Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Grinchiness Doesn't Have to be Terminal!


The Grinch WAS a horrible character!  He hated Christmas, but his worst, most terrible problem was his heart! Dr. Seuss says it was at least tthree sizes too small!

That's why he plotted and planned to get rid of the Whos' joy! That's why he sneaked into all the houses in Whoville and stole every present, every bow, every bit of Christmas food, every stocking hung by the chimney with care, every Christmas tree. He didn't get Christmas because his heart was just too small!


The heart of Christmas is Jesus. To really understand Christmas we have to embrace Jesus. It's a heart matter! Those with small hearts don't get Christmas either! 

Grinch is only a character in a book, but his tribe is alive and as well as a Grinch tribe can be!  All those who also hate Christmas want to do exactly the same as Grinch did!  They can't even stand for us to say Merry Christmas. And, the reason is exactly the same: their hearts are also too small!  Those who belong to the tribe of Grinch also try to steal Christmas. 

I think that the indomitable spirit of the Whos in Whoville came from knowing that Christmas is all about God coming to earth to call His people to be in His forever family!

Now, whether there are Whos or Whoville or even a Grinch (and they are all fiction found only in the pages of a children's book), there is something profound in this amazing story.  The Whos in Whooville knew (and so do we) that Christmas is not about stuff! Christmas is all about a Person – Jesus - Who put on skin like us and moved into our world (John 1:8).  Actually it was a colossal step down for Him as He is the King from another world, from outside time and space. He is the Creator. But, He was willing to take on our skin and live like we do so He could make a way for us to move into His world forever!
When people around us are Grinchy, they do their people-watching too. What do they see? What they need to see is Jesus? What does that mean? It means our doing what Jesus did when He lived on earth for a while: He ate with IRS types, played with children, made food for thousands of poor people, hung out with hookers, and touched lepers (and others) making them whole again.  Jesus made it look easy, but it’s most certainly NOT!  It’s hard to love the poor, the lame, and the blind and social outcasts and more!  The watching world is looking to see what we do. They don’t give a hoot what we say unless we do it too!

Grinchiness doesn't have to be a terminal condition. It wasn't for Grinch, and it doesn't have to be for his tribe.  Grinch's heart grew two sizes the day he discovered the Whos' secret - that Grinchiness doesn't have to be terminal but it is very serious.  The anti-venom for Grinchiness is Jesus who shines through you and me!  So, go find some IRS types, children, poor people, hookers and lepers to start hanging out with them. It will be hard! It will make you weary - guaranteed!  It will be costly and inconvenient!  It will also make your heart grow three sizes at least!
Jesus talked about a feast and party - not just at Christmas:  When you give a [party], do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a [party], invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed!  Your heart will grow, and you will push back the darkness of Grinchiness in the name of Jesus!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Real Who in Christmas!

He’s green and he’s mean! He hangs out in a cave – a quite maleficent knave! He’s Dr. Seuss’s creation who tried to steal Christmas from the Whos in Whooville. He hates the Whos, and he detests Christmas!

You see, the Whos down in Whoville – as the Grinch looks down from his cave high on the mountain – sing and laugh and make other happy noises.  The Grinch hates happy noises! SO, he hatches a diabolical plan – to steal Christmas! Ah, then, all the happy noises and all the Christmas clamor will stop, Grinch reasoned as he schemed. So the curmudgeonly, reclusive Grinch plots and plans. Finally, Christmas Eve arrives, and Grinch whizzes down to Whoville stripping Whoville of every last present, Christmas decoration, and including all the ingredients for a Who Christmas feast.
But, Christmas morning comes anyway. There are no presents, decorations, or holiday foods! NOT ONE SINGLE Who sits down to cry. No! They all gather around in the center of town, join hands in a gigantic circle and begin to sing.
Grinch hasn’t stolen their Christmas at all! The Whos knew what Grinch didn’t. They knew Christmas is not about fruitcake or shiny balls and bows! Personally I suspect Whos and Whoville don’t really exist, but – on the off-chance they do – I think the indomitable spirit of the Whos in Whoville came from knowing that Christmas is all about God coming to earth to call His people to be in His forever family!
Here’s the thing: We can learn from the Whos how to attract Grinches to take a look at Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas! We can do without stockings and presents. We can do without feasts. What we cannot, absolutely cannot ever do without is Jesus! He came to be God-with-us, Immanuel!  THAT’s Christmas!

Friday, December 13, 2013

"The Ministry of a Messy House"

I used to vacuum my house every day - long, long years ago!  I got over being a neat-freak! I eventually got way over it!  I'm definitely a recovering neat-freak! Still not sure in my heart if that's a totally good thing!

Back in October my husband took a flying trip to NC to pick up stuff from our division of my parent's household possessions. I wasn't with him as I was in Europe touring ancient sites on a glorious gift of a wonderful journey!  I came home to a washer and dryer in the entrance to our home and all kinds of boxes, clutter, and old furniture in my den. All the furniture particularly needed a serious cleaning since the NC house has been closed for over 4 years. I'm still working through the process. It's a LONG way from neat-freak!

