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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Thea, Thea

“Are You kidding me, Lord?”

The words form in my head before I can edit them. Even in the midst of holiday hoopla, I know I’m conversing with omnipotence; there’s a certain decorum to such encounters. I smile, realizing I'm also communing with omniscienceWhy sweat it? 

This is, after all, Christmas Eve, and I know the Almighty realizes it's a hugely busy day for those He came to die for.

I’ve already obeyed Him several times this morning. I woke early, then spent quality time with Him and a few dear friends He laid on my heart. Isn't it about time to get to my chores?

“No, you heard me right, Thea,” He whispers back. “You can choose to ignore Me … but is that really how you want to commemorate My birth?”

I reluctantly seat myself at the keyboard, shooing away fragments of to do lists that are cluttering my brain. The food and presents will have to wait.

The reason I must sit down and write is because the message He’s giving me really concerns all the mania of this time of year. I’ve been mentally checked out most of the week at work (I’ve come to refer to this phenomenon as “Christmas brain”). Task piles upon task as I strive to “get Christmas right,” and I almost resent having to show up at the place that not only represents my livelihood, but also a strong sense of purpose for my existence.

More thoughts arrive unbidden.

“You’ve got another hour, Lord. Then Elise and Aaron arrive, then her father, and he's never been to the house before, and the bathroom's not clean yet, and then we go to Anita’s, and then … “


I had a divine encounter at the super market yesterday. I met up with my son and daughter-in-law to grab the cholesterol and sugar, er, ingredients, needed for today’s festivities. It was the most peace I’ve had all week. Despite the crowds and shortage of parking (we had three vehicles between us), my heart surged with joy to be sharing such madness with two of the dearest people on earth to me. We divvied up the list and finished in short order. I told them I enjoyed every moment of our trip, and I meant it.

I’m ashamed to admit, though, one thing marred my happiness. While scrambling to hunt down my share of the goodies, I bumped into a friend. I haven’t known her long, but there’s a certain depth to our acquaintance that comes from shared struggles. She had been a frequent texting correspondent some months ago, but had fallen off the radar of late and not responded when I contacted her. That’s never a good sign.

She followed along as I shuffled through the peanut butter aisle. At first we chatted about trivialities, but all of a sudden she shared something from the heart. I’m an experienced selective listener (most multi-taskers are), but the down side of only paying partial attention is you can miss important tidbits when you’re in deep speculation about weighty matters like which jar of honey has the best unit price.

I did a mental double take, forced my gaze away from the food fest that had been consuming my attention, and looked her in the eye.

In all honesty, I really didn’t have time for an in-depth conversation in that setting and with that company. BUT it behooved me to MAKE time to share my love and concern for her wellbeing, and to let her know I was praying for her. That was all I had to give in that instant, and it had to be enough.

A young boy once had a small lunch which he was asked to share with a great multitude. It wasn’t nearly enough, of course – a couple of fish and a paltry amount of bread. Still, what he had he shared willingly, and at day’s end, thousands left satisfied.

Do I dare offer any less?

The phone rings as I type that last sentence. When my son's number appears on caller ID, I know it means he and his wife are on their way and my time to write is slipping away. 

And I haven't wrapped one present yet.

I think of a long ago party such as the one I'm helping to host today. An important Guest was expected, one who had never graced that home before and maybe never would again. When the Visitor arrived, one hostess served with gusto, growing more and more resentful of her sister, who chose instead to soak in the presence of their prestigious company. It’s worth examining Luke 10:38-42, where Jesus rebukes Martha, the complainer, and commends Mary, the listener:

“Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.’
 And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.’”

Check out Jonny Diaz's "Just Breathe"                    

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Grinch Pinch

In this season of peace on earth and good will towards men, many joyfully lay down resentments and take hold of compassion. There’s just something about the lights and carols and festivities that beckon us to reach out to others and share the joy.

Why, then, am I in the grip of the Grinch?

We all know this guy. He’s the legendary scoundrel who tried to steal Christmas from the unsuspecting Whos Down in Whoville by cooking up an elaborate scheme to abscond with their Christmas goodies. He found out in the end, though, that he couldn’t spirit away their Christmas spirit.

Would that I were a Who.

