When I Don’t Deserve It….. Grace

Just Thinking…..

We just concluded a vacation that we had spent months planning. Every route, every lodging: planned. Every person we intended to see: planned. Every site or event we were going to attend: planned. All costs: planned.

What we didn’t plan was a sudden illness.

We had just finished time in Texas with dear friends, time at the Gulf of Mexico being beach bums, time exploring San Antonio and Waco, time digging for diamonds in Murphreesboro, and were planning to spend some time in Hot Springs, and then on to see family and then HOME!

But now time was not on our side. After supper in Hot Springs, the Hubs became suddenly and violently ill. There was no warning. One moment he felt fine. The next he was retching…. at both ends…. if you know what I mean. I wondered if he had food poisoning, but we had eaten the same things for the past several meals, and I was fine. As his illness continued into the night, it became apparent he could not travel the next day. He would have to have immediate access to a bathroom, and that’s just not possible on the road.

I wasn’t sure what to do. We knew that lodging in Hot Springs was scarce this time of year. But I talked to the innkeeper early the next morning, explaining our situation. He said he would work out something, and he did indeed work his magic, allowing us an extra night. He went beyond that, bringing us some supplies, offering to take the Hubs to the ER. Hubs was able to rest and somewhat recover. We will always be grateful for the compassion of the innkeeper and his wife. Grace.

We left Hot Springs a day later, and traveled those winding, hilly, curvy, heart stopping drop-dead-beautiful Ozark scenic routes in Arkansas. Those routes will clench your stomach under normal conditions; Hubs was not experiencing normal conditions. Nevertheless, we safely made it to Missouri to see our relatives. Grace.

We had a great time seeing the aunts, the uncle, the cousins, having dinner together, sharing stories, laughing…. and then my sister called to say they were taking Mom to ER. Argh…. we were still a day’s journey away….. and we can’t drive at night. We stayed over night at a cousin’s home and intended to leave as early as possible in the morning. But the Hub’s bug found my digestive system suddenly… without warning… during the night. The only difference is that mine was accompanied with chills, shaking, and deep muscle and joint pain. My cousin graciously offered to let us stay another night, but we feared that, if not already done, we would pass on the bug to her and the rest of the family. But we did stay longer that let me rest some. Grace.

I probably should have stayed the extra night. The trip back on this last leg was excruciating. The pain intensified to the point that I was moaning and crying. Hubs was doing his very best to reassure me and get me home safely. And he did. He was not feeling good, and I was feeling worse when we pulled into our driveway. But we had made it home. Grace.

Grace is something that we receive which we do not deserve, nor have we earned it. It is a freely given gift. Nothing nor nobody owed us safety on the roads or places to stay in the situation we were in. It was grace. But grace has the habit of being generous and expansive… over the top.

Here’s what happened when some of God’s people heard of our situation. One family offered to drive down to get us…. drive thru three states…. and bring us and our car back home. There is no way we deserved kindness like that. Grace.

Another family came by with a fruit basket, overflowing with grapes, apples and oranges, to help us to a healthy recovery. We had never done anything to deserve that. Grace.

Another family came by with two kinds of soup, a loaf of bread, cheese, and fresh veggies. Grace.

It was an overwhelming compassion, a kind generosity….. a grace prompted by God. Truly, it brought tears. We are still trying to recover from this illness, and grace will see us through.

You might dismiss my story by saying that people are just naturally kind and helpful, and that grace has little to do with it. I certainly will allow you this opinion, and I agree that many (not all) people are kind and helpful. But I stand by my belief that God knew our situation and that He provided just what we needed just when we needed it. Grace.

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It reminds me of a wonderful verse of Scripture:
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thess. 5: 18).

Note that it doesn’t say to give thanks FOR everything. Just to give thanks IN everything…. meaning in the midst of everything going on. In the midst of an illness and uncertain travel, we gave thanks that God provided the innkeeper, the cousin, the friends, the safety and provision. Grace.

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Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

–Julia H. Johnston

O Father…. Thank YOU for YOUR ultimate grace: granting me life with YOU forever in heaven through the sacrifice of YOUR Son. Thank YOU for the little grace notes that carry us through this life time. Thank YOU for the grace that sets YOUR plans over our plans. In the name of Jesus,

Amen
Bug

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Published in: on April 2, 2017 at 8:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lukewarm Christian???

Just thinking……

Would you agree with me that the word “Christian” is glibly used, loosely defined, and bent to justify all sorts of behavior and worldviews?

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We all (who call ourselves Christian) tend to supply our own meaning and apply that to our own lives. Can you identify with any of the following?

