The Joy of Overwhelming Tears

I can’t believe I cried. There I was: with a godly man whose character, confidence, humor, intelligence, and wisdom intrigued me. And to top it all off, he was cute.

But as I sat across the table from him on our dinner date, I cried.

Now one thing that many who are close to me know about me is that I have an excruciatingly tender heart. I am sentimental, easily touched, and have a disproportionate amount of empathy for others, and, you guessed it, when those emotions come flooding into my heart, the overflow is seen through the tears running down my cheeks. But on a date? (Perhaps that was a contributing factor as to why it was our one and only date, but that’s a whole ‘nother story that I hope won’t distract our focus from what matters in this one!)

What would make me cry so easily in such a setting? It was the fact that these were not tears of sorrow but tears that resulted from being overwhelmed by the goodness of God.

My date had graciously asked various questions about my life, and as I shared much of what had transpired during recent years following my “mandatory resignation,” which had led to many months with no significant income, I realized anew the amazing provisions from my almighty God!

After sharing a few of the ways that God had, in His unfailing faithfulness and because of His unconditional love, provided material things—things like groceries, clothing, gas money, and more—and had taught me invaluable lessons about His all-encompassing power, the tears of gratitude began to flow. I said to the compassionate man sitting across from me, “I’m sorry to cry, but He’s just been so amazing that I simply have to talk about Him!”

While reading from Psalm 30 this morning, I was reminded of this event and thought to myself: When was the last time my tears of thankfulness to God flowed this freely? When was the last time I could not keep silent? When was the last time my heart was overtaken by overwhelming joy?

I confess right here, right now that I have become distracted by that which is good but that even in its goodness turns my heart to the temporal rather than the eternal. And in the process, I, like the children of Israel who so often experienced—and just as often forgot—the blessings of God, have become “unaffected” by His incomparable mercy and grace.

So my public and private prayer today are one and the same: Lord, unclutter my heart that I might once again stand in awe of who You are in such a way that I cannot help but proclaim it by my words and by my life!

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One week from today, subscribers will be given the opportunity to take a brief five-question survey and be entered for the chance to win one of several very generous prizes, including books, jewelry from my new favorite store (The Vintage Pearl), and even gift cards! You can subscribe using the box in the right-hand column of this page. Just be sure to verify your subscription when the verification e-mail arrives (so that we know it was really you who subscribed).

The Summer Is Ended

My sweet eighty-three-year-old, visually impaired mother sat at her computer last night working diligently on what I thought was an e-mail. Instead, she came to me later and said, “I just finished a guest post for the blog, if you’d like to use it!” So today’s post, written by my mom, Lorraine, is a real-life lesson she recently learned from a few potted plants.

***

It was the end of May. My geraniums were sprouting some promising stems and leaves for another year of colorful and refreshing blooms for us to enjoy. Another pot, the clay one, containing a wandering Jew, was the one I wanted most of all to revive, but it didn’t have even a hint of anything appearing above the dirt.

I hung the geraniums from their hooks on the patio. The little clay pot with seemingly only dirt in it still showed no signs of bearing its hoped-for greenery. That wandering Jew began as part of one that my mother had hanging on her front porch. Before her, my grandmother had it hanging on a hook over her rock garden. But this past winter, instead of tending to my cherished plant, my husband’s medical needs took priority (which I wouldn’t trade for anything), and it took its toll on my plants.

As the summer progressed, I pampered that pot of dirt. One day I noticed a little green dot peeking through the soil! Believe me, that little “plant” was fertilized, watered, got the right amount of sunshine, and yes, was even talked to a bit. Soon a beautiful long, slender leaf of my long-awaited wandering Jew began to show.

I placed it outside my front door and tended it religiously. Each time a stem was long enough, I broke off the end and replanted it. The clay pot was soon filled with healthy green leaves. I rejoiced that it seemed as though each one I planted lived. Mother (and Grandma) would have been so proud to know that I still had her wandering Jew plant.

