Maybe It’s About Perspective

If you’re paying attention, life is full of unexpected blessings.  The sudden desire to pull off at a rest station while traveling just to find when you’re back on the road that you narrowly missed an accident.  The check you didn’t know you had coming that shows up in the mailbox about the time the checking account hits a $.68 balance.  The stranger you meet standing in line that turns into a lifelong friend.

Just a prevalent are the unexpected blessings that you probably don’t recognize.  The warmth of a hug from Jesus in the rays of a sunny; His whispers of reassurance carried on the wind.  The complete conviction of His glory as you stare across an ocean our mind can’t begin to measure or the certain knowledge that He is merciful when a disaster just misses you.

Unexpected blessings is almost an oxymoron to me.  Unseen blessings exist, and as we move through each day, I believe that we miss some of the most blessed blessings that God has to offer.  Because those blessings are unseen doesn’t mean that they should be unexpected. How…human must we be not to expect the best blessings from our God.

He promises blessings to us.  Deuteronomy 28:2, Proverbs 10:6, Proverbs 28:20 and so many other verses promise that God will bless those who are faithful to him.  And despite these promises, we don’t expect Him to bless us; we expect just the opposite.  We expect His wrath and His disapproval; we expect Him to be hands-off.  But we don’t expect His blessings.

Or maybe that’s just me.  I am shocked and amazed when He blesses me.  Recently, my dryer died. Well, it didn’t die completely, it just stopped heating.  I have to admit, I griped at God a bit about that.  I mean, the timing was bad, bad, bad.  I couldn’t afford to replace the dryer, and even if I could I didn’t have any way to move the old one out or the new one in.  And I didn’t have a man around to help me fix the appliance that’s pretty much the center of your life when you have a teenage daughter at home.  I wondered, didn’t God realize I’m single?

This was not a blessing by any stretch of the imagination.  So, I did what most people would do were they in my situation, I whined about it to my friends.  But my friend Amanda has never been one to be restricted by the concepts of roles.  “Can’t you just fix it yourself, Jerri Lynn.  It’s not like it’s that hard.”

Um.  Well, truthfully, I hadn’t thought about doing it myself.  I’m so accustomed to having someone else do those things for me that I went straight from denial to despair. Could I really change the heating element in my dryer by my self?

The short answer is yes. I could. I did. And then I looked at Jesus and said, “I see what you’re up to.”  I struggle with not having a spouse.  But God felt like I needed a lesson in self-sufficiency.  “My grace is enough for you,” he said to me.  My blessing?  The dryer broke. I fixed it. Alone.

So maybe, if I change my perspective a little I’ll see those ‘unexpected’ blessings.  Maybe, instead of wondering why the bad things happen I could just look at those challenges and expect the blessing that God uses them to bring.  I can learn to expect his blessings.  I just have to change my view and know where to look.

Desperately Needed and Completely Unexpected

By Kim Payne

When the topic of unexpected blessing was chosen as the theme for this series of blogs, I knew exactly what to do. I picked up my trusty Dr. Grip 0.5 mm lead mechanical pencil, my Pentel click eraser and my newly purchased black cloth covered just for blog ideas journal and started to write. In a matter of minutes, I had a nice list compiled. And now I’m going to share it with you. Are you ready?

1. Labor Day
2. The birth of my nephew
3. …

What? Those are too blessings. After all, being off from work most assuredly constitutes a blessing. One I’ve been looking forward to since July 4. And you know as well as I do the birth of a new baby in the family is –

Oh. I see. They aren’t “unexpected.” Well, I guess I have to agree with you there. Labor Day comes around every first Monday in September. And my nephew was expected for nine looooong months.

surprisegiftWell, if that’s the case, then maybe I don’t have any unexp… Wait a minute! There was this e-mail a friend of mine sent the other day. It arrived just when I needed a good chuckle. And then there was the phone call from my brother. He’s a Methodist minister who got bored on his way home from visiting a parishioner in the hospital. The cure for his boredom was to hassle his older sister. For me, that phone call was a much needed break from a rather intense work day. So yeah. Looking back on it, I have had some unexpected blessings.

