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Saturday, December 20, 2014

They Just Want a Bow

For those who don't know, I work in the educational realm, assisting students of varying ages and walks of life. An interesting incident happened one Christmas, which confirmed a fascinating phenomenon I first observed years ago. In the spirit of peace on earth and good will toward men, I revisit the story now.

I had received a gift from a grateful teacher, which she had adorned with an attractive but ordinary holiday bow. Taking notice of the decoration, one of my students pleaded with me to give it to her. This particular young lady was something of a challenge, trying the patience of both peers and professionals through negative, attention-seeking behaviors. Thinking quickly, I outlined some behavioral expectations she would have to meet for the duration of class in order to win the desired prize. At the end of the period, having risen to the occasion, she proudly displayed her trinket.

Another student, whose disruptive behaviors belied a mass of insecurity manifesting alternately in tears and bravado, begged for a holiday bauble that he, too, could show off. I had to regretfully tell him I had no other. He assumed his "I don't care" stance and swaggered out into the hall and his holidays.

These happenings took me back almost 10 years ago, when I was assigned to a class of seniors reminiscent of the "sweathogs" of Welcome Back, Kotter fame. Many of these kids were troubled and unruly. One student was perpetually absent, so I struck a deal with him: come to school every day for an entire week, and receive a reward. To my surprised delight, this tattooed, biker-bearded teen met the challenge one week, and looked to me for his winnings. Unprepared, I searched around in my bag of tricks (similar to Mary Poppins' carpetbag, my over-the-shoulder tote houses everything from school supplies to first aid items, and quite a bit in between). I could come up with nothing but a rumpled sheet of stickers of a cartoon character popular with the nursery school crowd. To my utter amazement, this 250-pound truant broke into a Grand Canyon-sized grin. He snatched up the stickers and with them, all the stock I had put in his "tough guy" braggadocio.

Like most kids I've met, this guy just wanted a "bow." Not a Christmas bow, but a token of self-worth. The burly bruiser he passed himself off as gave way to the little boy inside, who needed to be accepted and loved as well as held accountable.

I've been handing out stickers ever since (and silly pencils and eraser tops and whatever odds and ends are hiding in the bottom of my bag). The occasional wiseguy who scoffs at my goodies frequently melts when he sees his peers lapping them up. The gifts are incidental; the value affixed to them is the attraction. The smallest bit of recognition gives an excellent student a well-deserved accolade and an underachiever something to shoot for.

Seems like a no-brainer to me.

For more like this, check out: 

Morsels for Meditation...: Dusty and Chewy, AKA, They Just Want a Bow 2

Sunday, December 14, 2014

I Am Peter Part 2

Taking one's own medicine is not for the fainthearted. It's Christmastime, season of all seasons to forgive and extend mercy, and yours truly has to admit again to having feet of clay. Let me tell you, slogging around in righteous indignation makes for some pretty clumsy steps.

Awhile back I angrily blogged about the lack of forgiveness someone in my world was showing to a repentant sinner who had wronged my children and me. How dare this person, I railed, hold a grudge on my behalf? Yet, here I stand in this season of peace on earth and good will toward men, finding myself in the same mindset for which I castigated others.

Matthew 7, anyone?

This time last year, my Lord offered me the privilege of extending grace to people who had hurt folks I love. They had also snubbed me, but in minor ways that affected my life only peripherally. In all honesty, I've been hurt far worse by much more skilled offenders; yet somehow my rage on this occasion was rancorous. True to form, over the holidays these individuals showed a callousness toward my family, and one member in particular, on whose behalf I seethed. What made their behavior so unconscionable (in my judgment-dispensing eyes) was that these wrongs were perpetrated by fellow believers!

When they entered the room, I quietly fumed to my conversation partners, whose puzzled looks and conciliatory comments contrasted starkly with my wrathful ones. I'm just telling it like it was; no point sugar-coating the ugly truth. I continued to vent in hushed tones to the select few who had the un-looked-for honor of being within hearing range.

