Thursday, April 30, 2015

At the ZENITH of my Elbow Experience

The month of April has reached its zenith, and with this last letter, so too has the annual A to Z Challenge. How fitting it is that having finished my scheduled physical therapy sessions and now back at work, my Elbow Experience has reached its highest point, as well. From my fall on the icy parking lot forward, everything in the last three to four months has been geared towards the moment when I would punch in again at the time clock at work and resume my regular duties.

Things are different now at work, and it has nothing to do with the fact that a few old friends have left and new employees have signed on. It isn't a result of the new uniforms we are wearing now or the new policies that have been put in place; the difference is in me. I can see some things now that I probably would never have noticed before had this intervention of sorts not taken place. I realize now how tired I was, physically and emotionally, an exhaustion that expressed itself in a lack of patience for others and a lack of appreciation for the blessings that cover my life. Habitual ways of doing things had me locked into a schedule and an outlook that had no room for a new view. While I was successfully making it through my days, I was living on a much lower scale than what God had planned for my life. I am forever grateful for the upgrade into a higher level of thinking and living that my arm injury provided.

But now the difficulty is in keeping the fresh outlook on things. I knew coming in to work that if I wasn't careful, the novelty of being back on the job would wear off, and it would be easy to slip back into old ways of thinking and doing things; I didn't want to lose the lessons of the past months. Awareness that such a danger exists is perhaps the greatest asset in preventing its occurrence.

One of the biggest struggles I had in my physical recuperation was maintaining the progress we achieved in my physical therapy sessions. After an hour of work and manipulation, my therapist was always able to open my arm to a degree that I hadn't been able to achieve before. We just weren't able to maintain that success; the muscles in my arm wanted to pull back into the position they'd been in for so long. At each session we seemed to start off back at the same point; it was hard to gain ground.

Finally we made progress when Nick came up with the idea of locking my arm in the straight position in the brace at the end of the session, when it had opened up has far as he could get it to go. For two hours I kept it in “lockdown”, after which I was free to remove the hardware and let my arm function without it. In addition I became more intentional than ever in keeping up with the stretching exercises I was doing at home, and gradually we have seen the muscles become accustomed to increased motion and function once more.

Similarly, my new mindset and approach to life and my job can only be maintained through diligent effort on my part. I am grateful for the Challenge of writing the lessons down, because doing so has locked them down not just on paper where I can regularly review them, but also in my mind. But I have to intentionally practice the new ways of thinking and doing to make them the new norm and prevent my mind from slipping into old mindsets without my being aware that it is even happening.

Mostly I am overwhelmed with gratitude, that God knew what I needed when I was blind to it myself, and used the opportunity my injury afforded to elbow His way into my life, restoring not just my arm, but also my mind and heart.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only...”
(James 1:22 NKJV)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Christian writer and speaker Graham Cooke challenged my thinking recently by suggesting that the problems that come are way are really gifts from God; each one presents an opportunity for an upgrade in our life experience. When we come out of them successfully we have new understanding in our own situations as well as something new and exciting to share with all the people who populate our lives. His trademark line, “Woohoo! I've got a problem! Happy Birthday to me!” has made me smile every time I've thought about it.

While I wasn't smiling, at least initially, when I broke my elbow, I was keenly aware that the recuperation period ahead of me was like an open door to an old fashioned schoolhouse. I wanted to enter in and glean everything I could from the experience and the weeks ahead. I didn't fear surgery, pain, or physical therapy nearly as much as the thought of wasting what was suddenly available. And so the three and a half months just past have been wonderful in the sense that I had a chance to live out the lesson Graham Cooke taught from his podium; they were like a lengthy lab session, practical application of the notes I took in the lecture. And while I am coming out of the class with a host of lessons learned, perhaps the most valuable aspect of the experience is that it serves as a model of how to approach similar experiences in the future. The Bible warns that in this life we will have difficulty, so it is best that we be prepared for whatever comes our way and welcome every opportunity to advance in that regard.

One of the benefits of having so much time off was that I had time to try a breakfast cafe that I had been wanting to visit for years. I liked it so much on the first visit that I went back often in the weeks that followed. Because it is always crowded, more often than not I've taken a seat at the counter to leave any tables that come available for larger groups. And as I've waited for my food, I've had a chance to notice a large juicer against the back wall. Periodically a server comes along and drops several oranges from a huge basket of the same into a hole at the top. The fruit is then pressed through a maze of gears and roller bars while the freshly squeezed juice fills an empty pitcher that waits for it under the spout at the bottom. The server then grabs the pitcher and fills the glasses of the thirsty patrons in the room.

My life is that juicer, and the basket of oranges are the problems I'll encounter as I go through my days, each packed with potential sweetness encased in difficulty. My challenge is to take each problem as it comes and squeeze every ounce of goodness out of it, discarding the pulp and peel and delighting in the resultant refreshment that enriches my days and those of the people around me. Maximizing my yield in that regard then depends on my attitude as much as my action, my resolve to make the most of every opportunity my problems represent.

When we make the effort to make every experience count, we make our lives count for something, too.

...hold fast to the good.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:21 MKJV)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X-RAY Evidence

When examining our physical bodies, our eyes can't tell much beyond what is visible externally. While there may be clues that something is wrong, we often need diagnostic tools beyond what our eyes can see to determine the problem. X-rays allow us to see what is happening with the bones that lie within the skin.

The night I fell on the ice and hurt my elbow, I initially hoped that I had just jammed it somehow and that given a little time, it would be fine once more. That notion was dispelled the moment I got home and looked at the injury in the mirror. The visual evidence and the lack of mobility prompted me to go to the hospital and have it properly examined.

The resultant x-rays taken in the emergency room served two functions; they not only identified the nature of the problem, but also determined the course of action necessary to fix it. In my case, the images showed that the bone was not just broken but also displaced. Based on that x-ray evidence alone given to him over the phone, the doctor on call knew that he would be in to perform surgery on my arm later that day.

It was one thing to hear the doctor describe the plates and screws he had put in to piece things back together; it was another to see his work in the x-rays taken each time I came to his office for follow-up examinations. I found the pictures fascinating and studied them intently after the attendant pulled them up on the computer screen, while waiting for the doctor to come in. His purpose in taking them, of course, was to make sure that everything was still in place and healing as it should. When it became apparent in the weeks that followed that my arm was having difficulty opening up, we thought the problem was an issue with scar tissue. It was the x-ray that showed a piece of bone had grown up behind the joint preventing forward motion; again directing the doctor's treatment of the problem.

