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On Being Transparent

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.     Isaiah 64:6a

I don’t do windows.

Well, every few years I try. There will be that bright sunny morning when the light was streaming in, and the need for cleaning was so obvious, I grab the window cleaner, spray bottle, rags, paper towels, and squeegee and get to work. Two or three hours later I throw in the towel (and everything on it) and once more promise myself, never again!

Every summer we go to the house in Michigan that my grandparents built it in the 1940s. It was elegant then and it is still elegant now. Forty-six years ago my husband Marty and I got married there, and two years ago our youngest daughter married the love of her life there. The house has French provincial architecture, fireplaces, a bay window, and French doors that open onto a patio overlooking the lake.

It also has windows that have had a curse put on them. Or maybe it’s just the paint on the frames that dissolves every time any liquid touches it… Each magical little pane is specially made to get dirtier the more it’s wiped. After several attempts at cleaning, the glass will go from mildly dirty to ridiculously streaked on the outside – when you’re looking out. Of course, when you’re outside looking in, all you see are the streaks that are inside. I have on occasion treated the job like an Olympic event, “the Window Sprint” – Can I run outside and get that streak off before I forget where it is? Pretty soon I’m streaked too, with sweat and dirt, and breathless with exasperation. No gold medal here.

(Now please don’t write and tell me how you clean your windows. Believe me, I’ve heard the advice, all about vinegar and newspapers and yada-yadda-yadda… I’ve tried it all.)

A few years ago we put our house in Port Huron up for sale, and one of the many jobs that needed to be done was … clean the windows. [Insert scary horror movie music here.] When a perfectly gorgeous day came up and I had absolutely nothing on my schedule, there was no excuse to put off the job, however desperately I wished for one.

I was delightfully surprised to find the job was not only effective but surprisingly fun when it actually worked! I found myself singing as I got into the rhythm -squirt-squeegee-wipe, squirt-squeegee-wipe – and pretty soon I was looking around for more windows to clean. At the end of the day I was standing in the living room, gazing out at the Lake Huron, relishing the fact that the windows were virtually invisible and I may as well have been standing outside. >Eureka!<

For some reason I took this to mean I now knew how to clean windows, so when we later went to Portage Lake, one bright, sunny day I confidently grabbed my trusty squeegee and began to make the dining room gorgeous, one little pane at a time, forgetting that these windows were cursed… Two hours, one roll of paper towels, one bottle of Windex, and one tantrum later, there was not one pane that was totally clean. I threw up my hands and yelled “I GIVE UP!” followed by a few other things that were probably inappropriate for a Christian to be saying.

Have you been there? I don’t mean just with windows, but anything that you’ve tried to “fix,” that only gets worse the more you try? As I stood there that day, hot and exhausted, scowling at the streaks blocking the view of the beautiful lake, I figured the only way to get a clear view would be just to break the windows. That’s it! Just take out the pains – er, panes – completely, and the view would be great. Of course, that would have made the house a bit drafty and buggy, so Marty didn’t go for that idea.

It occurred to me that I was looking at a picture of sin. The Bible tells us that ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, all of Mankind has been under the curse of sin. For many people, their lives may seem “good enough.” But then the light of God’s truth shines through, and it becomes painfully obvious that we “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 6:23) The more we look at our sin, the more it bothers us.

So, what do some of us do? We try to clean up our act. Somehow we think we can make it right on our own, although it should soon be apparent that if we were so capable of doing good, our lives wouldn’t be such a mess in the first place. After trying to make things right, we see that we have failed, and more often than not, our feeble attempts have made the situation worse than ever. At this point we should see that we can’t do this ourselves. But some of us refuse to believe we’re that helpless. So we try harder, thinking if we could just try hard enough, we’ll finally clean up our lives.

The bottom line is, we can’t fix the mess ourselves. We have only two choices. We can avoid the Light and hope nobody notices the dirt, or we can go to God and ask Him to help us. Fortunately, He can. In fact, He sent His Son, Jesus, to take all our dirt onto Himself. When He died for us, He was taking our sin and nailing it to the Cross, and we never have to be enslaved by it again. He can make our lives clean, and He can shine His light through us. Isn’t it a relief to know we don’t have to try to clean ourselves up?

