Eating Humble Pie

I learned a lesson from my niece recently. She said, “In every sarcastic statement made by someone, even if it’s done in a teasing fashion, there’s a hint of truth.”

I was feeling impatient with her slow decision making while shopping, and I teasingly said to her, “Your mother and I are going to starve to death if you don’t make a decision soon.” Instead of hurrying the process, it made it worse. She tensed up and took even long.

Later I apologized. That’s when she made her statement to me. Her words stung, because I knew she was right. My impatience showed, even though I tried to mask it with humor.

I’m beginning to understand what the old saints from my childhood meant when they testified in church about how sinful they were. Back then I questioned, “What can they possibly be doing at their age that’s so terrible?” I knew they lived outwardly clean lives.

So now I’m one of the “old saints,” and my sinfulness shows in my attitude and actions at the most inconvenient times. It hurts others and embarrasses me.

Although I don’t enjoy being humbled, I find a little humbling is sometimes necessary to remind me not only of my sins, but also of my need to forgive others who irritate me by their humanity.

Thank God he is patient and forgiving to me.  I know I’ll need his grace and mercy for as long as I remain in this human shell.

 

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She’s making her list and checking it twice…

The message on my Dove chocolate wrapping read, “Do all things in love.” So, in love, I savored my daily chocolate indulgence while sipping a cup of hot coffee! Aah, a simple pleasure that always perks me up.

I thought about this message as I continued on with my activities for the day. Preparing for Christmas usually involves a lot of effort and a long “to do” list. Like everyone else, I get tired and wonder if it’s all necessary.

For myself, I could eliminate some of the preparations. But would that affect the happiness of others? My husband, Drew, loves a fresh Christmas tree. We don’t actually cut our own, but it still involves bundling up and traipsing through tree lots in search of just the right tree. After we cart it home, Drew lies on the floor and tries to harness it into the stand. My job is to hold on to it, and when it’s secure, step back to make sure it’s straight. Sometimes Drew loses patience with me if I take too long or am not specific enough in my instructions. In those moments I think about how much easier it must be to put up an artificial tree with the lights already attached. I wouldn’t have to water it daily either! But I do it because it makes my husband happy.

Then there are the Christmas cards to write out and mail, after the Christmas letter is written (my job). I know others appreciate receiving our greeting, just as I appreciate theirs. So I do it for that reason. Many of our traditions are probably preserved more out of love than anything. We know others would miss it if we stopped.

One year I didn’t bake our Christmas morning Bubble Bread and my grown children loudly protested! I didn’t realize they still cared. So now, each year I make a loaf or two to enjoy Christmas morning, along with the sweet soup Drew makes, one of his childhood traditions. He also makes krumkake, a Scandinavian pastry. Our son, Andrew, comes early to help him—a gesture of love on his part.

The time and effort we expend to do something kind for someone: taking a plate of goodies to a person unable to do their own baking, a meal to someone who’s ill, contributing to charities (especially those that help the hungry or vulnerable individuals)—to spread the joy of the season and show Christ’s love, is even more important.

As we give to others, we are blessed in return. I visited a friend yesterday to encourage her in the midst of her health problems; instead she encouraged me by her appreciation, not only for my visit, but also by the way she recounted all her blessings from God. Even though, physically, she’s unable to “do” for others, she is still using what she has to show love. Her short email message afterwards made me glad I made time to visit her.

Often we say, “it’s the little things that count,” but we may not always believe that, especially if our “to do” list looms large and long in our mind’s eye. However, as we search our memories, generally what stands out is someone’s effort to help or cheer us when we needed it.

This may be a good time to reassess our activities to decide if we are doing them because we genuinely care about other people, we enjoy preserving our traditions, or if we are just trying to impress others. Even if our reasons for doing things are positive, we may still need to adjust our attitude and not grumble about how busy we are.

I think we all enjoy and desire attention, so don’t forget to show yourself a little love by enjoying a special treat and a few moments of relaxation! It may just give us enough of a boost to finish up that pesky list.

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A Lesson in Patience

My dad was one of the most patient, loving, persons I’ve known. Even with his seven children, he rarely lost his temper. My youngest brother with Down syndrome required a tremendous amount of patience and Dad was the person who worked with him most effectively.

In one area of his life however, his usual patient attitude fell by the wayside. He hated being sick. Whenever he landed in the hospital, his first question to the doctor was “When can I go home?” Our pastor once teased him, “You know, by the time a guy reaches eighty, you’d think he’d have learned all there is to know about patience!”

Even though I’m still a ways from eighty, I recently discovered I’ve got a lot to learn in that area as well. This fall I spent two weeks at our daughter’s home with her family, which included a new baby girl. Sonja had a C section and needed help with the older children, while she concentrated on feeding her new little one, and recuperating from surgery.

I loved being there to watch the response of her five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son when they met their new sister. My grandson literally jumped up and down and clapped his hands in excitement when I told him that baby Anya had arrived safe and sound. He kept saying, “She’s born—baby Anya is born!” Then, he raced to the garage to see if Daddy had brought them home yet.

At the hospital when Mirana and Iskandar met their new sister for the first time, I cried over their sweet innocence and sense of awe at how tiny her head, hands, and feet were.

