Friday, February 24, 2012

The Word became a human and lived among us. We saw His true glory—the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father—and He was full of grace and truth. John 1:14

If you read my blog on Ash Wednesday, you know I made a few promises. Two people at church reminded me of the 40 blog commitment.

I don't make promises often because they are so much easier to make than keep- even with the best intention. On the other hand, promises keep us accountable. I willingly obliged myself to that. Promises of completed blogs and lost pounds and a closer walk.

What I sometimes forget is that I have the greatest power in the Universe willing to help me keep my promises.

Do you ever forget that?

I made You promises a thousand times

I tried to hear from Heaven, but I talked the whole time

I think I made You too small...

If You touched my face would I know You?

Looked into my eyes could I behold You?

In Palm Springs, CA the weather this weekend will be 80 degrees and sunny. The Ohio State Buckeyes will enjoy good weather for their softball tournament! Here in Western PA...yeah, weather not so much like that.

Of course, we do have sunny days in the 80's. But the sun looks and feels different depending on where you are. Have you noticed that? Since I have not yet been west of the Mississippi River, West Coast sun is unfamiliar to me. I had hoped to be in Palm Springs to see the tourney, and I was so looking forward to CA sunshine! Life had different plans.

What do I know of You who spoke me into motion?

Where have I even stood but the shore along Your ocean?

For ten Buckeyes, California is home - and they are delighted to be there! Visiting California will be exciting for me, but I will never know the state and the culture like those girls do. They speak of CaliSWAG, and I get what they mean, but I can't feel it.

In the same way, I laugh when people from warm climates say how much they love snow. But if you spent your life in the South or Southwest, you don't know snow. You don't know shoveling and cleaning cars and driving in it for several months a year.

Which brings me back to the Scripture verse, and to promises...

There are many places I want to see; California, Greece, Italy...I have read about all of them. But reading about them and being there, knowing them, are entirely different.

I have read many books about Jesus, seen movies, participated in Bible studies, sat in church every Sunday for many years.

Does that mean I know Him? Do you know Him? REALLY know Him?

What do I know of Holy? What do I know of wounds that will heal my shame?

And a God who gave life its name?

What do I know of Holy? Of the One who the angels praise?

All creation knows Your name on earth and heaven above, What do I know of this love?

The Word - Jesus - became a human being and came to live with us. Say it out loud. He wasn't content want to watch from His throne. He wanted to be where we are. Do you get that?

The "living with us" part isn't past tense. He wants to know us. Me and you. Your partner, your kids, the politicians you despise, the athletes you love.

The people who walked with Him on this Earth had the opportunity to see his true Glory, had the chance to experience his love and grace first-hand. But so do we!

God's promises to us are as real today as the day He made them. And He is always faithful.

The cool thing is that He is willing to help us in every way. When I make a promise to write 40 blogs in 40 days, He will help. When I make a promise to lose 20 pounds in 40 days, He will help.

When you make a promise to spend more time with your family, or rid your home of "stuff" or read the Bible daily, He will help.

If we let knew there was a catch.

I know in the next 40 days, I am going to turn on the TV, and He will nudge me...40 blogs? Or maybe I will reach for chips in the store and get a little shock... 20 pounds?

People say they don't hear or feel nudges like that, but I know He does that. And here is the hard truth...for a long time, I didn't feel it because I didn't pay attention. How about you? OUCH ??

Then I caught a glimpse of who you might be,

The slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees

I can still choose not to pay attention, but I won't.

I won't because I have seen his hand, have seen Him work in my life, have been a recipient of His grace.

I don't want to just read about California - I want to be there.

I don't want know who Jesus is - I want to know Him.

How about you?

Maybe we can help each other in the next 38 days.

We will talk again soon...

BP :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lent, Buckeye Softball, and Hunger

I am hungry today.

As far as my stomach goes, that is a rather subjective statement, because I don't truly know what physical hunger feels like. You probably don't either. Not really.