  1.  I am Christian because I am American and maybe even Republican.
  2.   I don’t drink much, don’t smoke, don’t swear, don’t overeat, only gamble occasionally, and don’t mess around. That pretty well defines being Christian.
  3.   My parents went to church, so I’m probably a Christian.
  4.   I help other people; doesn’t that make me Christian?
  5.   I give to the building program. Bingo! I’m Christian!!
  6.   I’m generally nice, generally tell the truth, generally do the right thing, and I’m sure that means I’m Christian.
  7.   I wear a cross necklace, carry a rosary, and wear a necktie with sacred words on it. People can tell I’m a Christian because of that.
  8.   I go to church when I can. God knows there are times I can’t go…. times like vacation, kids sports, family times, bad weather, don’t feel good, overslept, hung over, bored, want to just be outside doing something, …… If I at least go sometimes, I think that counts towards my Christian brownie points.
  9.   I have a WWJD card in my wallet. That’s close enough.
  10.   I belong to a church. And I’ve read some of the Bible. And that’s enough for me.

It seems that ideas like sacrifice, sin, Jesus, obedience, belief, forgiveness, repentance just don’t fit in with that list.

Now before you jump on me for being judgmental, let me assure you that I am completely incapable of judging someone’s heart. I may judge actions as right or wrong (and so does every court), but I honestly can’t fathom whether you are a Christian or not. God knows. I don’t. But I  am fairly sure that the above 10 actions don’t make one a Christian. They just don’t speak to John 3:16.

So let’s suppose that you truly have been born again. You have come to the point of realizing that your sin is offensive to a holy God, and you have repented…. turned away…. from it. Yes, you may slip every now and then, but your heart grieves when you do, and you turn again to God. You believe that Jesus died to pay the price for your sin, and you believe that He rose again, and you believe that He is even now preparing your eternal home in Heaven, and you believe that He will come again, and take You home. You know that you have been forgiven.  He is your Savior.

Excellent. But then why does your life feel sort of empty…. sort of half there…. sort of lukewarm? Where is that sense of victory, of overcoming, of joy? Where is that first love? Or….. even worse…. perhaps you have absolutely NO feeling that life is empty…. don’t even recognize the half-hearted situation?

Revelation 3: 15:  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!

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Francis Chan, in Crazy Love, lists 18 characteristics of lukewarm Christians. I encourage you to get and read the book. See if you fit into any of these statements:

  1.  Lukewarm people attend church regularly because it is expected.
  2.  Lukewarm people give money to charity and church… as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living.
  3.  Lukewarm people tend to choose what is popular over what is right.
  4.  Lukewarm people don’t really want to be saved from their sin, but rather from the penalty of their sin.
  5.  Lukewarm people are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, but they themselves do not act.
  6.  Lukewarm people rarely share their faith with their neighbors, coworkers, or friends.
  7.  Lukewarm people gauge their morality or goodness by comparing themselves to the secular world.
  8.  Lukewarm people say they love Jesus, and that He is a part of their lives. Only a part.
  9.  Lukewarm people love God, but not with all their heart, soul, and strength.
  10.  Lukewarm people love others but do not seek to love others as much as they love themselves.
  11.  Lukewarm people will serve God and others, but there are limits to how far they will go, and how much time and money and energy they are willing to give.
  12.  Lukewarm people think about life on earth much more than they think about eternity in Heaven.
  13.  Lukewarm people are thankful for their luxuries and comforts, and rarely consider trying to give as much as possible to the poor.
  14.  Lukewarm people do whatever is necessary to keep themselves from feeling too guilty.
  15.  Lukewarm people are continually concerned with playing it safe.
  16.  Lukewarm people feel secure because they attend church, made a profession of faith, were baptized, came from a Christian family, vote Republican, or live in America.
  17.  Lukewarm people do not live by faith; their lives structured so they never have to.
  18.  Lukewarm people probably drink and swear less than average, but besides that, they really aren’t very different from your typical unbeliever.

(Really…….. you need to get this book and read it!)

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Ouch.

When I studied this list with our small group, I was convicted that I am lukewarm at times.  I’ve played it safe…. straddled the fence.  It’s not what I want for my life; I want to be sold out. I want to be hot! Not cold…. not lukewarm. HOT! I want to be on fire for Jesus. I want the boldness to declare Him to the people around me, to stand for the truth, and to finally kneel before my God and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Matthew 7: 21:  Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father

O Father! Forgive me for being wishy-washy, for being timid and afraid, for not truly understanding what it means to be Christian. It’s not as if I have not been told. I am so sorry that I have wasted part of my life in just being lukewarm.   I ask for Your boldness to live a victorious life for Your glory.   That’s all that counts.

To God be the glory….
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When I Grow Up, I Want To….