The other night the musician who is playing Sunday at A Restoration Church, Pittsburgh, dropped by to pick up some music. I didn't know he was coming, and I cringed to open the door.  Every day my long list includes finishing neatening up especially the front hall and den. I'm down to only a dryer (which may end up wrapped as a huge Christmas gift with a Christmas tree standing on it - Hopefully NOT!) in the front hall and some stuff we dragged out of the laundry room. O, did I mention that we had to pull a lot of stuff out of the laundry room to get the old washer out and the new washer in?!

This morning I saw this wonderful quote from The Ministry of a Messy House by Amanda Robbie:  Somewhere in the space between totally cluttered squalor and neat-freak shininess, we need a place of Godly contentment. I'm putting Godly contentment on my list for today!

God, help me to find Godly contentment for my heart today (and in my house too)!!!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

When Angels Fold Their Wings ...


Christmas and sermons ... since I happen to sleep and do life with a pastor, I'm familiar with the holly and lilies crowd. There's one, at the most two, cracks at them a year. They only come Christmas and Easter.  So, the annual or biannual question is how to tell a wonderful old story in a new way.  And, for the rest of us we also hear the same wonderful old story in a new way!
Today we heard about angels and here's the shorter version:
Have you ever met an angel?  Do intelligent people believe in angels? We sing about angels at Christmas, but do we believe in angels?  Would we know one if one showed up?  What’s the angel side of Christmas?

There are 66 books in the Bible and more than half of them make reference to angels.  Angels are significant in the Biblical story.  Angels appear in Scripture as messengers, as protectors, and as watchers.   
Peter had a dramatic encounter with an angel recorded for us in Acts 12 when an angel sprung him out of the slammer!  Perhaps Peter was remembering his angel protector when he wrote 1 Peter 1:3-12:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

Peter says the prophets wondered about the meaning of their own prophecies: where Jesus was going to be born (in Bethlehem) or what it meant that the Messiah was going to come as a light into darkness. Do you guess Isaiah understood what he was writing about a virgin and a child and a son to be given? 

Peter says it’s not only prophets who wonder, who scratch their heads and ask:  Apparently angels also wonder and think about the real message of Christmas!

What do we know about angels?

·       Angels are God’s heavenly messengers.  That’s what angel means – messenger.  Angels go back and forth from heaven to earth carrying messages from God Himself.  Angels visited Abraham and gave him the message that he was going to have a son.  An angel actually burned Isaiah’s mouth in Isaiah 6 when Isaiah tells the story of God calling him to be a prophet.
 
·       Angels are God’s front line of defense for us earthlings.  The most important role of angels is to serve God by defending the people of God.  Unnoticed God has sent His angel messengers to stand guard over you and me as He works in our lives and in the world. 2 Kings 6 records the attack on God’s people in Israel by the Arameans. Elisha’s servant got up one morning and saw a huge army with horses and chariots surrounding the city where he and Elisha lived. He was terrified. Elisha told him that God had the situation in hand. Elisha prayed and asked God to open his servant’s eyes to see the spirit world reality. The servant saw that the hills were full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding him and Elisha to protect them. The Psalmist says God gives His angels the mission "to guard you in all your ways" (Ps. 90:11). When Daniel was thrown to the lions God sent an angel to shut the lion's mouths. (Dan. 6:22) 
  • Angels are God’s heavenly watchers. What are they watching? They watch what goes on in heaven. They watch us. Some of these angel creatures have many more eyes than we do. They can watch more than one thing at a time. They watch what God Himself is doing. In Genesis 1 God says,  Let us make man in our image ….  Angels were there. They eavesdropped on the whispered conversation between God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Angels wonder what God is doing and what’s going to happen.  It must have been an amazing conversation for the angels to overhear! Do you guess they hushed their singing for a moment so they wouldn’t miss a single word? 
Imagine the watching angels! Can’t you almost hear the rustle of their wings? God said, Go! Go to Bethlehem. Sing your hearts out in the Bethlehem sky announcing the birth of My Son, the King of Israel!  And they did!  Angels were there when Jesus was tempted in the desert and in the Garden of Gethsemane when God sent a solitary angel to minister to Jesus in His hour of anguish.  Don’t you imagine how the angels must have been peering down from heaven watching in horror as Jesus hung on His cross? They must have been ready to take off in a flash when God spoke the word. But the word never came because Jesus had to die to become the Savior of the world!  Angels were there and were the first to see Jesus rise from the dead on the first Easter morning. Angels were there when Jesus went back to heaven.

I think there's something else angels wonder about. I think they are totally puzzled and ask among themselves:  WHY don’t they (meaning us, the earth creatures) realize what He’s done for them?   That just might be the greatest mystery of all to an angel.

Holy, holy is what the angels sing and I expect to help them make the courts of heaven ring!

But when I sing redemption’s story they will fold their wings, for angels never felt the joy

That our salvation brings!   --Johnson Oatman Jr., 1894

The good news of Christmas is that God has done something for us earthlings that his extra-terrestrial creatures (aka angels) can only imagine.  God sent Jesus to take care of our biggest problem - sin - and Jesus did just that!  The good news of Christmas is that this is all true – every last word!  Jesus is real! God is real! Angels are real!  And it's really, really true that God loves you and me far more than we can possibly imagine!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

So, who was the bad "guy" in the story of the three pigs?  On the face of it, the standard answer is the Big Bad Wolf!  However, there is another perspective. It's a bit of a stretch. O, okay ... It's a LOT of a stretch! 

