Some New Year’s Tips for Atheists

When you ask, you do not receive, because …

                                                                                                        James 4:3a

To my atheist friends:

While the Christians in your life are talking about doing more in the new year to get closer to God – praying more, reading the Bible more, etc. – do you just wish you could get to the end of this coming year having proven to them that prayer is useless, that God doesn’t answer prayer, because there IS no God? Here’s a suggestion:

You could spend the year “praying” to their “God” and at the end of the year tell them that He didn’t answer a single one of your prayers. It may not dissuade them from their faith, but at least it might get them to leave you alone about it.

Oddly, the Bible gives some helpful guidelines on how to make sure your prayers don’t get answered. Here, then, are the

Top Ten Ways to Guarantee Your Prayers Won’t Get Answered*                                                        (With Apologies to David Letterman)

[10- 1/2, if you’re a married man: Disrespect and mistreat your wife. (I Peter 3:7) ]

10. Give God tiny bits of your leftover time and second-rate resources, and reserve the best for other things. Squander your time, but hoard your stuff; don’t tithe. (Malachi 3:8-10) Fill your day/mind with secular media nonstop, so God can’t get a word in edgewise. (Romans 12:2)

9. Avoid that person you’ve been having a problem with, or who has a problem with you. (Matthew 5:23 & 24)

8. Accuse God of not understanding how important this is; He’s just not as smart as you are. (Isaiah 55: 8 & 9) Believe that health and wealth are the most important things, and if you aren’t healthy and wealthy, God must not care about you. (II Corinthians 12:7-10)

7. Ask once. Then if nothing happens right away, give up. Say, “See? I knew it wouldn’t work.” (Luke 18:1)

6. After saying “Amen,” immediately tell yourself all the reasons God’s probably not going to answer. For extra assurance, tell others, too. (James 1:6 & 7)

5. Keep God confined to one small area in your life, away from all the everyday events and far from any guilty pleasures, bad habits, and secret sins; He wouldn’t want to be around all that stuff, anyway. (Psalm 66:18)

4. Make a list of all the bad things that have been done to you, and who did it. Memorize it and recite it often. Share it with others and invite them to be offended with you. (Mark 11: 24 & 25)

3. Ignore what God has done for you in the past, or complain about the way He did it or about what He hasn’t done. Whatever you do, don’t be grateful! (Philippians 4:6)

2. Ask not what you can do for God; ask what He can do for you.(James 4:3)

… and the Number One way to make sure your prayers don’t get answered:

Don’t pray. (James 4:2)

And now I’m going to close with a prayer for my friends who are believers:

Prayer: Lord God, we know You hear every one of our prayers, even those that are foolish. Thank You for not giving us what we ask for when we ask foolishly. We acknowledge that You know what’s best for us, You desire what’s best for us, and You are able to do what is best for us. All-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God, thank You that You are for us, not against us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

*Excerpted from BARRIERS (So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?)      by Ann Aschauer, available on Amazon, or directly from the author (yours truly). Email me at bascha3870@yahoo.com for details.

God’s Gift to a Guilty Giver

“You will always have the poor among you.”  [Jesus] John 12:8a

For as long as I can remember I have known I am one of the most privileged people on the planet. Wanting somehow to make up for the advantages I enjoyed, I eventually crossed the line between desire to help the less fortunate and having to give it all away in order to feel good about myself. I had unwittingly bought into a subtle form of “salvation by works.”

Christmastime, especially, became a time of stress, guilt, and eventually sickness. I can remember at least four Christmases in a row being too sick and exhausted to enjoy the holiday.

One year on December 23, I had a rare quiet time after everyone else had gone to bed. A nearby stack of unanswered mail silently pleaded for more donations. Thousands of African children were orphaned by an A.I.D.S. epidemic. People were starving, in danger of freezing to death, left homeless by hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods. Veterans in hospitals wondered if anyone cared. Researchers were trying desperately to eradicate horrendous diseases. Women and children were being trafficked, and corrupt leaders were seizing power, threatening to make everything worse than it already was. Most importantly, millions were still without any knowledge of the gospel and in danger of leaving this world into a Christ-less eternity. I was a giver, but it seemed whenever I sent a check, ten more pleas for donations would arrive, hence the accusing stack of paper, robbing me of the peace of God.

