Thursday, June 30, 2016

APPROACHING THE TOP OF THE LADDER

Early in my life I decided it was good to try evaluating my life-journey as I went along so I would be sure I had the right goals in view. I wanted to know if my life-ladder was leaning against the right house that God wanted to build of my life.

I didn’t want to arrive at the top of my life-summit with a backpack full of regrets, nor view the future with disillusionment, despair, or dread. It is a jolt of reality to think that I'm approaching the top of that life-ladder now.

At intervals, at least once a year on my birthday or some other milestone event or remembrance, I have tried to set aside time to pray and ask myself specific, searching questions and write in a journal. My answers aren’t meant for anyone to see but God, the Searcher of hearts. The closer I have come to the top of my calendar ladder, the more time-sensitive my self-evaluation becomes. I urgently ask myself:

From the perspective of an average life span, how many physically, mentally and spiritually productive or alert years might I realistically expect are still ahead of me? Am I running out of time? In view of that, on what should I focus as my priority? What “things of the world” or “cares of life” hinder my pursuit of eternal values and sap my time and strength? What could I eliminate or limit? Is there anything significant I am missing in my life? Should I still go for it with God's help or accept its absence with contentment? 
 
What benefits and bonus blessings has God given me in this summit season for which I should specifically thank Him? Is my life characterized by joy and optimism or by complaint, negativism, defeat, or depression? Do I have a grateful, contented heart toward God, or am I frustrated about unfinished work, unfulfilled goals, broken dreams, or unsatisfactory relationships? 
 
Is Christ truly still the center of my life, or am I focused on a cause, a ministry, a person, or my own interests and well-being? Am I satisfied with what I have become and with what God in His omniscience decided to paint on the canvas of my life?

Such questions go to the core of my authentic self, my inner person, my eternal spirit created by God. I struggle over the honesty of my answers and what they reveal of my inner life. My answers stir me to redeem the time God is still allotting me. Some answers cause me to shout with a grateful heart when I see how wisely God is still leading me, especially when I have been prone to go off on detours. Sometimes He lovingly jerks my leash and guides me by His whisper into His best ways. Always I am energized by God’s absolute goodness, love, generosity, and sovereign work in my life.

If I still have a couple of rungs at the top of my life-ladder, show me, Lord, how to keep climbing well.

Friday, June 24, 2016

WHO'S COUNTING?

My 91st birthday has come with gusto and gone with the rest of my birthdays.

A large stack of birthday greeting cards with personal notes filled my real-time rural mailbox and also my email inbox with digital/audio greetings and singing and phone calls. My doorbell rang with deliveries of several lovely bouquets. I greatly appreciated everyone's thoughtfulness. Then it was out to lunch with family and the evening was topped off going to the movies with a son and grandson—“Finding Dori”—if you'd like to know.

Among the gifts I received is the creatively personalized mug pictured here from a special friend. The inscription on the mug declares “33,237 days old” calculating my current age. It reminds me of the verse, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). Translations of that verse vary somewhat. The word “number” is sometimes translated “count” our days. The mug inscription then ends with the question, “But who's counting?”

I knew there must be some gold to mine if I tried to unpack the answer to that question more carefully and biblically. I explored who was supposed to do the counting and the context. “Teach us.” Who is the Psalmist (this happens to be a Psalm by Moses) addressing? The entire Psalm is a prayer to God. Apparently we have to learn to do this numbering or counting carefully and with knowledge if we want a wise heart. But we don't appear to have all the information. We don't know the number of our days, so how can we know if “our number is up”? The number is known only to God—and He has decided that it is better for us not to know. Jesus did let us know our limits: by being anxious, we can't add even another day to our life span. It's out of our control. The exact number is already settled. We can't “count on” many days, many years. In fact, we can't count on having any tomorrow. (James 4:13-15)

The result of knowing how to count right is so that we will be wise in how we spend our lives in view of the “brevity of life” and in order to “appreciate the shortness of our days,” according to some translations. James 4:14 poses the question, "What is your life? You are a mist (vapor) that appears for a little while and then vanishes." If I need another reminder, Isaiah 40:6 and 7 declares, "All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it. Surely the people are grass." First Peter 1:24 echoes the grass metaphor. When we finally arrive in Heaven, we will most likely be surprised by many things, but nothing will amaze us more than how short life on earth really was.