Just suppose that Mr. Wolf has the best of intentions and is only trying to visit his new neighbors........  I said it is a stretch!

Well, I was teaching a class today on persuasive writing. I was trying to think how to make it interesting and the pigs seemed like a good idea. There's the standard same old, same old story of the pigs who set off to make their fortunes, meet a man with straw and a man with sticks and a man with bricks. Each pig chose a different building material for his new house, and they went to work constructing their domicile. The way the story goes is that Mr. Wolf creeps along, spies the new construction and starts dreaming of ham sandwiches.  He does his best to make his dream come true by huffin' and puffin' and blowin' two houses in. Brothers Pig 1 and 2 end up at Brother Pig 3's door escaping by the hair of their chinny-chin-chins. 

Then, there's another angle on the pig story. What if Mr. Wolf isn't predatory at all but rather just a friendly neighbor who wants to borrow a cup of sugar?  O, I forgot....Mr. Wolf also has a terrible head cold so he sneezes a lot. How can he help if the sneeze comes on just when he's trying to get into a pig house?

Well, that was my challenge to the class. Persuade me!  Write an essay. Have a topic sentence, 3 supporting points and a conclusion. Take the side of the pigs or the wolf or another original angle from the story and do your persuasive best.  I haven't read the essays yet, but the students seemed totally engaged and were working industriously.  We'll see how persuasive they are!  The jury is still out on that!

That started me thinking about persuasion and perspective.  The way we see a situation makes all the difference, doesn't it?  There are the half glass people - some see their glass half full, others see their glass half empty.  It is a matter of perspective. The truth is that most of us can talk ourselves into a lot of different ways of thinking depending on how we choose to look at something.  The sad fact is that we make assumptions based on what we know or think we know that may or may not be reality!  Then we make a judgment based on our assumption.

My husband and I flew to South Carolina last week. In the Charlotte airport going through security a family of two boys, mom and dad came up behind us. The mom was quiet and sticking pretty close to one son. The dad was trying to manage all the luggage and get everything lined up and taken care of.  My husband likes to talk to strangers so he struck up a conversation with Dad.  Meanwhile the son hanging close to Mom started getting pretty agitated. I don't know if he is somewhere on the autism spectrum or not. It looked like he might be. That's not my point here. My point is about perspective and persuasion.

I wasn't chatting with the folks behind us. I was watching the people around us. It made me very sad. Obviously this little family had some challenges in getting through security and to their plane. The only friendly face this family saw - as far as I could tell - was my husband's. The more agitated the son got, the more people stared. It kind of made me sick before it made me sad before it made me mad until I got sad again!

We live in a "Three Little Pigs World"!  We think we know how "the story" goes and that's how we see the world around us. And, yes, the Big, Bad Wolf probably really is big and bad! BUT there's always another perspective. Maybe Mr. Wolf has just gotten very bad press all these years. Maybe he's just a good neighbor like State Farm - not likely but maybe!

What about that family in line behind us? I don't know. They were flying to Boston and we were bound for Pittsburgh so we didn't see them again. I hope they got home okay. I hope they saw some other friendly faces along the way!  I hope they didn't meet the "Big Bad Wolf" in just about everyone they encountered.  It's certainly worth thinking about! 

Sometimes we need to think outside the box. Sometimes we need to put ourselves in another person's shoes and wonder what it would be like to be that other person!  Sometimes - like my students today - we need to be challenged to see through another lens, another perspective!  It matters!  It matters a LOT!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Happy Birthday, King!


Happy Birthday, King!  
I have a good friend who is Thailand tonight. She has gone to be an English teacher. The last few days have been dangerous as there is rioting in the streets. School has been cancelled but teachers still have to show up.
The King’s birthday is Dec. 5th.  So, in honour of the occasion, there is a cessation of hostilities.  On Dec. 6th it may be back to fighting. But, for now, there is “peace” because the King has a birthday.

From what I understand King Bhumipol Adulyadej of Thailand is a “good guy.” He is the longest reigning living monarch on the face of the earth at this point in time.  Apparently his people love him, and he has done a lot to strengthen his country and his people.  He has boldly fought the dragon of opium replacing the scourge of opium with coffee, other crops, and commercial flowers. The Thai people don’t call him “The King” but rather “My King” much like we would say “my grandfather”!  King Bhumibol is the deeply loved grandfather of modern Thailand.  That’s why all sides are taking a break from their fighting to honour the king on his birthday.  When December 6th dawns, the fighting may start again, but – for now – fists and triggers are at rest.

It is December. Advent began on Sunday, Dec. 1.  This is the season we remember the birthday of the greatest King who ever lived – King Jesus!  He is the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6).  He came to dispel darkness and break the chains of slavery and restore brokenness. He does that one heart at a time!  Happy Birthday, King Jesus!
 
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.   –Isaiah 9:6, NIV

 

 

 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Life Reduced to List!

