Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Here Again by Carolyn

I know my dear sister, boon companion and blog partner, Judy, will probably be posting about the experience she has been through over the past two weeks, an experience that gives her an amazing witness, but one she surely would not have chosen for herself!  But I am going to jump in there briefly and express my thoughts and feelings about the impact of her experience on me. 

To summarize, Judy went to Hong Kong to bring her husband home after he fell and broke his hip. Many of her friends and family prayed and prayed and prayed that God would be with her, that He would never leave her side.  We prayed for her path to be clear, that He would give her strength, faith, courage, energy, stamina, peace, and a clear head.  We prayed for the doctors operating on her husband.  We prayed for his surgery, for his health and healing, for peace of mind, and for medications to ease his pain, so that he could relax and wait patiently until the time came for them to come home.  Then we prayed them home safe, quickly and sound.

Once back here, we knew that they would celebrate the holidays with a huge song of gratitude in their hearts.  And here they are!  Here again!  Within less then two weeks after a catastrophic fall, God brought them home!  How I rejoice with them that they are "Here again!" 

Jesus is our all in all!  He is always and ever faithful to respond to us in one way or another when we remember Him, remember to call on Him, obey Him and trust Him, He is there!  Every day I prayed for Judy and Jack and every day I could see the progress they were making toward their goal of flying back to the U.S.  He stayed right by their side in the doctors, and nurses, in other patients, in their children, in their extended family, in the airport personnel, in business relationships, and so many phone "angels" as plans were carefully made and executed.  It was truly, truly answered prayer unlike any I've ever experienced. 

Many of Judy's emails from China began with the words, "Here again." because she was so busy doing all that needed to be done, but the words were never, ever sweeter, than they were when she called from Chicago to report they really were "here again!"  How filled I was with relief and gratitude.  How sweet the sound of her voice and the words, 'Here again!" 

"I will be with you."  God promises that.  And when we remember that, blessings flow from His fountain of grace!  Thanks be to God that He came into our lives!  Wonderful God!  Wonderful Savior!  Thanks be to God that Jack and Judy are here again!

Friday, December 7, 2012

A time of infamy (by Judy)

Morning, everyone! I know it has been a long time without a posting, and there is no excuse - except to say that several times over the last few weeks, I thought - Ahhhhh... now that would make a good post! The proddings had to do with the beautiful and unseasonable late fall weather, with this Advent season in church liturgy, with the blessings and challenges of family and friends, with the dreaded fiscal cliff, and with the serious personal and spiritual gaffe that Abraham made in the book of Genesis by urging his Wife Sarai to tell Pharaoh that she was Abraham's half-sister. See - good stuff!

However, as I sit at my computer, it is with serious intent. This morning's Plain Dealer reminded me that today is "the day which will live in infamy" that Franklin Roosevelt spoke about after the bombing of Pearl Harbor 71 years ago. Still-resilient local nonagenarians told their story on the front page, and it made me settle as I read, and think. Then on the front page of the local section, there was an equally troubling story about the arraignment of an 18 year old who walked into school in nearby Chardon and blasted many students, causing death, injury and heartache.

Finally, after reading the news, I turned to my devotional, a book of daily readings written long ago by Charles Spurgeon and updated by my pastor, Alistair Begg. In part, this is what the reading said:
”If you will select for me the grossest specimen of humanity, if he is but born of woman, I will still have hope for him, for Jesus Christ came to seek and save sinners. Pebbles from the brook are turned by grace into jewels for the royal crown. Worthless dross he transforms into pure gold. Redeeming love has set apart many of the worst of mankind to be the reward of the Savior’s passion. Effectual grace calls deep-dyed sinners to sit at the table of mercy, and therefore none of us should despair.”

As I put the book down, my soul was stirred and I knew I must write today to share a long-held conviction - the sad young man from Chardon, and those sitting on death row in our country all share something in common - the possibility of being Jesus' reward for his passion, the chance to be jewels in His royal crown. Given time and the work of the Spirit. As long as we humans refrain from intervening in the name of capital punishment. So there you are - not quite as warm and fuzzy as my previous subject possibilities, but one that perhaps will cause you to muse about this time of infamy when capital punishment is the law of the land!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Grace.  A matter of getting something good we do not deserve.  Mercy.  A matter of not getting something painful that we do deserve.  Judy spoke of grace just a few days ago.  God's grace grants us the right to be with Him through the death and resurrection of His son.  By that same grace, He gives us the desire to intervene where we can to help and bless others as He has helped and blessed us so many times in so many ways.  By His mercy, He expects that we will treat others mercifully; that we can forgive them if they have hurt us, and likewise, that they will forgive us when we hurt them.

Today I am deeply thankful for both.  Just a few short days ago I wondered what to do when God is silent.  David was my example in Psalm 22.  In the beginning he was lost, alone, forsaken, hopeless.  By the end of the Psalm, he was praising God and proclaiming God's name to future generations!  God changed David in the short space of a Psalm.

Today my heart is bursting with thankfulness for God's grace, mercy, love and our changed circumstances.  A few days ago my family and I were in a scary place; frightened, anxious, worried, wondering.  Ours was a normal human response to difficult news.  But God, by His Spirit came along side in a supernatural way just as He did with David and changed our point of view to wait, to pray, to praise, to trust and to rest in His peace that passes understanding. 

Today our precious little Annie Lou has a whole heart!  A whole heart!  And it is with our whole hearts that we are thankful beyond words!  God granted the surgeons the skills they needed.  He granted the nurses and all those who worked to repair this child's heart all the wisdom, the experience, time, desire and effort to fix her up!  And now we are trusting Him to heal her quickly, and bring her back to health. 

