Tuesday, November 25, 2014

If your Thanksgiving and Christmas are getting wrapped up together

Since before my college-aged children were born, an ever growing collection of angels come out each year to be suspended from one of the Christmas trees in our home. The angels on my angel tree have come to me from far-flung places around the globe, given to me by missionaries, parishioners, and friends. Many are handmade.

As I crack open the case that holds them, I lift a crocheted angel made for me by a one of the first women I met when I moved to this community, again before children, even before I met my husband Jerry.
This woman, Eleanor, served as activities coordinator in a nursing home where I volunteered by providing piano music. I can still see her pushing the residents into the piano room, often stopping to catch her breath as she suffered from severe asthma. It didn’t seem to hold Eleanor back much. She was perfect in her role, as she seemed to bring cheer to all that lived there.

She asked if I’d found a church. At that point, I’d only visited a church a couple of times. “Oh,” she said, “My son and his family attend there. Have you met them?” That son turned out to be one of my husband’s Jerry’s best friends (Again, I hadn’t even met Jerry yet).  Eleanor made the angels for me many years after I met her, just before she went to be with the Lord. When I see her angels, I can trace the hand of God in my life as I remember her and her role in making me feel that this city was indeed, where God wanted me. My heart is filled with gratitude for her, and her family, which have meant so much to us over the years.

Another angel, a fragile one, hangs high on the tree protected from cat paws and wagging tails.

It was given to me one Christmas just days after I miscarried a baby. When I opened it, I couldn’t believe this angel holding a bundle in its arms. The friend that gave it to me said, “I bought it weeks ago, and it was already wrapped before you ever had the miscarriage.” No one even knew I was pregnant. At the time, it was added assurance God had my baby in his arms, and now, it’s a precious reminder of that little one I look forward to seeing in heaven. The friend who gave it to me is now fighting a serious disease and is in desperate need of an organ transplant. I give thanks for all she’s meant to me, and pray again as I have daily that God would open the door for her to receive the transplant.

A large angel stands sentry under the angel tree. Handmade from what appears to be screen wire, it was given to me one Christmas after I went through a former coworker’s serious health crisis with her.
That experience bonded us for life. She’s now the caregiver for her mother who’s in a serious health decline. She faces many challenges caring for her mother who now has forgotten who she is and thinks my friend is merely the woman who cooks for her. I offer prayers of thanksgiving for my friend and all the years of our friendship and pray God would give her strength for another difficult road.

I know some have a problem with putting out the Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. I don’t. For me, these angels remind me of precious ones who have meant so much. They represent an opportunity to give thanks.

How could we celebrate Thanksgiving anyway without that Christmas baby in the manger?

Thanksgiving and Christmas get all wrapped together at this house.

And that’s not a bad thing.

That’s a very good thing.

“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,  I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:15-16).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ants and having no fear of bad news

The pest control man stood in my kitchen nodding his head as I complained.

“And they come out of those cracks around the sink and cover the counter. You can’t even leave one crumb or they are all over it. They get in everything.”

Ants. We’d battled them for weeks and finally had to call the professionals. Those little black varmints had just about pushed me over the edge.

The pest control man listened and said with sincerity, “We’ll take care of it, Ma’am.”
"Ant on mosshill". Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ant_on_mosshill.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Ant_on_mosshill.jpg

However, he wouldn’t know until some time later what he was really dealing with. Turns out, these pest control folks had to push past anything they’d ever done before to get rid of our ant colony. In fact, the difficulty of our case caused it to be a presentation at a national pest control conference. The infestation was so far reaching, they even had to put bait in our mailbox.

That was years ago. We’ve been relatively ant free for many years, but if even one crawls out, I call the professionals. I’ve seen what ants can do.

That experience still gives me new insight each time I read this verse, “There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise: The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer . . .” (Proverbs 30:25-26).

Ants may be small, but they have a lot going on.

Motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, even has something he calls his “ant philosophy” which includes four steps. The first is ants never quit. I know that well enough. They are the most persistent little critters I’ve ever seen. At one point, I thought we might just move out of the house and let them have it. Next, ants think about winter all summer. In other words, they’re preparers, laying away for another time. But ants also think about summer all winter. They know that tough times won’t last and on any sunny day in winter, they’re out scurrying around and then back in the hole to wait for spring. Last of all, ants do all they can. You’ve seen them carrying far more than their weight back to the colony.

To sum it up, ants prepare. In the original Hebrew, the word used for prepare in Proverbs 30:25 shows up in another verse translated a different way. But I think the ants give us insight into the meaning of this verse: “They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7). As you can see the word prepare does not show up here, but if you look at the word steadfast, you find it is indeed the same word as prepare.