Jeremiah 8:20 states: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended” (KJV). As the month of October became the current month on the calendar, I began to look at the leaves more carefully. All too soon I realized that it was not a wandering Jew but a weed that was similar: with long, slender green leaves. I have impaired vision, so what I thought was a treasure worthy of my time was really a weed that should have been exterminated as soon as it began growing.

In my spiritual life, I wonder how many weeds—like things that bring personal gain or pleasure for a season—I have nurtured while I left the real treasures of heavenly things unattended. Daily time in God’s Word, faithful prayer, a positive testimony for Christ, a burden for the lost, and a loving and tender care for someone in need are the plants I should tend. They alone will bear eternal fruit for God’s glory.

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For those participating in Operation Optimize October, this week’s organization tip is:

Only keep complete sets unless the remaining part can serve a complete purpose on its own.

Though this tip seems like a “given” for those who are organizers, organizers are often very frugal (and wisely so). However, this quality can be a both a good thing and bad thing. The good part is obvious. The bad part is that frugal organizers tend to be “savers.” We (and please notice that I said “we”) save things “just in case” we might need them again in the future.

On the October 2014 calendar, you’ll see that this week’s list takes you into the kitchen to get started on a few basic tasks that you can do in fifteen minutes or less. But you’ll also notice that on both Thursday and Friday, the “omit” section encourages you to “match kitchen containers to lids; toss incomplete sets.” This is a two-day event because I have a sneaking suspicion that you just might hang on to a few incomplete “sets” after the first day, and you’ll need to omit those on Friday!

The overriding principle to remember is this: It served its purpose. The second principle is this: Because it can no longer completely serve that purpose (without its mate in the “set”), it is causing clutter or frustration.

It’s time, my optimizing friend; let it go.

 

But God: Question Mark or Exclamation Point?

When we say “but God,” it is all too often followed by a question mark. No, asking God “why” is not wrong, but complaining with a stomped foot, a whiny voice, and an exasperated sigh as we reply “but God,” followed by yet another question mark of doubt, is not what Scripture tells us to do when we seek His face for answers.

Instead, our response in the midst of life’s daily routine, life’s struggles, and life’s inevitable trials should be to look at the contrast between our God and those circumstances and reply, with a giant exclamation point, “but God!”

My mom and I recently coauthored a Bible study book for women, titled But God: Question Mark or Exclamation Point?and I haven’t said a great deal about it. We’ve been thrilled, overwhelmed, and sincerely humbled by the response of those who have ordered it, studied it, or used it in their Ladies’ Bible Study groups this fall.

This nine-lesson Bible study for women looks at some of the “But God” verses in the Bible. Designed for individuals or groups, each lesson includes blanks to help readers “search for answers” and also includes a page at the end of the lesson (appropriately titled “Petals from the Basket”) where readers can journal personal applications from their study time or record thoughts to discuss in group studies.

With Christmas coming and with churches choosing their Spring 2015 Ladies’ Bible Study materials, I wanted to take this opportunity to share the link to the purchase information for this study. You may click here to find out how to order your copies from Amazon, CreateSpace, or directly through Petals from the Basket if you are interested in quantity discounts.

It is our prayer that as you study these verses and apply these truths, your life will reflect the exclamation point of God’s love as you interact with others and glorify Him with your life!

“My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever” (Psalm 73:26, KJV).

 

More Than Enough

My “ideal Saturday” turned into a reality: HGTV magazine arrived in the mail; lifetime friend sent me a box of fall-fragrance candles; rain fell gently, creating an overcast softness outside; and God let me know that He was more than enough.

It’s that last thought that I want you to remember today.

Whatever your circumstances…

Whatever your marital status…

Whatever your longings…

Whatever your physical needs…

Whatever your spiritual needs…

Whatever your emotional needs…

Whatever your financial needs…

Whatever it is that leaves you feeling incomplete…

Whatever your future holds…

…2 Corinthians 9:8 is true!

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times,

having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (NIV).

Yes, precious faith-friend, God is more than enough!

