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Too many irons in the fire ... And they're all smoking
By Cynthia Bond Hopson
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2008 Dimensions for Living
All rights reserved.
If You're Going Through Hell, Keep On Going.
Scripture: Jeremiah 29:10-14; Job 1:1–2:10
Something about adversity must prompt people to say things that get repeated often enough to become clichés. Things like "Your attitude determines your altitude," "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," "You can choose to get bitter or better"—the list goes on. I've even helped move some of them to superstar status. But as I thought about life's lemons and "showing the li'l suckers who's boss," images of my mother whipping my butt popped up.
I grew up in an era where spankings were not just expected, they were given often and heartily (seemingly with glee, but for my own good, of course). The spankings made me cry, but my mother kept whipping to make me stop crying. If I didn't cry, she'd go into the "Oh, so you're not gonna cry?" mode and whip some more, because crying must've signaled submission and not crying signaled defiance—I don't know. I finally concluded that I was going to get punished, but I could decide how I took it—with dignity, standing tall and crying just enough, or kicking and scrambling to avoid the licks.
Life is like that too. There's going to be rain—nobody knows how much or how often, but expect it. Heartache and pain and things we can't pronounce are real—you name it and there's a picture of somebody we know beside it in the dictionary. We can be taken under if we're not firmly grounded in our faith, and then it's still tough. Sometimes gathering the strength and fortitude to stand takes more courage than actually waging the battle, so we must first decide if we're going to live to fight another day or if we're going to waste energy on distractions.
And distractions are an energy buster—look at Job. Satan knew that Job's heart belonged to God and nothing would change that, but he figured if he hit Job in the gut—if he took his stuff and his family—that would break him. Here's the beautiful part of the story—the more Satan attacked him, the more Job depended on God. He knew the storm was a test, and not only had he studied for the test, he knew that with God's help he'd pass it with flying colors. Like I often say, God wanted to give Job something to shout about.
Talking about tests and testimonies brings Mrs. Callie Sue Graves Brown immediately to mind. When I was growing up, she and her husband of sixty-six years, Mr. Buster, were our neighbors and were like an extra set of parents. They still are. Whenever and wherever you see Miss Callie Sue, she has a word from God for you. I believe she knows the whole Bible, because she doesn't just quote the Scriptures, she lives them. One day I got a call that the two of them had been in a terrible automobile accident, and I went to the hospital to see Miss Callie Sue. She had taken the brunt of the injuries, her body was battered and broken, and she could hardly see, but she was praising the Lord that things were as well as they were. Her words that day inspire me still: "If I praise him when I'm up, you know I'm going to praise him when I'm down."
Yes, ma'am, I know and I'm telling you that whether we are up or down, God will be there, helping us, carrying us, pushing us, loving us, and that's a darn fine reason to shout today. The moral of this lesson is don't give up; help is on the way. It sounds terribly trite, but know that God loves you. A song by Rodney Atkins offers words of encouragement: "If you're going through hell, keep on going.... You might get out before the devil even knows you're there."
That's what I'm counting on—living triumphantly.
Thank you, Lord, for keeping me close and helping me weather the storms. Whether it's rainy or sunny or somewhere in between, I will praise you. Amen.CHAPTER 2
I'm Not Fat, I'm Filled Out.
Scripture: Song of Solomon 4:1-7
I've stopped letting people hurt my feelings about my weight. I am not fat, I am filled out, and there is a difference. About three inches worth. Granted, if I stay on this path I may get fat someday, but right now I'm just stout. Every time I say "stout" I think about visiting my best friend, Lois. Her mother, Miss Odessa, would always greet me warmly with, "Baby, I believe you've stoutened up." We'd laugh at her familiar opening, but I didn't mind.
With that said, some of the people in my business now don't know me well enough to be discussing my size. With Miss Odessa, we went back to before the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations and the Vietnam War. Now when someone says, "Girl, you sure have gotten big," I look them in the eye and reply, "That really hurt my feelings because I worked hard to look nice today." That usually shuts them down. Then they add, "But you look good," which is where they should've started.
My friend Nick swears it doesn't matter if he's won the Nobel Prize in Literature (his goal) or cured cancer (not in his job description); the first thing small-minded people want to talk about is his weight. It took me a while to get the courage to challenge them when they talk about mine, but I realized if I didn't deal with their insensitivity, I would forever be on the defensive. My weight is just that—mine. While that size fourteen with the elastic has started to be a challenge, I am more than a discussion about my gut, butt, and schoolmarm arms (you know, the loosey-goosey part above your elbow that jiggles when you wave hello).
