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Knowledge, inspiration, and encouragement from a Christian perspective is my goal. I post a weekly commentary, which could be about world events or the events of my week. Other days I might share stories, recipes, homemaking tips, book reviews, political talk, biblical truth, or other blogs and websites I like. This blog is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A WORTHY INVESTMENT




God loves a cheerful giver. What kind of giving did you think of when you read that? Most people would probably think of money, but there are many ways to give. Offering a compliment is a form of giving. And in today's fast paced world, who really takes the time to express appreciation? We say nice things about people at their funerals. What did we say to them while they were here?

Appreciation is a biblical command, not just something we should do. But doesn't criticism come so much easier than praise? We notice the things that bother us more than we notice the praiseworthy traits of a person. Appreciation is hard to express when we can't find anything to appreciate. But with a disciplined mind we can shift our focus to the positive and keep it there.

The truth is we all have annoying habits and things about ourselves that others might find irritating. To receive mercy for our own faults we have to forgive others for theirs. It's the law of sowing and reaping. If we sow unforgivness and criticism, we get the same in return. And then we wonder why we're so unhappy.

Yes God loves a cheerful giver because cheerful giving isn't easy to do consistently. But for those who make the effort whether it's giving appreciation, time, or using our talents and gifts to serve others, God also blesses a cheerful giver. Like a mirror returns its reflection, our giving reflects back on us and brings blessings that enrich our lives. When we give we invest in our own happiness.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

IN LOVE WITH ITALY

Is it possible to fall in love with a place you've never been? For me the answer is Yes! I'm in love with Italy.

America is a great place to live, but Italy,...oh Italy, what a place to dream about. People say the light in Italy has such a luminous quality. "Perhaps the sunflower crops radiate gold from the surrounding fields," suggests Frances Mayes in her book, Under the Tuscan Sun.

Mayes is partly responsible for my fascination with Italy, especially Tuscany. When I saw the movie version of Under The Tuscan Sun, I was mesmerized by the scenery. I wanted to drive up one of those zig-zag roads lined with tall cypress trees and tour a 15th-century stone farmhouse. I wanted to look out over that lush green land of never-ending hills and breathe in the beauty all around me...sloping fields of red poppies, silvery-grey olive trees, sun-drenched vineyards and, of course, the sunflowers, bright yellow bursts of warmth and light. Italy is endlessly alluring.

When you fall in love with a foreign country, you find ways to bring it home. My wall calendar takes me on a photographic journey of Tuscany. I buy travel books about Italy and savor the photos, fantasize about where I would stay, where I would eat, and what sights I'd take in. And for the price of a movie rental, I can escape to Florence or savor the Tuscan scenery while watching one of many screenplays filmed in Italy.

A culture with countless charms, love of family is one of Italy's greatest. I want to sit at an Italian family's long table and hear everyone speak at once, laugh heartily, hug and kiss faces. Their love of food is another allure. Italians get excited about food. Just watch The Food Network's Giada DeLaurentiis as she tastes her finished creations. A slow surrender of total bliss comes over her face.

For Italians, food seems to nourish soul and spirit, not just the body. In Italy, the ingredients seem fresher, more rustic and real. They have more reason to get excited about eating. I don't picture Italian women buying food at a grocery store. I picture them gathering eggs warm under the hen, buying fruit and vegetables at an open market, and getting fresh meat at a butcher shop. When I go to our local market and auction on Fridays, I feel more Italian, but I draw the line at raising chickens.

Speaking of drawing lines, art is another reason I love Italy. Having an unfinished work of art on my easel makes me feel more Italian. Some of the greatest artists and writers of the last 1,000 years have hailed from Italy, specifically Tuscany. Perhaps Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were inspired by the luminous light. As both an artist and a writer, I feel drawn to a place where so many movers of pen and brush found inspiration. Mark Twain described Tuscany as "the fairest picture on our planet, the most enchanting to look upon, the most satisfying to the eye and the spirit."

A satisfied spirit? Is that the allure of Italy? Do I long to go there because it seems a place that would tantalize all my senses and invigorate my soul? Although my soul is quite satisfied, a change of scenery often does wonders for the spirit. I want to gaze upon colorful frescoes inside an isolated hillside abbey surrounded by oak, pine, cypress and olive trees. I want to sink my sweet tooth into a cool strawberry gelato and dip crusty bread into light sweet olive oil so fresh it hasn't been bottled yet. I want to take an evening stroll through a Tuscan hill town and touch the textured medieval walls as I walk through its maze of lanes. I want to hear Italian music drifting out of an open shuttered window and smell the morning cappuccino being sipped in an outdoor cafe.

Yes, Italy is endlessly alluring. I don't know if I'll ever get there, but I found ways to bring it home. Sitting by my fountain sipping summer berry frullati among potted red poppies takes me to an Italian garden. Discovering a rustic gold-framed print of Venice at a yard sale and hanging it in my dining room satisfies my longing. But my favorite way to bring Italy home is paging through an Italian cookbook, planning the perfect meal and treating friends to a Tuscan feast of Bruschette, Basil Lemon Chicken, Apple Bread Pudding and, of course, a sweet red wine.