 

 

Does What I Do Really Matter?

Sitting at the big round table at Cracker Barrel today, I had a breakthrough moment where something I’ve been struggling with suddenly vanished into insignificance. (I also had a ginormous serving of food that probably could have and should have fed an entire third-world country, but that’s a whole ‘nother story!)

I’m sharing this struggle because I’m certain that I can’t be the only one.

I want to matter. I don’t give a frip about money or position or recognition or accumulated hoo-ha. I simply want to matter. For many years I have said that “when my time comes,” I want a simple grave marker the size of a 4 x 6 card for a tombstone, but I want it to say my name, my dates of birth and death, and then, in order to show that what I did mattered and mattered for the right reasons, I want the words of John 17:4 included: “I have brought You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave me to do” (NIV).

Yet lately, from the confines of a three-story home filled with beautiful globally acquired treasures and people that I love, I’ve realized that…I pretty much don’t matter. Now before you send me counseling materials and dial the help-a-friend hotline for advice, let me explain.

In my current situation, serving as a caregiver for my aging parents in their home, it’s hard to believe that crushing pills, applying lotions, providing physical support for someone else’s frail and weakened body, turning the TV on precisely one minute before the evening news, reading a one-page devotional each evening, or helping with numerous other seemingly menial tasks actually matters anywhere outside these walls. And yet, I realize that it doesn’t have to. It has to matter to my parents and to God. And I believe that it does.

But I shamefacedly and openly confess that this leaves me feeling lonely, insignificant in the big picture, and wondering if I’ll ever really “matter” beyond this street address.

And then, in a God-directed moment, a former student/now friend who once worked in my office at a small college in the north woods of Wisconsin and now serves as a missionary in Puerto Rico with her dear family sent me a message the other day to see how far my “new” town was from the toll road. To make a long story, well, not as long, I’ll just say that I ended up getting to meet my friends at Cracker Barrel for lunch today. I had never met their three awesome kids, so that was an “Auntie Brenda” blessing just thrown in as a bonus!

As I talked with the husband about some editing work my freelance business has done and will be doing for him, it hit me: You, Brenda Strohbehn, get to have a part in something that matters. From inside the walls of your home, your work, your words, your life get to intertwine with unknown numbers of people as you pray for, edit, and encourage the publication of this printed material—material that matters.

And that matters.

Moms with little kids at home and whose days are spent “confined” by going only the distance between the kitchen, the bathroom, and the living room certainly feel this way at times. But don’t you see, my amazing faith-friends? That matters! The work you do there matters in perhaps a globally impacting way down the road as your child travels for business when he or she becomes an adult and shares the wonderful truths that you taught him or her in that confined space at a time when thought you didn’t matter. It matters when your child, as my friends now are doing, becomes vocationally committed to sharing the Good News with others in lands that God says matter.

Every person, doing the work that he or she is called to do, matters. What you’re doing today? It matters. Because what Christ did matters, doing the work He has given you to do in this moment matters.

The only time it can’t matter is when you’re unfocused and distracted into thinking that it doesn’t matter.

 

 

“Auntie Brenda’s” Ideas for Sweetest Day 2014

Wikipedia states that “Sweetest Day is a holiday celebrated in the Midwestern United States, and parts of the Northeastern United States, on the third Saturday in October. Sweetest Day has also been referred to as a ‘concocted promotion’ created by the candy industry solely to increase sales of sweets. It is also a day to bestow romantic deeds or expressions. Eleven states and parts of two states observe Sweetest Day: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and areas of both New York and Pennsylvania west of the spine of the Appalachian Mountains.”

The article goes on to share that Sweetest Day was, in fact, started by candy makers in Cleveland, Ohio, as a commercial holiday. However, the point for “Auntie Brenda” is that some of “my boys” will have women in their lives who are eagerly anticipating your participation in this day unofficially set aside to acknowledge those you care about. By the way, Detroit (where many in my readership are from) and Cleveland are the two primary cities where Sweetest Day is observed!

