Friday, February 23, 2007

Sandstorms

The first three years of our marriage, we were stationed on an Air Force base in Clovis, New Mexico. This area, known as the high plains of New Mexico, was known for its sandstorms (think this picture without the camels). I experienced my first one as a newlywed.

I spent the day cleaning house, anticipating my beloved’s return from work that evening. All of a sudden, I heard a sound like a giant freight train. Knowing there was no railroad track nearby I cautiously went outside to investigate. As I approached the curb, I saw a red wall of dirt as high and as wide as I could see coming toward me. I turned and ran in the house, slamming the door behind me just as the wall of red dirt passed over.

In its wake, a fine mist of red dust covered the house. It was all over the sidewalks, the porch, had seeped through the window sills, and under the doors. It came to rest on my carpet, counter tops, and bed. It was everywhere.

Thankfully, I only experienced a few of these in the three years we lived there. Typically, though, a sandstorm comes without warning. There is no escaping it. About all you can do is find shelter, brace yourself, ride it out, then clean up when it is over.

As a Christian, when hit with life’s storms, I pretty much take the same approach. Only now, I find shelter in the arms of Jesus. In fact, I can’t imagine bracing life’s storms any other way.

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.

He cares for those who trust in Him.”

Nahum 1:7

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Skim and Scan

"Those who read fast reap no more advantage than a bee would by only skimming over the surface of the flower, instead of waiting to penetrate into it, and extract its sweets."

~ Madame Jeanne Guyon ~

I love to read. I would rather read a good book than watch a movie, because I can savor the words, read them over, decide what the characters look like, give their words the tone and inflection I want, and make the story my own. My current favorite author is Francine Rivers. I have been reading her books for months and have come close to reading everything she has on the market, so I find myself slowing down and savoring every word. I always have a grieving period after a good book; I reflect on the story, I miss the characters, then I begin the waiting period before I can start another book.

In contrast, if I am reading a book that is not as well written, or that I have to read something that I am not particularly interested in, I tend to skim, looking for the good parts. Skimming is not actually reading, it is more like searching for specific words or thoughts. A good skimmer can find information quickly, then slow down and dig deep into the information.

The problem is that skimming is a skill. Before I became a high school principal, I worked with students with learning differences. My favorite students to work with were students with ADD. One of the struggles that they tend to have is the inability to skim. That presents unique problems. When assigned a chapter to read with questions at the end to answer, few high school students understand the importance of actually reading the chapter. Most will skim the chapter, looking for key words and phrases that will help to answer the assigned questions. However, most students with ADD are terrible skimmers. To complicate matters, they also struggle to focus when reading material that is of little interest to them, in spite of their reading ability. Nevertheless, strong student or weak, skimming is not reading for understanding; it is searching.

Skimming is like scanning. Ever enter the church auditorium, looking for your husband? You scan the faces until you find the familiar one, but if questioned, will probably not be able to recall many of the faces you scanned. However, if you pick a row and study it, you can look at the faces over and over until you commit them to memory.

I scan the Bible when looking for a particular word, phrase, or verse, but to read for understanding, I have to slow down and read each word. I will then read a concordance on that scripture to understand the context and find associated scriptures. I keep a highlighter and a pen in my Bible to highlight scriptures and write in the margins. I also write on the blank pages provided at the back, having learned to do that in college with textbooks that I purchased; it is an important study tool for me. God‘s word is amazing. It is timeless, the only book I know that you can read over and over and learn something new every time.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet

and a light for my path.”

Psalm 119:105


Friday, February 16, 2007

Go to the Heart

One morning, during our first year of marriage, we were headed to the university in our VW Beetle, Myrtle (her christened name). To avoid morning traffic, we chose the back road which took us through miles and miles of farmland. We drove along without talking; my beloved was lost in his thoughts as I sat in the passenger seat studying for a test.

I casually looked up just as he swerved to hit a giant turtle that was crossing the road. My mouth gaping open, I stared straight ahead in shock as I heard the horrible gallump gallump of our tires running over its shell. Then I whipped around in my seat and screamed, “How could you do such a thing?”

