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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Treasure of Friendship

Photo Credit:  DodgertonSkillhause from
True friendship is the rarest treasure,
Its value; something we can’t measure.
A loving friend is a God-send,
Who blesses us with needed heart-mend.
When the puzzle of life is scattered,
When our hopes and dreams are shattered,
A precious friend helps gather the pieces,
With love and joy that never ceases.
Friends are gifts, each one unique,
Wanting best for us; they always seek.
A friend will share delight and sorrows,
Praying for you and all your tomorrows.
A friend will wish for your success,
Even if you feel a mess.
Perfect, they are not, but that’s okay, you see,
Perfection is impossible; it’s how it’s meant to be.
Maybe we’ll be imperfect together,
Is that God’s plan for storms that we’ll weather?
A friend can look you in the eye and see your heart and soul,
Whatever they may find there; love is still their goal.
Friendship of the lasting kind is hard to explain,
A friend can bring you sunshine on days full of rain.
A friend will laugh with you, the type with joyful tears,
Their love for you grows stronger through the passing years.
A friend wants you to use your gifts and they believe in you,
Friendship will forgive and say, “I’m sorry” too.
A friend will care for you, despite weaknesses and sin,
Friends allow mistakes; fresh chances to begin.
True friends won’t judge your failures or leave you all alone,
Time stands still while spending hours on the phone.
Friends can share their deepest thoughts and be, with you, constructive,
But, friendship’s words that leave the tongue should never be destructive.
Friends encourage you with inspiring words of hope,
Their simple hug or touch will give you strength to cope.
True friends don’t come your way each and every day,
So, when you find one in this life, thank the Lord and pray.
God loves enough to send us this rare find,
As a glimpse of His own love for us…the deep and priceless kind.

"Greater love has no one than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

As I reflect a bit on friendship today, I can’t help but also share another poem that I wrote recently.  It’s a short children’s poem, but I think the message transcends childhood.  The Lord knows us, each bone in our body and each hair on our head.  He wants us to be ourselves.  After all, He is the one who knit us together in our mother’s womb.  I’m sure He wants us to know and appreciate that we are wonderfully made.  When we are free to be ourselves, our friendships will certainly be more dear and meaningful.

God loves us desperately.  It’s hard to fathom, really.  Sometimes I spend time trying to grasp it, but then it just slips from my fingers because it’s so difficult to understand the depth of that kind of love.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  With that being said, here’s my little poem for the kiddos:

Sometimes I like to think about what I’d like to be.
It just depends on how I feel; it changes daily, see.
On days I’m feeling extra brave and super duper strong,
I’d be a gator dentist, cleaning teeth so sharp and long.
When I’m feeling happy; I’d be a painter.  Why?
Because I’d paint the rainbows found high up in the sky.
On days I’m feeling scared and a teeny bit afraid,
I’d sew giant teddy bears, each one of them handmade.
When I feel adventuresome; I know just what I’d do.
I’d train ferocious animals and name one Cranky Poo.
But, then I stop and think about the best thing I can be,
It makes me smile to realize; the best to be is ME!

So…be yourself.  Be YOU…amazing, unique, wondrous, messy, beautifully imperfect…YOU! 

Let’s all try to BE the kind of friend we seek…incredible things can happen!  AND, if you already have a friend who loves you for you…grab on to them and never let them go!

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Gifts That Shine

Photo Credit:  GospelMessage from
Has anyone ever told you that you have a gift?  If you think back a week, a month, a year ago…or even just today, someone has probably told you that you have a gift.  If not, then I’m here to tell you that YOU have one!  You do.

Each of us has been blessed with some special sort of giftedness that God wants us to freely share with others.  Since all the gifts we have are from Him; He wants them to be shared.  He didn’t give them to us to store away and keep hidden.  He loves to see gifts that shine.  He adores watching our souls light up when we take the time to share our gifts.

I’ve written about God-given gifts many times before, but sometimes I need a gentle reminder that we’re called to share these gifts of ours.  I can be used as an instrument.  You can be used as an instrument.  Even with our failures, weaknesses, or feelings of unworthiness…God loves us, wants us, and needs us.  He does.  He really does.  Maybe you needed the reminder too?

