Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Our Japanese Friend...

     Some things are overwhelming.
     And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
     In Dec. of 1995, my mom died of cancer. She was not only my mom but also my shopping buddy, my adviser, and in many ways, my mentor.  When she transitioned to Heaven, there was a huge void in my life as well as in my heart.  Time hung heavy on my hands as I wrestled with grief.
    In March of 1996, I decided it was no good sitting around wringing my hands and so I volunteered to work with a ministry I had heard about at church: International Friendship Organization (IFO).   I wasn't sure if I could do it or not and had no idea how much it would change our lives when I filled out an application.

   At first we just opted for a friendship partner, which meant we agreed to  contact our student once a week and also to include  them in a couple of family activities twice a month.  I still remember the first time we met our Japanese partner, T.  We took her out to lunch with us on a Sunday afternoon.  Looking back, I think we were all a little nervous and when the food came, my anxiety only heightened.  We had recommended the chicken fried steak with gravy and when it arrived, I saw a momentary expression of concern flicker across her face.  She quickly recovered and was very gracious about it all  but that first initial look told me that gravy was not a big hit in Tokyo... Then when she asked for iced coffee, we were all flummoxed and the waiter never got it right. I think they finally brought her a  glass of ice and a cup of hot coffee  (At that time, iced coffee and Arkansas hadn't really shaken hands yet...)  Later, she would get her own back by introducing me to Sushi, something I had never seen before but have eaten plenty of since.
    Over the next four years, T. became a part of our family, an amazing person who fit well into every group that she was a part of.  She had been a high school teacher in a private school in her home country and was here to get her Master's degree.  She was very athletic and graceful - she taught our son to ice skate and also helped him learn to swim.
     While we were at the skating rink one day, she skated over to check on me where I was sitting. As she started back down the ramp headed towards the ice, she looked back over her shoulder and yelled  "Fire!"  I jumped and started looking around in all directions.  She yelled, "No!  Fire!!" This time I jumped up and headed to the rail where I would be closest to David so I could yell at him to get off the floor.  She hastily came back to me and said, "No! Fire!" and pointed to the fire place on the opposite side of the rink, something I hadn't noticed before.  She wasn't trying to test Oliver Wendell Holme's dictum about shouting fire falsely in a crowded skating rink.. er.. theater.. but for a minute, I was ready to book it with both feet out of that building, proving that the illustrious judge had a valid point...  We both laughed when she realized I finally understood that she was concerned about me being cold and simply wanted me to go sit next to the fireplace.

    Being an athlete and diminutive in size, she had a waist about as big around as my wrist and yet she once ate 17 slices of pizza at CiCi's restaurant (we all counted)  and her friends assured me that was normal for her!  I think if they gave out awards for high metabolism, she would have won.  Everything she did, even eating pizza, became an event loaded with laughter.
    Even buying a car brought its hilarious moments!  When she decided to get a used car, she asked us to help her.  The first thing she wanted us to do was to call about an ad she had seen in the paper; she was afraid her English wouldn't be good enough to be understood over the phone.  So I called for her and the dialogue went something like this:
     "Hello, I'm calling about the car you advertised in the paper..."
     "Yesss... Is good buy. You like..."
     I sort of did a double-take, shook the receiver once or twice and said, "Would it be possible for us to come see the car?"
     "Hokay!  No-ah probleem!  You know where UAyeLuhArrrr is?"
     At this point, I put my  hand over the receiver and hissed, "T.!  He is an international who goes to UALR! Just like you!" She started laughing and saying, "Oh!  So sorry!! I did not know!"
     I got his address and we drove to the apartment where he was living.  He showed us the car, was very nice about everything and when T. asked him if she could keep it over night so that Phil could look it over, he said that was fine.
      I drove her back to the home where she was staying and Phil drove the other car to our house where he proceeded to go over it with a fine tooth comb.  Phil is a stickler when it comes to cars and so he came up with a whole list of problems, most of which were very minor.  He actually didn't think it was that bad a buy considering what the guy was asking.  We took the car to T. the next morning, along with the list, and asked her what she wanted to do. She looked at the list and then, without a word to us, she called the guy and said in a sweet but firm voice, "Hallo.  This is T. Your car is a no good!!!!  I don't want.  I will return it! !!"
     Phil and I were just cringing and afterwards Phil said, "Well, I wouldn't say it is that bad a car, T."
     She smiled prettily, pointed to the list, and said, "But.. is true!"
    The guy didn't mind.. .but as I've indicated, T. was beautiful with a personality (normally!) to match.
     Sometime later, she picked out another car.  At this time, she had a Chinese boyfriend who worked in a restaurant part time while going through school.  T. Wanted us to take this car to the restaurant so her boyfriend could test drive it. So we went over there and the young man came out, very nice but literally covered in flour, jumped behind the wheel and did all kinds of  super fast crazy eights on the parking lot while we watched in horror.  After a few minutes, he stopped the car, got out, bowed to us and said,"This car is  good."   And then went back to work, leaving flour on the steering wheel and the car seat.  Phil agreed with his assessment and that's how T. got her first car...
    The most interesting thing to me about all this was that she had a boyfriend. I had never heard her mention him and told her she could invite him to dinner at our house. She did and I fixed what I considered to be a romantic meal complete with  flowers and candles and our best (and only) china.  They dressed up for the occasion and we had a very enjoyable  visit. He was as delightful a guest as she was.
    About this time, a group of new Japanese students arrived for the fall semester and one day I ended up taking about 7 of the girls, including T., to eat pizza.  While there, I mentioned her boyfriend and immediately, everyone (except T.) looked puzzled.  One girl said very plainly, "T. does not have boyfriend."
    I said, "Yes, I think she does."
    At this point, I saw T. raise her eyebrows and shake her head ever so slightly.  I knew, somehow, that I had done something wrong but I had no idea what.
   Another Japanese girl spoke up and said, "No, she has no boyfriend.  You made a mistake, I think."
   I said, "Well, it's true that I don't always understand her English and sometimes I do misunderstand things."
   While I'm talking, I'm thinking, "But it would be awfully hard to make a mistake about this since I've seen the guy twice and he's eaten at my house once..."
   Later, when T. and I were alone, I asked her what that was all about.  She explained that since WWII, there had been problems between the Japanese and the Chinese and that the other girls would look down on her for dating a Chinese man.    She told me that she didn't like discrimination and simply dated this man because he was smart, had a good heart, was hard working, and they enjoyed each other's company.  She also told me not to worry about what I had said, that if the other girls found out she was dating a Chinese, it would be okay. They might not have much to do with her after that but it wouldn't be that big a deal.
    That was over 15 years ago and so a lot has probably changed since then.
    I have often wondered what happened to her after she returned to Japan.  Before she left we talked about marriages and weddings and superstitions. She told me that she had taught at a private girl's school that had originally been founded by a missionary. The missionary had lived and died an "old maid" and was buried in one corner of the school grounds with a nice memorial stone beside it. The grave site had been fenced in and planted with flowers so it was a charming place but all the girls avoided walking past it because they believed that if they walked past her grave, they would also be doomed to a single life.
   T.  and her boyfriend broke up before it was time for them to return to their respective countries and she told me that even though she was 26 years-old, when she returned home her parents would almost certainly arrange  a marriage for her.
    She really didn't want this but was philosophical about it, feeling that she could "live with it," preferring an arranged marriage to no marriage at all.
    She liked the way Phil and I related to each other.  So before she left, realizing she was the same size I had been when I married and knowing that  I would never, ever be that size again(!), I gave her my wedding dress, which was very simple in design.  She would never have hinted for the dress but I knew she liked it and it was her style. And I thought maybe it would encourage her at some point in her own marital journey.
    After she left, we corresponded for a while but then lost touch.
    I have always hoped her parents chose well for her because she truly deserved the best.
    And I also hope that someday we will reconnect.
    With God all things are possible.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Chaucer and Puddles of Ink

