Friday, February 25, 2011

Habits of a lifetime

I still find myself carefully filing copies of my handouts and also saving files to my computer at school. Today, as I was making sure I had a "clean" (i.e., unmarked) copy of a handout for next year, I suddenly thought, "Wait a minute... um... it's not like I'm going to be here next year..." Yet I still put the handout in a folder. It's sort of bizarre... like I typed my resignation letter and turned it in a couple of weeks ago but somehow part of my brain has yet to inform the other part...
I did go through my computer  the other day, with wild abandon, and delete about 40,000 files for American History, thinking, "I'll never have to teach that class again!!!"  But as soon as I hit the last delete button, I broke out into a momentary sweat...thinking: what am I doing?
I don't have any trouble thinking  "This is the last time I have to do this type of duty..."  (Trust me on that one...)  Or "This will be the last time I have to give this midterm exam and grade it.." But other habits seem to die hard.
For example:
I don't know if I will ever be able to eat lunch s...l...o....w....l...y.  Thirty years of 30 minute lunches (on days when you don't have to do duty, that is) sort of creates an in-grained habit.
And I don't know if I'll ever be able to pass cars on a parking lot without automatically scanning for prohibited behavior such as smoking, talking on cell phones and other things.  (I'm really, really good at this!!! Just ask one of the construction workers at our school ...)
I don't know if I'll be able to retrain my mind to think in increments of time that aren't 90 minutes long or if I'll be able to refrain from saying, "Get out your notebooks!" every time I hear a bell ring.
And I don't know if I'll be able to adjust to the fact that I can go to the restroom whenever I want on a weekday.
Or, for that matter, that I can blow my nose without having 27 pairs of eyes watching... (Will withdrawal symptoms force me to head to the nearest crowded mall with a tissue box in my hand... just so that things will feel more "normal" when I have sinus trouble?)
And I don't know if I can break myself of saying things like "Dude!" and "Busted!!!" when walking with the geriatric set at the community center for exercise...
There are a lot of unknowns as I head into this new phase of life, some a lot less lighthearted than the ones listed above.  I'll miss my co-workers and the inside jokes that abound within the system. I'll miss seeing the world through the eyes of teen-agers. And I suspect I'll miss the sense of purpose that comes from having a job to do, routine things to accomplish.
On the other hand, I'm so looking forward to retirement and am even confident that by the end of the year... all the file folders (both cyber and manila) will be totally gone, my closet will be cleaned out, and I'll already be making adjustments to my new life.
The writer of Ecclesiastes said that there is a time for everything.  Bill Bright said that God has a plan for our lives.  I believe both are true and that minimizes a lot of the "what if's" as I move forward.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Tour of the House that Was...

