Thursday, August 22, 2013

Storms, fingers and what I know about the grace of God

Storms come up quickly sometimes, don’t they? Real storms and life events that make you feel like the sky is crashing down.

I have had storms. Big, loud, fierce, long-lasting storms. You surely have as well.

Your perfect love is casting out fear…
Even when I’m caught in the middle
Of the storms of this life
I won’t turn back, I know You are near

If you have been tracking with me for any time, you are aware of ongoing financial litigation. For a number of reasons, my mind has been incredibly scattered lately by the immense pressure, by how the lack of resolution affects every part of my life…sometimes down-trodden and hardly able breathe…sometimes so unfocused I can’t watch TV or read a book, never mind writing.

And I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on
A glorious light beyond all compare,
There will be an end to these troubles, but until that day comes…

This situation has opened my eyes and heart to the amazing grace of God. I knew about it before…but I didn’t really know it.  When I look back at the past 3 years and think about the number of times the world seemed too heavy, there is no doubt that God’s sustaining grace was very much at work.

Perhaps you understand. We all have something we carry, don’t we? At some point, each of us goes through a stormy season.

But there is another kind of storm…more like a tornado than a hurricane. It comes with no warning, does great damage, is over quickly, but leaves life-altering change behind.

I have been blessed to have only two tornado-like moments that sprang from nowhere and changed my life forever. Nine years ago our beloved Christopher left this earth too quickly, too young.

Then Tuesday happened. The day I was blessed beyond measure.

I mowed and trimmed my yard, then walked three houses down to help my dear friend Nancy who has been quite busy with family needs. I cut her grass many times in the two summers she defeated cancer. Same riding mower, same yard. Except for the new tree with mulch around it. Near the bank that slopes into her neighbor’s yard.

Have you had a time when you debated something, made a choice and almost immediately knew it was the wrong one?

Yeah, me too.

I remember the mower starting to slide. I leaned as far as I could toward the top of the hill…
The next few seconds are a blur – falling, a loud sound, up on my feet again. Then I looked at my right hand.

Have you heard it said that paper cuts hurt worse than serious accidents because the body goes into shock and protects itself. I am here to tell you it is true.

It is also true that moments become surreal. I looked at my hand and thought, “My fingers aren’t supposed to look like that?”

With my arm held above my head, I walked up 12 steps to the neighbor’s porch and banged – no, BANGED – on the door. No answer. Back down the steps, up the little hill, into Nancy’s house, wrapped a rag around my hand, took my water bottle, locked the back door, walked to the front porch and began making calls to find someone to take me to the hospital.
The mind has a way of shutting down everything but what is necessary. It enabled me to remain relatively calm through all this. What I didn’t think to do was call 9-1-1.

After several calls, much crying and screaming, I reached a friend for a ride to the hospital.

The next six hours involved two emergency rooms, an ambulance ride, many doses of IV antibiotics and pain meds, lots of tears and shouts and stitches.

I walked out at 10:30pm with partial amputation of two fingers and a palm held on by sutures.

BUT HEAR THIS: I am blessed beyond measure. BLESSED.

I was riding a lawn tractor that rolled down a hill. I was in the back yard, unseen from the road. When the neighbor found the tractor, it was still running.
I truly shutter to think about what could have happened.

Am I sad about losing most of two fingers? Of course.
Am I aware that it could have been much worse? You bet I am.

I know there are rough days ahead. I know the full impact of losing most of two fingers has not hit me.

I also know the grace of the God I love kept me from further harm, perhaps from death.

I know that. I am grateful beyond words. I am indebted and obligated to share.

I also know hurt or pain is not wasted in God’s Kingdom. He has a plan to take my bad choice and use it for good.

I will miss my fingers.

But I can’t wait to see what God has in store for the eight fingers that are left!