I haven’t yet figured out how to get Jesus to do my windows for me, but two years ago before our daughter Kelly married the love of her life on the lawn at that house, we did hire a professional exorcist – er, window cleaning service. Now when I look out through the crystal clear glass and remember how it used to be, I know what a mess I would be without Jesus. I’m just grateful that I’m not without Him, and that He was willing to do what was necessary to make me clean, so He could shine His light through me.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, in ourselves we are powerless to clean up our own lives. Thank You that You have not left us on our own, but You have shed Your blood to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, that we can live the lives You want us to live – the lives we truly want. We choose to trust You to shine through us today, in Your power, in Your name. Amen

Some Holiday Advice to Christian Radio Station Programmers

No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer.                                                                                                                                                                                    II Timothy 2:4

The irony was not lost on me.

Christmas was closing in, and I was stressed, exhausted, and in need of a moment of peace and serenity. I knew I needed to be reminded of what the season was all about, and although I already knew the answer, I thought – What better than some heavenly music to lift my spirits? Our local Christian radio station was having its annual “Twelve Days of Christmas” – non-stop holiday songs for twelve days straight, leading up to Christmas Day.

I set everything else aside and tuned in expectantly to hear what God was going to whisper to me in that moment of solitude. I was a disappointed (and a bit disgusted) to hear an old favorite from the secular charts playing for the 999th time. Although a Christian artist was singing it, the lyrics hadn’t magically transformed the holiday ditty into a gospel message. Not ready to give up, I started slowly turning the dial to see if I might stumble upon another source of inspiration.

I stopped immediately when I heard a gorgeous rendition of “O Holy Night” by Josh Groban. I closed my eyes and sighed with contentment as I once again contemplated the words of my favorite carol. (Never mind that I already knew all three verses by heart – in English and French.) When the song was finished and the stress had dissipated, I wanted to make a mental note of what this other Christian radio station was. … As it turned out, it was a secular station.

If I may give a word of advice to the programmers for Christian radio stations: Go easy on the Christmas love songs. Now I know what you’re thinking,

“Hey, God invented romance!” Please understand, I have nothing against romance, but please take a moment to think about your target audience – the people you want to minister the gospel to. Consider that the people most open to the Good News are people who are hurting. Many kinds of pain become all the more unbearable at the holidays, when it seems everyone is happy but you. A person grieving the loss of a spouse may tune in to a Christian station looking for hope and comfort, and if you’re playing cheery songs about being with the one you love, you could unwittingly be rubbing salt into an already wounded heart.

NEWS FLASH: Lonely, hurting people do not feel like rocking around the Christmas tree.

This is the one time of year when it’s acceptable to the general public to be singing about Jesus. People may be tuning into your station who don’t ordinarily listen, who after the holidays may go back to whatever secular music they’re accustomed to. Why would a Christian radio station want to squander this golden opportunity filling precious air time with the same tired songs about cuddling by the fire and couples in love frolicking in the snow? We get enough of that music at the mall and the grocery store. In the unlikely event that anyone wants to hear even more of them, there are plenty of secular stations out there that are already airing them.

I realize that playing secular favorites might be seen as a sort of “sanctified bait” to get people to listen to your station, but personally I don’t think you need bait this time of year – it’s Christmas! For many people, even unbelievers, Christmas carols can bring back happy memories of Christmas past, and if it’s been a while, they may be paying attention to the words for the very first time!

“But we need variety.” Fine, then have variety. Mix the traditional carols sung by choirs with country songs about the birth of Jesus, such as Dolly Parton’s “Once Upon a Christmas,” and contemporary songs with substance, such as “Mary, Did You Know?” You might even throw in a song from Handel’s Messiah. There’s at least one recent winner of “The Voice” (popular enough to receive millions of votes) who is a person of faith and has recorded a Christmas album. When my son was a teenager, we even had an album of Christmas rap. One thing I love about “Jesus music” is that it comes in all styles. (Makes sense – He created music.)

If your station is like the one I used to listen to, I know you receive donations from thousands of supporters who believe in the message of the gospel and trust you to get that message out to many more people than they could reach individually. Please do so. Don’t waste a moment of this awesome opportunity to spread the Good News at the time people – especially hurting people – are most open to it.