      When we left for work Wed. morning, there was a house next door. When we came home - there wasn't.  The entire lot had been swept clean - no fence, no Crepe Myrtle tree, no rose bush, no shed, no storage building, no carport - no house. Just wide open space, a cracked concrete drive leading no where and fresh dirt brought in to make the yard even with the drive.
     But the memories were still there; both good and bad.  And certainly, there was no lack of either.  For the first 15 years of our marriage, a retired preacher, Cecil, lived there with his second wife, Thelma.  After we had our son, Cecil became "Pap-aw" and Thelma became "Granny" and they certainly lived up to their names!
     As I think about them, memories speed by.  Coming home from the hospital with our newborn son  and going straight to their house so that Thelma and Cecil could see him.  It was the first of many visits our child would make over there.  In fact, it was in their living room that David took his first steps. And it was there that he learned to wrestle with Pap-aw. Cecil had heart disease and diabetes and couldn't get down on the floor so he would pull David into his recliner and that's where they would "arm-wrastle".  It was a toss-up as to who enjoyed it the most.
    Thelma was a fanatic about cleanliness.  When David was still just an infant, she decided their old carpet had to go. I told her the carpet they had was just fine for when David started crawling; she insisted that the decision to get new flooring had nothing to do with the baby but we all knew that wasn't true.
    She also cooked for us.  Sometimes I would come home worn out and she would greet me with the words, "Come on over! I've got something for you!"  The "something" would turn out to be an entire meal cooked from scratch.  David grew up loving her homemade sweet pickles and her PBJ sandwiches - which he begged her to teach me how to "cook"...:( 
    But I guess the main memory I have is of going over about 8 in the evening to say "good-night". By this time, Cecil had moved to Heaven and Thelma was alone. So every day after school, DAvid and I would go over to check on Thelma and almost every evening, we would go over to give her a good-night hug.  As we approached the house, I would see her through the window. She would almost always be sitting in her recliner,  large print Bible open on her lap, reading.  She had had to drop out of school after the third grade in order to  work in the cotton fields so reading was tough work for her.  Yet every night, before retiring, she would move her finger across the printed page while her lips silently "sounded out" the words. I read all the time but never with the discipline and devotion that she applied to the task.  
     All things come to an end.   In  2001 she had to sell the house so that she could move closer to her daughter and to this day, I still miss her. 
     In the summer of 2001, a middle-aged man and his 19-year-old daughter moved next door. She was expecting her first child and about to be married, a really beautiful girl who was excited about the changes in her life.  She had her son in January and by May, she had abandoned her husband and her baby in order to run off with a drug-dealer.
   From the summer of 2002 until Feb. 2010, this girl cycled in and out of her father's house and we soon learned to dread her appearance next door and I'm not kidding. She never came alone and she never came without first wearing out her welcome elsewhere.  I can't ever remember a time when she or her current boyfriend weren't wanted by the police. And somehow, though it seemed impossible, she always managed to find a worse boyfriend than the one before.
   Now, the house next door was characterized by traffic coming and going  24/7, by police raids, by violence, and eventually by prostitution as the daughter descended deeper and deeper into drug use and eventually had to ply the streets of our area in order to pay for her "highs".  Over the years, the utilities were constantly being turned on and off and during the times when they were off, we were routinely asked for water, for the use of our phone, and even for electricity -during one bitterly cold snap my husband ran an extension cord over to their house so that they could run an electric heater.  Eventually, whenever I went to Sam's Club, I bought some extra food and water for them.  What else could we do?  I couldn't see them starve and Phil couldn't see them freeze so there we were.
   And then there were the times when father and daughter would abandon the place temporarily and the girl's "friends-turned-enemies" would break into the house and as the dad would later lament "clean him out".  Phil and I lost track of the times the door was kicked in one summer. The dad would come by long enough to assess the damage and put the door back up but nothing stopped the thieves from coming, even when it seemed there couldn't be anything left to steal.  Finally, when they pulled the copper tubing out of the place, they were done and the dad moved back in with his daughter not too far behind him.
    And then there was the trash.  A yard that hadn't been mowed  in forever - grass knee high.  Broken furniture, dishes, debris spilling out of the back door into the backyard.  Unbelievable.
    And then a year ago in Feb., we came home to find about 10 emergency vehicles blocking our road while various agencies were mopping up a sting operation.  They netted three meth labs and one homemade bomb. The daughter had just been released from  prison a few weeks before all this came down.  Where she went after the drug bust, we have no idea.  We just know that we were so grateful that A) our house didn't get blown up. (The police said the house contained enough combustible materials to blow up our entire street) and B) that the city took over the property.
    When it was put on a list of condemned houses and slated to be torn down, we felt nothing but relief. Then the construction workers came out this past Saturday to gather whatever salvageable material they could before beginning the demolition.  There wasn't much to salvage - basically the siding and the  carport roof and that was it. But to us, it was a signal that the beginning of the end of an era was finally here.
     Once we knew it would be a matter of mere days before the house disappeared, we both had mixed feelings about wanting to go inside it one more time. It had been years since we'd walked in the living room and somehow, I kept seeing David taking his first steps from the coffee table to the couch.  The construction people had said we could go in - that they had already been through the house and didn't want anything in it -  but we weren't sure if it was the right thing to do or not.  When it was still standing Tuesday evening, we decided we'd try it.
     All I can say is that Thomas Wolfe was  right..  you can't go home again.  Once inside, even though we thought we knew  what to expect, we really didn't.  We expected trash everywhere but hoped some remnant of Cecil and Thelma would somehow remain.  What we encountered was the complete physical and moral wreckage of what could scarcely be called  human lives. We didn't linger.
      There were however, two things that caught our attention. The first were plastic looms that had belonged to Cecil.  He had ordered them through the mail and used them to make place mats.  Unbelievably enough, after all these years, they were still hanging on the wall where he always kept them. I still have the place mats he made for us and now I have the looms as well. They probably cost about 20.00 all told and I may never figure out how to use them., but inexplicably, I'm glad to have them.
    The only other object that  stood out was an old photo album.  It had pictures of a little red-headed girl, first as an infant, then as a toddler,  then as an elementary student, and finally as an adolescent.  It was clearly the  girl next door, taking milk from a bottle, holding a fishing pole with a fish dangling from it, playing on a swing, and then  looking like she was decked out for her first prom. I thought her dad might want it - although the chances are remote that we'll ever see him again.
    I don't know how things can go so wrong.  Sometimes as a teacher, when I think of the wasted life that once lived beside us, I just want to shake students who joke about drug usage. Even more to the point, I want to bring them over here and take them on a tour of the house that was. Or show them a slideshow of a red-headed baby morphing over the years into a burned-out shell of a person before the age of thirty.
   But I can't. Right now, all I can say is that surely all drug dealers smell of fire and brimstone.
   Obviously,  the razing of the house next door has evoked some powerful memories - memories that have never been far from my mind this entire week.  Like taking a mental tour of Heaven and then of Hell.   I don't want to forget the love, laughter and blessings that flowed from Thelma and Cecil.  
    And I don't think I can forget the girl who lived next door and the mess that became her life. I don't think I have that luxury.



Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Still Valentines..:)

Before I start this "real life" expose of Valentine's 2011, let me say that my husband is giving me the best Valentine's, Christmas, birthday, and any other gift that anyone could ever hope to receive.  Although it may stress us financially, he is encouraging me to retire early.  Why?  So that I can concentrate on writing and on volunteer work and, yes, just be lazy if I so desire while he continues to work at a job that he's not always crazy about.
So why am I writing about our less-than-stellar Valentine's day?  Ummmm. Not sure.  Except that it makes a funny story.. now. And maybe Reality Blogs  could catch on the way Reality T. V.  has???  Actually, as always, I have a point to make and that is: being a Valentine is not about heart-shaped candies and long-stemmed roses.
It's about bats...
Wait, jumped the gun there a bit...
First, you need to know that I'm pushing 57 and Phil is pushing 58 and we've been married (happily:) for 24 years.  (That may change after he reads this blog!)  As I get older, I dither more. So I bought him two Valentine cards a couple of weeks ago because I couldn't make up my mind which one to get. And then I tucked them away where he couldn't find them.. and I couldn't either.
Sunday afternoon, he came in with a heart-shaped box of candy - my favorite brand - and a card with no envelope.
I looked at the card and said, "Was it the last one in the store?"
He smiled sheepishly, "Well, the last clean card in the store... The others weren't, uh, suitable. And, uh, I couldn't find an envelope for this one. There weren't any left."
The card was a pretty shade of purple with embossed lettering and a flowery poem.  But several words on the front and on the inside were marked out with red ink.  PHil doesn't believe in luck and this card repeatedly talked about how lucky it was that he had me in his life... or words to that effect.  So my sweet husband had taken a red ink pen and marked out every reference to luck and substituted "blessed". The only problem was, I had trouble reading the red ink on the purple background. I made a mental note to get my eyes checked...
Then he suggested that we go out to a nice restaurant the next day since that was actually Feb. 14 and that's what we did. We had a great meal after work, very relaxing,  everything was good.
At home everything continued to be fine until Phil remembered he had a  dental appointment in the morning.  Which reminded him  that we had spent about a thousand dollars on one tooth already, which he still ended up losing...  And now he was having  to go in for a crown on a different tooth which would  cost who-knows-how much  which led to the gloomy  prediction that  if things kept going the way they  were, he would be  gumming his food before long..
Meanwhile, I'm surfing Face Book and looking at all the pics of flowers on that page and reading statuses like, "My Valentine and I are watching a movie together.."  and I'm thinking, "My Valentine and I are contemplating  a big dental bill and a possibly toothless old age together...Ha!"
Then I remember that I needed to  deposit a check.. which I had been forgetting... along with my beloved's Valentine cards... Okay:  someday Phil will have no teeth and I'll have no short-term memory.
Phil is off on Tuesdays so I thought he could take the check to the bank the next morning. But he's agitated, restless, not looking forward to the dentist  in the a.m. so he figures he might as well take it right then. I'm thinking: it's already 8:30 p.m. and our bank is a 20 minute drive from here... REally???
After he leaves, I sit down and write a letter letting my school district know that I'm planning to retire at the end of the year. Everyone knows it already but somehow, now it's official.
That done,  I take a shower.  When I come out, I hear my much-loved sister-in-law leaving a somewhat frantic voice mail.  She's normally very calm with a can-do approach to life but now I hear her pleading, "Please pick up!!  I need some help!!!! Hellooo...!  Helloooo...!"  I run into the kitchen and grab the phone just as the connection is broken. I quickly return the call and hear, " Thank goodness! I need some help! Charity and I are shut up in her bedroom because there's a bat flying around downstairs and we're afraid to go down there!! Could Phil come up and get the bat, please!!!"
I assured  her that he could, that I would call him  on his cell immediately, which I did.
Looking back, I can see that I didn't start the conversation off well.  What I should have said was: Linda has a bat in her house...
What I actually said was:  "Phil... your sister is almost in hysterics!!! She's really in trouble!!! You've got to help her!!!"
Then I hear:  "What?????  What's going on???"
And then.... "What the!!!!!!."
And then.... "Oh no!!! ...I just backed the truck into a wall!!!!!"
Now it's my turn:  "You did what?  You hit a wall???"
His response:  "YESSSSS... I HIT A WALL !!!   Agghhh!!!  I'll call you later!!!!"
End of conversation.
The first thought that goes through my mind?  This is so not good...
Then I yell  for our college-age son, whose been having headaches,  a sore throat, and a little dizziness over the past 2 days.
"DAvid!!!  Dad just backed the truck into a wall and your aunt has a bat flying around downstairs!!!"
He comes into the room, smiles at me, then does a double-take as my words register.   "What?? Dad backed the truck into a wall????"
"Yessssss!!!!  He-backed-the-truck-into-a-wall!!! And I don't know how much damage was done!  And LInda and Charity are barricaded upstairs and they can't stay there forever so you have to go kill the bat!!!"
He looks at me for a minute, his face carefully neutral.
Then he goes, puts his shoes on and grabs his car keys.
As he's headed out  the door, I yell:  "David!"
He turns around.
"It's really turning into a whacked-out night around here. so... don't get bitten by the bat, okay?"
He frowns and says, "Mom...I'm NOT going to get bitten by a bat!!"
So I wait and send up some arrow prayers and look at my retirement letter and wonder if all this is some sort of weird omen.
Forty minutes later, both my guys come in, totally animated by the Great Bat Hunt of Mabel-dale..
Somehow, they found the miscreant, got him in a curtain, carried him outside and watched him fly off into the night air.  Fist pump!!
I go back to looking at Face Book statuses  about various Valentine activities, thinking, No one's going to believe mine...
I once read that Socrates used to go out and encourage his students to find the meanest, sharpest-tongued woman they could find and then marry her. Because if they could live with a woman like that, they were truly men!!
I'm not going to encourage you to roll your truck into the ATM wall at the bank (both were okay by the way) and/or go bat hunting as a way to celebrate Valentines Day.  But I will  say that if you can  survive things like that and still laugh and love, you are true Valentines.  Because love is not about candy and flowers, it's about hanging in there and keeping a sense of humor when everything goes .. well.. batty... around you.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Extreme Morning Duty...

