The children’s Christmas checks and birthday checks were always signed on the memo line, “in Jesus’ name.” It was a sweet gesture from a sweet woman, a reminder that she and hers belonged to someone else. Jesus had given her a gift, and now in his name she passed along other gifts.

Five feet tall if she stretched her neck, she didn’t stand out in a crowd, but her genuine smile stopped you in your tracks. She married for life, even when the going got rough. She raised three children on hard work and faith in God. She suffered through cancer and came out a winner, only to fight it again years later. Finally, age and mortality caught up with her, and Ruby went home to Jesus.

Her daughter was left taking care of all of the paperwork. Ruby was careful to pay her bills, but a few things needed clearing up after her death. Taking the checkbook out of the drawer, something caught the daughter’s attention. The check to the Iranian owner of a convenience stop was signed, “in Jesus’ name.” The check to the local grocer was signed, “in Jesus’ name.” The gas station, the tax man, every single check. . . “in Jesus’ name.”

Ruby knew her money wasn’t hers. She knew that everything she had came from Jesus and everything she gave was given by the same. She gave out of a treasury underwritten by God and filled with Ruby.

“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.” Proverbs 31:10

Special People

Matt and I went to see Winter’s Tale on Tuesday. It was confusing at times, not what I expected, and left me dazed, deep in thought. Matt and I both left unsure whether we liked it or not. In the end, Matt decided he did not like it, and I decided that I did. But this is not a movie review; this is a thought that has been bumping around corners of my brain like a robo-vacuum cleaner in a room full of furniture.

First, I need to share a little of the story line. A woman and man fall in love, she sick with consumption, and he a thief running from his boss. The boss is actually one of Lucifer’s demons, and the demon wants to destroy the thief. He thinks the best way to destroy the thief is to destroy the sick woman, and she is killed. However, the man dies as well and then comes back to life a hundred years later. As the story unfolds, you discover that it was not the sick woman who needed saving, but Abby, a young girl in the present who is dying of cancer.

The story ends by saying that no one is more special than another. We each need to be loved; we each need to be saved. And who ever really knows which life you are there to love and to save?

That was what sent my robocleaner spinning off into cobwebs and dust. I know each of us is special to God, but to not have some be more special than others seems impossible. Surely reading through the Bible you see who was more loved, more special. Abraham, Joseph, David, these are the men who were given a special place, a special promise. They were more special.

But, perhaps instead of more special, they were only more responsible. Because God loves ALL of his children, every single creature, he sends help to them. It is up to us to discover the ones who need our love and salvation.

Terah, the father of Abraham, was the one originally told to go to Canaan, but for some reason he stopped. Then Abraham picked up the agenda and headed into the unknown, loving God, loving his promise, and saving a race. Terah could have done it, but he didn’t.

So now I think about those who came before me, who  have loved me, who have shown me salvation. Some knew they were there for that reason, and some, I imagine, had no clue what they offered. To all of them I am eternally grateful. But it doesn’t stop there; I also am given this responsibility- go forth loving and saving.

In the movie, we never find out what was so special about Abby that her life needed to be spared. Will she be the one who cures cancer, discovers new lands, writes a great book? Or will she “just” be a person who loves another, offering them salvation?

My robocleaner came to rest when I finally dusted off this space: Do not confuse responsiblility with “specialness.” Even if you don’t see a special agenda marked out just for you, you can be certain that you are loved, and you are offered salvation. It isn’t a gift to be held onto, though. Find someone to love, someone to save. It kills the demons, in the movie anyway.

Slave to Sickness

The sore throat and sneezing were the first signs, followed by a headache as big as Houston. Achiness soon followed, and I was down for the count. Two quarts of kefir and two days of bed rest have me feeling a whole lot better, though I am looking forward to a nap soon.

At least once a year I fight strep. I don’t go get it checked out, since my kefir and rest therapy seem to do the trick as fast as a trip to the doctor and antibiotics would do it. My body aches and cries out, but only time and kind treatment with lots of rest, will heal.

This past weekend I attended a conference about the church body. I was reminded of how very blessed I am to be in a congregation that gets along so well. We are a close-knit family at our church. Close-knit families sometimes have issues to work through, but they always have each others’ backs.

But beyond our congregation, I belong to a larger body, the body of Christ. If the analogy is of a body, then our little congregation is only a microscopic cell in the lungs. All of the other churches in the world are also cells that join together creating the lungs. When one cell of our body hurts and starts coughing with pneumonia, all of the cells together must rush to recover and heal the sickness.

