Thursday, June 25, 2015

Life's Tests

I remember the night that my son, a freshman college student, experienced his first full-fledged anxiety attack over impending final exams.  As to be expected, he was feeling overwhelmed by the large volumes of material he was required to know and regurgitate on his cumulative exams. I remember the feeling well. Finals are scary—no doubt about it. I did my best to reassure him that the task before him was indeed doable and that I had complete confidence in his ability to do well.  After our conversation, as I crawled into bed and rehashed our discussion in my head, I had one of those adult realizations regarding the true insignificance and relative ease of those college exams in the grand scheme of life. I realize in his present age and state, my son would likely disagree with me.  However, one day, he, too, will understand that academic tests are predictable and manageable. It is funny how age and perspective changes everything.

In recent years, I have come to understand that the most important tests in life do not come with scheduled test dates, class notes, textbooks, or professors with office hours.  In fact, the greatest tests in life generally come with absolutely no warning at all—tests like your spouse becoming a victim of corporate downsizing and losing his job of 23 years, the abrupt loss of a loved one, or the sudden and unexplained illness of your child.  These are a few of the tests life has thrown at me in recent months.  I don’t have a mathematical formula, a theory to memorize, or a graduate assistant I can consult as I face these cumulative tests. Furthermore, they multiply. Each test seems to morph into additional tests as new situations develop, people react to those situations, and life just happens.

The professor in this great class of life is the Almighty God, and as a Christian, it is my time to apply what He has been teaching me throughout these many years under His tutelage. My response to these tests and my ability to be a witness of unfailing confidence in His greater plan determines my grade in this interactive classroom called life. Without doubt, I believe all of life’s struggles are intended to point us toward faith in God’s timing and His plan for our individual lives. I also believe life’s triumphs and blessings are intended to do the same—direct us to the one who provides the blessing. What a challenge it is to us all to keep this in mind when we find ourselves in the midst of either circumstance! It is indeed a moment by moment struggle, but God does gently nudge us onward.  He has provided quite a journey for me during these past 18 months....

In the coming weeks, I plan to write about some of the lessons God has taught me about the absolute sovereignty of His timing.

 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose”—Romans 8:28

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mama's Rules for Life

My sweet Shannon, words cannot express how proud I am of you and your many accomplishments, nor can even the most eloquent of words conjure up the wealth of emotions that swell inside me when I think about the intelligent, compassionate, and dedicated young lady you have become.  Although I often feel that you have life figured out far more than I did at your age, I have been contemplating the thoughts I want you hold dear as you begin your adult life and venture from our home into a life all your own. Keeping in mind that you love lists as much as I do and knowing that you have a list for items you want for your new apartment,  groceries, clothes to buy for work, your favorite Bible verses, and even a checklist of the character traits of the man of your dreams--I have decided to present you with yet another list.  The ideas that follow are some of the important principles I believe are of great value as you begin to navigate life on you own.

1.   Keep God number one.
2.   Embrace learning. While this seems simple, realize that Texas A&M University does not hand out degrees.  You have worked exceedingly hard to obtain the skills needed for your profession.  As you begin your new job, realize that the real learning is just beginning.  In fact, learning never stops. Life changes, job requirements change, technology changes, and you, too, will change—study and reflect constantly. Just as you had to complete assignments to meet the specifications of different professors, every boss you have will have his/her own way of how things must be done. You may not always agree with their methods; nonetheless, respect their position.  As you learn the small details to accomplish your daily tasks, ask questions to understand the big picture of the business services your company provides. You will appreciate your place in the company more as you gain greater understanding of how the entire operation works.  Every position you hold within in the company allows you to ask more questions and gain more working knowledge of that all-important big picture.  Those who get the “big picture” at work get promoted. 
3.   Learn to say no to nonessentials. You are about to be bombarded with countless opportunities to be on committees at work, join service organizations, teach children’s Bible study, head this committee, join that….  You will have friends who are committed to some activity every evening of the week. Busy does not equate to happy.  You must have “me” time to recharge and reflect on the direction of your life.  With that being said, choose your commitments carefully.  It is impossible to do all things well.  Contrary to your resume, you are not superwoman.  Pick activities that fulfill you and choose to spend time with people who encourage you to pursue your dreams.  Likewise, be aware of becoming entangled in the details of life. Don’t get trapped by the idea that you must live your life exactly like others. You alone must evaluate and determine the essentials and nonessentials in your own life.
4.   Surrender control. Understand when it is your place to take control and your place to accept the authority of others. When it’s someone else’s circus, don’t try to tame their monkeys.  Likewise, learn to accept help from others and appreciate the talents they can bring to the table.  Leaders know their own limitations and bow out gracefully to let others with different strengths and talents take over in the right times and circumstances. Successful teams are made up of individuals with varied skills that come together as equals to contribute to a common goal. Sometimes your talents will naturally put you in that leadership position; other times your colleagues may be better qualified to lead. The best leaders inspire and empower others; therefore, they facilitate. They do not dominate!
5.   Keep it classy. Despite society’s definition of this term, class is not a result of the company you keep, the clothes you wear, the money you earn, or related to material success in any way. Instead, class is a delicate mixture of respecting yourself and respecting others. Remain humble enough to admit your shortcomings and be brave enough to offer others a helping hand because at some time or another, we all stumble….
6.   Marry your best friend. God provides a partner for life—someone with whom to build a future and to share life’s blessings and disappointments. Pick a man that has integrity and puts God and family first. Find the man who sees you exactly as you are—the good, the bad, and everything in between--and loves you for ALL that you are. Marry someone who challenges you every day to be the person God desires you to be and strive to encourage him to do the same. When God offers His right companion, accept this tremendous blessing and guard it earnestly.
7.   Don't give up you when you say “I do.”  With no one to blame but myself, this is what I did for many years. I became Patrick’s wife and then Shannon’s and Jason’s mother. I truly believed that in order to be a good wife and parent that I had to put all of you first all of the time. Somewhere in those years, my dreams faded, my self-worth became entangled with my husband’s or children’s success, and my personal identity became blurred as I focused on my role in our family. It has taken me many years to rediscover my own identity, and I pray that you do a better juggling job than I did. I believe you can take on many roles in life without sacrificing yourself in the process. In your mission to raise a family, remember to stay true to you.
8.   People are more important than possessions. Nothing you own, no matter how great its material value, will ever be as precious as those you love. Love passionately because our time in this world is short. We have no guarantees about our allotted time in this place nor the time God provides others. Consciously choose to devote your time and attention to those you love.
9.   Time is limited—use it wisely. Determine your priorities and spend your time there. If you are not careful, you can easily get caught up in the unimportant details of life and weeks, months, and even years fly by quickly. As Mr. Cloudt likes to remind us, major on the majors and minor on the minors.
10.   When life gets complicated, see rule 1.