         Who am I?
         I'm the one who who made the highest grade on the toughest exam in my Russian history class and then made a low B on a simple book report because I didn't follow all the directions for the assignment...
         I'm the one who was one of the "pets" of the English department (they loved English majors because there were so few of us... seriously!), but also the one who tripped going up the steps from Irby Hall  in full view of my peers and also the one who wore a brand new hot pants outfit (yes, this was the tacky 70's and I lacked sense) to class, feeling like I was a trend setter -not knowing how much of a trend-setter I was...  I found out when a classmate told me that a black ink pen had burst and was all over my brand new outfit, adorning my pink-clad derriere...  I cut class that day...
      So, hmmm, yes, I could analyze Chaucer with the best of them... But I couldn't figure out that I had been sitting in the middle of an ink puddle without someone telling me...
         I'm the one who taught a wonderful lesson in a difficult high school class, only to freak out when I couldn't find the alarm clock that my students had hidden in a rolled-up map.  By the time I found the thing and  shut the alarm off, the bloom of being the enthralling lecturer that I thought I was... well, it had worn off just a tad. Obviously while I was teaching my heart out, someone was surreptitiously putting the clock in its hiding place.
         I'm the one who spent 40 minutes one day in the school  library, helping an inner city kid with his assignment while thinking, "Man!  I finally got through to Tony!  He's actually interested and it's because of my teaching!"  It wasn't until I was driving home, mentally reviewing that class session in the library, that  I realized that at the end of the class  four of Tony's partners in crime had been no where to be seen.  He had distracted me so that they could sneak out and take an unofficial cigarette break.  So much for inspiring the next generation...
         I'm the one who can study my Bible lesson and feel soooo good about it. And then walk into class and hear a little voice go, "Do you really think you can lead this lesson after getting mad over nothing, just an hour ago?"
        I'm the one who can write a blog entry that I really love -which is not true of all of them by any means - and then go around looking for my glasses while they are, not just on my head, but on  my nose....  (It helps to push them up so that they are even with your eyeballs...)
       And I'm the one who can have "great faith" one day and be curled up in the fetal position the next day...
      And I'm the one who can make a promise and break it in record time, usually even forgetting it completely until it's too late.
       Who is God?
       He is everything good and all that I am not.
      How can anyone believe that they can actually become a god themselves by their own efforts?  I don't know.  All I can say is they must never have tripped up a set of stairs or accidentally sat in a puddle of ink - things I think a real god would never do.

     How can anyone even  believe that they can work hard enough to please God?  I don't know. All  I can say is that they must be immune to unjustified anger, selfishness, gossip, pride, lying, not to mention bouncing around like a yo-yo in their spiritual walk.

   Even beyond that, how can anyone who has ever bowed to public opinion believe that they can also bow to  God  who disdains fads, political correctness, and polls?   Or to put it another way, surely a real god never has to look back and be embarrassed at how he looked in his twenties.  Or, for that matter, now that I think of it,  dread how he will look in his 70's.

    When my mother was a substitute teacher, she subbed for a special ed class for a few weeks. One guy in there had the admiration of the class and, at the same time, was the bane of every teacher's existence.  He thought he was too cool for words, largely because he was a talented athlete, wore the "right" clothes, and had girls vying with each other for his attention.  Heady stuff.
     One day at the beginning of class, he announced loudly that he was "king" of the classroom. My mom didn't say anything but started them on their oral reading assignment.  When it was his turn to read, he announced that he didn't know where to start.  My mom just said mildly, "Looks like a king could keep up with the reading assignment.."  The class just roared with laughter. Later she heard "the king" say to another kid, "Don't mess with that sub. I don't know how she does it, but every time you smart off in her class, she makes you look like an idiot."
     The student wasn't an idiot, of course.  He just didn't recognize his limitations.  He looked at his strengths, ignored his weaknesses, and formed an exxagerated opinion of himself.

     Thousands of years ago, God gave mankind a law code and people tried to live by it but repeatedly.. they failed. It was too hard to obey all the dietary laws, all the rituals, all the sacrifices, all the ceremonial observances, not one day, but every single day - from cradle to grave.

    So in the fullness of time, God miraculously sent His Son to earth to live a sinless life in our stead.  Jesus did what we could not do - He met all the demands of the law.  And then, because He had never committed a single sin, He was able to shed His blood for us - He was the lamb that was sacrificed for us. In other words, He took our shame, died in our place for our sins, paid the penalty of our sins,  and made it possible for us to be covered with His righteousness.
    Simply put,  Christianity is not a do-it-yourself program.  I have two college degrees and beyond.  I taught for many years. I want to do right and I know the Bible fairly well.  But I'm still the one who can sing a hymn and then turn right around and say ugly words about the driver in the lane right next to me.  I'm never going to be able to pull myself all the way to Heaven by  my own bootstraps. It just isn't going to happen.  I can be good; but not that good.

     I'm also  never going to achieve divinity by my own efforts (make myself into a god by following certain steps).  And I'm never going to be at a place where I can waltz right into the very presence of holy God as an equal, sit down, take a load off  and say, "Hey, I did pretty good down there on earth, didn't I?  Maybe I messed up a few times but all that counts is what I did right!  Right? And I did a lot of good things down there, let me tell You!    I know I fought with my spouse off and on over the years and cheated at work a time or two and maybe told a lie here and there.  But, the good things I did outweigh the bad so... we're good to go, God - you and me, all the way!"

    A king should be able to keep up with simple reading assignments in class, at the very least...
    And a God should be able to do a whole lot more. At the very least, He should be all-knowing, all -powerful,  holy, honest, loving and without sin.... for all time and beyond.
    And He is.

    If you don't know Him and how much He loves you, if you haven't heard how He sent Jesus to die a sinless death in order to  remove our shame - if this is all new to you, then read the book of John in the New Testament. Prayerfully.  And commit to doing whatever the book tells you to do. And see where that takes you.

   I believe it will take you into the Holy presence of God Almighty and enable you, by His power, to live a life that is pleasing to Him.  By His power... not ours.




Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Evidence Not Seen....