Life! What is the stuff of your life? If you were to suddenly disappear, what would be left in the dust?
Almost four years ago, my parents left their wonderful home on the top of a mountain in NC to live with one of my sisters. Their age and their physical and mental challenges made the move long overdue!
We put off  the HUGE, gigantic distribution of their stuff for almost three of those years. It is a gargantuan task!  My brother catalogued - in an arduous process - all the 10s of 10s of pages of stuff and also took pictures. Finally, a few months ago we began a kind of family lottery - a two plus hour telephone conference each time rotating thro our ranks - 4 sisters, 1 brother - each making a choice and then moving to the next round.
We had session #5 last night. We had agreed last night to make two choices each in each rotation. It's all only stuff! We learned that lesson well as our parents modeled it for us! So, the most beautiful "stuff left in living hearts" is that there has not been even one single disagreement or cross word!
In many ways, this is a wonderful life reduced to a list. However, the real legacy is not the stuff! The real legacy is the relationships we share! We share a love for our parents (one who has since gone on to heaven) and for each other that clearly says, I love you more than I care about stuff! That's what's real!
I love you, my family, more than you know! Thank you for walking this wonderful, terrible road with me! It makes life reduced to this list not so painful!  
The bottom line is that there are no UHauls going to heaven! And, when all the dust settles, all the treasures of this life will return to dust except for the treasures of our hearts! 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Broken Pot Shines!

It's only a simple terra cotta pot. Nothing special!  But, it becomes a parable of life! 
Yesterday I got a phone call from the mom of one of my students. She sounded a notch beyond panicked. I could hardly understand her. Finally I did understand that she needed a friend who could stand in the gap for her at that moment. I had just walked in the door from a long day at school. She had been held up by a younger son (who has cystic fibrosis) whose immediate needs supplanted her ability to pick up my other son after school. I had to be assertive but I told her I would get her son, bring him to my house and for her to pick him up there whenever she could.
Long story short I had to have a little help too as it was almost time she would be picking him up and I was at least 20 minutes away. To add to that I was waiting on the "gutter guy." My husband called to say he was held up and couldn't cover with the "gutter guy." God is amazing! He's always in the shadows ready to meet every need! I called another mom and asked if she would pick up my student. Then I dispatched the "gutter guy" rather quickly and went to get my student at the 2nd mom's home.
By the time I got back, Mom #1 was there with her other son. Last night she sent me a really sweet email which I share, not because I'm so great but because it shows something about the pot. She was responding to my email assuring her that it was not bother to help and to call me any time:
You did much more than help me a little . . . you did more than help me a lot. You won't know until you get your many crowns to throw before His feet. Thank you for everything, including the loving encouragement and beautiful example of His love.

Back to the pot. Let's just suppose we would break that pot together - smash it. Then suppose you and I would take all those pieces and pick them up together. THEN you and I would take the pot and carefully reconstruct all the broken pieces back into its original shape. (Of course, we would also need some really good glue that would dry quickly.) Well, that's most probably not going to happen. There will still be cracks. The pieces may not even resemble the original pot at all.
Then suppose you and I would put a candle in the pot and light it. What will happen?
Light will shine through the brokenness!
Jesus said, I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will have a life filled with light and will never live in the dark. (John 8:12) 
You get it. I get it. We don't have to walk in darkness even in our brokenness! We can walk in the light not because we have it all together but because we don't. We don't have to have it all together. He does, and He is the Light!  That broken pot shines because of Him - shines through the brokenness!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Our Facebook Culture



It's almost like the daisy game. You know, He loves me, loves me not .......... But, it's no longer a silly game.
It's Facebook and it's about step-away relationships where we feel safe hiding behind the internet to like this and not like that. And so we click merrily away day after day: like, like, like, like, like, like, do not like  ........


We get request messages - "Like" my page. Businesses with FB presence thrive on how many "likes" they have. I have 23 requests today for me to like this or that.
I think we are becoming a cyber-culture with a Facebook face. We quickly click like to fit in or to trade likes but there's no real responsibility to stand behind our click. It's all about clicks and numbers!
Don't get me wrong! I love the connections we can make on the internet! I tweet and have a FB page, email and pin.
I also live in a more real world where I love and have relationships and care and cry. And, ultimately THAT's the world that matters!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Put on a Happy Face!

Yesterday at school I ran into a parent in the hall. I knew the family was going through a round of challenges related to a son who has cystic fibrosis. I asked the dad how things were going. His quick response was, "Fine, just fine."
I've been there and done that! For years when my boys were growing up, I had a series of very serious health issues. I spent many days in the hospital over about 10 years. We tried to live as normally as possible - whatever normal is.
For several reasons, among them being that I hate complainers and hate to complain and also because I know many people don't really want to hear it - I found myself with a similar mantra to my student's father - "Fine, just fine."  Often people teased me (and still do) that fine is my stock answer. It was and still is probably.
One Sunday morning years ago I was walking down the hall at church when an elder passed by. Without breaking stride he asked, "How are you, Ann?" I did not give my usual reply. Instead I answered, "Well, I just found out I have to have brain surgery." He kept going as he said over his shoulder, "That's great! I'm glad to hear it!"  I admit it was a test of sorts with no small amount of sarcasm on my part, but it gave me a valuable insight into how many people like me cope. Put on a happy face!
That's NOT how it's supposed to work in the Body of Christ! We are to bear one another's burdens. (Gal. 6:2) Paul says that's how we can fulfill the law of Christ. We cannot possibly bear a burden we don't know about which requires energy and persistence on the part of one partner in the burden-bearing process. It requires developing the art of listening well. It also requires vulnerability and humility on the part of the burdened! Putting on a happy face, hiding, wearing the fine mask do not fulfill the law of Christ nor lift any loads.
Lord Jesus, make me sensitive to see and be willing to help carry the needs of others even at the personal sacrifice of energy, time and heart. Help me to be willing to risk. Help me to share my own pain both for my good and for the good of others. Help me to be willing to share my own needs! Help us all to fulfill the law of Christ by being what the Body of Christ is supposed to be! Thank You that I don't have to hide behind a happy face when the reality is something else! I pray for the sake of Your Kingdom!


