Who is Your Faith-filled Role Model?

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Many of us today are frightened.  We are anxious.  We are needy.  We are weary.  I say ‘we’ because it makes me feel like I’m not alone.  I also happen to know a few people who fall into this category with me.  At times like these, we can try to find comfort in the wrong places, but where we really need to find our comfort and our strength is in Jesus.  We need to look past the things of this world sometimes, no matter how appealing the gadgets may seem.  Let’s find our faith-filled role models and look up.

My grandma, Barbara, was a gentle and humble woman and I loved her.  She was one of my faith-filled role models for everything that she did, everything that she stood for, and everything that she wasn’t.  Barbara wasn’t up on technology…of any kind.  Granted, there wasn’t the onslaught of devices and social media and the like but my grandmother, in 1985 still watched a black and white TV.  Some of you may not even know what that is.  I’ll give you a minute to go look in your picture app on your phone to see the black and white setting.  Now you understand.  Her belief was that everything looked just fine in “living black and white”.  Quote directly attributed to her.  I lived with Grandma Barbara for a short time between high school and college and we watched M*A*S*H* reruns every night as well as the 4, 5, and 6 o’clock news programs in said black and white.  Before living with her, I was blessed to get to have sleepovers with both her and my great grandmother and we watched The Love Boat and Fantasy Island on that awesome TV.  But, you know what?  My brain doesn’t remember anything being wrong with that grayscale.  It was perfect and every nuance and meaning was crystal clear.  Who needed high def and all the other bells and whistles?  She had no microwave and got her jiffy cooking done in the toaster oven.  Her phone was attached to the wall next to the red step stool chair and the kitchen table that had pen and paper in the just the right spot for doodling as you talked.

My point in pointing all of this out?  She didn’t need the latest and greatest to be one of the greatest.  She lived her life with what made her happy.  She was never trying to outdo or even keep with anyone.  She was comfortable, happy, and current on what truly mattered; apartheid in South Africa, the AIDS crisis, political agendas, people in need.  I remember a service at her church that was specifically for AIDS victims and where others shied away, my grandmother made sure to give a warm hug to those who needed it most.  She gave of herself and her time for the inner-city children who graced the doorstep of her church for the after-school food, warmth, care, and education.  I guess you could say she was on the cutting edge of love, respect, and service.

I am like her in many ways.  Recently my mother told me that I have Grandma Barbara’s hands.  What a compliment.  I boil my water in a whistling tea kettle on the stove.  Keurig be damned.  I watch VHS tapes and I listen to “programs” on the radio…the radio!  Thank goodness for A Prairie Home Companion.  I’m happy that I’m not on the front lines of technology or anything else but I am doing what feels right.  No apologies.  I will also put my energies and time and love into what matters most in this day and time.  There are many who need my help, your help, our help.  Let’s do it!

Matthew 11: 28-30  “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” 

Tuesday School

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When I was 3 going on 4 years old, my grandmother taught at Tuesday School.  This was an after school program that her church sponsored for school-aged kids in Washington D.C.  I loved going with her and seeing the big kids who got to go to that magical place called school.  I loved their backpacks, their school supplies, their stories, the sound of the bus that dropped them at the church, the smell of their school clothes.  All of this seemed so foreign but I knew that school was the place for me.  I wanted so much to be like these kids and go to school.  So, I set about doing what they did so I could go too.  I had supplies and played school all the time at home.  My poor brother suffered horribly through my home classroom and I think I did the poor guy in.  He probably looked at me and said, “Please make sure I’m not like her so I don’t have to go.”  I’m sorry, Jeff.  I ruined it for you.  But I had my role models and I was on a mission.

