So Great To Be So Small

 I placed the items in the Christmas shoebox.  It has been several years since I filled a box for a needy child; a child that will be thrilled with the necessities of personal hygiene and perhaps a few tiny toys or clothes, stuffed into a small box. I thought of my own children and grandchildren when they were young and the gifts they received. Often times they had so many gifts from relatives there was barely enough space in their car to transport all their gifts home.

I wondered about this little boy age two to four, the recipient of my gift(s). I would like to fill a huge box with large toys and lots of clothes, but they will receive one tiny box. I shopped carefully thinking about what would delight such a child. How could a toothbrush, soap or bandages possibly be exciting for any child? I tried to picture this little angel, wondering if he will receive anything for Christmas? Perhaps at his young age, his thoughts of survival are more important than whether or not he will receive a package for Christmas.

 What if this precious child has never had a toothbrush? What if this child has never had a new shirt or socks? Then the tears flowed, as I thought of this precious life that didn’t ask to come into the world and certainly didn’t ask to be born into a world of poverty?

I used to tell my children often that “if not for God”, they too could have been born poor, handicapped, to parents that were abusive or unloving or countless other situations, “but God.” If not for God’s love none of us would be reading this blog today. My daughter and her children packed shoeboxes for children for many years, allowing her children to select items which they would like if they were the recipients. The churches packing these boxes are given supply lists for each age of child. As I shared with another person also purchasing items for her child, it’s so difficult to purchase only items which will fit into one small box.

Unfortunately, my concern is like that of many parents and grandparents in our culture of “wants and desires.” We desire to fulfill the wishes for the children we love.  I had to realize that if the recipient of this box has basically nothing in his little life, anything he receives will be a blessing. Having worked with the homeless, both in my career and also as a volunteer, I have to realize that often times the smallest of gifts can be cherished as “pure gold” by these recipients.

More valuable than the minuscule gifts in the box, is the love the Christian staff gives these children and their families when these boxes are delivered. We all know at Christmas we truly celebrate the greatest gift ever received with the birth of our Lord Jesus.  The shoeboxes are one small token to these children of the love Jesus has for all of us. Romans 6:23 NKJ “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It Just Doesn’t Matter

For the past months in numerous devotions, the subject was waiting.  “Waiting” has been prevalent during Covid-19.  However, many of the devotions I’ve read were in books printed several years ago. It validates this topic is infinite. No matter our age, locale or status in life, we did, are now or will be waiting for someone or something in our lives.

As Christians we know there are times in our life when the waiting seems to be an eternity. To a young child a few minutes is “an eternity”. To the teen and young adult waiting to graduate from high school or college may seem “an eternity.” As adults our “eternity” can be days, weeks or months as we await our circumstances to change. What happens when the waiting turns into years? What is God telling us? Most of all, what do we do while we are waiting? Do we use this time to see what God is doing with us?

I have shared previously that as I’ve sat in prayer with one of our church staff pastors he queried, “but Jane, would you have been as close to God as you are now? I say without hesitation, “no.” During God’s waiting, He has given me opportunities and experiences I would never have had.  I’ve met individuals I would never have met.

The greatest joy over these last years of “waiting” has been the long, quiet and countless hours that it is only me and God; no angry voices, no confrontations, no distractions.  Such situations can be productive when presented in the right way, but when alone with God, He removes all of these to focus on Him.

 During God’s “waiting”, I have realized, what is done for God is the only thing which will endure. This topic was discussed again this week with women from one of my bible studies, when one of them said, “it just doesn’t matter. Life is short.”

Chuck Swindoll’s words reminded me our waiting which may seem like an eternity is merely seconds compared to our eternal life with God. “Rearing children. We hope…we wait. Standing alone. We hope…we wait. Life presses in, we get discouraged, we come close to quitting. In it all, we hope and wait for the promise of God. That He will be faithful. That He will deliver us and provide. In what or in whom is your hope? Are you waiting on life to change or are you learning to wait on Him?…Be still. Read and pray. He will stand by your side when you feel most alone. Wait…and hope.”

Today, I attended my Christian writer’s meeting which has recently resumed following Covid-19. Whereas, we previously had a room full of attendees, we were now small in number, but what a blessing to hear of how God has used all of us even though we were “waiting.” NKJ Isaiah 40:31 “But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”

Have We Been Blocked?

As I recently opened one of my social media pages, I was taken aback that over 1,500 people had replied to the opportunity to post their prayers for a Christian ministry to join them in prayer.  I was again reminded of the depths of despair people around the world are enduring.

