Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Gifts and Talents

We're all born with gifts, but we struggle to identify them, how to use or gifts and when to use them.

I connected with a friend online recently who has a way with words - her writings are thought provoking and moving. I encouraged her to write more - perhaps in the form of a blog. She expressed some uncertainty and fear about taking the next step.

As I thought about her situation, I was reminded that the Lord has given all of us gifts and talents to be used. Both grow with effectiveness when utilized and are intended to be used on behalf of others to help each other. They are not meant for selfish purposes or to be hoarded.

There is a distinction between gifts and talents as the gifts mentioned in the new testament are spiritual gifts imparted to us once we are believers. But we may also have natural talents and gifts also that we were born with or discovered along life's journey. The difference is in how we have received them but the Bible can lend some insight on how we use our gifts (natural or spiritual) and talents.

Spiritual gifts are itemized in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 (notice both of these are in chapter 12 of their books). Romans 12:3-8 lists the spiritual gifts as follows: prophecy, serving others (in a general sense), teaching, exhorting, generosity, leadership, and showing mercy. First Corinthians 12:8-11 lists the gifts as the word of wisdom (ability to communicate spiritual wisdom), the word of knowledge (ability to communicate practical truth), faith (unusual reliance upon God), the working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues (ability to speak in a language that one has not studied), and interpretation of tongues. The third list is found in Ephesians 4:10-12, which speaks of God giving to His church apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. [Source: gotquestions.org]
First and foremost our gifts and talents should be used. There are to be used in love, to help each other and with grace. Our gifts aren't simply given to us to hold on to because if we don't use what we have been given naturally - the need is still there and others will come along and fill that need. It may be harder for them - but the need will be met.

When you have a gift or talent, the skill associated with it comes easily to you. You're almost baffled that others don't see things the way you do, and no matter how you oversimplify or explain, it will never be as simple to the other person...because they don't have that gift or talent. This is a measure of grace.

Our natural gifts and talents may coincide and work in sync with our spiritual gifts. For example, I've discovered that I'm a runner and I seem to know how to encourage people. So if I'm jogging with a group and I see someone struggling, I can run alongside them and encourage them. This person may be so touched by what I did, that they may be curious about other aspects of my life. It may provide an opportunity for them to get to know the Christ in me whether by speaking to me or coming to church with me. Ironically, some may think that this is not special and everyone can encourage (or everyone can run). But everyone can't. We tend to minimize what we are blessed with. Once we recognize our gifts and talents, we shouldn't get hung up on the fact that we have the gift, but rather look for ways to use them. Our gifts and talents can be manifested in many ways; there's no limit on how you can use your gifts and might I add, no timeline. Use them for His Glory until you can't use them anymore.

 We have gifts and we have talents and abilities - all come from the same Source but we still need to exercise the option of using them. Same source, different measure for each person.

The giver of all gifts - spiritual or natural, and talents is God. If your fearful about exercising what you have been blessed with, step out in faith and use it. You may be surprised at where it will take you.

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 1 Peter 4:10 [NLT]

Are you struggling with using your gifts or talents?

P.S. This post was inspired by a message I heard on Sunday.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

It's in God's Hands

These words were recently used, as we are dealing with a major health crisis in our family. But I don't think we recognize the gravity of these words and the peace they can impart. And then as life so often goes this lesson was brought home to me in its own small way.

My brain has been consumed by a decision I recently made. Was it the right decision? Can I correct it? Will I have to grovel to make the change? Well after a restful night of sleep I woke up ready to deal with it but I was still anxious. I said a quick pray and made some phone calls. But at this point nothing was finalized - and then the words came to me, "It's in God's hands."

At that moment I realized that my worrying wasn't going to change the situation, my anxiety wouldn't fix it. Outside of what I could do, no additional worry, thought or anxiety on my part would affect the outcome.
Did this mean that the outcome would be what I wanted? No; it simply meant that I was relieved from worrying about the outcome. It allowed me to think clearly and say if the outcome went one way- great, if not this is where we are. Lack of anxiety and worry allowed me to think clearly. 

The situation we are dealing with as a family is grave, but the principle is still the same. When it's in God's hands, no amount of thinking, bickering, worrying or anxious thoughts will alter the outcome. We just don't have that power. 

Jesus who made us said, "why worry?" "Can all of our worries add a single hour to our lives?" Matthew 6:27

Obviously, not worrying doesn't mean not caring. It simply means after you've done what you can, let it go. God cares for us and in His caring, we can trust Him to help us. We can truly know all things - big and small, are in his hands.

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:34

The next time you're stressed, worried or anxious, remember it's all in God's hands.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Roller Coaster Ride

You know that feeling you experience when you’re on a roller coaster - the feeling of anticipation and trepidation?  