But I am giving some types of food up for Lent - and my spoiled body is protesting. In truth, I could survive for days (weeks?) on water and my stored food....that is a nicer term than "fat"

There are other things for which I am hungry. How about you? Think about it...

My favorite softball team is hungry too. The Ohio State Buckeyes opened the season Feb 10-12, in Clerton FL, by going 2-3. More highs than lows, lots of reason for optimism, just a few difficult innings. In Las Vegas last weekend, they lost their first game, then went on a 4 game rip. Let's hope what happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas this time!

The Ohio State softball program is rich in tradition and success. Head coach Linda Kalafatis is a brilliant motivator and strategist. She has 785 wins for her career, putting her in an elite class. Coach K has lead the Buckeyes to a Big Ten Championship and six appearances in the NCAA Tourney. Ali Viola, assistant head coach, was a three time All-American and a Women's Professional League champion. Danielle Henderson, pitching coach, was a three time All-American and Olympic Gold Medalist. Winning is the expectation at Ohio State.

Can you identify with being part of a company or group or team that is highly successful? Can you relate to MoJo, the SWAG, that comes with that. It is a confidence, a sense of calm, a knowing that even if the ships lists, it will be righted. It is a GOOD feeling.

The 2012 Buckeyes are hungry to get that back. 2011 was an anomaly. Injuries and other challenges lead to only the second losing season in Linda Kalafatis' career.

So the team heads to Palm Springs this week at 6-4... the first time over .500 since the 2010 season. That year, the Buckeyes started off with a loss in a Houston tourney, then won 4 in a row! (Sounds familiar!) They went on to finish 39-14 and advance to their fourth NCAA regional appearance in 5 years, despite having only 2 pitchers by season's end.

The 2012 Buckeyes are hungry. There are six players who were Buckeyes in 2010 - they know how winning feels and are hungry to feel it again. Another seven players experienced 2011, with its 13-37 record, as their first year at OSU- they are hungry to get last year's taste out of their mouths and taste winning. And there are nine newcomers who are hungry to start a new winning streak for Buckeye softball. HUNGRY!

What are you hungry for? What are you going to do about it?

Sometimes when I am hungry, my wishbone is very active. I wish I had more money...I wish I was in better shape...I wish I blah blah blah.

You know what I mean. I know you do.

The 2012 Buckeyes are relying on backbone, not wishbone. They have worked hard in the off-season and in the weight room. They have built camaraderie and a sense of purpose...all under the guidance of an excellent coaching staff.

The 2012 Buckeyes have reacted to their hunger by making a decision....a decision to devote every effort necessary to winning...a decision to BELIEVE without wavering...a decision to stick together as a team with a mission.

Which brings me back to Lent and my hunger...yes, thank you, in my ADD mind, it does bring me back there.

I rarely have physical hunger.

I do, however, have a hunger to be in better shape physically. I have a hunger to simplify my world by getting rid of a bunch of "stuff" I don't need. I have a hunger to make sure all my thoughts run through a Brita-like filter, so I can encourage others with positive energy. I have a hunger to finish the book I have started, and to write a daily blog that speaks to people in a helpful way.

And I have a hunger for Jesus to be more real, more present in everything I do, every moment of my day. So, on this Ash Wednesday, I will make my way to church. Like the Ohio State Buckeyes, I do better with a team of like-minded supporters.

But I still must make a decision about each of my hungers. I must decide to want weight loss more than I want chips, and firm muscles more than I want to sleep or sit on the couch.

I must decide to want simplicity more than I want that special thingy that so-and-so bought that I haven't touched for years but might need next week.

I must decide that because my thoughts become things, I better choose wisely. And because words can either uplift or destroy, I must decide to either lift up or shut up.

I must decide that writing, which I know has its source deep in my being, must be more important than television or cleaning (ouch that's a hard one) or Words With Friends (another hard one).

But the hunger has to be real. I have to want it as much as I want to breathe, more than I want to eat or sleep, more than I want a spotless house with no dirty laundry.

How about you? What hungers do you have? What will you do about it?

The 2012 Buckeyes have a hunger to win...and I can't wait to watch the season play out, and their dream come true.

