Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Out of the Depths

"When other springs of comfort dry up there is always one left to us. And that, as Mother often said, is usefulness" From Stepping Heavenward, by Elizabeth Prentiss.

When in the throes of our own personal tragedies, or when we come to realize the magnitude of evil which besets us at every turn, we often are tempted to despair. It seems no comfort, no diversion, no effort of ours is available to restore our peace and equilibrium.

We are faced every day with news of car bombings, wars and rumors of wars, mass murders, crimes born of hatred and greed, betrayal by leaders who were given our trust, vicious attacks on pregnant women and innocent children, and our own personal losses and tragedies. The Amish school shootings epitomized, for me, the sad fact that there is no safe place in this world. I should have known that already, of course, but I guess I was still clinging to some unrealistic fantasy that perhaps there might be anything in this world that was off-limits to seemingly random, pointless evil.

I have now been disabused of this notion. This is rightly so, because we all need to understand that this world is not our home, and that our true home is in heaven with the Lord Jesus, where there will be no more suffering and sorrow.

Until he calls me home, however, I still need to be here, and not only to be here but to be His ambassador. I'm thinking that I don't need to have any more toys or entertainment to distract me from reality. Instead He calls me and all of us to occupy, to take back the ground that the enemy has overrun, to be the hands and feet of the God of love in the world about us.

There will be times when our hearts are broken within us, when life seems without meaning, color or flavor. What then? As Mrs. Prentiss says in her brilliant book, we are left with usefulness as a last comfort. We can do things for other people, for our families, friends, the church and community. We can write, we can make soup, we can give little gifts, and perhaps, thereby, alleviate someone else's suffering. We can hold a door open for the guy behind us, or just give someone the courtesy of looking at their face when they are speaking to us. Giving words of encouragement and kindness do not cost us anything. Equally as good, we might rein ourselves in and leave unkind, unedifying words unsaid.

We can do our work in the most thoughtful, and excellent way possible. We do this in defiance of the chaos which ceaselessly imposes itself on the universe. Though we die without having finished the work, perhaps someone will come after us to take it up. This is called progress. We can take the raw materials of our lives and make a work of art out of them, and in so doing participate in the work of Creation. Think about it. Who brought order out of chaos? Who created existence out of the void? Do we not, in a feeble, tiny way cooperate with the Creator when, despite adverse circumstances, we bring order to our homes and workplaces, or even just clean out and organize a drawer? There is something that happens when we go about our duties; we make sense out of the senseless. We can be a blessing to ourselves and others when we keep our time and our homes under control. Cosmos from chaos. Doing this can help us to not be overwhelmed by our emotions, and I contend it is more therapeutic than Prozac, and more helpful than going to a guy who will listen to you for forty-five minutes if you have the right insurance.

I am not saying there will never be exceptions, or little emergencies which pop up, but we should strive to keep reasonably organized, because it makes everyone's life a little sweeter. Doesn't everybody's day go a little better if they can find a pair of clean socks in the morning and there is milk in the refrigerator for a child's breakfast cereal? Yes, I know that cleaning out a drawer and taking something out of the freezer in time to thaw for supper will not stop a nuclear attack. But our tiny little actions are the bricks and mortar of civilization, and we must go about our lives with dogged, insistent hope. Besides, nuclear disarmament begins at home.

So, especially when we are brokenhearted, or tempted to despair, we can take some comfort in being useful. Remember, your useful, helpful actions make room for unexpected joy. When you open your heart enough to serve others, contentment and peace will inevitably enter in.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The following is from a Mennonite devotional book:

October 1
White as Snow
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.Psalm 51:7

There are few things that fascinate me more than waking up in the morning and finding the world covered with a fresh blanket of snow. What were open fields of plowed ground or corn stubble the evening before, are now covered with a fresh blanket of pure whiteness. Then the clouds break, and the sun shines through, and everything seems to sparkle and glitter with a million diamonds and pearls.
It reminds me that we were lost in sin, and our lives were as the barren fields—so hard and cold, so undesirable. When we came to the Lord and asked Him to forgive us, cleanse and free us from our sins, He cleansed and purified our hearts, and made us white as snow.
"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18).
Tim Yoder, Reedsville, PA
Bible Reading: Psalm 51
One Year Bible Reading Plan: Ephesians 2, Isaiah 19-21
Your life lies before you as a field of driven snow; Be careful how you tread on it, for every track will show.
~Used by Permission~
"Beside the Still Waters" - A New Book of 366 Selected Readings with One Year Reading Plan
Available from:
Vision Publishers, LLC
P.O. Box 190
Harrisonburg, VA 22803

