A Thousand Thanks….

Grace comes in so many forms. An unexpected gift; a word of encouragement; a smile–all are welcomed expressions of the heart to brighten our days. Grace seamlessly  covers another’s embarrassment. Kindness recognizes a struggle and comes alongside to help. Graciousness is a greenhouse of peace, cocooning the heart in warmth, while waiting for the fruit of human kindness to grow. Grace is as necessary to a person’s well-being as food, water and sleep.  Image

Yet, all around us lies the garden of “Mary-Quite-Contrary,” overgrown with “snakes, snails and puppy-dog tails.” This is the territory marked by self-centeredness and abrasiveness. Its caretakers have often been hurt or mistreated; and, rather than finding healing, they have turned their misfortunes into lifestyles, perpetuating hurt, abuse, anger and closed-off personalities.

The one practice sure to elevate the human spirit above childish self-absorption is the regular expression of gratitude. When an individual daily rehearses all the good things in her life, taking a moment to thank the Creator for His kindness and care, something amazing begins to happen. Thanks-giving begets Grace-giving. A look outside of self on a routine basis, causes the heart to recognize the good, pleasant, kind and delectable things of life and fuels the desire to spread that enjoyment around!

Graciousness is intentional. It does not happen by chance. A heart filled with kindness and grace is wide-open, looking for an opportunity to love or serve. That opening in the heart is widened through the discipline of thanks-giving. When we acknowledge the good and dear qualities of life as gifts from Father God, our hearts expand like Ebenezer Scrooge’s on Christmas Eve and we awaken from our nightmare of selfishness, looking for the first Tiny Tim to rescue with an act of kindness.

When we give thanks we acknowledge God and His important Role in our lives. When we give grace, we have taken on God’s nature and demonstrate our gratitude in an entirely different way.

A gracious heart is limitless. Hearts designed for giving and loving have unlimited storage capacities. Expressing godly grace is releasing the eternal. Grace is Heaven touching Earth. When we put our arms around a single mom to bring comfort and hope; when we prepare a meal and carry it to a hungry neighbor; when we bring extra bags of groceries home from the grocery store and put them in someone else’s pantry; when we forgive those who have been momentarily unkind toward us and give them a smile instead of a scowl, we are making God, The Father of All, so very proud.

Our acts of graciousness are the ultimate expression of Thanksgiving. Words of thanksgiving spoken once a year around a table are a nice beginning. But, a lifestyle of smiling and giving and serving and forgiving, well that is our saying 1,000 times over, how very much we appreciate the immeasurable, unfathomable, perpetual, undeserved, amazing grace shown to us daily by Father God. 

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Where Loneliness Dares Not Tread

There is a secret place, far from the brewing tempest and maddening crowd. It’s the soul’s  deliverance in times of great loneliness.

When I am lonely, my thoughts can be my demise. They try to carry me outside the confines of safe reality, in search of people and places to fill the empty spot in my heart. As many times as I have found comforting, sympathetic voices to listen, those fleeting interchanges never cured loneliness. On the contrary, when the voices were gone, loneliness returned with a vengeance. Loneliness is like a swirling, lava pool of emotions, searching for volcanic expression.

For me, the crowd has never been a cure, either. In fact, it seems my feelings of loneliness are heightened by the crowd. Whether the din of the mall or the intense press of passersby, the great human experience is often something to flee, for there is little warmth or welcoming from the gathering masses. No impersonal brush against the wall of humanity fills the need for the tenderness of a loving touch.

When loneliness pursues me, I seek the place where loneliness dares not tread. Solitude is my solace. In my garden-like retreat I am met by all my best memories: friends I have loved; places I have discovered; books I have read; and darling family members who have departed. In the place of solitude I rediscover my authentic self, the me I have become through a life-time of learning and experience.

Solitude is my place to find the deepest kind of companionship; because He walks there. Tis there in my secret retreat that I feel the warmth of His breath so close to my face, and His presence fills the atmosphere with symphonic delight. In my sweet, sacred hideaway, I am nourished and restored. I am met by His melodic words in familiar hymns or hear His voice through passages enhanced by nuance or served with deeper revelation. He surrounds me there; He embraces me there; there, He restores my soul.

One of the best features of my secluded get-away is its ease of access through many gates. I can arrive by car, careening around a mountain pass or breezing down an open highway. My feet can carry me there, ambling through a forest thicket or leaving a trail of footprints along a sandy beach. In fact, I don’t even have to leave my favorite chair. But, surrounded by candlelight and the cascading of raindrops against my window panes, I can enter my haven of solitude. There He will meet me, ready to lead me beside still waters, making me new with His warmth, His laughter and His love.