We had an aluminum storm door on the front of our house.  The bottom part was solid and had the mandatory barn-door X stamped into the metal.  The top held a screen in the summer and some filmy window in the winter.  When the main door was open, the light would shine through the top of the storm door and make a warm, perfect square on the carpet at the bottom of the stairs.  It was there I set about making sure I could go to school.  I laid my little body right down there on that carpet for as long as a kid could keep still.  My mother would walk by and ask me what I was doing.  “Getting ready to go to school,” was my standard answer.  My brother was glad to have me out of the classroom and out of commission so he didn’t say a word.  One night, before bed, I climbed up on the side of the tub, got one knee up on the sink, grabbed the medicine cabinet, and pulled myself fully up to the mirror.  What I saw was heartbreaking.  I still looked exactly the same.  I carefully jumped down, avoiding a collision with the toilet, and went to my parents in tears.  Through my little sobs, I told them I just wanted to go to school.  They responded by saying that soon I would be on my way.  I pointed out that I had been laying in the sun every day and my skin wasn’t getting any browner.  They were puzzled so I explained about the kids at Tuesday School and the fact that only kids with brown skin got to go to real school.  I had tried so hard to make my skin brown.  It just hadn’t worked.  I’m sure they laughed at me.  They may have taken turns talking to me while the other one giggled or maybe they waited until I had gone to bed but we had a talk about the fact that all kids could go to school.  My mother assured me that it didn’t matter what color anyone’s skin was, everyone could go to school.  That was an earth-shattering revelation to my little brain and I believe I was so happy I skipped right upstairs and started picking out something to wear for whenever I got to head off to my first day of school.

While I innocently thought that my appearance was the key to getting something I really wanted, I was to grow up in a world where that assumption was reinforced at every turn.  I had many more times during my life where I felt inferior because of things I couldn’t change.  I have felt like I was not good enough on many occasions.

We are told, by the media, that we need to be thinner, have silkier hair, wear this brand of clothing, drink a certain soda, drive that car, graduate from this college, all in the name of having what we want.  Many chase those dreams to the exclusion of their faith, their friends, their families, and their own happiness.  Instead of chasing after the things of this world, instead of feeling like we aren’t good enough, we should look to our Father who tells us that we are His.  No matter what color our skin, no matter what language we speak, no matter where we live, we are the children of the most high God.  He loves us and calls us redeemed.  I don’t have to look like you or think like you but you also don’t have to look like me or think like me.  We just have to love what makes us different and continue walking each other Home.

1 Peter 2:9  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 

Mrs. Forward Saves The Day

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When I was 5 years old, I was in Mrs. Forward’s kindergarten class at Four Corners Elementary School.  I loved being in her class.  We had morning flag raising where some lucky kid would get to hold the small American flag while we all pledged our allegiance and then sang a patriotic song.  My favorite one to sing was You’re a Grand Old Flag.  I loved it because it was the favorite of the little boy who stood next to me.  His name was Mario.  Sigh…  Well, I also liked it because it was a toe-tapper, but that’s not my point.

Other than pledging and singing, we did some napping and a whole lot of learning.  In the fall, Mrs. Forward spent quite a bit of time teaching us about what happens to people, to animals, and to plants in this new and colorful season.  I absorbed every word she said and could hardly contain my excitement when she gave us homework.  HOME WORK!  That was what the big kids did.  I’d heard them talking on the bus.  Our homework was to find one sign of fall that we could bring in and share with the class.  I rode the bus home in a euphoric state, my mind racing with the possibilities.  As I walked up to our house, our huge, climb-able, red maple told me that she had the answer to all of my fall needs.  Jackpot!

The next morning, before school, my mother and I walked out to the beautiful tree and carefully picked 5 red leaves from the ground.  We put these in a plastic baggie and folded the top over to keep my leaves safely inside.  This was back in the day before the bags zipped shut and had the green stripe of proof.  Back then, we had to be trusting.

I carried my baggie to the bus stop where it caught the attention of Billy T.  He was my next-door neighbor.   He was in the third grade.  He was also a bully.  During my tenure as his fence neighbor, he made my life miserable at times.  On this particular day he waited until I walked to my usual spot and then came over to find out what I was carrying.  I explained the whole thing to him hoping that he would see the value in my mission and just leave me alone.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t of the same mindset.  Instead, he pulled the bag out of my hands, and assured me he would give it back once we got on the bus.  He gave it back alright, but only after he had crumbled up the leaves to where they resembled organic confetti.  I was crushed.  My heart was in about as many pieces as my leaves.  Now I would never be able to show my face in the homework arena.