     I met a wonderful lady several years ago through her autobiography, To a Different Drum. Reading between the lines, I would say that Pauline Hamilton was brilliant, funny, independent, and a neat Christ-follower.
From a life of rebellion which involved drugs, alcohol, expulsion from med school, depression and thoughts of suicide, she became first a believer and then an accomplished college professor... and then a missionary to post-WWII China...
     Where she found herself teaching children of missionary parents.  Which was not what she intended to do.  Many of her colleagues thought she was crazy to give up her status as a college prof.  She could have transferred to a sister-college in China and continued there as a professor but she was sure that God was telling her to go simply as a missionary.  Why? Because He wanted her to go in humble dependence upon Him and not in her own strength and ability.
     She struggled with language school and was brought to the breaking point more than once as people would comment, "You have a PhD.  This should be easy for you!"  She tried to explain that science, not linguistics, was her forte.  After a year of sweating through to some fluency in Chinese, the OMF directors asked her, somewhat apologetically, if she would teach science at the boarding school for children of missionary parents.
      Okay. First, she'd never taught young children or been around them.  Second, she knew she was being called to reach out to the Chinese. To put language school on hold indefinitely might cause her to lose what little proficiency in the language she had painstakingly gained.  Third, the job would require her  to teach all levels of science from elementary to high school... with no textbooks and only one microscope (her own) for lab equipment.
      To add to that, since this was a boarding school and many of the children were literally thousands of miles away from their parents, teachers had assigned periods of morning duty and/or evening duty.  Okay. As a teacher, I understand morning duty:  you walk around the parking lot for 10 minutes, telling recalcitrant teen-agers to put away their cell phones, disengage from their significant others, and exit their cars...
       Her morning duty,however,  consisted of getting the kids ready for breakfast - helping them get dressed, braiding hair, etc. Night duty was more of the same only in reverse: getting kids ready for bed which included scrubbing the backs of the little ones, a duty she did not enjoy.
       In fact, none of it was palatable to her and she made a lot of mistakes.  She desperately wanted to do some lab work with the kids; finally decided that she could at least dissect a frog for them.  Only the kids, as enthusiastic about this assignment as they were, couldn't catch any frogs. Then she heard a bunch of the little green fellows croaking on the other side of a fence, went next door to ask if she could have one to dissect... only to find that was the wrong thing to do!  It seems next door was a Buddhist Temple and the frogs were sacred, believed to be the reincarnation of human beings.  Needless to say, she left quickly, without a frog and without a return invitation!This whole incident fell into the category of Things the Mission Directors Don't Need to Know:)
        She was only supposed to work at the school for a short time but more than once, the director had to call her in and apologetically say, "We still don't have anyone else to teach science. Would you consider staying on til Christmas?... til Easter? .... til summer?" Each time she said "yes" but it was hard.
        She hit a low point and, at the same time, received a letter from her mom, suggesting that she use the upcoming holiday to come home to the States for a visit.  Pauline knew that if she went, she would not return to China.    Just as she was about to write the letter, accepting the invitation, she saw the verse, No man who has set his hand to the plow and turned back is worthy to be my disciple.  She said that she knew she could insist on having her own way and that God would let her quit OMF. But that she would also receive leanness in her soul and she didn't want that. So she wrote a letter declining her mother's invitation.
      A short time later, another OMF worker came to her and said, "We've gotten a cable."  For three days, Pauline had tried to pray for her mom, as was her habit, but she simply  couldn't. This had bothered her a lot.   As soon as she heard the word "cable", she knew why she had been unable to pray for her mom: she knew her mom had died.
     She went through sleepless nights as the enemy tormented her with thoughts such as:  if only you had gone home when your mom asked you to come...
      Then one night, as she was putting a little girl to bed, the child reached up, grabbed her hand and said, "Miss Hammie, we are twins.  We are both short and fat and we both have mommies in Heaven".
       Children have a way of making us laugh and making us cry.  But they also have a way of getting to the heart of things.  Needless to say, when she left the school, she missed her kids. She was also  able to say that her time at the school had been "the making" of her as a missionary - that there are "no wasted lessons in the Lord's school!"  Finally, when she resumed her language lessons, she found to her delight that she had not regressed and was able to go on to the next level of classes.  She put it this way "As God is no man's debtor, I have found that He always makes up to us for all we ever give to him."  p. 105.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sometimes the Headline is ... Wrong...

