Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Gift of Change

Eight years ago I began choosing one yearly resolution. The first one took a full year of focus and practice, but was worth every effort. "Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life." Life is nothing without challenge, right? It became a life resolution and spurred me on toward love and good works in following years.

I tried an easier resolution the next year. "Learn to make excellent cookies." It turned into a year of opportunitites to meet children, elderly people, strangers and neighbors as I sought taste-testers for my cookies. I don't know when I've had so much fun learning in the kitchen as I did that year!

"Have more tea parties." This resolution was successful in a way I never could have expected. It was the catalyst for this blog and subsequently for Tuesday night Titus 2 Tea parties in my home. God took my resolve for change and with it opened the door of my heart and my home to people around the world.

Lights twinkle on the tree by our front window and stockings are hung by the chimney with care. Recipes are scattered across the counter and "White Christmas" is playing in the background. It's the season of ThanksGiving and Celebration, endings and beginnings.

I am learning, by focusing on one thing at a time, that there is always enough grace for even me. When I awaken every morning, I know God is not disappointed to discover the need for more refining in my life. From glory to glory He's changing me  - just as He promised.

 The opportunity to change one thing at a time is one of God's greatest gifts.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cardboard Boxes

Johnathan battled with the empty cardboard boxes in the garage, laboriously moving them into the kitchen.

Grasp. Lift. Carry. Drop. Groan. Repeat.

More than I wanted to move the boxes for him, I wanted the toddler to complete the process from start to finish, to follow through his goal to create. Through the frustrations. Through the disappointments.

Forming the boxes in a line, he created a train. He lifted his pumpkin into one train car, his puzzle into another box car, then climbed into the front box. He cheered, raising little arms in victory, "Come see, Nana! Made it.Train!"

While Johnathan played with the boxes, I returned to composing at my piano where I had been struggling to arrange a medley of old hymns. Slowly, battling the frustrations and disappointments of creating, the music began to fall into place. I was delighted, energized by my success, spurred on to finish my work. Creating the music became a complete joy and I loved refining it until it was finished. I wanted to lift my arms in victory, too!

I am loved by the Author of my faith.  He pushes my frustrations and disappointments aside as he continues to work diligently in my life. He doesn't give up on me because He expects there to be more work to do in my life every day. He is drawn to my flaws and weaknesses, a Potter molding clay with complete joy and everlasting love.

One day Jesus will call my name.  The Author and Finisher of my faith will grasp me safely in His hands, lift the death veil, and carry me the last steps home. His creating process will be done and, maybe, just maybe, angels will cheer in victory and He will say, "Come see. Look what I've made. Well done."

Create in me a clean heart, oh, God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Deep Fried Prison Ministry

They came every year to our church camp. A green pick up truck pulled up to the mess hall, giant black iron kettles were unloaded and men donned white aprons. Every Thursday of camp, year after year, they deep fried chicken under the hot summer skies all morning. That fried chicken was a highlight in the summer of every kid and volunteer at camp. Their presence changed our world, but I don't even know their names.

Lucille Chamberlain is remembered for her years of work in a school kitchen, but I remember her for being our cook at church camp. She could have had her summers free, but instead she worked hard in the hot summer camp kitchen. The scent of freshly baked melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon rolls filled the air welcoming us to a new day of learning about God's love.

Every Sunday, nestled in the back corner of our church, you will find Mary and Shirley and Cynthia and Peggy. They are our cookie ladies.  Every year at Vacation Bible School they show up to pass out little cups of Kool-aid and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. For decades, they have greeted little children and for some of those children, they have been not only a highlight of VBS, but the only grandmotherly women some of the children know.

The contributions these Christians, and people just like them, have given to children change the world every day. Love seeds and deed seeds scattered on rocky soil sometimes take root and begin to grow long after they have been forgotten.

What you do for Jesus matters. It matters very much. Just ask any group of prisoners in our weekly services at the prison chapel. Most of them visited a church camp, a Vacation Bible School or a Sunday School at least once. Someone gave them an oatmeal cookie, a piece of fried chicken or a cinnamon roll along with a hug or a kind word.

