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Gift-WrappedBlack is not a popular color of gift wrap. The gift aisle in any store often offers an array of pinks, blues, yellows, and greens. Cheerful colors are appropriate for almost every celebration, but besides “over the hill” birthdays, black is simply not a party color. No one wants to wrap festive gifts in depressing paper, and no one brings gifts to a funeral–well, unless food in the South counts.

However, sometimes life’s most precious gifts are wrapped in sorrow. When life is confusing and the future looks bleak, the darkness we feel at the moment often overshadows what is happening just below the surface–a transition to something better. Life-changing moments are rarely recognized when they occur. Often, days or months may pass before the real impact is finally noticed.

Several years ago, I lost a job that I had sacrificed greatly to acquire. The year that followed was one of the darkest I had experienced in a long time. I felt lost, depressed, and inadequate, unsure I could continue a career I had spent years building. My approach to life began to change, one small step at a time. Jobs no longer consumed me. Relationships rose in priority. I returned to my love of teaching and children’s literature. Most importantly, I began to trust God more, knowing he would take care of me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but five years later, I can attribute almost every aspect of where I am today to that year of sorrow.

And, no, I would not change a thing.

Sometimes losing something important opens the door for something greater.”

Daily, I challenge myself to look beyond the emotional wrapping paper.  What is underneath the surface that I don’t see? What is God trying to do in me or show me? I don’t always succeed. On some days, I surrender to the emotion and allow it to control me for awhile.

But occasionally, I catch a glimpse of what might be hidden behind the dark wrapping paper–the real gift underneath, waiting patiently for me to discover its beauty.

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The Ultimate Trade-Off

newbeginningsThe beginning of each year brings talk of resolutions. While I stopped making New Year’s resolutions years ago — they never work — I have continues setting annual goals each January of things I hope to accomplish throughout each new year: personal goals, writing goals, relationship goals. Something just to keep me focused. A checklist to mark my progress throughout the year. Somehow, checking each box makes me feel as if I’ve accomplished something and am moving forward.

A few months ago, I began thinking even beyond goals. Do the things I accomplish really matter? Or is it my character, my attitude, my outlook that truly makes a difference? I began creating a list of trade-offs: things I want to give up in exchange for something better. No, I am not perfect, nor do I expect to achieve everything on this list by the end of the year. The process is ongoing — lifelong. These are challenges I see daily all around me. I hope that each trade-off will slowly transform me, day by day, year by year.

Here are a few items from my Ultimate Trade-Off List:

  • Instead of fearing that which I cannot control, I choose to focus on change within my power.
  • Instead of finding fault with another person’s opinion, I choose to build bridges and relationship.
  • Instead of speaking words that tear down, I choose words that bring life and hope.
  • Instead of staying occupied with busy work, I choose to make time for the people around me.
  • Instead of judgement, I choose to listen and seek understanding.
  • Instead of focusing on my current situations, I choose to focus on the big picture.
  • Instead of frustration or tears, I choose to smile or laugh.
  • Instead of dreading what may come tomorrow, I choose to enjoy every moment of today.
  • Instead of avoiding the uncomfortable, I choose to embrace it as an opportunity.
  • Instead of following the crowd, I choose to take the road less traveled.
  • Instead of dreading what may come tomorrow, I choose to enjoy every moment of today.

You have turned my sorrow into joyful dancing. No longer am I sad and wearing sackcloth. I think you from my hear and I will never stop singing your praises, my LORD and my God.” (Psalm 30:11-12 CEV)

What’s on your Trade-Off List?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comment field below.

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Exhausting Rest

Exhausting RestI was exhausted.

I mean, completely, totally, good-for-nothing exhausted, when I could accomplish little but watch movies and nap.

After months of balancing multiple part-time jobs, I expected the break after surgery to be a welcomed reprieve from the constant push to meet various, never-ending deadlines. But it wasn’t.

Guilt plagued me. I had not accomplished enough. I wasn’t contributing to the household income. On days I couldn’t even write, I felt worthless.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” – Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

According to God, rest is a good thing. It rejuvenates and strengthens us. But I felt depleted, confused, and weak.

I had followed my doctor’s instructions to cease my daily routine, but my “rest” had become counter-productive. Why?

In a moment of silence, I realized that I had permitted the performance-focused culture determine my value rather than God himself. My value was not linked to how much I could produce on a daily basis. It is determined by who I am. My “rest” was not God’s idea of rest. I was simply taking a break from physical activity. HIS rest is defined in my inability to stand on my own, when all I can do is lean directly on him.

Which rest will I choose from this point forward? The rest that leads to guilt and further exhaustion? Or the rest that leads to life, healing, and strength?

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Embrace New SeasonI love the transition from summer to fall. Temperatures drop. The air is crisper and carries the scent of change. Leaves morph into an array of colors, blanketing the mountains like a patchwork quilt. Every day, I absorb every detail, knowing that it won’t last long. Winter is right around the corner.