For starters, each of us has the ability to make a difference in someone’s day, which can be a genuine gift to someone desperately needing it.  (We can’t possibly know what everyone is going through because everyone has a story…)  We may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the way God is working through us as we use our gifts.  But, more often than not, we touch someone’s life and may never know it while on this earth.

A friend from church copied a beautiful poem down on a tiny piece of paper and gave it to me the other day.  The poem read:
Faith is holding on to life when all around is pain.  Faith is seeing rainbows when the sky is full of rain.  Faith is reaching out to God when you are filled with fear.  Faith is taking someone’s hand and feeling God is near.  Faith is walking in the dark and looking for the light.  Faith is knowing God is love and trusting in His might.  Faith is showing you believe and that you truly care.  Faith is searching for the Lord and finding Him in prayer!

A woman named Hope C. Oberhelman wrote it.  Who is Hope?  I’d honestly never heard of her before my friend gave me the poem, so I went searching online to see what I could find.  Hope passed away on August 11, 2010 at the age of 84 in Lubbock, Texas.  She was a creative person who wrote many inspirational poems, worked with migrants in Michigan and Minnesota, and was a professor of Spanish at Texas Tech University.  She taught English and Spanish to people in Lubbock and did volunteer work in minority regions of the city.  Her life was dedicated to the service of other people.

My point is that Hope used her giftedness.  Here is someone I’d never met, but have been inspired by today because she used her gift of writing poems.  I loved reading her reflections about faith.  We can’t possibly know who will be affected by our giftedness and that’s what I think is amazing.  I encourage you to use your gifts, even when you don’t know who may be inspired by them…ESPECIALLY when you don’t know who will be inspired by them.

I also love the gift of laughter.  Honestly, I think it’s one of the most amazing gifts there is.  It’s free.  It fills us with joy and happiness.  It’s healthy exercise.  It makes our heart dance.  My buddy over at Mikey’s Funnies shares the gift of laughter with thousands of folks in his daily e-mail.  Here’s one you might enjoy as much as I did:

Three sisters, ages 92, 94, and 96, live in a house together.  One night the 96-year-old draws a bath.  She puts her foot in and pauses.  She yells to the other sisters, "Was I getting in or out of the bath?"  The 94-year-old yells back, "I don't know.  I'll come up and see."  She starts up the stairs and pauses. "Was I going up the stairs or down?"

The 92-year-old is sitting at the kitchen table having tea, listening to her sisters. She shakes her head and says, "I sure hope I never get that forgetful," as she knocked on her wooden table for good measure.  She then yells, "I'll come up and help both of you as soon as I see who's at the door."

I’m still giggling over here.  Hopefully, you are too.  If you are chuckling, you just might have added some days to your life, or at the very least…some life to your days!  Hee hee!

Sometimes our gifts we share are incredibly unique.  Someone who has inspired me and probably doesn’t know it is Trey Ganem and the team over at Trey Ganem Designs.  Their motto is “Letting Souls Shine.”

Who is Trey Ganem?  I’m pretty sure that I’ve never met him face to face and yet, I’ve been touched by the one-of-a-kind way that he is using his God-given gifts.  Per his website, Trey Ganem is adding life to the funeral world with a dream that started 22 years ago.  While working as a hunting guide and providing taxidermy services out of the garage of his home in Victoria, Texas, Trey thought about his funeral - not about who would be there or what they would say, but about what his casket would look like.  He thought about that plain metal box and knew he wanted more.  He imagined a casket customized to represent his life and thought about something 'outside the box'.  He asked himself, "What would my casket look like?  What could I do to really make it represent my life?" 

Becky Lefferts writes, “When you hear people refer to what Trey Ganem does as 'Ganem's Gift', you're probably thinking it's just custom caskets, right?  If you have ever been to our showroom, seen this gift, felt this gift, or experienced it, you know it's more.  To Trey, this gift is simple and easy because it's something he does everyday.  It's the simple gift of prayer.  Since the beginning of Trey Ganem Designs, there has not been one single casket that has left his hands that he did not pray over.  The spiritual connection he has with each design is indescribable.  It's untouchable, yet tangible.”

When looking at all of the pictures on his website, it’s obvious that the work done at Trey Ganem Designs truly comes from the soul.  Trey is using his magnificent artistic abilities to bring comfort to those who have suffered a loss.  What a deeply personal way to use your gifts!  Because funerals are so difficult for me (to put it mildly), it amazes me even more that Trey is reaching out to grieving families in such a prayerful, soulful, loving, and incredibly special way.  Wow.  Keep on keepin’ on, Trey Ganem!  Surely God is smiling because of how you’re using your giftedness!

