Wednesday, July 31, 2013

From One Pitiful Pot to Another ;)

       When I was a college student,  pop psychology books were extremely popular; my mom and I both read them.   Somewhere along the line, she garnered this bit of information:  when a person loses  their keys, it indicates a negative attitude toward the home and the authority the home represents.  From that time on, whenever I had to hunt for my keys, she either asked me questions to try to determine why I was unhappy with our home life or, if she was having a bad day, she lit into me for having a bad attitude and not appreciating the home she was providing for me.  After a particularly stormy session over lost keys, I would make every effort to keep up with my keys but eventually, history would repeat itself...
       When I got married, I lost my house keys and  my husband immediately went out and bought a key holder and nailed it to the wall by the carport door so that every time I went in or out, I could hang my keys there or grab them as needed.  After that, I didn't lose my keys anymore...

        Before you become critical of my mom for jumping to a wrong conclusion (after listening to experts, no less...), you might consider this. I once heard a story about a woman, a devout Christian, who had suffered much in Europe during WWII.  Later, many years after the war, she was at a meeting where she had the opportunity to visit with an American woman. She told the American that people in the U.S. didn't really understand suffering the way Europeans, who had lived through the war, did. Only, as it turned out, the American woman she was instructing, well, that woman  happened to be Marj Saint.  Marj was a widow with young

children at the time -  her  husband, Nate Saint, having been speared to death in Ecuador in 1956 while trying to share the Gospel with an unreached people group.  When the European lady realized who she was talking to, she was immediately contrite and asked forgiveness for jumping to an erroneous conclusion. Again, the European woman had some facts at her finger tips and they were real... Europeans did suffer more deprivation and violence during the war years than Americans did.  The problem was: she just didn't have all the facts.
      And then there's... um... me.
      Just the other day I got really upset with our son for leaving something valuable in his car. I ran a litany of statements through my mind, none of which were good or commendable.  I wondered how he could be so irresponsible (having, apparently, forgotten the many times I misplaced my house keys when I was his age). When he came home and I confronted him with his forgetfulness, he simply said, "Mom, I knew I left that in the car. My car looks like garbage. All the door handles are broken except for one and I always keep the one good door locked...   Why would anyone want to go through my car looking for something valuable?"
      Well, I still wish he wouldn't leave valuable things in  his car but... I realized that A) he had a point and B) I had misjudged the situation. I thought that, like me, he simply got out of his car and forgot to bring his GPS inside with him.    I was wrong.  (Even though, to some extent, I still think I'm right! :)
      I guess my point is that we can see and hear things and decide that A) we have all the facts - when in reality we may have only  a few facts or even skewered facts  and B) we are able to judge, not only the little that we observe, but also the thoughts and intents of the heart, the things that we don't and can't see.
     While it is true that we are to discern right actions from wrong ones,especially when it comes to our own lives,  we have to realize that God is the only one who has all the facts and He is also the only one who can see into the hearts of others, He is the only one who is qualified to judge motives.
    One final example: a woman got into an elevator. She was nicely dressed and appeared confident as she stepped on a man's foot and ground her spiked heel into the toe of his shoe. She moved her foot but not quick enough for him plus she didn't say anything to him.   He was very angry until, as they got off the elevator, he realized she was blind.
    Really, the older I get, the more I think we are all blind to some extent.
    Only God has 20/20 heart vision and, really, when it comes down to it, only He has all the facts in any given situation. (If you don't believe that, read varying accounts of the same news event or observe a courtroom trial sometime).   I think that is why the Bible says that we are to be diligent to examine our own hearts and equally diligent to  leave the judging of others to Him.  If we set ourselves up as ones who can judge the thoughts and intents of of others (as I have done many times!), we are basically usurping His rightful place. And I don't know about you, but personally, I have come to believe that that's a dangerous place to be.
     "So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.  For judgement will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement."  James 2:12 - 13  Emphasis is mine.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Please Pray