     Sometimes I just need to hear it again.
     See it again.
     Believe it again.
     I can read "gross" war stories but  I can't watch gross or scary things at all. (Finding Nemo nearly put me in traction..   The early demise of his in-vitro siblings literally scared the heck out of me, putting me on guard right from the get-go.  By the time the entire film was over, my neck and shoulders were so stiff it hurt to move and I had a killer headache.  As I said,  I can read about bad stuff - to a degree - but I can't  watch it - not kidding...:)
     When I was pregnant - now over 22 years ago- I bought a hard back copy of a newly released book, Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Diebler Rose.  I started it  but  didn't get very far before I was thoroughly grossed out and had to put it aside.  I had wasted our money.
     Then one evening when I was about 6 months along and having trouble with swollen ankles, I was looking for something to keep my mind occupied while I kept my feet propped up. Phil wouldn't be home until late so I was on my own.  Not being a t.v. person, I decided to try Darlene Rose's book again and this time I could not put it down.
     When Phil came home about 9 p.m. from his Bible study, I'm sure he expected to hear a litany of my complaints  while he ran back and forth between the kitchen bringing me crushed ice and just generally waiting on me hand and foot.  (I'm telling you, that boy suffered during the last months of my pregnancy for sure!!)
     However, this time when he got home, he received a rapid-fire verbal  book review  of the first half of Evidence Not Seen.  The next night he got the rest of the story and it impacted both of us greatly.  I loaned my hardback copy to a friend, who was also a book lover. My friend, Penny, had cancer and normally she returned every book I loaned her but this time the book didn't come back. Every time I saw her, I thought about asking for it but decided not to.  And then she moved to another area.
    The book is still in print 22 years later, which tells me it is a Christian classic.  I've always had a copy of it on my bookshelves - just in paperback - and have read it at  least a couple of times. Then when David was elementary age, someone told me Focus on the Family had an audio copy of Mrs. Rose sharing her testimony.  At that time it was on cassette and I ordered one so that we could listen to it while traveling on vacation. Again, I think her story impacted all of us.
   Some of her stories I was even able to share with my kids in my history class  when we got to WWII.  The "banana" story was always a favorite as well as the final aerial dogfight between the Axis and Allied powers over Darlene's prison camp in the Dutch East Indies, a place that had been her home for approximately 4 years.
   Although her book is always on my bookshelf, it had literally been years since I had re-read the story. Maybe I reached a place where I thought I had read and heard it so many times that I never needed to hear it again. If so, I was wrong.
   About a week or so ago, I decided to see if I could get a hardback copy of her story just... because...  Because I love books... Because the paperback copies I've had don't last... Because some books just beg to be kept in hardback...  (Only book fanatics will understand that last "because" I am sure.  And, yes, my life is out of whack on the issue of books!  :)
   Normally I go for "excellent condition" and "cheap" when ordering out of print stuff from Amazon. This time I saw a copy that was "like new" and also autographed. It wasn't cheap so I debated but finally splurged and spent 27.00 (plus shipping)   to get it, intending to put it on my shelf.  Which is kinda crazy, I know. However, I would definitely be giving   my current paperback copy to someone  and that sort  of salved my conscience and, besides,  who knew???   Someday I was bound to re-read it. Or maybe a grandkid on down the line would...
  "Someday" came sooner than I thought - about 2 days after the book arrived in the mail I picked it up and decided to review at least parts of it.   I found myself re-reading the first few chapters slowly, taking in details I had forgotten, savoring her wisdom  and her humble faith and once again, knew I was "hooked".  I would be reading the whole thing.
   And then I wanted to hear her story again from her own mouth so I went to Focus on the Family and ordered her talk, this time it was on two  CD's.  I started listening to the first CD in the car as I was running errands and once again, I was caught up in her verbal account of the difficult years of her life.  I listened to some more of the story last night on the way to a meeting and again on the way home. And then I started the second CD this morning on my way to Cracker Barrel, where I had breakfast while reading another chapter in her book!!!
  You probably won't be surprised to learn that I started playing the CD as soon as I got in the car to drive home. Only the drive home was shorter than the testimony on the CD so I found myself aimlessly just driving, just listening, and just praying, sometimes crying, sometimes laughing!
    A few of the things that Darlene said impacted me so greatly that I  kept rewinding and listening again to certain statements, trying to  make sure that  I not only heard but also remembered what the Lord taught her during those 4 long and extremely tough years of warfare, imprisonment, physical deprivation, illness, torture, and the loss of her husband.
    What good could possibly come out of all that?
    What sweetness and light could come from such hatred and darkness?
    A lot.
    At a time when the world seemed on the brink of destroying itself, when the "bad guys" seemed to be in control and suffering was everywhere she looked, God revealed Himself to Darlene in the sweetest of ways. At one point in her testimony, she said that although she suffered terribly for some months while in an especially cruel prison, that alone in her cell she would begin to sing and pray and His presence would so fill that little cell that when she opened her eyes, she fully expected to be in Glory and would be surprised to see the four dirty walls of her cell.  She plainly said He was there with her and, after hearing/reading her story, I don't doubt it for a minute.
       One thing in particular that meant a lot to me was her discussion of how another beloved missionary, Miss Philoma Seeley, was treated so brutally by the Japanese that she literally lost her mind.  Darlene doesn't go into detail about what happened to Philoma.  But she does say that when Philoma  was returned to the main POW camp, along with Darlene,  that Philoma had to be locked away in a small hut by herself for her own safety and there she spent day after day, raving like a lunatic and throwing off her clothes - something she would never have done in her right mind. This older woman was a seasoned Christ-follower who had been helped before in miraculous ways by the God she loved. And here she was, ill and temporarily insane because of the cruel treatment of her captors.
   Darlene would take her food and one day after she had given Philoma some food, she sat down outside that hut and  started sobbing, asking God, "Why?"   At that point, she felt a hand on her shoulder. It was the leader of her main prison camp, a Mr. Yamaji, who had been vicious himself at one time, back before Darlene witnessed to him about the deep love that God had for him.  So there was this man who  at one time had actually beaten a prisoner to death, standing beside her, his hand on her shoulder, saying gently, "Don't cry.  Miss Seeley does not know what is happening.  Please, remember what you told me about God."
  In God's providence, this once vicious officer was sharing the love of God with her, offering her, a prisoner, comfort.
  Darlene went on to say in her testimony that she asked God to heal Philoma's mind and He didn't do that until much later. At the time, she wondered why He didn't answer her prayer but when she asked Him, He just impressed upon her heart that He would restore the time  that the canker worm had eaten - the months that suffering had taken from Philoma.
  After the war, Philoma was able to go back on the mission field and had the greatest days of her lengthy career.  And Darlene learned that Philoma had been so physically sick in the POW camp with so many diseases that God had to literally heal her body first before restoring her mind - the temporary mental illness had actually  protected her from understanding the things she was experiencing physically there in the camp due to disease.
   Often, we just can't see why God allows what He allows; we can't understand why this prayer goes unanswered or that situation doesn't improve.
   If nothing else, Darlene's story is graphic reminder that He is in control and he has purposes that we just can't understand until later, sometimes much later - often times not until we get to Heaven.
   Even if you don't do "gross", I would encourage you to get the book and also the CD.  The book will make you laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time, and it will encourage you to go on in faith. The CD is also powerful in it's own way and, while not always as clear as the book, adds details and insight that the book doesn't have. Together, you get the whole picture and what a picture it is!!


Monday, October 22, 2012

Behold, how good and pleasant it is...

