Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tinkle and Clang

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A flurry of discordant sound announced the arrival of several sections of the bell choir.

“Move it, you three. You’re late and we haven’t got much time,” chimed the Bell Master from his place on the bottom rung of the carillon.

“Nag, nag, nag,” whispered the D flat to his buddy, C, as they climbed into their places on the top level. “What’s the hurry, anyway? Clang’s got his clapper in a knot for sure this morning.”

“Morning? It’s still dark outside,” protested the F major, breathlessly hauling himself up behind the others.

The smaller bells finally got themselves into place, just as Clang struck the note that indicated readiness and silence in the ranks. He looked around, carefully checking to make sure no one was missing. Worse than a faulty note was no note at all.

“Where’s Tinkle?” he boomed from his assigned spot.

Tinkle was the littlest bell of all. Her spot was high up at the top of the carillon.

Like an evil wind brushing through the tower, the rustle of the bells created dissonance as everyone looked around, hunting for Tinkle.

“I’m here sir. Just polishing, Bell Master.” Her clear, high sound rang out as Tinkle took her place at the apex of the musical arrangement.

“That girl takes herself too seriously. ‘Just polishing, Bell Master.’ As if fingerprints made any difference to anyone,” mimicked the D flat.

“You have something to share with us?” came Clang’s voice from down below.

Everyone froze. More than once Clang had said out loud that he wished they never had to have contact with their human counterparts—the evil always rubbed off a bit, like fingerprints on the burnished surface of a bell.

“Uhmmmmm, no sir. I was just, well, wondering what all the rush was about,” stuttered the offender. “It’s not even daylight yet.”

“Well, if—and I know keeping time for you doesn’t usually include knowing what day it is—you had been paying attention during rehearsals, you would have remembered that dawn today is the biggest moment of our year. Today we bring hope to the world.”

From somewhere in the middle of the bevy of bells came the dulcet tones of one of the G’s. “But, boss, do you really think anyone listens to us? It’s nasty out there. Everyone knows what happened to poor Liberty. Those humans are a mean lot and we don’t seem to be making much of an impact.”

There were a couple of chuckles from the group at G’s unintentional play on notes. The subdued merriment stopped as Clang’s clapper sounded for silence.

“I’ll admit that I sometimes have my doubts as to whether anyone gets our message, but that’s not the point. The point is that we have a message that we have been assigned to deliver, we’ve been practicing faithfully for this last year, and we are going to chime out that message no matter what. It’s up to the Master Musician to do the rest. So, are we ready? It’s almost time.”

The bell choir stirred, positioning themselves, clappers at the ready, all eyes on Clang.

“Tinkle?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Don’t forget, your part is critical. Sometimes people don’t hear the high notes, so you can’t hesitate or show weakness.”

“I won’t let you down, sir.”

Slowly the blackness outside the tower retreated before the insistence of the watery light of a winter sun. As it peeked above the horizon, Clang readied himself, gave the choir one last check, and nodded to Tinkle.

The high, light sound rang out loud and clear, followed by a rolling scale of melodious notes that reverberated across the awakening town.

Far below the tower, in the manse beside the church, a pastor looked up from his prayers. He had wrestled all night with his Christmas morning message. What could he say that would bring hope to a world where evil ruled men’s hearts, where even Christmas was banned with an “X”? How could he make sense of a world where, in the name of preserving peace, war was wrought?

He listened, remembered, and smiled. Hope was in God’s final note—which had yet to be played.

***************

And in despair I bowed my head/There is no peace on earth I said/For hate is strong and mocks the song/Of peace on earth, good will toward men/
Then peeled the bells more loud and sweet/God is not dead nor doth he sleep/ The wrong shall fail, the right prevail/Of peace on earth, good will toward men./
(from: I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day)

Friday, December 19, 2014

No Light, No Tunnel, No End

stocksy.com (Google Images)
I linger in the blackness, seemingly invisible to passersby. My night is cold and lonely, devoid of the warmth of human touch. There is only God, and though He speaks, I do not hear from Him what I desperately want to hear. He begs me to trust His will, but that will lies heavily upon me, like a shroud. His will is solitary. His will is hard. He bids me to be patient, but the fruitless, empty, years pass me by, heaping their rewards on others.

Shared laughter mocks me, as groups of two, three, and four, walk by. Their eyes seem to meet mine, but then slide past unseeing. I follow them, heading toward the open doors ahead that they are passing through. I long to cry out after them: “Look at me. See me. Hear me.” I don’t. They are busy with better, more productive, things. I bless the Lord for all their successes even as I envy them those blessings. Like a swift running current, they flow past my stagnant pool. It seems pointless to call out to them. Even if they saw and heard, there is nothing they can do. My path is beyond their reach. Only God can change the unchangeable.

My present darkness is His will, so I cannot pass through the doors that are open for others. At least I can press up against the windows and watch. The room they have entered is ablaze with light and resounds with music. It is crowded with people, laughing and chatting, making contact, sharing information, planting the seeds of ideas; a mutual admiration society. My aloneness deepens.

I should walk away. Why punish myself by remaining so close, but never close enough? Like the starving child with nose and palms pressed against the bakery window, I still need the crumbs that occasionally are tossed my way, even though they create in me a greater awareness of my deep hunger. So I linger.

How long, O Lord?

God says wait. He is carefully putting all the pieces of my life together. This solitary, shadowy corner is coming together just as He planned. Patience is not my strongest character trait. Sometimes, during the darkest moments of my night, I rail against Him and weep bitter tears. As quickly, I repent of the failure of my frail faith. Trust is, at times, an Everest that defies my best efforts to reach its summit. I know He makes no mistakes. I understand He has reasons—and good ones—for leaving me here. Like Job, I present my case and cry out for God to explain His.

Chattering voices and the chinking of glasses reach my ears. Toasts are being offered in celebration. A persistent voice whispers: “And who celebrates for you?” I push the thought away. I know it will return the next time some small victory comes my way and there is no one to share my happiness.

I shiver. There it is again, that subtle rejection of God’s will and presence. How often I have prayed that He would take away this desire for what isn’t part of His plan for me. He neither takes me from this darkness, nor does He remove my desire to be taken from it. That too is part of the plan.

I am ashamed. I turn back from the lighted window and look out into the darkness. As the Spirit of God adjusts my spiritual night vision, I weep again. The music from inside the room fades, replaced by the hoot of a nearby owl, the chirp of crickets, and the soft rustle of wind through barely visible trees. The air is heavy with the fragrance of lilac and gardenia. A million stars gleam overhead. I missed them in the glare of the light streaming from the windows. There is such beauty in the darkness. My shroud, whose folds hide the arms of God, embraces me. He is always good, and never as good as He is right now. I weep over my sins. Not content with the bounty of my night, I wanted more, even when He has given me so much. Thoughtless and unappreciative, I threw it back at Him.

Someone once said: “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.” Not one promise He has made me has failed. Though they don’t disappear, the voices are muted, overtaken by the sounds of the night. The grass stirs at my feet. God walks here in the dark.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mildred's Mouse House

plus.google.com (Google Images)
Synopsis: Millie discovers a unique way of giving Jesus the birthday present He could have used two thousand years ago.

Characters:
Mildred, a child of about 7
Robin, Mildred’s 12 year old brother
Mom

Location:
A kitchen with a back door leading to the yard.


Scene One
Mom is in the kitchen cooking. Robin is working on homework at one end of the kitchen table. Mildred is at the other end, elbows on the table, holding up her head with her hands, looking very glum.


Robin (looking up and across at Milly):
"Mr. Henderson paid me yesterday. Now I have enough to do ALL my Christmas shopping."

Mom:
"That’s nice. If you like, we can go to the mall on Saturday. Milly can come with us."

Milly:
"Don’t want to."

Mom:
"Why not?"

Milly:
"Don’t have any money. Can’t buy anything for anybody without money."

Robin:
"I’ll lend you some. Course, I’ll have to charge you interest."

Milly:
"What’s “interest”?"