I’m not going to delve into particulars because I don’t think I’m unique in the slightest. See, behind the lights and carols and festivities lie labor and cash and family stuff, any of which can squeeze joy out of the well-intentioned faster than December 25th turns into December 26th.  I have my baggage, you have yours, but the bottom line is we all have the “I” word: issues. Just because the calendar flips to December doesn’t mean those issues are laid to rest; on the contrary, they’re often exacerbated by the very season we celebrate.

What to do?

The only means I know of to combat the Grinch Pinch is the one that inspired a young, unmarried woman to welcome a pregnancy that could ruin her societally. It’s the same guidance that caused her fianc√© to stay the course with his betrothed and spurn voices that would label him a cuckold and a fool. It’s the same force that led an unnamed number of stargazers, AKA, wise men, to travel well over two thousand miles round trip to worship a divine baby.

It’s a little thing called the Incarnation, which in simple terms means God laid aside His royalty and became a peon for 30 or so years. He put His immortal nature on hold temporarily and took up humanity, ultimately dying a sinner’s death in our stead. He asks only that we accept His sacrifice into our hearts, not just our heads, and try to pattern our lives after His.

A good start to sending the Grinch packing.

Miracle Child

My friend is very concerned about a family member, whose actions have resulted in the breakup of a marriage and the lives of several school aged children being turned upside down. I pray for this household when I remember, but recently something occurred to bring the whole matter much closer to my heart.

I was visiting my friend’s new baby, whose little body was sweetly wrapped in handmade clothing – gifts, I learned, from the family member who went astray. Before giving way to temptation and sin, this person had lovingly crafted the items for a not-yet-born niece or nephew.

Somehow, seeing these tiny wearables made the situation more real for me. Before, it had been someone else’s problem, someone else’s “family secret,” about which I was concerned from a polite distance. But here lay a child, wearing evidence of the love in this troubled person’s heart for an unknown infant, before darker impulses took over.

It brought me to my knees.

It also brought to mind the following verse, which more or less includes every misdeed of which mankind is capable. Some are explicitly stated; others, included by extension, for what offense isn’t motivated by desire and envy when you get right down to it?

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals. nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. ~   1 Corinthians 6:9-11

I intend to stamp the image of those grace-filled garments onto my brain, as a reminder to pray for both wearer and bearer.

The following song by the Newsboys is my prayer for this misguided soul:

For more like this, check out: Between

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A God Thing

It's a God thing. It really is.

Yesterday I felt about as dreamless as a writer can get. Technology problems, time constraints, and the old rejection monster keep knocking at my door. Writing contests beckon as a way to pad my resum√©, but most cost money; which ones are legitimate and most worthy of the time and expense to enter?  Funny how quickly I get mired in discouragement, despite baby step victories. This past month, I had a couple of pieces published in magazines, one more thing to add to my list of credits.

"Yeah, but..." my mind goes, and ticks off a list of vetoes and unanswered queries from agents and publishers.

I seek advice from wise counselors and others in the profession, and their suggestions don't delight me. I don’t want to take courses to rub shoulders with someone who might know someone who might help me. I don’t want to self-publish, have never felt led to do so. Agent-less though I am, can’t the literary world recognize greatness when it shows up in its inbox?

But, oh, what a difference a day makes!

Today - every bit of it - was like a "Dear Thea" letter from God.

A fellow writer invites me to swap and critique manuscripts with her. Our respective books are at about the same point of readiness and we think alike, so why not combine resources? A long forgotten travel mug with the words, “Look into thy heart and write!” appears in my kitchen. Bible verses that inspire me to continue the work I've begun find their way into my daily reading. Notes from a four-year old sermon* cross my desk, addressing the question, "What do you do when you think you're at the finish line, and it becomes a brick wall?" Not least, the same sermon contains an admonition to pray consistently for things that may never benefit me.

How’s that again?

I admit it, I want accolades. I want writers’ prestige. Heck fire, I want Penguin Random House to seek me out, woo me with a huge advance, and whisk me off on a 15-city tour.

I also want to be able to eat chocolate till the Easter bunny cries “Uncle” without gaining an ounce, but that’s not happening either.

Nevertheless, everything I touch today holds the message, stay the course.

It isn’t about my getting mine, whatever that may be. It isn’t about me getting recognized for a plot line God planted in my brain, or for stringing together sentences that flow well and hold people’s interest.

