Saturday, October 26, 2013

Please pray...

      One of our vocabulary words in home school for this past week.
      Would it be correct to say that my friend has an indomitable spirit?
      Right now she is in surgery.  And surgery under the best of circumstances can make for anxiety.
      But Angie has never lived under the best of circumstances.  When she was young, she was diagnosed with a progressive neuromuscular disease.  Now, at 42, she is frail and spends much of her time drawing one breath after another via a breathing machine.  She's been in a motorized wheel chair for so long that I don't even know if she remembers what it feels like to walk.
     But she knows what it feels like to laugh and she does that almost every day.
     She knows what it feels like to care and she reaches out to others every day, not only through her blog but through countless acts of compassion.  Seriously.  When I started collecting peanut butter for a food bank, Angie was the first to respond and she's been faithful to follow through for a year now.  She takes beautifully decorated cookies to her doctors and uses her blog to share what God is teaching her - and that covers a lot of ground as she is a willing student in God's school of Grace.
     She invites her friends and their children over to her home and loves watching the kids, yet she's never had any of her own. And I've never detected one iota of sour grapes over the things she doesn't have or never has had or has had to relinquish slowly over time although she would be the first to say that when she was younger, she went through some dark days.
     Yet I've only known her as a bearer of light. His light.
     Last year in the pre-holiday madness, about 5 days before Christmas, I went out to see Angie face-to-face for the first time. I was down, distracted  - definitely feeling rushed and a bit overwhelmed.  I intended to spend one hour with her and her caregiver, Karla. I spent two and when I got in the car I felt totally upbeat. I put some music in my CD player and reveled in the world around me.  I felt joy and decided to toss my must-do-Christmas-shopping- list out the window for the rest of the day. It proved to be a wonderful decision, to set aside the world's idea of Christmas and focus on God's. What a novel idea...
    That's the effect Angie has on me.
    Jesus told His followers that He came to reproduce His joy in them and to make their joy full. (John 15)
    Even in a wheel chair, I've seen that He can do that.
    Sometimes the joy comes in hilarious ways, with pithy comments about girl things, our spoiled pets, and/or the world at large.
    But always it comes.
    So I ask again, would it be correct to say that my friend has an indomitable spirit?
    I think it is.
    How her frail body can contain such a spirit, I don't know.  I only know that this morning she is undergoing surgery and for her, this is a huge thing to deal with.
     And so I'm asking: please pray for my friend, Angie.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Truly, He is...

        This past weekend I went to a retreat with a friend whom I first met back in 1997, when we both lived on the same street and had young children.
        Looking back, I can see that our friendship was born out of  shared sorrow.  And it started with me reading the obituaries.
       Let me explain:  I lost my parents in Dec. 1995 and then about 11 months later had my own brush with mortality when the doctor thought I might have uterine cancer.  (Fortunately I didn't.)  However, about the same time that I was dealing with my own health issues, my neighbor and surrogate dad went on to be with the Lord.
      So 1995 through 1997 were, for me, filled with medical stuff, loss, and not a little trauma.
      I think all of this, in the providence of God, gave me a sort of "antennae" for others who were going through loss and/or medical woes.
      I don't normally read the obituaries but one day I did and I saw that someone on our street had died.  I didn't know the family but decided to take some food to them.  My next-door neighbor - the one who had just lost her husband - said that  she wanted to do something too so we both conjured up some food and then I took it down our street to the residence that had been listed in the paper.
    I remember to this day feeling a bit nervous, wondering how my unexpected presence on a strange doorstep would be received, etc.   I also remember vividly the door opening and two women standing there, one behind the other.  My yet-to-be-friend was the one standing behind; another relative was the one who had opened the door.  Grief was deeply etched on my  future friend's face and I instantly felt a kinship with her -  I could sooo identify!
     Fast forward to this past weekend - sixteen years later!  We got to be  roomies at a Christian retreat and during that time we laughed, cried, questioned, debated, and reminisced with each other and it was all - all-  a blessing.  Our kids are grown now, our hair is a little greyer now, and we are both acutely aware of how much time has swept under the bridge since we first met.
   At one point during the retreat, I thought, "Wow! Isn't it lucky that I happened to read the obituaries on the very day when the  article about my friend's mom was in it!  Look what came out of it - a lifelong friendship!"
   And then I  thought, "No,wait a minute!  Who am I kidding?  That was most definitely a God thing..."
