Watch Out For The Snakes

Even at age fourteen, I understood I didn’t need to pause to consider such an incredible opportunity. This experience might never be offered again. “Janie, would you like to spend the summer with us, helping me with the children?’, Martha queried.

Our family friends, John and Martha Barre, the age of my parents left their comfortable lifestyle and beautiful new home in Ohio to become missionaries to the Navajo Indians in Thoreau, New Mexico. John had been an executive with a large corporation, but they felt the calling of God in their hearts and on their lives. They left behind their family, friends, and the stability of a middle-class background, taking their two young sons to an unknown land with an unfamiliar culture to serve others.

The Barres were now rearing seven orphaned Native American children on the Navajo reservation. Martha knew how much I loved babies and babysitting.  With seven infants and toddlers, under the age of three, she welcomed my willingness to assist.

Martha’s love for children was perhaps as great as mine. However, Martha had lost several babies before their birth or shortly thereafter. The only daughter she would have had, God called home before the baby was born. Thus, Martha and I bonded that summer in the 1960’s, not only in household chores, cooking, baking and childcare, but as a “mother and daughter.”

This was perhaps one of the richest times of my life with new and stimulating occurrences, but  there were no “lazy days” of relaxing. The Barre’s austere 2 story frame house stood among the cliffs where the wild horses roamed, and the cacti flourished. There were no porch swings, lush green grass, or welcoming swimming pools. There was not a single flower or blade of grass. Hardened gypseous soil and barren terrain surrounded their house on every side.

This was a missionary home. It was basic and the needs plentiful. Martha arose each morning by 4:00 a.m. to begin her day of baking and laundry. There was no local gourmet coffee shop, florist, or bakery. The closest town was thirty-one miles away.  Grocery trips were planned. There was also not a desire to put seven children in the car to “run to town.” This calling on the lives of John and Martha looked nothing like “living the American dream” they had practiced in Ohio.

When I awakened around 6:00-6:30 a.m. daily, it appeared Martha had already fulfilled a full day’s work. There were several loads of laundry ready to hang on the clothesline behind their house. “Be careful to watch for the rattle snakes”, Martha instructed, as I seized the heavy basket.  After hanging the dozens of diapers and baby clothes outside,  Martha’s large breakfast of homemade cinnamon rolls or homemade biscuits, homemade jams, eggs, bacon, or ham would sustain us for hours of work. TO BE Continued: Matthew 25:40 NIV “The king will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

My Life or God’s?

On those nights I read a chapter or two from inspirational Christian books, I’m able to fall asleep reminded that no matter what the day held or what is awaiting me the following day, God is with me. I recently mentioned a book I received as a gift; The Land Between by Jeff Manion. Jeff shares numerous stories of those that had their planned life or perhaps what they believed was their ideal life. Then suddenly God steps in and changes it.

What do we do when we are “between” the life we chose and believed God directed and the life God chose for us? Do we run and hide or are we like Job, Joseph and dozens of other faithful children of God? Do we stand strong and say, “here I am Lord, use me.” Jeff shared of Joseph’s trials. There is much to learn from Joseph. He was the favorite son of his father, but jealousy and anger caused his life to be totally disrupted and changed. Yet, it was not without God’s hand and plan. Ultimately Joseph received far more than he ever imagined.

As we are in “the land between” it is often difficult to see how beautiful God’s plan is for us. As I have been dragging the ten-foot ladder all over my yard, climbing high to do tasks,  I’m struggling with seeing “God’s plan” for the “between” of my life. I had a husband, a family, a home, and normalcy, but then suddenly that ended.

Countless friends and family touted I would not be alone long for God would send me a companion, a friend.  No, that wasn’t God’s plan. So here I am eight years later alone and “between.”  Jeff reminded his readers in his words, “In the land between, a remarkable phenomenon occurs. We come to possess a vital faith that allows us to be at our best when life is at its worst.  We emerge from a season of profound disappointment, unnerving chaos, or debilitating pain with a faith worth having. We learn the Land Between is about a journey of trust and that something flourishes there that could not be produced in any other soil. We discover that the place we most want to escape has produced the fruit we most desperately crave.”

We can indeed trust God to know His plans are far greater than ours. Jeff shared of one of this friends that was learning to trust while “between.” “There is an intimacy, a settled trust, a level of dependence on God in Ben’s life that is new. He has journeyed through the Land Between, has kept his heart open, and been dramatically changed.”

When my “between” ends whether in this life or with God, I may never understand the purpose, but I will know God does bring beauty from the “ugliness of life.” As I undertake tasks which are such a struggle for me, I’m constantly reminded, I’m “between” and God is standing right there with me. Psalm 27:14, NKJ, “Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart…”

 

Love or Lecture?

