BROKEN HEARTS

Does the hurt ever go away?” my friend asked, as the tears flowed.  Her husband of sixty plus years was recently deceased.

I couldn’t help but think that tomorrow, February 9, would have been my fifth wedding anniversary.  After being alone all of my adult life, at the age of seventy-seven, I married for the first time.  Sweet Cecil, a long time friend, who had been widowed, came on like a stormtrooper declaring he loved me, and there was no changing his mind.

The thought of giving up my prized independence terrified me.  I came and went as I chose.  My schedule was mine to arrange.  If I wanted to study in the middle of the night, there was no one to object.  I was accountable first to God and then to my church leaders.  That was it!  At this late juncture, I wasn’t looking for a man.  I had done quite well on my own.

My emotions ran rampant.  I was excited, fearful, hopeful, and pessimistic.  I was determined I couldn’t do this.  Yet, like the proverbial moth, I was drawn hypnotically toward the flame.  How could I, after all these years, make room for another person in my life?  How could I share my space, my stuff, my bed, be accountable to someone else twenty-four hours a day?

I was scared, but not stupid.  Being loved, being touched, being important to someone else was kind of fun.  I found myself succumbing to this cute, white-haired, charming man, who thought me “precious.”  I still laugh at that.

One morning I awakened early.  Lying there thinking of Cecil and the possibility of marriage, I thought, “Why do I cling so to my independence?  Being alone hasn’t done that much for me.”  In that moment I made up my mind.

On February 9, 2013, Cecil and I stood at the altar in his home church, where we had met.  Before God and 150 “forever” friends and family, we repeated our vows pledging ourselves to each other “For Better, for Worse.” We had many “For Better” plans:  serving missions overseas, cruising Europe’s rivers, and visiting the Great Wall of China.  On that cold, cloudless, sunshiny day, it was beyond us to think of anything but the “Better.”

Never once did I consider the hurt that might lie ahead.  But, the fact is, Cecil will not be here tomorrow to celebrate our anniversary.  Five months and eleven days after our fairytale wedding, he died of an inoperable aortic hematoma.

It made no sense.  Why did God allow this to happen?  What did I do wrong?  Why was I worthy of only five months with Cecil?  I wanted to remind God, “I was doing all right.  I wasn’t looking for a man.  Why did you interfere in my life?”

The hurt was beyond belief.  I’ve always been the strong one, but I was tired of being strong.  I wanted to fall in the floor and kick my heels and throw a fit.  I howled with grief.  Oh, how I wanted someone to take care of me for a change.  That was supposed to be Cecil’s job.

I prayed, but my prayers consisted mostly of the same tearful plea, “God, I need you.  Please help me.

I have discovered there is a “For Better or for Worse” in almost everything we attempt in this life.  We hope for and expect a good outcome, but life dictates that the outcome is sometimes really bad.  That’s when we experience the hurt.  O, it may not be the devastating hurt experienced at the loss of a loved one, but at one time or another, we all suffer hurt and disappointment.

So we return to my friend’s question.  “Does the hurt ever go away?”

My faith in a God who cares had kept me for more than seventy-seven years.  That’s why I was strong, and though I couldn’t see any purpose in Cecil’s death and the questions were unending, my faith remained intact.  I chose to trust God.

As I trusted Him, God wrapped the sharp corners of grief in His tender love, and bit by bit, the sun began to shine again.  I could get out of bed in the morning without falling apart, and I found new purpose for my life.

I can only attribute this miraculous healing to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, as I trusted God to help me find my way again.

In Isaiah 61:1-3, Jesus says of Himself, “He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted…to comfort all who mourn…to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning…”

There will always be a lonely place in my heart where Cecil fit perfectly.  I will wonder what life would have been had he lived.  But this I know.  God is faithful.  He is the healer of broken hearts.

REMEMBER THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

 

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF THINGS

It is all well and good to say that things are not important—that things really don’t matter.  There is a minimalist movement afoot where people are simplifying life by getting rid of all extraneous stuff and moving into tiny 200 sq. ft. homes on wheels.  I don’t know how serious these people are or whether this is just a short-term fad or phase.  Perhaps they feel superior or even spiritual giving up the trappings of ordinary life.  Fact is, I have been a minimalist all my life.  Actually, I was just poor, but minimalist sounds better.

It is my guess that even these people, who are leaving everything behind, have tucked away some very special things they cannot part with—things that are important, even precious to them.

Yesterday I got rid of a lot of stuff.  Almost a year ago now my sister moved into an Adult Care Facility.  Before leaving her much loved home of more than forty-five years, she showed me the things she wanted to take with her.  There was, of course, her bed, the lovely dresser and nightstand, a Tiffany lamp, the rose painted wall clock, the television, some paintings and a few decorative objects to adorn her room.

She stood before the sofa looking at the beautiful, beveled mirror on the wall.  “I wish I could take that,” she said wistfully.