Monday, September 30, 2013

Lord of My Heart!

Last Tuesday my friend Tony went to heaven. She fought the "cancer demon" for 14 valiant years. She was buried in her wedding dress. I think that's just awesome! She was and is the bride of Christ - now part of the church eternal - with a whole new body! The symbolism is stunning! She died as she lived with her eyes on Jesus! Saturday morning we sang:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light. ...

 High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.      

                     -- Dallan Forgail (8th Century)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Alzheimer's - Something to Hate!

Did I mention that I HATE Alzheimer's? 
I hate and miss the loss of relationship! I rail against the long slow good-bye! I wish for heaven and Jesus to come back soon. And more.........
Today is my birthday. On my birthday for all these years since I left home the phone would ring - usually first thing in the AM. It would be my parents (until last year when my dad was newly gone to heaven) and a chorus of "Happy Birthday" would ensue! It wasn't good music by most standards but by the standard that matters to me, it was music to my ears!
It always ended, Happy Birthday, Ann Austin, happy birthday to you! Last night - a day early - that's not how it ended for the first time, the new normal (until there is no call at all).
Instead, when it came to my name, there was dead silence! My mother didn't know who was on the other end of the phone. She knew when my sister dialed the phone in that split second, but she didn't know just a few short seconds later. The fog had descended again!
The fog of Alzheimer's is there more often than not! It's a wild and crazy world for my precious mother! It's a very sad, random world for those who love her!
Life's transitions - some are good; some are painful! NOT to sermonize, but I'm having to preach the Gospel to myself today, I have to remind myself, Self, God is good all the time! All the time God is good! Even on days like today and nights like last night!
I still hate Alzheimer's - just for the record!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Kaput!

Nasty surprise around midnight two nights ago was about the washing machine. My husband needed a pair of trousers and a shirt washed to wear at 5 AM on Monday. Of course, he forgot to say so until we were going to bed!
Not wanting to wash two things for a load, I also threw in a couple of towels. At midnight when I went to put the washer load into the dryer, there was water running across the laundry room floor and the washer tub was FULL of water! UGH!
I tried to carefully advance the washer dial hoping the spin cycle would kick in to no avail. So I wrung all the water I could out of the towels, shirt and trousers. Then I threw the soggy items in the dryer. Of course, they took almost forever to dry. I was up and down all night starting and restarting the dryer.
Wouldn't you know that when I tried the spin cycle early yesterday it worked just fine, thank you very much! Double UGH!
Last night we went through the same drill (only a few hours earlier) but I blithely assumed the washer would work so threw a satin quilt in with a shirt and trousers and socks this time. Same scenario all over again! Once again I wrung as much water as I could out since the spin cycle wouldn't kick in for love or money!
Guess what? This morning - once again - the spin cycle is magically working so I could spin the quilt ...........  NOW the question is: do I go shopping for a washer today or will the third time be the charm?
Did I mention that the washer is easily 25 years old? That alone doesn't bode well for a resurrection! It is a fact of life that things wear out, break, rust, etc.!
When our boys were growing up, I remember when the washer that preceded this one finally bit the dust along with the dish washer, the dryer, the refrigerator and the disposal - all in the same approximate time frame. Our youngest son wanted to know what the deal was with everything breaking at once. He was thinking some kind of oppressive conspiracy or something. I told him it was probably because they were all new about the same time so they were breathing their last gasping breaths in unison as well.
My washing machine is just a sad part of normal life. Everything wears out eventually or rusts or otherwise disintegrates - EVERYTHING this side of heaven! Every day I live I am more and more aware that even I am wearing out! Nights with little sleep used to be barely a blip on my radar; now I feel them to my bones!
We all have the stuff and mess we wake up with and lug through each day. Some people carry far heavier loads than others. Some of us stagger under the weight because the load is so heavy!

There is an awesome truth for heavy loads and days when things break and when money just won't stretch any further: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! (Lam. 3:22-23) It is God's faithful promise for His children, and God ALWAYS keeps His promises!


No matter what your day looks like - God's faithful mercy is tailor-made for just such a day as this! God's faithfulness comes in exact measure to whatever you and I face in this hour, this day because He sees and knows! NEW EVERY morning - great is His faithfulness!
 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Piles of Words

I have a former professor who is a word smith and speaker par excellence! Her class scared me to death as I knew every breath almost was going to be scrutinized! Yikes! She cares deeply still about her students being the best they can be and to live all of life with excellence!
For some time now, she has been posting a "Lesson for the Day" on Facebook for her former students to "enjoy."  In each she discusses some grammar concept: when to use lie and when to use lay; using to, too, two correctly; etc. It's not new information to me and almost always it's how I normally speak and write, but it's good reminders.
Today I saw she had posted another lesson. This time it is a really, really good reminder!

