Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Good Idea!

Picnic! "Can we go on a pit-nic?" the small newcomer to the family queried over and over. It is January, but the weather is unseasonably warm, with temperatures in the 60s. The children had eaten at a picnic table in the back yard recently, and it had become a favorite treat.

"Ask Mimi," my daughter-in-law told her. There was no school today, and she had taken a personal day from work to spend with the children. I had other plans, but I consented to going outside to see how warm it was. Why not? I thought, as the fresh air perked me up.

The impromptu picnic came together as we gathered styrofoam plates, napkins and cups into a bag. I quickly made tea and my husband filled a ziploc bag from the icemaker. There were grapes and chips, but what else? "I'll pick up some chicken," Howard offered. Grabbing a loaf of bread, we said we'd meet them at the park.

The beautiful gazebo was perfect with the new octaganal table seating eight. There were seven of us when our college granddaughter joined us, her morning classes over at the nearby school. Even though I shivered when the wind blew, there was something invigorating about huddling together, eating the delicious chicken, still warm from its cardboard bucket and washed down by homemade tea. The lovely winter views were clean swept and bare, but I could see swelling buds on the trees and imagine the beauty of springtime.

The conversation revealed that the kids had never been to a zoo, and although there is none close by, I mentioned that there is a colony of prairie dogs a few miles down the road. Howard and I went about our errands, but the others piled in their vehicle saying they would see us at home. They came in much later, flushed, windblown, and full of chatter about feeding the prairie dogs, walking out on the pier at the lake, and getting cold drinks and snacks at a quick-stop.

Later, I went up to the kids' room (I rarely climb the stairs), and they showed me their new aquarium. "That's my fish," 5-year-old Beth exclaimed as the pointed to a fat swimmer with lacy, flapping fins, while Joy, 6, chimed in, "Mine's got bigger eyes!" Her paper drawing of a huge, pink fish had been placed behind the tank, the childish artwork lending a whimsical touch to their own little body of water.

God's creation is beautiful, outside or indoors, and spending time learning to appreciate it is so much better than an idle day in front of the television!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Held Fast

"My necklace has been found!" Our song leader announced to the congregation before the song service began yesterday. A week or so ago she had asked if anyone had seen her gold, heart necklace that she had suddenly discovered was no longer on her neck when she got home from church that Sunday evening. A wedding gift from her husband many years ago, the necklace was particularly meaningful to her, and she asked for prayer that it would turn up.

No one had seen it anywhere, but we all promised to pray and offered helpful clues as to where it might be--her car, her pocket, her purse, etc. A beautiful button that she had lost from a sweater was turned in, but no necklace. Sally, as I'll call her, reassured us that she had peace about the necklace and told herself that God knew where it was and it would be found. And it was, at home, on the grass just outside the car!

"I took it to the jeweler," Sally said, "to see if it was broken." To her surprise, the jeweler told her that the clasp was designed so that if pressure were put on it, it would give way, rather than break the chain. The chain was not broken, so her treasured keepsake was fine.

This reminded me of how God wants us to release our burdens to Him, rather than break ourselves down (mentally, emotionally, spiritually or physically) by fretting and worrying ourselves sick about some problem or situation. Psalm 145:14 assures us, "The Lord upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down."

Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Not only can a yoke be defined as a heavy wooden harness, but also it could have referred to the excessive demands of religious leaders of that day. Jesus, speaking of the scribes and Pharisees, said, "For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be born, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers," Matthew 23:4.

From my reading, I found out the word, yoga, a strict discipline, is related to the word, yoke, which could mean a religious discipline. Jesus was telling people that his "yoke"--teachings, requirements--was simple, and he did not put heavy burdens upon us. Like the maker of the necklace clasp, He will not put on us more than we can bear, but He makes a way of escape. He is our burden bearer and wants us to cast all our care upon Him, because He cares for us.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Coincidence, or by Design?

Isn't it amazing how God works out circumstances to align us to His will? In David Jeremiah's message this morning, he told of being a teenager with a job at a hardware store. One day a customer paid him for a purchase, and, distracted by something, he put the money in his pocket until he could place it in the register. When he got home, he realized the $20 bill was still in his pocket. He started rationalizing how the proprietor had plenty of money, while he himself worked hard for low wages. He decided to keep the money.

Years later, after he had gotten into the ministry, he could bear the weight of guilt no longer, so he put $60 into an envelope, hoping that would allow for interest, and mailed it to the store anonymously. Still, his conscience bothered him for not apologizing. Then much later, he was speaking in a distant city where the hardware company he had worked for just happened to be holding a convention. As he looked out from the pulpit, he couldn't believe his eyes when he saw his old boss. Making his way to him after the service, he said he needed to talk to him and invited him to his study.

"Do you remember ever having received an unmarked envelope with $60 in it?" he asked his former employer. When the man acknowledged the memory, David said, "Well, it was from me, because I stole $20 from you many years ago." He asked forgiveness as they embraced and wept. God had worked the circumstances out so that peace and healing could finally take place.

In today's television sermon, Dr. Jeremiah told of David's sin and deception in the Bible. God used Nathan the prophet to confront David and bring repentance and healing. In telling the story of the rich man who took the poor man's pet lamb and had it slaughtered, Brother Jeremiah said David was the rich man, the lamb was Bathsheba, and the neighbor was Uriah, whom David had sent to the heat of the battle and killed. When Nathan said, "Thou art the man," David had an opportunity to repent of his sin and restore fellowship with God.

In my husband's sermon this morning, he preached about Abraham's servant Eleazar, who was sent to get a bride for Isaac. Eleazar asked God for a sign that he would choose the right girl, the sign being that when the young women came to the well where he waited, one would give him a drink as he asked, then ask to water his camels, also. Sure enough, a beautiful young woman came to the well and filled her pitcher. When Eleazar asked her for a drink, she gave him one and then watered his camels, as well.