Realizing, thanks be to God, that public accusations would only hurt the ones whose case I'd be pleading, I limited my diatribe to the aforementioned bewildered ears. Presently, the culprits greeted me (warmly), and I followed the course I had decided on the moment they set foot in the door: absolute coldness.

I hadn't seen them in years. There should have been much to talk about, but I eschewed polite conversation and instead spoke minimally and superficially. I feigned no interest in their (to my mind) self-absorbed lives. I suspect - no, I'm sure - they noticed, and probably felt hurt. Part of me cares, yet part of me rejoices that I accomplished what I set out to do: wound them the way they wounded the people who matter to me.

Fast forward to today. I'm in much the same mood. Critical, grumpy, un-pleasable (that may not be a word, but I'm breaking lots of rules today). As I sat (make that stewed) in Sunday school this morning, I made a mental checklist of all the sheep who weren't going along with the shepherd's agenda. They were interrupting his train of thought with questions, of all things! Such a recalcitrant flock, I grumbled to myself. A few in particular didn't meet with my approval; I passed judgment, then moved onto the next black sheep to be disapproved of.

In a few hours, I'll be hosting a belated birthday celebration for a dear friend who has miraculously managed to escape the ire I feel for all things breathing today. Between now and dinnertime, the Holy Spirit sure has a lot of work to do.

For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: I Am Peter

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Better Things Part 3, AKA, Juggling

In the immortal words of the Rolling Stones, "I try and I try and I try and I try," but I can't seem to keep all the balls in the air at once.

Take today, for example. I've cleaned the bathroom (and myself). I sorted through clothes to give to Purple Heart. I went through some papers. And I made a phone call, while showering (where would we be without cordless phones? oh, right, we'd be forced to do one thing at a time, like they used to in the good old days). Yet my to-do list remains unbearably long. 

My file cabinets are desperately in need of thinning and reorganizing. I have piles of papers atop said filing cabinets, which don't quite fit into any one category, but must be weeded through, for they're overtaking the room.

There are letters to write and coupons to sort. Oh, and did I mention children to be tended to? Granted, mine are pretty much grown, but they still come to me for advice and guidance (bless 'em, they haven't figured out yet that Mom's fount of wisdom is in dire need of new plumbing).

And let's not forget the holidays are coming. I have groceries to purchase in bulk so I can save a few dollars on a turkey (which nobody may be gobbling, since we're not sure yet who's eating where - guess that bird may have bit the dust for nothing). There are stocking stuffers to acquire and decorations to dust off. And, in the midst of everything, there's the minor issue of home repairs (that chimney isn't gonna clean itself, and the creosote is calling) and bill paying (those creditors don't seem to understand I'm busy). Oh, and dare I forget the minor issue of employers? At times I've been known to bemoan the fact that, "My jobs are really cutting into my free time!"

Despite all this confusion, yesterday I made a radical decision to spend quality time with a friend. I didn't have time for this, mind you, as elections are coming up (for which I am not informed), and I'm behind in my cooking (my son's been dutifully eating tuna fish and leftover chicken for the better part of a week, bless his indiscriminate little palate). Still, I threw caution to the wind and made the time. 

Granted, my friend didn't say much, but was quietly present while we went about rekindling our relationship, which these past few weeks has been somewhat neglected. We pored over a book and basically just chilled together. Although quite familiar with the text, he smiled slyly when something struck me as new that he was already well acquainted with. He seemed content to listen to me read, amused when the thin pages stuck together. He was in no particular hurry, and pretended not to notice my occasional glances at the clock as I contemplated the next things on my packed agenda. In short, my friend seemed not at all disturbed by the fact that I was less than fully present for our rendezvous.

When all was said and done, though, both of us realized the day was richer for the time we had spent together. And he never once made me feel guilty for thinking I had better things to do than hang out with the king of the universe.

