THE BEST OF FRIENDS

THE BEST OF FRIENDS

The Jones girls and I have been friends for seventy-five years, a quarter of a century.  Think about it!  I received calls from both of them this past week—one from Oklahoma City and the other from Salinas, California.  Those calls started me thinking about friendship and what a true friend really is.

I remembered a song from the show, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”  It says:

“A kiss on the hand may be quite continental,

But diamonds are a girl’s best friend…

Men grow cold, as girls grow old,

And we all lose our charm in the end.

But square-cut or pear-shaped

These rocks don’t lose their shape.

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

 

I have never owned a lot of diamonds, but I suppose if I had an endless supply, I could purchase the things needed for a comfortable life.  Alas, not even the “Hope Diamond” can buy acceptance, warmth, companionship, and love—those qualities indispensable to true friendship.

Dogs are often referred to as “Man’s best friend.”  My brother inherited his dog from his granddaughter.  Lani grew up, got married, and left Snuggles behind.  I never believed my brother would become so engaged with a dog, but when he lost both his wife and daughter within a year of each other, he was terribly alone except for Snug.  This “gentleman pup,” as my brother calls him, was there.  He was there to listen, to offer a warm paw, and a companionship unlike any other.  He was something to love and care for, and a perfect sleeping buddy.  This sweet little creature, with an indomitable spirit, exuded a sense of warmth, loyalty, and kindness, regardless of my brother’s demeanor.  The reason we call dogs “man’s best friend” is simple.  Dogs allow us to be their best friend, and yet, that is not enough.  There is still something missing.

Only another human being can fit perfectly into that space existing in every person—that space labeled “best friend.”

I thought of the Jones Girls when I read this quote from C.S. Lewis.  He said:

“For a Christian, there are no chances.  A secret Master of Ceremonies has been at work.  Christ, who said to the disciples, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “You have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for one another.”  The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out.  It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”

 

So meeting Patsy Ruth was not by chance.   God must have been involved when she showed up in my third-grade classroom so many years ago.  Her middle name was Ruth and my middle name was Ruth.  Don’t you know that was enough for two little girls to decide, “Our friendship was meant to be?”

Throughout our elementary years Pat and her older sister, Wanda, came and went.  I had no idea the Jones family were itinerated farm workers.  They followed the harvest from Texas to Arizona, to California and back again.  I didn’t know why they were gone, but when they came back, we came together again as though they were never absent.

I spent a lot of time with the Jones family.  Buck and Inez were like second parents.  When we were in high school, the family finally settled in Salinas, California.  Though we never lived close again, we did not lose each other.  The girls and I boarded Grey Hound buses and visited back and forth.  We went to college together.  I sang at their weddings and loved on their babies.  We grieved at our losses and celebrated our victories.  These days, we don’t get around as much as we used to, but we still keep in touch by phone, and I plan to live next door to them in heaven.

Friends come in all shapes and sizes.  A true friend really gets you.  They like you flaws and all.  They fight for you, respect you, include you, encourage you, need you, deserve you, and stand by you.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 tells us “It’s better to have a partner than go it alone.  Share the work, share the wealth. …if one falls the other helps…Two in bed warm each other.  Alone, you shiver all night.  By yourself you’re unprotected.  With a friend you can face the worst…”

The Jones girls walked into my life and said, “We’re here for you and proved it

So take your pick—diamonds, dogs, or someone like the Jones Girls, and if none of these work for you, Proverbs 18:24 assures us,

“… there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

            That friend is Jesus.  Best friends sometimes fail, but He will never fail you.

When we come to the end of ourselves, God has just begun.  The song writer put it this way.

“His love has no limit.  His grace has no measure.

His power has no boundary known unto men.

For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,

He gives and gives and gives again.”

 

WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS!

 

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

BLESS THE LORD, O MY SOUL

 Gerald Brooks couldn’t read a lick of music, but he had a strong voice and an enthusiastic, positive attitude, so he became our church song leader.   That was in the days before worship teams appeared, and organs and pianos, choirs and soloists disappeared.

There Gerald was, behind the pulpit on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening, energetically pumping his arm up and down or back and forth, not always in time to the music.  He chose the songs (his favorites) from our “Melodies of Praise” hymnal, so we often sang the same ones over and over—“There’s Within My Heart a Melody,” and “Since Jesus Came into My Heart.”  We always sang three songs, and whether the song had three verses or thirty, we sang only three verses.

