Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The True Confession of Carol:

I Am A Sinner Who Comes From a Long Line of Sinners

When we were worshiping in church last Sunday morning, I let go of something that had been troubling me. I forgave the imperfections in my parents that made them less than perfect in their parenting skills. 

My parents did some things very well. Dad was an excellent provider who moved his family onto a five acre farm when he and Mom were young and we three children were very small (ages 2, 4, and 6). Dad not only worked at General Motors, often seven days a week, but he also designed and maintained a private haven upon our small acreage with rose bushes, large oaks, walnuts, maples, and evergreens, and fruit trees, a pond, and at times, various farm animals including a pony that frightened him. He grew a garden every year, giving away much of the produce. 

Mom was his right hand girl. She canned, froze, dried, baked, milked, churned, gathered eggs, killed and fried chickens, scraped snow off the driveway - whatever was required to keep it all together. Mom was a stay-at-home mother who cooked “from scratch” three times a day. She got her children up, washed, fed, dressed and on the school bus five days a week, and she accompanied them to church on the seventh. She sewed many of our clothes, and she hauled us to music lessons weekly and anywhere else we needed to go, after a neighbor taught her to drive (when Dad’s impatient attempt failed). And, wow, how Mom loved my Dad, and vice-versa! 

When I read the above, I realize I have painted a picture of an idealistic life, which it was not. I have memories of words and actions which no longer can be resolved that dug a trench into my now-aged heart, where for years I cradled unmet longings for my parents' acceptance and affirmation. 

This is the simple truth: My parents were sinners. Not only were they sinners, but their mothers and fathers were sinners and all of our ancestors were, as well. In fact, I cannot name a relative on either side of my lineage who was not or is not a sinner. 

This is my true confession: I am a sinner, too. As much as I desire to emulate the life of Christ, I know who I am, and I am not like Him. Only through the grace of God extended to me through Jesus’ death on the cross do I find purity and holiness in His sight. When I am honest, I must admit that, try as I might, I am not the perfect parent I hoped to be, either. I wonder if my children feel some of those same longings that, in reality, no parent or significant other is equipped to supply but our Creator, who stands ready to fill us when we open our deepest selves to Him?

In a sermon, our pastor recently asked us to answer these thought provoking questions: “Is it good to trust people all the time?” ,“Is there anyone you can trust all the time?”, “Can you trust yourself all the time?” I answered “no” to all three questions. 

The apostle Paul said, “I have discovered this principle of life — that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”  (Romans 7:21-25)

The only One we can rely upon fully is our Redeemer.

Because of Christ’s life-sacrificing love, I and others who put our trust in Him have become children of the most High and Holy God. And, isn’t it His love example and His Spirit power that enable us to forgive others who have done things to cause us pain, whether intentional or non-intentional? What beautifully amazing truths these are for me and my family members who will be gathering at suppertime in heaven! 

Will someone pass the biscuits, please? 

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just, for I was born a sinner - yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there. Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.(Psalm 51: 1-7)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Who Will Love Me?

Who Will Love Me?

This week I sat with my friend Susan who had just said good-bye to a pet, a beautiful furry gray female cat named Piglet.

Piglet came to Susan sixteen years ago on the eve of giving birth to a litter of kittens. Susan allowed Piglet a private haven in her home to deliver and then nurture the kittens, and when Piglet decided, as most mothers do at some point, “Ok, you guys -I’ve done my job. Now it’s time for you to get a place of your own..” Susan gathered the kittens in a basket, took them to our work office and proceeded, in a day, to find loving homes for each. “Clyde,” the runt of the litter and the spitting image of Mama (well, almost), became mine. 

More than once my impish Clyde climbed way out on a limb on the huge oak tree in my front yard and needed to be rescued. Since I had no ladder, I’d climb up in a kitchen chair with an open can of tuna and try to coax him down. He would nearly give me his paw, then jerk it back. We were on about the third round of Clyde-in-the-tree one evening, and a storm was coming. I was up in the chair, coaxing and pleading. When lightning struck close, I said, “I am sorry, little guy, but you are on your own,” at which time he ran down the tree and made it into the house before I did! His naughty game was over! Clyde slept on the pillow above my head. At bedtime, he’d reach his paw down and I’d reach up until we were “holding hands” as we fell to sleep, for as long as he was mine. He stole my heart.

Piglet, who rarely was friendly with any two-legged beings, and who developed only one or two four legged affinities in her lifespan, adored Susan, who adored her back. And while Piglet had nothing of value to offer Susan but her trust and affection, that was enough to endear her to Susan for all time. 

Piglet Gray
January 20, 1999 - April 13, 2015

In the Kingdom of God, we are Piglets and Clydes. We have nothing of value to offer God but ourselves - our love and our trust - and yet, that is exactly what He desires.