It is about making a meaningful contribution to an important dialogue our country needs to have. It’s about advancing truth – not relative truth, as so many would declare it, but eternal, absolute truth spelled out in a Holy Book that’s survived for centuries because it contains just that.

And it’s about obeying a calling that persists and resists the urge to give up and insists on being heeded, however long it takes.

It’s about doing each next right thing, as God directs, and leaving the results in His hands.

“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” – Romans 11:29

 *Notes taken from Rev. Jerry Iamurri's August 26, 2012 sermon based on Daniel 10:1-20.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Anything But Old Maids

Some may consider Corrie ten Boom and her sister, Betsie, old maids.

The traditional meaning of this derogatory term is a woman no one saw fit to marry. The phrase is rarely employed these days, as many now embrace the single life by choice. However, such was not the case in the Ten Booms’ era. The ideal for most women in the early part of the 20th century involved marriage and motherhood. That was not to be for Cornelia and Elizabeth ten Boom.

Corrie endured a broken heart in her youth when a man she had every reason to believe intended marriage chose another for his wife. Corrie turned to her father, Casper, for solace. He offered her the option of transforming her thwarted romantic love into love for God. Fortunately, she heeded his wise counsel, and humanity is richer for that.

Corrie and Betsie were denied success as the world defined it. Rather than becoming bitter, they found contentment and happiness in caring for their family of origin, pursuing careers in the family watchmaking business, and studying the word of God. When opportunity met necessity, they built a secret room in their house and conducted speed drills with the Jews they took in to see how quickly hunted humans could cluster behind a fake wall.

I submit that these women were anything but old maids. Had they married, their attentions might well have remained on the care and nurturing of their families, rather than saving God's chosen people from the evil inflicted on them by Hitler's henchmen. They likely would have been safely tending their own hearths when Nazis raided their childhood home, the Beje, in Haarlem, Holland. They undoubtedly would have remained ensconced in household duties, rather than ministering to broken people behind barbed wire fences.

And Corrie might never have learned the message she delivered to untold numbers of thirsty souls in a post-war world shattered by violence and grief: “There is no pit so deep, that God is not deeper still.” 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Jumping In

My physical therapist touts water exercise as a boon to everything from arthritis to sliced bread. Being the obedient patient that I am, I've been grabbing every chance this summer to jump in with both feet and show those hips and knees who's boss.

On September 10, the worthy recipient of my poolside attention was my friend Tina's lovely private pool. Tucked away in her well-groomed back yard amidst a circle of trees with leaves dropping haphazardly into the water, the scene nudged me to loosen my grip on summer and transition with the trees into autumn.

Our carefree paddling was interrupted suddenly by an unexpected guest, causing this girl to emit shrieks which I'm pretty sure were heard by the population of Jakarta. Here's a hint:
I have it on good authority that this creepy guy was a mere garter snake, harmless and in fact helpful in controlling pest populations, wanting nothing more than to be left alone.

I beg to differ.

To me, this scaly creature was Hitler incarnate, daring me to swim alongside him, even as he invaded my calm space, uninvited and most assuredly unwelcome!

Unlike Hitler, this guy wanted to high tail it out of there almost as much as I wanted him to. He took every opportunity to try to scale and exit the slippery tiled walls of my friend's pool. Had he boned up on his snake literature as I did after coming face to face with him, he would've known his efforts would be futile. Indeed, it was only with the aid of a long-handled pool filter (and much shuddering on both our parts) that he eventually vacated the premises.

Tina's 70-something mother did most of the deed. Her tiny stature and white hair belie a wily hunter who knows what to do and when. She vamoosed the vermin with nothing more than the aforementioned filter and the type of intestinal fortitude that powered a foolhardy teenage shepherd to go up against a giant.

All this excitement left yours truly a quivering mass of insecurity and lost faith.

I knew, without a doubt, that would be the last time I'd set foot in Tina's pool. After all, its harmony had been shattered by an ignoble intruder.The carefree, idyllic setting I cherished had turned out to be nothing more than a harbor for wayward reptiles.

In a curious juxtaposition, I'm privileged to collaborate this year with a simply inspired social studies teacher. Her discourse Friday on the September 11 tragedy kept me riveted to my classroom seat in lieu of the 15-minute coffee break the district's obliged to give me. While I missed my caffeine, I was far more concerned with missing her lesson of triumph over the damage four planes did to man-made structures and human hearts.  