This short tale from Mikey’s Funnies also really spoke to me today in regard to using our gifts:
A Sunday School teacher decided to have her young class memorize one of the most quoted passages in the Bible - Psalm 23.  She gave the youngsters a month to learn the chapter.  Little Rick was excited about the task, but he just couldn't remember the Psalm.  After much practice, he could barely get past the first line.

On the day that the kids were scheduled to recite Psalm 23 in front of the congregation, Ricky was so nervous.  When it was his turn, he stepped up to the microphone and said proudly, "The Lord is my Shepherd, and that's all I need to know."

Oh, how profound is this little story?!  Sometimes we question how we are to use our gifts.  Sometimes we go back and forth in our minds and we don’t think God could possibly use us as an instrument.  Sometimes we want all the answers before we share our gifts.  However, I think that little Ricky is on to something.  “The Lord is my Shepherd, and that’s all I need to know.”  Ohhh – I LOVE that!  God loves us.  He wants us to share our gifts.  We don’t have to figure it all out first.  Let’s ask God to help us find and use our gifts.  If we do, our gifts will certainly become gifts that shine!

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Power in the Name

Photo Credit:  Prawny from
There is great power in something that each of us have.  What is it?  Our name.  Yes, there is an amazing power in the name that we were given on the day of our birth.  There have been countless stories and poems written and studies done on the impact that our name has on our lives.

In addition to the meaning behind our name, it feels so good to hear someone say our name, doesn’t it?  Well, except for those times when Mom and Dad were upset with us as children and they hollered out our FULL name….that didn’t feel so great.  But, aside from that, when someone looks us in the eyes and remembers our name…it just feels wonderful.  It makes us feel special.  It warms our soul.  It says, “I notice you.  I see you.  You are important.”

Several years ago, I was with my sister-in-law, Kerri, when she thanked the grocery store cashier by name.  “Thank you, Anna.  I really appreciate it.  Have a great day.”  You should have seen Anna’s face light up!  For a second, I’m sure Anna thought, “Hmmm, do I know her and how in the world does she know my name?”  Of course, with the handy dandy name tag on Anna’s shirt, it was easy to thank her by name.  But, most of us don’t normally think to do that, do we?  Most of the time, we don’t even look our cashier in the eye, much less thank them by name.

Someone else who does a remarkable job at recognizing the power in a name is our parish priest, Father Gabriel Bentil.  I don’t know how he remembers each parishioner’s name, including the children, and even each visitor’s name!  It’s obvious that he knows the unbelievable power in calling someone by name, so he takes the time to make it a vital part of his ministry.

Father Bentil said that he studies the parish directory to put a face to the name of all the little ones.  He even challenges the kids to quiz him on their name.  You should see those children’s eyes light up when he says their name.  Precious.  My nieces, Haley and Brittany, got to experience first-hand how good it felt to be remembered by name.  They visit our parish maybe twice a year and Father always calls them by name when they come to Mass.  Their smiles couldn’t be wider.  Power.  In.  The.  Name.

If we realize the incredible power in our own name, can you just imagine the immense power in Jesus’ name?  Unfathomable.

One of the shortest and most powerful prayers just might be this, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”

During Mass recently, Father Bentil mentioned that there is great power in the name of Jesus.  One of Father’s favorite verses in the Gospels is when Jesus said, “I am the Vine and you are the branches.  Whoever remains in me and I in Him will bear plentiful fruit.”  He said that when we pray, in His Name, we are blessed with the grace and strength to bear fruits (of the Holy Spirit). 

In John 15:16, Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me!  I chose you!  I appointed you to go out and produce good fruit, so that no matter what you ask for from the Father, using my name, He will give it to you.”

When we pray in the name of Jesus, we can trust and be sure that He will listen to us when asking for anything in line with His will for us.  Praying in Jesus’ name involves praying for things that will honor and glorify Him.  Are our prayers in line with that?  Many times…yes.  Other times…maybe not so much.

Before I write a blog post, poem, or story, I pray for God to inspire me and allow ideas to flow.  In His name, I pray that my words reflect my faith for others to read.  There it is again…In His Name…those three short, but powerful words.