There's nothing sweeter in any culture than sharing the things you love with friends and family. So even if I never visit the most enchanting place on our planet, I still have the greatest of Italian charms right here at home--love of family and friends. Reality isn't so bad here in my American homeland. But when I want to dream, I dream Italian.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

THE STRENGTH OF WEAKNESS

I love it when people admit their flaws. They instantly become real and approachable. I think of Rachael Ray as an example. She admits being a goof in the kitchen. She spills food, struggles with appliances and admits she doesn't chop an onion properly. And yet, people love her because she's real, not perfect. If she pretended to be perfect, I doubt that she would have the popularity she has or the success she has. Thus, her imperfection is a strength.

Whenever I meet a woman who tries to be perfect I feel like there's a wall walking around in front of her. She's not someone I could ever get to know. She's unapproachable. Too perfect to be touched. With all the time she invests in appearing perfect, what time could she possibly have for friendship?

On the other hand, a woman who admits her flaws is an instant friend. She's someone I can relate to, someone I can laugh with. She's someone like me--imperfect.

Admitting her flaws is one of the most endearing qualities I think a woman can have. Only a confident woman can admit she's not perfect; while those who try to be perfect are often plagued by deep insecurities. Perfection is a cover up.

As women, we don't think about our imperfections as being strengths, but they really are. I discovered this recently after returning from an event where I was supposed to lead a group of women. My mind was foggy. I couldn't focus and I felt inadequate. While driving home I decided I didn't have what it takes to lead. I was planning to step down.

Then I read something that changed my mind. In 2 Corinthians the apostle Paul prayed for God to remove a painful physical ailment so that he could be more effective in his service. But God didn't grant Paul's request. Instead He said, "...I'm teaching you that my power will be available for your needs. When you are weak, My power will be strongest in you." This kept Paul dependent on God. In his trial he would be strong--not in his own power, but in God's power.

This works the same with friendship. When we surround ourselves with caring friends, we create a support system for ourselves. These friendships make us stronger. But when we try so hard to be perfect and can't admit our flaws, failures, and mistakes, we appear not to need friends. We don't need a listening ear or a shoulder to comfort us. The wall is up. We can't risk looking anything but perfect. It's a lonely place to be.

God created us to need not only Him but also each other. We're supposed to depend on others for comfort and encouragement. But if we pretend we don't need those things, who will want to offer it?

Weakness is a strength when it makes us more dependent on God and more likeable to others. Most people can't relate to perfection. But when we admit our problems, we become real and people want to know us. The wall falls down and the welcome sign goes up. When we are weak is when we are strongest.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

SILENCE AND SOLITUDE

Have you ever felt like running away? Or maybe locking yourself in a room for several hours with a good set of earplugs? Life becomes too much and you just want a moment to breathe. Time to clear your head. Peace.

Even Jesus walked away from the crowds at times to spend time alone with God. He went into the desert, into the garden, wherever he thought he might find solitude. And that is how he replenished his soul.

Why is it so hard for us to admit when we feel like hiding from the world? We don't want to appear weak or irresponsible. Gotta keep up the pace. Can't slow down. To demand time for replenishment makes us feel guilty as if we shouldn't need such a thing.

But human beings are designed to need such a thing. We need rest. We need time away from the demands, the constant pulling on our brains and bodies. If we don't get a break from that, our minds become frazzled. We become grouchy, impatient, or depressed. And our bodies become more prone to illness and exhaustion.

The busiest time in my life was when I was a single mother working two jobs and attending college. Anyone who's been a single parent can understand how difficult such a combination would be. A single parent with one job would understand. After two years of maintaining such a hectic pace, the smallest things became overwhelming. The mountain I was climbing became so steep I couldn't take another step. Then everything went black.

I woke up horizontal on the cold kitchen floor. My doctor told me I needed to lighten the load. I couldn't quit work and I couldn't quit being a mom, so I dropped a class. I learned to stop pushing myself so hard. I learned to say, "No" to people who expected too much and activities that stole my free time. I turned off the radio when driving and instead I talked to God and asked him to replenish my soul.

We live in a busy, noisy, crowded world. And sometimes we get so caught up in it that we forget to get away somewhere quiet and restore our bodies and minds. This is something everyone needs. Whether it's a physical getting away or a mental retreat to a quiet place, we need that time alone with God. He designed us to need solitude and be in relationship with him. But some people don't recognize the inner ache of an empty soul and they try to comfort themselves with other things. But the ache keeps coming back.

The next time you feel like running away or hiding somewhere, remember that what you're feeling is normal and healthy. You're not weak or irresponsible, and you have no reason to feel guilty. You're simply responding to your mind and body as they both cry out for silence, solitude, and conversation with God.

What have you done for your soul lately?