Monday, December 30, 2013

What a Southern gal learned with two blades strapped to her feet


Growing up in the Deep South as I did, ice-skating seemed the stuff of fairy tales.

The closest we came to it was sliding across the driveway after an ice storm.

But in the 1976 Olympics, Dorothy Hamill perpetuated the fairy tale. In graceful splendor, she sailed across the ice and into our hearts with an Olympic Gold medal in both the short and long programs.

We wanted to spin like Dorothy. We wanted her haircut.

She planted in the heart of a young woman more experienced at swimming than spinning an aspiration to don a glittery costume and perfect an arabesque while gliding across the ice on two blades at twenty miles per hour.

Well, take away the glittery costume, the arabesque, and the twenty miles an hour, but I finally did it.



 Unable to find ice thicker than the skim on the birdbath around here for decades, an ice skating rink finally came temporarily to my town, and I strapped on a pair of blades.

When I first stepped on the ice, I said to my daughter who was with me, “I’ll never get this.”

She turned to me and said, “I felt the same way when I first did it.” She’d ice skated in the city where she attends college and had at least a working knowledge of what to do.

I clutched the rail as I inched my way around the rink. In short order, my daughter struck out on to the ice leaving me trying to avoid the flailing arms and legs of those in front and behind me. Halfway around, I arrived at a few conclusions.

First, this creeping along was not ice-skating.

Second, I was in more danger at the rail than on the ice, with the bladed feet around me splaying in every direction.

Third, I was never going to learn anything white knuckling the rail.

So, contrary to my careful nature, I let go.

Just the blades, the ice, and me. Oh, and the toddlers, the teenagers, and the retirees flying past as if I were standing still.

With every move, I saw myself Dorothy, elegant and agile. I wanted to do tricks—skate backwards, do a triple jump, something. But I suppose my biggest trick was managing to stay upright on the ice without splatting on my hiney.

 I don’t believe in bucket lists, but I do believe in living our whole lives well and for me, putting on those ice skates was a dream come true.

So glad I turned loose of that rail.

Looking towards a new year, I suppose there are other ways that I’m metaphorically holding on to the rail. But I’m looking to let go in those areas as well—to unfurl my fingers and glide into the future with Jesus.

Oswald Chambers said it this way, As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, unremembering delight, nor with the flight of impulsive thoughtlessness, but with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ. Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him.”

Maybe you have white knuckles, too, clutching onto the familiar, holding onto the past, when God is calling you to step out with Him. It’s scary. It’s unpredictable. And it may not be all that safe.

But this southern gal is here to tell you, there’s nothing like it.

Let go that rail and have a blessed New Year!
". . . I, your God, have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go.I’m telling you, ‘Don’t panic. I’m right here to help you" (Isaiah 41:13 The Message).


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!


Thursday, December 19, 2013

When someone lets you down


Someone let this little shepherd down.

Me.

Of course, it wasn’t intentional. He’d practiced and memorized his line perfectly for the play:  “There it is! There’s the star, right over that stable there. This must be where He is.” But as the person cueing him on, I forgot to turn on the microphone--and after all that hard work.

I agonized over the faux pas, made my apology, and in the process, God sent a consoling word to me. In my spirit, I heard these words from the Lord: “I didn’t need a microphone to hear him.” God assured me the little shepherd had the ear of the King of Kings.

When someone lets us down, we often feel passed over. Forgotten. Alone.

But, we have the attention of the Master of the Universe who never overlooks us, forgets us, or nods off.

He’s on the job 24/7.

“My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:2-4).

As I heard concerning our small sheep herder, it’s such a comfort to know God doesn’t need a microphone to hear us, either.

In the middle of the night, when our hearts ache, and the words won’t come, what a blessing to know God even picks up on the unspoken cries of our heart.

This season with all of its joys can also be a time of disappointment. So this Christmas, if someone has let you down, remember God is always present to hear and lift you up.
 
Take it from me and the little shepherd.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Angelic appearances




 
We’ve seen a few angels around here lately.

