How does it feel when a significant part of your life changes?
Your life was all together.
It made sense, at least to some degree.
A huge chunk is gone,
or you have something new to fit in where there’s no room.
The change may be desirable or undesirable,
intended or one you would have done anything to avoid.
In any case, major changes disturb the layout of our lives.
How do we cope?
I used to picture this situation like attempting to replace a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
But I soon realized the jigsaw perspective isn’t the best.
Can we ever find another piece that fits exactly like the one that went missing,
whether it’s a relationship, position, valued item, or opportunity?
Even if we found a piece the right shape,
wouldn’t it be printed with a different picture?
And if we are given a new piece, how can we ever fit it in?
Yet, that’s what we wish and hunt for, isn’t it?
To get things back to “the way they should be”?
We try to force new relationships into being just like the old.
This puts undue pressure and unrealistic expectations on the new.
That’s how I responded after fire damaged our house.
Others thought I should be happy to have new kitchen cabinets,
but I liked the old-fashioned old ones.
The pain couldn’t be resolved until I said goodbye to what had been
so that I could welcome something else.
But not the same.
As long as we insist inwardly on having it "the way it was,"
we face one disappointment after another.
We end up filling our empty space with discouragement,
If we’ve lived very long,
we’ve seen people respond to loss in all those ways,
even if we haven’t ourselves.
And whether we observed or experienced it,
we know it is not a happy life.
Perhaps the first step is rejecting the jigsaw theory.
Whether we like it or not,
to heal and regain our balance in life,
we must accept the fact that our lives will never be quite the same.
But we know what happens if we stop there,
stuck in the awareness of our endless loss.
We also need hope
that as we trust God,
He will enable us to take the next steps,
steps that will move us beyond our pain to a new kind of joy.
But, more about that next week.
Until then, you might like to read Psalm 46.
Here are a few of the verses.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging. . . .
Be still, and know that I am God;
Psalm 46:1-3 and 10 NIV
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In the past year I’ve had several “heavy experiences.”
“Heavy experiences?” you ask. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
Well, let’s look at the experiences of our lives.
They come in all sizes, weighed according to the impact they have on us.
How much do they change our course?
How much do they alter our view of the world,
what we believe we can expect from life?
How much do they change how we view ourselves, how we define ourselves,
our lives, our dreams?
“Light” experiences don’t quickly throw us off-balance.
They are small enough that they don’t immediately challenge our core beliefs,
our life expectations,
our definitions of what is normal.
Yet even “light” experiences become heavy as they accumulate over time
or if they gradually lead us in a different direction.
But those are not the ones we’re considering right now.
I visualize life as a balance system, like a balance scale.
Now those are ones that immediately change our lives
by adding or taking something weighty.
Gaining, losing, or changing a position or job.
Great material loss or gain.
Any experience that greatly challenges the way we define ourselves,
Heavy experiences may be predominating positive,
like the family camp we enjoyed last summer.
We brought together for two weeks our nineteen person family
of children and grandchildren.
Fun, but intense.
Filled with revelations,
not only of others but of myself.
Some self discoveries I liked,
others I did not.
Maybe I’ll share more of that another time.
But heavy experiences can also be predominantly negative,
like the unexpected death of my mother last fall,
and, soon after, the death of my sister-in-law.
In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing
how my perception of “heavy experiences” has changed
and what I'm l learning about I how I need to deal with them.
In the mean time, think about your experiences.
Begin to label them.
Light or heavy, or something in between.
Until next time you might want to consider the following verse, Psalm 62:8 NIV.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.
Did I hear one of you say, "What does this have to do with novels?"
What are novels but accounts of experiences, heavy and light,
that change the direction of characters' lives?
Remember Mother’s Day at church when I was a little girl about four?
I walked up the steps in front of you
stopping before the smiling lady with a basket of red and white flowers.
“There is an old tradition of wearing red or white carnations
to honor our mothers on Mother’s day:
wearing red if our mother is living;
white if she is not.
Is your mother living, honey, or has she passed on?
I looked up at you standing behind me,
a gentle expression of love on your face.
I turned back to the lady and smiled.