I have made a decision about my hungers. Ash Wednesday is a great day to start. 40 blogs, 20 pounds off, a finished draft of my book, each day closer to Jesus...all by Easter, April 8.

You can follow how I am doing, and how the Buckeyes are doing, by reading my blogs. Follow me on Twitter (BethPainter1123) - you don't want to miss out!

And think about your hungers...share them if you like.

We will talk tomorrow!

BP :)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Falling Apart, Withering Plants, Falling Together

Sometimes things have to fall apart so better things can fall together.

I spent an hour last Monday pruning my Tradescantia zebrina, aka Wandering Jew. Started from clippings from another plant, this one has never been as full as the one from which it came. A foot below the soil, the branches and leaves were vibrant. But, at soil level, the branches were weak, and the leaves were like thin brown paper.

Initially, I worked very gently, pulling off dead leaves, tugging gingerly to determine which branches I could remove. I had a small waste can beside me.

That lasted about 10 which point it was clear a complete overhaul was needed. The kitchen garbage can replaced the smaller one.

There was some trepidation as so much of the plant fell to the floor. Surely, there would be some branches strong enough to stay. Parts of it looked so pretty, and it was even blooming. It's a classic dilemma - the healthy parts were beautiful, the unhealthy parts were hideous and destructive. I wanted to save what I could, separate the dead from the beautiful. But each time I pulled at a dead branch, several seemingly healthy ones fell. Very soon, the pot was empty - on the floor was a mixture of very dead and very healthy pieces.

Sometimes things have to fall apart so better things can fall together.

Understand that I had been neglecting this task for weeks. The plant is in a prominent place, and this "deadness" didn't happen overnight. Numerous times, I have noticed how bad it looked at the top. But, I just wasn't sure what to do.

So I did nothing.

Oh, don't we all know that story?!?

I don't know the techniques used by florists to make the plant full, and I was afraid I would make it worse. And maybe I didn't want to spend the time. Instead, I watched as it slowly began to die.

I know - you've been there. Maybe not with a plant, but with something.

Sometimes things have to fall apart so better things can fall together.

It is rare that anything falls apart all by itself, with no prior warning. A plant, relationship, vehicle, physical body - there are almost always warnings signs. Dead leaves, if you will.

We tell ourselves lies: Sure, that red light keeps coming on - but the car is running well. Yes, I have chest pains often, but I probably pulled a muscle. I know he/she says disrespects me in front of my friends, but there is a nice person deep inside. Yes, I see the dead leaves. don't have money or time or the heart. Isn't that your reason?

I have a friend who drives a beater. Her classic line is, "I can't take it to the garage because I'm afraid it will cost a lot." So much better to not take it and have the entire car ruined.

That's not to say we always stand by idly. Sometimes we do everything we can, and either we waited too long, or there was simply no means of prevention . At which point, we make a decision: go on as if nothing is wrong - ignore the falling apart - or make a change.

What's that you say? Yes, I know change is hard. H.A.R.D.

And here is the kicker...whether you doing something or do nothing, you have still made a decision.

Sometimes things have to fall apart so better things can fall together.

Yesterday I finally decided to take action with this neglected plant. With the pot empty, and the floor covered with pretty leaves, I had to decide if I was going to save it or bag it.

The decision was easy because the plant has special meaning to me. Besides, Wandering Jews root easily in water. And, with sufficient care, they can also regenerate in soil. I filled two large vases with water and healthy clippings. Then, using a straw, I made as many holes as possible in the dirt. The straw was sometimes met with resistance because the dirt had become compacted. Hmmmm... that isn't a good environment for plant growth, is it? Funny how you find causes once you start to clean up the mess.

I reclaimed enough healthy pieces to fill all the holes...and for the past 7 days I have been faithfully tending, making sure the soil stays wet, watching to see if those pieces are growing. I have also researched methods for fostering fuller growth, top and bottom.

Sometimes things have to fall apart so better things can fall together.

Granted, most things that fall apart aren't as easy to bring together again. But then , what value does "easy" have?