At least, they looked like angels.

Thanks to the incredible skill of the costume designer for our church play, the angel wings seemed they might actually work.

“What if we really fly off?” one young cherub said, apparently entertaining the idea that anything might be possible.

In an attempt to portray the mightiness of the angels, our designer draped a chain bearing a heavy cross around one of the angel’s necks.

When I saw it, I had to think about whether an angel could wear a cross on the day of the Savior’s birth. The cross was a point in the future, yes?

But according to Revelation 13:8, Jesus is “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.”

We want everything to play out in a linear fashion, but God’s time is not our time. When the God-man Jesus pierced the space-time continuum, God saw the cross through the bleating sheep, and the brilliance of a star, and the baby in a manger.

Perhaps some of the angels who announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds were the same ones who might have attended him as he hung stripped on a splintered cross.

The God who does not count minutes as we do heard the cry of “not my will but yours,” over an infant’s cry and persisted towards his goal of wresting us from death’s grip.

When I think of the intricacies, power, and sacrifice of God’s plan, I stand in awe.

In that sweet scene we reenacted is what the apostle John described: “The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us” (1 John 1:2 The Message).

That angel’s cross reminds me “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life” (John 3:16 The Message).

An eternal life.

In the words of an angel, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke2:11).

Can’t you just feel the brush of angels wings as they once more direct us to the Savior?
 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

If you're looking to light the night


 I'm so aware this is a difficult time of year for many. Christmas of 2010 presented us with unbelievable challenges. In fact, a friend who knew all the circumstances said, "I don't know what else can happen to your family." Just a few days after the post below was written in December of 2010 my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer, as we continued to deal privately with another situation equal to the cancer in difficulty and threat. We relied on God's grace, and the kindness and prayers of others to traverse those very deep waters.
 
Today, three years later, we find my husband's tests showing no cancer. The other situation has also seen a miraculous touch of God in ways that I'd love to share, but it is still someone else's story to tell at this point. But I'll say this, it is an extraordinary accounting of God's working behind the scenes in ways I could have neither scripted nor anticipated. We are so grateful and well aware that our outcome could be very different. I'd like to think our hearts would still be full of praise.
 
So, if you're struggling in the midst of difficulty this Christmas, I pray the scriptures below speak to you as they did to us during our dark time and help light your present night, as well.
 
 

I make several out of the way detours at Christmas to take in the lights in our town. Workers spend many hours winding strands around the gingko trees, which line the streets. Beautiful, don’t you think?

This Christmas has presented our family with the most serious challenges we’ve ever faced—only one of which is a biopsy my husband is having tomorrow. Others I do not have the freedom to write about now. I know many of you face challenges as well. So, I thought I’d share scriptures that have carried me in these last weeks.

Two verses from Ecclesiastes: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men…” (Ecclesesiastes 3:11). “Anyone who is among the living has hope…” (Ecclesiastes 9:4).

From Philippians: “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

Isaiah 35:3-6: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”

No matter what else is happening, it's a time to celebrate God sending Jesus to rescue us. In Psalm 77, David lamented his desperate situation for many verses, then he says, “…I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.”

So, I’m meditating on all that God has done for us in Jesus and how he has shown himself mighty through the ages. In particular, I’m rejoicing and giving thanks for His faithfulness to our family for many, many years.

The last words of John Wesley were, “The best of all, God is with us.” Yes, Emmanuel has come to save us, to be with us. That truth lights my world brighter than the gingko trees on any dark December night.


Monday, December 9, 2013

When the thread runs long

Our precious friends from Nigeria, Joseph and Antonio, recently passed through here. Our relationship with them goes back to my husband's seminary days when we first connected. Over the years, either one or both of them have spent many weeks in our home.