Change is inevitable. The weather in North Carolina constantly reminds me that nothing remains for long. Time is moving forward and taking with it the beauty of yesterday, but replacing each loss with the new excitement of a different season.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1,11 (NIV)

Accepting change, however, has always been a difficult task for me. I’m torn between letting go of the past and embracing something new. But letting go is exactly what God is calling me to do. In order to embrace the future, I must let go of what holds me back — the past.

Yesterday’s dreams may not be tomorrow’s reality. Like autumns leaves, dreams often morph into something greater. Am I ready to accept a new form of a life-long dream? Will I be open to embrace the future ahead? I pray that I not only embrace it, but run towards it with open arms, expecting something better than I ever imagined.

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The De-Cluttered Life

A few weeks ago, I searched through my closet to find my favorite shirt and wondered, “When did I get all this stuff?” Regardless of where I’ve lived, closets are never big enough, drawers are tightly packed, and shelves are cluttered.

In my 20s and 30s, like most young adults, I sought after stuff. I bought the latest styles of clothing, created photo collages for the walls, and inherited pieces of furniture, candles, and knick-knacks from family members.I filled my shelves with books, music, movies, and collected trinkets from various countries, each holding the memories of places I’ve seen and people I’ve met on the journey.

What changed?

As I’ve grown older, I’ve entered a war against piles. Any creative task, including writing,  takes a back seat to the urgency of daily life. I’m easily distracted by dirty laundry, unpaid bills, and dished piled high in the sink. And that doesn’t begin to include the cat hair which rolls across my carpet like tumbleweed. Clutter consumes my time, steals my joy, and takes time from  away from things that truly make an impact.

But the clutter in my home is nothing compared to the clutter in my thoughts.  That clutter distracts me from what matters most: precious moments I could be spending with God. God doesn’t interrupt our busy lives. He waits until we are quiet, undistracted, to speak to us in a still, small voice. If my life is filled with noise, I cannot hear His quiet voice.

Simplifying my lifestyle is a start, but it’s the internal clearing of my thoughts and emotions that will rejuvenate my daily life and ultimately strengthen my impact on the world around me.

 

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Beautiful Feet

Image

by Carolyn Bennett Fraiser
Photo courtesy of Lisa Zader

Originally published on April 29, 2014 on iFlourishOnline.com, reprinted with permission.

Unlike many of my girl friends, I have never had a passion for shoes. Shoes were nothing more than a covering for my clumsy, dirty feet. I wore them until I could feel the moisture seeping through the holes in my toes. Sandals were not an option. My ugly feet embarrassed me.

But God calls my feet beautiful. “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7 NIV).

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to travel overseas with a missions agency where I was employed. I watched as the people I met struggled just to meet basic necessities, and simple acts of kindness made the biggest impact. Tears flowed down a woman’s face as a missionary in Mexico washed her feet and handed her a pair of new shoes. In the middle of a slum village in India, a young girl watched me closely from the corner of a shanty. Beneath a burlap dress, her feet were calloused, covered with layers of dirt and sand. I doubt she had ever owned a single pair of shoes, but she was content to be near her family and clothed.

But the most disturbing image was seared into my memory on a trip to Indonesia shortly after the Asian Tsunami in 2004. The immense rush of water had carried a cargo ship two miles inland and dumped it on more than a dozen shanty homes. Just outside the wreckage lay a single toddler’s shoe, covered in mud.

In a broken village, my heart crumbled to pieces. I could no longer hold back the tears. My knees sank into the cracked mud, and my body shook with words I could not find. I was embarrassed, but this time, it wasn’t about my own feet. Every foot was precious. Every toe, valuable. Every person, loved by God and not forgotten. My previous embarrassment seemed hideous to me. How could I devalue God’s creation so greatly?

Today, I still don’t get over-excited over shoes, but I am thankful for every pair I own. No longer ashamed of my feet, I wear sandals without hesitation. If God says my feet are beautiful, I won’t argue. But every time I put on a shoe, I remember the children and women I’ve met with uncovered, dirty, beautiful feet and thank God for the impact each of them has made on my life.


 

Carolyn Bennett Fraiser is a freelance writer and photographer in Asheville, North Carolina. A graduate of Regent University, she is a local news reporter for The Journey Christian News and works with high school students who are interested in writing and photography. Carolyn and her husband are currently completing their licensure to become foster parents and hope to eventually adopt a child or two. In addition to writing, Carolyn enjoys reading, playing the piano, and snuggling with their two cats. Follow her blog at carolynbfraiser.wordpress.com or @carolynbfraiser on Twitter.

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New Book Release:

New Book Release:

I’m so excited! My next Chicken Soup for the Soul story is being released TODAY in Lemons to Lemonade. This collection of short real life stories of people who turned negative situations into positive experiences and would make a great addition to your coffee table or a gift for a friend.

Be sure to check out my story, “Just for You, Teacher” about my very first college level teaching experience. Sure, I had taught kids my whole life, but teaching college kids — some of whom were older than me — was a very different story! Read about my journey as I encountered students with attitudes, critical teachers, and one girl who encouraged me to keep on teaching!

My story is just one of 101 stories chosen for this encouraging collection. I hope it will encourage you and the ones you care about as you go through tough and often-discouraging “lemon” experiences.

Available today on Amazon.com and in local bookstores.

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