Today, after this experience, we look to her little brother's future with great hope; supernatural hope, based on experience and faith.  Her 2 year old brother, as those who read a previous entry know, has a life-threatening illness.

This is God's amazing gift; whether all my family recognizes it is of God or not, in their own ways, as a result of this experience, they are seeing things happen that are out of their hands.  Some of us only need to see the night sky to realize that we did not put those stars in it.  And some need more.  When God takes things out of our hands, out of our control most of us pray.  We turn to Him.  And when those prayers are answered we give thanks.  And sometimes, suddenly, quite unexpectedly, we may realize for the first time in our lives, God exists.  That is a fine beginning!

And something else...just this moment I received the joyful news of the birth of my second grandchild; a brand new, beautiful baby girl.  How I praise God for His grace and mercy and love...TODAY!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Grace (by Judy)

I know that Carolyn only recently posted an entry, and I don't want to be a Blog Hog, but tonight my fingers are itching to talk about the word "grace." Of course it is a beautiful name, the middle of my little granddaughter's identity. It is also a description attached to a ballerina, or a swan. It is that small, quick prayer that we all sped through as children before a delicious dinner. And it is, as Wikipedia says, "... the love and mercy given to us by God because God wants us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it. It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to man - "generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved."

That is the grace that consumes my mind as we look out to tomorrow's election. This definition speaks about God's offer of grace to us, but since we aspire to be godly people, we Christians are called, in the name of God, to offer it to others. But do we, can we, should we? We must! If not, than what difference is there between us and the world we hope to sway for Jesus. Today I read of a Christian leader who challenges us to vote biblically. What does that mean exactly - besides agreeing with the agenda of those offering the challenge?

I am not going to spell out what the Bible says on a diversity of issues. That is up to those who aspire to indeed vote biblically. As our pastor says, "You are sensible people. Do your homework." Don't accept what others say about certain passages in the Bible. read it for yourself. All of it. How many of you have heard (and read) of the prophet Micah? That man from the misty recesses of time said, "What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Good counsel this chilly November pre-Election Day evening.

In the New Testament, there is this dialogue between Jesus and a Pharisee,  Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself." As we all vote tomorrow, it will be wise to consider these words - in which positions do we see justice, mercy, humility, loving our neighbor? Of course half the electorate will probably see it one way, and half another. Still, at the heart of everything decided tomorrow lies that word "grace." A gift from all of us to each other - love - generous, free, unexpected, undeserved!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Help for the Helpless by Carolyn

I have a very old hymnal.  When I visit my ladies in the nursing homes, especially those with conditions that do no permit them to speak, or understand speech, I often rely on God's Word expressed in the hymns, new, old or somewhere in between.  In light of Hurricane Sandy when I came across this one, it made me think how important, how critical it is to offer a personal, helping hand in addition to all that government is doing.  Here it is.  I hope it moves you to whatever action you've thought about taking, or reinforces a decision you've already made to help the victims of the storm and the cold weather to come.  It has no title and was written by the Reverend Robert Davis in 1908.

"I thank Thee, Lord,
for strength of arm
To win my bread,
And that, beyond my need,
is meat for friend unfed:
I thank Thee much
for bread to live:
I thank Thee more
for bread to give.

I thank Thee much
for snug thatched roof
In cold and storm,
And that, beyond my need,
is room for friend forlorn:
I thank Thee much
 for place to rest,
But more for shelter
for my guest.

I thank Thee, Lord,
for lavish love
On me bestowed,
Enough to share with
loveless folk
To ease their load:
Thy love to me
I ill could spare,
Yet dearer is Thy love I share.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Amazing Grace by Carolyn

This week our family had to digest some really bad news.  It can happen to anyone, but this news truly is 1 in a million.  Our nephew and his wife discovered their two year old son has a disease known as plasminogin deficiency.  He developed what appeared to be conjunctivitis on July 4th while we were all  vacationing in Michigan.  But it would not yield to the usual treatments.  Surgery was recommended to ease the condition.  Two surgeries later his eye was worse than ever.  Last Friday doctors finally recognized this genetic illness which affects approximately one child in a million.  It can be life threatening as it can affect any of the mucous membranes in the body.

His older sister is 3.  She is already facing surgery next month to repair a hole in her heart.  This is very serious, but not complicated.  She would be in surgery for six hours, then three days in the hospital, two weeks at home quietly recovering and then...back to normal.  But, she has a one in four chance of having the same genetic deficiency.  If she has it, the surgery will be postponed.  They will know next week.  Their world has suddenly been turned upside down. 

I bring all this up because the Lord provided just the right message for us today in church.  We opened our Bibles to Psalm 22.  I was unfamiliar with it, but I had written many notes on it in my old Bible. 

"Where are you?"  David asks God.  "Why are you so far away?  Why are you silent?"  David feels alone.  He feels deserted and abandoned by the One he loves so much, by the One he knows loves him.  He is wasting away.  He says in verse 15, "You have laid me in the dust of death."  He is alone, discouraged, desperate.  One author says he is "throbbingly alienated."  He is separated from God.

What do we do when God is silent?  Where do we turn for help?  David shows us quickly in verse 4.  He says, "In You our fathers put their trust.  They trusted and You delivered them.  They cried to you and were saved, in You they trusted and were not disappointed."  God asks us often to remember how He has helped us in the past.  When we look back and see what He has done, it helps us cope with the current challenges.

