Archives for : Hope for the Journey

Abundant Life: Possibility? or Pipe Dream?

Abundant Life: Possibility? or Pipe Dream?   By Sharon Sheppard

Probably most people yearn for the Good Life. And for each of us, this might mean something different. Some long for popularity and acceptance. For others, “Success” is the ultimate goal. Many aspire to wealth, while a homeless person might settle for just a roof over his head.

Finding the “right” life partner is high on the list of many—maybe most. We dream of being adored, swept off our feet, and ultimately marrying that one “perfect” person.

Still others thrive on adventure—new and different experiences, preferably in exotic locations—without ever giving a thought to “settling down.”

The Bible has some interesting things to say about The Good Life.  I call this passage in the Book of Philippians The Secret to Happiness:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! . . .Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

A similar passage in 1 Thessalonians (5:16-18) urges us to “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

By the sound of these verses, we can choose to rejoice and be thankful (even when things might not be going so well). We can choose to keep in close touch with the God who created us, and He has invited us to “draw near to Him.” He longs to have fellowship with us, and He has promised that if we draw near to him (by thanking Him, confiding in Him, asking Him for what we need) He will draw near to us.

If we don’t feel close to God, we can be pretty sure that He isn’t the one who moved. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and that you might have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Talk about a Good Life! It’s available to us for the asking, and it doesn’t get much better than that!

A Look at Lent

Lent . . . should it be a time of fasting or feasting?

Lent is a 40-day period of time (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter, the day more accurately known among Christians as Resurrection Sunday.

A reflection on Lent, by Sharon Sheppard

Though the word lent is not found in the Bible, observance of this period of time leading up to Easter/Resurrection Sunday can take many different forms. Christians from a broad spectrum of denominations, ranging from Catholic and Orthodox to mainline and evangelical denominations.

For some, it is a somber time of fasting and self-denial. A time of introspection and repentance.

Some use it as a time to meditate on the sufferings of Jesus Christ when He went to the cross to sacrifice Himself to pay for our sins. This can bring a new appreciation for what

Others make light of it, and it becomes a joke. A non-golfer might say he is giving up golf for lent. Or a college student might say she is giving up studying for lent.

For still others, it may be marked by an emphasis on doing good deeds, hoping to earn points they hope will help them make it to heaven.

Since Lent isn’t mentioned in the Bible, it would seem we can’t go wrong by choosing one of God’s principles and devoting 40 days to cultivating one of those that we might not be practicing on a regular basis:

Love one another. Jn 13:34 or James 4:8  (Is there someone you’re having trouble loving that you need to show kindness to?)

Draw near to me and I will draw near to you. James 4:8 (Are you spending at least as much time daily time in fellowship with God as you do online?)

Godliness with contentment is great gain. Heb 13:5(Do you catch yourself complaining: about the weather, politics, the high cost of living?)

Give to the poor. Prov 22:9 (Is there someone you know who is deeply hurting financially that you could help?)

But in any case, it is probably best observed by

What Does it Take?

What Does It Take to Build A Marriage That Goes the Distance? By Sharon Sheppard

            With attitudes toward marriage shifting and divorce rates soaring, it’s refreshing to take an occasional look at some marriages that have stood the test of time. Here is one of my favorite true stories about couples I have known.

            My sister-in-law, Marlene Moser, made frequent trips to check on her parents, Bob and Doris Coulter (Pine River, MN) after they moved into an assisted living apartment. The couple had been married for seventy-plus years, and now both of them were rapidly declining in health. Marlene, who has a gift for interior decorating, had arranged their cozy living quarters, and placed a small table between their two recliners to hold their coffee cups while they watched TV together.      

            The next time Marlene stopped in, she noticed that they had moved the little table to a different spot.

            “You have a new arrangement,” she commented.

            “Yes,” her mother said, “it’s too hard for us to hold hands with that table between our chairs.”