Yesterday's newspaper had this headline: Mubarak won't go!  By the time it was delivered to my paper box, he was already gone.
Sometimes I think I have my own internal newspaper and I forget that the headlines flashing across my mind may also be wrong.
With newspapers it seems like the worse the story, the more coverage it gets.  The same is true with my internal reporting system.  Storms like Katrina are always big news  and again, I would have to say the same for my own "newspaper": personal storms get "wallpaper" coverage.
For instance:  if a friend or loved one  goes down the "wrong path" or even worse, gets totally sucked into the Dark Side of life, I'm suddenly being whipped around by gale-force winds and my internal press is cranking out pessimistic headlines like crazy.
And there I am, standing on the sidelines, helplessly wringing my hands.
Well, that's not right either.  Usually I'm sucked  into the vortex along with them.  By that I mean that in trying to reach out to them, I'm drawn into the periphery of their bad choices. Simply put - their pleasure becomes my pain. And while  I know their pleasure is temporary, I'm pretty sure my pain is permanent!
And somewhere in all of that is usually a screamer of a headline saying, "Everything is going down the tubes!!!  Attention: All Hands below deck to  assume the fetal position!!  The Dark Side has won and Things Will Never be Right Again!!!"
Ten years ago, as I was unwittingly heading into a storm that was not of my own making (as opposed to most of the storms I've weathered), I asked God to choose a passage for me to meditate on. I felt like I was being generous - sort of holding up the whole Bible to Him and saying, "You choose.  I'd like to memorize some verses but I want You to choose."
I had no idea what, if anything, would happen.
Immediately Psalms 37 flashed across my mind.  I didn't think that could be from Him because I felt sure God would lead me to some lofty, well-known passage like Romans 8 or John 10.  So, maybe the idea of Psalms 37 just originated with me. Maybe He didn't answer. How could I be sure?
I'll tell you how I could be sure.  Shortly after that, an emotional Katrina hit our family and I didn't have to wonder anymore - Psalms 37 became my "home" for the next several years.  As nastiness swirled all about - and sadly also within me - I repeatedly took refuge in the advice of the Psalmist:
1.  Keep doing what you know you should be doing - dwell in the land, do good, and feed on His faithfulness.
2.   Instead of focusing on the storm, focus on Me - Delight yourself in the Lord...
3.  Sit next to Me and be still   - Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him...
4.  Because the alternative is not so pleasant - fret not yourself...cease from anger and forsake wrath; it leads only to evil doing.
To the extent that I let those words take root in my heart, I was helped - tremendously at times;half-heartedly at others when I chose  fretting and venting over holding steady, resting and waiting.
During those years of trouble, God also gave me a song - which is funny because He knows I can't sing :)
Both the Psalm and the song proved, in the final analysis, to be true.
The overall message of Psalms 37:  God will triumph over evil.
The song? God will make a way, when there seems to be no way...
Thankfully, His headlines proved to be accurate and mine... didn't.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sometimes I wonder...