Mom:
"Don’t pay any attention to your brother. He’s being silly. Maybe you could make some Christmas presents out of things you already have."

Robin:
"I don’t want some of her homemade junk."

Mom (with warning in her voice):
"Robin, that’s enough. With that kind of attitude you don’t deserve any kind of present from Milly. Maybe we could make things easier for all of us this year. How about we write down the names of all the people we are going to give presents to and put them in a hat. Then each of us can draw a name and buy a present for just that one person?"

Robin:
"Hey, then I only get one present."

Mom:
"Robin, Christmas isn’t about how many presents YOU get, remember?"

Robin:
"Okay, okay. Actually it’s not a bad idea. Then I only have to buy one present and I’ll still have money left for me."

Mom (signs and shakes her head):
"Sometimes, I wonder if Scrooge didn’t somehow get trapped in a twelve year old’s body."

Robin:
"What?"

Milly:
"Who’s Scrooge?"

Mom:
"Never mind. It’s not important."

Milly:
"I ALWAYS wonder about Robin. But I don’t even have money for one present. What if I get Grannie’s name?"

Robin:
"That’s easy. Grannie says she’s going to heaven soon and there isn’t a thing that she needs. You wouldn’t have to buy her anything."

Milly & Mom (horrified)
"ROBIN!"

Robin:
"Well, that’s what she said."

Mom:
"You know, I think I have the solution to this problem. How about we don’t buy any presents for anyone this year?"

Robin and Milly:
"Mom!"

Mom:
"No, I’m serious. Whose birthday is it anyway?"

Milly:
"Jesus’ birthday."

Mom:
"Right. So, why are we buying presents for everyone except the person who is celebrating the birthday?"

Robin:
"Cause we have to. We’ve always done it that way. We need to. I NEED Christmas presents."

Mom:
"Look at it this way, Robin. Think of all the money you will have left from your paper route if you don’t have to buy any Christmas presents."

Robin (thinks for a moment):
"Well, there is that."

Milly:
"But, Mom. I still don’t have any money to buy Jesus a Christmas present either."

Robin:
"Jesus is like Grannie. He doesn’t need anything either cause he’s already in heaven."

Milly (throws something at her brother):
"Mom, tell him to stop."

Mom:
"Yes, Robin, please stop being disrespectful. You are right…"

Robin (interrupting):
"See, I told you."

Mom:
"…to a point. How about we think about doing, rather than buying?"

Robin:
"What good stuff doesn’t cost money?"

Mom:
"If we had been around when Jesus was born, we could have done lots of things for him with what we already have. Robin could have given up his bedroom so that Mary could have her baby in a warm and safe place."

Robin:
"Why my room?"

Mom:
"Milly, you could have given him your doll’s bed so that he would have a nice place to sleep. I could have given some of this nice chicken soup to Mary and Joseph and warmed a bottle of milk for the baby".

Milly:
"But Jesus is in heaven, and he doesn’t need me to do anything like that for him now."

Mom:
"Well, you could do something for him, by doing something for someone else, just as if you were doing it for Jesus. He’s like that kind of present. Think about it for a while. Meanwhile son, you and I have a date upstairs with your room. We clean it or we condemn it."

Robin:
"Aw, Mom. You can’t be serious."

(Mom leads Robin off protesting all the way. The lights fade with Mildred still sitting at the table deep in thought.)

Scene Two
The lights come up as Milly closes the door leading out into the back yard. Mom enters with Robin.

Robin (complaining):
"Four hours, I can’t believe it took us four hours to do that room. I’ll never be able to find anything ever again. I’m wiped. I’m starving. When’s dinner?"

Mom:
"Soon. Clear your things off the table. Milly can set it and we’ll be ready to eat."

(The children begin those chores. Mom reaches for her pot holder only to discover that it’s missing.)

Mom:
"Milly, have you seen my pot holder? I thought I left it right here beside the stove when Robin and I went up to clean his room."

Milly:
"I took it."

Robin:
"Well, give it back so we can eat."

Mom:
"You took it? What for?"

Milly (hesitatingly):
"I got thinking about what you said, you know, doing something to help someone else, just as if I was doing it for Baby Jesus. I needed the pot holder."

Robin:
"I knew it. Too much thinking and she’s flipped out."

Mom (in a warning tone of voice):
"Robin. You did want supper, didn’t you?"

Robin:
"Sure. (Pause) Oh, I get it. Zip the lip."

Mom:
"Right. Now, Mildred, explain to me what the pot holder has to do with what we talked about?"

Milly:
"Well, Jesus doesn’t need a bedroom or a blanket or chicken soup or milk, but I found someone else who does. But my blanket didn’t fit in the bed, so I took the pot holder to use as a blanket."

Mom:
"You used the pot holder for a blanket. What person do you know who would need a pot holder for a blanket?"

Mill: (beginning to look a little worried):
"I don’t know any babies like Jesus that I could do something for, so I thought maybe helping other babies might be okay."

Mom:
"Other babies? What other babies?"

Milly:
"Um. Dad plugged the hole going into the basement last week so that the mice couldn’t get in the house."

Mom:
"Yes?"

Milly:
"Well, He took the mice out of the basement before he plugged the hole."

Mom:
"Yes?"

Milly
"It’s cold outside and they can’t come into the basement, or live in the house."

Mom: (slowly)
"Y-e-s?"

Milly:
"The mice had babies. I saw them in the shed."

Mom:
"Okay."

Milly:
"So I took my old doll house out to the shed. I put it down flat and filled all the rooms up with those wood shavings that dad had in the basement. But I didn’t have any blankets to put on top to keep the babies warm. So I took the pot holders."

Mom:
"All of them?"

Milly:
"Mostly. I’m sorry."

(Milly begins to cry.)

Mom:
"Milly, honey, don’t cry."

Milly:
"You’re not mad at me?"

Mom:
"No honey, I’m not angry with you. You did for those mice what you would have done if Jesus had needed a warm place to sleep, didn’t you?"

Milly:
"I wanted to. I thought that if the mice were happy and warm, Jesus would be too. But I am sorry about the pot holders."

Mom:
"I really do want those pot holders back. But don’t worry. I think I can find something that will work just as well to cover up the babies’ beds and keep all of them warm."

Robin:
"Can we eat now?"

Milly:
"Mom?"

Mom:
"Yes, honey."

Milly:
"I did something else too."

Mom:
"What did you do?"

Milly:
"I took the mice some chicken soup."

Robin:
"You did what?"

Mom (laughing):
"Did you leave enough for us?"

Milly:
"I think so."

Mom:
"Good. Put the bowls out and then you can give thanks."

(Milly puts out the bowls and Mom serves the soup.)

Milly:
"Dear Jesus. Thank you for Mom and Dad. And Robin too. Thank you for giving us a warm place to live, and food to eat. I’m sorry no one was there to give you those things when you were a baby but I hope you like your birthday present even if you can’t enjoy it yourself. Amen."

(Pause)

"And, Lord, please make sure the mice are careful with Mom’s pot holders."

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Glorious Christmas

Erna Elizabeth Schultz (Blaedow)
I held her hand, as if by doing so I could prevent her from slipping away. A little more than twenty-four hours before, I had been in my kitchen baking as though my own life depended on it. I was determined that this Christmas was going to be a good one. Less than three months had passed since my father’s death. For the first time, there would be only three of us to sit down to Christmas dinner. Then came the phone call.

“Mom’s had a massive heart attack. It’s bad.”

My brother had already made the journey north. On Friday night, mom had complained of chest pains. She’d had a mild heart attack several years earlier, so Wayne took her into emergency. By the time the medical personnel checked her over, there didn’t seem to be anything wrong, but they decided, as a precaution, to keep her in overnight. Saturday afternoon, the big one everyone dreaded, struck.

I had planned to travel north with some friends. Now other arrangements had to be made, and just a few days before Christmas there weren’t too many options. There were no flights available. The trains were booked solid. The only chance I had was to take an overnight bus. That was at least a nine hour ride, often longer if the weather was bad.