      Tonight was maybe an end of an era; certainly the end of some wonderful memories dating back to 1928.
      Willow Springs Water Park closed tonight and won't be opening their doors again.
       Meanwhile, a young girl fights for her life in a nearby hospital, suffering from Parasitic Meningitis.
       The two things are inextricably linked and yet there is no concrete proof that they are.
       These are the facts as I know them.
       Three summers ago, a young boy swam at several places - he had gone swimming several times the last week of his life in private outdoor pools.  He also went swimming at Willow Springs  and went into a coma the next and died several days later of a rare form of Meningitis.  The incubation period varies but it usually takes 3 days.
     The parasite that causes this exists everywhere in Southern watering places. It even exists in tap water that is warm. (You can get it  from doing a sinus rinse with water that hasn't been boiled or isn't distilled although that is very rare - still, it is possible).    Millions are exposed to it every summer in the Southern states as people do water sports, swim, go tubing, etc. This amoeba is present in every lake,  creek, stream, and pond in warm weather.  It is also in pools that are not well-chlorinated. Basically it's everywhere in the summer where people gather to play outdoors in the water.
   However, almost no one contracts this form of Meningitis and medical science has no idea why some people do while most people - the vast majority - do not.
       You can swallow contaminated water and that's fine - you can't get this form of  Meningitis from drinking contaminated water.  But if you are one of the few who is susceptible to this amoeba, if you breathe in water through your nose, the amoeba can go straight to your brain. When that happens, it is almost always fatal.
     David and Lou Ann have seen this Water Park as a ministry, an opportunity to serve others and provide a fun place for families to gather, picnic, and swim.  David first started working at this place when he was twelve-years-old.   He and Lou Ann are devastated that another 12-year-old is fighting for her life now after swimming at the park.
    But this is not the only place where the girl went swimming in the days leading up to her illness. Like the child 3 years ago, this child had also been swimming in more than one place before she got sick.
    This time, as three years ago, the Park's water tested out extremely well, better than most water parks in Arkansas. This time in fact, they were told the water was consistent with drinking water, it is that clean. I know they use several forms of chlorine and they have added equipment to keep the water cooler than lakes, ponds, streams are in the summer. Those are the ways to fight this amoeba - lots of chlorine and cooler than normal water temps and David and Lou Ann have been careful to do all of that.
    The Park was closed because of statistics.  When the first  child got this form of Meningitis three years ago, there was a 1 in 1200 chance that it came from Willow Springs. When a second child got it recently, the percentage dropped to 1 in 700 probability.  (There is still a 400 % greater chance that someone would drown at the water park than that they would contract Meningitis.)  That's as low a percentage as the CDC allows for water parks.
   Because Willow Springs is fed by a lake and because they have slides which means there is a greater chance that water can go up someone's nose as they slide into the pool than if they were just tubing or boating, the CDC automatically closes a lake-fed water park if there is two instances of this disease within a certain number of years.
   The fact that the water tested out to be extremely clean and well-chlorinated and that thousands (literally) of people swim at this park and have for decades and  never have a problem doesn't affect CDC policy on this issue.
   It is always a tragedy when a child gets seriously ill.  Always.
  David and Lou Ann love children and have worked for about 8 years to provide a safe, affordable, family-friendly environment for the people in this area.  Their own grandchildren regularly play in the water and have from the time they were babies.   Had they thought for one minute that the water might be a serious source of Meningitis, they would never have operated it.  They certainly never would have put their own grandchildren in the water or allowed anyone else's in it day after day.
   They are praying for the little girl and are devastated at the thought that there is even a 1 in 700 chance that the child might have gotten sick from playing at Willow Springs.  And even now, as they abruptly lose the Water Park, their ministry, and the dream that the park has represented for so many decades for David, their thoughts are with the child in the hospital and her family.
   In response to questions about how they are taking this, their response is simple:
   We trust God and even though we can't see it now at all, we believe He will eventually bring something good out of this.  This wasn't said glibly or easily but they were still able to say it, ala Romans 8:28.
   Please pray for the young girl and her family.
   And please pray for the Ratliffs as well.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

High Time to Say So...

