Wednesday, November 30, 2011

OK. I have to say it...:)

      Darcy was a hunk before Edward ever gummed his first vegetable or vegetarian animal or whatever...!
      My favorite novel of all time is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, not Twilight... there!  I've said it!  
     I enjoy the humor in Austen's story but the thing that draws me back to the book over and over again is the character development.  I love the fact that Darcy and Elizabeth both start out with strong moral characters even though one is given to prejudice - snap judgments that are unfounded - and the other to pride, based on position and wealth in society.  And I love the way Jane Austen shows rather than tells how each character is transformed by their attraction for each other.  I love the fact that Darcy humbles himself and proves his love for Elizabeth by going after the despicable Wickham and forcing him to do the honorable thing by the idiot-child, Lydia.  And I also love the fact that Darcy's character change begins when Elizabeth rebukes him with the words, "... had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner."  How many people would be changed by a simple sentence like that? But it cuts Darcy to the heart because this is really what he is all about - he wants to be a gentleman in the truest and best sense of the word.
    As for Elizabeth, I've read that Miss Austen once wrote that it would be hard for her to like anyone who took exception to Lizzie and I would agree.  Elizabeth and her sister, Jane, are as wise as their mother is foolish, yet they don't demean their mother or show disrespect to her even though they do try to quietly curb her loquacity.  Also, when Elizabeth herself is insulted, she handles it with good-natured humor and moves on.  The only time she becomes truly enraged is when she feels strongly that an innocent, amiable, (to use a good Austen word) man has been deeply wronged.  In other words, she doesn't flare up over her own rights but is aroused for the rights of others.
   As for Twilight, I read it, enjoyed it, and almost got hooked on the series - may yet, who knows???  And I've read that the author, Stephanie Meyer, based the plot to some degree on Pride and Prejudice which, of course, is a huge plus in my eyes for the book!  But I've also read that the character of Edward is a blend of Jane Austen's Darcy and Charlotte Bronte's Mr. Rochester.  And that there is more of Rochester than Darcy about  Edward Cullen in that Rochester considers himself to be bad for his lady love, Jane Eyre,  but cannot resist his passion.  Finally,  his love for Jane as well as his sense of what he is due  overcomes all moral scruples about  wronging Jane.   Had Mr. Rochester's plan worked, Jane would have found herself in a bigamous marriage, spending the rest of her married life in a bleak mausoleum with wife number 1 haunting the upper regions and, occasionally, trying to kill her.  Nice...
    Hmmmm.. Back to the comparisons between literary lovers here...  Edward Cullen, like Darcy, is protective of his lady love (who has got to be about the clumsiest heroine in history)  and like a true gentleman, he refuses to suck her blood from her body!!  And how gross is that????  Ewwwww....
    Okay. Backing off from the vampire stuff.... :)  Back to the comparisons.  The bottom line is that   Edward is far  more like  Rochester than Darcy in that  he can't resist his passion for Bella even though he knows instinctively that this will draw her into a life that he himself finds difficult and at times torturous. (That plus the fact that he is afraid he will get carried away and accidentally kill her...  See above paragraph...:)
    So I'm just saying: who gets the better deal here?  Bella whose eyes now glow red, who had the worst childbirth in the history of cinema,  and who has to forever (and I do mean forever)  avoid sunlight and resist the urge to slake  her thirst on her nearest and dearest human relatives? (Oh, but I guess that's okay because she can eat raw animals???) Or Elizabeth, who gets to live in the stately mansion on the beautiful grounds of Pemberley, with tons of "pin" money and who can also visit frequently with her best friend and beloved  sister, Jane?  And presumably raise her children normally because.. they are...well... normal. And eat things like steak.. that's been cooked...
   Plus, Darcy can tan. Edward never can...
   Just saying... my secret is out! I'm not team Edward or team Jacob, I'm team Darcy!!!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Living examples of James 1:17

     I am still meditating on the book of James -sllllooooowwwwlllly:)  And this is what I saw yesterday:  in James 1:12, it says "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him."  In the first part of the sentence, it talks about someone who perseveres through difficulty.  In the last half, it says the Lord waits at the finish line, so to speak, encouraging us on and holding out a crown to those who have persevered...
     Actually, that's not what it says. Instead, it says He holds out  a crown to those who love Him.
     So it seems to me that loving Him and persevering are connnected.  I tried to picture how that would look in my mind and I came up with two earthly examples, people who have persevered through difficulty out of love for an earthly family member as well as for Him.
    The first example I thought of was a family I don't really know at all-the Morton family.  For almost a year and a half, their baby has gone through a ton of medical things.  In fact, Glory has spent most of her young life in the hospital.  She was born with multiple medical issues and it is a miracle that she has lived as long as she has.  On Glory's FB page, Fight like a Glory Girl, I noticed that the mom wrote once that during all these months when the hospital was her world and the seasons came and went without being really noticed, that she wondered how they had been able to do it. But at other times, she just gave thanks for all those days with Glory.  Persevering through the seasons for the love of a little girl.
    Also, it's my understanding that they knew Glory would be born with medical problems so they chose the name Glory so that God would receive... yes...glory from her young life. And He has, most definitely.
   The other family that I thought of was the Sullivan family - Brad, Jill, Hannah, and Bethany. Hannah moved to Heaven a while back.  If you don't know her story, you can check it out on the Sullivan Four Blog.  Basically, Hannah prayed that God would allow her to glorify Him through a storm.  As a high school student, she was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor and a year later she graduated to Heaven, never making it to college here on earth.
   Like Glory's family, Hannah's family walked the road of hospitals and medical procedures  with her, supporting her and her desire to glorify God.  Since Hannah's home going, the family continues to glorify God by sharing Hannah's story and by ministering to multiple other families who have children who are very ill  or who have lost children.
   As I thought about these examples,  James 1:12 came to mind in living color - Blessed is he who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
  I know it's not easy for these families - and others like them - to persevere under trial. But somehow, they've found the key to doing so - and that key seems to be love. Love for their family members. Love for the family of God. And love for Jesus Himself, who waits at the finish line with a crown of life for all of them, with a Father standing behind Him, one who knows what it is like to give up a deeply loved child.
     It may not be much comfort now, at the holiday season when I'm sure the Morton's are grieving the fact that Glory is not getting better and I'm sure the Sullivan's miss Hannah tremendously.  But there is a "well done" waiting down the line for them - no question. And when they hear it, they will be standing with all their children, all of whom will be healthy and whole.
 Oh!  I almost forgot to explain the title to this blog.  James 1:17.  Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above.  What I got out of that is that any time I have (or see) something good bestowed, I should also be looking for the hand prints of the Father all over it. This morning I looked and I saw!  And that's where this blog came from.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Today I was asked a question...

