My Two Wonderful Fathers

“If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?” Matthew 7:11

June was my dad’s month – Father’s Day, his birthday – he even married a lady named June. (Their anniversary is in June.) So I’m dedicating one more post to him today.

Just before flying to St. Louis to join my father for his big 65th birthday celebration, I composed this poem during my morning run. I am now one year older than he was then – Where does the time go???

Happy Father’s Day, everyone.

 

                           To Dad

You told me that God was my Father;                                                                                                   As a child I believed it was true.                                                                                                      I wanted to know what this Father was like,                                                                                         So the man that I studied was you.

Your eyes were so warm and so merry;                                                                                               We laughed all the time as we played.                                                                                        And knowing that laughter’s created by God,                                                                                       He seemed not so stern as I prayed.

You punished sometimes; it was for my own good,                                                                           And I knew that your love was still there.                                                                                    And knowing that’s God’s even wiser than you                                                                                 Makes suffering less hard to bear.

You gave much away, still we prospered,                                                                                             And it was then I decided                                                                                                                That God’s wealth is different from that of the world –                                                                     It’s multiplied as it’s divided.

And so, through twenty-nine wonderful years,                                                                                 I’ve seen what you told me was true.                                                                                              If one who is human can love me so much,                                                                                         I’m confident God loves me, too.                                                                                                      I’ve seen with my own eyes that “God is Love.”                                                                                 I’ve seen His love living in you.

6-10-82

 

Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for being a loving Father to us – for blessing us when we don’t deserve it, for comforting us when we need it, for disciplining us when we have violated Your rules, and for forgiving us when we need a fresh start. Most of all, thank You for giving us Your Son Jesus to purchase our salvation when we were spiritually bankrupt and would have been lost forever. We are eternally grateful. In Jesus’ name, amen

That Passenger

“… forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  – Mathew 6:12

Why do people insist on carrying their bags?

I was waiting to board the flight to St. Louis and marveling at people’s willingness to lug heavy bags on board, when I never hesitated to check mine.

OK, I admit my real concern was that I was in boarding group “C,” carrying a precious possession – a $1,000 12-string guitar. I was not about to turn that delicate instrument over to baggage handlers to be thrown around like a sack of potatoes.

Ordinarily I’m never in this position, but I had received the call hours earlier: my father was dying, and I had better get there soon if I wanted to say good-bye.  I had booked the first flight available and grabbed the essentials. First on the list: my guitar, so I could possibly play and sing to Dad one more time…

“You’re going to have to check that.” I can’t say the order surprised me.

“Can you guarantee it will arrive undamaged?”

“No,” came the predictable answer.

“If it’s damaged, will the airline replace it?” (I knew this script.)

“No.” Surprise, surprise.

“Then I’m not checking it.”

Please know that I don’t usually behave this way! I am the one who tries to get along with everyone. But this involved my chance for my father to have a few more minutes of pleasure before leaving this world. Push had definitely come to shove.

The irritated attendant showed me that every last bin was stuffed with other people’s junk, and there was no room. I spotted one unopened compartment and asked, “What about that one?”

The attendant opened it; it was filled with pillows.

“Perfect. I’ll take it.”

By this time a second attendant had come to find out what (or who) was causing the delay. I looked around, saw all eyes on me, and realized with horror that I had become “that passenger!

The second attendant, no doubt just wanting to get going, yanked pillows out of the compartment until there was room for the guitar. He stuffed it in, buried it in the pillows, slammed the bin shut, and sternly ordered me to take the last seat, right next to the sky marshal. (I don’t remember if I knew that because the attendants mentioned it – lest I cause more trouble – or because I noticed his gun.)

The sky marshal stepped into the aisle so I could take the window seat (securely confined). I meekly buckled myself in and stared out the window, not wanting eye contact with anyone.

As we took off, humiliation soon gave way to sadness as a thousand bittersweet memories tumbled through my mind: the view of a parade from the shoulders of a tall, strong man; laughing around the dinner table at his antics and the playful scolding of my mother; the traditional fire he would build on Christmas morning; I remembered the silly songs he’d make up spontaneously (Paul McCartney he was not.) and the awesome flying saucer runs he’d build out of the deep snowdrifts in our back yard. I remembered snuggling in his lap, and his asking if I had any kisses left. I remembered valuable lessons he’d taught me about saving, spending, and investing money. (And I’d thought we were just playing Monopoly.)

I had flashbacks of my birthdays, graduation, and moments before he walked me down the aisle to give me away. I smiled as I remembered him with his grandchildren and his delight at the excuse to be “silly” again.