Oh no, You never let go
Through the calm and through the storm
Oh no, You never let go
In every high and every low
Oh no, You never let go
Lord, You never let go of me

We will talk again soon,


Beth Painter is a writer and motivational speaker. You can follow her on Facebook on the “Think Big focus small” page.
Beth is available to speak to your group about how to make your dreams and desires come to life!


Monday, August 12, 2013

Terry, Jana, baby birds and words from Sir Paul

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

Our front porch is, apparently, a good place for a bird nest. We have yearly residents, and this year we have entertained a robin family, then a sparrow family.

Some folks dislike the mess, but I don’t mind. They don’t stay long, and it is a privilege to watch nature go through the process from eggs to babies to empty nest .

Well, mostly, I don’t mind.

This year one of the robins jumped/fell/was pushed out of the nest early. The space for the nest is not large, so I was surprised when the robins moved in. Three robin eggs had plenty of room. Three growing babies – not so much.

One morning Tori, the wonder dog, was barking and trying her best to push open the screen door. Fortunately she failed, as there was a baby sitting on the porch.

This was rather upsetting to me. 
Not only am I an animal lover, I am also a fixer. I want everything and everyone to be okay. I don’t want anyone to be hurt or upset.

I sprang into action: closed the front door, got the ladder and a box from the garage, tracked down the baby bird who has now hopped onto the road, found a way to scoop the baby into the box untouched by human hands.

Next, I climbed the ladder, and gently tore pieces of the box away until I could hold it in such a way that the baby would slide back into the nest.

I was SO pleased with myself!

The next morning, Tori was barking furiously at the front door.

You guessed it. Baby bird was on the porch.

I watched him as he hopped into the yard. I tried to give him a small pan of water. I tried to keep him out of sight of the dog. I fretted and watched him and searched online for what to do and watched him and looked at his mother who was watching him but not really doing anything.
And finally, I gave up. Nature needed to take its course and I needed to let it be. UGH. Not easy for me.

I saw my friend Terry Leyland last week.  Terry and her husband Hank are terrific people – upbeat, energetic, faith-filled – with whom I have been friends since high school. I told Terry that she and Hank humble with their attitude and their faith. You see, their only daughter has been battling leukemia for over two years. BATTLING. LIKE A WARRIOR. In spite of the heartache of watching one of their children go through failed bone marrow transplants and more chemotherapy than any human should have to endure, they have remained the kind, loving, happy people I have always known them to be.

I know they have hard days.  But in the face of illness that won’t back down, Terry told me they pray and trust, and beyond that, they let it be and allow it to be in God’s hands.

And in my hour of darkness, She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, Let it be

My friend Jana wakes up each morning (if she has been lucky enough to sleep) and is reminded once again that May 26 was not a terrible nightmare. On that day, God called The Rev. J. David Panther home after only 56 years. His heart, his mind, his reach were much larger than any of us will know. The First United Methodist Church and the City of Butler were blessed and changed by Pastor Dave, and he will be missed always.

But Jan misses “her sweet David.” She never begrudged how much she had to share him with the rest of us – but it doesn’t seem fair that they didn’t have a fabulous retirement, time alone.

And yet, this beautiful woman has often been the one supporting others through this time. She hands her credit card to a cashier who breaks into tears and tells Jana about how much Pastor Dave helped her family.
 On Sunday morning, I look over and see her comforting people. 
She is grace and faith personified.

I know she has hard days. But in the face of grief and sorrow, Jana says she trusts God, and she looks forward to being with David again, and she can’t do any more but let it be and pray she will heal.

And when the brokenhearted people Living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be

I have walked with loved ones through serious illness and lost people I will miss forever – one very tragically and far too soon. You probably have as well.

Still, being with Terry or Hank or Jana reminds how often I am derailed by my unwillingness to let God be in charge.

I am also reminded that my problems are not often close to being so earthshaking.

How about you? Maybe I am alone in this?

I get all balled up trying to make things happen, or make things not happen, or being mad because something went differently than I thought it would. Relationships, money, work…I have fussed over all of them. 
FUSSED. FRETTED.  Been completely unwilling to let it be.

