Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Shellac Cat

Have your children ever brought a fun, but yet timing consuming project to you asking for your help?  Were you encouraging and supportive? Or did you decide you didn’t have the time to invest?  Did you take advantage of the teachable moments God provides along the way of raising your children? 

One such amazing moment occurred for me on a sun shiny afternoon.  “Mom, can we make this cat?  Don’t you think this would be so much fun?” asked Stephanie, as she came rushing into the kitchen, wearing a huge smile.  “See!  Look!”

Stephanie placed the magazine article in my hands.  There was a picture and drawing of a huge shellac cat made of newspapers and brown paper bags!  In fact, it was bigger than my ten year old daughter.  Making the cat would be fairly inexpensive for it was made mostly from newspapers, large brown paper bags, craft paints, and shellac paint. 

“Wow!  This project will make quite a cat!  Well, the cost will be next to nothing, but Stephanie do you realize how much time this project could take?” I asked.

“No, but; I really want to make this!” she pleaded.

“Are you willing to stick this out until completed?  I need your 100% commitment!” I informed Stephanie.  I always do my best to teach my kids to stay with a project until completion, no matter how tedious or challenging.

“Yes, I will!” she agreed as she looked me in the eye.

As a devoted homeschooling mom, I was always looking for teachable moments to help my kids learn.  I, also, strongly desired for them to have fun learning.  Life is too short not to have fun.  I knew this project would be time consuming, but it would be a great time to have fun together, to teach perseverance, to work hard, and to create something unusual.

We made the head, body, legs, and tail out of brown paper bags being stuffed with wadded up newspapers.  Scattered newspapers covered the family room floor.  Stephanie and I wadded up newspapers stuffing them in the brown paper bags.  We laughed at how our fingers turned black from the newspaper print.  “You have a black smudge on your nose, Stephanie.” I said.

Stephanie rubbed her nose and chin smearing additional black ink on her nose.  “Go to the mirror!”  I suggested.

She went to the mirror.  When she saw the ink, she laughed.

We gradually shaped them into the head and body.  It was fun watching the project come together.  After we finished stuffing newspapers in brown paper bags in the shape of a cat, we were ready to paint the cat.  Stephanie wanted it to be a snow tiger.  She painted the cat all white first using craft paint. 

“Do I need to put another coat of white?” Stephanie asked.

“Yes, it looks like the newspaper printed is showing through, but we need to let this coat dry first so probably tomorrow would be good.”  I said.

“Good, because I am tired!” said Stephanie.

After we were done painting white, we painted black strips.  When this paint dried we gave it two coats of shellac. 

 The project required days of hard work and fun.  We placed the finished project on the front porch for awhile.

Stephanie demonstrated the commitment to see her project through to completion.  I am proud of her.  Nido R. Qubein wrote in his book titled, Attitude: The Remarkable Power of Optimism about decisions and commitments.

     “A decision is made with the brain.  A commitment is made with the heart.  Therefore,
     a commitment is much deeper and more binding that a decision.

     Commitment involves feelings as well as thinking.  It is the result of a well-
     documented formula: Thoughts plus feelings equal action.

     Everything you do has to be born in the brain as an idea.  That idea gives birth to a
     feeling.  You act on the basis of the feeling.  Therefore, your actions turn your
     thoughts into reality, once you have been motivated by your feelings.

     The deeper and more intense your feelings, the more powerful the motivation to turn
     thoughts into action.

     The thought creates a vision.  The feeling makes the vision glow.  Action brings the
     vision to life.”

Was it worth it for Stephanie to see her vision come to pass?  Absolutely, she persevered through the days.  Each day was fun even though there were challenges such as the time it took to complete the project, running out of newspapers, cleaning up the mess, and so forth.  The best part is teaching my daughter about perseverance and integrity.  Two character traits everyone should develop.

“Let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season you shall reap, if we faint not.” Galatians 6:9

Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Mouse

What can we learn from a little mouse?  Is it possible to learn about expectations and goals?  How about respect? 

In the wee hours of the morning, Christopher, who was 3 months old awoke hungry.  I scooped him up in my arms, hugged him, and sat in the recliner to feed him.  Our home was calm and quiet with the moonlight shining through the window.  The only sound heard was Christopher swallowing his milk as fast as he could.  He was hungry!

 “What’s that?” I thought.  In the stillness I heard a whooshing and a scratching noise.  I stopped rocking and listened.  There it was again.

“Creek, step, step.” This noise was Steve, my husband, stepping into the kitchen for drink of water. 

“Steve, I heard something like whooshing and scratching over by the refrigerator.  Do you see anything?”