When I was young, I mistakenly viewed my days as stretching endlessly. They seemed almost infinite and so, I reasoned, there wasn't any need to number them or to think about them ending. Many of them seemed trivial, mundane, ordinary, and meaningless. But now, as the days, months, and years have come and gone, I have begun to gain in wisdom and to lean harder on God to teach me the value of each day, to consider each day separate from the next, distinct in its purpose, unique and significant in the way I should live it.

So when I awaken in the morning, am I supposed to literally ask the Lord, “What 'number' is today?” I don't think so. I already know the date on the calendar. God has a different vantage point. He said that each day, this very day, is like a thousand years in His eternal perspective. I can't seem to get my mind around that mysterious concept. I do understand this basic truth: if I am “in Christ” my days will never end for my eternal, God-given spirit even if I put a dozen zeros after the current 33,237,000,000,000,000!

Could this verse imply that God is counting my days too? That He looks at my encounters with the people I meet, the emails I write, the conversations I have, the prayers I pray, the deeds I do? Each of my days counts with Him then! Lord, does it mean that You have recorded this very day of mine into Your Book of Life and given it a number? And that I shall be accountable for what I have done with it? Please teach me to spend it or invest it wisely for Your glory.

My friend's porcelain gift mug can speak! What does it say? It tells me that I should count, that God counts, that each of the past 33,237 days in the past counted, and that each of my remaining days counts. Each day comes to me from God's loving, generous heart. I can count on the Lord to be always available to instruct me how I should live with a wise heart to present back to Him.

My life is God's gift to me. What I do with the days of my life is my gift to God.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

OPEN DOOR POLICY

You can walk up and down the hall of the large assisted living complex where my 96 year old friend lives and notice that only one resident's door is open—Sally's (not her real name).

Concern for lack of privacy? No, Sally wants it that way. Any time of the day 24/7 friends and family, adults and (especially) children, and resident staff are welcome to walk in. It is as if there is a Welcome Mat at her door. My friend loves people and people love her. 

I always knock on Sally's door jamb anyway to alert her of my presence. She is settled in her recliner by the window. Since she can't walk anymore and can no longer navigate her electric-powered wheelchair (which she called her "Harley") or leave the residence, she prays for God to send people to walk through her door. So she gives the order to leave her door open. 

Sally makes herself available to the Lord as a candle shining from a lampstand. You might think that you have come to encourage her, but find that she has encouraged you. It may be more common for those in advanced years to isolate themselves, to withdraw from the public eye. Not so my friend Sally.

In a similar way, I try to make myself available to the Lord each morning. I want to leave my door open too. I pray, “Lord, here I am. I come to do Your will. Bring into my life through my openness anyone whom You will—in person, by phone call, email, texting, or by letter or thought, reminder, or impression to pray. I will not regard these as interruptions but as Your appointments. Open my ears to listen to the whisper of the Holy Spirit. 'Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening.' Open my eyes so that I won't miss any opportunity that You bring to me either to encourage or help someone or to receive encouragement and instruction from them."

Why should I repeat this every morning, since God already knows my heart? I think He still wants to hear me say it with my lips or with the words of my mind. I need to reaffirm my availability as a reminder to myself. I drift too easily, become busy or preoccupied, and might miss the less obvious signals the Lord is sending me through the people who come through my open door.

Monday, June 20, 2016

“FINAL” FINAL?

One of the many books I've written and published is *THIS IS YOUR LIFE—WRITE IT! Leave Legacy Footprints. I based it on my workshop teaching on that topic at Writers' Conferences.

I put my fingers to the computer keyboard to practice what I preached by writing *CZECHING MY ROOTS: A Heritage Saga and Autobiography. I was only 77 when I wrote all 450 pages of it and thought it was possibly my “final” word on my life since I had pretty well “been there and done that” throughout my long life.

However, God has had more generous surprises in store. So I kept living and writing and published more than a half dozen more books, most of which were also autobiographical. They include my books on trying to age joyfully, helping other widows, and my LAND OF MORE spiritual journey Trilogy, with at least three more manuscripts in process. I thought each one might be the “final” final—but it wasn't! It seemed that there were sequels to sequels of sequels sort of open end because life kept rolling on and I wanted to be a good steward of God's blessings. I write this in my 91st year!

