Friday, December 28, 2012

Would you consider?

      When I was about 12, I went to the Gulf of Mexico with my youth group. I had never been to the Gulf or to any large body of water and I was thrilled. Before long I was sitting near the shallow water, making a sand castle, thinking I was really cool stuff in my cute bathing suit, so far away from home.  Can we say, "Big adventure????"
      The water began to lap up closer to my creation but I just sat there, unconcerned, still building my sand castle.  As I concentrated on my work, a small wave came towards me.  I saw it but didn't think much about it.  Until it "slapped" at me and, to my surprise, I instinctively slapped back at it -not kidding!  My hand of course, sliced right through the water and the next wave plowed right into me, turning me tip over whatever as they say,  landing me right on my soggy posterior.  Needless to say, my sand castle was no more.... It was one of those  memorable looking-over-the-shoulder moments to see if anyone was watching....:)
     I'm pretty sure that my science teacher had tried to educate me about the density and power of water but what he obviously had not accomplished in an entire 9 month period of classes, nature accomplished in about 30 seconds.  Suddenly, I understood the power of water a whole lot better than I ever had before!  I lost my sand castle but I gained a healthy respect for waves, large and small, that has never left me!

     The same with ice.  I understood the scientific principles behind "bridge may ice over" etc.  Everybody knows cold air flows under a bridge.  If the air is cold enough and precipitation is falling, regular roads may be just wet while the bridge may be as slick as axle grease...  I "got that" or so I thought.  Until one evening, when it was raining and the temperature was hovering around 31 degrees and I was driving home from church, radio on, heater on, happy as a clam in the drizzle. And then, voila!  Suddenly I was putting on a show for the people in the car behind me, sliding toward a bridge railing and then pirouetting gracefully towards the next railing, which I also hit, and then finally coming to a rest that would have made the makers of the Disney film, Cars, envious - basically ending up backwards in the median.
      I can still remember reaching down to the floorboard to find my glasses and rubbing my forehead where I had hit the ceiling. I also remember the open-mouthed expressions of wonder on the faces of the people in the car behind me as they slowly, gingerly passed me.  And I remember vividly, a few hours later, telling my brother about the wreck.  He was all sympathy until he broached the "$64.00 question":  Cathy, were you wearing your seat belt?
      Let's just say that my brother is big on safety and before that accident, I, um... wasn't.  He had reminded me from time to time to wear my seat belt and had also patiently explained why it was best to do so. But I was too smart to worry about things like that!  For me, the seat belts were too restrictive. (i.e., wrinkled up my  cute dresses...)  The signs on the bridge about icing over in cold weather  were just fodder for my sparkling wit.    Bridge may ice over...  Duhhhh...  Tell me something I don't know... Ha!
     After I proved that, yes, bridges can ice over when wet, my wit sort of went missing. And when Glen asked me if I been wearing my seat belt, I wasn't so cocky as I answered, "No, I'm afraid I wasn't."  The next thing out of my brother's mouth was, "I'll talk to you later." Click! I knew he was upset and that was his way of not "unloading" on me for ignoring his sound advice and putting myself in danger.
    However, again there was an upside to that little adventure on ice.  I mean, just think!!!   I learned the power of combining a moving car with traction-less ice and I got a wild ride into the bargain!  Awesome!   (Not.... )
    My point is this: if we need to understand the nature of wind, fire, flood, and, um, ice (not to mention lightening... ha!), don't we also need to understand the nature of God who made them all?   If you don't believe in God, then the answer to this question is clearly "no". But if you profess to believe in God, then shouldn't it be a priority to know Him  as He really is and not just as we want Him to be or think Him to be?
    When I read in the Tanakh (the Old Testament), I see over and over that God let His chosen people beat their heads up against difficult, even tragic circumstances because they kept thinking they had Him all figured out when they didn't.  Over and over, He worked to reveal Himself to them and over and over, they kept veering off after false gods.  Finally, He just took  His hands off them and said, "Okay, follow the desire of your heart, trust in your own intellect and see where it gets you.  After you've done it your way and found yourself sliding on thin ice and hitting a wall, after you've suffered, after you've followed the trail of your desire to it's broken end, you will look up. I will be there. I will gather you to Myself. And finally, you will know Me."
     I am 100% sincere when I say that I'm so glad the God of the universe loves  us and wants us to know Him personally.   I'm equally sincere when I say that I don't want to be so hardheaded that He has to take His hands off my life and let me learn the hard way. Yet I know I can be.
     Right now it seems to me that our approach as a modern  nation to God is so cavalier that it's scary.  I don't mean that lightly.  We take our theology from television, from talk show hosts, from subjective accounts of spiritual adventures and even from our own wishful thinking.  God will never do such and such...    The Bible is outdated....   Oprah says.... This scientist swears that he experienced...   I mean, God loves everybody...
     God does love everybody, no question.  But above all, He wants us to know Him, depend on Him, and base our lives on solid truth. Truth matters more than we, in this day and age, seem to realize.  The truth is that when a twelve year old girl gets in a contest with an ocean wave, the wave will win! (I truly  thought I understood water  because I had messed around in a kiddie pool and dog paddled around in a pond!)   I needed to learn to respect water (and ice!), not for what I thought it was like, but for what it really is.  If this is true about the elements of nature, how much more true is it about the nature of our creator, the One with whom we will all eventually have to do?
     Jesus said,  "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock, 
     and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and burst against that house and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.
      And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand.
      And the rains descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house, and it fell, and great was its fall.  
      Matthew 7:24 - 27.
     
     Sometimes when I pray, I just stop and ask God to help me know the truth, to protect me from deception, to enable me to really know Him as He is, not as I think He is.  It's good prayer, one He's never failed to answer.

    If you haven't prayed that prayer lately (or ever), would you consider giving it a try?
     Just sayin'
   



Thursday, December 27, 2012

Grace? Or Just Mind Games?


I hope your Christmas was good. Frankly, ours was a mess.

We had Boness stay with us over Christmas.  It was his first experience at seeing lightening strike up close and personal. (A first for us also....).  Basically at about 11 a.m. on Christmas morning, when I mistakenly thought my biggest problem was getting the ham warmed up, the deviled eggs finished, and the green beans ready to take to my sister-in-law's house for Christmas lunch, I found out I was wrong.  Priorities changed...

While I was sitting at the kitchen table, wondering if I had the right amount of salt and pepper in the egg mixture, lightening was about to hit the house right behind us.   We share a utility pole with that house and why our house didn't catch on fire as Butch's did, we have no idea.  

We never heard any rumblings or warnings of what was to come. We never even saw a flash of light. My sister-in-law who  lives just up the hill from us saw lightening at ground level on both sides of her house and heard a weird rumbling  but as far as we knew, one minute everything was fine and the next there was a huge explosion which shook our house momentarily, caused light bulbs to explode inside the house, and took out half our power.   The next thing we knew, smoke was billowing from Butch's house and then, before the fire trucks could get there, flames were shooting up over 8 feet above the roof.  It was a scary time.

God protected all of us.  (Windows cracked two houses down from Butch on the side away from our house. Also, neighbors on our street, three houses down, had light fixtures blown from the ceiling. All in all, we think as many as six houses, in an L-shaped pattern, were affected by the lightening strike).

