Monday, May 30, 2011

A near-perfect weekend :)

      This has been a day for counting blessings and there are so many.  Friday night some of my friends gave me silly gifts for retirement:  a bow and arrow with suction cups on the arrows, a plastic bad mitten racket suitable for a 4-year-old (they have my physical abilities down pat!), a set of knitting needles and some yarn - implying that I can use my new free time to learn pre-school archery, bad-mitten, and knitting:)  But then they gave me what they probably thought was my real gift, a generous gift card to Mardel's.  However, the real gift was the laughter, heated discussion, and just general give-and-take that kept us at a restaurant until 10 p.m.  I've been very fortunate in my friends and I know that.
      Shopping - and spending other people's money:) was a lot of fun too,though, I have to admit:)  I finally ended up buying a cross necklace that's not too obvious, hoping that I can wear it when I go to Israel to visit my sister there. But mostly, I just had fun looking - probably drove the sales clerk crazy as I kept going back to the locked jewelry cabinet but he seemed fine with it!  And somehow, it doesn't seem right to spend a gift card without looking over everything first:)
      Another blessing was simply the gift of time - an extra day  to just rest and relax without any great pressure. I've been dealing with allergies and such for several days and as the symptoms increased, it was soooo nice to just be able to nap at will and not worry about what wasn't being accomplished.
     Church was a blessing - although I was on an antihistimine that I mistakenly thought wouldn't make me sleepy, still it was so nice to be able to go and worship in freedom and in peace. And to be able to choose the place of worship in a city where there are so many great churches to choose from.  We are blessed.
    And then, to round off a near-perfect holiday weekend, I was able to start something baking in the oven  this morning (seasoned pork chops and potatoes on low for 2 hours!) and then concentrate on writing for the rest of the day.   I already had 7 chapters of one novel going - fitfully, to be sure. And in sorting out my papers back in the winter, during one of the snow days, I found the first chapter of another novel - one I had totally forgotten about. (There are a lot of deceased first chapters hiding around here and most of them will never see the light of day -for which everyone can be thankful:)  So I worked on two novels today and am not sure I made much progress - maybe even got the characters mixed there for a bit and created a hybrid persona by accident. But I had a ton of fun!
    Then a hot date to Sonic with my best friend who also happens to be my husband.
     And I would have to say that it doesn't get any better than this -
     At least down here!
     Thanking God for everything, including gimpy sinuses, nap time,  easy-bake recipes, computers, church, Sonic dates and a fun time with some colleagues at a Mexican restaurant! Louis XIV may have enjoyed his weekends in a tad bit more splendor than we do here in Mabelvale.. .but I doubt he ever enjoyed his weekends more than I enjoyed this one.  And maybe that is the best gift of all - the ability to simply enjoy life as it comes, in all it's various forms.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Takin' it back to the basics...