When I was very young, the choir was made up of those in the congregation who wanted to sing. It was as simple as that.  When the pastor opened the service, he invited anyone, who wanted to be in the choir, to make his way to the platform.  They came all ages, with broad smiles and lusty, not necessarily good voices, ready to worship.

There were no auditions.  The choir was not trained.  It was not practiced, nor did they know which songs they would sing.  They were there to back up the song leader and, by example, encourage the congregation in worship.

I majored in music my first couple of years in college, so now I know. “WE DIDN’T DO IT RIGHT!”  However, the memories of those simple, unstructured, unmanipulated times of worship, when hearts swelled, voices were lifted, hands were raised, in unrestrained, joyous praise to the God of heaven, are indelibly etched in the corridors of my heart.

As a child, I was part of that worship.  I know we did not sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but in those moments, I am convinced God leaned over the balcony of heaven and savored every word of praise, every joyful shout ascending to His throne.  Our simple and sincere praise blessed Him.

We often speak of God’s blessing upon our life—His mercy and benefits to us, but you must know that we also are called upon to bless Him.  I just conferred with Mr. Webster.  I was surprised to see that most of his dictionary entry defining “Bless,” and “Blessing” refer to our blessing God not the other way round.

He says, “To bless is “to give thanks to God the Father in a special manner, to speak gratefully to Him for His kindness, to honor in worship, to praise or glorify His name.”

In his book of songs, King David set a wonderful example for us.

Psalm 34:1, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

Psalm 103:1, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.”

Psalm 119:175, “Let me live that I may praise You…”

Psalm 150:6, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord…

In essence, David is saying, “My purpose in life is to praise God by everything I do and say.  Therefore, I will praise Him continually with all that is in me, and if you are breathing, you must do the same.”

We ask for and receive His blessing, but I am wondering how often we thank Him for His kindness—how often we praise and glorify His name.  Not often enough, I would imagine.  Yet, over and over again in His Word, we are admonished to praise Him—to bless him.

Why does He command us to bless Him?  This God, who knows everything, can do anything and owns all that exists.  Does He really need our praise?  Surely He is not going to wither and vanish away if I do not bless Him.  Truth is I can’t make God any bigger or any greater with my praise.  So, why—

Actually, when I praise God, I am the one who benefits, and God knows that.  It is God’s way of lifting me out of my slough of despond, away from my impossibilities, above the cares of this world, and into His marvelous presence.  In His presence, there is fullness of joy.  In His presence, I am encouraged, my faith is renewed, and I am strengthened to continue the journey.

It is true.  Sometimes we are so obsessed with our needs that we cannot find a word of praise, and yet the scripture even asks us to sacrifice praise to God.

Hebrews 13”15-16, “…let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise…for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

Our style of worship is not the issue.  Whether or not it is polished and practiced is not what counts.  It is the attitude of the heart and a grateful, loving spirit that attracts God’s attention, and causes His presence to inhabit our praise.

 

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

           

WHEN OPTIMISM FLYS THE COUP

 In my first blog, almost two years ago, I introduced myself to you as an OPTIMISTIC OCTOGENARIAN.  I’ve always thought of myself in those terms.  I’m the one who makes lemonade out of lemons, and I see the glass half full instead of half empty. “Nothing is ever as bad as it seems” “It will be better tomorrow. “ We can do something to fix this.”

I have been accused of being out of touch with reality because I refuse to see the hopeless side of things.  BUT—I must confess—lately, I have found myself questioning my own outlook.

Truth is the last five and one-half years have been the most stressful, traumatic time in my life—without a breather.  I have written about all of this, so I will not bore you with the details.

First, there was the unimaginable excitement and stress of marrying at an advanced age, then after only a few months, the death of my husband, and the unbearable grief that followed. When I could finally function again, I was confronted with my sister’s needs.  Things that seemed simple have become so complicated.  Nothing has gone smoothly.  There is one crisis after another, and I am tired.  There is always a knot in the pit of my stomach and I live with a sense of uneasiness, and at the same time, I live with a sense of hope that “this, too, shall pass.”

So, am I truly an optimist or have I been depending on my own innate strength.  I am a strong person.  I know that!  I’ve always been able to solve the problem in some way.  No more!  I am, now, at the mercy of others.