God let all these circumstances come into play that His greater will would be fulfilled: Rebekah would give birth to Jacob (Israel), through whom God would send the Savior. When Rebekah left home, her family blessed her that she might become the mother of "thousands of millions". Howard said that all that have come, and will come, into the Kingdom are part of these "thousands of millions". All a part of God's plan.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Calendar Girl

"Is today the 26th or 27th?" I asked my granddaughter. All day I had been thinking it was the 26th, assuming everyone else was off a day, but I guess it was me. I was going by the small wooden block calendar that has to be turned every day, and I'm the only one who changes it. At the first of the month, it seems to take forever for the single digit dates to go by, but when they hit the 15th or so, they start flying, like a car going downhill!

It's the same way with growing older. Every birthday is eagerly anticipated, it seems, until you reach the magic age of 21. Before you know it, you're 30, you look around and you're 40, suddenly you find yourself 60, then you hit 70 like a rocket! One thing about aging, though, we have plenty of company. With the greying of the baby boomers and the decline of the birth rate, the elderly are about to become the largest part of the population!

I couldn't help noticing a couple of very senior citizens who were checking out at Walmart today. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but if I had been a lip reader, I'm sure I'd have gotten an ear full (or eye full). The wife was bending toward her husband and with exaggerated mouth movements and deliberate speech she tried to convey something important to him. I know the feeling. It's either be misunderstood, or speak loudly and emphatically something you wanted to say privately.

We may lose many things physically as we get older, but one thing we are supposed to gain is wisdom. Psalm 90:10 tells us, "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by strength they be fourscore years... it is soon cut off, and we fly away." Verse 12 says, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."

When my oldest daughter, Julie, was in kindergarten, one day she was examining December's calendar page (counting the days to Christmas, I'm sure) and noticed there were no pages under it. "Mama!" she said to me in alarm, "We are almost out of days!" To allay her fears, I quickly put up the new year's calendar.

Many today would agree with her, Mayan calendar aside, but as we approach (or pass!) our threescore years and ten, we have to admit she was right--we are running out of days, personally. We would be wise to agree with Moses, the author of the 90th Psalm, when he says in verse 14, "O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may be glad and rejoice all our days." And again in verse 17, "And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Re-fired, Not Retired

“I just wanted to tell you,” a lady at church said to me last night, “You’re husband has a ‘Grandma’ now.” I laughed, because I knew what she meant. In a sermon he preached several weeks ago, Howard had referred to a well-known preacher of the past who was lamenting on the death of his own grandmother, because she had always prayed for him while he was in the pulpit.

“I need a ‘Grandma’!” Howard had said, apparently feeling the weight of the responsibility of filling our pastor’s shoes during his absence and recuperation. “If God puts it on the heart of any of you ladies to be my praying ‘Grandma’, I hope you obey.”

“Yes, I’ve been praying for him ever since then,” the sprightly octogenarian confided.

“And his sermons are getting more powerful lately!” I exclaimed. She agreed with me that there has been a great anointing on Howard’s recent messages and impassioned delivery.

Wednesday evening pulpit duties are usually shared by one of several lay-ministers in our church, however. Last night another grandmother, a preacher herself, brought the message. The diminutive lady, who makes me think of my saintly mother, is a powerhouse of spiritual energy and wisdom as she expounds from the moveable podium placed directly in front of the rows. Not that she stays behind it; her dynamic, bubbling style keeps her striding back and forth as she drives home scriptural truths and insights.

Speaking on the righteousness of God, she paused at one point to give a personal example in her sermon. “I’m going to pick on Bill,” she teased, peering at her 88-year-old husband, himself a preacher. “We were headed out to preach in this isolated place—nobody could’ve found it but my husband, the Indian scout,--when we got turned around. We circled and circled out in the woods, not knowing where we were. We even called the preacher and he didn’t know where we were!” she exclaimed. “I kept telling my husband to stop, but he wouldn’t listen. So I yelled at him!” Then she lowered her voice and said, “God got hold of me for that. I had to apologize to Bill.”

Thank God for the wisdom and dedication of the elderly in our church. They set the example for the rest of us!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Learning by Doing

My daughter was exhausted, but there was no food in the house and someone had to go to the store. "Reid, why don't you do the grocery shopping?" she heard herself saying to her 17-year-old son. After all, he was always making suggestions to improve upon the grocery selections she brought home, so why not let him do it this time?

His eyes grew bright with anticipation and our grandson set off, armed with his mother's bank card and general instructions to get fruit, vegetables, chicken and ground beef.

"Mama," Amy told me over the phone as she related this incident to me, "He came home with a huge bag full of cucumbers!" She told me he had also bought a lot of expensive fruit..the grapes sounded like those brought home by the spies scouting out the Promised land. I had to laugh at some of the comical choices he had made, which his younger sister critiqued with an expert eye as the groceries were unloaded. (With a reputation for penny pinching this savvy shopper could've done an excellent job if she had been old enough to drive!)

I could sympathize with my naive grandson, however. He probably was as frazzled as the rest of us when actually faced with the myriad items on the shelves, having to decide on what to feed the family. It must have been overwhelming, since he telephoned for permission to use the card at a stop at Starbucks on the way home!

Everything always looks easier when someone else does it or explains it. At a Bible study Monday night, the lesson was on Walking in the Reverential and Obedient Fear of the Lord. Not a scared fear, but a reverential awe. It is easy to do in concept, but even as a mature Christian, I needed more revelation on what that looks like when walked out. We went over countless Bible verses, and some of them were more easily understood than others.

