Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Toy Box Memories

It seems when my children leave home for any extended length of time I take the liberty to rummage through their rooms (with permission, of course) change things around, clean things up and get things in order before their return. So, with my daughter on another continent, I chose to rummage through her closet (once belonging to her brother) in search of buried treasure! Through yards of glittered tulle, piles of discarded shoes, pocket books, bunny bedding, childhood games and such, I found it. There it was...a green and white deep, plastic rectangle with a royal blue cover! I'm sure if you bore children in the '80's you'd recognize it in a second! Yup! The "Little Tike's" toy box...buried in the same corner of the closet that it had been sitting in for the last 22 years.

Rearranging the pile o' stuff on the closet floor and struggling just a bit I managed to pull it out and expose its content. I chuckled as I reached in for the yellow drum filled with a host of MacDonald's Happy Meal toys. Oh! I couldn't even get rid of those at a tag sale years ago! Here they were again! Now I couldn't bring myself to throw them away for every toy meant a special memory or celebration with my kids. Next a set of musty, cloth baby blocks hand-made by Grandma. They once were proudly displayed alongside a vase of blue and white carnations on the altar table at church to celebrate my son's first birthday. She always made simple things so special. There was a wooden train trestle and train station stashed in their worn cardboard boxes. Oh how he loved to play with that train set for hours figuring out how to make different traffic patterns with the track pieces. Finally I found his Match Box cars neatly snuggled in their designated parking spots inside two "Hot Wheels" carrying cases.

With my heart full of motherhood reminiscing I emptied that plastic treasure chest and transported each toy carefully to the toys-in-waiting box up in the attic. (That's the box filled with my children's toys I could never part with that I have saved for my grandchildren and great nieces and nephews when they come to visit). Some have made their way back down from the attic in recent years what with all the new babies in the family. Hence, the reason for my treasure hunt to the back of my son's closet. The toys have begun to pile up in the living room, again...so much so that they need to be contained inside a toy box.

This past Sunday we celebrated my granddaughter's first birthday in our back yard. She's my son's first born. When once as his mother I couldn't wait to put toys inside that box at the end of a long day of play I now ache to take them out again. I sit for hours without tiring (well, maybe I tire a little) and watch his daughter play. Now, I leave the dirty dishes in the sink, ignore the buzzing of the dryer, put off folding of the clothes to drink up all the time making new toy box memories with her. Everything and everybody else can wait!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Joyful, Patient, Faithful

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." (Romans 12: 12)

Life happens. Circumstances change for the better. Some for the worse. People change. Some for the better. Some for the worse. We change. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes for the worse. Life presents us all with situations that shake us at the core. Everything we knew for certain the day before is now in question.

That day for me was on a humid Saturday in August 1970. I was nine years old. My dad had just finished mowing the lawn and called my two older sisters and me outside, one-by-one for a "talk." What he said was so significant, so life changing that even what he looked like and smelled like is imprinted in my mind to this very day. He sat on the lawn, arms resting on his bent knees staring straight ahead as I took my place on the ground beside him. Then he said the words that would forever change me. "I don't love your mother anymore and I don't love Jesus, either. I'm moving out today."

He moved close-by and I became "Saturday's child." We'd share the day just hanging out or shopping or doing activities that were never considered when he was home, like bowling. Occasionally I'd come home with a new present. One time it was a brand new banana bike! It was lime green with white flowers on the fenders and sported a white woven basket in front. I loved it! Finally, I could replace that old, rusted, hand-me-down bike of my cousins! Well, the joy was replaced with regret as my parents fought over the idea that my dad bought me something new "every week" but never bought my 19 and 16 year old sisters anything new. If I didn't like the bike so much, I'd of given it back just to make the screaming stop!