Two lessons for me:

1. Had I given the plant this much attention earlier, had I pulled dead leaves as they appeared, trimmed long branches and stuck them back in the soil, loosened the soil to promote absorption of water and air, I may have been able to save myself some work and not had to begin again.

Applicable to many parts of life, eh?

2. Even when things do fall apart, the plant isn't necessarily dead...and my life isn't necessarily over. God will still cause the sun to come up, and He will still order my steps.

I will keep you updated on how the plant grows. I believe it will be better than ever!

Sometimes things have to fall apart so better things can fall together.

We will talk again soon...

BP :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Buckeye softball...Whitney...and BELIEVING

My favorite softball team, The Ohio State Buckeyes, opened the season in Clermont, Florida last weekend. And one of the greatest singers ever died Saturday... a tragic end full of life lessons.

I thought of one of my favorite Whitney Houston songs Sunday while following the final softball game of the weekend...

We were moving mountains long before we knew we could...There can be miracles when you believe

Though hope is frail, It's hard to kill

Who knows what miracles you can achieve

When you believe, somehow you will

You will when you believe

Whitney Houston grew up in the church, got her start as a gospel singer alongside her mother Cissy. There was little indication Whitney attended church much in the past 25 years. But she spoke in more than one interview about her love for Jesus, and she believed she was a child of God. Religious? Probably not, according to society's definition. A lover of Jesus? It seems so.

The tragic aspect of this lies in Whitney's profession of a love for God, but no love for herself. What good is it to believe God loves me, if I don't believe in myself, if I don't grab hold of that love?

Whitney fought her demons long and hard, so the following is said with no malice toward her. It is my experience that "professing without showing" is too often the case among Christians. If I tell you I am committed to working out daily, but my pant size keeps growing, are you going to follow my workout regime? Didn't think so.

If I tell you I believe in God, in His power and what it can do in my life, but you see no change, no evidence of belief, are you going to jump up and run to Bible study with me? Didn't think so. My "believing" has to be something people SEE, not something I just talk about.

Which brings us back to Buckeye softball...

The writer and softball fan in me loves the grit of a northern team that plays 25 games on the road before having a home game, the integrity that is evident in playing "The Ohio State way" (as defined by Head Coach Linda Kalafatis) and the mojo that fuels the Buckeyes.

I don't know Coach Kalafatis well. We have spoken twice, met once briefly, have mutual friends. I certainly can't speak to her faith journey.

What I do know is that she has a gift for reaching and inspiring young women... she pulls the best from them, teaches them about being a scholar and an athlete, about hard work, playing tough, winning graciously, losing with your head up but your jaw set...and doing it all as a team.

These aren't softball lessons. They are life lessons. They are lessons about believing in yourself, in your team/family, in the power of your commitment to a common goal. Lessons which can inspire and benefit all of us.

The 2012 Buckeyes have a mission - to go from Worst To First in the Big Ten. It is a challenge that will require all the lessons mentioned, as well as belief. Correction...BELIEF. From every player. In herself. In her teammates. In the coaching staff. In the midst of every game, every practice, every situation.

Truthfully, the first steps of this journey began in the disappointing 2011 season... steps taken through the frustration of watching teammates go down with injuries, irritation of losing close games, the heartache of two young ladies losing a parent - two beloved members of this family gone.

We were moving mountains long before we knew we could...

The foundation of a grand mission is built when you can walk through that kind of difficulty, keep your head up, and learn lessons. Whether we are 19 and playing softball, or 49 and playing life, the best lessons always come from the lowest times.

During those times in the pit and the climb out, belief has to walk, not just talk.
You know people, don't you, who talk about faith, trust, blah blah, then fall off the edge every time something goes wrong?
Yeah, I know them too...and it makes me scrunch up my eyebrows and say, "Hmmmm? What was all the T-A-L-K about?"

There can be miracles when you believe
Though hope is frail, It's hard to kill

Again, I know little about the source of Coach Kalafatis' inspiration. But I know she keeps her team very even-tempered, never too high or too low. And while the expectation is that they will be excellent each and every day, these kids understand there is more to a season than one game... and there is more to life than a softball season. LIFE lessons.