Is it true?  Have I, like the proverbial ostrich, been burying my head in the sand refusing to face reality?  If so, I find myself reluctant to admit it.  (By the way, the ostrich does not bury his head in the sand.)

In my moments of quiet contemplation, trying my best to understand all of this, I realize that my optimism springs from my relationship with God.

Everyone, whether Saint or outright heathen, suffers difficult problems. Many others face impossible, unsolvable situations.  How do they cope?  No wonder the suicide rate is increasing, and mental institutions are crowded with hopeless souls.

Realizing that my optimism is inextricably linked with my faith raises another question.  When optimism wavers, where does the fault lie?  Is my faith also wavering?

The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 4:6, told the people that they were “to be anxious for nothing.”  Then he gave them the cure for anxiety, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Still, I am anxious, which seems to say that I distrust God’s power and wisdom, and doubt the reality of His promises.  Yet, I know that is not true.  I do trust Him.  That is the reason I keep coming back.

Of course, I pray, and others pray with me.  The problem lies in the fact that I know He hears me, but I don’t know, yet, what He is doing about it.  Could my impatience be part of the issue?

I have a way of wanting God to do it right now.  But, perhaps He is using this period to teach me a grand lesson—a lesson in patience.

In Luke 21, Jesus speaks to His followers about the terrible trials that will come in the last days, but He says, “Don’t worry for not a hair of your head shall be lost.  By your faith and patience, you shall have eternal life.”

James 1:3-4 says, “…the testing of your faith produces patience…that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

LACKING NOTHING!  WOW!  That surely puts a shot into the arm of my optimism.  Lacking nothing must mean that one day soon, I hope, all these awful, strength-sapping trials will be behind me.  I will heave a great sigh of relief and dance a joyful jig, and try to ward off the next onslaught.

I have been learning Christ all my life.  These years of pain have only served to reemphasize the truths already learned.  I KNOW that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.  I KNOW that He surrounds me with His loving care.  I KNOW that His Spirit indwells me and upholds me. I KNOW that He will cause me to triumph, and enable me to be faithful until death.

IN HIM I LACK NOTHING!

This truth ought to elicit a torrent of Thanksgiving.

If that isn’t optimism, I don’t know what is…

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE LONG WAY HOME

 

The second time I went to dinner with My Cecil we took the long way home.  It was only fifteen minutes back to my hotel, but suddenly we were driving down a dark country road.

“Where are we going?” I asked.  “This is not the way home.”

Cecil grinned and said, “This is one way—the long way.”

I knew he wasn’t up to any shenanigans.  He wasn’t going to use the old “I ran out of gas” trick.  He just liked to “mosey along” taking his time—never really in a hurry.

I’m just the opposite.  Patience is not something I do well.  If there’s something to do, “Let’s get it done.  Now!  Though, at the age of eighty-one, I am retired, I am not idle.  When I awaken in the morning, I have an agenda.  I know exactly what I will do.  Now, I may change my mind, I have that prerogative, or I may not finish everything on the list, but at least I have a plan.

I don’t like it when someone takes a big chunk out of my time interrupting my plan.  I’m pretty intense about it.

The City of Brussels celebrated its one-thousandth birthday when I lived there.  It sort of grew up like Topsy.  Topsy was a character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

When asked, “Do you know who made you?”

She replied, “Nobody as I knows on—I spect I grow’d.  Don’t think nobody ever made me.”

In ancient years, the City of Brussels grew up by itself without apparent design.  “I spect it just grow’d.” Parts of the old city were like a maze—a warren of dark alleys and side streets.  It was easy to get lost.

My friend used to say, “Let’s go down this street.  I think it’s faster.”

“No! No!” I always cried.  “Just go the way we know.”  I had learned early on you can “go around the block” in Brussels and wind up twenty miles from home.  I didn’t want to waste the time.

However, I have discovered that God’s timing is different from mine.  I don’t know who coined the phrase “Stop and smell the roses,” but I think it was God ordained.  The Psalmist says that our Father knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.  He knows that we need to take time from our busy schedule to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of life.

It took some doing to convince Cecil of this truth.  Though he loved meandering about the country, he pretty much felt that most forms of recreation were frivolous and unnecessary, so it was fun to drag him away for a cruise on the lake or a train trip through the Verde Valley.

If I need to allow time for restoration and recreation of my physical being, so also must I care for my spiritual being.