We learn a friend, family member or someone we don’t know is going through a difficult time in their life and are seeking prayer. It doesn’t matter if their need is physical or emotional, a “listening ear and heart” can be the greatest gift we can give.

Too often Christians feel this person must have done something “wrong” to seek prayer for something of such magnitude.  This is not the time to exhibit knowledge of how many bible verses we can quote or that the person seeking prayer is pursuing opinions.  If a person says, “will you pray with me or for me” unless they ask for scriptures or advice, why can’t we just pray and show some concern?

This has always been perplexing to me when the individual offering prayer for another, immediately feels it is their right to dictate what that person must do, especially when they do not personally know the one seeking prayer (routinely they received the person’s name from a church prayer list). Countless times, I have heard someone tell the one they were asked to pray for, that they “must do thus/so.”

Carey  Nieuwhof, says, “You can’t pray for someone you judge because you’re actually not for them. Sure, you can pray about them, but again, your prayer won’t be grounded in humility. It might be grounded in anger, or in arrogance, or superiority, but it won’t be grounded in love.”

I recently read a wonderful article by Benjamin and Meredith Green, “How To Pray for Someone That Is Hurting.” They possess astuteness which many twice their age do not acquire. “Pray for wisdom for them and for you. Pray that your friend will have the wisdom they need to navigate their situation and to make some hard choices. Pray for the wisdom you need to know when and how to best help and support them.”

That is a gift which no amount of expertise can provide. Over the years dozens of fellow Christians have asked me to pray for them.  It is seldom their sorrow was anything like I endured. Yet, I possessed the empathy to pray with them. They weren’t seeking judgment nor advice; just care and support.

As I read these words from Chuck Swindoll when he met a friend, I was reminded that seldom do we totally understand what another is experiencing.  “ The subject of wisdom kept sliding into our conversation. He and I were agreeing on the value of certain qualities that cannot be learned in school—things like intuition, diligence, integrity, perception, consistency, loyalty . . . and he, again, mentioned wisdom. Wisdom is hard to define because it means much more than knowledge and goes much deeper than awareness… So I asked, “How does a person get wisdom? I realize we are to be men and women of wisdom, but few people ever talk about how it’s acquired.” His answer was quick and to the point. “Pain.”

Most of us have experienced pain, so this gives us the wisdom to pray and show concern without adjudication. Colossians 1:9 NKJ, “for this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…”

Memories, Movies and Muffins

Laxin’, laziness and lovin’, was the joy I had for a two day,  “too short” visit with my daughter, Andrea and her family this week.  It had been quite a while since I had last seen them, so the cliché of “absence makes the heart grow fonder was  valid. I was especially thrilled to see all four of her children as her two oldest were home from college. However, my gift of seeing them was a determent to my eldest grandson, a Ph.D student. He had to leave campus and his research for several days due to a medical concern with a fellow doctoral student. However, his family and I were all too happy to give him an abundance of hugs, love, and attention while he was home. Even though he didn’t wish to acknowledge it, I believe he treasured the home cooked meals and loving attention he received.

Andrea’s only daughter, her youngest child is quite the helper in the kitchen, so it was a delectable treat to have freshly baked muffins for each morning’s breakfast. My precious daughter who touted  in high school she would never prepare any meal that didn’t come from a box, bag or can is now quite an accomplished and excellent chef.

Aside from the belated birthday dinner reservations for my granddaughter, it was wonderful  to just “savor the time” of “laxin’ and laziness.” Wholesome “chick flicks” always bring smiles and laughter to any family. Our “television time” snuggled under fuzzy blankets didn’t disappoint.

As I delighted in the blessings of the two days spent with Andrea and her family, I was reminded again, I never imagined what God planned for my future.  I’ve been totally alone for over eight years and trying earnestly for over four years to sell my house and move to Texas to be closer to my family. As I have cried out to God both physically and emotionally, my prayers to move from this town with the “painful past” of when I was a wife, seem honorable to me.

Chuck Swindoll recently reminded me in his words, “We never know what a day will bring, whether good or ill. Our heavenly Father’s plan unfolds apart from our awareness. Ours is a walk of faith, not sight. Trust, not touch. Leaning long and hard, not running away. No one knows ahead of time what the Father’s plan includes. It’s best that way. It may be a treasured blessing; it could be a test that drops us to our knees. He knows ahead of time, but He is not obligated to warn us about it or to remind us it’s on the horizon. We can be certain of this: our God knows what is best.”

