Thursday, June 27, 2013

Stressed Less

It is so difficult for me to believe that this is the final week of the Stressed-Less Living Online Bible study. For me, it has been transformational.  I wish that there was a "stress gauge" that I could use to scientifically document the difference between my stress level at the beginning of this study and my stress level now, but I don't think I can purchase one at the local department store or pharmacy, so I suppose that anecdotal references will have to do.

I came into the study thinking that it would show me how to eliminate some of the stress in my life. After all, that was the title of the book, right?...... WRONG! Right off the bat, in Chapter One I learned that what had to change was not my life, but ME! Once I accepted my responsibility, I began to realize that the old saying was true, "An ATTITUDE is a little thing that can make a BIG difference." I needed to stop being so negative all of the time and focus on the brighter side of things.

Chapter Six of the book brought another huge slap that woke me up to a new reality---- I was taking too much into my own control. Those people who know me might say, "Hey, wait a minute... we always knew that!" Looking back, I can see that I always tried to jump in and fix things. I am one of those who thinks it is all one big logical sequence: see a problem, determine the specific needs, work to fill the need. Now I realize that there are are some things that I had been leaving out of the sequence. It should read: see a problem, TAKE THE PROBLEM TO GOD, ALLOW HIM to determine the specific needs, work to help GOD fill the need. Because of what I have learned in this study, I find myself praying more, asking God to help me see what needs to be done and then to provide me with guidance to help meet the needs. Sometimes I find myself praying about things for quite a while before God speaks back, but that is ok. I am developing a real patience.

Chapter Eight found me saying, "Hello, My name is Stella and I am an Accomplisher." Yes, I like to make lists- even if they are sometimes mental lists- of things that I need to do each day. It gives me great pride to cross each item off the list and move on to the next. Before I started this study my daily list might be VERY LONG and I would find my heart pounding, pushing me to get started. As I completed each task that adrenaline did not slow down. Instead, it was almost as though the list was growing.... imagine that! I would think of all the things that I had LEFT to do rather than those things that I had accomplished. What happened if I reached the end of the day and there where still things on the list? Can you say the word, "Breakdown"---- No longer! My daily list is shorter and if things are still left at the end of the day? In the tone of Scarlett..... "Tomorrow is another day!"

My last bit of evidence is to relay some personal examples from this week. In order to discuss the change that has occurred in me, I need to tell you about the stresses in my life, what might have been, and what my new reality is.

This week I had two major stresses: Two final days of teacher training and temporarily losing my daughter to a summer program.

First the training: As school went out early in May I received an email about a possible summer literacy training. After some investigation, I decided that I would LOVE to attend. It would give me some great strategies for my classroom and besides.... I would get paid a nice stipend for attending. Early in June I received a follow up email asking if I wanted a hotel room or did I just want to drive back and forth? To fully explain the situation, I suppose I should tell you that getting to the training involves a 73 mile commute (one way). I decided to drive. Normally, the stresses of traffic, weather delays, getting up extra early during the summer, returning home late, gas prices..... you name it..... all of these things would have combined to create a frazzled me. But this time.... they didn't. I used the commute as a time to listen to KLove on the radio, sing along with some of the songs, utter a few prayers for people in need, and just spend quiet time with the Lord and my thoughts.  I even squeezed in a shopping visit one morning when I arrived at my training TOO EARLY! Imagine that!

The second real stress came on Sunday when I dropped my daughter off for a 5 week Governor's Scholars Program. Here in Kentucky, students who are juniors in high school can apply for the program. A little over 1000 are chosen from across the state. They spend 5 weeks on a college campus developing leadership skills, learning about themselves, learning how to make decisions, and basically getting a new mind-set and attitude that is supposed to better prepare them for the real world that lies ahead of them in the coming year. During the five weeks, families can only visit 1 day- Family Day- which is about 2 weeks into the program.

I had been through the whole thing two years ago when my son was in the program. I was a blubbering idiot on drop-off day, Family Day, and even on pick-up day I think. I will be honest and tell you that I still shed a few tears when I left her, but I knew that she was safe in God's hands. Last night she called to tell us that a storm was moving through the area. She and several other girls were kind of temporarily "trapped" in the dorm and might miss supper. "I will eat some of my snacks and maybe call out for a delivery from somewhere a little later." Boy, did she really grow up THAT much in 4 days? To further heighten my stress level, her birthday is coming up this week. She will celebrate her Sweet Sixteen over three hours away from me. The old me might have approached this with more tears and a second box of Kleenex, but the new me did a Pinterest search for creative CARE package ideas, did a shopping trip, and came home to get a box ready for mailing. (Hopefully, it will arrive at the dorm before the big day.)