   And then my heart lifted in praise. "Wow, God!  You orchestrated this whole thing!  Amazing!"
   Truly, He is...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

No Small Thing...

      Little things, small decisions, spur of the moment impulses.  I don't know about you but my life is made up of these things. As a friend of mine used to say, "It's not the big things that get me down, it's that life is so daily..."  Indeed...
      Several years ago I was at the River Market, buying (ahem) chocolate - what else?  And as the people behind the counter waited on me, I looked at their countenances, listened to their erudite banter, and absorbed  the pithy, yet worldly messages on their tee-shirts and then thought about my own Christian tee-shirt.  Honestly, I was a little embarrassed. The young people at the bakery just had that "I'm a sophisticated intellectual" look about them while I... well, I was wearing an oversize tee-shirt (to camoflauge just how oversize I am) that said something like, "Jesus loves you!!"  Whew... glad I wasn't wearing my bright orange tee-shirt that said, "LIve so that the preacher won't have to lie at your funeral!"
     Really, as I stood there waiting for my chocolate chip scones to be sacked up, I felt... old.  Dumpy.  Banal.  Out of place.
     Then a little girl who clearly belonged to the River Market - as it turned out, her mom worked there in one of the kiosks - bounced up to the counter singing, "Jesus loves you..." in her high-pitched little voice.  The young people behind the counter obviously knew and liked her.  They teased her good-naturedly - how do you know He loves me?  Undaunted, she proceeded to give them the whole Gospel - not the PC version. They bantered back and forth a bit in what seemed to be a well-rehearsed routine that they all enjoyed.  She got a cookie  for her trouble as well as an admonition to be careful.  She smiled and told them she would be and then the little evangelist left, her curly long hair bouncing behind her.
   Out of that brief snippet of life came a much needed change of persepective.  I realized that instead of focusing on my own insecurities I should be focused on those around me -  wonderful human beings for whom Christ Jesus died.  In addition to that, I was reminded that I should be like Paul (no mean intellectual himself!) who was unashamed of the simple, unsophisticated Gospel message that  all Christ followers are called to share, regardless of age, size, or sophistication... Or even of whether we say it or, as the little evangelist did, treble it in the open market!
   So I decided to go to the River Market once a week (it's a tough life but someone has to do it!) and prayerfully do my shopping, asking God to give me opportunities to witness for Him if that was His will. If no opportunities arose, then would He at least guide my prayers so that I could effectively interceed for the strangers bustling around me..
   And then I was ready.  David went with me the first time and as we drove towards the market, I prayed outloud for guidance and wisdom, divine appointments if you will, and then qualified my prayers by telling David we might just end up silently interceeding and not see any sign of answers - in other words, we might just pray, shop, and come home with no evidence that God heard us.  But still, I assured my child, God would hear us and someday we would see the results, if not here then in Heaven.
     A hedge-your-bets type of instruction in faith from mother to son... ;)
     Right after we parked and entered the market, I saw a neighbor standing a few feet away from us.  Miss Sue was someone we delighted to know but I could see her any time - she just lived a few houses down from me.  Besides that, she was a devout Christian and I was on a mission to save the lost, right?  Plus I was supposed to meet another friend in about an hour and a half so time was at a premium.
  There is something else you need to know about Miss Sue - she is blind.  So there she was, cane in hand, standing with another lady, and it came to me that I could silently walk right past them and Miss Sue would never know. Seriously.  I  pondered on that and then decided to act on it. Since the other lady was a stranger, no one would ever know, no harm would be done. And I could talk to Miss Sue later.
   As I started to move past them, something inside reminded me that this was, um, actually a pretty tacky thing to do. Sigh...  So I stopped and greeted her; she smiled and introduced her friend to me. And then her friend said, "Do you have a car?"  I said that I did and the next words out of her mouth were basically:  "Sue is staying with me for the weekend; I have an apartment about six blocks from here.  The weather has been so unseasonably mild these past few days that Sue and I decided to walk to the market this morning.  It was so beautiful and neither of us realized  how hot it would be this afternoon.  Sue can't physically tolerate extreme heat and so we can't walk back to the apartment.  And we don't know of any busses running that way today.  Would it be possible for you to take us to my apartment?"
   This wasn't what I wanted to hear. I had just paid to park and taking someone to their apartment was not on my agenda.  However, what else could I do?  I told her that I was willing to take them home but that I had just arrived and really wasn't ready to leave yet.  They assured  me that was fine, that they were in no hurry, that they would just sit down and drink a coke,  and that I should take my time.