For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Life is a Full-time Job

Morsels for Meditation...: Better Things

Morsels for Meditation...: Better Things Part 2, AKA, Puddleglum's Save

Monday, October 13, 2014

Spricket Warfare

This past summer, my son's girlfriend enlisted me to "babysit" for her two bearded dragons while she went on vacation. I grew fond of the little guys (well, we think they're guys, but there's a certain amount of gender-confused behavior which has us referring to the latest arrival as "he/she"). I cleaned up their surprisingly smelly droppings and shuddered while shoveling live worms into their expectant gullets (after removing a tub of said worms from the refrigerator, where they were nestled alphabetically beside wieners and Waldorf salad). I drew the line, though, at tossing live, calcium dusted crickets into their tank so they'd have the thrill of the hunt. If I want to watch nature doing its predatory thing, I'll tune into the Discovery Channel, thank you very much.

Had I known I'd soon be facing an infestation of sprickets, aka, cave crickets, aka, things that make me go "Aaaaaahhhhh!!!!!!!!!!" in the night, I might've saved the worms for a rainy day, parked the lizards in the basement, and let the two species duke it out. Alas, I was not so foresighted, so am left to take on the creepy critters with only the aid of a fly swatter and my 17-year-old son, whose devotion to me does not extend to playing Sir Galahad with eight-legged vermin.

These disgusting creatures have done more than gross me out - they've disrupted my whole schedule on several occasions. Since they make their home in the basement (read, my basement, for which they pay neither rent nor homage), I'm forced to go toe-to-toe with the nasty buggers anytime I seek the extravagance of a clean shirt. I've had varying levels of success in my escapades; yesterday I snagged two with the first swat, but this morning I had to clean up not only a cricket carcass, but also the remains of my breakfast, which had not quite finished digesting. JK. But trust me, it wasn't pretty.

Yesterday I was forced to rudely awaken - literally - a fellow believer, and I suspect my interruption was as unpalatable to this Christian brother as the aforementioned leggy pests have been to me. I could hear the discomfort in his voice. The distastefulness of the matter I brought to his attention. And yet the necessity of acting when one is called upon to act by forces over which one has no control. In short, I had no choice but to enlist the aid of this individual in a spiritual matter, and God left him no choice but to step up.

Oh, he could have said no. He did beg off for an hour or so, during which time I prayed God would equip him with whatever he needed to meet what was clearly a challenge to him. Judging by the call from him after he processed my request, he must have prayed and received guidance that this was, in fact, a mission from God, and not just an unpleasant chore to do on a rainy Saturday morning. The annoyance his voice contained earlier had morphed into softness. The coldness was replaced with warmth. I sensed I was speaking to a man who was stepping far beyond the bounds of his comfort zone into unfamiliar and messy territory - perhaps stirring memories that had buried themselves and didn't appreciate being unearthed.

But wait. It gets better. Later in the day I received another call from this brother. I hadn't expected that, frankly. I figured he would "do his duty" and that would be that. Instead, he wanted to chuckle with me over the fact that, despite his attempts to arrange things according to his own timetable, God had orchestrated events to suit His own purposes (imagine that). This veteran believer, whose knowledge and background in Christ far surpasses mine, seemed happily amazed at the Lord's doings. Like Jonah, who tried so hard to circumvent God's will, he ended up stepping right into it.

So what's the takeaway? I detest dealing with creatures that have the spindly creepiness of an arachnid combined with the high-jumping capability of Charles Austin; that said, I don't get to decide what takes up residence on my basement walls. I can scour websites to find out how to get rid of the nasty things, but in the meantime, I simply have to cope with what is. It's nice to know, though, that I don't have to be bested by something with limbs like bent spaghetti. With fly swatter in tow, I'm gritting my teeth and engaging the enemy.

I think my friend with the unpleasant task found much the same thing. God always equips us for what He asks us to do. Despite our foot-dragging, He also has a knack for getting us to the battlefield right on time.

"You armed me with strength for battle; You humbled my adversaries before me." Psalm 18:39

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Giving Back

Dear Readers,

I must apologize for being off the radar for several months. After attending the conference to which I clumsily pay homage below, I was guided to restructure many facets of my blog. This was a time-consuming but beneficial exercise, and I thank you for your patience. And now, without further ado...

To whom much is given, much is required.

Much was given me this past summer; now much must be given back.