            As in any marriage, life had not always been easy for the Coulters, and during those years the two of them had weathered plenty of difficult times. There were anxious years while Bob was away fighting in the Philippines during World War II. They lost a daughter to cancer and shared other heartaches along the way. But their faith in the Lord remained firm, and their tender commitment to each other was unshakable.

            Several years ago, as I was working on an article on marriage for the Baptist Standard, I went to the experts for advice—couples who had been married 35 years or more. “What’s your best advice for achieving a love that goes the distance?” I asked.

            Over coffee and dessert, the panel pooled their combined 270 years of marriage experience to come up with their top ten tips:

  • Recognize and celebrate your differences.
  • Be quick to apologize.
  • Treat each other with respect.
  • Handle each other’s shortcomings with sensitivity.
  • Don’t expect your spouse to be able to read your mind.
  • Learn to communicate by becoming transparent with each other.
  • Learn to fight fair.
  • Keep your romance alive.
  • Become an expert at knowing what makes the other person happy.
  • Nurture your faith as a couple.

            Marriage was God’s idea in the first place. Inviting Him to be a full partner in a couple’s  marriage journey can make all the difference between a contentious relationship and one where differences can be resolved peaceably.

            From 1 Corinthians, here is some of God’s best marriage advice:

            Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. . . If you really love someone you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.

            There are three things that remain—faith, hope and love—and the greatest of these is love.

            1 Cor. 13: 4-7, 13 (TLB)

Christmas Gifts that Matter

Christmas Gifts that Matter . . .

Each year many of us say to ourselves, NEXT year I’m going to make it a point to give more meaningful Christmas gifts.  NEXT year we’ll spend less on ourselves—since we really don’t need anything–and remember those who actually are needy.

Here are a few ways you can do this:

Locally:

  • Go online and type in Angel Tree – Prison Fellowship to see how you can donate online. OR if your church or other organization has an Angel Tree, you can pick a tag off the tree that gives the name and age of a child whose incarcerated parent has signed up for the program. The tag will give you some suggestions for a gift you can buy for a child who has a parent serving time in the correctional system.
  • Go online and type in Angel Tree – Salvation Army for making a donation to a similar program that serves needy children whose parents are not necessarily incarcerated.
  • Visit someone you know in a nursing home. OR if you don’t personally know anyone, call a nursing home and ask for the name of someone who gets few (if any) visitors. You might bring a small gift of homemade cookies or a CD or another thoughtful gift. If you have young children or grandchildren who might be willing to sing or tell jokes or play a musical instrument, bring them along.
  • Go food shopping and bring bags of groceries to your local food bank.
  • Volunteer to help serve Christmas dinner at the Salvation Army or other mission facility, or make a donation toward feeding the homeless and other needy people. OR invite an extra person (or 2 or 3) into your own home for a Christmas meal with you—someone who might otherwise be alone for the holidays.

Globally:

  • Go online and type in Samaritan’s Purse – Disaster Relief. This organization provides food, emergency shelter, medicine, and other practical help to bring relief from poverty, war, and natural disasters both in the U.S. and abroad.
  • Check out World Vision online to see how you can sponsor a child or make a donation toward needs worldwide.

Or broaden your own vision by putting up your antennae and looking around you to see who could use some time or attention or physical or financial help from you. You will be doubly blessed, and you’ll ask yourself, “Why haven’t I done this before now?”

by Sharon Sheppard

Gratitude

     Unhappy is the man, though he rule the world who doesn’t consider himself supremely blest.                                                                                                                                                                                             ~ Seneca

 

In November, more than any other month, our hearts turn toward thankfulness. Thanksgiving, always the third Thursday of the month, causes us to pause at least momentarily and offer gratitude for all our blessings. Yet, as I write, it seems like a more thankless and threatening time in our world is happening. Pipe bombs are being sent to prominent politicians, multiple fatalities have occurred on an attack in a Pittsburgh Synagogue, where a house of worship ought to be a refuge. Democrats and republicans are undermining each other across the aisle with lies and deception to stay on top of their game and be the winner. This hate and evil causes me to ponder, and question, where is the love of God being shown in our world?   I am reminded of a recent lesson I experienced at the supermarket in the check- out line. We were held up for a price check…and it was my price check that was holding things up! When I apologized, the man behind me said, “I am in no hurry! You just take your time. I’m so happy to be alive at 87 that when the good Lord is ready to take me home, I have faith in Jesus that I will arrive safely.”

