Sharon's Corner is a periodically updated blog exploring some of today's most pressing issues. Topics range from marriage, finances, relationships, and any other issues in your life.
Not So Silent Night!
Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Silent night… really? I’ve loved singing the beautiful Christmas carol ever since I could first lisp the words, “thilent night.” An Austrian priest, Father Joseph Mohr wrote the words in 1816, and two years later Franz Gruber composed the melody and sang it with guitar accompaniment at a Christmas Eve service. Without doubt, it is a lovely piece of music. However, recently I’ve begun questioning the line of thought that runs through the song. Was it really a quiet peaceful night when Jesus was born? I’m not so sure.

I remember one of my Bible college professors explaining that the word “manger,” described a ditch, probably on the outskirts of a town, which served as a feeding trough for animals. Livestock wasn’t usually kept in nice, comfortable barns or stables as it is today.

So I picture a teenage girl and her not-much-older fiancé, bedding down on the edge of Bethlehem, wondering when a donkey or sheep would come along and try to reclaim their dining spot. I imagine Mary and Joseph’s conversation. Was she begging him to find some other, cleaner, more private place? Was he, in exasperation, pleading with her to understand that there simply was no other place?

And the labor? Even the most stoic of laboring mothers usually emits at least a few moans and groans as her baby travels the birth path. And many moms actually scream with pain. What about Mary? Did God grant her a pain-free labor and delivery in exchange for her willingness to carry His Son? Or did He allow her to suffer as other women do, to push their children into the world? I wonder.

What about Joseph? I doubt that he was silent through the whole ordeal. He was probably trying to encourage, coach and soothe Mary. Or, perhaps he had managed to find a village midwife who took charge of the delivery, barking out orders to Mary, and leaving him to pace nervously nearby.

Of course there was the hubbub that took place out in the fields, when the angel of the Lord and his cohorts showed up. The Bible account makes it sound quite loud, with the angel’s verbal reassurance to the terrified herdsmen followed by a multitude shouting “Glory to God in the highest!”

I imagine much discussion between those men as they hurried to Bethlehem… “Did we really hear and see angels? Were we just dreaming? We can at least check it out. If there’s no baby, maybe we were just hallucinating.” And so the shepherds hunted down and found the baby. These were the “low-lifes” of that culture… not the typical guests, new parents would want wandering into their nursery. They were rough, uneducated and probably carried a distinct aroma of sheep and dirt and body odor. Did they jostle each other to get a better view? People instinctively speak more quietly around babies, and even men raise the pitch of their voices. I have to smile as I envision those uncouth homeless guys addressing the newborn with squeaky, high-pitched “baby-talk.”

In all the Christmas pageants, the shepherds always arrive silently. They say nothing as they fall on their knees before the manger. Nor do Joseph and Mary say anything. But, if I were in their shoes, I’d be talking… “Who are you? What are you doing here?” “We were just watching sheep… you wouldn’t believe what happened… we’re still wondering whether we were just dreaming” “I know we’ve taken over one of your feeding stations… but please don’t force us to leave! We’ve just had a baby!” “The angel guy said a Savior was born tonight in a manger… is this kid the Messiah?”

And between them lay the little Lord Jesus… and no crying He makes? Somehow I figure any baby tucked “away in a manger,” with a theological discussion going on above him, would make some sounds… at least a few grunts and grimaces as He tried to curl into a comfortable position, or a hungry squeal or two.

No, I don’t think it was a silent night when Jesus was born… I think it was a normal noisy night on planet earth, full of voices and commotion, full of difficulties and fears and pain. But in the midst of the mayhem of human existence, God showed up. And He does the same in my hectic, crazy, stress-filled world today. And when He does, I am calmed, I am quieted, and my troubled heart is stilled. When I make my way to the Savior, even the mundane becomes holy. Somehow when I surrender my chaos to Him, He calms it and He gives me a glimmer of bright hope. Somehow only Jesus is able to silence the bedlam in my soul.

So… I’m thinking… perhaps those Austrian guys got it right after all.