So please, if you really want to be “the station with a difference,” ditch the secular songs about temporal things. Stick with songs like “O Holy Night,” and give the world the hope it so desperately needs.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for loving us so deeply that You would leave the glory of Your throne in heaven to save us. You exchanged Your glory for our shame. To atone for our sins, You suffered the pain, humiliation, and death on the Cross that we deserved, so that we might have Your righteousness and the eternal life we don’t deserve. As we celebrate Your love for us, help us not to forget that millions of people don’t yet know about that love. Help us not to be too wrapped up in our own interests to reach out to them through whatever platform You’ve given us, until everyone has heard the Good News. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Loaves, Fishes, and Toys

In keeping with the advent season, but still sticking with my usual habit of storytelling, the next three posts will be (true) stories from my life, set at Christmastime.

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.                                                                                                                                                                                                               Matthew 14:19

It was just before my nineteenth Christmas, and my boyfriend had driven to St. Louis from Springfield, Illinois, to visit my family and give me my Christmas present early. Being an engineering major, this guy did things in a more straightforward way than I     (a theater major) did, and that day was no exception. When it came time to exchange our gifts, he handed me a wad of cash and informed me that we were going shopping.

I wasn’t as deflated as many women would have been at the “un-romantic” nature of the present. For one thing, I knew that my college sweetheart was not exactly rolling in dough, and every dollar saved represented a skipped meal. The gift he gave me was an even $100, which (trust me) was worth way more when I was 18 than it is now! Secondly, he had a certain look in his eye that told me there was more to this gift than indulging in a shopping trip to get more “stuff,” which even then I really didn’t need. I wondered what he was up to.

I stuffed the cash in my jacket pocket to keep it separate from the money I had in my purse, and we headed out for this mystery shopping spree. When we got to the mall, my shopping buddy led the way to the toy store and directed me to start picking out toys.

“Toys?”

“Yep.”

“For who?”

“Children.”

“Boys or girls?”

“Both.”

“What age?”

“Any age. All ages.”

Still wondering what in the world was going on, I joined him in browsing the multitude of games, gadgets, dolls and doll houses, toy trains, stuffed animals, and any other trinkets that caught our eye. If they looked especially fun, of course, we had to try them out, and I was starting to feel like a kid again myself as we laughed at the walking, talking, beeping, squeaking magic that seems to materialize at Christmastime. We took the most appealing toys to the checkout counter, and I paid for them with the money from my jacket pocket. The clerk handed me the change, and I put it in the same pocket as we headed for another store.

What followed was an hour or two of fun, sampling more toys, picking the best ones, and paying for them out of my special stash, until we were down to just a few dollars in my pocket. We used the remaining cash to buy wrapping paper, ribbon, and tags and hauled all our purchases out to the car.

I don’t remember when this sweet guy informed me who the recipients were for these toys, but I learned in the course of our shopping spree that we were shopping for Christmas presents for the children at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where I had been doing volunteer work for the past three years. I was picturing the faces of those dear little ones as we brought one treasure after another out of the bags, and looking at the lavish collection of gifts, I was somewhat amazed at how many toys $100 would buy. In fact, I began to wonder if we had accidentally picked up someone else’s purchases.

We went through the inventory and remembered picking out and paying for every toy there. Oddly, when we checked the price tags, the items totaled over $125, not counting the wrapping materials. We got out the receipts, checked our math a couple of times, and the total came out the same. Somehow that hard-earned money seemed to have grown in my pocket. I got the feeling that Someone was smiling on us, and the little bit of “Christmas magic” was just the final touch that made it a perfect day.

That Christmas was quite a while ago, but I remember it well. What I remember most is discovering that my boyfriend was a good man with a big heart.

(Last summer we celebrated our 46th anniversary.)

Prayer: Lord, we know that You love us all – the rich, the poor, the strong, the sick, the elderly, the little children. As Your disciples, we are called to love them as You do.  Remind us that all good things come from You. Without You we can do nothing, but with You we can do anything You want us to. Thank You for the privilege of being Your agents of love. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Attitude Adjustment

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season.         II Timothy 4:2

So, here we are, in the middle of football season. Not that I have any interest in the sport. In fact, I have never been to a professional football game in my life.

Well, not awake, anyway.

Years ago, when a man I did not approve of in the least occupied the White House, I had a dream about sitting in the bleachers at a football game. I have no idea who was playing; it didn’t matter. The sun was shining, and the stadium was full, except for a couple of seats next to me.