I also think that there is something profound about praying for someone by name.  I have quoted Mikey’s Funnies numerous times throughout the years on my blog.  The cool fella behind the clean humor e-mail list is my friend, Mike Atkinson.  For fourteen months, Mike has been battling chronic kidney disease.  Of course, none of us had a clue about his roller coaster year full of brutal treatments and struggles.  He just kept sending the funnies to us, day after day after day.  Mike, a father of eight and grandfather of four (almost five), is now starting dialysis and is on the path to a kidney transplant. 

Some of Mike’s friends own a local inspirational magazine and featured him last month.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article by Lori Arnold and thought you might too. 

A few of the article’s quotes that touched me deeply were these: 

Despite his struggles, Atkinson said he’s never questioned God about his medical crisis, “not because I’m any kinda SuperSaint, but because I believe in His sovereignty.  I live by the motto, ‘Accept the reality.  Hope for the Divine.’”

“(There’s) a big question mark when looking forward,” he (Mike) said.  “I read an article recently that said everyone gets healed: Medically, divinely, or by going ‘home.’  I’m ready for any of those options.  An adage like ‘I don’t know the future, but I know Who holds the future’ really becomes real in these situations.”

“He is still God,” he (Mike) said.  “He doesn’t promise us escape from hard times.  He promises to be with us, to walk with us through the dark nights of the soul.  Good Christians die every day; they lose their homes; they lose their jobs.  God is not a magic potion to get us out of life’s challenges.   He wants to be our crutch, so we can lean on Him daily.”

“Friends have wondered if I get mad at God for not healing me.  Umm, sorry but He’s been healing me since the day I accepted His forgiveness 42 years ago!  He has healed bad habits, thoughts, behaviors­—a mountain of ugliness in me over the years.  How can I question how He works in my life now?  I am blessed way beyond what I deserve.  A few times lately I’ve actually learned to thank God for this illness.  He has worked in me more than ever before.”

Wow.  I just want you to know, Mike Atkinson, that there is much power in YOUR name.  When I hear your name, I am immediately overwhelmed with a deep sense of courage, determination, faith, inspiration, gratitude, service to others, and…wait…is that a fragrant plumeria I smell?  Thank you, Mike, for continuing to do God’s will, even when it’s not easy…ESPECIALLY when it’s not easy.  You are admired by many.

And, I love that you ended your last e-mail with, “And, no, I will NOT stop the Funnies.  I need to laugh as bad as you do.  Such good medicine...”

To all of my readers, please pray for Mike Atkinson, by name.  And, let’s all remember the power in the name.  Call someone by name today.  If you’re feeling adventuresome, call three people by name.  You’ll feel the power and so will they.  Finally, may you embrace the immeasurable power of Jesus’ name in all that you say and do.

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Three Trees

Photo Credit:  Burbulas from
I hope you all had a joyfully blessed Easter with your family and friends.  I don’t know about you, but one of the things that really hit home with me was just how good it felt to sing Alleluia again.  Except for that one time we forgot (oopsie!) and belted out an Alleluia song with much gusto during Lent, we hadn’t spoken a word of Alleluia for forty long days!  I missed it.

During the Easter Vigil Mass, there was a precious elderly woman who was so moved by the Holy Spirit that she just stood up in her pew, all alone, and started gently swaying, smiling, and clapping.  It was obvious that she was deeply touched.  She absolutely did not care that no other soul was standing in that church.  It was beautiful really.  I loved watching her embrace the hope of Easter.  I loved watching her soak in the glory of the risen Lord.  I loved that she felt the intensity of God’s love in her heart so much so, that she just couldn’t sit any longer.  I loved it.

During each Lenten season, I seem to learn a bit more about God and His love for me.  I seem to learn a bit more about myself too.  Sometimes, I try to put God in terms that I understand.  I try to figure out His love in all the ways that I understand love.  But, every Lent, I realize that His love is so much bigger than I can possibly imagine.  I think I’ve come to realize that it’s okay that I can’t figure Him out completely.  Maybe I’m not supposed to yet?

But, I will continue to learn, study, and pray, even after Lent is over.  I will remember God’s life-giving promises long after Easter has come and gone for another year.  I know I’ve mentioned prayer a gazillion and one times, but I just recognize its importance more and more with each passing day.  I think that prayer keeps us on the right track when we are weak.  I think prayer is the perfect way to include God in our daily decision-making.