Three rules first—for both the ladies and the men:

  1. It’s not about how much you spend. It’s about graciously acknowledging that the holiday exists to provide an opportunity for you to outwardly express your love, care, or kind thoughts for someone.
  2. It’s not about dedicating the whole day to celebrating this “event.” A quality moment or a portion of time set aside and dedicated to that individual says “You matter.”
  3. In this case, it really is the thought that counts.
Since it’s already Wednesday, and Sweetest Day 2014 is this Saturday, October 18, let’s get started on those gift ideas, shall we? Here are five “idea starters.” Add your own personal touch. Minimize them or expand on them. The majority can apply to either ladies or men.
  1. The gift of time. Give the gift of cleaning out the car, washing dishes, raking the leaves, or something else that will help the one you care about and perhaps be something you could even do together! The best part is that it’s technically free!
  2. Under the category of free comes a gift that women, in particular, love! Guys, put your thoughts in writing: it can be anything from a simple sheet of paper with the words, “Happy Sweetest Day! I appreciate you!” written on it to a poem telling her a few of the things that you find extra amazing about her. Remember: ladies don’t want to just be with a man who is amazing; they want (and deserve, I might add) a man who realizes and lets them know that they’re amazing too!
  3. Candy. That’s sort of a “duh,” but just remember that it doesn’t have to be elegant, expensive chocolate flown in from the Czech Republic (which my friend Rosemary declares is the best chocolate in the world!) or created at the local confectioner’s shop. It can be his or her favorite candy bar or bag of candy (you do know his or her favorite candy, don’t you?) wrapped with a simple bow or placed in a purposeful way in a location where it will say, “I was thinking of you!” So in other words, you could actually celebrate this day and your special recipient for under $1.00!
  4. Go to Kohls, Target, or some other local department store and pick up two coffee (or tea) mugs. Tie the handles together with a bow and add a note that says, “Let’s use these when we enjoy a cup of coffee together in the mornings” (or whenever you’d likely drink coffee, tea, or hot chocolate together). You can even grab two decent mugs at the Dollar Tree for $1.00 each, making this affordable for nearly anyone! So, depending on the mugs you choose to purchase, you could gift this for under $3.00!
  5. Aldi has some of the best flowers around. I’m serious. Six roses or a bouquet of fresh, seasonal flowers are generally…are you ready for this?…under $5.00! And yes, ladies, many men I know also love getting flowers for their desk or dresser!

Obviously, there are multiple other options and multiple other price ranges—from dinner out…to jewelry…to a weekend getaway!

So, friends, the point is this. Enjoy expressing appreciation for the one you care about—on any level! It’s not a lifetime commitment; it’s an act of caring. Enjoy the day!

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This week’s organization tip for those participating in Operation Optimize October is:

Put a label on it.

You might think you’ll remember what’s in the box or storage bin, but it certainly makes it easier if there’s a label there to identify the contents. And here’s a bonus tip: If the storage box, food containers, etc. will be stacked, make sure that the label is on the side! This prevents you from having to lift every box in order to see what is in the box beneath it!

Don’t You Already Have One of Those?

So far during the previous seven days of October, I’ve eliminated the following as part of Operation Optimize October: nearly 625 poorly taken, duplicate, or “why-did-I-even-take-that-picture” photos from my phone (don’t judge); 102 nonworking pens or broken mechanical pencils (27 of those from purses!); 13 bottles of horrifically ugly or dried-up nail polish; 18 bottles of lotion or perfume that either made me gag or that were so nearly empty I’d have to add water to get anything out; and (as part of today’s “OMIT” segment) I’m preparing to take three old prescriptions to the police station for them to discard.

Additionally, my “donate” box now contains 100 working pens or mechanical pencils (all in good or brand-new condition); 8 bottles of brand-new lotion (not my favorite fragrances, but very nice for someone); and 7 bottles of brand-new nail polish.

