Joyful Words Blog
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.
– Psalm 119:105
– Psalm 119:105
And all this is from God who has reconciled himself to us through Jesus…2 Corinthians 5:18
A long time ago I had a co-worker who was difficult to work with. She was a bigger challenge than putting on panty hose on a hot August day! It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, how friendly I was or how efficient I became, I just couldn’t please her. Every day before work I would ask God to give me a heap of patience so I wouldn’t have boiling blood by noon. Most days I was at a slow simmer by 10 am and I would feel like God wasn’t listening or I just wasn’t trying hard enough. Luckily it was just a summer job but I have never forgotten that experience. I remember it because just like that summer, there have been plenty of other times I have found myself in a pickle and I go into prayer asking God to give me patience or understanding or whatever the necessary grace might be and then I trot off to fix the situation. It wasn’t until recently that I realized I didn’t have it quite right. In his book God Help Me, Jim Beckman offered a thought that spun me around like a top!
“I was using a self-help approach to Christianity. I would diagnose myself and then, like a good doctor, prescribe myself a prescription like patience. Then I went to God and told him to fill the prescription. Is it any wonder nothing ever changed? The language itself is all wrong. Anytime we find ourselves telling God what to do we’re in trouble. At the very center of this self-help approach to prayer was ME, not GOD.” He goes on to explain that the whole mystery of our faith is realizing Jesus is the center, not us. We can never live a perfect life as humans but we can through Jesus. “God doesn’t want you to live the Christian life; if that’s what you think the invitation is, you’ve got it all wrong. He wants Jesus to live the Christian life in you! And through Jesus you are to become the very righteousness of God.”
When I did some serious thinking about this information, I realized that it wasn’t at all about the behavior of that tricky woman one summer a long time ago. It was about what Christ was trying to teach me about myself through her. He was inviting me to look deeply at myself so he could reveal and teach. I discovered looking back that I was angry and hurt at that point in my life and he was trying to get me to turn those things over to him but I couldn’t or didn’t want to deal with that, I wanted to find another way out. Looking back it was like riding my bike into a wall every day and expecting it to move! He was trying to mend my heart and show me some truths but I was wasting all my prayer time demanding he give me the tools to fix somebody else.
I’d like to say that I’m much older now and I’ve moved past such silly prayer mistakes but the truth is I needed these words right now just as much as I needed them that summer long ago. I need to stop complicating things and let God be God. I need to stop approaching prayer with a self-help attitude and begin to let God reveal and teach and love me; that takes an honest and open heart. Whew…I’ve got some work to do!
A Seed To Plant: Listen to your prayer words this week. Are you self-prescribing or letting God be the center?
Blessings on your day!
But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. James 1:6
Three is my favorite number. It’s a number that pops up again and again and always seems to have significance in my life. The number three has great significance in our faith history. The Holy Trinity, three wise men, he rose on the third day; I could go on and on. I also love the number because there are three little Wohlferts. This week the number three is significant because that’s the number of days I got to spend at camp with the middle lovelies. They were three absolutely gorgeous weather days and three days packed full of great stuff with great people.
I got to spend three days watching the middle lovelies learn to do all kinds of new things like build a shelter and a fire in the woods. I got to watch them discover that a group project doesn’t go so well when its all chiefs and no Indians. It was amazing to sit back on a stump and see how they learned to trust each other and work together. I got to watch them be serious, silly, prayerful and amazed all in a three day time slot. They began to discover some of the things that made them alike and some of the things that made them different. The real learning will take place when they begin to figure out how to work, learn and play together in spite of their differences.
There were leaves and roots and berries to identify and eat, there were canoes to paddle and hikes in the dark. There were animals and zip lines and arrows to shoot. There was poison ivy to stay away from and compass coordinates to move towards. There were friends you liked and friends who bugged you. There were things that got lost and things that were found. The thing that was constant was the noise. It was three days full of ideas, laughter, learning and fun but the most amazing thing happened after dark each night…prayer. I was absolutely amazed at the transitions the middle lovelies could make from chaos to silent prayer. Monday night they were coming back from a no flashlight dark night hike and we could hear them coming from a half mile away. They got to the front door of the lodge and we asked them to come in for our evening prayer service and in three seconds flat, they went from crazy loud to silent prayer ready. The second night it happened again. They went from a loud chaotic activity straight into quiet prayerfulness. The intentions they offered for prayer were deep and thoughtful. The burdens they rested on the cross were heartfelt and seriously considered. The list of sins, shortcomings and weaknesses they ran through the paper shredder were given serious prayerful consideration and they let the symbolism of the activity wash over them and prayed for forgiveness and the strength to live as stronger Disciples of Christ. They offered God reverence and prayerfulness in a way I didn’t really think twelve year olds were capable of. As we finished the second night of prayer and challenged them to be a light in the world, they had a chance to lift off a sky lantern. We all stood watching the sky fill with glowing lanterns and then whipping across the sky was the brightest, longest, shooting star I’ve ever seen. Most of us saw it and the middle lovely standing near me said, “I think God is happy with us!” I of course agreed.