These are some things that keep running through our minds as we process all this:
1.  Butch is elderly and has chronic health problems which are affecting his personality.  He probably shouldn't be living by himself.  There is a glass shop across from us and its owner,  Jason,  is the only neighbor who has regular contact with Butch now.  Also, Jason has contact numbers for some of Butch's family.  Although Jason runs the glass shop, he's often off-site putting in wind shields, etc and is almost never at the shop on weekends and holidays.  He just ran by the shop  Christmas morning for whatever reason and his visit just happened to coincide with the lightening strike.  He was able to contact Butch's family immediately and found out that Butch had recently been re-admitted to the hospital. This hospital visit not only saved Butch's life but the knowledge of his whereabouts  kept Phil, David, and Jason from having to run into the house to rescue Butch, something they were ready to do.  Being in the hospital is not something we normally think of as a good thing but in this case, it was.

2.  Our kitchen is small and I had been sitting directly under two light bulbs that shattered. Seconds before the strike happened, I decided to put the mustard in the fridge, stood up, opened the door, and leaned toward the lower shelf in the fridge.  Phil said that when I opened the door, he could see the refrigerator light was dark so the strike must have happened at the exact moment that I opened the door.  This was sort of important because the glass hit my back; otherwise, it would have rained down on my face and head.  As it was, I had on a thick sweatshirt and although I felt the glass pelting me, I didn't get a single cut.  Even now, I can't remember opening the refrigerator; I just remember putting my hands over my head, screaming and running into the next room where I suddenly realized that Phil was yelling at me, trying to find out if I was okay.  Even at that point, neither of us knew what had happened.  He thought the refrigerator light had blown up, cutting my face.  It was, for a few seconds, chaotic.  But the bottom line is that we were right there and neither of us got hurt.

3.  Boness was here on his computer in the spare room. He had his laptop plugged into the wall.  It ruined his charger and burned out his overhead light.  But the ceiling light didn't explode, he didn't get hurt, and his laptop still works, amazingly enough.  

4.  David was in the library with his headphones on, playing video games. He felt the room shake, thought, "Okay, I should be fried...", and turned off his electronics. Although electricity apparently arced through half our house, taking the power down with it, it did not touch the library.

5.  It destroyed our phone box outside and scorched a small area on our metal fuse box, destroying one fuse completely, but nothing caught fire.  And the only fluorescent that shattered was in our bedroom, a room we didn't stay in because our first thoughts were to check and see that the outside of the house was not on fire.  So any mercury that would have been released from it would have dissipated before we actually got into the room to clean it up.

6.  And, hard as it is to believe, the strike fried our surge protector on our computer (literally melted the inside wires) but our computer works.

Phil and I are both still processing this as I've said and probably will be turning it over in our minds for some time to come.

As I said, my biggest concern at 11 a.m. was getting the food finished asap.  We had decided to move the family meal up from 1 p.m. to 11 a.m. so that Phil's older sister, Mary Ann, could make it back to Hot Springs afterwards before the ice and sleet came.   We thought we had things all figured out and were erring on the side of caution!  In retrospect, the cautious thing would have been to have  ditched the green beans and then  booked it  to Linda's house at 10:45, Christmas meal be hanged!

If we had known to ask God to protect us from a lightening strike, we would have asked!  But it never occurred to us to do so because we didn't even know there was any danger of that happening.   We were asking God for travel protection for Mary Ann, not knowing that within thirty minutes there would be four emergency vehicles blocking our street, lights flashing, and that  after an hour, some of us would be carrying wrapped presents and plates of food in the wind and the rain to the nearest street corner where Mary Ann had her jeep, ready to take us to Linda's house.

As I've thought about this, I've wondered: should I be afraid of next Tuesday?:)  As I blogged earlier, someone set off a pipe bomb last week, on Tuesday, a couple of houses away from us. Now this Tuesday, the house behind us gets a direct lightening strike.   I'm kind of half-kidding about being afraid of Tuesdays but I can honestly see why people can get caught up in superstition.   We won't be covering  ourselves in lucky rabbit's feet for the New Year but we will be asking for protection for our neighborhood as people break out the fireworks (and in some cases, possibly gunpowder) in this area this upcoming Tuesday.

I've also wondered: if I had known the lightening strike was going to happen (ditto for the pipe bomb...)  and I had asked for God to stay His hand and prevent the bolt from ever touching earth (ditto the pipe bomb..:), would God have granted it?  I don't know.  I do know this: His power and goodness are not dependent on what happens to us personally. He's good because that's His nature. And someday we will stand in the presence of that goodness, all doubt removed.

But still, in the stress of the moment, questions arise.  When Phil told me point blank that it had to be God who caused me to decide, just at that precise moment on Christmas morning, to put the mustard jar into the fridge, is that the case?  Does God work through such simple things as putting up mustard jars?  Can I say, like a prophet of old,  God told me to put the mustard jar up!!  No, I really can't.    And I can't really argue with those who would say,  "Are you kidding me?  Lightening set the house behind you on fire and messed up the fixtures in your house and you think God was in all that???  If He was there, why didn't He prevent the lightening strike in the first place??  

I know (some) of the theology as to why bad things happen to Christ-followers, the primary one being that we live in a fallen world where lightening strikes, Godly young men slip and fall while hiking, and crazed individuals go into elementary schools and shoot up innocent children. But the question remains:  if He plans to bring good out of the bad that touches His children, why does He allow the bad in the first place?  Or maybe even more to the point, am I kidding myself? Am I clutching at straws to prove God was with us when... really He wasn't? Am I babbling about mustard jars and fridges when the lightening strike alone proves it was all just a freak of nature thing?

Basically, I'm asking if we're playing games when we say, "The tornado blew the house over the county line but God is good because Grandma made it out alive..."  I know many would say, "If God is so good, why doesn't He get rid of tornadoes altogether?"

I think it's a valid question.

I ran across a quote many years ago, after my mom and dad passed away from cancer, that goes like this:   a grace applied within a grace denied (John Piper).   What it means is this:  sometimes God doesn't "gift" us  with the big things but within that large grace gift denied, He gives us smaller things. Piper puts it this way.  Suppose we are getting ready to go on a road trip and we ask that our trip will go well. But along the way our car breaks down, our request for a smooth trip is denied. We don't get the larger blessing. But what if God brings along a total stranger with a tow truck to help us?  That is a "gift", a matter of grace given and received, only on a smaller scale.

Going back to the Christmas day lightening strike we can see that God gave us  multiple "smaller graces" which, in retrospect, seem not so small at all. Preserving David and Boness from harm while they were on electronics.  Preserving me from being cut in the midst of falling glass.  Preserving Phil who was in the kitchen but never felt any glass falling or even realized the bulbs were broken. Preserving Butch's life and also, once again, protecting Jason, Phil, and David by giving them crucial information that kept them from having to run into the house.  Even preserving all our major appliances - we don't even think we'll have to make an insurance claim.  Granted, we'd rather not have the trauma of a nearby explosion at all.  But still, we know we received grace  in time of trouble.

 As for Austen's family,  I can't speak for them  - and I don't have to.  They are maintaining an awesome testimony to God's grace even in the midst of their grief. They may not use the term, a grace applied within a grace denied - and their loss is huge -  but they are living the truth of that phrase.  If you haven't gone to the FB page, Prayers for Austen Elders, you might want to check it out. It's very encouraging.