It has been a joy to encourage and assist friends in writing their memoirs and I have seen them fulfill their dream of being successfully published. The most recent was editorial help I gave a childhood friend my age who kept sending me one version of her manuscript after another claiming, “Now this version is really my “final” final!” But it wasn't—she followed with more “finals” because she had more things to say, more personal and family events were still happening, and God is continuing to work in and through her life. Would you believe? Her legacy book has still not gone to press at this writing. She is still living it!

What's to learn from all of this? God is eternal and continually moving in our lives, working on conforming His children to the image of His Son, and working through us to touch the lives of others. We are in process. Our times are in His hands. We are not completed, not finished, until we have drawn our last breath. And He doesn't tell us our expiration date in advance. 

When we have finished our pilgrimage on earth, we will continue with eternal life. We will be accountable to God for who we have become and what we have done while living in our "earth suits." We are given eternal life by the grace of God through Jesus Christ and not by any merit or works of our own. However, our works follow us to Heaven and we will be rewarded there—exactly how, we don't know—but that's God's idea, not ours.

Apparently we will also be rewarded through the legacy we leave behind, whether written or simply lived. It will help those who follow us if we do write something and leave behind a family history and a witness to our faith. Perhaps I have written so prolifically and with such urgency because my family members didn't leave anything written, and I so desperately wished they had.

Meanwhile, I keep writing. The bottom line is, I never know if I am writing the “final” final. And neither do you!
****
*These books are currently available to purchase through Leona. Other titles are also listed and reviewed and available for order at her web site www.goldenmorning.com.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

JUST FOR FUN

Probably written by our good friend Ann Onymous
 or by her brother Arthur Unknown.
THIS WAS SENT TO ME
I DIDN'T THINK IT UP!
I SHARE IT JUST FOR FUN. NEVERTHELESS, IT SOUNDS LIKE PRETTY GOOD ADVICE—ON THE HUMAN LEVEL, OF COURSE.
 Don't look so serious, hear?