Just thinking….

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Have you seen him?   That bright eyed little boy, jumping up and down with excitement, shouting unequivocally that he is going to a cowboy when he grows up, rootin’, tootin’ fastest one in the West.

Have you seen her?  She’s the shy one who wants to take care of boys and girls in the hospital, but for now she works on her Barbies.

Pretty common for kids to muse their futures and make declarations of what they want to be, what they want to do, where they want to go.  Rarely do we ever hear declarations like these:

  1.  When I grow up I want to be homeless.
  2.   When I am an adult, I want to be bankrupt and lose my house and car.  Maybe even my family.
  3.   My goal in life is to be unstable and go through as many relationships as possible. I want to be divorced.  I want to be bitter.
  4.   I can see myself being a school drop out (or kicked out) and losing a lot of  low-pay jobs.
  5.   What I really want in life is to be addicted to drugs…. alcohol…. tobacco…. gambling… sex.
  6.   My dream is to be an unmarried teen parent.   That will be cool.
  7.   I’m hoping to be in trouble with the law, maybe just little things at first, but I’ll work up to the big things.  My goal is prison.
  8. To me, growing up means I can be disrespectful to my parents and grandparents,  my teachers, and the law.  Then I can blame them for everything!!
  9. Getting a sexually transmitted disease….. or developing lung/mouth cancer from smoking…. or maybe having a baby that has fetal problems from my alcohol and drug use…… yeah, that’s what I want for my future.
  10.   When I grow up, I want to be self-centered .  Who needs friends or family?
  11.   My vision for the future is to  mess up really big and then give up, and then kill myself.

Right.   Most kids just don’t see any of these as their future self.  And yet……

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Yet it happens.   That cute little boy who just wants to be a fireman ends up to be number 5 on the list.   That precious girl who wants to be a ballerina and a mama becomes number 6.  That junior high kid who is anxious to be in high school becomes number 4.   That promising high school student looking forward to college  ends up as number 3….. or number 11.    It wasn’t what they intended.   But it’s where they landed.

For whatever reason, they don’t see that every single choice they make today affects tomorrow.   Call it immaturity.  Call it lack of self control.  Lack of vision.   Lack of education.  Lack of church. Lack of discipline.

There’s a huge disconnect between dreams and reality.   Probably not a new problem.  But what do we do about the dream train derailing?

Dreams shatter.   They go unfulfilled.  They fade away.   I had a dream of my home being filled with lots of children.  For reasons beyond my control, it never happened.  But some dreams are within our grasp…. and yet we lose our grip.

Some dreams require so much work that they seem impossible.   I wanted to be a teacher; I had dreamed of it for years.  But the reality is that I had no money and wasn’t the brightest one in my class.  Yet with guts and sweat, I made that dream come true.

Here’s how Langston Hughes put it:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

So very very sad.  Our children are our treasure.   This next generation is a promise.  I want that little cowboy and nurse and fireman and ballerina to see that their future is possible.  I want them to dream BIG, and pursue excellence, and enjoy life to the fullest.  I want them to know that even if they make mistakes that destroy some dreams…. that God forgives and restores  and renews.

O Father!  Give us wisdom to make right choices.   Give us compassion for those who are in trouble.  Give us what we need to make a difference.  Give us understanding and motivation to make the world a better place for our children.  Give us strength and boldness to pursue our dreams for Your glory.

To God Be The Glory…..

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Published in: on May 16, 2016 at 3:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Suppose It’s Motherless Day

Just Thinking….

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Suppose it’s Mother’s Day…. and you gave your baby away when you were 17 because you were scared, and it’s what they told you to do.

Suppose it’s Mother’s Day, and your child lies in a grave somewhere, maybe in a cemetery near your home, or perhaps in a foreign war zone.

Suppose it’s Mother’s Day, and your mama doesn’t know your name any more.

Suppose it’s Mother’s Day, and you remember all over again that you decided to end your baby’s life.

Suppose it’s Mother’s Day, and your child slammed the door and left, and you have no idea if he is alive, or where she is.

Suppose it’s Mother’s Day, and still no baby rests in your womb or in your arms.

Suppose it’s Mother’s Day, and you try to forget how your own mom screams that you were a mistake and that she regrets that you were ever born.

Suppose it’s Mother’s Day, and all you have left is a picture, and pain in a void that you didn’t even know existed.

Suppose it’s Mother’s Day, and the state just moved your foster child into another home.

Suppose it’s Mother’s Day, and you wait by the phone for the call that never comes.

Suppose……

All the chocolate and flowers and perfume and jewelry and snazzy greeting cards don’t cut it.

All the images posted on Facebook don’t cut it.

