cooking and expert laundry doing and I’m excited for Shannon and all the fun and excitement that comes with a senior year, but mostly I’m excited for the challenges and blessings God has in store for me.
I knew in order to make the transition from little to middle lovelies I had to turn school off for a while and find my peace and balance. As humans we aren’t so good at that. I’ve come to some conclusions. 1) Time doesn’t slow down; you have to do the slowing. There will always be stuff going on but stillness is where God can find you and bring peace. 2) Things did get done without me. I’ve never been very good at saying no but this summer I discovered that when you do, someone else says yes. 3) Life comes in stages just like books come in chapters. You’ll never get to the great ending if you don’t keep turning the pages and following along. 4) My front porch is not just architecture and a lawn chair storage area…it’s for sitting, visiting, praying, writing and reading even in the middle of the day when there are chores to be done. 5) The more you make time for quiet stillness, the greater the peace; the greater the peace the greater the contentment and with contentment comes clearer perspective, less stress a more prayerful heart and a happier demeanor. Who knew!
I feel a little like a lawn chair parked in the shallow ocean water. Life is rolling by and changing but it’s washing over me like warm waves and a gentle breeze. My prayer the first day of summer vacation was “God, help me be still, I’m lousy at it!” Not only did he do what I asked, he has blessed me greatly while doing it. Busy isn’t always a choice, but stillness is…perhaps the best choice we can make.
A Seed To Plant: As we head into this long holiday weekend, take some time to be still and pray about how you can incorporate some stillness into each week this fall. It is possible if you want it to be and if you use that time to seek his will and his plan for your life you will be blessed abundantly!
Blessings on your day!
In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9
Last week was one crazy mess! There was not a day that I had more than an hour at a time without something scheduled. After my lovely peaceful, quiet, slow paced summer last week felt like I had been tangled up in a tornado! As I sat down last Sunday night to look at the events of the week ahead I thought I might hyperventilate or croak! Well, I’m happy to report that I not only survived but I can say it was a terrific week! Ya wana know why? I gave the week completely to God.
Sometimes I get a little sassy with God. Last Monday morning I told him we had a serious problem that I couldn’t manage. I told him I needed help. As I sat in quiet prayer, the words that came to my mind were…thank you for the invitation Sheri, but I don’t need your help at all, give the week completely and totally to me. Of course I argued with him a little and in my sassiness I remind him that the week included finishing my classroom, an all-day meeting, an all-day volleyball tournament, overnight company, a parent conference, cleaning the house and garage to host a party for a few dozen guests, a prayer meeting, a book club meeting, an eye exam, a family wedding and several other events sprinkled in just for fun! As I lifted it all up to him I can’t even explain the feeling of complete peace that washed over me and blanketed me all week.
Here are some of the highlights. Two high school students showed up one morning out of nowhere to help me work in my classroom. The all-day meeting was great nourishment for my soul. The volleyball tournament was one laugh after another with some really great other moms. The eye appointment that was supposed to take more than an hour was done in 25 minutes. Band practice was cancelled the night we had an overnight guest so I had extra help from Shannon with dinner and entertaining. The overnight company was so much fun and filled the time with laughter, prayer and excellent conversation. The prayer and book club meetings were full of blessings. Some car trouble made it necessary to change the location of the prayer meeting to our house. I got home and had an hour to get the house tidied and make a dessert. I decided to make a chocolate chip bar cookie and discovered nearly the entire bag of chocolate chips had been eaten but then I spied a bag of forgotten M&M’s in the back of the pantry! I stood in awe as one thing after another just clicked perfectly into place. There was not one minute of struggle or stress the entire week. He even took care of a major wardrobe malfunction. As I was getting ready for the wedding; the zipper in my dress wouldn’t do its job and close the back of my dress…not a good look! As I was jamming it back into the closet and searching for something to wear a hanger fell to the floor containing a skirt that I hadn’t even considered. As I bent to pick it up, I hit my head on the shelf and off tumbled a top that I had never worn with that skirt. I had the perfect necklace lying on the dresser so I was ready in a flash in what seemed like a totally new outfit. We got home from the volleyball tournament more than an hour before the party guests arrived and the weather was perfect and the laughter and friendship was great. He took it all!
I have to let you in on a little secret though. My part of the deal was to make sure that no matter how busy the day was, I had to make sure I didn’t cheat him out of any of his minutes during morning prayer. One morning when I was tempted to cut it short to get moving a little sooner, the person I was supposed to meet with that morning called and said they would be running about 30 minutes late. He even made sure we had time to be together. I believe God multiplies time and I’ve never felt so loved!