There are several verses that follow where David cries out to God.  He describes his thoughts and his situation.  He appeals to the God he knows for help.  He is perplexed.  He doesn't understand.  He is confused, isolated and tormented by his enemies.  He continues to appeal and begs God for immediate intervention.

Then, in verse 19 there is a change in David's tone.  He grows stronger and stronger as he recites who his God is and what He can do.  "But You, oh Lord, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me.  Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life for the power of the dogs.  Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen."

Immediately following that he tells the Lord in verse 22, "I will declare Your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise You....revere Him, all you descendants of Israel!"  His spirit is lifted higher and higher as he is picked up out of the pit of despair by the God who loves him.  He concludes by saying in verse 30, "Posterity will serve Him; future generations will be told about the Lord.  They will proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn-for He has done it."

What a difference from verse 1!  How did this happen?  What changed?  David changed.  God changed David. 

My family is still where David was.  We are crying out to God to help and to heal these dear, precious children.   At any moment He could intervene and show us His way.  At any moment He could intervene and turn that upside down world right side up!  At any moment He could change us.  We will wait upon the Lord and trust Him... for His amazing grace.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Marmion to Moses (by Judy)

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”  Most of us know that quote, right? And we assert forcefully that it is Shakespeare – but we are wrong. It is written by Sir Walter Scott, in his epic poem called “Marmion.” Regardless of the author, we get the meaning, don’t we? Lies beget lies. The further lies we tell to try and cover up the previous ones cause us to entangle ourselves in deception.

What an analogy – the spider’s web, and telling lies. And by extension, the poor, maligned spider. There is truth of course, and lessons learned. I struggle with the temptation to tell a little white lie, because it protects someone. Then I remember Frank Sinatra’s line in “Little White Lies,” “The devil was in your heart, while heaven was in your eyes, the night you told me those little white lies.” The best motivations do not negate the fact that lies are lies, a tangled web of deceit.

Recently I heard another story about a spider web though – one that turns my thoughts to God, and His five word promise repeated throughout the Bible: “I will be with you.” There are many ways that God says the same thing: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” from Hebrews; earlier in Deuteronomy, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." Perhaps the most familiar words in the Bible from Psalm 23, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.

So what does this have to do with a spider’s web, you may ask.  Here is the story. A soldier was being chased by the enemy, until finally, exhausted, he took refuge in a cave. He prayed to God to deliver him, but he saw was a small spider, beginning to weave a web across the entrance to the cave. The soldier scoffed at a God who would offer the protection of a flimsy web – until he heard the voice of his enemy passing by, speaking to a comrade – “No need to examine this cave. No one has entered, for look, here is a spider’s web completely across the entrance.” And they went on.

I began to think about spiders and their webs because I passed one, decked out in early morning dew. I then began to consider godly applications, for we find God everywhere. My mulling took me to sin, and lack of trust, and the end of where every mulling takes me, given enough time – to God’s faithfulness. And his promise, the one he first made to Moses, and to each of us – “I will be with you.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Trust Me by Carolyn

"Trust Me."  How many times have we heard these two simple words throughout our lifetimes?  Can you think of times when someone has said this to you?  Did you trust them?  How far did you trust them?  All the way?  What was the outcome?  What about those times when you said them to someone?  How did that work out?  Most of us are very careful about both sides of this issue.

Trust me.  What does that mean?  It has been said that our faith is only as good as the object of our faith.  Isn't trust the same?  If we put our trust in something that isn't trustworthy our trust is quickly destroyed.  "Once burned, twice shy."  If this happens too many times, soon we learn we not to trust.

I have been thinking about this since a silly, simple little incident occured in my home.  But it was a big insight into what it means to trust our God, and the difference between instinct and choice.
We have a Persian Cat.  Her name is Nestle.  She is the gentlest cat I have ever owned.  She is completely comfortable in our care.  She lies down and flops over on her back, pulls her front feet entirely straight up and over her head, stretches out her back feet as far as they will go exposing her tummy to all sorts of pampering knowing that's exactly what we are going to do.  She knows she is going to get brushed and she loves it!  She trusts us implicitly.  Suddenly, unexpectedly scrape the bottom of your chair across the hard tile floor making a loud, disturbing noise however, and watch her take a sudden flying leap straight up in the air, up the stairs, and under the bed!

But a scare like that will send any of us into outter space!  Now let's take a controlled situation.

When I pick her up she trusts me to love her, pet her and not drop her.  She is also curious and since she's an indoor cat, I am always looking for ways to stimulate her and satisfy her curiousity.
 Our toilet was running and I needed to put the chain straight so the stopper would drop.  Since I already had her in my arms, I thought she might like to watch me do that.  I held her in one arm and with my opposite hand I untangled the chain.  At first, she was curious, but after a couple of seconds, she became completely insane and catapulted herself out of my arms, up the stairs, back under the bed.  She didn't trust me.  Her instinct took over and suddenly it was all about self-preservation.  No choice for her, not really. 

As long as we are breathing there are lessons to learn and choices to make.  I thought about the lesson contained in this little experience.  When God puts us in a trial, or asks us to undertake a project we are totally unsure about, He's asking us to trust Him.  When He's calling us to step out of the boat, or into an uncertain and scary situation and He's asking us to trust Him.  He gives us a choice. Who is our role model in this?  There are many people in the Bible who had to step out of the boat.  Think of all those in the Old Testament who were called upon to do incredibly dangerous, and courageous things with little or no reason to be assured of the outcome, or all the disciples who followed Jesus before and after His ascension in spite of the danger.  But the most outstanding role model of all is Jesus Himself.  Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane sweating blood and saying, "Not My will, but Yours be done."