I was privileged - and I do mean privileged - to attend the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference from July 30  through August 2, 2014. Though I'm blown away by the generosity of spirit shown me by writers, editors and agents situated on varying points along the "success continuum" (which I put in quotes because our heavenly father does not impress as easily as this silly world does), I'm absolutely flabbergasted by my Lord's graciousness to this would-be scribing servant.

Marlene Bagnull, the "backbone" of the conference, is as delightful in person as she comes across in cyberspace. Her frequent lapses into public prayer during meetings remind one and all of the real reason she puts together these grueling, growth inspiring seminars. More than once during the program, I said to myself that this was as much a retreat as a "how-to" symposium. Without her "arms" and "legs" - cleverly disguised as behind-the-scenes individuals who do the grunt work of scheduling, registering and weaving loose ends together - she readily admits the whole program would be a disaster. I'm resisting the urge to name-drop any further, because I doubt it would glorify the one who really made this happen. Suffice it to say, there was credit aplenty to share.

On another note, let me state that dollars don't get pried easily from my hands. In my younger days, I would've called myself cheap (which really resulted from a fear I didn't realize I had that I'd better protect what was "mine" or be left with nothing). At this point, I'd say I'm a careful spender and hopefully good steward of the resources with which I've been entrusted. Notwithstanding, I found myself led to part with mammon during the course of the conference. I contributed to missionary collections, for one thing, which supported people whose callings seemed heartfelt and causes, contagious. In addition, I couldn't help but linger at book tables and scoop up a few titles from authors whose hands had shaken mine during the conference. As I articulated to a fellow conferee, it seems reasonable that if I'm going to enter into the writing industry, it makes sense I should invest in it. There was no shortage, by the way, of folks giving their materials and services away for free. It's just that I felt a prompting to return to these selfless scribblers a bit of the bounty they so selflessly showered on me. 

Now it's back to the grunt work of editing and sending manuscripts, as well as taking up my novel, Belabored, where I left off before all this busy-ness began. Belabored is a labor of love, one I believe my heavenly father has commissioned me to write. I covet your prayers as I strive to fulfill the goals He sets for me, and leave off the ones that bring Him no glory.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Aunt Doo-Doo and Uncle Fart-in-the-Wind

There, that got your attention, didn't it? It's a phrase coined by a dear friend of mine, whose world is full of people who could fit those designations. She also once paraphrased the thinking of a fool who was making predictably foolish decisions, thusly: "Poop-a-doo on you [the person who was cautioning him about his folly]! I'm at the edge of this cliff, and I'm gonna jump off just because you tell me not to, and maybe it'll hurt, but not as much as heeding your advice would!"

My friend of the creative nicknames was using them to vent exasperation about the behavior of others over which she had no control. She continues to embrace the Biblical idea of a merry heart being good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). This lovely saint realized a long time ago that laughter is much better for her health than incessant tears (or worse, unremitting anger).

Despite my friend's good example, I'm righteously indignant today, and that pique feels a lot like a thick slab of wood blocking my vision (Matthew 7:3). Sitting in church this morning, I found myself stewing about another believer's choices. I had decided I just couldn't let this individual go unchastened, and so fired off a not-so-nice email before heading out to worship in spirit and in truth. Meanwhile, my own spirit was steeped in criticism, and my truth had been spoken harshly. 

The thing that's bothering me is the same thing that ought to have bothered Young Goodman Brown in Hawthorne's story of the same name. The main character in this classic tale is confronted with the sin, hypocrisy and even apostasy of people he had trusted and worshiped with. Unable to bear their human frailty, he chose rather to separate himself from his his neighbors (and wife), hiding behind a cloak of judgment and disdain till his dying day. The Minister's Black Veil, by the same author, imparts a similar message.

If nothing else, it's tiring to pass judgment, even silently, on those around us. This one didn't acknowledge a gift. That one doesn't visit the sick. Another one took advantage.  On and on and on and on ... 

Our pastor recently shared the enlightening idea that what waits for us in heaven is so out of bounds that everything on earth should pale by comparison. When one knows, our fearless leader suggested, that one's service is for one's magnanimous KING, one need not worry about earthly compensation or fairness. The KING will see to all that later (Hebrews 6:10). 