So often it's likewise external symptoms that first alert us to problems we may be experiencing in the spiritual realm. We know that we are wrong to be angry and impatient, critical of others, lacking in compassion or concern over others' well being. And we unsuccessfully try to correct the wrong behaviors, not realizing that there is a root cause for our problems beyond what we can see. In desperation we go to God, and in a moment of revelation, He shows us that we are broken and similarly out of place in our relationship with Him. It is likewise a situation that we are powerless to correct on our own; it requires the direct intervention of God Himself in sending Jesus to die on the Cross to heal us and reconcile us to Him. Even after our salvation experience, it is necessary to come back to God repeatedly and ask him to examine us again and again to show us how we are progressing in the recovery process, and to expose further problem areas that we need His help to correct. It is a lifelong journey that is exciting and fascinating in its unveiling as we partner with God to become all that He intended for us to be.

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
(Psalm 139:23-24 KJV)

Monday, April 27, 2015


Thirsty as I was after surgery, the big plastic mug filled to the brim with ice water quickly became my best friend during my hospital stay. I lifted it to my lips again and again to satisfy my seemingly endless thirst. Once I returned home, my sister reminded me to keep drinking lots of water so that I wouldn't compound my current medical issues with more problems stemming from dehydration. Having brought the mug home with me, I filled it and set it beside my kitchen sink, where I would see it repeatedly and be reminded to stop and take a drink. I even set a schedule in my mind of how many times I would empty its contents a day, and was faithful in keeping it.

All of us have heard repeatedly the benefits of making water our beverage of choice. We know the importance of drinking it during exercise, when living in dry, hot climates, or when trying to achieve a weight loss goal. Even when our bodies are not under stress, drinking lots of water is simply an important element in any healthy lifestyle. It's in those times, however, that we sometimes need a little extra push or reminder to keep us gulping it down. The sight of the water mug on the kitchen sink does that for me.

The written word of God is often referred to as Living Water, bringing life to our spiritual selves the way the liquid form refreshes our physical beings. We turn to it in times of trouble, when we're in an especially dry spiritual state, or with a goal in mind of increasing our overall spiritual health. Even when things are going well in our lives and our relationship with God, we know the importance of staying saturated in God's Word, drinking it in on a daily basis. Surely the Bible programs on our computers and similar apps on our phones make that process easier than ever before. The Word of God is readily available to us; we sometimes just need the reminder to take a drink.

As I've gone through my Elbow Experience, this process of blogging the lessons I've learned in the A to Z Challenge has done for me spiritually what the water mug does for me physically. It's kept the lessons of the last few months current; writing about them every day has has kept me tuned in to the sound of God's voice.

God doesn't waste anything; even His words are short and to the point. Every situation in our lives is to teach us something and help us grow. When He allows us to go through a difficult time, it's for a purpose, and we shouldn't waste the experience of the life lessons it contains. Whatever you find in the mug He sets before you, don't waste the chance to drink deep.

Jesus answered, 'Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I given them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'”
(John 4:13 NIV)

Saturday, April 25, 2015


When Nick, the physical therapist, went to work on my elbow each session, he would stretch, massage, push, pull, and all but sit on my arm to get it to go as straight as possible. When he'd done all he could, he'd look at an assistant and say, “Get the goni!”, and she would come back with a measuring tool that would tell him quantitatively how successful his efforts had been. While he continued to hold my arm as straight as possible she would position the device and read the number off to him. If he didn't like what he'd heard he'd stretch, massage, push and pull some more. Sometimes, however, his eyes would light up and he'd say, “That's the best we've seen yet!”, releasing my arm (!!!) and moving me on to some kind of strengthening activity.

The device became such a familiar sight, and I finally asked him what it was called.

“It's a goniometer,” he said.

A what? I had him repeat it a couple of times, and later went home and looked it up online. A goniometer is a tool used to measure angles and is derived from the Greek words gonia (angle) and metron (measure). The ones used in this facility had two long flexible arms attached to a central plastic dial. The dial would be placed at a joint with the arms laying along the bones on either side, the central dial giving a reading of the extension achieved...a measure of success.

I just thought it was a fun word to say and repeated it to myself often during the session when I needed a smile. Physical therapy had been a world unknown to me when I first walked through those doors a couple of months ago. The exercises, equipment, and hands on muscle manipulation were all things I had never experienced before, and I found it all pretty fascinating. This new addition to my vocabulary represented the same in my life experience, as well.

God will use any new or challenging situations to teach us life lessons that we couldn't learn any other way. And the vocabulary we use in talking about them likewise gives him a clue as to the success of the venture. The words we choose in our everyday language tell His listening ears if we're making good progress in the area of focus or need more time under the Master's hand.

The goniometers at the facility sat in a pencil cup on a central desk. When Nick called for one as described above, often it seemed that the aide would grab the one that had one of its arms broken off, a victim of Nick's habit of sticking them in his back pocket after use and then later sitting on the same. Even plastic will only bend so far!

We likewise have choices tucked in the back pockets of our life experience, and the words we say determine in part the length of our stay in our situation. We can pull out a broken response of defeat and discouragement, or consistently speak life, hope and health into our days. The choice is ours, but God hopes we'll pick words that will make both of us smile.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue...”

Friday, April 24, 2015


The ways to measure progress are a numerous as the situations in which one is looking for change. When it came to my elbow recovery, my therapist measured it numerically. His goal was to get my arm to open up to within at least ten degrees of horizontal, and he was diligent in his efforts to achieve it. From heating pads to bicep muscle massages to physical manipulation of the affected arm, he used every tool in his arsenal to loosen things up. Stopping only occasionally to briefly measure his success, he'd jot the numbers quickly on his hand in black sharpie before getting back to work, being careful not to lose any of what he had achieved in the process. For him it was primarily a numbers game, and he wanted to be able to give the doctor a positive report.

My surgeon saw things differently. Success in his mind was more subjective in nature, related more closely to restored function than any actual numeric value. He wanted me to be able to return to the lifestyle I enjoyed before the injury and to reenter the work force comfortably once more. In his view, the straightness of my arm mattered only to the degree that it helped me achieve those goals, and his advice and the expectations he expressed reflected that mindset.

Progress in my world was marked by the degree of surprise I experienced each time I suddenly noticed I was unconsciously using my arm in ways I had done before the injury. I would be in the middle of an action when it would suddenly hit me that I was using my right arm as before, rather than compensating with my left. All movement would then stop completely for a moment of surprised wonder, celebration, and gratitude. Those moments gradually multiplied in frequency and situation, and were the measuring stick I used in gauging my recovery.

Many are the ways we monitor spiritual progress, as well. Some of us set numerical goals, as in Bible chapters to read each day, verses to memorize, minutes to pray. Diligently we work at the words we say, the sins we avoid, the good deeds we achieve, all in the hope of hearing a positive word from God on Judgment Day.

But God sees things so differently than some of us imagine. Numbers matter little to Him, while changed hearts are huge in his estimation. His goal is to make us into the image of His Son, and He looks to see Jesus' likeness in the love we express in our everyday lives.

