Thursday, December 31, 2009

Leaving Your Mark

I can usually tell which daughter has used my computer by the stuff they leave behind. I find shoes underneath the desk, coats and purses on the chair, and their doodles on my post-it notes. They certainly leave their mark, and there’s no need to dust for fingerprints to see who has been on my computer.
One person whose prints would be impossible to detect is quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada. After being nominated to serve on a National Committee, she had to undergo an investigation which included being fingerprinted, a task that the agent found impossible to complete. Confused, she asked if this was a common problem. He explained that the only people without prints are people who never use their hands. He went on to add that carpenters, bricklayers, typists, homemakers, and anyone else who uses their hands a lot would have good prints. A person without fingerprints leaves no marks, no prints, and no evidence of where they have been. And a person who is lazy and doesn’t use the gifts that God has placed in them will not leave any marks in this life.
Although she could not use her hands, Tada became an artist by learning how to hold a brush between her teeth to paint. In addition, she is a Christian author and speaker. She uses what she has to not just leave her mark, but to point people to Jesus.
When we use what we have, our God-given talents and abilities, we are able to bless and serve other, leaving behind evidence that points to Jesus.
The New Year, 2010, will be filled with many opportunities for us to us our abilities to serve God and others. May we live up to our full potential and not waste one single moment of the brand new year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Merry Christmas

Although I try not to get caught up in the shopping and hectic pace of the days that precede Christmas, sometimes it happens. My mind reels, What in the world will I buy Victoria? By the time I finish decorating for Christmas, it will be time to pick it all up again. Will the only thing that Geoff requested be delivered in time? Does my husband really want to know how much I’ve spent?
At times like these, I like to sit back and focus, really focus, on what happened during the months that preceded the very first Christmas. Life must have looked pretty good to Mary before the angel’s visit. Her engagement to Joseph was probably the fulfillment of her dream. Then the Holy Spirit surrounded her, the power of God overshadowed her, and Jesus, the Word in flesh, was implanted in her. Her dream had exploded! The Word inside of her caused her to grow (not just physically), changed her plans, and challenged the thinking of those with whom she was in contact.
A few months later, while most of the world was sleeping, she brought forth Jesus, Who is the Word, the Light, the Life. The One Who had already changed her was about to shake the community, and eventually the world.
How exciting it is to be a Christian today. We have access to the presence of the Holy Spirit and the power of God. In addition, I believe that it is our responsibility to fill our hearts with the Word of God. The Word will change us, and as it comes forth from us, in word and deed, it will wake people up, affecting not just the community, but the world.
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Our Value

I asked, actually I begged, my kids for Christmas lists. Monique emailed hers to me, complete with website links. A few online orders, a little mall time, and I was done with her.
Lauren left her list on the kitchen counter. It is the first Christmas list that I have ever received that needs a key for reading it. Each request has stars beside it. Four stars means “really, really want/need to live,” three stars, “love it” and two stars, “could live with or without.” Only a couple of items had four stars: “pass statistics” and “flat, brown boots.” Since there is nothing I can do to help her to pass statistics, I decided to get the boots.
After searching store after store, I went to Macys. Finally, I spotted them. Flat boots with beautiful, soft leather that reached my knee. Perfect. I turned over the boot and said to my friend, Linda, “$75. That’s a little more than I want to spend.”
“But you have a coupon,” she reminded me.
“Right! And surely they’re on sale, everything else is.” I asked the salesclerk for Lauren’s size, and I asked her to check the price.
“Five hundred and,” she began.
“What?” I said as I flipped the boot over to look at the price again. $575! “Oh, no,” I said, “I thought the 5 was a dollar sign!” No wonder it was so soft and so perfect. It was a very valuable boot. So I carefully, very carefully, placed the boot on the table. Even with my coupon, I was not willing to pay the price.
That little shopping expedition has me thinking about the extravagant love of God. Knowing who we would be, the bad things that we would do, and the good things that we would fail to do, God still wanted us to live with Him forever. The price tag of our salvation? John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sins. When I list what I am most thankful for, His name is at the top. With four stars.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Love Stops My Fall