Without waiting for his answer, my mind raced. Who was this man that I had just married? Who goes out of their way in order to hit animals on the road? I burst into tears and whispered, “How could you intentionally hit that poor, defenseless turtle?”

“I didn’t intentionally hit the turtle,” he replied calmly. “Apparently there were two turtles, but I didn’t know that. I saw a turtle in the road and served to miss it. I didn’t know that another turtle was right behind it until I ran over it.”

Oh.

Okay.

He may not be the most observant driver in the world, but at least he’s not a sadistic, cold-blooded turtle assassin.

As I think back to that incident, it is interesting to me the importance that intent plays in our actions. He killed a turtle, but he didn’t intend to. His intent was to avoid the turtle that he saw. I was so ready to be mad at him until I realized that he didn’t mean to do it.

Maybe that is why Jesus places such emphasis on what is going on in our hearts. Once I removed myself from his actions and looked at his heart, I understood his actions better.

It made me wonder; how diligent am I about looking a person’s heart, in order to understand their actions better?

How diligent are you?

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.

Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

I Samuel 16:7

Monday, February 12, 2007

For Her Own Good


"We are urgent about the body; He is about the soul. We call for present comforts; He considers our everlasting rest. And therefore when He sends not the very things we ask, He hears us by sending greater than we can ask or think."

~ Richard Cecil ~

Remember your infant’s first immunization? She is curled in your arms, so trusting, so relaxed. The nurse swabs a small circle of alcohol on her thigh, then quickly punches the needle into her skin and presses the syringe until all of the liquid enters her body. There is a moment of stunned silence, then she lets out that blood-curdling scream. Your eyes fill with tears as you rock her gently, whispering soft words of comfort. It pains you to cause her so much pain, but you would do it again because it is for her own good.

Do you recall her first day of school? As much as you try to prepare her for the new teacher, the new friends, the new things she will learn, and the fun she will have, the moment comes when you must leave her there. She realizes that you are not coming in with her and she turns to you and pleads, “Mommy, please don’t go. Take me with you!”

You reassure her that it will be ok, brace yourself to turn away from her, and concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other until you are out of sight and then sit in your car for a good cry. It tears your heart out to leave her that way, but you would do it again because it is for her own good.

How about when someone breaks her heart? You hold her in your arms as she pours her heart out to you between sobs. As you feel the tension leaving her body it enters yours and you fantasize about what you would say to the child that caused her so much pain. You fight the urge to call that child’s parents and give them a piece of your mind. You struggle to calm yourself down so that you can think rationally, because only then can you offer the advise, support, and encouragement she needs. Ultimately she must learn how to handle her own relationships; it is for her own good.

What about when she must face the consequences for her actions? You want to call and make excuses for her; you want to fix it; you might even be tempted to take the blame. The consequences that never bothered you before seem too harsh all of a sudden. You fear that facing them will break her spirit; she will never be the same. Yet, you fight those urges and your need to control her life, to shelter her from pain and heartache, because you know that this experience can make her a better person if she learns a lesson. It is for her own good.

Over and over as parents we are faced with decisions that affect our children, decisions that are ultimately for their own good. We explain it to them when we can, but often they are too young or inexperienced about life to understand, and it doesn’t change anything. As their parents, we still must do what we think is best.

This gives me a small inkling of what it must be like to be God. I ask for one thing; he gives another. I want some unpleasant situation removed; he knows that this is the very situation that will deepen my faith and reliance on him. I pray for patience; he sends adversity, which he knows develops patience. I ask for deliverance; he knows that it is through my weakness that his power shines through. Nevertheless, as my father, it pains him to cause me pain; it tears his heart out to leave me that way. He knows I must learn to handle my relationships, and that I will be a better person if I face the consequences for my actions.

So he answers my prayers by providing what I need......

for my own good.


Come and listen, all you who fear God;

let me tell you what He has done for me.