I've been privileged in my working career to serve under a number of managers for whom no task was beneath them. They would sweep floors, wipe tables, clean bathrooms, all with a smile on their faces. Behind the scenes, they were also responsible for all the headaches that were "above my pay grade." It was truly a joy to work for these individuals, because they appreciated and rewarded their employees, working alongside (as well as above) them, doing the same hard stuff they asked of others.

Come to think of it, I know of another boss who operates just that way. He wasn't satisfied to briefly check out the job site as an "Undercover Boss;" rather, He stepped out of His "office" and spent a lifetime working side by side with His underlings, while at the same time modeling how to do the job right. 

Will I sit on high and pass judgment (which is above my pay grade), or leave that to Higher Management?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Uncommon Courtesy, AKA, Do No Harm

Isn't that what the Hippocratic Oath says? When one can do no appreciable good, mustn't one settle for doing no harm?

I seem to be at just such a crossroads. Once again I find myself at odds with a pair of individuals who cannot or will not be reasoned with. Simultaneously, my church has just finished a series on Romans 12, in which the apostle Paul stresses the need to:

"Hate what is evil; cling to what is good... Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer... Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse... Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. 'On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."(vv. 9-21 excerpts)

While trying to apply this passage to my circumstances, I must confess to feeling frustrated and fed up at this point. It has been going on for quite some time, and no efforts of mine seem to make any difference. If anything, my kindness and cooperation have been met with stony silence alternating with outright rudeness. I can only assume from past experience that further attempts to reconcile will simply make matters worse.

I give up. 
I'm out of ideas - and energy - to try to mend this spite fence. The only course left, it would appear, is to let them live their lives as they will, do nothing to exacerbate the problem, and most especially keep them in my prayers. While I am directed by Scripture to try my best to forgive, it's clear I can't win them over. Only God can do that. 

Courtesy, it seems in this instance, is becoming less common all the time.  

Someone else once knew what it felt like to have generosity go unappreciated and blame cast where there was none. God forbid that self-righteousness be implied by this comparison. On the contrary, He's showing me just how fallible and imperfect I am, especially when it comes to suffering. How amazing that He deems me worth the effort. As my friend and prayer partner mused this morning, I'd rather be a toilet seat in the House of God than crown molding in the house of the enemy!

"Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." Psalm 84:10

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Annoying Body Parts

Yup, you read that right. A silly title, I'll admit, but it gets the point across.

What I'm pondering here is those body parts that, for one reason or another, trouble us. I, for example, have robust thighs (that's a nice way of saying they shake like jello when not confined by a pair of jeans). Also, my eyebrows are too thin, non-existent almost, from years of over-plucking; trying to get them to grow in at this point would require patience and probably Rogaine. These are but a few of the less-than-perfect aspects of my earthly temple (I'm not telling you the rest).

In addition, there is the problem of, well, problem parts. These are the ones that simply don't work as expected. Deviated septum, obstructed bowels, undescended testicles (I hear tell) - these types of conditions upset the body's proper functioning, causing pain and discomfort, not to mention embarrassment!

At times we have to take matters in hand, even seek expert help, when the behavior of one part begins to adversely affect the rest of the body. A broken or injured right foot, for example, could cause us to rely more heavily on the left to compensate. Before long, we notice a new pain as a result of overtaxing the uninjured limb. Wisdom and guidance from skilled practitioners are necessary to protect us from such consequences.

The Body of Christ has annoying parts too. We've all seen them: they may present as grumblers (like gassy stomachs), whiners (like overactive tear glands), manipulators (like itchy fingers). Some are unkempt and even offend the senses. Others fail to behave as propriety dictates due to ignorance or disability. Sometimes we choose to avoid them because they don't fit the mold we envision for our church body.

While a valid argument could be made that not everyone who sits in the pew is an actual believer (which would provide a convenient loophole to justify ignoring distasteful churchgoers), I'm not sure yours truly is qualified to make that judgment. Unless a person is spouting outright heresy or behaving criminally, it's a tall order to try to read the fine print inside another person's heart (believe me, I've tried). That said, it is important not to let needier parts of the body take unfair advantage of the brethren. I don't think we're called upon to wear a "Kick Me" sign or subject ourselves to exploitation. There's a fine line, it seems to me, between befriending and allowing oneself to be used.