I am not suggesting that being cavalier or irresponsible is appropriate. I AM saying that having chosen to walk in as much kindness, love and respect for others as I possibly can, having chosen to love God and believe He has my best interest at hand, I must then accept that much of life is out of my control.

People make decisions that hurt me – and more often than not, if I were to drill down deep enough, I would find the hurt I feel has a little to do with the decision, and a lot to do with other stuff I am carrying.

I make decisions that hurt people. Not because I am mean and hurtful, but because it affects them in ways that have a little to do with me and a lot to do with stuff they are carrying.

We lose jobs. People we love get sick or die. We are hurt by situations. Birds fall out of nests.

We push back. We questions God. We get angry. We try to do a lot of things to fix it and none of them are right. 
We refuse to let things be, and allow God to handle them.

Terry told me people ask if she and Hank are mad at God, or if they ask why this is happening to them. Her answer is awesome.
Terry and Hank don’t ask “Why” because they know why – quite simply, this isn’t Heaven. 
We live on earth where bad things happen…but God loves us, and one day we will get to Heaven where we will be with Him and not have to endure any more heartache.

How much does that smack you in the head?

And when the night is cloudy, There is still a light that shines on me
Shine on until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

Bad things happen because this isn’t Heaven.

But God is still in charge. What choice do I really have but to let it be?

How about you?

We will talk again soon...

Beth Painter is a writer and motivational speaker. You can follow her on Facebook on the “Think Big focus small” page.
Beth is available to speak to your group about how to make your dreams and desires come to life!


Saturday, August 10, 2013

BIG plans, Masterpieces, and what Pastor Dave taught me...

I have the privilege this morning of speaking to a women’s ministry group. The monthly time together is called Mingling with Masterpieces.

Familiar images come to mind when you hear the word masterpiece: Mona Lisa, statue of David, Handel’s Messiah…all worthy of the term for sure.

But consider this: 108 billion people have been born on this earth. Billion. With a B. And the strand of DNA that wires each person has never been duplicated.
In the entire course of history, no one ever has been or ever will be just like me…or just like you.

Masterpiece? I think so!

And consider this:
Psalm 139: 13-16
You created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

This is King David praising God because He sees us and wires us and puts us together before our face is ever seen on the earth.

And He has done it 108 billion times.

 But here is something more amazing:
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

There are promises in the Bible that are for “God’s people”…salvation through faith in Christ, a new heart and new spirit, a place in the family of God

But these two verses speak to the special place each of us has as an individual.

Think about it, my friend. There is a plan made specifically for you…only you.

This is precisely why I am passionate about helping people THINK BIG and focus small.

When you ask a group of first graders what plans they have, you will hear completely uninhibited answers…some off the wall plans, some BIG plans.

We lose that as adults, don’t we? We settle, we get into an adult routine…or we learn that BIG plans can either be a BIG DEAL or a BIG DISASTER, and we are afraid to risk the latter for a chance at the former.

Have you been there? Has it ever occurred to you that what you are doing day in, day out is not especially satisfying?

If that is the case, I would humbly suggest it might be time to THINK BIG and focus small on God’s plan and the place it has in your agenda.

Why? Because God has BIG plans…and you will never be satisfied in life until you know your purpose and the plan God has for you.

Okay, Beth, what does that mean?

It means God has a plan meant to fulfill you because it was uniquely created for you.

It means God’s plan may be bigger than your plan, and you won’t see that until you expand your vision.

Folks, God did not create a unique DNA strand just for you so you could drag through life being mediocre and unhappy!

Understand this: each of us needs to find out purpose and work our purpose in order to be our best selves…not just for our own sake, but for the sake of the people we love, the people we can touch and for the Kingdom of God.

I think we downplay the words of Jesus sometimes.