 And I clearly can't speak for the residents of Newtown, CT. At all.

But I can say for us that in the midst of a larger grace denied, we personally received multiple "smaller" graces applied that in the long run add up to so  much more than we could ever hope to deserve.

Truly, it's all grace.

And  we are thankful.

Maybe it wasn't such a bad Christmas after all....







Monday, December 24, 2012

Glorious Impossible

    Life is full of ironies.
    This past Tuesday night, my husband and I were watching the Charlie Brown Christmas video.  At 10:30, we had reached the place in the video where Linus takes center stage with his blanket and starts to explain what Christmas is all about.
    Just at that moment, an explosion went off in our neighborhood. We didn't know where it came from but we knew it was near.  It was too loud to be a shotgun and it literally came out of nowhere, without warning.  It wasn't a tree crashing due to high winds. Andi t wasn't thunder, as much as we wanted it to be one of those two explanations.
    My husband went outside but couldn't see any problems.
    When the explosion occurred, the first words out of my mouth were, "I'm scared! Should we get on  the floor?"
    We never finished the video and in fact, we almost didn't go to sleep that night.  Basically, we sat and listened for we weren't sure what - another explosion?  Emergency sirens?  We didn't know.
    When things remained calm, we finally went into a fitful sleep, the Charlie Brown video forgotten.
     The next day a neighbor, when asked, admitted that one of their friends had set off a firecracker in a culvert.  This comforted me but it turned out to probably not be true.   That evening when I told my husband the firecracker explanation, he  just looked at me and said  there was no way.  He said it just about had to be someone putting gun powder in a pipe, i.e, a pipe bomb.
    As I had  walked around our little area Wed. afternoon, trying to find out what the explosion could have been and exactly where it came from, I not only heard the "fire cracker" story but also got a glimpse into the troubled lives of some of those who live near us.  I know their heartache and sometimes scary worlds are just around the corner from mine but when things are quiet, it's easy to pretend that they aren't, if that makes sense.
   I really felt fear come over me last Tuesday night and finding out that the explosion was only a couple of houses away from ours didn't make the fear any better.  Nor did finding out that the people who set the "fire cracker" off are known in the neighborhood for struggling with addictions as well as  domestic abuse.
   How can a world of heartache like that exist just a little beyond the threshold of my own world?  And how can it so easily impinge on my own world of Christmas cookies, music, and Charlie Brown videos?
   And perhaps more to the point,  how do I cope with such knowledge?
   I've decided that I  really can't. It's too deep for me, too scary. Bottom line:  I can't assuage  my neighbor's heartache any more than I can  guarantee that their own troubles won't ever impinge on our lives again.   Simply put, I don't have any quick solutions for them or life warranties for me.  Even if I moved away from them, I still wouldn't have any guarantees.
 
  This morning, as our pastor addressed the children in the congregation, he talked about making time for Jesus during this hectic season. Another irony. This season is, theoretically, all about Him.  Yet in our hurried schedules to shop, bake, fight traffic, shop some more,  clean house,  and then do it all over again, it's sometimes hard to find space for Jesus, for time alone with Him.  This too is a scary thought. What if Christmas comes and goes and I never even sit at His feet? Not once?  Is it that easy to shut out the Son of God?

   When the pastor addresses the children, he usually shows a short video clip to get their attention.  This morning, to our surprise, the video clip was from Charlie Brown's Christmas Story.  I'm seriously telling you that the pastor started the video exactly  where we stopped it last Tuesday when the explosion occurred.

   Phil and I  looked at each other in disbelief.  I mean, it's not every Sunday that you go to church and see Linus, in living color, holding his blanket and calmly reciting the  Christmas story...

   For me, the irony of seeing Linus pick up exactly where he left off (!) last Tuesday night at our house - well, that was no coincidence.  It doesn't matter if anyone else agrees with me - seeing "the rest of the story" this morning  was a God thing for us.  It was a reminder that no matter what danger or heartache exists around us (and often within us) that the Christmas story goes on.

   Christ didn't come to a world of jauntily clad snowmen,bright carolers out in the snow, stunningly lit Christmas trees, and calm, silent nights.

   He came to a world that was full of violence and pain, to an oppressed people living under the iron rod of ancient Rome. He was born in a stable (or some say, a cave) and I can't imagine that. I gave birth to our son in a birthing room, well-lit, with all the accouterments of home mixed with all the advances of medical science.

   If I find it frightening to live in a well-lit house just a fourth of a block away from someone experimenting with gun power, would I feel any safer huddled  in a  stable in a world where a king could, with just a snap of his fingers, give the order to exterminate all children under the age of 2 years old?

  The world has never been a "safe" place.  It just hasn't.  The human heart has always had a deep reservoir for pain and pain often, ironically, drives us to inflict more pain. On ourselves. On each other. On our neighborhoods.   On our world.

   Jesus came because He knew our good would never be enough to outstrip our anguish and/or outweigh our capacity for evil.  Or our capacity to fear, for that matter.

   He made Himself vulnerable for us. And the announcement of his birth, ironically,  was first made to  the lowest of society, outcasts, shepherds staying up all night on a forsaken hillside, probably just wishing the long night would be over so they could go home and get warm.  Maybe discussing politics and how much they hated and feared the Romans. Maybe wondering if the political zealots of that day would wind up getting them all killed (which they would).  Maybe saying how they wished Herod would kick the bucket so that life would be less scary, better somehow.

  " And then suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before them... and the glory of the Lord shone around them..."*
   I bet the glory of the Lord lit up the whole night sky a zillion  times  more than the street lights in our neighborhood do.
   I bet those shepherds had mouths hanging open and knees that were buckling.
   I bet all thought of politics and warm beds (and broken neighbors who do crazy things late at night) just flew right out of their minds.

   Why?  Because God had shown up.
   In the form of a baby.

    "And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people..."**

     Do not be afraid...
     For I bring you good news...
     of a great joy...
     For all peoples...

    This is the answer to my neighbor's craziness and to my own fear.
    God with us.
    Immanuel.

   





   

 

 
   * Luke 2: 9
   **Luke 2: 10


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Raindrops on shoppers and Roses on kittens.. or something like that.

   There are some things that I don't like... but maybe I do... sort of.