Steve sleepily looked around the refrigerator and opened a few cabinet doors.  “I don’t see a thing!” he said as he finished off the glass of water. 

After Steve left the room, I thought, “I just know I heard something.” The room grew silent again. 

“Scratch, scratch!” I heard it again!  Christopher drifted back to sleep.  I slowly walked back to his crib, kissed his soft little head, and laid him in the crib.  As I covered him up with the softest baby blanket, I noticed his sweet smile.  I, always, loved watching my children, but this early morning I had to find out what the noise could be.

I flipped a light on in the kitchen to begin my quest for the whoosh and scratch.  I opened every cabinet door to no avail.  I grew sleepy so I decided to catch a few more hours of sleep.

A few hours later I was in the kitchen preparing scrambled eggs, bacon, and cinnamon toast.  As I busied myself with the preparations, I was thinking about my to-do list for the day.  I opened the cabinet door at eye level in front of me to get the jar of cinnamon sugar for the toast.  With my right hand on the door handle my left hand was on the verge of picking up the jar of cinnamon sugar.  I suddenly stopped and screamed because there was a wee little mouse sitting next to the jar of cinnamon sugar in a begging position looking me straight in the eye.  Startled, I screamed, then, abruptly slammed the door.  Steve came running from the back of the house to the kitchen.

“What in the world is the matter?” asked a startled Steve.

I said, “I just saw a mouse.  The mouse was the one making all the noise last night.”

“Where is he?”

“In the cabinet he was staring at me at eyeball level!  I was not expecting it!”
“Ha ha ha ha!”  that is funny!” laughed Steve.

“Maybe it was funny for you, but not for me!”

Again mousetrap caught the mouse.  I added to my to-do list to clean the cabinets.

When I first heard the whooshing and scratching, I thought the noise was probably a mouse.  Since I was tired, I quit searching.  I, basically, stopped expecting to find the answer. 

How often do we stop expecting things to happen in other aspects of our lives?  How many times have we given up on our goals, because there were just too many obstacles to overcome, such as being tired, being sick, hearing discouraging words from people, and so forth.  It is sad, but I meet people everyday who has no goals, dreams, or aspirations.  It is like they have given up on life.

Zig Ziglar says, “You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.”

Another interesting aspect of this situation is not looking the mouse in the eye and slamming the door.  Steve and I have encouraged our children to look people in the eye, since it demonstrates equality, respect, interest, and appreciation.  I have spoken with people who could not look me in the eye.  It was very distracting; it showed lack of respect for themselves.

Nido Qubein, says, “Nobody on earth is more valuable than you are.  Your life is as precious to you as the greatest people’s lives have been to them.  And your estimate of your self-worth is the only estimate that counts.”

It is amazing, but we can learn a lot from a little mouse!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Mouse Or A Careless Habit

Do you ever become frustrated?  Do you ever feel like you have hit a brick wall many times over in teaching good habits?  We all do.  I know God is patient and kind.  When I fail to learn the lesson God has for me, I get another chance to learn the lesson.

One evening after arriving home from an event, my 4 year old daughter, Hannah, and I snuggled on the couch reading a stack of books.  Chris and Stephanie were merrily riding their bikes around in a big circle on the carport.  I could hear their squeals and laughter on this muggy hot summer evening.  Steve tidied up the garage. 

Most of the time the Stewart kids and husband can’t seem to learn to close a door.  Attempting many times to instill this value, I would shout in frustration, “Shut the door, please!”  Shouting didn’t work either.  Jokingly, I declared it was an inherited trait on the Stewart side of the family; however, I knew it was a bad habit.

As Hannah reached for another book, Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, a slight movement caught my eye near the kitchen area.  I hesitated for a moment.  I shrugged.  Perhaps it was my imagination. 

“Meeew!” softly chirped one of our black cats.  It stealthily slinked into the dining room.

“What is going on?” I thought.

At that moment Stephanie came inside the kitchen from the garage.  They had put their bikes away and Steve was closing the big garage door.

“Stephanie, was the wooden garage door open when you came in?” I asked.

“Yes.” Stephanie replied nodding her head up and down.

“I think that when you all left the inside garage door open, a mouse ran into the dining room and Rosie is in there.  Let’s go see.  Hannah, just sit here on the couch.”  I said.

Stephanie and I slowly stepped into the dining room.  Rosie looked up at us.  Suddenly, a dark streak raced from the dining room to the front living room.  The little mouse found a hiding place behind the piano.

“Stephanie go stand in the doorway to prevent the mouse from further running into the bedrooms.” I said.  “Steve, come quick there is a mouse.”

At this exact moment Rosie began sniffing around the piano.  The frightened mouse ran out.  He quickly halted directly face to face with Stephanie.  She loomed over the mouse with legs spread apart like a giant.  Even though the mouse was very small Stephanie screamed.  They were both frightened.