Seven years passed by. I'd grown out of my lime green banana bike but I was still his "Saturday child." Each night I'd pray that God would somehow fix my parents; bring them back together. All I wanted was a real family again. As each year passed I grew more and more disheartened and angry at my dad for walking out. On one of our Saturday's I'd had enough of this part-time father routine and ordered him to take me home. I'd lost hope that he could ever be a real father to me at all.

Fast forward 36 years. My parents remarried each other 27 years prior. Now it's April 2006. I'm at Mount Manadnock in Jaffrey, New Hampshire for a women's retreat. The topic for the evening is "God as Father (Abba)" and our assignment the next morning was to spend some time writing down all the things we learned from our earthly father that helped us in our relationship with our heavenly Father. My first reaction literally was, "Are you kidding?! I'm not doing this! I learned NOTHING from my dad that has ANYTHING to do with God!" Then I resolved, "Well...if I did learn anything from him, it wasn't much. It won't take long so let's get it over with God!" So I got up the next morning, shut myself alone in the corner of a vacant room, opened my journal and began to write my thoughts.

At first my thoughts were just spouting words of anger that God would put me in such a position to face this painful childhood all over again. And then in my ranting He whispered, "Are you done? Now let me show you what I see in your dad." I wrote for an hour filling pages in my journal with positive lessons I learned from my dad and despite my dad. God allowed me to see what He saw...my forgiven dad not the sinful dad that I was focused on. It was a significant hour of healing for my heart and over the next seven months I was able to forgive my father wholly and completely, face-to-face.

As I reflect on this story in light of Romans 12:12 I understand Paul saying "Be joyful in hope..." The hope of our future as our lives are transformed to what God intended once and for all because of the hope we hold in the death and resurrection of Christ. The word joyful in this text actually mean exuberant! We need to hold onto the hope that the good God sees in someone (including ourselves) will come to fruition someday. What we see through our eyes is not always the truth of what God sees through His.
Be "...patient in affliction..." Trouble comes. That's guaranteed! We can choose to be honed through trouble or become angry, resentful, unforgiving. Trust me, the latter is enslaving. Be patient in knowing God is in control and the best is yet to come.
Be "...faithful in prayer." I am amazed at how much God calls us to pray in scripture. He asks us to pray without stopping. He encourages us to ask Him for everything, even though He knows what we need. He just wants to know we love Him. I've also been startled to know that our prayers, conversations with Him can actually change His mind! Remember Joshua praying for God to stop time so that he could defeat his enemies? He prayed earnestly and God stopped time for him and Joshua claimed his victory. (Joshua 10:13). Over and over again in the recounting of the Kings of Israel, God would listen to the cries of the God-fearing kings and gave them protection, victories, life. I prayed countless nights for my father to return home. God was faithful.
Is it hard to see the good in a hopeless situation? Be joyful (exhuberant) in hope! Are you growing weary of waiting from trouble? Getting angry? Be patient in affliction! Do you feel like your prayers are hitting the ceiling and falling to the ground? Be faithful in prayer!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Beautiful Feet

"How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:15)

The sound of some one's footsteps can flood us with many different emotions. Close your eyes, if you will, and imagine the sounds of these feet.

The pitter-patter of tiny steps, deliberate yet unsure, awkward and uneven; a baby's first steps accompanied by squeals of joy and a parent's clapping hands. At that moment, the baby ceases to be and a toddler is born.

The clomp, clomp, clomping of tiny girl feet fashioning mommy's high heels in front of the full-length mirror in the bedroom upstairs.

The scramble-bump, scramble-bump as your sons wrestle each other to the ground.

The quick-paced, short stepping clippety-clop, clippety-clop, clippety-clop of your feared fourth-grade teacher coming down the high polished linoleum hallway.

The quiet tip-toed stocking feet climbing up the stairs of the wee morning hours. You can finally allow sleep to come knowing your teenager is home.

The crunch, crunch of your husbands feet alongside yours on a sandy beach at sunset.

The soft slippered shuffle of Grandma's feet across the carpeted bedroom.