   I think I don't like the goofy letters and numbers that pop up, asking you to copy them in order to prove you are not a robot as you try to post comments on a blog. I am not a robot and I prove it when I occasionally say choice words as I type, retype, and type yet again, trying to decipher these weird code words that are often indecipherable.  Then it hit me...these security password thingys are really an attempt at leveling the playing field. When a young person (such as our son) tries (and fails) to decipher a particularly crazy code word, he knows how I feel all the time when faced with technology.  This is a good thing!  (I think...)
   I think I don't like the hustle and bustle of last minute Christmas shopping.  But I must.. because I do it every year...  Yesterday, standing in front of a display case, list in hand, desired gift item in sight - I suddenly had no clue what to do.  The same basic item put out by two different companies.  So.. which one was better?  I didn't know so I made a new friend.  Like Buddie the Elf, I turned to the total stranger next to me and asked for her advice. She was very helpful, explained why one product was better than the other and seemed glad to help.  Maybe talking to total strangers in Wal Greens is my favorite... Who knew?
    I think I don't like the fact that we live in a "neighborhood in transition" where new neighbors occasionally turn out to be drug dealers. However,  I hear others complain about how no one is ever friendly in their neighborhood and no one ever bonds with each other.  Well, let me tell you: that is  not the case in our neck of the woods...  There's nothing like having a crack house or a meth house in the area to bring the rest of the  neighbors together.  Plus, all the interesting things that you have a front row seat to - like the biggest drug family in the 'hood busting it to mow the policeman's yard next door all summer long.. without being asked... just from the goodness of their hearts.:)   (It didn't work btw. The owner still got busted and spent some time in jail...)
     Another thing I think I don't like is pain and/or prolonged suffering.  And I don't. Of all the things I've listed here, this is by far the most serious.   But still, I have to admit that the sweetest people I have met are long-suffering Christians who have a walk with God that I envy. As I think of one who struggles to breathe and talk above a whisper, I have to admit that I was blessed more by 30 minutes of conversation with her than a whole day's conversation with most anybody else that I know.  I shouldn't have been surprised by that.  Years ago I had a friend who had been in a motorized wheel chair for 10 years. Before that it was a regular wheel chair. Before that it was a walker.  Basically she had been sick for 30 years.  But when I walked into her room one evening and she told me calmly that she knew Jesus had been standing at the foot of her bed, I didn't doubt it for a minute.  I knew she lived close to Him and that He, in turn, lived close to her.  In fact, from that friendship I realized that if you really want to be close to Jesus, you need to go where He goes. I don't know all of His favorite places but I know one... and that is anywhere His saints are in need.
    The list could go on and on but I'm sure you get the picture.
    I hope that the things you don't like also turn out to have a silver lining or at least a sliver of one!
    And that this Christmas you have the privilege of going to one of His favorite places, wherever that may be.
   

Sunday, December 16, 2012

For those, like me, who wonder...

     There are some weeks when you just have to crawl into your Bible, look up into the face of God and ... cry.  For me, this was one of those weeks.  Following the story of a young man about the same age as my son, who fell off a cliff while hiking, miraculously surviving  only to have two massive strokes a few days later, I found myself asking, "Why?"  I've heard people say that you should never ask why. But then someone pointed out to me that Jesus Himself said, "My God, My God, why..." as He hung on the cross.
     Still, I sometimes feel guilty when I just don't "get it" and I can't help but cry out, seeking, sometimes demanding answers.  I know I shouldn't demand but sometimes I do.
    Then the school shooting in Connecticut.  When I saw the words "school shooting" scroll across the net news, it sort of hit me the way a headline about a traffic pileup does as in, "I'm so sorry!" but not  as in,  "I'm so shocked!"  That in itself bothered me greatly.  When did I cease to be shocked at the thought of someone walking into a school and shooting people?  I don't know but I know this: somewhere along the way our collective innocence as a nation is dying.
     It wasn't until I realized that the school was an elementary that my attention was fully arrested and finally the words, "What???? How can that be???" fell from my lips.    Because as  everyone knows, school shootings happen in the junior highs, the high schools, and the colleges - not in elementary schools.  At least, not here in America.  However, it was true and once again  a new barrier had been broken - someone had wantonly killed a bunch of kindergarten kids. Once again I found myself asking, "Why?"
    I loved going to church this morning and the pastor's sermon was so timely.   I had seen posts on FB urging people to pray that God would give pastors all across our nation the right words to convey the love of God today  in the face of the tragedy just two days past.  I believe God did that for my pastor but I don't know that I was able to completely accept it.  His message was that joy comes from knowing Christ and having the confidence that He gives us, the hope that He gives us, in the midst of confusing, often mind-blowing circumstances.  I really listened and in my heart, I'm still listening, still processing, still thinking. Asking myself yet another question: do I have joy even on a good day?
   Towards the end of the sermon, the pastor ran a video interview with one of our members. I knew the bare bones of her story.  A young couple, dedicated to God's service.  The husband appears to have the flu and then suddenly, he is convulsing or having a stroke - I wasn't sure which. And then he's on life support.  And my Sunday School class prayed. And the updates came. The young husband is  off life support!  He's going into rehab! He has to make more progress or the insurance companies will quit paying for rehab. Pray!!  And we did.. And then the last thing I heard was that all progress had stopped and this young man had been transferred to another facility.
   It's one thing to hear updates like that and it's another to see the young wife, smiling and then crying, speaking about hope while her husband is shown going through rehab with eyes that seem unresponsive and wooden steps that are possible only through wearing braces, through the aid of machines and through the physical assist of a therapist.
   And there is his wife, joy and suffering written on her sweet face, tears mingled with smiles.  And then her last word, holding both hands together, palms open, still smiling, saying that when she surrendered to be a missionary she felt the only way to approach God was with both hands held open, willing to receive whatever He gave or allowed, willing to go wherever He led.  Her point was that even now, four years into her marriage, blindsided by inexplicable suffering, she still feels the only way to respond to God is with open hands, open hearts.
   And I agree with that but as I was leaving to drive to the food bank where we get to serve sometimes, I found myself crying once again.  For Austen Elder's family.  For the families of Sandy Hook elementary.  For Brian and his sweet wife. And specifically I found myself brokenly saying, "God, you can restore Brian's mobility. You can restore his mind. Nothing is impossible for You. Please do a miracle in Brian's life."
   And then I got to the Outreach Center where I wasn't needed to help serve just yet. Someone suggested that I might want to go to the prayer room and so I did.  But when I got in there I thought, "I can't pray.  I don't know what to pray.  I don't want to pray; I've already prayed all I have the heart and mind to say."
   But I knew I was supposed to so I found a Bible in the prayer room and opened it to the middle thinking maybe the Psalms would help.  Instead, the Bible opened to the book of Job and I found myself thinking,    "Great. The most depressing book in the Bible. Just what I need..."
    But I started reading and I saw these words:  "Do you know the time the mountain goats give birth?  Do you observe the calving of the deer?  Can you count the months they fulfill, or do you know the time they give birth?..."  (Job 39:1-2)
   I am familiar with this passage and I knew that this word to Job from God begins with an even bigger question:  "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"  (Job  38:4)   I started crying again and brokenly whispered, "No, Lord, I don't know how you formed the mountain goats and established their life cycle... No, Lord, I wasn't there when You formed the earth... No, Lord, I don't know how You laid the foundations of the earth..."
    In the past, I've never really liked God's answer to Job. Part of me wondered if it wasn't a cop out, that instead of answering Job's questions, God just sort of pulled rank.  Today I understood. When your heart is broken, explanations don't really help.  Even if God sat down and explained all the ins and outs of why these tragedies have happened and how He is going to bring good out of all of them, I would still hurt.
    What I needed to hear today was: joy is possible even in the midst of heartache... because of Jesus. He truly is the reason for the season.    And the other thing I needed today was for God to basically take my face in His hands and say, "Look at me, my child!  I created the world. I have done things you can't understand. I'm still doing things you can't understand.  Can you look up and trust my heart of love  until the day when you can understand, when everything will be made clear?"
    And thinking of Austen's mother, who has valiantly witnessed in t.v. interviews this week as she prepared to take her son off life support; thinking of  Emilie's dad who said that his prayers and love went out to the family of the one who killed his daughter; thinking of Brian's wife who smiled through her tears and held both palms face up while saying the only way to approach God is with open hands... thinking of these examples, I said, "Yes, Lord, I can look up and trust until the time comes when You will explain it all."
  As I've looked at the examples set before me of joy mingled with sorrow, faith shining through tears, I find myself thinking of the song,
  May the ones who come behind us find us faithful...
   Only for me right now, the song reads,  "May the ones who come behind me find me faithful... following the examples of those who have gone before me..."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Soooo Politically Incorrect that This Will Probably Be the Demise of My Blog...