I followed her into the kitchen.  She had removed her Christmas dishes and china from the hutch.  They were stacked on the counters, the table and even in the floor.  In bewilderment, she stretched out her arms and said, “I have these.”

The responsibility for clearing out, cleaning up, throwing away, selling and boxing up my sister’s entire life fell to me.  I was able to dispense with most of her furniture, but her kitchen stuff, linens, and smaller decorative items, I carefully wrapped and packed in cartons. Somehow I had no stamina or heart for a sale, so my sister’s stuff has been stacked in my garage.

Yesterday some friends carried away most of the cartons for the church rummage sale that raises money for missions.

In the end, I couldn’t give them everything.  I kept the Christmas dishes and China, the quilt Mama made, and the box labeled “pretty fragile things.”  June will never use them again, and I don’t need them.  But—just in case she asks again, “Where is my stuff?” I will be able to say, “I am keeping it safe for you at my house.”

One of my most precious possessions is a small transparent glass dog.  I have had it for more than seventy-five years.  Daddy brought it to me when he returned from a preaching trip.  It was filled with tiny, multicolored candies.  I flew to the door when I saw him coming up the walk.  I looked up at him through the screen, and he said, “O, I needed to see you.”

I have discovered something about precious things.  It is not necessarily the thing that is so precious.  Rather, it is the memory elicited by that thing that holds firm your heart and enriches relationship.

I have a box of my Mama’s precious things—the head of her china doll, grandpa’s mustache mug, and small shoe last, and a hand tatted baby dress.  I can imagine Mama, as a child, playing with that fragile china doll, grandpa drinking his coffee from the mustache mug, and forming a small pair of shoes in his cobbler’s shop, and my eighteen-year-old pregnant Mother tatting a baby dress in anticipation of the child she carried.

While I am defending the importance of certain things, there is a still small voice within that cautions me to hold loosely the things I possess.  Many assume that achieving the American dream is defined in the possession of things.  They are so ardent in their pursuit that they become possessed by their possessions.

Possessions and the acquisition of them must never become more important than my relationship with God and man.  Possessions must never replace my passion for God and His work.  Possessions must never obscure my view of heaven.

In 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, the Apostle Paul tells us, “…the time is short…” and “…those who buy should be as though they do not possess…for the fashion of this world (the way of this world) is passing away.”

Matthew 6:19-21 says “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Earthly treasures are temporary.  They are passing away while your genuine love for God and your selfless service to Him flow into your account in heaven.  You are laying up treasures far more valuable than anything you now possess.

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

 

GETTING LOST

I’m back!  I’m back!  For the past two weeks I have been lost in a miasma of forms and figures.  As my sister’s conservator, I am required, each year, to submit a documented report of all financial activity down to the penny.  I am convinced that all government forms are purposefully incomprehensible and confusing.

I sit for hours looking at the same column of figures trying to decide where they fit on this form, and wondering if anyone will ever really look at it.  Or is it just one of those “by the book” things that must be done.  I AM LOST!

Talking about being lost—I remember my first days in Brussels, Belgium all those years ago.  I had always lived in smaller towns.  Now I was in a city of two million people.  There was no rhyme or reason to the layout of the city, and the traffic was nuts.  I was almost afraid to drive, but I had an apartment mate, another single woman missionary.  Ginny had been there for a number of years, so surely she knew her way around.  Didn’t she?

On Saturday, we decided to do some shopping in the city center.  The “Bon Marche” and “Innovation” were two large department stores I was longing to explore.  Arriving at city center, we drove up and down and around the narrow cobblestone streets until we found a parking place.  After hours of looking and oohing and aahing and buying, arms loaded with our purchases, we headed back to the car.  I had no idea where it was, so I just followed Ginny.  After forty-five minutes of wandering up one street and down another, I finally voiced my doubt.

“You have no idea where the car is,” I exclaimed.

Leaning against a brick wall, my friend replied, “Now don’t get upset.  Pretty soon I’ll see something familiar.”

WE WERE LOST!

When friends from the States came to visit, we took them to see the “Cheese Market in Alkmar, in the Netherlands.  Alkmar is sometimes called “The Venice of the North.”  Canals crisscross the city running down the middle of the streets.  We found a parking place by one of those canals.  Before leaving the car, I suggested we write down the name of the street on which we were parked.  I had learned my lesson.

Ginny whipped out a pad and wrote, and we headed toward the Cheese Market.  After several enjoyable hours, it was time to start back to Brussels.

“Where are we parked,” I asked my friend.

I stared at the paper she handed me.  On it, Ginny had written “Voetpad,” translated “Footpath.”  Every street had a footpath.

WE WERE LOST!

At another time, a friend suggested, “Let’s just go around this block and then head north.  That will be faster.”

“No,” I objected.