Yes, this study has been a life-changer! I can't wait for school to start back. (Did I REALLY just say that?) I am hoping that my students will see a quieter, less-pressured, more attentive ME..... one that thinks more before she speaks, smiles more, and can let her hair down from time to time. Thank you God for sending this Bible study just when I needed it!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Blessings of Summer

From August through May, my life is filled with school..... school work, school thought, school activities. I say "life" rather than "week" because, even though school is only technically Monday through Friday, it has a way of invading my weekends too. Between all of the things I have to do as a part of my job and all of the things that I do for my own children, I often get so busy that I neglect to give thanks for some of my biggest blessings. Summer brings that down-time that I need to clear my vision, calm my spirit, and help me reflect.

Blessing 1: Another year in a happy marriage

With summer comes another anniversary. This year made 20. As a teen and young adult, I did not have a very active dating life. I had almost given up finding someone to make a part of my life. It was at that point that God sent my sweet husband to me. Both my husband and I realized that God had brought us together. In this day and age, when so many people are separated or divorced, I am so blessed to still be with this wonderful man. God has helped us through many things in these 20 years, and God still remains at the center of our home.

Blessing 2: Bountiful Beauty

I am blessed to live in one of the most beautiful spots on earth. When many people talk about Eastern Kentucky they talk about the curvy mountain roads. I prefer to talk about how beautiful it is. This is true all year round, but never more true than in the summer months. The many subtle tones of green in the grass and the leaves create the perfect background for the bright splashes of floral color. Brilliant orange or yellow wildflowers are tucked away in the tiniest of places along the roads and waterways. From the blue skies above to the dusty brown paths below, I see God's handiwork on display.

Blessing 3: Time with Family

With so much going on in our lives, it is so busy for me to truly spend quality time with my entire family. It is only during the summer that we can convince my sweet husband to give up a few days of work to slip away somewhere as a family. This year, our journey took us to Columbus, Ohio where we visited the Zoo and Science Center. It was only 3 days, but it was so nice to just laugh, talk, and have fun together.

Blessing 4: Friends

The summer is not only time away from school, but time away from some of my best friends. The people that  I work with are actually more like family than they are friends. They help me through the stresses of the job, celebrate my successes, and comfort me when things don't go well. During the summer we all have our own lives, but it is so nice to know that we don't forget one another. Facebook, summer training sessions, and occasional get-togethers help us keep up to date with one another's lives. As for us "girls", we even sometimes have a shopping trip or two to buy those back-to-school clothes.

Blessing 5: God's Protection

It seems that every night the news is cluttered with shootings, car accidents, and deaths. Each day on Facebook I see yet another post about a friend or colleague who has been diagnosed with some disease or condition. Though our health is not perfect, none of my immediate family members are facing anything like that at this time. I am also blessed to know that, if and when we do face a tragedy or a major illness, God will be right there with us, helping us deal with it all.

Yes, the summer is a time for relaxation, renewal, and rejuvenation, but I like to think that it is also a wonderful time for reflection............... a time to remember all of the things that God has seen fit to provide. Won't you join me and take a few minutes to count some of your summer blessings?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Real Miracle....

When I looked at the list of possible blog post ideas for the Stressed Less Living Bible study, I knew exactly which one I would be writing about:

3.  Miracles. In this day and age, miracles still happen…we simply have a harder time believing them. If you have ever experienced or witnessed a miracle, we would LOVE to hear your testimony of His Glory

This weekend we also celebrate Father's Day, so it is the perfect opportunity for me to pay tribute to my own living, breathing, walking proof of God's grace and miracles- my father.

I guess I was a lot like other young people growing up- I sometimes took my father's presence in my life for granted. He was just always there for me any time that I needed him.  He worked Monday through Friday and took us all to church on Sunday. He was a deacon in the church, the church custodian, and the maintenance man for a nearby Girl Scout camp.

Even when I married and started my own family, I could count on Dad to come when I called.  His presence was more rare, yet he always seemed to be there when I really needed him. He earned part of his living as a carpenter: building and renovating homes, repairing plumbing or electricity, or whatever else needed to be done around the home. This meant that whenever I mentioned a toilet that wouldn't flush right or a leaky faucet, or even something bigger Dad was right there- Mr. FIX IT on the spot.

There have been several times that I thought we might not have Dad in our lives for much longer, however.... and that is where God and the miracles come in.