     In an earlier blog, I mentioned a book by Joanie Yoder, Finding the God Dependent Life.  There have been several books throughout my adult years that I bought multiple copies of, intending to give some away, keep a couple to loan out and always keep a copy for myself.  In most instances, I ended up giving and/or loaning all my copies out and then finding I could no longer get a copy for myself.  That's what happened with this book and it's been many years since I've actually held a copy in my hand.  After writing about it in my Ten on the Tenth blog for this month, I decided to check and see if I could get it through Amazon and to my surprise, I was able to, although I couldn't get it on Kindle.
    Like all my books in the top ten, I can (oddly enough) remember where I was when I first found the book. In this case, I was at an Ozark Conference retreat and the speaker was J. I. Packer.  I already had a copy of his book, Knowing God, and I was able to get him to autograph it.  Unfortunately, although I loved listening to him and took tons of notes that weekend, I could never get through his book for some reason.  I think it was just always over my head.
    During break, I would make a bee-line for the book table, and I remember being attracted to this orange/yellowish book (what is it about yellow books???) and finally, I decided to take a chance and squander some of my hard-earned money on it.  It proved to be a bargain.
   I'm re-reading it now and, of course, there are many things about her story that I had forgotten.  I knew that she and her husband, Bill, had gone to Europe as missionaries. And that eventually, she began to struggle with panic attacks until she was even afraid to go out in public, for fear an attack would hit while she was at the grocery store and she would be humiliated.  Basically, she pretty much became a captive of emotional stress.
   And I remembered some of the things that led to her distress: her husband was  work-a-holic.  She was pregnant at age 21 when they first  sailed for Europe and although that pregnancy went well, her next pregnancy ended at 7 1/2 months and the little boy only lived for 30 hours.  Then she had a series of miscarriages while she and her husband grew so absorbed in his ministry and also her job as a mother that they barely had time for each other.
   Then he was transferred to Switzerland, which seemed ideal after living in W. Berlin in the post WWII days - yep, they were living in W. Berlin when the Berlin wall was erected overnight!  Bill had been promoted. After six years of miscarriages, they finally had a second daughter.  They had a nice apartment and a beautiful view of Geneva and the Swiss Alps. Bill was traveling a lot in his new capacity as head of the European branch of their ministry so their home was no longer ground center for their ministry, which meant she wasn't entertaining college kids non-stop and that she actually had time for herself.     And that, ironically, is when her life fell apart.
    She knew she had been maintaining a front for quite a while, forcing herself to go through the motions with a smile on her face lest her testimony be damaged.  And although she had kept up a frantic pace right along with her husband (for him, it seemed easy), she had started going to him periodically and asking him if he thought she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  He would always assure her that she wasn't but, in fact, she was.
   One morning when things came to a head for her, she reached for her Bible. In the flyleaf, as a young college student, she had copied the words of a hymn that - for her - had represented the deepest longings of her heart at that time. The words of the hymn talked about burning out for God until His heart was her heart.
   After about 8 years on the mission field, she was, in fact, burnt out but not for God.  The lyrics penned in the front of her Bible seemed to mock her and she decided if she couldn't be a flame for God, she could at least be honest. And so she got some scissors and started to cut that page out of her Bible.
   For a missionary, it felt like a drastic move, a sort of burning-your-bridges behind you move - an almost blasphemous action.  So she thought about it and in that small moment of time, as she brought the scissors nearer to her Bible, she felt God speak to her heart. Authoritatively. Unmistakably. Saying, "Don't cut the page out; let Me change you instead."
   She responded to that voice in her heart.  And I wish I could say things got better for her but they got worse.  As she put it, she was blessedly on the way to hitting  rock-bottom and once there, she would find that the rock was  Christ.   Once she hit bottom, God gave her five steps for getting out of the emotional morass that she was in.  And then He used her to reach out to others. In fact, her experience changed their marriage (for the better) and to a large extent also their ministry as they began to reach out to others who were bottoming out due to addiction, rebellion, etc.
    One thing I did remember from Mrs. Yoder's book - something that has never left me throughout the years:  after she responded to God and agreed that she would leave the words of the hymn in her Bible and yield herself up to Him instead, He asked her, "Can you do these four simple things for Me every day:  read, pray, trust, and obey?"
    She had somehow gotten the idea that she needed to be up before the crack of dawn, on her knees reading the Bible through.  As she became depressed, this was too much and she had ceased to read her Bible altogether because she wasn't doing it the "right way".
    The first thing that God did was to help her see that she could get up, fix the girls breakfast and send them to school, then get a cup of coffee, sit in her rocker facing the scenic view from their balcony, and leisurely, prayerfully read a short  passage of Scripture.  That was the "read" and "pray" part.  Then if the passage said to do something, she was to "obey' and then leave everything to Him - that was the "trust" part.
    Essentially, she felt like God was saying, "Let's take it back to the basics."
    That part I remembered and there have been times in my life when I also have had to go back to the basics in order to get my bearings straight again.
    Something I didn't remember was that, as she began to hit bottom, she realized it wasn't her circumstances that were driving her to the bottom.  As she put it, in college, she had been able to breeze her way through with a bubbly personality and a can-do type of attitude.  But it was a facade.   When she got on the mission field and began to have miscarriages and feel the pressure of being at times a single mom because her husband was so busy, she could no longer keep her own inadequacies at bay - she could no longer fake it til she could make it.  She said that she had always known there were inadequacies within but she couldn't face them and she couldn't bear for them to be exposed.
    And that was what drove her to get the Bible and her scissors out one desperate morning.  And it was at that point that God made a simple offer to her that, thankfully, she didn't refuse.