Sometimes you could wind up twenty miles from home by going around a block in Brussels.  I preferred the familiar way.

It is hard to get lost these days.  We have so many helps:  maps, charts, compasses, global positioning systems and smart phones.  I read somewhere that “We have an entire generation of men who will never know what it is to refuse to ask for directions.”

However, even Siri and Google are sometimes wrong.

Getting lost, being lost or totally lost are popular expressions for someone in a desperate situation.  Insecurity is once again one of the defining features of our age. We are raising a generation, many of whom have no purpose, no direction and no hope for the future.  One does not have to be lost spatially, as I often was in Brussels, to be lost in life.

I am grateful that many years ago, with God’s help, I charted a course designed to reach a particular destination.  I WAS LOST until, at God’s bidding, I stepped onto the “footpath of life.” This course encompasses every area of my life. That is the beauty of it!

Each morning I read the guide book for the path I follow.  I talk to my guide, and He talks to me.  As long as I follow His directions, I stay on course headed for that wondrous destination.   Are there ever any problems, disappointments, or difficulties?  Of course!   We still live in an imperfect world.

Truth is.  I don’t like being lost.  I hate the uncertainty and the wasted time.

In Jeremiah 6:16, The Lord admonishes us.  “Stand in the old ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls…”

In Psalm 16:11, David declares his faith in the God he follows.  “You will show me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

We must learn to pray with the Psalmist David, in Psalms 25:4. “Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths.”

There need be no fear of ever being lost while following Him.

 

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

THE REAL MIRACLE OF CHRISTMAS

Unlike most of you, I have never carried a child in my womb, nor have I, except for a college biology film, ever witnessed the birth of a child.  I have no firsthand knowledge of this wondrous miracle, but I am fascinated by the facts.

At inception, the female egg is about the size of a grain of sand.  I believe that fertilization of the egg is the beginning of human life, and in that tiny, almost microscopic, mass lives the potential for greatness, for achievement, genius, tenderness, success, leadership, kindness, brilliance and the whole gamut of emotions.  Think of tiny fingers that will one day play Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto #3, feet that will run The Boston Marathon, a mind that will conquer cancer, a voice that will sway the multitude, and arms that will hold a loved one.

Friends speak of a difficult pregnancy and a hard prolonged labor, but they never say, “I wish I hadn’t done it.”  For when that child finally makes his debut appearance, howling in protest at his forced departure from a comfy, warm, safe abode, he may be red and wrinkled and uglier than lye soap, but that’s not what his mother sees.  He may not be a Gerber Baby, but his mother sees nothing but a miracle of life, a miracle of beauty when she first holds him close to her heart.

At this season, we are thinking, as we should be, about the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We are not sure when He was born.  Bible scholars, judging from historical events of the time, place His birth between 1 BC and 6 BC.  However, we are sure that He was not born on December 25, for shepherds would not have had their sheep in the fields in wintertime.  It is believed that He was born in September or October, meaning that He could have been conceived in December.

It is not important to pinpoint His exact date of birth.  The importance is in knowing that He came.  That is the miracle of Christmas.

We have a convoluted notion concerning the birth of Jesus.  Our beautiful Christmas cards portray Mary and Joseph in a neat open-air stable, a sweet, docile, haloed baby in a pristine manger filled with fresh, sweet hay, with well-groomed, well-behaved cattle in observance.

In reality, Jesus birth parallels the birth of that newborn in a hospital delivery room. There was blood and gore and pain and hard labor and sweat and tears.  This all took place in a non-sterile, dark cave, where the lowing, sweating cattle were stabled, and the acrid aroma of cow manure filled the air.  There was nothing romantic about His birth.

We have a hard time dealing with the humanity of Christ.  But the truth is, at His Father’s bidding, He left the glories of heaven becoming an embryo in the womb of a teenage, Galilean girl.  The Son of God submitted Himself to total oblivion for nine long months.  He relinquished His supernatural power and willingly allowed Himself to be hemmed in by time and space.

He was born a man-child, and as a man-child, he behaved as any newborn behaves.  He screamed when he was hungry.  He cried when He was wet.  Oh yes!  He did wet and mess His diapers.  Joseph, with babe in arms, walked the manure strewn floor, hoping disparately to calm the crying child, so everyone could get a little sleep.  At His birth, only Mary and Joseph knew He was God’s Son.  To all others, He was just another baby born into a poor family.  Only at the heralding of the angels did others become aware that this babe was special.

It is hard to understand that Jesus became as we are—human flesh and blood, but He did.  He did it for us.

Philippians 2:7-8 tells us, “…He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!  Having become human, He stayed human.  It was an incredibly humbling process.  He didn’t claim special privileges.  Instead, He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”      

II Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

The song says:

From a loving heavenly Father,

To a world that knew Him not

Came the man of sorrows, Christ the Lord.