There is a cute little Irish story from Mikey’s Funnies about prayer that I have to share:
Paddy was driving down the street in a sweat because he had an important meeting and couldn't find a parking space.  Looking up to heaven, he said, "Lord, take pity on me.  If you find me a parking space, I will go to Mass every Sunday for the rest of me life and give up me Irish whiskey!"

Miraculously, a parking space suddenly appeared.

Paddy looked up again and said, "Never mind.  I found one."

That’s about right, huh?!  We’re so sure that we can handle everything all by ourselves that when God does answer a prayer, we think we’re the ones who made it all happen.  As much as we think we are the ones in control; we really aren’t.  Fortunately, we don’t have to be.  When God takes the wheel, the ride is a whole lot smoother.

Aunt Irene sent a heart-warming story about three trees that I’m sure you’ll enjoy:

Once there were three trees on a hill in the woods.  They were discussing their hopes and dreams when the first tree said, “Someday I hope to be a treasure chest.  I could be filled with gold, silver, and precious gems.  I could be decorated with intricate carvings and everyone would see the beauty.”

Then the second tree said, “Someday I will be a mighty ship.  I will take kings and queens across the waters and sail to the corners of the world.  Everyone will feel safe in me because of the strength of my hull.”

Finally the third tree said, “I want to grow to be the tallest and straightest tree in the forest.  People will see me on top of the hill and look up to my branches and think of the heavens and God and how close to them I am reaching.  I will be the greatest tree of all time and people will always remember me.”

After a few years of praying that their dreams would come true, a group of woodsmen came upon the trees.  When one came to the first tree, he said, “This looks like a strong tree.  I think I should be able to sell the wood to a carpenter,” and he began cutting it down.  The tree was happy because he knew that the carpenter would make him into a treasure chest. 

At the second tree, the woodsman said, “This looks like a strong tree.  I should be able to sell it to the shipyard.”  The second tree was happy because he knew he was on his way to becoming a mighty ship.
When the woodsmen came upon the third tree, the tree was frightened because he knew that if they cut him down, his dreams would not come true.  One of the woodsmen said, “I don't need anything special from my tree.  I'll take this one,” and he cut it down.
When the first tree arrived at the carpenter’s, he was made into a feed box for animals.  He was then placed in a barn and filled with hay.  This was not at all what he had prayed for.
The second tree was cut and made into a small fishing boat.  His dreams of being a mighty ship and carrying kings had come to an end. 

The third tree was cut into large pieces and left alone in the dark.  The years went by, and the trees forgot about their dreams.   

Then one day, a man and woman came to the barn.  The woman gave birth and they placed the baby in the hay in the feed box that was made from the first tree.  The man wished that he could have made a crib for the baby, but this manger would have to do.  The tree could feel the importance of this event and knew that it had held the greatest treasure of all time.

Years later, a group of men got in the fishing boat made from the second tree.  One of them was tired and went to sleep.  While they were out on the water, a great storm arose and the tree didn't think it was strong enough to keep the men safe.  The men woke the sleeping man, and He stood and said, “Peace,” and the storm stopped.  At this time, the tree knew that it had carried the King of Kings in its boat. 

Finally, someone came and got the third tree.  It was carried through the streets as the people mocked the man who was carrying it.  When they came to a stop, the man was nailed to the tree and raised in the air to die at the top of a hill.

When Sunday came, the tree came to realize that it was strong enough to stand at the top of the hill and be as close to God as was possible, because Jesus had been crucified on it.  

Each of the trees got what they wanted, just not in the way they had imagined.  We don't always know what God's plans are for us either.  We know that His Ways are not always our ways, but His ways are ALWAYS best. 
When things don't seem to be going right, we should take heart in knowing that God has a plan for us.  If we place our trust in Him, God will provide us with countless gifts.   What we think we need or pray for isn’t always given to us in the same way we think our prayers should be answered.  However, when we come face to face with our Lord, we will realize a depth of fulfillment and a wondrous blessing that is truly beyond our wildest imagination!

Just remember the three trees this week.  God’s plan wasn’t their plan.  God’s plan for them was better.  God’s plan for them was bigger.  If God had a plan for the trees, can you just imagine what He has in store for us?  Have faith and trust in HIS plan.  Let’s try it.

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!