   And then she said, "We just prayed together a  few minutes ago and asked God to send someone who could give us a ride home.  And then He sent you.  We're so grateful!   Isn't He good?"
   Um...Gee.  I hadn't actually been thinking about Him at that moment in time.
   But, well.....yes, as a matter of fact, I had to agree.  God is good!
   Occasionally I set out to save the world. But it hasn't happened yet.
   The truth is: life is so daily.
   And daily He answers prayer.
   Daily He shows up in the small things.
   And when He does, it's no small thing....

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

When Prayer Isn't Safe...

          When I was four months pregnant, I had to take my mom to the  ER for acute pancreatitis.  She was a medicaid patient and was seen by a young intern over the next several months as the pancreatitis flared up periodically. Each time she went to the doctor he ordered an ultrasound, each time it didn't show anything abnormal, and each time he told us  that as long as she wasn't developing any other symptoms, she just needed to follow the BRAT diet until the nausea subsided. Since medicaid would only pay for 3 ultrasounds in a twelve month period and since the BRAT diet took care of her monthly bouts of nausea, she quit going to the doctor.
         Nine months later she could barely eat  half a carrot and half a potato without saying she was full.  At that point I persuaded her to go to the ER. We made 3 trips in about 4 days before they finally admitted her.  The first time we went,  UAMS was undergoing renovation- there was no air in the ER room where we were, it was early summer, and we were miserable.  UAMS had a great staff for the most part but their motto back then seemed to be: "If a little waiting is good, more waiting is better..."  On this particular day, we waited.  And waited.  And waited.
         The heat was so bad that I finally got out of a chair and sat on the floor of her cubicle, hoping it would be slightly cooler on the tile squares.
          While I was on the floor, I tried to memorize the second half of a  verse out of the Amplified Bible:
         " ... those who love Him [who hold Him in affectionate reverence, promptly obeying Him and gratefully recognizing the benefits He has bestowed]".  I Cor. 2:9b  (Emphasis is mine.)
          At that time, the expanded meaning of loving God resonated deeply within me:    showing prompt obedience, thankfulness, and affectionate reverence toward Him.  I found myself, in spite of my circumstances, pouring out my heart to Him. At one point, His presence seemed so near that I felt as if  I could reach out and touch Him.  I remember to this day (and this happened 23 years ago), silently lifting my heart in praise and telling Him how I loved Him with all my being.
          The very next instant, these words went through my mind, authoritative and unmistakable:  I am getting ready to take your mother Home.
           Where had that come from???
           Not from me.  I knew my mom was sick but I didn't expect her to die, wasn't even thinking about her at all at that moment.
            Maybe it was from God.
            I immediately rejected that thought.  No, it couldn't be.  God would never respond with something so negative, so unpleasant, when I was pouring out my heart of love to Him.
           At that time I didn't realize that when we enter into prayer with God, we can't restrict Him to things that we want to hear.  We have to accept what He wants to say and He only says what is true, which sometimes includes things like, "No, this cancer won't be healed here on earth..."  "Yes, the ones you've helped will betray you..."  (See the life of David in the Old Testament). "No, your spouse won't come back to you... but I will be sufficient..."
           I remember sitting bolt upright in that ER cubicle, putting my hand-written memory card away, and deliberately focusing on anything except God and prayer.
           However, deep in my heart I suspected what I had "heard" was from  God. Honestly, I was sure enough of it being from  God that  I pretty much quit praying for about 6 months; I didn't want to run the risk of hearing something bad like that again.  So my prayer life, such as it was, became meal time blessings and sporadic, rote, "Now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep" type of prayers.  I never let my "quiet times" go below the surface during that period of my life.  This God, I was learning, truly was not safe to know. And after my experience at the hospital, I doubted His goodness.
         Meanwhile my mom struggled with health issues for the next 8 months, during which time she had several medical procedures, two surgeries, and she also steadily lost weight.  Her original problem had been  a stomach ulcer that had scarred over, blocking the exit which allowed food to drain out of her stomach.  That  stomach problem had caused the recurrent bouts of pancreatitis from 1990 to 1991.  Now they tried various means to unblock her stomach and for almost a year, she was really sick. But then  she rallied and went on to live a fairly normal life for the next three years or so.  (Mom had her first episode of pancreatitis in the spring of 1990.  My experience at the  UAMS ER happened in the summer of 1991 and my mom transitioned to Heaven in Dec. 1995).