I don’t like to brag, but I think that I’m going to be a wonderful grandmother one day. It looks like it will be a while before I have grandchildren, and that’s okay. It just gives me more time to practice on my grandnieces and nephews. They have given me a glimpse into that special season that so many people describe as the ultimate time of life.
Because he lives so close to us, the grandnephew that I see most often is Dylan. Dylan is the little “never met a stranger/will always remember your name” two year old son of my niece, Kerri, and her husband, Justin Smith. When he walks into our home, everything else stops. The next moments are devoted to him, a hobby that my family thoroughly enjoys.
It doesn’t hurt his case that he calls my husband, PawPaw probably due to Michael’s gray hair. Maybe we should have corrected him earlier, but we thought it was cute, and now the name has stuck. (I should amend the above paragraph to read he “always remembers the name that he assigns to you” because he calls Victoria, Minnie. Another story for another day.)
Michael, or PawPaw, will do anything that Dylan asks of him. I stopped him once as he was following Dylan to the trampoline. “It’s been years since you’ve been on that thing. What about the operation on your knee? What about your bad Achilles tendon?”
“Dylan wants to jump,” Michael said, as his only defense. Thankfully someone else beat Michael to the trampoline, or else he would have been on there with Dylan.
At a recent football game, Dylan wanted a hot dog and I wanted to take a walk, so he reached up for my hand and we walked down the steps of the bleachers. We made that trip three times, and all three times he reached for my hand. And every time that I held it I thought, I would do anything to protect this child. Had he started to stumble, I would have just held it tighter. The only way that he would have fallen is if I had gone down first. I’d like to think that it would have taken something major for me to fall. Like a sniper’s bullet. Or a tsunami. But one misstep would have had the same effect, so I was very careful.
At times like these, when I feel such overwhelming love for this little two-year-old, I am reminded of the love God has for us. While I may not understand His great and perfect love, I am grateful for it. It makes me want to stay close to God and follow Him, so that I can experience the promise of Psalm 37: 23, 24. “The Lord directs the steps of the godly, He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Married Life

Twenty-eight years ago, I left the comfort of a loving, secure family environment and got married. The night before my wedding, I panicked. What in the world am I doing? I thought. I’ve got it made here at home. Why am I getting married?
As soon as I stopped to breathe, I felt God speak to my heart, I’m scooping you out of one nest and placing you into another, equally secure one. And He did. But although my marriage has been a place of love and security, it has not always been without troubles that have tried to shake that little nest. We’ve struggled over the usual topics. If you’re married, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not… well, I won’t spoil the surprise, but I’ll just give you a little preview.
In our marriage, there have been many more discussions over small issues than big. Like whether or not we should replace the front door, get a new pet, or buy additional Christmas gifts for the kids. And it’s often during these conversations that I call a time-out and announce that we are really on the same side. We both want to make the wisest decision, so we work together to figure something out.
Sometimes I feel like the smaller the topic, the more animated our discussions become. Such was the case the night that I couldn’t find my toothbrush. I searched the bathroom, but it wasn’t there. I mentioned it to Michael and he said, “Oh, I threw it away.”
“WHAT?” I said, as I turned and spotted my toothbrush in the garbage can.
“I decided to straighten things up, and your toothbrush looked old, so I just threw it away.”
“So when you went into this cleaning mode, you passed up the stuff in the garage, decided not to tackle the kitchen, ignored the stack of magazines on the fireplace, and headed straight to the bathroom to throw away one toothbrush – mine!”
We laughed about it as soon as he returned from CVS with a new toothbrush.
Although I’ve mentioned really minor issues, we’ve had major ones, too. We’ve had better and we’ve had worse. We’ve endured sickness, and we’ve enjoyed health. We’ve been richer, and we’ve been poorer. And, twenty-eight years later, we still meet hurdles. We still ask God for help, and He still meets us where we are, and shows us how to get to where we need to be. And I pray that it will be this way, until death parts us.

Friday, November 20, 2009

So Thankful

Here we are on the brink of another Thanksgiving. Before getting busy with the shopping, cooking, and eating that usually accompanies this holiday, I wanted to create a list of all the things for which I am thanking God. It didn’t take long before I realized that this list would be complete with just three items.
First of all, I’m thankful for the past. A few months ago, my sister, Kay, and I decided that we would not become people who long to relive those days gone by. Although the past holds many wonderful memories, there are also times tucked between the good that were bad. To be honest, some were awful days that we never wish to repeat. Kay and I agreed that we would be thankful for the blessings of the good days, the growth that resulted from the bad ones, and the ability of God to weave them all together, making us the people we are today.
Next, I’m thankful for the present, the gift of today. I only have today, so I’m going to squeeze all of the life that I can out of every minute. I want to live in such a way that the people in my life have no reason to doubt my love. Before most of them even open their eyes in the morning, I have already lifted their names in prayer. In addition, today I am going to work diligently to complete the projects that I have begun so that I can start new ones. This gives me little time to weep over the past, or worry about the future.
And speaking of the future brings me to my third area of thankfulness. I am so grateful for the future. It’s all in God’s hands, and I trust Him. As the days are revealed, He will provide the wisdom and grace to live each one to the fullest.
I hope to remember my Thanksgiving list every day. If I do that, I will follow the instructions in I Thessalonians 5:18 to “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Redeeming Mistakes