All the glowing reports of breakfast in bed fixed by little hands don’t cut it.

All the sermons about the joys of motherhood don’t cut it.

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Suppose….

I know. I was one of those mothers. The pain cuts deeper than anyone can fathom. The tears flow. The sense of solitude and loneliness settle in the soul.

Oh Father!
Help me be more sensitive to those who live the agony of motherless days and nights. Come…. and fill us with Your peace.
To God be the Glory…..
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Published in: on May 9, 2016 at 2:27 am  Leave a Comment  

Getting the Green Light

Just Thinking……

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How would you like to be called Uzzah?  Uzzah was not only stuck with a weird name (at least if he was alive now….), but he also died a most unfortunate death.  Unfortunate because he was just trying to do something good.

Here’s what happened:  A revered holy object, the Ark of the Covenant, fell into the hands of the enemy.  King David, of the Israelites, determined that it was time to get the Ark back to its rightful place in the kingdom.  So he consulted with his military and political officials about the matter, and then announced it to the entire assembly of Israel.  Everyone agreed.  This was a good plan.  It was the right thing to do.

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So they put the Ark on a new cart (see… not just any old cart), pulled by oxen, and Uzzah and Ahio guided the cart on the journey.  The people were celebrating with gusto: singing, playing lyres, harps, tambourines, cymbals and trumpets.  The Ark was coming home!!!!

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Then… the unthinkable….. the oxen stumbled.  The Ark began to shift.   Uzzah put out his hand to steady the Ark…. just being protective.  And suddenly…. God struck Uzzah dead!!!!   DEAD!  Why?   Because he reached out and touched the Ark?  Or is there more to the story?  (You can read this part of the story in 1 Chronicles 13)

So the parade stopped.  The Ark was placed in a local home for three months.  And David returned to the City of David minus the Ark.  But David had not forgotten the Ark.  In Chapter 15, he prepared a special place for the Ark, with a special tent to shelter it.  Then he issued a new procedure for the transport.

“No one except the Levites may carry it.  The Lord has chosen them to carry the Ark of the Lord and to minister before Him forever.”   Then he summoned over 800 priests and Levites  and ordered them to purify themselves.  He told them, “Because you Levites did not carry the Ark the first time, the anger of the Lord our God burst out against us.  We failed to ask God how to move it in the proper way.”

What was the proper way?   Waaaaaay back when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, God gave them very specific instructions on building the Tabernacle and all the items within it, including the Ark.  The Tabernacle was designed to be portable, and specific directions were given on how to transport each item.   Check out this:

“You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it.… “(Exodus 25: 13-15)

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So the Levites and priests followed David’s orders.  They purified themselves.  They put together a choir of Levites who were singers and musicians to sing joyful songs.  A skilled musician was appointed to lead the music.  Certain men were assigned to play certain instruments. Others were chosen to be guards for the Ark and some to sound the trumpets and clear the way.  They sacrificed seven bulls and seven lambs.  They wore priestly clothing, and David wore a priestly tunic.   And the parade commenced without incident; the Ark arrived safely in the City of David, and there was great joy and celebrating.

But poor Uzzah.   Struck dead for just touching the Ark during the first go-round.  Dead because they didn’t wait for the green light.  Dead for not following instructions.  Dead for not searching the Word of God for the correct procedure.

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I’m so glad that God has not struck me dead when I fail to consult Him first in my decisions and actions.  And believe me….. I’ve done so many times.   I look at my planner…. my calendar…. my clock…. and make a decision and go with it.  It seemed right at the time.   In fact….. I’ve impulsively done/said things that I thought were God-honoring.  But they weren’t….. because I didn’t go about it correctly.

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I don’t stop to see if God has given me the green light.  I don’t consult His Holy Word.   I don’t pray about the decision.  I plunge in with my instincts, and my intellect, and my emotions.  But I fail to wait on God.

I don’t want to be an Uzzah.   I don’t want to fail in asking God where and when and how to move.  I don’t want to assume that His commands are just some suggestions.  I don’t want to have to explain to a Holy God that I was just doing what my heart thought was right…. knowing all along that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked…. (Jeremiah 17:9).   I don’t want my pitiful defense to be that I relied more on me….. and less on Him.  I don’t want to walk on red.

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Oh Father!  Forgive me for my impetuous nature…. for speaking and acting first without thinking and praying.  Forgive me for making You last and not first in all that I do.   Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary….. worthy….. in Your perfect timing and in Your perfect ways.  Help me rest during Your red lights, and go only You give me the green light.

To God be the Glory,

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Published in: on April 24, 2016 at 10:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Big Footsteps in the Big Snow

Just Thinking…..