Wha-what? Seriously. I had over 300 pens and mechanical pencils—just mine! Unbelievable. I’m a writer with a school supply fetish. What can I say? And because I love “pretty things,” I often pick up lotions and creams to try, but I never end up using them because I have so many already and receive great ones as gifts. As for the nail polish, well, I think it’s kind of like not shopping for groceries when you’re hungry: don’t buy nail polish when your nails are long and “just the right length” for funky colors. They’ll break the next day, and you’ll be stuck with three shades of teal polish that you bought on a great “3 for $___” sale because one of them may or may not match the unique shade of teal sweater that you bought on sale but have nothing to wear with!

So I’m mortified that I just shared those numbers with you, but my purpose was to a) transparently confess my poor stewardship with my resources in the past and b) show the significance behind the organization tip for this week:

Know what you have.

That simple principle is the first step in an awesome cycle that can help me—and all of us—be more organized and also be better stewards of our resources. When I scale back (or as we’re calling it on the Operation Optimize October schedule, OMIT) and eliminate what is not useful, I can properly determine the most functional location for those items (preferably one with a label on it!) and then keep better tabs on what I truly need to purchase or watch for.

Think about it. Your refrigerator is generally somewhat organized simply due to the nature that the milk pitcher can only fit in one or two places, and the eggs are only safe in one or two places. So when you’ve just purchased two gallons of milk on Monday, you know right where they are, and before you head out to the store on Thursday to purchase fresh fruits for the fruit tray you’re taking to the party on Friday, you glance in the fridge to see if you need more milk. You don’t have to look all around in each room of the house, looking for any possible milk that may or may not be soured by this time; you go right to its proper storage location, and you know right away what you have.

If, however, you need red, blue, and orange marker s for a project, and your markers are scattered all around the house, you may or may not know when you go to the store and remember that you need markers just how many—if any—you already have at home. So, like I have too often done in the past, you buy a new flashy set of markers at the store, only to return home, open the drawer to get out the ruler, and find two other brand-new boxes of markers that you had purchased previously—each neatly hidden under the stack of four unused spiral notebooks you were looking for last week.

But if you keep all your markers in one or two easy-to-access locations, you can check for your needed markers and know if you need more or not! It’s that easy. So why do we make it so hard?

I have no answer to that.

So that’s where I’ll end today. No great spiritual truths or life-impacting thoughts. Just the encouragement to keep moving forward!

I’d love to hear some of your “omit” numbers if you’re willing to share them! So feel free to use the comment box below to let me know! Also, if you’re just hearing about Operation Optimize October for the first time or if you’re thinking you’d like to join in, it’s not too late! It’s just some daily ideas for getting you started—getting me started, that should say—on some helpful habits that help all of us to optimize those little moments in between the big ones! Click on any of the orange words in the post to go to the download page. It’s free, easy, and, if I do say so myself, it’s kind of fun too!

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Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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For those who wish to keep updated on my dad’s health, you may click here to read the latest updates.

I Want to Live Where I Can Make a Difference

I want to live where I can make a difference. That thought struck me early this morning as I wearily rose from my overnight duty in assisting with my dad’s care. It’s pouring buckets and buckets and buckets of rain in Indiana this morning, and the heavy cloud cover is enveloping me with the realities of fall’s presence and winter’s approach. All I could think of was moving to a warm climate by a quiet body of water where the only sounds other than those from the nature that surrounded me would be from my fountain pen as it glides across the page in a well-worn leather journal. But in waxing eloquent, I digress!

In fact, my thoughts on living where I can make a difference had nothing to do with my physical location. They came from a recent conversation with someone who lives in the past. You know the type: they frequently relive the “glory days” or bitterness-producing moments of times gone by—times that they can’t seem to let go of for one reason or another. Generally, these individuals hang on to the thrill, adulation, or victory of a momentous event. Or perhaps they hold on to a disappointment, a tragedy, or a loss that left a permanent mark on their personal timeline.

In their proper place and when viewed from the right perspective, these events, feelings, or life-changing moments can be amazing memories that serve to shape today into a better day than it might have been otherwise. As learning tools and character-molding opportunities, even the worst human events can create a positive forward momentum.