   It's a question I hear frequently:  do you miss your job now that you are retired?  I always say no.  And when I'm asked if I miss the kids, I still say, "no."  The first is definitely true.  I realized today that the second answer is and isn't true.  When I think of the kids I taught, it seems to me that the last few years I had more "difficult" or "challenging" kids to work with than not.  And I honestly don't miss those, I'm sorry to say.
   But the truth is that I don't miss the "sweet", idealistic kids either and I realized it's because I still have opportunities to work with kids.  I have the privilege of taking my niece to school once or twice a week and she is the same age as the kids I taught for so many years, definitely the type of student that every teacher wants to have.  I enjoy our morning detours by McDonald's and the neat things she has to say about her classes and about life in general.  (Thanks to her, I know who Avril Livigne is !!!)  Also, our son is still at home so I get to spend time with him and his friends as well, all of whom are college age and nice kids, enjoyable to be around.
   I also have the opportunity to mentor two elementary age students once a week which I thoroughly enjoy, much to my surprise; something I thought I would never like because my whole life has been geared towards teens.  But I love working with these two boys even though I just get to spend 30 minutes  with each one of them on Wednesday.
   And that also provides a key as to why I don't miss  teaching kids in the classroom.
   I never liked the disciplinarian part of my job and always struggled with kids who "copped an attitude".  Some teachers just take this in their stride and deal with it. I never could.  I always worried over whether I had done something (or omitted to do something) to bring the situation on.  I would always second-guess myself and aggressive kids sense that -it's like waving a red flag in front of a bull.  When you discipline a really tough kid, you have to come across as confident and tougher than they are, something I never could do.
    But even the troubled kids that I could "deal with", still bothered me. Why? Because  I couldn't change them.   I really, really hated to see them walk in with a boatload of problems and then see them walk out at the end of the semester with the same exact problems. That was especially true for those who were into drugs, bad relationships, and anti society in general.
   Many times, when I had a class with a high percentage of troubled (and troubling) kids, I just wanted to tell them they needed Jesus, pure and simple. I wanted to tell them to get their noses in the Bible and get into a good youth group and give God a chance to turn their lives around.  But you can't stand up and announce something like that in a public school and I fully understand why - I get that.  But still, I believed during my teaching years and  believe now, that Jesus is the only hope for really troubled kids.
  So I guess I'm saying, I don't miss working with kids because... for one thing, I still do!  Not as much and not as often, certainly. But in a way that works for me.  When I walk into the elementary school, I can pull out a 98cent ball from Wal Mart and the boys I mentor look at it like I've brought them pure gold.  They'll practically stand on their heads to get their math answers done so they can throw this little rubber ball around on the playground.  That doesn't happen on the high school level. Trust me.
   While I can't bring up religious issues with these boys, they can.  And if they bring it up, I can talk with them about it.  I don't have to work so hard to be politically correct for fear of being sued.
   And if they are in trouble, I don't have to be the one to make their lives miserable aka discipline.  Instead, I can talk quietly with them and ask them what they were thinking when they did what they did and also ask them if there is a better way to get what they want the next time temptation comes their way.
   I love one-on-one mentoring with elementary kids because it's non-adversarial and I feel these kids are still pretty impressionable.
   I feel like there's hope for them, more so than there will be 5 years from now when hormones have kicked in with a vengeance and their peers mean more to them than their parents do.
   So no, I don't miss teaching.
   And no, I don't miss the kids.
   Because in a way, I still have kids in my life.
   And I hope I always will.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Pilot's story

     Sometimes I really understand that I'm weird but most of the time I'm not aware of it:)    I guess we all tend to think that we're normal even on our most abnormal days... =/    I think I'm weird in that I  love to go to church (most of the time - there are times when I want to sleep in and there have been times when I've done exactly that!  But not often.  Usually if I miss, I'm sick or we are out of town.)   And I think one reason I love to go to church is because I've always been.  My parents started me in the cradle roll class and I've been going ever since.
    I know that some people have bad experiences at church and that turns them off of going. And I've seen some  bad things happen in a church when people get turned crosswise. And since I'm in my 50's, over the years I've had one or two people say things to me that I didn't like or that hurt my feelings.  But maybe even more to the point, my dad was an usher in our church, always there when the doors were open, and as I've indicated, he was abusive in our home.
     Yet, somehow, I have always known that God loves me and the church is His house - not my dad's, not anybody else's.  And just like my house, some people may come into it and say or do things that I don't like. And I may deal with it in various ways. But anyone who knows me, knows what my standards are and what is and isn't typical for our house, if that makes sense. I think it's the same with God's house.  So I've never been tempted to throw the baby out with the bath water and I'm glad because I can honestly  say that at least 98%  of my experiences in church have been positive.
     Tonight was one of the best experiences we've ever had at church, after a lifetime of listening to great Bible teachers (and our church is really blessed with those!).  The guest speaker's testimony affected everyone in our family in a profound way, so much so that we actually went back to church after we had already left to go home and got 100 copies of the speaker's DVD to pass out in our neighborhood as our Christmas project this year. (And you might say a prayer for that!)   And then, we stopped and handed out three copies before we even got home.  Clearly, the testimony we heard was different.
     Now, two and a half hours after the service ended, I'm still thinking about what the speaker said.  And wishing that everyone would take a 15  minute break (15 min. 34 seconds to be exact:) to hear his story for themselves.   The speaker, Steve Scheibner, was one of the most polished speakers my husband and I have ever heard but also very humble, with a good sense of humor and most importantly, a valuable story to tell.  An experienced military and commercial pilot, he was signed up to fly  Flight 11 on 9/11/2001 and in the video he explains why that didn't happen and how it impacted his life.
    The video was done by one of his sons, Peter,  as a project for his degree in media in college and it is extremely well done.  Please take the time to listen to this during the Christmas season.  We sometimes work soooo hard to capture the true spirit of Christmas and then feel so let down when Christmas is over and the tinsel is all gone and that bubbly feeling is all gone, if we were ever even able to capture it at all.  I think this is the true spirit of Christmas and one that can lift you up and motivate you all year long.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gearing up for January!!!.