If your Bible has a concordance, look up the word trust and you will find dozens of references throughout the Bible.  It's a big word.  It's a big deal.  The dictionary makes a distinction between trust and faith.  Trust implies depth and assurance of such feeling which may not always be supported by proof.  When acceptance of someone or something is fairly solid and emotionally charged, faith is the more appropriate term.

Due to our human nature it is almost impossible to say how we will react in a challenging situation. But due to our supernatural God, for Whom all things are possible, (Matthew 19:26) it is possible to make the choice and say, "Not my will, but Yours be done."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"...the angel Gabriel was sent from God..." (Judy)

I may have mentioned my son and his family, who have lived in China for the last 10 years. Josh and his wife Cleo have 3 birth children, ages 10, 7 and 5. Over the years, they became very interested and involved in an organization called Baobei. The name means “a precious or priceless treasure,” and it is apt. They identify Chinese orphans who require lifesaving surgery, and then work to bring them to Shanghai, provide them with the surgeries, and arrange for their care in local homes as they recover. Often, with the life-threatening condition ameliorated, the sweet babies are adopted. Baobei is a true partnership among doctors, orphanages, businesses who help to fund this process and many families in the expatriate community.

Over the years, Josh and Cleo – and their children - have supported Baobei financially, and even more, by offering a loving, caring home as the babies recover. Each orphan took away a small part of their hearts, until finally one took their hearts completely, and they began the tortuous path toward adoption. The little boy, originally called David by Baobei, but named Gabriel by Josh and his family, is now around 21 months old, is only a month or two from the completion of the formal adoption process, and is about to undergo a very serious, but potentially life-changing surgery at Children’s Hospital in Boston the day after tomorrow.

This past week little Gabriel had to endure the indignity and discomfort that is associated with pre-op testing – a series of MRIs, x-rays, injections, proddings and pokings – all positive and essential, but impossible for a frightened little boy to understand. The only solution much of the time was for Josh to hold him tight, and allow the doctors to proceed, while Gabriel wailed. One evening, Josh told us by phone that it was a terribly hard thing, to hold his little son down while pain was inflicted.

I was so moved that I could hardly continue the conversation. Here is a young man with 3 children of his own, a loving wife, a business across the world, an overwhelming number of events swirling around in his life – but completely focused on the pain of a child, not yet completely adopted, whom he called “his son.” The parallels with the story of God and his children made me want to weep myself. When we believe, we become a part of God’s family, with all the privileges and responsibilities. God wraps his arms around us, and tells us of his love for us. Like little Gabriel, we do nothing to earn such a gracious gift. It is freely bestowed, but at a great cost, and with beautiful, amazing, love-filled blessings.

Today I hold Gabriel, his family, and the doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital to the Light. And I offer thanksgiving for the process of adoption!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Roses Are Red by Carolyn

"Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Color is God's gift,
and looks so good on you!"

Most of you have seen the Wizard of Oz.  I'm sure you remember that it begins in black and white.  It is a most wonderful beginning, filled with the optimism of the great relationships Dorothy has with her family and friends on the farm.  Then there's the scary lady down the street who looks like a witch, acts like a witch and hates Dorothy's beloved, precious, little dog Toto.  At the start, the film is filled with good cheer and hope for a future, but it's also fraught with fear and concern for the future.

We see the snake oil salesman, good-natured and friendly, yet providing people with something that did them absolutely no good.  They jumped at it anyway.  People are easily deceived and persuaded to spend money chasing after cures that don't exist, particularly if it doesn't cost them much. 

Then the storm clouds gather quickly, the wind kicks up and suddenly Dorothy is swept away and lands in a new world filled with color!  At the time the movie was made audiences were just beginning to see films in color, so for them it must have been an amazing experience.  It is still amazing to us because of the stark contrast between black and white and color.

Color is a most amazing gift from God.  Most amazing!  Imagine if the world were only and exclusively black and white.  What if there were no vibrant colors?  No red, or blue, yellow, green, or orange, or none of the amazing hues in between the primary colors.  Nothing.  Just black and white.  Sometimes in the winter, looking out at the landscape there is only the white covered ground and the black, gray, brown trees and branches, but little else.  Color evokes emotional response too. Red indicates passion and blue sadness or melancholy.  Purple leaves us somewhere in between.

Life is a lot like color.  There are days when we are filled with the happy colors of good cheer and fun.  We are alive with hope, following the yellow brick road to success, love and joy.  There are days when our hopes are dashed and the world suddenly looks bleak, colorless and gray. 

Yet, isn't that the pallette of life?  Take the colors, all of them, including black and white, and separate them out, enjoy each for what it is itself; run them together, one with the other, a little of this and a little of that, the pastels contrasting with the primaries, while maintaining the integrity and beauty of basics and the beauty of black and white.

"Roses are red,
Pastures are green
Is it really the green
That makes the pasture serene?"

Fanny Crosby was blind.  Yet her spiritual insight was amazingly keen.  Color is a God-given gift, emotions are too, but the most important gift God give us is Himself.  He is free. We don't have to pay a dime, or do a thing.  Jesus paid for us.  He paid in full for all the sin and injustices in the world, ours and others.  He paid it all.  Our God paid the wages for our sin.  Salvation and eternity with our loving God and Father is 100% free and I'm guessing....very, very colorful!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Perry Como Got It Right (by Judy)

The month of June has been filled with the usual milestones that mark life passages – Jack’s and my 46th wedding anniversary, as well as several others in the family; the end of school and BSF; the beginning of summer; grandchildren arriving for the annual visit to their “holiday house.” And one more, a pretty big one for me – retirement after 31 years at my current school, as well as employment at a handful of schools early in my career.

