Phone Calls to Heaven

Dad: Hello…

Me: Hey, Dad! Whatcha doin’ ?

Dad: Just talking to you on the phone.

Me: Seems like you were doing that the last time I called, too.

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This was the way 90% of the phone calls I made to my dad began.  It was our ritual and it played out often because I called my dad a lot.

I guess we must have averaged four or five phone calls a week, most of which lasted a good half-hour.  Perhaps you are wondering why I called home so much. Well, it wasn’t because I had so much important information to share with my father. Really, my life as a stay-at-home mom to five kids and two fosters isn’t that exciting. It’s really only rather mundane sort of stuff that goes on around here. (Obviously, if you read my blog often, you realize this is why I call it Tales From the Laundry Room. My life truly does revolved around a bunch of dirty laundry and hungry kids.)

Really, I just called home because I wanted to keep in touch with my parents … to find out what was going on with them and to chat about things going on in my home.

Regardless of the fact that I rarely had important or exciting news to share, my dad always had time to stop and listen. In fact, he seemed quite interested in hearing me ramble on about how my two teen boys eat me out of house and home, the ins and outs of trying to make my youngest memorize her multiplication tables, or how some days I feel like a taxi driver as I run my horde of kids hither, there and yon.

Sometimes Dad gave me advice. Other times he just empathized. But each and every time I talked to my father, I felt heard, understood, and encouraged.

I never felt like a bother. I never felt like a distraction or disturbance. It actually seemed as if he had nothing better to do than listen to me. In my heart, I know my Daddy enjoyed talking to me as much as I enjoyed talking to him.

And I miss it. I miss the crazy way we started off those chats. I miss knowing someone had the time to sit and listen. I miss hearing his rich laugh when I related some funny kid story or his gentle wisdom when I told about a small trial I faced in parenting.

Today marked a week since his passing, and all day long I’ve been trying to write this blog post. Of course, managing the activities of seven kids has kept me far from my computer much of the day, but when I did sit down at several points to write, I didn’t even know how to begin to say all that I feel or have felt in the past week. Such as:

~I’m proud to have been Malcolm Terry’s daughter. I couldn’t have asked for a better father. I’m grateful for the knowledge that he lives on eternally with God and for the hope of heaven during times like this.

~I’m overwhelmed at the outpouring of love from people in my hometown. Harrisonburg is a wonderful small community with a giant heart. I’m glad it’s where my dad chose to raise his family.

~I’m sad because my dad isn’t here on earth anymore and I’ll never hear his voice or laugh again. My children, all of them, have lost the only grandfather who was actively involved in their lives … and because my grandfather still lives, I feel a very deep sorrow knowing that they have lost this precious relationship at such young ages.

~I feel a little lost because for the first time in my life I have only one parent. Recently, someone shared with me that a parent is a lot like a life-line. When death cuts the tether, we feel as if we are drifting aimlessly. And yet, God is our anchor. He is our rock. In Him, life is stable  and sure and safe … even when the winds around us howl and the waves pound against us.

Somewhere in the middle of thinking about all those phone calls I made to my father over the years, and how I knew my Dad really did love those as much as me and wanted me to call to check in as often as I could, it came to me.  You see, God’s like that too.

God loves it when I check in with Him often throughout the day, just to talk about the big or little or relatively mundane parts of my life. He loves to listen, and always has time for me. Even a world crisis doesn’t keep Him from bending His ear my direction, or offering comforting words or providing me with wisdom, insight and gentle direction. Spending time praying to God isn’t a waste of my time any more than my frequent phone calls to my dad were a waste of time. In fact, I’m better off the more time I spend connecting with God!

I’m finding comfort tonight in remembering that while I may not be able to talk to my earthly father again on this side of heaven, my Heavenly Father is still available at any time, day or night … and that’s more than I can say for my dad.

He wasn’t at all fond of phone calls after bedtime.

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Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his face continually. ~1 Chronicles 16:11 

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42 years today

Forty-two years ago today, I was born with a head full of black hair that stuck straight up and a head that, at least according to my father, was shaped exactly like a football (thanks to the forceps used to pull me into this world).

Every birthday, my dad jokingly reminded me of my oddly-shaped newborn head. He recounted how as he gazed at me he prayed and told the Lord that he would always love me, even if my head was shaped like a football.

For forty-two years exactly, he did just that.