James Banks states, “God moves through our prayers to accomplish great good in the lives of his people. One of the best ways to love others is to pray for them, because through our prayers we open the door to the help only God can provide.”

From the time I was a young girl, I understood my conversations with God were some of the most important of my life. Reared in a poor home to extremely abusive parents, my weekly attendance in Sunday School taught me Jesus would always hear what I had to say. I was in awe of this for I frequently desired to “talk to” my parents, but conversations were not a part of our family life. Innocent queries were almost answered with a beating. I knew God heard all my prayers, short or long, silly or serious.

Recently, there were some serious health concerns with family members. I reached out to fifteen persons whom I believed would join me in praying for these sincere needs. Three were other family members and the remaining twelve were some of the church staff or fellow church and bible study members. Not one person acknowledged my plea to join me in prayer.

Over the years, hundreds of times I’ve been asked to pray for another. Often, I would jot down the name and request and add that person to my daily prayer list. Chuck Swindoll shares, “talking to the apostles…I think they’d emphasize an oft-spoken discipline-but one rarely deployed in our lives: praying for others.”

Chuck also says, “Prayer is one of the deepest subjects we can study. We’ve heard it said that we never stand taller than when we kneel before God. But what actually happens when we offer our prayers and petitions to God?” Do we ever feel as though He has “blocked us” from His prayer list?

Sometimes we pray so long, so earnestly and so diligently that we have become weary from praying. I have serious situations in my life which I prayed over forty-four years and God said, “no.” Another, I’ve been praying for over two and a half years and God has said no. Other serious prayers are twenty six years, one eight years and another almost six.  I’m still waiting. I have to accept His ultimate answer may be “no”, but when it comes to talking to God, unlike people that walk away from us and choose not to hear us, God never gives up. He hears every word. I love Max Lucado’s words on prayer, “prayer is the hand of faith on the door handle of your heart.”

When talking to God, patience has to be one of our strongest virtues. Psalm 27:14 NKJ, “Wait on the Lord, Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart…”

Created For Us

Garbage in, garbage out! What we eat, drink, think, read, watch and surround ourselves with often reflects the person we are. With the current events of our lives and the world, it is difficult to always have positive output, but it is possible.

For several years, I never went to bed without watching some, if not all of the national news.  As it became saturated with only politics and Covid-19, I now seldom watch the news. I happened to turn the news on last week when I learned of a tragedy which had touched the hearts and lives of a local family. I not only stopped and prayed for the family, but asked prayer for them on Facebook.

Oh Facebook! That is a story in and unto itself, isn’t it? For years I had no interest or desire to be on Facebook.  Then like millions of others, I succumbed to being “one of the mass.” As with the news, Facebook can be uplifting or discouraging. It’s the posts we choose to read which allow our feedback to be productive or detrimental.

Like all of you readers, I have my morning routine. Before I begin my day,  I prefer to have my quiet time with the Lord; reading my devotions and bible and THEN it is time for “the latest.” What’s happening on Facebook? Most days I have no comments or inquiries directed to me, so I quickly scan the “home page”, those events or posts which are public for all to read.

Today was a joy! What a change, what a blessing from the on-going political arguments and negative posts! The first enlightening narrative I read was from the perspective of a veterinarian to his or her patient and their family. For those families whom are privileged to remain in one community for the duration of their pet’s life, their “fur baby Doc” is akin to a family physician. The commentary I read today was written as though the veternarian knew that “fur baby” from birth through death.

“Doc” spoke of the family brining the bundle of joy into the clinic for the initial examination. Like human babies, those little ones need their vaccines. Throughout their lives, “fur babies” may have injuries or “ouchies” while “Doc” will be there to intercede in the healing.  “Doc” will laugh and cry with the family as their little one grows, matures and ages. Like humans, the aged “fur babies” also have ailments and conditions which make life more challenging.

The ultimate sorrow for not only the family, but the veternarian is the loss of that precious “baby.” As “Doc” noted, often these little angels from God have been with us for fifteen years or longer. As the author noted, when the grieving and crying families leave the room, how often the “Doc” sobs over the life of that precious pet.

I know God created these angels to make our lives richer, but how very sorrowful we all are when we must bid them good-bye. What I had to tell myself over the loss of my precious fur babies is that they enriched my life while here and I was also able to do likewise for them. Ecclesiastes 3:2 NKJ, “ a time to be born, and a time to die…”

In memory of my fur babies: Mo, a feline that took up residence on our deck, while my children were young and remained with us for over eighteen years, Indy, my beautiful Sheltie, a Christmas gift from my then husband, Charles. Indy blessed my life for over fourteen years. My last “fur baby angel”, also a Christmas gift from Charles, Boomer, a Bichon Frise. Boomer was a certified therapy dog for almost the duration of his life. He was a Therapy Dog International at age one and we spent the remainder of his life bringing joy and smiles to others, until Boomer became ill and passed away at age ten. His time with me was far too short, but the joy he brought me and others was a blessing beyond description. I thank God often for the memories and blessings I had with those beautiful “fur babies.”