Overwhelmed and on the verge of tears, I thought, I’m sorry, Lord, I just can’t deal with all this… Thank God He led me to get out my Bible and just start reading His Word.

I was in the 16th chapter of the gospel of Luke. I read about “the rich man who dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day,” and thought, Great, now You‘re going to make me feel more guilty? I started to cry.

Then the Still, Small voice made Himself heard: Just READ.

“At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. … The time came when the beggar died and the angels came and carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.” (Luke 16: 20-23)

Identifying with the rich man, I prayed,  Lord, I’m sorry! I haven’t given enough … The thought of so many sins of omission tormented me worse than ever.

But Still, Small Voice was persistent. Read it again.

“At his gate was laid a beggar …”

STOP.

I sensed Still Small Voice asking, Was the rich man condemned for not feeding every hungry person in the world?

No… but … 

At his gate was laid a beggar.” He was expected to help the person I placed in his path. You don’t have to save the whole world, little lamb. Just look around you.

Relief flooded my soul, as if I were discovering for the first time that we are saved by grace, not by works. (“DUH.”)

So, I asked myself, who is in my path? Immediately a local family came to mind. My dear friend, “Susie” had died a little over a year before, leaving a husband and seven children. I had been to their house the Christmas before to bring them cookies and had noticed that sadly no decorations were up, no tree, and no visible gifts. The youngest child, who could barely see over the countertop, was staring wide-eyed at the plate of cookies I had set down as I talked to the weary father.

I wanted to do more for them this year than a gift that would be gone in minutes. I considered what I could give them that they could enjoy together, and maybe make some lasting memories. I asked myself what kinds of things I remembered enjoying most as a child. Personally I had always loved being creative…

I went to the attic and found a box that was big enough, mentally adding a dozen or more things to my shopping list for the next day.

Christmas Eve I returned home with a large box of crayons, felt markers (washable!), water colors, colored pencils, sketch paper, tracing paper, unlined index cards, glue, scissors, Scotch tape, modeling clay, and two blank books. Since opening gifts is half the fun, I gift wrapped each one with a little note, such as “Make your own postcards!” on the package of index cards. In the blank books I wrote notes to the two teenaged daughters, encouraging them to write about the emotions and experiences that were impacting their lives. I placed all the wrapped gifts in the big box, wrapped it, and  –

Voila! The Creativity Box!

But later,  as I was finishing preparations in the early Christmas morning hours, another voice spoke to my heart, which I now realize was the voice of the accuser, the enemy of my soul:

What kind of cheap present is that to be giving a grieving family? A bunch of paper and junk from Walmart… !

In my insecurity I entertained the fleeting thought that maybe it was best to forget the whole thing. But then I thought, Well, I’ve done it, I may as well take it to them… and went to sleep for a few hours.

After Christmas brunch and opening gifts with my family, I went to Susie’s family’s house, accompanied by my father, who always loved surprising people.

When the kids saw the box, their eyes got big, and I thought, I hope they aren’t disappointed. I explained that this was a “Creativity Box.”

Before their Dad had even come into the room, the little guys were already tearing into the box and taking out the gifts.

“Look, Dad!” one of them cried. “It’s a Creativity Box!” As the wrapping paper flew off each little piece, squeals of joy were heard that made one wonder what sort of costly treasures they were discovering. I suppressed a giggle as I heard things like “Look, Dad! We can make our own post cards!!!” and saw one little guy retreat to a corner and start molding the clay into something fantastic. The teenaged girls quietly read the notes in their blank books and smiled at me knowingly.

After a brief visit Dad and I left the happy kids, bursting with creativity, enjoying their Savior’s birthday.

The Still Small Voice was right. I can’t save the whole world, but there will always be a life within reach that I can impact, when I let myself be inspired by the true Source of all giving and all creativity.

Prayer: Lord, Jesus, thank You for saving our souls. Thank You for giving us the privilege of partnering with You in loving others. Help us see the needs around us and do what You direct us to do. Don’t let us forget for one moment that we are saved by Your death on the cross, not by our own efforts. In Your precious 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.