My father left this world this morning. I wasn’t prepared for him to go.  It happened unexpectedly. But even though my heart is heavy and this is the worst birthday I can imagine,  I’m grateful that I spoke to him last night and told him again I loved him … just like I always did whenever we talked on the phone, which was usually three or four times a week.

I can’t think of much else to write in this moment of the man I loved first. He was a wonderful man who loved the Lord first, my mother second, and his children and grandchildren third. (If he were here right now, he would be correcting me and stating his grandchildren and then his children! I never knew a more devoted grandfather.) 

I wish my daddy didn’t have to die, and I wished he didn’t have to die today … but there is peace knowing that he is worshipping Jesus face-to-face.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. ~Psalms 116:15

Fears

Another post combining assignments from Writing 101. This time I am completing assignment 17 (addressing one of your worst fears) along with assignment 19 (an unedited free write of at least 400 words).  

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When I was eight or nine years old, there was a scary incidence which involved me getting caught in a strong current while swimming with a friend. Actually, we were on the underside of a barge-type party boat, holding onto the metal frame and talking in the cool shade it provided. The barge was on the river, anchored but with the motor idling. No parents or other adults were with us, aware of what we were doing. In my memory, it also seems as if it might have been lightly raining as well, which was why we were perhaps underneath the barge, but of this I remain uncertain. However, one thing is always crystal clear in that memory:  I knew my parents would have disapproved of the activity in which I was participating.  Yet I was there … unable to say no to my friend, feeling guilty, but participating anyway.

At some point in the afternoon, my hands slipped off the metal frame, and I found myself trapped in a current. Although I knew how to swim relatively well in a safe pool, I wasn’t skilled at river swimming and I didn’t know how to get out of the current. Suddenly, I realized I was being pulled toward the motor of the barge. In that moment, I recall how everything moved in slow-motion. I never felt frightened, though I rightfully should have been.  Rather it was more like watching a movie of someone else instead of the feeling of impending danger being directed toward myself.

To this day, I don’t recall if anyone, including me,  shouted or screamed. I don’t remember who reached out and pulled me from the current, or whether I thanked them afterwards.  All I remember was the intense relief that washed over me.  I wasn’t going to be caught in my disobedience.

To this day, I have a fear of being caught in the act of doing something terribly wrong. I suppose as far as fears go it isn’t such a bad one to have. After all, it’s kept me from a lot of trouble and heartache over the years.

The older I get, the more I struggle with the fear of obedience rather than the fear of disobedience. Not obedience to parents or laws or even traditional morals. I’m talking about obedience to God, particularly the sort of obedience in which He asks us to do something hard and unexpected. I fear God asking me to do something I don’t want to do, something big and scary that might cause me some discomfort or a change in the lifestyle I’ve grown accustomed to living.

For years, I toyed with the idea of adoption. It was more talk than anything, a sort of respect and love for those I knew who adopted and a desire to follow in their footsteps. Even as a single mother, I expressed a desire and a longing to adopt a child, always imagining a special needs child from a foreign land. After Jon and I married, the topic came up for discussion more than once, but we were never on the same page.

A couple of months ago, Jon called me and suggested we find a way to go to a local Wait No More Conference, sponsored by Focus on the Family. All either of us knew was that it was for families interested in adoption or foster care. Obviously, I was mainly interested in adoption and Jon was still highly skeptical of both.

And yet, by the time the day was over, Jon and I were both on the same page … foster care with the option to adopt.

Let me be frank … obedience in this situation scares me to no end. The mere idea of bringing a child, one who has suffered so much, into our home. I’m sure any questions or concerns you can think of, I’ve already thought of and more. Jon and I constantly check our motives.

Up until about two months ago, I never really gave foster care much of a thought. I didn’t hear of it within my social realms or talk with others who were into fostering children. But once I began to hear God calling out to me, fostering is everywhere. I’ve met other bloggers who foster, became aware of former foster children in my own church, and even discovered a church in my community with a ministry geared toward foster families.

The most amazing part is how in a relatively short time Jon and I have gone from being divided and uncertain regarding God’s desires for our family to being united and certain of what God is showing us to do.  Our hearts and our home are opened to His plan for our family, and very likely one day soon, perhaps even by the end of the summer, there will be more than just the seven of us living here.