There sure are a lot of lessons that can be learned from 31 years at the same place. Especially since neither the school nor I am the same as we were when I started there. The school has grown physically, both facility and people.  I have changed physically too – a few more pounds, sags and wrinkles. It has recreated itself and its role in the community out of necessity and commitment. Over the 31 years, I was recreated, reborn, renewed by a loving God. Its position in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park has instilled a passion for the environment and sustainability. I still marvel and the beauty of my commute through the Park, but now within the context that This Is My Father’s World.

As my time to leave came closer, many people humbled me with emails, cards, notes and words. They spoke of shared love, nurture, encouragement, wisdom, and joy. I just closed my eyes and gave thanks to my Lord, who teaches all of us what such words mean. In the midst of such kindness, one card caused me to sink to my knees in gratitude and to weep. The printed card said, “Look forward to retirement as the reward it is for a job well done.” And she added in her own hand, “my good and faithful servant.”

A few days later some coworkers gave me a dinner, with a beautiful cake to end the celebration. The circular cake reminded me of the unbroken circle of God’s people and sweet words, “We love you” go round and round.  As I drove home in the twilight, I remembered the words from a song when I was growing up – a secular song that could be sung by the God whose blessings make me so grateful: Find a wheel, and it goes round, round, round, As it skims along with a happy sound, As it goes, along the ground, ground, ground, ‘Till it leads you to the One you love!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Nasty or Nice? by Carolyn

I learned a huge lesson the other day.  I volunteer at a nursing home.  I have been working there for nearly 8 years.  As you would expect, many of my patients have come and gone over the years, but several are still my "ladies."  One in particular is the subject of today's blog.

Kathleen and I have been friends for almost all of those eight years.  Recently, she became very ill.  Because of privacy concerns etc., I am not privy to what ails folks unless there are contagions involved, so I was only told that Kathleen had become very ill. 

When I went to visit I was shocked.  She had changed so much in a week.  She looked smaller, vulnerable and helpless.  Her demeanor seemed different too.  She was very quiet.  She wouldn't look at me.  Her brow was furrowed with deep lines.  I hardly knew what to say to this woman I hardly recognized.  She sat in her wheelchair unmoved and unmoving in a new room devoid of any of her personal things, or anything of a personal nature at all.  No pretty blankets, no pictures, no books, no personal effects.  There was a clean bed with plain white sheets, white pillows and a white blanket on it. 

I kneeled beside her so that I could look directly into her eyes, and took her hand in mine.  We had always had a very good relationship.  I knew all about her childhood and youth.  She grew up on a farm in Ohio with loving parents and grandparents.  She was the first in her family to attend college and she made the best of it.  For years she taught elementary school and her love for children was still so obvious.  She told me story after story about how hard she tried to help every one of them no matter what their race, background, abilities or attributes. She loved them.  She loved all of them.   She and her husband had no children of their own, but to her, each of these children was her "own." She had a "Teacher of Distinction and Excellence" plaque on her wall signed by the superintendent upon her retirement years ago.  She is very proud of that.

But now everything was different.  My heart went out to her.  I asked her how I could pray for her expecting her to say something about endurance, courage, patience, deliverance, all of which would have been perfectly understandable.  She looked me in the eye and whispered, "Pray that I won't lose my sense of humor.  Pray that I won't be nasty."

I was stunned.  For a moment, I was taken completely aback.  Then the tears welled up.  Here was a woman suddenly deprived of everything she knew, a little lady alone and in a lonely place in life.  92 years old, weak and vulnerable, but very, very wise.

"The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools."
                                                                                                                  Ecclesiastes 9:17 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sidewalk Signs (by Judy)

I had a most amazing experience this morning, so filled with blogging possibilities that I hardly know where to begin. It was a huge reminder that God is everywhere! All I have to do is pay attention. It started when I decided to exercise by taking a power walk around my neighborhood, rather than heading to the gym. I headed out the door, and a few houses down, my eyes were drawn to the sidewalk. Written with white chalk were two letters – GO!

 I chuckled and continued, giving the exhortation little thought. But the next word really rattled me, because it is a word I wrestle with often – “Thankful.” How easy it is for me to give thanks when my life is a joyful one. I am happily married, with two happily married children, and six beautiful grandchildren. My house is a warm yellow, reflecting my attitude toward life right now, as I head into retirement and the possibilities that await. I have health to take the morning walk, and senses to hear the birds and smell the sweet flowers. But what about when things are different. Will I be able to “Give thanks in all circumstances,” as my Bible calls me to do?

 As I continued my walk, my world became more and more surreal. Words popped up from the sidewalk in various neon colors – pink and blue, green and yellow – “Smart,” followed by “Happy,” “Trustworthy,” “Inspiring,” “Nice," Positive.” I was so entranced that I was afraid to take a turn, for fear I would lose my direction. But then I saw, “Keep it up.” Later, “Almost there,” and I was swept into the prison where Paul wrote, “I have fought the good flight, I have finished the race, I have remained faithful.” Would my unknown inspirer say the same about me? What an encourager was drawing me forward. Am I that kind of person to those who are flagging?