So here is the non-softball related point...there is a segment of our population that is highly critical of anyone whose beliefs don't match theirs exactly - in both substance and expression. This attitude is close-minded and dangerous.

I love Jesus with all my heart, I live every day in that love, and I boldly say I would not be here without His grace.

Whitney Houston knew that same love...knew it in her head, but never allowed it to break the bonds in her heart. Since her death, I have heard people criticizing her: crack-head, druggie, spoiled superstar.

And while we waste time judging her, people cross our path every day who want desperately to feel that love, to BELIEVE in who they are, in their purpose, in their worth. But they hear our criticism of others and it pushes them away, keeps them from reaching out to us.

There are folks who have the wonderful gift of inspiring people to greatness, cultivating belief in a common goal, leading and pushing us through ugly valleys until the mountain is conquered, the prize won. Maybe they don't speak the name of Jesus, or have a bumper sticker on the car. But they are affecting people in an incredibly positive way.
And some Christians would do well to imitate that.

I choose not to join in the movement to push my beliefs into the political arena, to be nasty all over social media pages above views that differ from mine, to arrogantly demand that people embrace the love of my Jesus. Certainly, the hope is that all will come to know His saving power. But hitting people with a Bible never works.

Instead, I choose to hang with folks whose arms are open, whose lives are filled with joy and peace.

I choose to spread my beliefs through kindness, with smiles and laughter.

I choose to carry my Light gently so folks like Whitney, who know about God's love but can't quite make it come alive for them, might grab hold of that love, might see that it absolutely changed my life, and can change theirs as well.

How about you? Are you walking, or just talking? Are you preaching or showing?

For the next few months, I am also going to spend glorious afternoons watching my favorite softball team on their journey to making an epic comeback. It will be a journey full of FAITH and BELIEF, and maybe a miracle or two....a team of determined young women lead by a one of the most gifted coaches in the country - a woman who, by all accounts, is gracious and kind, generous toward her players, demanding but encouraging, full of life, and good, positive energy.
Go Bucks - shine your will be great fun to watch!!

Who knows what miracles you can achieve when you believe,

Somehow you will, now you will

You will when you believe

Monday, February 6, 2012

Focus...Buckeye softball...and FEAR

This weekend is an exciting time for college softball fans - the start of the 2012 season. And equally as exciting is that my favorite college softball team practiced outside last week - yes, outside, even as January turned to February! Not a big deal for southern schools, but a welcome delight for the Ohio State Buckeyes!

If you aren't a softball fan, stick with me. This piece is about more than softball. And I will talk later about why the Buckeyes are my favorite team...

After my last blog discussed "focus", my dear friend Rebecca reminded me that distraction is often a much bigger obstacle than destruction. The Enemy (in whatever for that takes for you) doesn't have the power to utterly destroy many of us, but we can be pulled away quite easily. Distracted from our purpose. From our calling. From our joy.

You might be thinking of big distractions: illness, job loss, relationship struggles. But I contend the process of distraction is insidious, taking small, quiet steps.

As a child, there were two things I loved more than anything: music and baseball. I sang myself to sleep at night, sang as I did chores, sang as my mother and I rode in our Ford Falcon that had no radio. Similarly, I was ready to play baseball at any time. Behind our house was a cinder block building which served as my "pitch back." I stood in the alley tossing a tennis ball at that wall for hours. I had 60'6" marked off*, and would play out entire games. The roof served up fly balls. I would throw the ball at an angle so I had to run it down - still have cinders in my knees as souvenirs. Sometimes the ball would get stuck in the gutter - get the ladder from the basement, find the ball, put the ladder back, game on again! Rain or shine. Hot or cold.

Girls weren't yet allowed to play Little League, but I learned to love softball in a summer league when I was 13. No school team, no traveling team, slow pitch only. But I LOVED softball.

As a freshman at Penn State, I tried out for the team, and was the last player cut. The coach said I couldn't hit fast pitch, didn't have enough experience with the game at that pace. I cried, then left organized softball for many years.