I’m sure there will be plenty of hard moments as a foster mother. My eyes are wide-open. And I’m a bit scared of the entire proposition, if the truth be told.

And yet, in the end, I am far more fearful of being disobedient to God than of being faithful to follow through in obedience to His calling for my life.

I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments. Psalm 199:60

A Room With a View (Writing 101, Day 2)

I’ve never had a room with a view. 

Photo by Sarah McKellen of McKellen-Messiniaki Properties
Photo by Sarah McKellen of McKellen-Messiniaki Properties

My childhood bedroom looked out over our front yard, which faced the main highway running through the rural town where my family lived.  I recall there used to be a large pine tree close to the road, but at some point it was cut down. My brother and sister and I loved playing around the pieces of wood for several weeks afterward.

Across the highway were the houses of our neighbors. Occasionally we would get permission to walk across the road to pay a visit, but generally my parents expected us to keep to our side of the highway.

I don’t think my parents cared whether or not my bedroom had a lovely view. My parents were far more concerned with teaching me right from wrong, who God was, and how to live a life pleasing to Him.

My childhood wasn’t about having a room with a view. It was about getting a God-view.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. ~Proverbs 3: 5-6

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College dorms do not generally offer much of a view either.

Once, I lived in a dorm in which my room came with a balcony. It looked over a large parking lot. In the end, the balcony was rather pointless. I could have used the extra space inside my room instead of on the outside.

I suppose college was never about the scenery anyway. After all, most college towns are fairly typical with their clusters of fast food restaurants and coffee shops, campus book stores, large brick classroom buildings, and of course dormitories.

The eye-opening experience for me was not the physical view of my world, but rather beginning to understand exactly how many different world views (or mindsets) there are in the world. Growing up in a tiny village (population 600) in the Bible Belt had certainly given me a strong understanding of my own worldview, which was then (and still is) decidedly Christian. When I left for college, for the first time I was interacting with people on a regular basis who did not look at the world through the same lens as me.

Looking back on those days, I can see how my own Biblical worldview was challenged, which forced me for the first time in my life to dig down into the beliefs my parents had passed on to me and decide for myself whether or not I wasn’t to continue to accept them as truths.

College wasn’t at all about having a room with a view. It was more deciding on my personal life-view.

You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. ~Psalm 119: 114

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I’ve lived in so many homes as an adult, I’ve lost count of where they all were and how long I lived in each place.  Most of those were nondescript brick homes in little subdivisions, but I’ve also spent my fair share of time living in apartments, duplexes and even for a short while in a tiny rental mobile home in a trailer park.

Once I lived in a home far out in the country, with fifteen large pine trees in the front yard. Other than the pine trees, there wasn’t much to see except for the occasional squirrel.

Another time I lived in a very old duplex on an army base in Seaside, California (close to Monterey). If it wasn’t too foggy, which most of the time it was, I could catch a small glimpse of the Monterey Bay out of the corner of my living room window. But mostly, I could just see all of the other drab military houses farther down the hill from where my home was located.

Even the home I live in now isn’t one in a particularly beautiful place. Not to say I dislike where I live. Quite the opposite. I have great neighbors.  And the location of my home couldn’t be better. It’s within a five or ten minute drive of nearly every place I go on a regular basis. It’s not perfect … but then, is any home?

I’ve decided I like living here.  Some days I have to decide it more than others.

 

After moving some 17 times in 20 years and calling five different states home, I’ve learned the location of my home has very little to do with my personal happiness.

In adulthood I have learned to be content with where God has placed me  … even if I don’t particularly like the view.

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. ~Philippians 4:11

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But one day I will have a room with a view … a fabulous, marvelous, completely unimaginable view. It will be my forever view.

Already, I anticipate that day. God says the streets will be of gold, the waters like crystal, and the city gates made of pearl. Jesus has gone there to prepare my home.  Once my time on earth is done, I will live for eternity in the presence of God.

What a view that shall be!

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”  ~1 Corinthians 2:9

Pushing All the Wrong Buttons

Last week my husband Jon became a grandfather … sort of.   He’s not exactly a grandfather, but yet in a round about way he could be considered one. It’s rather complicated but here goes.

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In Jon’s previous marriage, he had a stepson. Ethan.

Jon first met Ethan when he was a tiny toddler, and married his mother when Ethan was around two. For the next twelve years, Jon raised Ethan as his own son.