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Growing up in rural Iowa meant snow. Lots of snow. And since I was a tiny thing, the snow, of course, looked huge to me. Sometimes the drifts were higher than my head; I felt engulfed by the snow. To sink into a drift and only see the unending waves of white was terrifying.

I went to a one room country school, Cuba School, which was about a mile from our farm. Walking to school was no problem in the fall and the spring. But winter made a big problem. Big snow. Big challenge.

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My father walked with me to school. He set off down the lane, and onto the gravel road leading to the school. His legs were long, and his footsteps were large. But he walked at a slower pace, with shorter distances between steps. I followed…. trying to match my little foot to his deeper imprint. Sometimes I was exhausted by the time we reached the schoolhouse, but I made it.

Our small group yesterday was discussing Chapter 3 in Fancis Chan’s book, “Crazy Love.” It was dealing with the concept of father and how our impressions and experiences with our earthly father impact our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

I began to think about our trek through the snow. My dad made sure that his path was not impossible to follow. He was there with me all the way, and he broke the path so that I could walk in it. And I know that if I had fallen from the exhaustion, that he would have picked me up and carried me.

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Isn’t that like our Heavenly Father? He will lead…. if I let Him. He will be there all the way. He will make the path possible for me to walk, even it is challenging to do so. And He will carry me when I can no longer walk. I just have to be willing to go.

He’s a good, good Father. That’s Who He is. That’s Who He is.

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Father, forgive me when I am unwilling to even begin on the snowy drift covered path. Forgive me when I look at it as an impossible journey. Forgive me when I try to veer off onto my own path. And thank You for leading, for always being there, for picking me up when I can no longer go on my own.

To God Be The Glory
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Published in: on April 18, 2016 at 6:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Pack My Soul In a Ragged Portfolio

Just Thinking…..

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My first year of teaching was painful…. horrible. I hereby apologize to all my former students from that first year, because I certainly did not give you what you deserved. I had a good education, but somewhere along the line, no one taught me how to handle all the paperwork that went along with being an English teacher. No one taught me how to translate what I learned in college into something to tickle the minds of high school students. No one taught me the stress of doing grades in an era before calculators. No one taught me about the horrors of parent/teacher meetings. They probably tried to teach me….. but I didn’t get it.

So besides going to the Army recruiting office to sign up at the end of that very long horrible year (they were closed, by the way, so I went back and signed my contract for year 2), I dealt with the pressures in my life by writing. That had been my pattern for years: put my fears and frustrations and confusions on paper. I had journals and notebooks and scraps of paper everywhere with my original writings and things that I had copied because they meant so much to me.

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During that terrible year, I wrote a poem about packing my soul into a ragged portfolio, touching on the rigors of being a first year teacher. To my surprise, it was published in our state education magazine. It didn’t alleviate all the pain from that year, but it helped. I found the courage to keep on going.

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That’s often been the purpose with which I write: to sort out pain and to get rid of pain. Sometimes I have questions that I want to explore. Sometimes I just want to be funny. Sometimes I have insights to share. Many times I just get philosophical and muse Scripture or inspirational snippets. I’ve published several articles, stories and poems over the years, won some writing contests, but that Soul in a Portfolio still remains special to me. I do more writing now on a computer than I do on paper, but the essence of writing/thinking/feeling/seeing is still there.

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My son also did a bit of writing. He wrote a poem about our family being like a lizard (yeah, really….). He stated that Dad was the head, overseeing the direction we would go. Mom (that’s me!) was the little feet pitter patting around to get everything done. And he saw himself as the tail…. which would one day break off. He was good at observation, watching those little lizards in our woods. But his sharp mind also saw the connections to life. And yes, his poem was published.

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Now my granddaughter is foraying into the field of writing. She has the intellect, the observation, the emotion of a writer. She is reading other writings and jotting down the parts that touch her and impress her. I want to encourage her to keep on reading, keep on writing, keep on observing, keep on thinking, keep on feeling, keep on listening, keep on BEING!!!! Don’t be afraid of your own words and thoughts. Don’t compare yourself too much to others. Be yourself because you are worthwhile. You have a story to tell; tell it the best way you can right now. Remember, dear granddaughter, you are Right Here…. Right Now….. Glory be.

Grab a journal and carry it everywhere. Write…. Write…. Write…. Make this your ragged portfolio….. carry your soul in it.

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And in doing so, you will echo your great great grandfather, who wrote in a journal almost every day of his life, once he learned to write. Dear Granddaughter, writing can be a way to find God, to find His perfect will, as your writing becomes prayers of praise and petition. Write!!!