 The words continued – “Kind,” “Genuine,” and the cute “Huggy” and “Crazy.” Even those took me to my faith as I reflected about hugging my neighbor, especially the one hardest to hug, and wondering whether anyone would see in me the crazy love that Jesus shows to those who heed His words. Suddenly, the words stopped with the final command – “Meet at the door.” Where? What door? Meet whom? I do know one door, the one in the Book of Revelation: "Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” 

Now it is raining. I suspect the words are washed away. But I have preserved on my iPhone which I always carry as I walk. I have the reminder that each word offers, and above all, I have the reminder that God has promised those five words from the beginning of time – “I will be with you.” I am sure glad I didn’t go to the gym!n j

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Food for Thought by Carolyn

I recently heard of a new book by New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat entitled "Bad Religion." First, I am not endorsing any book, any political persuasion, or any newspaper, magazine or other influencers of public opinion. BUT, I do believe it is necessary and prudent for all of us to be aware what's out there, come to our own conclusions and tell others.

I have not read the book yet either, so I am not presenting a critique. But I am intrigued by the idea the author proposes that in our lifetimes traditional Christianity has been co-opted by any number of false premises. This, of course, has been true throughout the ages and the Bible warns over and over again against false teachers. There are those who want to add something to the Gospel of Christ. There are those who want to take away and there are those who want to distort it and twist it to fit their own views of the world.

Every generation of Bible believing Christians can point to people who cling to Biblical truth; people who preach it fluently, who write about it, sing about it, who live it out every day of their lives. We know genuine truth when we hear it. Or at least we make of point of comparing it to Biblical truth if there is any doubt.

Like those who are charged with identifying counterfeit dollar bills by carefully, exhaustively studying the real thing, Christians are exhorted to study the Bible in the same way so that we will know truth when we see it. This is not something to be done on the fly. It is not something you pick up only in the pew on Sunday morning. While both of these are beneficial, it takes time and effort to study the Bible so that we really become rooted and knowledgeable, absorbing its truths so that we are able to tell the difference between Biblical truth and lies.

I am going to purchase a copy of this new book. I want to see if it adhers to Biblical truth. If it doesn't, fine. It's just another attempt to mislead or misinform for financial gain, power or what have you. But if it does, what am I going to do about it?

Our pastor often tell us, "You are intelligent people. Examine the Scriptures and see for yourselves." If this new book is a warning, then I will sit up and pay attention. By doing that I can alert others. As Christians, I believe, we have an obligation to speak up for the truth and against the lies of others no matter how good those lies may make us feel.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Our National Place of Worship (by Judy)

Last week I traveled with my husband and friends to Washington D.C. We planned the trip awhile ago with little thought to the time of year; but thanks to this amazing late winter and early spring, we were there at the peak of the cherry blossoms. The display surrounding the Tidal Basin was a riot of pink and white froth, gnarled tree trunks supporting such a profusion of flowers that they swept the surface of the water as they bowed low with their beautiful burden. Schoolchildren and retired couples alike literally chortled with glee.

The blossoms were not the only delight of this trip. We sampled delicious wines in the Virginia countryside; spent too few hours in the Newseum, remembering the many events from our own lifetimes as well as those of earlier times; remembered national events in a different way as we visited the monuments and memorials marking wars and famous figures; wandered the streets and shops of Georgetown; ate dinner at one of the best farm-to-table restaurants in the country; and visited our National Cathedral.

That visit has lingered in my mind for many reasons. The first is the amazing commitment that our country made to this building dedicated to the worship of God, the equal of anything Europe has to offer. Eighty three years in the construction. Generations of masons, stone-cutters, stained glass window artists. I visited several times as a girl in the 50s, when I only remember scaffolding. As a young woman where I remember the organ playing. Taking my own children, hoping to impress them with the presence of God in such stirring grandeur. Watching on TV as presidents have been honored before being laid to rest in their native states.

Churches across our country come in many sizes and shapes, adorned and plain, many denominations and non-denominational, in cities and country fields, holding God’s people close. They are only buildings, but they offer solace and common ground. The unifying factor is that they are places of worship of our God, who is an awesome God. At the National Cathedral there are no pews built into the structure. That is because in God’s house we should not sit. The proper positions are standing in praise and kneeling in prayer. Only One sits in God’s presence. The One who said, “It is finished.” You can see Him sitting above the altar at the front of this beautiful edifice which I urge all Americans to visit!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ramblings by Carolyn

Lately, my mind has been shuttling back and forth between retirement, commitment, and recreation.

After 44 years of marriage to a man who has gone off to work every weekday, what's coming when he doesn't? Oh, there were years when we both worked, years when we didn't, but there have never been years when we were home together each day. We love each other, but we have lives of our own too. Our weekends have always been very special because they are weekends. What happens when each day is a weekend? What does he want? What do I want? Do we want the same things? We talk about it, but come to no conclusions. We will be re"creating" our lives and our life together. We are very grateful and blessed to have this opportunity, but honestly, it's a tad unnerving!

We know what we don't want. We don't want to waste our retirement years not moving about because it is too hot. We don't want to be indolent. We don't want nothing to do. (Double negative, but meaningful) Neither plays golf or harbors any great plans to see the world. He is not taking an early retirement, but we still have plenty of energy, are healthy and reseasonably alert. One thing we do know is every couple is different and must settle this for themselves.

What's left? Commitment. Certainly, we are committed to each other. We want the best for one another as long as we have each other. We are committed to something outside ourselves. He worked all those years not only for his own sake, but for our family's sake and for his company's sake too. His desire to do something for someone else won't change.

As a Christian, my purpose falls under the Great Commission of Mark 16:15, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." I quickly add with words or without!