I once read an article by a woman who had decided to view her unsightly thighs (now you know why this piece spoke to me) in the same way she would view maiden aunts who were a bit unfashionable. She said henceforth she would treat them with affection and care, and even show them off in public, rather than continue hiding them away out of embarrassment. This concept blends well with Paul's description of how we are to behave towards less attractive members of the church body:

"Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. 
And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 
while our presentable parts need no special treatment. 
But God has put the body together, 
giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it."
1 Corinthians 12:22-24

One last thought: if I ever make the time, I hope to write a book or short story about a diverse group of Christians caught in a life and death situation (TBD). The background of the piece would emphasize the differences in personalities and opinions that create ripples in their corporate relationship. Ultimately they would realize that only through interdependence on each other's respective gifts and abilities could they hope to escape their dire situation. This idea has arisen from years of observing and interacting with believers whose temperaments frankly irritated me. I'm ashamed to admit that I've struggled with being somewhat intolerant of my brothers and sisters whose makeup tends towards coolness or lack of emotion (being wired with intense feelings myself). I labeled their temperaments underwhelmed at best and uncaring at worst. It took me years to realize that these believers are made in the image of God just as I am, but their particular style of ministry reflects His analytical and discernment skills, while mine more closely resembles His emotive side. Both sets of qualities are essential for a healthy church. For example, those who find it awkward to visit the sick may be better suited to objectively sort out a sticky situation of church discipline. Bottom line: neither can thrive without the other.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Outward Ripples

I'm sure this isn't original (in fact I know it isn't), but thought I'd pass it on anyway. I'm always trying to keep up with prayer requests and remember everyone and everything on my mental prayer list. It's a losing battle.

Today I heard someone with wisdom say, if you're inclined to pray and don't know how to begin, why not just say something like, "Lord, You know what's in my heart. Please accept it."

That "recipe" works in a pinch, but I think the following idea covers more territory: pray first for your own family and friends (and self, of course); then expand outward to include your church family and leadership (past, present and future), and those of your friends; then go national, asking God to handle everything on the domestic front and those who run the show in the government; finally, ask Him to embrace the international community, including persecuted believers and anyone in harm's way.

I did this today and it made so much sense and took so little time. The Lord knows our minds have limitations (some of us more than others!), and He's already working on the items we forget or that have gotten lost in the cobwebs of our tired brains. Moreover, He's awake 24/7. I once heard a weary traveler comment, "Knowing He's awake allows me to go to sleep; at least Somebody's doing something!"

He really is an awesome God.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Complete the Work!

"And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have." 
2 Corinthians 8:10-12

I came across this passage recently as I was preparing for an upcoming writers' conference. Paul's words spoke to me when I first read them, and they're speaking to me now. I've made a lot of progress in getting ready for the event and could even say I'm at a stopping point, if I want to be. However, since I still have over a week, why not use the time to the maximum so as to have the widest net to cast, so to speak? 

There was a time in my life when I was governed by procrastination and fear. Those time-wasting devils haven't left my life completely (as evidenced by the video-fest I allowed myself last night when I could've been doing x number of more important things), but by the grace of God, they are far less prominent than they once were. I've learned that tomorrow is a nebulous, unpromised concept that may or may not a) happen or b) be available for things I ought to have done today. So now I to try to hit the ground running as soon as the final bell rings for school "vacations" and the like. I put that word in quotes because for years my definition of vacation was simply the absence of schedule and structure - in short, an excuse to fritter away time and God-given talent. 

There is certainly a need to turn off one's mind and leave off responsibilities occasionally. My problem was (and might be again, unless I take care), every bit of down time became the occasion. I'm reminded of a funny story my father once told. Upon voicing concern to his only living brother about his continuing to smoke despite serious health concerns, my uncle replied that he only smoked occasionally. Dad retorted that he smoked every time they were together, to which Uncle Irv quipped, "That's the occasion!"