One More Crisis
Friday, September 30, 2011

What a night!
I was sitting at my computer, desperately trying to complete several writing projects whose deadlines were fast approaching! I got a phone call from a close friend asking prayer for her family which was in the midst of dealing with a serious dilemma. I hung up from talking with her and a few minutes later the phone rang again. It was one of our children calling with very sad news and asking for prayer. Minutes after ending that conversation, I received another call from a family member sharing some difficult challenges that have arisen for their family.

Then my husband returned from teaching a seminar. He plunked down in the chair beside me and I began to pour out the “woes” of the evening to him. Suddenly he was hit with excruciating pain… he knew immediately it was kidney stone pain. We ended up making a rush trip to the ER, returning only early the next morning.

I admit I began to wonder what in the world had hit us! Not only had all of this transpired in one evening… but in just the last two weeks there had been several other unexpected difficulties… a job lay-off, several illnesses and alarming counseling cases at our workplace.

Right smack in the middle of these pressures, we hosted our annual luncheon for widows here at ALM. Each year around 200 ladies attend this event. It was a great day, with so many of the guests expressing sincere appreciation for planning a day aimed simply at blessing women who have gone through the pain of losing a beloved spouse.

In sharing with the group that day I told the story of two children who were playing on a hillside when they noticed that sunset was fast approaching. One of the children said wonderingly, “See how far the sun has gone! A little while ago it was right over that tree, and now it is low down in the sky.” Then his brother answered, “But it isn’t the sun that moves, it’s the earth. You know, Father told us.” The first child shook his head and insisted, “The sun did move… I saw it! And the earth did not move… because I was standing on it all the time. I believe what I see,” he said triumphantly. But the second child answered so wisely, “And I believe Father!”

In the crises of life which inevitably come to every one of us, we can feel like God has moved… like He’s disappeared from sight. In reality we’re the ones that get spun around and turned upside down by the passing of time and events. But our Heavenly Father remains firmly in His place. It is easy to believe in God’s care and provision when it seems like the sun is shining brightly on our lives, but when circumstances seem dark and foreboding it takes faith to know that He is still there and can be trusted.

I’ve found that my faith grows best in the hard times. I often say to myself when faced with a trial… “Either God is big enough to see me through this, or He isn’t. I choose to believe that He will see me through!”

Not all of the crises of the past weeks have been resolved yet. My husband is feeling better and I’ve completed my work deadlines. But several of the other situations still hover like black clouds over us. Nevertheless, my heart is at peace, because I know my Lord sees through those clouds and is watching over me as He always does! As Scripture says, He will never leave me or forsake me!” I’m not alone in the hardships of life and that makes all the difference in the world!

But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…” (Isaiah 43:1-3)

“Thank You Lord for being with me through the tough times, through the tangled messes I get myself into, through the catastrophes and quandaries that threaten to overwhelm me! Thank You for giving me hope and power and peace and courage and wisdom and strength, no matter what life throws at me. Thank You for getting me through the trials of this past week! And… since I suspect there will undoubtedly be one more crisis down the road (or two or three or more!)… Thank You for getting me through that one too!”

How the Shaking Stops
Friday, August 26, 2011

This week my world shook… literally! I was seated in a comfortable wing-back chair in one of our counseling rooms, chatting with a lovely young woman when the wings behind my head started moving.

At first I thought it was just me that was shaking. Perhaps I was being hit with some kind of sickness that was causing extreme dizziness. Then I heard the closet doors rattling behind me. I looked at my friend and said, “Are you feeling that?” When she nodded, I figured immediately that we were experiencing an earthquake.

I suggested that we should leave the room. We met our secretary in the hallway, who had also felt the rumbling and concluded that perhaps she should leave the building. Of course, by the time the three of us exited, the shaking was long over.

At the risk of being laughed at by my west-coast relatives and friends who have endured much more frequent and violent seismic jiggles, I must admit that my earthquake (regardless of how puny it seems by their high standards) was a learning experience. As the earth shook, my natural desires were to quickly find some location of safety and stability, to walk through the experience with a companion or companions, and to simply make the upheaval stop.