The main part of the dream began when the President and First Lady of the United States came and sat right next to me. There was a stir in the crowd; obviously, people were excited.

Well, not me. No sir, this lady was not impressed with them. I wasn’t going to go all gaga over “sitting next to the President! OMG! ” I wasn’t going to squeal, stare, ask for autographs, or otherwise make a fool of myself. In fact, I decided the moment I saw them out of the corner of my eye that I was not even going to look at them. Nope, I was here to watch football, and I was going to give my full attention to the game. (Yeah, right.) If they looked my way, they’d see one person who wasn’t going to fawn all over them. I knew what they’d done, I knew what their policies were, I knew they were ungodly, evil people. And so I sat in my smug self-righteousness, refusing to acknowledge their presence.

Sometime during the first half I spotted a couple of friends seated in another section of the bleachers. They were pointing in my direction, wide-eyed with excitement. When our eyes met, they grinned at me with a couple of thumbs-up gestures, bouncing in their seats as though they were about to take off flying. I didn’t know if they were close enough to see me roll my eyes, but I made it clear to them that I was above that kind of groupie-ism and was not about to stoop to the level of the immoral people sitting next to me.

At half-time I got up, stepped over the First Couple, mumbling “excuse me” without making eye contact, and made my way to the concession stands. My friends were there to meet me, still wide-eyed and bouncing with excitement.

“I can’t believe it! You’re sitting next to the President and First Lady!” one of them squealed.

“Yeah. So?” I replied in my coolest tone. They grabbed my hands, as though they expected me to start jumping up and down with them. They didn’t seem to notice my aloofness.

“Have you witnessed to them yet?!” asked the other friend, fully expecting a great “praise report.”

Pow. Right in the gut. My arrogance immediately melted away, replaced with utter shame and remorse.

“Um … not yet,” I stammered. ” – But I will!

“Great! We’ll be praying for you!” they promised, and seeing everyone returning to their seats, we exchanged hugs, and I headed back to my mission field, a different and much more acceptable person than I had been moments before.

This time as I approached my row, the President got up and stood in the aisle so that I could take my seat more easily. I looked him in the eyes and smiled. “Thank you,” I said, and he said, “Hey, no problem.”

“By the way, I’m Ann,” I said, putting out my hand.

“I’m _______, and this is my wife, _____________,” he said with a hearty handshake and a gesture to his smiling wife.

“Yeah, I know,” I laughed. I was surprised to find that these were delightful people. And I was relieved that they didn’t seem to have any recollection of my inexcusable rudeness earlier. We made some small talk about what a beautiful day it was, and I was finding to my surprise that I genuinely liked these people! I was looking forward to seeing how the Lord was going to bring about the subject of the gospel, and getting to share with them what He had done for me. But to my disappointment, after a few minutes the two of them stood up, and the President said,

“We’re going to have to take off – lots to do! – but it was sure nice meeting you, Ann.”

But … but … but … my mind was protesting. No! They can’t be leaving! I haven’t told them about Jesus yet! But I just said, “What a shame, yes it was wonderful meeting you, too.”

I was about to ask the Lord why – why hadn’t He given me time to share His love? But I quickly realized that He had. I was the one who had blown it with my crumby attitude, wasting a whole half of the game showing my spiritual superiority, then realizing, I’m not superior to anybody. And I vowed I would never again pass up an opportunity to share Christ with someone – anyone – ever again, even if it meant just showing His love through kindness and respect.

Nowadays, with all the hatred coming and going in the world of politics, it’s east to get sucked into the controversy and into some unChristian  behavior. I have two approaches that I try to stick with:

1.) Acknowledge that I don’t even come close to knowing everything that’s going on, much less knowing people’s hearts.

2.) Remember that the Bible gives us one thing to do in regard to our leaders:

PRAY.

Prayer: Lord, I don’t deserve Your grace. Salvation isn’t something any of us deserve, yet we forget that sometimes. After you’ve changed our lives for the better, we can become so judgmental toward others whose lives are still far from You. Forgive us, Lord, and help us never to forget what You’ve done for us, never to hesitate to tell others where they can find the same life-changing hope. In Jesus’ name, amen.

So, What Do You Guys Do for Fun?

[The Lord] satisfies your desires with good things …                                                                                                                                                                                               Psalm 103:5

It had been one of those weeks when the Lord had blessed me with little, “random” surprises to delight me – “just because.” I was telling the adults about it at Sunday school that morning.