Jon taught him how to throw a football, ride a bike, and drive a car.

He was there for boy scout camp-outs and the time Ethan was taken to the ER to have a cast put on his broken arm.

Cheering. Disciplining. Worrying. Praying. Jon did the same sorts of things for Ethan that all good dads do for their sons.

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I’m sure you see what’s coming. It’s fairly obvious. Since I’m now married to Jon (and I’m not Ethan’s mother) it is rather clear at some point Jon’s marriage to Ethan’s mother failed.

In the spring 2008, Ethan’s mom had to leave her marriage to Jon (for reasons I will not get into on this blog). As with any divorce, Ethan and his two younger half-sisters went through some difficult experiences during this time. In the end, a judge decided both girls would live full-time with Jon, while Ethan, who was 14 years old, would be allowed to live with his mother.

By the time Jon and I had begun dating in the late fall of 2009, Ethan’s visits to Jon’s home had become sporadic at best.  It wasn’t long before Ethan’s visits ceased altogether.  Eventually Ethan did not want to see Jon at all, which hurt Jon deeply though he did his best to hide it.   It became clear Ethan was angry with Jon for some unknown reason. All of Jon’s attempts to reach out to Ethan seemed to have little affect.

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For the past four years, Jon has had very limited contact with Ethan. On rare occasions, Jon might see Ethan briefly when he dropped off his daughters to see their mom. But even in those short moments of contact, Ethan greeted Jon with an awkward reception.

Jon, not wanting to push Ethan further away, tried to give him space and time to work through his emotions. He ached to do more than send  birthday and Christmas gifts. He longed to do more than pray for the boy he loved like a son. And yet, how do you show love to someone who doesn’t want your love?

And as for Ethan … well, after a year or so, he no longer appeared to be angry, but more unsure of how to make amends.

The longer the rift was there, the harder it seemed to build a bridge to cross over the gulf separating the two from each other.

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Last fall we heard the news second-hand.

Ethan, now a high school senior, had gotten his girlfriend Marlee pregnant.  Jon and I  were thankful to learn Ethan and his girlfriend were planning to have their baby, and that Ethan immediately began to assume responsibilities for taking care of his girlfriend and their baby.

Last Thursday, Ethan’s girlfriend gave birth to their baby, a sweet boy they named Noah.

Of course, Jon’s two girls were over the moon with excitement. As soon as they heard the news, there began to be a flurry of excitement, as they were eager for their mother to come get them so they could go to the hospital and hold their new nephew.

As they rushed to get ready, Jon glumly ate his lunch. He made a comment about not knowing why he felt so out-of-sorts, to which I responded, “Well, I think I do. You do realize if things had gone another way, today you would be at the hospital too, celebrating the arrival of your first grandson, right? But you aren’t there, and a part of you is grieving for what isn’t.”  

Squeezing my hand, Jon’s eyes lit with recognition.  With an air of certainty, he said, “I’ve got to text him. Maybe he will let me come see the him and Marlee and the baby at the hospital.”  I could tell Jon was only barely hopeful at this thought, as if he anticipated he might be denied the privilege.

Soon a text message was sent, and fortunately the reply was quick. Ethan agreed to a hospital visit the following day.  A look of relief washed over Jon’s face. I don’t know if I have ever seen a happier father than Jon in that moment.

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From the start, Jon was smitten. I knew he would be. After all, a baby is a baby, and there is nothing more precious than newborn just hours old.

We met Ethan by chance in the hallway, where we spent a few moments just catching up.  While their reunion cannot exactly be described as joyful or warm, it wasn’t completely awkward either. As he had hoped, Jon found a way to express some key thoughts to Ethan without becoming overly sappy or emotional … how proud he was of Ethan for choosing to do the right thing in a difficult situation, how he loved him, and how he would always be there if Ethan ever needed anything.

Moments later, we walked into the small hospital room, meeting the young mother for the first time. I’ll never forget Marlee’s sweet smile as she asked Jon if he would like to hold the baby. And boy, did he!  He scooped that tiny 8 lb bundle of joy into his arms. Jon looked down at the baby with the same expression I’ve seen on many a proud grandfather’s face.

Jon and I left the hospital encouraged. Ethan was open to us being there, even accepting our invitation to celebrate his birthday (hopefully with mother and baby too) at a restaurant at the end of the month. We have hope the relationship between Jon and Ethan will be restored.