     I don't know how to express this but I'm going to try.
     When I was in my twenties, a young single woman, an inexperienced teacher playing catch-up all the time with tons of paperwork and new learning experiences, I somehow managed to be a discussion leader with the BSF Women's evening class in  Little Rock for two years.  I don't think I ever did anything well and many, many times I thought about resigning from BSF leadership.
     Mostly on Saturday mornings when I had to get up early for leader's meeting. I think we started about 6:30 or 7:00 at that time - I know I had to get up earlier for leaders' meeting than I did for work and I literally hated being up before dawn on my "day off".
     At that time, in addition to my heavy work load, our family was going through several  traumatic events simultaneously and often I just felt like I couldn't cope.   Then Friday night would roll around and I would find myself doing homiletics for Saturday morning, thinking, "This is crazy!  It's the weekend and I'm still doing paper work!"  And then there was the, "I really don't want to get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning!!!" mantra running through my mind as I tried to fall asleep. It seemed to me that I was always tired.
    During my second year as a discussion leader, I don't think there was a single early morning drive where I didn't tell the Lord out loud as I drove to the meeting that I was going to quit that day!  Many times I would ask Him to give me the words and the courage to tell Lou that I was done,  that I just couldn't do it anymore, that  it was too much.  And yet something funny happened:  every single time as I was driving home from the meeting, I would find myself thanking God and praising Him for keeping me in the study, for not letting me resign.  Why? I can't explain it; but somehow those early morning trysts with God and with His precious saints always began by seeming burdensome and always ended by giving me renewed hope and courage to face the coming the week.
   As I look back, however, I realize that there was something major I didn't understand at that time, couldn't have known at that time.
  Basically I didn't realize that thirty years later, on more than one occasion,  a memory would come back to me in spades. A memory of about 30 women, young, middle-aged, and older :), gathering early on Sat. morning at a local church to sing a couple of hymns from a booklet and then to kneel and pray over various requests.  After praying for about 30 minutes, we would go  over the Bible study  material for that week and the study was invaluable.  I understood that.  What  I didn't realize was that it would be the corporate prayer time that would come back to me decades later, bringing sweet tears to my eyes and warm memories to touch my heart.
    During those prayer times, I mostly  remember being  afraid to open my mouth (a new and much-needed experience for me!)  because I understood -really deep down knew - that  I was in the presence of  godly women who loved their Abba in a way that I had yet to learn.  When I was in their presence, I felt I had "novice" written all over me and so  I wasn't about to open my mouth and expose my ignorance!  And that's how I came to spend Saturday after Saturday, kneeling, silently praying, listening.
    And learning.
    I learned by watching their examples.
    I learned by listening to their heartfelt petitions for children, spouses, neighbors, group members, and friends.
    I heard women whose lives were certainly not easy, mount up to the throne of God, hurting yet still confident, sometimes perplexed but not despairing, sometimes struck down but never destroyed.
    And today as I sit here at the keyboard with these precious memories washing over me yet once more, I am deeply aware of how much I owe them, of how I would never trade anything for those two short years of early Saturday prayer times, on my knees in the company of  some of God's true saints.
     I owe those ladies so much.
     And it's high time I said so.
     How I wish I could pass the torch on to younger women the way they did to me.
     How I look forward to kneeling around the throne with them again... in Heaven... where it will all be prayer and praise!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