I Wasn’t Expecting You

It whispers, so softly we sometimes don’t hear it and we may not see it. Then it hums and we know it has arrived and we see its’ beauty.  It sings loudly to make its presence known and often brings a friend. Most often when it arrives, we welcome it, waiting weeks or perhaps months for the visit.

We may have felt its’ soft kisses on our hair and cheeks when we didn’t anticipate it, or at other times we tried to flee our friend before its’ arrival.  We may have willingly allowed it to fall upon us. Occasionally, we pray our friend will leave for it has lingered too long and its’ presence is bringing our world around us harm.

We may not have had our home ready or “baked the cake to greet it, but we are joyful to see our friend; rain.  Often rain holds hands with thunder, and it is more magnificent as together they proclaim God’s glory.  When the skies are dark, often our hearts are bright, for we have awaited rain’s arrival. Perhaps the summer has been hot and dry. What a magnificent day for its arrival, the first day of September, a reminder that a new season is ahead.

I chuckled when someone was sharing their child doesn’t  wash their car. They allow the rain to do the work. When it is going to rain, the car is driven to the “perfect spot” to have the job accomplished. I love rain for it reminds me of my own life.  When rain comes, it may wash away some of the dirt and debris from our lives, so we can be refreshed.

There are barren and scorching times of life when a cool rain rejuvenates us. No matter how often we water our plants and lawn, they are never as nourished as when God brings us steady, lingering rain. It is more encompassing. God’s rain includes all in its path.

Occasionally some may plead with God to end the rain. It has lingered too long and is causing destruction to the very life it is touching. Living among wheat farms for several years, I understood the devastation and destruction of too much rain. As with the flowers and plants we grow, with too much water,  they will rot and “fall away”, but God is controlling the flow.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could set the rain as we do our timed sprinkling systems? We choose the day, time and duration. Yet this is not God’s plan for our lives. Before the cool months are here, there will be more days of heat and if the rain chooses to delay its’ visit again, it will be dry. We always know it will return, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes with a loud song, hand in hand with thunder, but always in God’s time and remaining as long as God desires. Joel 2:23 NIV, “Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for He has given you the autumn rains because He is faithful…”

Jammies If I Choose

As you have been quarantined with family or perhaps “sheltering in place” alone, was this a time of productivity? Perhaps you caught up on stacks of “must do’s” or even many of those “wanna do’s.”

I’m sure there was much “jammie and lazy bones” time. I recently told someone I needed to resume a routine because even though I was constructive throughout the day, I found my hours and days blending together. It was delightful not awakening to an alarm, but I also realized how mundane my life would be if I didn’t have a regimen. Now as our lives resume to normalcy what did we learn?

Did we lay aside those times with friends and family of trivial disagreements? For persons totally alone, as am I, I don’t have incongruities.  Nonetheless, I came to appreciate each and every time I’m able to walk to my garage, sit in the seat of my car and pull from my drive to go wherever I choose. Since I spent my life in health care, I was always cognizant of my freedoms, opportunities and abilities, as I cared for many persons whom were much younger than I, living their lives in total immobility, illness or severe handicaps.

I know each has been blessed by stories we’ve read or heard of strangers reaching out to others. As we listened to the interviews of healthcare workers on the front line, working long and fatiguing hours in order to serve those in need, we may have felt incredible appreciation toward them. However, we also realized we could not overlook those not being interviewed; isolated while caring for terminally or critically ill loved ones, caregivers of handicapped children or loved ones with Alzheimer’s. They could not call for someone to come by and relieve them, for all were in quarantine.

As we resume our lives, will we recall those days we traipsed from store to store seeking toilet paper, yearned for a time to sit in our favorite coffee shop chatting with friends, or longed to have a family celebration in our favorite restaurant? During this time, I also prayed for those families losing loved ones, unable to provide an avenue to honor them. Memorial and funeral services were postponed to enable “greater than ten” to gather and remember.

I trust that as I return to my “normal” that I don’t fail to speak to another when passing by, or that I fail to offer assistance to anyone I’m aware of  that has a need or that I fail to offer gratitude daily for those things I take for granted.