My prayer continues to be that God would show me the schedule and priorities for each day, regardless of whether every moment is predetermined by outside forces, or if long stretches of time present themselves. I desire to not only begin projects He guides me to, but also to work diligently and steadfastly unto completion.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Falling in Love with the Salesman

Readers: I'm adding an addendum to this piece, which was first posted July 7, 2014: It occurs to me that, in addition to refraining from grumbling among ourselves about unworthy "salesmen," it is wise and right to steep their families in prayer. The former activity may tear down already suffering innocents who are having enough trouble as it is.

"I can't afford to fall in love with the salesman."

That's what my former husband used to say when we were negotiating over cars. I must admit, we had a pretty good system going. He knew all the facts and Blue Book values of the vehicles we were interested in; I knew our bottom line. At times we would resort to good cop, bad cop, and that helped as well. We didn't always wind up with a car, but we didn't get shaken down, either.

Yesterday I happened upon an old news item about some believers who had inspired and influenced me in my teen years. There were allegations on both sides of falling from grace, and questions as to whether grace had ever been part of the picture to begin with. This one was taking that one to court, or thinking about it. Suggestions of infidelity were rampant. The more I read, the more sickened and depressed I became. I felt like a tube of toothpaste must feel when being squeezed at both ends; nowhere to go, and muck spilling out every which way. 

I was mercifully interrupted from my self-appointed "research" (if I had been craning my neck at the scene of an accident, it would've been called gaper delay; was this maybe "gapeism" of a different sort?). Realizing my interest was becoming unhealthy, I chose to lay the matter aside and let God sort it out.

I don't know what I'd do if I were being slandered. Would I remain silent and let the allegations go unchallenged so as not to stir the pot, or feel compelled to pronounce my guiltlessness to whomever would listen? It's an interesting question. Sometimes facts can be produced to corroborate one's story, and other times it's just our word against someone else's. There was some of both in this scandal. As so often happens in such situations, though, after a while the water became so murky there was no telling who had slung what mud - but sure enough, everyone looked pretty filthy.

The whole rancid affair brought me back to that dictum Mike coined about not falling in love with the salesman. What he meant, of course, was that he was interested in the product and not a sly sales pitch. It struck me that the reason I was so upset by this mess was because I had previously put so much stock in these believers and the faith they claimed to espouse (which is not to pronounce judgment on the players in this case because, as I said, I'm not going to delve any further into this quicksand of mistruths and misperceptions). If I've learned anything from 40 plus years as a Christian, it ought to be that Christ alone is infallible. His children are just that - children. Despite the fact that we're called to seek maturity in the Christian walk, we all know children screw up, lie, behave selfishly, and err in judgment. The bottom line, though, is no matter how breathtakingly a representative may package the gospel, the message alone, not the presenter, is entitled to our confidence.

Seems like Mike nailed that a long time ago. 

Furthermore, even if one of "God's own" opts to defect, I DON'T HAVE TO. Principles very often turn out to be bigger and purer than the bearer of them.

Unless, of course, the bearer happens to prove Himself incontrovertible by doing something like, oh, say, rising from the dead.

For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Digging Deep


I'm a speck in the face of eternity, and at the same time, I hold infinite value.

I'm having loads of trouble preparing for a writers' conference at the end of this month. This is the first such venue I've joined, and it has me biting my nails. 

Like most things in my life, I'm trying to give it my best. In school, I always went for the A. At work, I strive for exemplary evaluations. In this case, I'm literally driving myself crazy trying to create the perfect book proposal. My anxiety is compounded by the fact that there are scads of information on the conference website as to how to "do it right" and the web at large is crawling with paths to literary success. 


I sip from my Louisa May Alcott mug (purchased for me by my son and sister at the author's home in Concord, Massachusetts) to give me inspiration. She was the first writer whose work spoke to me, and I've read countless biographies detailing her impoverished roots and slow rise to fame. I don't think I'm looking for fame, I tell myself, but I do have an important message and an able pen, both gifts from God, and both needing an audience. I compare my "resume" with the conference coordinator's sample, and laugh at the vastness of difference between our accomplishments. She's written six books and contributed to over 100 periodicals; I've had exactly three articles published, and that's counting one for an Al Anon newsletter. Not exactly a publisher's dream.