With each passing day, as the “for sale” sign glistens beneath the glowing sun, I have to cling to the realization that God truly does know best in all of this.  I Thessalonians 5:18 NKJ, “in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Soaring With The Eagles

It was one of the most memorable and joyous days of my life. I had waited years for this day; to take a trip with my only daughter, Andrea. I extended other “gifts” for trips, but one year ago today, was “the day” and my heart was filled with “joy beyond measure.”

I have openly shared about my admiration of Chuck Swindoll’s teachings and this was an opportunity I desired to participate in; his Alaskan cruise in celebration of his Insight for Living Ministries 40th year anniversary. The destination was not as important to me as being with Andrea, while also enjoying Chuck’s instruction and fellowship with other Christians for the next week.

Even though I visited Alaska the previous year on a land trip, I understood the cruise would provide a different perspective in this area of our country filled with God’s beauty of vast wilderness, water, mountains, and wildlife. Because this was my first cruise, this was an adventure for both Andrea and I, as we experienced some of the amendments of cruise traveling.

This was a smaller ship than other cruise ships, as it routinely hosts Christian groups spending time together with music and teaching of the Lord. Therefore, the entertainment and shopping were more limited, but Andrea and I were not there to be entertained or shop. Our “gifts” were with the wonderful people we met during our trip.

Andrea’s “gift” has lingered as she has maintained  friendships with some of them, enjoying personal visits with one another. Andrea and I had been aboard the ship less than two hours when we met some of these “friends” we would share the week with.

Another “gift” was the opportunity to view God’s splendid creatures, whales while on an excursion. They were more than cooperative to be the center of attention, as they danced on display to all the “ooh’s and ah’s” of the spectators. Also, our country’s exquisite eagles soared toward the heavens reminding all of us of God’s magnificence.

Like the countless fellow tourists, we trekked in and out of the “look alike, money pit” villages.  Andrea and I located a few “must take home” presents for others. A blessing of each day was dining at the table with the friends where we had been assigned. As we shared with one another what adventures we had experienced or what “must have’s” we purchased, another highlight was gathering again that evening for the special events Chuck had planned for each of us.

At the end of each day, my delight was knowing I was with my beautiful daughter. On the final night of our trip, Andrea gave me a gift which has lingered for an entire year. She said “Mom, your smile has never left your face.” I cried, for the exultation of that week was a gift no amount of money could purchase. I trust this trip with Andrea, wasn’t the last or only, but it was filled with treasures which have filled my memory and heart countless times. Psalm 96:11 NKJ, Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad; Let the sea roar, and all its’ fullness.”

And Then!

When I grow up, I will eat what I want when I want. When I grow up, I will not have to take naps or go to bed before I desire. When I grow up no one will tell me what to do. “And then.” You did grow up. You couldn’t always eat what you chose and sometimes you took a quick nap because you were up much of the night. Most often you craved to go to bed at the early hour you did as a child. For most adults we have more than our previous two parents telling us what to do. “And then.”

When we are out of college and find a job, when we marry and begin our family, when we make enough money to do what we desire, “then.”  It seems we move from one stage of our lives to another “and then.” Each “then” comes and goes, but do you have what you desire? Do you ever have quiet, reflective days when you say, “not then but now?” I feel certain many of us have had too many of those contemplative days over these past few months, especially those of us living alone without family or friends. I know there were will be a time in the not so distant future when we will say, “but then.”

As pastors and bible study leaders often share, many of us that prayed for “then” won’t see that transpire. As Dr. Warren noted, we may have to ask God why, realizing we won’t know until we stand before Him. As I’ve so rapidly watched the decades of my life move forward, I have wished I could have “stopped” many of those “then” days; the times my children were home and I could interact with them or the times we were a family celebrating life “as one.”

Some of my days of yesteryear were memorable and joyous, but most were challenging and difficult. God knew before I was born my life would be uphill all the way. He also knew I could manage it, for He knew I would cling to His strength and His faith to move me along.

I was most appreciative of the recent kudos I received on sharing my life; those times in my life when like Dr. Warren noted, you just don’t understand. You have prayed and been faithful, but God’s answers bring so much more sorrow than you could ever have imagined.

What has allowed me to never falter in my faith is knowing that  “then”,  when my life ends, there will be more elation than I can possibly know.  I will realize this brief life filled with so much heartache will be totally forgotten. “ Then” is what grants me the ability to keep pushing forward.  These are the days  I wait upon the Lord. Until “then” I truly do know who holds my tomorrows. Matthew 6:34 NKJ, “Therefore do no worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its’ own trouble.”