Psalm 34:11 says, "Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord." Proverbs 1:7 says that this is the beginning of knowledge. Deuteronomy 6:2 promises that keeping His statues and commandments prolongs life, both for us and our children! Verses 10:12,20 defines it to mean: walk in His ways, love Him, serve the Lord with all your mind and heart and your entire being!

"Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones," Proverbs 7-8. That is something concrete we can do--turn away from evil, which also reaps health benefits! Verse 8:13 explains it as hating the things God hates: pride, arrogancy, the evil way and twisted speech. That's not hard to do!

Proverbs 22:4 says that the reward of humility and the reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord is riches, and honor and life! Psalm 25:12-13 promises the reward of peaceful living and the inheritance of the land for the children of one who fears the Lord.

But the most thought-provoking and startling was Malachi 3:16, "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name." God keeps record of our thoughts and conversations of Him! What a wonderful, yet sobering thought! (The following verse is comforting and reassuring, however!)

Solomon, who the Bible says was the wisest man who ever lived, sums it up in Ecclesiastes 12:13, when he says, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." Good advice for us and our children!

Of Faith and Fellowship

I heard a rustle of activity and excitement at the door of the church as Sunday School came to a close and wondered what was going on. The pastor's wife! Clara was back! I hurried to greet her with a hug and said, "I was just telling Howard, even though Pastor can't come yet, I wish Clara could come."

"Oh, I could never do that!" she exclaimed with a wistful smile.

"But you just did!" I said, to which she surprised me by saying, "No, he's outside. They're getting him out of the car!"

What a happy day it was last Sunday when our pastor was wheeled into the church after an absence of 81 days following their car accident! The congregation rejoiced with them as they wept tears of joy. Asked to say a few words, Sister Clara stood and began, "I have a little great-granddaughter who has been in the middle of a custody battle. When she was returned to our granddaughter the other day, she heaved a sigh and said, 'I'm h-o-ome.' I feel the same way! I'm home."

"Let's sing Pastor's favorite song," Howard suggested, leading the service, and the congregation broke out in a hearfelt version of Pastor Charley's signature greeting song: "It's so good to be here, I'm so glad you came; It's so good to be here, Gathered in His name. Of all the places you could be, I'm so glad you're here with me; It's so good to be here, gathered in His name!"

My husband preached an amazing sermon as our pastor cheered him on from his place beside the first row. At the end of his passionate delivery, Howard encouraged everyone to be there for the evening service, when we would have special guests.

What a beautiful ending to a beautiful day as we were led in a concert of worship songs that evening by our guest pianist, followed by a clear and clarion call to follow the example of Jesus's life by our guest speaker.

The evening was bittersweet, as we closed with a send-off farewell to one who was being transferred to another job location out of state. The church had so embraced this young man who had been such a blessing during his temporary assignment in our area. His dedication, humility and passion for the Lord had inspired us, even as he further endeared himself to us with his Mississippi drawl and and twanging solos. He wiped away tears as he testified that though he might not ever come our way again, he would see us again at "home". Home. An appropriate theme for now and forever.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Birthday Surprise

What to get my granddaughter for her 20th birthday? As a teenager, she was always happy with photo albums, cute picture frames, etc. that I selected for her. Now a college sophomore, her tastes were more sophisticated. "Greg," I asked her dad, "Do you have any ideas for Allison's birthday?"

"Maybe something for her car?" my husband queried.

"Wel-l," Greg thought a minute. "You might go out to the Opportunity Center and get her a gift certificate to have her car detailed. She would love that!"

What a good idea! We had never visited the Opportunity Center, a local place of employment for the disabled and handicapped. We had passed by it a few times, noticing the spacious grounds and what looked like an upscale housing development behind it.

We drove up to the reception area, fronted by a long, curving driveway with a huge wooden sign engraved in scrolled script announcing, "Land of Opportunity".

"Oh, you want 'Attention to Detail'," the friendly receptionist said when we told her what we wanted. "You have to buy the certificate at the Country Store."

She gave us directions and we followed the curved road until we came to several lovely buildings I had mistaken for fine homes. One had a sign that said "The Chocolate Shop", but that was where all the cars were parked. It also had arrows and markers stating "FATHER-DAUGHTER DANCE".

"Do you want tickets for the Father-Daughter Dance?" the clerk at the counter asked as we went in to what we hoped was the Country Store. It looked more like a lovely boutique with all sorts of jewelry, accessories, and gift items attractively displayed in several rooms.

"No, we want to buy a gift certificate for auto detailing," we told her, "Is this the right place?" She said it was, and while my husband purchased it, my eyes strayed to all the merchandise available. I thought perhaps the things were made by the employees, but I was told that though some of them were, many people placed handmade new or donated items there on consignment, with the center receiving 25% of the profit.

I bought a beautiful, reasonably priced scarf, feeling good that part of the purchase price would go to the Opportunity Village. In the room just beyond me, I could see a long table with several nicely dressed people behind it, obviously selling tickets to the Father-Daughter dance to the people lined up in front of it.

What an interesting place! And to think we have lived here 5 years and never visited it! I could see that the Father/Daughter event must be a popular affair, realizing that if all fathers were as thoughtful of their daughters as the one who recommended the gift idea, it would be a resounding success!

What Was I Thinking?

"Howard, you don't have to pack everything as if it's the Hope diamond!" I heard myself say impatiently to my husband. We were at our "hobby," as it has almost become, emptying our house and putting things into storage. We had been working piecemeal for weeks, and the task seemed interminable. My husband was packing like a professional packer, even for a transfer of a couple of miles, wrapping and taping securely every stray garage sale cup or saucer. My method wasn't much better, though, striving to balance a heavier box with lightweight objects, which sent me looking through other rooms for just the right item. Never mind that I left the tape or marker somewhere else.