 

Wow! I was immediately filled with hope in mankind. That elderly gentleman had his sights set on things to come, what the Bible says; on things above. While living in the now, his thoughts were on a future home. Thoughts of all the great and glorious blessings of living with his Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ forever. This way of living, granted him a perspective of faith, hope and love; that seems neglected or for sure negligent in our society. It would behoove me and possibly you, to choose this month of November, to dwell on things above, and pray for those who don’t!  A thankful heart will be your reward!

 

 

              Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Above all, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule your heart, since you were called to peace.  And be thankful. Sing songs of praise with gratitude in your hearts giving thanks to God the Father forever and ever, amen.                  (A paraphrase from Colossians chapter3)
Mary Zigan

 

October Brings Nostalgia for all Things Warm and Cozy

October brings nostalgia for all things warm and cozy. And though most of us are far removed from hunting and gathering in the old sense of living off whatever we could produce on our own land, as the days get shorter and darkness closes in earlier, there seems to be a natural sense of wanting to gather in.

We love the idea of warmth, security, and belonging. All of us long to be cherished by someone.

Some people are fortunate enough to be part of a loving family. Others are blessed with many friends.

Yet others feel unloved and are very much alone.

No matter what your situation might be at this point in your life, there is One who loves you very much.

  • The Bible paints a wonderful picture of “a Friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24, NIV) –the kind of friend we would all love to have!

 

  • Another passage says “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, NIV). We may not know a single person who would take a bullet for us.

 

  • But the Bible’s most famous verse of all says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)

 

So even if you’re feeling a bit lonely during these short days and long nights, remember: You have a Friend in high places–Someone who would love to make friends with you!

Sharon Sheppard

 

It’s a New Season

It’s a New Season, A Perfect Time to Do Something New, Something Bold, Something Beautiful . . .

By Sharon Sheppard  –  When I read the above motto recently, I asked myself this question: What will I wish I had done when my time on earth comes to an end?

As part of my Christmas gift to my five grandsons a couple of years back, I gave each of them a small collection of stories I had written about my growing up years in Backus, Minnesota (population: 350). My childhood experiences were vastly different from theirs, and soon they began asking to hear “Grandpa stories.”

To commemorate the ten-year anniversary of my husband’s death recently, my family gathered for an evening of sharing some of those “Grandpa stories.” Some of the stories the boys had heard before and wanted to hear again. Others were new to them. It was an evening filled with fun and laughter as we recounted some of the new, bold, and even beautiful things their Grandpa had done.

At the end of our time together, I asked my son and daughter if they would share with their boys one thing they had learned from their dad that had been particularly helpful to them as adults. My son and daughter each gave a beautiful, off-the-cuff tribute to their dad.

Our daughter said one of the most important things she learned from him came from the way he taught and modeled integrity: “Be honest in all of your dealings,” he urged. “Don’t cheat on your income taxes. Do the right thing.”

Our son said his dad not only taught him how to do many things, but he also instilled in him the idea that he could do whatever he set his mind to do. He gave him the sense that all things are possible.

I sent each of them home with laminated copies of two of my favorite articles from their grandpa’s eight-year collection of columns he had written for the St. Cloud Times. One, called “What Today Will Live on Tomorrow?” encouraged readers to think about what they would most like to be remembered for: A bold challenge that should cause all of us to think.

As we shift gears from summer into fall, it’s a good time to ask ourselves, “What new or bold or beautiful things should I be doing?” And ultimately, what things will matter most in the end?