Let me recap some of the wonders that demonstrate divine providence in the midst of 9/11's carnage. Two days after the attacks, a construction worker spied two intersecting steel crossbeams mimicking the draped crosses many churches display on Easter. In a sad commentary on the times we live in, this symbol of rebirth amid wreckage had to fight for its right to be displayed at the September 11 Memorial Museum. The monument came under fire, just as faith in general must withstand assault in our "enlightened," post-modern age. Three wise judges ruled in favor of the Ground Zero Cross, just as one omniscient Judge ruled in ours 2,000 years ago.

The "Survivor Tree" is another marvel that withstood the attack on the World Trade Center. Workers noticed the tree, its crown hacked off by the crashing towers, sprouting leaves in October, when its uninjured counterparts were shedding them. Clearly yearning to live, this wounded pear tree was nursed back to health at a local nursery, where a dove created a nest in its branches. The tree has since been returned to its original location, signifying that evil may uproot but can never permanently banish the will to survive.

"The little chapel that stood," - AKA, St. Paul's Chapel - stands across the street from the World Trade Center. Firefighters traded shoes for boots, hanging the former on the chapel's iron fence before racing in to face peril at the World Trade Center. These brave souls never returned to claim their shoes, for the actions of terrorists claimed their lives. But the 250-year-old house of worship where Alexander Hamilton lies buried and George Washington bowed his head centuries before stood untouched by the havoc rocking its massive neighbors.The tiny structure sustained no damage, but instead served as a relief center and a symbol of endurance in the wake of destruction. 

A section of the Bible, fittingly melded to a heart-shaped piece of steel, is another 9/11 artifact that overwhelms me. A firefighter retrieved it from the rubble and gave it to a photographer, who donated this "act of God" to the memorial museum. There it serves as the ultimate testament to the ability of His enduring love to overcome atrocity. Amazingly, the book is open to Matthew 5:38-39: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."

What does all this have to do with the snake in Tina's pool? Perhaps the best way to illustrate the connection is to reflect on the little-known 9/11 boat lift. In nine short hours, hundreds of commercial vessels, summoned by a single plea from the Coast Guard, converged to evacuate 500,000 stranded Manhattanites via New York Harbor. Clearly, this was the time for thinking people to jump ship, not go aboard (especially operators of the huge Staten Island Ferry, which one captain described as "a big orange target in the middle of that harbor"). Nonetheless, eschewing danger, these mariners rushed in to rescue their fellow man in what would become the largest sea evacuation in history, Dunkirk notwithstanding. 

I like to think, in a small way, the same power source that rescued thousands and rebuilt ruins after September 2001 forced me out of my comfort zone in September 2016. Despite my resolution to play it safe after evicting a scaly interloper, some God-given spirit of chutzpah kicked my hindquarters back into the pool. Granted, I kept my head above water and my eyes wide open because I knew full well that, though we had banished one invader, others live to slither another day. Even so, despite whatever evils may lurk in the depths, the rewards of participation in this danger-filled dance of life outweigh the risk every time. 

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me  to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,  and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,

the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord  for the display of his splendor."

~ Isaiah 61:1-3

Sunday, August 7, 2016


If it's not a dirty word, it ought to be. When I was a young girl, I vividly remember the emerald-eyed monster invading my psyche. When Scott dated Denise instead of Thea, that was a national disaster. When Bob glued himself to Debby's hip, there was another tragedy. And when Marc invited everyone (so it seemed) to his party except Thea, well, that was just devastating.

I did, however, survive. In fact, I thrived. I graduated high school and college with honors. I raised two amazing children who make me proud every day. I have a career that gives me great satisfaction because I'm contributing something important to society.

So why do I feel green, scaly claws gripping me around the throat after all these successes?

John D. Rockefeller was once asked how much money would be enough. His answer: "Just a little bit more."

I'm interpreting his comment to address more than the accumulation of wealth. I take it to mean, despite all his material blessings, there was still some sort of emptiness that he mistakenly believed more money could fill. Despite the fact that the oil tycoon held a strong faith in Christ, apparently he was only human.  So I guess that puts me in excellent (or at least expensive) company.