A Seed To Plant: Give him your schedule and your to-do list…really give it to him and be prepared to be loved and amazed!
Blessings on your day!
If you love me you will keep my commandments. John:14:15
Tuesday was the unofficial start of school. It was the day all 700 plus Catholic School teachers from throughout the Diocese of Lansing gathered for the day to learn, pray and renew our purpose and our mission of forming young disciples. It’s a day I always look forward to and this year’s event left me with a treasure I just have to share. The gift was compliments of an amazing man of faith and truth named Dan Mattson. He is a wonderful presenter with a fabulously delivered message that leaves you changed.
I think something we all wrestle with in our Christian walk is sin and God’s laws. It’s easy to get discouraged and a little frustrated about God’s laws and how our human nature can make it so darn hard to live within them. We can sometimes look at his laws as restricting and stiff. People have turned away from church thinking that if God really loved us he wouldn’t give us so many rules and regulations. To some, living his laws is like an intrusion on freedoms and pleasures. Dan gave an explanation so crystal clear and beautifully simple I’m going to repeat it to anyone who will listen! Dan showed a slide of his rescue dog Sophie. He told us shortly after he got her, she ran away and he looked and looked but couldn’t find her anywhere. He didn’t know where she was and he couldn’t protect her. Sometime later he got a call from the Sherriff’s department telling him they had his Sophie. Unfortunately in her little get away, she had been hit by a car. He nursed her back to health although some of her injuries never healed. He used this story to illustrate the love and freedom of God’s laws. If Sophie had stayed inside the fence where she was safe, protected and cared for by her master, she wouldn’t have gotten hurt. For Sophie, that fence seemed like a barrier and a hindrance and she felt trapped. In an attempt to escape her restriction she ventured outside the protection and safety of the fence and the result was a disaster.
Our free will is what makes us want to jump the fence. We don’t always realize that if we live within Gods laws, we will be safe and protected by our Heavenly Master. If we’re inside the fence and we are living within the boundaries he has set for us we will remain close to him and he will meet all our needs. If we jump the fence and go outside his laws and his ways we are purposely separating ourselves from him and that is a recipe for disaster. We have a choice to sin or go beyond the boundaries of his loving protection and he will always open the gate and welcome us back after we’ve jumped the fence but the further we stray from the loving protection of his boundaries the more danger we encounter. Jumping the fence or sinning brings great consequences that can take a long time to heal and rob us of our peace. Living inside that fence we will find contentment and true freedom; the freedom that comes from no guilt, no worry, no consequences and complete understanding that you are being lovingly protected and cared for. Inside the fence is the best place to be!
A Seed To Plant: Sit for a few quiet minutes and imagine yourself living contently inside a lush beautiful yard surrounded by a fence. Sit with the knowledge that you have everything you need and there is no danger or stress. Soak up the peacefulness and safety of that surrounding. Now think about the things that tempt you to jump that fence and separate yourself from that place. Ask your loving Master to help you overcome that temptation to step outside the protection of his laws.
God bless your day!
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Matthew 6:26
I was sitting in the basement last week making new curtains for my classroom and I was visited by a very strange guest. I was just stitching away minding my own business when I heard a whoosh sound followed by the crashing of the roaster oven lid. The roaster is kept on a high shelf near the sewing machine and when I looked up to see what made the racket I was dive bombed by a bird. After my screech I’m not sure who was more startled, me or the bird. In the quarter century I’ve lived in this house, there has never been a bird inside…let alone in the basement. I was puzzled not only about how he got in, but by how I was going to get him out!
It took me a minute to come up with a plan, which included making sure he didn’t get upstairs. He dive bombed me a couple more times and then seemed to vanish. I’m not sure what was more unsettling; seeing him or not seeing him! I went out of the sewing room, around the corner and across the basement and took the screen off the egress window and pulled back the curtain in hopes that if I could get him pointed in that direction he’s see the open window and fly out. After I’d prepared his exit I began searching for him and startled him off his nesting perch on the bottom step and he soared up the stairs and crashed right into the basement door. I was not excited about the prospect of scooping up a dead bird but as I crept toward the steps trying to see if he was still alive he whizzed over my head, down the stairs, around the corner and in one quick zoom flew clear across the length of the basement and right out the window. Success!
