Faith: The Loud and Soft Of It

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When I was growing up I discovered that there were two kinds of faith.  There was soft faith and loud faith.  People in my life practiced both types and I am so glad that I was exposed to both.  I think we all need a little faith change from time to time so that we are open to new ideas, new prayers, new promises, and new beauty.  Before I explain both types, please know that whatever form your faith takes is exactly right for you and perfect in God’s eyes.  As long as we have faith, He will hear us.

Up until I was 14 years old, I went to Lutheran and Episcopal churches.  At those churches, we prayed quietly.  The minister said all of the things that should be on our minds and then we softly said, “Hear our prayer, oh Lord.”  As near as I could tell, we didn’t talk about our faith or talk back in our faith, we just agreed and hoped God was hearing our quiet plea.  The beautiful thing was, He was hearing every thought, word, and deed.  I believe God hears our hearts when our mouths can’t find the words to say.  He also hears our actions loud and clear.  Whatever was coming up from all of us in that church or around our dinner table as we said Grace, or at bedtime as we said, “Now I lay me down to sleep…”, He was listening. After all, I figured those were the only times each day that people prayed.

What I was shown was that those quiet prayers were followed by beautiful and faith filled acts of service.  We lived on a busy street in a suburban neighborhood.  There were kids riding bikes and people walking dogs and families enjoying their yards.  One weekend afternoon, we had a knock at the door and there stood a girl who had been riding her bike.  She was in desperate need of a bathroom and back in those days and in that neighborhood, people didn’t need to be afraid that some harm would come to them if they stopped to ask for help from strangers.  My parents let her in and showed her to the bathroom.  You would have thought my brother and I had never had a houseguest before.  We were curiously thrilled to get a closer look as she came out.  She was so grateful and my parents didn’t think anything of having helped her.  We also gave a ride to the Charles Chips man when his van broke down.  Charles Chips was a home delivery company for cookies and chips and all sorts of goodies.  We were driving down a crowded thoroughfare and there he was.  The Charles Chips man.  Standing beside his disabled delivery van.  My parents stopped.  They recognized him.  He recognized them.  They invited him into the safety of our car and we took him to the nearest gas station where he could get help.  This was the norm in our family.  If someone needed help, you helped.  It was part of our faith.

The summer after I turned 14, my brother and I went to stay with our grandparents for 6 weeks or so.  It was there that I learned about loud faith.  My brother and I went to the Baptist church for the first time and I’m sure that my mouth was open and shock was registered on my face by the time that first service ended.  The minister was loud.  He walked around and shouted a little bit.  He called people by name.  He asked us what was in our hearts.  Then, a most unbelievable thing happened.  Someone in the congregation answered back.  It was a loud and hearty, “Amen!”  Out loud!  In church!  I kept looking around out of the corner of my eyes hoping to see who might be getting in trouble but it turned out to be more than one person.  What was going on there?  Then came the time to pray.  Our heads bowed and I waited for the cue to say, “Hear our prayer, oh Lord.”  It didn’t come.  That minster, the preacher as I was to be corrected later, asked us to pray.  All by ourselves.  I have to admit I was a little lost there at first.  Fortunately, Aunt Beverly was by my side that day and she prayed enough for the both of us.  I had never heard anyone pray like that, out loud.  She asked for help, she asked for forgiveness, she lifted up people I knew and people I didn’t know.  I felt confused but energized by the end of that time in church.  During the next week, my aunt talked to me about my faith.  She talked to me about church.  My grandfather sang some church songs for me that were in a language I understood.  They made faith come alive for me even outside of the church service.  That summer, my brother, my cousin, and I went to church camp.  What a shocker that was to be loud and bold about God all week, with other kids my age.   When that summer ended, I had a new outlook on my faith.  The foundation that my parents, Grandma Barbara, and Grandma Ruby, had laid for my love of the Lord was firm and true.  On that foundation, in the house of the Lord, Aunt Beverly, Grandpa Ken, and Grandma Lucy opened the windows so that God could hear our shouts and prayers.

I am blessed beyond measure that I have had the role models I’ve had and the warriors who have always pointed me towards God.  Whether it’s been a soft and gentle nudge or a loud and boisterous slap on the back, I was witness to their love and service.

Matthew 21:22  And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.

Notice it doesn’t say what kind of prayer?  Pray loud, pray soft.  Pray in your own way, in your own heart, and in your own voice.  He will hear.  Have faith.

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. 

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. 

Lessons Learned at the Water Park…Trust

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I got to spend this day at the indoor water park with my three daughters, my son-in-law, my two grandchildren, and my friend/ex-husband.   What an exhausting yet exhilarating day.  Much of my time was spent hanging out at the baby pool area so that everybody else could go on the water slides.  I got to watch my granddaughter and grandson splash themselves silly and wear out a path up to the froggy slide.  Up and down, up and down.  Over and over and over.  While I was watching this endless procession of slide merriment, I got to have some unintended people-watching time as well.

This really got me thinking about trust; trusting what we cannot see but also trusting what’s right in front of our faces.  Some of these smaller children were asked to trust their parents to be at the bottom of the slide to catch them before they hit the water.  Parents promised.  They smiled.  They reassured.  They clapped.  They gave the thumbs-up.  The children immediately smiled as well and were all for it.  Most of the sliding happened uneventfully and inspired squeals and screams as the kids felt encouraged to do it again and again and again.  With each successful slide and catch, the child’s trust in their grown-up grew.   My own grandson was excited to have his turn and once at the top of the froggy slide, he whooshed right down and spilled out into my arms.  I caught him and he jumped right out of them and was back up the steps for another go.  This went on for a good ten minutes and finally he said, “I do it myself.”  I stayed close, proud of him for feeling like he could do this on his own, but ready to help.  He shot down the slide and landed with a splash.  He stood up quickly, spit out some water, and came right to me for a hug.  After the hug and my reassurance that he was okay, he got right back to it.  He was a man on a mission now!

Then there came the cute little girl in the Shopkins, one-piece, bathing suit.  She eagerly got to the top of the slide and her mother knelt in the one foot of water at the bottom.  “Come on baby, I’m right here.  I promise I’ll catch you,” her mother said.  Baby pushed off and came sliding down.  Mom put out one arm and caught part of a shoulder as Baby’s head went under.  Mom pulled her out almost instantaneously but the look on Baby’s face said, “WTH!  How did you let the water get up my nose?”  Mom loved on Baby and helped her cough and sputter the last of the water out.  Then Mom put Baby back on the top of the slide and said, “Come on, I promise, I’m right here.  No more water in your face.”  Baby did not look happy or trusting this time.  Baby looked a little nervous.  She’d already been let down.  Literally.  But, being a kid, she tried again.  Sliding down with the gushing water, Baby landed across her mother’s arm, face first, in the water.  More coughing, more sputtering.  More apologies.  This happened one last time and Baby, through her tears, said, “All done.”

Where should we place our trust?  These precious children placed their trust in their grown-up family members.  When that trust was validated, it grew and spread and gave the kids the feeling that they could keep going.  When that trust was disproved, the child gave up.  Isn’t this so true of our grown-up relationships?  We put our trust in so many people.  Our parents, our spouses, our friends, our children.  They all have our trust initially, but when time and again, our trust is broken, we tend to want to be like Baby and say, “All done.”  When we put our trust in God, it is nurtured and rewarded over and over again so that we are emboldened to realize that we can stand, we can breathe, we can walk, and we can even love again.  While our earthly trust can let us down at times, our heavenly trust is infallible.  Give it a try.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways, submit to him and he will make your paths straight.