Satan would love to make us think mean thoughts about the coughing, aching cell. He would love for us to put on face masks of proud isolationism. He would adore it if we started showing our health records around and letting everyone know where the sickness really is.

My husband didn’t dance around the house this week singing about how much healthier he was than I. My children didn’t comment on how good the neighbor kids were eating this week. Instead, my children were kind and quiet. My husband attentive. And I was blessed by rest and time to heal.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

Remember that the next time you notice an ailing Christian, and offer some probiotic kefir instead of criticism.

I’m Gonna Sing, Shout, Love

Many of my childhood memories are of singing. My mother’s family would gather outside under the pine trees at Grandma’s house and sing “church songs.” My paternal grandfather was a yodeler when he was young, and I remember him singing as he walked across the hillside. My mother used to make up songs as she washed dishes, and I never knew what craziness Dad would bellow as he came in from milking or feeding the animals.

So, as a mother, I sing craziness to my children. I make up songs about my boys, about things they do, shows they watch, whatever crosses my mind. And now, I notice my kids make up silly songs as well. It is evidently a learned behavior passed on for generations now.

Actually, it goes all the way back to the beginning: “He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

Can you imagine? God is in Heaven singing over us! He is happy about us. He is yodelling over the hillside a love song for his child. He is walking in the door with you bellowing out a song of your achievements. He is watching you fall asleep and humming a gentle lullabye.

Listen to the music. Dance. Sing at the top of your voice. Fall in love with your Lover.

“Our Lord must be a pious man to love rascals.” Martin Luther    Happy Valentine’s Day!

Are You Listening?

As the mother of two very talkative sons, sometimes I don’t quite listen. Several years ago they were very, very interested in Star Wars. It was the only thing they talked about at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And being stuck in the van with them meant being captive to their incessant light saber, hero, super-powers talking. Finally, I told them I would not listen to it anymore.

The thing is. . . I hadn’t been listening for a long time already. I had tuned out what they were saying because I didn’t want to hear it. I wasn’t interested in what they were discussing. I had more important things to deal with. I couldn’t be bothered.

Somehow that attitude transferred itself to other areas of my life. I half listened to friends while I thought ahead to what I needed to be doing next. I “mhm” on the phone as I washed dishes and wished the speaker would hurry it up. I planned dinner while the kids told me the latest news, I worked on plot twists while Matt unwound by telling me his own stories, and I typed out a blog while my mother talked on the speaker phone.

So a few weeks ago, I decided it was time for me to start listening. People all around me have things to share, and I can be the ear they need to listen. I had no idea where I was about to be lead.

A few days into the “listening experiment” I asked God if he could help me to slow down and be an ear to someone who needed it that day. Then I headed into my busy day- drop Amos off at the orthodontist, stop by the dump to get rid of the recycling, head to the grocers, check at the pet store to see how my book is selling, and then back to get Amos. Forty-five minutes? No problem!

I dropped Amos off, stopped by the pet store- the owner was in a meeting, so I said I would come back- and then headed to the dump. On the way there I had to slam on the brakes, and recycling, with a lidless kefir container in it, went spilling all over the back of the van. I cleaned it up as best I could and thought I would stop in the restroom to wash at the grocery.

A shopping cart with a small girl, perhaps two years old, was parked in front of one of the stalls. I used the other and then went to wash up. Suddenly a woman appeared out of the other stall and as the child cried, the mother exclaimed, “I just don’t get it! What do you think?” I looked over, and she held a positive pregnancy test. She went on to tell me that she had an ultrasound that morning and was told the baby had died. The doctor prescribed a medication to help her get rid of the fetus, but she was afraid to hurt the baby if a mistake had been made. What did I think she should do?

Suddenly I was wondering why I had to be focused on listening this week! But I stayed with her a while, listened, offered my advice, and prayed for her. Then I headed  off to the pet store again.

There I discovered that the owner’s husband had had a heart attack the week before, her aunt had also died that week, and her son’s pet had died that morning. Listening became my ministry right then.

Now I realize that people are hurting all around us all of the time. The woman in the stall next to you, the cashier at the pet store, people everywhere need a listening ear. But busyness and lack of interest turn down the volume so that we don’t have to hear what everyone else needs to say.