All the way home, I sat on the edge of the seat, willing the bus driver to go faster. I was terrified that I wouldn’t get home in time. My dad had died alone, suddenly, in his hospital room the night before he was to be released. I couldn’t bear the thoughts of not being there for my mother. I prayed that she would hold on.

The hospital was only a few blocks from the bus station. When I got there, my brother was waiting in the hall outside of ICU. We went in together. Mom was sitting up and she actually looked quite well.

“I’m sorry I’ve spoiled your Christmas,” she said.

Later, we met with the doctor. There really wasn’t anything more that could be done. It was only a question of time.

And later that afternoon, the time came. My brother and I sat holding her hand as she slipped away from us. Three days before Christmas, 1991, Erna Elizabeth was escorted into the living room of heaven.

We decided not to have the funeral before Christmas. That would allow any family that wanted to attend, to make the journey from southern to northern Ontario. Several people from the church that I had grown up in invited us to spend Christmas with them. But neither of us could face that. Nor did we want our grief to cloud the Christmas celebrations of others.

But what could we do? I remembered what mom had said when I entered her room that Sunday morning. “I’m sorry I’ve spoiled your Christmas.” No way was I going to let that happen.

Mom had bought the turkey, the potatoes, the turnip, and all the other things that we traditionally enjoyed for Christmas dinner.

“I’m going to cook the turkey, and we are going to have Christmas the best we can, just as mom would have wanted,” I told my brother. I’m sure he thought I was crazy. Perhaps I was.

On the twenty-fifth of December, we sat down to a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. We raised our glasses in tribute to those absent from us. We opened the presents that Mom had so carefully chosen. And we mourned, each in our own way.

Later, with dishes washed and food put away, there was time to think. If mom hadn’t already been in ICU receiving care, chances were that I would not have gotten home in time to talk to her for the last time. I thanked God for that favour. I had planned to make this Christmas special for mom. God had also planned to make this Christmas special for mom. His plan for her was better than mine and, after all, wasn’t that the point? She spent it dining with dad. And best of all, they shared the table with Jesus.

Into the shadow of grief, there came a little ray of sunshine, and with it, a voice that seemed to say: “I answered your prayer, but not the way you would have chosen. I know it hurts, but it will only be for a little while. There will be an eternity of Christmases for all of you together one day soon”.

Lynda Schultz, December 2005

Friday, November 21, 2014

Wait a Minute While I Put My Other Foot in My Mouth

skyscanner.net (Google Images)
At one point in my career, the mission director asked me if I would consider serving in Japan. We knew each other well enough for him not to take offense at my answer.

“Are you kidding? I had enough trouble learning Spanish. I could never manage Japanese even in my wildest dreams — and Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn.”

There were plenty of times in the painful process of language learning that I despaired of ever being able to communicate. If I had a dime for every mistake I’ve made in speaking, or writing Spanish, the taxman would be laughing all the way to the government vaults.

However, I’m not alone in my tales of language faux pas.

One of the first stories I was told in language school centered on a foreign missionary who was waxing eloquent in Spanish during a Sunday morning service. He was preaching on the evils of sin. Naturally, that word came up often in the course of the sermon. So engrossed was he in his message that he was completely unaware that the audience was not only paying attention, but was trying very hard to keep their collective faces straight. When the missionary quoted Romans 6:23, they simply burst out laughing.

You see the word in Spanish for "sin" is pecado. The word for "fish;" pescado, is very similar. Fishing, and fish, took a terrific beating that Sunday morning.

Worse yet, was that awful moment when a missionary preacher (a different one, I hope) thought he was inviting the congregation to pray. The word for "pray" is orar, the word for what you do when you desperately need to go to the bathroom, is orinar. You can imagine what the response to that invitation was.

Most of the time, mistakes in language don’t have such humiliating results. I have trouble rolling the “r” in some words. I have learned to avoid referring to Los Chorros (the river rapids) when I am asking friends about their relatives who live there. When I don’t “roll,” I end up asking about the family members who live “among thieves.” Oh, what a difference an “r” makes. It’s a good thing that they are my friends and are very understanding about my language lapses.

It seems like the little things are those most likely to trip up language learners. In those early days of struggle as students, we were always tired. The stress of language learning was exhausting. However, we also learned to be very careful when telling people how tired we really were. When I said, Estoy tan cansada, everyone understood that I was very tired. But, with one slip of the tongue, I have just as easily said, Estoy tan casada or, “I am SO married.”

If I could speak Spanish without using verbs, I’d be extremely happy. Even after so many years working in the language, some tenses still defy me. In the beginning, a language learner is tempted to translate English thoughts directly into Spanish and hope for the best. However, you can’t say, “I am hungry” by direct translation, at least not if you don’t want people to look at you as though you were some kind of ignorant language student. In Spanish, the equivalent to the English comes out as, “I have hunger.” The same rule applies for being thirsty, being cold, and being hot. Mind you, if you did happen to say yo soy caliente instead of tengo calor, you’ll probably get lots of invitations issued by strange men (or women) to do things that you might not want to share with your mother, or in my case, with your mission director.

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve referred to a woman as a man, or a man as a woman because I didn’t think fast enough before adding the appropriate gender specific ending to a word. Thankfully, doing it correctly is mostly automatic now. By the time I retire from overseas service, I’ll speak Spanish like a native and will never have to go looking for a hole to crawl into because of some language mistake I’ve made. How wonderful it will be not to ever have such a mortifying conversation as this one:

“I am so embarrassed!

“Oh, I’m delighted for you. When do you expect the baby?”*










*I used the word embarazada, which means "pregnant" in Spanish, when I should have used the word apenada.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Question of Trust

Google Images
“It looks dead to me.”

The larger of the two buzzards circled once more, keeping a sharp eye on both today’s object lesson and on the younger bird pacing him just a short distance away.

“It’s not moving,” offered the junior of the two.

“That’s usually the first symptom of what dead looks like, son.”

“Should we go and get it?”

“How about you go and get it, and I’ll watch?”

“But Dad, I’ve never gone by myself before.”

“There has to be first time, and I think this looks like a good first time.”

“What if it’s not dead?”

“You’ll soon know if it’s not—we have that effect on other creatures. Go on. Give it a try. You have to do it on your own sometime. I’ll be right here, circling. Don’t worry.”

If pop said he’d be there, well then, he’d be there. The smaller bird gently banked, carving spirals in the sky as he lost altitude. He kept a close eye on his prey, willing it not to move, wishing it to be well and truly dead.

There were two ledges below. The outer one was festooned with flowers and on its rim perched a bird feeder. That was of no interest to either of the buzzards. They had no taste for birdseed. However, immobile on the inner ledge lay lunch—at least that was what the younger of the two scavengers hoped.

He made one more circle and then came in for his landing, claws reaching out to grab the ledge, wings beginning to fold like flaps to slow, then stop, his forward motion at the perfect moment.

There, I made it.

The buzzard turned a bright eye toward the object of his desire. It was still there, but his heart sank. This was going to be a little harder than either he or his dad, still circling high above him, had thought. The creature, tantalizingly close, turned two huge eyes in his direction and flattened its ears. It seemed to grow in size as the young bird watched.

Drat it. It’s not dead after all.

It was then that he realized something else. There was a third ledge, the back edge of the second, and it was on this that the cat, for that was what the creature was, rested. The sharp eyes of the buzzard noticed yet another thing. His dreams of lunch died as they made contact with ultimate reality. In the middle of the two conjoined ledges was a closed window that separated the young bird from his prey.

The cat let out a fearful, anguished cry, as though it felt the claws and beak of its enemy digging into furry flesh.

The young bird cast a beady bright eye on its non-prey. The barrier was inviolable. He could see lunch but there was no way he could touch it.

The cat continued to cry. It did not run, seemingly paralyzed with fear.

With a disgusted look backwards, the young buzzard launched himself off the ledge, caught a passing current of air, and returned to where his father was circling, far above the building.

“You knew about the window, didn’t you, Dad?”

“Yes, I did. I once landed on that same ledge myself.”