That’s the thing when something unexpected this way comes. Often you don’t realize that it is a blessing until you look back on it in those quiet, reflective moments of the day. That is when God’s graciousness reveals itself.

A few days ago, I had one of the hardest meetings of my professional career. A three year old just been diagnosed with a much more profound hearing loss than any of us previously thought. The parents were frustrated because there are just no straightforward answers when it comes to this kind of thing. Will he do well with hearing aids? I don’t know. Does he need a cochlear implant? Perhaps. But no one can tell you how well he’ll do with one of those either.

Questions were answered as well as they could be and a small decision was made. I’d adjust the child’s hearing aids. We’d continue on the current course until the parents had a chance to go through all the information they were given and reach an ultimate decision.

MickeyThe whole time I’m working on his hearing aids, he’s holding onto two stuffed Mickey Mouses I had in my office and I’m second guessing myself. Did I say the right things? Am I doing the right things for this child? When we finished, I looked at this precious little guy who probably can’t hear much of anything even with his hearing aids on and said. “Tell you what. I’ll trade you my big Mickey for the little one. You can take little Mickey home with you.”

His lips curled into a shy smile as he released the big stuffed animal and folded the small one into a gentle embrace. Did he hear me say those words? Probably not. Still, in that shy smile I found something desperately needed and completely unexpected – a blessing straight from the heart of a kind, gentle and loving God.

Hatching a Farm

It’s a scary thought that the entire Baby Boomer generation, large as it is, is going through a mid-life crisis simultaneously. Because my husband determined that the world has enough bikers with gray ponytails, our crisis consisted of starting a hobby farm. And it all started with a handful of eggs. . .

Before we go any further, please note that I am a city girl. Born in East LA, just like the song. I had a few country adventures during childhood summers spent on my grandparents’ dairy farm in Missouri, but, with the exception of my pre-teen years spent in a rural community, I’ve resided in large cities. My transformation into a farmer is probably the most unexpected thing that has happened in my life, yet watching the daily miracles of life on a farm has been one of my best blessings.

For the first few years after we moved onto our quiet 32-acre plot in central Arkansas, my citified lifestyle had, for the most part, remained unchanged. After all, our property is less than three miles from town and just a half-hour’s drive from the nearest Lancôme counter. My life changed dramatically, however, about six years ago when my husband discovered a nest tucked in the brush near the bank of our pond. It held eight eggs. He’d noticed a pair of mallards swooping around the property, but to actually have them claim our land as their home was a thrill.

When we checked on the nest the following day, only five eggs remained. Some snake, turtle, possum, or other varmint must have discovered the nest and feasted sumptuously. The discovery of the missing eggs prompted the purchase of an incubator. We placed the remaining eggs in it and turned them faithfully day and night, just as the Internet instructed, all the while watching for any signs of peck marks.

During the days leading up to the event, I Googled every possible combination of words dealing with the successful hatching of mallard ducklings. When the day arrived, I was ready. We converted one of our bathtubs into a make-shift brooder, complete with a large plastic bowl for the little ducklings to swim in. When they began to feather out, we moved them into a former dog pen with a log doghouse and a kiddie pool. I was amazed at how quickly they grew and how drastically they changed along their journey toward adulthood. Soon, they were testing their wings. And soon afterward, to our dismay, they left home.

But due to that April morning, a farm was born, complete with goats, ducks (Muscovies instead of Mallards now), chickens, geese, and a turkey. Yes, just one. But that’s another story. And, I suppose, much to my surprise, a country girl was born, too. Who knew someone like me could learn to stop and smell the . . . well, there is no end to the variety of smells on a farm. Owning a hobby farm has been an unexpected blessing in my life, even though I balked during my conversion to country living.

I developed a simple test to evaluate the progress of my adaptation process. If you’re a city transplant, you may find this helpful:

You know you’ve been out of the city too long when . . .