But as I reached into the basket and selected a red flower,
a tiny bit of terror lurked in the back corner of my heart.
I stood very still
while you pinned my bright red carnation to the shoulder of my dress.
During the service I looked around,
noticing who wore red flowers and who had white ones.
I bent to sniff the spiciness of the carnation
and carefully fingered its soft petals.
Then I reached out and caressed your familiar hand,
thankful for my mother,
that you were still alive.
In those early years,
nothing seemed darker,
than being without a mother.
But as time went on and I grew less dependent,
the horror of being left alone dimmed.
I was big enough to move away from you,
to take care of myself,
and later to marry and become a mother,
caring for children of my own.
But you always remained precious to me.
Others listen to my tales of joy and woe,
and I find contentment in their attention,
but no one has ever had a deeper interest in my life,
a more genuine concern for my welfare than you.
if we were to pass out flowers in our little church,
I would take my first white carnation.
The sign of loss.
I wonder if I would cry
or bravely hold back the tears.
Writing here in the privacy of my home,
it is safe to feel the loss,
the emptiness you left behind.
To think again of the debt I owe you.
To be thankful for the loving imprint you made upon my life.
This year I understand more
about the people who must wear the white carnation.
So I have written this for them, too.
For all of us who have that empty place of honor
that no one else can fill.
We take the white carnation and say,
“Mommy, I still love you.”
Written on May 7, 2013 by Arlene Ussery
Dedicated to my sister and brother, my niece and nephew
who also, this year, first take the white carnation
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When I was walking down the hall in an assisted care facility
after visiting a friend,
I saw a large photograph of a darling baby on one of the doors.
She was SO cute I had to stop and look up close.
A little note was posted at the bottom that read:
“X’s great, great, granddaughter.” Wow, I keep thinking how far I’ve come in life,
I thought, but I still have a
long way to go before my oldest granddaughter has a grandchild! What will our world be like by then?
As I drove to the corner toward home,
I thought about the coming 75th anniversary of our little church. What would those founders think if they could see all the changes that have taken place since they began ministering to the children on the east side?
At that moment, I felt as if I were standing on a point in time,
realizing the certainty of change.
Some good, but others not so good.
From that spot,
looking at the uncertainty, the flexibility of life,
I found great security in looking upward,
at God, the Sovereign Lord and Creator of the universe.
Although the world around me is always changing,
God never changes.
Values and standards of the world change,
but God’s do not.
People who have been close to me
have moved out of my life for many varied reasons,
but God will always be there for me.
I used to feel fairly certain about how things would turn out,
but now, outcomes seem more uncertain.
What if I didn’t know the Lord?
What if I couldn’t cling to Him?
How would I feel about the future?
What about you?
Maybe you’re thinking,
I need to know God better.
That’s true of all of us.
Here are a few suggestions.
Start talking to God in whatever way is comfortable for you.
Tell Him you want Him to help you understand Him better,
that you want to understand Him as He really is.
Second, start reading the Bible,
and as you read, look for God,
take note of what He’s like.
To start, you might like to read Psalm 139.
This third suggestion is far, far less important,
but since it relates to the calling God has given to me personally,
I’ll mention it.
Many readers have benefited from seeing God in action in my two novels,
Hannah’s Promise and Transformed in Bethany.
In fact, if you’re one of these readers,
it might be beneficial to others to know about your experience.
Click on COMMENTS to the left of the title to make your remarks.
In these challenging, changing times,
I’m praying that each of you will encounter the Lord in new ways
as you reach out to Him.
Recently I had two epiphanies,
ordinary events that gave me sudden insight into life.
In recent weeks my husband and I have been working diligently
getting things ready for a family gathering this summer.
We’re attacking jobs that needed to be done for a long time,
but—well, you know how it is.
At least most of you do.
During this time, I’ve also been pushing to meet some ambitious writing goals.
One morning my husband threw me off-schedule
by tempting me to let go of my writing plan for the day
in order to join him with a big cleaning project.
“Well, that was different,”
I said to myself that night as I was winding down.
“For a change, I’ve just been living all day long.”
This thought startled me.
What did I think I'd been doing the rest of the time?