How very much like the “tremors” in my life. Seems like I can be sailing along just fine, pretty much problem-free. Then suddenly I get hit with one crisis or challenge after another that really “shake me up.” How I long at those times to just make the shaking stop.

Each spring I look forward to summer, envisioning an idyllic time of long strolls in a park, sipping lemonade on our porch on a lazy blue sky afternoon, and indulging in lots of fun and games with our family. You’d think that I would have learned by now, that it never quite works out that way. This past summer was no exception. Although we had many delightful visits with friends and family, there were plenty of challenges too… loved ones facing medical challenges and surgeries, disappointments, questions and concerns about the future, clients seeking my help to get through their own terribly painful crises, days of feeling mentally and physically exhausted. I felt like I was in one of those old vaudeville juggling acts. I was trying to keep all the plates spinning, but more plates kept getting added. It left me feeling like my world was reeling. I felt alone. I felt tense. I just wanted life’s craziness to stop.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. (Psalm 18:2)

For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:5)
My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
(Psalm 62:1 & 2)

Ahhhh yes! In the midst of the frenzy, a small Voice reminds me… that I am not alone… that there is a place of safety and rest… that I can stop shaking and be still once again!

And so I pray something like, “Lord, I don’t know how You’re going to take care of these problems and I don’t know when, but I have to believe You’re big enough to solve every one. I believe You’re already working on each solution and so I can relax and rest and stop trembling with anxiety. You’re going to see me through! Thank You Lord!”

On life’s Richter scale, I don’t know the magnitude of “shock wave” I might be hit with next. It might be a big loss, a small worry, a serious sickness, a big problem… why it might even be another earthquake! I might very well feel that unsettling shaking once again. But with my Friend, my Rock, my Shelter… my Savior… I know I’ll be okay!

Blueberry Cobbler Blessings
Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I finally counted them … and the total? Twenty-eight, plus a dog!

That’s how many overnight guests my husband and I have hosted in our home in the last two months. Some have stayed only a night or two, but most have been with us a week or longer. And this number doesn’t include more than a dozen others who joined us for dinner during that same period of time.

Am I complaining? Do I just want a pity party? No way. I love having people in our home. More than once when every bedroom was occupied by a guest, I’ve plopped into my own bed at night and sighed contentedly to my husband, “I am never so happy as when my house is full!”

Of course running an amateur bed and breakfast while still trying to keep up with other responsibilities… work, church, family, etc…. can have its challenges. “What will I make for dinner?” “When will I be able to run to the grocery store?” “When can I get the sheets washed, beds made and bathrooms cleaned?” “How’s our budget going to stretch to accommodate all the added expenses?” These are legitimate questions and thinking through answers well in advance of our guests’ arrival can definitely help me feel more prepared. Planning ahead helps one feel more relaxed. Or does it?

Planning ahead is a good idea, but sometimes all the mental energy that goes into planning has a sneaky way of turning into concern and worry. I’ve found that “dwelling” on future busyness can increase my stress and sap me of today’s peace and joy.

So there is a kind of mental and spiritual dance I must go through when preparing for visitors. On the one hand, I must think practically… anticipating the upcoming needs, thinking through how to meet those needs and then putting my plans into action. This spares me from a lot of inefficiency. It gives me more time to relate to guests after they arrive. But I must also intentionally hand those plans over to the Lord and not allow my thoughts to fixate on them. That’s a sure recipe for anxiety.