I was telling them about the morning I was getting together with Margot – the bone cancer patient that I had met the day I was sick – a “divine appointment” from recent days. [“Well, That Was Worth a Sinus Infection,” posted September 13.] This lady had become one of my biggest fans and an unofficial publicist of sorts. This would be the third time I was meeting her, and she wanted to buy yet more copies of my book BARRIERS (So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?) to give to friends and family. She introduced me to her cousin, cousin-in-law, and friend, and the five of us enjoyed getting acquainted over coffee in one of the Michigan town’s favorite hangouts.

Toward the end of the visit, one of the group wanted to take my picture. I said, “I was about to ask if I could take yours!” We decided to ask a lady nearby if she would take a picture of all of us, and she was happy to. We chatted with her for a bit. I learned that she was expecting twins, and she learned that I was an author. I gave her a copy of BARRIERS as a “thank you” for the picture.

Back at the table one of the relatives wanted to pay me for the book, and I accepted the offer, telling him he had just become a part of my ministry. He seemed pleased.

As I was getting in my car to leave, I noticed a car backing in just in front of mine. The license plate had the name of the college my daughter Kelly had attended, and I waited to see who would get out. If it was a young adult, I would ask if (s)he knew Kelly. But the person who got out was Sue, an old friend of mine whom I had hardly seen in nearly a year.

I called “hello,” and after greeting me she said she was on her way in to eat lunch alone and invited me to join her. For the next hour we “caught up” over lunch, discussed some spiritual happenings in our town – not all of them good – and before leaving, prayed together over the region. I sensed the power that comes when two believers are praying in agreement, and as I drove home, I smiled, certain that this had been another “divine appointment.”

Once home, I turned on my computer and streamed a show I used to listen to when we lived in the Detroit area, so I could listen as I worked in the kitchen. It is still “one of America’s most listened to Christian talk shows,” and my illustrator had just taught me how to stream it the day before. The topic was what Christians should do about Halloween yard decorations. Though I expected I had little or no chance of getting on the show, I dialed the number anyway and was shocked to find that I got right through!

Before I’d had time to get nervous thinking about the thousands, maybe millions, listening all over the country, I told about the unique yard display my friend and I had set up in her yard for fifteen consecutive Octobers. [“Satan’s Worst Nightmare, Preview #2: A Different Kind of Yard Display,” posted July 19.] I told how every tombstone in the yard had a Bible verse about resurrection, and how people would walk by, do a double-take, and come back to read the messages, unaware that on the other side of the window my friend was praying for them as she sipped her morning coffee. As I listened to the delayed recording of the conversation on my laptop, I prayed that perhaps someone would be inspired to use our idea to evangelize their own corner of the planet.

And I chuckled as I thought of the question I hear from non-believers: “What do Christians do for fun?”

I think it’s called “serendipity.”

So, on Sunday I was telling the people in the Sunday school class about this day of little divine surprises, and how the Lord seems to love to delight us with little moments of joy, “just because.”

Suddenly I stopped mid-sentence, gasped and pointed toward the picture window across the table.

About a dozen feet from the window the biggest deer I had ever seen – at any distance – was walking by. Jaws dropped, and the way the ten-point buck held his head up and glided by slowly and majestically, one could almost imagine he knew he was being watched by a bunch of awestruck humans. There was a moment of breathless silence. Finally, I said,

“I rest my case.”

Prayer: Dear Lord, Your love for us is evident everywhere, in the friendship of other believers, “chance” meetings, and the beauty of creation. It delights us, inspires us, warms our hearts, and at times takes our breath away. Thank You for making us a part of the world You created. May we never take for granted Your works, or Your involvement in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Mom’s Greatest Lesson

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. …  Her children arise and call her blessed.                                                                                                                                                                                                      Proverbs 31: 26, 28a

In recognition of my mother’s birthday, here is my tribute to her, taken from the eulogy I wrote in 2001.

As a little girl I loved doing things for my mother. Whether I gave her a drawing, a homemade gift, or a surprise breakfast, she would tell me I was so sweet and thoughtful and clever and artistic and creative and smart and wonderful in every way. And, being the trusting little child that I was, I believed it. (This was long before “self-esteem” was the buzz-word that it is today.)