I timidly entered my classroom and joined the other cuties on the carpet.  Mario, sigh, had saved a spot right next to him.  Mrs. Forward eagerly called each one of us up to her chair and proceeded to display what we brought and asked us to explain how this was a sign of fall.  When it came to be my turn, I blushed, I mumbled, I tried to melt into the numbered dots on our kindergarten counting carpet.  Finally, Mrs. Forward left no doubt that I was required to come up to stand next to her.  I gave her my bag and was waiting for the laughter or the banishment that I surely deserved.  After all, I had hadn’t done my homework.  But while I cringed and held back the tears, a miraculous thing happened.  There were sunbeams cascading down to the floor around my feet.   There was a heavenly choir singing.  There was, well, no there wasn’t.  But it sure felt like that.

Mrs. Forward said she was glad, yes glad, that I had these leaves because now she could show the class what happened to all the beautiful leaves as they got walked on by humans and animals and got made into special food for the soil and later the plants.  I had brought a fall science lesson.  Imagine my utter disbelief.  I cursed and thanked Billy T. for his plans meant for my demise and for those same plans that lifted me up.  I also thanked Mrs. Forward for giving me the go-ahead to dream of one day becoming a teacher so that I could rescue little kids like she did.

That time in my life still serves as a faith lesson for me.  There are always times, in all our lives, where people and enemies mean things for our downfall.  When someone talks behind our back, when someone steals the spotlight at our time to shine, or when plans fall apart, we must remember that God will take those times and use them for His glory.  We just need to let it go to Him.  When we do, we can feel as elated as my little kindergarten self and hold our heads high as we continue on our journey.

Genesis 50:20  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good. 

The View from the Bottom…

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Have you ever hit rock bottom?  Have you ever felt too far away to call on God?  I sure have.  I wish I could say it was only one time and I learned my lesson but so far the counter is still ticking.  There are so many time and places that our life paths can get derailed by the enemy.  He convinces us that we should step out on our own.  We should run our own life.

You may have been taken in by some financial scheme that sounded great and promised to improve your money situation.  Maybe you thought that credit card offer or that easy-to-get loan was the answer.  It was the quick fix to get you back on your feet.  You found out later that it plunged you deeper into debt and there didn’t seem to be any way out.  You felt that you had fallen too far away to ask for help.

You may have been taken in by some relationship promises where you found someone who would be so great if only you could help them change.  Maybe you thought it was you who needed to change.  You may have put all your eggs in one basket only to discover that divorce was looming or a breakup was impending.  You tried to convince yourself that if you just kept plugging away, things would be better.  You felt lonelier than you ever had before.  You felt like the dark was closing around you.

You may have decided to take a job that you thought would be your dream job.  You brushed away the red flags that threatened to block the view of the top that you would surely have if you just jumped on this bandwagon.   The distance wouldn’t be too far.  After all, you could use the quiet time in the car.  The pay wasn’t so bad.  Surely, they’d give you a raise after they saw how amazing you were.  The reputation of the boss didn’t matter.  You wouldn’t have to deal with him or her on too many occasions.  When the stress and anxiety overwhelmed you, you realized this job had taken you further away from where you wanted to be.

In these instances, there is one thing that should have happened before the decision was made.  Prayer.  Praying for wisdom and praying for God’s guidance are sure-fire ways to get those feet of yours on a right path.  When we listen to the enemy, he convinces us we don’t need to ask for help.  Maybe you did ask for guidance and wisdom but then ignored all the signs saying, “Surely this doesn’t apply to me.”  We want God to want it our way too.