          As she resumed routine activities, I put the odd prayer time at UAMS totally out of my mind.  I decided I had misunderstood and that it was my imagination, the heat, and/or stress over my mom that had given me such a crazy idea.
         Then in June of 1995, the doctor told us an x-ray revealed some suspicious spots on her liver and so he referred her for more medical tests.  She was admitted to the hospital  and  went through some inconclusive exams. Finally she was taken back for a second attempt to "scope" her  while  I and my uncle sat in a waiting room at UAMS, biding time until the doctor could tell us whether she had  pancreatic cancer or not.  By this point, one of  her  doctors (who had been the intern who failed to diagnose her correctly several years earlier) had come to us and frankly apologized for not taking her case more seriously when she first got sick.
      Now, as I sat there  in yet another hospital waiting room, I felt anger burning within me towards that doctor.  If only he had been more thorough... If  only he hadn't written mom off as just a medicaid patient, an elderly lady who was probably high strung.  If only....
         I began to feel my blood boil and at that moment, God clearly spoke to me again, saying the same thing He had said 4 years earlier: I am getting ready to take your mother Home.     Suddenly I was transported back to that miserably hot afternoon in an ER cubicle where I had poured out my heart to God and He had responded in such an inexplicable way.
       Now I knew, at least in part:  God was telling me even then that what mom had would eventually culminate in her death and that this was His plan. His plan.  Which meant that four years later, I wasn't sitting there because of a doctor's error. I was sitting there - and mom was undergoing tests in a nearby room - because this was God's sovereign will. It was her time to go Home, no more and no less.
      As  I thought about it, other things became clear to me.  I now understood that for several years He had been getting both of us ready for her home going. During that interval, she had developed a couple of heart issues and that turned out to be a blessing, as odd as it sounds.  A few weeks before mom died, her hospice doctor told me that they might not be able to control her pain from the cancer for much longer and that I should pray that she would die of heart trouble before the cancer got much worse.  I've always been thankful that she did die of heart trouble and that her pain meds were never ineffective.  Had she not developed the heart issues in the last few years of her life, her death could have been very bad.
      I'm sure God had more reasons than that for the extra time that He gave us, many of which I won't know this side of Heaven. I do know that  mom got to spend a lot of time with our little son whom she dearly loved.  She also  grew a lot in faith during those years - as her body weakened, her faith became stronger.   As for me,  I   had  time to adjust to her gradually declining health. Because I was so close to her, I really feel  He  graciously  warned me, and then gave me time to prepare for our eventual separation.
     And then, on that June day in 1995, when I felt myself becoming flushed with anger towards one of her doctors, God reminded me that 4 years ago in that very same hospital He had told me this was going to happen.  With that reminder, my anger towards the young doctor just vanished. Instantly. And it never returned.
     Grief is so, so hard. How much harder would it have been if I had become bitter and angry towards the doctor who was young and just made an honest mistake? In His mercy, God spared me that.  Plus, since that time I've always been aware that the issues of life and death are truly in His hands.
      God is sovereign. He is our creator and the lover of our souls.  He knows the future and what is best for us. And He knows what we need to hear when we need to hear it.
       Prayer is essential. But it's not a one-way street. When we open our  hearts to Him, He answers but it's not always what we want to hear.  I sort of wish someone had told me that before my experience in 1991.
      The bottom line is that God is, as C. S. Lewis pointed out,  not safe. Nor does the Infinite necessarily   make sense to our finite minds.  His ways truly are higher than our ways (Is.  55:9).
      But He is good.
      Even when we can't understand His ways, we can trust His heart.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Crooked Sticks and Straight answers

       I've been thinking about prayer a lot.  And I'll share a secret fear I have: namely that when I get to Heaven my path to God's throne will be strewn with prayer lists and promises of prayer that I failed to "make good" on.  I wonder if anyone else out there knows what I'm talking about?
       Right behind that is the fear that I'll be busted out for going days (as in plural) with just arrow prayers - sort of tipping my hat to God as I sprint through my daily tasks as if a pot of gold waited for me at bedtime, but only if I get the important things done such as bed-making, dish-washing, committee-attending, grocery-shopping, paper-grading, and least but by no means last  -my favorite - stamping out fires... only if I get all those things done.