     There are several problems with blogs, one being that they sit there forever, in perpetuity (unless you hit the delete button on a few as I have done to several of my own, believe it or not).   Each little blog has a beginning, a middle and an end, all wrapped up nicely presumably.  Like a black and white Christmas present.
     But life isn't like that.
     So sometimes I go back and read my own blogs and think... naaahhhhh.  Too neat and tidy.
    But still I write:)
    So I'll try not to make this too essay-ish.  But no promises!
     The topic de jour  is prayer.  I need it! And after years of being a Christian, I'm still learning how to do it effectively!
    I got a new prayer notebook (the mailman loves me!  I'm the reason the postal service hasn't collapsed yet!). It's called  The 29:59 Plan  (approximately 30 minutes a day) and it recommends the 4/4 approach to prayer.  Basically you start off by looking upward (focusing on God). Then you look downward (worshiping/responding to God).  Then you look inward (bringing your requests for yourself and others, as God leads you, to Him).  And then you look outward - you write down practical ways you can apply what you've learned in your quiet time.
   To begin, you take a short passage of Scripture and ask God to show you His characteristics from that passage. Then you read it and write down the answer to these questions:
1.  Who is God? (Upward)
2.   How shall I respond? (Downward)
3.  What should I pray about? (Inward)
4.  Where do I go from here? (Outward)
   Since I'm basically reading/studying James right now, I took James 1:1-8 for my passage today, figuring that was a big enough passage to meditate on but not too big.  I prayed and then glanced at the verses and thought, Okay. Not much about God until you get to verse five or so.  Not going to have a lot written down for the first question!
    But then I started reading and the first thing I wrote down was that in verse 1 James calls himself a bond-servant of God. Which means that God was his boss. (You can't have a servant without a boss, right?)
   Then in verses 2-4, I realized that even though James is talking about trials, the implication is that God uses trials to produce endurance in our lives. And eventually endurance moves us to maturity.  So I realized that God uses the bad as well as the good to mature us and that He is not only a master-shaper but also He is goal oriented.
   In verse 5, it's pretty clear that God must have all wisdom, otherwise, it would do no good to ask Him for wisdom if He didn't have it. (Or if He didn't have a good deal more wisdom than we ourselves possess!)
Also in verse 5, the writer plainly states that God is a generous giver who bestows wisdom on those who ask for it. And he doesn't reproach the one who asks. I guess that means He doesn't go, "Why are you asking me for wisdom about this situation now instead of two weeks ago when it first cropped up???"  Or "Why are you bothering Me with this when you should be able to figure it out on your own!"  Or even, "Don't bother Me now!!! I have wars and revolutions to straighten out!!!  Your puny concerns are hardly at the top of My list!!!"
     But the thing that really struck me was in verse 8.  "For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."  Bottom line, He doesn't honor requests that are made without faith in His ability to answer; i.e., He really, really values faith!
     I thought about how sad it would be to ask God for wisdom and get this for an answer:  don't expect anything  from Me! Your mind is too unstable, bouncing like a ping-pong ball back and forth between faith and doubt, between My wisdom, your own wisdom and the world's. I can't give you my thoughts on this issue because you are in no shape to receive it!
    When I was in college, I had an acquaintance who was turned down over twenty times for the homecoming dance.  He carried the seeds of his own (social!) demise in his manner of asking. He would approach the next girl on his rather lengthy list, walk up to her and say something like, "I know you aren't going to want to go to the game with me, are you?"
    We laugh about things like that sometimes but I think  my prayers are often like that.  I invite God to dance with me but I expect Him to decline!  As in:   God, You are my boss, I work for You. Not only that, I love You. And I know You love me.  Plus, You have all the wisdom in the world.  And I am in this really difficult situation and I can't know all the ramifications of the different choices that are in front of me because my mind is finite while Yours is infinite. But You aren't going to help me on this one, are You?  I didn't think so. But I thought I'd ask for wisdom anyway, just in case.... Thanks for listening!
    Long digression!
   Okay!  Getting back to the 4/4 plan! I found that once I wrote down the characteristics of God, the other three questions were easy to answer.
 Question 2: How shall I respond?  Well, if God is my boss, then I think I need to present myself to Him every morning for my day's assignment and I think I need to check back frequently during the day to see if anything has changed.  And since He is my boss, I need to ask for wisdom during the day and expect to receive it.  And I need to thank Him for His generous and loving nature.
Question 3:  What should I pray about?  Here I just listed specific things that I need wisdom for and I listed some possible activities for this Christmas season, running them past Him to see if these are the projects He wants me to do or not.  In due time, He'll show me.  And I prayed that He would help specific friends, who are currently going through trials, to see how He is using these trials in their lives and to not let them be overwhelmed. 
Question 4:  Where do I go from here?  I asked God to help me get up every morning for the next seven days and report for duty! Until it becomes a habit...  And I listed some things that I can do (send a card, visit, etc) to encourage a couple of my friends who are going through trials right now.
     Things I noticed that are a bit different about this plan: first, you start with Scripture and worship, not just a few words of praise and a bit of thanks. (They encourage you to respond with song even as you think about who God is).   Second, you allow God to bring people and issues to mind instead of going through a lengthy laundry list of names.  (And as He brought people to mind, I wrote their names down on my journal sheet).  And fourth, the last part of the prayer time actually has you setting one or more simple goals.
   So far I like it.  The notebook has divisions for each day and they encourage you to pray for a different thing each weekday and not get overloaded.  So Monday  might be prayer for people who are especially struggling that week with illness or are  terminally ill. Tuesday  might be a day to pray for those who need spiritual direction and help.  Wednesday,  you might pray for those who just weigh heavily on your heart. Thursday   you might pray for people in leadership, that they would make wise decisions, etc.  And every day you would probably want to pray for family and close friends.

The binder is offered by a ministry (Strategic Renewal, I think) for about 25.00.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Fire by night...

    I have been reading in Exodus 13 and 14 and it seems to me that it would be awesome to have God's presence going before me in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  What a way to avoid those tricky missteps in life while trying to find His will and receive His guidance!  (Not to mention how impressed the neighbors would be... And when you live in the 'hood, impressing the neighbors can be a big deal:)
   Seriously, as I was reading chapter 14, I noticed some things about God's dealings with Moses and the people of Israel that I'd never seen before.  In verses 1 and 2, God speaks directly to Moses and I'm thinking, "Gosh! Isn't the cloud and the fire enough?  I mean, I'd really be happy with that type of concrete direction!"
   But in verses 2-3, I got my first clue as to why God spoke to Moses even though He was already guiding them by going before them.  In these verses, he tells  Moses to turn back - a classic, "You want us  to do whuuutt???"  moment.  Backtracking doesn't always make sense, especially when Pharaoh is behind you, breathing down your neck so-to-speak.
   Why would God tell Moses to do something like that?  All the Israelite people could figure was that they were going to be killed out in the wilderness!   No wonder God confirmed these instructions to Moses personally.  Frankly, if I had been in Moses group and I had seen the pillar going backwards, I would assume God's GPS  was glitching and been tempted to press on in whatever way seemed best to me.
   In the next few verses, God explains that this meandering around on the part of the Jewish people will convince Pharaoh that they are trapped, hemmed in by the Red Sea - stuck in the wilderness.  And once Pharaoh is convinced of this, he will pursue Israel only to find he is the one who is trapped!  So, would God really do this???? Does He trick people??
   I don't know if "trick" is the right word here - maybe "shrewd" would be better - is He shrewd in His dealings with recalcitrant people?  Like Pharaoh?
   Psalms 18:25-27 says, "With the faithful You prove Yourself faithful; with the blameless man You prove Yourself blameless; with the pure You prove Yourself pure, but with the crooked You prove Yourself shrewd.  For you rescue an afflicted people, but you humble those with haughty eyes."
  Something to think about.
  At any rate, God leads the children of Israel to do something that must have seemed almost suicidal to them - turn back and camp in front of Baal-zephon (Baal was a pagan god) and, when they  turn around, voila;  they will notice some water,  the Red Sea to be exact, on the other side.  Nice...
 Most of this story is pretty well known, thanks to Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille.    But one other thing in the Scriptures caught my attention and that was the fact that "... the angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them.  So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness; yet it gave light at night. Thus the one did not come near the other all night."
  I can see these two groups camping almost side-by-side through what must have seemed a very long night; yet no one from the enemy side came near the Jewish people because God stood between them and that was enough.
  When they needed to move forward, His presence went in front of them.
  When they needed protection behind them, His presence moved, apparently without fanfare, behind them.
  As we approach Christmas and a new year, I find this comforting.  Even if He doesn't show up in fire by night and cloud by day, He is still the same as He ever was. He still guides.
  And protects...
  Those who love Him and try to follow Him, no matter how imperfectly they do it.
  And for this, I'm thankful!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A little bit of history on the giving of thanks!