I am encouraged as I ponder the view from the bottom.  You see, I have always known the story of Jonah and the Whale from the Bible but I never knew the story of Jonah.  God told Jonah to go somewhere and do something for Him.  Jonah flat-out refused and high-tailed it the other direction.  Sound familiar?  God sent the storm that caused Jonah to be thrown over the side of the boat and sink to the bottom of the Earth.  The furthest, physical place from God.  But do you know where God was?  He was right there with Jonah.  Right there in the belly of that fish at the bottom of the ocean.  He wanted to give Jonah another chance.  He did give Jonah another chance.  He wants to give you another chance too.  Take it.

Jonah 2:4-6  I said, “I have been banished from your sight; but I will look again toward your holy temple.  The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.  To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever.  But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.” 

Looking for Meena

meenaSo many things come along each day that cause me stress.  The pressure gets overwhelming at work.  My teenage daughter is calling from college wanting money.  The bank account has run out before the month has.  An appliance has stopped working.  The 14-year-old dog is sick.  He is sick all over the place for the past 3 days.  While none of these scenarios are terminal, they pile up and wear me down so I feel sad, weary, let down, lost.  I know that I’m not alone in this, but technically, I’m alone.  My oldest daughter is married with children, my middle daughter works her tail off between full time work and full time school, and my youngest is in her first year away at college.  So, the sick dog and I keep each other company.

Louie is a miniature pinscher mix who is 98 in people years.  That’s old.  Recently he has had a little trouble controlling his functions, if you know what I mean.  This thought plagues my drive home from work each day.  After dealing with my classroom full of first graders, I know that at the end of my drive I will have some cleaning up to do-doo.  A couple weeks ago, I stressed about this the whole way home to the point where I was actually mad at the poor little guy before I ever walked through the door.  As I reluctantly climbed the stairs and came in, I could tell it was going to be bad.  All I could do was yell out, “LOUIE!”  What came back, surprised me.  I heard someone singing, “Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing.  Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing, mama.”  This response stopped me in my tracks and left me standing there with my mouth wide open.  What the…?

Now before you call the looney bin on me or assume I must be delusional, let me explain an earlier event.  I went with my grandchildren to see the movie, Sing.  We loved it.  My 3-year-old grandson loved those little bunnies and walked around singing their line repeatedly.  If you’ve seen the movie or even just the commercial, you know what song I’m talking about.  Not necessarily appropriate for all occasions.  After the movie, the kiddos wanted to stop by McDonalds for a Happy Meal with a toy that featured Meena from the movie.  Meena, the elephant, sang her song non-stop, all the way home and by the time we were there, she was played with until I was hearing “Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing,” ringing in my ears.  Listen here if you’d like…https://youtu.be/t8tv38egpx8

The grandkids cleaned up to go home and I was relieved that Meena was going to get to entertain my daughter and son-in-law for the foreseeable future.  As it turned out, Meena never left my house.  She is somewhere in or under my couch and every loud noise or hard thump on the floor causes her to belt out her admonition to stop worrying.

This is what I heard as I yelled at Louie that day.  I looked for Meena briefly but stopped after I realized that her voice was just the reminder I needed to knock off the worry, to not sweat the small stuff.  Being home alone gives me more, although not needed, time inside my head, but Meena keeps me going.  I don’t know how long her little batteries will last but so far, she’s been right on time, every time, with her plea.  Her interjection catches me by surprise almost every time but it’s always exactly what I need to hear.

I believe that God slips these reminders into our lives in whatever ways He thinks we’ll pay attention.  He knows I need them frequently.  I hope we can be those reminders for one another as well.  Let’s all channel our inner Meena and stop worrying about the thing; the doctor’s report, the news about our parents, the stress of our jobs, etc…  Let’s begin to do something, no matter how small, to make a difference, to make it better, to help.  I’m willing.

Philippians 4:6-7  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

 

There’s No Telling How Far

My pastor recently spoke the following words, “We can know how many seeds are in the pomegranate but only God knows how many pomegranates are in the seed.”