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Airline Joys of Weight Loss

Okay, here goes. I’m making an attempt at being vulnerable again. If you’ve been following this blog, you may think I’m beginning to enjoy this “open-to-the-public” expression of my thoughts and feelings.
The truth is, it feels a little scary each time, because much of my past embarrasses me and I am still learning to overcome the shame.
I work to overcome by sharing my testimony…the good things happening now that give me small joys in the journey. And, every time I am in an airport now and board a plane, those little joys help keep me on track in my weight loss journey.
Someone once told me that for every pound of weight we lose, it feels as though we’ve lost 3 pounds of pressure. I can attest to the truth of that! Having lost 110, I know my trek through the airports is much different than it used to be.
My knees have been bad for 10-12 years; doctors told me both knees have been bone-on-bone for that length of time. A year and a half ago, I was using a cane or a wheelchair to get through airports, because of the problem.
You may not understand the utter embarrassment of having a young face, an enormous body, and being pushed through crowds of elderly people walking long distances in airports. Let me tell you, it’s humiliating. Especially when you arrive in a foreign country and are greeted by a delegation of pastors and leaders anticipating a miracle meeting!
Just try to imagine my excitement and joy, to be able to walk the full length of overseas airports, unassisted, after having stood in impossible lines for check-in and security! Ok, I’ll say it, I feel like a rockstar!
And then, when I take my place on that 6-inch seat (slight exaggeration,) I fit!! And so does the seat belt!! No more under-the-breath requests to the flight attendant for the dreaded “extender,” and the all-knowing smile and look of pity in return!
Believe me when I tell you, there is no slice of cake or pizza that tastes as good as being free from guilt and shame feels! God has truly brought me through a total life-transformation that feels a lot like waking up from a long, miserable nightmare.
Just today, sitting behind first class on the window seat, I did something I would have died of shame to do a year ago. I actually maneuvered myself gracefully around two men, excusing myself of course, to begin the long journey to the back of the plane for the restroom.
Now to you always-skinnies out there, you cannot relate to a word I’m saying. God bless you. But to you who may be struggling to put down an Oreo…JUST DO IT!
In the words of the great emancipator, “I’ve been to the mountaintop!” Only, I am not dreaming anymore. I’m on the other side, saying “It’s really good here! Keep going! Learn to love salads, apples and grilled chicken!” Take it from me, these little joys are awesome motivators in keeping a person like me on track!
The best part about it is the renewed youthfulness I feel. I find myself attempting things I thought I could never do. Some I still need a little work with; others I can manage well.
No, airport and airline travel are not as fun as they used to be; but to a shrinking chubette like me, they are almost enjoyable:-)


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Of Country Lanes and Trans-continental Highways…

A starry-eyed, Victorian explorer lives in my soul. The world is an unwritten poem to me, with a pastoral setting, a noble personality and a love story lurking around the next bend. The thought that something mysterious and exceptionally inviting lies ahead fuels my insatiable desire to venture into unexplored regions.

My curiosity has led me down country lanes meandering along sleepy creeks. Walking barefoot and gathering wildflowers along an idyllic path filled me  first with joy, and then utter panic, when a giant black gardner snake gushed from his hole to greet me. And, when my heart finally stopped racing, I ventured onward, skipping stones, picking up turtles and crossing the babbling waters on huge boulders and logs. The excitement for me was not finding the end of the little country lane, but my one-hundred-and-one experiences and observations of God’s glorious creation I found along the way.

Wonder has drawn me off-highway many times. I think of a time in Northern California when my city-girl mother and I were traveling through the Redwood Forest. I pulled off the road and parked in the midst of a dense cluster of sky-scraper trees. For Mom, staying in the car felt safe because “no one was around!” I had to bounce out of the car to hear the rushing of the water, and walk in the filtered-green light that cascaded down through those amazing evergreens turning that place into an enchanted forest. I had entered the land of the hobbits and I felt sure I was about to find a pot of gold at the end of some rainbow.

Sheer boredom has initiated many days of deliberately “getting lost” with the child-cousin in my care. He would point out a road in any direction, and I would drive until we figured out just how far that road would take us. One such adventure continued for about 12 hours, when we left the outer regions of New York City and ended up in suburban Philadelphia via country roads. Amazingly, we actually arrived very close to another relative’s house that day and we were able to join them unexpectedly for dinner. Some 20 years later we can still be tempted to get lost, even in foreign countries.