I love the pictures which document our journey together, from a few months after our son, Aaron, was born—



Through the time our children were in high school (children a little sleepy as it's 7 a.m. before school)—
 

And from just recently—
 

Joseph and Antonio could have chosen an easier route than the one they travel today. Educated in this country with a doctorate in ministry, Joseph could have opted to stay in a more comfortable place, but they felt called to minister in their own country. There’ve been times they did so under threats of death. Other times, they continued their work living sacrificially for long periods with little remuneration.

 A friend who heard Joseph speak this week mentioned how he often says “In Jesus name.” And I shared with her that when we’re in the car together or just sitting in our den, he or Antonio will begin to recite scriptures, speaking the blessing of God over our lives. I’ve learned much about dwelling on the word, and declaring the blessing of God from Joseph and Antonio.

Their lives have demonstrated to me that the walk with Jesus can sometimes lead through treacherous times even when we are giving our all in service to Him. But God calls us to faithfulness in every circumstance, and I’ve been inspired by their example to persevere in the midst of difficulty. Their passion for serving Christ is contagious.

When I’m with these dear ones, I’m reminded there are many others like them around the world who minister in adversity for the sake of the gospel, and though we may not even know their names, their labor in the Lord may be changing the course of history.

Yes, our relationship with our brother and sister in Christ has now spanned decades, but also thousands of miles geographically. When the thread runs long, we look back, and stretch our arms wide as we offer thanks to God for binding us together “In Jesus name.”  It’s our privilege to know them.
 
"Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart" (Philippians 1:3 The Message).
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).
 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

If you want to shop for Christmas, alleviate poverty, and stop human trafficking


At this year’s Catalyst Conference, I came across the Worldcrafts exhibit and was immediately drawn in. According to their brochure, Worldcrafts operates under Fair Trade Federation standards and seeks to help women and men around the world to “earn a living with dignity and escape the grip of poverty.” Their parent organization, WMU, is engaged in the fight to stop human trafficking. Their mission statement declares they want to “involve Christians in understanding and becoming radically involved in the mission of God.”

Without realizing it, I’d already made a purchase from them some time ago. On a mountain retreat, I came across some of their fair trade products in a gift shop, and purchased a lizard made in Kenya from strips of soda cans for my wildlife biologist to-be son as well as jewelry for my daughter made in a far-flung place.

I also made a few purchases at Catalyst and received their Christmas catalog a few weeks ago.

As I thumbed through the pages, I took a tour of how people around the world see the Nativity, for among the offerings in the catalog are handcrafted sets made in places like China, Bangladesh, and Kenya. I thought of the beloved Alfred Burt carol, “Some Children See Him.”

The stories of Worldcrafts artisans stir my heart. At 80 years of age, a basket maker in Kenya accepted Christ for the first time. In Yunnan China, women who work all day in the fields only make $36 a year. Through Worldcrafts, they’re able to use their embroidery skills to make $12 a month.

Worldcrafts is not paying me anything to write this, but if you’re looking for unique gifts, the purchase of which will make a real difference in someone’s life, please check them out.

Cause no matter what color Jesus seems to you, helping families feed their children, or saving a young girl from human trafficking is what true religion is all about.

“Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world” (The Message James1:27)

You may watch a short overview of the Worldcrafts mission here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A ham, a lamb, and when everything seems haywire


We’re putting the last of the turkey leftovers in the freezer, pulling the Christmas decorations out of the closet, and I’m about to post a festive new blog banner. I actually did it way back in July. How’s that for long term planning?


The Christmas Season is upon us.

To that end, I’m helping to direct the children’s Christmas play at church this year.

We have our challenges.

The shepherds have a disposition to shoot down the aisle early preempting Mary’s “Away in the Manger” solo. One lamb would rather be with his mom than a bunch of diminutive sheepherders, so he tries to slip the clutch of his handler. And it seems that in the spirit of the classic children’s story by Barbara Robinson, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, we may find ourselves with a ham on the altar the evening of the performance. (If somehow you missed The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, find a copy and read it to any kids you can round up. It will definitely unlock the child in you, too.)

But, despite the crowd control issues, there are poignant moments when these precious kids who have a grip on my heart have me dissolving into tears almost making me forget who I’m supposed to cue on stage.