We must have a spirit of giving.  We have daily, abundant opportunities to give in some form or fashion.  Think of your own day.  My day started off with a visit from my grandkids and my grandson was interested in me giving him some attention by reading a book.  My dog wanted me to give her a little ball-throwing session in the backyard.  My daughter wanted me to loan her my laptop so she could finish some school work tonight.  As I left for church, my neighbor stopped to talk for a few minutes in the driveway.  On the way to church, the man at the intersection held the sign that read, “Please give.  Anything helps.”  In church, the collection plate was passed around and we were reminded of our missionaries and the debt-reduction that we are trying to achieve.   Stopping at the grocery store, the nice lady in aisle 3 needed some help getting something off of the top shelf.  Once I got home, my parents called and wondered if I had time for them to come visit.  Do you see all of these opportunities that were opened up for me to give of myself?  That’s only half of my day.  How many more times will I be called on?

In each of these instances, I can see and count the tangible gift.  I can see how my grandson liked hearing the story.  I can’t tell though, what good came from that later in his day.  Was he better-behaved for his mom later?  Did he learn a few new words that he couldn’t read before?  I can see how my daughter will take my laptop to but what will happen beyond that?   Could she also use it to apply for a job she’s found available?   The $10 that I gave to the guy on the street corner was just $10 but to him, it was a meal for himself and something for the dog laying next to him.  The offering at church was a set amount for me but where will the church use it?  Will is support a missionary and make something possible in a country I will never see?  Will it supply meals for the youth as they come to learn about God’s place in their life?  Will it be used in the community to create programs to draw people to the works of God in our church?  So many possibilities.

I think I can fully understand the gift of the time with my dog outside.  Because of that gift, I won’t have any gifts to clean up when I get home from church later.

I know what I have given.  I have counted those seeds.  But only God knows what those seeds will sow and how far and how wide they will be broadcast.  In all of those instances ask God to do His Will and with others’ giving, the results are limitless.  Give when you can, in whatever way you can.  We all have something to give.

Proverbs 11:24-25  One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to want.  A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. 

Through Other Windows

Inspired by a late-evening drive, just after dark, when I could see into people’s windows.

What goes on through other windows?
Windows of houses
Windows of homes
Windows of the soul.

Is it warm
Is it safe
Is it whole
Is it full?

From my view through other windows
It’s always more
It’s always enough
It’s always complete

If you look through my window
It’s a wreck
It is love
It is home.

Real Wood

Don’t put that in your mouth.

Don’t put that up your nose.

Don’t hit your brother.

Don’t wipe that on your sleeve.

Don’t eat that before your dinner.

Wear your coat.

All our lives, our parents and other well-meaning adults, tell us what we should and should not do. You get the picture.  We expect, that after we reach grown-up status ourselves, we won’t have people giving us those directions/reminders anymore.  At least, that’s what I thought.  My husband and I went to the big, fancy furniture store in our town during our first year of marriage.  We needed a table and chairs.  After much searching, we settled on a round, oak table with 6 chairs and a leaf.  You know the kind…it was the same one that everyone else settled on around that time.  After we filled out the paper work and signed on the bottom line, we were allowed to have our new table and chairs delivered.  As we were preparing to leave the big, fancy furniture store, our salesman, Frank, positioned himself between us and the front door.  “Now folks,” he said, “what you bought today is REAL wood.”  “You have to treat it like real wood.”  He continued by adding, “You have to clean it and you have to take care of it.”  “Don’t do anything on the table that might harm the wood.”  There.  He did it.  We were transported back to 5 years old by our salesman.  As we got in the car, we rolled our eyes and told each other we couldn’t believe what he had just said.  How old did he think we were?  He wasn’t our dad.  How many years had we seen our parents taking care of the ‘real wood’ at our own houses?  Good grief!  The table, the chairs, and the leaf were delivered the following week.  We proudly ate our dinner there every night and carefully cleaned up after ourselves.  No sweaty glasses on the table which might leave a ring.  My grandmother gave me several tablecloths to keep the crumbs and dust away.  On Saturdays, I dutifully got out the Pledge and proceeded to clean and shine the real wood.  Then we had our first baby.  Our table took on a whole new life.  It became the place to dump the cheerios, the juice, the spaghetti, the ketchup, you name it.  Pretty soon with daughters number 2 and number 3 arriving, the table was the hair and make-up salon, the nail parlor, the art studio, and the thinking spot.  After they started school, it became the homework desk, the place where frustrations were released over said homework, and the counseling center.