       People sometimes look at me and give me positive feedback - maybe calling me a prayer-warrior or something like that. If they could follow me around and observe my prayer life, I would quickly drop from the head of the class in their eyes to the bottom.
      As I look back over the times when God has really spoken to my heart, I see several things.  Mainly what I see is that  I had a goal of trying to get alone with God 1 or 2 times a week and for the most part, I was making it.  One or two times a week????   We're supposed to be spending quality time alone with God every single day!!!
     I'm telling you, I seldom have ever made that goal.  Especially when I was working full time.  And for it to even happen, I had to get away from my house.  I'm not kidding.  Was I like the old woman in the shoe who had so many kids she didn't know what to do?  No.  Actually I just had one. Kid that is, not shoe.
    Were we involved in church work and ministry?  Yes.  But is that supposed to hinder your prayer life?  Um... No, I don't think so...
    The truth is that when I was teaching high school full time, raising our one child (and his friends also it seemed), doing some form of ministry, trying to get the pets to the vet, taking care of an elderly parent, working at keeping the house one step above the level known as "condemned", and, most important, trying to remain sane, I had to resort to desperate measures to get in even one or two good quiet times a week.  For a while, I climbed up in my son's fort in the back yard, booting him and his little friends out of it,  before telling my family that unless it was an emergency, they could disturb me in the fort only on pain of personal injury.  In other words, if the interruption didn't constitute an emergency by my standards, I would hurt them.  (Talk about being spiritual...)  Yet, for a while it worked.
    When we began to do international ministry, I left my home entirely in order to have quiet times. During those years I went to the Oasis Retreat off Kanis (it's no longer a retreat area) and had a quiet time routine that went something like this:  first I hiked the trails, grumbling and whining to God out loud for most of that time.  I'm not kidding. Those were the days of menopause, insane school requirements (for myself and my son), and a whirlwind of ministry activities. Then I would either end up at a wooden cross on a small hill towards the back of the property or I would wind up in a prayer deck overlooking the water.   When I was fairly desperate, I went to the cross, sat down in the dirt at the foot of it, and sometimes literally hugged it, pretty much begging God to beam me up before the next load of laundry, essay tests, and kids (both American and international) had to be dealt with.  When things were a little calmer, I would go to my favorite prayer deck, sit on the railing with my back against a tree, read my Bible, pray, and even sing a little.  Oh, there was one other option.  When things were really, really bad, I would go to a secluded prayer deck, throw myself face down on the wooden planks (you can get splinters that way) and just beg God over and over to help me, us, them, whoever.  At those times, my prayers were barely coherent.
     For several years I did that once or twice a week and looking back, those were times when God "answered" some of my prayers in tangible ways and when I often felt very close to Him.  It was during that time of my life when the trip to Minnesota (see last blog entry) and a few other things like that happened.
     So as I reflect on my past prayer life and various answers that stand out in my life, I see the obvious: that time alone with Him is crucial. And for me, while I'm sure it would have been better had it happened every day, the truth is that He was gracious to me and met me when I went to the effort to get alone with Him even once or twice a week.  The rest of the week, I did arrow prayers in the car, in bed, etc.  And I tried to meditate (with varying degrees of success) on Scripture verses - again in the car, during morning duty, my half-hour lunch, while I was washing dishes, and/or at bedtime. Sometimes, going over and over a single memory verse became my prayer - my only real prayer - for an entire day. Probably more times than I can count, that was the case.
      I've never been a prayer warrior; I've never come even close to developing callouses on my knees; and I've "failed" more times than I've ever succeeded at having quality time alone with God.  (If you'd like, I'd be happy to tell you about the time I was on my knees beside my bed at 5:30 in the morning,determined to do the prayer thing  "right" when I suddenly came to and realized that my ink pen was still in my hand but the last word on the page had somehow become a long, angular line of ink trailing across the page in my spiritual journal.  I woke up just in time to keep from "journaling" all over my bedspread...)
      Just for the record, as I try to continue to blog about answered prayers for a bit, I wanted to set things straight.  I'm not a prayer warrior, a candidate for saint-hood, or someone you want to emulate.  I'm just a very flawed person who can testify that God graciously answers prayer, not because of who I am but because of who He is.
      This saying is true:  God writes straight with crooked sticks.
      That would be me.
      I don't ever want to forget that and I don't want you to forget it either.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Casting Bread upon the Waters...