All this has made me reflect on the original cast. I can see many opportunities for things to have gone haywire then, too.

Instead of saying, “Be it unto me even as you have said,” Mary could have told God she wasn’t going to the prom carrying an infant. After learning of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph could’ve simply defriended her. After recovering from their angelic appearance shock, the shepherds might have sought greener pastures--in the opposite direction of Bethlehem. And the Wise Men? They could’ve thought it wiser to keep their distance from a baby who had Herod in such an uproar.

But God was the original long-term planner.

Somehow, from the beginning, God knew this motley bunch of characters would play their part in the unfolding of a story that split history.

He knew we’d need to see that ordinary people could play an extraordinary part in God’s plan of redemption for the world.

And He knew a baby would change everything.

There’s a culminating moment in our pageant when we understand that every line and action in the play points to the baby Jesus. All eyes are on the infant King. That’s when I almost lose it.

God chose to become Jesus, a vulnerable, tiny person in the care of a teenager and a carpenter, and included farmhands, astronomers, and livestock in the celebration of His historical entrance. You gotta love a story like that.

When life seems to be going off the rails, it’s a comfort to know the God, who became one of us, sees, knows, and is always working even through the difficult circumstances to accomplish His purpose.

So, the night of our pageant, if a ham shows up, it’ll be okay. Because we’re going to be looking for Jesus, God with us, and there’s nothing like a child to show us the way.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Feathers


We have a one-person kitchen, so I’m waiting my turn to make the cranberry-apple casserole and German chocolate pies after Jerry finishes his turkey and dressing. And yes, I consider myself blessed to have a man who cooks so well. I’m sending this out into cyberspace on a day when I know many of you are in the kitchen yourselves, traveling, or gathered with family, so I’ll be brief.

We recently visited our granddaughter’s school on Grandparent’s Day—one of my favorite days of the year.
 

She gave us a bag of wonder to take home with us. Though I remarked on the pinecone turkey she’d made when I first saw it, it wasn’t until later that I had the opportunity to reflect on each of the blessings she’d written on the tail feathers: water, house, bed, church, Bible, food, clothes, family, pets, grandparents (of course), and Jesus.

So here’s my prayer for each of you this Thanksgiving. I pray that you might have many feathers of blessing. And as you pause to take notice of the small and great blessings in your lives that you will sense the resplendence of all He has done for you in Jesus Christ.

For the one who may be alone, or suffering loss this season, I pray the comfort of the Holy Spirit in the midst of your heartache.

Thanks to each of  you for spending a few moments of your life with me throughout the year. My dear readers, you are definitely one of my finest feathers.

Happy Thanksgiving!
 
"Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live" (I Thessalonians 5:16-18 The Message).

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Last Thanksgiving

A little something different today from One Ringing Bell.
 
The year 2033

Somewhere in the United States of America

On a fall day, as Kara  stands in the kitchen working turkey flavored textured protein dough into bars, her ten-year-old daughter Leia pulls on her sweater, “Mama, let’s look at pictures from when you were little.”

Kara places a bar on a cookie sheet for baking. “Old pictures? Sounds a little boring.”

Leia leans against her mom, “I love hearing about the good old days.”

 

Kara smiles. “All right, but my hands are covered in dough. Pull my computer from my back pocket and plug it into the refrigerator port. We can look at pictures while I finish the turkey bars.”

As the device seats in the port, the refrigerator screen springs to life. “Good morning, how can I help you today, Kara?”

“Well, Hiri, can you finish making these protein bars?” Kara laughs.

“I wish I could. I have a fondness for those bars, because my mother, Siri, first stored the recipe for them.” Hiri lets go an electronic giggle. “Is there something I can do that’s more compatible with my features?”

“Leia wants to look at old pictures--maybe from around 2012 or 2013.”

“Searching the nebula for data,” Hiri says. The screen dances with digital photos.

“Those are great,” Kara squeals.

“You’re welcome,” Hiri responds.

