Content in All Things? By Jo Russell

 For weeks at a time, my grandfather and his crew held onto hope that they would be able to pull up the hull of a sunken ship off the coast of Alaska. It was rumored to be heavy with gold. The men sorely missed having a real cook. As the project persisted through the seasons without much success,   they grew tired of the cold salt spray in their faces, the chilly days, and each other.

Their standing rule became whoever complained about the food would be cooking next.

One sailor slurped his first spoon of beef stew, coughed, spit and sputtered, “Gosh, this stuff is salty!” All eyes were riveted on him.
Then he added brightly, “But it’s just the way I like it!”

Contentment and a thankful heart in all circumstances are what God expects of us. Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4:11, “I am not saying this out of need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (NIV)

How often do we wistfully wonder, “If only I had _____, then I would be_____.
“If only I had my youth back, then I would be bungee jumping!”
“If only my young children were grown, I wouldn’t have to be the cookie police. I would be able to sleep in, wear necklaces without my kids doing pull-ups on them, and grow my hair long again.”
“If I only had a new car, I would be headed down the highway to Disney World with grandkids.”

Sometimes on frigid winter holidays when bad weather keeps me off the streets and home in front of a fire, I begin to think, “If I only had more airline points, then I would be flying out to see my sons.” But in pining over flights, I missed looking to be content in all circumstances.

When is a day of thanksgiving? It’s not just an American holiday. Thanksgiving is every day.

Is there food in the house? Are the bills paid? Is the roof keeping out the weather? Have the insects that secretly scuttle around at night left the premises for the winter?

Ask yourself, “What great things has God given me so far?
How can I show him my thankful heart?” Each day that you count your blessings is truly a day of thanks.

And when the stew is salty, smile and give thanks! It’s just the way you like it!

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, Intermedia Publishing, 2011. For more chuckles, keep checking  her weekly blog on Button-to-God.com.]

Words Worth Fighting For By Jo Russell

The winter storm pinged against the windows like handfuls of gravel, keeping the small twin sisters stuck indoors. Normally friends, Mandy and Angie had shared a womb, then a room, and hours of play together.

Soon a loud thermometer of sisterly love rang out, “You’re not the boss of me!” You can’t play with my toys any more!”

Imaging this could soon erupt into a hair-pulling fist fight, Grandma headed down the hall. One twin catapulted towards her, and nearly knocked Grandma down. The twin’s loud wails pierced the quiet house.

“What’s the matter, Sweetie?” Grandma pulled her close and stroked the girl’s hair. She studied the twin’s clothes to see which of the mirror-image granddaughters she held before calling her by name.

Sniffling and hiccupping, Angie finally cried out the hurtful words, “My sister said that I am ugly–and she is beautiful!”

Grandma called the siblings together. “Nonsense, Angie. God made each of you special and neither one of you is ugly. You look just alike.”

Both looked at each other with amazement as if for the first time.

“That means you are both beautiful!” Grandma declared. “Besides I need you girls to help me with the cookies. But first you need to fix your words and thoughts.” She helped the girls see the power of words. Soon, the twins were crying out apologies and clinging to each other. Friends again, Angie and Mandy headed to the kitchen, ready to fix the rest of the world’s problems with chocolate chip cookies.

King Solomon summarized the potency of words in Proverbs 12:18: “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” [NIV]

During the holiday season, television sitcoms present fictional families with problems, solutions and fuzzy warm feelings all wrapped up in a tidy 30-minute package.

In real life, words can begin a conflict that is not resolved in a half hour, perhaps not in half a decade. Each thought, attitude and word has even greater weight with people you may only see rarely.

“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord,” advise the writers of the book of Hebrew 12:14. [NIV].

 Think on the words that may have given you a glow:
“I love you.”
“I’m proud of you.”
“You are such a special person to me.”
“I pray for you every day.”
“Thanks so much for your thoughtfulness.”
“You are really good at this!”
“You look great! Are you working out? Have you lost weight?”

Now those are words worth fighting for!

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, Intermedia Publishing, 2011. For more chuckles, keep checking her weekly blog on Button-to-God.com.]

Seek and Find A Logical Place By Jo Russell

One afternoon Melody manned the office supply store by herself, phone to her ear. While the employee listened, she scanned every surface, the tops and inside of every machine, and the work bench. Panic was etched in her face. As she finished the phone call, Melody scribbled a message. She cried, “I just hate it when that happens! Now, where is the paper I just had in my hand?”