In my wanderings He found me,

Bought my soul with His own blood,

Gave to me a peace the world could not afford.

 

Redeeming love, a love that knows no limit.

Redeeming love, a love that shall not die.

My soul shall sing throughout the endless ages,

With choirs extolling His great love on high.

This is the real miracle of Christmas!  His birth, His life lived on this earth as a man, His ministry, His crucifixion, and resurrection all result in His limitless, redeeming love for you and me.

You can experience His redeeming love. You can know the real miracle of Christmas.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

Christmas Past

CHRISTMAS PAST – RECYCLED

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL WHO READ THIS BLOG.  This has been a week of twenty-six hour days.  I have a wonderful idea for a new blog, but no time to develop it, so I will recycle a blog from Christmas gone by.  I do hope you will enjoy again the reminiscence from my childhood more than three-quarters of a century ago.

Please know that I pray for you the wonder of Christmas in Jesus Christ.  May His promised peace be a reality in your life.

CHRISTMAS PAST

I ADORE CHRISTMAS—EVERYTHING ABOUT IT!

I am awed by the blinding light of hope that descended upon this darkened world with the advent of Christ—the light that still shines in every dark corner. I love baby Jesus, the shepherds, the angels, the gold, frankincense and myrrh.  I’m reminded that all the beauty and brightness of Christmas finds its source in this glorious light.

Honestly, I am annoyed by people who complain about Christmas, and long for it to be over and done with.  Yes, it is tiring and sometimes stressful, but it’s a sort of happy tiredness.  There is a sense of satisfaction at what you accomplished today.  You just might be able to get it all done after all.

Today, I am thinking back seventy-five or eighty years to my first remembrances of
Christmas.  We lived poor, but my Mama always made Christmas special.  There was no money for fancy, expensive gifts, and we didn’t need them.  It is amazing what a child can and will love.

When I was almost four, Santa brought me a little wooden doll’s bed.  I can still see it.  I must have had a dolly too, but I was thrilled with my little brown bed carrying it from room to room.  I don’t remember other gifts that year.  The bed was enough.  And, that was the momentous year, when my ten-year-old brother decided to set me straight about Santa Claus.

“There is no Santa!” he declared.

I didn’t believe him.  I still don’t believe him.  The little girl in me loves Santa.  For me, he takes nothing from the real significance of Christmas.  I have no trouble with beautiful things that have become tradition.

Mama always bought Christmas goodies—apples, oranges, hard candy and orange slices, nuts still in the shell, and old-fashioned chocolate drops.  They were the best.  They looked like little delectable mountains—strawberry, vanilla, and maple centers enrobed in dark chocolate.  Yummmm!!!

I don’t ever recall having a Christmas stocking.  My mother always divided the treats equally between family members putting them into little brown paper bags, one for each of us.  Those goodies were mine.  I could eat them all making myself sick ruining my dinner, or I could squirrel them away and make them last until New Years.

In my hometown, there was always a treasure hunt on Christmas Eve.  All the merchants on Main St. offered a giveaway.  If you held the right number, the gift was yours.  So, in the cold, early evening of December 24, Mama, June and I walked the few blocks to town looking in every shop hoping against hope that we held the magic number.  I don’t think we ever won anything, but just being there with the bright lights, beautiful window displays, and the bustle and clamor of other hopefuls was intoxicating.

More than one Christmas Eve I came home with an earache.  My little ears were sensitive to the cold December air.  Mama would awake to my cry in the middle of the night bringing a little cloth bag of salt, which she had heated on the back of the stove.  With a kiss, she placed the warm bag on my ear.  The heat and weight of it relieved the pain.  Or was it the kiss that worked the magic?

Christmas dinner was phenomenal.  Two fat hens roasted in the oven stuffed with Mama’s luscious cornbread dressing laced with an abundance of sage.  All week the house smelled of sugar cookies and mincemeat pie baking in the oven.

Mama made a delicious raisin, spice cake, but she always said, “It just doesn’t seem like Christmas until my coconut cake is finished.”

Mama’s three layer coconut cake frosted with airy White Mountain frosting and oodles of coconut was the epitome of Christmas in our house.  A slice of that cake and a helping of strawberry Jello filled with apples, bananas and pecans was the best bite of the day.

After I was an adult, I decided to improve on Mama’s coconut wonder.  I used lemon instead of yellow cake, and I spread lemon filling between the layers.  It was good, but it wasn’t the same, and Mama didn’t mind saying so.

The gifts were opened, the wrappings disposed of.  Of course, Mama always saved ribbons and the larger pieces of paper—wrinkles and all.

I can still hear her say, “Careful, careful.  Don’t tear it.”

She could press out the wrinkles and use the paper again next year.  That’s how you save money.

Our kitchen and dining area were combined in one fairly large room.  Today the open concept is greatly desired.  For us it was a simple necessity.