How do we measure our progress in that regard? Likewise we see it unexpectedly, when we suddenly realize we no longer lust for things we used to long for, or harbor hate over hurts experienced in the past. Perhaps we'll unconsciously say the right thing in a difficult situation, feel compassion in areas where there used to be none, or surprise ourselves with a sudden willingness to serve others in some capacity. Suddenly we stop as the revelation hits us, our eyes look up and our hearts connect in gratitude with the God who is working within us and likewise celebrates our every victory, no matter how small.

These are the moments God lives for, success measured in sights that delight His eyes and words of love that His heart more than His ears longs to hear.

The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.”
(Zephaniah 3:17 KJV)

Thursday, April 23, 2015


When the doctor told me after my accident that I would be off work for 6-8 weeks, I felt like I'd just won the time lottery. As the time got extended month after month, I smiled as my winnings multiplied. Who doesn't dream of taking a break, of having a several-month sabbatical to simply rest or do whatever their hearts desired? Mine came upon me suddenly, so I had no time to prepare ahead of time about how I would spend such a wonderful gift or consider what I would and should do. I didn't want to waste it.

Initially I made lists. I wrote down the things I'd said I would love to do if I could just find the time. Quickly I realized that one way to waste the time would be to halfheartedly start on several items and not complete any of them because I had simply picked too many. Better to make just a couple of choices, give myself wholly to them and accomplish them well.

But which ones? Guilt over chores I had neglected for years battled against the desire to try something new. And just as Powerball winners are besieged with monetary requests from long-lost relatives and even total strangers, I found the same to be true with my sudden allotment of time; lots of other people wanted to lay claim to it or had ideas of how it should be spent. Then there were the many ordinary life events that I often missed out on because my work schedule wouldn't accommodate them; here was my chance to enjoy some of those. Adding to the confusion was the fact that everything initially took longer than usual to accomplish because of my arm injury, and there were doctor visits, physical therapy appointments and exercises I needed to do at home to fit into the mix, as well.

Obviously the need to get my arm fully functional again took center stage. I did what was required at home and attended therapy sessions as scheduled. In the middle of a publishing project when the accident happened, keeping pace with the writing assignments my editor was sending me became a similar priority. When my husband was about to hire outside help for some transcription work he needed done on a writing project he was working on, I took the job on myself in an effort to reduce expenses at a time when my income was reduced, as well. I forced myself to help him with some decluttering projects and yard work I'd normally avoid, simply because I had the time to offer and enjoyed the surprised look on his face when I volunteered. And then I wallowed in all the church services, prayer meetings, home Bible studies, softball games, birthday celebrations and televised sporting events I so often had missed because of my work schedule. Extra time with my husband was a special blessing. I had a full and satisfying stay at home.

One of the greatest pleasures during this time was my unbroken fellowship with God. I didn't necessarily devote extra time in this pursuit; it just developed as a matter of course once the distractions of my regular lifestyle were removed. A new awareness of His presence permeated everything I did, and as we chatted, laughed, and sometimes even cried our way through these last few weeks, the time became more precious as a result of spending it with Him.

Perhaps one of the purposes of these last few weeks was to remind me that “free time” is really just a state of mind. My allotment of 24 hours each day is always mine to spend as I please, despite the demands of a daily routine. And the more of that time treasure I spend with God, the more I find I am simply rich beyond measure.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might...”
(Ecclesiastes 9:10 NIV)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Climbing Out of the SHOPPING Rut

When you work in a grocery store it's easy to fall into the habit of shopping every day. As I got my purse out of my locker at the end of a shift, I'd pull out the fabric shopping bag I kept inside and told myself that I was just going to pick up a few things. Perhaps lulled by the smaller daily dollar figures at checkout, I was blind to the weekly totals I was amassing due to my buying frequency.

That changed dramatically when I injured my elbow. Initial grocery store runs were of the emergency variety only, and accomplished in the companionship of my husband who hates few things worse than shopping in crowded food marts. Driving difficulties kept me home-bound more than usual, so my later visits to the store became add-ons to other reasons for going out, such as necessary doctor visits and scheduled physical therapy sessions. Limited in my ability to push a cart, shop and carry everything on my own, I was much more selective in my choices and kept my buying on a smaller scale.

I was surprised at how well we survived and even benefited by the change in my shopping habits. We became more diligent in eating up leftovers, wasting less food. I opened the freezer and cabinet doors and cooked whatever I found inside. Going through the shelves made me realize how much money I'd lost on outdated items I found there. The money we weren't spending at the grocery store helped make up the shortfall caused by my reduced income in the weekly budget.

The positives in this “elbow interruption” of my lifestyle have spread to other areas of my life, as well. I have come to realize how easily we fall into ruts in our living and thinking that sideline us from the easier road we were meant to travel. Like the textured warning strips on highway shoulders, sometimes it takes a rough spot in the road we're traveling to open our eyes to the issues we were blind to before.

...One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
(John 9:25 NIV)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


A preacher I listened to several years ago used the following analogy, but there is a difference between hearing a message and living it out. Apparently I needed the reminder to approach life in a flexible state of mind and to approach a change of plans with a willing and expectant heart, rather than an aggravated one.

While I generally have a pretty good idea how to get where I'm going when I get in my car, sometimes I need direction at the latter end of the trip to navigate side streets and roads I am unfamiliar with. I am grateful for GPS systems of all types that help me get to where I need to go. When I make a decision that doesn't fit the route the system had selected, it just figures out a new way to get to the destination based on my current location. The dashboard models often show the word “recalculating” on the video screen while the computer inside figures out how to adjust to the direction I've chosen. The voice coming out of the speaker never varies in tone or volume; there is no hint of aggravation or frustration aimed in my direction. The system just accepts my driving decision and adapts itself accordingly. And God would be oh so happy if I would simply learn to do the same.

He and I have been on an interesting journey these last few months. We came out of the starting gate of the new year in fine form, and I was full of plans for the year ahead. Suddenly a slip on the ice, a broken elbow...recalculating. Several weeks in a brace, some physical therapy, and I'm hoping to head back to work. Oops...arm stuck in a 90-degree angle, more surgery necessary...recalculating. More weeks in a brace, more physical therapy, ready now? Not yet, needs more time...recalculating. Approved to go back to work, eagerly checking schedule, can't wait to start. Are you kidding me? I'm assigned a vacation week...recalculating.

Finally I get it. I'm not the one making decisions here. God sees the big picture of my life, while I'm caught up in the day-to-day details. He knows where He's taking me and the road I need to travel to get there. Often I don't understand where we're going or why we're headed this way. But my questions do nothing to change the direction we're traveling. How much more peaceful the trip would be if I would just acknowledge that He knows best, trust Him to do what's right for my life, and simply follow the directions He gives without question or complaint.

The Israelites lengthened their stay in the wilderness they were traveling through by complaining against God and rebelling against His authority. Some of them never got to their destination at all as a result. I learn from their example that it's my attitude that needs adjustment, and God will continue to alter the route we're traveling together as necessary until it arrives at the place He knows it should be.

Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.”
(Proverbs 19:21 NIV)

Monday, April 20, 2015

QUOTING a Positive Word

I mentioned in the Let Him Clip the Chip post that God wouldn't let me speak a negative word over my elbow situation. Instead He filled my mind, my journal pages and my life with positive thoughts, pictures and Bible verses, directing my focus in their direction, instead.

The Bible tells us that God knows what we need, and that sometimes He has His answer in place before we even ask for help. Surely that was the case with me. Before I slipped on the ice that night, a coworker and I had been comparing notes on the weather conditions outside and discussing the driving difficulties we might encounter on the way home. I ended our discussion with the affirmation, “We're going to be fine.” I didn't realize at the time that the phrase was more than just an easy end to our conversations; it was instead the beginning of God's promise to carry me through a situation that hadn't even occurred yet. As situations developed over the next hours, days and weeks, God brought me back to those five words time and time again, and soon I came to realize that they were divinely rather than casually spoken, as repeatedly they chased fear and doubt away and left peace and hope in their wake.

As my first physical therapy appointment approached, I had no idea what to expect in terms of difficulty and found I was imagining the worst without having any basis for doing so. I asked God for something to change the direction of my thoughts. He gave me a silly little equation that I could easily remember and repeat when worried: PT=EZ4ME. PT is easy for me. I mumbled it constantly ahead of the first session and encouraged myself with it whenever I encountered an especially challenging moment or two in the middle of one. I reminded myself that difficulty would not be part of my experience, that PT was easy for me. And so it became; I looked forward to my sessions rather than fearing them.

There were times when despite the physical therapy in progress I doubted that my arm would ever be fully recuperated. To fight my growing negativity God took me to portions of Scripture describing Jesus' encounter with a man with a withered hand. Jesus told the man to stretch forth his hand, and when he did so, it “was fully restored like the other one.” He seemed to impress upon me that eventually the same would happen to me. I claimed that experience as my own in faith. And it seemed that whenever my belief in that promise would weaken, I would run into that story again, described in another one of the Gospel accounts. God kept it ever before me. One morning however as I looked despairingly at my right arm that seemed perpetually bent, He whispered, “You're looking at the wrong arm.” And suddenly I understood what He was saying. We become what we focus on. I was looking at the bent arm instead of the straight one that I was working towards. From that time forward I deliberately watched my left arm do the very actions I was trying to duplicate with my right and know that eventually their performance will be the same.

God is all about health and wholeness and encouraging us along the path of experiencing the same. In my case the muscles that needed the most therapy were surprisingly not the ones in my arm, but those in my mouth, my eyes, ...and between my ears.

Words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach; good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest. Words kill, words give life; they're either poison or fruit – you choose.”
(Proverbs 18:20-21 MSG)

Saturday, April 18, 2015


We were a little early to the morning church service, giving me a moment or two to get settled in my chair and look around me. It's easy to people-watch in a church as large as ours; I looked about for a few familiar faces to greet while my husband went to look for a friend outside.

It was then that I spotted a blonde teenager and her mother slowly making their way to the row in front of me. My interest in the girl was piqued first by the sight of her crutches, and then by a black hinged brace on her leg very similar to the one I wore protecting my elbow, only bigger. Because of that brace connection I found myself drawn to her, wondering in what way she had injured herself and how her recovery was coming along. When the “meet and greet” time in the service arrived, I moved a little closer and asked.

“I tore up everything in my knee,” was her reply. We chatted for a minute about recovery and laughed over her success in getting her jeans on this morning so she could come to church. The moment passed and the church service continued, but I likewise continued to gaze around me. I was suddenly astonished at what I saw. Seated a few rows in front of the girl was a woman who had her entire right forearm and wrist wrapped in white gauze, holding it gingerly in front of her. A man in the next section had a cart beside him holding his oxygen tank, the tubes from it running into his nose so he could breathe. To my left was a guy in an arm brace similar to mine who carried himself in such a way as to suggest it was perhaps shoulder surgery that required the arm support. One after another I saw people around me with bandages and wraps, and marveled at what a banged-up bunch of believers we were that morning! Did I miss the “recently hospitalized” seating designation in our section perhaps?

Instead I later realized that God was just trying to make a point, illustrating it in a way I would understand. My attention was drawn to these people in particular because we had a common condition that I could understand and relate to. But truly everybody in that building came in with wounds they are in the process of recovering from, because all of us have experienced trouble to some degree. Some have physical wounds like the one s that were so visible to me, but probably most carried hurts on the inside where they are less obvious but equally painful. For some the pain is still fresh, the hurt intense, while others are moving along well in recovery and still others have only the scars to show what they've been through. The point is that we have a common cause that unites us and gives purpose to our days as we strive to help and encourage each other on our way through this life.

Normally I find it difficult to talk to people I don't know, but the sight of that familiar hinged brace on the girl's leg propelled me to overcome my timidity and address her. That same morning I was coming out of the restroom when another woman spotted my arm brace as she was coming in. “I wore one of those! What did you do to your arm?” She went on to tell me that she had done the exact same thing and that she had made it through and was now fully functional back on her job, words I needed to hear at a time when I was wondering if complete recuperation was possible. Her encouragement made a big difference to me that day.

Time after time, complete strangers have seen my brace and asked me about my arm, and I have appreciated their interest and concern. Yet God's concern is for those who are struggling with the less visible injuries; He desires that we become more diligent in looking for signs of suffering and reach out to those we can relate to based on what we ourselves have gone through. It's how the addicts among us find recovery, the lonely find fellowship, the confused find direction...the lost get found. If we carry Jesus in our hearts, we have the Answer that somebody else needs, if we just took the time to notice the question in their eyes.

...He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us...”
(1 Corinthians 2:4 MSG)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Rediscovering OXFORD

When we moved to Ohio many years ago, we landed on a beautifully tree-laden piece of property out in the rural countryside. North of the city of Hamilton and east of the college town of Oxford, we were content to be situated pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Before the kids arrived we spent our time and our money in both of the nearby cities. But once our boys were born and I was no longer working, our activities seemed to be centered around the latter location. From their births in the local hospital, to visits to doctor offices there, and then to the library, and eventually attending swimming lessons, soccer games and martial arts classes...we were in town as much as the students who lived and studied there, it seemed. But when our sons became school-age themselves they attended a small school with no bus service in Hamilton, and the daily ferrying them back and forth to class gradually pulled us away from the little town we once spent so much time in. By the time they were grown and gone I had been working for some time at a grocery store on the west end of Hamilton, and Oxford offered nothing more to me than a convenient Starbucks stop on the way to the state park on the outskirts of town.