O Father! You have given us the gift of language. You have given us the ability to see and think and feel. Help us to use these gifts wisely, and most of all, to use these gifts for Your purpose and for Your glory. You are what it’s all about.
To God be the Glory

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Published in: on November 9, 2014 at 9:52 pm  Comments (2)  

Harvest: A Mystery of Sacrifice and Life

Just thinking…….

What do Willie Loman, Iowa corn and Jesus have in common? Read on….

October.  It’s harvest time here in southern Iowa.  Because of greater than average rainfall this summer, the harvest promises to be bountiful.    As I drive out of town, clouds of dust show where the farmers are working.

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Great machines roll through the fields and huge trucks carry away the grain.  This picture was taken of the harvest on the flat prairie fields in our area, where the corn meets the horizon miles away.

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(Photo by Brenda Burkhiser Jeffers)

The concept of harvest is ancient.  Early civilizations knew the importance of planting and harvesting in order to live.  For centuries, it was painstaking work by hand or with animals.  Even today, the crops are harvested this way by the Amish in our area.

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While modern machinery is huge, it was not long ago that harvesting machinery was relatively modest and not very technical.

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But whether large or small, or ancient or new, the harvest must go on.  It is essential in this circle of life.

My father was a farmer.  His farm was small and hilly.  He worked with small old machinery.  But in the end, he did what farmers have done in the past….. bring in the harvest….. and what farmers do today…… bring in the harvest.

After the spring planting, and as the summer months go by, the farmer eyes the skies, prays for the right amount of rain at the right time, hopes the markets stay steady, readies his machinery and tools, and prepares the trucks, bins and barns.  He chops the weeds that choke out the good grain.  He holds his breath as storm clouds gather in the west.  And then at just the right time, the tractors, combines and corn pickers head out to the fields.

My father would harvest well into the night.  We would take sandwiches and mason jars of water out to the fields for him.   There was a narrow window of time between rains where he could safely harvest .  I remember times when it rained too much, turning the fields into mud pits.  And Dad had to wait until the ground froze to finish the harvest.

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Despite  growing up on a farm and knowing the drama of the farm, I did not become a farmer.  I became a teacher, instructing my students in literature, composition, speech, theater, and journalism.  It was a different kind of drama.   One of my favorite pieces to discuss with my students was Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.    Willie Loman was tragic, and as a farmer’s daughter, I could see some aspects of Willie’s actions that my city students could not see.

Corn.   How did it go from this  th-9

to this corn sprout

to this  cornplant

to this  th-8

to this  th-5.

None of it could happen if the kernel did not die.  The kernel had to be put into the dark soil, with the right amount of heat and moisture, and then the kernel died.   Out of that death, came the sprout that developed into the stalk of corn.

Willie Loman understood this cycle of life.  He had spent his life in failure: failure as a father, failure as a faithful husband, and failure as a salesman.  His past was painful, his present was fragile and he could not see a future.  In his horribly distorted reasoning, he decided to plant a garden.  It is dark, and he traces rows in the small yard which receives little sunlight.  He drops in the seeds, mumbling to himself about giving his sons another chance.  In a few minutes, Willie will leave home and have a deliberate car accident.  He dies, like the seed.  His damaged mind  had begun to equate the seed, dying in order to bring new life,  with his death, which he believed would bring new life to his no-good sons.willieloman

Willie had an idea of this circle of life, but he left out one very important part:  his life insurance.   He did not pay his premium.   And so his sacrifice of himself came to nothing.  There would be no life insurance to give his sons a new start in life.  There would be no harvest.

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Jesus said, “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!.”  (John 4:35)

I don’t know what grain Jesus might have been referring to in this verse.  th-6  Here in Iowa, whether it is corn, wheat, or beans, the plants get lighter and lighter as the harvest approaches.  The fields are no longer green.  But Jesus was not referring to plants; he was referring to a world filled with people who needed to know about Him.  Look!  There they are!  Go and harvest!

I’ve been going in a few different directions with this concept of harvest.

 Let me try to tie the strands together.  

1.  When the kernel of corn dies, there is a sacrifice of form.  The corn no longer is the intact kernel.  But the result of that sacrifice (the harvest) cannot occur without the preparation and wisdom of the farmer.  And even there, the farmer must make his own sacrifices of time and labor in order to bring in the crop.

2.  When Willie Loman died, there was a sacrifice of life.  His body and soul were no longer intact.  But the desired harvest of that sacrifice would not happen because Willie had not prepared with wisdom concerning his life insurance.

3.  When Christ died on the cross, there was a sacrifice of Himself for the sins of the world.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not die but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16).   The fields of humans are ready for His message of life.  But that complete harvest won’t happen without the preparation of believers to share Christ’s message.  And  yes, it calls for sacrifice on the part of believers:  sacrifice of money, time, and labor.