In those early years, we were all at home.  Nine of us sat around the table, bowed our heads and thanked God for His blessing, and devoured the wonderful meal Mama made.

We all knew well the import of Christmas.  We knew about God’s wondrous gift to this world.  Most of us had accepted that gift as our very own.

Not a one of us owned a checkbook or a bank account, but we were, oh, so rich because of God’s generosity.  Jesus made the difference!

For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given…And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6.

JESUS WANTS TO BE YOUR VERY BEST GIFT THIS CHRISTMAS.

 

THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW

 

 

THE TREES OF CHRISTMAS

I’m sitting here with a broad, silly grin on my face, because I have just finished decorating my Christmas tree.  I don’t know why that makes me so happy.  It just does!

I must admit that it becomes a little more difficult each year, and I was not quite sure I would be able to do it this time.  Because of my daily dosage of blood thinner, my doctor has warned me away from ladders, but you can’t trim a tree without a bit of climbing.  So I fudged a little, because my German angel couldn’t get to the top by himself.

The tree is gorgeous!  It is a bright, shining conglomeration of colors and shapes.  Alas!  It has no theme.  I have never cottoned to themed Christmas trees nor those decorated in only one color.  I just want to use all the stuff that I have collected over the years.  I am still using some of my Mom’s decorations.  They are old and faded and tarnished, but they are filled with sweet, sweet memories.  I say it again, “This tree makes me happy!”

In 1975, I was a brand new missionary in the country of Belgium.  Everything was good and exciting when I arrived in August, but as Christmas drew nearer and nearer, I just wanted to lie down and die.  I had never, in my thirty-nine years, been away from my family at Christmastime.  However, instead of giving in to despair, I determined to make Christmas as much like home as possible.  To that end, my roommate and I bought a large tree and put it in front of the French doors in our third-floor apartment.  Its beauty brought a bit of cheer to my aching heart.

We were cleaning house on December 23, when Ginny decided to vacuum behind the tree.  (You’d have to meet Ginny.)  All of a sudden, I heard a loud crash and a moan of despair.  My friend had knocked the tree over with the vacuum.  There on the floor lay the denuded tree among dried pine needles and broken ornaments.  There was no way to salvage it so, after I recovered from my urge to kill, we dragged it into the elevator and dumped it in the basement.  Through a series of unlikely, frustrating, even amusing events (another story to be told) we were able to replace the tree, and Christmas came and went without further calamity.

No one is quite sure how or when the Christmas tree originated, but we do know that, even in the middle ages, various cultures brought greenery into their homes in the winter time.  It symbolized life in those cold, dark days.

It is said that Queen Victoria’s beloved Albert introduced the tree into the English culture.

The story, yet unproven, that I love best and want to believe, is that of Martin Luther.

On a Christmas Eve, in the 1500’s, Martin Luther made his way home from vespers.  Walking through the snow-covered woods, he was struck by the beauty of the snow glistened trees.  Their branches, dusted with the soft white powder, shimmered in the moonlight and the twinkling stars overhead seemed to decorate the tips of the evergreens.

At home, he set up a small fir tree and decorated it with tiny candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth.  He told his children it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas.

I love the beauty of Christmas—the brilliant lights, the vivid colors, the tantalizing aroma of baked goods, the seraphic faces and shining eyes of expectant children, and the pile of gifts under the tree. But this beauty all wrapped up together is only a faint reflection of the beauty of Christ, who is Christmas.

I am continually blessed at this season when I realize that men and women, who deny Christ’s existence, who have totally rejected Him, who hate everything He stands for, continue to celebrate His birth.  O, they deny it, but by simply giving place to Christmas, they are confirming that HE IS!

So—for me—the Christmas tree is a symbol of life and light and hope that Jesus brought to this sad world at His advent.

Now, it occurs to me that another tree really plays the leading role in the story of Christmas, for the gift of Christ’s birth is incomplete without the magnificence of His sacrifice at Calvary.

1 Peter 2:24 says, “…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree (the cross), that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness…”  

 So, trim your trees, sing “O, Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” but while you celebrate Jesus” birth, celebrate, also, His death.  Let Him make Christmas complete in your life.

Remember the sun will come out tomorrow!

           

BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD

I was going to jail.  I had never been in close proximity even to a city jail.  Now I was on my way to the State Penitentiary in Soledad, California.

The Penitentiary Chaplain, who was a friend of mine, had invited me to come preach to his inmates.  I said, “YES,” because I don’t know how to say, “NO.”

Soledad was a large prison with three cell blocks and hundreds, perhaps thousands of inmates.

Now driving down US Route 101 early on Sunday morning, my mind was full of questions.   Oh, my sermon was prepared.  My heart was ready, but my mind was in turmoil.  Why in the world did I do this?  How will I behave toward these men?  Will I smile at them?  Will I look them in the eye?  Will I pretend we are not locked up?  Will I be nervous or afraid?  Of course I had prayed and was still praying.