Friday, May 20, 2011

     I mostly look like I don't have it all together and that's not posturing on my part - I really don't have it all together. I don't think I ever have had.
     One of my favorite quotes is:   When I was 20, I used to worry about what others thought of me.  When I was 30, I didn't care what others thought of me. And when I turned 40, I realized that people weren't thinking about me and never had been.
     Perfect people make me nervous.  That's because the older I've gotten, the more I realize that no matter how perfect you look on the outside.. you aren't.  We all have those moments when we quickly look over our shoulder to see who is watching us - and I'm not talking about shoplifting or something illegal. I'm talking about when you trip going up the stairs or you come out of the bathroom with toilet paper trailing behind your shoe.. Those Kodak moments..
     I also think most of us - maybe not the men but most of the women - have those moments when we sit down in the laundry room and just sob into the dirty clothes basket.  At least that's usually where it happens to me and I think it's because the laundry room is the one place I am guaranteed privacy:)
     And I would also have to agree with someone in my Sunday School class who was about to share a prayer request about a relative who was in some type of legal trouble- I'll never forget how he looked around before he shared and  then said, "Okay, we all have skeletons in our family closet, right?"   That was such a comfort to me because my family closet has more skeletons than Wal-Mart does  right before Halloween.  (I mean, I haven't even gotten around to blogging about my great uncle who was churched because he got drunk every Sat. night.  Apparently,  when he was called on the carpet Sunday morning for being plastered the night before, he admitted that he did wrong  but refused to promise not to ever do it again.  When I was a child, the family actually decanted that story with a touch of pride because my uncle's drinking buddy, when  called on the same  carpet for carousing, did promise to quit drinking - every Sat. night he got soused with my great uncle and every Sunday morning he promised he would never do it again.  So we kind of took the attitude that even though we had an unchurched sot somewhere in our family tree, at least he was an honest sot  :0)
     But I digress...
    The Bible has a lot to say about imperfect people.
     1.  Christ came to save them. The outcastes, the sick, the troubled - the ones who knew very well that they were flawed - flocked to him.  The ones who had prestige, power, and the appearance of perfection - didn't.
     2.  God's power is revealed in them.  Paul wrote in II Corinthians 12:9-10  that His strength is made perfect in our weakness. I like to think that means that His power is showcased in our weakness. In fact, in II Corinthians 4, Paul describes us as clay pots - fragile containers holding divine light inside.  But, if I read that right, Paul is saying that God's light only shines out of us as our pots develop fissures:) ... something most of us  pots don't want to have happen to us.
     3.  God uses them.  In II Corinthians 1:3 - 4, Paul wrote:  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort  with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  To me, that says: if you haven't been afflicted (and being afflicted means you hurt, you question, and you probably get mad too at some point in time), then  you haven't really been comforted by God (He has multiple ways to send comfort to us by the way).  And if you haven't been comforted by Him, then you really can't be used by Him to comfort others.
     So here's to imperfect people but most of all, here's to the perfect Savior who came and walked over rough, dirt roads under broiling heat in a militarily oppressed  land  in order to be what we cannot be and do what we cannot do.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Until June 8th do us part....