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Press-Button

Perhaps you are wondering why this post is titled Pushing All The Wrong Buttons.  Well, give me a minute … I’m getting there.

You see, when Jon and I were leaving the hospital, I had trouble figuring out how to get out. To leave the mother/baby ward, you had to push a button to open the doors. I kept pushing the button on the wall next to the door. It was clearly marked PUSH TO OPEN. Yet each time I pushed it, nothing happened. Finally a nurse on the other side of the door indicated that I should actually be pushing a different button, one that was unmarked as well as farther away from the door we were trying to exit. Once I pushed the right button, we were able to walk through open doors with ease.

Moments later, we stepped onto the elevator. I pushed the button I thought was marked with a 1 for the first floor. Nothing happened. I pushed it again. Still no movement. It wasn’t until I went to push it the third time that Jon noticed the button I had been pushing all along didn’t really have a 1 on it after all. Again, once I finally pushed the correct button, the elevator immediately began to move.

All I wanted to was to be able to leave the hospital. But none of the buttons I pushed would let me out. That is … not until someone showed me the right buttons to push.

All Jon has wanted is to restore his relationship with Ethan. No matter how hard he tried, nothing seemed to work.

That is … nothing worked until God showed Jon the right way to begin to restore the relationship with Ethan.

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Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you lost something you treasured?  Perhaps it was a relationship or a particular circumstance in life. Maybe you’ve lost financial security, health, or even a combination of things.

When my first husband unexpectedly walked out of our 14 year marriage, I lost more than just a husband. I lost financial security, the ability to homeschool my children, the privilege of staying at home to focus on being a mom.

For a period of time, I “pushed buttons” in an effort to not lose these things in addition to my marriage and my husband. I didn’t understand why God allowed me to lose them. I had no idea of how to get them back. All I knew is whatever I tried didn’t work.

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One of my favorite aspects of God’s character is how He loves to bless His children, to give us the desires of our heart.  (Psalm 34:4)  God is also a God of restoration.  In Joel 2:25, we read the promise of God to the Israelites:

I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten.

I think God still likes to do this for His children now. He loves to give us back what we have lost. It might not look the quite the same, but so often we find at some point in our future the thing we feared was gone forever has been returned to us.

After my divorce, my children had to go to public school and later a private school. Three years later, I married Jon, and to my delight the Lord blessed again me again with the privilege of homeschooling my children.

It is because of this essence of God’s character that I have hope for Jon to find that his relationship with Ethan will one day be fully restored. Ethan may never again call him “Dad” and perhaps Noah will never quite look to him as a grandfather … but because God is always actively working and moving in the lives of His children, I continue to believe in the hope of restoration.

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What has God restored to you?

How has He been faithful to you in the giving you back the years eaten away by the locusts? 

Leaving on a Jet Plane … Soon and Very Soon

“It’s 10 am, Mom.  You know what that means … it’s officially just a week left! Dad said he would pick us up at 10 am next Friday, and then we are off  on our trip! Do you think I should start packing today?”

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Three of my children are preparing to leave. In just 168 hours (according to Nathan’s latest update), they will walk out the door, suitcases in hand, to board a jet plane headed for Germany where they will spend the first half of the summer visiting their dad.

Eager. Enthusiastic. Wired with excitement. These words describe the mood of my three first-time world travelers.

Each day now is spent with an attitude of preparation and expectation for this highly anticipated trip. My kids are impatient for their father’s return, even though he will be taking them to a place they have never seen. None of them doubt their dad will do as he said, and come for them.  Moreover, they are eager for his return, filled with anticipation for the journey ahead, and trust implicitly everything will be just as their father has told them it will be.

And as sad as I am to see them go away for six long weeks, I can’t blame them. If I were in their shoes, I would also be excited to embark on the adventure of a lifetime! I just wish I had plane tickets to join them. I wish I could pack my bags and experience the excitement of going to a new country for the very first time.

Unfortunately, I’m not invited. All I can do is prepare myself to say goodbye, and pray they bring me back some German chocolate as a souvenir.

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As a Christian, I too am preparing for a trip. I also have a Father who has promised to return for me, to take me to a place I’ve never seen.