The first episode I remember was when my mother phoned me at work to tell me that Dad had been on a tractor and had been flipped from it, landing in a ditch, with the tractor on top of him, pinning him down. An ambulance rushed him to the nearest hospital, who loaded him on a helicopter and flew him to a hospital in a larger city within the state.The doctors were concerned about the tractor's weight possibly causing internal injuries. Miraculously, Dad came through that episode with only a few bruises. Thankfully, Dad cannot remember much about the whole thing because they had sedated him.

The next miracle came several years ago when I was sitting at home preparing dinner. The phone rang and it was my mother, telling me that Dad had fallen from a church roof while he was building a steeple. He had plummeted to the asphalt below and was unconscious. Since the closest hospital to the work site was in a nearby state, they had flown Dad there. I rushed to Mom's side and drove her to the hospital, praying all the while. I will never forget sitting in that silent, antiseptic, cold waiting room outside of surgery, anxiously awaiting word of whether Dad would survive. This time Dad's injuries were a bit more severe. When Dad hit the asphalt parking surface, the retina in one of his eyes had separated from the back of the eye. When it lost blood flow, it basically died. My father, who made his living by doing detailed electrical and woodwork was now permanently blinded in one eye.

I feel terrible about this, but at the time, the only thing I could think of was the fact that Dad could not see as well. I did not take the time to thank God for his mercy in saving Dad's life; instead, I told my mother, "This will kill him. He won't be able to do the things that he used to." Boy, was I wrong! I under-estimated both God and my father. Though his eyesight was lessened, his determination wasn't. Dad kept working at it and eventually returned to MOST construction work, leaving such things as the detailed electrical wiring for someone else. He kept reading his Bible and driving himself to church every Sunday morning.

Since then God has intervened when Dad was in a car accident, colliding with a loaded coal truck. Dad did not escape that accident completely unscathed either; he suffered a broken ankle- the first broken bone that he had ever had.

Another time, Dad cut his hand when a saw kicked back on him. He had to undergo several hours of neurosurgery and lost one pinkie finger and part of the finger next to it. After months of rehabilitation, Dad returned to farming, helping with repairs at church, and continues to fill his spot in the pew each Sunday morning.

I jokingly say that Daddy is like a cat- he has nine lives. He has certainly been through more physical injury and potential tragedy than most people. To be honest, I think the truth is that Dad just hasn't finished all of the things that God intends for him to do here on earth. Each and every accident had the potential of ending in death, but they didn't. Each time, God spared Dad's life and sent him back to the family and the church who depends on him so much. He continues to be a strong testimony of God's protection and the fact that miracles really do still happen- even in the 21st Century.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Cheerful Heart....

This morning I started on Chapter 10 of the Stressed-Less Living Bible study. When I read this verse, my thoughts immediately went to that old adage, "You are only as old as you feel."

When I allow the weights of the world to push down my spirit, I do feel a bit "crushed" and I definitely feel OLDER! On the other hand, when I take the time to deliberately look at the brighter side of life, I have a more positive outlook and a spring in my step.

This weekend I was out shopping with my son. We were having a great time looking for bargains and even enjoying some REAL conversation.... something that is difficult to get with a teenage boy.  While walking down one aisle in the home decor section I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thought, "I look pretty good- my middle isn't nearly as big as I thought."....... This coming from the almost 50 year old woman who usually notices every grey hair, wrinkle, and bulge!  My heart was cheerful and I was having fun, so when I saw myself in the mirror it was impossible for me to be negative. If only I could maintain that positive, cheerful heart all of the time!

I had not realized how extensively my emotional being could color my life and my thinking. I realize that I need to be live more like the song.....

Striving to maintain the cheerful heart-

The one that focuses on the blessings that God has given-

The one that sees the smile on my face rather than the wrinkles smile lines in the corners of my eyes-

The one that sees the size on the label and smiles because it so much smaller than it used to be without focusing on the muffin-top that bulges over the waistline of the pants-

The one that focuses on having a roof overhead rather than the dust bunnies in the corners.

If I can make a conscious effort to do this---- then my spirit will not be crushed and I might not feel quite so "Old".

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Spiritual Vitamins

I am in the middle of Week 9 of the Stressed-Less Living and boy is it working!

Several months ago, I made a conscious decision to spend more time with the Lord. I was always the first one in our house to awaken, so that seemed a natural time for me to be alone with God, praying, reading his word, and thinking about his purpose for me and my life. This led me back to something that I had discovered through KLove radio: Proverbs 31 Ministries.