All that changed when I broke my elbow. At first, I confess, it was a matter of pride. Unable to fix my hair or put on my make-up, I simply didn't want to be seen by people who were familiar with my more put-together self. Then the convenience factor entered in; I simply knew too many people in Hamilton after scanning their groceries for ten years, and visits to my old store with all the necessary greetings and explanations for my absence, while enjoyable, simply took up too much of the day. I took to visiting the Kroger in Oxford where I could shop incognito and quickly. My doctor's office was in Oxford, and soon I started going to physical therapy multiple times per week there as well. I started stopping in at the local McDonald's for free coffee on Mondays, returned my library books to the building itself instead of dropping them in a bin outside my workplace, got my car washed in the local drive-thru, and even found the Oxford branch of my credit union that I knew existed but had never taken the time to find. I discovered a wonderful new breakfast spot to kill time in between appointments. With time on my hands I haven't had to hurry through town but have looked around me with new appreciation at the beautiful college buildings, the lovely landscaping and the abundance of trees. I have simply enjoyed driving the brick-paved streets again and rediscovering the lovely place I spent so much time in during another phase of my life.

Breaking my elbow has afforded me a chance to do the same with other areas of my life, as well. I've reacquainted myself with joys that were put aside when a forty-hour work week replaced my unscheduled duties as a stay-at-home mom. Once again home-bound for a time, it's been wonderful to spend time with pleasures put aside when time pressures were constantly calling my name. Perhaps the most significant of these has simply been to let my mind dwell in the presence of God. While there really has been no change in my personal devotional times, which have simply gone on as before, my mind has been freed up from attention to other duties, and I've delighted in the increased awareness of God's nearness in all aspects of my life and simply spending time in thought and prayer and conversation with Him, a joy that an increasingly busy lifestyle gradually pulled me away from.

While checking out at the grocery store in Oxford the other day, I was suddenly mugged with a hug from behind by a dear friend whom I hadn't seen in ages. When our kids were little and we attended church together we had once been very close, but life situations and distance had reduced our chances to get together on a regular basis. Now she works in Oxford and dashes to the store on her lunch break, where we happened to run into each other. As we laughed and talked at lightning speed, the illustration was not lost on me; my elbow “break” has caused me to rediscover the joy of several old “friends”. I'm determined not to lose the joy of their companionship ever again.

A friend loves at all times...”
(Proverbs 17:17 NIV)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A NEW Wardrobe

One of the biggest challenges of unexpected elbow surgery was finding something to wear after the fact. While I had an abundance of easy-to-pull on sweatpants to cover the bottom half, I needed short-sleeved shirts with a button-up front, and was amazed to discover how very few I had. Even long-sleeved shirts that I wouldn't mind cutting the right arm off of were in scarce supply. My husband kindly raided his own closet, finding several old shirts and pajama tops that I could likewise alter to handle first a bulky cast and then a similarly-sized brace. While they would work for wearing around the house, I wondered what I would do about going out in public. Clearly a shopping trip was in order.

Even in the stores I found little to choose from; the stock was mostly of the pull-on variety that I couldn't yet handle. But suddenly I came across a couple of clearance items – three button-up shirts with short-sleeves that I could easily slit to slide my arm into! While they were not a style I would normally choose, at this point I couldn't be picky; they were good enough to get me through till I could wear my normal clothes once more. I didn't want to spend a lot of money on something I might only wear for a short time, so I rejoiced at the savings and dumped them in the cart. As my healing progressed, so did my shopping selections; soon I was moving on to zippered items with sleeves that I could wear inside the brace. There was a little more selection here and I could almost feel my husband's growing alarm as I got more interested in the shopping process and added sports jackets and higher-quality sweatpants I discovered in the fitness sections of the stores. While my closet was filling up fast, I knew that many of the items were for short-term use only, however included in the bunch were some real finds that made even my husband smile.

My wardrobe problems were minor in the big scale of things, but they reminded me that sometimes we find ourselves woefully unprepared to handle major crises in our lives. Physically, financially, but more often emotionally and spiritually, we discover we don't have the resources to deal with trouble when it hits. After taking stock of what we have to offer, we can temporarily borrow what we need from people who are near and dear to us. But eventually we have to get for ourselves what we lack. And so we go shopping, sometimes for physical items we need in recovery, but more often for attitudes and thought patterns, mindsets that we can put on that will get us through. While some recovery aids are temporary in nature, some of our discoveries offer life-long change, and put a purpose-filled perspective on the problem that we had never before considered. Those difficulties we initially bemoaned we can now even give thanks for having gone through, so favorably have the resultant changes impacted our lives.

Sometime during the months I've been away, my employer instituted a change in the work uniform among its employees. Blue pullover polo shirts have were replaced with white button-up dress shirts and black vests, a detail that made me smile. My thinking on some things has likewise been challenged and changed; new clothes on the outside will remind me that I'm returning to work wearing new thought patterns, as well.

...but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God...”
(Romans 12:2 AMP)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I Believe in MIRACLES

A miracle is defined as an “an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.” I've experienced a couple of them in my life – things that could be explained no other way than to say it was by the hand of God. And I experienced a couple, as well, as a result of my elbow situation.

The first was the complete absence of pain. I waited seven hours after I broke my elbow to go to the emergency room, due to dangerous driving conditions in an increasing snowstorm and the lateness of the hour. Not a life-threatening situation by any means, I knew it could wait till the break of day. And while those initial hours weren't comfortable, as long as I didn't move my elbow, I wasn't in pain, either, making the wait bearable. Once surgery was scheduled for later that afternoon, I turned down the offer of pain medication in the interim because I simply wasn't experiencing any. Initially told I might be sent home after the surgery, my doctor dismissed that idea immediately when he came in for a pre-surgery chat, afraid that I would wake in the night in terrible pain and be on my own to deal with it. He highly favored an overnight stay. I agreed to the plan, but was ever so thankful that the situation he described never developed. Even after the insertion of a plate and screws to hold the broken pieces of the bone in place, I was never in need of a single pain pill. It was beyond amazing, and I was thankful beyond words! The recovery process was made so much easier and the time off from work so much more enjoyable because I was pain-free. People joked with me about incredibly high pain tolerance or maybe the complete lack of pain receptors in my brain; I gladly gave the credit to God.

When a second surgery became necessary to straighten my arm, the doctor presented three scenarios of actions he would take, depending on what he found when he got inside. Suspecting that the simplest would be all that was necessary, the operation was done on an outpatient basis, and I knew I would be going home this time when he was finished. He ended up performing the most invasive of the three options, even removing the plate and screws he'd put in before, and sent me home with a prescription for pain which I filled before reaching my front door. Perhaps it was a lack of faith on my part, but a miracle is by definition something you can't conjure up on your own. Could it really happen twice? I thought it best to be prepared. As it turned out, I could've saved my money; I never took a single pill.

Surely the absence of pain was blessing enough, but there was more. Aging is commonly associated with the loss of bone density and the general weakening of the skeletal structure, so as I've gotten older I've taken to combating the same with my speech, simply declaring that I have the firm muscles and strong bones promised in (Isaiah 58:9-12 MSG). As soon as I knew my elbow was broken, I heard the enemy whisper, “ Strong bones? Clearly not so much...”. But it turned out he was wrong. In a post-operative conversation, the doctor told my husband that he had a hard time putting in the screws to hold the plate in place because my bones were as strong as those of a person in their 20's! Not to give away my age, but that's several decades away from where I stand today! Again I was thrilled with the goodness of God.