When I sat back down to the sewing machine I realized that little incident was a lessons. I was thinking about all the times I’d made my own silly decisions without consulting my Father the master planner. Like that bird, I have wound up in some crazy situations that were not meant for me. Thankfully like the open window I provided for the bird, God always seems to provide a way out for me too. I can think of plenty of times I’ve flapped around and banged my head trying to go somewhere I wasn’t supposed to go. I’ve traveled down the wrong path and searched and searched to find my way only to discover I was simply on the wrong path to begin with. That little bird wanted nothing to do with me. It would have been easier and much less stressful if he would have gently perched on my finger so I could take him outside peacefully but we weren’t meant to have a relationship. I don’t know about you, but I have been a part of friendships or relationships that were not meant for me, God even arranges those to our benefit if we invite him into the center of them.
As I sewed that morning I was nursing a heavy heart. Jason was scheduled to move out in just a few days and Kevin won’t be far behind and as much as I’m excited for their next adventure and as much as I know they are ready to fly off on their own, it still made my heart ache a little. When I thought about the way that bird zoomed out that window safe, and sound I realized that was what my boys were ready for too. I’ve been so blessed to have them parking their feet under my dinner table while they commuted to college but like that bird, they are ready to experience a new freedom. I needed a gentle reminder that if he could take care of that little bird he would surely take care of my sons. I sighed a quick thank you for the lesson and got back to work. When I finished the project and went upstairs I walked past the hallway mirror and noticed what I thought was white thread on my hair and forehead. As I moved in closer for inspection, I realized that it wasn’t thread, it was bird poop. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor! I got a couple great lessons plus a little humility training to boot. All in all…it was a very good day!
A Seed To Plant: Have you ever been in the wrong place or the wrong relationship? Ask God to guide you to the nearest planned exit and put you back on the path he has chosen.
Blessings on your day!
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.” Matthew 17:5
In the first half of chapter 17 in Matthew’s Gospel we read the magnificent story of the Transfiguration. You would think that after seeing something as indescribably amazing as the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John would never doubt or struggle with trusting the will of God again. I mean really, after seeing what they had just seen how could they ever doubt, question or stray from God again. But in his infinite wisdom I think God knew they would because they were human so as if the events of the day hadn’t been powerful enough, he included a simple and precise verbal statement, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The key phrase is at the end…listen to him. I don’t know about you but I sure could use that reminder every now and again.
I had a professor in college one time that handed out a test. It was the standard fill in the bubble test that we had seen dozens of times before. As the question and answer sheets circulated around the room he strongly advised waiting until he had finished making announcements and giving directions before beginning. I’m a people pleaser so I sat there listening to him ramble on as I watched everyone around me quickly reading and filling in bubbles. I was just about ready to tune him out and get started when I heard him quietly say, if you’re still listening to my voice, put down your pencil, don’t say a word and in five minutes bring your test forward, you will receive a perfect score on today’s exam. I thought a perfect exam score was awesome but as I read this passage from Matthew, I realized what I could gain from listening to HIM would most certainly blow that right out of the water!
God demonstrates his power and presence in our lives all the time but in our weakness; we often don’t listen to him. Sometimes it’s as if God’s grand workings in our lives make us feel entitled to float along with independent holiness instead of falling to our knees in thanksgiving and submission. I’m famous for taking the “holy glow feeling” that comes from identifying God’s handiwork and using it to plug along on my own instead of truly listening to him. I have to remember to listen and look for Jesus all the time; in times of blessing as well as times of struggle. He knows what’s best, he knows what’s right, and even when I’m in the middle of a hissy fit determined to do it my own way, he just patiently waits for me to listen and do it his way!
A Seed To Plant: When do I find it most difficult to “listen to him?” Father of wisdom, show me where I need to listen and guide me to live my life like I’ve heard your voice.
Blessings on your day!
…and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, Hebrews 12:1
Crunch time has arrived! I have three weeks left until school begins. I’m knee deep in preparing my room and my lessons for my new “middle lovelies.” I’ve discovered many things in the past few days, the books we will read are much longer, the math is much harder and all the spelling words have more than 5 letters! I won’t have to sharpen pencils, apply Band-Aids or identify finger print shaped mystery stains on my clothes. I probably won’t sing ten times a day or tie anybody’s shoes and it’s a pretty good guess I won’t be swarmed with hugs at the beginning of the day or after recess. I realized there are a lot of first grade things I’ll miss but as I roamed around my new room I got excited about the students who will be sitting in those much taller chairs. I got excited about unraveling the beauty of the Old and New Testaments instead of just teaching the difference between the two. I got excited about the chapter books and novels we will read and the even bigger capacity for loving and understanding Christ they will bring each day. The list of tradeoffs is huge but I was feeling very blessed and excited about my new opportunity until I saw that book!