       Adolf Hitler
       Joseph Stalin
       Dr. Mengele
       Chairman Mao
       Joseph Kony
       Al Capone
       Genghis Khan
       Robespierre
       Fidel Castro
       Idi Amin
       Richard Speck
       The Arkansan who killed 17 of his family members on Christmas day many years ago
       Ax murderers
       Nero
       Child traffickers
       People who rob widows of their last dime
       Terrorists who blow up school buses
       John Wayne Gacy
       Animal torturers
       Extremists who kill worshipers  (Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jewish... doesn't matter)
       Rapists
       Drug dealers who enlist little kids into their drug deals
       Mothers who kill their own children (Kasey Anthony?)
       John Elliott Gruzen
       The founders of Westboro Baptist
 
       #Seriously...?
       #ifeveryonegoestoHeaven
       #willwereallywanttobethere?
       #andifeveryonedoesn'tgotoHeaven
       #dowewanttobetheonestodecidewhoisinandwhoisout?
       #andifeverybadpersonisrecycleduntiltheygetitright
       #dowereallywantHitlerandKonybeingreincarnatedtenthousandtimesover?

       Just a thought...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Thinking It Through

      I'm really not crazy about it when someone lies to me. As a teacher, that was one of the most irritating things that I had to deal with.
      Like the time I caught a student with a cheat sheet as long as Santa's Christmas list, lying in her lap, mostly covered by a sweater.  When I took up both  the cheat sheet and her test, she looked at me with wide-eyed innocence and said, "I heard something rustling under my sweater but, honest, I  thought it was the potato chip bag that I bought at lunch..."  Seriously???
      Or the time that I saw a student put something in his pocket which I erroneously thought was candy.   Skittles to be exact - little sugar coated pellets that someone had been secretly throwing in my classroom during that particular class period.  I insisted the kid hand me what was in his pocket and he insisted that his pocket was empty. I persisted until finally he reluctantly emptied his "empty" pocket and out came a small plastic bag of weed.  I don't know who was more shocked - the kid who got "busted" or me!  As one of my other students told me later, "Well.. at least he didn't have candy..."  :)
      The problem with lying is that sooner or later, someone's going to look like a fool.  Either the person who believed the lie or the person who told the lie and then got caught - and sometimes both. And when someone looks you right in the face and with wide-eyed candor lies like a dog, as we say in the poetic South, it adds insult to injury.  As in:   you must think I'm stupid to tell me an idiotic whopper like that!
      I grew up, to some degree, with lies.  Like when my dad accidentally backed into someone else's car.  He thought no one saw him so he admonished us:  "Don't tell your mom; it will only upset her!"  I think what he should have told us was: the truth will find you out eventually so honesty is the best policy!"   As it turned out, dad's little car snafu happened in front of an apartment full of geriatric old ladies who had nothing better to do than spy out the window and one of these watchers took down dad's license plate number.  When mom got a phone call out of the blue from an insurance company, she wasn't a little upset... Ha!  She was hot enough to set the Thames on fire!!!  Really, looking back, I should have thanked dad for that object lesson about the value of honesty!  When the blistered paint finally fell from the ceiling of our living room - well, I might be exaggerating a tad - anyway, by the time it was over all three of us kids had a healthy respect for telling the truth and we all understood the  difference between "a little upset" and .. um..."ballistic".
      Since deceit was typical of my parent's relationship, you won't be surprised to learn that they eventually divorced.  That's the other thing about dealing in lies and deceit - it kills trust which is vital to any major relationship.  How many times have you heard someone say, "They've lied to me so many times, I don't know if I can trust a single word they say!"
      If you've read this blog more than once, by now you know that I consider my relationship with God the most important one that I have.  I'm pretty unapologetic about that:)    So... what if God were a liar?  Or what if He endorsed lies "for a good cause"?   Can I expect less of Him than I would from my parent, my spouse, my best friend, or my child?  Can I possibly believe that He has less intelligence and less integrity than a mere human being, like, say,  my dad who believed that a little lie for a "good cause" was okay? Or a few of  my teens in school who believed a lie was the best  way out of a dilemma?   Can I really believe that God can't see the end from the beginning, that He thinks the weed will never fall out of the pocket, the insurance company will never call and the fat will never hit the fan?
      My grandfather, W. W. Hammons, was an honest man.  He had integrity and everyone in his community knew it.
      These were his favorite verses in the Bible:
       "Let not your hearts be troubled.  "Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  And you know the way where I am going."  
       Thomas said to him, "Lord,  we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?"  
       Jesus said to him,  "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you had known me, you would have known my father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him."
        John 14:1-7
        When I was 8 years old, I became a Christian.  When I was in college I began to study the Bible.
        I'm almost 60 years old and I haven't caught Him in a lie yet....
        "Let not your heart be troubled.  "Believe in God; believe also in me..."
        If you don't know Jesus but are willing to openly consider His claims, this could be the greatest Christmas you've ever had, bar none.  If you are tired of deceit, go to the book of John and prayerfully read it, asking God to show you the truth.
       He won't steer you wrong.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Calvin, Grandma, and Running the Race...


  
     I love Calvin and Hobbes and rue the day their creator, Bill Watterson, decided to quit doing the comic strip.  Granted, Calvin was well on his way to reform school... but still no one could deny that he was a very bright as well as a very  funny little criminal-in-the-making!  And, thankfully, Calvin had Hobbes to keep him in check when the kid got  too out of hand, which was often.
     One of the reasons that Watterson gave for quitting the series was that he felt he had taken the cartoon as far as he could, that he had reached the limit of what he could do with it.
     My grandmother would have understood that!  (No, I'm not referring to the fact that sometimes she reached her limit with me... although I know she did on more than one occasion...)   My mother used to tell me that Grandma never went to Sunday school while she (mom) was growing up.  The reason?  She felt she didn't need Sunday school; she only needed a little fine-tuning via a sermon or two each week.  In other words, she'd studied the Bible lessons enough already!  And didn't need those quarterly lesson books anymore!
     I loved my grandmother but she didn't grow much.  Physically or spiritually. She was a little under 5 feet tall when I knew her - which sometimes made riding in a car with her  an exhilarating experience.  Especially when I could see on-coming traffic and... she couldn't...  (This never worried her! She simply carved out the middle of the highway as her province, drove 30 miles an hour regardless of the traffic signs and grumbled that if anyone didn't like the way she drove, they could get out of the way.  And get out of the way, they did!  Trust me!)
    Spiritually, my grandmother could be a bit of a mess.  She routinely insulted people (even my friends) and stirred up trouble, even in the church.  She was, um, manipulative, to say the least.   Sometimes I wonder what she would have been like if she had kept on growing spiritually and not just been content to sit back and hear a sermon now and then, which she didn't hesitate to criticize, I might add.
   The truth is that grandma came from a different era, a time when women slipped out of church early so that they could go home and fry chicken because the preacher was coming to eat as soon as the  preachin' was over.  She "worked her garden", went to quiltin' bees over at the church, sewed clothes for her grandkids on  an old sewing machine, watched soap operas religiously, and listened in on party lines so she could repeat the latest gossip.  That was my grandma!