Wasn’t I pursing goals that were very important to me?
Wasn’t that living?
But this day had been a break from following my plans.
It felt like drifting along on a raft
watching the clouds above me,
dragging my hand over the edge
feeling the gentle washing of the cool water,
hearing the murmur music of the river.
Totally unconscious of time.
Being isolated completely in the present moment.
Then, this past week as I was cleaning (Again!),
I ran across items I’d used when working to improve my Spanish.
“Well,” I said to myself, as I sorted through them,
“how many hours of your life are you throwing out?”
I recalled the time I'd invested, the concentrated effort, the self-disipline.
How had all that work benefitted me?
If I judged by how much I’d used my skills, perhaps not a lot.
Yet, I wondered, had the process itself enrich me?
I’d enjoyed it.
Surely it’d been good exercise for my brain.
"But let this remind you," I told myself,
“to be careful that when you’re preparing to live
you never let preparation rob you of living.”
So, how have these insights affected me?
I still set goals to help me accomplish my purposes in life.
I still strongly agree with Stephen Covey about putting first things first.
But now, in the midst of the process of reaching my goals,
I intentionally focus on enjoying the process more.
Who knows if I’ll ever reach the goal?
Besides, although it is very nice,
it’s not when I stand joyfully looking back on a finished project that I feel like I’m “living.”
That’s the satisfaction of achievement.
I experience “living” only when I’m truly immersed in the process.
That’s funny, isn’t it?
So, I’m working at becoming more attentive to experiencing the moment.
I focus intentionally on the beautiful things I see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.
My goal may be preparing a treat for my family.
But, in the process, I live.
Feeling the strawberry’s seedy skin on my fingers,
it wetness as I slice it.
Observing the release of its fragrance.
Relishing the taste and feel in my mouth.
Second, I focus on savoring everyday interactions with those I love.
Really noticing them.
Their words and actions that make me smile.
The movements that characterize them.
The pleasure of learning how to relate to them in more satisfying ways.
How do they sound to you?
Might practicing them give you a stronger sense of being alive?
Make comments by clicking on COMMENT next to the title.
Is God moving?
Not like moving away to a new location exactly,
but coming closer to us,
touching us with a new awareness of our need for Him?
In the last few weeks I heard of several instances where people,
who at one time had pretty much ignored God,
are now reaching out for Him, seeking Him,
giving Him a chance to interact with them.
Some are experimental in their approach,
waiting to see what will happen by a certain time before deciding
whether they’ll continue in their pursuit.
Others who used to depend on themselves to prosper
have been humbled by their inability to "make things happen.”
Perhaps they cried out to God.
(If you don’t know the importance of that action,
check out the 4-26-2012 blog, "Have You Reached the End of Your Rope?" )
I don’t know exactly how it happened with them,
but when doors that had been firmly stuck swung open,
they saw this shift as the clear intervention of God on their behalf.
In response, they’ve begun setting aside time each week to honor God,
to give Him the homage they now believe is His due
Maybe they’re reaching out in other ways as well; I don’t know.
How does this story from real life affect you?
I feel a stir of excitement
--like Hannah did in Hannah’s Promise and the sequel, Joel’s Wife--
when she saw the hearts of the people of Israel change.
They’d ignored God,
certain they had better ways of getting what they wanted from life.
Then devastation brought them to their knees,
and there on their knees before God,
they were overwhelmed with an awareness of the awesomeness of God.
They realized, in a very deep way, just how much they needed Him.
Witnessing this same reaction in modern USA is especially impressive to me.
These Americans I told you about chose to search for God in the church,
but I doubt theirs was a“religious” response.
They need more than the teaching and rituals of the church.
The whole world, as they know it, is shaking.
The things they depended on no longer work.
To survive, they need a vital connection with God Himself.
But they aren’t approaching Him, as so many have done in recent years,
demanding what they feel is their right,
what they think God owes them.
Instead, they’re bowed with shame for the way they’ve shunned God,
treated Him as insignificant,
denied Him the gratitude He deserved
for the unearned blessings He lavished on them.
What about us?
Have we already felt God moving?
If not, let’s examine our hearts.
Do we want an encounter with Him
for the first time, or again?