Last night we were watching my favorite channel, HGTV, and "The Selling of Spelling Manor" came on. I could sympathize with the daunting task Mrs. Spelling was facing as she had to pack up probably the biggest home in the United States. Of course, she only supervised the packing, and she was very organized, but I could identify with her stress level. Faced with so much, she decided to store everything and sort it out later. That seems to be what I'm doing. (At least, though, she took time to label everything with post-it notes indicating storage, donate, etc.) She ended up with over 500 boxes to store; I think I must have packed 50 by now!

Why do we accumulate so much? As I was boxing things up, I thought, I don't really want this, but I don't want to have a garage sale, either! It seems our possessions end up owning us! What was so desirable to have or collect becomes just a burden or a liability! No wonder the Bible says so much about storing up for oneself treasures on earth!

Of course we have to have material things to raise our families and make life livable. And we have certainly always lived modestly. But I do tend to hang on to sentimental items and family memorabilia and have an eye for collectibles and pretty things! I don't throw things away, because as sure as I dispose of something, I find myself needing or wanting it! My son scolds me for saving leftovers. "Mom, this is America! Throw it out!" he says as I put a miniscule portion of vegetables into a container. (It's true, the food languishes and takes up space and nobody eats it, but I have saved it "just in case.")

Hopefully, we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in our "moving". When Spring comes, I'm sure I'll have a new perspective and will be wanting to retrieve my things from storage and use them again in a new location. (Even Mrs. Spelling, who had to move into a temporary condo, was soon up to her old habits--learned while building their mansion--picking out countertops, flooring, etc. to go in her new digs where she would probably start the process of accumulating all over again!)

Right now, though, I'm too tired to think about it and have to renew my energies before I can face another roll of packing tape!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Notes of Joy

"Look, that's the Gingerbread Man," I said to the children, Beth, 5, and Joy, age six as we drove through the animated Christmas light display in December.

"You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man," Beth began sing-songing over and over as the timed electrical circuits had the character running and hiding through the trees and swinging on playground equipment. I could tell she was familiar with the story from pre-K. The children had just joined our son's family in a preliminary arrangement which may eventually lead to adoption.

As time has gone on and everyone gets better acquainted, our daughter-in-law is often surprised at their quick wit, knowledge and questions. Beth overheard her answering Joy's question about why we call fellow church members "Brother or Sister so-and-so." "God made everyone in the world," Joanna began, and.." Just then Beth interrupted by belting out, "He's got the whole wo-rld, in His hands, in His hands, He's got the whole world in His hands."

The children love music. All Joy's many Christmas presents paled in comparison to the hand-me-down ipod my teen granddaughter gave her. Allison had loaded it with some of her worship songs, and Joy quickly learned to sing them, since the ear-piece seemed a permanent fixture in her ear. Recently the family went to a community showing of the movie, "Courageous," where music provided by a sponsoring church played while the audience gathered. Joy joined in the now-familiar choruses and sang them at the top of her lungs, to the pleased surprise of my daughter-in-law.

Not long ago, our son in Houston alerted me that granddaughter, Anne-Marie, 5, wanted to "Skype" me. The little girls were hovering within camera range, and I urged them all to talk to each other via Skype. They had met at Thanksgiving, so they said tentative shy hellos, then fell into self-conscious silence. "Beth, why don't you show Anne-Marie how you can sing, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star?" I suggested. She had been singing it non-stop lately, so she began, joined by her sister.

Suddenly I was aware of three voices, as Anne-Marie's sweet, clear voice chimed in over the air-waves and they smilingly shared a lovely trio through the whole song! What a treat this was for me, especially since I hardly ever get to hear my granddaughter sing! The familiar nursery-rhyme words rang out confidently, breaking the barrier of strangeness and distance, while their happy, animated faces showed no trace of shyness. When it was over, they lapsed into bashfulness again, saying good-bye, but happily running off to play. Music had bridged the gap of 500 miles, if only for a moment.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pure Gold

“Does this shirt go with this suit?” my husband asked as he was getting ready for church Sunday morning. I assured him the pale blue shirt with the faint pin stripes went with the dark blue suit he had chosen. Just as we ready to go out the door, he exclaimed, “I can’t wear this shirt! I have to wear yellow!” Oh, no, I thought. Today was the third Sunday, BGMC day, when we were all requested to wear something yellow, if possible, to go with the theme of the yellow “Buddy Barrels” of coins collected every month for the children’s missionary effort.

Soon Howard had on a jarringly yellow shirt that didn’t go, but it was too late to change his whole outfit. I had no trouble wearing the right color in warm weather, but none of my winter clothes were yellow, so I would just wear the special yellow pin with the emblem on it. When we first started to this church, I couldn’t imagine why I walked into a sea of yellow one Sunday. Almost everyone was wearing that color. The next month I fit in, because I had worn my Easter dress with the pale yellow bolero and the splashes of yellow on the dark skirt. It was purely accidental, though.

“I didn’t wear yellow today because it’s not the third Sunday,” primly announced an octogenarian on my row. “It’s only the fifteenth of the month!” she said. I told her I had thought that, too, but it was, since the first was on a Sunday this month.

Our collection was off to a good start, and the leaders, a husband and wife team, were still beaming over our having surpassed our goal for last year. A good portion of the offering would go to drilling water wells in Africa, a fact made more meaningful when it was mentioned that someone who had grown up in our city actually works with the drilling company who puts in the wells for the destitute people over there. We were reminded that the offering opportunity would be extended to the evening service, also.