        From 1618 to 1648, the German kingdoms endured a horrible time called the Thirty Years War.  This may not seem to have much to do with Thanksgiving  but hang in there with me!
       At any rate, this was a terrible time, with different armies crisscrossing the land.  It wasn't uncommon for a village to be looted by one army, only to turn around and be sacked by another one!
       Just before the war started, a young man named Martin Rinkart finished training to be a pastor and was  assigned to preach in the city of Eilenburg, Saxony.  Just as he took up his new post, the war broke out and he found himself carrying out his duties in the thick of the fighting.  For the next three decades, this is where he ministered to his people and raised his family.
      One reason Eilenburg was so impacted by the war was because there was a wall around the city.  As the Swedish army ravaged Saxony, people fled to Eilenburg for refuge.  This led to terrible overcrowding which led to food shortages, starvation, and the outbreak of a horrific plague.  During the year of the plague, over 4,000 people died in this city.  It is said that 8,000 inhabitants died overall during the 30 years conflict.
     At the beginning of the war, there were 4 pastors in this area. One is said to have fled to a healthier, safer place and even though the other pastors begged him to return, he refused. I can understand why.   Two of the other pastors died during the war which left Martin Rinkart the only surviving  pastor in Eilenburg.  Towards the end of the war, he was burying 40 to 50 people a day.
   It is said that he gave as much food away as he could and because of this people were always flocking to his door. He also  went into great personal debt in order to meet the needs of others.  It is also said that during these three decades of suffering, he himself never became seriously ill.  However, one account I read said that this was not true of his family and that  before the war was over, he performed the burial service for his own wife.
    Also, at one point when the town was under siege by a Swedish army and the commander was demanding a huge ransom, Rinkart went outside the safety of the city wall  to plead for a lower amount of money.  The commander refused his plea so Rinkart turned to his people and said, "Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men, let us take refuge with God." He then fell to his knees and led his people in a poignant prayer which so touched the Swedish  warrior that he lowered his demands to almost nothing compared to the original amount.  This saved the city from being ransacked.
    Even though he was a faithful shepherd to his flock through all of this turmoil, one  account said that he reached a low point where he felt he could not go on.  It was at this point that  he rallied and  penned this hymn which is now commonly sung in churches in America on Thanksgiving Day:

 Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and bless├Ęd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

And that, I think, about says it all!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


     This past Saturday I woke up before my husband did and decided to fix bacon and eggs, thinking the smell of bacon would be a nice thing to wake up to.  And my husband did appreciate the gesture and he enjoyed the food.  But when I mentioned that I wanted him to awaken to the smell of bacon cooking, he looked at me, gave a slight smile, and said, "Cathy, I can't smell anything..."
   We were celebrating our 25th anniversary.   Phil has never had any sense of smell in all the years I've known him.  I know that he can't smell anything!  And yet I honestly cooked bacon just a few days ago, thinking that the aroma would make for a pleasant start to his day!
   I could put it off to old age but the truth is: my mind just glitches from time to time and always has...  I can "know" something and then, in the busy-ness of the moment, totally forget it.  Or to put it another way, I have a one-track mind that  can easily be derailed.
   Like when David was a toddler and I read Peter Rabbit over and over and over... until I realized I was rooting for Farmer McGregor, which was a definite sign that I'd read it one too many times!  At that point, I temporarily hid the Beatrix Potter book  behind some other books in our library. And found it, to my surprise, several years later when David was well past the bunny rabbit stage.
   And then there are times when I just, bottom line, get things garbled.  Again when David was very small, a baby actually, he had his first ear infection.  I was up with him all night long (that's my excuse!) and the next morning when I took him to the pediatrician, he was quickly diagnosed.  The doctor, trying to save us some money, gave me David's medicine in sample packets with instructions on how to add water.  And then he wrote down how often to give it.The last thing he said to me was that the infection was localized to the right ear only.
   From those simple directions, I deduced (incorrectly) that the medicine should go in David's ear!  The only problem was - the medicine was pretty thick and didn't want to go in David's ear... Nor did David want it in his ear! To this day, I can remember holding my beloved child at an odd angle, trying to force that thick substance into his tiny ear.  Finally, in total frustration, I went next door and asked David's adopted grandparents to help me.  "Papaw" just looked at me and said, "You're not going to get me to do that!  I don't want the kid to hate me when he grows up!"
    The next morning, I dutifully took David's temperature and it showed he still had a fever.  So I called the nurse and she asked me when I started the medicine. I innocently said that I put it in his ear the day before. She asked me to repeat that, which I did. And then, in a very calm voice, she said, "That's fine, Dear. But let's go ahead and start it by mouth today."  At that point, I burst into tears and started asking her things like, "Would he have brain damage?"  She assured me that he wouldn't but refrained from saying that the medicine was probably the least of his worries.
    I guess the point of all this is that I really, really know that I can get things wrong, forget things, etc. But when Phil and I have a difference of opinion, I'm just as quick to assume that I'm right and he is wrong as I've ever been.  And sometimes I can be quite adamant in defending my position!
    So today I've been going over the verse in James 1 that starts off by saying, "Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger."
    Good advice for a scatterbrain like me!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fasten your seat belts for Random thoughts: Nigeria, James and John Donne...:)

     Over the years we have learned so much from our international friends and one of the treasures of our lives is the many memories that we have acquired while we worked with young people from different nations.
      One memory came back to me in particular this morning as I was driving through rush hour traffic on a rain-sodden Tuesday morning.  One of our friends, a brilliant young woman from Nigeria, used to pray, "Thank you, Lord, that it was not our portion to wake up sick this morning or in the hospital or to wake up in poverty. Thank You, Lord, that we have gas for our cars and a roof over our heads and food for our tables.  May You go with us now, Lord, and cover us with the blood of your precious Son."
     It was a different way of praying for me and we all loved to hear her pray whenever we ended an evening together or started a new day with her.  While I don't think her family had ever known poverty, she had certainly seen a lot of it in her native land.  Also superstition and demon worship.  Also political and religious strife which has grown greater over time.
    One of the things that she said which has stayed with me throughout the years was actually a commentary on Americans in general.  She told us one evening that Americans were too casual about religion.  She went on to add that in her country, the supernatural was very real and no one doubted the existence of an invisible, spiritual world, a world with great power.
   Then she gave me examples of things she herself had seen.  For instance, if a woman had several miscarriages and she followed a tribal religion, she would eventually decide that evil spirits were causing her to lose the babies.  So the next time she had a miscarriage, she would mutilate the baby in some way - perhaps a burn mark on the baby's arm or a cut on the face.  Then, the next time she got pregnant, she would give birth to a healthy baby.. with the exact same markings on its body as the previous baby.  This baby would then be treated disdainfully, to show the evil spirits that the parents were not intimidated by them. And then the next child would be born healthy - no markings - and  treated well.
   When my friend and I discussed this, she had her Masters from Princeton and since has gone on to get her PhD from Penn State.   She was and is brilliant and has never been into tribal religions. But she had seen the example given above  and others like it.
   Basically what she was saying was this:  spiritual warfare is real.  People in her country know this - they see evidence of it all around them.  And as in any war, it's unwise to stand in the middle of the battle field because those people who are undecided or unconcerned will be among the first casualties.  She said most people in her country belonged to some religion and took it seriously because it was foolish not to.
   And this is exactly  what she did not see among the general populace here in the States.  Instead, she saw people ignoring the spiritual world entirely or dabbling in it, playing at church because it made them feel good or it was socially acceptable.
   I've been reading in James 1 and this verse has stayed with me over the past few days.  But prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
   James goes on to say, If anyone thinks himself to be religious and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. (1:26)
   And at another point in the chapter, he says, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow."  (1:17)
   I'm really not trying to preach to anyone; I'm totally not qualified and I know that. The fact is, as I've meditated on these passages and thought about my friend's practical yet strong faith, I have been extremely convicted. If I could, I would take back so many negative, gossipy things that I have said, especially at work down through the years.
  Thankful that I have the option of being serious about my faith.
  Thankful that God does allow do overs.
  Thankful for the book of James and for my dear friend from Nigeria.