  1. You can back a one-ton dually without scratching the trailer hitch.
  2. Your favorite pair of shoes is now reserved for the goat pen.
  3. You can identify four breeds of ducks, but can’t remember the name of the new handbag line at Dillard’s.
  4. You have more charges on your credit card for feed than footware.
  5. They call you by name at the Co-op.
  6. In the mornings, you feed ten goats, thirty ducks, three geese, two pot-bellied pigs, and a llama before you feed yourself.
  7. You no longer need an alarm clock.
  8. You watch eggs hatch instead of fry.
  9. You silently pray the new perfume Hubby bought you contains Deet.
  10. You can cross a ditch on a fallen log without a handrail.

Whether it’s Harleys or Holsteins, I guess a mid-life crisis is really about resisting the changes that life brings instead of accepting whatever path God has placed before us. I hope, like our mallards, I’ve come to terms with the changes that go with each of life’s milestones. If nothing else, I’ve adapted to life in the country.

Or maybe I’ve just been out of the city long enough to relax and enjoy the unexpected blessing God helped us hatch.

Life’s little moments…

Unexpected blessings? When I first saw the theme of the week, I panicked. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of any big event worth writing home about, but then I thought “Wait a second. What is an unexpected blessing anyway?” I mean, do I compare it to an expected blessing? I hope not, because I sure don’t recall any expected blessings in my life, either.

So I decided to skip the adjective unexpected and concentrate on the word blessings. That opened a whole different path. I started counting my blessings: a wonderful husband, great kids, amazing friends, a passion for writing, and the chance to indulge in it even if I’m hardly making any money with it.

Then I began thinking about all those little moments in time, those tiny blessings in disguise, that make you lift your head up and say “Thank You, Lord”, like…

The day my daughter came home and showed me her beautiful engagement ring, the stars in her eyes shined brighter than all the diamonds in the world. The love and happiness of a child is a mother’s dearest blessing.

An evening, I told a long time friend that I needed a special dress for a blessed occasion, she knew right away that one of my kids was getting married and she asked “Which One?” When I told her it was my youngest daughter, she blurted out, “Can’t be. She’s the baby on my fridge with the cute pink bonnet.” A friendship that survives a lifetime is a special blessing.

2e7d4a700524959cd010fb0dca6c360b_Fireplace_3D_ScreensaverAny cold winter days when the temperature drops below -40F, I stay in my warm nightie and spend the day reading or writing by the fireplace. Peace and serenity are blessings I usually find in the dancing flames.

The impromptu phone calls that I receive that often start with “Just wanted to know how you were doing” and the surprised emails that brighten my day. Many of them come from dear friends whom I’ve never met or met only once or twice in my life, but that I’ve known in my heart forever. A call, a word, an email, a thought, a letter, a prayer…they may all be only speckles in time, but they’re the light shining in a foggy night, the anchor of our soul. To be able to share our dreams and our struggle with someone without fear of ridicule or judgment is a blessing.

One night this summer, I was awoken by a frantic phone call. My teenage son had been attacked at a train station by five thugs. He had fought them off and fled. The thugs had chased him across the neighborhood. Two hours later, my son had managed to lose them and return to his car waiting less than a minute away from the train station. Once safely home, he realized his feet were cut and bleeding. To run faster, he’d lost his sandals and continued bare feet.

edmonton04You’re probably wondering where is the blessing in there, because it doesn’t sound like something anyone would want their kids to endure. Well, the voice at the end of the line was the blessing. It wasn’t the voice of a policeman or of an emergency doctor, it was the voice of my son telling me that he would be fine. That night, a teenage boy was shaken and big feet were injured, but I still sent a huge Thank You to Heaven that no knives were pulled and no lives were taken.

Life is the greatest blessing of all. Cherish every second of it!

A Daughter In Disguise.

Men! All of my life I have been surrounded by men. Disgusting habit wheedling, dirty sock wearing, testosterone pumping creatures. I grew up with three older brothers, had more male cousins than female ones and ended up having, yep-you know it… three boys.