From Emmarinda - I think we need to encourage those in our family as well as others, that as long as God gives you the grace to wake up another morning, that field of virgin snow, which is the rest of your life, lies before you. You can always start over with the Lord. Nothing can keep us from the love of Christ, and He is always calling to us to come home and take our place at His table. You can turn around now, and run back to His loving embrace. The path you will tread is paved with His forgiveness. I am thankful and glad that it is so, for you and me.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

What I am learning from Michael

Michael, my beloved son, is different from other people. He is a troubled boy and right now is in trouble. He simply refuses to become what we want him to be. Since he wants to rebel, he will, and since his personality is so big and so dynamic, his rebellion is of billboard-size and "shout it from the rooftop" proportions.

We don't do a good job of containing him; we never have been able to. He is the kind of person who won't be browbeat or physically disciplined into submission. We have not been consistent with him, nor been good at nipping small things in the bud. That is our sin and our shame.

We have been chastised in public for our failures, but we hereby refuse to take responsibility, nor can we claim any credit for his persistent optimism, his cheerfulness in disappointment, his own emotional depth and pain when he sympathizes with another's sad plight, be they his friend or just a stranger with hands so worn that the sight of them nearly brought him to tears. We disavow ourselves of any culpability in his heroic acts of mercy and generosity.

The court and others acting in an official capacity with Michael will speak of his poor impulse control, his risk-taking and perseverating behavior.
I would like to add to the reports already given, a few more examples of these behaviors.

His brother's school bus driver reported last year that as she was rounding a corner by Walmart she observed the following: a little dog, having obviously escaped from his house and was now disoriented and terrified, ran out into the road in front of oncoming traffic. All of a sudden, a young, risk-taking passerby leaped from the curb and with lightning speed grabbed the little dog and jumped back to safety. That passerby was Michael, who was sneaky enough not to even mention his "acting out" behavior at home that day.

On a summer Sunday morning a family visiting Wilmington, NC were accompanying their grandfather to his lovely downtown church. On the way in, one of the teenage sons noticed an obviously homeless man walking past the church and up the street. The boy said to his mother, "That guy is a street person, isn't he?" "Yes, he is", the mother returned as she also noticed the beautifully dressed churchgoers walking ahead of them. Then in a fit of impulsivity and with a grin, the boy said, "I'll be right back, Mom, I'm going to go talk to that guy and give him all my money!" He was off running before the mother could answer. All she could do was watch Michael talking to the man as they walked together for about half a block. Then Michael shook the man's hand and came running back to his family.

Perhaps some of the most outrageous acts of perseveration I can mention involve Michael's relentless empathy and encouragement when counseling other young people. I have witnessed him talking to friends who were extremely upset and ready to despair. He does not give up. In fact, when he was hospitalized last year in the psychiatric ward, he met a girl who was hell-bent on committing suicide. Attempts by staff were going nowhere, but Michael talked and reasoned and encouraged her and must have come up with something that got through to her, because she changed her mind and said that yes, he was probably right and she would likely leave there and decide to re-enter life.

So indeed, I will agree with others that Michael is ridiculous, he is entirely too much, he is way off the chart of normal behavior. He drinks, he smokes, he has a foul mouth a lot of the time. He reminds me of two men I heard about; they might have been as intelligent as Michael. They certainly were heavy drinkers and smokers who cussed a blue-streak, and at least one of them was rumored to be an adulterer.

Their names were Roosevelt and Churchill, and they quite probably saved the world.

Our son Michael surely must be held accountable for his behavior.
My point is simply that we ourselves might see only the sins and often write off those whose hearts are the very thing that God can use and to whom society itself owes a debt.
Can places be cursed?

I do not presume to know the spiritual mechanism for this but it seems there are places, as well as some unfortunate families, that seem to have a dark spiritual cloud hanging over them. They seem to draw weird and dark spiritual influences to them. Unfortunate events usually ensue.

I was thinking about one such place this past week. It is on a block up on the main road by my house. There usually seems to be some weird person or other hanging around it. I first thought there must be a bus stop there but now I looked and there is not. Also right there is a building which used to house a very successful restaurant that was part of a large chain.