The silliness had come in handy with the encroaching Alzheimer’s. After the first stressful months of confusion, he had finally slipped into the mindset of a little child. I remembered the day he declared, “Ann! I realized what I forgot to do! I forgot to grow up!” and how my impatience had melted away as I hugged him, realizing I still loved him, just the way he was.

I recalled the confusion and devastation on his face when my mother passed away, like a little lost puppy, and the last time my sister and I had seen him, when he had mumbled, “I love you so much… Wherever you are … wherever I am … I will always love you…” I remembered looking at my sister as we both silently wondered, Is he saying goodbye?

As the plane descended, the knot in my stomach returned.

“It looks like we’re on time.” It took me a moment to realize that the sky marshal was making a last-minute attempt at conversation.

“I hope so,” I replied, and I wondered if he noticed the catch in my voice. Suddenly I felt the need to explain myself.

“I got the call late last night. My father’s dying.” Our eyes met, but he didn’t say anything more. Glancing at the overhead bin across the aisle, I explained with a shrug, “He likes to hear me sing.” I turned back to the window, so he wouldn’t see the tears spill over.

It seemed like forever before the announcement came that we could deplane. To my surprise, the sky marshal jumped out of his seat and fetched my guitar. Handing it to me, he said kindly, “I hope you get to sing to your father.”

I thanked him. I don’t know if my words were audible, but I think he understood. As I exited, I didn’t make eye contact with anyone else; I was painfully aware that I was probably still “that passenger.” But it felt good to know that there was one person that understood why I had acted the way I did.

Christian, would you like to stand out from the crowd? Here’s a radical suggestion: Next time you see one of “those people,” remember that “that person” has a story. And I doubt that anyone’s story is that they woke up and said “I think I’ll be a jerk today.” Make a point of being kind to that person, even if – especially if – everyone else is totally exasperated. I guarantee that you will make an impression. If not on the crowd, it will definitely affect “that person.”

Prayer: Jesus, forgive us for being jerks, and help us be kind to other jerks. Amen

“Sacrifice,” Part 3

On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.                Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.      Psalm 63:6,7

[This is the conclusion of a 3-part testimony that started two weeks ago. Last week’s post contained a dream that hinted that I would be taken away from much of what had become normal in my life and taken to a remote place where there were no distractions and where my only Companion was God.]

I lay in bed thinking about the dream with all its implications until it was time to get up and go to church. The sermon that morning was on “the wilderness.” We were reminded that Moses received his calling in the wilderness through the burning bush. We were reminded that the children of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness in preparation for entering the Promised Land, and that even Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before beginning His ministry. I sat there overwhelmed with a sense of God’s presence, wondering what kind of ministry He was preparing me for – and whether the wilderness for me would involve the kind of isolation I had experienced in college.

The morning of the surgery I had a sense of déjà vu as I surrendered my wallet, my keys, my cell phone, and my jewelry, feeling strangely naked without them. I tried to dismiss mental images of waking up with no voice and my husband Marty’s crying exultantly, “There is a God!” (Just kidding, but that was a running joke in those days.) Still, I was holding onto the fact that God was with me and was not going to leave me, whatever happened; if He was taking one thing from me, He would give me something else, something better. And with these thoughts, I drifted into unconsciousness.

Next thing I knew I was in the recovery room with a bad sore throat. Marty was beside the bed, and when the surgeon came in and asked how I was feeling, I hesitated before trying to answer, not sure I was ready to find out if anything was missing.

But as I said “Pretty good,” I was thrilled to actually hear the words. It was over, and my “sacrifice” had been accepted and given back to me to keep using, though (with God’s help) never again taken for granted.

I was taken back to my room, where I had a roommate I couldn’t see on the other side of the curtain. We said “hello,” but we were both so worn out there wasn’t much conversation. I slept that night with no dreams, or if I had any, they were immediately forgotten.

The next morning I awoke early. The room was still dark, except for the TV on my roommate’s side. The sound was off, but I had a good view of the picture, and I gasped in recognition.

The night before, there had been a magnificent display of the Northern Lights, magnificent enough to make the local news.

I smiled, and I felt God smiling, too.

Prayer: LORD, thank You so much for giving me life and breath and a voice. Help me to use these gifts – whether speaking, singing, or praying – to glorify You for the rest of my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

“Sacrifice,” Part 2

My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise my love, my fair one, and come away … ” Song of Solomon 2:10

This is part 2 of a 3-part story that started last week. (Those of you who like my “dream sequences,” enjoy. This one is one of the best I can remember ever having.)