Most Saturdays, or as often as I could find the time, I still got out the Pledge and the rag and cleaned and shined.  However, as you can already imagine, during this time, we had let Frank down.  The table had glitter in the little carved swirls, there was paint in front of Abigail’s spot where she wanted to get a print of her dog’s paw, and there was a slight gouge where a cartwheel had landed badly.  Yes, Frank, the ‘real wood’ was showing signs that people had not treated it like you had instructed.

I have had the table for 25 years this year and as I sit at it in my kitchen, in my quiet house, eating my dinner for one, I can relive every event, every tear, every project, and every secret, that is visible around my table.  Frank, I spent months mocking you every time I cleaned that table.  I even stuck my tongue out at you a time or two thinking how silly you were for telling me, the grown up, how to take care of my furniture.  Frank, I spent a few years being sorry for letting things happen to the table that you wouldn’t approve of.  Frank, I have spent over a decade being grateful that we treated that table like it was part of the family and not just some piece of ‘real wood’ that had to be pristinely taken care of.

This table now tells the story of my life.  When my children gather around the table with me on rare occasions in their busy lives, we always come back to at least one story about something that we remember happening around it.  This table, while not always treated like ‘real wood’, was happily treated as family.

Our own personal lives are much like my table.  Many admonish us to live this way or that so that we are preserved and pristine and perfect.  The truth is, we live lives that cause us scars and scrapes, dings and dents, glitter in the creases.  When you truly live your life the way our heavenly Father created us to live, you show your wear and tear.  I believe that God looks on us in our weathered state and smiles.  He loves to see that we have put His creation to good use.  So, friends, use your table, use your life.  Make memories and milestones.

Waiting on Ellen

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Okay, raise your hand if you’ve ever daydreamed about being on the Ellen DeGeneres show and she calls YOU up to the stage.  In your daydream YOU receive the make-over/new house/new car/mortgage pay-off/etc…  Please tell me I’m not the only one.  That’s all well and good as long as we don’t start believing that’s going to have to happen for our situation to improve.  If X happens, then I’ll finally be out of debt.  If X happens, then I’ll finally be happy.  If X happens, then I can start helping other people.

I watch the non-famous people sit down on her couch or take her phone call from their own couch and they scream for all to hear.   Sometimes they answer their door to see her helpers broadcasting their reaction.  I picture it being me.  Except recently I have decided that it doesn’t need to be me.  If Ellen comes calling in any form, I’ll be so excited that I’ll scream and cry and probably pee my pants.  However, if she doesn’t, I’ll work on a plan to pay my bills and save something.  Anything.  I’ll work on loving how I look, how I sound, how I feel, and how I am, so that I’ll be happy.  Happy with me.  Not the me that’s waiting on someone else but the me that is smart and beautiful and loving and blessed.  I’ll work on finding a way to be kind to strangers and friends and family every single day.  Not just the days when I feel like I have a little extra money.  Days when I feel like I have nothing.  Those are the days when I can be the most help because then I can truly give of myself.

The one I should be waiting on, the one I am waiting on is my holy Father.  He has the power to do so much more than any earthly person.  He is the reason I get up every morning.  He hears me cry when things are falling apart.  He hears me shout when my excitement bubbles over.  He also should be the one who hears my thanks and praise at all times.  He should be the one who hears that His Will and not my wants are what I desire.  Instead of putting the things of this world first and waiting on them to make all my dreams come true, I will put Him first and He will give me the life I couldn’t even dream up.

So, while I’d really like to meet Ellen one day, I’m also coming up with a new daydream.  In this new dream, I’m sitting in her audience watching someone else on that stage, on that phone, and at that door.  I’m cheering for them and crying tears of joy over their new blessings.  I’m so happy to know my God sees the greatest need.  Not just the greatest want.