The sound of these footsteps can bring us joy, conjure up fear, elude to romance, bring uncertainty for the future. Some footsteps we dread, like those of our feared fourth-grade teacher. Others we eagerly await like those of our beloved husband or wife and children.

What of the sound of Jesus' feet? We're told of Mary, the sister of Lazarus whom Jesus loved dearly and raised from the dead, twice washed Jesus' feet. The first time was at the Pharisee's home. He was reclining at the table for dinner and the owner of the home had not even offered to wash his feet which was the custom back then to clean the dust off the guests sandled feet. Yet Mary, in an act of unselfish love and repentance washed his feet with her tears, wiped them dry with her hair and poured perfume on them. Jesus recognizing her love as pure said to his appalled host:

"You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little" (Luke 7:44-47).

Again, less than a week before Jesus was crucified, Mary annointed Jesus' feet with expensive perfume at another dinner table with his disciples and her brother. Judas was upset that she would waste such an expensive perfume on Jesus' feet instead of selling the perfume and giving the money to the poor. Jesus explained that we will always have the poor among us but that "...you will not always have me" (John 12:8).

Mary knew the joy of having Jesus near. She treasured the moments at his feet soaking up his wisdom, hearing the truth he spoke and abiding with him while she could. He brought her good news bearing life and not condemnation.

How are your footsteps? When your family hears your footsteps at the door each night do they look forward to greeting you? Do you bring good news that bears life? Do your footsteps bear the image of the One who gives life?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dancing In Her Passion

My daughter is in Uganda, Africa! It seems so surreal. I've placed her on planes alone with her brother to Florida, with student groups to England twice...but Africa?! What was I thinking?!

Watching her prepare for this trip last week was like watching a young dancer take the spotlight on opening night. She was full of joy and excitement anticipating the days ahead of her despite the hard work and stress of finishing her semester of classes, papers and finals. She was finally center stage, dancing in her passion. The growing pains of waiting for this moment finally subsided and gave birth to her joy of purpose. For the first time in a very long time I saw my daughter come alive and in my heart I knew she was in her element.

She's been drawn to the Ugandan children who suffer as victims of war for at least two years after hearing their story in the documentary called "The Invisible Children." At first I thought her passion for Uganda would fade as she graduated high school and life changed all around her. But as each year passed her heart's cry became louder and louder...never fading. My prayers for her heart's cry became serious as I realized how passionate she was for these children and this country. If this call truly was from God than who was I to question? But, as a mother, I still wanted to protect and I did question. Slowly, I realized that if this was the Holy Spirit speaking to her I could no longer fear for her life. Instead I prayed for God's leading and anointing on her life and her insatiable desire for Uganda's children.

As I sit and reminisce about her as my little girl I realize she has always stood for righteousness, mercy and compassion. She's always taken risks; always been courageous and unwavering in the defence of truth even if it meant going against the crowd. These characteristics harnessed by God's power make for a woman who can travel to distant lands and mirror God's love, compassion and truth in love to those in desperate situations.

Is Uganda her destination? I don't know. Only God can make that determination. I know I may have given birth to this little girl but her heart was birthed for a foreign people, a distant land. This little girl...now a woman...dances in heaven's spot light following the lead of her Father.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


When I was a child anticipation use to nearly kill me...especially at Christmas! It was my parents' favorite holiday and they would go to all lengths to build up the excitement in the house every year when we were young. It started with Christmas lists to Santa, spraying "snowflakes in a can"on the windows, playing Christmas carols all day long from Thanksgiving straight through New Years, stringing lights on the tree, placing pretty gift-wrapped presents under the tree (except for Santa's of course), baking cookies and culminated with our Christmas Eve celebration with the extended family. It was a glorious time!