Seriously, though, weight-related issues are causing insurance rates to skyrocket and dividing government entities that don't know how to help or stem the problem. Obesity and eating disorders are dominating the news, and rightfully so, because many of us didn't stop with "filled out"—we got off at the next station, " 'bout to be fat," and had such a good time we went to the next level, "Gotta wear ugly clothes designed by wacky people who run overpriced stores." There must be a law that says if you're bigger than a size twelve, report to the sporting goods section to buy a tent, because finding something cute in plus sizes is work. And be clear, if you wear bigger sizes, you can't just buy any brand and any style; you have to buy the ones designed with you in mind-vertical stripes, elastic sides, and enough material so you don't get hurt trying to get in them.
Some of our children are about to be the size of the biblical giant Goliath. The other extreme is movie stars, teenagers, and others who literally starve themselves to death because their self-image is unhealthy. There has to be a happy medium. I eat because I enjoy food, but I know that I can't keep going up without my health declining.
If I want to be mobile, and I do, I must make some changes. Heavy breathing is all right if there's something fun going on, but not when you're trying to get up the steps. I know that the heavier I get, the more risk I run for developing certain kinds of cancers and other dreadful but preventable diseases. Since I'd rather spend my money shopping instead of on prescription drugs, I say let's take preventative measures and really feel good and look even better.
Lord, you've created so many wonderful things. Help us enjoy them in moderation and be reminded always that our bodies are your temple. Amen.CHAPTER 3
Grandbabies Are Grand in Every Way.
Scripture: 2 Timothy 1:3-7
When Terrell and Kiera came to the daycare door that warm April day, and Terrell threw himself in my arms with a "There's my grandma" pronouncement, I melted and I've never been the same. When Maya came last election day after an almost ten year lull, she bowled all of us over and now runs every Hopson household between Memphis and Lebanon, Tennessee. Our newest granddaughter, Morgan, has done the same things.
Morgan and Maya are too young, but Terrell and Kiera are old enough now that I can take them to the movie, go on special dates with them, teach them to cook, impart grandmotherly wisdom, and have a good excuse to go to the children's museum and Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Parlor. I don't know who has more fun, them or me, but they indulge me. They also love Rice Crispy Treats (OK, so they give me an excuse to make them for myself too, just in case they come by), and when I know they're coming, we're clear about what has to happen.
I hadn't given much thought to being a grandparent. I knew I wanted to be a good one, because I believe children who have known their grandparents are richer because of it. When I think about one of my favorite children's sermons, I smile. The sermon was one of those question-and-answer sessions that most experienced preachers avoid, because once you ask questions you never know where you'll have to go. The minister asked the children, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" The smallest boy yelled, "A granddaddy!"
I know how he felt, because I had some of the finest grandparents anywhere and I love being a grandparent. It gives you bragging rights. I was doing a radio interview the other morning, and the host told me during the break that he would ask about my children and grandchildren. I warned him that they were really cute and smart and once I got started with the "grandbaby chronicles" it would be difficult to focus. He said if he asked about mine, then he could talk about his. We had a ball.
I told my daughter-in-law that I had to have pictures— lots of them. For Mother's Day this year she got me one of those accordion-type albums chock-full of pictures, so at the first mention of grandchildren, I'm ready. That's what grandparents are supposed to do—have pictures and spoil grandchildren. It ain't necessarily so for some of us, though. If you've been drafted back into child raising service, that's totally different from spoiling them and sending them home. Now when they're with you, they are home, and without the stability you provide, there would be none.
Drugs, mental health and societal issues, incarceration, and the military have decimated our families, and grandparents who should be about living their lives are stepping up to the plate so our legacy won't be lost. In other cases, grandparents are fighting over who can do the most for the little ones, and they're generating court cases because of it. The real shame is that so many children have no parents or grandparents to spoil them or teach them the things they need to know. Hats off to you if you're taking up the slack. I know it's not easy, and I pray if you're being a grand and a parent, your joy will be double as you protect our next generation of parents and grandparents. Be encouraged.
Lord, being a grandparent is a precious gift. Help us treat every child like grandparents would. Amen.CHAPTER 4
Yes, You Can Have a Sandwich without Miracle Whip.