[For my bookish friends :) this poem has also been on my mind!

"A Hymn to God the Father" by John Donne

WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.]


    Sunday, November 20, 2011

    Memories and Thanksgiving... :)

      Twenty-five years ago, almost to the day... Phil and I were married.  It had just been my mom and I living together pretty much since I was fifteen-years-old.  She was 62 and in bad health at the time of our wedding and it was a threatening situation for her.  She didn't want to live alone and as I now approach 60, I can understand that.  Also, she had had  a terrible marriage and she feared I would as well.  Remaining single seemed the safest and wisest thing to do, based on her personal experience.
    1989 - 2nd honeymoon.
         Our marriage not only disrupted her life but others as well.  This past weekend, Phil and I were trying to recount how many people he moved in the weeks surrounding our marriage and it was quite a few.  At times, it seemed like the hassle of it all and the stress of it all would kill someone if not us and to this day, I remember walking down the aisle, hoping my mom's heart condition would not send her to the ER.  Thankfully, she made it fine and we were soon on our way to Eureka Springs!  What a wonderful feeling it was to know that we were actually married and everyone had survived!!! :)
         Phil and I took the longer, scenic route, which we laugh about now because we left Little Rock in late afternoon and by the time we hit the "scenic" part of the trip, there was nothing to see but pitch dark since there are no street lights along deserted mountain roads. At one point, as we were traveling through some very thick fog, I clearly heard the sound of a low fog horn.  I was startled, looking around,  wondering what on earth was happening... To my surprise, it was my new husband whom I later learned could not only do a great imitation of a fog horn but also of a brass band...  At another point in the trip, Phil pulled our little car over to the side, we both got out and he said, "Isn't this wonderful!!"  I looked around, totally clueless, wondering, "What? What is so wonderful?"  As he explained to me how great it was just to stand in the countryside where a person could actually see the stars in the night sky, I began to look nervously over my shoulder, expecting a high-strung deer or  a hunter who was just high.. .to come leaping out of the woods and do bodily harm to us.  We didn't stand there long, for which I was thankful.  Basically, I was pretty-much a city girl and at heart, he loved the country.
        Maybe that is why Eureka Springs was the perfect place for us on our honeymoon.  At Redbud Valley Resort, we were surrounded by hills, trees, water, and yes, a view of a crisp night sky that was unobstructed by mercury vapor lights.  However, there were some wonderful (and well-lit) shops nearby built right into the side of the mountain and a Christmas shop that seemed built just for me!
       Going back this weekend was a blessing. Not an unmitigated blessing because we were acutely aware of how time has passed, leaving our hip and knee joints slightly less limber than they once were!  But a deep, abiding  blessing, just to realize how far God has brought us over the past 25 years and how good He has been to us.  Basically, he took two very self-willed and slightly ignorant people and somehow blended us into a couple who care deeply about each other and now, after all these years, can often even complete each other's thoughts, in a good way!
    Oct. 1989
       For this, we are both grateful this Thanksgiving season!

    Nov. 2011

    Oct. 1997 -with Timothy

    Oct. 2004  Eureka Springs -Berlin Wall


    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Straight with crooked sticks.

         Just a follow-up on the blog from yesterday.  I started the autobiography of Brennan Manning last night, reading through the recommendations at the very first of the bookt. It's been my experience that the publisher does not include lengthy recommendations at the front unless they feel the positive referrals are needed:)  In other words, there is something about the story that may cause readers to back off so they try to warn the readers in advance and encourage them to continue reading.  By the time I had finished the reviews of Manning's new book, frankly, I was wishing I had not mentioned it in yesterday's blog. The reviews were pretty poignant and alarm bells were going off in my mind as I started the first chapter with some trepidation.
       I knew that Manning struggled with alcoholism and that he had relapsed big time at one point in his life. I did not know that, apparently, he has struggled off and on with alcoholism throughout his whole life and has paid a big price for it - the death of his marriage and now, severe health problems in his old age.
       I prefer the Corrie ten Boom, Elizabeth Elliot testimonies of life.  Straight stories that don't have crooked, messy detours.  Something in me is indignant at the thought that a man could hold Christian conferences (I've been to one and talked to Mr. Manning afterwards -he was very gracious), and then go back to his hotel room and drink himself into a stupor.
       When I first read the reviews, it made me want to backtrack and sort of delete yesterday's  blog but then I realized that would mean  basically denying the incredible impact that ABba's Child had on me at a difficult time in my life.  Which would be to deny the truth.  And I don't like ingrates any more than I like lapsed big-time sinners...myself included:) (And, no, I'm not an alcoholic...)
       How can God use someone who experiences grace, helps others experience grace, and then turns around and falls off the wagon? Over and over?
      I thought about that and then I realized maybe a better question is: how can God use a person who experiences His grace, loves Him, and then falls off the wagon.. by repeating vicious gossip? Or even starting vicious gossip? Or by losing his temper? Or by... You get the picture...
       In my 57 years, I've been in church from cradle roll until now.  Mostly I've gone to large churches with multiple staff members.  Over the years, I've known of two pastors who wiped out due to sexual temptation. In one of those cases, the marriage was salvaged. In the other, it was not.  I've known of a staff member who embezzled church funds and another who, while counseling people professionally, became addicted to prescription pain meds. IN both cases, those two  men have been restored and are leading active Christian lives now, helping others, probably more effective than they were before.
      Brennan's life (and again, I've just started the story) is the first case that I've read of where his ministry was an on-going series of great highs and lows, successes and failures.  And I just don't like that, frankly.  I want Christian leaders to either walk a steady line, or if they fall, to submit to counseling and accountability and then go on to walk the straight and narrow again without blemish.
       But then I remembered a couple of other things I've heard throughout my life:
       1. God writes straight with crooked sticks. And that would be us.
       2. If the Christian life is a spiritual battle between good and evil, then Christians are the only ones who shoot their own wounded soldiers.
      In other words, I'll love you today as long as you walk the walk and talk the talk. But if you mess up big time - especially if you are a leader - I'm going to  avoid you, judge you and, there it is again, gossip about you... self-righteously.
      Do I think it's a good thing to lead a conference one minute and climb into a bottle the next? No, definitely not.
      What I think is that Christian leaders are in the forefront of a huge battle.
      What I think is something that was written by one of the reviewer's of Brennan's new book - namely that a book is easier to edit than a life.  And an edited biography, even a Christian biography, can lead people to glance at Jesus and worship the writer. (Even a blog can do that...)
         What I think is that Brennan, by revealing his flaws, wanted to high light the grace of God, not himself.
         What I know is that God used Brennan's book, Abba's Child, in my life at a critical time and for that I'm grateful.
      And maybe the words "God used..." says it all.
      As in, if God has used this man in spite of his struggles with addiction, then really, the opinions of mere humans, myself included,   is, um,  pretty.. superfluous...
      Looking forward to finishing his biography. Believing God will use this book as He has used Brennan's other books. And honestly, pretty sure that  even though this may be a modern-day version of Augustine's Confessions, without the  happy ending, the book will still resonate with the life-note of Manning's entire life story:
     God's Grace!
     Or as the title says, All Is Grace.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    A crumb of grace...