    Tonight Phil and I went for a short walk, reveling in the cooler temps, the stillness of the night, and the chirping of the crickets.  It was a sweet time.
    He mentioned a verse out of Ecclesiastes - a book we never discuss - and that was enough to trigger an almost forgotten memory of answered prayer in  May of 2002.  That May one of our Arkansas friends lost a close relative unexpectedly.  The funeral was to be held in Minnesota.  At the last minute, I felt I should go but for me the finances -  not to mention the logistics - of such a trip were overwhelming. I'm not a traveler by any means.
    I remember how it all came about.  It was a Wed. towards the end of the school year - a time when everything has to be done yesterday, very rushed with end of the year tasks.  I wasn't well, had a persistent cough, and really felt crummy that whole day.  When David and I got in the car after school, he asked me if we could go to the store and I told him it was out of the question because I was doing well just to drive home.
   Halfway home, about the time we hit Bryant, I can only say I felt the presence of God there in our car. Totally unexpected.  At that time I had a habit of going to a  nearby retreat once or twice a week to walk the grounds and pray. When I suddenly  felt warmth flooding my heart, I thought, "Maybe God wants me to go to the Oasis to pray for some reason." To my surprise, I realized that I felt energized, well in fact, and could actually do it.  My coughing quit and I was no longer tired.
   I actually debated for a minute whether to take DAvid to the store, take him home and then go to the Oasis, or just go home. I opted to go home, not wanting to push my luck, still knowing God was tangibly near but not knowing why. I remember silently asking Him if there was someone I should be praying for, something I should do, etc.
  When I got home, it dawned on me for the first time that I could call my girlfriend who was staying with her future in-laws in Minnesota, waiting for the funeral .  At that time I knew next to nothing about cell phones and hadn't considered the possibility of calling across state lines on their cell.  On impulse, I decided to try her fiance's number, which I had; got my friend on the phone;  and could tell she was naturally very stressed. As I listened, I felt God impressing on my heart to go to Minnesota to be with her but, as I've indicated that was about like Him telling me to go to the moon. I had only flown twice before (and hated it both times), knew it would be expensive (we didn't have any extra money set aside for such things), and it was the end of the school year (how would a sub prepare my kids for the last big test of the year???).
   The feeling persisted however, although I said nothing to my friend about it.  
    Instead I called another friend and, as I recall, I started off the conversation by saying something like, "This is crazy but..."  She didn't think it was crazy at all and told me her husband was actually on the internet at that moment hunting for a plane ticket to Minnesota. She  asked me  if I wanted him to price a ticket for me as well. I knew her husband was going but felt sure he'd already gotten a ticket, never dreamed he was still pricing them. At that time, I didn't even know you could get them over the internet.
    I gave a tentative "yes" and then hung up the phone.    I knew that   Phil didn't like for me to miss work and, as I've said, felt the money alone would be prohibitive.  I broached the subject in a negative fashion, telling him I really didn't think it was feasible but I was just going to run it past him.
    He totally surprised me by not blinking an eyelash and  saying first crack out of the box, "I think you should go. Don't worry about the money; just put it on the credit card and we'll pay it off. "  That's soooo not Phil.
    The upshot of all this is that over the next hour or so I learned our plane would be leaving out of Memphis about 4:30 in the morning - that was the cheapest ticket available. So my friend who would be flying with me said he would pick me up at 1 a.m. and drive us to Memphis
    That blew me away because I am a person who has to have  8 hours of sleep to function. I had stayed up all night once before in my teens and by 5 a.m. I was literally incoherent. I was stringing words together but they weren't making any sense.  When I got home from that weekend trip, I slept for about 12 hours straight and vowed I would never stay up all night ever again.
     As I was mentally grappling with all this, I called for a sub and then asked a dear friend/fellow teacher to take down lesson plans for the next two days.  As it happened, I had run off some extra handouts that day, thinking at the time that it was probably a waste and I'd never get to them by year's end. I also ran off a work sheet for a WWII video I showed each year - a documentary that I really loved and really enjoyed teaching. That video held a lot of information for their last chapter test and also for their nine weeks exam, which were coming up back-to-back.  I hadn't planned to show the video until Monday but rapidly decided to switch gears, thinking the sub could show the film and then I'd just have to lose a day in order to re-teach the material. (Normally I stopped the film periodically and explained things to the kids as we went along, made sure they got the correct answers written down, etc.).