In the prison, Lila looked at me and smiled, remembering a kind lady who once taught her in Sunday School. "I was so naughty and she was so patient with me. I wish I could thank her. It's so horrible being pushed to the ground and hand cuffed. I felt like my life was over when I came to prison. Then I remembered that lady teaching me the song, "This little light of mine", and I kept thinking about it. And I came to chapel because I wondered if maybe I still have some light in me somewhere. Maybe she could see it. Do you think so?"

I assured her the teacher did see a spark of light in her as a child. Every Monday at the prison I continue to fan into flames the hope a Sunday School teacher planted in Lila's heart. Lila will spend many years in prison, but her chains are gone. She's been set free.

Every time you love a child you participate in prison ministry. The child you love today will need hope on a dark, ugly day when they're pushed to the ground by sin and shackled by a heavy burden. Tuck a spark of hope in the pocket of their jacket to light their way.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Preacher's Peppermints

When the children tired of playing in the church yard, Leo Norton, our preacher, always had a big pocketful of peppermints for us. Week after week, he teased and laughed with us as we scrambled around him for candy.

If there's a new product with the word peppermint on the wrapper, I'm sold. Maybe it represents love, maybe it represents my childhood, or maybe I just like peppermint, but this year when I lit a new candle scented like peppermint, I laughed. Happy, grateful tears were soaking my face.

That feeling of splashing up out of the waters of baptism and being welcomed by his big tight hug.  His quiet, patient voice as he weekly buried treasures of truth in my little girl mind. The pleasure in his eyes as he handed me an award for camper of the week and said, "Well done, kiddo." The sight of his big hands sliding into giant pockets and pulling out a handful of peppermints.

Many years later, long after his death, I realized it was no accident that every Sunday his pockets were full of peppermints. It took preparation and forethought. As he jotted the word peppermints on a grocery list or as he emptied the bag of candy into his pockets, he smiled and prayed for us. He knew far better than we did the importance of a tiny peppermint candy when God's love is behind it.

By training us to trust him for peppermints, he taught us to trust God's people when we had a need. By training us to see church as a place of fun and wonder, he taught us to be steadfast in our faith. By training us to love and respect him, he taught us to love and respect others.

That pocketful of peppermints was God's love made visible and a preacher's prayers made tangible.

Then Jesus said, "Love one another as I have loved you." 

Monday, December 1, 2014

My Mother's Home

After many years of living and traveling in a motor home, my parents have moved into a home made for solid ground. It's easier for them while my father is traveling through a battle with cancer. 

"Your mom must be so glad to finally have a home," a friend shared. I laughed.

This friend does not know my parents. My mother's home is wherever my father is. Being together is home. Camping out, staying in a motel, visiting children or grandchildren, or in the snowbird park where they winter, they always feel right at home.

Together my parents built a home out on the farm and changed their world one person at a time, one day at a time, for over fifty years. Long after the house and land were sold, their life of adventure, serving God's purposes, has continued.

A bag of grapes and some homemade cookies in the cooler, shared memories, old family sayings and routines combine to set up a temporary home wherever they have traveled. The familiar keeps them comfortable, peaceful, ready for different circumstances and enjoying people. They like to be together on a new adventure.

A homeless man in our city frequents a corner on the route to my house.  If no cars are behind me, I usually talk to him for a few minutes. He always grins and waves at me. He plans to be traveling on soon, but for a little while, this is his home. He makes a fairly good living here, but he hopes to go where it's warmer.

I know a lady who never slept in a bed until in her thirties when she went to prison. She travels in and out of the prison system and I'm always glad to see her. I welcome the opportunity to remind her she is loved, to caution her about taking her medicines, to guide her feet back to solid ground. "I'm home," she will say as she walks into the prison chapel. She likes to be where it's safe, where she's loved.

"This world is not my home. I'm just a passin' through." My family used to sing the old gospel song on stage after stage as we traveled around during my childhood. The song is engraved on my heart and when life gets troublesome, the words are a reminder that wherever my heavenly Father is, that is home. He is my strong tower, my refuge, my solid ground.

"Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me. See on the portals, He's waiting and watching, watching for you and for me. Come home. Come home. Ye who are weary, come home."