Friday, November 17, 2017

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Secret Gardens

Gary and I are on vacation in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. On Thursday I went to Parrot Mountain.
A Parrot Mountain can get tickets a little cheaper at their store at The Island in Pigeon Forge. It was a neat experience and the gardens really had lots of Bible verses and settings that were encouraging and inspirational.
I recommend it! 
Before you even get in, you can see large parrots squawking on their perches. The brochure promised the chance to see, touch, and feed all kinds of birds, plus enjoy beautiful gardens.

I walked along the pathways, talking to each bird I came to, hoping to get them to talk. I enjoyed looking at beautiful peacocks and interesting birds I had never seen before.

I got to one area with about a hundred birds you could pet and feed. I fed some small birds and then moved on to the big parrots and cockatoos. One of the staff was playing with a parrot named Mimi, so I put out my hand to offer it some seed. Wham! The bird grabbed my finger in its beak. 
Bad Mimi!

I pulled my hand back and the staff guy kind of laughed. "When she does that, you just have to do this," and he grabbed the parrot by the head and played with it some more.

Um, no thanks, I thought. I think I'll leave Mimi alone.

I moved on to other birds and then realized my finger was actually bleeding, so I went back to the staff guy and asked for a bandaid. He cheerfully got one for me.

I did find other very nice birds I could hold that didn't try to eat me. Some of them talked and they were so sweet.

I moved on and got to feed the lories some nectar.
That was really fun.

Before all of the bird interactions, I came to a door with no markings.
I cautiously pushed it open, sure some staff person would yell at me any second.  I was delighted to find a secret garden. There were mourning doves and other small birds moving around the small room full of green plants and decorations.

"Wow! I bet everyone else is missing this," I thought. "They walked right past it and I found it."

Then I saw another door. I went out and found this sign:
I felt pretty dumb.

I had missed the entrance and gone in the wrong way. It was a "Secret Garden" but it really wasn't supposed to be a secret. Everyone was meant to enjoy it. I should have been inviting others into the garden instead of being glad I had discovered it all by myself.

How often don't we do that with our faith? We marvel at what God has done for us, but we act like we don't really care to share it with others. We want to keep it all to ourselves.

Friends, we can't do that. 

Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins. That is so much more awesome than a cute little hidden garden. We need to take that good news and tell it to as many people as we can.

Think of that in the days ahead, and if you ever go to Parrot Mountain, watch out for Mimi.

"He said to them, 'Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.'" (Mark 4:21-22 NIV)

Do you keep your faith to yourself, like a secret garden?How can focusing on God help you to tell others what Jesus did for you so they can enjoy life with Him, too?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Trying New Things

I tried something new today.

Gary and I went to a Chinese buffet, and they had a guy down at the end making sushi.

Now, I'd never tried sushi before. I was pretty nervous about it. Would it taste good? Would I get sick? What kind should I get?

I smiled over the sneeze guard at the sushi maker and told him it was my first time. I asked him what he recommended. He gave me a blank look and said just enough that I could tell he felt more comfortable speaking Chinese than my language.

I tried to explain again that I'd never had it before and asked what was in it.

He pointed to the different rolls and told me, "This, vegetable. This, crab. This, spicy tuna. This, ___." (I didn't get it, but I smiled and nodded)

I still wasn't too sure about trying it, so I kind of stepped back and let a woman go ahead of me with her empty plate.

As she started to dig in, I asked her if she'd had it before.

"Oh yeah, too much," she kind of laughed.

I told her I had never had sushi before and I wasn't sure what to get. "You've never gotten sick from it, have you?"

"No, it's good!" She explained what was in most of them and when she got through the line (I was still carefully picking what I wanted) she came back past me with some pink stuff on top of her sushi and explained that she liked to put ginger on top.

"I think you're really supposed to eat it after you're done, but I put it on mine 'cuz I have kind of a sweet tooth," she said.

Well, you all know about my sweet tooth, so I took a piece of ginger, too. I went back to my table, more confident after I had gotten advice from someone who went there all the time.

Turns out I really liked it. I went back from another piece later. I didn't care for the ginger very much, but it was interesting.

As I ate, I thought about how often I resist trying new things because I don't have someone to explain it to me and lead the way.

Then I went on to ponder how this could relate to sharing our faith.

Sometimes, people might be curious about our faith but they aren't really sure how to start. They might ask us about it, but when we respond with a bunch of "Christianese" they have no idea what we're talking about. 

Repentance, grace, born again, sanctification, justification, and other big words can leave them confused and frustrated.

We need to put it in words they understand. We need to share our experience with them so they can try it themselves and decide if it's for them, even if they don't embrace it exactly the way we do.

When you see someone hanging around uncertainly in the back of church before or after the worship service, talk to them and lead the way. Invite them to sit with you. Smile and greet them warmly. Answer any questions they have in plain English, not "Christianese." 

When you have a chance to share your faith at work, or school, or around it! Introduce someone to your Savior. Help them try something new.

Once they "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8) they'll be back for more.

"...if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." (Isaiah 58:10 NIV)

Are you afraid to try something new? Have you ever tried something after a friend or relative led the way? How can focusing on God help you to be someone who feels comfortable introducing others to Jesus?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Terrific Tuesday: Let's Focus on Being Wise

Most of you know that I participate in NaNoWriMo in November. 