My wander-lust has inspired 18-hour day trips on Highway 101 in Oregon; an initiation to Rome by driving the day I landed, encountering every fountain and bridge in the city, saying “scuzzi” a million times to locals until I finally landed in front of my hotel; and, trekking 24 hours over potholes and crevices with shaken-baby syndrome on the 140-mile journey from Nairobi to Tanzania.

I’ve traversed the First Nation territories of Canada from Winnipeg to Misstissini hunting moose with my camera. I’ve been off-roading in a jeep on the tundra north of Denali Park in Alaska. And, I’ve ventured off on 2-day leaf-peeping escapades that carried me from New York City to Maine, Vermont and Lake Champlain and back again. I can also seem to recall a 17-hour motor-tour of Paris, Dijon, Geneva, Zurich and Lyons.

Admittedly, very few of my co-pilots appreciated the lengthy driving tours. They could not understand my driving need to find one more beautiful cluster of trees or another quaint cottage. They somehow didn’t get my obsession with taking-in every sensory image and sound

Ready to Roll

, feeling the rush of the cold breeze and caressing the textures of the world around me. It was the journey through undiscovered life that expanded my soul and freed me from the bondage of mediocrity.

Finding adventure in the journey defines a great deal of my personality. When I get way-off biblical text and far into the realms of imagination, I imagine some part of my eternity in Heaven being spent in an enterprise-like starship, traversing galaxies and universes yet undiscovered. Until then, I can dream of Patagonia and penguins, New Zealand and lazy lambs, and a world of unexplored splendor Father has created and dressed for our enjoyment of life’s journey.

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For someone who successfully learned to project in drama class; cheerlead from the sidelines above screaming fans at varsity basketball games, I had to work hard at summoning the courage to express my thoughts and  deepest feelings.

I was very happy to give the right answers in class, but when it came to sharing something very close to my heart, I would rather retreat and keep my thoughts to myself. I rarely felt smart enough; I didn’t know I had anything to contribute; and, often I didn’t want others to know my real feelings, for fear of rejection.

My journey to find my voice  began in my second year of undergrad, when I was really disconnected from my parents emotionally. I was angry and disappointed, and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to express my heart to them. Because I loved them deeply, I was conflicted by my palpable anger and the subsequent guilt. In my mind, it would be entirely disrespectful and ungrateful to express my true feelings.

The result was misery. I was carrying around a sadness and aloneness I thought would never go away. Thank God for a really wise pastor. He saw my emotional retreat and began to probe. When I told him I don’t think I could ever say what I was feeling to my parents, he recommended I write them a letter. He encouraged me to be detailed and specific with my thoughts and feelings.

I remember weeping as I wrote that letter; I recall deliberating over whether or not to actually mail it; but when I did, it wasn’t long until I received a phone call from Mother and Dad. That letter opened a door to dialogue which essentially reconstructed my relationship with them. They eventually became my closest friends, with whom I could share anything.

My cousin, Joanne, helped me along the next step of this journey. The time was 1982 when I joined her and her husband Mark in a NYC church planting and founding of a Christian school. I was very comfortable sharing information in my field of expertise, but when it came to spiritual contributions to ministry decisions, I believed I had nothing to contribute.

One day in frustration, Joanne simply said, “Donna, you need to speak up! You have made observations and we need to know how you are feeling about this! You have wisdom and experience that could speak to this. Start speaking up!”

Wow; no one had ever asked for my spiritual input before. So, I slowly began to offer observations and gingerly contributed thoughts and ideas. The result amazed me. The interchange of thought and ideas that began that day was actually the foundation for a developing think-tank which had great results in ministry.

The more I expressed my thoughts and ideas, the more I realized I had certain convictions that were worthy of consideration. One day I was really pleased when Dr. Daisy Osborn suggested to my dad that I join an evangelism panel that included Dr. Daisy, my Dad and a number of other esteemed ministers. When I answered a specific question during that conference, I saw my Dad lean over and stare at me. Dr. Daisy smiled and said to him, “You didn’t know your daughter was so smart, did you?” She had a gift of encouragement that helped me that day.

Jesus also had to encourage me to speak up. Anything I have done in ministry: preaching, verbal spiritual gifts, public prayer and faith declarations…all have been challenges others had to draw out of me. Speaking for God was something that intimidated me, because I just did not want to be wrong in representing Him.