Another definition of miracle is simply this: a wonder; a marvel. The Bible promises that signs and wonders will follow those who believe, and perhaps there is a purpose to their presence beyond just the joy of an unexpected blessing. They give us opportunities to testify to those who are wondering about the goodness of God, and a chance to tell them how marvelous He truly is.

You were chosen to tell about the excellent qualities of God”
(1 Peter 2:9 GOD'S WORD)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

For the LOVE of LEFTY

(This post originally appeared on my A Heart 4 Heaven blog back in January, which explains why it is a little dated and somewhat a repeat of information. But it works well for my "L" and the point is still true, so I decided a re-post was right on cue!)

It happened as quickly as the briefest space between words. One minute I was chatting amiably with my coworker, John, as he walked me out to my car, and the next I was flat on my back on the parking lot, wondering how on earth I managed to slip on snow that yet barely covered the ground.

We'd been thinking about the weather all evening, my friend Tracy and I, both of us having landed late-night shifts that day. The storm was supposed to start just before we'd be clocking out, and we wondered what the roads would be like by the time we were ready to leave. Since neither of us are very good at bad-weather driving, we encouraged each other as best we could, pushing aside the negative vibes from customers who told us the snowflakes were already starting to fly. “We're going to be fine,” I told Tracy repeatedly, and she nodded her head in agreement each time.

Later we laughed at the fact that getting home hadn't been the problem at all; for me at least the issue was just getting to my car. After John had helped me up, brushed me off and safely deposited me and my grocery bags at my vehicle, a quick evaluation revealed that my right elbow was not functioning properly, yet somehow I drove one-handed through the increasing storm on snow-covered roads with no problem.

And so began an adventure into left-handedness, a journey I never imagined I'd take, but one that has surprised me with unexpected blessings. My left-handed husband was almost gleeful as he told me in the emergency room a few hours later that I was finally going to learn to see things from his point of view. The registration clerk smiled in agreement as she wrote notes on a pad, likewise with her left hand.

My own left extremity has gamely entered into the fray, accepting the challenge and excelling in its execution. It has conquered a variety of tasks, accepting help from other body parts as needed. From opening flip-top cans to tightly screwed-on lids to spreading butter on bread to cutting food into bite-sized pieces to safely depositing them into my mouth instead of on my by one it has accomplished them all. Finding itself responsible for personal hygiene tasks it once sat idly through, it can now squeeze toothpaste onto an unsteady toothbrush, then brush teeth, comb hair, and wash and dress the body like it had been doing so for years. The dogs are still fed, the cat's litter box is clean, sheets are changed, and floors are vacuumed, just as before. As we come to the end of the second week after my injury, I look at my left hand with new-found pride and appreciation.

Funny, I've been looking at my husband the same way. He, too, has stepped into roles he hasn't had to play in the extent of our 34-year marriage, but he has done so with willingness and grace, despite an already busy schedule and full plate. He has sat in emergency rooms, by hospital bedsides and at doctor's offices, despite a distaste for medical procedures of any kind. He canceled meetings, worked on his laptop from home and made up work hours on weekends that used to be spent on his to-do lists, rather than mine. In recent days he's become my chauffeur, personal chef, and fashion advisor, even digging through his own closet for old pajama tops and button-up shirts that could be altered to accommodate a bulky cast. The kicker came when he volunteered to help me curl my hair...not because my looks bothered him, but because the inability to do it myself bothered me. For two weeks straight he has barely given a thought to himself in his efforts to make sure I am safe and supplied with everything I need. Because he has had to step into roles he's never had to play, I've seen sides of him I hadn't ever seen before, and have simply found new things to love about my left-handed man as a result.

Perhaps that is the silver lining to all the difficulties we face; the change in perspective they offer us. We go through our lives on auto-pilot much of the time until something happens that suddenly changes life as we know it and forces us to re-examine that which we formerly took for granted. The blessing of unexpected difficulty is the opportunity it provides to see life in a new way and grow somehow as a result. I've heard it preached many times that if our first instinct is to ask God what we can learn from the situation when trouble strikes, what was a challenge becomes instead a chance to improve ourselves. Suddenly we are faced with a choice as to how we are going to look at the days to come. We can either just survive the situation and strive to get back to where we were, or we can instead use it as a stepping stone to a life of greater victory and happiness on down the road. Every need in our life simply gives us a new view of God as He responds to it and another reason to love Him more. The wisdom behind the Bible's admonition to give thanks in every situation lies in the fact that blessings surround every difficult happenstance if we just have eyes to see them and avail ourselves of the opportunities they present.

Initially I was going to wait till the fast-approaching Valentine holiday to tell my husband how much I love him and have appreciated his care and help in recent days. But that's yet a month away. By then my right arm will be quickly taking on its old tasks and resuming its former dominance, and I don't want to forget the lessons I'm learning along the way. The proper response to any challenge is to first give thanks for its hidden blessings... today.

God loves to crown difficulty with blessing. He works everything out for good. Our part is to abide in the beauty and power of His love and remain firmly on purpose.”
- Graham Cooke

Monday, April 13, 2015

Working for KROGER and the KING

A ten-year employee of my local Kroger grocery store, I am one of the lucky ones in life who loves her job. But who also doesn't love a break in the work schedule and the gift of some unexpected free time? When my doctor told me initially to expect to be off for six to eight weeks following surgery, my eyes popped at the thought of all I might accomplish in that time period. The need for additional surgery extended my sick leave, and to date it's been three months and more since I last clocked in for a shift.

Through it all, Kroger has been terrific to me. Processing paperwork to arrange for a leave of absence from work and to set up short-term disability payments was surprisingly simple; a few phone calls and the matter was done. Paychecks came in the mail, my medical insurance started paying my bills, and my boss and coworkers checked in with me regularly to see how I was doing and to offer their support. When my manager assured me that they would hold my job for me despite the delays to my return-to-work date, I was able to focus on recovery and leave the worry over my employment status behind.

While I have enjoyed the time off immensely, increasingly in recent weeks I have felt that I really need to get back to work. Three forces pushing me in that direction are gratitude, a sense of indebtedness, and the simple enjoyment of the job itself. This surprising encounter with the medical profession has really caused me to appreciate how much the company offers in the way of help and assistance in a time of need. I hadn't realized how good our benefits package was until I had occasion to use it. Besides the very real need to cover the insurance premiums I missed while on disability, I am anxious to get back and offer my best in return for the company's giving me theirs. And I have sorely missed the camaraderie of my coworkers and the kindness of the customers I serve on a daily basis while I've been away. It's simply time to go back.