Leia points to a picture of Kara in a school uniform. “Mom, what’s that on your back?”

“A backpack--we put our books in it for school.”

Leia appears incredulous and asks, “You didn’t have books on your computer?”

Kara's forgotten how much life has changed as she places the last protein bar on the cookie sheet. “We had eBooks, but not many textbooks on computer. Computers are so much smaller now. You have everything you need in your pocket."

Leia enlarges a photo of a group of people gathered around a table. “Is that your family? And what’s that in the middle of the table?”

Kara laughs as she wipes her hands on a bamboo towel. “That’s a real baked turkey, and that’s our family at Thanksgiving dinner.” Bittersweet feelings creep over her as the memories return.

“Thanksgiving dinner?” Leia asks.

Kara eases onto a kitchen stool as she explains. “All the family gathered together on a special day to thank God for our blessings as the first settlers did back in the 1600’s. But, I believe 2013 was our last Thanksgiving.”

Leia appears puzzled.

“Up until that point, stores had closed on Thanksgiving, because it was such a special holiday. That last year they started opening for business part of the day. As usual, your grandmother cooked a big meal for the whole family, but your great Aunt Susan pushed back from the table before she even took a bite of her turkey because she dashed out to get in line to buy an Xbox for Christmas for my cousin, Jeff.”

“What’s an Xbox, and why didn’t they just visit a virtual store?”

Kara shakes her head. “Xbox was a gaming system, and virtual stores weren’t like they are today.” Kara sighs. “Your Great Uncle Mike announced he saw a cheap flat screen at a discount store, so he tore out right after Susan.”

Leia’s brow furrows. “If houses didn’t come with screens in the walls, where did Hiri live?”

“Hiri wasn’t around then, so she didn’t need a place to live,” Kara responds. “Anyway, your grandmother grew sad because everyone left so quickly, and the next year, most of them said they’d rather shop than get together because the stores were open all day on Thanksgiving. Your grandmother died a couple of years later.”

Leia appears stunned. “Your family skipped Thanksgiving so they could go Christmas shopping, but why couldn’t they wait till after Thanksgiving to shop?”

Tears well in Kara’s eyes as she thinks about what they’d done. “Just trying to get more stuff for less money supposedly to give at Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Leia says. “I don’t think Jesus wants us to celebrate his birth by not making time to offer thanks and enjoy our family.”

As Kara pulls Leia close, she nods at her daughter’s truthful summation. “And now they’re all gone, and so is that special Thanksgiving celebration. It’s just you and I and my cousin Jeff, wherever he is.”

“I wish I had a big family,” Leia says sadly. Then she brightens. “But we can still give thanks to God, and we can make our own Thanksgiving.” She points to Kara’s turkey bars. “We can have those for our celebration and invite cousin Jeff.”

From the refrigerator, Hiri says, “My mother told me about the  Thanksgiving tradition. Can I come?”

“Sure, Hiri,” Kara says. “But you’ll need to find a pumpkin pie.”

“Searching the nebula,” Hiri declares.

“And see if you can locate cousin Jeff,” Kara adds.

“Will do, but just so you know,” Hiri says. “He’s not bringing that Xbox. I’m totally incompatible.”

"Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:19-20).

 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pumpkins, pumpkins, and gratitude


I’m well aware that folks don’t usually look to One Ringing Bell for recipes.

But, I had all these pumpkins sitting around, and wondered what I could do with them. I’d been told years ago that the big pumpkins are hit or miss on texture and flavor, but still, I hated just to put them out in the mulch pile. From experience, I knew I’d have sprouts next year that’d produce a few baby pumpkins which either the deer or Lucy would quickly consume.

So, I searched the internet for what to do with pumpkins. My husband just said this past Sunday that you can find anything on the internet when for his sermon on making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, he found a picture of a woman seemingly knitting a silk purse from a real sow’s ear.

But, that’s another story entirely.