   I think grandma might be a bit bewildered right now if she were here. Not by the technology which she would probably just dismiss with a derisive wave of the hand, but by the idea of grandmothers out jogging, wearing sweaters wrapped around their slender waists,  while pushing their grandkids in designer strollers.  I think our whole culture would flabbergast her actually because so much of it is about setting goals, looking youthful, getting the most  out of our golden years.
    And I personally think all that is good.
    But I would like to suggest something else, along those lines but still.. a bit different.
   I would like to suggest that we start doing spiritual calisthenics in our early years and continue this routine on into our twilight years.  Biblical "stretching" exercises come in a variety of ways but they all have the same goal - to tone our faith muscles.
   Have you ever wondered why God makes promises and then doesn't answer them right away?  Why doesn't He just tell us what He's going to do (in answer to our prayers, etc) and then simply do it?  Why do we sometimes have to keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking?  And why, once He has shown us what He plans to do, should we have to keep hanging onto that promise for what seems like eons while the Heavens are seemingly like brass?  Why do we have to keep going back to Him saying, "Lord, you promised... but I just don't see..."
    I think part of  the answer is simple.  God wants us to exercise.
    Searching out  promises in His word and holding onto them develops our spiritual heart muscles, as it were, and strengthens our "faith vision". (For we walk by faith, not by sight... II Cor. 5:7)
    So, in anticipation of  the right-on-the-horizon new year ahead, I've tuned into the ancient book of  Hebrews to formulate a spiritual work-out plan for the next 12 months.

    1.  Motivation!  Each day I'd like to wake up remembering that I am surrounded by a gallery of Olympic Faith Walkers who have finished their race and who are cheering me on, marking my progress.  (12:1)



    2.  Warm-up!  Each morning  I'd like to limber up by stripping off every weight, including my pet sins, that weigh me down and encumber me as I get ready to jog.  (Maybe singing some version of "Gonna wash that sin right out of my life..!."  Groan... Well, I never said I was musical!)  (12:1)

    3.  Positions!  This may seem like a given... But I can find myself at the wrong starting gate.. .airport gate.. ticket gate... meeting place... check-out lane... you name it!  Even the wrong white Malibu on the right parking lot... :(  So this year I want to make sure that I am set to run the particular race that God has for me to run.  I don't want to find myself hobbling along, trying to run the race that He actually designed for my neighbor. I want to find the lane He has for me and faithfully stay in it.  (12:1)
    4.   Run!   The writer of Hebrews said to run with endurance... Not pizzaz.  Just endurance.  And then he tells us how to do this which leads to the next item.
    5.   Focus!   To run my race, day in and day out, I need to keep my eyes focused on Jesus, the One who waits for me at the end of the course, the One who lives to intercede on my behalf, and the One who is the author and finisher of my faith course.
     Finally - and this is the last part of my daily workout plan for 2013 - I want to read through the Bible at my own pace and in a "comfortable" version (The New Living Translation),  specifically looking for and writing down promises that God gives to His children.  Not all the promises in the Bible are meant for everyone. I get that.  And many of the promises in Scripture are conditional. I get that as well.  In fact, I understand that the conditions are very important.
     But this is the deal.  God gives us promises in order to stretch our faith. They are like stations along a life-long marathon race, markers along the way to encourage us and strengthen us.
      To get myself going on this program, I started today actually.  I'm reading in Hebrews right now obviously and so on an index card this is what I wrote down:

Dec. 11, 2013
Hebrews 10:32-36
      A.  Situation:  New believers are going through great difficulty and heartache which is undeserved.
      B.  Conditions they need to meet:  They are to endure patiently and not let the faith muscle they've already built up atrophy. They are to hang onto their joy.
      C.  Promise:  They will be able to continue to do God's will and someday they will receive everything God has told them He will bless them with.
   
    I know not every passage has a promise in it.  But my goal this year is to spend a little time each day reading through the NLT, looking for promises and writing them down. And if I'm only half way through when Jan. 2014 rolls around, that's okay.  My goal is not to finish the Bible but to get out there in my "lane", stretch my faith muscles, and walk/run the race God has for me with endurance while a multitude of Faith-ers cheer me on and my Beloved Savior encourages me from the finish line.

    If you don't have any other spiritual game plan formulated for the new year, I hope you'll join me.
     See you at the finish line!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

My Savior Has My Treasure...

     I wanted to participate in a flash mob "dance" for non-dancers :) at a  Christmas party.  Instead, I found myself walking down the street for a little exercise with a cane in one hand, just "in case", wishing both my knees would quit hurting.  The thought of surgery - any surgery - on any part of my body :) is terrifying to me.  (The thought of going to Africa on a mission trip sounds awesome to me but just walking into a doctor's office  fills me with dread. Not to mention dealing with insurance).  So contemplating problems with not just one knee but with both, is, to say the least, daunting for me. Most days I don't even want to acknowledge it, let alone discuss it.
     Sometimes, honestly, I just  feel super anxious about this whole getting-older thing. Yet I love this time of life and if it weren't for the the fact that my outer man is slowly decaying, I would say this is the best time of my life. Period. I love the fact that I can rock babies in the nursery on Sun. morning and not feel like I have to be in the service soaking up strength to face a tough week. (I miss the pastor's sermons and the music but I have time to listen to podcasts, pray and just sit and soak before Him through the week without feeling hurried.  So I don't come into the morning worship service feeling in desperate need of spiritual triage to get me through a tough work week as I used to do during my last years of teaching.  That in itself is a great thing).
   I love the fact that I don't know where God is going to take me next, that I'm serving in capacities that I never, in my wildest dreams ever anticipated.  Like handing out food at Healing Waters. Even though the volunteers are an unlikely mix, I thoroughly enjoyed  putting pieces of cake on paper plates today while the woman next to me (who just lost her husband in May) sang Christmas music in a beautiful soprano voice.  At one point I looked at her and said, "You must have sung solos for audiences."  She nodded and smiled and kept on singing, kept on putting green beans and pasta on the plates before handing them to me as if this were her main talent - ladling food for the poor.  Later I told her that I thought it was  amazing that she is so recently widowed and yet she can sing and serve. Again, she just smiled and said, "I just have a different life now."   I know I can learn from her and from so many others whom God is bringing into my life at this time.  I'm constantly amazed at how He does that.
   Like standing out in a neighbor's yard last night while Phil, who serves all the time regardless of his schedule, put a battery in our friend's car. Her husband is very sick and may not be able to continue to  take their child to school if the doctors don't figure out what is wrong with him and soon.   And there I was, able to offer to take her child to school or pick him up, if it's ever needed.  Being available to do things like that brings joy to my heart.
   And then there's the icing on the cake - like getting to take my niece to school when we both "need" a McDonald's breakfast to jump start our day.   These are sweet times for me because soon she will be away at college. If I weren't retired, I wouldn't have these opportunities.
   Even putting up Christmas decorations - it used to seem like such a chore.  And  then after it was done, I sometimes couldn't totally enjoy them because  in the back of my mind was the knowledge that what goes up, must come down.  Often, right after Christmas, I would take everything down so that my last week of Christmas break would be as stress free as possible. Last year, however,  I left my decorations up for about a week after Christmas simply because... I could!  :)   Because I wasn't under the gun to squeeze every ounce of relaxation out of my break before getting "back into the saddle again".
   There are so many things about retirement that I absolutely love.
   But there is one thing I fear. And that is being a terrible witness for Christ as I deal with the down side of growing older.  Pain comes. To many it comes early, way too early. I've seen children and teens handle illness with aplomb.  But I'm not sure I can do the same.  Fear of what may come. Fear of how I might let my Savior down dogs my steps some days when both knees hurt and I see others my age going through one surgery after another.
   This is something I don't want to do; I don't want to be a terrible witness.  Yet, I know that even on good days, my witness can be less than stellar... by a long shot...
   I've read that when Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, was terminally ill and people would ask him how he wanted them to pray for him, he would respond the same way every time:  "Please pray that I would not lose my first love for Christ."  What an awesome prayer!
   Selfishly, I would ask as I go further into the growing-older thing (for as long as God allows me to do so), that others would pray that my love for Christ would grow deeper and my faith stronger.  And that I would continue to experience the joy of anticipation, the freedom of following Christ - without undue concern over the natural consequences of aging.  Even just to have the privilege of growing older is a gift and some days I forget that.
   Many years ago, when I was in my twenties, I memorized the words to a song, In Heavenly Love Abiding, and  one stanza spoke volumes to me then and still does now, still resides in my memory after all these years.
   "Green pastures are before me which yet I have not seen
    Bright skies will soon be o'er me where the dark clouds have been.
    My hope I cannot measure/ my path to life is free,
    My Savior has my treasure and He will walk with me."
   