I didn’t want the surgery to be before our yearly trip to Florida in February, fearing that something might go wrong and ruin the family vacation. So I scheduled it for mid March. While in Florida I sang my heart out in the little gazebo by the pond, not knowing if I’d ever get the chance to do it again in this life.  In fact, I sang at every opportunity; if I had ever taken singing for granted in the past, I wasn’t doing it now. If and when I woke up in recovery with a voice, I would thank God, but if I woke up silent, I would be as prepared as I could be. And I vowed I would still thank Him.

While we were in Florida I had a very vivid dream that I remembered in detail when I woke up:

I was traveling north with my family. I’m not sure where we were going, but we were starting out in Michigan, so I knew it was going to be NORTH. At the airport as we were going through security, I had to surrender my wallet containing all my money, driver’s license, and credit cards; my keys, my cell phone, and finally all my jewelry. (In other words: my identification, transportation, communication, and …decoration. Pretty much everything.) When I arrived at the destination, it was extremely cold, dark, barren, and lonely. I went through the gate, expecting to see my family and get all my stuff back. But I was alone, except for one person, who told me I couldn’t get anything back, except one piece of jewelry, “as long as it looks like this.” She showed me a grainy black and white picture of a necklace that I recognized. It was my Valentine’s necklace – a silver chain with a big, red, heart-shaped bead in the middle. I said, “Yes, that’s mine,” taking back the one thing that was being returned. I walked on alone, unable to find my family. The further I went, the darker, colder, and lonelier I felt. I questioned what I was doing in such a barren place, so far from anyone or anything that mattered to me.                                              

 Suddenly I looked up to see a sight that contrasted with everything else I had seen in that place so far. It was the most magnificent display of the Northern Lights I had ever seen – bright, shimmering, multicolored lights, swirling across the sky in a perfectly choreographed dance.

Of course, when I see something that beautiful, my first impulse is to turn to the nearest person and cry, “Look at that! Isn’t it gorgeous?!” But as I looked around, seeing no one, I realized I had to enjoy this sight alone. Then it occurred to me … I get to enjoy this sight alone! Could it be that God created this beautiful display just for me and no one else? Was I that important to Him? Although the place was still cold and barren, the shiver I got was not from the chilly air. It was sense of being exquisitely privileged to have a private showing of one of God’s masterpieces, and feeling Him close to me, even in the absence of every other friend or loved one. Being in a seemingly God-forsaken place  I was anything but God-forsaken. I had moved to a place of intimacy with Him that was priceless. And I thanked Him.

When I woke up, I contemplated the meaning of the dream, and with God’s help, here’s what I came up with:

The cold, dark, lonely place was much like my college experience of having no voice, and I think it was significant that no one else had come – or could come – there with me. It involved letting go of everything that given me the illusion of self sufficiency, and the only thing I was given back was that necklace. But what was the significance of the necklace, and why was it the one thing I was given back?

I had taken a class in biblical dream interpretation at my former church, and we had learned that different colors could have different meanings.  Silver, the color of the chain, symbolized redemption. Red, the color of blood, often represented sacrifice, and I realized with some trepidation that the one “gift” I may be given is the experience of sacrificing something dear to me – my voice. The bead on the necklace was in the shape of a heart, which to me of course represented love (my love for God, or my love for my own voice?). Whenever I wore the necklace, the heart hung close to my own heart. It also hung close to my voice box.

But then there were the Northern Lights… I had found in my experience at college that being unable to talk to my friends had resulted in my talking more to the only One who could “hear” me, and my finding that intimacy with Him that is so precious, yet so overlooked when I get busy with friends. I wondered if God had a wonderful new plan for my life that He was communicating to me – only to me.

I decided (again) to trust Him.

To be Continued

Prayer: LORD, You make my feet like hind’s feet and set me on the high places. (Habakkuk 3:19) Sometimes it’s a steep climb, sometimes it can seem isolated. But being with You is a privilege worth more than any earthly treasure. So, continue to call me higher, and give me the strength to follow Your voice, in Jesus’ name. Amen

“Sacrifice,” Part 1

Since I’m out West with my Arizona sister on a road trip in her RV – our annual “sisterly adventure,” I’m scheduling one of my longer testimonies in three parts. Today, Part 1:

Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

The doctor’s diagnosis and recommendation gave me mixed feelings. On the one hand, the thought that a simple surgery could solve multiple minor physical nuisances was appealing; on the other hand, the site of the surgery was uncomfortably close to the voice box, and frankly I had grown kind of attached to my voice.