Harvest.  Life.  Sacrifice.  It’s all one.   The sacrifice of one seed to bring forth many seeds, which will continue to nurture life.  The sacrifice of One who was both God and man,  to bring forth many people into eternal life.

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O Father…..   Let me not be a Willie Loman, understanding some aspects of life, but not grasping the part that would give meaning to his sacrifice.  Let me not be a Willie Loman, operating in darkness and not in light.  Let me not be a Willie Loman, who lacked wisdom and preparation for the harvest he desired.  Father, equip me with Your wisdom.  Give me courage to go to the harvest, and not let Christ’s death be for nothing.  

To God Be The Glory…..

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The Least of These…… Who are They?

Just Thinking…… th-4 They walk among us.  They are here…. and now…..  They make us uneasy.  They are a problem.   Sometimes they are invisible.  Sometimes they are seen too much.  Sometimes they make no sounds. Sometimes they are horribly noisy.  They don’t fit in.  They make messes.  They are awkward.  We want them to go away.  They are…….. The Least of These.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  (Matthew 25:40)

And that got me thinking about church: a place where my brothers and sisters in Christ come together.  Who is the least of these in church?

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Although being Christian, being a born again believer in Jesus is the glue that binds us into the concept of “church,” we are made up of many different minorities.  For example, we have both men and women.  We have the elderly, the boomers, the young parents, the teens, the kids, the babies.  We have white, black, hispanic, middle eastern, and oriental.  We have the bright and the  unintellectual.  We have those who are wealthy, those who are of average wealth, and the poor.  We have those with healthy emotional and mental states, and those who do not have these.  We have the educated and the uneducated.   We have the computer literate and those who don’t own a computer.  We have those who can sing on key, and those who make a joyful noise.  We have some who can cook, and some who can’t. Some are in wheelchairs or use walkers or canes or crutches, and many who walk with no problem.  We have those who can see well, and those with a sight handicap.  Same with hearing.  We have rural folks and town folks.  We have the shy and the life of the party. This list could go on for many more pages, but you probably get the picture. Everyone fits into one minority or another.  (And  you probably understand by this point that I am not talking about one particular congregation; this describes churches everywhere.  You may see yourself in this list.)

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So with all this in mind, here’s the question:

Which of these shall we leave out of church?  

  • Shall we lower the lights for dramatic effect….. and leave out those with poor vision?
  • Shall we have steps into the church…. and leave out those who can’t climb steps?
  • Shall we send out all announcements and prayer requests via email….. and leave out those who don’t have computers?
  • Shall we sing only higher pitched classical music….. and leave out those who can’t stretch to the higher notes?
  • Shall we sing only the latest  tunes….. and leave out those who yearn for hymns?
  • Shall we only have church in one building….. and leave out the homebound and the ones in nursing homes?
  • Shall we only have church at one time….. and leave out those who must work at their job during that time?
  • Shall we read all Scripture from the King James…. and leave out those who struggle with this older language?
  • Shall we read all Scripture from a contemporary version…. and leave out those who love the beauty and cadence of the older version?
  • Shall we back up prayers with a musical backdrop….. and leave out those with a hearing handicap?
  • Shall we place only the  young mothers in the nursery…..  or only the older women……and leave them out of worship?
  • Shall we not even have a nursery…… and discourage all the young parents and leave the babies out of their first church experiences?
  • Shall we put those who speak a different language…. or no language…. or a peculiar language of their own in the back out of sight….. or sit with them and leave our comfort zones?
  • th-3

I don’t know the answers to these questions.  I’d like to give a formula for perfection, but I can’t.  All I know is that I need to actively search for the answers.  I do wonder about preconceived notions.  I ponder a seeming selfishness in wanting things to be “my way” without regard to the needs of others.  I worry about those who seem to be invisible and silent, so no one sees them or pays attention to their needs.  I worry about the church being blind and deaf. In an ideal, perfect world, what would the church look like?  How would it function?  Would the least of these be cared for?  Would somehow each one fit into the church?  Is there a place for every believer?

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  (Matt. 25:41-45)

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The least of these are among us.  They may not be the hungry or thirsty or naked or sick or in prison, but they are the overlooked and ignored in our churches.  What shall we do to include them and nurture them?

Father….. Forgive me for the times that I did not pay attention to the least of these.  Open my eyes to how I need to help others be fully within the church body.  Give me direction and boldness and courage and wisdom to do Your will. Forgive us for overlooking the needs of others….. the least of these.

To God Be The Glory…..

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I’ve Grown Accustomed to My Face….

Just thinking…..