LESSON FOR THE DAY:
 It is important that we try to do our best with what God has given us.
 We have talked a lot about words, grammar, and pronunciation. There is, however, something much more important.
 Let us suppose that we were born unable to speak. Never had we been able to say a single word. Then, let's pretend that one day God gave us a king-sized pillow case packed with words. We could use those words until they were gone. How would we use them? Would we choose carefully, making each word count? What would we build or tear down with those words? Once the words were spoken, we could not get them back.
 Now, one more pretend. What if one day God poured all the words we had ever spoken on top of our heads? We would be swimming in millions of words. They would be all over us!

Then, what if God told us to begin separating those words into two piles. On the left side we would put all the hurtful, sarcastic, coarse, cutting, mean, spiteful, jealous, lying, critical, cynical, unfeeling, backbiting, unfair, rationalizing, self building, defensive and unkind words.
 On the right side, we would put all the kind, edifying, helpful, loving, complimentary, gentle, helpful, caring.....you get the picture. WHICH PILE WOULD BE LARGER?
 I think we have been told that we will be called to account for every one of them. So, whatever we learn from these little lessons, know that we need to make our words count for good.             
-- Bewey Bowden, Adjunct Professor, Reformed Theo. Sem. (Jackson, MS) retired
So, I'm thinking about words today.....Words come from the heart!
45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:45)
Change my heart, O God, Make it ever true; Change my heart, O God,May I be like You.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

On a scale of 1 to 10.........

I know just how you feel!
Did you ever let these words pass your lips? We might think we know, but there's NO WAY we can get that far under a person's skin and into their heart!
A friend who lives in a power chair told me recently, Nobody knows how hard it is to be this disabled! And she is that disabled with a disease she didn't ask to have, was born with and knows is progressing rapidly. NOBODY - I mean nobody - can know how SHE feels even someone else in somewhat similar circumstances.
The thing about pain is that it's a lonely business! We can't share! I have my own pain stories. I know how many times I have wished (probably not on my most spiritual days) to "zap" someone else with my pain so they could see how intense it is.
Just in the last few days another friend said, Everyone has their own problems! She was feeling the intensity of the pain in her life. 
There is no meter to measure one person's pain against another person's pain. This isn't bridge where one card can trump another. This is real life lived on the razor's edge!
I absolutely hate to answer the question that doctors and nurses love to ask, On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your pain? I think the question is totally useless as every person/patient handles and perceives pain differently, and there's no factor for that fact. There have been times when my physical pain was so intense that I wanted to answer 15!
There is a story (which I thought was attributed to D.L. Moody but the web says either Persian proverb or unknown and the picture another source) about a man who had no shoes and felt very sorry for himself until he met a man who had no feet. It's all about perspective! It's all about who's inside the pain! And, clearly, some pain is worse than other pain! Having a baby or a kidney stone or an attack of pancreatitis are infinitely more painful than a sore throat. But, that being said, the person with the sore throat doesn't have a kidney stone so the sore throat is the pain of the moment.


And no, you don't know how I feel and I don't know how you feel! What matters is whether you and I care more about someone else's pain than our own!

O, by the way, I had time to write this blog post just now because I got a pain reprieve from the dentist. I was supposed to have 2 fillings today but the dentist office has no electricity! Darn! :o)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Green Eggs, Ham, and Care-giving!



Green eggs and ham? I think there's a book with that name, but this isn't a book review. This is about the breakfast menu. Which has more commitment to the breakfast menu - the chicken or the pig? It's a no-brainer! The chicken is involved; the pig is committed!
But, this isn't about breakfast. It's about care-giving!


In my family my four sibs (if you count blood or nine if you, like my mother, count love), we all care for my mother. She needs lots of care. She is 92 feeble. She has Alzheimer's with its many complicating issues. She lost her 70+ year companion (my dad who was her rock) a year ago today. But, like the breakfast menu, some of us are pigs; others are chickens.
One sister and her husband have Mother in their home. They give her 24/7 love and care, and their responsibilities are not easy! They are pigs! They are totally committed!
My brother and his wife are the stand-in-the-gap emergency response team taking Mother to their home for breaks and other emergencies! They are little pigs, but don't tell them I said so! They like horses more than pigs!
The rest of us - sisters all - are the chickens! We are involved. We go when we can. We pray many times each day and often in the night. We send flowers and cards. We call and have rambling, random conversations with Mother.
Recently I've been thinking about this "care-giving breakfast menu" we have going. I think it's a common phenomenon in giving care. Some are chickens. Some are pigs. Both are needed. The chickens are involved. The pigs are committed!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Light into Darkness

Are you tired of the brokenness around you and within you? Are you so weary with the struggle to even raise your eyes above the pain?  Are you floundering in the flood of cares too numerous to name? Is your heart fractured with the crushing load you carry each and every day? Are you trying desperately to swim through the oppressive darkness?
Ask God to give you a new perspective for the darkness! Ask Him to heal your brokenness. Trust Him to be strong for you when you have no strength left. Trust Him to make good on His promise:
I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; ... Isaiah 42:6a

ONLY He can open your eyes blinded by pain and disappointment! He will give you eyes to see Him walking ahead conquering all of your fears! He will give you peace and His amazing grace that is best discovered in the valleys as lonely and painful as they are. ONLY He will push back the darkness and give you His light and presence IN the darkness! He will take you by the hand and keep you THIS day! That's His promise and He always keeps His promises!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Surrender!