That evening, as the leaders took their place at the front, a smile came over the face of the wife as her glance fell on someone near the front row. “You know we have suggested wearing yellow if you can, to support our project,” she said to the congregation. “Jose, would you mind standing?” All eyes turned to a quiet, shyly smiling man, who was a bit irregular in attendance and whose English was a little hard to understand. He had on a brand new pale yellow dress shirt with a beautiful contrasting silk tie in a deeper yellow shade! He fairly glowed with pleased embarrassment at the attention, his black hair setting off the outfit handsomely. I would try harder next month!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

When the Wind Blows

The flags are standing at attention today! The north wind has them stretched stiffly straight in the winter blast. Once in a while it seems their commander, the wind, backs off a little and says, “At ease,” as they flutter gently between gusts. Then a “Parade, rest!” might be given and they lean limply back against their poles. Sometimes the wind does an “About Face” and the flags reverse their direction in quick compliance. I guess that happened overnight, when our warm southern breezes changed to northerly before daybreak, dropping temperatures to the teens, a sharp contrast to the near-70 degree temps of yesterday.

I love seeing the cheery red, white, and blue of flags around town, especially when it is windy. There is at least one flag over a place of business at an industrial park here that must measure at least 20 or 30 feet. It is glorious to see it unfurled and billowing in the wind in graceful, undulating waves.

The Boulevard, a principal street in Picayune, Mississippi, where we lived so long, has a colonnade of flags along either side of its length that is awe inspiring, especially when they fly on patriotic days throughout the year. The first view of the little town of Jonesborough, Tennessee, takes your breath away with the backdrop of flags fluttering along the main street contrasted against the historic red-brick, white-trimmed buildings.

In the Bible, flags were called banners, usually erected on standards to signify the different tribes of Israel and Judah. In the book of Solomon, the Shulamite girl says of her beloved, “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love,” Song of Solomon 2:4.

Flags are symbols. Our American flag gives rise to feelings of patriotism and national pride when we see it. In England, the royal flag was traditionally flown over the queen’s residence only when she was at home. The words to a popular Christian chorus echo this tradition in the words, “Joy is a flag flown high o’er the castle of my heart, for the King is in residence there.” May we all say that of the King who is above any military commander, and Whose orders we follow with joy, for His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

This Do in Remembrance of Me

There is nothing like a Sunday night service! Less formal, more intimate and relaxed. This week it was a Communion service. But first, rousing choruses led by my husband, then a song service conducted by one of the members, a colorful saint with a way with a song. She didn’t need a book, yet led us though verse after verse in her inimitable country style. I knew all but one of the selections-old, but fascinating with its newness to me--which I had learned by the time we stopped singing it.

Prayers, testimonies, and then it was time for the Communion service. One of the church ladies, a leader in the church, was in charge of this part of the service. She began by giving her testimony, which she said was related to communion. A soft-spoken, but clear communicator, she began by telling us of a 10-15 year period in her life when she was afflicted with serious, even life-threatening allergies and breathing problems.

“Every year, from February to May, I was covered in hives,” she explained. “I took so many oatmeal baths it’s a wonder I can even eat oatmeal today,” she smiled, shaking her head. Her allergies had become so severe that she was eventually housebound, not daring to risk a breath of perfume, hairspray, or any other more noxious fumes she might be exposed to in public.

“If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.” She said she had learned the truth of that statement the many times she was rushed to the emergency room, usually to return home worse than when she went in. Nebulizers, inhalation therapy, medications and treatments became her line of survival in her struggle with severe asthma.

“I learned all the tricks,” she explained, “I knew I had to breathe through a straw slowly so I could get small amounts of oxygen to my lungs during an asthma attack. Finally, I came to the point that I said to God, 'Lord, if it’s going to be this way, I just can’t do this anymore.'”

“It wasn’t that I didn’t love my life, my husband, and God, but I was at the end of my rope,” she told us. "Then one morning as I was praying like this, I heard God say, 'Why don’t you take communion?'” She said she brushed it off, but the message was repeated to her a few days later. She found herself going into the kitchen getting out crackers and grape juice and preparing communion. “I stood at the counter, and as I ate the cracker and drank the juice, I felt something. I could really sense what Jesus had suffered for me to give me salvation, wholeness and healing,” she said.

Our speaker continued the story saying she began to take communion on a regular basis, especially when she felt the nudge to do so. “Then one day, I realized I hadn’t had to use my nebulizer that day. Another day I thought, ‘I missed my morning meds, and it didn’t bother me.'” As time went on, she realized she had gone a day without medicine, all the while, continuing communion as the Lord led her.

After weeks had gone by with no symptoms, she threw out all her considerable volume of medicine, then, fearful, she took it back from the trash. “I will discard one bottle a day,” she decided. That is what she did, until there was only one bottle left. “I still have that bottle, but it expired in 2005,” she said. “I keep it as a reminder for all God has done for me. I am completely healed to this day!”

Our communion service took on new meaning to us that night; it was followed by prayers for healing, and tears of rejoicing as praise was given for Jesus’s sacrifice for us.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Do I Know You?

It happened again! I was looking at items at the office supply store, when suddenly I was aware of a face peering over the top of the display, saying, “I was trying to talk to you!”

“Oh, hi!” I said, not having the slightest idea who she was. My mind was running her face through an identification process like a security camera. All I came up with was an image of my grandson’s girlfriend, and I knew she wasn’t in town.

“How was the funeral?” the dark haired, attractive girl asked. I said it was really sad, then it clicked in my mind that she was the girl who had done my hair last week! Thank God I didn’t have to pretend any longer. I was so glad I hadn’t said, “I can’t place you!”