Self-esteem was not so easy to come by in junior high school, where I dangled between coolness and dorkdom. I thought I’d found my ticket to permanent membership in the cool crowd, the day the coolest guy in eighth grade invited me to a concert the next night. I said I’d love to go; he said he’d call me. Being the trusting little eighth grader that I was, I believed it.

But the next day as the hours ticked by, I became more anxious, and my mother became angrier.

“Hasn’t that nasty little boy called you yet!?” (Hearing the coolest guy in eighth grade called a “nasty little boy” was an amazing thing!)

By 8:00 it was obvious that I’d been stood up. I shut myself in my room, wondering what in the world I would say to my friends after telling them all about the big date. (Talk about counting your chickens …)

My mother must have known what I was thinking. She came in and sat quietly on the bed for a few minutes. Finally, she said, “You can blame me if you want.”

“What?”

“If you want, you can tell your friends I wouldn’t let you go.”

I wasn’t about to do that to my mother, but that night I think I realized my best friend was right there beside me. And with a friend like that, who needs to be cool?

My love life got better, of course. I remember Marty’s telling my parents with fear and trembling that we wanted to get married. As Dad ran for the champagne, Mom hugged Marty and said tearfully, “Welcome to the family!”

Fast forward to Mom looking through the glass at her first grandchild. I could tell the glass was really bothering her. She kept exclaiming impatiently, “I can’t wait to get my hands on her!” She couldn’t start loving that baby soon enough.

I remember the day I learned Mom was having some serious surgery. I hopped a plane and came to St. Louis, wondering if this was my last chance to see my mother.

I was allowed to stay in her hospital room the night before. – We were “roomies!” We watched a corny Tom Cruise movie together and talked and giggled late into the night.

At 5:30 Mom was wheeled away for her surgery, and I lay awake, asking God to please take care of my mom.

Mom’s heart stopping during the surgery; she told me about it later:

The monitor was beeping, then it wasn’t. The room seemed to fill up with a fog, and voices seemed far away. The doctor yelled to her, someone pounded on her chest, and the monitor started beeping again. My prayer was answered, and Mom was given back to us for a little while.

A few years later Mom was diagnosed with cancer. She underwent radiation, again prayers went out, and again she was given back to us for a little while.

The following February Mom fell and hit her head. When I got to the hospital, the doctor took me to her room. He shook Mom and called to her, but he couldn’t wake her up. It was terrible not to be able to tell her I loved her.

I had brought my guitar, and my sister her “lap harp.” We had heard or read that a person in a coma can still hear, so we sang to her, even in the ICU:  “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own … ” Then I saw it.

Mom’s lips were moving! She was singing along, and I wondered what kind of conversations she was having with Jesus. Again prayers went up and were answered; Mom woke up, and again she was given back to us for a little while. A few weeks later she left us.

But the most important memory I have of my mother is a conversation that impacted my life long before all this happened:

“Mommy, I know good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell, but how do you know you’re good enough?” (I was starting to have doubts about being wonderful in every way.)

Well. Mom wasted no time telling me there was bad news, and there was good news. The bad news: Nobody’s good enough, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) and “The wages of sin is death, but [the good news!] the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:23) Mom told me I don’t get to heaven by being “good enough,” I get to heaven by believing Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment for my sins.

… kind of like her being willing to be the bad guy to help me save face with my friends.

He did this so that God could open His arms to me and say “Welcome to the family!”

He removed the barrier that separates me from my heavenly Father, Who can’t wait to get His hands on me – not to punish or manipulate me, but to love me.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. This is the greatest truth I have ever known, and I got it from my mother. My children got it from their mother. And because I believe it with all my heart, I know that I will see my mother again. And this time it won’t be for a little while, it’ll be forever.

(I miss you, Mom, but I’ll see you later.)

(Oh, and happy birthday.)

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for a believing mother and her legacy of grace. Make me faithful in passing the faith along to future generations. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

How To Drive a Writer Crazy

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also                                     to the interests of others.                                                                                                                                                                                   Philippians 2:4

Recently Marty and I finally saw “Yesterday,” the movie about a singer/songwriter who is one of the only three people left on the planet who remembers the Beatles. Once he realizes that not even Google has any recollection of the musical geniuses, he began to pass off their songs as his own.

