"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"
December 28, 2011
Out with the old and in with the new. Hard to believe another year is almost over and we're getting ready to enter a brand new year -- 2012. I've heard it said that time goes by faster and faster the older you get, and I've come to the conclusion that that is true; or so it seems.
As I looked back over this past year, I began to reminisce and think of what all Jon and I have done. The year started out with us purchasing our home from Jon's parents. This is Jon's childhood home and we were excited to be given the opportunity to become home owners instead of renters. Our first project on the house, to put our personal stamp on it, was to remodel the downstairs half-bath last spring. We also ripped out the wall between the pantry and small storage closet to install a big pantry; which has never gotten finished yet. What we thought would be an easy project ended up taking several weekends. Jon worked in Brazil for three weeks during the summer, for his job; while I stayed home. I began taking lesson to learn how to play the fiddle the end of June. Considering the fact that my teacher lives 3 1/2 hours away in Arkansas, I don't get very many lessons so I'm not very good yet, but I've had fun with it. Jon and I also built a gazebo on our property in Missouri in the fall. It's not quite finished yet, but mostly built. Living 3 1/2 hours away and only able to work on weekends, it ended up taking much longer than we anticipated; which seems to be the norm for all of the projects we do. In September we had our first annual Gray Sheep Shindig at our Missouri property; which was a huge success. There have also been the birth of a great-nephew on Jon's side of the family, and a great-niece on mine. I also had a nephew recently become engaged. I'm sure that there was much more that happened that I just can't think of right at the moment.
There were also a few hard times and difficulties thrown in with the blessings. My dad's sister, Wilma Jean, passed away earlier in the year; as well as Bill and Nina Jean, an uncle and aunt on my mom's side of the family. In August, my brother-in-law, Jimmy, had a brain tumor removed which was cancerous, which resulted in a huge lifestyle change for him and my sister.
As each new year begins, we have no way of knowing what it will hold in store for us; both good and bad. Actually, it's probably a blessing that we don't know what lies ahead of us or many of us would spend our days living in fear or trying to figure out how to change the course of our lives. We would worry and fret about the challenges facing us, and instead of enjoying the blessings and good times, we'd spend those days thinking about the bad things coming up.
The truth is, we each have our burdens to bear and no matter how unfair it may seem, that's the way of life. Is it fair that my mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was 7 years old, and I really can't remember her being healthy? Is it fair that I remember her going through four surgeries, radiation, and chemo that made her extremely sick and that she died when I was 15?
Is it fair that a young woman who desperately desires to be a mother has multiple miscarriages or after a few weeks the baby dies in her womb? Is it fair that parents have to watch their children suffer with severe illnesses and the whole life of the child is spent in the hospital or taking treatments? Is it fair that families lose their spouse or parent or sibling to car accidents, diseases, or murder? Is it fair that men and women are killed while trying to protect our country and its freedom? Is it fair that children go to bed hungry every single night, or are abused, or are left alone while their parents go out and drink or shoot up drugs? Is it fair that children's lives are torn apart by divorce and are tossed around from one parent to the other, feeling as if neither want them? I could go on and on with different scenarios. And the answer is, no those things aren't fair. But life isn't about fairness or who has the best home or the best upbringing or the most material possessions or even who seems to receive the most blessings. It's not a competition between families and individuals.
It's easy to blame God for all the pain and suffering and unfairness of life. After all, He is God and could fix it all if He chose. But God did not create us to be robots to bow at His every command. He created us to be people of choice, and the bottom line is, it's because of the sinful choices of mankind that life is tough and the world is filled with evil and hardship. God placed Adam and Eve in a perfect garden where their every need was met, they didn't have to worry about what they were going to eat or wear; they didn't have to labor and work; there was no sickness or pain, etc. God came down and met with them each evening and walked with them in the garden. Their one and only stipulation was that they could not eat from one tree. They had full run of this perfect paradise and could do anything, go anywhere, and eat everything except the fruit of that one tree. I believe that the Garden of Eden was probably the most beautiful, perfect place imaginable. A bit of heaven on earth. Yet Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and give in to the temptation of the serpent and taste of the fruit of that forbidden tree. Because of their disobedience and sin, they were thrown out of the garden and from then on, sin reigned in the hearts of men and women thereafter who continually chose to disobey God.