     Of all things, as I was packing and fretting over the trip, the money, and school, a neighbor called us to say that he was in a bind. His wife was struggling with mental illness at that time and he worked the night shift so  he had hired someone to stay with their four kids at night. But that very evening, the kids, who were pretty rambunctious, had run the sitter off and he couldn't find another one before he had to go to work. So he asked us if we could keep all four kids for a couple of nights, get them to school in the morning (they all went to different schools), etc.  Because the kids were a bit wild, we'd had a rule that only one or two at a time could stay overnight with us and we'd never broken that rule.  But their dad was pretty desperate so I asked Phil and he said to tell the dad to bring them on over.  At the time, I could hardly take in everything that was happening.
    I started getting the hide-a-bed in the living room ready as well as the bed in the spare room.     About 8 p.m. the dad brought them over and somehow we got all four of them settled down for the night: we put one in the living room, two in the spare room, one in David's room, and David in our room where he would sleep with Phil.   Then I tiptoed around the hide-a-bed in the living room, trying to finish up packing, hoping I could get at least a couple of hours sleep before heading out.
   Instead I just barely finished getting ready before my ride showed up at 1 and we headed to Memphis.  From there, we caught our flight which would get us into Minnesota about 11 a.m. after a layover in O'Hare Int.  Somewhere around 6 a.m., flying over who-knew-where, I came to the settled conclusion that I was totally and completely certifiable.  By that time I was super tired and had no clue how I'd even function, let alone be any help in Minnesota. I couldn't sleep on the plane at all and now realized that the best thing I could have done was to simply pray, which I could have done  for nothing back home in Arkansas.  But, no, I had to put us in debt and shake up everything just to fly  North where I would undoubtedly either sleep non-stop for hours and/or become a gibbering idiot....  leaving my poor husband with 5 kids to get to school (make that 5 different schools where he would have to do drop-offs - four in Little Rock and one in Benton) before he could go to work. Plus he would have to care for all those kids over the next two days by himself...
   Insane didn't even begin to describe it.
   When we got to Minnesota, we went to our rooms and I took a two hour nap, knowing full well it wouldn't be enough.  But it was.  I woke up feeling energized and made it fine on that nap and about 6 hours of sleep for the next two nights. God made the rest sufficient is all I can say.
   My bronchitis basically went away as well.  I coughed once in a while but nothing like the racking, unrelenting cough I'd had off and on all day at school on  Wed.  Plus,  I didn't feel sick at all - the physical well-being that I inexplicably experienced on the drive home from Benton that Wed. afternoon stayed with me until I returned from Minnesota, at which time my bronchitis returned in full force and I ended up going to the doctor.  That had to be God - I've had bronchitis a lot and it's never happened to me like that before or since where I had it, then I didn't, and then I did.
    We were able to go to the funeral that weekend where my traveling companion gave an excellent funeral speech and then, afterwards, we were able to  spend some time with the family.  Finally, Saturday evening we were able to go out to eat with our close friends - a sweet young couple - and listen to them talk about the traumatic events of the past few days.  As I listened, the girl told me that she had gotten up early Thursday morning and poured out her heart to God, telling Him that she couldn't make it without some help. At that point she clearly heard Him speak to her heart, telling her that help was on the way.  She had no idea I was coming when she received that impression.  I had no idea she was praying. When she told me about her early morning prayer I was astounded.  When I think about it even now, I still am.  Only God could have put that together.
   But there was more. When I got to school on Monday, I started going over the WWII film study guide, expecting to have to dictate every answer, knowing they wouldn't have gotten much out of the complicated documentary, wondering how I would recoup the wasted time so near the end of term. To my surprise, they had every single answer written down and understood the film completely.  For the first and only time that I can recall, I had had a sub who had a history major. (Not kidding).  He had just graduated and was hoping to get a teaching job.  So he took the video home Thursday night and answered all the questions on the study guide.  And then he explained the background stuff  to the kids the next day as they watched the film -things that I would have told them, things that weren't even  in the film, things that only a history major would have known to have told them.  Basically my kids were not behind at all and I was able to pick up and go on as if I had not missed.  If you know anything about teaching, you know this just doesn't happen - especially on the high school level with a random sub. I can't ever remember another time like that in the 31 years that I taught.