In John chapter 14, Jesus said these words:

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  

~John 14:1-3

As I watch my children excitedly prepare for their earthly father’s anticipated arrival, I wonder if the way I live my life here on this earth reflects that one day (possibly soon) my Heavenly Father will come for me, and take me to a new place,  a home which I have never seen.

The difference is my children know the exact time their trip will begin. So they are able to count down the days, hours and even minutes. They have also seen pictures of Germany. The list of sites they hope to see grows longer each day, as they peruse the internet and scour travel guides from the library. The Ann Frank House, Neuschwanstein Castle, a hike in the Alps, a visit to Europa Park (a large amusement park in Germany) … so many interesting places to go and new things to experience! And even though they haven’t yet embarked on their travels, this trip feels as real as a trip to the grocery store.

Yet, the reality of heaven quite often feels to me like a dream or a made-up fantasy. Perhaps if I had a specific date or a few  photos to view, the journey would seem more of a certainty.  But I don’t have a date to circle on the calendar.  And other than the Bible, there are no travel books to tell me more about heaven’s glory. I can’t look at pictures or talk to someone who has visited there.

But I do know heaven is just as real as any place on earth, more wonderful and perfect than I can begin to imagine, and my Jesus will come to take me there Himself. I don’t need expensive tickets, just faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ are all I need to be invited to travel there.

I’m eager to go check out heaven … just as soon as Jesus comes to take me home!

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What about you? Do you believe heaven is real? Are you ready to travel when the Savior returns? 

If not, I hope you will ask me how you can get your “free ticket” today.

A Prayer for America

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As a Christian, I believe in the power of prayer. As an American, I believe my nation is founded on the greatest principles, and though we have strayed so far from what our founding fathers envisioned, America still offers freedoms which I cherish. Today is the National Day of Prayer, and I’m joining thousands of other Christians in prayer for my country.

Today I am praying the following:

~forgiveness for Christians who are unwilling to stand up for what is right in the eyes of God, who are quick to compromise, and who are blissfully unaware of how our American culture is drifting ever farther from God’s truths

~forgiveness for our national greed, our skyrocketing debt, and our attitude of materialism

~a revival among Christians, with hearts returning to God with a love for His word and His truth

~guidance for our national and state leaders

~and mostly importantly, heal our nation … may God build His kingdom here, beginning in my heart and in my home, on my street, in my city, in my state and my nation.

I am praying. I hope you will pray for America today, too.

 

If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. ~2 Chronicles 7:14

 

 

V is for …

copyright Kathryn Finter
image copyright Kathryn Finter

 

The first time I ever played the piano in public was during the offertory at a Sunday night church service.  I am completely convinced the church pianist must have greased those keys with butter just before I took the bench.  My fingers slipped up one way and slid down the other. Despite all the weeks of practice, I am not sure if I correctly played a single note of my solo.  To this day, I wonder if anyone in that sanctuary recognized I was playing the old spiritual Brethren We Have Met To Worship.

Believe it or not, my parents paid for a decade’s worth of piano lessons.  The result? I can play most of the songs out of the Baptist Hymnal, but only as the notes are written and without any embellishments whatsoever. Though I am not a talented musician, I can play the piano decently.

Correction: I can play well just as long as no one but the Lord is listening.

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The summer I was in the 7th grade, our church got a new youth pastor. I think he must have volunteered to take the youth to the local nursing home to lead a worship service. To this day, I am not sure how he knew I played the piano, but he asked me if I would play the piano for the service. Ever the people pleaser, I was unable to say no.

There were three hymns for me to play:  Victory in Jesus, Onward Christian Soldiers, and Just As I Am. I don’t remember particularly enjoying being a part of the service, or feeling as if I had done anything to share God with those lonely, hurting people in the nursing home. I do remember being somewhat astonished people could sing to the music coming out of the piano as I played the hymns. And I remember the deep sigh of relief that came out of my mouth as the last note was played.

Not long after that, Mrs. Ellen, a lady from our church, approached me about playing piano on a regular basis for her Tuesday afternoon nursing home devotional.  Still a profound people pleaser, I found myself agreeing to join her even though it was the last thing on earth that I wanted to do.

That’s how I came to be the nursing home pianist.