One particular Christmas though, when I was seven years old, my mother delayed placing the presents under the tree for some reason. It was odd because she always loved displaying the wrapped gifts under the tree the whole month of December. In my seven-year-old mind I started to panic. "Will there be any presents under the tree at all on Christmas Eve? Did Mom and Dad forget about us? What about the toys I asked for? Will they show up?" It got to be the second week in December...Christmas was only a week away...and STILL the tree stood in my living room donned embarrassingly with only a skirt and ornaments. There were no packages. There were no bows or ribbons or anything but a dumb old white sheet wrapped around the tree trunk.

In our house 6 p. m. was a sacred hour. That's when my parents' sank down in their chairs in front of the television to listen to the evening news hour anchored by Walter Cronkite! I swear the whole house could be engulfed in flames and my parents would sit and watch Walter, totally engrossed in what he was reporting and ignorant of their own surroundings! They'd only believe it if they saw it on the news! Well, one particular news hour during my despondent Christmas, I took advantage of the 6 p. m. news hour and tip toed into their bedroom. That's where the secret stash of presents was usually kept. How I know this is another Christmas story.

So, there I stood, quiet as a Christmas mouse ready to snatch the cheese, staring at the door handle of their walk-in closet. I breathed a deep breath, held it in and quietly turned the squeaky door knob, praying the noise would not distract them from old Walter. As I opened the door ever so carefully, there before me was a mound of shopping bags! HUGE ones! Filled with presents! Yeah! There WERE going to be presents on Christmas Eve! Whew! What a relief! Now...what were they?! I just couldn't help myself. I'd anticipated way too long and before I could stop myself I was digging into the shopping bags and pulling out a plethora of treasures. There was play dough, coloring books, new crayons, play food for my NEW play kitchen! Oh my...and oh...those metallic gold Hollywood fur-adorned slippers I'd wanted! Oh I had to try those on! And there I was amidst these presents, adorned in metallic gold fur-adorned slippers inside my parents' closet celebrating an early Christmas...all by myself. I popped my head out of the closet and listened for Walter's familiar voice. "And that's the way it is..." he was saying. That meant he was signing off! Oh boy! So, I kicked off my slippers and scurried to put all the presents back in their bags just the way I'd found them. I darted out of the closet, closed the door and dashed across their bedroom into the bathroom and shut the door behind me.

For the next week until Christmas, the wrapped packages appeared one-by-one under the tree. Normally, I'd anticipate what might be in those packages but that year there was nothing to anticipate. I'd already seen what my gifts were going to be! What was there to hope for?

Paul reminds me of this anticipation, this hoping in Romans 8: 24b-25 "...But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."

Of course Paul is not referring to material things like Christmas presents. He's talking about our redeemed life; that life that is without sin by the transformation of the life-giving, risen Christ. It's that life that in the Garden of Eden we gave up and from that point on all of creation has suffered the consequences of our sin but is promised to return when Christ returns. Don't you just groan for that redeemed life? Don't you anticipate the glory of what Paradise was and will be again?

And as we anticipate Paradise Paul says "...the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express" (Romans 8:26).
That Christmas I had nothing to hope for. It was one of my last Christmas snooping expeditions. I learned to wait patiently for what I hoped for. Each year I knew that the emptiness under the tree would soon be filled with gloriously adorned gifts. I just had to wait. So too with our longing and groaning for Paradise. I know that what I lack now, what I can't see will be transformed by God's crowning glory. I hope for what I can't yet see!

Monday, May 4, 2009

An Unknown God

Worship happens. It's what we were created to do. It's the loving someone or something so much that you can't live without "it" and need to spend as much time with "it" as you possibly can. It's the act of loving, adoring, paying homage to the object being worshiped. You don't even have to be particularly religious to participate in worship. It just happens. It's part of how we are made.

During a plane trip from Buffalo, NY to Portland, ME in the mid 80's I had a conversation about this with a man from Texas. It was an intriguing conversation and one that's stayed in my memory for over 25 years. We were exchanging the basic niceties about ourselves and at the time I was serving as a youth pastor with my husband in a church in Jamestown, NY. Well, with that job title the conversation went in one of two ways. It either shut down to uncomfortable silence or it opened up into a full blown theological discussion about God. This Texan was ready for the full blown discussion. After seeing my job title on my business card he asks, "So, according to God, what's our reason for being here?" (or something small like that)!