I had formed my identity largely based on my voice. Yes, I was a writer, but lately my business cards had been redesigned to include other things I did:

“Author/Speaker/Singer/Songwriter/Musician.” (Right after the cards were printed, I heard a sermon with the message: “Your identity is not found in what you do.” Oops.)

I loved serving the LORD with my voice. My personal devotions included singing to Him while playing my guitar or harp. I took my instruments to the local hospital to sing to the patients, and I had occasional speaking engagements to deliver messages to women, youth, or church congregations. And my two favorite things to do with my children, and now my grandchildren, were singing to them and reading to them. Always loving an excuse to reread The Chronicles of Narnia and other childhood favorites, I would tap into my theatrical training and play the part of each character, using different voices an dialects. In my interactions with people – those I knew as well as strangers – I seized every opportunity to tell about my latest answer to prayer … or for that matter, detailed stories of God’s grace in my life that I had repeated often over the years. (An instructor at a speaker’s conference once told me I was a born storyteller.)

Of course, I prayed that my voice would be OK through this surgery, and I trusted that if God wanted to use my voice, He’d certainly protect it. But I had also walked with Him long enough to know that His thoughts are not my thoughts; His plan for me might not line up with my own plans and preferences. While I personally enjoyed worshiping the Lord and glorifying Him with my voice, if He had other, better plans for me to serve Him, I certainly wanted to be open to them, and I told Him so. Inwardly, though, I did fervently hope that His plan would not include taking away the gift He had allowed me to use and enjoy for so long. So, I had to remind myself repeatedly that God knew best, and that I refused to give in to fear.

My doctor assured me there was little chance that I would lose my voice. She had even searched out a surgeon that used the latest cutting-edge equipment to protect the vocal cords; this surgeon had done the same operation on a backup singer for a big-name rock star. Still, there was no guarantee, and I didn’t want to be presumptuous. So I prayed, yielded my will to the Lord, and explored various other ways I could glorify Him without a voice. Of course, I could continue to write, I just wouldn’t be able to speak at any book signings, church services, or other gatherings. I supposed I could continue to play my instruments, but most of my music was purely to accompany my singing, so I considered going back to earlier interests in art, crafts, even gourmet cooking. These were pleasant thoughts, but deep down was a nagging, gnawing feeling of dread at the thought that I might be left with these only, voiceless.

The nagging imaginations of life as a mute were based on my experience of being unable to speak years ago in college. Persistent throat infections had taken their toll, and I’d been told by a specialist that I may or may not have permanently damaged my voice. He had told me that it was best for me not to speak for a month and not to sing for a year. As a theater major, this had been a major thing! I’d been forced to drop out of the singing groups I was in, and for my final performance in acting class, I’d done a mime, even though we had received no instruction in mime. (Please don’t ask how that went.) Probably the worst part of this ordeal had been living in the midst of other college students, who were having discussions of every topic under the sun, having so much to say, and having to write it all down. People had been patient and tolerant for a while, but eventually I’d begun to feel it was an imposition to expect people to wait for me to write everything down and try to decipher my handwriting, which had become steadily worse with my attempts to write at lightning speed with ever-growing writer’s cramp. Finally I would retreat to my room and do most of my talking to God, as the tears rolled down my face, accompanied by Simon and Garfunkle singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on my record player. (Record player? … Yes, that was a while ago.)

As I anticipated the possibility of being voiceless again, maybe permanently, the memory of the loneliness enveloped me in a cold darkness, and I couldn’t quite worship with the complete abandon that I wanted to.

… To be continued …

Prayer: LORD, my life is in Your hands. Whether I have everything I want, or things aren’t the way I’d like, or I’m anticipating losing something precious to me, I am utterly dependent on You every minute of every day. But I trust You, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

What Else Matters? Postscript and Update

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.                                                                                                                                                                                                               Romans 8:18

Last week I told the story of the day my daughter Kelly missed singing at the National Day of Prayer after missing just about everything else of significance her senior year, and how God interrupted my pity party via a purse-sized New Testament to remind me of His Resurrection, and to get me to ask myself, “What else matters?”