There have likewise been times through the years when I've been sidelined in my service to God and the spiritual community for various reasons. A difficult situation in one church required a period of rest and healing before investing again in another. A move to a new house of worship necessitated the establishment of new contacts with pastors and church leaders before ministry opportunities could open up. And there have been simple “times of refreshing” as described in the Bible where I just needed to take a break and be ministered to myself so I would have something to offer to somebody else.

The same three forces have always propelled me back into the spiritual work force, however. Overwhelming gratitude to God for all He has done for me through the years is chief among those. He has come through for me in ways I couldn't have imagined before coming to know Him, and daily I grow in gratitude for His kindness and compassion. I am also very aware, however, that my life is no longer my own. I now willingly serve the One who paid the price for my salvation and all the resultant joy of that experience. And frankly, there is no greater joy than discovering and operating in my God-given-gifts to those I meet on a daily basis; working for God is simply great fun.

Later this morning I go to the doctor, and today I expect him to finally sign the paper releasing me to go back to work. Now physically as well as spiritually, I'm ready to buckle down and get back on the job.

...aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands...”
(1 Thessalonians 4:11 NKJV)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Water JUG

Sometimes the most effective advice is the simplest.

After two months in physical therapy, I now have an impressive collection of assigned exercises and workout equipment to use in the process of straightening out my recuperating arm. Multiple sheets of paper detail how to stretch the muscles correctly as well as how many exercise repetitions to perform per set, and how many sets to do per day. A plastic shopping bag holds the rubber stretchy bands, the weights, the towels and even the hammer I use as aids in the accomplishment of this routine. And yet it was my doctor rather than my therapist who gave me the advice that seems to have helped the most.

“Get an empty gallon jug, and fill it with a couple of inches of water. Then let it hang from the hand of your injured arm, and the weight of the water will gradually pull your arm straight. Just let gravity do its thing,” he said.

“That's it?”, I wondered. Just let it hang? No movement? No pictures? No other instructions? Could it really be that easy? And after years of fighting the effects of gravity on my body, was I really supposed to now partner up with it and let it have its way? It all just seemed a little bogus to me. But because I trust the doctor, I gave it a try. And while other exercises have come and gone since he first gave me that advice, that one strategy has proven most effective in helping to straighten my arm.

I wonder why we think something has to be complicated to be effective. We tend to shy away from the easy answer, the quick fix, the solution that doesn't require a whole lot of sweat and effort on our part. We stubbornly hang on to the thought that if it's our problem then its solution is up to us, and we have to do something to make it right. And actually, we couldn't be farther from the truth.

The best solution when trouble hits is to take it to God. Usually we do this as a last resort rather than a first response. After we have tried and failed to fix things on our own, in desperation we turn to the One we should have gone to in the first place. There is a reason He is called our Counselor. And what does He ask of us, but that we place the matter in His hands and then believe that He has the power and the desire to handle it for us...simple instructions that seem too easy to be a true and yet are surprisingly difficult to follow. What finally sways us is the trust we have in the One Who spoke the words. Do we trust Him enough to put the things most dear to us in His hands and allow Him to straighten out what we couldn't fix on our own? The real issue at hand is not whatever difficulty we're dealing with at the time but our relationship with the Problem Solver Himself. If we focus our time, effort and attention in in developing that connection, we'll find that God is more than capable of handling the rest.

Be anxious for nothing, but in all things, through prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 4:6,7)

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Assurance of INSURANCE

Surprisingly, the most painful part of my elbow ordeal was not physical in nature, but worry over how we would handle the extra medical expenses while dealing with my reduced income. I knew from past outpatient surgeries that bills would bombard us from every direction, from equipment suppliers to x-ray technicians to anesthesiologists to the doctor himself. Add the cost of emergency room services and even just a one-night hospital stay, and I knew the total could well be financially overwhelming. I reminded myself that I had insurance, but we had never really had occasion to test it. Our claims to date had been small ones; visits to the doctor that were usually preventative in nature, costing us nothing, or that resulted in small bills that we could easily handle. I waited nervously for the first bills to arrive.

Thankfully the billing process is a slow one, and I was able to put the worry aside to concentrate on the more important process of recuperation. Still, my stomach clenched the first time I opened the mailbox and found an Explanation of Benefits from the insurance company inside. Nervously I ripped open the envelope and hurriedly scanned the pages inside.

“Wow! That's not so bad...”, I said in relief. As the EOBs continued to arrive in the days that followed, that initial response was followed by a “That's great!”, an “Are you kidding me?!” well as happy dances in my kitchen when the “biggies” arrived! Thanks to my insurance coverage, charges originally in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars had miraculously diminished into totals that I could either pay outright or effectively manage over time. I was thrilled, and such good news surely sped the recovery process along. When a second surgery was scheduled, I didn't give the financial aspect of the situation a thought, knowing now that my insurance company had my back.

Some of us likewise worry about the quality and strength of our faith. We simply haven't had occasion to put our trust in God's Word to the test. When trouble hits, we wonder if our belief system will be strong enough to sustain us in a difficult time.

The Bible tells us that initially we are all given a measure of faith. That faith works like a muscle that grows stronger with repeated use. Eventually it is built up to the point that it can sustain the blows of doubt and discouragement that the enemy likes to throw our way, becoming the bedrock on which we build our lives and set our hopes for the future. Because of our growing personal history of the faithfulness of God, we no longer worry about what we may face tomorrow – we can look back on what he did for us yesterday and simply give thanks for His presence in our lives today. Whatever the quality of our earthly insurance, we're always in good hands with God.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
(Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

Thursday, April 9, 2015


The number of times I've stayed overnight in a hospital can be counted on  the fingers of one hand. While I'm grateful I haven't had occasion to sleep over more often, my hospital stays have been relatively joyous events – the birthing of children, a procedure to stop the birthing of children, and lately, my emergency elbow surgery.

Few people associate a hospital stay with the word joy. Successful, perhaps. Complicated, maybe. Painful, almost certainly. But joyous? Not so much.

Several factors contributed to make my recent hospital experience a happy one. Monitoring my level of pain was a primary concern. I was well cared for by a host of people, from a a doctor I trusted to a diligent nursing staff. And visitors! Not one, but two pastors stopped by from my church to make sure I was okay and to pray with me. My husband juggled working on his computer from the hospital waiting room with running back and forth to the house to check on our dogs with fetching me electronic gadgetry of various kinds. And my youngest son had just started driving back to his Louisiana home when he got the text message about my elbow; he turned his car right back around and was sitting in my room, flowers in hand, when I returned there from the recovery room! He ended up spending the night with me, his lengthy frame folded into the hard plastic recliner next to the bed. We cheered a local college basketball team on to victory and watched a favorite movie, all the while laughing and chatting a good deal of the night away. The next morning...breakfast in bed!...along with not one but three cups of coffee to combat the caffeine deprivation I was only just beginning to feel. What's not to like? I still smile at the memory, weeks after the fact.