Seeing her out of context, her hair in a new do, and dressed in regular clothes made it difficult for me to recognize her. She wasn’t my regular hairdresser, anyway, who had been out on a medical leave of absence. We talked for a few minutes as she was waiting on some business cards she was having printed, telling me of her new salon location and inviting me to visit.

It is so embarrassing when you feel you should know someone but haven’t the slightest idea who they are! I’m glad God doesn’t forget our identity! I heard something last week that was so poignant illustrating how much we are on God’s mind.

The minister friend who was in bereavement after the death of his wife, the mother of our daughter-in-law, told his family, “Many times during our marriage when I would say, ‘I love you,’ to her, she would always respond with, ‘I love you more.’” He said he had been seeking solace in prayer, no doubt expressing his bewilderment and sorrow, yet he managed to say to God, “I still love You,” to which he distinctly heard God say, “I love you more.” What a picture of how intimately God knows us and is acquainted with us. The Bible says in Isaiah 53:3 that he is a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

At her funeral, the family told how that every Christmas their mother would select a Bible verse for them to memorize for the new year. The verse she had chosen for this year was Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” It is sometimes translated, “to give you a future and a hope.”

I have no doubt that it was not a coincidence that she chose this verse. It was just another assurance from God that He knows us intimately and knows what is ahead. He will never forget our identity, no matter how many children He has to keep up with!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Modern Malady

“You don’t have to clean our room,” I said to Millie, the cleaning lady who comes once a week to our son’s house where we are living now. “Howard has his papers spread out all over the place and he said to skip it this week,” I explained.

We had come in for a quick bite of lunch and saw she had arrived. “We’re hoarders,” Howard joked, “you have to walk through a path.”

“No, you’re not hoarders,” she assured us with an intent look. “I’ve cleaned for hoarders, and it is quite an experience.” She said that in one house, she doesn’t have to dust, because she can’t find the surfaces of anything, due to things piled high on them.

Getting into her subject, she exclaimed, “I had to clean out a house where we loaded nine dumpsters full of stuff! They finally had us quit because it was becoming too expensive and just auctioned off what was left.”

We move too much to be actual hoarders, but even so, we can fill up a house pretty fast. There is always a tempting garage sale or estate sale with something too great (or cheap) to pass up. However, I think this a widespread affliction of our times, born of ample production, affluence, and the desire for whatever is new on the market. Add to that the tendency of the older generation, who may have grown up in deprivation, to hang on to things, and the problem is intensified. A thriving industry of storage facilities has sprung up all around the country just to hold our excesses.

“I sometimes wish when we die we wouldn’t leave anything for people to dispose of,” I told my husband the other day. After all, what we treasure and hang on to, the next generation may not value at all (except for money!). Their houses are running over, too, unless they are the exception.

I’m afraid my tendency to over-decorate my home has spawned a few minimalists in my family, however. A couple of my kids want very little, if anything on their walls, and accessories are scarce or non-existent, beyond necessities. Now that our children are well-established, it makes gift-giving a challenge. They don’t need anything, and how do I know what they want? I agree with one son who said “Give things that can be used up,” especially when it comes to the little ones. He suggested drawing paper, crayons, color books and the like. (Their toys are taking over the house, too!)

There is one thing that is certain, when we go we will leave it all behind. As one saying goes, “I’ve never seen a U-Haul following a hearse.” Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:19-21, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Word Fitly Spoken

“Hi, come on in,” we were greeted by our friend as we entered his wife’s hospital room. We had waited until Howard got home from work to visit the patient, one of our church members, and although it was after dark and frigid out, my husband had insisted we call on her this evening. Following us in the door, though, were several physical therapists and medical workers, so we barely got to say hello before we had to go into the hall, accompanied by her husband.

“I just wanted to read Mary a scripture,” Howard said, “we won’t stay long. It’s out of Isaiah, and I felt the Lord impressed me to encourage her with it,” he said, quoting the reference to the passage.

“That sounds like the scripture my pastor read to me when I got fired from my job,” Bill reflected. Howard knew the job he was referring to, since they had worked there together many years ago, but the incident happened much later.

“They fired you?!!” he exclaimed. Then Bill told the story familiar to us, but Howard must have forgotten that detail. When he drove a truck for a motor freight line, Bill had had a bad accident, due to a damaged roadway, where he narrowly escaped with his life after the truck caught fire. Trapped in the cab, he saw God miraculously allow the windshield to pop out with the little pressure he could apply with his burned hands.

“Yeah, it lasted about four days,” Bill went on, “the lawyer said I could own that trucking company if I wanted to, but I told him all I wanted was my hospital bills paid. I got my job back.”

Presently we were allowed to go back into the room, and Howard began to read from Isaiah 43. Verse 2 says, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. (3) For I am the Lord thy God…”

Then he read Isaiah 41:10 about being held up by God’s right hand of righteousness. Verse 11 continues, “Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.”

“That’s it! That’s it!” Bill exclaimed, “That’s the one my pastor read to me!”
Then Howard went on to read verse 12: “Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.” I had to chime in then that the trucking company no longer exists!

I had to remind the men to let the patient rest when they got lost in reminiscing about former work associates, and whatever happened to this one or that one. We went out into the cold night, warmed by compassion shared, fellowship, and scriptures read that had ministered two-fold to the hearers.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Be Sure Your Sins Will Find You Out!

There is a story in the Bible about an axe that floated. The user of the axe was very dismayed when the head of the axe flew off into the water. He said to his mentor, Elisha, the prophet, “Alas, master! For it was borrowed.” The man of God threw a stick into the water where the young man indicated the axe head had fallen, “and the iron did swim,” the scripture says in II Kings 6:6.