I know God has a plan—a will for my life.  It is at one and the same time a daily work in me and a life long journey.  His ultimate will is that I become like Jesus

God is my Master Sculptor.  I see Him with his hammer and chisel forming me into the image of His Son.  Bit by bit He chisels away at the rough spots, the unlovely places, the hard unyielding parts of me, and little by little—very little by very little—an image begins to appear, but it is far from complete.  For, this is a long, sometimes painful journey that I travel with The Father.

Of course, being who I am, I want it done now.  I want it yesterday, but He is not in a hurry.  He is taking the “long way home.”

In Jeremiah 18:4, we learn the vessel the potter was making was ruined, so he had to start over and make another vessel.

This happens sometimes in my life.  When I am disobedient and unyielding, God’s work in me takes longer, and starting over in any area is painful.  However, I must tell you “I am determined—I’ve made up my mind.” I will yield to my Master Sculptor, and one day His work in me will be complete.

1 John 3:2 – “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

Good things happen on this “long way home.” All the stops and starts and “do-overs, good or bad, on this journey have made me who I am today, and you should know, the night I took the long way home with Cecil, I learned for the first time he was interested in MORE than a friendship.

Remember “home” is our destination no matter how long it takes.

THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

 

 

 

DON’T SUCK ME UP

Lani was our Hakalola girl.  When she was only ten days old, this beautiful, tormented Hawaiian baby, who was addicted to drugs in the womb, became my niece’s foster child.  Because of drugs, her birth parents were not allowed to take her home from the hospital.

Suffering from withdrawal, Lani cried incessantly the first seven months of her life.  However, in those rare moments of peace, that wide, toothless grin wrapped its way around every heart making her an indispensable member of our family, but she wasn’t really ours.

What a beautiful child she was with her chubby cheeks, shiny black eyes and a mass of uncontrollable curls.

When, after 2 ½ years, Lani’s birth parents could not get their act together, my niece and her husband were allowed to adopt this enchanting little girl, bringing her home from Hawaii.  At last, she was really ours.

Doctor’s predicted that she would doubtless be retarded and most certainly behind in her motor skills.  But—they reckoned without an adoring, nurturing family, a stable environment, and the presence of God in her life.  She was running by the time she was nine months old and talking in complete sentences shortly thereafter.

Lani knew from the beginning she was adopted—that she was Hawaiian.  She loved to hear the stories about how her Mommy and Daddy chose her.  Long before she could get her tongue around the word Hawaiian, she coined her own identity.  She was the Hakalola girl!

She used that to her own advantage.  When someone asked, “Why did you do this or why did you do that?  She shrugged her little shoulders and cried, I’m the Hakalola girl.

he was full of fun and mischief the source of much laughter.  One Saturday morning she took a box of dry cereal and filled every window sill across the living room with colorful “Fruit Loops.”

Her Mom, greatly annoyed, scolded her roundly.  Then going to the closet, she took out the “Dust Buster” with the intention of vacuuming up the cereal.

When Lani saw the little vacuum, she hid behind the chair crying, O, Mommy, Mommy don’t suck me up.  Don’t suck me up.  She knew she had done something wrong, and even at her young age, she knew there were consequences.

Being adopted made no difference.  She was loved, provided for, and disciplined in the same manner as her older brother, Marcus, the natural born son, and she was also an equal heir.

Thinking about Lani’s adoption makes me think of my own.  For, I am adopted.  I have been adopted into the family of God.  It is pretty mind blowing to know that I am part of God’s family.  He is my father and I am His heir.  In fact Romans 8:17 says, I am joint heir with God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

I belong to God, and just as Lani was accountable to her adoptive parents, I am accountable to my heavenly father.

During the long years of my relationship with God, I have learned, through His Word, through teaching, and by experience, that God wants me to honor Him.  He has certain standards by which I must live.

Now, I don’t have to do that.  I don’t have to live according to His standards.  I have a free will, but I choose to honor Him.   Yet, I shamefully admit there have been times when I have dishonored God—times when I filled the windowsills of my life with “Fruit Loops.”

In my imagination, I can see God with His little “Dust Buster” cleaning up the mess that I have made, and I want to cry, “I’m sorry Lord.  Don’t suck me up! Don’t suck me up!

You see, I know when I have dishonored God, and I know there are consequences.  So, the indispensable part of my cry is “I am sorry, Lord.”

1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

            Again, in John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

It’s that simple!  When I love Him with all my heart, I will no longer allow those annoying “Fruit Loops” to clutter my life.