Jesus asked His disciples this provocative question: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

(Matthew 16:26 NIV)

 

 

 

Learning to be Good

A number of years ago, this precious friend shared her personal story with me, and we worked on this article together.  Learning to Be Good is a true account of her troubled early life and how eventually she found peace with God. She has given me permission to share this story.

 LEARNING TO BE GOOD . . .By Patrice Carlson (Not her real name)

The familiar smell of booze hung heavy in the air of our tiny second-floor apartment.  I was three-and-a-half years old and hungry, but Mama was gone again, and I didn’t know when she would return.

My two-year-old sister and I scrounged through the empty metal breadbox, hoping to find a crust or a cracker to tide us over.  Eventually our mother showed up with yet another man we’d never seen, and she sent us out to play.

Once in a while she gave each of us a couple of pennies to go to the store for candy.  One day the store owner took me into the back room and sexually molested me.  He said he’d bring a dime to my house if I promised not to tell.  I learned to keep secrets at an early age.  But the experience made an indelible impression on me, and even today, when I occasionally see a man who resembles that child-molester, I remember what he did to me in the back room of the candy store.

When my relatives decided our mother could no longer care for us, the shuttle from one house to another began.  Sometimes my sister and I were placed in the same home, and sometimes not.

For a while we lived with my brawling father.  As he dropped us off at yet another home, he’d warn, “Behave yourselves, or they won’t take care of you.”

Finally our Aunt Mamie took my sister, but she didn’t want me.  I went to Aunt Opal’s, but they already had two children and another on the way.  Her husband Sam didn’t want me, and they couldn’t afford to keep one more child.  With each move I felt that I’d failed the test.  I hadn’t been good enough.

I attended kindergarten at a Catholic parochial school.  I’ll never forget a drawing I made in class one day.  Because I didn’t think I had done a good enough job, when the nun passed back our papers, I pretended it didn’t belong to me.  She insisted on giving it back to me, but I stubbornly refused to take ownership.  It wasn’t good enough.

Just before my sixth birthday, my relatives had a little family party for me.  I didn’t realize it was really a goodbye party.

A couple of days later, on my birthday, I was taken to church.  There a woman looked me over, then nodded.  At the end of the service, she took me home with her to the house that would become my home until I grew up.

Things changed drastically for me from that day on.  For the first time ever, I sat down to regular meals.  For the first time I had my own bed to sleep in.  Life should have been wonderful now that I didn’t have to forage for food or sleep on a park bench, but it wasn’t.

I saw my birth mother only once after this.  She stopped by the following year to leave a gift for my seventh birthday.  She was a stranger to me by then, and after she left I opened the package to find a pair of silky pajamas.

“Throw it away!” my foster mother exclaimed.  “We don’t want anything she has touched.”

On the outside, we looked like the perfect family as we sat in the pew each Sunday, well dressed and pretending to be happy.  I felt sure everyone was thinking, “What a wonderful couple they are to take in an orphan!”  But at home it quickly became clear that this childless couple would never love me.

“You took her, you take care of her,” my new “father” yelled at my foster mother.  Tension hung in the air like smog, and I cringed as the sound of their loud arguments carried through the walls of my basement bedroom after I went to bed at night.

“Stop it!” I’d cry out, but neither of them listened to me.

In the novel, Anna Karenina, Tolstoy said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Neither my anxiety-ridden mother nor my uncaring father was equipped to give love to a lonely, sensitive child who had been rejected far too many times.  But my new family’s unhappiness became just another one of those secrets I never dared to share with anyone.

At least food was plentiful there, but as my insecurities mounted, I ate to try to feed the hunger in my soul.  By sixth grade, my weight had ballooned to 200 pounds.  At school, the other kids chanted, “Fatty, fatty, two-by-four, can’t get through the kitchen door…”  Clearly, Fatty Patty wasn’t good enough at school either.

In my alienation, I longed for love, but no one seemed to notice or care.  I had casual friendships in high school, but I never felt I truly belonged there, either.  I’d erected a wall to protect myself from the hurts that plagued me wherever I went.  I felt fractured in a place no one else could see, but there was nobody to confide in.