I certainly haven’t mastered this dance… but I do think I’m getting better at it. For example, in the last two months I have not micro-planned every last detail of each day. Partly because of our guests’ unpredictable schedules, partly because I’m trying to trust the Lord more, and partly because at 59 I just get tuckered out much more quickly than I used to, I’ve chosen to postpone some of the “way-in-advance” detailed meal planning I’m used to doing. Jesus told me not to worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). So I dare not let myself do it. Don’t get me wrong… I haven’t quit planning… I’ve just tried to relax my tight grasp on my plans and surrender them to the Lord. I’ve been trying to occupy my mind more with Him and less with the mundane.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed (Proverbs 16:3). Just yesterday a friend stopped by unexpectedly. She had made a blueberry cobbler (it was still warm from the oven!) and thought that perhaps it would come in handy with all my guests. Amazing! It was exactly what I needed for the gang of Brazilian teenage boys visiting in our home. I hadn’t asked her to do this. I hadn’t even asked the Lord to do it. But in His generosity God showed up and met a need. And as He always does He did it better than I ever could! Believe me I was happy I hadn’t slaved to make a dessert that day. I might have missed God’s surprise!

When John and I were newly-weds I would never have dreamed that I would end up enjoying “having company” so much. I grew up in a home where entertaining was done British-style… fine china, fancy sandwiches (always with the crusts removed!), and a well-planned agenda. I brought that model into our marriage. John challenged me to consider relaxing and being content even when things weren’t “perfect.” What surprised me was that as I did this, over the years I truly came to love the impromptu “parties.” What I had initially resisted turned out to be a delightful blessing from the Lord.

So… I keep on with the dance… planning, preparing/ trusting, relaxing. I have to admit when I’m doing it right a house packed full of people is not a drudgery… it’s a delight… and in the midst of all the busyness, the Lord, over and over again amazes me with His “blueberry cobbler” blessings! So, perhaps when guest number 29 arrives, He’ll surprise me with yet another one…that would be just like Him… although maybe the next one will be peach!

So Different…So Blessed
Friday, May 20, 2011

Have you ever been introduced to a married couple and thought, “I wonder what she sees in him?” or, “I wonder what he sees in her?” I must admit that among our friends and acquaintances the old adage, “opposites attract,” seems to be true.

And that goes for my husband and me as well! When we dated we believed we were SO similar. What John liked and wanted to do, I enthusiastically supported and what I enjoyed, he participated in wholeheartedly. It wasn’t until after the wedding ceremony, when we began to settle into daily routines, that we discovered we were vastly different from each other. Not only did we have gender differences, but cultural, background, and personality differences as well. It didn’t take long until those traits quit drawing us closer, and began to drive us apart. They were no longer “attracting” us to each other at all.

Looking back, we both realize that our differences existed before marriage and did undoubtedly serve to attract us to each other as we dated. He was analytical and detail-oriented. I was trusting and creative. He was serious-minded and unafraid to speak the truth. I was light-hearted and sensitive to the feelings of others. Intuitively we were drawn to the qualities each of us were lacking… although at the time we were unaware of this dynamic.

In the nitty-gritty of married life however, the very traits that had been like magnets pulling us to each other, began to repel us. I wished my husband could be more like me… to see life my way and to find joy in the things that gave me pleasure.

One day, in desperation I blurted out some rather accusatory questions to God… “So, why did You make us SO different? Do You just get some kind of sadistic pleasure out of making us miserable?”
I have never heard the Lord speak audibly to me, but that day I heard what I believed was His quiet response surfacing in my thoughts… “No, Sharon. I didn’t make you and John different from each other to frustrate you. I made you different because there is no better way for you to learn the incredible joy that comes only through giving.”

In Acts 20:35 Jesus is quoted as having said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” It took me years to realize that Jesus did, in fact, know what He was talking about. He knew that the greatest pleasure in life does not come from being pampered, catered to, or showered with attention. Rather the most meaningful moments are those focused on giving in some way to others. Marriage and family certainly provide me with daily opportunities to be either a giver or a taker because not only do I have a husband who is different from me in so many ways, but four children who each have their distinct likes, dislikes and unique personalities. Every day I can either resent the challenges they bring, or choose to thank the Lord for each one and look for ways to help and encourage them. Then, as Proverbs 11:25 says, “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”

Recently John and I have realized that some of the qualities that most irritated us in our early years of marriage have actually “rubbed off” on us. I’ve become more organized. He’s become more relaxed about life. I’ve learned to be more direct with people. He has become more tender-hearted and tactful. How like a loving heavenly Father to put two very different people together for a life-time… not as some kind of torturous endurance test, but so each of us can improve and enjoy life more fully.