Ivory soap wasn’t designed to float. Chocolate chip cookies were accidentally developed. A tension spring designed to monitor horsepower on naval battleships fell, and the Slinky toy was invented. Mistakes. All of these successful products were the result of mistakes.
Learning to press on despite what we believe to be failure is a valuable skill. It’s okay to fail, but it’s not okay to quit. Jonas Salk tried 200 unsuccessful polio vaccines. When asked how it felt to fail so many times, he said, “I never failed 200 times in my life. I was taught not to use the word ‘failure.’ I just discovered 200 ways how not to vaccinate for polio.
One of the challenges of teaching art to first graders was turning a perfectionist into an artist. All too often, as soon as one mistake was made, the student wanted to start over. Rarely lacking art supplies, I refused the request simply because I wanted the child to dig deeper and figure out a way to redeem their mistake. I would kneel down next to the student, and we would work together to find a way to make something beautiful out of the mess. We didn’t quit until we had a first grade masterpiece.
In much the same way, I have made a habit of bringing my mistakes to God and asking Him to work through them. I don’t know why I keep messing up, but I trust God to show me how to go beyond my mistakes, learn from them, and even turn the experience into a beautiful life-lesson. Whenever this happens, a song that I heard over twenty-five years ago fills my mind.
Something beautiful, something good, all my confusion, He understood.
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife, and He made something beautiful out of my life.
Failing to bring our mistakes to the Master so that He can turn our lives into a masterpiece is probably the greatest failure of all.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Scanning the Past

I looked forward to spending time with my Mom, Aunt Judy, and cousin, Tommye Lou. Now that would have been fun in itself, but add old photographs and a bowl of my Mom’s chicken salad, and we were content to sit around the kitchen table all day.
I was surprised by the amount of pictures that Aunt Judy had. Most were neatly arranged in albums, but I had the most fun with photos in the large box. It was a treasure chest of memories. Photos of my great-grandparents lay quietly beside my own childhood snapshots. A picture of my grandparents and their young children on Christmas day was nestled between photos of their grandchildren on Santa’s lap.
We lingered over a picture of my grandmother when she was a teenager. She was wearing a swimsuit that would today be considered shorts and a tanktop, stockings rolled below her knees, shoes, and a strand of pearls. We also found photos of my Mom and aunts at a slumber party, and pictures of my cousins all sporting the same haircut, courtesy of the grandmother who once wore pearls to swim. And we laughed.
The majority of the photos involved a birthday cake, food, or an Easter Egg hunt. In most of those shots my daughter, Lauren, was standing right next to Maw Maw and staring at the cake. Few pictures were marked, which led to great discussion over the identity of the people. We didn’t even try to date each photo. Imagine our surprise when we found a picture of a dog. On the back, neatly labeled was: Skippy, three and one-half months, 1942. And we laughed.
Taking a break from our scan of the past, Aunt Judy told us of a children’s book that she recently saw. As she explained its contents, I immediately knew that it was “I Love You Forever,” one of my favorites. It’s a story of a mother’s unconditional love that survives the stages of a child’s life and the seasons of her own. I’ve read it many times to my own children and to my students. I found my copy and handed it to Tommye Lou to read. It seemed appropriate that we end our day of remembering the past with a reminder of love that endures from generation to generation. And we cried.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Got Homework?