I just read about a blogger who spent a week in an Egyptian prison for participating in the protests there.  For blogging?  Really????   Since I'm a blogger, it made me think.  A lot.  The main thing I got from his description of Egypt's prison system is... you don't want to go there..
In spite of the threat of prison and death, there is a grassroots movement sweeping through North Africa and the Middle East - or maybe more like a grassroots fire spreading out of control and no one knows where it will go next.
So far, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen have been seared by the demand for freedom and the end to brutality.  Even the people of the Gaza Strip have an anonymous Face Book page asking for the end of their terrorist government.  Amazing!  Knowing what little I know about Hamas, I'm sayin' that even having a FB page calling for freedom takes guts!
Let's rewind for a minute.  In 1979, Iran's people turned out in mass, demanding an end to the brutality of their king, the Shah of Iran.  Many wanted some type of democracy.  What they got was something else - an extremist Islamic dictatorship which made the Shah's cruelty look like a beginner's class in Torture 101. Thirty years of it, in fact.
Then, in 2009, their young people couldn't take it anymore.
Ever felt like you've reached the end of your rope? Like you just couldn't take it anymore?
Ever go to prison for feeling like that?
Well, the young  people in Iran did.  Desperate for freedom, they busted loose, poured into the streets, raised their voices in protest... and died....Arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and executed.  All because they wanted freedom. And yet, nothing changed.
Will they ever get the freedom they deserve?  I devoutly hope so.
Yet I have to say - some already have it.
It seems that many Muslims are turning to Christ, not only in Iran but across the Middle East.  So, who is witnessing to them?  Apparently Christ Himself is appearing to many of them in dreams and visions. An unknown number have responded to these visions and  have found the freedom Christ promises, even in the midst of great suffering. (John 8:31,32,36)
Sometimes I wonder: why do we not have widespread dreams like this sweeping across the West?
Is it because we don't need any more revelation, because we are already basking in the freedom that Christ gives?
Or is it because we don't want freedom at the cost of our own lives?  (Luke 9:23, 24).
Sometimes I wonder...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

One thing you can't do...

I read a book about 7 years ago called One Thing You Can't Do in Heaven.   The title caught my attention because I guess I had always assumed that you could do whatever you wanted in Heaven... well, aside from the things that your Mom wouldn't want you to do there, I not clean your plate or hit your brother.
But actually there are a lot of things that you can do here but you can't There....
You can't doubt the goodness of God...
You can't walk by will all be by sight.
You can't hate your brother...or carry a grudge.
You can't lie, steal, or cheat.
Or watch your stuff rust, decay, and/or be stolen.
You can't be poor or lonely or in the dark.
You can't experience pain, sorrow, or sickness.
(As E. V. Hill used to tell his congregation: if we don't get some sufferin' time  in down here, when are we going to do it?)
And I'm guessing that you can't get rid of the joy, joy, joy.. down in your heart as you hobnob with real angels (as opposed to snow angels) and bask in the light of the Lamb.
But none of this was the subject of Mark Cahill's book.
Simply put, he was saying that in Heaven we can't introduce Jesus to people who don't know Him; we can't  tell them about how good He has been to us and about who He really is.
If Jesus means everything to you (and to me), now is the time to be sayin' it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Just sayin' what I probably shouldn't...