In one scene, he is sitting at the piano, wanting to share “his new song,” “Let It Be,” with his parents. He starts to play it but is interrupted when they tell him to start again, they weren’t quite paying attention. Then there are other interruptions – a cell phone call, someone dropping by, conversations while he’s trying to sing, until finally he “loses it.” The others in the room look stunned. What is he so upset about?

While Marty may have found that scene amusing, and the songwriter a little neurotic, anyone who has written music, poetry, or stories can relate to the situation and will want to yell at the rude people along with the young man. But what we (writers) have to realize is that the distracted people have no clue why their undivided attention is so important to us at that moment.

Songwriters, poets, storytellers – anyone who puts their thoughts and feelings into words – do it because we are passionate about something. We have a message that we long to share with the world, and if the world (or at least our world) shows little or no interest, it wounds us. When those people are more interested in other things at the moment, as hard as we try not to take it personally, their inattention causes us to question our creation.

If you know a writer, and that writer one days tells you, “I wrote a new song [or poem or story] today,” the proper response is not to say “How nice” and change the subject to the weather or your latest project. I can’t explain why writers are such impatient people, but the moment we finish “giving birth,” we want to show our “baby” to someone, now.

If the writer asks, “Would you like to hear it? Or would, you like to read it?” the right response is not “Maybe later,” or “Not right now,” or “… How long is it?” Granted, you may be busy, but if the writer is someone you care about at all, try to take the time. Who knows? You may have the privilege of being the first to hear or read a masterpiece. (If the person is a random stranger on the street, feel free to say, “Sorry, I’ve got to be somewhere. Good luck.”)

I’ve had the experience of trying to share my latest, or even someone else’s that I’ve just learned and think is awesome, and heard the mumble of conversations that caused me to cut the performance short.

Then there was Karen.

Karen and I were acquaintances whose children played together. I’m not sure where our kids were that day, or why she was in my home, but I do remember having just finished writing what I considered (and still consider) one of my best songs. I had been inspired while on a plane, staring down at the city and realizing that God knew every one of the people who lived there. I had been gripped with an emotion that was unexpected – His deep longing for each of them to know His love. The last line had eluded me until that day.  It had come as I was reading Isaiah, and I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was aching to share the song with someone, and Karen showed up …

We were standing by the piano, and I asked if she’d like to hear my latest song, and (Bless her!) she said “Yes!” with enthusiasm. I sat down to play it, expecting at any moment to be interrupted by our children, or something she just thought of to tell me or ask me, or any number of other things. But she sat in an armchair and listened to the whole song without saying a word.

When the song was over, there was a brief silence. Then quietly Karen stood up, walked over, and hugged me.

“That’s beautiful,” she whispered. She had tears in her eyes, and I knew she had caught the meaning of the song and that she shared my passion for what it was saying.

So … would you like to read the lyrics? (If you have more important things to do, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know. )

 

I Wonder Who Will                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Staring out the window at the city far below,                                                                                 I see endless rows of buildings full of people I don’t know.                                             Though their malls and mills and mansions look like pebbles on the sand,                            My Father knows each one of them; He holds them in His hand.

But I wonder, which ones know Him and which ones never will?                                              Which homes ring with laugher, and which ones are cold and still?                                        And I wonder, who is hungry, and which ones have their fill?                                                  If we don’t share the Bread of Life with them, I wonder, then who will?              

The Lord knows me inside and out, every hair that’s on my head,                                           And He knows the things I’ve done and felt, every word I’ve ever said.                                    And He knows the days ordained for me that He wrote down long before,                           And it amazes me that in that way, He knows millions more!

But I wonder who is crying, and which ones need a friend                                                         And where they’ll spend eternity when their lives are at an end …                                           And I wonder, in a world of darkness, who will help them see?                                                  Lord ….                                                                                                                                                    Here am I …                                                                                                                                                         Send me.

(Ann Aschauer, copyright 1989)

 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, who stepped down from heaven into our world, help us to care for others the way You care for us. Help us never to be so wrapped up in our own lives that we miss an opportunity to reach out to others, even when reaching out involves just a listening ear, in Your name. Amen

Healed, Not Healed

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”                                                                                                                                                                             II Corinthians 12:8

The Michigan church where we attend half the year is not a large one. When the pastor had left and the search was on for a new one and the drummer was scheduled to be the guest preacher and the worship leader was taking a well-deserved vacation with his family and the bass player had a camping trip planned for the same weekend, the worship team was shorthanded, to say the least.