There’s the slow build up after you are buckled in and given the clearance to go. The higher the peak the slower the ride and the longer it takes. And then you are cresting the top of the ride. All of a sudden you are traveling at breakneck speed twisting and turning until the ride is over. It’s the longest 180 seconds of your life.

Life has felt like a 180-second ride for the past two weeks. As I mentioned in a prior post, we attended two funerals in two days. Then we had the most epic family reunion ever! My future son in law was welcomed and accepted. I met new cousins while laughing loving and having a good time together. The food was great – this year we used local caterers and every day for breakfast and dinner we were treated to Jamaican food. Lunch was on our own but even then that became communal. Older cousins took younger cousins on day trips – one to the Blue Hole and one to Prospect Plantation. It goes without saying that we were watching the Olympics Track and Field. Someone simply mentioned that Usain Bolt was running and everyone ran to see him. The non-athletic all of a sudden could move and even the caterers stopped serving. It’s expected and was all in good fun. 

I cannot put into words the excitement of watching the Olympics in Jamaica – it’s so different than watching in the States. The coverage is live throughout the day; places of work have a slower pace and if there is  green, yellow, black and gold in the field, you can be sure the nation is cheering the athlete on. In that epic 400m women’s final where the front runners were so close, in the din you could hear my husband loudly yelling “Go Sharicka, Go Sharicka, Come through Sharicka!!!” Sharicka Jackson made the podium with her 3rd place finish. It should be noted that while I’m an Allyson Felix fan, I was cheering for my Bahamian girl – Shaunae Miller; she had the fastest time coming in and was favored to win. So I’m screaming for the Bahamas and my husband was, of course, cheering for Jamaica.

The next night we were in Port Royal eating fish, and Omar Mcleod ran the 100M hurdles. The whole place was initially quiet and then crescendoed into a shout as he won historic gold. NICE!

In the midst of all of this, I found out that my mom was very ill and was hospitalized. With spotty Wi-Fi, I was grateful for any updates I received and when the seriousness of her illness hit me I went into the bathroom and let out a guttural moan. I then spent the remainder of the day at the beach attempting to regroup.

O God, how I love my children. We were all together for the past two weeks and it felt joyous. It makes my heart smile to see them talking and offering each other advice and also being genuinely welcoming and open to their future brother in law. They’re all transitioning into the next stages of their lives; my husband and I are their biggest cheerleaders and we only want the best for them coupled with a life of faith. We have imparted “seek ye first the kingdom of God…“to them and it is pleasurable yet unpredictable to see how this unfolds in each child.

So I’ve been agitated yet happy, despondent then cheerful, struggling with fear yet choosing to exercise faith within this slice of time. It seems like a lot but in the grand scheme of things, it’s 180 seconds. A roller coaster of emotions that ultimately makes me realize the frailty and beauty of life are all engineered by a loving powerful God. God has given me the strength, wisdom and the right people in my life to get through this and because I lean on Him, I will get through.

I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. Psalms 16:8[NLT]

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Book Review - The Flower Girls

Reading a book while sitting on the beach is noted as one of the simple pleasures in life. If you're sitting on a beach in Ocho Rios reading the Flower Girls by Wendy Paine Miller, the pleasure is heightened.

I started reading this book shortly before arriving in Jamaica, and could not wait to continue it at the beach. It is the perfect beach read as the plot is unpredictable but not laborious. The main characters are twins named Daisy and Poppy, hence the title. Daisy struggles with a disease called prosopagnosia - face blindness disorder, and Poppy feels obligated to help her. The book attempts to answer "How did we get here?" and "Where do we go from here?" The story is interwoven with folklore from their Irish heritage, midwifery and the love of flowers.

This book weaves a tale around sisterhood and twinship. The book takes turns alternating each twin's voice, and so we really get to see their relationship from both vantage points.

I'd never heard of face blindness disorder until I read this book. I struggled with seeing a person yet not seeing their face through Daisy's eyes. It required great leaps of imagination on my part to really understand this character and her disability. Because it is a disability that's hard to explain, you can imagine the feelings her sister, Poppy had. Was it real? Is it my fault? Am I obligated to help her all my life?

You'll have to read this book to find the answers to these questions and see how the sisters navigate their tenuous yet caring relationship.

This was a great beach read.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Stop and Smell the Roses

Two funerals in two days - both of beloved family members. Two services with a multitude of emotions on display. One was quite simple and the other, more elaborate in the Anglican tradition.

The funerals were for the Uncle and Grandma of my husband. I don't think I'd ever met the Uncle, but since my husband comes from a large family, I'm sure I'd heard of him. Ultimately, prostate cancer took his life.

Grandma was the family matriarch and was fondly referred to as Mother Dear. My husband is the oldest grandchild who was lucky to know all of his grandparents. As an aside, I knew none of mine. The experiences that we have with our families are the roses we smell along the way. 