“Aaagh!  Help me!” she screamed.

Steve quickly stepped into the dining room saying emphatically, “Stomp on it!”  

“She’s bare footed!” I stressed.

The mouse dashed between Stephanie’s legs as she screamed again.  He ran into the hot water heater and heating unit closet.

Steve threw his hands into the air in frustration saying, “Great!  Now what will we do?”

We all looked at each other.  “I know.  I have an idea.  Get a mousetrap.  Place some peanut butter on it.  I guarantee you we will have the mouse in 30 minutes.” I said.

Steve replied, “What do we have to loose!  Rose should have done her job!  Rosie, what are we going to do with you?”

We went about the usual bedtime routines.  Suddenly, “Snap!”

Steve and I looked at each other.  “I believe that could be our mouse.”

As Steve picked up the mousetrap with mouse, I told the kids to please shut the garage door behind them.  What if the mouse were to get in bed with you?”

“It would be a nightmare!” Stephanie agreed.

Did the kids learn to shut the door?  Not immediately.  I still had to remind them.  Could it really be an inherited trait or a bad habit?  Is there any hope?  Of course there is always hope.  I believe God gives us a test or learning experience from time to time.  Are we a failure if we don’t pass it the first time?  No, but we may get to take the test again and again until we do pass the test or learn the lesson.

Nothing is impossible with God.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Shake It Off and Step Up!

How do you face a challenge or obstacle?  We no sooner set a goal, than we face challenges along the way.  Is your goal worth overcoming any obstacle thrown in the way?  Do you give up or do you persist?

In the book, Beauty For Ashes, Joyce Meyers shares this story.  There was a farmer and his donkey walking through a field.  Suddenly the donkey fell into a dry well.  The farmer, frantically, tried pulling the donkey out with the ends of a rope, but to no avail since the donkey was too heavy for the farmer to lift.  The donkey tried jumping, but could not jump high enough.  The farmer exhausted every idea that popped into his head.  In frustration and weariness the farmer sat on a stump letting his head fall into his hands.  He didn’t know else to do, but gather his neighbors to help him dump dirt into the well to bury the donkey.  He had been a faithful servant to the farmer.  This would be a proper burial. 

As two or three buckets of dirt fell upon the donkey, he knew exactly what was going on.  Immediately, the donkey began crying and moaning pitifully.  He didn’t want his life to end this way.  He knew the farmer had given up.  The donkey wailed louder.  The donkey realized all the crying and moaning would not free him from this pit so he stopped to think.  The donkey, using his imagination, figured out the solution to his problem.

The farmer noticed that his donkey was not crying anymore.  He peered down into the well to see what had happened.  Had the donkey given up and died already?  To the farmer’s surprise he saw his donkey shaking each bucket of dirt off his back and stepping up.  A bucket of dirt drops, the donkey shakes it off and steps up.   The process continues with more dirt dropping, the donkey shaking it off and stepping up.  In amazement the farmer watches his faithful donkey happily step out of the well.

If I had written an extra ending to this story it would the donkey giving the farmer a good swift kick in the behind for giving up.  This seems to be the easy way out.  Or not?  Every time the farmer walked by the filled up dry well, it would be a reminder of his quitting on life.  It seems to me that giving up and burying our goals and dreams is something one would have to live with all their life.  I wouldn’t want to live with that.

Many times in my life, I face challenges.  I don’t know what to do.  I panic and cry.  I make a lot of noise.  After awhile, I discover this does not help.  When I finally do become quiet to think and to listen to God, the answer usually comes.  It’s funny, but the answer is the obstacle.  The obstacle takes me to the next level in reaching the top.  It is important to shake it off and step up.

I encourage all of us the next time we face an obstacle to shake it off and step up.

Friday, September 27, 2013

I Love You!

Do you tell the special people in your life that you love them?  Love is a powerful thing.  It can be expressed through words and actions.  It is important to never miss an opportunity to express your love.   

After my Dad’s passing, I was heart broken, emotionally drained, and physically exhausted.  Carefully, I drove our Dodge Caravan onto the lane of I-44 traffic on my way home.  I was thinking about my Dad.  Scattered memories of  Dad teaching me to ride a horse, Dad making home made ice cream and eating it drenched with home made chocolate syrup, Dad and I watching professional football games together, Dad holding his first grandchild, and then…   

I wondered, “When was the last time I spoke with Dad, when he was still coherent?” 

I inhaled in surprise as I recalled the final words my Dad and I shared.  I can still hear his voice.

“I love you, Dad!”

“I love you, too, Sis!”

