Thursday, April 21, 2016

No Pain, No Gain

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it  (Hebrews 12:11, ESV).
My daughter has recently taken upon herself the role of my personal trainer and she's good at it. I have the sore muscles to prove it! Because we love each other and want to be healthier, stronger women, we are holding each other accountable for our commitment to eat healthier and exercise as often as our schedules allow. Are we having fun? Not always, but we know that in the end our discipline will have its desired result.

So it is with God's discipline. It is more often painful than pleasant "but it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." Think of those times in your life that have been hard -- when that relationship disintegrated or the money ran out and you were left holding an empty bag. At the time you might have wondered, "Where is God now?" But if you turned to him in prayer, earnestly seeking his will for your life, you know he never left your side. Though you couldn't see it then, in hindsight you know that through your difficulty his plan was to draw you nearer to him.

I have struggled with many things over the years -- relational disharmony in my family, a broken heart, and a financial reversal as a result of a job loss -- but I wouldn't trade any of those things, even if I could. They were filtered through the loving hands of God, who knew that I needed a little "discipline" in order to learn how truly great and loving he is.

If you are struggling right now, I pray you "do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights" (Proverbs 3:11-12, ESV). Sometimes it takes a little pain in life for us to gain the peaceful fruit of righteousness and a closer walk with the God who loves us so much that he gave his only son to redeem us for himself.

Copyright © 2016 by Dee Dee Wike. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Best Gifts

The best gifts in life are those unexpected blessings that arrive when you least expect them, gifts given to us not on special occasions like birthdays but rather simply because somebody loves us. If you think hard enough you can probably recall some of those gifts. My treasures include a journal with a handwritten note by a sweet friend and an anonymous monetary gift received after my husband lost his job.

But not all gifts are meant to be kept to ourselves. Sometimes we must share the gifts we receive with others. When God paints a beautiful sunset we should say, "Hey, come look at this sunset! The colors in the sky are so beautiful." God loves it when we delight in his creativity. We should also share our God-given talents and abilities by serving others. Perhaps yours is the gift of hospitality. During a recent vacation we were blessed when dear friends called to suggest we cancel hotel reservations and stay with them. The joy of visiting with them was a gift in itself!

Giving gifts doesn't have to be expensive. It costs nothing to smile at a stranger, compliment a clerk at the grocery store, or encourage a friend who is going through a tough time. Praying for someone else may cost you a little bit of time but it makes a huge difference in their life.

God gave the ultimate gift -- his only Son --  that those who believe in him might not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). If for no other reason than sheer gratitude to him for his great love for you, is there someone you could bless in a special way today?

Copyright © 2016 by Dee Dee Wike. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Our "Vegucated" Life

For weeks my daughter has been toying with the idea of adopting a vegan lifestyle, consuming only plant-based and whole foods and NO animal products.  I am not entirely sure what prompted her to consider doing something so radical, especially knowing how much our entire family loves good food. However, her interest in good health and wise dietary choices were not something I could ignore and with the increased choices of organic and vegan foods it is certainly feasible.

Before going on our recent vacation I sat down with her to watch a documentary, Food, Inc., an eye-opening film which "examines the costs of putting value and convenience over nutrition and environmental impact."[i]  After watching the film I made the decision to eat more whole and organic foods, and fewer processed ones, particularly since I have always struggled with being overweight and have experienced a recent rise in my bad cholesterol. Simple enough, right?

Shortly after watching Food, Inc., we took a family vacation and traveled back home to Tennessee to visit family and friends.  One of our goals was to eat some of our favorite foods which we have not been able to find since our move to another part of the country. We relished every bite of Memphis barbecue, southern-fried cornmeal-breaded catfish, and Chinese food we consumed.  That I only gained five pounds in that week of indulgences was nothing short of a miracle!

Upon our return home, Joy resumed the task of educating herself, asking me to sit down with her to watch another documentary, Vegucated, the story of “three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks. Lured by tales of weight lost and health regained, they begin to uncover the hidden sides of animal agriculture that make them wonder whether solutions offered in films like Food, Inc. go far enough.”[ii]  Joy and I were moved to tears and so disturbed by what we saw that we both decided to immediately eliminate meat from our diets, not only because of our health but perhaps even more importantly because of animal cruelty and the negative impact of animal agriculture on our environment.

Joy and I have decided that for now we will be lacto-ovo vegetarians (consuming no meat but allowing ourselves eggs and dairy products in small amounts).  We may eventually go vegan all the way.  After a week of consuming no meat and trying diligently to eat whole, unprocessed foods, I feel more energetic and healthy. I have lost 4 of the 5 pounds I gained during our vacation, despite eating my fill.  Because there are more good choices out there than ever before, I have not once felt deprived.  I still get to enjoy my husband’s delicious homemade veggie pizza, and what’s not to love about that?

Why am I telling you all this? It’s certainly not to condemn your choice to eat meat or, on the other hand, to persuade you to adopt a strictly vegan lifestyle.  But as an animal lover who has become more aware of the environment since moving to the beautiful state of Virginia, I feel compelled to do my small part to prevent animal cruelty and to help effect positive change in our environment. 