       I have loved all the churches that I've attended as a teenager and an adult even though some of them have gone through post traumatic stress disorder due to splits in the congregation, something I have never loved.
      Still, every church I've attended, especially as an adult, has striven to honor God, uphold and teach His Word and instill love within the body.  But changes come and love is not necessarily natural when issues within and without the congregation suddenly become hot topics.
     People are just people and preachers are just more of the same:)  As a wise person once said: the church is not a sanctuary for saints but a hospital for sinners.  Some changes in the life of a church are relatively smooth, others leave people lining up for spiritual triage.  It's just human nature or.. .to put it in a clearer, less cliche-ridden way, it is the nature of human beings... And sometimes it's just best to move on rather than to extend the pain and suffering for all involved.
     However, I would have to say that the conflicts and even splits that I have seen in churches as an adult were nothing like the ones that I was privy to as a child.  My grandmother went to a small country church  (and this was over 50 years ago, mind you) that I think ruined me forever on small country churches, not to put too fine a point on it.
    Some things weren't intended to sour me on small churches but they did. Partly because I was (truly - I'm not exxagerating..) a little reprobate of the first water when I was 5 or 6 years old. So when the church decided to start a Sunbeam class during worship and the Sunday school teacher encouraged us to attend by smiling from ear-to-ear and telling us Jesus Himself would be visiting our class, wild horses couldn't drag me into that first Sunbeam lesson and even  during worship,while my grandmother tried not to glare at me (she wanted me to attend Sunbeams so she could have some peace and quiet during worship), I sweated it out - wondering if Jesus would even go so far as to come into the sanctuary. Thankfully, He didn't. Looking back, I'm not sure He ever did....
   Then there was the week long music school that we had in the summer time.  We always hired someone to come and "teach the kids" how to lead music but the only one I remember was the "school"  where I got singled out in front of the whole church and had to stand there, trying to move my hands in the same direction as the music  teacher, with tears in my eyes while the whole congregation watched. The teacher, a middle-aged music minister, I guess, kept making me do it over and over until I got it right.  By the time I got to sit down, my grandmother was livid.  She flat hauled me out to her little, beige Ford Falcon the very next morning  and drove over to Mrs. Jones' house because this was the lady who normally led "singing" at the church.  We were barely over Mrs. Jones' threshold  before Grandma lit into her  about how the visiting music teacher had humiliated me in front of everybody and made me cry... I have never forgotten Mrs. Jones' thoughtful reply - which has long since struck me as hilarious... She said that it was true that this guy wasn't the easiest person to work with.  And it was also true that the church had two candidates apply for the week-long job and they knew ahead of time that one guy had no tact.  But they hired him anyway because he asked for less money:)    I think Grandma made a snide comment about getting what you paid for, a comment which Mrs. Jones just took to be a simple statement of fact.  I never had to go to summer music school again so, as far as I was concerned, the end was definitely better than the beginning..

     Then there was the time when the two men in the young married class got into an argument over the Bible and were actually rolling up their sleeves,  getting ready to settle the finer points of  theology with their fists out on the church parking  lot (seriously)  when someone hastily warned the pianist and she started banging away on the old upright piano as loud as she could.  It was the signal to begin worship and although it came a few minutes earlier than normal, no one minded and the fight never happened, the theological debate being put on hold for an indefinite period of time...
     And then there was the weekend when three high school boys went out, tied one on, and dared each other to climb the water tower. (It was a small community and there wasn't a lot of fun things to do on a Saturday night so I could hardly blame them...).  Two boys started climbing and the other one jumped in the only vehicle out there and took off, leaving his friends to find their way back home, which was actually good because the fresh air and long hike sobered them up nicely.   This, however, naturally led to some reprisals and then, of course, everything came out into the open.   One mother, sensibly enough,  told her son that he had gotten what he  deserved and that was the end of it as far as she was concerned.  The other two mothers squared off against each other, claiming that the other woman's son was to blame for all of it. (The boys had made up and were friends again but the moms wouldn't let it die a natural death as I remember it).
     The aggravated moms had a lot to say about the situation and word spread through the community like wildfire (this was before Oprah...) .  Everyone soon had an opinion on who was right and who was wrong and that soon spilled over into the church, where the supporters of one family sat together on the left side of the church aisle while the supporters of the other family sat on the right side of the aisle.  (Not kidding!)   Those who wanted to remain neutral were out of luck - the church only had one main aisle and two sections of pews so you had to either choose a side or stand up against the back wall (which would make both moms mad at you),  or stay home. Some opted for the latter.
    You may think I'm exxagerating about all this but I assure you I am not.
    After we moved back to "town" and joined a large church, I never wanted to return to my grandmother's church even though there were people in it whom I really liked.  When I had to go back years later for a wedding or a funeral, I dreaded it because of all the memories that came with the visit and also because gossip was rife in that little community and I knew that  as "Iney's granddaughter all grown up"  I would come under my share of scrutiny like a bug under glass.  But I went when I had too, left as soon as I could reasonably get away and enjoyed what I could from the short visit and  quickly discarded what I couldn't
     However, on one of my last visits, I was shocked. I could tell there had been a major change in the church and in the people.  The ones who had always been "ornery" were actually nice!  People seemed to be cooperating (which they didn't always do - even at social events like weddings and funerals).  Things were different -  enough so that I put out feelers, trying to find out what was going on.
   The answer was simple:   they had started listening to sermon tapes by Dr. W. O. Vaught (who never knew it, I'm sure).  He taught the Bible, simply and clearly, line-by-line and verse-by-verse for years, moving through about 3 different books per 12 month period.  I don't know that he was a great orator; he just taught the whole Bible and over time, people outside his church began to take note.
   And at least one small rural  congregation was visibly changed because of it.
   So I got at least three things from that little church: some great stories to tell as an adult, the chance to know some truly fine people (as well as some of the other variety!), and, most important of all, a powerful object lesson (which I've never forgotten) on how the Bible truly is literally able to change the hearts of an entire  group of people.
    Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity..
    Amen and amen!!!


Friday, October 19, 2012

Have You a Friend....?

My life was headed South before I even knew there was a North.   People may wonder why I always try to write about God, His love, His Son, His Word, His watch-care over us.

   The answer is simple. I do it because I know I would be nothing without Him.  Truly.
   When someone finds a good thing, they talk about it, maybe even rave about it, almost certainly Face Book about it.  Yogurt. Movies.  A good football game.  (Arkansas hasn't had a lot of those lately but we have had some!)   Pedicures.  Vitamin supplements.  Music.  Books.  Pets.  Cars.  Video games.   The list goes on forever.
   No. Wait.  It doesn't.  Every list has an end.
   Only the human soul and the word of God really, honestly, actually  goes on forever.
   Everything else on earth is temporary.
   It has been my privilege to go through some tough times; a privilege because those hard times led me at an early age to seek love and security outside myself, outside my family, outside my home.    Somehow, as a child in a walking-on-eggshells type of family, I looked up and God looked down and it was love at first sight.
   I was most definitely a spoiled brat.  But He didn't seem to mind.
  My universe revolved around me.  But He patiently broadened it over not weeks, months or years but decades..
  My own decisions often entangled me.  But He proved to be an excellent unravel-er of knotty problems.
   My own plans often excluded him.  (I am a fickle lover....:)  But He sagaciously sent the right person, book, song,  or message at the optimum time to turn my plans around.
  As Corrie ten Boom would say in her thick Dutch accent, "Have you a friend like this?"
 If you do, then you know why I blog about Him or for Him just about all the time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Crazy Aunt in the Attic...:)

Sometimes I try to define "normal" and I even yearn for it.

At those times in my mind, I think that families should never have members who do crazy things or "go off the rails".  But in reality, I could regale you with story after story of the nuts in my family tree (seriously) and while my extended family may have been blessed with more than their share of eccentrics  (some mild and some not...), the truth is that I think most (not all, but most) families have at least one crazy aunt in the attic or an uncle that "we just don't talk about in polite company..."  So if the majority of families have at least one person in their extended (or immediate) family who is a little whacked out or who drives everyone crazy or who seems bent on self-destruction or who is just "hard to get along with", then that's really.. kind of .. the norm for life down here.