That's not a bad way to conclude this blog. Though we may not know what form our retirement will take, we do know we have a purpose not only enjoy our chidren and grandchildren and what's left of life, but to be of some benefit to others, to give back. Now, that makes sense!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Moody Women (by Judy)

Did I get your attention with that title? However, no reflections on menopause. This week I went on a pilgrimage – one I take every year to the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. This venerable institution sits on a pricey piece of real estate on LaSalle in Chicago – the heart of the Gold Coast. However, it predates those wealthy landowners hoping for a glimpse of Lake Michigan who purchase surrounding properties. It was established by portly and passionate evangelist Dwight Moody in the 1880s. His heart for the city and the world established a presence which has sent waves of young people, generations of missionaries, pastors, preachers, teachers, musicians, authors, broadcasters and even pilots into the world, offering hope for revival in the name of Christ.

I never stop feeling a sense of reverence as I first step foot on the campus – the feeling that I am on holy ground. The students look like those on any campus in the United States, though perhaps a bit more clean-cut, and clear-eyed. However, they have chosen a unique educational focus, for ministry intent of some kind is a prerequisite of admission. For five days every February they welcome visitors – pilgrims – from around the world to join them as we sit together under the best Christian teaching available and worship together, singing a blend of the old music of the faith, and the latest in melodic biblical hymnody.

Every message – two in the morning and two in the afternoon on the Moody campus, and a rousing evening revival at the Moody Church – is delivered with clarity, to instruct and inspire. This year, among many lessons, I learned from Ravi Zacharias that surprisingly, Truth is not enough. There is a second need if we are to have impact – relevance. From Eric Moore, I was reminded that we focus so much on a busy life that we forget simply to be. He said we become human “doings,” instead of human beings. From David Papillion, a current student and powerful evangelist of the future, I learned about Jephthah in the Old Testament, who was confident in his own abilities to the point that he didn’t trust his faithful God, and in the end, suffered the terrible personal loss of his beloved daughter.

There were other wonderful moments, too many to tell – as well as the brief foreknowledge of what heaven is like in the singing together with other pilgrims and students, this year from the vantage point of the front row of the balcony. But I would be remiss if I didn’t also share the delightful human joys of sharing the trip with Carolyn, my boon companion, as we delighted in the comfort of the Hotel Indigo, which offers their rooms to Moody pilgrims for a paltry $89, when they generally run $250 and up; the special 3rd Coast, three buildings away, which is part diner, part neighborhood bar, and all welcoming, nurturing and delicious, whether breakfast, lunch, dinner or a bedtime cab after a shivery, snowy walk back from the Church along Chicago streets.

The blessing of attending Founder’s Week at the Moody Bible Institute never grows old – and neither does the challenge to take such a time into the year, not simply being fed, but feeding others – offering God’s love as students have been doing for generations on the Chicago streets and in far-flung corners of the world. What a privilege, what a call.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Fresh Grace by Carolyn

Tiptoeing into the dark room, I thought Helen would be asleep. To my surprise, when I reached her bedside she was staring at the wall. When I called her name quietly, she turned and looked at me. "Hi, Helen. How nice to see you again. Since you are awake, I'd like to visit for awhile." Helen has end stage Alzheimer's. I began singing in my softest voice, "Abide With Me."

Dorothy was awake in her wheel chair in the t.v. room. But her head was down as if she were staring at the floor. She wasn't alone. There were many others either asleep, or looking distantly around them. Some were watching t.v. The aid told me that I could take Dorothy to her room. I did. Speaking ever so softly to the top of her head, I said, "Hi, Dorothy. I've come to sing some of your favorite hymns. Perhaps you'd like to sing with me." Dorothy also has end stage Alzheimer's.

These dear, precious women appear to be trapped inside their bodies and perhaps they are, but maybe not. I don't know how Jesus reaches in and grabs their hearts, minds, and souls, but I must do what I can to encourage and comfort them. Singing to them comforts them like singing a lullaby to a baby comforts it. They listen. When the singing stops they grow fitful and restless until it starts again, or they fall asleep.

There are stories in the Bible about those who were trapped. One is the story of the Healing of the Boy With the Evil Spirit. Though the disciples tried they could not drive out the the spirit. This boy could not hear words of comfort when possessed. He could not express himself. Frustrated with His disciples, Jesus rebukes them and then turns to the boy's father. The Father is unsure Jesus can help. Jesus tells him everything is possible for him who believes. And then the famous outcry, "I do believe. I do believe. Help me with my unbelief!" Immediately, Jesus heals the boy. What happened? Faith happened. And Jesus said, "This kind come out only by prayer." The disciples did not understand. The evil spirit understood and left the boy.

The other is Acts 19:13-16 when some went around driving out evil spirits invoking the name of Jesus when they were actually pretenders who knew nothing about Jesus at all. The evil spirits did. One even said so. When called to come out by these counterfeiters the spirit said, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?"

While personal to me in my situation this may be applicable to those of you who face similar situations. Disease is evil. But all evil is under God's control and can be used for His good purposes. I may presume on God's grace, or doubt His power, but fresh grace and power are just a prayer away. I do not have the power to comfort these women. All I can do is pray that Jesus will give me what we need each time I am with them. I never, ever have God's power in my control. I need Him anew every day. I must never, ever forget to pray before I try to help.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Finishing Well (by Judy)

Today I met with the head of the school where I have worked for 31 years, and we agreed that he would announce my retirement at a meeting in a few days. Gulp! This moment which I have anticipated for years is almost here. The fact that the announcement is entirely at my initiative does nothing to take away the wobblies – nor does the statement from almost everyone I know that I will love retirement and never look back. Though he did hold out the possibility of my working on the farm during the growing season, the fact is, my life is going to dramatically change – and I want to consider the implications in Christian terms.