I spent most of my pregnancy months in prayer for a daughter. I ignored all the opinions of the ultrasound techs and doctors who all stated, “Congratulations, it’s a boy!” Bah, humbug. It seemed to me that everyone I knew (at least those I cared to count in my mind) could have daughters. My husband’s sister Lori had two, Nichol and Heather, both blue eyed blondes just like I prayed for. I loved my nieces, but surely God wasn’t listening to me.

My husband didn’t want any more children, but seven years after my middle son Dylan was born, I talked John into trying to have that girl. I vowed if God didn’t give me a daughter then, I knew He was telling me no. Colton was born in September of 2000. God succinctly told me no; there was no more denying it.

Back in the fall of 1994 my sister-in-law Lori died in a horrible car accident. She left behind her then 4 and 6 year old daughters with a father who was unable to take care of them. They ended up in the care of his mother and step-father.

Two years after Lori died, my mother-in-law died leaving us to care for John’s disabled father Ronnie. We stayed in close touch with the girls, keeping them for birthdays, holidays and anytime we were able. We maintained a close relationship with them, and between Ronnie and his granddaughters. Then three years ago John’s dad along with his grandmother died, both a day apart. To make matters worse, their grandfather (their father’s step-dad), whom the girls were very close to, died a few months later.

It was a dark time for all of us, but mostly for the girls, whose lives began to unravel. Their grandmother’s health began to decline and the girls began to rebel. We were finally told some of the incidents that were happening and in a swift moment of decision became the guardians of Heather. Having lived on her own and after making many bad choices, Nichol moved in shortly thereafter. The girls had a tough time fitting into my strict/religious household. I didn’t know if they were going to love me or hate me because I stood firm on what I thought was right. I questioned the reasons why I stepped in to take over for a spirited and headstrong 16 year old, and allowed a wild 18 year old to come live with us.Nikki & Heather

One afternoon Heather asked if she could call me mom. She was so young when her mom and John’s mom died that she didn’t remember them much, and she and her guardian grandmother had never really seen eye to eye. She told me she knew I was doing what I thought was right for her, even though she fought it. I was the closest thing she would come to having a real mother. I cried.

Now every mother’s day and on my birthday I can count on Heather to call me, give me a card or take me out. She still calls me mom. I do many mother-daughter things with both her and Nichol and am a surrogate grandmother to Nichol’s children Ryan and Olivia.         

I know it’s not what I asked for, but it’s what He gave me. It is more precious than gold.  My unexpected blessing. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

GOD’S AWESOME HANDIWORK

When I was fifteen, my father, a school board member, received a call from a desperate mother. Her son had gotten into trouble and quit school. Now, he wanted to come back and finish. This dropout, two years my senior, would be in my class. Drifting off to sleep that night, I wondered what he would be like.

The next day, I saw him and he was beautiful. Most guys are handsome, this guy was more than that. All of the boys at my school wore buzz or bowl cuts. Neither was popular back then. This boy had black, naturally wavy hair to his shoulders, and the greenest eyes I’d ever seen. I decided on the spot, though quite shallowly based on looks alone, to marry him. Several other girls made the same vow and he was soon the most popular guy in school.

As the months passed, the new guy finally noticed me and we began going together. We didn’t go anywhere together, since I couldn’t date until I turned sixteen. As my birthday neared, rumors began to circulate that my boyfriend drank heavily and smoked pot. Raised in church, I never tasted alcohol or tried smoking cigarettes, much less marijuana. Of course, when asked about such things, my guy denied the rumors. I refused to believe the gossip and gave him the benefit of the doubt.

BanquetFinally, after months of waiting, my birthday came and my parents allowed me to date. The rumors continued and a strange aroma surrounded me whenever my guy was near. When I mustered the courage to ask about it, he told me the kid sitting behind us in class smoked a joint that morning.

I think I knew, but didn’t want to know. As the school year came to a close, the truth could no longer be denied. We hashed it out, no pun intended. Given an ultimatum, drugs and alcohol or me, he didn’t pick me. I spent the summer in tears and prayerfully placed the relationship in God’s hands.