21 Rules For Good Aging
This applies to many of us who are between 65 and death, i.e. senior citizens. Agree or not, that's up to you. Nobody will care....If this doesn't apply to you, share it with some folks that it does fit.
  1. It’s time to use the money you saved up. Use it and enjoy it. Don’t just keep it for those who may have no notion of the sacrifices you made to get it. Remember there is nothing more dangerous than a son or daughter-in-law with big ideas for your hard earned capital. Warning: This is also a bad time for an investment, even if it seems wonderful or fool-proof. They only bring problems and worries. This is a time for you to enjoy some peace and quiet.
2. Stop worrying about the financial situation of your children and grandchildren, and don’t feel bad spending your money on yourself. You’ve taken care of them for many years, and you’ve taught them what you could. You gave them an education, food, shelter and support. The responsibility is now theirs to earn their own money.
3. Keep a healthy life, without great physical effort. Do moderate exercise (like walking every day), eat well and get your sleep. It’s easy to become sick, and it gets harder to remain healthy. That is why you need to keep yourself in good shape and be aware of your medical and physical needs. Keep in touch with your doctor, take tests even when you’re feeling well. Stay informed about your aging body.
4. Always buy the best, most beautiful items for your significant other. The key goal is to enjoy your money with your loved one. One day one of you will miss the other, and the money will not provide any comfort then, so enjoy it together.
5. Don’t stress over the little things. You’ve already overcome so much in your life. You have good memories and bad ones, but the important thing is the present. Don’t let the past drag you down and don’t let the future frighten you. Feel good in the now. Small issues will soon be forgotten.
6. Regardless of age, always keep love alive. Love your partner, love life, love your family, love your neighbor and remember: “We are not old as long as we have intelligence and affection.”
7. Be proud, both inside and out. Don’t stop going to your hair salon or barber, do your nails, go to the dermatologist and the dentist, keep your perfumes and creams well stocked. When you are well-maintained on the outside, it seeps in, making you feel proud and strong.
8. Don’t lose sight of fashion trends for your age, but keep your own sense of style. There’s nothing worse than an older person trying to wear the current fashion among youngsters. You’ve developed your own sense of what looks good on you – keep it and be proud of it. It’s part of who you are.
9. Stay up-to-date. Read newspapers, watch the news. Go online and read what people are saying. Make sure you have an active email account and try to use some of those social networks. You’ll be surprised what old friends you’ll meet there. Keeping in touch with what is going on and with the people you know.
10. Respect the younger generation and their opinions. They may not have the same ideals as you, but they are the future, and will take the world in their direction. Give advice, not criticism, and try to remind them that yesterday’s wisdom still applies today.
11. Never use the phrase: “In my time....” Your time is now. As long as you’re alive, you are part of this time. You may have been younger, but you are still you now, having fun and enjoying life.
12. Some people embrace their golden years, while others become bitter and surly. Life is too short to waste your days on the latter. Spend your time with positive, cheerful people; it’ll rub off on you and your days will seem that much better. Spending your time with bitter people will make you older and harder to be around.
13. Do not surrender to the temptation of living with your children or grandchildren (if you have a financial choice, that is). Sure, being surrounded by family sounds great, but we all need our privacy. They need theirs and you need yours. If you’ve lost your partner (our deepest condolences), then find a person to move in with you and help out. Even then, do so only if you feel you really need the help or do not want to live alone.
14. Don’t abandon your hobbies. If you don’t have any, make new ones. You can travel, hike, cook, read, dance. You can adopt a cat or a dog, grow a garden, play cards, checkers, chess, dominoes, golf. You can paint, volunteer at an NGO or just collect certain items. Find something you like and spend some real time having fun with it.
15. Even if you don’t feel like it, try to accept invitations. Baptisms, graduations, birthdays, weddings, conferences. Try to go. Get out of the house, meet people you haven’t seen in a while, experience something new (or something old). But don’t get upset when you’re not invited. Some events are limited by resources, and not everyone can be hosted. The important thing is to leave the house from time to time. Go to museums, go walk through a field. Get out there.
16. Be a conversationalist. Talk less and listen more. Some people go on and on about the past, not caring if their listeners are really interested. That’s a great way of reducing their desire to speak with you. Listen first and answer questions, but don’t go off into long stories unless asked to. Speak in courteous tones and try not to complain or criticize too much unless you really need to. Try to accept situations as they are. Everyone is going through the same things, and people have a low tolerance for hearing complaints. Always find some good things to say as well.
17. Pain and discomfort go hand in hand with getting older. Try not to dwell on them but accept them as a part of the cycle of life we’re all going through. Try to minimize them in your mind. Don t let such things define you; they are not who you are, they are something that life added to you. If they become your entire focus, you lose sight of the person you used to be.
18. If you’ve been offended by someone – forgive them. If you’ve offended someone — apologize. Don’t drag around resentment with you. It only serves to make you sad and bitter. It doesn’t really matter who was right, does it? Someone rightly said: “Holding a grudge is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Forgive, forget and move on with your life.
19. If you have a strong belief, savor it. But don’t waste your time trying to convince others. They will make their own choices no matter what you tell them, and it will only bring you frustration. Live your faith and set an example. Live true to your beliefs and let your life sway them.
20. Laugh. Laugh A LOT. Laugh at everything! Remember, you are one of the blessed ones. You managed to have a life, a long one. Many never get to this age, never get to experience a full life. But you did. 
So what’s not to laugh about? Find the humor in your situation.
21. Take no notice of what others say about you and even less notice of what they might be thinking. They’ll do it anyway, and you should have pride in yourself and what you’ve achieved. Let them talk and don’t worry. They have no idea about your history, your memories and the life you’ve lived so far. There’s still many new memories to make, so get busy living and don’t waste time thinking about what others might think. Now is the time to be at peace and as happy as you can be!
*****
   (Make it a habit to check Leona's blog regularly so you won't miss some of her more serious posts!)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

TIME TO BE HELD


At this particular time I'm in cyberspace touch with several dozen precious Christian friends throughout the country who are undergoing various serious physical illnesses, cancer, surgeries, chemo and radiation therapies, dialysis, etc. Some face chronic illness that seems to stretch endlessly. They have asked for my prayers. I regularly pray for each one by name. Some of them are suffering clusters of “tribulations” all at the same time and are despairing over their weakness to cope with it all. 

They ask, “How can I hang on?”

Just before my lung cancer surgery years ago at the University Hospital in Columbia, Missouri, my relatives with whom I was staying took me to Fulton, Missouri where we toured the Westminster Memorial Library. Their thoughtful intention was to divert my mind from the life threatening major surgery that I was soon to undergo.