World Changers and Willow Springs

           Tonight I went to Willow Springs to do some water aerobics and when I got there, my heart sort of sank. As soon as I drove onto the parking lot, I saw not one bus but about six and I thought, "Wow! That's a lot of kids!"  Then, while I was trying to decide where to park, I noticed that the buses were from various churches that I'd never heard of.  On closer inspection, I realized that the buses were, not just from out of town, but from out of state.  As Alice would say, things got curious-er and curious-er.
           When I got in the pool, even though there were about 140 young people in the water, there was more than enough  free space to swim and exercise and in fact, at first, I wondered where all the kids were.  I could see young people splashing down the water slide and doing their best to push each other off the Willow Wipe Out but it didn't seem like that many kids to me.  Then I heard a huge shout and saw that a bunch of guys were playing water volleyball hard and fast, egging each other on and having a ton of fun, just like the kids on the Willow Wipe Out and the water slide were.
            That's not unusual to see kids having fun at the park but something still struck me as odd.  Then I realized what it was.  There was not one sour face in the bunch.  While I walked around the pool, exercising my joints, I never saw an adult having to take a kid aside and talk to them about their attitude.  I never heard one word of profanity and with that many kids, I think that's pretty remarkable. And I never saw a life guard having to get onto anyone.
         So I started watching the kids and I noticed something else, every single girl was either wearing a one piece suit or she had a colored tee-shirt and running shorts on over her bathing suit.  And they were beautiful young women, every one of them.  Not only were they beautiful, but they had something else, that hard to define spark of something that I've seen in Katie Davis's pictures.  I realized that I was looking at radiant joy, personality plus, basically seeing young ladies who were fun-loving, competitive, and sure of themselves.
       And yet there was still something more.  Something that I saw reflected in all the young people, both guys and girls.  Joy, yes.  Wholesomeness, yes.  Fun-loving, yes.   Good natured, yes.  But there was still something else.
      And as I thought about it, I realized  what it was.
      These kids are part of World Changers and that is  their focus - changing the world and making it a better place. Instead of self-consciously working to draw attention to themselves, they seemed almost totally unaware of how they looked or how they were coming across.  I didn't see the typical things such as two girls angling away from the group at large, darting unhappy looks at some other girls and saying things like, "I just hate the way they act so stuck up all the time ..."   I didn't hear guys exchanging heated insults as the game became really competitive.  I didn't hear one young person whining to an adult about how they were bored, hungry, ticked off,  and/or ready to go home.  I didn't hear one person complaining about something that wasn't "fair" and I didn't see any prima donas in that group. Just a bunch of young people having a great time, largely because their focus is simply not on themselves.
      Instead their focus is on Jesus first. And on helping others second.
      And if they weren't happy tonight, they sure fooled me.
      These young people spend their days doing things to help the elderly, such as painting houses, doing yard work, etc.  They also are ready to teach the Bible and pray for those who are in need.  They spend their days working hard, selflessly, giving to others in the name of Jesus.
      And at the end of the day, they are ready to play and play hard but still mindful of the fact that they are Jesus' kids and it's all about Him.  Their dress, their speech, their fair-minded competitiveness, and their joyful obedience spoke volumes to me about who these kids are and what they stand for.
     But even beyond that, it convinced me that our culture has sold our young people a bill of goods and it's not the young people's fault. We've taught them that to be happy, the spotlight has to be on them.   That to be happy they have to dress provocatively and do whatever else is necessary to get others to notice them and/or to be "cool".  Basically we've taught them, through the media primarily, that life is all about them and not about others.  And it's small wonder that there is so much teen-age angst and so much drama associated with young people.  Young people were never meant to bear that kind of pressure.
      I'm really sorry that we've managed to sell some of this younger generation a bill of goods.
     But I'm even more  thankful - and so  impressed - to see a large group of young people who just aren't buying it and who have found the real path to joy.
      Jesus first.
      Others second.
      Yourself last.
      These kids will indeed change the world.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

May It Ever Be So...

       Maybe the trouble with Christians is that we know each other in the wrong way.
       That probably sounds weird but let me explain and then check out the Scripture to see if the statement above could be right -  I freely admit I'm no theologian.
      Last night I was meditating on II Corinthians 4 and 5 - a favorite passage that I was actually able to memorize way back during the second year of  our marriage, back when everything, including my brain, worked soooo much better!   (Think Edith Bunker singing, "Those were the days..."  Ha!  Seriously, I don't sing like Edith Bunker - I sing worse - and I have never liked  that particular song..)
     But I digress... ;)
     Last night, these words sort of "jumped off"  the pages of the Bible for me as if they were brand new, which was sort of amazing to me considering how long I've loved these verses.  At any rate, what really caught my attention was:
    "Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature..."  II Cor. 5:16-17
    Somehow that connected in my brain with II Cor. 3:18 - "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory..."
    It suddenly hit me - when someone walks through the church door, they aren't "That person who got caught ripping their company off to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars".   And they aren't, "That person who used to smoke pot  and dabble in other drugs."
    Anyone who walks through the church doors, if they know Christ - not just know about Him but really know Him - that person is no longer defined by what they've done in the flesh.  And we shouldn't even recognize them or refer to them by past labels...   Oh, yeah, I'm sure you  know her.  I'm sure you've  seen  her in the choir - she's there every Sunday.   You know, she's the one with red hair, real pretty eyes, kind of thin. She's the one who cheated on her husband years ago and had that messy divorce that everyone was talking about."
    No. She's not.
    According to Paul, she's no longer the person she once was.  Our past lifestyle is just that - past. Christ not only saves us, but He gives us a whole 'nother life and as we make it a point to obey His word, we are actually being transformed from glory to glory
    Having our identity taken away from us? In order to get a Heavenly one? Not a bad deal.
    And if Christ has given us a whole new identity, who are we to cling to the old one, when referring to ourselves and/or referring to others?
   "Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh..."
    May it ever be so..