The week before school started again, my ex-boyfriend came to my house. Claiming to have quit drinking and drugs, he could no longer live without me. Though cautious, I could soon tell the difference in him. Once back together, he even started attending church with me. We dated throughout high school and graduated together.

Fast-forward. My husband and I entered into parenthood later than most couples. After sixteen years of marriage, our lives changed for the better with the birth of our son.

Shortly afterward, I began attending monthly writer’s group meetings. As a stay-at-home-mom, the excursions served as my Mom’s night out. While I learned to write, my guys hung out at a local bookstore and Wal-Mart.

On a typical night, they dropped me off, then went to eat supper at their favorite restaurant before visiting their regular haunts. As usual, my meeting ran late. By the time I strolled across the parking lot, they’d been waiting thirty minutes. Once in the truck, hubby told me of his evening. At the restaurant, secured in the highchair, our little guy threw up. Not just a little, but apparently everything he’d eaten, all day long.

My husband wiped our son down, detected no fever, and ordered their food. Both ate, then raided our emergency clothing stash, and went on their way. Though he’s always a very hands-on father, I would have expected him to grab our child, pick me up early, and head home. I would have.                                               

ShannoncoupleThat night, thoughts of my high school boyfriend made me wonder if he would have coped so well with the events of the evening. You see, that long ago pothead and my incredible husband are one and the same.

During the intervening years, he recommitted his life to Jesus. That pothead I dated all those years ago is now a Baptist pastor. Though, he still has the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen, his hair is buzzed and thinning. He wears it well. In fact, he’s even more beautiful to me now. Not only does the heart of a father beat within him, but the heart of a man of God.

Surprises

Don’t you just love a surprise? An unexpected phone call, a thank you note from a dear friend, flowers from your significant other at the end of a long day—all of them brighten your world in special way.

A few years ago, I got the surprise of a lifetime. When my family went to mother-in-love’s for two weeks, my family and church friends back home did a “While You Were Out” on my house. They painted, cleaned, and reorganized every room from the basement to the upstairs. (They did not tackle the walk-in attic.) It was amazing.

Now some of you are probably thinking there’s no way you’d want anyone to do that to your house, and I can understand that. But they knew me and I’d made no secret about my bathroom not being done for three years. They also didn’t do this without knowing what I wanted. They’d been planning it for weeks.

On the night before I left, my sister came over and began asking about my redecorating plans. My sister, who should have been a journalist, can get you to tell her anything, so when she started asking, I started telling. We went from room to room, and I told her everything I wished I could do with my 1910 Craftsman home. I had paint samples on the walls with the color I wanted circled, and I had chosen things at different stores, but both money and time had been a huge issue.

Emma cookingSo, while we were gone, family and friends moved in. Older women from church came to hold babies so younger women could paint. My brother-in-law finished the bathroom, my dad moved the washer and dryer from the kitchen to the basement and plumbed it, my niece painted a mural on my son’s wall of the solar system. New curtains were hung, new rugs were on the floor, and I even had a new stainless steel island in my kitchen! All in all nearly 40 people had a hand in the effort.

When we walked in two weeks later, the change was mind boggling. Imagine, everything you wanted to do on your house being done. Every room glittered. Every piece of laundry—washed, folded and put away. Even the garden had been weeded!

That night, I sat on my very clean kitchen floor and cried. What a gift of love they’d given me.

It was the talk of our church family for months. For weeks, I gave tours almost daily when people dropped by with their friends just to see it. Yes, I realize this would not be for everyone. Still, I hope you can see the joy that it not only gave me, but it also brought to the givers. They said they had a blast doing it, and it made for a wonderful chance to witness.

worldNone of us know the surprises God has planned for each of us. I love Psalms 31:19. “You are wonderful, and while everyone watches, you store up blessings for all who honor and trust you.”

So what surprise blessings has God given you lately? What ones do you hope He is storing up for you? I’d love to hear your stories.

Meanwhile, keep your eyes open, because you never know when you’re going to get one of His good and perfect gifts.