An oversize statue of Winston Churchill took up the entire corner of one room when we walked in. A boy about age six and his mother were also looking at the statue. Since Churchill was sculpted in a seated position, the child suddenly took a notion to slip under the guard ropes and climb up on the immense stone lap of Churchill.

"Oh! Be careful!" cried his mother. "Hold on! Don't fall!"

The youngster replied, "If he was real, he'd hold on to me!" Out of the mouth of babes!

Yes, real people care for and hold on to children who get into precarious situations. God is real! He is not an unfeeling, powerless, man made statue. We are His children, and He cares about us. My suffering friends are in a dire place right now in their physical needs. I pray that God will be as real to them as He was when they were in the full bloom of health. When we can't hold on to Him in our weakness, He will hold on to us. We can't slip from His embrace.

No matter how well prepared we think we are for crisis times in our lives, when we are in the midst of physical traumas, we feel incredibly helpless. We don't even have the strength to climb onto God's lap let alone hold on to the Him. We want to act strong and brave. We want to be an example of a believer, one who has it all together. But when illness strikes, we feel like a limp, deflated balloon.

When I was in the midst of my surgical cancer adventure, I fully intended to pray a lot while lying in my hospital bed. I hoped I would be a spiritual example, a witness. I memorized Scripture promises in advance to recite to myself and give me courage. But when the time came, my foggy, medicated, anesthetized mind couldn't recall any of them. I was simply unable to think deep, spiritual thoughts, or even formulate decent prayers. In fact, I struggled to think at all. I was disappointed in myself. I had regressed to helpless, infant basics not capable of caring for or controlling myself. I just had to be quiet and let God hold me close. And that was okay....

Lord, please be “real” to my friends in this critical time of their need. Hold on to them. Invite them to climb up on Your big lap and snuggle up while You put Your strong arms around them. Let them experience You as “Abba, Father.” Let them rest quietly and cease from struggling to act bravely. Cuddle them to Yourself and pull the “blanket” of Your Holy Spirit around them in His role as “Comforter.”

“He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power” (Isaiah 40:29).

KEEPING DREAMS ALIVE

My energetic, beautiful, grandmother, writer-friend Jennifer, age 71, wrote in her current newspaper column about fulfilling one of her sort-of-bucket-list dreams this week.

I quote from her column which she calls, TOP BLOND: LIVING ON THE RUN.

“How long should we keep a dream alive? One year? Five? Until it comes true? It depends, one might say, on how realistic or feasible it is. But, does that really matter? To some degree, it does. Perhaps it really boils down to importance. If our dream is truly significant to us, we will find a way to make it come true. 

"Now that my kidney transplant and open heart surgery are behind me, I feel a responsibility to embrace the second chances given me. One came from love (Dot, my kidney donor), and the other from the skill of a surgeon's hands. Both are miraculous blessings and have afforded me a new lease on life....“The day may yet come when my body, or mind, won't allow me to continue 'living on the run' [the title of her column]. Until that day, I'll be looking for ways to keep kicking up my heels!”

I wrote in her comment space, “I applaud you loudly! As a long-time lung cancer surgery survivor myself, I'm running beside you as we try to fulfill God's 'bucket list' of His individual life purposes for each of us.” I signed it “Your Birthday Buddy,” since we celebrate our birthdays on the same June 22nd date but I'm 20 calendar years in age ahead of her.

IN PURSUIT OF DREAMS
Leona Choy

I have some dreams, Lord
leftovers from early years
just hanging there in midair
whose strings I can't let go
some goals that I can't meet
some desires of my heart of hearts
plans I can't complete.
I wonder now—
were they even meant
for fulfillment?

Perhaps some are my own
foolish fantasies
hot air balloons of self
launched from the platform
of my puny pride.
Is my chief distress
that they'll come hissing down
to my embarrassment
without accomplishment?

Then teach me relinquishment
to cut the strings
of those inappropriate dreams
and self-ambitious things
to let them go
and not despair
to surrender them
to Your sovereign care
and be content
to leave them there.

Yet—if perchance the dreams are meant
by Your Divine intent
to come to reality
for Your glory and not mine
inspire me, enable me, my Lord
to pursue them relentlessly
if need be
all the way from here to Eternity!