“So why did you send me down there if you knew?”

“It’s all part of what dads teach their kids—what’s worth going after and what’s not. Some prey we can’t touch, dead or alive. You did good.”

“But I didn’t get any lunch.”

“No, but instead of banging your head against that window wasting your time trying to get at that cat, you were smart and flew away.”

“Why did it make such an awful sound, like it was already in my claws? It must have known that it was safe and that I couldn’t touch it.”

The two birds turned in unison, in perfect harmony with the gentle updraft that wafted through the valley, while the big one considered his answer.

“Trust, son. It’s all about trust. Sometimes these creatures just don’t seem to understand that what limits their freedom, also keeps them safe. Sometimes when they are afraid, they forget about the barrier protecting them.”

“Dad?”

“Yes, son?”

“I’m hungry.”

The big buzzard would have smiled, if he could have.

“Let’s go then. Now that you know what not to bother with, I show you where some of the best pickings in town are. Watch and learn, son, watch and learn. This time we’ll find something unprotected—and dead. Trust me.”

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Conditioning

Google Images
Friday, August 1

At exactly fifteen minutes after midnight, Cynthia, startled from a sound sleep, rolled over, struggled to untangle her arms from the duvet cover, and made a grab for the phone. On her first attempt, she missed, sending the book she had been reading just before turning off the light, tumbling to the floor.

“Hello?”

Nothing, not even a breath, or a whisper answered her.

“Hello? Who is it?”

Cynthia boasted about her ability to sleep through anything. During the years of the cold war, the accidental triggering of an air raid siren had sent the entire town into panic mode. She blissfully slept through it all. Storms, parties, and street races, never affected her beauty rest. It was odd that the ringing phone should do what nothing else could.

Calls at midnight usually signaled a family crisis, a drunk whose fingers did the walking in all the wrong directions, or a legitimate wrong number. The latter was usually followed by an apology or sometimes with the hasty “clink” of a receiver into its cradle and the sound of the dial tone.

There was nothing but silence this time.

Cynthia hung up and went back to sleep muttering about the rudeness of some people.

Saturday, August 2

At precisely fifteen minutes after midnight, the phone rang.

This time, Cynthia’s reflexes responded with more accuracy. Her hand grabbed the receiver on the second ring.

“Hello?”

Silence.

“Look, who is this?”

Empty air answered her.

The receiver returned to its cradle just a little more violently than it had the previous night.

Cynthia was scheduled to have Saturday morning brunch with some friends. Over orange juice and scrambled eggs, she recounted the experience of the last few nights.

“I don’t know what to do. Should I report it to the phone company? It doesn’t seem serious enough to call the police. There isn’t even any heavy breathing.”

Her friends commiserated with her. Maybe she should consider taking her phone off the hook at night, or getting an unlisted number.

Sunday, August 3

The clock in the living room struck 12:15 a.m. just as the phone beside Cynthia’s bed began to ring. For a second it seemed part of the dream haunting her at that moment. She had been walking along a road. Fog lay heavy and wet around her, preventing her from seeing much beyond the end of her nose. Branches hung from the trees—dripping telephone receivers, which she kept banging into. The sound of the phone pulled Cynthia off the path. The sheets were damp, her pajamas bathed in sweat.

“What do you want?” This time, politeness fled with sleep.

Again, there was nothing but silence.

Cynthia flung the phone down. She considered unplugging it, but resisted. Her father wasn’t well, and the family could call if something were to happen to him.

Later that morning, the now bleary-eyed woman, shared her experience with the other members of her Sunday School class.

“If whoever is on the other end of the line would just say something, then at least I would have some idea of how to respond. But this silence, and the clockwork timing is so frustrating.”

Cynthia felt better after the others prayed with her asking that the Lord would intervene in the situation. She went to sleep that night hanging on to those prayers, plus a few of her own.

Monday, August 4

The sound jerked her out of a peaceful slumber. This time, precisely fifteen minutes after midnight, Cynthia didn’t even bother to ask who was calling. She pulled the phone from its cradle, listened to the silence for thirty seconds, and then put the receiver back.

The routine chores of the day were carried out on automatic pilot as Cynthia chewed on the dilemma of the midnight caller. There was so much to do as a first-time homeowner. The hours in the day never seemed enough.

Tuesday, August 5

Cynthia woke up at precisely fifteen minutes after midnight—to absolute silence. There was an odd smell in the room and a light haze. Her mind, now conditioned to respond at this hour, kicked into high gear. She recognized smoke and the odor of something burning.

On her list of things to do in the new house had been a revision of the smoke alarms.

Later, as the firefighters checked the house for any further signs of overheated wiring, she thanked God for His midnight caller who had saved her life and her home.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tucker: Living In Divine Order

maximizethismoment.com (Google Images)
In the summer of nineteen forty-two I learned to fly. Well, I tried.

“Davey Tucker, you get off that roof right this minute! You’re gonna kill yourself!”

My father was winning the war flying Spitfires over the English Channel. So was I; but I flew over the barnyard on our farm in Minidoka County, Idaho. His enemies were the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt 109 and Focke-Wulf 190; mine were chickens and ducks. They flew too, though unfortunately for me, better than I did.

Dad told me that in the early years the Spits couldn’t go into steep dives quite as well as the ME 109’s. The negative ‘g’ forces starved the motor of fuel and the Spitfire could up and die on you real quick if you weren’t careful. We heard later that dad learned that lesson the hard way. So did I. I dislocated my shoulder launching myself off the roof of the barn that summer. I always blamed it on not having enough time to pull myself out of the dive before I hit the haymow. Dad didn’t hurt anything but his pride. After he was forced to bail out of the plane he had to walk back to the aerodrome, something pilots only do under the most dire of circumstances. Walking is generally considered beneath them.

While my father flew, I did too. I tried sheets taped to my arms and planks strapped to an apple box and launched off the baler. After we heard that dad had “lost” his Spit, I briefly limited myself to the ground, pretending that I was crawling through enemy lines to safely. But like dad said, pilots don’t walk, so I went back to flying. Besides, mom wasn’t too pleased to have me trampling the potato plants during my bolt for freedom.

In the summer of nineteen fifty-six, I learned how to run. It was no less hazardous than my flying had been, but certainly more pleasurable.

At the time, I was entering my last year at Seminary and as usual, I was running late —literally. I rounded the corner of the library on my way to a Hebrew class, and ran down the cutest little girl that I’ve ever had the satisfaction of meeting. I married her later that year. Marie claims that she caught me on the run and that I spent the next fifty years trying to get away! She invested every last one of them trotting alongside of me keeping the house, the kids, and my life in order through the fat, and the lean years, of ministry.

Marie always said that the only time that Dave Tucker wasn’t running off somewhere to do something for somebody was when he was “walking the line” for her. The year we were married Johnny Cash released a song that I’d swear to this day Marie made me repeat as part of my wedding vows. I can still hear it:

“I keep a close watch on this heart of mine, I keep my eyes wide open all the time, I keep the ends out for the ties that bind, Because you're mine, I walk the line.”*

It was no hardship watching my heart for her.

Now, in the summer of two thousand and six, I am learning how to walk. I doubt that it will be anywhere near as difficult as soaring and running were.

I stand before my congregation, the fourth that I have served over fifty years of ministry. This will be my last sermon as pastor of this church. After today, I will be just plain David Tucker, retired.
It’s time to slow down and let life catch up to me. Something tells me that while it’s going to require some adjustments, things are going to be okay.

“Please turn with me in your Bibles to Isaiah Chapter Forty, verse thirty-one. Our text for today reads this way: ‘those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ Have you ever wondered why Isaiah, inspired by God’s Spirit, wrote: ‘soar’, ‘run’, and ‘walk’, rather than ‘walk’, ‘run’, and ‘soar’? Well, soaring is a young man’s game. When I was boy growing up in Idaho, I rather took to flying …”

I look down at Marie and smile. Yes, walking’s going to be good.