     I read a book by humorist, Irma Bombeck, many years ago called If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, Why Am I in the Pits?     I don't think life is a bowl of cherries - this week, in fact, it seems more like a blender... on high speed with a high-pitched whine accompanying it that you know really  shouldn't be there....
     And then, today, about half-way through the afternoon, I realized that, lo and behold, I was  the high-pitched whine =/  I just hate it when that happens...
     Lack of sleep doesn't become me..  And today in class when I realized I was seriously contemplating asking the kids to put their heads on their desks and meditate about history with their eyes shut for a few minutes... I knew my sleep-o-meter (as my husband would say) was pegging out at zero....
    I love having the windows open at night when the weather is like this but obviously, it's robbing me of deep sleep and all good things must come to an end. Tonight, the windows will be shut and if necessary, a fan will be running, providing white noise in the background.  Sleep I must. At this point, it's not an option.
    In addition to sleep deprivation, Senioritis (in my case, not Senior as in high school but the other type of senior) is dogging my footsteps, singing a siren song of endless delights waiting for me just beyond June 8th.  I know that's basically a lie... sort of.  On June 9th, my knees will still creak when I walk up and down stairs, my sinuses will still gimp up when mold season arrives - which in Arkansas is basically from Oct. through June, I'll still need to lose weight, bills will still have to be paid, and  the house will still have to be cleaned (ha! as if I cleaned it now...).
      But still, every day as I try  to encourage (and/or coerce)  the kids into working, I find myself routinely checking my desk calendar the way some people check their watch -  just in case I looked at it wrong the last time and maybe there's really only  8 days of instruction left instead of 11... Today I think I checked it three times...
     Everything is cyclical.  We've had spring and now it's summer.. only it isn't... quite. ANd that's where the problem lies.   I'm ready to be done. The kids are ready to be done.  I'm pretty sure everyone else associated with school is ready to be done.  But we're not.
    So if you have a friend or a loved one who is a teacher, you might say a little prayer that A) They'll be rested.. a miracle in and of itself this time of year when kids are playing ball and parents are taxi-ing their children in fifty different directions in the evenings and on weekends.  B) That they'll be able to maintain a sense of humor and have wisdom to pick their battles as kids see the finish line drawing near and consequently  up the ante with their antics...  C) That inspiration will hit them at the most unexpected and trying times and they'll suddenly have  new ideas for keeping the kids positively engaged in the learning process until June 8th do us part...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ten on the Tenth....Favorite People I've Never Met..

1.  Corrie ten Boom.  Read The Hiding Place in college and pretty much re-read it every year.  Amazing lady who truly proved that there is no pit so deep but that God's love is deeper still.

2.  Isobel Kuhn.  Found her autobiography, By Searching, on sale when I was in my early twenties. Bought it b/c it was cheap - had never heard of her.  It's re-printed every so often. The last time I saw it at Lifeway, I let out a squeal that caused my son to back away from me and pretend he didn't know me.  I took it to The Oasis a few days later - in the midst of a frantic shopping day - thinking I could eat a quick sandwich, read a few pages, and then go back to searching for the perfect dress that I had to have for an event that evening.  And my lunch was quick; I did read just a few pages.  But in that time, I  renewed my commitment to Christ and things changed for me - simply because of what I read in her book.  Very sweet story of her journey from agnosticism to Christianity and the way God revealed Himself to her.  It's available from Overseas Missionary Fellowship via the net. And to my surprise, I was able to download it on my Kindle from Amazon recently.

3.  Juanita Simpson.  Found her autobiography on the BSF reading list.  Walking on Waves is an amazing story of how she learned to receive God's guidance when faced with tough decisions and also how God led her family to become missionaries in Micronesia.  To me, this lady is amazing.  At one place in her book, she wrote that while she was a well-known missionary on one island, her son was a well-known drug-addict on another island.  Yet she believed God had promised that her son would be restored and so she kept praying and hanging on to those promises and her son was not only delivered from the drugs but was drawn into full-time Christian ministry.

4.  Joanie Yoder.  Her book, Finding The God-Dependent LIfe, is out of print as far as I know. To me, this book is interesting because she was a missionary's wife, serving in Europe, when she began to suffer from panic attacks.  These attacks brought her to  the place where she was pretty well unable to function in public. And when she reached bottom, she bottomed out not only emotionally but spiritually as well.  She's very honest about all of that.  The rest of the book details the steps that God used to bring her back to a normal life and a renewed faith. Also very practical - steps that anyone can follow.

5. Darlene Diebler Rose.  This woman's book, Evidence Not Seen, impacted my life greatly 21 years ago.  I've read the book more than once and also listened to a tape of her testimony many times (from Focus on the Family).  She was an  amazing woman who spent 4 years in a Japanese POW camp in New Guinea during WWII.  She told her story with honesty, amazing detail, and humor.  After I read it, for about three days, I didn't even see the world around me in the same light - my perspective was so changed. Plus, I learned a lot about WWII.