   On the flight to Minnesota, God had given  me a verse from Ecclesiastes - Cast your bread upon the water and after many days it will come back to you.  I can't remember getting hundreds of dollars from Heaven in the weeks and months after that trip. But neither can I ever remember us struggling to pay off our credit card.  In fact, I .can say that a year later we were basically out of debt and had 3,000.00 in our savings whereas before we had had zilch.  While neither of us could remember a big windfall of money, neither could either of us remember making a concerted effort to save money.  Somehow, God did indeed bring the "crumbs" that we had flung out onto the water that May back to us in spades.

   Many times we pray and pray and pray and nothing seems to happen. I've been there, done that.. a lot.  As I get older, I realize how important it is to remember the times when God has answered in ways that we can readily see and lately I've felt that I needed to blog about those times. For what it's worth, this is the first of "answered prayer" entries.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Almighty Cent...

      Today mentoring started for the new school year and I met my new student - a third grader who told me in all seriousness that a penny is worth more than a $1.00 and that 4 quarters equal a  $100.00.  Well, I didn't have a  $100.00 handy... trust me on this!  But I had a  $1.00 so I pulled out a somewhat tattered bill, showed it to him, and said, "So a penny is worth more than this?"    He looked a little uncertain but decided to stick by his guns.  He pointed to the number 1 in the corner of the dollar bill and said, "See. That means it's just a 1!  But a penny is a... a...a..  cent!  And a cent is worth a whole lot more than, than just a 1!!!"
     Semantics! Synonyms!  Antonyms! Homonyms!  Onomatopoeia!  Words that are meant to obfuscate the issue...  Numbers that seem the same but somehow aren't!!!  Things that just don't add up!! And inflation that can drop the value of the almighty cent in just one brief math lesson from waaay more than a dollar to... just .. 1/100th of that same dollar.
     Don't you just hate things like that????
     Finally, I said, "Okay. So if I had a penny - a cent - and you had a dollar... and I told you I'd trade my penny for your dollar, would you trade with me?"
     He thought for a  moment and then said, "I don't think so...but I'm not sure why..."
     Even though the rather prominent number 1 - the lowliest number that a third grader will ever do - was clearly visible on the dollar bill, he sensed a losing proposition  somewhere in the works.  So he opted for caution which is just as well because he didn't have a dollar, I didn't have a penny, and  even if we had been in possession of those things, I think there's probably a rule somewhere that says grown ups are not supposed to fleece little kids...  especially in the mentoring program...
   But the truth is, I could have fleeced him easily.  Simply because he saw the number 1 on the dollar and he knows that 1 has little numerical value.
   This week I attended a Christian conference on apologetics... Hang  with me for a minute...
   The speakers discussed various religions and cults in light of Christianity, pointing out that several different religions/cults talk about Jesus and even profess allegiance to Him.  But they all diminish the Christ of the Bible.
   Some say Christ is just one of many gods, human in origin, working his way to divinity one step ahead of the rest of us.
   Others say he was just a great prophet or teacher.
   Still others may say that He's their savior but, when pressed, will admit that they are trusting primarily in their own efforts and just trusting Him for the leftovers.
   When my little friend looked at the dollar today, he grasped only part of what was in front of his eyes and totally missed the value of the bill in my hand.  He diminished its worth without even realizing what he was doing.
   When we look at Jesus through the lens of His own words and those of His closest associates, the disciples, we see over and over again in the New Testament that Jesus existed and was God from the very beginning of time.  In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being by Him  and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being... John 1:1-3
    The disciples said that they beheld Him - "... we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14
    Jesus Himself said that He was  "the way, the truth, and the life" and that no one could come to the father except through Him. (John 14:7)
    In Phillippians 2 we see that although He existed as God, Jesus did not regard His position  as something to be grasped - to be held onto -and instead emptied Himself, humbled Himself, by assuming the form of a man and by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
    Why?  The Bible tells us that there is no greater act of love than for someone to lay down his life for another.  Parents may lay down their lives for a child who is in danger. Spouses may sacrifice themselves for their mate.   Lifelong friends may make the ultimate sacrifice.
   But Jesus' sacrifice goes beyond that. As the only begotten son of God, He came to earth, lived as a human being although without sin, and then died.  The sinless Lamb of God paying the penalty of sin (Romans 3:23) - my sin and your sin - so that we would be declared righteous in God's sight.
   He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  II Cor. 5:21
   Don't make the mistake of looking at Jesus and seeing just a man, the way my new friend looked at the dollar and saw just the number 1.
    To do so is to trade the Son of God for a very substandard  imitation.