I will enjoy jammies and “being lazy days”, if I choose. Yet how grateful I will be that it is a choice rather than because I’m prevented from leaving my house. I trust each of us have memories which imprint us for the remainder of our lives. Psalm 9:1 NKJ, “ I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart…”

 

 

 

 

 

Next Year or Now?

Are we going to be the “next year” people of the dust bowl or the “here now” people? We are in a situation now; one which will imprint each of us. There are many loses, but through a time of tragedy and sorrow there are also rays of “sonshine.”

As I watched Ken Burns’ documentary on the dust bowl, I was astounded that so many could be optimistic in the throes of such devastation; loss of income, homes and lives. Their food was gone. Their children and family were dying from dust pneumonia; dust filled their nostrils and lungs causing mud and suffocation; some dying within minutes or hours.  If their homes were not destroyed or foreclosed, the home values depreciated by 90%. They had no financial means to move. They remained with the determination and confidence of better days ahead.

As the calamity progressed, Black Sunday in April 1935 affected persons throughout the continental US. 12 million pounds of dust from the great plains blew across the country, even some descending upon the President’s desk in the white house. Opinions and ideas were sent from across the country on methods of stopping this catastrophe.  Suggestions of covering the 100 million acres of the great plains with concrete or asphalt were only a couple of dozens of such irrational suggestions.

How did the survivors of the dust bowl maintain their positive outlook when their livestock was buried alive or when only the roofs of their homes were visible under colossal mounds of dirt?  If the cattle didn’t die from asphyxiation of the dust, the starving cattle were herded into massive trenches and killed as a mandate by federal and state governments. Interviewed survivors from this trauma touted of pleading to retain the younger and healthier cattle, but it was refused. All were killed. Even if farmers had a single cow for milk for their families, they would kill newborn calves to conserve the mother’s milk for their own families.

Yet, in the midst of calamity, rabbits survived. I found that to be somewhat humorous, but it wasn’t. For the thousands of rabbits were obliterating everything in their path, including fence posts. I pondered the reality of such adversities. The tenacious farmers and their families endured destruction of their livestock, homes and family members, only to be further assailed by rabbits.

Do we ever have times in our lives when we feel we have been defeated by rabbits? We feel we have lost everything and as we are trying to recover, the rabbits arrive.  For the “next year” generation, hope kept them going. Hope was also their disappointment. Year after year they hoped and year upon year nothing changed.

“But then”….it did change. For those that survived and hoped, the winds blew, but without the dust. The skies were blue and not black from dust. The land beneath their feet once again produced food for their families and livestock. Homes were rebuilt and families restored.

Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV, “the Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

He Is Not Here

Dear Readers, I had planned on concluding the chronicle of the Dust Bowl. However, because this is Easter Sunday, reflections of this special day are more appropriate. Each of us has special memories of the day; purchasing or making those special Easter outfits, planning and preparing Easter dinner and of course the piece de resistance; the colorful, surprise filled eggs and chocolate goodies cascading from the exquisite baskets.

My warmest memories are when my then husband and I had the least amount of income. For it was during those early Easter celebrations hours of time, preparation and love were spent in decorating, sewing and baking.  How I loved making dresses with ruffles, bows and lace for our little Easter Princess. Hats and Easter coats were also a “must” for the ensemble. As with Prince George, our little prince was attired in the latest trend; tailored short pants and handsome shirts.

Some of those Easter fashions were complimented with fragrant corsages from “Daddy Easter Bunny.”  Before dashing out the door, I donned my “Easter Bonnet” to complete my outfit.  The attire of the 1970’s is satire today, but we were the “picture perfect” family for those early Easters.

Not only did homemade cakes adorn our table, but friends and neighbors engaged me to make their floral and bunny embellished cakes. The children’s baskets were never complete without handmade chocolates and assorted goodies. Love was sewn into each stitch of fabric and added to every ingredient of the cakes and basket goodies.

Nonetheless, with all the groundwork to make the day perfect, it was not about the frocks, meal, colored eggs or baskets, but the celebration of the day; the resurrection of our Lord and Savior.  As we currently view our church services in the comfort of our homes, the Easters of today and yesteryear have the same message.  Max Lucado noted, “Easter cannot be canceled. The church doors might be closed, but the promise is alive and well. It was Sunday morning after the Friday execution. Jesus’ final breath had sucked the air out of the universe.”

Today our Lord has risen. Pastors throughout the world are proclaiming the Easter message with their own personal reflections. Our pastor shared that our lives are now free; free to enjoy happiness and joy which comes only from the “empty tomb.” He also shared we should never “forget in the dark what Jesus showed you in the light.”