Are we, too, ready to bow?
If we still feel a stubborn independence inside,
are we willing to ask God to change us
so that we, too, can seek Him more earnestly?
“Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.” Hebrews 3:15
Do you have something on your heart you want to share?
Respond by pressing the COMMENT tab to the right of the title.
Have you ever felt
as if you’re hemmed in by a part of yourself?
You realize this “something”
is standing in the way of your growth as a person
and your freedom to really become who you were meant to be.
Maybe you've attempted,
time and again to push it away,
but it stubbornly refuses to move,
as if it were firmly stuck in hardened cement.
In the past week, I’ve been working on polishing Joel’s Wife.
At one point, Jerusha (Joel’s wife) speaks to Hannah,
“But,” she looked up at Hannah sadly,
“the fear . . . is still there.
Do you think there’s hope of it ever going away?”
Hannah smiled. “There’s always hope.
But sometimes fears remain until we’re willing to face them head on.
I don’t think either worrying about it
or trying to force yourself to stop being afraid will do much good.
The best thing, I think,
is to talk honestly to God about your concerns.
Listen to what He has to say.”
Jerusha’s situation seems to fit so many of us.
It may not be fear.
It could be lack of self-control.
But might the solution be the same?
That solution, Hannah tells Jerusha,
will not come by worrying about it,
or even by trying to force ourselves to change
Instead, we must be willing
to face our problem head on with the help of God.
The Lord is our hope, Hannah says.
He understands our deepest heart,
the core part of our being that is hidden even to ourselves.
He understands how we were formed,
not just physically, but emotionally, and spiritually.
Maybe you are really tired of being confined by self-obstruction.
You’ve tried to force yourself to be different
and have found it doesn’t work.
If so, you may want to try Hannah’s suggestion.
“The best thing, I think, is to talk honestly to God about your concerns.
Listen to what He has to say.”
How exactly does this work?
The first key is to require ourselves
to speak the absolute truth as completely as we know it.
The second is to take time to listen for God’s response.
A couple days ago,
I began doing this with another issue in my life.
What about you?
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since they may have been posted after you last visited this blog.
“I really liked your book,” an unknown woman said behind me
as I dried my hands in the ladies’ room.
“I can’t pick just two things to practice from your speech,”
said an attendee as I walked out of the conference room, “It was all so good!”
"I'll never forget you as long as I live!” said a young man,
“You said things I really needed to hear.”
These are a few of the “treasures” I brought home a few weeks ago
from the CMTA Impact Convention in Pasadena.
Then after my last blog, I also received comments.
Some, you can see in the April 26 post.
Others, here below, are from email responses.
A hard-working city servant was truly "at the end of her rope”
when the blog came and encouraged her.
Another person has applied insights from the stress workshop
and has found peace in a very stressful situation.
Then a barren woman who read Hannah’s
Promise almost a year ago
recounted how that story healed her pain--
and now she is five and a half months pregnant!
Appreciative words. (Can you see me smile?)
Exactly what I need to motivate me to put in long hours alone
to produce the next novel and the first devotional study guide.
Appreciative words are true treasure for a novelist, a speaker—
and for anyone else.
Appreciation refreshes the heart like cool water in a desert.
How long has it been since someone expressed appreciation for you?
How did it affect you?
Did you let it sink in so that it could feed the roots of your soul?
I hope so.
How long has it been since you expressed appreciation to another?
Do you make it a habit of letting people know you noted their kindness,
that you value their efforts to make your life more pleasant?
Many times we don’t take the time to think
about how much the contributions of others enhance our lives.
But what if we did?
Would being more thankful add joy to our own lives?
Might gratitude make us more pleasant to be around?
And if we took time to express our appreciation,
how would it benefit those whom we encourage?
Could our words be the dew that puts sparkle back into their eyes,
the shower that lifts drooping shoulders?
Let’s do the world a favor,
ourselves as well.
Just for today, let’s liberally voice our joy at others’ kindnesses to us.
Let’s note how it affect us, how it affects that person, how it affects our environment.
Then, sometime when we have a quiet moment today—
driving, dressing, walking, bathing, or preparing a meal--
let’s think back to someone whose kindness made a lasting impression on us.