After just two days in the hospital, Sonja and the new baby came home. The children’s excitement was palpable as they exuberantly welcomed Mommy and baby home.

In the next few days the reality of how their lives had changed began to set in. They wanted their mom to take care of them like they were used to. When Grandma tried to help them, they sometimes responded with, “No, I want Mommy.”

Negotiating with children has never been my strong suit, and at times my impatience won out. That was frustrating to me, as well as them. How do you teach patience when you don’t respond that way yourself?

I felt pulled between their needs, their demands on their mama who desperately needed her rest, and my own struggle to keep the peace in order to truly be helpful to my daughter. I love my grandchildren dearly, and was disappointed with my lack of patience and endurance.

A recent article published in the Faith and Fellowship, “Faithful to the End,” by Anthony Karlik, hit home to me. He said that all believers want to hear these words of Jesus when we arrive home in Heaven someday, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Then he related some of his struggles with fear, anxiety, and lack of patience in the midst of trials.

After being hit by a car on his motorcycle, he endured multiple surgeries, weeks in the hospital, and therapy to strengthen his shattered foot and leg. He said, “Throughout this process I went through every emotion known to man. From anger with God to rage against the one who hit me…and when I could finally fight no more, the only faithful one, our Lord Jesus, came to minister to me. When I hear the passage, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,’ I hang my head in shame because I am not worthy to be called that. But Jesus, knowing our condition, does not leave us in that state of brokenness.”

The words of Paul in Romans 8:2 are an encouragement to all believers: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because the law of the Spirit, alive in Christ Jesus, has set me free from the law of sin and death.” Although all of us will continue to face trouble in our lives, we have a faithful Savior who will be with us, and one day when all is said and done, he will faithfully come for us.

My two-week stay with my daughter’s family was a wonderful opportunity to get to know my grandchildren better and to experience their environment, both at home and at school. As I helped get them ready for school, drove them there, and picked them up each afternoon, I could appreciate more of my daughter’s world too.

It brought back memories of my days as a young mom, the joys as well as the frustrations. However, I was a stay-at-home mom while Sonja works full time. I worry about how she will manage it all once she returns to work.

While it will be difficult, I am confident she’ll do just fine. I reminded her that I had to rely on God for his strength to get me through my days, and she’ll need to do that more and more too.

So even though I sometimes fail in my patience, God forgives me and helps me to continue on with my journey of learning and growing in His love. Even if it takes me to age eighty and beyond to learn the lesson of patience!

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All God’s Children

I witnessed a tender scene this morning while waiting for the traffic light to change. As a young couple waited to walk across the street, the man reached his arm out and gave his sweetie a quick hug. Then he playfully slapped his glove at her. She responded by lightly slapping his arm. Soon the light changed and we all went on our way.
I know the woman from the work-out facility I attend. She lives in a group home and although she’s partially disabled, she strives to do her best. Occasionally she talks about her boyfriend and how much he likes her, so it was fun for me to witness his affection, unbeknownst to her.
My youngest brother has Down syndrome and he was always a happy, loving child. He too talked about his girlfriends at the group home where he lived.
We tend to think love and romance are for “normal” people and don’t attribute the same emotions to those who are developmentally challenged. Yet, perhaps their capacity to love is heightened by their lack in other areas. Their focus is probably less distracted too by the busyness of life.
I’m glad I had a glimpse into the life of my acquaintance from Curves, not just to tease her when I see her again, but as a gentle reminder that God created all of us and He loves us deeply. All are special to Him.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

I had the opportunity to visit the new memorial honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. recently. The main idea is easy enough to grasp from the words written on the side of the large rock out of which the form of Dr. King is chiseled: “From the mountain of despair comes a stone on hope.” The memorial is impressive, but I didn’t grasp all the significance of it until I read the brochure handed to me as I entered.

The brochure explains the interpretation of the various parts. “The Stone of Hope stands forward of, and is detached from the Mountain of Despair, a massive gateway representative of the struggle faced in the pursuit of social equality and peace. Water, representative of vitality and life, descends from fountains flowing from the side of the Mountain of Despair. The quotations chosen for the inscription walls, which frame the Mountain of Despair and the Stone of Hope, stress four primary messages of Dr. King: justice, democracy, home, and love.”

The memorial honoring Dr. King reminded me of those turbulent days of the early Civil Rights Movement. I was a youth during that time period and heard about the events on TV and read about it in the newspapers. Living in a small town in the Midwest, I felt removed from them. I couldn’t grasp the full importance of the time, the man, or the struggles he spoke and demonstrated about. He was a man willing to speak out and take action, to fulfill his dream of justice for all, as promised in our constitution.

Donna Brazile, a political commentator, wrote these words about Dr. King: “…his vision of America did not die from an assassin’s bullet in Memphis. It is alive, symbolized by a man embedded in stone. It is alive because we, together, manifest the truth of his words, ‘Out of a Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope.’”

My mind also pondered a deeper meaning of those words on Dr. King’s memorial. He was an ordained Baptist minister whose life commanded respect because of his commitment to truth and justice. He knew the source of all truth originated with a Divine Being, a God of justice and mercy.