So I turn my attention to Anne Frank and Corrie ten Boom, both unlikely authors whose works were born out of bitter experience. The former didn't live to see her diary in print, and surely never imagined millions would read and relate to her adolescent scribblings. She did, however, have the temerity to assert that she wanted to go on living even after her death. The latter appealed to a postwar generation looking for redemptive value in an arguably Godless period of human history. Can my story find its market, as theirs did, despite the madness of modern day publishing?

I cringe at the word "marketing." It sounds like just what it is: commercialism. Publishing is an industry, and industries live or die based on sales. Like J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee (dare I place myself in such distinguished company?), I prefer a low profile, but privacy doesn't bring in revenue. So I reluctantly promise to shamelessly promote my books, even to the extent of turning cartwheels in Times Square. Will my other responsibilities allow me to keep such a commitment, assuming I muster the nerve to follow through?

Which brings me to my original point. This is not about me, any more than it was about Frank or ten Boom. This is about a message, a dispatch. Neither of the books I'm peddling (there's that concept again) came out of my head; I'm just not that clever. Both arrived unbidden, in the midst of my daily grind, and more or less constipated my brain till they were - ahem - released. Am I brazen enough to suppose the God of the universe desires to use my voice to convey one or two of His thoughts? 

Why not? He used Moses' staff and Peter's boat . Why not my keyboard? I may be made of dust, but the One who made me is formed from the stuff of eternity. If, as the Bible attests, the Holy Spirit resides in this flawed body of mine, doesn't that impart to said body a derived pricelessness?

So, like I said, I may be a speck, but this speck has an essential purpose. What foolishness to allow comparisons and obstacles to overshadow the work the Almighty has called me to do.

I think He can handle a little thing like a writers' conference.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Exhausted, Yet Wide Awake

That's what my sisters and I were this morning. The reason for this paradoxical condition? Pastor Allen Miller. More specifically, Roz, Jane and I were privileged to sit under this man's teaching at Community Church of Oak Orchard in Millsboro, Delaware this morning, after a late night communing with sons, nephews and girlfriends. Our behavior may have been somewhat irresponsible, given the fact that we all realize Saturday night leads into Sunday morning, and that late night revelry often precludes early rising. Perhaps, though, we can beg a reprieve based on the fact that this was a unique situation of family reunion which will not likely recur anytime soon. Be that as it may, we all awoke sleepy and hankering for more shuteye. 

Roz cast aside her fatigue to run an errand, and Jane and I had just finished bemoaning the fact that church was probably not going to happen today. Just then, Roz called from the road offering to pick us up for worship. Since we were both dressed (if not rested), we eagerly agreed. Within 15 minutes we were sitting in the pew having our spirits nourished by a man whose walk with God is both practical and palpable. 

First, Pastor Miller led his flock in memorizing a Bible verse which was projected up on the screen behind him. Simultaneously, he challenged brave retainers of last week's memory verse to recite it for the congregation. He then proceeded to pass around a clipboard on which members and visitors alike could record prayer requests. During the course of his sermon, several little voices were heard from, to which this man of God lovingly responded in the tradition of Matthew 19:14. He interrupted his preaching just long enough to encourage two struggling parents to walk their restless child around if need be, rather than trying to make her sit still, while underscoring that their little girl was "welcome" because the church, like its master, loves children. 

In his message, Pastor Miller drew from Larry Wilson's article entitled Why Does the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Baptize Infants?, as well as his own analysis of the issue, to justify his sprinkling of a tiny tot in the morning service. His delivery was conversational rather than didactic, which kept my sisters and I nodding in understanding rather than nodding off. The only time any of our collective eyes closed was to blink, then quickly return to his heartfelt teaching.

We gave ourselves a gift by bringing our tired bodies into the house of the Lord today. He gave us a gift by setting His man in the pulpit, and allowing him to revive our drowsy spirits.