If I really thought about it, I knew I would be preaching to murderers, rapists, thieves, and every other kind of law breaker imaginable.  One lone woman!

I stopped at the Kiosk just outside the first chain link fence, proffered my ID, and walked through the gate that opened for me.  I was greeted by the chaplain at the second gate.  As though reading my mind, he smiled at me and said, “Just be yourself, they’ll love you.”

We entered a small chapel where prisoners were getting ready for service.  They came in their blue prison garb laughing and joking with each other.  They were friendly, shaking my hand and welcoming me.

These men were “short timers.”  They would soon be on their way home.

The chaplain sat at the piano, and worship began.  I discovered immediately that these men, who were locked behind bars most of the day, were free in spirit, for they sang exuberantly raising their hands and shouting the praises of God.  They were not required to come to service.  They came, because God had changed their lives, and set them free.

I found myself preaching to them honestly, as I would to any congregation, and, as the chaplain had advised, I was just myself.  I didn’t know how to be anyone else.

The second service was in the main cell block, in a real sanctuary built for that purpose.  When we arrived the three hundred or more seats were filled and men stood around the walls.  The orchestra was tuning up and the choir was taking its place.  An inmate stood at the pulpit ready to officiate.  I was amazed.  This church was fully organized with a board and ushers and musicians, all of them inmates.

When I stood to preach, I said, “I know why I am here.  Do you know why you are here?” I don’t know where that came from.  It wasn’t something I had prepared, but it set the tone for the morning.  The men laughed heartily and everyone relaxed.  I talked about “Walking with God” using the story of Enoch found in Genesis 5 and Hebrews 11.

At the close of the message, I asked those, who needed God’s help, to come forward for prayer.  They came eagerly filling the front of the sanctuary.  Without hesitation, I walked down the steps and moved through the crowd to encourage and pray with them.  What a blessed time!

At lunch, Chaplain asked me, “Well, what do you think?”

“I would rather preach to those men any day of the week than to a bunch of bored church members,” I answered.

“You know,” he said, “One-third of those men are lifers.  They will never leave this place.”

Then he told me the story of the man who led the service that morning.  “John” had been a pastor.   He knew the joy of serving God.  Then he fell into an adulterous relationship.  When his wife found him out, he killed her.  Now he is a lifer with no hope of freedom.  Thank God, he has found his way home.

He had EVERYTHING going for him, and he gave it all up for a moment of selfish pleasure.

I wept when I heard that story. In fact, I squalled all the way home, 186 miles.  Actually, I cried the whole week.  I didn’t cry because these men were being punished for their lawlessness.   I cried because John had given up EVERYTHING for NOTHING.  I cried because I realized, “but for the grace of God,” I could be in the same situation.  “That could be me!  That could be you!”  Don’t fool yourself.  None of us is immune.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Again, in James 4:6, “…God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.”

The undeserved grace of God is a gift like no other.  No pleasure, great or small, is worth the forfeiture of God’s grace.

“…‘tis grace that brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.”

AMAZING GRACE!

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

           

WHEN LIFE IS NOT FAIR

“Life isn’t fair,” my friend exclaimed, as we walked toward the sanctuary.  She had been telling me about her sister, who was trying to decide whether or not she would undergo Chemo-therapy.

“No,” I thought.  “Life certainly is not fair!”

I sat in the morning service trying to worship and keep my mind on the sermon, but this thought troubled me.

I remembered my childhood, when we wailed at each other, because “You got a bigger piece than I did,” or “I’m going to tell Mama you won’t let me…  That’s not fair!”

As adults our sense of fairness is offended when we see the way powerful people get away with things, and why should some people be born into money and others be born into poverty?  The simple answer is, “The world has never been fair.”

However, by regulating, adjudicating or legislating, we have tried to do away with unfairness.  We give money to people, many of whom don’t even want to work.  Schools have done away with “Winners” and “Losers.”  Everybody gets a ribbon whether or not he ranked first or fifty-seventh.  But mandates don’t create fairness.

Many years ago, when I was a public school teacher, a father sat across the desk from me.  It was parent-teacher conference week.  His daughter was one of my fourth-grade students.

She was a pretty little thing, well behaved for the most part, and she did try.  But she was, on the best of days, a “C” student.

Her father, a psychologist in his own right, imagining that he had the upper hand in this conference, didn’t like what he saw on his daughter’s report card and was determined to change it.

“Look,” he demanded.  “You can change some of these grades.  Just put some more “A’s” on this card.  After-all, she’s a pretty girl.  She will grow up and marry well.  What difference will it make then?” He wanted to level the pathway for his daughter.  He wanted life to be fair.

Reality is that life isn’t based in fairness.  Some things happen that we don’t bring on ourselves.