What blows my mind even today as I recall this conversation is the simple language God put on my tongue. My reply, "Simply? To worship Him."

"That's it?" the Texan retorted.

"Basically, yea" I replied. Now of course the Texan was intrigued and asked more questions that took the short flight to answer. The answers didn't result in him saying any prayer or vowing to love God with all his heart for the rest of his life. I've wondered many times if that conversation had any impact on his life and whether or not he came to know and love God for himself. What I am sure of, however, is that he was introduced to God. A known God.

In reading Acts 17 today, Paul was walking around Athens, Greece and noticed something about their worship. First, that they worshiped! They had built altars and statues of man-made gods with all different names. But, one god in particular stuck out to him. He noticed an altar with no image that held this inscription at the base: "To An Unknown God." How bizarre!

Theologians have two theories on this: one theory is that in 6 BC their land was so plagued with disease that they called on a prophet Epimenides to drive out the disease. His remedy, according to the commentaries, was to drive a herd of black and white sheep away from the area and sacrifice them to whatever god "lived" there. When the epidemic subsided, they attributed it to this sheep sacrifice and built an alter of "the unknown God" to pay homage. Another theory is that these altars show up all over the land at ancient burial sites in order to appease any evil spirits that may "live" there.

Paul was so astonished that these "intelligent" people would worship in ignorance. They worshiped anything and anyone including an "unknown god." In essence Paul was asking them why they put so much credibility in some god that doesn't even have a name? Paul then points out the living God by whom "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). God the living Creator who made man Paul concludes that "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth...God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17: 26-27). In other words, if the Greeks were worshipers, why not worship the one true, living God who seeks to meet you when you worship?

Simply, God created us so that we would seek him and find him. That's worship. It's what we were created to do.

Friday, May 1, 2009

My Chosen Instrument

When I speak to an older audience on the subject of writing, I will say, "Writing a book is as easy as telling a story and everyone has a story to tell." For those of us who like to write we use words to create a picture in the imaginations of our readers. Authors are known as word-smiths. We manipulate a sentence, create a paragraph, even make up our own vocabulary at times to evoke a certain emotion. Musicians do the same with sound. They choose a pattern of sound to create a melody, harmony and rhythm that when strung together communicate emotions and create a story in the imagination of their listeners. They use various instruments including the human voice to play these parts that when performed correctly utter the beauty the composer intended.

I have always loved music. My first memories of music come from Sunday church services where all the hymns were accompanied by piano or organ. I loved the sound of the piano. There was something about it that would just create a burn inside of me. I could sit and listen to someone play the piano for hours. I still can. I remember sitting forward in my pew while everyone else stood to sing and I would "play" the hymnal rack as though it were my piano keyboard. How I wanted to be a pianist whose fingers could glide across those ivory keys and move people's souls. Forty-seven years have passed and I'm still moved by the sound of a piano. I don't know how to play even though there is one sitting in my living room but it's on my "bucket list" of things to do before I leave this earth.

God looks at us as his instruments. He created us in various shapes, forms, colors and sound that when put to the task his beautiful composition is performed and souls are moved to worship Him. In Acts 9:15 Luke records God's conversation with Ananias regarding Paul, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel." Paul was the most unlikely person the disciples would have imagined to bring a witness of Christ to anyone! He was the persecutor of the first Christians. He put them to death! But Jesus met him and spoke the truth of God's purpose for his life on the road to Damascus. He took Paul's passion for God, leadership and boldness and used it for his purpose to bring the rest of the world to God through his personal encounter with Jesus.

God has created you to be his perfect, chosen instrument in the composition of his Kingdom. Which instrument are you? Have you asked him what part he wants you to play?