What an intriguing thought… if I become like he used to be, and he becomes like I used to be, we still won’t be the same… we’ll still be SO different! Which means of course that the giving, and the blessing can just keep on going indefinitely! Now that makes being married to an opposite very attractive indeed!

Time for a Change
Friday, April 8, 2011

Maybe it was SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder… the “no sunshine” disease). Maybe it was a bad case of spring fever. Maybe it was an “I’m fast approaching 60” thing. Maybe it was God trying to pry me loose from my ruts. Regardless of the cause, I recently found myself feeling quite restless.

There were so many things I knew I should do, needed to do, wanted to do… but it seemed like they all got sent to the back of the line, behind the things I had to do… immediately! I believe it’s called the tyranny of the urgent. I REALLY don’t like that tyrant!

But then I glanced at the Scripture plaque on my bookshelf… “Choose you this day whom you will serve.” Wait a minute! You mean I’ve CHOSEN to be ruled by the urgent? Surely not…. but… then again, maybe that’s exactly what I’ve done. I’ve allowed my schedule to be controlled by crises, dominated by deadlines. I’ve allowed them to set the course for my days and I’ve chosen to run their wild route.

The rest of the verse goes on… “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It occurred to me that there’s no Biblical account of Jesus leaving agenda choices up to his disciples. He never said, “So guys… what’s on the program for today? What’s on your ‘to do’ list? I’m along for the ride… just tell Me what you have in mind.”

On the contrary, Jesus seemed firmly settled in the disciples’ driver’s seat. He made the plans. He managed the timetables. He was the Leader and they simply followed.

I remembered a chorus I learned at a Christian camp when I was just a child…

My Lord knows the way through the wilderness. All I have to do is follow.

My Lord knows the way through the wilderness. All I have to do is follow.

Strength for today is mine all the way. And all that I need for tomorrow.

My Lord knows the way through the wilderness. All I have to do is follow.

I asked myself, “Is it possible the change I’ve craved is simply a move from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat?”

There’s an old book, a Christian classic really… The Holy Spirit, Who He Is and What He Does, by R.A. Torrey, a great evangelist in the early 1900s. I took it off the shelf, blew the dust away and read it. I admit it brought me to tears more than once as I realized how half-hearted most of us 21st century believers really are about being totally surrendered to God. If our days were automobiles, He’s become for many, a silent back-seat passenger. We’re glad to have Him along for our ride through life… He comes in handy when we run into problems and once in awhile when we have a few minutes, we might even enjoy a brief conversation with Him. But most of the time, we race through our days, firmly gripping the steering wheel, starting and stopping, racing and braking as we please and barely glancing at the Guest in the back.

So… I pulled over, stopped the frantically-speeding vehicle of my life and simply re-gave the front seat back to the Holy Spirit. Ahhh… that was the change I really wanted and needed! My restlessness wasn’t seasonal, hormonal of even emotional… it was spiritual… a simple longing for Him to be back in control.

I know myself well enough to recognize that the dreaded tyrant of the urgent might entice me back into the driver’s seat again. And if that happens, I’ll need to relinquish control once again. But for now, I’ll savor the view from the passenger side!

“So, Lord what ’s on Your agenda for us today?

Where are You taking us?

I’m eager to go, so long as You drive!

And somehow I believe it will be an incredible ride!”

A Taste Test
Thursday, March 10, 2011

Just finished eating leftovers. Green curry from a wonderful Thai restaurant we ate at yesterday…. mmmm… delicious! My husband, John, also enjoyed his Pad Thai. This however, was after he removed the “parsley-like” leaves sprinkled attractively atop his entrée. They were not parsley leaves … they were cilantro! John does NOT care for cilantro! Fortunately I do, so I simply picked the unwelcome accessories from his food and added them to mine. Then he proceeded to enjoy his meal.