If Only

Have you ever watched a movie or television show which caused a whirlwind of cognitive impetus? I just concluded a fictional television segment which was poignant, as it paralleled all our lives. What would happen if we totally altered our life with a different decision?

This scenario was about a federal law enforcement officer that killed a drug lord. Some of the drug lord’s team then murdered the officer’s wife and daughter. During the course of the show, the actor had to re-live many details of his life on choices he made. How often, I’ve heard people say, “if only I hadn’t taken that route, there wouldn’t have been that fatal vehicle accident” or , “if only I hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have become ill” of “if I hadn’t allowed my child to go outside, he wouldn’t have been injured”. On and on, the list goes.  The “If only’s” in life can bog us down if we allow them to do so.

In this mentioned program, the wife came back to remind the husband of all the good he did for others following her death and that of  their daughter.  He continued to grieve and say, “but I would still have both of you. We would still be a family.”  Unfortunately, in our lives, those taken in death can’t come back to tell us our lives have been productive despite their deaths. Even those that left us and are still alive don’t come to tell us the decisions we’ve made since their departure have been beneficial to  others.

This was a heartrending program from the aspect of reminding  us as Christians, we know God’s hand is in what occurs  in our lives, no matter the outcome. Yesterday, there was another door which God “slammed shut.” I was okay because I had prayed diligently to know His will. As I told someone recently, I never  “pry open” any door God closes. I know people that choose to open a door God closes, but are often disappointed with the results.

My desire to leave Edmond is great, for not only are there sorrowful memories, but like the television program, there are hundreds of “if only’s.”  I pass by neighborhoods where my then husband, Charles and I lived as a couple or a family with our children. I could say “if only” Charles had not relocated us so often?

I never leave my neighborhood, driving west without being reminded that over forty years ago it was  “that”  neighborhood, Charles fell in love with his mistress. She was often a guest in our home, and he kept track of her for years, knowing someday, he could be with her. This was also the neighborhood where we reared our children and they have life-long friends from that era.

“If only’s” can overpower us if we aren’t dependent on God’s strength.   His plans are greater than my “if only’s”  Isaiah 55: 8 NKJ, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”

 

 

Just “Churchy”

Even though we attended church as a family, we fit the cliché of “Sunday only” Christians. When I was burdened about not having family devotions together, my then husband, Charles touted, everyone could “do their own thing.” I attended bible studies alone. I prayed alone. I walked with God alone, but how greatly I prayed and longed for a husband that would be the spiritual leader of our family and our home.

We were not a Godly family. We were a “churchy” family. We put on our Sunday clothes, carried our bibles and “played like.” I didn’t realize prior to and even shortly after marriage, Charles’ goals were immeasurably different than mine. As our children matured and became more independent, the disparities between my values and Charles’ intensified.

I didn’t learn of parental alienation while our children resided at home. The first time a counselor told me that was the rationale in the attitude toward me, I gleaned an understanding of my children’s actions. From the time our children were young if I said “stop”, Charles  said, “go.” I still hear his words when our children were toddlers. “I want to be their friend. I don’t want to be their disciplinarian.”

Dr. Susan Heitler in Psychology Today cites, “Parental alienation syndrome, a term coined in the 1980s by child psychiatrist Dr. Richard A. Gardner, occurs when one parent attempts to turn the couple’s children against the other parent. A parent who is angry at the spouse or ex-spouse accomplishes this estrangement by painting a negative picture of the other parent via deprecating comments, blame, and false accusations shared with the children. They may also “hoard” the kids, doing all they can to thwart the other parent from spending time with them. In my clinical practice…I have also had multiple families in which Dad is the alienating parent, turning the children against their mother. In general, the alienating parent is the least emotionally healthy of the two; they’re often more wealthy, as well…”

This has not diminished the grief I’ve endured with not having my children and grandchildren in my life, but it has given me some understanding of the cause. Over the past eight years, I’ve spent almost every holiday totally alone, while Charles is celebrating with our children and grandchildren. There have been countless family celebrations when I was not included.  This has  validated to our children and grandchildren I am not as esteemed in their lives as Charles.

When I was on my knees praying for healthy children. I was praying for “our children” that “we” would rear in the love of God. During the divorce, Charles’  attorney requested copies of my personal counselor’s notes. Several counselors noted the times Charles mandated I be excluded from family events and the sorrow I bore. God has given me the tenacity to endure. Recent counselors have remarked on my incredible strength. “But God”!  The mourning over the lack of love and support is tremendous, but God has allowed me to see that He is truly the only one I can count on.” Psalm 136:26 ESV, “Give thanks to the God of heaven, for His steadfast love endures forever.”