Always, I tried hard to be good, fearing that if I failed, I might once again land out on the streets.  I knew what it was like to sleep on a park bench, and I didn’t want to repeat the experience.

The issue of adoption never came up, and not until I was in high school did my parents ask whether I would like to take their last name.  But by this time the offer seemed pointless–too little, too late.  I felt bitter and angry.  “I’ve gotten along this far without it,” I replied.  “I don’t need it now.”

From early childhood, I longed to become a nurse when I grew up.  My foster parents thought I should be a secretary instead.  Once I’d graduated from high school, I never asked them for a dime, and they never offered to provide any financial assistance with my college tuition.  I attended Northwestern Bible College in Minneapolis for two years, and my parents charged me rent to stay at home while I worked myself through college.

During this time I met a man unlike any I had ever known.  He was kind and gentle, and I knew he was a gift from God.  I had never been kissed until I dated Dave.  He became the love of my life, and incredibly, he loved me for who I was.  But he, too, would be taken away from me for a time.  Six months after we married, he was drafted into the Army and shipped overseas.  While he was gone, I earned my nursing degree.

My new mother-in-law baked me a birthday cake—the first I’d ever had in my life.  She won my heart that day, with her unconditional acceptance of me.

My adult relationship with the people who raised me looked cordial on the outside, but remained inwardly strained.  Yet I felt bound to this couple by a golden thread.  They had taken me in when no one else wanted me, when I had no other place to go.  And even though they could never give me what I craved most, I knew I owed them a debt.

After our marriage, Dave and I went through the motions of including my parents in our family life.  I determined that our three daughters would never lack for physical affection, nor would they ever have to question whether they were truly loved.  I masked the scars from my unloving childhood, and, vowed that at least in this area of my life, I would work hard to be good enough.

My career as a nurse included 25 years of demanding, but mostly fulfilling, work at a nursing home.  During those busy years, I often took care of everyone’s needs but my own.  I had little time to process my troubled childhood, and sometimes I didn’t recognize what was normal and what was not.  I knew what I hated, but not what I liked.

One day at the nursing home, a patient physically assaulted me.  My supervisor asked why I didn’t defend myself.  I’d learned to survive, I told her, but I had also been taught to be good.  Always, even as an adult, I harbored the fear that if I wasn’t good, the consequences could be dire.

In the meantime, my foster father had died, and my aging foster mother became increasingly frail.  I invited her to live with us, but she staunchly insisted on staying in her own home, even as she approached her one hundredth birthday.  Always striving to be the good daughter, I called daily to check on her, and made multiple trips each week to take care of her lawn, help with the cleaning and grocery shopping, and run errands for her.  I continued to work at the nursing home, but, taxed by the growing demands of my mother, I felt constantly exhausted.

Finally, after she’d turned 100, I took my mother to the doctor, who confirmed my conclusion that, for both our sakes, she needed to be placed in a nursing home.  This decision triggered venomous accusations of betrayal.  She lashed out at me with an unprecedented barrage of name calling and verbal abuse for my having “put her into the home.”

One day when I came to visit her, she launched into a tirade of complaints about what an awful daughter I was.  She was so angry she almost hissed.  After she had called me the most terrible names, I gathered my courage and said, “It looks like you’re not very glad to see me today, so I’m leaving.”

For the first time ever I showed my back to her, but it was one of the most liberating things I have ever done.  I’d been running on empty for a long time, trying to meet the needs of my family, my patients, and my mother.  Now my years of loyalty to her seemed to count for nothing.

I returned to her nursing home room several days later.  It was a beautiful October day.  I wheeled her outside, and we basked in the warmth of the sun.  Something was different about her that day.  For the first time in a long time, she seemed at peace.  No more wrangling, no more friction.  A few days later, she died at the age of 101.

After her death, years of cumulative stress drained all my physical and emotional energy.  I began to wonder who I really was.  I felt that I’d never known.  Not until I retired from nursing a short while later did I finally feel free to search for my authentic self.