Many times we face a mountain of despair in our life—for some, it’s daily. God, in his mercy, sent his Son to be a Rock of Hope that we can cling to for courage, and to give us a vision of life and hope in the midst of our despair. He is the Rock who will not falter or be shaken by the events of our world. He enables us to stand strong, knowing he is beside us. He gives us strength to hang unto him, and when we’re too weak to do even that, he reaches out and draws us to himself.

The legacy left by Dr. King has endured for half a century, giving hope and courage to many, but the legacy of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, will last forever. He promises those who love him an eternity of love, peace, justice, and a home with him.

“For You are my rock and my fortress. For You are my hope.” Psalm 71:3 & 5 (NASB)

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County Fair

Thinking about county fairs conjures up many different images. For small children it’s the fun of kiddie rides, cotton candy, and the petting zoo.

As a teen, it meant hopping on some of the faster pace carnival rides with friends or a special guy who you hoped would later win you a big stuffed animal, although mine never did.

Our daughters were part of a local 4-H club. This offered the incentive of earning ribbons for the projects they’d poured many hours into completing, and maybe a Champion ribbon, which entitled them to exhibit their project at the State Fair.

The fair is not nearly so exciting for adults. I enjoy viewing the hand-made crafts and other exhibits while I munch on kettle corn or mini donuts. It’s also a place to chat with people you may not see regularly. I still enjoy seeing the animals and “talking” to them. I blame my mother for this habit. She loved to copy their sounds to see if they would respond. This year I was in the poultry barn with my sister and we both simultaneously leaned over to cluck at the chickens.

The fair took on an added dimension this year. Our church sponsored a booth to promote a Fall Festival of music and a meal in October, to make others aware of our new location, and to acquaint interested individuals with our beliefs.

We set up a digital slide show of our summer VBS/Day Camp; this included photos of the inside and outside of our church. Since it’s a newer building of a unique construction, we showed different stages of the building process. Many men stopped to view these, and my husband was quick to talk with them about it.

Children could pick out a small prize to take along with them—a shiny plastic cross proved to be a favorite. Adults had the opportunity to win a Bible, a framed picture, or two tickets to the Fall Festival. One woman told us she was looking for a church to baptize her child; that information was related to our pastor.

While I was there, a young girl stopped to look at our small prizes. Thinking she was a bit old for what we had left, I asked if she had a younger brother who’d like one of our frog tattoos. She said, “No, not anymore. He died.” Gulp! We talked about that for a few minutes and I asked if her family attended church. She said, “We’re trying to, but my mother starts crying and we have to leave.” I told her about a friend of mine who had the same problem after her husband died, and said I hoped it would get better for her family as it did for my friend after awhile. Her sadness tugged at my heart, and I’ve been praying for her and her family, as well as others I met at the fair.

Even though the weather was hot and humid, and the hours got long, we are confident that God will bless our efforts for the “seed that was sown” that week. And I have a new memory to add to my mental pictures of the county fair.

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VBS: A Mixed Blessing

Last week, four capable, well-trained, college-age staff members from a Christian Camp came to our church and led a VBS/Day Camp for elementary-aged children. The staff taught the kids fun action songs, helped them memorize a Scripture verse each day, and led small group Bible Studies. In addition to all that, there were craft activities and game time.

We also had a preschool class for three to five year olds that met for two hours each morning. A couple of us “grandmas” helped the pastor’s wife with the nine active children who came daily.

Mid week, the children performed their songs and recited verses together at a local senior care facility. It was impressive to see how much the children had learned in just a few days, and touching to watch them greet the residents of the care center afterward. After months of planning, it was gratifying to see it all come together.

The staff members are earnest young Christians who are dedicated to sharing God’s love with the children. Although they do an incredible job, it’s no easy task dealing with active children. Many are from “unchurched” families and they have no idea how to behave or respond in a church setting. The “way of the world” is already entrenched in their young lives, and some are downright rude and disrespectful. The team, as well as the adults who are involved each day, struggle with feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and weariness. We need and appreciate the prayers of our congregation for the staff, the children, and others who serve in some way during our VBS/Day Camp.

At the final program, the children sang songs and recited Bible verses for the parents, grandparents, and others who came to hear what they learned in VBS/Day Camp. A few brave campers took the microphone and answered questions from the staff, like “What’s your favorite part of Day Camp?” or “What did you learn this week?” It was encouraging to hear several respond with, “I learned about Jesus, how he loves us, and that he’s with us all the time.”

That’s why we do this, why we drag our weary bodies home each afternoon and collapse in our chairs or take a nap! Much time, energy, prayer, and planning go into this week. But to hear what the children learned, see their excitement, and listen to their anticipation of next year, makes it all worthwhile.

The Bible reminds us in Galatians 6:9 (NIV) “…not to become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Just don’t ask us around Day Three or Four if we’re doing this again next year! Give us a little time to rest and regroup. Then we’ll be able to recount the blessings, and the rest will diminish in our memory. Kind of like parents who watch their sleeping children to remind themselves how precious they really are, and what a wonderful gift God has entrusted to them.

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