The first hit on my search was a link to Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman.   I'm not much of a pioneer woman myself, but I did once have a ten pound baby through natural childbirth, but that, too, is another story. I’d read Drummond had over twenty million hits on her site—last month alone! I thought if that many people turned to her for culinary advice, she must be trustworthy. So I clicked, and she had a great how-to for making pumpkin purée.

 I checked the smoke alarm batteries, proceeded to the kitchen, and attacked a big pumpkin.

Since the Pioneer Woman has already done all the legwork on this, I’ll just share a couple of my own shots taking the pumpkin through the cutting, roasting, and puréeing and to prove to you I really did this. I tasted the purée and found it quite tasty.

 

Emboldened by this success, I used another recipe for Pumpkin Muffins from the Pioneer Woman’s blog.

They turned out beautifully, and have been given the thumbs up from all parties here at One Ringing Bell including the husband and the son.

And I have six packages of pumpkin purée in the freezer for future muffins.

So, before you kick those pumpkins to the curb, you might think about eating them. With the largest component of landfills in this country being food, it’d be a real step towards greater stewardship of our resources.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what a redeemed tentmaker said in I Timothy 6:8, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” And yet, we so seldom are. There’s always the more that we’re after--that I’m after. So, I’m trying to be conscious of God’s provision for this day, trying to be less wasteful, trying to be more grateful for what I already have.

And I imagine that if I persist in this, it will turn what is a season of gratitude into a lifetime of gratitude.

Now, I’m off. One pumpkin down, and two more to go. These should put me at about 18 packs of puree.

Stand back for pumpkin pies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin cheesecake, and even pumpkin pancakes. And don’t worry, I’ve stockpiled batteries for the smoke alarm.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Last week for Operation Christmas Child

This is the last week for Operation Christmas Child Shoe Box Collections, so I'm slipping in here with a repost. I turned my boxes in yesterday, but if you've not packed a box, there's still time. Check online at Samaritan's Purse for a collection center near you, pack a box or two,and take it before the weekend. If you'd like them to do it for you, just visit the Samaritan's Purse site and click that option. I imagine some of these boxes will find their way to the Philippines this year due to the tremendous need caused by the typhoon. Many thanks, Bev

It’s the time of the year to start thinking about packing your Operation Christmas Child box for Samaritan’s Purse. Last year, Samaritan’s Purse distributed shoeboxes to eight million children around the world. Our family has prepared boxes since our kids were little. Every year, each of them would pack one for a child their age and gender. Now, that the last two are both in college, my grandchildren jumped in to help me.





I spoke with Brittany this morning at Samaritan’s Purse and asked about the three most important items they’d like to see in a shoebox. She said hygiene materials are number one. Toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, soap and a comb or brush are essential elements in every box. Following these would be school supplies: notebooks, pencils, erasers, etc. Third on her list was a toy: a stuffed animal, a yo-yo, etc.

I’ve been working on my boxes for a year. I got the idea from my friend Dolly, who inspired me to shop for bargains, so that I could increase my number of boxes.

Here’s how:

After holidays (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc.) retailers mark down their seasonal merchandise to clear it. I look for items at 75% off—socks, coloring books, toys. Many go for as little as a quarter. When school supplies are reduced, I pick up crayons, markers, notebooks, and pencils. Just this week, I bought balls for each box, which were reduced from summer stock.

One thing I don’t scrimp on, and that’s toothpaste and a toothbrush that won’t make gums bleed. Children in the third world may not have brushed regularly, so it’s important to buy a good soft toothbrush. Also, if it’s in your budget, a light up toy or flashlight is great. Always include extra batteries. If a child lives without electricity, these things are a wonder. Also, give thought to the toy you include. Easily broken plastic is not a good idea. Look for things with more longevity—a slinky, a toy car.

If you start now, you can increase your number of boxes, too. You may download “How to Pack a Shoebox” and labels for the boxes HERE. Pay special attention to the items that shouldn’t be included. A toll-free number for drop off locations is provided or you can mail your shoeboxes to Operation Christmas Child headquarters in North Carolina.