They did quite a good business but one day they closed down. The owner of the franchise had died and the family would have had to do too much modernizing to bring the place in line with what the Corporate office wanted. However, just preceding this, a woman manager working there had been engaged in an illicit affair with a younger, somewhat mentally challenged employee. He ended up murdering her.

The place lay vacant for some time before another party took over and opened as a seafood restaurant. They did not do well and had to close. A third business went in there, opened for a few days and then closed. Turns out they were not compliant with fire code issues. After several months, this same business opened again.

Now at this point, early last week, I was pondering this whole thing. Years ago, when I moved to this area, a fellow Christian told me that there is a huge occult presence here, with many engaged in those activities. He said that these people believe that there is a portal here for the spirit world; a door through which spirits enter and leave our earthly plane. I jokingly told my husband that I think I know where it is.

Friday morning we woke up to the news that there had been a gun battle during the night in the parking lot of the ill-fated establishment, with six injured and one dead. When the police arrived, the shooting was still going on, and many people fled, some of which the police think may have also been injured. The gunman or men are still at large.

I suppose it is probably best just to pray for peace and for God's protection over evil forces and leave the details to Him. We face many evils every day, and I pray that we may all walk in His light and be his agents for peace.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Light, Air, Times and Seasons

As some know, my husband is on long-term disability, so we are doing a lot of things to live frugally. Of course, this is a good thing anytime in my opinion, as now I wish I hadn't been so wasteful in bountiful times past.

I like to focus on the fact that the Lord already supplies us with many things that we don't have buy. Naturally, everything we call good in life is from His hand, but sometimes we can learn to use them more wisely.

For instance, we live in a warm climate (southern Virginia), but as soon as I can, I turn the air conditioning off and let the breeze blow through the house. Amazingly, lots of people down here never open their windows, as they feel that the house stays cleaner that way; so they go from heat to air conditioning to heat, etc. I do not ascribe to that way of thinking. To me, if you can't air your house out with God's free air, you aren't living!!

Also, I hang out my laundry as much as I can, and let the sun and air freshen, dry and disinfect my clothing. When I have brightly colored things to hang out, I turn them inside out to lessen the bleaching effect of the sun. Today, which is a wonderfully breezy, cool, dry day, I am hanging out a bunch of bed pillows along with my laundry. This really does them good to air out like this, and it is heavenly to drop down into a bed with air dried sheets and sun-freshened pillows! It doesn't take much to thrill me I guess! Plus I am using up some energy of my own to do these things and getting the air and sunshine into my own being. Wonderful!

Another thing that is free to most people is a patch of dirt somewhere. You don't have to have much and you can even get some old buckets or cut off the tops of plastic milk cartons and get some dirt and plant something. I go to the stores like K-Mart and such at this time of year and buy the packets of seeds marked for this summer's season. They sell them at a discount and they have always sprouted for me the following year. I think my bumper crop of pickling cucumbers this summer were from a pack that was at least a couple of years old. I like to stay Organic, so for fertilizer I compost the kitchen scraps and yard trimmings. Free!!

My volunteer pumpkin plant, which grew from an old pumpkin I threw out back last Fall, provided me with five pumpkins. Did you know that you can eat pumpkin as a squash and not just use it for pie? I take the whole pumpkin (I am talking about the small ones now, not the huge jack 0' lantern ones), scrub the skin with a brush and cold water and then plunk it down into the crockpot and bake it like that. Then, after its cooked, I just cut the top off, scrape out the seeds and stringy stuff and put some butter, brown sugar, a dash of salt and a bit of cinnamon inside and to the table it goes. You can do this with any type of squash as well. And of course, you can bake it in the oven instead of the crock pot.

Here is another blessed and awesome gift that our Creator gives us: Times and seasons. Think about it. The variation does our soul good, gives us something to look forward to, and relieves what can sometimes feel like monotony in our lives. If we learn to go with them instead of fighting them, we can save our "outlook" as well as our health and wealth.

For example; if we work, eat and go about our business in the day and wind down soon after dark we have several advantages. Even if you are not a morning person, but you try to get going early, you will soon find you feel better and are getting more done. If you are blessed enough to have time during the weekdays, you can do your errands and shopping with hardly any hassle from crowds and traffic. You have time to compare prices and shop for bargains, without being in the way of others who are there because they work or are in school and they "have" to be there at the busy times. My mother always used to urge me to get to the store early and to try to be off the roads and home by 3 p.m. She observed that once 3 o'clock hit, so did everybody's stress. School is out, people are starting to leave work and everyone on the road and in the store is in a hurry.