So, if we are always trying harder to get Him to love us more, it won’t do any good. God can’t possibly love us more than He already does!

God, unlike some people, does not base His love for us on what we can do for Him! 

Conversely, do we love God because of Who He Is, or because of what we think He will do for us? Do we think if we please Him, He perhaps owes us a pretty good life or at least some assurance of freedom from disasters and calamities?

I watched an episode of “The West Wing” last night. Martin Sheen, who plays the U.S.President, is distressed because his elderly secretary, Mrs. Van Landingham, a long-time friend and patriot who had just purchased her first-ever brand new car, was killed in an auto accident that very same week. When the church has emptied after the funeral, President Barton asked security to seal the church, after which he proceeded to bash God with a tirade that is raw and arrogant and wicked. He accused God of being a murderous tyrant among other names too treacherous to record. I felt lightning might strike my house at any moment just for having hosted the blasphemous rant.

And yet, more than once, I have found my unbending will questioning God, “Why?”  In the end, I have always been able to trust His heart. I climb back into His lap. I call Him Abba Father. 

Even if I ask Him “why” one-hundred times, He always welcomes me back onto his lap. Because all any of us Piglets or Clydes have to do to find God’s favor is to find pleasure and comfort and wholeness in Who He Is. 

“Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
not a single one is missing.
O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
Have you never heard? Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”
Isaiah 40: 26-31

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Musings of a Single Mother

Build a Home

Build a home.
Lay the foundation deep;
make it strong.

Build a hearth,
and in its sparkle-warmth
place an easy chair;
A table set beside it
will hold a cup of coffee
and all your favorite books.

Paint your kitchen yellow;
hang ruffled curtains
in the windows.
Set potted begonias
on the sills;
Let the aromas of apple pie
and baked lasagna
permeate the air.

Put a piano in your living room;
        learn to play happy songs.
Teach your children 
to laugh in harmony.
Join the family plan
at Olan Mills;
Decorate your walls
with smiles.

Open your door to friends
and neighbors;
Share with them the music
you have memorized
or can play by ear.
Take in stray cats and other
unloved creatures that may
wander into your yard.

Build a home;
        share the key with
the one you trust most.
If, however, he should prove untrue,
tearing down what has been built
and leaving you alone,
Don’t be afraid;
        you know how to build.
Gather your children and
        teach them how
to lay brick on brick
smooth mortar on stone;
Whatever you do,
build a home.

Don’t Make Your Children Choose

Don’t make your children
choose allegiance;
as if love can’t forgive
a multitude of sin.

Don’t teach your children hate - 
It burns like fire
and turns direction
with the wind.

Let the children love him.
Place his picture in their room.
Put his number by the phone.
Help them bake him cookies
when he comes.

Repayment isn’t yours.
Repentance can’t be forced.
Years of bitterness
will only make him certain
he was right
in having left.

When the Goats Come

In the dusk of the evening
when the goats come,
be aware that
night is upon you.
Go inside; bolt the door.

You will hear their bleating,
pitiful, forlorn .- 
You will be tempted to 
let them in.
Do not be deceived.

Soon they will be 
butting their heads 
against the house.

They will disassemble 
the garbage you
have hidden 
behind the garage.

They will pull down
the laundry you
left hanging neatly
on the line.

Stay at home and
pray for morning
to come.

When the sun shines again
and exposes strips
of gnawed leather
that were once your shoes;
Be glad your feet 
were not in them.

Purple Clover Chains

I remember the day my Grandmother and I
lay on our backs on the warm earth
while God entertained us with cloud pictures.

We were weaving purple clover chains,
Grandmother sometimes humming
“What a Friend We Have in Jesus,”
Listening when I spoke, 
Giving significance to childhood dreams.

You would not have known my Grandmother had
endured years of struggle for the smile she wore,
But I can tell you that for seven years 
her husband beat her,
then left her with seven daughters.
Alone, she worked two jobs
to kept her home together.
And weak became strong.

In later years, disease claimed
her eyesight and both legs.
She lay in a nursing home,
Her mind more often weaving through the past
Than engaging in the present.

The last time I saw her, my life was broken.
In the safety of our moments, 
I knelt by her bedside and cried.
Interrupted by a touch, I looked up into eyes
Suddenly able to see bruises, visible or not.
“Grandmother,” I whispered, “How did you do it?”
How did you go on?”
“Listen closely, Child,” she said,
“The strength was not my own.”

Grandmother’s indomitable spirit soars.
I lie on a sometimes dampened pillow
listening for her humming;
Finding power in the Person of her song.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

What Was Good About Friday?  

It was day much like yesterday. Clouds had gathered, and the winds were blowing. A storm was imminent.