Pray with me today King David’s prayer found in Psalm 51:10-12.  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”

In essence, David is saying, “DON’T SUCK ME UP!  Don’t throw me out with the trash.”

The sun will come out tomorrow

A JOURNEY BACK IN TIME

My big brother, well, you can’t really call him my “big brother,” because I’m bigger than he is.  Nevertheless, my older brother came from Fort Worth to spend Christmas with me.  Having lost both his wife and oldest daughter in the last eighteen months he needed a change.

Paul and I are good together.  He’s quiet and I never shut-up.  We both like to cook, and being retired ministers, we always have something to talk about.  We spent a lot of time just reminiscing—comparing notes and sharing sweet, good, meaningful times from the past.

We spent hours driving through Mesa, where we were both raised.  Paul was constantly looking for landmarks—something familiar.

“It’s not fair.  It’s just not fair,” he grumbled, as we drove up and down and back and forth.

“What’s not fair?” I asked.

“They changed everything,” he complained.  “Nothing is as it should be.”

peonies

I couldn’t help laughing.  “Do you realize it has been nearly seventy years since you lived here?” I asked.

We looked for the big pink hotel that used to be on the corner of Center and Main Street, for Paul L. Sales, and Valley National Bank, and our High School—all of them gone.

However, my brother did find some landmarks.  He knew where all the irrigation canals were.  When he found them, he figured out where everything else ought to be.

“May’s Store was just on the other side of this canal,” he declared. “They sold fruit and nuts and dates, and June was born about a mile west of that canal, and I used to walk home down this canal bank.”

He also found the great Bottle tree on Brown Road, where we lived when I was three.  The house is not there, but the irrigation ditch still runs by the side of the road.

As we drove down Broadway, Paul said, “O, look!  See that building.  It was behind that building, in a tent revival, where I was saved, when I was ten.  What a blessed landmark!

peonies-1

Through the years, I have had the privilege of visiting many well known Landmarks scattered across this world.  I have zoomed to the top 1063 ft., wrought iron Eiffel Tower, in Paris, France.  In Agra, India, I sat in the gardens and contemplated the beauty of the Taj Mahal.  I have craned my neck to view the top of the Washington monument, on the National Mall in   D.C., and from a boat, in the middle of the Thames River, I gazed at the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel, from which you may view all of London and its surrounding areas.

These were memorable experiences.  Yet, I am, somehow, more touched by the canals in Mesa and the remembrance of my brother’s landmark salvation.

Landmarks are exactly what the word implies—an object that marks the boundary of land.  A landmark may also be an object that marks a certain locality, like the Bottle tree, and it can be a structure of unusual historic interest, or an event that marks a turning point in one’s life.

Proverbs 22:28 tells us, “Do not remove the ancient landmark which your fathers have set.”

There is a reason for not moving landmarks.  Landmarks keep things stable, secure and correct.  It keeps confusion away.  It helps people identify what is mine and what is yours.

Physical landmarks are important and even necessary, but personal, spiritual landmarks define our life.  Though the building on Le Baron St. is no longer there, I can still see the five-year-old me kneeling at a tear-stained altar with my Sunday school teacher, as I surrendered my heart to Jesus.  I can take you to the place where God called me into ministry, and I could show you the bedroom, where I struggled night after night with The Lord as He revealed His plan for me and faraway places.

Personal spiritual landmarks are sacred ground.  When times are hard, we can go back in thought, at least, to these landmarks, and reflect with humble gratitude about what God did for us there.  He will reassure, reaffirm and refresh us again with His life-giving presence.

Now, we must consider GOD’S Landmarks put in place before you and I ever existed.

In Jeremiah 6:16, The Lord says to us, “…Stand in the 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…”

Long ago God set up some landmarks for us.  They have not changed, nor, do they need to be updated, because human needs and nature remain as they were from the beginning.  Those unchangeable landmarks are to be found in His word.  They are in place for our protection.  When He says, “Ask for the old paths—the good way, and walk in it,” He is saying, “Walk in obedience.  Walk according to My Word.”

Today, as a society, we are unhappy, dissatisfied, unfulfilled.  We have tried everything to fill up the empty spaces, but it is not working.  We’ve lost our way because we have ignored the ancient landmarks.  It is time to search out God’s Word—to walk in the old paths where the way is good.  Only then will we find the peace for which we long.

THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!