6.  Dawson Trotman. There are several books about Dawson, founder of the Navigators Ministry.  But the one that impacted me greatly is also probably out of print. It's a little paperback called The Navigator and it's just a spiritual biography of him - not the whole biographical story. A friend gave this to me as a Christmas present back in the '80s.  I hadn't read very far in it before I found myself on my knees, asking God what I could give Him for a Christmas present - a totally new thing for me.

7.  Bill Bright.  I really respect him and the ministry he founded, Campus Crusade for Christ. But I sometimes have trouble connecting with the books he wrote.  However, one of the last books he wrote, The Journey Home, caught my attention and held it and it also is one that I go back to over and over again.  And even though it is autobiographical, I sometimes use parts of it to jump-start my devotional times.  He was terminally ill when he wrote it and at the very beginning he pretty much says, since I'm dying, people ask me if I have anything to say.. and I do!  The Puritans used to sit by the bed of dying saints, expecting words of wisdom and perhaps even a glimpse of the other world as the spiritual leader transitioned from one world to the next. This book is like being able to sit by Bill Bright's bedside while he re-caps lessons gleaned from 50 years of following Christ.  And he also delineates in it how God was using this last illness to bless him!  Truly amazing.

8.  Chuck Colson.  I'm old enough :( to remember when Watergate was  a nightly news story and Nixon resigned.  Colson worked as legal counsel to the president, became embroiled in the illegal activities that seemed to characterize most of the President's men and then, during a time of crisis, became a Christian.  This book details the first steps that he took as a Christian, moving from prison back to the real world and eventually starting Prison Fellowship.  The stories in it are great - he gives mistakes as well as successes, lessons learned - just a neat look at a man who fell from power and then rose again, transformed by the power of Christ.

9.  Nate Saint.  Nate was one of the five missionaries killed in Ecuador in 1956 while trying to reach a primitive jungle tribe.  After Nate died, his widow commissioned Russell Hitt to write a biography of Nate.  Jungle Pilot sounds like it might just be for guys but I didn't find it to be that way.  The author drew a lot of the material from Nate's journals so it has humor and a lot of insight into the work these men did.  In recent years, Nate's son, Steve, moved his family into the  jungle to live with the people who had killed his father so many years ago and that story is told in the movie, End of the Spear.

10.  Reema Goode.  I've already written about Reema's book, Which None Can Shut, in an earlier blog.  I really hope to meet her some day - have already read the book twice since I got it a month or so ago.  She just has a neat sense of humor and a lot of insight and shares information about miraculous things on the Arabian peninsula.

Monday, May 9, 2011

This was my mom...