A Seed To Plant: Take a lesson from the middle lovelies…take a few minutes to escape the noisy, busy chaos of your day and transition to quiet prayer. The power is amazing!
Blessings on your day!
And God saw everything he had made and behold it was good…Genesis 1:31
Supper made for the next two nights…check! Bag packed…check! Sleeping bag, pillow and towel sealed in a plastic bag…check! Teacher prepared to tromp off into the woods and go to camp with all the middle lovelies for three days…almost check! I’m off on an adventure this morning and I’m not quite sure how to prepare! When I think about the evening prayer services that are planned I’m ready; when I think about listening to all the laughter; I’m ready when I think about watching the teamwork, friendship and bonding that will happen with the middle lovelies this week; I’m ready when think about three full days outside in the woods with 73 degrees and sun…I’m really ready!
So what’s not ready…the unknown! Obviously things like sleeping in a bunk bed and not having access to my coffee pot first thing in the morning are out of the norm but they aren’t major issues. I wonder about the middle lovelies, will they get home-sick; will someone get hurt; will they tip over in their canoe. I wonder if they will have as much fun as they expect, I don’t want anybody to be disappointed. Oh yeah, I don’t want to ride the zip line! The thought of my chubby hind parts sailing over that swamp to the safe landing spot on the other side is enough to wake me up in a cold sweat (and it did)! Its lots of little thoughts…
As I was thinking about it all I wondered if God ever feels this way about us? Will they get it? Will they be disappointed, will they be comfortable? Will they enjoy the perfect weather I’ll provide as they wander and work in the midst of my wonderful creation? Will they be able to see the perfection and wonder in each other that I put there specifically? And will they see that I, the Father who puts the spots on the lady bugs back in perfect order, will love, guide and protect them at camp. I wonder if he’s ready to thump me on the head and say, “Sheri, I parted the red sea, I can manage a wonderful three day camp for the middle lovelies.” Silly me!!! I’ll be sure to let you know how it all turns out!
A Seed To Plant: Wherever you are today, please take a minute to say a prayer for the middle lovelies as they spend a few days at camp.
Blessings on your day!
God gives good gifts to his children…Matthew 7:11
Last Sunday when I was at the airport getting ready to fly to Dodge City there was a paper jam in the printer that produced the boarding passes. Two other passengers and I stood waiting for our paperwork and the friendly ticket agent commented on the chilly 42 degree morning and asked if any of us were flying somewhere warm. We all said yes. The guy on my right said he was going to Cancun and the lady on my left said Maya Riviera. I told them not to tackle me for my ticket but announced proudly that I was going to Dodge City and it was going to be sunny and 85. It was good for a morning giggle. I was excited about the trip and I was expecting to have a great time but it was the unexpected stuff that made it such a wonderful trip!
God is so full of surprises and there were some dandies waiting for me. My first surprise came on the flight from Denver to Dodge. Only 5 of the 8 plane seats were occupied which was a little like flying first class or on a private jet. I was feeling a little disappointed that we hadn’t made it to an amusement park over the summer but I was surprised by a roller coaster like ride that was the longest and most expensive thrill ride I’ve ever enjoyed. I thanked God for thrills followed by peaceful safety. I was met at the airport by a friend I hadn’t seen in over 25 years and I was surprised at how easily we picked up as if we had just seen each other last month. It was also a privilege to meet his wife who seemed more like a long time childhood friend than a brand new one. I thanked God for the gift of good friends and a restaurant that doesn’t kick you out or charge you rent even if you stay for 5 hours.