And then Preacher Man preached it on Sunday. God wants to speak to us, but are we listening? Well of course I am listening! I mean who wouldn’t want to hear God, right!? Only maybe I am listening like I used to be listening, not noticing the woman next to me crying over the loss of a wanted child, not hearing the pain and fatigue in another’s voice who is struggling with loss, too. What if I am ignoring God because what he has to say isn’t easy to listen to or I don’t particularly want to hear what he has to say?

So now I add to my prayer, God let me be an ear to those who need to talk AND let me have ears to hear you, no matter what you have to say, even if I have to listen to Star Wars.

Who’s Rebekah?

Abram was promised a son. He was silvery headed, not just at the temples. His wife, Sarai, though still a beauty, was no longer young enough to walk the fashion runways of Cairo. But the pomise came from GOD. So Abram waited.

And waited. Sarai had an idea, and Abram took up the plan. Hagar was invited into his tent to spend a few nights, and sure enough he had his son.

But he should have waited. “What were you thinking?” chastised God.

“Well, I guess I wasn’t sure what you meant, so I thought maybe this was the idea,” Abram explained.

“You knew what I meant. You became impatient, and now there will be trouble with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for Pool, pools of blood that is. Now the child I promised you will have trouble fighting with this son that you decided on your own to produce.”

So Abram waited some more.

Some think that Abram had to wait in order to learn patience, trust, obedience, faithfulness. I imagine he did learn all of that, but I also imagine he learned all of that after the first five years. Abram and Sarai must have made love thousands of times and waited anxiously each month for the promise of life. They did their part. They were faithful, obedient, trusting, and good heavens they were patient.

So what if it wasn’t twenty-five years of waiting in order to learn a lesson? What if it was years and years of waiting so that Rebekah would be the perfect wife for the promised child? Abram and Sarai didn’t think about the long-term future of their child, they thought about the life’s obstacle that lay in their way.

Waiting is very, very difficult. I wonder about all of the possibilities: What is God intending? Am I supposed to do this or that? Did I understand correctly? Am I really supposed to just keep on waiting? WHY?!

I don’t know Rebekah. I haven’t met her, don’t know the sound of her voice, can’t tell you what she looks like. But I can tell you, Isaac sure was glad he was the one to get her. And Abram and Sarai were sure this was the best plan that God laid out. And like them I will laugh with joy when the waiting is over.

How Far to the Barn?

Captain is nearly two years old now, a teenager in dog years. We keep him tied to an anchor, attached to a leash, or locked in a kennel or the house. Captain is just about anything but obedient. If he gets one whiff of an open door, he’s off, hoping that he can squeeze through before one of us catches him by the collar or leg.

I am hopeful that with time and age he will learn obedience. Right now, though, if he manages to escape it takes a lot of treats and luck to round him back up. Even if I want him to follow me into the livingroom, I have to kneel down and offer pats and kisses. If I want him to come into the bedroom, I shut the door so he thinks I don’t want him in. Then he pushes the door open and trots on in.

An older dog, and not a beagle who was governed by her nose like Captain is, Kelly could actually go outside without a leash or line attached to her. She would come if called, and it didn’t take candy and cajoling. But we had to watch Kelly, as well.

If she made it past the barn, I could holler until the cows came home, and she would completely ignore me. Her obedience was in direct correlation to her proximity to me.

Sometimes I wonder if I am following God’s plan for my future. I think I am making a good decision, and then I am struck with the idea that perhaps Satan is trying to trick me. Maybe instead of hearing God’s whispers, I am hearing Satan’s lies. Then I realize that I am not close to the barn, let alone past it. I am standing at the Master’s door with a gentle lead attached to my collar.

I take solace in the knowledge that Satan’s twist in the tale to kill the Son of God resulted in the birth of all God’s children. So even if I get mixed messages, if I follow God’s ways, like Jesus, I will still be a part of a bigger plan that in the end turns Satan on his head.

You Have to Believe It to See It

Last week in World History, as I taught about the revolutions and dynasties of China, I also gave the students a few facts about the place, China. The Chinese cut up food when cooking it because it would be rude to make your guests work for their food. China has deserts, mountains, coastline and islands, and a wall you can see from space. They also have some panda bears.

Panda bears only eat two kinds of bamboo. Bamboo is not a nutritious plant. In fact, the bears have to eat at least forty pounds of it a day in order to squeeze enough nutrition out of the plant just to survive. That’s a whole lot of bamboo! Amos once cut down the mayor’s bamboo in Morgantown and carried it to grandma’s house. It is long and cumbersome, but not at all dense and heavy. Forty pounds would be a heckuva lot of bamboo canes.