Sunday, July 7, 2013

To Fix or ...Not...

   For many years, we had a dining room set that I loved. It was cheaply made but it looked "cute" plus it fit perfectly in the small dining room that we had and it could seat about 5 people comfortably. What more could a person want?  When my husband came to look at it, he growled something about how a person could want "real wood"
   It consisted of a wrap around bench with a brocaded seat cushion; this provided seating for two sides of the table.  On the side closest to the kitchen, we just had a backless bench with the same patterned seat cushion.  Everything matched!  But I think my husband growled something about "poorly glued pieces" and "extra holes in the wood" and maybe the phrase "must-have-been-a-floor-model"
   None of that phased me until our first dinner guest came over, sat down on the edge of the backless bench, and accidentally flipped himself onto the floor.  It was an "oh my!" moment as we rushed to help him get up, complicated by the fact that he was from another country and didn't speak English well.  How to explain in pigeon English that this was not an on purpose thing? That we didn't draw unsuspecting people into our house to watch them sit on the bench and then watch them being unceremoniously dumped onto our wood floor, like we were trying to create our own funniest home videos...
   This was a problem...  One I couldn't ignore.
   I asked Phil if he could fix it but he told me the bench didn't just have a problem:  it was structurally unsound.   It would be easier to build a new one than to fix what we had.
    Human nature is pretty much the same.  We can be covered in brocade on the outside but it doesn't take much to "tip" the balance in our lives and, as Tom Hanks said in You've Got Mail... "Hello! It's Mr. Nasty again."
     I loved worship this morning, absolutely loved it in spite of a sinus thing going on somewhere behind  my eyes.  I took some medicine when I got home and slept for about 2 hours this afternoon.  When I got up, I surmised that  someone had gone against my express wishes, although I wasn't quite sure,   and suddenly it was "Hello, Mrs. Nasty".  Just the thought of possible "insubordination" /= caused me to  quietly begin to steam on the  inside even though my" brocade cover" was in place on the outside.
     I started shelling  boiled eggs so that I could devil them - a fitting activity for me right then - but at one point, my anger just flashed through me in a way that I thought only hot flashes could do and before I knew it,   I had taken one of the eggs that I was shelling and dunked it in the trash container as hard as I could, even though there was nothing wrong with it. Never done that before... But there is always a first time, I guess!
    Someone has said that Christianity is not a do-it-yourself self-help course.  God sent His only Son to earth because we are structurally flawed, no matter how good we might  look on the outside.   Anger, self-pity, selfishness, pride, are all waiting below the surface, right along with the capacity to love, to be generous, and to be kind.  But the fact is, the nasty impulses never completely go away.  Perfectly good boiled eggs sometimes go into the trash, shoes can be gently lobbed at the closet door, tires can be kicked...
    That is why we need a Savior and that is why we need to walk closely with Him, day by day, step by step, yielding to His agenda, filled with His Spirit.
     Christ came, not to "fix us" but to make us new.
     Accepting Him as Savior is the first step on that road to "newness". Submitting to Him and walking with Him daily, or in my case today, hourly, is the next step.
     II Cor. 5:17  "Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature. The old things passed away, new things have come."