I just happened to read that a good way to avoid flu and other illnesses is to stay out of stores and the mall on Sundays because that is when the most people are there and therefore the most germs get spread. Ironically, the Lord appointed a Sabbath rest for us, when in order to honor Him and for our own physical well-being, we were directed to rest and not do business on His day. For Christians, guess when that is?

Another way to properly observe "times" is to go to bed early. This is healthier for us because there are certain hormones and metabolic functions that help to maintain our health which can only be released in darkness and work better if we go to bed early. Studies have shown that people who work the night shift are more susceptible to cancer because of this. It also just makes sense that when the family goes to bed on time, we are not wasting electricity, we can turn the heat down or the air conditioning up, and we aren't up snacking on unnecessary food half the night! We save money and our health, and its safer and more wholesome to be tucked up in your bed than running the roads till all hours.

Lastly, I like to eat what is in season where I live. If its September I'm going to be eating grapes, late summer plums and early apples; if its December I'll be celebrating citrus and in May I'm out in the fields picking strawberries. It is cheaper and I will argue healthier to buy and eat what is currently in abundance. A February nectarine from Chile is not on my shopping list.

In the summer, the sensible thing to do is give your oven a break. Eat cold salad type meals, use the top of your stove or your crockpot. I cannot stand the thought of using my air conditioning to take the oven's heat out of the house. On a Fall or Spring day, when the house is cold in the morning, it is a good time to bake or roast something in the oven to take the chilly edge off the air in the kitchen. That kind of day makes a great time to warm up the kitchen by using the oven's self-cleaning option, too. Of course, all winter long I try to give my family extra hearty food, using the oven's warmth to supplement the heat, as well as serving a lot of soups and stews. Cheaper cuts of beef, whole chickens, even ground meat all make the best stews, soups and casseroles. The less money I have, it seems the "better" I eat. Snack food is expensive, and more expensive cuts of meat are fatty. Pea soup with a ham bone in it and cornbread are considered "peasant" food, but they are really good.

Light, air, times and seasons. All there for me to use. I don't want to brag, but it feels really good to be rich!

Monday, September 18, 2006

"And [they that shall be] of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in." Isaiah 58:12

On my 45th. birthday the Lord told me to rebuild the walls. For those who have heard the Lord speak to them you know what I mean. You are praying to Him, and you ask Him a question or lift up a concern or are just mulling over a situation in His presence and all of a sudden a thought or sentence just drops into your mind out of nowhere. Nowhere in the sense that it didn't follow, build upon or seem like the next thought in a natural progression of your own thoughts.

So I'm lying in bed and saying something like, You know Lord, I am seriously middle-aged now and what would you like me to do with my life at this point? "Rebuild the walls". Boom. He answered so quickly that it stunned me. No elaboration. But it sounded familiar, so I went scurrying to my bible, and eventually found the verse quoted above. WOW! What walls? Well, the verse talks about the old waste places, and raising up the foundations of many generations.

Oh, now this is exciting. Could it be that our Lord is wanting us (because you know I can't repair and rebuild these walls all by myself) to go back and champion all that was ever good and true and right that our civilization rests upon? Champion as in "live it" and talk about it freely. Maybe our dismay at the sorry state of morality and human behavior in our society is not just reactionary or nostalgic, unrealistic, and wrong. Maybe as a civilization we have lost so much of what is noble and righteous that we are like Israel of old during the time that the books of the law were lost. Even the memory of them had faded by the time they were rediscovered in the temple. When the king read them he was devastated to see how far astray he and the nation had gone. He now had a frame of reference, a context and something with which to compare society.

Certain words and terms such as "lady", "gentleman", "virtue", "modesty" and one's "Christian duty" have for some time been mocked and held in derision, considered quaint and hopelessly outdated. For most of our country's history, however, these terms were held in high esteem, were considered ideals to strive for, and in that striving a free and righteous nation was forged. Even the old prejudices and societal constructs, slavery and the caste system were held up to the scrutinizing light of justice and freedom, and became a thing of the past.

What pains me most as time progresses is realizing that people living now are less likely to make fun of these ideals as they are to simply draw a blank when they hear them. They are foreign ideas for which people have no frame of reference. They are unfamiliar, and therefore irrelevant concepts to the average person in the Western World.