As I journaled and prayed and took time to rest and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, this journey opened new doors for me.  I reestablished contact with my long-estranged sister, and I met with some cousins I hadn’t seen since childhood.  I began exploring some of my long-dormant creative interests—gardening, painting, sewing, quilting—and found all of them restorative.

I had committed my life to Jesus Christ years earlier, and throughout my high school years I had clung tenaciously to Scriptures from the Gospel of John that speak of comfort and the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Now during this new chapter in my life, I had time to be quiet and absorb what God wanted to say to me.

Though scars remain, I have come to terms with many hurts of the past.  I’m blessed to be able to drink in God’s grace, and to extend forgiveness to those who hurt me.  I can now rejoice in the fact that in God’s eyes, because of His Son, not only am I good enough, I am the apple of His eye–loved unconditionally by the One who matters most.

“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”                                              Zephaniah 3:17

Give Me a Sign, Lord

 

 

GIVE ME A SIGN, LORD

 

By Paul Tschida

As told to Sharon Sheppard

 

I’d never known such pain as I experienced the day we stood at the grave of our 17-year-old son, Mark.

“Lord, give me a sign that he’s okay,” I prayed.

Four days earlier he’d been driving to school, obeying the traffic laws, when a gravel truck barreled through the intersection and plowed into his car, killing him instantly.

He was the kind of kid any parent would be proud of—clean-cut, hard working, an outdoorsman who loved to hunt and fish. Because of his strong, personal faith, I knew he was with the Lord, but still it hurt.

After the others had left the cemetery, my wife and I asked permission to stay for the burial.  Though I’ve never seen a goose fly alone, apart from a flock, as the casket was being lowered, a lone goose flew over the grave and honked.  Sportsman that he’d been, Mark would have loved it.

The next day one of Mark’s high school friends phoned: “Could we borrow Mark’s pickup truck?  We’re having group pictures taken for the yearbook today.  We thought it would be cool to have one shot of all of us standing by Mark’s truck.”

I drove the pickup into town, happy to oblige.  The senior class from his small-town high school grouped around Mark’s customized, chrome-piped truck.  When everyone was finally positioned, the shot perfectly composed, and the photographer poised to click, a lone goose flew over and honked.  The photographer and the whole class looked up, and every one of us knew something special had happened.

“Thank you, God,” I whispered.

 

 

Because He Lives

Because He Lives . . . I can face tomorrow    by Sharon Sheppard

The month of March can be somber, for many reasons.  It’s known for being wet, windy, and wintry in much of the country.  It also includes the Lenten season, when Christians of many denominations encourage their people to devote themselves to fasting, abstinence, and penitence.

So if you’re looking for fun, Lent is not nearly as festive as Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, when most of the world seems focused on merriment.  But because Lent reminds us to meditate on the suffering of Jesus as He hung on the cross to pay for our sins, it prepares us to gratefully celebrate Resurrection Sunday, the most joyful event in the history of the world.  Jesus died so I might live.

Following the recent death of Billy Graham, laudatory tributes were made by notable people from all around the world.  One of my favorites came from Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas, who said, in part:

When I heard this morning that Billy Graham had died, I said. “That’s fake news.  He’s more alive right now than he’s ever been.” And the fact is, that’s what he preached, that there is life beyond this one because of Jesus Christ, and his message never wavered from that.

When my husband, who was a columnist for the St. Cloud Times, was dying of cancer, he wrote this in one of his last columns:

I recently asked myself, “If this were to be my valedictory, what would I most like to say?” Just this: As I reflected on the resurrection of Jesus Christ during Holy Week, I was challenged anew by a most provocative question He posed during the days He walked on Earth: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

During my husband’s last weeks, the words of a hymn by Bill Gaither became one his favorite songs:

Because He lives I can face tomorrow;

Because He lives all fear is gone;

Because I know He holds the future,

Life is worth the living just because He lives.

 

Easter is not about bunnies and eggs, it’s about death and life.