Many times God gave men in scripture very clear instructions, yet they would allow fear or obstacles hinder them and they would choose to disobey and do things their own way. They then had to face the consequences of their actions. Moses was hand-picked by God to lead the Israelites out of the slavery and bondage of Egypt and to the promised land of Canaan; he did lead them out of Egypt. Along the way, God protected them and performed miracles time and time again. But over and over the Israelites would gripe and complain and blame Moses every time anything bad happened or they didn't have food or water, instead of trusting God to provide for them. Yet the day came when Moses disobeyed God's instructions and the consequence was that he was not the one to finish the job and lead the Israelites into Canaan. That job was passed on to Joshua, and Moses died in the wilderness.
Let me say this; just because someone is sick or has something bad happen to them or something disastrous happen in their family doesn't always mean that they are disobeying God and doing something wrong. Yes, sometimes people choose to live a sin-filled lifestyle and make destructive choices that they have to pay the consequences for. Even though they may turn their life around and change their ways and repent of their sins, as a result of their past choices they may have to suffer or endure the ramification of their actions. But more times than not, there are seemingly no answers as to why someone has to go through a particular trial or why their life is difficult. It's a part of life that we will never understand until we get to heaven and ask God; but at that time I'm not sure if it will even matter anymore or be important.
It hurts and is difficult to see those close to us having to endure one of life's unfair situations, and often we want to do what we can to make it more bearable for them. It breaks our heart to see them suffering and hurting.
Jon and I recently watched the movie, "The Soul Surfer". The movie was based on a true story about a young girl who was a competitive surfer, and was headed to the national junior championships. She was practicing with her best friend, and her friend's father and brother, when there was a freak shark attack and her arm was completely bitten off. The accident was devastating and was seemingly going to completely change her life. During one scene, she was speaking to her youth pastor when she broke down and began crying and questioning why God had let that happen to her. The youth pastor was heart-broken to see this young girl having to deal with this and she had no answer for her. We often can't explain why things happen to us or our loved ones. Perhaps that's when we have to draw from our faith and trust that someway, somehow God has a plan and will take care of us and help us through it. Perhaps the important thing is not to know why, but know Who can best help us and give us the needed strength to endure. And that Who is Jesus!!
We hear dire news that happens to others we don't know and think, "Oh that's too bad; I hate that they're having to go through such a hard time." Then we go on our way and it really doesn't affect us. But when something bad happens to us, our immediate response is, "This can't be happening! God, why are you allowing this to happen to me or my loved one? It's not fair!" Maybe not, but is it fair when another family has to suffer and experience heartache while we are being blessed? We all have our crosses to bear and some seem heavier and harder than others, but God does promise to give us the strength to endure. But He can't give us strength if we try to take care of it all by ourselves and refuse to ask for His help and allow Him to help us carry our load.
It's easy to question, "Why me?" when life gets tough. I think that's a normal reaction because none of us want or enjoy suffering. Even when Jesus went to the cross He prayed, "Father, if it is possible, please let this cup pass from Me." At that moment He was in human form and didn't want to endure the pain and suffering and ridicule He knew lay in front of Him. He petitioned God twice with this same prayer. Yet each time He went one step further and prayed, "Not my will, but God, Your will be done." I don't think those were easy words for Him to say. Some of the hardest prayers we can pray when life is unfair and difficult is, "God, not my will (not what I want or desire to happen), but Your will be done." Yet those can often be some of the most freeing words we can pray because we then stop trying to "fix" our situation and handle it all by ourselves, but hand our situation over into the hands of God and allow Him to take care of it.
None of us know what 2012 holds for us. I'm sure that some of us will experience great times of blessings and awesome things happening in our lives. But there may be others that will endure hardships and difficulties that will be heartbreaking and seemingly unfair. The year may hold a mixture of blessing and disappointment for others.
We can awake each morning filled with worry and dread, waiting for the axe to drop and something bad to happen. We can have the attitude, "I know something bad will happen to me, because bad things always happen to me!" Or we can choose to make the most of each day we have and enjoy time spent with our loved ones. We can cherish and make memories with our spouse, children, grandchildren, extended family, and friends. Look for the good and blessing in each day and thank God for them. If all we look for is the negative, then that's what we'll find. But if we choose to find something good in our life, we'll also find that. Even when our circumstances may not be fair or to our liking, we can still find at least one thing each day to thank God for.