I began reading the daily Encouragement devotional that was posted on the computer. Then I would read the daily Bible passage that was there and spend some time in prayer. A few weeks into this spiritual journey those spiritual vitamins: reading the Bible and praying were doing the trick. I was already heading out the door in a better mood, but then I would often come home after a day of school, burdened with work and stress.

Leave it to God to give me my next spiritual "prescription"!

One day as I was reading the devotional I was led to another blog by a contributing writer. This led me to a notice about the Stressed-Less Living Bible study. I had been wanting to participate in a Bible study but really needed one that I could work into my busy schedule. An online one seemed like a perfect fit, so I signed up and purchased the book.

Long story short....... this Bible study has been one more "spiritual vitamin" that I really needed. It has also helped me to recognize just how essential it is to make time on a daily basis for God.

I continue to start each morning with my daily dose of Bible reading, prayer, and devotion. I also find myself uttering silent prayers throughout the day whenever I feel a need being laid on my heart. KLove, which I mentioned earlier, is yet another spiritual vitamin that I use on a daily basis. My car radio stays tuned to that station and my daughter has come to love it as much as I do. Listening to the wonderful Christian music on the way to work each day helps me get into a positive mindset and hearing it on my way home helps me shed some of stress and negativity that can befall me during a day of work.

I am sure that every one of you, at one time or another, was given a prescription for some type of vitamin, pill, or medication and was told to finish the entire bottle. Then you went home and started dutifully taking the medicine as prescribed. When you "felt better" you left the bottle sitting there, until you felt the symptoms returning. OR...... Maybe you had a prescription and you finished the bottle, but you just didn't get it refilled.

Well, I have been given a LIFETIME prescription for these spiritual vitamins! I have come to the realization that I MUST daily spend time in prayer, reading, and Bible study in order to strengthen my body, my mind, and my spirit. Isaiah 12:2 reads:

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord, even the Lord, is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.

If God is to be my strength, then I need to exercise my spiritual being by spending time with him. I have often told my students that they need to read and study in order to exercise and strengthen their minds. I now understand that I need to do my prayer, reading, and Bible study in order to exercise and strengthen my spiritual being. Without my daily dose of these spiritual vitamins, I will return to the same stressed out woman who sometimes wanted to pull out her hair under the mountain of life's stresses.

Won't you join me? I highly recommend these vitamins! They WILL change your life.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Family Affair....

Last night we began our annual week of VBS. Some people would think that I was crazy for giving up a week of my summer break to spend it teaching. After all, that is what I do from August through May of each year. But this is different.....

Not only do I get to play and have fun with the kids... (I am the arts and crafts teacher.) Not only do I get to help deliver God's message to all of those who attend.....  Even better.... I get to spend it with my own children.

 Both of them are at that stage in their life when their schedules are full: friends, fun, school groups, summer jobs. It is rare that I get some time with them and even more rare that I get to stand on the sideline and just see their character shine. Whenever they are at home, they are often so tired that they are either collapsed on the couch napping, or just shut up in their rooms watching television or texting a friend.

My daughter, Kari, has been the puppeteer at VBS for four years. 

This year, her alter ego is "Godwin" a talkative parrot. Here she is with all four of the puppets that she has used to help deliver God's life lessons. She loves it! It is one of her favorite times of the year. I don't know if she will continue with this service each year or not, once she graduates high school, but I am sure that she will continue to do God's work in some way. I love to be there, listening to her transform into whatever character she represents each year. She may be a teenager, but when VBS rolls around, Kari's inner child get released.

Even my son, who is working a summer job during the day, is helping this year.

Keenan is assisting with the opening and closing programs and filling in wherever needed. Last night he helped me with crafts when I had larger groups and even got the chance to deal with some boo-boos. It really touched my heart to see him talking in a soft voice with an injured child, gently cleaning the wound, and then bandaging it. 

As for me....... I am not only the crafts teacher.....

I am also the clown! Our theme for the week is "Fun Fair" and what fair would be complete without a clown? At my age, I try to take any opportunity that I can to NOT take myself TOO seriously. This is certainly one of those. Throughout my career I have been known for several different "looks" at school for special occasions. (Maybe I will share some of those in another post sometime.) At one time, I asked my son if he was ever embarrassed by it. He responded, "No, we are kind of used to it." 

Sometimes the two and a half hours of nightly VBS classes seem much longer: glue that is too gooey, classes that run behind schedule, more kids in a group than we have seats. But through it all, I can still smile and enjoy the moments. I am thankful that my two children have adopted the idea of service- that joyful feeling that you get from helping deliver God's message and God's love to others. VBS is a family affair and I am glad that it is!