     Mother's Day holds a lot of memories... I doubt anyone can see the ads or even hear the words denoting this particular Sunday without feeling (or repressing) some emotion.  My mother and I had a real friendship but not a perfect relationship by any means.  At times, we had our disagreements and they could be titanic in nature, lasting for several days... or, as was the case during my engagement, for several months...
    She was strong-willed and could be high-strung.  During her high school years, she wanted to become a lawyer and would have made an excellent one.  She was on the debate team at Central High and loved it.  She also loved Latin and wanted to take French. But my grandfather felt that it would be better for her to take Home Ec. as it was called back then, so she did. She hated every minute of it but was a great cook and used to sew our clothes when we were young, even making lined winter coats that looked professionally done.
    She loved someone throughout high school but eventually they parted for religious reasons although he tried to re-kindle the romance after he heard my mother was engaged.  After I was grown and we became more friends than parent/child, I realized that she felt this was one of the worst mistakes of her life; she believed  that if she had married Joe, things would have turned out so much better.  However, even as she made her thoughts clear on this subject, she would add that if she had not married my dad, she wouldn't have had us, so it was okay.
     She was an unusual person - brilliant, devout, loving, mercurial, fearful, combustible:), and at times, surprising.
    When I was eight-years-old, she was dealing with an unhappy marriage which, at that time, seemed to center more around boredom and a feeling of having missed it in life than anything else.  (The really bad arguments and abuse would come later as their marriage quickly unraveled at the seams).
    I didn't understand any of this, of course, as a child. All I knew was that my mom was going to college and she seemed really nervous about it.  (Later she told me that she hoped going to college would save her sanity and perhaps also her marriage).   She was thirty when I was born so at 38, she enrolled as a freshman at U.C.A., known as Arkansas State Teacher's College back then. She carpooled from North Little Rock to Conway for several years and it wasn't until I was grown that I learned my father had only agreed to this on the condition that she not neglect her duties around the house during the week.  So she did all the house work and then studied  late at night or on the weekends when we went to stay with our Grandmother.
     During this time, her marriage unraveled even further and when I was about 11, she made two suicide attempts.  She later explained to me that she was so unhappy in her marriage that she desperately wanted out and since she had vowed to stay married until death-do-you-part, suicide seemed the only option. At that time, she was convinced that she was to blame for our family problems and that we would all be better off if she were gone.
    Her first attempt to overdose didn't really put her in danger. But the second one nearly took her life.  She told me that when she woke up in the hospital after the second attempt, a male nurse was sitting by her bed, begging God to spare her life. As she realized what was happening, she felt intense anger because she  knew at that moment that  God had spared her life in response to his prayers and quite simply, she wanted to go on. Later, after she rebuilt her life,  she would be forever grateful to this nurse who cared enough to pray for her at a critical time.
    IN spite of the clinical depression and the two suicide attempts as well as a failing marriage, she got her BSE in Social Studies and went on to get a Masters in the same field.  Eventually, she also gained the equivalent of a Masters in English, lacking only the final exam to have her third degree.
    Then she  got her first teaching job while  in her forties.  She believed that teaching was one of the highest professions that a person could enter and she never lost that belief. Her two years of teaching high school, however,  coincided with the demise of her marriage.
   She left her job and  divorced my father, in part, to protect me - the only kid left at home.  I was a very nervous and insecure 14-year-old at the time and she was hitting menopause with only 2 years of teaching under her belt.  But she gave up her job, got a divorce, and moved us to a totally new location, trying to put as much distance between us and my father as she possibly could. Basically, she started over from scratch.
   She took the only job she could find -as a social worker  -back in the days when social workers had to  make home visits to check on Welfare clients. She went into one housing area  alone on many occasions becuase she had to - it was her job. The police would only go into this area in threes but as a social worker, she had no back-up so she prayed and tried to be aware as she went into these homes. On those days,she would come home exhausted but she was always somehow protected -nothing bad ever happened to her as she drove into areas that in the past she couldn't even have imagined.
     Her health was not good by then and at that time, State workers didn't have a lot of benefits. She needed a hysterectomy but we didn't have health insurance.  She kept trying to work but eventually lost her job due to all  the sick days she had to take. In those days, people with no insurance had to get on a waiting list to have surgery done at UAMS.
    My mom's doctor put her name on the list only to have it "lost" more than once. Each time her name got lost, she went to the bottom of the list again.  Finally, one morning, she began to  hemorrhage  at home.  I still remember her getting on the phone and calling every doctor/medical person she knew, trying to get them to say they would admit her.  She was determined not to call an ambulance because we couldn't afford it.
    In the midst of these attempts to break through the bureaucracy at the Med center, a lady from Mom's Sunday school class called to ask her if she was alright.  It seems that God had placed a burden on her heart for my mom that very morning; she had already been on her knees praying for mom for an hour, knowing that something was wrong but not sure what it was.  Mom explained her dilemma and this Godly woman promised to continue praying and then hung up. Shortly after that, Mom got someone to say they would admit her and I drove her to the hospital. I was 17 at the time and had never driven down University Avenue, which seemed like the autobahn to me at the time.