The “congregation” was about ten or twelve patients, most of whom were suffering from some sort of dementia or Alzheimer’s, though a blind man who played trumpet often came to the services and joined me in making music for others as they sang along. It was a rather odd sound, I’m sure. I continued to fumble my way around the keyboard on that old, out-of-tune piano. No one had a very good singing voice. And the motley crew of worshipers had about 5 songs on the regular playlist … the favorite of which was Victory in Jesus.

downloaded from fotosearch.com
downloaded from fotosearch.com

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For four years, my entire high school career, I faithfully showed up at the nursing home every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 pm. I never once wanted to go. I would have quit in a heartbeat if I could have found the courage to just tell someone I wasn’t coming. But I didn’t. Instead, I continued to come and play. I didn’t feel called to the job or talented enough to be the one sitting before the piano bringing forth music. But, you know, I did feel wanted, and somehow I felt needed because I was doing something no one else was willing to do.

To this day, I can play Victory In Jesus without the hymnal to guide my fingers. Every time I hear those notes, I think back to the old nursing home in my tiny hometown and to the Tuesday afternoons I spent there playing the piano. My attitude wasn’t great. My piano skills weren’t any better than my attitude. And yet, God took that experience and blessed me for it.

I believe God loves it when His children voluntarily serve others. There are plenty of scriptures to back this point, beginning with “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Matthew) and “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). But there are so many other places in the Bible with words encouraging the followers of Christ to be first in service to others.

 

This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God might be careful to devote themselves to good works. These are good and profitable for everyone.   ~Titus 3:8

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  ~Galations 5:13

 Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.  ~1 John 3:18

V is for Victory in Jesus …

which reminds me to volunteer in service to others, even if I don’t feel talented, called, or have a desire to do the job which needs to be done.

S is for …

The invasion lasted a month.  It was the same scene morning after morning, glittering slug trails all over my living room, covering the furniture, the tile floor, and the glass window panes on my French doors.

Cleaning up slug slime quickly became my least favorite chore of all. Of course, all the kids would disappear as soon as I came out with the bucket of cleaning supplies. No one volunteered or stayed around long enough to be enlisted with helping wipe away the dried-up goo from my living room.

I can’t tell you the hours the kids and I spent searching diligently for the offending slug, sometimes finding it slowly moving through out living space. Other days, the slug was nowhere to be scene, but we knew it had been there because of the shiny evidence marking it’s path through the house.

I never could figure out what started the infestation. Where were the slugs coming from? What were they trying to escape? And what were they hoping to find in my house? The answers to these questions eluded me. As the problem began to drag on, I became a diligent researcher, hoping to find a method to rid my life of slugs. Truthfully, I didn’t learn anything really helpful. The invaders finally left, and I never did figure out what it was that caused them to seek out a new place to roam.

However, through my research, I did happen upon a lot of fascinating information about these gross mollusks. For example, did you know the slime was actually part of a slug’s self-protection? The thick layer of slime prevents the slug from being hurt by twigs, rocks and other sharp objects in its path. In fact, a slug can slide right over a sharp razor blade without receiving any injury whatsoever! Pretty amazing.

Slug slime also serves as a way for these creatures to find their way back home after a night of foraging for food. Other slugs can use slime trails to aid in finding sources of food. And those slicky, slimy slug bodies enable the little critters to stretch, up to twenty times the normal body length, meaning slugs can squeeze through extremely tight spaces.

All of this information helped me to see that to a slug, slime is a necessity of life. Without it, they couldn’t exist.

photo credit: wikipedia.org
photo credit: wikipedia.org

Even after learning so much about slime trails, I still wasn’t really a slug fan. But then God used these rather yucky garden pests to remind me of one of His truths.

I could tell exactly where the slugs had been inside my home because they left behind a glittery, shiny trail for me to see. The slime, so necessary to their way of life, is what enabled me to follow their movements in my home.

As a Christian, my life is complete through Christ. Without His presence, I would struggle to live effectively on earth and have no hope of heaven after my time on earth was complete. So the question God asked me was this:

Are you leaving an evidence trail to lead others to Me?

Thankfully, the slug invasion ended, and I no longer had to wake up to face a morning of cleaning up slimy goo. But now, each time I see a slug or notice a shiny slug trail on a sidewalk, I am reminded to ask myself if I am leaving behind an evidence trail that will lead others to Christ.

S is for slugs … and the lesson to be more like them in the way I live my life.