Jesus had been welcomed into Jerusalem earlier in the week by a crowd of followers who celebrated him as King of the Jews. But the Powers-That-Were in the Jewish hierarchy believed such an assertion had the potential to bring down the wrath of the Roman government upon the Jewish nation, and they weren’t about to jeopardize their good standing in the Roman Empire. Or was it that Jesus challenged their own rule-making and rule-keeping regimens? 

Fear provoked anger in the hearts of men who studied God but did not know Him. 

By noon on Friday, Jesus was hanging on the cross, and the world became black as coal as God turned away in sorrow and grief.

Jesus poured out his life on the cross to pay the penalty for sin for each of us who believe in him for forgiveness. God, the Trinity, had planned on God the Son dying for us from the beginning of time, His life for our redemption. 

Yet, I wonder, God being God and knowing what He knows about me and the world, and the meanness in men and women then and to come, if He had any regrets during those dark moments that Jesus was tormented and tortured. 

God gives us the capacity to connect deeply to Himself and to others. Sin results in death and the the loss of our connectedness. 

Without the cross, both our disconnectedness to God because of sin and our disconnectedness to loved ones because of death would become permanent.  

It was on a cold day in February when my telephone rang and I answered it cheerfully, knowing by ringtone it was my daughter, Traci. Her voice was strained and barely audible. I couldn’t have heard what I thought I heard. Could she repeat what she just said? 

“Anni is dead. Can you come get Emmi?”

My only response before I hung up the phone was, “I’m coming.” 

My prayer through tears and gritted teeth and stifled screams during the 15 minute drive to Brian’s and Traci’s home was, “God, no! No, God! No! 

Anni Flora, whose name means “glorious flower,” was our precious miracle baby. She would have been four months old had she lived another day. Her conception was a miracle because Traci had suffered many years with endometriosis. Traci then spent several weeks of her pregnancy in the hospital with pre-eclampsia. Little Anni arrived by C-section five weeks early on October 19, 2012, weighing a little over 3 pounds. She was beautiful, and we fell in love with this tiny fragile blessing. Her mother and father sat with her in the NICU, day after day, touching her tiny body through holes in her incubator.until she was strong enough to be cuddled. 

I will never forget, while sitting with Traci in the hospital, being able to hold our baby for the very first time.

We were encouraged as Anni reached one benchmark after another. When she was barely under five pounds, Brian, Traci and Emmi got to take her home. It was just in time for Thanksgiving, and what a time of thanksgiving that was!

On Thursday evening February 16, I was privileged to babysit for my two granddaughters. We snuggled on the sofa, Anni on my arm, Emmi beside us. I played patty-cake with Anni. She was beginning to hold her head up well, and she smiled as I clapped her tiny hands together. 

Less than 48 hours later, our Anni would be in heaven. That Saturday, Traci had laid her in bed for a nap, and when she went back to check on her, Anni had died in her sleep. 

Her sister Emmi, who was five, asked, “How did Anni leave here? Did she and the angels fly right through the front door?”

It was too soon. We had not expected to be blessed with another baby, but when we were, letting go of her was excruciating. 

For the men and women who sat around the table with me in grief class, for all who have lain prostrate or curled in a fetal position and swallowed sorrow at the passing of your child or grandchild, husband, wife, mother, father, grandparent, or other person you loved more than life itself, there is good news.

God’s story does not end with the cross and darkness.

Christ is alive! His resurrection secured victory over death for us and for our believing loved ones.

The Gospel song writer Bill Gaither penned these words,

“Then came the morning, night turned into day;
The stone was rolled away, hope rose with the dawn;
Then came the morning, shadows vanished before the sun,
Death had lost and life had won, for morning had come.”

It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. I Corinthians 42-44

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.  I Corinthians 15: 51-58

Hold on; Easter is coming. Life is here. The victory is ours.   

Monday, March 30, 2015

Ninety-eight Pennies

It seemed, even with best intentions, I usually seemed to be running late for church. I pulled into my usual spot in the overflow lot and started toward the entrance when something in the grass next to the pavement caught my eye. On the grass lay a scattering of copper pennies, as if poured from a cup, and light from the sun coming over the the horizon was dancing playfully on them. 

I stopped; caught my breath. Looked around me. Looked toward the heavens. Smiled.Whispered thank you.

Anyone watching me would have wondered what was up.

It had been a particularly troubling week for me. A week when I questioned myself, my motives, my worth. A week of feeling I could never be enough.

This is the story behind the pennies . . .

I was walking into work with a friend one day when we spotted a penny and she paused to pick it up. She said the reason you should pick up pennies is because finding one means an angel is standing nearby. 

Not scriptural, but a lovely sentiment.

Afterward, I found that whenever I picked up a penny, I paused and became aware of God’s presence (even though I know He is with me all the time.) 

And when I began paying attention, I noticed that I began to find pennies at special times- times when I really needed to have a special awareness of God's love.  