Recap: “Yes, my daughter had missed the National Day of Prayer, over a hundred days of high school, and numerous weekend festivities. She had missed Homecoming, but someday she would be at the greatest Homecoming in history. She had missed singing in the choir that day, but someday she would sing in heaven’s choir forever. Kelly loved Jesus, and she would get to spend forever with Him, at the never-ending, greatest celebration of all time. When one had that to look forward to, what else mattered? …

Continuation: What doesn’t matter has a way of getting to us, though, and it was only a couple of days later that I was charging out of the house to escape the stress for a while. I figured pedaling my bike at top speed to the health club and working out with weights was better than screaming at people, but at the moment my pedaling was accompanied by angry muttering under my breath.

Along the way I noticed the grass in front of the high school was littered with small pieces of paper, but I was too preoccupied with my own frustration to think much about it. But after the workout had melted away some of the aggravation, I realized as I passed the school again on my way home that the Gideons must have been there handing out Bibles, and obviously someone had not appreciated the gesture. Dozens of pages torn out of a small New Testament had been strewn all over the lawn. I slowed my bike down and looked sadly at the precious scriptures fluttering in the wind. I could almost see the devil smiling.

Well, somebody‘s going to get something out of this Bible! I thought with righteous defiance. I stopped and picked up a couple of pages, and a sense of deja vu accompanied what I read on one:

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away … ”    Luke 24:1-2

My mouth dropped open, and tears filled my eyes as the words reverberated in my mind: What else matters?

OK, Lord, so my short-term memory needs some work …

[Excerpted from BARRIERS (So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?) c 2015 Ann Aschauer]

Prayer: Lord, thank You for Your patience with us. Thank You for not giving up on us, but reminding us time and again of what You have told us before, knowing that we are a forgetful bunch, who nevertheless want to follow You. Thanks for doing whatever it takes to keep us with You, in Jesus’ name, amen.

Update: Since I first posted “What Else Matters?” several readers have asked how Kelly is doing. First, thank you for asking. How kind of you to care for a young lady you have never met.

Since that National Day of Prayer I have had to be reminded repeatedly of where my priorities should be. I guess I am always “seeking divine perspective,” and God never tires of helping me. He is so good.

Kelly graduated on the honor roll, in spite of all the days missed. She had worked hard to beat the odds, but because she had missed so many days, she got none of the special awards given to individual students for outstanding work in specific subjects. Still, I was so proud of the way she sat with a smile on her face, clapping for her classmates as their names were called.

Kelly struggled in college, as the cycle of stress/migraine/missed classes/falling behind had started again, and now we (her parents) were a couple of states away, concerned for her emotional health as well as the physical. It was there that God provided a godly woman in her church who loved Kelly and was like another mom to her. Kate, her husband, and their three children became like a second family. The children looked up to Kelly and adored her. Kate would call occasionally and fill me in when Kelly was having a rough time, and we’d pray for “our girl.” There was at least one time when Kate took Kelly to the ER. She was truly a godsend.

Fast forward to today. Kelly has a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, a godly, loving husband, and certification in massage therapy. (I name these in chronological order, not in order of importance!) She and her husband live just a few hours from us in a house they are remodeling, with their “baby” – a dog Kelly adores and posts way too many pictures of on Facebook.

Kelly still calls me “MamaBear,” and I still call her “BabyBear.” She sent me a text last week with a picture of her wearing a big smile and her official polo shirt embroidered with the name of her new employer. I congratulated her and asked if it was a good time to talk. It was only then that she told me she had a bad migraine and was going to lie down, but she had texted me because didn’t want me to miss seeing her “I-got-the-job!” smile.

Her new job pays well, and the hours are flexible, so if/when a migraine shows up it won’t present a huge problem. But I’m guessing that with the pressure off, fewer migraines will show up. Best of all, Kelly will be spending her days helping hurting people heal.

Bottom line: Yes, she still has migraines, but migraines don’t have her.

 

In Case You’re Wondering …

Dear readers,

I am heading out West tonight for another “adventure” with my sister, and so far we still don’t know where we’re going! :/  Since it’s likely I’ll be away from WiFi (and busy “adventuring”  anyway) I will not be blogging for the next couple of weeks. I have some pieces scheduled to be posted, but I will not be reading other blogs as I usually do. Please feel free to “like” or comment on my posts, and when I get back I will respond, and maybe read the suggested ones of yours. But since I usually get about 150 emails a day, I can’t promise that when I get home I’ll read everything that’s piled up since I left!

Just know that if you don’t get any comments or “likes” from me in the next couple of weeks, and if I don’t respond to your comments immediately, it’s not that I’m not interested, it’s that I am out of reach. I look forward to connecting with y’all when I get back.

Happy rest of May!

Annie