*I Walk the Line by John R. Cash. Recorded 4/2/56

Friday, September 19, 2014

Broken Dreams

crowdsourceoregonlanduse.org (Google Images)
Go again to that dark place
where freedom dies and life lies waste.
Consider there that time, now past,
when all alone you gazed aghast
at broken dreams, forlorn and bent
beneath your feet lay, shattered, spent.

Return once more to memory’s cove
where, snug and safe, a treasure trove
of gold and silver, safely hid
from evil’s touch and gambler’s bid.
Protected by a Father’s hand
who caused these dreams to ever stand.

Some will die, and others live.
It is the Father’s grace to give
the best to those who dream, and wait
for Him to choose which one to take
and weave into life’s broken heart
a thread of hope, that missing part.

Let fall behind those painful sparks
of dying dreams that now grow cold.
And look beyond their fading light
toward His promise, pure and bright,
of dreams set free, divinely blessed,
a Father’s gift, as always, best.

Friday, September 12, 2014

That Sinking Feeling

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Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28 NIV)

You have to admire the audacity of Peter. As for me, I don’t like small boats. I prefer my water in a glass or at least in a form that comes with a tap. If I had been Peter, I probably wouldn’t have even been in the boat, much less trying to walk on water. But sometimes the events of life don’t give us a choice. Unlike Peter, we don’t even get the opportunity to ask permission to take a walk on the wet side—we get tossed out of the boat and seemingly left to sink or swim. A serious illness, a financial setback, a ministry turned misery, a relationship that fails, a past that haunts us, a present that overwhelms us and a future that defies us—who would ask to walk on these turbulent waters?

For Peter there was a lesson in faith to learn. He couldn’t have known that when he stepped out the boat. All he wanted was to get to the Lord. And that is the whole point. To get nearer to the Lord, to know Him better, to trust Him more, to grow in His likeness requires stepping beyond all that means security to us. It means allowing Him, even inviting Him, to push us out of our boat so that we can learn the lessons in trust that only rough seas can teach.

And when events thrust us out of the boat? Don’t look back. The past is done. Don’t look around. There is nothing out there that can save us. Don’t look down. Neither sinking nor swimming are options that God would choose for us. He wants us to walk in triumph over the stormy seas of our lives. Not under the circumstances, but above them. How? A successful crossing comes when we keep our eyes, our hearts, our minds, our lives always focused on Him. And keep walking.






Friday, September 5, 2014

It Seems Like Only Yesterday

Archisnapper (Google Images)
The old woman told me to my face that it would have been better if I had never been born.

And was I expected to accept the blame for that?

I lost my innocence then—at the tender age of twelve. Like the gush that announces the blooming of womanhood, came the understanding that no one is safe, not even a child in the presence of someone old enough to know better.

At one time our city mayor was a lowly high school counselor—well, I guess to us he didn’t seem so humble then. My one, and thankfully, only visit to his office was on the occasion of his dispensing advice concerning my future. He asked about my plans. I told him. He informed me that I didn’t have the brains to do what I anticipated.

It’s a good thing I didn’t believe him.

It was at that point in life that I came to the conclusion that free advice might actually be worth exactly what you pay for it, and even those in lofty positions of influence might not always know what they are talking about.

Four years later, within weeks of graduating from my chosen institution of higher learning, I was asked to be the valedictorian of my graduating class. Days later, a rather shamefaced dean informed me that the Board of Directors of the school had rescinded the invitation. After all, they argued, the school was trying to attract men, making it inappropriate to have me, a woman, as valedictorian.

I guess I should have been doubly insulted.

So I learned that sometimes even the most godly men do ungodly things. History tends to repeat itself, but it’s that first plunge into the waters of disillusionment that seems the coldest. With time I would become much more familiar with my own frailties and become much more sympathetic to the weaknesses of others. All the same, during those chaotic days I discovered friends I really wasn’t aware that I had, classmates who refused to allow the scions of ecclesiastical power to do the wrong thing.

During the adventurous twenties, I was to learn that with patience and perseverance, even the harshest critic can be won over, and that not every open door leads directly into the next room. Sometimes there are hallways to be dealt with before we are ready for the next door. A hallway can be a humbling place, something akin to standing in a corner except that it isn’t punishment. It’s, well, a place to wait, reflect, and get things in perspective.

In one of those hallways, in middle life—the lower middle—a shock awaited me. I discovered that God wasn’t impressed by my job description. He showed me that I needed to describe myself, not by my title, but by my relationship to him. He was more impressed by my being than by my doing. To teach me that lesson, he had to strip away all that he had given me so that I would learn to focus, not on the gift, but on the One who had done the giving.

In my forties, I took the first steps toward learning not to tell God how things ought to be done. I also learned to tell my mother what to do, and then discovered what a wonderful thing it was to be able to relinquish the role of “mothering” my mother and to return to being a daughter.

“Freedom 55” came and went. I resented that, especially since my brother retired with a nice package at the age of fifty-two. But then, I argued, what would be the use of having learned all those lessons, gained all those experiences and acquired all that expertise just in time to be relegated to that proverbial “pasture.” I remembered Caleb, who demanded the right to take on the toughest assignment possible—at the age of eighty-five. I’m barely crawling out of my nappies compared to him.

Now, on the cusp of years that are physically rusty but spiritually golden, I realize that my battles are not fought with the same naivety as in the spring of my life, nor with the same heat as in my summer years. The fall is cool but fresh, and bright with colour. There are still possibilities to explore, mountains to take, more lessons to learn, before winter comes.

And I have a message to deliver to an old woman.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Glass Walls and Rubber Hammers

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Dear Alice:

I have fallen in love with the only woman I know who enjoys being single. To be honest, Janet seems like the kind of person who doesn’t need me — I only know that I am quite sure I need her. She is on the shady of middle age, but blessed with an ageless spirit, full of life, energy, and fun.

Her colleagues and friends hold her in high regard. She is successful in her career, independent and talented. She is committed to the Lord, and to the ministry she feels He has called her to. People tell me Janet is always “up” — I certainly have never seen her otherwise, though she honestly shares her struggles and weaknesses.

The only flaw that I can see, if you could call it one, is the invisible barrier that keeps anyone from getting too close to the “real” Janet. Don’t get me wrong, she isn’t “standoffish,” but there exists a reserve, a glass wall that allows you to see her, but not touch her. That’s my dilemma — how do I get past the guard at her heart’s gate? I’ve met the woman of my dreams and I have no idea how to approach her.

Hopeless Romantic

Dear Hopeless Romantic:

Janet sounds like the kind of gal who would set her table with crystal and white linen, make a gourmet meal, light the candles, and then happily have a RO-TIC evening (that’s Romantic without the “man”) all by herself.

However, all is not lost. While it is true that there are some people who are called to singleness for the sake of the Kingdom, you obviously believe that Janet isn’t among their number. One of you must be wrong. Nevertheless, let’s assume, baring Divine intervention, that you are right and that Janet is the one God has for you.

Glass walls need to be approached carefully. They are fragile — too much pressure and someone is going to get badly cut. Not enough pressure and neither of you is ever going to find out who’s got the inside track on God’s will for your relationship.

First of all, respect Janet’s ministry and calling. Be interested in what interests her: not simply as a source of information or curiosity, but dig a little to find out how she feels about what she does. Don’t give advice or criticize, simply listen and support. Her wall may be built of insecurity. Others believe she has “all her ducks lined up,” but Janet may not be so sure that she really does, and fears to let anyone get close enough to discover how she judges her own abilities, and why God has blessed her life. When she trusts you, the crack in the wall will begin to widen.

Ask her to tell you her story. Find out about the experiences in life that have made her strong. Share your story with her, especially where your histories might come together. I’ll bet she is looking for someone who understands where she has been.

Be honest and vulnerable. By being vulnerable, you are not being a wimp: you are showing Janet that she is as safe with you as you feel with her; that she doesn’t need to compete to gain your respect. She sounds like she has learned to succeed in a man’s world — no easy feat! She needs to understand that you are not looking to deny, or to denigrate, what she has earned. Treat her as an equal. If she’s the woman you think she is, she’ll return the respect, and respond with interest.