The thing that's eating me is my lack of progress in being published. I hear of others getting book contracts and winning awards, and it pretty much galls me. Seriously. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I'm feeling somewhat like it's a lost cause. Like I'll never master the social media game that seems to be a must in this business. That I can't "do" marketing, which is another prerequisite for publication. And let's not even talk about building a website or affording someone who does.

Like Moses, I'm caught up in the reasons why I can't do something that God has called me to do. I seem to be forgetting that He's already lined up the Aaron's to assist with the goals He's mapped out for me. He's not expecting me to be a one-woman show. He's got the staff, timetable and, oh, yes, budget all nailed down.

So why do I doubt? And why do I feel angst when others succeed before I do? Isn't that the natural order of things? Somebody has to be first, but that doesn't mean there isn't room at the end of the line for a late up-and-comer.

I'm actually helping myself fail by procrastinating. I have a book proposal to write, and I need to get busy and write it. As the saying goes, it isn't going to write itself. I need to spruce up my novel with a few ideas that have been nagging at me. I need to take responsibility for that which I can do, instead of negatively comparing my place on the authorship continuum with someone else's.

And I need to TRUST that the One who commissioned me is still in the business of making miracles happen. Even for girls who don't "do" marketing and Instagram.

Friday, August 5, 2016

It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

We're having dinner at Anita's, celebrating the birthdays of all three of my kids - the two I gave birth to, as well as my "labor-less" daughter, Elise, who in a few short months will assume that role legally when she weds my firstborn. Elise and I rinse dishes while Anita - that great roaster of all things fowl, not least of which is the incredible Peking duck she just served us, complete with homemade pancakes - recuperates from all her effort.

That's when it happens.

I glance out the window to catch a glimpse of Aaron, who went outside to catch a smoke.

Except he's not alone. And he's not smoking.

He's playing catch with Ethan, barely 19, who used to drive Aaron to distraction and even goad him to violence. Once Aaron got over the thrill of finally having someone cute and cuddly to play with, he realized Ethan was here to stay and did annoying things like leaking through his diaper while they sat cheek to cheek watching cartoons.

Five years behind his brother, Ethan quickly figured out how to aggravate Aaron to the nth degree by making up in mouth what he lacked in stature. I ruefully recall the feeling of being a human barrier between two warring kids. Of delivering lectures on the importance of brotherhood and being each other's best friend, those "you and me against the world" speeches Paul Williams himself couldn't have pulled off convincingly.

It wasn't always like that, I remind myself. There was that time I left the two of them at football practice while I ran a quick errand. I can still see the picture of love incarnate that greeted me when I returned 45 minutes later - Aaron carrying injured Ethan across the field and into my arms.

I sneak another peek out the window. They're cracking up at some comment I'd probably disapprove of, then chucking the ball around some more.

Tomorrow, unbeknownst to us all, we will say goodbye to Anita's dear Dusty. My boys, no, men, will take a leading part in her sendoff. She was our "rent-a-dog," coming for visits and even sleepovers. The dog they walked and never cleaned up after, despite Mother's regular reminders. Dusty supplied a vital ingredient in their lives, and in return, they will gently escort her to her final resting place, cradling her lifeless body wrapped up in a special sheet. They will crumble handfuls of dirt into her grave and wish her well.

A week later, Ethan will leave a night of fun with his friends to come home and help his brother grieve over the loss of a second beloved pet. The irritating little brother has become a lifelong friend, available when the chips are down.

But tonight they play ball without a care in the world.

I find myself humming Diane Warren's timeless tune:

These are the moments I thank God that I'm alive
These are the moments I'll remember all my life
I've found all I've waited for
And I could not ask for more

These are the moments I know heaven must exist
These are the moments I know all I need is this
I have all I've waited for
And I could not ask for more

I could not ask for more than this time together
I could not ask for more than this time with you
Every prayer has been answered
Every dream I have's come true
Right here in this moment
Is right where I'm meant to be
Here with you here with me

I smile through tears at Elise and say, "It doesn't get any better than this."

Check out the full version of I Could Not Ask for More

Friday, July 29, 2016

Hurry Up and Wait!

This has been my theme for the summer and really the past few months. I blogged last spring about some physical challenges I was having, which have subsided almost completely, thanks be to God! But they required time, patience and no small amount of delays, as I trekked to doctors' offices and PT appointments, waiting for meds and therapies to get on board.