But here’s what struck me by way of reminder and as an “aha” moment today: If I want to make a difference, I have to live in the present, where I have the ability to change and to create change. At the risk of appearing vain, let me repeat that:

If I want to make a difference, I have to live in the present, where I have the ability to change and to create change.

I can’t make a difference in the past. History cannot be changed. But I can make a difference today, and in doing so, I am on my way to making a difference tomorrow—and in each tomorrow that God gives me.

I think we often relive the past because its outcome is certain. We don’t know what the outcomes of today or tomorrow will be, and maybe you’re more secure than I am, but quite honestly, not knowing the outcome of something is scary to me.

Today’s Proverbs reading from Operation Optimize October (it’s never too late to join us!) is from Proverbs 3, which is home to two verses that are familiar to many:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.

—Proverbs 3:5–6, NLT

I not only get to make a difference today, but I don’t have to consume my thoughts with what will happen there: “He will show [me] which path to take!”

And it is on the path that He has chosen for me that I will get to make a difference.

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Once again, thank you for your thoughts and prayers for my dad as he continues in hospice care. His health updates are posted here.

It’s Time to Optimize October!

The Unabridged Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word optimize as: “to make as perfect, effective, or functional as possible.” I read that definition recently and thought: I wish I could optimize my life! Seriously—who wouldn’t want to have things in his or her life as perfect, effective, or functional as possible?

So, being the OCD content-specific perfectionist that I am, I opened my calendar to find a month that would start on a Sunday (the official first day of the week). However, as I began to consider just how many missed “optimized moments” would slip through my fingers by waiting until February 2015 to “get optimized,” I decided that the time to live up to all my blah-blah-blah about how things don’t have to be perfect was now.

Once I revived from the hyperventilation that occurred after realizing that October begins on a Wednesday—I might, just might, have been able to handle a Monday (as in December 2014), but a Wednesday?—I pulled on my “big girl britches” and said, “Let’s do this.”

That’s when I sat down and thought of little ways that I could start to optimize the “mini moments”—i.e., make the most of my fifteen to twenty minutes of “down time” in between edits or projects or while waiting for someone or something.

And that’s how “O-3″ came about: Operation Optimize October. And I want you to join me!

Each day this month has three things to do. Pick and choose or do all three.

OPEN and READ:

Since this is a faith-based blog, I added in a Proverb reading for each day of the month. The reason I chose this book from the Bible was because of the purpose of Proverbs, clearly stated in the first five verses:

These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel. Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young. Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance. —Proverbs 1:1-5, NLT

OMIT:

Set a timer for fifteen minutes. I’m serious. If you’re not done at the end of the fifteen minutes, it’s okay. Come back another time for fifteen minutes more. You’ll be amazed what you can get done in fifteen minutes. This is not an original idea—with anyone of this generation. In fact, I first learned this little tip many years ago while reading Emilie Barnes’s 15 Minute Home and Family Organizer. I was amazed by how much I could accomplish in such a short time! You will be too!

ORGANIZE:

It’s not enough to just get rid of things and clutter and time wasters. You need to replace them with good habits and good organization. Each day (except for Sundays and Wednesdays) has a quick organizational tip that you can easily implement in a short amount of time.

In fact, this week’s organization tip is to do what works best for you! For example, when you gather all your pens and pencils together this week, put them in containers or in places that are the most functional, practical, and organized for you! Your method is the only one that will truly work for you!

Subscribers: You will receive only three e-mails from me each week (sometimes less and on a rare occasion more). This is a self-structured “event!” The guidelines and schedule can be found here, but doing it is up to you! If you skip a day, it’s no big deal! Just get back on track and keep moving forward! (And did I mention that there are some really great prizes available to subscribers at the end of the month?)

So I hereby declare this the start of OPERATION OPTIMIZE OCTOBER!

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For those following my dad’s health updates as he continues his journey through end-stage Parkinsons Disease, there is also a new update posted on the Ben Strohbehn Health Updates page today.