The teachers that filled the seats on Monday were a true delight. I was overwhelmed by their warm friendliness and their amazing positive attitude. They laughed easy, thought hard, prayed sincerely and genuinely seemed to care for each other. The children of the Diocese of Dodge City are very lucky to be served by such a group of dedicated faithful teachers. I was impressed by the number of them who had dedicated 30 to 40 years of their life teaching. That was a surprise that inspired and impressed me! I met people who had fought fierce battles with faith and optimism, people who persevered through tough stuff like children with afflictions and disabilities, parents of children who had made bad choices and a mamma of babies who came 25 years apart but who were accepted and cherished as one of God’s greatest blessings. The room just glowed with the glory of the human spirit at its finest! They were beautiful people and although I showed up that morning intending to share God’s blessing with them…they were the ones who shared it with me!
I had coffee with a friend who is a mother of three little ones and as I listened to her talk about her wee ones and the daily demands of trying to balance ministry, mothering and life, it surprised me that I was so quickly transported back to those days of mothering my own three. It was so long ago for me but listening to her made it seem like it was just yesterday. I thanked God for the warmth of great memories. It was a familiar and heartfelt conversation of faith and vocation and mostly love. I thanked God for young, loving, faithful mothers who are selfless enough to say yes to life even though it’s really hard work.
I was surprised by mountains, plains, dust storms and western Kansas wind so strong it nearly blew the hair off my head. I was in awe of 300,000 acre farms and feed lots and processing plants that handled hundreds of thousands of animals a month; the sheer size of things, including the tumbleweeds was a surprise to me. I was delightfully surprised by the kindness of the gentleman who generously offered to pick me up and take me to the airport early Tuesday morning. It was a wonderful visit and he was so thoughtful he brought a bottle of water along for me in case I got thirsty along my journey home. As three of us prepared to board the 8 passenger plane back to Denver I was surprised by the most thorough TSA bag inspection I’d ever experienced. They investigated everything right down to the shampoo and lotion in my suitcase. My shoes went through the x-ray machine three times. I was beginning to feel a little intimidated by their questions and curiosity but as soon as I was deemed safe by the agents, the small room of passengers and the two TSA agents enjoyed friendly conversation. During the conversation I mentioned that I wished I had been able to see a tumbleweed up close instead of just whizzing by the windshield. Without hesitation, the same TSA agent who had so carefully investigated my shampoo dashed out the door and retrieved a tumbleweed that was stuck in the fence and brought it into the airport and handed it to me for close inspection. That was a big surprise and one that left the whole group of us in laughter. I thanked God for people who were serious when they needed to be and fun when they could be.
The final surprise came as I got off the shuttle bus in Grand Rapids that took me to the satellite parking lot. As I walked toward my car I saw a gentleman get out of his van with a scan gun. He smiled and said, “Is this your car lady?” I nodded and he smiled again and said, “It’s your lucky day, I was just about to scan your plate and charge you for another full day parking fee but since you’re here I’ll just pass on by.” I thanked God for being the first one off the shuttle bus and for an extra ten dollars in my pocket. It was a great trip but all the unexpected little things turned great into amazing. As I drove home I wondered how many times I’d missed the surprised He had blessed me with because I was too busy or worried to notice. I think I’ll pay closer attention from now on!
A Seed To Plant: Spend the next few days on a surprise hunt. Slow down and see how many little surprise blessings God sends your way. We’d love to hear about them if you’re willing to share!
Blessings on your day!
In the TV show Gunsmoke, Matt Dillon always told the bad guys to "get out of Dodge". I worked in reverse today and flew into Dodge. I flew in a ten seat plane from Denver to Dodge City, landed at an airport the size of a house, drove past the largest meat processing plant in the mid-west and spotted names like Earp, and Holiday. I ate supper right next to Boot Hill and Front Street just as it appeared in Gunsmoke. Before you get jealous of my travel destination and wonder why I'm skipping school for such an extravagant vacation I'd like to tell you why I'm here.
It will be my great pleasure to present an all day teachers in-service to the Catholic School Teachers in the Diocese of Dodge City. I'm so excited about spending the day with a big room full of people who share the same passion I do. I'd like to ask your prayers for the teachers who will fill the seats and for me. I'll be back Thursday with more joyful words but for now...I'm going to enjoy Dodge.
Blessings on your day!
I have a bulletin board in my classroom that says WOW! WOW stands for “words of the week”. The first wow words of the school year were opus Dei which is Latin for “work of God”. The middle lovelies and I had some great discussion about the ways we could strive every day to do opus Dei. After the discussion the kids were to copy the words into a personal prayer journal. I asked them to reflect on those words and pray for some inspiration about how they could spend the school year doing the work of God. I did not expect the amazing responses they had to those powerful Latin words. I told them they had a lot to teach us all about doing the work of God and I got permission to share some of their responses.