After church, I told my friend, Sheila, who knows my whole penny story, about the pennies outside the church. (She picks up dimes in the same fashion, and sometimes we find the other’s angels to exchange! I laugh and tell her- “Your angels have been following me around this week!”) 

When Sheila asked me if I picked up the pennies in the parking lot that morning. I told her I did not; I had left them for someone else. She said, “Well, God might have put them there Himself, just for you.”

When I walked back outside that morning, the pennies, now walked past several times over, were still there. I picked them up and put them in my pocket, excited as a child unwrapping a gift at a birthday party.

At home, I placed them on the kitchen counter; counted them. Ninety-eight. Ninety-eight angels to greet me and shout God’s love into my needy heart. Ninety-eight angels cheering, “Go, Girl!"

God always finds ways to communicate His love to us. We need only to watch and to listen.

If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most high your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home. For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. Psalm 91: 9-11

Friday, March 27, 2015

Now That You Are Healed

Now that you are healed,
Don’t see in every face
The bandit who beat you
Took what you had
And left you for dead.

And don’t waste time
Counting eyes that stared, 
Then turned away,
Feet that walked on by.

Instead, study the face
Of the One who found you,
Bound your wounds,
Carried you to the inn,
And paid your bill.

And on your next trip to Jericho,
Look for the injured,
Lying by the road,
Crying for help.

By Carol

An Angel, a Scalawag, or “The Least of These?”

We’ve all seen them- especially since 2008 when the bottom dropped out of the U.S. economy. The poor, the jobless, the homeless. The man standing at the entrance of WalMart holding a sign:

“Lost My Job.  Please help.”  

I recently saw “this man”-and passed right by him. I said to my daughter later that week, after wrestling with it in my mind, “I feel bad, but how do you know if there really is a need? There are many churches in town prepared to help the poor.” Besides, what if he just wants drug money?” 

Her response was poignant. “Just that someone would be brought to the low point of standing there with a sign represents a need.”

I talked this over with my friend, Elaine. She, having a beautiful heart, keeps care packages in the back of her car for times such as this. 

The bottom line is this. 

It all belongs to God.  God is our Provider, and we are stewards of His economy.

So, a few weeks later when I was getting ready to join a former co-worker for supper at the Cracker Barrel and saw a young woman at the entrance with a sign, I parked the car and went to her, talked to her, gave her my cash. She had lost her job a few months back and had not been able to find another. She had a child. 

But I am not consistent. Two weeks ago, I was parking to go into CVS on a cold and rainy day. A man was sitting against the building, dressed warmly, but clearly this was not a place to be hanging out on a dreary day. I smiled at him and said hello. He smiled the sweetest smile in return. When I came out of the store, I was thinking, “I don’t have much money left this month. I hope he doesn’t ask me for money.” I kept my head down as I walked past him and got into my car, but I looked up as I pulled out, and he was still sitting there, not having asked for anything and still smiling that angelic smile. 

This week, actually is was on Tuesday, as I pulled into the Tuesday Morning parking lot, I realized that a car was about to pull into the side of me. I had looked-so, where had it come from?  It missed my car. I parked, and before I knew it, the other car had parked to the right of me and a man who looked to be in his 30’s had come around and was standing outside my driver’s door. “Ma’am, my mother and me really need some money for gas to get back home.“ 

I had heard this before …a few years ago when a man rushed toward me as I seated myself in my car in a secluded parking area after leaving the doctors office. “Don’t be afraid!” he’d admonished as he held my car door open while he asked for money for gas to get back home, but I was very afraid while I got cash for him from my pocketbook lying on the seat beside me.

If I had cash last Tuesday I would have given it to the man in the well-populated Tuesday Morning parking lot, but I didn’t. Instead, I offered to follow him and his mother to a filling station and use my credit card to purchase some gas for them. He declined. I offered to go into Tuesday Morning to see if they would allow me to write a check for cash. He said okay. Long story made short, the store had a policy against such, and when I went back out and told this to the man, he said, “Thanks anyway,” got back into the passenger side of his car, and he and his mother drove away.

God’s Word, and God’s Way, often make me uncomfortable because they take the illusion of  control out of my heart and hands and put it back into His.

God is my Provider.  He not only loves me; He loves others, and He wants to love others through me.

He doesn’t love me more than the Sign Holders. He doesn’t even love me more than the Scalawags. I am not smarter nor more prudent, nor have I worked hard enough to deserve a grilled chicken supper at Cracker Barrel or a new kitchen rug from Tuesday Morning more than the next person.  Nevertheless, He loves me, with a love that is way beyond my comprehension.  

This is what God says:

Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.  Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!  Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself.  Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.  Hebrews 13: 1-3

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me.  I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you? 
And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ 

Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’ Matthew 22: 37-40