 
 
 

Friday, December 7, 2012

A True American???

     Sometimes I get tired of convoluted thinking.  My own and also others.
     I recently heard  someone giving the pros and cons of increasing taxes on the rich. The speaker said that some believe the rich work hard to build up their businesses and so they deserve to invest their profits in whatever way they see fit without being heavily taxed.  On the other hand, some people believe that a true American would want to share their wealth with the poor.
    A true American....
     I looked for that concept in the Declaration of  Independence, in the Constitution  and in the Bill of Rights but if the definition "A true American = someone who gives their  wealth to the poor"  was in those documents, I missed it.
     I'm sorry I did. Even more to the point, had I known this 30 years ago, it would have come in handy.  Coming from a single parent family, living on food stamps, ensconced in a single-wide mobile home, I think we might have qualified for "poor".   At the time, however,  I didn't realize the rich owed me anything.  I grew up hearing that America was a land of opportunity and when the opportunity came to work my way through college, I didn't know any better so I  took it. As soon as my brother and I got through working our way through school, we both went to work and started supporting our mother so she wouldn't need food stamps.  When her health improved enough that she could work, she became a substitute teacher in Pulaski county. Her job was just a tad difficult... but she kept at it and worked for 10 years in spite of a chronic heart condition.
     Which leads me to another definition that I have been pondering: what is "poor"?
     We have worked with the "less fortunate" off and on throughout our married life and we've always received a blessing in one way or another for doing so.  But if you've ever worked or visited a Salvation Army place or even become involved with a needy family in your area, you'll find that they don't all fall at your feet and express gratitude. Many are grateful but some are, quite frankly, demanding.  Whiny... Even unpleasant and rude.
Haiti

    Also, over the years as we've participated in various ministries, I've noticed that a gathering of "poor people" in America looks somewhat different from say, a gathering of poor people in Africa or Asia... Quite a bit different actually.  For one thing, the majority of the  poverty stricken individuals I've seen here (and granted - my experience is very limited) don't have that emaciated look that you find in Uganda. For another, I have the impression that if you give food, any food, to a needy person in India, they don't throw it away... They eat it.  We've given food to poor kids in our area and seen them toss it because it wasn't sweet enough. We've bought new shoes for kids in our neighborhood and seen them destroy them, literally, because they weren't exactly what they wanted.
    Frankly, to many Americans, Phil and I would be lower middle class at best and to some we would be upper lower class, whatever that means. Put simply, I know that most (if not all) of our friends have more property, more possessions and more wealth on hand than we do.  In many cases, a lot more than we do.  So by American standards, some would consider us poor.
    Yet we own our house (small though it is), three cars (which mostly run:), two computers, two televisions (which I consider to be one too many), three cell phones and a land line, a ton of books, a ton of tools, central heating and air, 4 dogs (3 too many..), hot and cold running water, a membership at Sam's, a washer and a dryer,  and have more food in our pantry and our fridge right now than most third world families would see in a week if not a month.
        My point is this:   we have given to the poor and will continue to do so. Not because we are rich.  And not because it is in the constitution. And not even  because the poor are always pleasant (and/or deserving).
     We give because the Bible enjoins us to give.
      II Cor. 8:1-5 puts it this way:
      And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.
      And the reason for giving?
     9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
     There are many passages in Scripture that require us to consider not just our own needs but also the needs of others, to give not just of our possessions but also of ourselves - our time and our energy.  (See the book of James for example...)
     And the reason is always the same -
     We give because He gives...
     We love because He loves...
    So I don't think there is anything that says a "true American" who is wealthy has to give their wealth to the poor. But I don't see any way a true Christian cannot share what they have, be it a lot or even a little, with others in need.
    So,  going back to where I started this blog - I would have to say that even though I might be considered "poor" by some, I'm not for continually upping the ante on the rich via capital gains taxes.
     I am, quite simply, for the way of Christ.  Love  that overflows, not out of our wealth but out of His and generates a smile, not always from the poor, but always from Him.
      

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Taking the Turns Right Along With Me...


       Phil and I like the movie, Driving Miss Daisy.  In one scene, Miss Daisy and the Chauffeur are on a trip and they get lost.  She gets upset and blames the driver. He responds with something like, "Why, Miss Daisy... You took the turns right along with me!"
      After over a quarter of a century of marriage, Phil and I sometimes look at each other and say, "Thanks for taking the turns right along with me..."
     I really am grateful that God has given Phil to me and allowed us to take a lot of "corners" together.  Sometimes we knew exactly what we were doing; probably most of the time we didn't. If we co-authored a marriage manual, it would probably be titled, "Marriage: Flying by the Seat of Your Pants," or "Marriage: What Not to Do."
     When we married I was several dress sizes smaller than I am now.  I can remember shortly after we exchanged vows, standing on his feet -one of my feet on top of one of his - while he danced me around the room.  Now, if we tried that, he wouldn't have any arches left.
     I loved dresses and sandals and jewelry 26 years ago.  It's been a while since problems with my feet led to wearing jogging shoes year round which lead to wearing slacks year round which cut down on my desire for jewelry as sparkly things don't go with combat looking jogging shoes and perpetual slacks.
    When we married, we loved to walk and/or jog through the neighborhood. I remember during our first years of marriage, when we came home from Sunday night service, Phil would let our dog, Rascal, out of the house and then start running around the house with Rascal hot on his heels. The thing about Rascal was that he lacked common sense.  So Phil would put distance between himself and this idiotic dog until there was enough lag time between them. And then, when Rascal was just around the corner and out of Phil's sight, my husband would jump on the front porch, flatten himself against the side of the house and stay there, silently watching Rascal looping the house: once, twice, and sometimes three times before he'd realize that something wasn't right.
     At first this game worried me.  What would the neighbors, especially  the retired couple next door, think?  When I couldn't talk Phil into quitting this Sunday night routine, one evening I threw up my hands and  joined him!  So there we were, after the evening service, all three of us looping around the house, two of us trying to outwit the third who happened to be a dog.
    Now when we come home on Sunday morning, Phil carries my Bible bag for me and when we go walking down the street for exercise, I carry a cane sometimes - mostly for discouraging stray dogs from following after us but not completely.  He's always been more than willing to carry my book bag into and out of church but my bright pink bags or the ones with floral designs were a little off-putting to him.  So I got a  hefty, tweed-looking book bag from Barnes and Nobles and for the most part, he's satisfied with that, feels his manly image is untarnished... :)  Twenty-six years ago, I never envisioned him having to carry my book bag to church or me walking with a cane because the weather is changing and my knee is, as my grandmother would say, "telling me a story."
     Sometimes I look in the mirror and would love to have that thirty-something, younger person staring back at me once again.  At those times, I often turn to Phil and thank him for taking the turns right along with me.  He usually responds by saying the same thing back to me.  Thank you for taking the turns right along with me.
     This weekend, to my surprise he responded a little differently.  Instead of the usual Miss Daisy quote, he said, "Cathy, I couldn't imagine being married to anyone who loved the Lord less than you do..."
     Twenty-six years ago, we were an unlikely pair and maybe some (like my mother...:) didn't think we'd make it.  But we knew God had brought us together and that has made all the difference in the world.