Well, I think I knew how the young man felt. Recently I asked my granddaughter if I could borrow a Shuttterfly album of pictures she had made of our family Thanksgiving gathering. I wanted to take it to a Bible study and show my friends pictures of our trip to Houston. She said, “Sure,” so I showed off the pictures and returned the album to its space in a drawer.

I wanted to borrow the album again to share with our son and family when we went to visit them in Kansas a few weeks later, but I kept forgetting to ask Allison about it. Then as we were walking out the door, I impulsively grabbed the album and took it along. I was sure she wouldn’t mind. Everyone enjoyed it thoroughly, especially those who had been there and whose pictures were in the booklet.

We had gone several miles toward home when I realized I had left the album! “Mark!” I spoke into the phone, leaving a message, “we accidentally left Allison’s book! Do you think you can send it?” A little later the phone rang with the news that he had found it.

“How far are you?” he asked, thinking we might be able to return for the forgotten item. When I answered that we were almost to the first interstate rest stop, he said he would mail it the very next day before he returned to his home in North Carolina. I eagerly watched the mail for the next few days, expecting it any day. By the third or fourth day, I was beginning to despair, because mail usually comes overnight from such a short distance.

How could I tell my granddaughter I had lost her pictures? Finally, after almost a week had passed, I saw the white mailer in the mailbox. But what’s this? It had been torn open! Had one of the family checked the mail and opened it? There was a book-size slit in the envelope edge, and the book could have easily slipped out. Thank God it was intact. I quickly replaced it in the drawer before Allison missed it.

That evening, my son uncharacteristically asked, “Anything interesting in the mail today?” He knows! I thought. He must have opened the mail! But I just gave a non-committal, no, and changed the subject.

A few days later, Mark stopped by for a visit. Greg took the album from the drawer and told the children, “Go show this to Uncle Mark.” Mark was examining the book when he said, “I think I’ve seen this before. Mimi brought this to Wichita and I mailed it back after she forgot it! I see it got here okay.”

“Allison didn’t even know it was gone,” I admitted sheepishly. She smiled quizzically and shrugged, while I breathed a sigh of relief. For “Alas, it was borrowed!” (And the only thing swimming was my head!)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Friends are Friends Forever

“Every cloud has a silver lining,” I remarked to my husband as we drove home yesterday from the funeral services of a dear friend held at a Wichita church. Despite the pall of sorrow and sad good-byes that hung over the gathering, time and again our spirits were lifted when we bumped into people we had known when we were part of that church more than 15 years ago.

“Pastor Howard!” we would hear, then, turning we would see a familiar face. Changed a little, the older ones (we were Seniors/Singles pastors) with a few more wrinkles and grey hair, but recognizable, especially by their smiles, voices and warm greetings. (I’m sure we had changed, too!) The first person we met while going in the front door was the daughter of the pastors we’d had as teenagers in Oklahoma. We had known her and her husband at this church, too, where by that time we were all senior citizens.

Many of our remaining “seniors” group were now in their eighties; a little frail, maybe using a cane or walker, but their spirits were still young and enthusiastic, recalling memories of our days together. “Those were some good times back then,” a faithful former deacon reminisced, shaking his head. The church had experienced many changes in the recent past, but several assured us that things were getting better again.

Those we remembered as young married couples now had married children of their own, introducing a young woman on their arm or a man by their side as the child we used to know. “I wonder where so-and-so was,” I remarked to Howard later, as I missed this or that one, then realized sadly that they had probably passed on.

"My two favorite Sunday School teachers of all time were Pastor Howard and Pastor Mark (our son who had served at the church at a later date),” stated one (to us)“young” person. When she found out we are working in a church in Newkirk, near the Kansas line, she vowed she would come to visit a service.

“I need a haircut!” I heard Howard exclaim as a familiar figure who used to be his barber approached. “I slept in your trailer!” he announced to another couple. When I asked him about it, he said, “Don’t you remember when I had to take a turn guarding the “Festival of Lights” over night one Christmas?” I guess I had forgotten.

It was almost as if we had never been away, the gap of time was so easily closed by our reunion. “Just think how many wonderful people we have met in our lifetime,” Howard mused on the ride home, “And we probably wouldn’t have met them if we hadn’t been in church,” he concluded. I agreed. The best friends of our life, the ones we still keep in touch with across the country, are those of “like precious faith,” the ones with whom we had sweet fellowship at church.

Life's Race

“A time to be born, a time to die,” Ecclesiastes 3:2. This came home to us anew when our great-grandson was born yesterday on the same day we would be attending the funeral of a departed saint, Sandy, the mother-in-law of our son, Mark. While baby Landon’s race is just beginning with his first wide-eyed wonderment of the world, our friend’s earthly journey is complete. However, her eternity is just beginning, where she is no doubt in wide-eyed wonder of her new surroundings. Just as the precious infant has no idea of what marvels, sights and mysteries the world holds, the Bible says ,“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him,” I Corinthians 2:9.

From all accounts of those paying tribute to Sandy at her home going, including maybe hundreds of Facebook postings I saw, hers was a life well lived, full of God’s love expressed toward her fellowman. Judging from the upwards of a thousand people who came to honor her yesterday, they felt the same way. No matter how low or lofty their estate, there was always room for one more in the very large heart of this gracious lady. The downcast, the lonely, or the unfortunate found a special welcome there, for her life was the reflection of Christ and his teachings lived out.

We are all born in our particular set of circumstances, and from the slide show of photographs in the pre-service yesterday, it was evident that Sandy had been nurtured in a loving family from her earliest days…a well-cared-for tot in play clothes posing prettily on a the running board of a car, a back view in poignant silhouette as a vulnerable child with a headful of curls, a solemn, trustful school girl pic, and on to wedding scenes and the fulfilling days beyond. She had a spiritual heritage that was nurtured as well in religious training referred to in her story.