The question was how can I do opus Dei? Here’s what they taught me…
*I have to have less fear and more trust.
*I need to pray for the strength to help others even if they can’t help me back.
*I’ve got to be less selfish or I can never do opus Dei!
*I need to be brave enough to tell others I love Jesus.
*I need to pay attention to what I’m praying and not just say a bunch of words.
*I need to stop talking and start listening. I have to turn off the TV and take out the ear buds and be quiet so I can hear God speak to me.
* I have to live the laws God gave us.
*I have to do little things for God and for others.
*I have to act like I believe God is my Father and remember to show his love to other people.
*I have to tell His story.
*I want to get to know God’s plan so I know what he wants me to do and I can only know that plan through prayer.
*When I closed my eyes to think about all this I saw lot of hearts, I think that means I’m supposed to love more, that’s my opus Dei.
I was impressed and inspired! These are the thoughts of 11 and 12 year olds and they were amazing. The thing that really struck me was how clearly they realized that doing the work of God is up to each of us. They didn’t see it as a job for adults or folks who work for the church; they knew it started with them. They taught the teacher for sure!
A Seed To Plant: Write the words opus Dei somewhere in plain sight. Each time you see those words, ask God what work you can do to honor him. When you ponder your actions, behaviors and attitudes ask yourself, will this allow me to do opus Dei?
Blessings on your day!
…“Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” Luke 6:2
It’s here…my favorite time of year…volleyball season! That means teaching all week and then spending about 9 hours in a gym on Saturdays watching the lady Pirates play their hearts out. I try to squeeze in a little homework between games but mostly it’s just a fun day with great young ladies and lots of fun parents. The only down side is all the Saturday chores that don’t get done at home. When we got home Saturday and I picked up a sweaty uniform and started sorting socks all I wanted to do was plunk down on the couch to enjoy a lazy Saturday night after a long week, then I thought about this verse from Luke. The temptation was to postpone all my chores until Sunday but
My first reaction to this Gospel is …YIKES! If they were in trouble for plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath what would they have done with me? I look at the way I spend many Sunday’s and I realize the Pharisees would have booted me right out on my ear immediately!
Jesus had a perfect defense for “breaking” the law, I usually don’t. Jesus had specific evidence about occasions and events where the law could be seen from another perspective, I usually don’t. Jesus was eloquently pointing out that the Sabbath was for worship and giving nourishment that provided the strength to carry out that worship was not a violation. When I look at my Sunday practices, I have to honestly admit that most of those tasks have nothing to do with worship. Laundry, sweeping and grocery shopping are not prayerful worship aids but my guilty conscience and I try to defend them. There are isolated exceptions but the bottom line is I’m famous for trying to include too many things in that category. This Gospel reminds me that I would be better off spending my Sabbath in prayer and study, lifting up all the tasks and responsibilities to His divine organization and timing and spending less time breaking the rules, feeling guilty and trying to engineer my ridiculous defense!
It made me stop and think about what my Sundays usually look like. Do I use it to rest, find peace and grow closer to God or do I use it as a catch up day for everything that didn’t get done the week before? I’ve written about Sunday before but I just keep coming back to it because I don’t seem to get it right. When God keeps putting something on my heart again and again it usually means I’m not getting the picture! Things have to get done I know but I wonder if I’m really doing my best to honor the commandment. I continued with the wash and moved on to a couple other tasks because I realized that they are called the Ten Commandments and not the ten suggestions. I think God is calling me to spend this volleyball season working harder to keep my Sunday focus on him. I’ll let you know how it turns out! He can be pretty bossy so I think I better take him seriously!
A Seed To Plant: Jot down this little prayer and lets promise to pray it as we prepare for our next Lords day! Lord of all things, as I spend a day of rest with you, infuse me with the trust to know my gift of time given to your honor will unfolded splendidly and perfectly into a beautiful and blessed week.
Blessings on your day!
Seek the face of the Lord always. Psalm 105:4
I came across this verse from Psalms a few weeks ago and it made me stop and ponder what the face of God might really look like. If we are supposed to seek His face always, I suppose we’d better know where to look! It’s easy to seek the face of God in the obvious, like creation, babies and children. I have no problem seeing and feeling the presence of God when I’m in my classroom! Time spent with children can always fill my days with joy. I know just what Jesus meant when He said, “Let the little children come to me.” Most mornings when I go into the gym for Morning Prayer and the Pledge I want to say the same thing! It’s a bit more of a challenge however to seek His face in the unpleasant, the unfair, and the unlikable.