      And, yes, I love my husband.

Monday, December 3, 2012

When Sandwiches Seem Human...Sort of...

     Today I was putting two oval shaped pickles on a slice of white bread - the first step towards making a turkey sandwich, when it struck me that the pickles on bread with a streak of mustard underneath sort of (only sort of, mind you) looked like a face.  Maybe not a happy face but still, a face.
     And that about sums up my morning... :)
     The weirdness actually started yesterday.   Last night I was looking for my study Bible under the front car seats.    (And as I re-read that sentence, I realize that's a bit strange in and of itself).    Then I realized I didn't carry it to church yesterday morning; I carried a different Bible.  So I looked through the house once again but no luck.  Then this morning, still no study Bible.  How can you lose a study Bible???  It's so heavy Phil usually carries it into church for me and I think I may have heard a sotto voice comment or two about getting a backpack on wheels or something of that nature... I mean, we're not talking a pocket New Testament here.
     So I went on to church where I do volunteer work for a couple of hours on Mondays.  This morning the new scanner thing that I use  - well, it wouldn't work.  I used all my persuasive charm but the scanner resisted to the bitter end and I had to drag out the old R2D2 model and use it.  I got so frustrated that at one point, I'm talking to the "new" scanner as in, "Give me a break!  Come on!  All I need is for you to work two measly hours!  Is that asking too much?"  So I'm talking to a scanner right there in the church office, willing the recalcitrant thing to start beeping!!!  And then, belatedly, I look over my shoulder to see if any of the staff heard me...  Ha!  I'll know, I guess, if there is a special prayer meeting called in my honor...
    Anyway, after fruitlessly hunting for my study Bible and then talking trash to the church scanner, I went to Subway and as soon as I walked in the door, I found myself at the end of a long  line.  Subway is never that busy!  But it was today...So I turned right around and eventually meandered my way home where suddenly I found myself looking at my sandwich-in-the-making thinking, "Am I turning into Salvador Dali or does that slice of bread-with-pickles really (sort of) look like a face?"
    Honestly, if there is a moral to this story, I wouldn't know what it is.
    Only that there are just some days that are weird and this is one of them.
    And on those days, laughter is not a choice - it is a necessity...:)

 
   
 
 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Good Night, Olive Oil!!!

 




 I love Christmas.  I am un-apologetically in favor of decorations, lights, trees, Christmas carols,  the whole works.
      I  love my Amaryllis plants.  I feel compelled to rescue them from the indignity of the boxes where they start to bloom and then are stunted.  The only place in our house where they can get enough sunlight is on the kitchen counter top and usually by the time they get to our home, they are in sad shape. So my long-suffering husband sets up Amaryllis triage by putting a fluorescent lamp on the counter, providing 24 hour critical light care for our orphan plants.  Although  he occasionally grumbles about how our kitchen is becoming a jungle,  I don't mind!  (He told me tonight he loves the moths that hatch out of them and the little yellow spit that they drop all over everything???? Have no clue...)  At any rate, I know he doesn't mean it when he stands in front of the plants and imitates a Macaw...  Not much, anyway:)  Even more to the point,  I know that when our little "jungle"  suddenly blossoms, he will be as amazed at how fast the plants grew and as awed by their unique beauty as I always am.  (He just hides his unbridled enthusiasm better than I do...;)
Phil and I when it's time to decorate the tree... Guess which one I am...
     Then there is the tree.  Today I got my Hallmark decoration for this year - our tree will never, ever win "Best Tree of the Year" award nor will high fashion magazines ever be beating down our door to take pics of our identity-stricken tree.  But I love it!  Ornaments from my mom, from my college years, and all throughout 26 years of marriage.  Eclectic is good!!  Early attic decorations suit me just fine!!  Whether they all match or not - whether I place them on the tree and then realize belatedly that there are inadvertent issues, like  Tigger appears to be reaching for Olive Oil's posterior (fixed that little snafu...)  I still love my tree. It holds literally 58 years of memories and no designer fake pine can match that:)
 
 
     These are just a microcosm of the memories our tree holds:
     Olive Oil, who has safely moved away from the rambunctious Tigger, calls forth a 54 year-old memory of me, lying in bed, waiting for Grandpa to yell, "Good night, Olive Oil!"  Then and only then would I  holler, "Good night, Popeye!" and snuggle in to sleep.  His last words to my mom were, "Tell Olive Oil I love her."  I didn't need to hear the words, I'd already gotten the message loud and clear from the four years of love that he lavished on me.  He was Popeye the Sailor Man, my protector from the things that go bump in the night. I was the Most Beautiful Woman in the World.  (Only I couldn't paint my toe nails in one fell swoop like she could...)  When I get to Heaven, oddly enough, I hope the first thing I hear is "Good Morning, Olive Oil!"
     Thomas the Tank was David's hero when he was four and so the phrase  "You've been a useful engine today!" became a sort of family saying around here and still is... One of those inside jokes that I think he'll remember decades from now just as I remember yelling, "Good night, Popeye!"  When I see that ornament, I remember his little kid face, eyes shining, as we hung Thomas where he could see it without standing on tip-toe.
     The cheap little wooden snowflake, painted white, is always in a prominent place on our tree.  Someone in my Lamaze class painted "David" on it and gave it to me for his first Christmas.  Monetarily, it's probably worth all of 50 cents but how can you put a price on something like that?  When I see it, I remember how he  fit in the crook of my arm that first Christmas and I wonder where the years have gone.
      I'm sure you get the picture...
      If you don't, feel free to come to our house. I'll give a guided tree tour of our family history, complete with hot chocolate and  popcorn.
   


     I guess I'm saying, it doesn't matter if everything matches or not; enjoy what you have while you have it and for every decoration you hang, for every carol you sing, for every plant you raise (or try to raise...:) slow down and know that a memory is being made, a seed is being planted, a little bit of love is being sown.