Here’s what especially motivated me. I heard a testimony this year from a missionary in Eastern Europe who spoke about how important the shoebox ministry was in bringing children to his church. He had opportunity to share the Good News with so many who’d never heard it before because of Operation Christmas Child.

That’s all I needed to hear. This year, instead of two boxes, I’m working on twelve.



I still have some items to collect, but I’m closing in on it, and have had some great help.



"Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities! "(Luke 12:48 The Message)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The death of an American President and finding our true country


The intercom in the third grade classroom crackles the words, “The President has been shot.” Several desks over, a girl laughs loud, her emotional reaction to something she doesn't understand. We are eight, and for many a new reality may be settling in.

Bad. Things. Really. Happen.

The laughing girl is now hysterically crying. The world tilts. Camelot burns.

I read recently that when boomers are asked where they were on the day President John F. Kennedy was shot, we most often respond, “In school.” A whole generation of us sat in oak desks pouring over new math and diagramming sentences unsuspecting the news hurling toward us would mark that day as one of the most memorable in our lifetime.

In the next few days, we’d watch grainy black and white footage of a president slumping over onto the lap of his wife, his blood staining what we were told was a pink Chanel suit. We didn’t have color television at our house, so we’d have to take the announcer’s word for it. We’d witness a son’s last salute as the hearse rolls by, and even though we'd only spent eight years on the planet, my classmates and I would feel the loss as the whole world mourned. I’d take out my little tea set made to look just like the one First Lady Jackie used, and wonder what would happen to us all. What would happen to our country?

On the same day an American President is struck down, across an ocean, another man dies. The events in Dallas eclipse his demise, and the death of Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, is buried deep in the news.

Seventeen years later, as a woman edging toward a cliff of despair after years of struggling, I crack open Mere Christianity, and within its pages find hope at last. More than any other book except the Bible, this book and others by C.S. Lewis have guided my spiritual journey.
 

 

As the fiftieth anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy draws near on November 22, we will hear much about that tragic day in Dallas.

I do not remember the death of C.S. Lewis, and I expect the anniversary of his death will pass with far less fanfare than that of Kennedy’s. But his life has had a tremendous impact on our world. It’s said that D.L. Moody helped reduce the population of hell by 1,000,000 souls. I wonder how many C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity has diverted from a dark destiny. Only God knows.

My raggedy copy of Mere Christianity has a broken spine. When opened, it splits to a chapter entitled, "Hope"—the four pages most read and underlined in the whole volume. Hope is what I desperately lacked, and hope is what I found so many years ago:

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If this is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

What I didn’t know at eight years old when it seemed life was unraveling, and I was so fearful about the nation, is that God had another country for me—one which could not be touched by an assassin’s bullet.

 C.S. Lewis helped point me to that country.

On November 22, I’ll remember again those moments in a third grade classroom and the assassination of a President, but I’ll be forever grateful for the work of one man who helped me know my true citizenship.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,  who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thank a Veteran Today


This past week, I've worked on a piano improvisation of Irving Berlin’s "God Bless America" to perform in church with my nephew as a piano-trumpet duet for Veteran’s Day. The song is actually a prayer, and it started me thinking several days in advance of Veteran's Day about the sacrifices of those who have served in the military.
Here at our house, we’re so thankful for all the ways God has blessed our country, and we’re especially grateful for those who have helped make those blessings possible.
On this Veteran's Day, we honor two dear to us, who served in the military during World War II and the Korean Conflict.

My dad served in the United States Air Force during the Korean Conflict from  1949-1952 as a Staff Sergeant in Texas, Illinois, Louisiana, and England.
 
I also want to remember my husband's father, though he's no longer with us, a Gunnery Sergeant in the U.S. Navy during World War II from 1943 to 1945.


An astute man once wrote, “Wisdom is better than weapons of war…” (Ecclesiastes 9:18). So, in addition to our prayer that God would bless America, we also pray that God would grant her leaders that powerful wisdom that excels over military arms. As Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, “Wisdom is better than warheads . . . .”