Yesterday was weird...  It started out okay.  I had a sub  but I ran by school for a minute.  Came home and remembered I had pre-ordered a book on my new Kindle.  Still am fascinated with how I can click on a website, watch a little circle image in the corner of the Kindle and... voila:  I have a book!  I love that!  (So does my credit card company..)
But I wasn't sure about  pre-ordering .. How would that work?  I had barely connected with the website before  something started downloading!  While I was crowing about that to my long-suffering husband, the phone rang: an automated message saying school would be closed tomorrow.  I immediately put the Kindle aside and e-mailed the news to a friend.
Then it was time to head to Smackover for a funeral. I had a vague idea that it was South of Little Rock but I had Map Quest directions so I wasn't worried.  As it turned out, I should have been.  I now have the rare distinction of getting hopelessly lost in Smackover, a town with one traffic light, which rises out of the main intersection like a lamp post out of Narnia. Not kidding...
After fruitlessly asking for directions, I accidentally stumbled upon, not the church but the cemetery.  I saw an awning, a work van, and one lone guy in faded  clothes puttering around the gravesite.
It was past time for the church service to start so I gave up and just parked the car right where I was, pulled out my Kindle, and started reading in the New Testament where I had left off.  The passage was Luke 15 in the Wuest edition - not an easy read. However, the story was the Prodigal Son - one I like.
Not much else to do so I kept reading until I came to the narrative about the  poor man, Lazarus, and the unnamed rich man.  In college I'd had to translate it from Old English to modern English and I'd never really liked it since.
However... I'm sitting in a cemetery, one out of two above ground people in the whole place.  (And  I can tell you right now that  the cemetery guy was not  a chatterbox. Also,  for the record:  if I did for a living what he does for a living, I'd know how to get to every church in the vicinity and then some..)
At any rate, I continued to read in Luke, came to this statement, and hit pause.  "...the beggar died and was carried off by the angels to become a partaker of... paradise..And the rich man also died... and in the unseen world of departed human beings..."
Unseen world of departed beings????  
I looked at the tombstones around me and thought, "Okay... moving right along."
The narrative changes to a dialog between the rich man, who is not in paradise, and God,who explains to him that ".. in all these regions, between us and all of you a chasm, a great one, has been placed permanently.."
A chasm that has been placed permanently?
I'm thinking, "I know the Bible is true but, seriously..?  A chasm?"
And then the thought comes to me, "Well, there's a chasm between myself and almost everyone else in this place..."
Ughhh.... And I'm not talking the boots here.
So much for the Bible; time to read my new book..
I switch to the new book, first page, and start reading.   Chapter One. For most of a day, I'd been climbing a sharp incline of rocks and shale, toward an outcropped ledge that would afford a better view... Finally.. I stepped out on that ledge and looked. What I saw took my breath away.  There it lay... the thing I'd been warned about... Before me lay the biggest obstacle imaginable...That great yawning chasm sucked all hope from my heart.."
Okay... I'd downloaded the book because Randy Alcorn is one of my favorite authors and whatever he does, I'm going to read it.  So I go to the cover belatedly and look at the title:  The Chasm...
Okay... that does it... time to go buddy up with the graveyard worker... After all, the guy was probably bored...
Just sayin'

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


    I didn't understand the significance of the title to Dan Woolley's new book, Unshaken, even when I first realized that he had been in the horrific earthquake in Haiti in January 2010.  The book is excellent, a weaving of two serious issues that he and his wife faced - his traumatic two and a half days of being buried in total darkness, underneath the ruins of a six-story hotel; her struggle for years under the crushing weight of clinical depression.  In both cases, he gives a riveting and very honest account of all they went through.
    While he was trapped, Dan managed to keep his spirits up until he realized that rescuers who had been coming nearer to his cement prison were suddenly, inexplicably... going away.  To be so close!  And then to be abandoned!  At that point, he descended into an emotional pit that threatened to overwhelm him.  He had been trying to cling to the promise of Romans 8:28, that even if he died there, God would still somehow bring good out of it all for his young sons and his wife.
    At this low point, in desperation  he prayed, "Father, I so want to believe that you can bring good out of any situation and even bring good to my family if I die. But I just can't see it. I can't imagine how anything other than rescuing me would be a good plan for them. Please intervene!"
    "I'm not going to bargain with you, God....I'm going to tell you again what I want... to go back to my family..."
    At this point, he became afraid that he would hyperventilate.  He said he plummeted into "despair unlike anything I had ever experienced before."
   And it was then that  God's still small voice spoke two words into his heart:  "Worship me."
   It was hard to believe that God would meet his desperation with those words.  And even more to the point, he wasn't sure that he  actually could worship.  He decided that perhaps he could try to sing.  One hymn that came to mind, "Be Still, My Soul", included these words:  "Leave to thy God to order and provide; in every change, He faithful will remain."
    What happened then is well worth reading the book, aside from all the other valuable things that God showed him during this time.  Suffice it to say, that at this point, I realized just what was unshaken.  
    Psalms 46:1-2 NLT:  God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.  So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Because I couldn't stop for death..