After waiting seventy-six years, sweet Cecil came along, and we were married.  Five months and eleven days later, God chose to take him home.  That doesn’t make any sense.  All of my friends have enjoyed fifty years or more of marriage.  That’s certainly not fair.

I have envied my brother and his family.  They were always together for holidays.  On Christmas, when I called, I could hear the happy ruckus in the background, and I longed to be with them.

Now my brother, who is the best man in this world, is virtually alone.  His wife is gone.  His oldest daughter died last fall, and his younger daughter has moved away.  That’s not fair.  He deserves better.  I am sad for him.

And the list goes on!

I know that you can add your own story to my catalog of unfairness.

Ninety-nine percent of people think they are treated unfairly at one time or another, and the other one percent think they are not treated fairly enough.  We can spend our time complaining and never extricate ourselves from this quagmire of self-pity, or we can realize that whether we were born with a silver spoon, plastic spoon or no spoon at all, it’s not the circumstances, but what we make of them.  We always have choices about how we respond.  The greatest adversity life can throw at you affords another opportunity to look to Jesus for His “more excellent way.”

And—by the way, you are permitted to question God.  Jesus did.  He cried, “Why have you forsaken me?”  God understands you.  He knows your struggle.  He knows your need.  You can complain to Him.  He will not hold it against you, but while you are complaining, do a little listening.

This world often judges us unfairly, because we are judged by what we can do and the number of people we impress.  I am grateful this world is not my ultimate judge.

One day, after I have navigated the rocky shoals of this life, I will stand before my maker, God Himself, the one who said, “WHOSOEVER WILL MAY COME,” the one who said He would make no difference between “JEW or non-JEW, SLAVE and FREE, MALE and FEMALE.  He will be my judge, and His judgment will be absolutely fair.  He won’t care about how much money I have accumulated or how many people I have impressed.  I will be judged by three things only.

  1. Has the blood of Jesus Christ been applied to my life—is my name written in His book?
  2. Have I been faithful to Him?
  3. Have I obeyed His Word?

On that day, I expect to hear the words from Matthew 25:23.  “…Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Lord.”

In spite of this world’s unfairness, just be faithful to God.  Through His compassion, kindness, and love, you will receive more than you deserve, more than you can ever earn and more than you can ever hope for.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

Growing up poor, in humble surroundings among good, Godly, simple people, you would think that my expectations and ambitions would not rise far above the common.  However, I have learned that it is impossible to know and understand the longings of a human heart.

Regardless of my background, from early years, I longed to be part of the “beautiful people.”  O, I’m not thinking at all of the glitz and glamour of this world, for my life totally revolved around the church, where I spent many of my waking hours.

To me, the “beautiful people,” in the church, were those who sang, and preached, and taught—the ones who were in charge of events, who were elected to office, whose names were well known—those on the platform.

I wanted to be on the platform.  I must admit, my assessment of those “beautiful people” was only skin deep.  I knew nothing of the way they lived life.  I just wanted the same attention they enjoyed.

I am happy to tell you that this longing was tempered through the years, as I learned to be obedient to God, and follow His plan for my life.  It was during those early years of ministry, that I met and fell in love with some of God’s truly “beautiful people.”

I was on temporary assignment to our Bible College in Spain, when I met Trella Hall.  Trella was a spinster—a maiden lady, (I hate that term) in her mid-sixties.  She was a veteran missionary with years of experience in Latin countries.

Though her appearance was pleasant enough, I doubt she would have been considered beautiful.  She certainly would not have passed as fashionable.  She wore cotton house dresses and laced up brogan shoes.  He white hair was pulled back into a knot on the nape of her neck, and the front of it was tortured into narrow finger waves.

Trella was not the president of the college, in fact, I don’t know what her portfolio was, but to my way of thinking, she was the glue that held that school together.

She knew and loved every student aware of his particular situation.  The students knew, and loved, and respected her.   In fact, they “feared” her more than they feared God Himself.  When Trella said “jump,” they jumped.  She lived on the grounds and was readily available in times of need.  Students knew they would always receive a truthful, appropriate response from this dear woman—comforting arms or a stern voice.

I was alone in Spain, and I was lonely.  The missionaries, who were responsible for my being there, were extremely busy and had no time for the fellowship I had anticipated.  What would I have done without Trella?

She opened her arms and her home to a young, inexperienced, “green horn” missionary.  The cups of tea, the conversations, the council, and the comfort are tucked away in my collection of wonderful memories to be unwrapped at odd moments and remembered with pleasure and thankfulness.

During those months in Spain, I began to understand true beauty.  As the truth dawned, I found myself praying, “O, God, I want to be a missionary just like Trella Hall.  I want your love and compassion, and wisdom to flow from me as it flows from her.

In Trella, I met one of God’s genuinely “Beautiful People.”