Some years ago I got an email (of maybe a FAX since it was awhile back) from my brother. As happens in military situations, when one commander leaves and another one takes command, the new commander receives the "unit" flag to indicate the transfer of authority from one commander to the other.
In this particular case the new commander happened to be my brother. He was taking command of a "new" entity and there was no flag to pass so he was handed a blank flag to keep up the tradition. As the saying goes, "Close but no cigar!"
The problem was that my brother didn't want a blank white flag.
SO he was asking me if I could make a flag for his "unit." I could and I did! It was a process but we eventually got it done - hopefully to most people's satisfaction!
I am always reminded of that history when we sing "Surrender All" in our worship. The graphic behind the words is a hand waving a white flag a flag of surrender.
A white flag to my warrior brother wasn't a good thing! A white flag for the believer DOES signify something wonderful! It means, I give it all up! I surrender! I will live under Your banner, Jesus Savior and Conquering King!
A white flag as I lay my heart at the Savior's feet is an awesomely good thing!
Take all I am, Lord, and all that I cling to.
You are my Savior I owe everything to.
Take all my treasures that lie in my storehouse.
They cannot follow when I enter Your house.
So I surrender all to You, I surrender all!
Take all my cravings for vain recognition, fleshly indulgence and worldly ambition.
I want so much, Lord, to make you the focus ...
So I surrender all to You, I surrender all!
Take all my hunger for all that's forbidden, every desire and sin I keep hidden.
Search me and know me.
I want to bring to You a life that is holy and sanctified through You!
So I surrender all to You, I surrender all!

Friday, July 12, 2013

What I Learned from Jimmy!

His name was Jimmy. He is my very first memory of a special needs child. His parents - Don and Merle - had waited and waited for him and were ecstatic over his coming! I was a young child myself when I met Jimmy so I don't know a lot of details. He had a very large head and mostly just lay in his crib. He was a hydrocephalic baby.
Hydrocephalus is an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles of the brain. The resulting increased intracranial pressure causes an enlarged head, seizures, developmental and mental disability. Jimmy had all of these.
I didn't know anything about disabilities. The only other disabled person I knew was my grandfather who had two artificial legs. I knew he took his prosthesis off when he went to bed as I saw them there once or twice. They might have been scary except that they were just a part of my beloved granddaddy with their wooden and then plastic legs and leather straps. Besides, I didn't know my grandfather was disabled. He was definitely differently abled but did NOT consider himself disabled in ANY way. And he didn't act disabled in any way either. So Jimmy was the first person I remember knowing was disabled.
I was in Jimmy's home on a fairly regular basis as our parents were good friends, and we went to the same church. It was sad to me that Jimmy was different from other babies, that he would never change in the way other babies grow and develop. But what impressed me much more than Jimmy's limitations was the love in that home. Jimmy was incredibly loved and celebrated. His room was the center of the home and full of light and joy!
I don't remember how long Jimmy lived but, one day, I heard that Jimmy had gone to heaven so I expect to see Jimmy again some day.
Since then I have known many other people with a wide range of disabilities. Some of them are dear friends! Some are members of my family. But, my take-away from Jimmy and his parents is that disabilities can be celebrated and should be! God makes each one of us special and in His own image!
In the New Testament Paul says: 
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (I Cor. 12:21-27)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Road Less Traveled - Care-Giving

By "default" and choice she and he became care-givers 3 years ago (almost!). They took a little old man and a little old lady (who they loved very much) into their home. The little old couple were tenaciously clinging to their mountain home - tip-top, 3-story, "isolated" location up and down a winding road and 10+ miles to shopping, church, etc. That wasn't a good thing! It was dangerous in so many ways! It was way past time for a new season in life!

The little old man has gone to heaven, but the lady lives on in her own reality most of the time. She has pretty severe Alzheimer's! She's not easy to care for. She gives non-compliant new meaning. She can't remember that her life partner with whom she shared a rare and beautiful love for over 70 years is gone - at least not for more than a few minutes. Sometimes she can't even remember how to sit in a chair. So, care-giving is pretty intense!

Recently I had a front row seat on this action. I was amazed! NOT at how difficult this care-giving reality is tho' it's all that and a bag of chips! NOT at the unrelenting 24/7 immersion in care-giving even with respite support from aides and at least one sibling one day a week and monitors and friends! NO! What amazed me from the top of my head to the soles of my feet was the unconditional love poured out in that home hour after hour, the patience, the joy in the serving! It is a beautiful thing!

Care-givers are a special "breed"! It's usually a life that happens! It is intense! It is often lonely! It is heart and hand exhausting! It is taking the road less traveled! It is walking the servant path!

My front row seat overwhelmed me as I watched love in action - cleaning body fluids, patiently waiting and helping and doing. selflessly being a servant for a day and then getting up tomorrow to do it all over again and more beside - a list too long to name!