It’s blue, not too large, paper back and seemingly harmless…but when I pulled it off the shelf I nearly broke into a cold sweat! It’s that book you either love or hate…nothing in the middle. It’s worth, value and relevance is a topic of huge debate in the education world, again no middle ground folks either think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread of an exercise in ancient drudgery. What’s the book you ask? It’s the cursive handwriting book! As I thumbed through the book my heart rate went up immediately as I admired the perfectly formed strokes, loops and lines. I plunked into my chair feeling completely defeated. I learned to write in cursive 40 years ago and I write everything in cursive, I never print but my cursive looks nothing like what I saw between the covers of that blue book. I of course did what I often do when faced with something I’d rather pout about than tackle…I buried it on the bottom of a pile so I couldn’t see it! As you might imagine, that never works so I bopped around for a couple days with the thought of that book bugging me like a little rock in my shoe.
After way too long (when am I ever gonna learn) I took it to prayer. I honestly began the prayer with the phrase, “Ok Jesus, you’re really gonna think I’m a nut but teaching cursive is really buggin me, help me make sense of it please!” Just because he could, he let me stew on it a bit longer and then like a light in the fog, this verse from Hebrews came to mind. It isn’t about loops and swirls and lines at all! It’s about running the whole race with perseverance. In my mind I was running on all the flat spots thinking about the things I would enjoy and be a natural at and but when I came to a hill I needed to run up I just plopped down and stopped. It doesn’t matter if I think cursive is crucial to a 12 year olds development and education or not, that isn’t the issue. The issue is, I’ve got something to do that is going to require time, patience effort and the stubborn release of old habits. It's part of the race that is before me. I was boldly reminded that we are constantly challenged to change and grow and do what is required humbly and obediently with a loving heart; even teach cursive to a room full of pre-adolescents who would probably rather do almost anything else!
I should let you know that when I returned to the blue book buried on the bottom of the pile, I realized it is a Catholic handwriting book and the book is filled with beautiful scripture, Church teaching and Gospel lessons....beautiful, uplifting things to write. (He’s such a show off sometimes!) I have plans to return to my desk this week with a freshly sharpened pencil and begin learning all over again and you can bet your boots I’ll begin with a prayer and politely point out to God that I don’t enjoy running up hill! I don’t think he’ll care though…I should be old enough to realize that the greatest blessings are always at the end of a tough race.
A Seed To Plant: In honor of my new adventure, write your favorite scripture verse in your best cursive handwriting. (google it if you can’t remember how …I did!)
Blessings on your day!
“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Luke 15:31
I heard someone on the radio the other day talking about the story of the Prodigal Son so I decided to give it another read and do some thinking on it. Every time I read the story I get angry with the first son. According to the customs of his time, asking for his inheritance was the same as saying his father was dead to him. As a parent I just can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be so bitterly betrayed by my own son. As I read on, I sometimes find myself cheering for the second son…the one who was obedient, hardworking respectful and never asked for anything. He seems like the good son for sure…or does he? Surely the first son is the bad son…or is he? As I prayed on this passage from Luke’s Gospel I began to see myself in both sons. I’m not gonna lie…I didn’t like that idea very much!
I saw myself in the second son but not for good reasons. Yes I try to be obedient to God’s will and yes I try to be grateful and conservative and not demanding but this wasn’t what was stirring in my heart. The second son was all about entitlement. He wasn’t concerned about his brother, he was concerned about himself. He didn’t stop for 2 seconds to see the relief or joy in his father’s eyes. He didn’t stop for 2 seconds to realize what a tremendous act of “pride swallowing” his brother had just demonstrated. And he certainly didn’t stop long enough to think about how extravagantly his father would shower him with love if given the chance. It was a gigantic open and shut case of “that’s not fair!” Why is it we have such a hard time being genuinely happy for others when good fortune comes their way and not ours? I guess I need to think more about the blessing of generosity and less about keeping score. I heard a story not long ago about a wealthy couple who had attended a fundraising event and won the big cash prize. The audience was full of second sons who whispered among themselves about how that couple certainly didn’t deserve to win. What all those whisperers didn’t know is that the couple humbly accepted the cash prize and used every penny of it to buy groceries, diapers and gas cards for two struggling young family in their church.