When it comes to taste, I find it intriguing why we like certain things, and dislike others. I can’t quite figure why John doesn’t like cilantro… he likes basil, parsley, dill, rosemary and a long list of other herbs, just as I do. So, why not cilantro? What tips the scale against such a tiny ingredient?
Way back in 1975 Pepsi-Cola launched an advertising campaign called “The Pepsi Challenge.” Blindfolded subjects tasted Pepsi and Cocoa-cola. The researchers hoped to prove that the majority of people liked Pepsi best. And, in fact, the results showed just that. Although I’m sure there were many non-connoisseurs who simply couldn’t tell any difference between the two. And there had to be individuals (like my brother) who could always tell the difference and always preferred Coke. So… why does one person choose Pepsi and another Coke?

My own tastes have changed over the years. I grew up with a very limited daily menu. This was primarily due to my meat-potatoes-and-green-peas kind of dad. But when I visited in other homes I would invariably be offered something I’d never tasted before. I was usually hesitant, but not wanting to offend, I opened my mouth and braced myself for something disgusting. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many new dishes were actually quite delicious. I also discovered that if I ate something several times, I could develop a tolerance, and perhaps even a taste for it. I used to despise oatmeal, and always donated the pickles from my burgers to my husband. Now I truly enjoy oatmeal and can even savor the crunch of a dill pickle on my sandwich. But I had to get the food into my mouth to know for sure!

Oh taste and see that the Lord is good. How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 34:8, Psalm 119:103)

When it comes to food, each individual must eat to survive, so hunger is universal, but taste preferences vary widely. Similarly in the spiritual realm every human being has a soul hunger that can only be satisfied through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ… and my eternal survival depends on that. But, isn’t it just like our loving God to make that relationship delectable to everyone who dares to take His free sample?

How thankful I am that I’ve tasted the goodness of the Lord! Better than ice cream, better than pizza, better than green curry… and definitely better than cilantro!

Why Can’t They Just be Perfect?
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I don’t consider myself a perfectionist. I confess that my closet is often full to over-flowing, my purse is a disorganized, cluttered abyss and my daily routines not always even close to being routine. Unlike my husband who has a well-thought-out plan and system for most everything, right down to how he cuts his toenails and where he puts the clippings… I on the other hand pride myself in being flexible, unencumbered with petty details, and definitely more-fun-loving. However I’ve come to a startling realization… though tolerating a fair-size chunk of ineptness in myself, I keep expecting nothing short of 5-star, A-plus perfection in others. Don’t get me wrong… I totally get it, that no one’s perfect. Still, at a way-I-live-my-life level, I require that secret standard for everyone but me!

I’m particularly hard on the self-proclaimed Christ-followers among my social circle. I want my husband, children, extended family, friends, co-workers and church leaders to be stellar models of the Christian life. In my opinion they should be unblemished specimens of Holy Spirit fruit. You know… the love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control that the apostle Paul talks about in Galatians 5:22. When these individuals fall short in such significant areas, I get bent out of shape.

Oh, I usually don’t get observably angry, but I nevertheless feel irritated and critical and even tend to mentally question their spiritual sincerity. How ironic… the non-perfectionist demanding perfection. Didn’t Jesus address this double standard in one of His most famous addresses?

“Why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own? Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother.” (Matthew 7:2-5)

Jesus also said, “You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Whoa, that’s a tall order. I know I’m nowhere near His kind of perfection. And I suspect His kind of perfection has a whole lot more to do with my attitudes and lifestyle than with how I organize my office. It’s those attitude/lifestyle habits that I recognize need a lot of improvement.
In fact when I examine the glaringly huge “board” loaded with my own rotten “fruit,” somehow the faults of others shrink in size and consequence.

It’s rather freeing actually… to not have to mentally assess and fix everyone else. I can just love them the way they are… which is probably not much different than the way I am… a very imperfect child of God, in the process of being made more holy day by day, a little at a time. And for this “closet” perfectionist, that is perfectly fine with me!