Copyright © 2016 by Dee Dee Wike. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

You Can't Always Choose, or Can You?

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him" (James 1:12).

Wouldn't you agree that life is simply not fair?  Between difficult circumstances and heartbreaking disappointments, sometimes life just happens.  We cannot always choose the hand we are dealt, but we can choose how to play the hand.

We can't control the senseless tragedies that occur, the loss of innocent lives, or the ill health that hits us, often without warning.  We can't control terrorism, rampant immorality, or the epidemics of substance abuse, human sex trafficking, and crime.  We certainly can't predict the weather or the natural disasters that wipe out entire populations.

Most of us wake up in the morning grateful to have been given one more day to live. Yet we are not guaranteed that we will live to see its end.  We go about our business making choices -- what to wear, what to pack in our kids' lunches, or what movie to see when the weekend finally arrives -- but are we making choices that have lasting value?  At the end of the day can we look back and say that we chose wisely or that our choices made a positive difference in someone else's life?

It has been said that we can't always choose what happens in life, but we can choose how we respond to the unexpected, unfair circumstances that we suffer from time to time.  We can choose to believe in God when we see no evidence of Him in our culture.  We can walk in faith when our eyes see only grim reality. We can count on God being in control when the world is spinning wildly out of control. It all boils down to choice.

Our choices affect those around us, even those we do not know.  Next time you are stuck in traffic -- not by choice -- will you choose to be thankful for the delay or angry because of it?  When that test result yields bad news, will you choose to praise God and live with the kind of faith that will encourage others fighting the same battle?  Only you can choose to take the high road -- no one is going to do it for you.

Scripture tells us that we will have bad days (John 16:33), that people will mistreat us (Matthew 5:11), and that we should "be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  That can be a very difficult thing to do, can't it? But the Bible also tells us "I can do all this through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13).

When life leaves us weak-kneed and trembling, we can rest in the assurance Christ gives us:  "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Copyright © 2016 by Dee Dee Wike. All rights reserved.

The Halloween Angel

The sun on that Indian summer day burned hot on the back of my neck as I gazed at the most beautiful roses I had seen in my garden all year. What is it about the last rose of October that blooms with such beauty? As I relished the simple pleasure of lingering in my garden gazing at the lovely flowers before me, that sweet moment of solitude was rudely interrupted by the ringing of my telephone. No doubt, it was another bill collector. Since our move to a larger home in the suburbs we had fallen behind on a couple of our credit card payments and the burden of keeping our creditors happy was becoming oppressive, like the heat of that late October day. Halloween would be here in a couple of weeks, but I had no money with which to buy or make costumes for my children, now seven and two years old. I could never begin to explain the reason why we had no money, nor could I bear to disappoint them. I began to pray for God’s provision as I thought back to a simpler time, just a few months prior to that Halloween.

After seven years of being happily married and gainfully employed, God blessed my husband and me with our first child. Although we both enjoyed working and the income we derived from our jobs in banking, I never gave a second thought to staying home and raising our son and any other children who came along. Being a stay-at-home mom was my heart’s desire. My mom had not worked outside our home when I was a child. Although I was one of six children living in a household that was sometimes chaotic, I grew up happy, largely because my mom was always there for us. Having been raised that way, I couldn’t imagine leaving my children in someone else’s care and returning to work at the end of my maternity leave. Determined to do whatever it took to be a stay-at-home mom, I worked as a beauty consultant and did a little freelance work to help make ends meet, but my income amounted to little more than fun money. Still, we had everything we needed and were content in our little home.

About the time our second child came along, our large metropolitan church began the process of relocating to the suburbs. I remember uttering a prayer under my breath one day that it would be nice if God would find us a place to live a little closer to the church. Certainly our growing family could use an extra bathroom and additional space for visiting houseguests. Not long after, I ran into a friend who mentioned that a home on her street was for sale. Perhaps, I thought, this was an answer to that prayer. Pretty soon, my husband and I began spending our Sunday afternoons looking at homes we knew we probably couldn’t afford. When we visited one particular home during a realtor’s open house, I left it feeling certain that we had found our next home. It had to be, because I had the same feeling – a sense of God’s presence as we walked through the house – I’d had when we bought our first home. God had given us fourteen wonderful years in our starter home, surrounded by caring neighbors who had helped us welcome our two children into this world. Surely that sense of God’s presence was an indication that this home in the suburbs was meant for us.

Knowing that our house note would double, we prayed long and hard before signing the papers to make it ours. We felt we had God’s blessing because our home sold quickly and we were easily approved for the mortgage on our new home. Living closer to our church in a suburban community, with excellent public schools and a family-friendly environment in which to raise our two children, was all the incentive we needed to make the move. Little did we know how radically that one decision would change our lives.