I am grateful the new addition to our extended family has a heritage of faith that he can build on. God used a tragedy in my family when I was a young teen to bring us to the knowledge of salvation. My mother’s ardent prayers for her family have resulted in a host of descendants who are living in the faith learned and passed on from her, from generation to generation.

The torch is being passed yet again to the new little guy whose parents are Christians, his grandfather a minister, as is his great-grandfather Howard, my husband. We can trust the future to Him, for the Bible says there is a time and a season for every purpose under heaven.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Memoir: In Celebration

We didn’t see her often, only at grandchildren’s graduations or special events over the years. The first time was when our son, Mark, and their daughter, Rhonda, were graduating from Bible College nearly 30 years ago. The next year, we were invited, along with all Mark’s siblings, to their house to get acquainted before our firstborns married one another.

That made us in-laws. Rhonda’s dad was a minister, while my husband was a business man. In an unexpected turn of events, Howard became a minister, too, finally submitting to a life-long inner knowing of his destiny. A few years later, he filled a position of Associate Pastor at Rhonda’s dad’s church. We got to know the family better, through associations at church and through our kids.

We also learned the endearing, if sometimes amusing, ways of the pastor’s wife, Sandy, who was also a receptionist at the church. She seemed to know everybody personally and could usually be found with an ear glued to the phone as she listened with genuine interest and unfeigned concern, often bordering on alarm, in her response to the caller. They loved her for that.

At the weekly staff lunches, she always took a ribbing when, true to her Texas roots, she would pull out a tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce, which was a permanent resident of her purse, and liberally adjust the dish to her liking. Full of fun, she planned seasonal staff outings, adding her bright smile and funny stories, while ever playing the consummate hostess, drawing everyone in and becoming the life of the party.

We were at their house last week to visit them and Mark and Rhonda, who were there for the Christmas holidays. Although we had seen the kids at our own Thanksgiving gathering, we didn’t want to miss another opportunity since they live halfway across the country. Sandy made a wonderful feast, pleading her kitchen was too small for help with clean-up afterward, then asked if I wanted to see pictures of the churches they had pastored for the past 50 years.

We went downstairs to the den where she pointed out their humble beginnings in a white-frame building where they had to sleep and live in rooms in back of the church. I saw pictures of Rhonda as a two-year-old cherub, and her sister a babe in her father’s arms. Her mother told of helpful big sister who flushed a diaper down the toilet, flooding the living quarters while Mom had to walk into the church service appearing unflustered as if nothing had happened.

The edifices in the framed photos became ever larger in the small parade of churches in their pastoral history, culminating with the mega-church we had been part of.

We were stunned yesterday, only a week later, to receive a call from Mark, his voice strained and unsteady, that Rhonda’s mom had been found unconscious and was in the hospital. He had already returned to church duties in North Carolina, while Rhonda had stayed on a few days to be with her family. His next call before he caught his flight to join his wife bore the worst possible news. Sandy was not going to make it.

The news was surreal as it soaked in. We had just been to their lovely home filled with her beautiful things, including a wall of full-length wedding portraits of their three daughters and their bridegrooms, one of which was our son.

Her funeral is Monday, but she won’t really be there. Surrounded by beauty we can only imagine, Sandy will already be in her ultimate House of Worship, the one where there are many rooms, where she will be waiting to welcome us Home.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Hero's Welcome

Our pastors came home yesterday! After a two-month absence of hospitalization and rehab from a car accident, they deserved a hero’s welcome! We were alerted of their long-awaited homecoming a day in advance, and those at church Sunday signed a huge Welcome Home banner waiting in readiness. Plans were quickly made to have as many of the flock as possible lining their driveway, holding posters or other signs of welcome as the two cars carrying them were driven in from their two-hour journey.

“Why don’t we pick up some flowers for them?” I suggested to my husband, since we didn’t get a sign made. We found just what we needed in the floral department of our local supermarket. Then it occurred to me that we needed a “Welcome Home” balloon.

Surveying the selection of Mylar balloons at a store, we saw every kind of greeting except “Welcome Home”. Finally I found one; unfortunately it held a tag that said “We are out of helium”. The friendly assistant said a nearby supermarket would air it up for us. I took two, finding another that would suit our purposes, and sure enough, the cooperative balloon center attendant at the next store was happy to fill them with helium. “Would you like some latex ones, also?” she asked. A bright red balloon and a shiny yellow one were added to our bouquet with trailing ribbons tethered to a heavy clip.

Everything looked great, our balloons bobbing brightly in the breeze beside the banner that was stretched across the walk between two lamp posts. We got the call that they were only a few blocks away, and everyone scurried into position. It was a joyous and tearful welcome for our heroes, who seemed genuinely surprised, if a little overwhelmed. After greetings kept brief so the returnees could get settled, we waved our goodbyes and the welcoming party dispersed, eagerly awaiting our pastors’ soon appearance at church.

I read of another kind of hero the other day, when a friend from our former church wrote on facebook about their involvement with the volunteer fire department in our neighboring community. She said that over the past several weeks, her husband and other volunteers had been called out several times. Not for fires or car accidents, but from a woman whose husband had fallen out of his chair or bed. She wasn’t able to lift him back into bed, so she called the fire department. Sometimes the calls were as late as 2:00 o’clock in the morning, but the men always arose and answered the call of duty.

A few days ago, my friend and her husband visited the home, prepared to ask if the fire department could buy guard rails for the bed to prevent the man’s falls. His wife met them at the door and tearfully embraced them. “Thank you for being there when I needed you most,” she said, “but my husband passed away last night.” Though no banners awaited them, it appeared that once again, these heroes had appeared right on time.