R is for …

 

image credit: Valerie Drake Lesiak (picture-book-studio.com)
image credit: Valerie Drake Lesiak (picture-book-studio.com)

 

“We need to talk. Our relationship is not sustainable as it is.”

As Jon said those words, an immediate lump formed in my throat. I figured he must be about to dump me. I was not expecting those words to be the opening lines of his marriage proposal.

Getting engaged to Jon could be described in many ways. However, romantic is not one of them, not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it was more like closing an important business deal than a traditional marriage proposal.

But I still said, “Yes!”  I accepted because I knew Jon’s heart. His love for me was true and strong. Besides, there had been plenty of evidence while we were dating which lead me to believe Jon definitely knew how to be romantic. Bouquets of flowers, hand-written poems, surprise gifts of jewelry, sweet compliments; romance wasn’t missing in our relationship. And while Jon’s marriage proposal certainly lacked a touch of romance that most women are expecting, he more than made up for it on our wedding day when he sang a love song he wrote just for me.

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I’ve heard a lot of engagement stories during my life. Some are romantic. Some are funny. But none are as sweet as Robert’s second proposal to Kim.

Robert’s not new to our church, as he often attended services with his wife Kim. However, Robert is a new believer in Jesus Christ. After several years of praying alongside his wife Kim for his salvation, our church was elated when Robert finally accepted Christ as his Savior late last year. In a short time, the transformation of Robert’s life has become evident. He’s a new man. Not even six weeks ago, Robert followed his decision with baptism at the first service in our new church building. As a church, we are becoming somewhat used to Robert creating a stir of excitement among us.

Still, we were not expecting Robert’s surprise at our Easter Morning service. With permission from our pastor, Robert stood to address our congregation. He talked about how grateful he was for the clean slate he had in Christ, and yet there were so many things he wished he could go back and do over. Robert continued by stating he desired to go back and start over in his marriage, to become a better husband to his wife Kim, loving her as Christ loved the church.

And then, in front of a packed sanctuary, Robert knelt on one knee as he tearfully asked Kim if she would marry him all over again.

Of course, she said yes … and an hour later, following the sermon, our church was privileged to witness Robert and Kim renew their marriage vows. If the proposal and vow renewal wasn’t enough to convince us of Robert’s love for Kim, he had taken the time to see to several special details, like a beautiful bouquet for his bride, a photographer to take a few pictures, and a small cake and punch reception to celebrate. Sweet. Sincere. Romantic. Robert lovingly wooed his bride, and those of us who witnessed it were blessed.

But even Robert’s second proposal to Kim cannot begin to compare with the greatest love story of all. It is the ultimate romance story. I am talking about the romance between the Lord of All Creation and His bride.

copyright Jane Sullivan
copyright Jane Sullivan

 

Humans as a whole are pretty rotten creatures. Think about it. You don’t have to teach a young child to be bad. As cute as they are, young children figure out things like lying, disobeying parents, and selfish attitudes fairly quickly and without assistance from anyone. From a very young age, all people learn to use our free will to our own advantage.

It’s important we humans have a free will. If we didn’t, then we couldn’t make choices. One of those choices would be the decision to love God. Any love that is forced or demanded is not a meaningful love. So God gave humans a privilege not given to other parts of His creation … the privilege of being made in His image. That privilege includes being about to choose for ourselves whether or not we will obey and love the Lord.

So long ago in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ushered in the fall of man. They chose to disobey the one rule God had given to them. (Don’t think that you and I would have done any better! If we can’t follow speed limits or keep from telling little white lies, we would have certainly broken His rule about eating from the Tree of Life as well.)

Sin came in and broke the relationship between God and man. We were helpless to repair it. In order to be restored back into a right relationship, we had to be perfect and blameless, just as God is perfect and blameless,  for we are made in His image. And yet, by ourselves, we are destined to break every good law God has given us. The only way was for someone with no sin to take our punishment for us.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

~John 3:16-17

The most romantic love story is this: God Almighty loves you so much that He chose to take the punishments for every wrong thing you ever did … every lie, every curse, every ugly judgmental thought. And He did it because He does not want you to live apart from Him.

Now that’s an incredible love!

R is for the Romance of God, who woos me to Himself and loves me like no other ever has or ever will.

What is the most romantic story you know? Have you felt God romancing your heart? If not, then I urge you to ask Him (with an open heart) to woo you with His perfect love.