Photo on 5-2-12 at 2.38 PM

I hate mirrors.

They tell the truth.

And the truth is that I am not a pretty person. I am not beautiful, or cute, or gorgeous, or any of those other words that describe a winsome female. I came to grips with this when I was a little girl. The mirror showed me a skinny, short kid with crooked teeth, and a pointy chin, and tow head hair that stuck out in a hundred directions. I had knobby knees and stubby fingers. People never came up to me and chucked me under the chin and exclaimed that I was soooooo cute. Men never swooned as I passed by. Boys didn’t whistle. Clothes on the model or mannequin never hung the same way on my body. That never happened.

My husband has spent his married lifetime trying to convince me that I am beautiful. And most of my married lifetime, I thought he was blind.

Here is what I look like now at 64:

Photo on 1-12-12 at 2.36 PM

And here is what I think I look like:
1. The bug-eyed alien

Photo on 10-23-13 at 8.14 PM #2

2. The laughing fat girl

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3. The dumpy hausfrau

Photo on 10-23-13 at 8.15 PM

Isn’t it strange how my eyes and my mind don’t match?

I spent my first 18 years trying to gain weight, and the rest of my years trying to lose.

I was born with black hair and between then and now, I have had every hair color imaginable (well….. not the pink and blue tones….). I finally just let it grow, and amazingly, I have a silvery platinum now as a natural color.

I couldn’t wait to wear make up. I lined my eyes and painted my cheeks, then went thru the “au natural” phase, then hit the professional look, and now I just wash my face and put on some moisturizer with sun screen.

I’ve been the couch potato and the gym fanatic, but I’ve never really looked toned. No one would mistake me for an athlete.

I hated my nose (I used to call it my “ski slope”) and hated my teeth, so I didn’t smile. Braces took care of the teeth, but the nose is still long….. And did I say that I hated my fat apple-cheeks?

My eyes are small. I remember my grandma talking about her own eyes being small and how wearing glasses helped to disguise that. I still don’t wear glasses, so no help there.

People used to say that I looked like my mother. I didn’t want to look like my mother. But now I must admit that my mom and I share many features. And my mother is a handsome older woman. Here we are in a sketch:

Photo on 10-15-13 at 8.26 PM

I decided long ago that I could never depend on my looks to get ahead in life, so I had best develop my mind. I had best develop my character. Every morning I had re-develop my confidence. And every day I searched the mirror and came away shaking my head.

Recently, I listened to an amazing woman talk to a group of little girls. She told them that they were all beautiful. She told them that God created them in His own image, and that He had made each one of them to be unique and beautiful in so many ways. At first, my mind snapped back to my old way of thinking: “Beautiful? Forget it. Never have been, never will be.”

However the more I listened to her, the more I was convinced that my appearance was not repulsive to God. And I began to understand that my husband was not reviled by my appearance. I could accept others as being beautiful, so why could I never accept myself in the same way?

Honestly, I don’t know all the answers to that question. I know that I was raised to not think too highly of myself. I know that I always felt that I came up short when compared to others. And it’s good to not have prideful notions or to think that I have to flaunt my face and body to get any attention.

But somewhere along the line, I failed to realize that God created me to be a beautiful person. I got sucked into the lie that I had to look a certain way, weigh a certain weight, move in certain patterns, and wear certain clothes in certain fashions in order to be counted worthy. It’s the same lie that continues to plague girls and women. We just have never learned the value of ourselves in God’s eyes. And we have been taught in so many ways that beauty is a certain formula and set of statistics, and that if we don’t conform, then we have to live with ugly. Or least…. plain. They taught it; we bought it.

So, for better or for worse, here I am. I have slowly learned to appreciate my husband’s praises and compliments. I have slowly learned the truth that God makes no junk. And I am so grateful for that wonderful woman who talked to those little girls…. and to me.

And here I am…. just as I am:

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(photo by Pat Lane)

I still don’t like to look into the mirror. I still have to fight the lie that I have no worth or value because I don’t look a certain way. Remember that song from My Fair Lady: “I’ve grown accustomed to her face….” Well, I’ve grown accustomed to my face, but more than that, I’ve grown to accept myself. That’s not to say that I will quit exercising, or quit having my hair cut, or quit trying to keep my weight under control. I just have to keep it all in balance.

Father, “Just as I am, without one plea….” That song didn’t use to be me because You know that I didn’t like who I was, and my plea was always to wake up beautiful. Help me to continue to realize that You had perfect plans when You created me, and help me to live as Your beautiful daughter. Thank You for the gift of life, and forgive me for not accepting it as You intended.

To God be the Glory….
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Published in: on October 24, 2013 at 3:34 am  Comments (1)  
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