I started out strong on November 1 and wrote 1,824 words. I didn't have any story ideas before I started, but a bit of a plot developed as I wrote furiously that evening.

The next day, I had second thoughts. Gary suggested that maybe I could better spend the time working on some of the projects I already have started instead of doing NaNoWriMo this year.

Not do NaNoWriMo? But I've always done NaNo, I thought.

Still, I could see his point. I'm always whining about not having time to write...and then I'm going to spend well over fifty hours this month writing a story that probably won't turn into anything?

I got really sad thinking about not continuing this tradition, but I realized it would be wise to give it up and spend time this year on other things.

I have a very rough draft of a novel waiting to be worked on. I have a book on depression in the works. I procrastinated and have some other things to work on before the end of the year.

Yes, I decided, I'll have to give up NaNoWriMo. Too bad. 

I went to the computer and checked out my author info at the NaNoWriMo site. It said I had signed up about twelve years ago and it had stats going back to 2011.

2011: The Secretary...464 words (a pitiful attempt)
2012: No Answer...5639 words (I got a little more serious)

2013: My Title Will Come After About 20,000 Words...50,049! 
          (I can't even remember the plot of that one!)
2014: Clone Wars...50,037! (This one had lots of short stories in it)
2015: A Very Depressing Story...50,178!

I won three years in a row! And then:

2016: Gratitude...25,224

I hadn't even remembered that I hadn't won last year. I thought that I always had to win if I did it. Not true. I can still participate, and it's fun to win, but I don't have to win at all costs. This year, other things need my attention, too.

I want to be wise, and I'm learning that wisdom involves sacrifice.

Being wise might mean setting aside some activity we've always done so that we can do what needs to be done. 

Being wise might mean leaving the bag of candy corn at the store and picking up a bag of apples instead.

Being wise might mean turning off the TV and picking up our Bible.

Being wise definitely means looking to God to see what He has in mind for us. 

Some years it might be winning NaNoWriMo, but other years it might be finishing that other book.

I feel better tonight. I may not "win" NaNo this year, but I'll participate. I'll try to get my work done during this month and see if I can find some time once in a while to add to my word count.

I'll try to use my time wisely in the coming year so I can free up time next November to write those 50,000 words and win.

Until then, I'm sure I'll have lots of opportunities to make good choices and practice being wise.

"Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. (Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV)

Do you make wise choices? How can focusing on God help you to let go of things you "have" to do and do what He has in mind for you instead?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Super Sunday: Let's Focus on Growing

The other day, while showering, I realized that someone had flushed the toilet because the water pressure changed a bit. I was grateful that the temperature didn't change.

Just like that, I was back in Fern Smith Hall at Northwestern College.

I remembered how our RA stressed the importance of yelling "Flush!" before we flushed the toilet so the girl in the shower could jump out of the stream of water before it scalded off a patch of skin.

Well, I was a very timid, insecure young woman as a freshman. I didn't talk very much until I got to know someone. My friends teased me because I didn't even laugh out loud. I just shook with silent laughter.

So I distinctly remember being too shy to yell "Flush!" Instead, I flushed and rushed out of the bathroom as quickly as possible and scurried back to my room, hoping the girl showering wouldn't figure out who had subjected her to third degree burns.

Isn't that pitiful?
Does this look like the face of someone who would cruelly torture another human being?
I was transported back in time again when this blast from the past showed up in my Facebook feed one day. It's me, ten years ago.

I joked about not remembering this woman, because I hardly do. My hair was short and permed, now it's longer and straight. I'm smiling here, but I was still pretty reserved and insecure much of the time.

Those two events got me thinking about growing this week.

I've grown physically over the years:
Here I am in March, 1966 (fifty-one years ago)
Me in 6th grade in 1977
I've grown taller (and a little bit wider) as I've gotten older.

Even more important are the changes I've gone through inside.

I'm no longer that timid freshman in Orange City who was more worried about hearing the sound of her own voice than the welfare of her wingmates.

I'm no longer that insecure twenty-four-year-old who didn't say a word during Bible Study in Rock Rapids because she was afraid and then berated herself the rest of the day wondering if the rest of the group thought she was stupid.

I'm no longer that thirty-four-year-old in Orange City who stayed very busy but struggled with depression.

I'm no longer that forty-year-old in Chandler who smiled a lot, but was afraid to voice her opinions most of the time.

I'm not even that fifty-year-old in Allison who finally dealt with her depression and learned to feel more comfortable making her needs and wants known.

I thank God because I keep growing.

As frustrated as I get with areas where I fall short, this week I've also been reminded of how much I've grown over the years.

I like who I was at every age, but I'm glad I didn't get stuck back there. I'm glad God has been helping me grow physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. 

I'm a different person now than I was before.
Gary and I after we hiked the Grand Canyon in December, 2016.
I'm fifty-one years old...and growing.

"Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." (Ephesians 4:14-15 NIV)

Can you look back and see how you've grown over the years? How can focusing on God help you to be thankful for who you've been and look forward to future growth?