Last, but certainly not least, if her commitment to God is as high a priority as you think it is, she’ll need to see that same commitment in you. As a person content with being single, she won’t consider giving those privileges up for anybody who is simply “warm and breathing.”

And hey, no woman, no matter how independent is adverse to flowers and the like. Just be sure that the gift reflects the woman. She’s obviously no pansy; so don’t give her any of those. She’s strong, so don’t give her roses, — they won’t last as well as she has. Try Birds of Paradise: exotic, flamboyant, and tough!

Remember, cracking glass works best with a rubber hammer.

Let me know what happens. I’m willing to bet that Janet will discover that she needs you as much as you need her (DV).

Alice

Friday, August 22, 2014

I Am Maranta

Google Images
Twilight descends as heavenward I bend
to embrace its portals.
Evening skies, chameleon as I, rainbow hues reveal:
Blue to orange, pink to mauve, purple to black.
I too am transformed, an aberration
like the human kind who follow my lead.
By day I stretch, verdant greens, spots and lines
in graceful combination,
a tribute to a creative Master.
Designed to delight and inspire,
I reach out to the light, to the Son, to heaven’s gleaming,
soak in its deepest sense;
then give back, exchanging one blessing for another.

I am Maranta.
I caress the light, hiding from its burning
yet seeking its warmth.
As night enfolds the day and holds it close
I retreat into myself, from reaching out
to pulling in.
Beneath the greens of light and dark, the veins and spots
hide another side,
another story.

I am Maranta.
Green turns to purple, the veins marked wine,
the spots of reddish-blue
blood-red against the darkening sky.
A curiosity to the uninformed who view my nature
as strange as that of those who lift
holy hands toward the sky.
I raise my “hands,” though they are not,
toward the One who made me thus.
Why, I ask, am I to be
so different from the rest?
I think He made me to reflect that bitter night,
the twilight of His life when, His prayer released,
He bled.
And vibrant life to death itself committed,

I am Maranta.
At twilight, the green of my life
to purple turns, the blood-red old as death
as to my Master I give myself in prayerful stance
as once He did with committed, dependent heart.
For those who echo my example,
who labour as He, with earnest voice;
be warned.

I am Maranta, an aberration,
as you will be to those who, without understanding,
fail to see that the greening of the soul
requires a purple twilight,
a garden of waiting,
of urgent pleading,
of heartfelt praise,
sometimes suffering,
always committed,
ever faithful
even to the death,
in prayerful pose.

I am Maranta.
Follow me.


The Maranta, more popularly known as the prayer plant, folds itself up at night revealing an undersurface of rosy-purple.

Friday, August 8, 2014

That Sinking Feeling

Shellijohnson (Google Images)
Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28 NIV)

You have to admire the audacity of Peter. As for me, I don’t like small boats. I prefer my water in a glass or at least in a form that comes with a tap. If I had been Peter, I probably wouldn’t have even been in the boat, much less trying to walk on water. But sometimes the events of life don’t give us a choice. Unlike Peter, we don’t even get the opportunity to ask permission to take a walk on the wet side—we get tossed out of the boat and seemingly left to sink or swim. A serious illness, a financial setback, a ministry turned misery, a relationship that fails, a past that haunts us, a present that overwhelms us and a future that defies us—who would ask to walk on these turbulent waters?

For Peter there was a lesson in faith to learn. He couldn’t have known that when he stepped out the boat. All he wanted was to get to the Lord. And that is the whole point. To get nearer to the Lord, to know Him better, to trust Him more, to grow in His likeness requires stepping beyond all that means security to us. It means allowing Him, even inviting Him, to push us out of our boat so that we can learn the lessons in trust that only rough seas can teach.

And when events thrust us out of the boat? Don’t look back. The past is done. Don’t look around. There is nothing out there that can save us. Don’t look down. Neither sinking or swimming are options that God would choose for us. He wants us to walk in triumph over the stormy seas of our lives. Not under the circumstances, but above them. How? A successful crossing comes when we keep our eyes, our hearts, our minds, our lives always focused on Him. And keep walking.

Friday, August 1, 2014

No Light, No Tunnel, No End

whateverhesays (Google Images)
I linger in the blackness, seemingly invisible to passersby. My night is cold and lonely, devoid of the warmth of human touch. There is only God, and though He speaks, I do not hear from Him what I desperately want to hear. He begs me to trust His will, but that will lies heavily upon me, like a shroud. His will is solitary. His will is hard. He bids me to be patient, but the fruitless, empty, years pass me by, heaping their rewards on others.

Shared laughter mocks me, as groups of two, three, and four, walk by. Their eyes seem to meet mine, but then slide past unseeing. I follow them, heading toward the open doors ahead that they are passing through. I long to cry out after them: “Look at me. See me. Hear me.” I don’t. They are busy with better, more productive, things. I bless the Lord for all their successes even as I envy them those blessings. Like a swift running current, they flow past my stagnant pool. It seems pointless to call out to them. Even if they saw and heard, there is nothing they can do. My path is beyond their reach. Only God can change the unchangeable.

My present darkness is His will, so I cannot pass through the doors that are open for others. At least I can press up against the windows and watch. The room they have entered is ablaze with light and resounds with music. It is crowded with people, laughing and chatting, making contact, sharing information, planting the seeds of ideas; a mutual admiration society. My aloneness deepens.

I should walk away. Why punish myself by remaining so close, but never close enough? Like the starving child with nose and palms pressed against the bakery window, I still need the crumbs that occasionally are tossed my way, even though they create in me a greater awareness of my deep hunger. So I linger.

How long, O Lord?

God says wait. He is carefully putting all the pieces of my life together. This solitary, shadowy corner is coming together just as He planned. Patience is not my strongest character trait. Sometimes, during the darkest moments of my night, I rail against Him and weep bitter tears. As quickly, I repent of the failure of my frail faith. Trust is, at times, an Everest that defies my best efforts to reach its summit. I know He makes no mistakes. I understand He has reasons—and good ones—for leaving me here. Like Job, I present my case and cry out for God to explain His.

Chattering voices and the chinking of glasses reach my ears. Toasts are being offered in celebration. A persistent voice whispers: “And who celebrates for you?” I push the thought away. I know it will return the next time some small victory comes my way and there is no one to share my happiness.

I shiver. There it is again, that subtle rejection of God’s will and presence. How often I have prayed that He would take away this desire for what isn’t part of His plan for me. He neither takes me from this darkness, nor does He remove my desire to be taken from it. That too is part of the plan.

I am ashamed. I turn back from the lighted window and look out into the darkness. As the Spirit of God adjusts my spiritual night vision, I weep again. The music from inside the room fades, replaced by the hoot of a nearby owl, the chirp of crickets, and the soft rustle of wind through barely visible trees. The air is heavy with the fragrance of lilac and gardenia. A million stars gleam overhead. I missed them in the glare of the light streaming from the windows. There is such beauty in the darkness. My shroud, whose folds hide the arms of God, embraces me. He is always good, and never as good as He is right now. I weep over my sins. Not content with the bounty of my night, I wanted more, even when He has given me so much. Thoughtless and unappreciative, I threw it back at Him.

Someone once said: “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.” Not one promise He has made me has failed. Though they don’t disappear, the voices are muted, overtaken by the sounds of the night. The grass stirs at my feet. God walks here in the dark.

Friday, July 25, 2014

I Call You Mother; I Call HIM Lord

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“You are going to do what?”

The exclamation was harsh. María knew from her mother’s tone of voice that her decision was not going to be well received.

“Mother, I’m going to be baptized.”

“You’ve already been baptized.”

“Yes, I know, and I’m grateful to you for caring enough about my soul to have me baptized.”

“So why are you doing this then?”

María chose her words carefully.

“Mom, I didn’t understand then. I was only a baby. Now, as a adult, I do understand, and I want to make a public commitment to follow the Saviour for the rest of my life.”

Isabel glared at her daughter.