Although I usually play a simple “layer” of chords on the keys for worship, I can play the guitar, too, although not as well as I used to. It’s painful to press down hard on the strings with arthritic fingers.  Still, when it was strongly hinted that I should lead worship that Sunday with my guitar, I agreed to do it. The perk: I got to pick the music.

I am one who can enjoy and appreciate practically every genre of music, though some more than others. Our worship leader is a young man who usually opts for contemporary style worship, which is fine with me. But the older people who attend that church would love to hear the classic old hymns every once in a while.  For this reason when I’m asked to sing an occasional offertory I frequently sing an “oldie,” or even put together a medley of old hymns. The older folks love it.

So, when I was given the reins for that Sunday’s worship, I toyed with the idea of doing classics like “How Great Thou Art,” “It Is Well With My Soul,” and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” especially since those songs don’t require drums.

The worship leader must have caught wind of my plan. He called me on the eve of his family trip to urge me to play contemporary worship songs, lest we have a visitor drop in and think we always sang hymns. I refrained from mentioning that some visitors might actually like hymns and obediently worked on some of the more “hip” songs. That was when the problems started.

After practicing one or two songs my fingers were in so much pain that I didn’t think I’d last a whole service. Meanwhile, it looked as if I would have very few people, if any, on the platform with me. The couple from Nigeria (The husband played piano, the wife sang.) were moving that weekend and would be doing well to get to church at all. The drummer suggested I call Rachel, a local teacher who attended the church and occasionally sang.

When I called her Wednesday, she said she’d love to help out – if she could get over a sore throat.

Well, Lord, it seems Rachel and I both need healing. If You want me to play the guitar, please heal my fingers, and if You want Rachel to sing, please heal her throat.

Saturday afternoon my fingers were still aching, and giving no sign of letting up. I didn’t know what to do.

unless

I saw the piano sitting invitingly in the corner of the room. With silent apologies to our absent worship leader, I sat down and played “It Is Well With My Soul.” The arpeggios flowed effortlessly and painlessly, as if it hadn’t been years since I’d played them. Suddenly I was at peace about playing the next day. I texted Rachel, along with the drummer, who had said he would sing with me, and told them I – actually, my fingers – had made an executive decision, and we were going for the hymns. As a compromise, I said I would play an updated version of “Amazing Grace” with a new chorus, “My Chains Are Gone” before Communion with the guitar, but that was all the guitar playing my hands could take.

Sunday morning Rachel showed up with a testimony: She had been in the car on her way to school Friday, praying, “Lord, I’ve done everything I can think of for my throat, and none of it has worked. I want to sing Sunday, but I need You to heal me.” By the time she’d arrived at school, her throat had been healed! I was thrilled for her, but had to confess that my fingers had not been healed, hence the list of songs that weren’t “cool.” (Frankly, we aren’t cool, have never been cool, and never will be cool, but I kept that thought to myself.) We began to practice the classic hymns. I was at the piano, and Rachel and the drummer at the other mics, as we sang in three-part harmony. I thought it sounded fine, even though the younger people might roll their eyes at it.

… or would they?

OH. MY. GOSH!” cried the thirteen-year-old in the sound booth. “You guys sound AWESOME!!!” We smiled, then went on to sing the remaining songs.

OHMYGOSHOHMYGOSH!!!” squealed our one-girl fan club. “I can’t BELIEVE how AWESOME you sound! You sound like ANGELS!!!” She was literally jumping up and down. I was astonished how much this teenager liked these old songs. I would have expected her to want to hear newer ones.

But then it occurred to me that to her these were new. It also encouraged me to think that maybe the oldsters might not be the only ones to enjoy the worship that morning.

And so, the worship went as planned, not by us, but by the One who perfectly orchestrated it. Interestingly, He did it by healing one of us but not the other. At least not yet. I fully expect that when I get my new body, the fingers will be working perfectly, and I’ll be able to play any music I want, on any instrument I want. Meanwhile, I’m willing to have God’s providence guide me to whatever He wants me to do today.

Prayer: Lord, you are God, and we aren’t. Help us to remember that and to give You full reign in our lives. And to praise You, whatever the outcome, in Jesus’ name. Amen.