Even the Church herself has crumbling walls. Some are even down in the basement, chipping away and setting off little explosives around the foundation. Jesus Christ, the foundation and cornerstone, the Word of God Himself, is being "spun" by the new "enlightened" way of interpreting Scripture and morals. The new enlightenment, however, is merely the old paganism in modern garb and it is leading many down its broad, smoothly paved, modern path to destruction.

I contend that as Christians living in free countries we have a solemn duty to be a light to others. In our lives and in our homes we should be trying, with God's help, to live sound and blameless lives. And now I'm going to have to get a little graphic.

Mothers, do your little children really need to see your butt cheeks hanging out of your shorts when you bend over? Young ladies, could you stop for a second and please listen to your own delicate, feminine voice as you spew out the F word like it was nothing? How about everybody's favorite expression these days: "This or that (you fill in the blanks) SUCKS". You are taking an expression which refers to giving a man oral sex every time you utter that expression.

Ladies, do you wear tight jeans and show cleavage when you go out for the day? How about when you go to church? Do you care that maybe you are tempting a married man or a young man who is trying to keep himself under control?

How about our phone manners, our driving manners, the respect we show our spouses? How do we react when our child is disciplined at school? When he or she gets a grade that we disagree with. I am talking primarily to women because I do not wish to try and take authority over a man. A lot of these little things apply to both sexes though. We are de-civilizing ourselves in the present world and I do not presume to judge, but can only shudder at what we are storing up for ourselves in the next. Think also of these little ones, whom our Savior warns us most sternly we are not to lead astray.

I speak as the chiefest of sinners. I have not been the best wife, mother or citizen, or child of God. But I want to be; and with God's help I can improve while I have breath.

What else can we do to repair the breach, to be restorers of paths to dwell in? I would love to hear others' thoughts and ideas.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

As we head into Fall and Winter, I feel the need to be so thankful for our Lord, our lives, the blessings He bestows upon us, and the everyday life, filled with its work and possibilities. "Your heritage is my delight, the lot you have given to me." Thank you, Lord!

Here in southern Virginia, the stifling heat of Summer is over, and I am once again enthusiastic about making oven meals, baking, simmering meals slowly on the range or in the crockpot, and looking for the subtle changeover to Autumn that occurs in the natural world around me. I believe that for some strange reason, we can "feel" the season when it arrives, regardless of what the calendar says. This year, I am certain from traveling up to Vermont and back to Virginia in late August, that Summer ended around the 21st. of August and Fall had arrived, quiet as a mouse in the middle of the night, like a family member tiptoeing in, careful not to make noise lest he disturb the others in their slumber.

As I posted in a different forum, "What is really interesting to me are my three cats. Back in August, they too, seemed to switch into "Fall and Winter" mode by becoming lethargic, less interested in going out and more interested in just sleeping a lot. All Spring and Summer long, they are in and out of the house constantly. If I keep them in at night, they invariably start tearing the house up just before morning and I have to get up and let them out. Not any more, since about the last week of August."

So what can we do right now to make our homes cheerier, and what little thing might we do here or there to bring Christ's light to our community around us. I like to decorate my porch and door with Autumn colors and themes. I also have candles in the windows that I put on in the evenings and even on dark and rainy days. When I was growing up, we lived in a house that sat on a tiny hillock overlooking one of the busier roads in town (nothing compared to the traffic and highways today). Every weekday afternoon, as people were coming home from work, the road would invariably fill with traffic, sometimes slowing way down because of a red light up the road. My mother had a hurricane lamp that she would light each afternoon, which could be seen from the road, precisely to bring a little cheer to the weary workers, as they made their way home. I just love that sentiment.

I think she was inspired by an old man who lived on a quiet stretch of road linking our town to my grandmother's. He used to keep a lamp lit in every window of his house! We used to marvel at that. The house got locally "famous" and finally the explanation for why he did it came out in the newspaper. He wanted to cheer and light the way for travelers (he actually lived next to an old cemetery), but he always turned the lights off at 11 o'clock at night, since he felt nobody had any business being out at night after 11. I just thought that was the neatest thing.

So too, we must keep the welcome light on in our hearts for the lost and weary travelers who journey with us through this life right now. Maybe all we can do somedays is smile at those we pass on the street or in the store; maybe we could just remember to hold a door open for the person coming behind us; maybe we are disabled or so grieved or stressed that all we can do as our heads hit the pillow is think of this poor world and offer a one word prayer: "Jesus".

It matters. It counts. God is love. Spread Him around. Rebuild the walls.