I cried out to Him with my mouth;

His praise was on my tongue.

If I had cherished sin in my heart,

the Lord would not have listened;

but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.

Praise be to God,

who has not rejected my prayer or withheld His love from me!
--Psalm 66:16-20

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Creepy Slash Funny

Are you registered to vote? If not, you might want to think about it. The presidential elections will be here before we know it. Maybe you are one of those who thinks your little ole' vote can't make a difference, so why bother?

Perhaps this little visual will help you make up your mind. She could be our next president!



Introducing.... Hillbillary!















Friday, February 09, 2007

Totally Dependent

Many years ago one summer, I came down with a mean case of viral pneumonia. It was 1984, and I was flat on my back for two weeks with a temperature of 102 and a wracking cough. As I look back, I marvel over the fact that the doctor did not hospitalize me, but our insurance was with an HMO at that time, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Throughout the day, I watched the summer Olympics as I slipped in and out of sleep. We had two children at the time, ages 5 and 3. Unable to get out of bed, I leaned heavily on my mom. While my husband was at work, she came over, tackled a few household chores then took the girls to her house for the day. She returned them in the evening, along with dinner. There is no doubt I have the best mom!

After my fever broke, I was still very weak. I had lost a good bit of weight (might I mention that weight loss from being sick is not attractive weight loss). I had broken blood vessels in my ribcage from coughing, which made coughing all the more painful. It was time for school to start and my oldest, Sweet Pea, was starting kindergarten and needed school clothes. One day, my mom drove us to the mall, and as I sat in the dressing room coughing, she brought one outfit after another into the dressing room for Sweet Pea to try on.

As I sat in that dressing room in August of 1984, it occurred to me that, eight years after getting married, I was, once again, totally dependent on my mom. My husband took over with the children each evening when he got home from work, but I could not have made it through the day without her.

I am fiercely independent by nature, which is not necessarily a strength. It galls me to have to depend on others. As I look back over the years, there have been several times when I have been forced to do exactly that. It is also ironic to me that I can forget to thank God for a particular blessing, like my health, until that blessing is taken away, even momentarily. Then, all of a sudden, my prayers are filled with pleas for my health to return. Oh, how I take my blessings for granted!

What did I learn from this time in my life? I learned to appreciate my mom’s servant heart. I learned to thank God for my health, daily, as I’m enjoying it, not just when it is taken away. I learned that when I’m totally dependent on others, perhaps God is using my situation to give others the opportunity to serve Him through me. I learned that I, too, need to look for opportunities to serve God by helping others.

Are you willing to share a lesson you have learned?


“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others,

faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

I Peter 4:10

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Reckless Abandon


"I long to worship Jesus with the heart of a child, in a state of pure and true adoration. Yet so many things of the world cloud my thoughts and pull on my heart until it's no longer just a girl in the arms of the Father"
~ Darlene Schacht ~
"The Mom Complex"

One of the many blessings about being part of a church family is the way everyone rallies together to help their own. When my fourth child was born, several ladies of the congregation got together and devised a schedule whereby someone brought dinner to us every night for two weeks! I was blown over by the outpouring of love.

On one particular afternoon, a woman that I didn’t know particularly well was coming by with dinner. She had never been to my home and I wanted to make a good impression on her. She was a little older than me and it was important to me at the time for her to think I was a good homemaker who could handle four children, as my husband and I received quite a bit of flack about creating such a large family.

First, I made sure the children were wearing clothes. My daughters, then 6 and 8, liked to wear their swimsuits all day (it was July in Texas). My son, who was 21 months old, if left alone for two minutes, could be found totally naked, running through the house with reckless abandon, with a piece of bologna stuck to his forehead. He also kept a spare piece of bologna stuck to the door of his room, should he need it later. I removed the bologna, dressed him, put him in a chair and threatened him within an inch of his life, should he dare to move. I then changed the baby’s diaper, checked her face for dried spit-up, dressed her in a cute little outfit, and put her in the baby bed.