This includes the freedom from the brokenness of our lives. Many of us have endured broken promises, broken vows, broken marriages and broken families. Yet with the “empty tomb” we have a hope and promise that the sorrows of this brokenness will give us the freedom for a restoration of our lives.

Matthew 28:6 NKJ “He is not here, for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plentiful Soil or Dust?

For those that have resided in Oklahoma, you understand the lyrics of the song are accurate, “where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain, And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet, When the wind comes right behind the rain. OOOOk-lahoma, Ev’ry night my honey lamb and I, Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk makin’ lazy circles in the sky.”

During my years of early marriage, we spent approximately five years in Enid, OK, surrounded by ranches and wheat farms. How greatly I enjoyed watching the wheat flourish as the beautiful, golden, stalks waved and glistened before the harvest. The wheat harvest was not beneficial for our asthmatic son whom endured the symptoms during his infancy and pre-school years. Nonetheless, I recall it as a vivid and picturesque memory.

Oklahoma doesn’t possess the same beauty as the states with mountains, rivers, streams and tall majestic trees, but how I cherish the splendor and magnificence of the wide-open spaces as the brilliant sun sets upon those plains. Recently, I viewed Ken Burns, documentary on the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. As Ken noted, “this was one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of our country.”

Have you heard of the “next year” people? They are the optimistic people from the dark and incomprehensible days of the Dust Bowl which developed in the lower portion of the great plains.  When the “next year people” realized their current year was a “miss” with their crops and finances they said “there is always next year.”

The dirt below each of us is land, soil, dirt or dust depending upon its’ form. For them, their land; the soil which had provided their food and financial security became something to be despised; the soil became dirt and dust which decimated everything in its’ path.

As I viewed this poignant documentary, I thought of our current situation causing life altering changes. While many of us are now wearing masks as we go outside our homes, the people of the dust bowl wore masks or wet towels over their heads and faces day and night inside their homes, as well as outdoors.

It is beyond comprehension, that in addition to the hardship of the dust bowl, the country was experiencing the great depression. Tearfully, these survivors shared of the nightmares they all experienced during one of the gloomiest eras of our US history. People were contracting dust pneumonia as rapidly as the virus which is now spreading throughout our country and the world.

As the dust filled the nostrils and lungs of animals and mankind, it became mud, suffocating those it affected, causing countless fatalities.  Crops and livestock were annihilated as cattle died where they stood, unable to breathe. Crops were suffocated, buried under tons of dirt mounds.

Can we realize that even during these times of tremendous adversities, God is with us?  NIV, Job 1:21, “…The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

What Is Your Impression?

I will occasionally deviate from the journey of my life and the gifts of God’s love to share topics which may be an encouragement and/or inspiration to you; my readers.  Don McMinn shared a subject, which I also have strong opinions about; the last and enduring impression. As Don mentions and we all know, making a good first impression is important, but isn’t it often the last impression which remains with you?

I think of my own personal experiences and sometimes there is great joy, while at other times the last image or impression was one which leaves me with great sadness. Have you taken a trip where the last memory of the trip was a departure dinner or gala? As Don mentioned in his blog, it isn’t always about the weather or the “oops” moments on the trip, but the last event before people shared their hugs and good-byes.

What about the service person that enters your home? Do you offer a “thank you” as they depart?  How about offering them a bottle of water to continue on their journey? I’ve always desired to be the customer they recall that was kind to them.

My daughter and I went on a trip last year; our first together and one which has lingered in my heart and mind for these past nine months. Our last evening together was in Canada and I both cry and smile when I think of some of her departing words to me, “Mom, the smile has never left your face.” She is right. If I had died that night, I trust my smile and the love I have for her is what she would have remembered.

When I last saw my mother, the sadness still fills me with tears.  As I held her tiny, frail face in my hands, I told her I loved her and I would see her again. I told my mother often in her life that I loved her; always hoping to hear her words of love for me. It never happened.

I don’t know if my mother did love me, for she refused to articulate those words.  Yet, as I bid her farewell with a promise to see her the following month, that moment would be our last.  Days before her 89th birthday, God called her home. My last image was that of my mother with stage 4 colon cancer, telling her I loved her and yearning to hear the same.

There are many sentiments I tried to instill in my children, but one which I spoke over and over is that we can “never travel this way again” and “what if”, that moment with someone was your last? The impression you leave may be a gift or an offense.  Don McMinn states, “think carefully about how you end all relational encounters…A well-orchestrated ending can make a significant difference.”

Do you want your last encounter with someone to be one they cherish or a memory which causes them to be sorrowful?

Luke 6:31 NIV, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”