In my mind, I think (and often ask) God to shield us from suffering as well as relieve our suffering when it comes.  (And I don't plan to stop asking for that any time soon, just in case you are wondering...) However,  I just finished reading a novel about a demon-possessed Messiah-like figure who sweeps into a small town and starts healing everyone.  (Yes... it's a Frank Peretti novel...  A book called The Visitation).  At first, the cult leader seems wonderful and the people are thrilled to be able to walk again, to have crushed bones made whole, etc.  But as the novel progresses, you see that these physical healings don't really change the people. The thief who has been made physically whole is still... a thief.  The one who was paralyzed and who can now walk turns out to be a bully.  By the same token, another character who goes through great suffering because their situation is not "fixed" - this person comes through his ordeal with a strong faith that encourages others to follow Christ.

I hesitate to write these things because, honestly, I don't do well when I am in pain. Any kind of pain.  Phil can tell you...

In my 58 years of life, I can see two (and only two) times when I felt like I had an epiphany (i.e., drew closer to God) during suffering.  That tells you there have been a whole lot of other days when suffering came knocking at my door but the epiphany didn't come with it... :)

In Dec. of 2004, Phil and I decided to write up our testimony and pass out that letter, along with some Christmas cookies, to people in our neighborhood.  We passed out most of them early in the month but we still had about 4 houses to visit.  It snowed heavily right before Christmas and the ground was still covered in some places on Christmas Eve. I was debating whether to distribute the last Christmas baggies when a neighbor, who was well-past sixty, came over with some cookies for us.  I asked him how the roads were and he said they were fine, it wasn't hard to walk on them.  Phil was at the store and David was at a friend's house so I decided to "try it" and so I wrapped up in my winter coat and headed out.  I had not gone far before I learned the true meaning of "black ice".  I fell on the pavement, not once but twice, each time catching myself on my left wrist.  After the second time, I looked up to see a car slowly heading toward me. It was still about two blocks away but, since the day was overcast and it was late afternoon, I didn't know how much visibility the driver would have and I didn't know how much control he would have over the car as he tried to stop.  I literally cried out to God for help and tried one more time to stand. This time, I made it and was able to walk to a neighbor's house where the father (who, unknown to me, had been in prison and was still not a saint by any means) - where the father willingly took me to the hospital on treacherous roads.

Obviously, God was taking care of me (and it was not His fault that I made a bad decision to go out on icy/snowy roads) - but at the time, I could not see it. I remember hearing the doctor at the ER saying how he just loved dealing with crushed bones and I hoped he was kidding.  He wasn't. I had crushed every small bone in my left wrist, so much so that the specialist couldn't insert a brace into it as he planned but instead put five pins in it. He told me all he did was hands and arms and he'd never had to operate on both sides of a wrist before but it was the only way he could put mine back together.

I remember being deeply ashamed as I lay in the ER room that evening, waiting for Phil to come. All I could think about was how this would affect our budget, our home life, our jobs. At the same time, I began to wrestle with what I would later realize was an arrogant attitude, although I didn't see it at the time.  I mean, I was trying to do the Lord's work so why would this happen to me?  (I later realized that Foxe's book of Martyrs pretty much answers that question and then some... Duhhhhh...  Not to mention the New Testament, the life of Paul and ultimately, the life of Christ).

However, at that time I was in great pain and it would only intensify on  Christmas day.  So the questions just began to come along with Self-Pity,  a friend who would stay right by my side through my four months of physical therapy.  (When I first walked into the physical therapy room, another patient said, "Welcome to the House of Pain!"  Soooo not good.... :)

As I lay there on Christmas afternoon, still unaware of the journey that was ahead of me,  I was not thankful that my sisters-in-law had come over to the house to fix the meal I was supposed to be fixing. Nor was I thankful that they were trying to keep noise to a minimum so as not to disturb me.

The truth is that I wasn't filled with love for Him or anyone, especially as the day progressed and the swelling in my arm increased.

At one point that evening, I was lying there  telling God how things "should have been".  It was Christmas, my favorite holiday, and I should have been in the living room with the rest of the family.  It was a time for rejoicing and I should have been able to sing songs and enjoy the holiday ambiance.  It was a day for remembering the child in the manger and I should have been able to worship but I couldn't.  There in the dark, I felt isolated, alone in my pain.  

And that was when Jesus  opened my "eyes" and shared some things with me.  He impressed on my mind that the first Christmas was tough for Him. That for the first time, He was separated from His home in Heaven, that there was no turkey and dressing waiting at the stable where he was born and no Christmas lights either.  Basically the first Christmas was a time of separation and marked the beginning of a road of suffering.  In that moment, there in the dark, I felt I really understood Christmas for the first time and knew that I was actually able to celebrate it better - not in spite of but because of my suffering.

The other epiphany happened on a particularly difficult day in therapy. I remember that there were three middle-aged school teachers in  therapy that day and all of us were crying:)  The therapist was already passing around the Kleenex box when I got there and I remember he looked at me and said, "Whatever you do today, please don't cry!"  Then he twisted my wrist and I managed to say, "We're going to have to make a deal. You do what you gotta do and I'll do what I gotta do..."  He interpreted that statement rightly and immediately went for another Kleenex box....:)

As was typical for most of my therapy days, by the time I got on the exercise machine, I was not a happy camper.  And when I'm not happy, I'm afraid the Lord hears about it.... So I was pouring out all my complaints, mostly asking Him why I was having to go through all this, when He impressed this thought on my mind:  you haven't praised me yet in all this so keep going...:)  (I really believe God has a sense of humor...)

I hadn't praised Him yet?  Of course I hadn't praised Him yet!! I was in pain and I was ticked...  Why would He even think that I would praise Him under such circumstances????

And the answer came to me, for what it's worth:  because, until you can praise Me in the midst of pain, you haven't really praised Me.  

Praise from a joyful heart is easy.

Praise from a pain-filled heart is tough.

And yet, our God inhabits praise.  That is where He lives.  And sometimes pain coupled with praise is the vehicle that draws us closest to Him because His son Jesus is, after all,  a man acquainted with grief...

Does this mean that the next time I'm in pain, you can expect to find me praising God?

No. Don't even think that.... 

As I said, two days out of 58 years is not a stellar track record....  All this means is, I'm still learning, still  a work in progress. And yes, I'm probably also someone's crazy aunt in the attic or the family member who drives others crazy.

As someone once said, "Normal is just a setting on the dryer."

I think Heaven will be beyond "normal", everything we desire and then some!

But we're just  not there yet...

Sunday, October 14, 2012


     Doughnuts... they aren't my favorite food which might surprise you if you've ever looked at my waistline...
     They're okay but they aren't why I go by  a local shop once in a while.
      I go by the shop because years ago I knew someone who worked there part time.  A young Muslim man, an international, who kept asking me questions about Christianity.  His curiosity bothered me.  I kept wondering what was behind his questions and what his family would think if they knew he was asking me all these things.  I wondered at times if even just answering his questions was treading on thin ice and so sometimes I gave noncommittal answers.  I had heard that the consequences of leaving Islam can be serious, even causing one to be rejected totally by his family. So I was wary when he asked things about my faith; it was new ground for me and I wasn't sure what to say, what not to say, where my responsibility started and where it ended...
    And then one day he told me about the doughnut shop and I understood why he was curious.
    When he first came here, he  spoke very little English.  But he had friends, also Muslims from another country,  who ran the doughnut shop and so he could pick up extra income  working there in the early mornings  before going on to his main job.  Over time he noticed that the people who bought doughnuts Monday through Saturday seemed impatient and sometimes even rude.  He didn't particularly like them.
   But Sunday mornings were different. The people smiled and thanked him, they were nice.
   So he asked his boss one day why there was such a difference.
   His boss said, "Those customers are Christians. They are going to church and they are just nicer."
   And that's why I had been receiving periodic questions about my faith:  my friend simply wanted to know what it was about Christianity that made people different.
   He didn't want to convert; he just wanted to understand.
   And so now, whenever I am near the shop in the morning, I go by and get a few doughnuts.  And I make it a point to smile and be polite on a workday.  (Because I'm sure that some of the people who were grumpy and rude Monday through Friday were also Christians. And that would be me on occasion as well.  I'm guilty too!)
   So this is the deal:  I don't know the people who work in this shop - my friend has long since quite working there I'm sure -  and the current workers don't know me. We never discuss anything and I have no expectations that we ever will.  That's not why I go  there.
   I make the detour occasionally because, oddly enough, I feel  I owe that place a debt of gratitude. Because one of their workers, a long time ago now,  really brought it home to me how much a smile (or lack thereof) can impact others.
   Something to think about...  Especially if you call yourself a Christian...
   Just sayin'

Friday, October 12, 2012

When you don't know...