Do you know how fast bamboo grows? It grows so fast you can see it grow. Really. And it spreads from the roots, sending shoots under ground and up again a few feet away. It can grow an inch every hour, two feet in a 24-hour period. Don’t plant it; it’s a nightmare!

Some people would say isn’t it lucky that bamboo grows so fast for those poor pandas who can only eat bamboo. Others say it sure is a wonderful thing that pandas eat so much bamboo since it grows so quickly. I guess it is a sort of “which came first the chicken or the egg” scenario, but my first reaction is to say, “Whoa, God sure thought of everything!”

I believe God is there, and that he started this journey and he will finish it. That is what makes my instinct to be one of godly praise instead of just appreciation of a lucky happenstance.

“Some things have to be believed to be seen.” Madeleine Le’ Engle

I Can’t See My Plate

“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Luke 15

Sunday, Preacher Man challenged us to walk through our houses and intentionally give over everything to God. If there is something we can’t give to him, then we know where the stumbling block is and better get rid of it quick.

I have walked around and seen things that would hurt to lose, say if there were a fire. I love the photo albums of the boys growing up. I have sentimental feelings toward objects, like the Bible Matt gave me when we were dating. Losing the emerald ring that I bought with one of my first pay checks would hurt; I was so proud of being able to buy it myself. But I can truly say that I could lose any of those things and it wouldn’t matter. I have given them to God to be used for whatever purpose he intends.

I went to the eye doctor a couple weeks ago and was officially informed of what I already knew; I need bifocals. I started wearing contacts again last year, but in the last many months I haven’t been able to wear them because I can’t see anything less than two feet in front of me. I knew it was time when I realized that in order to eat the food on my plate I was looking under the rim of my glasses to see the food. I couldn’t see what was right in front of me.

God has said everything he has is mine, but looking through a new lens I realize there is something I have not reciprocated. My children are mine.

Yes, I have prayed every single day of their lives that they will choose God and that they will serve him their entire lifetimes. Yet somehow I don’t trust God to take care of that. I worry about whether the boys will make the right choice, to serve the one true God. Sometimes I even anguish over how to lead them to the waters of baptism and then down the path of Life.

Now I read the words of the father again: Everything I have is yours.   Suddenly I see that before it is mine, it is HIS. He gave the boys to me for a time to love, enjoy, and teach about their Father. But they are his to start with and his they remain. He didn’t say everything I HAD is yours, but everything I HAVE is yours.

I should have ordered those bifocals sooner. It would have saved me a lot of grief.

That’s Why We Praise Him

France’s King Louis XIV called himself the “Sun King” because he was to be the source of light for all his people. He is considered the first king to attempt Absolutism- absolute power. For the most part he succeeded. He built the palace at Versailles so that the court officials would all be located together where Louis could keep an eye on them. He made serving him a requirement to promotion. It became a geat honor to be the one to hand the king his shirt as he dressed in the morning. Anyone who hoped for an office, title, or pension from the king had to play along.

Louis XIV took his country to war many times. He had complete authority over taxes, foreign policy, and the Church. He built Versailles into a palace that housed 10,000 people. He added rooms, gardens, and more. Then he tore up the bills so that it could not be proven how much money he spent. Whatever Louis wanted, Louis took.
Jesus is the true Sun King, offering light to the world. Jesus has absolute power, but he lets us choose if we want to obey him. He has control over all wars, monies, and policies, and he asks us if we would like to serve under him. He is preparing a mansion for all of his kingdom’s subjects, and we all know how much it cost.

We don’t serve him because we want a promotion. We don’t bow down because we fear for our lives. We worship because he gave, not because he took.

Louis XIV, on his deathbed, told his great-grandson to be easier on the people, to live at peace with other countries, and not to exact so much from his subjects. He was sorry for the way he had treated his people during his lifetime. Jesus draws us to his deathbed every week to remember that he lived a life worthy to worship and died a death that paid all debts. He is a king worth worshipping.

“We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.” Goethe

That’s Why We Praise Him (Tommy Walker)

He came to live, live a perfect life,
He came to be the Living Word, our Light
He came to die, so we’d be reconciled,
He came to rise to show His pow’r and might, and
He came to live, live again in us
He came to be our conquering King and Friend
He came to heal & show the lost ones His love
He came to go prepare a place for us
That’s why we praise Him, that’s why we sing,
That’s why we offer Him our everything
That’s why we bow down and worship this King,

‘Cause He gave His everything,
‘Cause He gave His everything.

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