Death kindly stopped for me...
Another line from Emily Dickinson, who was obviously alive when she wrote it.

Two friends received this visitor, Death,  into their families this weekend and for both, things came to a standstill in some ways, sped up in others.  The normal stuff pretty much comes to a halt while new things take their place:  meeting with the people at the funeral home, arranging for flowers, notifying friends and relatives.

After receiving the 5 a.m. phone call telling me that my second friend had just lost a loved one, I looked out the window in the living room. Huge, fluffy flakes of snow were showering down  out of the darkness.  I just stood there mesmerized by the sight of it for a few minutes, thinking how beautiful it was, remembering this past week when similar flakes pretty much brought things to a grinding halt and rearranged our routines completely.

We think we can't stop for anything... then something neat like snow comes (hot chocolate, sleds, no school) or something eerie like death comes a callin' ... and we find that in reality, we actually can step aside from the daily-ness of life and sit a spell.

Right now I'm thinking that someday, although it may not be popular to believe it, a trump really will sound  and the dead in Christ as well as  the living will rise to meet the Lord in the air.  And whenever that happens, once again, we'll find that the things we thought couldn't wait.. really could.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Of cabbages and kings...

One day a horse wandered into our suburban neighborhood. I was 15 years-old and even now, I remember our next door neighbor coming over to "borrow" our phone. She called her husband who was at his insurance office and I listened to her side of the conversation which went like this:
    "Bob!  There is a horse in our yard!"
    "What do you mean: what does he look like????"
    Then with mounting exasperation:  "No!  He isn't purple with pink polka-dots! He's brown!"
    Then silence which was finally broken with this statement:  "Well, all I know is that he's eating the garden you planted..."
    End of conversation. Thirty minutes later, her husband was walking around their yard in a three-piece suit, swinging a home-made lasso at the horse he'd had such trouble believing in.
    Many years later, I was giving an English lesson to an International from Asia.  It was our first lesson; we had only met briefly the day before.
    In the middle of the lesson, she suddenly said, "Last night, I tell Jesus I believe Him.  I ask Him to accept me. Do you think He answer that prayer?"  I was totally taken aback and could just stammer out, "Yes" while wondering what exactly  she knew about Jesus and if I had said the right thing.
    She nodded and said, "I think so, too.  Because room was dark when I  pray. Then a bright  light fill   room and I have peace.. here..."  She pointed to her heart.
    I never saw a moor/ I never saw the sea
    Yet know I how the heather looks/and what a wave must be.
    I never spoke with God/nor visited in Heaven
    Yet certain am I of the spot/ as if the chart  were given.
                                                     Emily Dickinson
    Like Ms. Dickinson, there are many things I've never seen.  Through stray horses and uncharted English lessons, I've learned that just because I haven't seen something for myself, doesn't mean it isn't real.  The proof is in the pudding or, perhaps in this case, in the garden:)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

On the Other Side of the World

Teaching high school in Arkansas has it's moments... and I've had 31 years of them!  In Arkansas, we are technologically snow-challenged.  When a dusting of snow and slush hits the streets, school buses are mobilized, phone messages are sent out, kids are hyper, the teachers are worse than hyper and everyone goes home. Some a little slower than they planned due to unscheduled get-togethers... as in "you slid into my car and now I want the name of your insurance company."  When it's ice instead of snow, the newspapers have pics the next day complete with the traditional description of I-30 being turned into a "parking lot".
Right now, I'm reading Our Man in Tehran which is about how the Canadians helped some of our embassy workers escape during the 1979 Revolution in Iran.  The Canadian Ambassador, Ken Taylor, had just moved his family to Tehran right before student protests kicked in and the fires of revolution started burning. Things steadily got worse so they had to close the schools for foreign kids.  His 14-year-old was happy.  His son, as an adult, looked back and said about the school closing:  "It was much like it can be in any other city. You can have a snow day, except in Tehran it's a demonstration day."
Thinking about the kids in Egypt, both foreign and native-born.  Somehow doubting it's tradition to fix a big pot of chili and bring out the snacks and the board games on a demonstration day... praying for a good outcome in that troubled land. Thanking God for snow days....