Then, I looked at the kid’s rooms. They were destroyed. With precious little time left before the woman from church was to arrive, I opened the closet door and crammed their toys in as fast as I could. I then leaned in until the latch caught and the door stayed closed. All the while, my children stood in awe watching their mom scramble around, huffing and puffing and mumbling things about kids not appreciating all the toys they have.

With barely a moment to spare, the doorbell rang. With one last look around the house, I checked myself in the mirror and took a deep breath. Then the baby started screaming. Having already checked to see who was at the door, I instructed my 8-year-old, Sweet Pea, to open the door and let the lady from church in while I went to get the baby. Sweet Pea apparently opened the door, asked the lady to come in, and showed her where to put the food then said, “Come here. I want to show you something.”

She took the lady by the hand and sweetly led her down the hall to her room. With my now calm baby in my arms, I followed their voices down the hall. I rounded the corner to her room just in time to see Sweet Pea open the door to the closet as an avalanche of toys tumbled out into the room.

I was mortified. My overwhelming goal for the day was to impress this lady. My great concern was what she was thinking about me, while my daughter simply wanted her to see us as we really were. In one innocent move, she cut through the fa├žade as if to say, “I want you to see us on the inside; I want you to see us as we really are” and opened the closet door to our hearts to let the junk out.

I learned something that day. I learned that it is not important what others think you are. What is important is what you really are. Children seem to understand this. We teach them to love Jesus, to sing praises to him, and they do so with reckless abandon, like the naked toddler running through the house with bologna stuck to his forehead. Then, as we get older, we become more concerned with what others think about us to the point that it affects our ability to focus on God and worship him.

What lessons have you learned from your children?

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children,

you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child

is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 18:3-4

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Best Surprise

Last Sunday on my way to church I had the best surprise.

It was extremely cold that morning (for Texas). Heading out the door, I slipped on an overcoat that I had not worn since last winter. I reached into my pockets and pulled out a folded piece of paper: A FIFTY DOLLAR BILL! I LOVE it when that happens! It has only happened to me three times in 50 years, since I tend to put my money in my wallet…a place for everything and everything in its place, you know.

The first time this happened, I was a teenager and found a $5.00 bill in a pair of pants. The second time, I pulled a $20.00 dollar bill out of a jacket pocket. What I can’t fathom is how that $50 got there. How often are you given a brand new fifty dollar bill as change? How often are you given a fifty dollar bill for any reason?

So now my mind is racing. Did some generous benefactor slip it into my pocket last year, and why? Was it given to one of my children as a Christmas gift, perhaps, who asked me to hold it for safe-keeping as we were leaving Grandma’s? (If my kids read this, one of them will surely “remember” that happening). Did I misplace $50.00 last year and give up looking for it?

Exuberant, I quickly shared my good fortune with everyone I talked to at church. (Perhaps I should say I shared the STORY of my good fortune). Amazingly, one friend had a similar experience at about the same time. He was looking for a book he hadn’t read since last year. Upon finding it, he saw an envelope that he was using as a bookmark. In it was a fifty dollar bill he and his wife had received for Christmas the previous year from an uncle. What a coincidence!

The next week as I told my story at school, another friend told about her gold mine. It seems that she keeps a zip lock bag in her purse to catch those little things that usually get lost at the bottom of the purse. She pulled the bag out one day because it was getting full, and noticed a folded one dollar bill at the bottom. She tossed the bag on the floor of her car and left it there for weeks. Finally, one day as she prepared to go shopping, she decided to retrieve the one dollar bill. To her surprise, folded within it was a hundred dollar bill.

It is interesting to me that I would feel suddenly blessed by something that I have had in my possession all along. I am not any richer than I was a month ago. The only difference is in my awareness. As a Christian, I ought to have this same exuberance about all of my blessings every day. So, how do I do that? One old hymn suggests, “Count your blessings; name them one by one. Count your blessings; see what God hath done.” I need to work on that.

“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.”

Colossians3:17