“So, this is what you think of all my efforts to bring you and your brother up correctly? You throw all we believe back in my face as if it were nothing? You reject everything you were taught?”

“I’m not rejecting anything, Mother. I am confirming what I have come to believe for myself. I told you, and I meant it; I’m grateful that God gave me a mother who cared enough about us to teach us about God. I’ll love you for that for the rest of my life.”

María had thought long and hard about this decision. Her mother had never had any problem with her going to Bible Study with her friends. In fact, Isabel had gone with her and had participated in the studies, often contributing some excellent insights. She was not an ignorant woman when it came to knowledge of the Scriptures.

When María announced her decision to accept Christ, her mother had taken it to be a deeper commitment to spiritual things—that couldn’t hurt anything. But, baptism? That was throwing away part of who she was. Her religious upbringing was as strongly cultural as it was spiritual. Isabel considered being baptized twice, a direct, and brutal, slap in the face. Since she was not one to guard her words, she didn’t hesitate to speak them now.

“You’ve been brainwashed. I should have found some way to discourage you from associating with these people. You are no daughter of mine if you do this.”

The relationship between mother and daughter had always been a strong one. They were friends as much as they were relations. María feared the consequences of her actions. She knew that behind the sweet, generous nature that most people saw in her mother, lay a vengeful streak. Isabel hadn’t spoken to her only sister for many years—the result of some disagreement in the distant past.

“What about Raúl? And the children—what are they going to say about all this nonsense?”

“I’m sure Raúl will support me in this just as he has always supported my decisions. I don’t know what the children will say, but it doesn’t matter. I have to do this.”

It had taken María years to come to faith for herself. She was by nature. someone who weighed her decisions carefully. The issue of baptism was one she prayed about for several more years after her conversion. Her concern wasn’t what the Scriptures said, but with the commitment she was making. María knew that if she publicly confessed Christ, she could not go back on that commitment. Now she was sure. She wanted to follow Christ for the rest of her life. There were no more doubts, no more questions in her mind.

“Well, I won’t have anything to do with it. You have shamed me, your family, your culture, and I won’t forget.”

And Isabel didn’t forget. Whether through stubborn silences or angry words, she heaped his disgust on her daughter’s head, bringing her to tears on many occasions. On the day of María’s baptism, her mother did not attend. The daughter’s tears that day were bittersweet: bitter because of her mother’s rejection, sweet because María was walking in obedience to her Lord. That obedience had come at a high price.

A year passed. To their faces, Isabel was polite to the members of the Bible Study group and the church, but she refused to return to either activities. Behind closed doors, she threw her true feelings about them in María’s face.

By the end of the year, María’s constant expressions of love for her mother, her faithfulness to her Lord, and the prayers of her family of faith, brought at least a partial reward. Isabel returned to the Bible Study group. We continue to pray that she will turn to the Lord just as María had.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sweet Song of Crow

Wildnis (Google Images)
It was as though I were able to read their thoughts—though they were not thinking about the sudden appearance of this shadow. A sea of transparent faces with clear eyes like tunnels leading back into crystal minds, looked beyond me as if I were not there.

Some were winged creatures, awesome in their physical presence, yet unaware of that very grandeur. Others, whose features would have inspired fear in another world, were now marvelously benign. However, they had no time for me. They too looked beyond me, fully focused, eyes bright, and faces glowing. A multitude, those who seemed like me, but weren’t, glowed in white robes, which might have outshone the sun in their whiteness—if there had been a sun. They too, looked beyond me, adoration written indelibly on their faces.

Every eye centered on the Throne.

My Guide took my arm and led me closer. If you pressed me, I’d say He took me to the front, but in fact there was no front. The presence of the Enthroned One was everywhere. Every space, no matter how seemingly far away, was as though it were only a step from the dais.

To describe what I saw would be like catching the wind in a bottle: it ceases to be what it is as soon as it is touched by human craft. The One who occupied the Throne glowed as though every jewel in the universe had shed its brilliance as an offering in an ultimate act of worship.

I was suddenly aware of the sound. The air vibrated. Music, of which a pale imitation had been my only experience until this moment, soared around me. It was not brash. It did not fill my head with itself; rather it carried me directly into the glow of its Object. My friends would tell you, for they are here somewhere in this audience, that my voice resembles that of a crow. Nevertheless, in this place, my fully sanctified mouth, with a most melodious caw, echoed the words of the hymn being sung.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

“You are worthy, our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

A hand reached out from the midst of the brightness of the Throne. It held a scroll, tightly closed. Surrounded by such open, transparent purity, it seemed an aberration. What would dare to be closed against Majesty? I wept. One of the humankind leaned toward me and smiled:

“Don’t weep. There is no need. The Worthy One will open the scroll.”

My faltering human vision cleared and I saw the Lamb. He took the scroll and I knew Him. With those around me, I sang the song of redeeming blood and redeemed men.

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

Encouraged by knowing that He had taken the name of one of theirs, to exalt His own, I heard the creatures from whom I had borrowed my own voice, add their cry to the song. From the earth, the skies, the seas, their worship resonated through the heavens.

“ … praise … honor … glory … power, for ever and ever!” The voice, which the serpent had lost in long-ago Eden, returned one more to Creation.

I needed no pen to record the sights and sounds. What was not permanently engraved on my soul would defy even the best-honed descriptive skills of a more accomplished writer than I am. My Guide stayed close, perhaps knowing that I would have stayed forever if I had been able. Soon, very soon, my turn would come and I would bask again in the glory of the Enthroned One, in the presence of the Lamb, with the Guide at my elbow.

The sun is less bright as it sets behind the now-tarnished beauty of my island prison. Until I can sing again with perfect pitch in the chorus of heaven before the Throne of the Majesty on High, I will caw as best I can:

“Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

No human ear will hear the discordant notes, but God will know their intent, and be pleased.

Revelation 4:8, 11; 5:12, 13; 7:12

Friday, May 30, 2014

Thirteen Steps to Disaster

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I was only trying to help. Mastering thirteen stairs from the door to the street to the door that opened into our apartment didn’t seem that difficult. After all, I was a “big” little kid. I could handle it, couldn’t I?

During the ‘50s, the man in the white suit with the neat little black bowtie came once a week to the street door, which was always unlocked. (The ads in the magazine always pictured him dressed this way though I can’t honestly say I remember our own deliveryman dressing to that height of haute couture.) Mom left the glass bottles just inside the door. There were big ones for the stuff I was most interested in and, sometimes, short stubby ones or short skinny ones, for other things that ended up in some delicious concoction on the kitchen table at mealtimes.

The deliveryman drove a funny looking stub-nosed truck. At least that’s what I remember, though I could be thinking of those magazine ads again. I could see him from the living room window, which looked out over the street.

That’s where this story begins.

I saw him drive up, step down from his truck, reach back for his little wire basket. It had six divisions and each division held a full glass bottle. I knew the ones mom had left just inside the door were empty. I waited in eager anticipation for the exchange.

The outside back door creaked open on squeaky hinges. The inside back door stuck a bit and the deliveryman had to give it a push to get it open. I heard the clank of the bottles as he put his basket down on the bottom step; then the rattle as he lifted the full ones out and exchanged them for the two empties that mom had left.

The outer door squeaked and I saw him get back into his cute truck with four full bottles in his basket and mom’s two empty ones. He headed off to the next house on his route.

Now it was my turn.

I can’t remember what mom was doing. She had to have been at home. After all, I was only a little kid and she never neglected us. Sometimes she left me with Myrtle, the landlady, who lived in the bottom part of the house. Anyway, at this moment, I was on my own and determined to help.

Getting down those thirteen stairs was easy. The objects of my quest were sitting quietly just inside the back door. When I reached them, I lifted one, and then the other. They were heavier than I expected. But, with all the confidence of a true child helper, I started up the stairs.

The first few steps were easy. No one has ever accused me of being a math whiz, but I swear to this day that those thirteen steps multiplied themselves into thirty-three. By the time I got near the top, I was breathing hard, and those two bottles seemed to weigh as much as the animal that had produced their contents.