As I’ve sometimes cringed when I click on a news summary in my inbox, and dreaded to see the words pandemic, terrorist, or war, I’ve given thought on not having any fear of bad news. Psalm 112:7 says those whose hearts are steadfast have no fear of bad news. Ants prepare by their persistence, as we should persist in our devotion to God by spending time with Him, meditating, and studying His word. If I experience fear, that may say something about my lack of trust in God or my lack of intimacy with God, for the ones who have no fear of bad news are those who are prepared for it, whose minds and hearts are steeped in the word of God and who know him intimately.

Remember that ants know winter doesn’t last forever.

And we know that God always has the last word, no matter what the news report says.

So, the next time you see an ant, be thankful for what they teach us about being fearless in the face of bad news.

I have to tell you, though; I’ve seen enough ants in person to hold me for a while. The picture above is good enough for me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Those who defend the land of the free and the home of the brave

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Currahee Military Museum Weekend in Toccoa, Georgia to sign copies of my book, Home to Currahee.

The number of our World War II veterans is diminishing every year. Though in their late eighties and early nineties, several of the paratroopers who trained at Camp Toccoa made long journeys to be present for the weekend this year. Camp Toccoa is the site on Currahee Mountain where the paratroopers trained who jumped behind enemy lines on D-Day. Steven Ambrose in his book, Band of Brothers, and later the HBO miniseries, told the story of Easy Company, the 506th regiment and part of the 101st Airborne who started their journey at Camp Toccoa.

Eight years ago, when I wrote the first draft for Home to Currahee,  I interviewed Reed Pelfrey, a pathfinder, who was one of the first to make the jump to set the drop targets for those who would follow. Sadly, Reed is no longer with us, but the museum features a display from his life.

It was a high honor to speak with these heroes who made such an impact on our world, among them Al Mampre and Ira Morehart and Ed Pepping.


Also, I had the joy of meeting a homeschooling family of six children from San Antonio, Texas who arrived in 1940’s attire and delighted everyone who attended that day. I was signing a book for someone when I heard this operatic quality voicing singing, “There’ll be Blue Birds over the White Cliffs of Dover. “ I turned to see fourteen-year-old Faith Philips serenading several of the veterans.

Every eye in the room was on them and most were filled with tears. Here is her website, please don’t miss it.

Here on Veteran’s Day, find a veteran and thank them for their service. You might even do a little serenading of your own. And let’s especially  remember to pray for those serving now and possibly still in harm’s way.

If you’re not a football fan, you may have missed Chris Botti’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner this past Monday Night.  He had big football players in tears. Here it is.

To the home of the free and the land of the brave and all those who defend it.

God bless you.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

When you forget what you have

Election Day.

For many years, I watched election returns from a New York City hotel room as I was always traveling as a buyer on the first Tuesday in November due to market dates. I voted absentee for over ten years.

So, when my husband asked me if I wanted to vote early this year, I said no. Since my traveling days, I want to go to the polls on Election Day and cast my ballot in person. I know I can cast it in person if I vote early, but voting on the actual day is something I can do now, as opposed to so many years when I couldn’t.

We have a dear friend who is a Bishop in Africa.

Joseph was with us one year on a presidential election day. When the returns started rolling in, the country was split down the middle, and the election was decided by a narrow margin.

My husband, Jerry, and I were seriously disappointed by the results. Our candidate lost.

However, our African friend marveled at the whole thing.

“In my country,” Joseph said, “people die on election day. In a situation like this, civil war would break out.”

We forget what we have here. That we could even have a transfer of power without riots and war is indeed a marvel. It happens rarely on this spinning orb.

Once when we picked up our Bishop friend at the airport, he looked around him bright eyed, as we were rolling down the interstate and said, “This is God’s country.”

Educated in America, he could have stayed here. Since he has a doctorate, he’d probably be in a large church now with an impressive salary. But he chose to return to his home, where he believes God has called him. Over the years, he’s often gone without pay . . . and food. For one six-month period he and his wife rarely ate, but remained true to the calling God has on their lives. They live amidst dangerous circumstances as their country is in increasingly perilous times. I think of our friends often and pray for them.

As we head out to the polls today, let's give thanks for the amazing privilege we have in casting our ballots. Remember what our dear friend, Joseph, says, “This is God’s country,” and pray God would bring revival to America.

“Blessed is the country with God for God” (Psalm 33:12 The Message).

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