Poor lady. That’s the common syndrome of putting things in a logical place, only to have them turn up in the refrigerator or disappear forever without a trace. This cognitive condition doesn’t seem to be limited to age, just multi-tasking.

For Melody is nineteen years old!

Just in one week, I had been searching for logical locations where I had stashed a lock box key, my briefcase containing a map and schedule for an out-of-town conference, and dark dress socks that weren’t snowy with lint. But then, what good are the socks when I am still pondering where I put the lint roller?

Helen complained when she stood at the cash register to pay for her meal, “Honestly, I had my billfold when I left home. I flipped through everything in my purse to find it. I am so embarrassed! It’s not here!”

The hostess pointed, “It’s in your other hand!”

We seek our entire lives: relationships with family and friends, the right mate, children, a good job with benefits, fun, happiness, health, answers to problems, and misplaced lint rollers.

In my youth, my search was for anything but God. My idea was the Supreme Being hefted a sledge hammer, ready to clobber me for any mistakes. Opinion, of course – and many bad choices with natural consequences I brought on myself. Once God had my attention, I learned to seek him. The keys to action: read, study, and pray. He became a friend.

In Jeremiah 29:13, the Lord says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” [NIV] That search begins with seeking his face, not just his hand. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus talks about provision and advises, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” [NIV].

So no worries about the car keys I need in the next twenty minutes, or the grocery list or the bills due. I believe God will help me with every need—and even guide me to the lint roller.

What about you? Where is God on the list of the things you seek?

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, Intermedia Publishing, 2011. For more chuckles, keep checking her weekly blog on Button-to-God.com.]

How Healthy is Your Portfolio of Compassion? By Jo Russell

The caller began, “Hi, I’m Sherry from Blah-Blah Bank. You stopped in here last week and asked about financial investing, and we have our consultant coming up from the Valley in a week. As she ended the call with, “We’ll see you Friday, Carol, ” I reminded her, “I’m not Carol, but Jo.” She gave me directions and finished, “Okay, well, I look forward to meeting you, Carol.”
When I located the bank by her directions, I saw the only thing it had in common with my bank was the first letter of the name. “Oh, well. It’s free financial advice!” I reasoned.
I checked in with Sherry. She wore a completely blank look. Then I met with the “dressed for success” financial consultant who waved her multi-colored manicured nails in Sherry’s direction and asked for my portfolio.    There was none, of course, as I explained that I did not have an account at that bank, but had some questions.
In less than twenty minutes, I felt as flat as a whoopee cushion, and left with the consultant saying, “Thanks, Carol, for coming in!”

In a world that evaluated people only in terms of bank balances and investments, income, assets, and property, the consultant could summarize my portfolio on two Post-its. When Carol and her portfolio showed up, I expect it would be the size of a Phoenix phone book.
Raising twins from diapers to adulthood as a single mom had ravaged my finances. However, the investment left me with two grown sons of whom I am proud for their choices as well as kindness, faithfulness, and patience – all fruits of the Spirit.

As the holiday season explodes with lights, color, and groceries, I challenge you to bulk up your portfolio of compassion and charity. In the Bible and the Greek, the word “charity” is another for agape love–the kind that Jesus modeled. Your financial portfolio is not important. Giving of self is what matters by showing concern for others.

At this time of year when food boxes are more common than green and red M & M’s, think of the things you like to eat. Imagine a family of four, and add those items to a food box. With an unemployment rate at more than nine percent nationally, some need temporary help. They will appreciate meals that have taste or provide special items for a feast. Consider yams, raisins, nuts, chocolate chips, cookie or brownie mixes, fresh potatoes, garlic, onions, fruit, juices, hot cocoa mix, and canned meats. Perhaps even flavorings such as cinnamon red hots, cinnamon, vanilla, or pumpkin pie spice can bring out the flavor of desserts.

Remember that Jesus himself said, “Then the King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40 [NIV]. Compassion and charity: It’s  everybody’s job.

Maybe Carol is better off than some of us in the financial world, but who evaluates the truly valuable portfolio? God is the final judge of that.

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, Intermedia Publishing, 2011. For more chuckles, keep checking her weekly blog on Button-to-God.com.]