I reached the second-to-last step. Then the unthinkable happened. Both bottles, wet from the beads of moisture that had formed on their outsides because of the heat of my hands, began to slip from my grasp. There was absolutely nothing I could do.

Glass doesn’t bounce.

By the time all the crashing, smashing, and splashing, was done, all thirteen stairs were covered in glass and dotted with globs of white. Less impressive, but just as present, were the beads of moisture running down my cheeks to drop, and mix, with the mess on the steps. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough of them to wash away the evidence of my frustrated endeavors at being mother’s little helper.

During that eternal minute of time, from wherever she had been, mother appeared. If I had been a spectator, her wrath would have been an impressive sight to behold. As it was, I not only beheld it; I felt it.

Not every effort we make to help is going to be appreciated. Sometimes our best attempts are dismal failures and we are tempted to despair and to quit. Those are the moments when we need to remember that we are no longer under mother’s wrath, but under God’s grace. He tells us to never get tired of doing good, and to never give up.* It’s the doing of good that counts, even when the results make a mess on the stairs.

*Galatians 6:9, 10

Friday, April 18, 2014

And He Shall Be Called Servant

Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.” — Matthew 12:18 NIV

THINK ABOUT IT

What’s your opinion about servants?

_____I wouldn’t want to be one
_____no ambition
_____low pay, no respect
_____easy job, no great skill needed
_____low class
_____great for people lacking in brains or education
_____other __________________________________________________________________

Our prejudices blind us to the many educated, intelligent and conscientious people who make a good living, and take pride in, being servants. But in Jesus’ day, being a servant was close kin to being a slave, and we’d like to think that slavery was abolished long ago.

The fuel the world runs on is not found in anyone’s oil well. The world runs on the premise that I am my own “man”, that no one owns me, and that no one can tell me what to do. We work very hard at trying to be islands where there is no ocean. We like to think that it is actually possible to be independent when every gimmick, gadget and advertisement screams the opposite. If we really were “free” we wouldn’t need the internet, deodorant or traffic lights — just to name a few. Paul told us two thousand years ago that we were slaves to whoever we obey (Romans 6:16).

Who do you obey?

We all obey something or someone. So it is not a question of whether or not; the issue is who, or what, we will serve.

For the Lord Jesus to be called, or to call Himself, a servant was a simple acknowledgment of a fact. And the Bible is full of instructions on servanthood.

Check out the following scriptures on being a servant. Beside the phrase write the number of the verse which corresponds to it.

1. Deuteronomy 10:12

2. Joshua 24:15

3. Matthew 4:10

4. Matthew 20:26

5. Matthew 20:28

6. Matthew 25:21

7. Luke 16:13

8. Luke 17:10

9. Romans 12:11

10. Ephesians 4:12

11. Ephesians 6:7

12. Philippians 2:7

13. Colossians 3:22-24

_____we serve whatever we are most devoted to
_____good service brings divine commendation
_____serve the Lord by serving men
_____no matter how much we do, it isn’t enough
_____who we serve is a choice we make
_____saved to serve
_____serving is a spiritual exercise
_____ the ultimate service is to God
_____Christ chose to be a servant
_____greatness comes with servanthood
_____serve because of your relationship with Christ
_____the only service is to God
_____Jesus was the ultimate example of servanthood

Read John 13:1-17. (Remember that Judas was still present with the other disciples and that Jesus washed his feet too, knowing that Judas was about to betray Him). Translate this incident in the life of Christ into your life. What is the most personally humbling service that you can render to someone who isn’t your friend?


How would you go about carrying out this act of service?


PRAY ABOUT IT
Ask the Lord for a servant’s heart, for humility and for a gracious spirit that will allow you to follow the example of Christ, and to serve wholeheartedly in His name. Invite Him to show you areas in which you have refused to ‘dirty your hands’. Ask forgiveness for denying yourself the opportunity to follow Him in these areas. Commit yourself to being a better servant of His, so that you can better serve others.

ACT ON IT
Christ’s servant spirit took Him to the cross. He gave all so that He could offer salvation to all. Paul put aside his rights so that he could minister to all in order that some might be saved (I Corinthians 9:19-23). We are called to follow Christ’s example. To do otherwise is to name Him a fool for allowing Himself to be taken advantage of. To do otherwise is to consider ourselves better than He was. To the one who is secure in his identity as a child of the King, focused on his divinely appointed purpose in life, and sure of his special place in the kingdom, washing feet becomes a great privilege, not because of the nature of the act, but because we are serving Him, by serving others.

How’s your foot washing going? What service can you render in the name of Jesus, and for His glory? Where is this act of service noted on your calendar or in your daybook?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Leaving the Family

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“You know, you don’t have to do this. You could just walk away, disappear.”

Tom, surprised that he was being offered an “out,” hesitated for only for a second.

“No, I’ll go. If I don’t, the rest of the family will wonder why I didn’t show up and that could lead to complications.”

“Fine. It’s your funeral if things go wrong.”

“I know.”

The meeting with the family was a regularly scheduled event. Not only was it scheduled; attendance was required. He straightened his tie and jacket, exchanged one last glance with his concerned companion, and left the building by a back door.

A half an hour later, Tom pulled up in front of a wrought iron gate supported by a ten-foot high stone wall. The video camera hanging from the gatepost swung in his direction as he reached out and pushed the button on the intercom that connected to the house. The gate slowly opened. Whoever was on duty on the other end of the camera had confirmed Tom’s identity and his right to admission.

Moments later he entered the house. There was no need to be told where to go—he was, after all, related. He greeted the others as he always did when these meetings were called. The words sounded normal, the gestures from cousins, uncles and from those who had “married” into the family, concealed no malice that he could identify. Nevertheless, Tom could feel the electric tension in the air, like the oppressive stillness before a storm.

Do they know? Does someone suspect that I betrayed the code, that I broke ranks?

He thought the word betrayal because the world would judge his actions as such, but he knew in his heart that a much greater betrayal had marked the life that had been, until recently, his only world.

His uncle sat enthroned at the head of an enormous teak conference table. The light coming in from the French doors behind him created an aura that wrapped itself around the old man. The position was deliberate, planned and posed. His face was like granite, his thoughts unknowable and inviolate. As was his privilege, Tom took his place to the right of the current family patriarch.

At precisely the hour assigned for it, the meeting began. As expected, the head of the family took the lead.

“Report.”

Everyone present knew to what the old man was referring.

“Two houses were raided this week…”

“…As was the warehouse…”

“Someone’s been nosing around the offshore accounts.”

The news was grim from every point of the table’s compass. Over the past several weeks, the noose around the family’s neck had inexplicably and inexorably been tightening.

They don’t know, or they wouldn’t be talking so freely…

The muffled beeping of a cell phone interrupted Tom’s thoughts and brought a startled silence to the table. For anyone to dare to call when the inner circle of the family was meeting could only mean more bad news. Without a word, the old man pulled the phone from his pocket, listened, then broke the connection. Slowly he turned toward Tom. If there were feelings behind that stony, expressionless face, the business at hand took precedence over them. All eyes followed those of their don. Something tangible, but as yet unidentifiable, had taken possession of the room. Instinctively, the others waited for the capo, the head of the family, to personally deal with the specter that had suddenly raised its ugly head at his table.

No one saw the gun. From that close, the bullet couldn’t miss even though the silencer slowed its progress. It missed the wire of the tiny microphone taped to Tom’s chest, and plowed through several vital body parts.

Jesus, I tried to put it all right. I wish I had known you sooner …

As the life drained from his body, Tom’s second-to-last thoughts focused on the conversation with the FBI agent who had offered him an escape from this very possibility.

…It’s your funeral if things go wrong.

Was this right or wrong? The recording of the discussion around the table would help to convict those present. There would be no time for the gun, or his uncle’s fingerprints, to disappear before federal agents came charging through those French doors. Humanly speaking, things had gone wrong for Tom, but whatever happened from this moment on would help to make things right.

Tom’s last thoughts were of his new family, now gathered and waiting to meet him.

He smiled.