Snakes? Not really.
Height? No problem.
Lions, and tigers, and bears? Good try.
No, I’m not afraid of any of those things, but that doesn’t mean that I am without fear. There’s nothing that causes my heart to skip a beat quite like a notification from Edline.
If you’re unfamiliar with Edline, it’s an online service used by schools that allow parents instant access to their child’s grades. Gone are the good old days when you received a report card every 9 weeks, and threatened the kids until you got the next one.
Not only are the grades always accessible, I get email notifications when a new grade is posted. And thanks to my husband’s technical savvy, my email goes straight to my phone. As soon as a new notification pops up, I cringe. I close my eyes so that I can concentrate as I contemplate my decision. Do I open it immediately? Do I wait until I’m already in a bad mood so Edline doesn’t ruin a good day? Do I wait until Victoria is home so that I can fire questions directly at her? What aggravates me more than anything else is finding a “0” for a homework grade. There are simply no excuses for that, and she offers none.
I mean, really, just do the assignment. I don’t demand perfection, just completion. Show me that you are trying to put into practice what the teacher has taught you. Just do the required assignments, please.
I don’t get nearly as upset over test grades. Not even when one of my children (not Victoria) brought home a Science test with an F, and a note from the teacher, “This was an open book test.” I signed the test and wrote back, “Which book did she have open? Surely not Science.”
I really should show more patience because sometimes I miss an assignment, too. I don’t always do what God tells me to do. Assignments could include encouraging a friend, making a hospital visit, picking up a new project, or dropping an old one. I’ve been known to procrastinate until it’s too late, or get stuck in the details, striving for perfection, only to abandon the whole thing.
Somehow I think that God just wants me to try. Even if I fail, I believe that He just wants me to make an effort. I don’t want any more assignments marked ‘incomplete.’
Showing up in Heaven without completing an earthly assignment is truly my greatest fear.
©2009 Ronny Michel - May be forwarded in its entirety, including the copyright line

Friday, October 16, 2009

God's Bottle

None of my children look like me. Not one in five. I know that I gave birth to them and can tell you, in great detail, about each of those experiences. Don’t worry, I won’t.
I can even tell you about each pregnancy and the fact that I’m still carrying around more than a little weight from those times. Some women might resent the fact that their bodies are not quite the same after childbearing. Don’t worry, I don’t.
My three oldest daughters accentuate the physical differences between us by dying their hair darker than the natural color. I forget how different we look until someone asks, “Where did they get their beautiful dark hair?”
Rarely at a loss for words, I answer, “From a bottle.” What I leave out is that my hair color also comes from a bottle. If I cannot look like I did in college, at least I can rely on chemistry to keep my hair the same color as it once was.
When Lauren darkened her hair last fall, I looked at her and thought, with that long, dark hair, I’d love to see her in a red formal. It wasn’t a prayer, or even a deep desire, just a thought that I soon dismissed. Ten months later, as I was sewing a long, red dress for her to wear at a banquet in Washington, D.C., I remembered that thought and thanked God for never forgetting it. He provides for my needs, hears my prayers, and sometimes even surprises me by fulfilling a wish.
Are all of my wishes fulfilled? No. I don’t have a room that can hold my extended family or a lazy river in the backyard. That’s okay. It’s just proof that some of my husband’s wishes are fulfilled.
Neither are all of my prayers answered the way that I want them to be. And that’s okay, too. I have chosen to trust that God know what’s best, and I rely on His comfort rather than question His decisions.
One Scripture that never fails to comfort me is Psalm 56:8, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” God never forgets my prayers, dreams, or even my tears. Somewhere in Heaven is a bottle that holds each one of them.
And that bottle’s much bigger than the one that holds my hair color.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mother's Guilt

Sometimes I feel like I have an extreme case of mother’s guilt. Regardless of the circumstances, or the children’s lack of responsibility, I lapse into an episode of thinking that somehow I am to blame. It recently dawned on me that Mary had the opportunity to suffer from the same condition.

The second chapter of Luke relates the story of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph going to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. After the celebration, Mary and Joseph headed home, probably accompanied by a large caravan. They thought that Jesus was with them, but in the evening, He could not be found among their relatives and friends. At that point they returned to Jerusalem, and three days later, they finally found Him in the temple. Jesus’ answer to their anxious questioning was simply, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

I thought about the times that I’ve forgotten my children. At least when I forgot Geoff at the library, and Elise at school, it didn’t take me a whole day to notice they were gone. Poor Mary! What must have gone through her mind as she searched for her child?

Can you imagine her panic? She lost God! What a dilemma! What was she going to tell everyone? “Yes, the Saviour was born, but I forgot Him in Jerusalem. Now no one knows where He is!”

Can you imagine Mary’s prayers? “Dear God, where’s Your Son? I lost Him!” Or, “Stay right where You are, we’re coming back to get You!”

Then, my thoughts turned toward my own relationship with Jesus. On more occasions that I care to recall, I have found myself in the midst of the noisy crowd, and suddenly realized that I didn’t see Jesus. And it’s usually because I left Him, because I moved on, joined with the crowd and walked away from where He was… where He is… promoting the Kingdom of God. To get back to Him, I need to withdraw from the crowd and return to where He is, doing the will of the Father.
But, unlike Mary, sometimes, many times, I go much longer than a day before I realize that I’ve walked away. I’m alone, despite being surrounded by the masses, and Jesus is still doing the work of the Father.