The strong ties to family pulled my husband, and in turn all of us to Jamaica often. My husband always spoke fondly of Christmas Dinner at Leas Flat and the role Mother D played. When I married into this family, I felt lucky for I was immediately accepted. Mother D was a sweet woman, with a calm demeanor who as they say nowadays "kept it real." She had no reason for pretense. I remember her sharing great wisdom with one of my daughters at a random point in time. "Live life, enjoy life, it won't always be easy, but hard times will pass," in that baritone voice of hers. She ought to know, as she had some hard times in her life.

Funerals are where we choose to remember the good in people in spite of their flaws; the tributes made us remember fondly. You nodded in agreement or chuckled as the truthfulness presented gave one last opportunity for remembrance. The chorus of this song embodied Mother D, so it was sung at her funeral:

You got to Stop and Smell the roses
You've got to count your many blessings everyday
You're gonna find your way to heaven is a rough and rocky road
If you don't Stop and Smell the roses along the way [Source: Mac Davis - Stop And Smell The Roses Lyrics | MetroLyrics ]

This is a family ensconced by faith, cushioned with love. It's love that brought us together, love that seals our memories, love that keeps us close.

Death is the end of this life as we know it; I truly believe that family is one of the roses that we should smell and enjoy often until we are parted by death.

Two funerals in two days - remembering the good and stopping to smell the roses.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Using Groupon Goods for the Unconventional

This is a sponsored post. All opinions are mine.

When we were looking for a mattress many years ago we went the traditional route - home and furniture stores. I have always been shocked by the cost of a good mattress. As a newlywed, I realized that we would have to set aside some serious money to get a bed, because, you know, a bed is very important in a marriage, especially to newlyweds. 

Fast forward to 2007 when we relocated to California. Again we needed a bed for one of our bedrooms, and again we went the traditional route. In trying to save some money, we may not have gotten the best mattress. Had I been aware of Groupon Goods in 2007 I would have surely acquired my mattress through them.

In the past two years, I have used Groupon Goods for Christmas presents, jewelry, apparel, and phone accessories and have been very happy with my purchases. If you're ever in the market for a mattress, check out Groupon Goods for a wide selection. I would recommend that you check out your selection via the traditional route (i.e. see it, touch it, lay down on it in a store) research online, etc. After doing all of this and being satisfied with your selection, I would then purchase via Groupon Goods. 

Did you know Groupon Goods sold mattresses? Would you use this option? 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Unexpected Victories

Keni Harrison was a shoo-in to make the 100m hurdle Olympic team. She had the fastest time coming in and was considered the favorite. But something fell apart that day and she did not make it to Rio; her Olympic dreams were dashed.

Two weeks later she ran in London at a Diamond league track meet. She was poetry in motion and broke a world record that had stood for 28 years.

Initially, she was not aware, as there seemed to be a malfunction with the clock. But then one of her competitors nudged her to look at what she had just accomplished and we see the most amazing reaction.

This reaction reminds me of the following:
Know your standards - Every competitor knows the standards for their sport. Even if you're not a world-class athlete, you have measurable goals that you are trying to reach. Because it is only in pushing ourselves that we recognize how strong we really are. Her competitor, Nia Ali, pointed it out first because she recognized what she had been a part of.

Shared joy - all the individuals in that race knew the standards; they all knew what the WR was. Nia Ali noticed it first and with a smile on her face told her to look at the clock. The smiles and the hug; we all want that when we achieve. But also notice that the other competitors are clapping and congratulating her.

Getting back up - she could have quit, but she didn't. She continued to run, pushing herself in the process. As my devotional reminded me today - "Many winners have reached success by climbing a special ladder called “never give up.” However, there are also many who have lost the opportunity to achieve success because they gave up too soon. This can happen in every area of life: family, education, friends, work, service. Perseverance is a key to victory."

Relief and glee - she went into every race after the trials knowing that she had it in her to break the WR. The Olympic Trials was an unfortunate fluke. So she kept running. That reaction is priceless. Unbelievable joy at achieving a major goal.

The Christian life has all of these characteristics. As a believer, we know our standard - Christ. The goal is to always live like Christ. We keep trying because when we do it is worth it. We're not in this race alone - He has given us a comforter, the Holy Spirit that we can tap into and we have each other. Be the Nia Ali who points out what your sister just did. Rejoice with her in victory and weep with her in sadness.

Every successful person climbs a ladder called "Never Give Up." The victories may not come when we expect them to but they will surely come if we stay focused and keep our eyes fixed on Christ. I can only imagine that when I get to heaven, I may have the same reaction, especially after hearing "well done, good and faithful servant.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing. 

What keeps you going when things don't work out as you think they should?

Poetry in Motion - in case you missed it.