Seeking God’s face doesn’t just apply to people…we need to seek his face in situations and experiences. Sure we recognize God in the events that are happy and joyful like weddings and celebrations but we need to know He is present in the sad and difficult and sorrowful ones as well. His love, presence and inviting spirit are there even when we can recognize no apparent good in the situation. We are reminded not only to seek Him but to praise and thank Him in all situations. That’s easy to say until we’re smack dab in the middle of ugly and we have to spit out the words, “God I’m seeking you in this mess and I thank you for these circumstances…even though they STINK!” Sometimes uttering those words can taste like vinegar in our mouth but if you repeat them again and again, you can begin to see His face and feel His presence guiding you and teaching you and blessing you.
We like things to be simple and easy and happy and when they aren’t, we tend to think God has left us all alone. Our purpose in seeking God shouldn’t be to make us “feel good”, the purpose is to build us up for the Kingdom and a life spent with Him. Very often the things we need to learn can only be taught when life isn’t all neat and tidy and happy. But make no mistake…God is there…just waiting for us to seek Him so He can take us by the hand and begin the next lesson!
A Seed To Plant: Write the words, “God I trust you, God I love you, God I will be faithful and seek your face” on a notecard and read it again and again when you’re in a situation where it’s hard to seek His face.
Blessings on your day!
…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love… Ephesians 4:2
Dave and I slipped away for two days this past week and headed up north. We didn’t really have a plan or an absolute destination mapped out, we just took off and knew we’d find a place to stay for the night and we’d figure it out along the way. We drove the least traveled 2 lane highways and took our time. After a couple of hours, we had discussed the kids, school, work, finances and all things farm. Then we reached this wonderful stage where words weren’t really needed at all; we were content to just be! As we drove along I couldn’t help but think back on the nearly 23 years we’ve been married. I remember on our honeymoon we decided we’d take a big trip every 5 to 10 years and we made a list of all the places we wanted to see. I giggled out loud at one point when we started talking about that and came to the realization that we hadn’t gone any of those places. I think it’s fair to say marriage isn’t really what we thought it would be at all! It’s better!
Contentment is a great gift in a marriage. I’m content to sit on the front porch on Sunday morning and enjoy a cup of coffee together. I’m content to enjoy a steak dinner raised and perfectly grilled by my groom. I’m content to buy tickets to a volleyball or baseball game and share a bag of popcorn for dinner. I’m content to sit next to my husband at Mass on Sunday. Twenty-three years ago I thought I wanted to have coffee on a beach and dress up and eat at a fancy restaurant. A couple decades ago I thought I wanted tickets to Hawaii and seats together on a plane headed someplace amazing. Today I realize those aren’t the things that make a marriage and a family strong at all. God had other ideas for us and I need to remember to thank him for that every day!
Romance is a funny notion that has changed over the years. In the 90’s I would have defined it as flowers, cards, candy, dates and candlelight. Twenty-three years and three kids later I see things differently. Flowers die, candles melt, chocolate makes my butt bigger and cards are ridiculously overpriced! It’s the little thoughtful things that are romantic; like help with the dishes, a surprise car wash or running to the clothesline to grab the wash when it starts to sprinkle. Some of the most romantic dinners I can remember have been burgers or sloppy Joes in a tractor or on a hay wagon. Marriage isn’t all fireworks and googely eyes but when I see my husband play catch or work alongside his kids and beam with pride at the success of one of his children my heart melts. It’s amazing to me how truly loved I can feel just by watching my husband love his children.
Lots of things have changed. I caught our reflection in a store front window as we walked Thursday night and we don’t look the same as we did on our honeymoon trip but in some respects the reflection looking back at us last week was so much lovelier. 23 years ago we were two people in love, today we are two people bound by a loving Father who has guided and blessed us every day of our marriage. He’s given us the strength to forgive when we needed to. He’s given us the wisdom to try to raise our kids the best we could. He’s given us courage to face the things we didn’t see coming and were totally unequipped to handle. He’s given us just enough struggles to grow in trust and enough blessings to grow in gratitude and joy. The best gift of all though has been the ability to see our marriage the way he intended it to be, not the way we thought it should look 23 years ago.
A Seed To Plant: What are some things you imagined one way and God organized differently? Have a prayerful conversation with him about that today.
Blessings on your day!
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Sheri's writing can also be found at Faith Catholic Publications and on CatholicMom.com