The first son…what could he possibly have to teach me? I smugly thought I would never be so bold, wasteful, irresponsible and disrespectful. God wouldn’t let it off my heart so I stayed a while longer and thought about that lousy first son and as I sat and prayed, he began to sprout some redeeming qualities. I began to consider things like his courage, humility and desire to reconcile. He knew he had hurt his father but something deep inside him wanted to make that right. He wasn’t asking to have everything back to normal; he was willing to be a hired man not a son. True, his return might have been motivated by selfish reasons like hunger and pride but I can’t even imagine being brave enough to take the risk. He had to be willing to own up to every one of his mistakes and face the judgment and consequences that might come. He left home prideful and arrogant and he returned broken and weak and a complete failure, but yet he returned. As he walked down that road to his father’s house every weakness was on full display. I’m not sure I could muster that kind of honesty. I can go to all sorts of lengths to conceal my weaknesses and failures; it must have been quite a task to lay it all on the line like he did. I noticed that not once did the son offer any kind of excuse or rationale for his behavior. He just told it like it was and hoped to be accepted in spite of the brokenness he brought with him; I don’t know about you but I could take a lesson there!
I spent so much time thinking about the sons, I forgot the star of the story…the father. The father in this story is our father too. Our Heavenly Father loves us with the same unconditional love as the father in the story. He will always welcome us back no matter what we’ve done or where we’ve been and he will be so happy to see us there will be great rejoicing. He loves us even when we’re too busy keeping score to realize only he knows the perfect reason blessings are bestowed as they are. I realized he wants us to know his forgiveness and his generosity. He wants us to remember our job isn’t to focus on the behavior of his children; our job is to focus on the love of the Father.
A Seed To Plant: Pick a favorite Gospel story and give it a read with fresh eyes, asking God to put you right into the story so he can reveal his truth and love to your heart.
Blessings on your day!
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Ephesians 6:11
This verse made me remember a plastic suit of armor the boys had when they were little. One of the boys would wear the armor and the other would wear the Detroit Lions shoulder pads and football uniform and pretend to slay all the bad guys in the county. They were invincible in those get ups. They felt strong and brave and confident as they rode their bikes up and down the lane defending the land. It didn’t matter to them that it was just cheap plastic, what they wore convinced them of something.
That memory and this verse made me think about what our wardrobe says about us. It seems like a simple thing, get up, get dressed and go on with your day but when you think about it WHAT we put on can send a message. We identify police officers, doctors and nurses by the clothes they wear and we automatically assume they will be helpful because of the way they are dressed. We will approach a total stranger in a store to ask for help based on a simple plastic name tag pinned to their shirt. We have the potential to trust, mistrust; judge and misjudge people every day based on what they wear. Does that seem crazy to anybody else?
I guess the big questions are what does God’s armor look like and how often do I wear it? Then it hit me, it’s not really about fabric at all. The clothes we wear may reflect something about our style, profession or personality but they don’t necessarily tell the whole story. I think the armor of God is something we put on from the inside. It can be pretty easy to look at someone’s clothes and assume a thing or two about them that may or may not be correct but the armor of God is unmistakable. Putting it on is intentional, never just a quick grab and go outfit. The boys always needed my help putting on those get ups they used to wear and so it is with Gods armor; we need him to assist us. If we intentionally ask God to protect us and defend us we have to be willing to let him. Wearing his armor means we are protected and safe, but silly humans that we are, we think it means we are now prepared to charge into the world and defeat all the evils much like two little boys I remember in my back yard. God is the defender and we are the defended; the armor of God doesn’t give us a job it gives us peace.
God’s armor is not heavy or clumsy; it’s powerful and designed to fit perfectly. I realized that if I woke up each morning and asked God to dress me in his armor I would be more confident and peaceful and content. I realized I wouldn’t have to worry about harm or evil because nothing is stronger than God. It doesn’t mean nothing bad will happen, it means God will protect me no matter what the circumstance. If I puddled my way through each day without worry or distraction about all the things that might happen or could happen or shouldn’t happen I would have so much more time for great things! I would have more time to pray, more time to help and WAY more time to love. I think I’ll ask God to help me put on that armor right now and leave the defending to him while I get busy with trusting bigger and loving harder…talk about dress for success!
A Seed To Plant: Stop right now and ask God to suit you in his armor and then give him a list of all the things you’d like to be defended from. All that’s left is to trust and be protected.
Blessings on your day!
Sheri's writing can also be found at Faith Catholic Publications and on CatholicMom.com