         I once heard a story about a rebellious little boy who was forced to sit in a corner for his bad behavior. After his teacher finally got him to sit facing the wall, he was heard to say, "I may be sitting down on the outside but .. I'm standing up on the inside!"
         Sometimes, even as  a "grown-up", I can identify!
         Even though I know this is not the right thing to do, there was a time when I came home on a Friday after work and told God that if He wanted me to sit, I would stand and if He wanted me to stand, I would sit.  I went on to say that I would not be praying or doing anything else I was supposed to do that particular weekend - basically sort of "signing off" spiritually as it were. It was my first Mother's Day since my mom had died.  The month before on April 16th my mom would have turned 72; my dad would have turned 79. At that point, my dad had been gone for 8 months; mom had been gone for 5 months.   I was not handling things well.
        I was true to my rebellious word throughout that weekend. Sunday morning I woke up determined not to go to church.  But I knew my husband would question my decision and gently  encourage me to go on anyway.  So I was still trying to figure out how to get out of going  without revealing my inner rebellion when I walked into our living room and saw, sitting on a chair, this beautifully wrapped present with a spectacular bow.  It was from my brother's girlfriend, whom I am blessed to have as a sister-in-law now.
        I opened up the present and saw, to my disappointment, that it was a book by a writer I had already dismissed as someone who was not my "cup of tea."  But then it hit me that I could sit down, idly flip through the paperback and pretend to be totally absorbed in it when my husband came into the room later on. At that point, I would basically lie and tell him that I had become so engrossed in the book that I had lost track of time and couldn't get ready in time for church sooo... he would just have to go without me.
       With that in mind, I picked up the book and began to read. To my surprise, the first few pages resonated deeply with my broken and angry heart.  Before I knew it, I was deeply into the book and when my husband asked me about going to church, without a word I got up, got ready in minutes and went on to the service.  I was no longer prepared to lie; things were already changing heart-wise for me.  It was tough to sit through the worship time but I made it.  And then I went right back to my new book.
        Reading it lifted me from angry despair to the place where I could bring my pain to God instead of cutting myself off from Him.  I came to understand that God wants us to be honest with Him, even when we're hurting, and that when we are in pain, confused, or angry, His love is not diminished towards us.  In other words, He doesn't cut us off from His love but we can  cut ourselves off. At the same time, all it takes is honest communication to get the relationship going again.
       And that's what I needed - to feel His love once more.  Why I ever thought cutting myself off from His love would make me feel better, I don't know.
       For the next three days as I drove to and from work, I kept asking, "Why would God go to the trouble to get a book to me (through my future sister-in-law) that I would never have bought for myself? A book  that touched my wounded heart and helped bring me back to God? And at a time  when I was nothing but an angry mess?"
       It made no sense to me.
       If a child of mine looked at me and said, "If you tell me to sit, I'm going to stand..!!!" I definitely would not be giving that child a present... Yet, honestly, that was exactly  what God did for me on that particular Mother's Day.
       Each day as I drove to and from work, I worried this question around like a dog worrying a bone, as the saying goes. And each day I cried.  And each day I repeatedly said, "Why, God?  Why would You reach out to me this way when I was so angry with You?"  
       And finally, on the third day, I got His answer.
       "This is grace, Cathy. This is just a small picture of what happened on the cross - same principle.  Once you were lost in sin, alienated from My love and at that time I sent you a gift -  my only Son - to  die  in your place, so that You and I could be reconciled, so that you could know My love.   It's all grace."
       The book was  Abba's Child by Brennan Manning.
        Today, I saw his autobiography  and bought it on my Kindle. He apparently wrote it hoping "a crumb of grace" might fall into someone's life via the telling of the first part of his life, when he was apparently searching for God.
        You can be sure it will go with me on our upcoming weekend away from home.
        Today - and every day - a crumb of grace sounds pretty good...



    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Thanks for the memories...:)

          This is a made-to-order Autumn day, perfect!  The wind has been blowing all night long and is still at it,  as if it's trying to  sweep everything clean, trying to usher in something new.  To be outside on a day like this, for me at least, is to experience joy.
         Also, for some reason,days like this bring to mind memories from my childhood.   As  I've been reminiscing, it suddenly hit me - wow, did I ever grow up in a politically incorrect world:)   Some of my fondest memories are of us kids standing around in flip flops (or more likely  barefoot)  pretend smoking candy "cigarettes".  None of the adults recoiled in horror at the thought of us becoming real  smokers later on. In fact, my grandparents supplied the candy - largely because I couldn't pretend "smoke" and talk at the same time.  Not only that but  there were a few days when my grandmother encouraged me to try to balance two at once in my mouth, if that tells you anything... But none of us ever grew up to become smokers as teens or  young adults.
        And I got spankings.  Not a lot but certainly more  than one.  Mostly after Sunday evening services and that's probably because my parents occasionally let me sit with my older siblings and they couldn't really handle me. I remember one spanking in particular - not the pain of it because my parents never spanked me hard enough to do anything other than bruise my ego - but the lecture that I got before justice was dispensed.  I know it's commonly quoted that if you spank a child, you just teach them to hit others. But that's not what I got out of it.  I learned new words, actually. Words like "lenient" as in, "Catherine Elizabeth, I've been too lenient with you..."  (I had to wait until after my spanking to go ask my sister what that meant:)  And I learned that it's a huge mistake to act up in church and then turn around and wave at my parents, refusing to quit until they wave back... I think in the annals of justice, that's known as a compound felony... I guess modern theorists would speculate that such experiences would turn me off of church forever.  But I'm almost sixty and love church just as much now as I ever did.  (But without the acting up during worship times... Ha!)
       Finally,  I remember eating "dinner on the ground."  Once a year my grandmother's rural church observed "Decoration Day," where adults gathered from far and near to decorate family graves while the women of the church set up pot luck dishes on long trestle tables, covered with sheets.  And that's where we ate - right there in the cemetery.   (With no Germ-X in plastic bottles, either!)  After the meal,  the adults sat around in lawn chairs visiting while the kids played hide and seek among the tombstones. Ever so often, the moms would warn one or more of their offspring,  "Mind your manners and don't be running across the graves!!! Go around them or, by George, you'll wish you had by the time I get through with you!!!''    And I learned from that experience also - to this day, when I go to a cemetery for a funeral, I'm careful to step around the graves as best I can.
       Time has a way of painting memories with a rosier (or darker) hue than they originally had.  When I look back at those days, they seem fairly carefree. Back then  I didn't know that candy cigarettes could make me want to smoke so.. I just never smoked.   And I didn't know that a swat on the behind could be called abuse or that cemeteries were solemn places for funerals only.
       I just knew that life was somewhat earthy;  that good-weather days were meant for hanging out with cousins, friends, and siblings where we divided our time equally between getting along and fighting with each other (without the benefit of anger management classes);  that   church was for being good and that adults had boundaries which needed to be learned and respected.   And that death was just a natural part of life. Something serious, to be sure,  but not necessarily to be feared.
       Today Autumn winds are sweeping across our yard, stirring up not just leaves but also memories.
       And for that,  I'm thankful...
    Rejoice always
         Pray without ceasing
             In everything give thanks...
                               I Thessalonians 5:16-18



    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    When one part of the body hurts...