With all of my heart, I want to be where He is, do what He does, and never walk away from Him.

©2009 Ronny Michel - May be forwarded in its entirety, including the copyright line

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I Don't Know

When my husband and I shop together, we utilize the ‘divide and conquer’ approach. We each choose a side of the store, then meet to pay for our items. Add a daughter or two, and the reunion at the register is always full of surprises.
“Why are we buying a curling iron and a straightener? Won’t they cancel each other out?” asked Michael, as he watched one daughter’s selections slide by on the register’s conveyor belt.
I looked at my husband, who was more confused than genuinely interested, and said, “I don’t know.”
That’s my response lately when trying to explain our daughters. I’ve read books, listened to experts, attended seminars, and now at age 50, when I should be ready to dispense at least a little wisdom, I’ve taken a break from mediating the father/daughter relationships. Besides, I really don’t know.
I used my canned response again when Elise came home from college to shop for a dress to wear to a concert in Shreveport. “Why does she need a new dress? No one in Shreveport knows her. They have never seen any of her dresses. Why can’t she wear something that she already owns?” Michael was full of questions.
I looked at him, shrugged my shoulders, and said, “I don’t know.”
En route to Shreveport, we stopped for a fifth and final time, a personal record that I never wish to break. Monique, Lauren, and Victoria entered the gas station and still hadn’t returned after several minutes. “What’s taking them so long?” their father asked.
I glanced at the gas station, then at the Subway shop next to it, and even though I had a pretty good idea about the delay, four hours of sleep the night before left me with only enough energy to say, “I don’t know.” It was several minutes later that the happy trio emerged from the store with sandwiches.
At this point, I decided not to use my other default response. That one is reserved for occasions when I can say it sincerely, like when Monique asked to borrow my camera so that she could begin a sideline photography business. I said, “That’s a wonderful idea.”
I didn’t use it when Lauren wanted to skip her Statistics test and take it two days later. Lauren has many wonderful ideas, but this was not one of them. She had spent hours studying and delaying the test would only cause her additional stress.
Elise heard it after we moved her to her college dorm. Before leaving Thibodaux, I said, “Come home whenever you want. We’ll always be happy to see you.”
Twenty-five minutes later, my cell phone rang. “Where are you?” Elise asked.
“On the Lutcher bridge.”
“Can I sleep home tonight?”
“That’s a wonderful idea,” I said, knowing that soon she would adjust to her new life, and such calls would be rare.
How long will I continue with these two responses? I don’t know, but letting my daughters explain themselves to their father has been a wonderful idea.

©2009 Ronny Michel - May be forwarded in its entirety, including the copyright line.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Moving On

Just when I thought that the rest of the drive from Houston was going to be smooth sailing, traffic came to a complete stop. The only cars moving were the ones using a dirt path on the side of the interstate that was connected to the service road. My friend and traveling companion, Linda Green, and I decided to join the cars in motion. The service road quickly ended and we had a decision to make. "Head east," Linda suggested, "we'll find a major highway. They are usually near the interstate."
Wow! I was impressed, but not surprised. Throughout our six days in Houston, I referred to Linda as my navigational friend. Between Linda and the people at OnStar, we found places to shop, places to eat, and we even found the way to and from the conference we were there to attend. Now, we were just trying to get home.
Once on Highway 12, we called our husbands to ask if they had any suggestions, picked up delicious hamburgers from a gas station in Vidor, and drove on, enjoying the scenic route.
I should not have been surprised by Linda's navigational skills, or her ability to get us out of stalled traffic. In the four short months that I have known her, God has used Linda to not just get me moving again, but moving in the right direction.
The first time that we had lunch she said, "You should write a book." I smiled, took another bite of the cheesecake we were sharing, and wondered how she knew of my dream.
Without knowing how much I miss teaching a Bible study, she used a conversation following our second lunch to say, "I think that you could speak at a ladies' meeting."
Then, during our third lunch date (I know, I know, we eat a lot!) Linda asked me to attend a Christian Writers and Speakers Seminar in Houston led by Florence Littauer. CLASSeminar was so much more than I expected, and just what I needed. The lessons were relevant, the challenges shook me from my comfort zone, and the people with whom I shared those days left precious, lasting impressions upon my life.
Wherever you are, may God place a navigational friend on your path. May He send someone to encourage you to keep moving, and gently point you in the right direction. In the words of an old song, may we continue to "see Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, follow Thee more nearly, day by day." And may we all be used by Him to spur others on in their journeys.
Happy Trails!
Ronny Michel

©2009 Ronny Michel - May be forwarded in its entirety including copyright line.