     Years ago I saw a plea to help an international woman, an Asian lady who wanted to learn English and also the Bible. I already had an international friendship partner. I was working full time and had an active teen-ager in the house, along with half his friends it seemed. The bottom line was that I had no time to take on another international.
     However, no one else did either so I agreed to do it temporarily and so I contacted the family. The husband immediately said that they would like to go to church and gave me their address. As it turned out, the address was very incomplete. They lived in a large apartment complex and we weren't certain which building was theirs.  So on that first Sunday morning, we literally had to stop and ask God to help us find the Asian couple - we didn't have a phone number so we really had no idea where to start.  After praying, my husband said he was going to start with the first building and that he thought it would be good to start upstairs and work his way to the lower level. As he started to knock on the first door, it was opened by an Asian man who was dressed for church. He had just decided to come out and look for us.
     We took them to church and set up a time for me to come to their apartment after school and give an English lesson.  About two days later, I showed up with a grammar workbook and a Bible, still not sure that she really wanted to study the Bible, armed with secular English lessons just in case.
     Clearly she wanted to learn both the Bible and English so I opened up the NLT, not sure how to proceed.  We finally hit on the plan of me reading a few verses out of John 1 and then her reading them after me, working on her pronunciation. After she had the pronunciation right, we worked on meaning.  Even though she had a bi-lingual dictionary, we often had to resort to pantomime or even hastily drawn sketches to break through the language barrier.  It was slow going but fun. Sometimes we would both just break down in laughter at our poor acting abilities and our even worse drawing abilities! Sometimes, even with our best efforts at communicating, we got our wires hopelessly, hilariously crossed!  I knew early on that I was going to like her and in fact we did become good friends over the next few months.  When she had to leave, I missed her deeply and still do.
     However, that is not what this blog is about...
     During that first session, halfway through, she stopped me and said, to my total surprise, "Last night I tell Jesus I want belong to Him."  Then she turned to me.  "Do, ah, you think He hear that?"
      I said, "Yes" even as the steps to salvation ran through my mind. Did she understand that she was a sinner?  I didn't know.  Did she understand that she needed a savior? I didn't know. How did we go from laughing hysterically  one minute over grammar to this?  I just didn't know!
     So I  said, "Yes" and waited, hoping it was the right answer.
     She nodded and said, "I think so too."
     Then she told me that she had prayed that prayer the night before and when she started praying, the room was totally dark. But within minutes, it was filled with light, a bright light like she'd never seen before.
       Over time I would learn that she had lived in several countries and in her previous location, a friend had taught her a lot of the Bible.  I knew she hadn't come to faith from anything she saw or heard at church with us because her English was so limited but when I realized she had studied previously in another country, things made sense.
        We continued to study each week and then one afternoon, she pulled out a list of verses and began to ask me about each one. I was totally surprised; each one, taken out of context, seemed to deny central tenets of Christianity. I knew enough to recognize that taking them out of context was the main problem.  But before I could scan the first  passage in it's entirety, she would ask me to turn to another.
       At each place, I would say, "I'm sorry. I don't have the answer but I'll look it up later and get back to you."
     After looking at about three verses this way, she suddenly said, "No. I should not ask."
     I assured her that she had every right to ask, that I wasn't an expert on the Bible but I would study and ask others and provide the answer at our next meeting.
     She shook her head and said, "But, no, I should not ask."
     When I started to reassure her again that she had every right to ask, she stopped me and said, "Later. I  get answers. Now, I don't need."
     She then told me that her previous teacher was not a Christian. This was news to me!   So when my Asian friend e-mailed this woman, telling her how happy she was that she had become a Christian, the other lady  got upset and pulled verses out of context to show her that she should not believe in Christ.
     Wow.  That was a game changer!  But still, I told my friend that she  had a right to ask any questions she wanted  and she replied again, "No. I don't need."
     And then she told me that when she was living in this other country, she had a problem that was really troubling her deeply. So she shared this with her mentor and her friend told her to pray to God and ask for help.
   My Asian friend did exactly what she had been told to do  but nothing changed.
   Then she came to America and met some other Asians who were Christians. She explained to them how prayer did not work and they told her, "You didn't do it right; you have to ask in Jesus' name."
    So she went home and did that  and her prayer was answered.
    After she ended this story, she said, "So I know Jesus is right way.  Later, I  get answers. Now. I don't need."
     Sometimes we wonder: what will I do if I share my faith and then I run into someone who has a bunch of tough questions?
     Be honest.  And remember that there is only One who has all the answers and He can give both knowledge and assurance in a multitude of ways.  In time my friend's questions were answered but in the interim, she had peace and her faith continued to grow.

Today :)

   I love today.
   Tomorrow doesn't always look so good but today is perfect.
   My knees hurt with every step I take on days like this  when the weather is changing. But I can walk.  And I love Fall days like this when the sky is overcast, there's a slight breeze, and change is in the air.  So that's two positives and one negative and in this world, I'd say that's about as perfect as a day can get.
   But there's more.  Today was an "unscheduled" day.  On a workday, no less...  A day when I only had one brief "gotta do" item  on my list. Just one!!! The wonder of it is still with me after over a year of retirement. To have a whole weekday stretching out in front of me  to "spend" in any way I want.  It's a luxury of which I am still acutely aware and for which I am deeply thankful.  Just to be able to walk into a store during "school hours" without feeling guilty (as I did even when I was buying something for my classroom) - well, it's amazing!
   But there's more.  I can still see old friends and visit with new ones.  The other day when I was at school after hours, I just fell into natural conversation with my former colleagues (who were still there!) and roared with laughter at some of the things I heard.  (Like the new light system can only be operated with a key so when the custodian turns off the hall lights and stair well lights, you are just out of luck, in the dark.  But... you can still find your way in and out of the bathroom by using your cell phone!  I love that... so typical of schools and of the way teachers cope while making a huge joke out of it!  (Note: if you aren't resourceful and you don't have a sense of humor... do NOT go into teaching...:)
   But there's more.  I do love the Bible study I'm doing - and the women I'm privileged to do it with.  I can literally spend hours on the study and it just gives me joy. Deep down, not-goin'-anywhere-soon type of joy. I thought it was the nature of the study itself and to a large  extent, it is.  But I've done a very short study by the very same author and guess what?  Last night, out of curiosity, I got out my old workbook study, remembering how much I loved that class three or four years ago and to my shock, I saw that I had only completed about 70% of the study!  I didn't even do the last week at all!  Yet I really loved that class!  As I turned the pages, I could tell that some of my answers were well-thought out and some were just hastily scribbled in at the last minute.
    And I wondered how that could be.
    And then it came back to me - getting to school, some days by 6:30 or 7. Staying until 5 or 6.  Coming home to housework, cooking, laundry, and sometimes more paper grading. Trying to schedule time with friends who were also working.  Trying to be active in church.  Trying to be active in the community.  Trying to catch up on needed rest after a couple of sleepless nights. Just spending the coin of my days.. .trying!!!
    And now I have the luxury of giving as much time to this Bible study as I want and I find I want to give it a lot.  Because the more I give, the more I love it.  And I wake up some days thinking: what  a privilege this is - to be able to learn to my heart's content without worrying about a stack of papers at the end of the rainbow. If that makes sense...
    So yes, part of growing older is that -  unlike when you are in your twenties or thirties and neat life experiences are still mostly stretching out in front of you- tomorrow doesn't always look so good in your fifth and sixth decade of life:)  I don't mean  the going-to-Heaven part but I mean the developing a first-name relationship with your doctor, the clinic, the surgeon, the hospital, the medical equipment rental people and  so on before you get to go to Heaven.
    Yet, even with the prospect of geriatric issues coming closer with time, I am acutely aware that I have been blessed not to have traveled the medical circuit before now. Many don't even get to enjoy their twenties and thirties.
    So yes, I mean it when I say: today is a perfect day!
    And, yes, I mean it when I say:  I'm grateful:)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sometimes it's either/ or, not both..