Tears streamed down my face dropping in my lap.  It could have been any conversation: harsh words, happy words, or sad words, but it was I love you!  I am so glad I followed my heart that day.    I will always treasure this memory.

The day after my Dad passed my husband wrote a thank you note to our son-in-law, Jeff, thanking him for taking good care of our daughter whose heart was breaking over the loss of her grandfather.  Jeff canceled part of his weekend with friends in Branson to return to be with Stephanie in her time of need.

“Come read this card.  Tell me if there is anything you want to add.” asked Steve.

As I carefully read the words, I noticed that a few very important words were left out.  I picked up the pen.  I wrote, “We love you both!” 

I looked up at Steve and smiled. “We can never tell our loved enough that we love them.”

A few days later I was visiting with a friend.  In those moments I felt God prompting my heart to tell this friend something important.

“I just want you to know that I love you.”  We hugged. 

I walked to my vehicle, opened the door, sat down in the seat, and shut the door.  I, then, reached for my cell phone to check messages.  I have a Bible application showing different scriptures on the front.  John 15:12-13 appeared. 

“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” 

I stared at my phone with blurry eyes.  A tear dropped from my eyes and fell on my cell phone.  At that moment I felt like God hugged me.  It felt so peaceful to let God shine through me and to know I had been obedient. 

The scriptures tell us that God is love.  Do we really understand just how much God loves us?  I know I don’t.  As I strive everyday to build my relationship with God, I come to feel the height and depth of his love more and more.  And I want to say I love you Jesus not only for what you do for me, but because you first loved me!  I am truly living a blessed life.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Trusting God

There's something to be said about our relationship with God.  Is it one where we only pray when we are in Need of God's help?  And, God be quick about it?  Or, is it one where we pray daily in the good times as well as in the challenging times while trusting God to take care of us in His time?

How do we have a close relationship with God? We must consistently read, study, and meditate on God’s Word daily.  This study of God’s Word aids us in truly knowing who God is.  He is bigger than anything we could ever face in this life.  He loves us more than we can even imagine. 

This relationship with God involves trust.  When we trust God we surrender our will, ideas, desires, and future to God.  We don’t fear the outcome because we know He is with us, loves us, and has our best interests in His heart.   

Daniel was a man who prayed daily.  Because of this prayer Daniel, demonstrated confident, expectation when thrown into the lion’s den.  In Daniel 6:13 it reads;

“Then answered they and said before the king, That Daniel, which is of the children of the captivity of Juda, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree that thou hast signed, but maketh his petition three times a day.
Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him; and he laboured till the going down of the sun to deliver him.
Then these men assembled unto the king, and said unto the king, Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed.
Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions.  Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee.
And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel.
Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of musick brought him: and his sleep went from him.
Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions.
And when th came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?
Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever.
My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions” mouths, that they have not hurt me; forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.
Then was the king exceeding glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den.  So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God.”

Wow, to be a Daniel!

God wants to be our friend.  He is the best friend any of us could ever have.  As we build a relationship, we learn to trust Him with secrets from the deepest parts of our hearts.  We tell Jesus about all of our troubles, because He is a friend who can help us.  We must trust Him to see us through all of our struggles.  When Peter walked on water he was fine until he focused on the wind and waves.  In Matthew14:22-31 it says,

“And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.
And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves; for the wind was contrary.
And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and the cried out for fear.
But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
And he said, Come.  And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

Each of us has difficulty trusting God sometimes.  It is a growing and learning process.  I am always comforted to know God is always with me. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

With or Without?

How do you like to spend your vacations with relatives and friends or to get away from relatives and friends?  This was a question I was asked recently at a Toastmaster Meeting.

I have had the blessing of taking several vacations.  Most vacations are taken with my husband and three children.  We have a blast on the Florida beaches, at the top of a lighthouse, in the Blue Spring Park walking through the lush vegetation, at the St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training game, and more.  While we enjoy these activities, we are meeting people and making new friends either in Florida or new friends traveling to Florida who is on vacation, too.  In fact, we exchange phone numbers, email address, or Facebook.  There have been a few times we find time to see each other again. 

One vacation we traveled to Breckinridge, Colorado to visit my family.  We spent the whole week renewing our friendship, reminiscing about past times together, and making more memories.  It was a glorious time together climbing 12,000 foot mountains, shopping, eating great food, panning for gold, and identifying star constellations while on top of a mountain.   

I have the best of both kinds of vacations.  I love vacationing and meeting new friends and I love vacationing with my distant family.  Earl Nightingale said, “Learn to enjoy every minute of your life.  Be happy now.  Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future.  Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether it’s at work or with your family.  Every minute should be enjoyed and savoured.”