Many times in the midst of life's worst difficulties, God will do amazing things if we but acknowledge them. I have seen God answer prayer and miraculously provide for my sister and brother-in-law the past few months. During the years that Mama was sick, we saw God answer prayers time and time again. She would be in severe pain, unable to sleep, and family would gather and begin praying and the pain would ease so she could rest. A man in the community bought us an air conditioner one summer to try and make it more comfortable in the house for Mama. One particular time we had pretty much lived on brown beans and didn't have many groceries, and a cousin and his wife brought us over a meal one evening. I will never forget that roast beef meal with red velvet cake for dessert. People in the community donated money to help us out. In our dire heart-breaking situation, God was still taking care of our family and watching over us. He does the same for us all, if we but look for those blessings and acknowledge them.
When we see others struggling and going through difficulties, then we can encourage them and stand beside them giving them our support and love. When we see others being blessed and good things happening in their life, then we also need to rejoice and be excited for them. Life isn't meant to be lived as a hermit, trying to get through it by ourselves and relying on our own strength. But we all have people in our lives that we can rely on; family, friends, co-workers, church family, pastor, etc. When I'm weak, then they can hold my hand and help me until I get through my situation and feel strong again. Then when they're weak, I'll do the same for them. It's so wonderful to have people that we can both laugh and cry with.
But most importantly, it's awesome to know that God is always a very present help in time of need. I may not feel like I can call someone up in the middle of the night if I need someone to talk to, but I can pray to God and know that He's listening and there to help me. God will never leave or forsake me. When life gets too hard and I feel like I can't go on, He's there to carry me and give me the strength to take the next step. When good things happen, God is there rejoicing with me. Jesus is the very best friend we can ever have. As special as Jon and my family and friends are, and as much as I love them and depend on them, if I had to make a choice between them and Jesus, I'd choose Jesus. I'll never have to make that choice, but I know who I would choose if pressed to do so. Why? Jesus is the only one who can forgive me of my sins. He's the only one who is always present in my life -- every second of every day. And Jesus is the only one who can assure me of eternity in heaven.
I pray that each of you have a blessed 2012. I pray that you will each have a personal relationship with Jesus and know the peace such a relationship brings. And I pray that whatever this coming year has in store for you, you will keep your focus on Jesus and allow Him to guide your steps and you rest in His arms.
I read an interesting story recently that included a group of men who were terrified to visit with Death because of what he might tell them. The implication was that he might tell them how they would die.
If we knew we would die in our sleep, wouldn't we be scared to go to sleep? If we knew we'd die of some disease, wouldn't we give up the first time we are sick for more than a couple days? And if we knew we'd die in a car, wouldn't we be scared to ride in one? And what if we knew we'd live to be 100? Would we live recklessly?
It might be good to know exactly how much to save for retirement. But either way I'm glad I don't know. I'll try to live each day like I don't have much time left, but I'll try to be prepared for a long retirement, too.
1 cup popcorn (un-popped) -- I'm guessing that's approx. 12 cups popped
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 stick butter
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Pop corn and put in a large bowl; remove all hard tacks. (I used plain microwave popcorn and popped 3-4 of the large bags.) Mix all other ingredients, except baking soda, and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and put baking soda in; stir while foaming. Pour over popcorn; stir well to coat. Spread in a large baking pan and bake at 200 for 1 hour. Stir occasionally. Store in an airtight container.
**My sister told me that she puts half the cooked popcorn into a large brown paper bag, pours half the caramel mixture over it, then puts the rest of the popcorn into the bag and pours the remaining caramel mixture over the top. Roll down the top of the bag and shake it well to coat the popcorn. You do need to be prepared and do this quickly because the caramel mixture is thick and sets fast. I also tried putting all the popcorn on one baking sheet and it was heaped up and hard to manage. Next time I will use two baking sheets and use both oven racks to cook it. You can also add peauts to it if you'd like.
I made some before Christmas and Jon and I liked snacking on it while watching TV. It is really good!!
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
We love you!
Loretta & Jon