     Life is full of twists and turns and some of them are only fully revealed in the rear view mirror, so to speak.
     There was a time when I nearly married the "wrong" person.  Friends and family tried to warn me.  But what they didn't know at the time was that I was aware of more problems with the relationship than they were.  In other words, while they thought they were pointing out things that I was blind to, I was actually concealing things from them that they were not privy to. And, for the most part, also concealing them from myself as much as I could.
     But when you are in the wrong relationship, there are warning signs that you can't "stuff down" inside your psyche forever.   In spite of everything, internal alarms will insist on going off from time to time. When they do, you need to pay attention. One of my alarms went something like this: you really don't love him.
     I knew it was true but I would quickly convince myself that it wasn't.
     Why did I even contemplate marrying someone I knew deep down that  I really didn't love?
     Several  factors. One  was my age. I was almost thirty and keenly aware of my "biological clock" ticking. I wanted a home and children and was afraid I would have neither.
     A second factor was his children. He had two and I fell in love, not with him, but with them.  They wanted a mother and with all my heart, I  wanted to be their mother.
     Another factor was security.  Their dad had a steady income and was generous.  Even more than that, for many years it had just been my mom and myself. So whenever the furnace went out, the grass needed mowing, the new curtains had to be put up, etc, I was the one to do it. I hated things like that.  And then this generous, kind-hearted man came into my life, bringing two wonderful kids and suddenly, when something needed doing or fixing around the house, he was there at my side to help me.
    It was heady stuff.
    To add to these pluses, for the first time I was taken to nice restaurants regularly and also proposed to routinely.  Twice I received a dozen roses, the second time with an engagement ring attached to the flowers. I had had a long term romance in the past, back in my college days - but never anything like this.
    I vacillated back and forth in the relationship but finally, after 4 months I broke it off.
    Not because of anything my friends or family said to me.  Not because of warning signals  that were going off occasionally from within.   But because  one day God made it plain to me that I could either marry this man and forfeit His plan for my life or I could stay in His will and break off the relationship.  I could do either/or but I couldn't do both.
    That was 29 years ago and I can still tell you where I was and how I got the message, so strong was the impression.
    I was driving across the I-430 River Bridge during Spring break  to visit a friend and as I got to the bridge  I thought it would be a good time to pray out loud.  Soooo... I did.
    Nothing fancy -  I just said, "God, please, I want to know..." and then I burst into tears. The next words out of my mouth were, "Why can't I marry him????"
    I had  lowered my defenses and in about two seconds, He somehow made it beyond  clear to me that marriage to my friend was not His will for me.  Clearly He was more interested in protecting me from this relationship than I had been  interested in protecting myself.
     These are some things that I learned from that time:
     1. If someone pressures you to marry them early on, before you are ready, run.  There's a reason for the pressure to marry yesterday (or to move in together or whatever) already.
    2.  Which brings me to the second point: many times the reason they pressure you to commit is because of yesterday.  Because of failed relationships in the past or even failure to handle adversity well in the past.  In other words, marry me before you find out I have a bad track record (that it's not all my ex's fault) or that I have a nasty temper or a tendency to be controlling, manipulative, etc.
    3.  The third thing I learned, and perhaps the most important was:  if thoughts like, "I can live with this" or "I can make this work" or "I can make them happy even though... " or "It will be different after we are married" - if thoughts like these  routinely surface, you need to run, not walk, to the nearest exit.  It's been said over and over that things that bother you in dating will only get worse, not better, in marriage.  It's been said so many times, in fact,  that engaged couples often get tired of hearing it and disregard it as a worn-out platitude that doesn't apply to them.
        It's been said so often because... it's true.
        To disregard it is begging for trouble. In spades.
        What happened  when I broke off my engagement with my friend?
        He wasn't my friend anymore.
        He showed me a whole new side to his personality, one that in numerous weekly dates over a four-month period I had never seen before. He was going to kill himself and it was my fault. He would never go to church again and it was my fault.  He was going to leave his kids and go to another state for one last look at the mountains before he did himself in. And it was all my fault.
      How could I have missed all that while dating him?
      I promise, he never showed me anything but generosity, kindness, and a  positive outlook on life during the many dates and phone calls that we had.  You can do that short term or as long as you have to until the ink is dry on the parchment; you can't, however,  do it forever.
    How could I have known that this was the opposite side of the coin when I didn't even realize the coin had another side to it?
    I couldn't.
    Only God could.
    Which leads me to the last point.
    Marriage is rewarding but it is also unbelievably hard. Even in the best of circumstances.
    If you are thinking about going into a long-term relationship without first  having  a strong relationship with God, I would encourage you to think again.  Only God knows everything. About you. About your partner. About the future.
    And sometimes He is more interested in our welfare than we ourselves are.
     Even if the marriage is "right", I promise, over the years circumstances often won't be.  Life is full of troubles. When you marry, you double the opportunities, not only for good things  to come calling   but also  for bad things  to come calling.  There was  a movie, Field of Dreams,  years ago that said, "Build it and they will come."  I'm saying, "Build a marriage and troubles will come."  It's just a part of it, the bad comes right along with the good. And sometimes the bad can be incredibly bad, even when you're married to  the right person.
    Today I am so thankful. Thankful that God intervened in my life some 29 years ago and that I had the sense to listen and do the hard thing He called me to do. He knew the "right" person for me was just around the corner; that the children I wanted to mother would be mothered by someone else and turn out well;   that my date would drop the pressure tactics when he saw they didn't work and go back to being a responsible dad again in a fairly short time.
    God had a plan for all of us and I'm so thankful that when I was in my late twenties, I didn't just bull ahead and insist on having my own  way.  Now, at 58 years of age, I can testify that His way is better and I know I'm not alone in this.
   I Samuel 15:22 - ... to obey is better than sacrifice..."
   Jeremiah 29:11 - "For I know the plans that I have for you..."

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Oil that Makes the Wheel Go 'Round...