I learned that I don’t have to be on the platform with people groveling at my feet to be beautiful.   I just have to be genuine—genuinely in love with Jesus—genuinely in love with His ways—genuinely in love with people.  When I am genuine, I open the door for His beauty to shine in and out of my life.  When the beauty of Jesus can be seen in me, then I’m one of the “beautiful people.”  It is not my beauty.  It is His beauty.

In Matthew 23:27, Jesus said, to the Pharisees of His day, “People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.” 

I don’t want to be a fraud!  I want to be beautiful.

The words of this song keep singing over and over in my spirit.

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me,

All His wonderful passion and purity.

O, thou spirit divine, all my nature refine,

‘Till the beauty of Jesus is seen in me.” 

This is my daily prayer.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO

Yesterday, when I opened the mail, I found another bill from my attorney—the attorney I never planned on, and the attorney I never wanted.  I feel like I am caught in a sticky spider’s web with no way to extricate myself.  To say that I am upset puts it mildly.  In fact, I am at my wit’s end.

Last winter, when I finally made the heart-rending decision to request legal guardianship and conservatorship for my younger sister, I had no idea what I was getting into.  I had agonized for months over what to do, while my sister’s illness became progressively and noticeably worse.

She absolutely refused to surrender power of attorney to anyone.  The stack of legal forms glared at me from my desk every time I entered the room.  Finally, I gave up.  I had prayed diligently about the situation until it seemed that the court was the only solution to our dilemma.  So I filed the papers and this weary process began.

The court appointed an attorney for my sister.  Her interests must be protected.  I understood that.  However, I didn’t hire an attorney.  I didn’t need one.  She’s my sister.  I just wanted to take care of her.  Her doctor had attested to her illness, and it would be obvious to any investigator.  Wouldn’t it?

I received a letter from my sister’s attorney stating that his fee was $375.00 per hour.  What?  I foolishly thought that had to do with working hours.  I didn’t know it included every second in the car, waiting for red lights and stopping for gas, every moment on the phone, every e-mail written and read, every stamp licked, and waiting for tardy judges.

Then he called me.  Being the nitwit that I am, laughing, I asked if I could fire him.  He immediately took offense.  We were enemies from the get-go.

“No,” he said.  “I am Mary’s attorney. I am here to protect her.” HA!

Armed with the investigator’s report and the doctor’s letter attesting to my sister’s illness, I went confidently to court assured that my request would be granted.  How naïve!

The attorney told the judge that I wanted to fire him because I didn’t want to spend any money on the case.  My sister told the judge that she did not want me to be her guardian.  The judge continued the case for another month and appointed a Guardian ad Litem.  He only charges $325.00 per hour.  The legal fees began to mount.

I was in over my head.  I had to hire myself an attorney.  Through my church, I found a good and kind man.  He only charges $350.00 per hour, and his paralegal $160.00.  I think I’m in the wrong business.

Mary’s attorney insisted that her house be put in reserve.  I couldn’t sell it without court approval.  One more complication!  More hours to bill!

My attorney was a likable man, easy to talk to.  When we met together, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t there to chitchat.  The clock was ticking and the fee was mounting.

The court was so overscheduled that it was never on time.  If our fifteen-minute session was set for 9:30, we waited at least an hour or more.  I was paying for that wasted time.

On March 10, I finally became my sister’s legal guardian, but this thing was far from over.  Though I had a good cash offer on the house, everything had to be approved by the attorneys.  One final, fifteen minute, court hearing, the end of August, brought the judge’s approval.  I paid my attorney over $900.00 for that hearing.  The judge was late again.

Yesterday, I received, what I hope is, the final bill from my lawyer.  In the last nine months, my sister and I have paid in excess of $25,000.00 in legal fees.  I have decided that judges and lawyers are not really interested in the welfare of their clients as much as they are interested in red tape and a fat wallet.  When I first met my attorney, he warned me that probate lawyers are known to put their clients in the poor house, before they are finished.  I believe him.

This afternoon I e-mailed my paralegal, and said, “Please don’t do anymore work for me unless or until I ask you.

During this process, I have discovered that hundreds of thousands of families face this same heartbreaking situation.

You cannot believe T.V. commercials that portray all Alzheimer’s or Dementia victims as sweet, docile, vague little people.  I have read hundreds of stories on the internet from families who are struggling with the same problems I have faced this year.  That loved one is uncooperative and at times combative.

“We don’t know what to do,” is the common refrain.

Let me tell you, “As much as I have hated it—as hard and as expensive as it has been, I believe I did the best and only thing I could do.”  As reluctant as you may be, going to court may be your only alternative.   For the good of your loved one, prop up your courage and make the move.  It won’t be easy, but it will insure his safety and well being.

It is a comfort to know that I have not been alone during this arduous journey.  I have taken King Solomon’s advice recorded in Proverbs 3:5-6.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”

Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear…”  WHAT MARVELOUS ASSURANCE!

 

Remember the sun will come out tomorrow!