    After she was admitted, she was so weak from loss of blood that it took a week to build her up so that she could have the surgery. She came through that surgery well but there would be others.
   Once her health temporarily stabilized, she began to substitute teach in the Pulaski County School District, hoping this would segue into a full-time teaching job.  As a substitute, she was good and principals began to ask her to do assigned subbing for teachers who would be out for extended absences.  One principal in particular recommended her for two full-time teaching positions but by this time she was in her fifties and both jobs went to younger women.  Oddly enough, this was one of the biggest disappointments of her life  and basically led to a crisis of faith which was resolved slowly over  the next twelve months.
    She continued to sub, in spite of a heart condition and arthritis until she was eligible for social security. Having spent most of her life as a stay-at-home mom, she had no retirement benefits and finished out her life on social security plus Medicaid and Medicare benefits as well as money that my brother sent her each month from his job in the Air Force.
    In fact, after she lost her job and before she could start subbing, we qualified for food stamps - something that I, as a teen, was embarrassed to be seen using.  Looking back, I'm sure she was embarrassed too. But as she told me many times, we wouldn't have the food that we did if not for the food stamps so, she used them and never complained.
    She was a great money manager - something I did not inherit.  I have seen her, more than once, walk into a store with coupons on "double coupon" day and get an item by paying just the sales tax on it and nothing else.  Even with all of the ups and downs in the years after her divorce, she finally managed to buy half an acre of land as well as a single-wide trailer.   It may not sound like an impressive accomplishment, but looking back, I think it was.
    Perhaps an even more impressive accomplishment was that most of her life (except for the traumatic times associated with her depression and her marriage break-up) - from age 19 until she died at 71, she taught Sunday School.  There were times when she "wrestled" with God and considered turning her back on all of it.. but in the end, she never did. IN fact, during her "retirement" years, when she could no longer work and was in and out of the hospital a lot, she grew stronger in faith.
  Two examples stand out. After I married, she moved into a subsidized  high-rise apartment for the elderly in downtown Little Rock.  Most of the tenants there didn't have cars and many of them were just barely able to read.  She used her wits to help numerous people wade through the complexities of social Security. And she also used her car to take her "neighbors" to doctor's appointments, etc.   Her car, however, was ten years old and falling apart.  Phil was trying to keep it going but each month it would break down somewhere and he basically told me it was just beyond any permanent fix.
   We decided it would be cheaper to buy her a used car than to keep repairing the one she had.  So we found two prospects at a used car lot and then went to surprise her with the news that we were going to get her one of those, depending on which one she preferred.  She was stunned but not for the reason we thought.
   The night before, she had been praying, telling God she had to have a car if she was going to continue to minister to others in her building but there was no way she could get one. To her surprise, she felt strongly that He was telling her she would have one. And by the end of the next day, she did.
   The other memory is perhaps more personal and extended over a period of years.  As her health declined, she began to carry a  Corrie ten Boom book , Jesus is Victor, with her every time she went to the doctor or to the hospital. She found it comforting and would read in  it while sitting in the lobby or the ER.   However, she never left with it.  Always, she found someone -usually another patient -  who needed it "more than she did" so she would leave it with them and replace her copy later.  (She spent the last three months of her life in a nursing home and after she died, I gave her last copy of the  book to the supervising nurse  on her floor. There was no way I could take it out of there, knowing she wouldn't have.)
   As I look back over her life, I realize that she had to be tough to endure the things she did.  And that her faith was no small part of her ability to survive a really difficult life.
   I want to end with one more memory that has come back to me in recent days.  In 1981, she had saved enough money to buy a microwave oven. The thing was so heavy that we had to get a neighbor to carry it inside for us.  The next day was Princess Diana's wedding and my mom loved all things British (something I did inherit from her:)  So she suggested that we celebrate, which we did. We both got up at 3:30 the next morning to watch the festivities on t.v. and at some point,  she busted out a new microwave cake recipe that she had clipped from the newspaper. I remember that it had chocolate chips in it and that it didn't work right.  The cake somehow settled to one side of the container, looking more like a lopsided chocolaty version of Mt. Vesuvius than a cake.  This worried her but we ate it anyway and it was great. To this day, it stands out as the epitome of chocolate cakes, bar none! So there we were - in a single-wide trailer in Arkansas on a nothing budget - enjoying the festivities at St. Paul's as much as anyone else on the planet. That was my mom!
   And so, a week ago, I took a personal day from work, got up at 3:40 in the morning and watched the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Elizabeth (my name!!!:) Middleton.  For me, it was more than a wedding: it was a way of reconnecting with my mom.  I can't explain it - it was just something I felt I needed to do.
   And while my mom wasn't there physically, I feel sure she was watching.... (and if at all possible, sitting near Diana...:)
   The only thing lacking was a lopsided microwave chocolate chip cake....