          Woke up in the middle of the night; not feeling a hundred percent due to sinus stuff.  And here I am, totally wide-eyed  and feeling like sleep is still a long ways away.    After trying various activities to make myself sleepy, I finally hit on the novel idea of praying... Ha!
         I got out an old  prayer binder that I just unearthed and started flipping through the dividers, seeing what "topic" was associated with each day of the week.  When I got to Friday's divider, I saw that the subject was "prayers for the suffering saints."  Honestly, when I think of suffering saints, I tend to think of .. me.  My feet hurt... my sinuses woke me up again...the neighbors are roaring down the street at midnight on those motorcycles that sound like  airplanes taking off.. and by the way, God, could You cause their engines to break down... yada yada....
        Back to the notebook - I saw that Friday's section  also  has a little map in it and suggests that the user list missionaries, organizations, etc to pray for .  I listed a few countries where persecution is the norm. And underneath each country I listed any names of individuals or organizations that I knew of. I'm telling you - it was a short list. Prayer lists for myself are pretty.. long.
       Then I started to pray some of the prayers written out for me to use in this section. When  I got to the second prayer, however, I just burst into tears.  At that point I thought, "Okay. This is my blog for today..."
       But then I thought, "I've already written one blog about the persecuted church and I don't think people  like to hear about this topic."
       Then I remembered many years ago, when I was at a Toastmaster's meeting in California. I was seated among a very sophisticated group and mostly what I remember is how several of them talked about their ex's and how they were all  on the best of terms... Like, we're divorced (some multiple times) but it's no big deal,  we're still the best of friends; no harm done. And I couldn't believe that because I had friends who had gone through divorce and it hurt like heck for them, it was terrible.  Even if they remained on friendly terms with their spouses afterwards, they never discussed divorce in casual terms.
       So while I'm sitting there trying to figure out who had the most ex's and how they had all managed to bond  together so well in this  club in spite of how most of them had been married to each other at one time, a very elegant and well-spoken woman picked up my key chain. I had gotten it from the Open Doors ministry and it had a Volkswagen in a circle with a line drawn across it.  Open Doors used that symbol for their organization as a reminder of how their founder, Brother Andrew, started taking Bibles into Eastern Europe in the 1950's, right after the iron curtain descended.  In his little car, he hid Christian literature and at risk to his life, took this material to Christians who were in desperate need of encouragement.
        The lady looked at my key chain  and then asked me what it meant. I explained it to her and I'll never forget her reply.  She frowned slightly and said, "Isn't that sort of negative to think about? I mean, isn't that sort of a downer?  I mean shouldn't we dwell on the positives?"
        Well, yes... and, um.. no.
        Well, what I really mean is: if I were in prison for my faith, by golly, I would want someone out there to be praying for me even if it wasn't the most popular thing to do.  Do you know what I mean?
         So yes, persecution isn't the most positive thing on the planet. And that's why the suffering saints need our prayers and the positive encouragement that comes from our praying together as the body of Christ for them.  In Galatians 6:5  we are  told to  carry our own loads (daily responsibilities).  However, in Galatians 6:2, we are told to also help others carry their out-of-the-ordinary burdens, their overwhelming loads.  And I'm  pretty sure that persecution qualifies as an overwhelming load.
         The Bible also says in Matt. 18:20 that wherever two or three of us are gathered together in His name, He is there with us. What an awesome promise!  However, it's likely that  my sister or brother in a severely restricted country can't meet with others to pray, not even just two or three together. But we can. And I guess that's the point of all this.
        At any rate,  it's what God laid on my heart at 3 a.m. And then,  after I started writing, I suddenly realized that today is the day  that is set aside once a year to pray for and focus on the persecuted church.  So definitely,  this is the topic de jour for this Nov. 13th blog! Please pray for other believers who have never known the freedom we have.  I have read that some of them  pray for us!

       Below are some suggested prayers for the suffering church from the 2959 Prayer Plan notebook.
       1. Pray that they will not be put to shame in anything, but with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in their body, whether by life or by death.  Phil. 1:20

       2. Pray that  the Lord will  direct their hearts into the love of God and steadfastness of Christ.  II Thess. 3:5.

       3.  Pray that the Lord will strengthen them  with all power according to His glorious might, so that they may attain steadfastness and patience joyously.  (Col. 1:11)


    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    Sola Dei Gloria!