In exchange for some much needed hedge trimming, the Lord has seen fit to zap me with a not-as-bad-as-it-could-be case of poison ivy, for which I'm taking steroids and trying not to scratch. When I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I try to envision my face free of blotches and the angry, red rash - mentally rushing to the end of this annoying waiting game.

One step forward and two steps back. That's another piece of the phase I'm in. Towards the end of the school year, a clog in my bathroom sink turned into a leak in the dining room and basement, which turned into a protracted series of conversations with plumbers, vendors and insurance agents. After all has been said and done, I find myself with a beautiful new bathroom floor, under which is nestled an expensive new set of pipes which will hopefully prevent this sort of thing in the future. There's a sequel to this drama, though. Having made all the arrangements to paint so the floor will have pretty new walls to dance with, I find I need to completely strip off all the current paint first. After my sister scrubbed walls and my son dutifully took sand paper to the old stuff, instead of politely accepting the touch up, the remaining paint decided to peel and flake. Sure can't put on a new coat till that's seen to.

Hurry up and wait.

A dear friend, Angela Schans, whom I met at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference, has been donating gobs of time to help me set up a YouTube channel so I can promote myself a little better. Specifically, I want to post the video of my public reading last May of my short story, "Phoenix," which was published in 50 Over Fifty: A Celebration of Established and Emerging Women Writers

Sounds simple, right? Not so much. A combination of my lack of expertise with technology and a generally uncooperative computer setup are making this seemingly small task difficult and time-consuming. Angela has brought new meaning to the words "patience" and "tenacity," and I am so fortunate to have her in my life.

Enough already! I'm waiting for the waiting to end!

As I deal with all this nonsense, I'm reminded of something important. Years ago - it seems like eons, really - before the terms "Netflix" and "binge-watching" had been coined, there was a certain delightful agony in awaiting the conclusion of a multi-part series. For instance, in the early '90's I traveled to Washington, D.C. with my husband and parents. We were all engrossed at the time in a multi-part television mystery, biting our respective nails as we waited for each weekly installment. I fondly recall the long car ride, and how we each presented our arguments as to who the killer might be.

It was such fun to wonder, even though it was torture to wait. 

These days, we live in the era of instant oatmeal and binge-watching (both of which I enjoy as much as the next guy). But I submit that when we curl up with our popcorn and clicker for marathon viewing, we take time to realize that we're giving up something precious: the gift of anticipation.

When my son was a preschooler, he stumbled onto a gift I had hidden for his birthday. It was a kid's tool set (little did I know then that he'd turn out to be my "hands on" guy and grow up to be a tradesman). Boy, he couldn't wait to get his hands on that thing! The easy thing would've been to give it to him then and pick up something else for his big day. Lord knows, he wheedled! But even as a young mom, I somehow knew he needed to learn the joyous pain of waiting. Somehow he survived till March 16, and I truly believe the hours of longing he endured made the toy that much more precious to him.

As I ponder my current circumstances, I have to admit there's an up side. The guys who beautified my bathroom (Dave McGoldrick and associate Dan and Philip Congialdi and associates John, Gary and Mick) were reliable, thorough, neat, and all-around good sports as they broke up cement flooring in 90 degree heat. My plumbers proved themselves once again to be crackerjack in their profession. They even threw in a freebie - a new shower head to replace my old one that was clinging to life. I ended up receiving discounts from both contractors, because that's the kind of men they areThey actually built potential costs into their proposals, so I got a nice surprise at the end when I owed less than was quoted. A great way to run a business, in my view.

I'm sure if I looked hard enough, I could uncover blessings hidden amidst my peeling paint and itchy forehead. For now, I'm going to content myself with letting God do what He does best: work behind the scenes, knowing I'll get the full picture when He thinks I'm ready for it.

"Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!"
Psalm 27:14

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Corrie ten Boom and Spaghetti Pie ...

... have nothing in common, I suspect you're thinking.

Oh, but you're wrong.

A friend and I are having a friendly difference of opinion. We spoke recently about the relevance and applicability of the Scriptures to everyday life. My friend has been finding it difficult to apply what she hears in church on Sunday mornings to what goes on with her the rest of the week. I hold the position that God and His word are the height of practicality, and suggested she consider checking out other places of worship is hers isn't giving her tools to apply to her day to day life.