The Bible is filled with people who went through transitions, often having to do with growing older and failing to end well. Many of them had years of faithful service, but as they grew older they gradually derailed spiritually, or had one major breakdown which destroyed all their years of effort. We see the same pattern today – politicians, movie stars, sports heroes like Joe Paterno who died yesterday. Decades of accolades washed away in the final moments of life. Shakespeare got it right - "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” And he even titled a play, “All’s Well that Ends Well.”

Last summer I visited my daughter in New York City, and as we wandered the Greenwich Village streets, we came upon a small store selling one unique product – salt. Their shelves were filled with salts of all colors, and flavors, mined or filtered from mountains and oceans around the world. But they had one unifying quality – they were “finishing salts” – not something to be added, blended and diluted during the cooking process, but a wonderful seasoning to be added at the end – bringing out the best in the dish being prepared, and adding a unique richness. The dish would be diminished without the finishing salt’s transformative presence.

That’s what I want to be – a finishing salt! I know that to accomplish such a final purpose, I must start and end with God. I know that His strength is made perfect in my weakness, and I am promised that I can do all things in Him who strengthens me. What an encouragement to the faithful as we grow older. I was talking about this with my Bible study leader last week, and she said it is important in retirement to “be” – to allow oneself time to meditate, to dwell in the holy place – and not to feel a compulsion to remain busy and constantly outwardly fruitful. Wise words. I am sure I will hear many more. As always, the Bible says it best: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”

Friday, January 6, 2012

God's Work in Progess by Carolyn

Shocking! I am humbled by the power of God to make old things new; to refresh and renew what was stale and old and ready for the trash. Today is a day for praise and thanksgiving and I am so motivated to share my joy. And yet, I wait in awesome wonder anticpating what God will do.

I have a sister-in-law who had given up. She didn't care whether she lived or died. She was bitter, hurt, despondent and unable to function. Her dear, precious, son due to circumstances beyond his control, drank himself to death at age 34. One night, after months of drinking herself into sleepy numbness, she awakened and could not move her legs. My brother called the ambulance and they admitted her to the psychiatric unit at the local hospital where she stayed for 10 days.

God's angels in the form of a husband who loved her, counselors, AA, social workers, nurses, doctors and a team of people, family and friends who cared for her, brought her back from the abyss. All those angels and God Himself turned her around and pointed her in the RIGHT direction. She now has a will to live that is nothing short of miraculous.

My daughter-in-law had a lost childhood. It couldn't be found. For years she knew something was missing, but she didn't know what. She had been robbed of her sense of worth and well being. But nothing is impossible with God. Though she doesn't know it was God Himself who found the pieces for her and gave them to her, she will one day. I have no doubt.

Two women who have been transformed by the power of God. Two women who once were lost but by God's grace are being found! One day they will know and acknowledge their Savior. One day not only will their eyes be opened to their new lives, but to the One and ONLY God who can renew life and bring people back from the dead. They will discover they have been born again. I know it. One day, they will know it too. In the meantime, how I praise my Lord and Savior for His love and compassion on my family!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Where Do We Go From Here?

January 1, 2012.

"Ring the bell
It's a glorious sound
People gather round
And start to cheer
And the cheer starts to swell.
If you like taking a bow,
Then you've got to know how
To ring the bell."

Written by Jimmy Van Huesan and Johnny Burke

At my age, I wasn't awake to ring-a-ding-ding at midnight last night. I was awake at 5 a.m. this morning to see a news report of millions of people in Times Square ringing bells, hootin' and hollerin', cheering, waving, kissing and watching the ball drop. 'What a party!' I thought. Wow.

From the air, high above Times Square, they looked like one giant person moving in unison, like the waves you see at football games. They were definitely one in spirit. Would you like to be in Times Square at midnight on New Year's Eve like so many people do? How did you celebrate New Year's Eve 2012?

We were very blessed to be with my coffeepotgospel, bosom buddy, Judy and her husband. They have had a New Year's Eve party every year since 1973 only missing twice. For the last two years, at popular request, they've held their party from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. so we could all go home and sleep! There were old friends gathered there, new friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and folks I had never met. Throughout the evening there must have been about 50 people coming and going. We gathered around the buffet table filling our plates with the bounty provided. We massed in the kitchen all talking at once. Some chose to sit in the living room talking quietly with one another. I thought to myself, 'What a party!' Wow.

From the ground, in Judy's living room, family room and kitchen, faces shimmered with light; faces of love and good will, some faces now lined with the wisdom, individuals whose lives might vary enormously from my own, but people reaching out, reminiscing, laughing, and occasionally, thoughtfully wondering what 2012 will bring.

Sharply at 9, a dear friend began clanging on a glass, calling everyone to attention to announce there would be an "after party" party in the garage! Jack and Judy were stunned! Some of us were stunned too. How would we stay awake? We were told there would be plenty of pebbles to throw at Judy and Jack's bedroom windows to keep them up. But who would throw them if we were all asleep on the garage floor snuggled under our tablecoth blankies? There was a collective sigh of relief as we figured out this was good humored teasing that we aren't getting any younger! We were all one in spirit as we thanked our hosts for another happy, successful New Year's Eve, for their kindness, generosity and love.

Where do we go from here? Some went to their own after parties. Some went to bed. What about 2012? I don't know about everyone else, but I will find my way in faith in God. I know that He has plans for me, plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me hope and a future. And you know what? He has the very same plans for YOU! Happy New Year Everyone! May 2012 be filled with every good thing!