What would happen
if we found a way to express our appreciation to them—
or to those close to them, if they are no longer with us?
Could drawing attention to their contribution reactive its power to bless?
Most of all, let’s habitually thank God for those who encourage us
for all those He uses to lift our spirits from day to day.
P.S. And don’t forget—Sunday is Mother’s Day! (At least in the USA)
“Yes, I have!” you say?
Well, good for you!
That’s where we become willing to make hard choices,
where we finally decide
to do something to change our situation.
Another word for this place is crisis,
the place where a turn must be made,
or for worse.
“But wait!” you say,
“I certainly don’t need something worse!”
At this point we become willing to listen.
Three times in scripture we're told,
"God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.” 1
What does it mean to be humble?
It means that we are well aware of our limitations.
We realize that we are not God
and that we desperately need Him.
Our panic breaks down the barriers of pride and self-sufficiency
so that we cry out for help,
hollering like a desperate child.
In mid-April I taught two workshops at the CMTA Convention in Pasadena:
Secrets to Thriving in a Stressful World
and Strategy for Saving Our Society.
The classes’ engagement and affirming responses encouraged me,
but attention and agreement will not be enough to change their lives--
either by helping them deal more effectively with stress
or by increasing their impact on society.
Which attendees will benefit deeply from what they heard?
The ones who have truly reached the end of their rope,
the ones who say,
“I’ve had enough!
I’m going to do whatever it takes
to improve my life
(or my society)!
What about you?
If you still believe you can do it yourself,
God will let you do it your way.
But what if you’re ready to cry out to God?
If so, you can be sure God will give you grace,
both the desire and the ability to do His will.
With God’s grace at work in you,
He’ll guide you in the way that will set you free
to be the person He meant you to be.
The Lord will give you strength to follow His plan,
enabling you to take one step at a time
toward living your life to the full.2
If you would like to see what this kind of desperation looks like,
you might like to read my novels--
Hannah’s Promise and Transformed in Bethany.
In these books many readers have found timeless treasures,
insights that shine wisdom into their own life situations.
Feel free to make comments on this blog for public reading
by pressing COMMENT near the title of this article
or, to make a personal comment,
go to the CONTACT tab at the top of the blog page.
1 Proverbs 3:34, 1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6
2 John 10:10
In mid-October I hosted a luncheon
to connect with leaders in the LA area.
We had a great time.
It was affirming to see their attentive receptiveness
to the message the Lord has given me
about the transforming power of stories.
(Of course, I was delighted, too,
that each of those who had never read my novels
purchased both my books.
Nothing convinces people of their value like reading them!)
About two weeks after the event,
I contacted one attendee, a chaplain from a large medical group.
He hadn’t had a chance to start reading either of the books,
but he was excited to tell me what happened
in several instances where the Lord prompted him to tell stories,
reminding him of what I had said about their exceptional power.
“Since the luncheon,” he said,
I encountered three separate men in emergency
who were extremely angry, highly violent.
One even threw urine at the nurse.
All three had to be restrained and the police called.
When I entered the room, I asked,
‘Can I tell you a story?’
In all three situations, the men were willing to listen.
“I told them a story I usually pass out in printed form,
a story I found on the internet in 2005.
‘A Native American grandfather once told his two grandchildren a story.
“There are two wolves fighting inside you,” he said.
“One is kind and cares about others. The other is hateful and violent.”
One of the children asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”
“The one you feed,” he answered.’
“After hearing the story,
all three men became calm
and were able to have their restraints removed,”
the chaplain told me.
What would happen if all of us used stories more often,
I would appreciate your prayers
as I endeavor to share what the Lord has been teaching me
about this underused key in changing lives.
If you know of a group who would be interested
in having me come to speak about this,
contact me at the tab at the top of this page.
In the mean time, follow Jesus’ example and tell stories!
"Jesus . . . never said anything to them without using a story.”
Matthew 13:34 (Ussery Paraphrase)
If you never read my first blog posted on 8-14-2010,
NOVELS: TRASH OR TREASURE,
you might want to check it out.
I hope you enjoy my blogs!
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