 

 

 

Not Cuddly Very Long

While the pastor spoke to the fathers yesterday about the kinds of men, they should be for not only their families, but God, I reflected on our early days as parents. When I was dating my then husband, Charles, I queried him on having children. He replied, “I don’t really care. If you want children that is fine, but I’m happy with or without them.” He didn’t realize years later his very best friend would be his son.

I loved children and prayed earnestly for my own from the time I was a pre-teen, babysitting for countless families. I was caring for children until days before my marriage at age twenty-one. I always knew if God didn’t bless me with my own biological children, I would adopt. Being a mother was utmost to me for I never had a mother in my life. I resided in the same house with her, but I learned years later, my mother brought me home from the hospital, never loving me. When she died at age eighty-nine, I never heard, “I love you.” Because of that,  I desired any children God blessed me with would know for eternity they were loved.

I spent years asking God why He gave me parents that knew only to abuse, but never to love me. During a bible study on the Purpose Drive Life, the words jumped from the page,” the parents we have are the ones God chose for us.” The queries ended. I accepted they didn’t love me and never would. As Dr. Warren, the author of that book noted in his recent sermon I viewed, we have many questions to ask  God when we see Him.  That will be one of my first queries.

Those of us that are parents know adorable, sweet smelling, soft, cuddly, dependent babies are merely months of our children’s lives. Psychologists cite that by age four children begin their life-long independence. I know us parents may all chuckle at this because as soon as our toddlers learn the word, “no”, they begin using that toward us.

As Christian parents we have a responsibility to begin instilling in our children their independence doesn’t negate the dependence upon God. When our pastor shared yesterday, they began reading the bible to their son, the first day they brought him home from the hospital, I cried.  The pastor noted they wanted their son to know about God as soon as he understood.

I thought back to the dozens of times when our children were young that I pleaded with Charles, to bring our family together in God’s love; to show them there are things in life which money and power, can’t purchase or control. Charles found this to be unimportant. When adult children stand at the graveside of their parents and say, “we didn’t have all the “things” in life we wanted, but we always had the love and prayers of our parents, that is a gift.  To me that is far more valuable than leaving millions of dollars to your children. Proverbs 22:6 NKJ, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Not This Time

And by your fruit they shall know you. This week in bible study we were discussing how we can be testimonies to those around us.  My philosophy has always been, “quietly, but in God’s love.” As I have shared in this blog, I’m trying to sell my house. My realtor advocates the seller remaining at home, should a potential buyer have queries. We are asked to sit outdoors, to prevent clients from feeling we are “in their way.” However, it has been a blessing to be available  to answer immediate questions or concerns which may arise.

What a delight it was to recently converse with potential buyers.  They saw my devotion books and bible on a table.  Most individuals  walk in and out of the room, but this couple noticed and it was a joy to chat with them about the Lord. It doesn’t matter one’s age, occupation, ethnicity, status in life, etc. When Christians begin discussing the blessings of the Lord, differences fall away and their common bond of being children of God become paramount.

We don’t have to walk around with signs that say, “I’m a Christian or shout about the Lord.” People know when our lives are examples of Christ’s love.  What a pleasure it was, as their realtor, the buyers and I all stood outside listening to God’s creatures singing, observing the hawks in flight,  the raining falling softly and talking about God; the one that created all the beauty around us.

As the clouds rolled in and the rain descended, I thanked God several times for His gift. It was much needed. I love the rain for it not only nourishes all the life it touches, but it is refreshing to see its’ effects. Hallmark movies love to tout that being cold and soaking wet while walking in the rain is romantic. I have never experienced that aspect of rain, so I will just continue to enjoy its’ “after glow.”

Even though the couple standing with me observing the magnificence isn’t seriously interested in my house, the husband wished me well on selling. He commented that he knows I will sell it quickly. Internally, I was both crying and laughing for “if only”,  he knew it has been for sale for four years, he might not have believed me. I conveyed to the husband that I know God will bring me His buyer, in His time.

I do not know what my future holds, but how grateful I am that I can just turn it over to God. Years ago, as I was reading a devotion, it spoke of our life looking like a maze. We often wander through life wondering where or how it will end. Yet God is looking down from above. He sees, the beginning and end and everything in between. His plan for our lives is clear to Him. I have to remind myself of that often. Even on the days I’m sad, I’m never stressed, for God’s plan is perfect. One of my favorite verses reminds me of His plans: Jeremiah 29:11 NIV, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. “