Monday, May 2, 2011

In the human heart....

       In Oct. 2001, we left church - it was a typical Sunday -  and went to CiCi's Pizza.  We were with another family and had 5 kids between us so as we entered the restaurant, the adults were intent on herding kids and figuring out which ones were full price and which were young enough to get a discount.  It wasn't until the cash register stuff had been taken care of and I had my tray, that I noticed our young son  staring up at a wild-eyed, bearded man on the television. It was Osama bin Laden and the television coverage was about our strikes against Afghanistan in retaliation for their support of the 9/11 attack.
      Clearly, we were at war.
      We directed the kids to a table away from the television and steered the conversation away from the on-going news.  Soon, someone changed the channel. Our son never commented on what he had just seen so I gradually decided that it hadn't made much of an impression on him.
      The next morning, on the way to school, our son was quiet until we had almost reached our destination.  Then, out of nowhere, I heard his subdued voice say, "Mom, that guy on  t.v. said that Americans would live in fear from now on and that we would never be safe again. Is that true?"  It took me a minute to realize what he was referring to. But it only took seconds to pick up on the fear in his voice.
      For the sake of all the children who "got" bin Laden's message on that particular day, I'm glad that the U.S. government   sent a strong message of their own this week.  As a mother and a teacher,  I have no problems with the fact that our special forces took bin Laden out and I devoutly  hope that someday men like him  will just be a paragraph in a history book and that future generations will never know first-hand what terrorism is. When I say "future generations", I mean  Jewish,  Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhists, etc.  - that all children in years to come will be spared the spectacle of terrorism as well as any attempts to  indoctrinate them into it.
      From another perspective, as someone who comes from a family which has served for three generations in the military, I have no problem applauding the Navy Seals and in fact, all the men and women who worked for months to bring justice to bin Laden. To say they risked their lives is an understatement. While Osama was barricaded behind fortress-like walls topped with barbed wire, our men were dropping through the air from helicopters, risking everything.  I'm grateful for every person in our military who is willing to put it all on the line for us and I don't mean that as a cliche.
    From a third and final perspective, as a Christian, I had no problem praying for bin Laden - that his eyes would be opened, that false ideas would be removed from his mind, that his heart would be changed, and that he would enter into a relationship with God who truly is benevolent, merciful, and loving.  To me, it is a tragedy that anyone could  live their entire adult life  believing that cold-blooded mass murder could ever be a direct path to the heart of God.  I just can't fathom that.
   And in spite of the fact that I am repulsed by what he did, I  still hate to think that a person - any person - could   live and die serving, even craving,  such a blood-thirsty, uncaring deity. It's not his death that makes me shudder; it is his life. While victimization is not high on my list, I would far rather be a victim of such a person than to actually be that person.
   In the final analysis, I think the U.S. sent the right message: bin Laden terrorized our citizens more than once, caused countless deaths, and bragged about it.  Our country is built on justice and I believe the strike that ended bin Laden's life was just.  And now, while the debate rages on about how this will affect terrorism (the hydra-headed monster will rock on; the death of one terrorist won't stop it.. and, yes, it will probably even get worse in the short-run as revenge rears it's head ....) - while this debate rocks on, I think the real debate centers on this:
    Where is bin Laden standing right now.. and what will it take to reach potential bin Laden's before they unknowingly enter into a pact with the Devil?  
    The U.S. government, our military, our intelligentsia and our media don't have the answers to these questions.  Christ talked about hell as a real place and I have no problem believing that bin Laden is, at this moment, facing a justice that makes anything we've done to him look like nothing at all.  To put it bluntly, we are the least of his problems right now.  He stands before a holy God and if that isn't a sobering thought, I don't know what is.
    As to how we can  prevent today's children  from developing into full-grown  bin Ladens tomorrow, the Bible says that God can do more than we can even imagine or think ... but it also basically says, as the Casting Crowns' song puts it, that we are His hands.  So He works through us... through organizations like Samaritan's Purse, World Vision, Open Doors, Campus Crusade for Christ and countless other organizations that go into places where most of us are not able or comfortable going.  If I can't go, I can pray and I can give and I will. Because ultimately the solution to this problem lies not in the government or the military but  in the human heart.