And indeed it is.

May you have a wonderful day, today, and remember to thank a Veteran for his or her service.

While researching the various versions of God Bless America out there, I came across this inspiring one performed by Celine Dion. Take a few moments to enjoy the music and as you listen, make it your prayer.

 
 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

If you need an army

Expectant with my first child, my husband and I were thrilled with the long awaited pregnancy. However, excitement turned to anxiety when I began to experience physical problems. As an older mother, I’d been labeled “high risk” and was all too aware of potential difficulties.

A creeping fear started to grip me.

In my daily Bible reading, I came across I Chronicles 12:21. “Day after day men came to help David, until he had a great army, like the army of God.” I remembered David’s earlier battle against Goliath—how he went out alone in the power of God with a slingshot and a stone to fight the giant.

But now, David needed an army, and God sent one.

I felt alone in uncharted territory. “I feel like I need an army,” I prayed to God. “I need people to stand with us in this scary time—to help us fight this battle with fear.”

The next morning I received a call from a friend I hadn’t spoken with in a long time. He called just to encourage me. Several more calls from others followed throughout the day and in the days afterward. God did indeed send an army of people to pray for our family. As the prayers went up, peace came.

That baby so many prayed for will soon be twenty-two years old. I thank God for his precious life and the army of people God faithfully sent to pray with us even before he was born.
 
 
 
I’m very aware that the story doesn’t always turn out like this. A few years later, pregnant with my third child, I'd have problems again. I'd have an ultrasound, see the heartbeat, and the doctor would assure me that at that point the chances for miscarriage were small. But less than twenty four hours later, in the wee hours of the morning, I'd miscarry and hold a tiny lifeless baby in my hand.  And then, God sent an army full of compassion and care to help us through those hard days.

The apostle Paul wrote, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Yet, it was good of you to share in my troubles” (Philippians 4:13-14).

Yes, through Christ, we can do anything God calls us to do. Yet, as Paul says, what a blessing when others come to stand alongside us like Aaron and Hur holding up the hands of Moses.

Maybe you need an army today, so I’m praying for you that God would speak to those who could come and stand with you. Or maybe, God is calling you to be part of that army for someone else.

Either way, that army called the body of Christ is a precious thing.

Monday, November 4, 2013

If you're looking for a door of hope


In Hosea 2, the heading in my Bible reads, “Israel Punished and Restored.” There’s a lengthy exposition of Israel’s disobedience followed by some of the most compassionate verses in the Bible: “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.”

The first time I ever read these verses, I checked the footnote, which gave the definition of Achor as meaning trouble. I loved that God was saying of the depths of trouble, He would make a door of hope.
 
 
 
But, I had only begun to understand these verses.

In Joshua, we read the story of the fall of Jericho. Joshua instructed Israel, “The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord" (Joshua 6:17). This meant all plunder from Jericho after its fall was to be put into the Lord’s treasury. 

However, Achan  disobeyed this command with tragic consequences and took for himself gold, a Babylonian robe, as well as silver shekels, and hid them under his tent. When it was discovered he had done this, he and all that belonged to him were destroyed. Afterward the place where this destruction occurred was called the Valley of Achor.

The Valley of Achor is not just the place of trouble; it’s the scene of our worst nightmare, the place of utter desolation, the location of absolute failure.

It's of that place, God says, He will make a door of hope.

After the death of Jesus on the cross, when His friends had gone, His disciples had scattered, and all seemed lost, God raised Jesus from the dead to become our door of hope for all eternity.

When the horror of world events shakes, or tragedy strikes close and hard, or failure and sin overwhelm, what God says about the Valley of Achor helps us cling to the hope God offers in Jesus.

No matter how terrible the situation, He can bring hope, redemption, and mercy if we turn to Him.

If you are standing in your own Valley of Achor, He is your refuge and strength.  

There are no hopeless situations, for with God, tragedy becomes the building material for a door of hope.

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