Three years ago, my cousin was an All-Star pitcher for her high school team. Of course, I watched her play...and I started to remember. Last year I played in a recreational league. At the very first practice, that feeling came back stronger. Then I attended some Ohio State games...not far into the first game, I clearly remember thinking, "I LOVE softball."

Would I have been a great college player? Would I have decided to coach? I don't know.

But I do know the opinion of one coach should not have been allowed to push me away from a sport I loved. It wasn't her fault - it was mine. I could have asked to practice with the team, or found someone willing to pitch to me, then tried out again. Instead, I gave up.

I have never stopped singing, but I also let obstacles keep me from a greater pursuit of music. I learned to play the clarinet and saxophone with relative ease, but never applied myself. I wanted to learn piano, but we couldn't buy one or pay for lessons. Still, the community center had a piano I could have used, and I no doubt could have done enough chores for a teacher in exchange for lessons.

What held me back?

FEAR. False Evidence Appearing Real. Fear that no matter how hard I tried, what I wanted was beyond my reach.

Would I have made any impact in softball or the music world? Again, I don't know.

What I do know is the distraction of fear affected other parts of my life.

Recently, I had the delightful privilege of chatting with Ohio State softball head coach Linda Kalafatis. With a brilliant softball mind, and a special way of relating to and motivating young women, Linda has become one of the most successful coaches in the country. Her teams play with passion and purpose, and NO FEAR. In 2011, major injuries and off-field issues lead to the worst record in Linda's career...but her team never quit, never displayed anything but grit and heart. She calls it "the Ohio State way," and it is surely a valuable life lesson to all her players.

Linda's career path stands out to me. She first became a head coach as a Division II grad student at California University of PA. Five years later she moved to Div I University of Akron, and to Ohio State three years after that. At Cal, Linda decided her goal was to coach a top Division I school. She has interviewed for three coaching position, and landed every one! If she ever felt FEAR, she didn't allow it to stop her. And FEAR has no place in her locker room.

Contrast that with my journey. My original plan was to be an English teacher. But that goal was scared off by a lack of teaching jobs. FEAR. Then the softball cut lead to my not trying out for anything else at Penn State. FEAR. I didn't want to study Biology (first major) or Recreation Management (second major) but I couldn't seem to make a different decision. FEAR.

I left Penn State 15 credits short of a degree. FEAR. Took a full time job in retail just because it came along, and I didn't know what else to do. FEAR. Worked in retail 15 years, knowing full well I shouldn't be there. FEAR.

Finished my BS in Human Resources Management. Eventually took a job with Verizon Wireless. Excellent company, but still not where I should be. FEAR.

Finally, a lot of heartache, a lot of lessons, and a lot of loving support from friends and family began working together. I faced the FEAR, began digging away the layers of junk, sharpening my focus, getting back to ME. With a Master's Degree in professional writing in hand, I left Verizon Wireless to work as a part-time editor and a full time freelance writer. No guarantees. But much potential.

Has there been FEAR? Sure. Has it stopped me? Not anymore!

FEAR was a major force in my life for years. It never destroyed me, but it certainly distracted me enough that I lost focus.

How about you? Is FEAR keeping you from the purpose for which you were brought to this Earth?

No, you say, it isn't is lack of finances, or lack of time or lack of opportunity. In truth, all those excuses come from FEAR.

FEAR tells you that focusing on a dream will make your life worse. And FEAR lies.

FEAR says you don't deserve to focus on a dream. And FEAR lies.

FEAR says you probably won't make a difference, and, anyway, you can still do it in a few years. And FEAR lies.

I know FEAR lies because I am still here, balancing without a corporate net to catch me. Most days, I feel like the 10 year old kid I lost track of so long ago... writing stories about softball, being part of an amazing music ministry at church, FEARing nothing anymore.

How about you? What FEAR is distracting you from your purpose?

Take some time to think about it.

We will talk again soon.

BP :)

*60'6" is the distance from home plate to the pitcher's mound in baseball