         When I got married, I made a lot of promises... Pretty sure I haven't kept all of them...:)  The love, honor, and obey part tends to slip from my mind... a lot!    Over the years, we've had very few arguments. However, I still regret the time when I got mad at Phil (I was very pregnant at the time and not the best of people) and decided, after stewing about things until 1 in the morning (not a good idea when your hormones are bungee jumping around on the inside), to rearrange his sock and underwear drawers... Why I decided to switch everything around,  I have no clue. At the time, it made perfect sense.  (A lot of things made perfect sense to me during pregnancy that don't make any sense to me now at all...)  Phil was pretty patient with me during those days; so patient that I once told him  he could make a living chauffeuring pregnant, temperamental ladies around. To my surprise, he told me there wasn't enough money in the world to pay him to do that!
         We both thought that after David was born things would be better. But like many new parents, we discovered they only got worse. David was sick a lot. I was on a year-long leave of absence and money was incredibly tight.  By the end of that year, we had gone deeply into debt.  Phil's knee went out on him twice during that year and as a mechanic, he had to be able to get around on his feet.  The second time the doctor drained fluid from his knee, Phil passed out in the doctor's office and was extremely weak for the next 24 to 48 hours.  My extended family was going through a crisis.  Phil's father died.  It was just a really tough time.
        Underneath the strain of it all, what kept us together was not our love for each other but rather our commitment to and willingness to hear from our Lord and Savior.  When I couldn't get through to Phil and he couldn't get through to me, somehow, God got through to us both.   During that time,  we used to look at each other and say, "We'll never divorce but one of us may wind up on the obituary page!"  WE'd laugh but there was a grain of truth in that!  As Christians, we had made a commitment before God to stay married until death do us part. And when you've both gone for a week without a decent night's sleep due to a sick child and you   dread going  to the mailbox because all it contains are medical bills that you can't pay, there are those fleeting moments when murder doesn't look like such a bad option!
       Seriously, one thing that really helped during those tough times  was the knowledge that we had sought God's will in the matter of marriage.  Back during our courtship days, I was listening to Dr.Charles Stanley on the radio. Before we even had our first date, I heard Dr. Stanley say that a Christian  should say "yes" to God's will even before he  knew what it was.  So when Phil and I had our first date and we decided to end it in prayer, I voiced this prayer:  "Lord, whatever Your will is for this relationship, whether we are just to be friends or whether You intend something deeper, I say  yes to Your will ahead of time."  That evening, I had no idea that Phil struggled with commitment.  Later he told me that  prayer freed him up to move forward in the relationship.
       Then, after we became engaged, I felt threatened by a young lady whom we saw from time to time, a friend of both Phil and his sister.  About that time, I heard Dr. Stanley say that when you are dating, you should pray, "May God bring the very best into my loved one's life, even if that very best is someone else."  I struggled to pray that prayer.   I still remember hopping in and out of bed one night like a grasshopper- probably 6 or 7 times - in order to fall to my knees to pray that prayer for Phil.  But each time, after I voiced that prayer and returned to bed, I would feel a gigantic tug-of-war going on in my mind - sometimes so intense I thought my head would split!  Because of that internal conflict,  I knew the words had come from my mouth but not my heart.  So out of bed I would hop again and down on my knees I'd go...   Finally, I prayed the prayer one more time saying, "I want the very best for Phil, even if that means you have someone else for him to marry. If its your will for us to break up, it will break my heart but I trust You to pick up the pieces and put them back together again."  At that point, I had peace and was able to sleep.     I never struggled with jealousy again over the other young lady and our marriage went forward as planned.
        Obviously, back then  I could never even imagine a time when I could ever even be tempted to  walk out on Phil or on  our marriage.  But sure enough, that dark day did come. And  when that unlikely day came four years later, the first thing that happened was that  I began to think I had made a mistake. (And I'm sure Phil was tempted to think the same thing).  But as that thought started to take root in my mind,  God counteracted that with memories of all the various ways He had led us together, how He had protected our relationship, and how we had sought His will.  That was enough to scotch the thought that maybe we had made a mistake, maybe we had married the wrong person.
       Today, about the only thing I can tell any young person who is contemplating marriage is to pray those prayers and make sure that both of you are walking with the Lord as you consider committing to each other. It may seem like a tough thing to do - to pray that if you aren't the best for your loved one, He will lead you to break up.  But we're just human. WE get it into our heads that we can't live without someone. And then when things get bad, it's just as easy to get it into our heads that we can't live with that same someone.
         God alone knows who is the right one for us and as a loving Father, He will not give His children away to the wrong person. Knowing that your Heavenly Abba hand-picked your spouse helps when the dark days come.
       Next week we will go away to celebrate our 25th anniversary!  Sola Dei Gloria!


    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Ten on the Tenth - Bananas, ice cream, and drive-throughs....

        I'm about to finish the book, Good-bye Is Not Forever by Amy George.  Somehow, Amy and her family - all except her dad - were eventually able to emigrate to the U.S. and that's why the book even exists.   However, because her father had been a political prisoner, he was constantly denied a visa to even visit the States.   He simply knew too much and the Soviet govt. didn't want him telling tales in the West.
       Then, when Amy was forty with kids of her own, one day her mom called her and told her to sit down: a worker at an airport  in Chicago had just contacted them. They had a 79-year-old man who spoke no English and just had a cane,a passport, and an address book with him. He was sick, frail and crying!  It was her father!
       I won't spoil the book by telling you everything.  But I can tell you that her descriptions of how the U.S. looked to her dad were eye-opening, to say the least.  Yesterday I had oatmeal, a banana and a bran muffin at Cracker Barrel for breakfast. It seemed to me like  a healthy "sacrifice" to make in light of all the other tasty  items on the menu. Not any more!
       Today, seriously, I am thankful for:

    1. Bananas.  Her father had lost all of his teeth from malnutrition while working in a Soviet mine in Siberia.  He had false teeth that were poorly made and little help, so he was limited in what he could eat.  At Amy's house, he ate his first banana ever! Lovingly. Wonderingly.  Savoring every bite, wanting to know what it was called.  After eating two, he announced that if he could have a banana and a piece of black bread every day for the rest of his life, he would be happy.

    2.  That was until he discovered soft serve ice cream:) ! He had never had that before either- ate his first ice cream cone as if it were nectar from the gods. When Amy saw how much he loved a simple  ice cream treat from Dairy Queen, she made a note to get him one every day during his visit to the States.

    3.  Grocery stores with plenty of food on the shelves. When Amy took him to a small grocery store near her home, he marveled at the fruits and vegetables, didn't know the names of many of them and so was constantly asking, "What is that?"  His first question, however, was:  is this a store for tourists?  In Soviet Russia back in the sixties and seventies, some stores were well-stocked  for the benefit of tourists, a form of propaganda. Often, the  stores the locals used were pretty much bare.

    4.  The fact that we have cars in abundance here. Her father had never driven one.

    5.  The fact that we have drive-through windows at restaurants, banks, drug stores, etc.  Since her father came from a small farming village in the Ukraine, he had never seen or heard of such conveniences.

    6.  The fact that I don't have to be afraid when I go through a drive-through at the bank.  One day Amy took her father with her on some errands. When they went through the bank drive-through, her father stiffened and looked worried.  He didn't relax until they had left.  He thought the drive-through was a police check point and that they were going to examine his papers! His papers were in order but in Soviet Russia, that meant nothing. Governments were not to be trusted; they were to be feared...

    7.  In fact, no one apart from family was to be trusted. Ever.    Restricting conversations and letters to the most innocuous subjects was deeply ingrained in survivors of Stalin's day. So much so that her mother and father never completely got over it. So today I'm thankful for freedom of speech.

    8. I'm also thankful for the fact that God answers prayers and does the things no one else can do. After Amy and Bob became Christians, Amy wrote to her father as cautiously as she could about God in order to avoid getting him into trouble.    He wrote back  that he was an atheist.  So she and her husband began to pray that someone in the Ukraine would share Christ with him. Instead, God opened the way for her father to come to Texas, where they were able to share Christ with him and he believed.

    9.  And I'm thankful that I can own a Bible.. The father devoured the Russian Bible Amy had in her home. He read it constantly, even slept with it. Loved it. But sadly, he was afraid to take it back to the USSR for fear it would cause him to be sent back to Siberia so when he boarded the plane, he had to leave it behind.  He really wanted it but he couldn't have it.

    10.  The fact that I've never had to live in fear, experience war, or be forced to give up all rights under a totalitarian system.  For twenty years, Amy's family had no idea if her father was alive or dead. Throughout those years, they just existed as slave laborers for one corrupt system or another. But they never gave up their humanity, sharing what they had even if it was just two boiled potatoes to eat. (In fact, she said that her loved ones never ate anything without sharing it with everyone in their family - for her, sharing food made it that much better!)  .And I think God honored that by bringing them through all that they endured and providing for them in the most unlikely of ways.

    Good-bye Is Not Forever. Because of this book, I think Thanksgiving will be a little more meaningful this year.  Christmas too!