Many people find themselves as reluctant to enter a church as they are to walk through the doors of a hospital. Previous experiences may have been painful for them for one reason or another, and they are reluctant to put themselves in a similar situation again, however badly they may need the services offered. Many only do so in desperation, when the pain they are carrying in their hearts becomes more than they can carry alone.

God never intended for His house to be anything but a place of hope and healing, restoration and joy, a place where hurting people are welcomed and invited to find the help they need. And the ones that are successful in meeting those goals have much in common with a good hospital. They offer real life solutions to pain and and chains of various kinds that people can't seem to overcome on their own. They are staffed by capable and caring individuals who are operating in their God-given gifts of service to others. Fellowship is readily available and encouraged, to lighten the heart and strengthen the bonds between family and friends. Great spiritual food is served up on a regular basis, and attenders are taught how to find such sustenance for themselves. Follow-up and feedback are words they are not just familiar with, but work into their schedules.

When scheduling the second surgery on my elbow, my doctor asked me which hospital I preferred, as he worked out of several in the local area. While they all offer the same basic services, each is a little different in the way they do things. And the same is true of most churches; the same God operates in them all, which one you choose is mainly a matter of personal preference. As with my elbow, sometimes one visit simply isn't enough. The important thing is to keep looking until you get the help you need... and a smile on your face that refuses to fade away.

The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.”
-Morton T. Kelsey

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

GRATITUDE for the Little Things

My daily journal entries have been a little different of late. Normally I start my devotional time with a review of the past twenty-four hours and a listing of things I am thankful for, just to get my thinking started along the right track. But since my elbow injury at the start of the year, my entries (when I could write them, lol) have been different, smaller in scope and more specific in detail. “Got three curlers in my hair today!” was a biggie. “A six degree change in my arm extension at the therapist's office!” read another. “Flossed my teeth for the first time in...” well, never mind. No need to gross you out when you're kind enough to read my blog. But who ever took the time to realize that it takes two fully functioning hands to be able to floss one's teeth?! I surely didn't. It was just one of those things I did without thinking as I prepared for the more important moments of the day. Now those little victories have become my day.

God has used this circumstance to reinforce what I read last year in Ann Voskamp's bestseller, One Thousand Gifts. A life-changing read, it details her journey from a mere existence into a fully-lived life by finding joy and expressing gratitude for the very smallest elements in it. More than just noticing those moments as they blew by, she captured them, on paper, sometimes with her camera, and always in her heart. By giving thanks for each one she allowed the love of the Gifter to fill her life with joy...on a moment to moment basis. And then she went on the hunt for more!

My biggest worry in my lengthy recovery time surprisingly has not been about whether my elbow would ever be fully functional again, or whether my employer would hold my job, or where the money would come from to pay my bills. It's been about wasting this unexpected gift of time off from work I've been given. I've made lists and then fretted when items haven't been crossed off and rooms remain cluttered and others' expectations haven't been met. Yet my journal entries have shown me that in God's eyes, at least, I've gotten it right.

We've all been given just a limited amount of time on the earth. With our career paths mapped out and our bucket lists getting longer by the day, we're on the run to get it all done before time is called. And yet, it's not about the length of time we're given but what we do with those moments that counts. God can use a setback of some sort to take our eyes off our futures and set them squarely on today. The secret to not wasting a lifetime is to not waste a day. Perhaps the biggest blessing of this whole situation for me is learning that giving gratitude for the little things... is really the biggest thing there is.

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


A little encouragement is a wonderful thing. 

The size of the situations we deal with is irrelevant; anything that happens to us is important in our own eyes, however minor it may seem to the rest of the world. Whether it's something as simple as a bad day on the job or as weighty as a frightening diagnosis from a doctor, the support of the people around us has a huge impact on the attitude with which we face the struggle.

My elbow surgery ranked among the minor maladies, yet the attention I received from the people around me was a huge blessing. Phone calls, text messages, flowers, visits, get-well gifts, cards in the mail, Facebook's no wonder I went around with a smile on my face while my arm was yet wrapped in a cast. I felt absolutely blessed that so many people cared.

Christians are not immune from trouble in this world; the Bible says in this life we will have tribulation. But Christ tells us that we can face it with fortitude because He dealt with the problem of our isolation on the Cross. More painful than the physical wounds He endured, perhaps, were the moments when God turned His head away because Jesus had covered Himself with the sin of the world. Jesus experienced the abandonment of God so that we would never have to. His death purchased the promise that God would never leave us or forsake us. We are not alone.

God has placed us in His family, surrounded us with a built-in support group of other believers whose job it is to love and care for us as together we make our way Home. He has filled His Word with examples of people who have gone before us, their stories detailed to encourage and inspire us. And He has given us the Holy Spirit to be our best friend, our Counselor, Healer, Comforter...the answer to our every need. We are not alone.

That's plenty to smile about, right there. :)

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”
(Hebrews 12:1)

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Problem with EXTENSION

My biggest problem in recovering from my broken elbow has never been dealing with pain from either the injury itself or the resultant surgeries. My struggle has been with extension; getting my elbow joint to open up to restore my reach. As detailed in a previous story, weeks of inactivity while the fractures healed allowed time for a sliver of bone to grow up behind the joint and prevent forward arm motion. Once the bone chip was removed, my arm was able to go straight; in fact it was once again locked in that position in the brace for the first few days after the surgery. But now the issue is not with bones and joints but rather with muscles that want to pull back into the less functional bent position.

My physical therapist is working hard to help me in this regard. When I come in at the start of the session, I can usually open my arm to about 45 degrees short of horizontal. He wraps my elbow in a heating pad for the first several minutes of our time together, and then massages the bicep muscle with cocoa butter and firm pressure while he gently but persistently straightens my arm out as far as it will go. By the time I leave he can get it within single digits of his 180-degree goal. The problem is that I can not yet reproduce his results on my own. So I have exercises to do at home and various strategies to not only loosen up those muscles but get them to stay that way.

Funny, God's church has long had a similar problem with extension. We believers are to be His hand extended to those in need, whether it be physical assistance or love, mercy and forgiveness. We know what we are supposed to do, yet too often we simply come up short in that regard. Pastors and ministry leaders coach us to the best of their ability, encouraging action on our parts, but too often we pull back into old habits and mindsets, returning to our fixed opinions and remaining locked within the walls of our places of worship. The problem is an internal one, a matter of the heart, one that can't be fixed by external pressure alone but rather by an internal turnabout, a supernatural work. Lucky for us that work was done on the Cross, and its benefits are available to us all.

The brace that encloses my arm has a big dial on either side of the elbow joint that allows me to adjust how much the arm can open or close, reminding me that to some degree at least, the amount of my extension is under my own control. While a truly generous spirit isn't something I can dial up on my own, the more I allow Christ to change me on the inside, the greater my reach will be to the outside world.

“Which of these three do you think proved himself a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers? He answered, The one who showed pity and mercy to him. And Jesus said to him, Go and do likewise.”
(Luke 10:36-37 AMP)

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