Scripture: Psalm 37:23-31; 1 Timothy 5:1-8
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of sandwiches is grilled cheese on crunchy wheat bread, nicely toasted, warm and gooey. Yes, I'm having some chips that I don't need and a warm chocolate chip cookie to chase it, but for many of us the word sandwich brings on another set of stressful images. We're in what we know as the "sandwich generation"—raising children and caring for elderly parents and always trying to balance something that somebody needs.
Between soccer practice, ballet lessons, Mom's doctor appointments, picking up Dad's prescriptions, and making sure somebody is available to stay with Aunt Lillie, it's easy to be stressed out and about to crash with too many things to do and no help in sight. Some elderly parents are very independent and call only when they can't find any other way to manage, while others love pushing the "you don't care about me" buttons. No matter what you do, it's never enough. If your children and your parents are all under the same roof, there's never a dull moment. If they're in two or more locations, you're always going to and fro; and even when you're still, your mind's running.
An old Miracle Whip salad dressing commercial touted, "A sandwich just isn't a sandwich without Miracle Whip," but I beg to differ. This place where we find ourselves sandwiched may be a blessing and a curse when it comes to quality-of-life issues. Because of modern technology and medical advances, we can now be kept alive seemingly forever without knowing who or where we are—especially if we've not made our wishes known. Further, if we opt for nursing home facilities, that decision may be the topic of every subsequent family gathering. I don't know which is worse—the guilt of not having done enough for your parents or the guilt of shortchanging your children. If you consider your own personal needs, this is a "luxury" that gets lost in translation. There are no easy answers, but here are some real truths we must consider. (1) You can't do everything, no matter how cute or strong you are—ask for help and hold others accountable. If you're the primary caregiver, work out a regular time when other family members come and help out so you can rest, go on a vacation, or do nothing except nothing. (2) Make a living will, if you haven't done so already. Tell your family often what it says and where to find it. Dying with dignity beats living in a vegetative state any day. Don't have a living will? Call an attorney Monday. (3) Pick an assisted-living facility so if you're unable to live alone, you know what will happen next. (4) Before you haul anybody anywhere else, or make another appointment, turn off the phones and take a nap. (5) If your children are almost driving age, ask for a hardship license so they can handle some of the transportation chores. (6) Decrease the number of activities you get the children involved in, so you won't have so much to do. (7) Lower your housekeeping standards, and when someone asks, "Can I help?" don't be a martyr; have a list.
Listen to me: You must set limits before you're over in the corner picking imaginary lint bunnies off your clothes. You won't be able to help anyone if you have a stress-induced stroke or heart attack. Today, go make yourself a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of tea and save your life.
Lord, I do all I can. Give me the wisdom to know when to ask for help. Amen.CHAPTER 5
Invest in Priceless.
Scripture: James 1:2-3, 16-17
I love a good television advertisement, and MasterCard has some of the best. They show you expensive restaurants and great vacations, and then they'll end with something mushy like, "Being there with the one you love—priceless." While priceless is certainly in the eye of the beholder, most of the time those moments are pretty easy to spot and they provide the boost we need to get across the finish line. The older I get, the more those priceless moments mean to me, and after my father's death three years ago, I decided to do whatever it takes to make the good times a priority.
I almost didn't stop at my parents' house that Thursday night in early September. I had run into my mother and her friend Miss Girlean earlier, and Miss Girlean urged me to stop and see my dad. When I did, I stayed about three hours and enjoyed every moment. When I got ready to leave he said, "Now Cynthie, you know your daddy loves you." I assured him I knew this with all my heart. I kissed him on the forehead, told him I loved him too, and left. That Saturday a heart attack silenced him, but our parting words keep me going.
A year earlier my parents had celebrated their fiftieth anniversary, and we had a wonderful party to honor them. Since they had not had a wedding, we worked to make this occasion special. The eight of us and our families arranged for them to be picked up in a limousine, then we rounded up their neighbors and friends and threw them a buffet dinner. Virtually everyone who came told them not just how special they were that day but how much joy they had brought us through the years. When my father said it was one of the happiest days of his life, that made it worth every effort we had made. It really was priceless.
Excerpted from Too many irons in the fire ... And they're all smoking by Cynthia Bond Hopson. Copyright © 2008 Dimensions for Living. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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