Matthew 5:14 from the Message
You’re here to be light... God is not a secret to be kept. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

He wasn’t talking about people we might think of as spiritual giants. No - your soul was created to burn brightly and shine as much as anyone else!

And how about this…

John 14:12
The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things.

Jesus wasn’t kidding. God has BIG plans. We need to THINK BIG.

Folks, God BELIEVES in YOU. He does! When you understand how much God believes in you AND you learn to believe in yourself, BIG things can happen.

So then you might ask, “How do I start to think BIG?”

Have you seen the magnet/shirt/wall plaque that says, “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”

That is exactly where you start. What makes you itch? What gets your blood pumping? What makes you forget how many hours have gone by? How do you REALLY enjoy spending your time? And wouldn’t you love to do more of that?

Sometimes when I talk to people about this, they question the validity of doing what they love as a vocation. 

That is a complex subject for another day…but I know this for sure:
God put passions and desires and gifts in every one of us. We have an obligation to use those gifts, to find our purpose and work it.

How, you ask, will you know?

You can do a spiritual gifts analysis. You can talk to people who know you well.
I did that. More than once. But the door was closed because part of me didn’t believe it.
I didn’t believe Jeremiah 29:11 was for me.                                                                   I thought I had missed too many chances.                                                                   
I thought I wasn’t special enough or good enough.                                                      
I thought I had too many problems.

How about you? Have you ever believed any of those lies?

I spent a lot of years thinking small, living small. It didn’t serve me or anyone around me. It certainly didn’t serve God.

I am not dismissing the value of spiritual gift surveys, but I believe this to be true -when you get real with God, and allow Him to get real with you, the plan will come alive, your passions will show themselves…and if you are like me, you will find you have known all along what they were.

In addition to wanting to be the first female in Major League Baseball, I always always always wanted to be a teacher and speaker.

I was 11 years old, outside throwing a tennis ball off the cement block building behind our house. A friend appeared from around the corner of the building with a puzzled look on her face. She heard me talking and was surprised to find me alone. Who was I talking to?
With complete honesty, I told her I was practicing being interviewed because some day people would want to hear what I have to say.
She looked at me like I was crazy and walked – or maybe ran - away.

But I believed it! I was a young kid with who could THINK BIG…until the world interfered and convinced me that I wasn’t special.

I spent close to thirty years wandering in that wilderness of believing what the world said about me. Praise God for my beloved friend David Panther and a circle of wonderful friends who walked with me, encouraged me, modeled for me.
And look…I have come back to the place where I listen more to God than to the world – and my passions are still the same.

I am a writer and teacher and speaker…just like I practiced being so long ago.

Please understand that the plan God has for you may or may not be something that affects your vocation. I am not suggesting you quit your job on Monday.

But that is what Patty Stonesifer did. She was a Senior VP at MicroSoft, then the CEO of the Gates Foundation. She left at the end of 2008 to pursue her passions. She served on the board of the Gavi Fund, which helps to provide vaccines to developing countries. She has also served on the U.S. delegation to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Aids.
Patty Stonesifer is currently the CEO of Martha’s Table, a non-profit corporation in Washington, DC that develops sustainable solutions to poverty. She believed there was something more – even though she worked for a philanthropic giant – she saw a different purpose. So she quit and followed her heart.

I hear you…Patty Stonsifer had millions of dollars – of course she could do whatever she wanted.

Cheryl Krueger didn’t have millions of dollars. She started a bakery – one bakery in Columbus, OH - with her college roommate.  One bakery that, in seven years, became Cheryl & Co. And she became a multi-millionaire.

Mother Theresa won the Nobel Prize because she was so passionate about helping the poorest of the poor. She wasn’t a millionaire – but her foundation has helped millions of people.

We need to THINK BIG.