Jesus walked the earth for 30 plus years, experiencing all that humans go through. We know He came as a baby, so He probably got slapped into His first breath (I doubt the ancient world realized that flicking the feet will arouse infant lungs without such a rude awakening). He learned the carpentry trade from His stepfather, Joseph, so He undoubtedly encountered more than a few splinters. If I were a betting woman, I'd lay odds He bumped up against diaper rash, constipation, and everything in between.

You can't get much more practical than that.

I've shared ad nauseam about how God has met me in my ditches and dark nights of the soul. He's been husband and dad to my family when we had a shortage of both. He's gone into meetings with me that I never thought I'd emerge from alive, and shored me up to fight another day. He's provided prayer partners to walk me through barren places and brushes with danger that I'd rather forget. 

When my father was taken ill once in the middle of the night, my mother thought it was the end. After we left him in the hospital, she cried out to me, "Where do I go to accept this?" We quickly realized the same truth that the apostle Peter arrived at two millennia ago:

"Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.'”
John 6:68

Peter was affirming that no one else could give him what Jesus could, so why would he ever seek help elsewhere? 

If I'm going to commit to assembling weekly and bi-weekly with believers, which cuts drastically into my beloved spare time, I most certainly expect to glean takeaways when I depart the building. As Dickens put it in A Christmas Carol, "I don't mind going, but I must be fed."

Which brings me to the most compelling reason I see the Lord as the pinnacle of practicality.I recently experienced a tragedy involving my gastrointestinal tract (anything involving my gullet gets my immediate attention). A nearly unforgivable event sent me into a short-lived but vivid tailspin when my leftovers from a weekend getaway were inadvertently left in my sister's refrigerator an hour from home. My sister - a vegetarian - could not be counted on to consume half a tuna hoagie and a delectable piece of chicken spaghetti pie that must have been created with me in mind. The idea of these treasures going to waste or being scarfed down by my niece - who's a delightful carnivore, but still, these were MINE - was well nigh unbearable.

A nasty thought crossed my mind. My other sister, who had been charged with bringing home these dainties, had been the victim of a similar mishap the week before. Two soups had been brought home in doggy bags. I offered mine to my 19-year-old son, but failed to mention that the other was earmarked for his aunt. Alas, he ate the wrong one, and poor Jane was out of luck. 

"Paybacks!"I stewed bitterly, ascribing all kinds of vengeful motives to my honest, guileless sister.

I was full of something, but it sure wasn't spaghetti pie.

Corrie ten Boom came to the rescue. I recalled her encountering one of the Nazi guards who had been particularly brutal to her family. To make matters worse, he had just attended Corrie's lecture on God's forgiveness, and was thanking her for proving he was absolved of all his sins.

Corrie froze when he reached out to shake her hand. She had no tools within herself to receive a gesture of friendship from this avowed enemy. She found herself in the untenable position of being between a rock and a hard place. She couldn't forgive this man, but she couldn't NOT forgive him if everything she had just said about God was true.

She did the only thing possible: she prayed for God to help her forgive her wretched captor. In short order, He enabled her to extend her hand and the grace to overcome the loathing she felt for this man and his wicked deeds.

In the moments after my spaghetti pie debacle, I realized that if Corrie could forgive the Nazis for contributing to the deaths of her closest family members, perhaps I had it within me to forgive my beloved sister for depriving my hips of a few extra pounds. It sounds dramatic, but I know I died a little bit to self that night, and grew a tiny bit in Christ.

Lest my reader should think I'm trivializing a momentous event in the life of one of the world's true heroines, let me assure you I'm simply striving to reinforce the concept of God's day to day applicability. In no way can a few missing calories stack up against years of abuse, but the principle is the same. Rage and even misplaced anger can be dealt with by Scriptural principles. That's all I'm trying to say.

I have yet to come across a situation that is not made better by applying Biblical truth, or worse by failing to do so.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Agony and Torture

These are the nicknames my nephews dreamed up for two kids their mother babysat when they were young. She ran a day care of sorts out of her home, which enabled her to earn a pay check while raising her own children.

The boys called the little ones "Agony and Torture" because they whined and argued and disrupted, which is pretty much the definition of preschoolers. Had my nephews possessed a bit more higher order thinking, they might have applied these same labels to themselves, as they were only slightly farther along the maturity continuum than were their mother's charges. Ah, but it's always easier to point the finger at someone else.