In all of these areas, I learned to break through by having a deep relationship with the Scriptures, a willingness to exercise faith, and a total reliance on the Holy Spirit. Physically, my heart may have been pounding out of my chest and my palms may have been sweating, but when I did as the precious Holy Spirit impressed me, the results astounded me. I found out that the power of God working with me actually gave me a voice He created. My voice was His.

Not long ago, I felt as though I needed to have a more powerful faith confession. I tend to be very analytical and often my thoughts could hinder my faith. So, I decided that for an entire year, I would read the entire Bible out loud. It was my favorite read through the Bible. Not only did my faith jump to a new level, but my understanding of certain passages increased and revelation poured into my spirit.

On this journey, I have learned the enemy tried to use intimidation to keep me quiet. When I retreated relationships were hindered, wisdom was withheld, and the word of the Lord was silenced. No matter what I may have feared to result from expressing my heart, God taught me how to be true and transparent without being argumentative and accusatory.

God has given me a voice and a boldness to communicate his heart. He is teaching me to come out from hiding, and be courageous to say it, out-loud.

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The Many Faces of Fear, Part 2

I am not exactly sure how fear of failure became such an inherent part of my nature; it may be closely tied to my quest to live up to some unattainable spiritual standard–at least unattainable by my own efforts. (Failing God, in my mind, was subject to severe punishment.) Or, it may have been something that came along with the Schambach DNA, with its strong competitive leanings.

I’ve always had a healthy drive to succeed; to be the best; to excel–to be perfect. Perfect grades, perfect behavior, perfect execution of task…everything had to be just right.

On the one hand, with that drive I achieved a few things in my life. I worked diligently at learning and applying the new information to my life’s work. God blessed the work of my hands in many areas, and I believe He accepted that work as an offering to Him, even though the successes came alongside many failures.

For me, the failures were always the most difficult to endure. I hated losing; was shamed by wrong decisions; and, mourned unattained goals. Failure was never an option I considered, and I would go to almost any length with pit bull tenacity to make something work.

That is the down-side of the perfectionist’s drive, at least in my situation. I allowed fear of failure to keep me from doing many things and to procrastinate the more challenging, necessary tasks in life.

I’ve noticed traces of this fear in everyday, mundane chores. Should time not permit my cleaning house to spotless perfection, I would put off cleaning until another day. While baking a pie, I tended to hold my breath until the pie dough made it safely into the tin. There would be no patching my crust! Patching was failure. When putting up the Christmas tree, it had to be seen through to completion: branches fluffed; ornaments in perfect symmetry; garland in place; star atop the tree properly! Should I not be able to hang stockings by the chimney with care, the tree-trimming would wait for the next weekend.

Fear of failure complicated my weight issue. When I determined to lose weight, I could not lose it fast enough. Every pound was a win; a success. Yet, when I inevitably hit a plateau and began to backslide, the weight gain was a horrible failure; and failure became my identity. My mother would gently tell me to “take one day at a time,” but my “all or nothing,” way of thinking tripped me up so often.

Every time I failed, I retreated, waiting until I had enough courage you start the whole dieting process all over again. After decades of repeated successes and failures, I quit trying. The task had become too daunting, and in my mind, I was a failure at this task. My defeat was so strong, it felt as though my courage had died altogether.

Shame, guilt, embarrassment, retreat–all these things cocooned me, hindering me from being totally transparent with God. He knew all along what I desperately wanted to shout to Him but was too proud to admit: “Father, I am afraid! I am afraid I will never lose weight. I am afraid I will die unfulfilled. I am afraid I will not complete the call on my life; I’m afraid I will end my life a miserable failure and an embarrassment to You and to my family.”

Those were my truest, deepest feelings; yet, they remained unuttered. All I could manage to let escape from my heart was, “God, You’ve got to help me!”  And, help me, He did. He came alongside me in such a huge way, helping me to confront my Everest and guiding me along the steepest climb of my life.

It’s a story I’m beginning to relate and one day will share it in its entirety; but, it began to change when God helped me to confront the fear of failure in my life.

Fear has many diabolical facesImage. Whispy tentacles of fear invade every passage of our minds and wrap around our emotions. I am learning to identify this permeating aspect of fear. If left unchecked, it will grow into a hideous monster.

For me, confronting the enormous fear of failure in my life has given me courage to confront others. The perfectionism ghost seems to be fading somewhat. The OCD tendencies are at bay. I am enjoying life so much more. Finally, I’m listening to that wise mother of mine, taking one day at a time with Jesus; trying not to set unrealistic goals each day; but asking Father to help me make each day count for eternity.

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