That doesn’t mean we all be public figures or our plan will take us all over the world. It means that, in God’s economy, every piece is important.
The body has 206 bones. Do you know what the smallest one is? The stirrup. It is the size of a grain of rice. Consider this: The footplate of the stirrup bone is attached to a membrane called the oval window, which leads to the inner ear. It is connected to two other very small bones called the hammer and the anvil. All three of these bones are joined to the eardrum, where sound is collected before it is sent in the form of nerve signals to the brain.
The ear is a very important organ for keeping our sense of balance. Without a sense of balance, we could not hold our body steady, and we would stagger and fall when we tried to move.
The smallest bone in the body is largely responsible for our hearing AND balance. That is kind of a big deal to me. How about you?
But, you ask, what if I THINK BIG and I don’t know what to do next?

Believe this: energy creates and attracts energy. People are drawn to high energy.  When you step into God’s BIG plan, He will line up folks to help and support you!

Okay Beth, I can THINK BIG…now what? How do I focus small? Again, a complex subject, but here is an overview…

Understand that there probably will not be a huge spotlights pointing the way. God wants to reveal His plan, but He will do it in pieces. 
We need to spend time with Him, talk to Him, read His Word. As you do this, you will find that doors open and doors close, and the plan will start to show itself.

Take a look at your life and ask yourself if you are more often purposeful or reactionary? Are you and God deciding your course each day, or do you flap in the wind of other people’s needs or demands?

Drill down and take a good look at how you spend your time? If we budget our money, shouldn’t we also budget our time?

Obviously there are commitments we have to honor. I am not suggesting you abandon those duties.

As women, we often have trouble saying NO. Would you agree? So your child’s PTO group needs a treasurer, and the Little League concession stand needs a volunteer, and how can you say NO to helping raise money to find a cure for cancer…WHO doesn’t want THAT???

And here is what happens…you do the things you must to care for your family, then you do the things you accepted because you couldn’t say NO….and Monday becomes Saturday over and over.

We each have tasks that must be done daily. God never wants us to be out of balance in any direction.


HEAR THIS: when you do things that are not part of YOUR purpose, that don’t feed you, that suck energy, you are not just cheating yourself!

I don’t know about you, but I get grumpy when I have to fulfill duties I accepted out of some false sense of obligation.

Who is served by that? Not God. Not your spouse or your kids, especially when it occurs to you that you haven’t had a real conversation with any of them for days…or weeks.

Who is served by you doing things that illicit absolutely no passion from you?
No one. Exactly no one.

And here is the incredibly freeing part…when you understand how much God believes in you, when you embrace Jeremiah 29:11 and seek God for that purpose daily, you are free from the need for approval from everyone who crosses your path…you are FREE from the need to “convince” people.

Joyce Meyer talks about this…she says she is anointed to bring God’s Word to people. That is her gift. For years she tried to be like the other ladies of the church…canning vegetables, sewing, working in the nursery…and she was miserable because all of those things – which she disliked – took time away from preparing and speaking to groups. So she stopped doing all those other things.She stopped when she was speaking to 25 people at a weekly Bible study. She stopped BEFORE she had a BIG ministry.

Do you get it? I sure do!

When you find and work your purpose, you will be MUCH happier, kinder, more loving. You will. I know because I am!

Imagine you and your spouse/best friend/partner talking enthusiastically about your day instead of bitching about how horrible work was. 
Imagine having meetings that pump your blood, instead of being part of a group to which you feel obliged because the other mothers do it, but you go home weary and drained and then there is laundry and lunches and now that you have complained for so long it is time to sleep so you can do it all again tomorrow.

Imagine how that might feel! Imagine how God could be glorified by that!

One of my favorite sayings is, “You can go to the ocean with an eye dropper or you can go with a bucket. The ocean has plenty and will fill whatever you bring.”

Folks, God has a very specific plan for each of us. It is a GOOD plan.

We need to THINK BIG so we can join hands with God.

We need to focus small so those plans don’t get pushed aside by laundry/cleaning/grocery/meals/work/kids/rinseandrepeat.

Listen again:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

May God bless each of us as we seek Him.