We moved to our lovely home in the spring while the azaleas were in full bloom. A lifelong lover of flowers, I was thrilled to have a big yard with plenty of blooming shrubs and daffodils. The cheer of having a lovely garden, however, soon gave way to the grim reality that we had unknowingly bought a home with a bad foundation, which had been undisclosed to us at the time of the purchase. Not long after we took occupancy, we began noticing flaws we had not seen during our three visits to the home prior to our closing. Door jams were crooked, the den floor sagged, and sheetrock cracks were present in nearly every corner of the drywall. How had we missed all these things? After hiring the services of an independent structural engineer and residential appraiser, we realized that our dream home was not worth nearly as much as the mortgage we now owed. Our suburban paradise had become nothing more than a money pit, threatening not only our financial security but straining our marriage as well.

As our financial condition continued to erode, it became obvious that I would have to put my toddler in daycare and return to work in order to make ends meet. With the older of my children nearly eight years old, I had been out of the work force for as many years and was not eager to return to the world of office politics, stress, and endless hours on the clock. The thought of leaving my precious little girl in the care of total strangers was nearly unbearable.

I found myself praying a lot for God’s provision and guidance during that difficult first year in our new home. Despite the challenges we faced to make ends meet, find a solution to the foundation problems, and somehow keep the faith that seemed so fragile, we never found ourselves without the basic necessities of food, shelter, and clothing.

Looking at my bill calendar as I sat down to pay bills that late October afternoon, I realized that once again my husband’s paycheck would fall short of covering all our bills. As I did every payday, I would set aside enough money for groceries, pay what bills I could, and trust God to provide some of our other necessities. With Halloween just around the corner, dare I possibly believe that God would provide money for something as trivial as candy and costumes so my children could go trick-or-treating? As I stared at the expense spreadsheet on my computer, I prayed. “Lord, you know what a difficult time we are having just paying our bills this month. I know that you have promised to supply all our needs, and I thank you for your provision. Unless you provide them, my kids won’t have Halloween costumes this year. Lord, could you please...?”

The doorbell rang before I ever finished my prayer. Curious, since I was not expecting anyone at that hour of the day, I peeked through the window to make sure the visitor was not a stranger. Standing on the porch with her back to the window was Elizabeth, the mother of a boy in my son’s scout troop. Not knowing her well, I was surprised to see her at all until I opened the door. When I unlocked the door, I nearly gasped when Elizabeth turned around holding two adorable Halloween costumes for my children! How could she have possibly known the desire of a mother’s weary heart and the tremendous joy she brought that day?

Many years have passed since the Halloween angel paid her visit in answer to my heartfelt prayer for something as insignificant as Halloween costumes. These days when I feel discouraged about money and wonder how we’ll make it through another day, I remember God’s faithful provision that October long ago and rejoice that no request is trivial in the eyes of my loving Father.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Choice Is Up to You

Last night I went to bed laboring in prayer over a concern of my heart for many years, a little impatient to see its resolution yet determined to persevere until God has His way in the situation. This morning it is clear that if I prayed without ceasing there wouldn't be enough time to cover all the bases. We live in a world where so much is wrong, even in the Church.  My heart yearns for the day when Christ will return to gather His own to Himself, yet I know that until that time comes I must continue to do the work He has called me to do. So must we all. It is not enough to pray for revival in our country. We must also pray for revival in our churches and in our own hearts. We must take up the mantel of holiness and walk in obedience to His Word, loving others but leaving judgment of sin to Him. We must examine ourselves to see if any wickedness remains in us, removing the plank from our own eyes so that we can see to help others. We must put on the full armor of God, knowing that the battle has just begun and praying for the courage to stand when those around us fall. We must take the high road of faithfulness to the God we profess to believe, even if it means suffering persecution or ridicule at the hands of our neighbors, our families, and our friends. We must come out of our holy huddles and live among those who need Him most, actively putting feet to our faith and giving our time and resources where needed. We must spend time with God daily, seeking His direction through prayer and His Word for it is only by knowing Him that we will ever find peace and be made complete.

I know what some might say to all this because I live with those arguments everyday. But having walked that dark road of despair, living in a pit of sinful self-indulgence and compromising every value I was taught in my "religious" upbringing, I never found peace or fulfillment.  It was only after receiving Jesus' free gift of salvation and entering into a personal relationship with Him that I began to experience the peace and joy I now have.  I know God is real.  I know that His ways are higher than my own.  I never want to go back to my former way of living because I know what a mess I'd be.

I could lose everything that I hold dear -- loved ones, my job, my health -- but I can never lose the One who has become everything to me.  Even on the hard days -- and I have plenty of those -- I know that I can trust Him.  It took me a long time to be able to, but I know now that He is faithful, even when I am not.  I want everyone I know to love and embrace Him as I do, yet I know that many won't.  That is their choice, and God won't force Himself on anyone.  But I will never cease to pray for the salvation of those I love, of those who matter not only to me but to God. That is MY choice.

God has given each of us free will to decide whether or not to follow Him. The choice is up to you. What will you do?

Copyright © 2016 by Dee Dee Wike. All rights reserved.