She said to me recently, Any of us would have done this just the same. I had to honestly say, NOT ME! I think I would have crashed and burned long before now! I can hardly wrap my mind around all the sacrifices - trust me - they are HUGE!

This is uncommon service with uncommon love and commitment down a path less traveled all to the glory of God and for love of a mother (and father)! I pray and marvel and help in such small ways but I'm not in the daily trench finding strength for each moment! I'm left whispering, To God be the glory and a huge thank you! He and she are my hero servants! Thank you for showing me Jesus as you walk this less traveled path!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What I Wish!

I love being a grandmother! I love my grandchildren. Three of the seven come to visit often, and their coming is a very precious part of my life.

Having a day to day glimpse into their lives and hearts often makes me wish:
    I wish for them to care about forgiveness and kindness.
  • I wish for them to learn character values like constancy, patience, love, joy (not happiness caused by circumstances that go their way or having lots and lots of stuff but rather joy that comes in spite of circumstances and even deprivation), peace, faithfulness, self-control!
  • I wish for them to have hearts that think of others first and are willing to love and serve others more than wanting for themselves.
  • I wish for them to know and love God more than anyone or anything else.
  • I wish for them to love to learn.
  • I wish for them to know that stuff doesn't make happiness or contentment!!! BUT it does give grandmamas something to take away when that is helpful! :o]
  • And more................

Friday, June 7, 2013

What Size is YOUR Heart?


I love Dr. Seuss' memorable Grinch! He lives high above Whoville in a cave with his stingy little heart and is most miserable! I don't love his miserable self! I love that he learned his heart was two sizes too small!
 

 
It's Christmas and Grinch tries his dead level best to destroy every last vestige of joy in Whoville by stealing Christmas. His efforts totally fail because the Whos in Whoville have hearts bigger than the stuff!
 


 
 

SO, what size is your heart? Just sayin' !!!




Monday, June 3, 2013

A Block of Wood and Two Boys

It is only a little block of wood that a boy named Peter carved into an Indian head tie-slide 50 years ago. It is cleverly carved and painted. Peter's sister gave it to my grandson about a week ago.

Tonight was a Scout Court of Honor for Troop 1807. My grandson Matthew was the MC. He dressed up in his Scout uniform this afternoon. He put on his tie rolled in its 12 twists and threaded his tie through the carved Indian head.

When our son Duncan got up to give the "Scoutmaster Minute" at the end of the Court of Honor tonight, he talked about the things we leave behind. He talked about footprints we leave behind. He held up the little Indian head slide and talked about Peter. Peter carved that Indian head the day he returned with his mom from a Scout camping trip. On the way home Peter and his mom were both killed in a car wreck. That little Indian head slide is one of the things Peter left behind. Our son challenged the boys and others there to consider what they might leave behind.

Then the end of the program came and our grandson announced that a Scout named Ryan would play taps. His dad helped Ryan wheel to the front. Ryan - BIG grin on his face - touched his computer smart board attached to his power chair and the sound of taps played while his fellow Scouts sang the words:

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the skies.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.


Peter left a wonderful carved Indian head that my grandson will wear and treasure. I hope Matthew will pass it along to his own little boy some day! The story of Peter made an imprint on my heart tonight.
 
AND Scout Ryan also left his imprint on my heart with his beautiful smile and his obvious joy in being a part of Troop 1807 . It DOES matter what we leave behind! I doubt I will ever hear Taps played without thinking of a Scout with a chest full of badges he's earned and a BIG bright smile! God is nigh!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Latin Feasts and Servant Hearts

In my "pay check" job I teach Latin. One of the highlights of the year is the Latin Feast the last week of school. Traditionally the youngest students come as slaves and the older students are assigned places on the class spectrum of ancient Roman society. It just so happens this year that students who have been slaves two years already are the youngest class. They don't want to be slaves again and are pretty vocal in their protests!

I thought of using the slave thing as a motivation for rewarding hard work so that the students in that class who had worked the hardest would be rewarded by being promoted from slave to freedman. Would you believe that a few moms vigorously protested because her particular student didn't make that cut? Just sayin' ...

So I went back to the "drawing board" and appealed to the oldest class who would now be Patricians to show leadership by being slaves this year. As you might imagine, that crashed and burned very quickly! Then I thought, OK, maybe some moms and I can be slaves. And the more I think about it, the more I like that idea!  One mom emailed last night that her daughter and another girl in that youngest class wanted to be slaves a third year.

I have been reflecting ... I think there just might be a parable here. Our hearts are dark places. We don't like to take the low seat or the servant role. We often think we are entitled to better even if the reason is only just because or It's just not fair!

Not only are our hearts dark places, we live in a dark, broken world! 

There is an historical account - actually from the days of the Roman empire - of One who came from another world to take on the role of servant even choosing to die the most humiliating death in the most shameful way! He was the High King who chose to serve. He did it because there was NO darkness in His heart! He did it so the darkness in my heart and yours can be removed forever! His name is Jesus! He told us to be salt and light so He put hands and feet on that command. He showed us the way!

2The evening meal was in progress, ... Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. ... 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them! (John 17:2-17)

What a parable for my heart today! It isn't easy to be a servant, but the One who shows that way makes it possible by changing dark hearts to want to push back darkness and be light - to become servants too!