     This morning started off like any normal day but I quickly ran smack into a problem with our banking account and from there jumped off the deep end into panic mode. (Don't you just hate letters from banks and insurance companies???)   This led me to  the phone where I honestly tried to call the bank...  After several, "Select a language, then press this if you want that, then press this while remembering this conversation [which hasn't happened yet and at this rate never will happen!] may be monitored for quality control purposes..." - after listening to things like that and then being transferred three times,  frustration began to add fuel to my panic. I was spazzing, to put it mildly...
     Can I not just talk to a real person here?  I fumed.  Just one soul who can actually speak plain English and tell me what I need to know???
     After exploring this fruitless avenue, I decided to grab my  documents and go to the bank in person, spread all my papers out on some hapless employee's  desk and try to get some answers that way.  However,  before I did that I called my husband, explained the situation and asked him to pray. I meant that I just needed him to silently pray whenever he could but instead he stopped everything at work and prayed for me right there over the phone in a sweet, gentle voice.     He  asked God to give me peace and wisdom, to go before me as I tried to straighten things out and to lead me to the right person at the bank, someone who would really help me
     I was grateful as I hung up the phone but definitely still far from being calm!     
      However,   for  some reason as I gathered up our papers in my trembling hands,  I decided to go back over our account information one more time and there it was -  I saw what I had totally missed before. The error was mine, not the bank's.  It wasn't a huge error - my panic had come not from the actual mistake but from the fact that I thought the bank had made it. My fear was: if the bank messed this up, what else has gone wrong?  What if this is just the tip of the iceberg? How will I ever get it straightened out???
    Now I knew it was a simple issue... and that I needed to call my husband to tell him the fault was mine...
    Two interruptions in one work day - the first a panicky phone call from a spouse  hyped up on anxiety and the second a mea culpa phone call from same said spouse...  Not good....
     But I was able to make the second call because I know Phil.  He was sweet the first time and just as sweet the second time. He told me not to worry and  expressed gratitude that God had given me the guidance I needed. Then he  suggested I  go for a short walk because it was  pretty outside and told me to be thinking about where I would like to go out to eat this evening because this was our night to celebrate my birthday.
    So with visions of Cracker Barrel dancing in my head, I went for a walk and then curled up in bed with a book and soon fell asleep.  A couple of hours later, I woke up and while the house was still quiet  went into the living room to get started on my sixth lesson on Biblical covenants.  
    While I was doing the Bible study,  the sky just opened up and dumped rain! It was awesome to behold!  I guess I'm weird but I love to sit inside where it's warm and well-lit while it's cold, dark, windy and wet outside.  Although I didn't break out the hot chocolate tonight, I pretty much think of these  as hot chocolate evenings and I love them!
   As I worked on the lesson and listened to the rain, I was once again amazed at how God  talked to Abraham, how He entered into a covenant with a mere human being, and how He even reassured Abraham of His protection and of His continued blessings.  All this at a time when Abraham had no children and was basically just a nobody nomad from a pagan land.
    Wow!  And yet Almighty God spoke to him!  Pulled back the curtain of time a bit and revealed some of the  future to him!  Even blessed him and kept his promise to give Abraham a son -  against all odds!
   As I worked through the lesson, I felt a peace and a joy that didn't diminish even as I realized it was getting too late to make our birthday date feasible.  To my surprise, I realized I didn't really care if we went out or not; I was actually content to stay home, enjoy the presence of God, and listen to the rainfall.  I loved my life.
   As 7 o'clock neared, I began to think that something more must be going on besides Phil just having an extra long workday because it was so late and also on a date night.   He has fallen asleep at the wheel before so when he's abnormally late, this can also send me into panic mode, just like the bank stuff did earlier.  However, tonight, with my Bible open on my lap and my thoughts mostly on the greatness and goodness of God, each time  an anxious thought crossed my mind, I was able to simply hand it over to my Heavenly Abba.  And each time I did that, I felt everything was okay so  I didn't pursue the issue any further by breaking out the cell phone.
   At 7 Phil drove up, not feeling 100 % and  pretty worn out but still intent on taking me out to eat, simply because he had promised and didn't want to disappoint me.
   I convinced him that another evening would do just as well and  at that point he asked me if I would be interested in just having t.v. dinners - something he likes occasionally. To my surprise, I was. It actually sounded good to me!    So while I got those in the oven, he walked over to the sink which was full of dirty dishes and instead of getting upset: What is this?  You've had all day and you haven't even washed dishes? How long did you nap this afternoon???   Instead of what he probably should have said and definitely could have said,  without missing a beat  he picked up a dishcloth and said, "While you get the  dinners going, I'll do the dishes."
    And he did just that.
    After a long day at work, knowing I had been at home all day and knowing I had messed up one of our bills - my husband did the dishes!  And asked me how my afternoon had been and I knew he asked because he was genuinely interested. In me....
    And that's how our  "birthday un-date" began. After the dinners were done, we found a place to put them on our tiny kitchen table.  (His laptop and in-service training manuals dominate  half the table right now as he works on them every evening but that's okay - plastic  t.v. dinner trays don't need a lot of room!)  And that's where we spent our "romantic" evening:   eating a (very!)simple meal in a cramped  kitchen while  talking about our days as well as  our fears, our joys, and the things God was teaching us.
    Please don't get me wrong -this is not how days like this normally go around here. We can both spazz out and in turn, spazz each other out -  sometimes to the nth degree...
    But as I've looked at covenant through my current Bible study and learned what it really means and as Phil has looked at it along with me and we've discussed it, it's refined how we view our marriage.
    This is the deal: covenant is not about one person, it's about both people.  And when push comes to shove, a covenant partner promises - actually swears - to put the other person's needs ahead of their own.
    And I just don't think that is an idea that comes naturally to man. Even if I hadn't read it in the Bible, I would still think this has to be a God idea.
    And please hear me - I will always be grateful that my mom left my dad. She had Biblical grounds and then some; to have stayed in the marriage any longer would have been dangerous.
    But for the normal ebb and flow of married life, for the days when the bank account is screwed up, the   planned date falls through,  the sink is full of dirty dishes, and the husband has had a super long day at work -it is for those days that "covenant" is meant.
    And knowing that -  really knowing that each partner is to put the other person ahead of themselves -  is oddly freeing.  I guess I'm saying, when it's "all (or even partly)  about me", marriage can be a hassle, an intermittent tug-o-war. But when each partner focuses on the other, we can somehow  lay our weapons down and be what we're meant to be, allies of the first order.
    However, I also want to say this.  Spending time with God  helps a bunch.  Before Phil ever came home tonight, pretty much blasted  and feeling slightly sick, I had already had my expectations for joy and contentment met.  At the feet of Jesus, my ultimate covenant partner.
   Marriage is a covenant agreement but even so, the truth is that   it can never completely satisfy the deep needs both  of heart and soul. It's just that the  human heart longs for something more and that something is actually Someone. On the days when I spend time with God and experience His ability to meet my needs, it's so much easier to put my spouse ahead of myself and for Phil  to do the same for me.
   I'm so glad that God initiated the idea of covenants and that He keeps the ones He has made with us.And I'm so glad that, flawed and weak as I am, I have the option of knowing Him and finding that when push comes to shove, when I'm in  love with Him, He puts me first because I am His covenant partner.
   For me, His eternal covenant love is the oil that makes my other covenant, the one with Phil, go round.
   (And if you think I've used the word "covenant" too many times in this blog, you should read Kay Arthur's workbook... Trust me!)
   Hoping everyone has a blessed weekend! And that you don't get any surprise letters from the bank any time soon!