Which is what I'm tempted to do lately. I've been feeling a lot of angst over issues I can't control, and as a result, I'm butting into other people's business. I admit it - I'm a control freak, right up there with the title character of the old comic strip, Momma, and it frustrates me when things don't go as planned. That's created a bit of a problem over the past few weeks, as many things, personal and physical, have cropped up to rock my equilibrium.

Literally, as a matter of fact. One of the issues I'm referring to is a nasty case of arthritis and its cousin, bursitis, both of which are making me feel like a little old lady who only drives on Sundays. Several doctor visits and X-rays later, with painkillers on board and physical therapy looming on the horizon, I'm still treading carefully but much improved.

My body, that is.

My head could still use the mental equivalent of chicken soup and Rolaids.

I'm learning something very unpleasant about myself through all this. I'm a vain person.

I always knew I was a little vain. I carefully construct my hair and face in the morning (it takes more time than it used to, and seems to bring fewer results). I choose outfits that enhance what Mom used to call my "blonde coloring" (the blonde has long since given way to Preference by L'Oreal, "because I'm worth it," but the grays keep finding their way through the highlights). I make all this effort in hopes that it will keep acquaintances from noticing my lower body's resemblance to a pear. 

But these strategies fall apart when one's limping forces one to wear sneakers and sensible shoes with formal outfits, thus making one look like the aforementioned Sunday driver.

I was in just enough pain at the pharmacy, when picking up my medicinal Godsend, that I was pricing canes. They have some very pretty ones, and reasonable, too. Except I don't think I could afford the price it would exact on my psyche. Besides, I have a perfectly good "plain Jane" cane that my father used in the last days of his life. I can picture myself now, hobbling along the halls of  the school where I work, clinging for dear life to that silver stick, and praying no seventh grade track hopeful disrupts my gimpy gait.

I'm not feeling it.

I sought solace from my friend, Tina, who has been dealing with similar issues for years. In contrast to my prideful preening, Tina is eminently pragmatic and willingly tossed aside sandals for Oxfords long ago. She also thought nothing of clutching a four-footed cane for a couple of months when her legs were misbehaving.

How does she do it?

I mentioned earlier some personal matters which also have me on my knees (well, they would if I could get down on my knees, but at this point that's just a nice memory). Again, things I didn't ask for and could just as soon do without, thank you very much. Funny thing is, God never asks my permission when He sends trials. He doesn't give me a checklist or a drop down box, either. He sends or allows what He deems right for my character building, and I have very little to say about it.

The phrase that keeps coming to mind is, things may get worse before they get better. I'm not expecting joy and sunshine as the PT teaches my muscles how to, well, muscle through. Neither am I looking forward to an earlier wake up time to fit in exercises I don't want to do (did I mention I don't want to wake up early in the first place?). And fear grips my heart when I think of the unknowns I'm facing, issues I'll leave unspoken for the purposes of blogging, but trust me, they're there. 

So I'm back to counting blessings. I make gratitude lists on scraps of paper when my head starts taking me into dark, dangerous neighborhoods where I ought not go alone. I catch myself riding my one son who still lives at home, and to some extent the one who's off on his own, trying to control what I can instead of accepting things I can't change. I pack up bags of stuff for Purple Heart in an attempt to de-clutter my environment, when what I really want to do is de-clutter my mind. 

It occurs to me that perhaps the old devil, that wily serpent, could be trying to distract me with messes just when I'm on the brink of finishing my novel. In all honesty, he's done a pretty fair job of discouraging me in the midst of what should be a happy and exciting time. Tomorrow I'll be publicly reading a short story I had published in a women's anthology in March. Family and friends are coming to cheer me on, and I have so much to be hopeful about and grateful for. Yet, what I call the "Eeyore Syndrome," AKA, the "Puddleglum Doldrums" --that "Things may be great, but they're not as great as they could be" feeling -- has me in its grip. With the apostle Paul, I lament, "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" He instantly answers his own question: "I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24)

If God could use Paul, despite his former life as a bigot and murderer, I guess he can use me, too.

"In EVERYTHING give THANKS, for this is the will of God 
in Christ Jesus concerning you!" 
1 Thessalonians 5:18

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with THANKSGIVING let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7

For more like this, check out:

Reflections by Thea: Counting Blessings and Misusing Prepositions

Reflections by Thea: "Yeah, But..."