An end of the year letter for 2012

This is the letter I will be sending to family and friends this year:

I started to write an end of the year letter a few weeks ago.  I even got several paragraphs written.  It has all become rather meaningless over the last few days in the light of the heart-wrenching tragedy being experienced by other families in Connecticut right now.  So, I hope you won’t mind if I send you a few paragraphs concerning some of the thoughts that come to mind over this tragedy instead of a letter about my life and about what my kids are doing these days.  We’ve been busy this year, we’re all fine, and that’s about it.

And God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.  Genesis 2:7

It is the breath of God that came into Adam on that day and the same breath that continued to breathe through Adam’s children and grandchildren on down through all the following generations.  Without that breath of life, he was just a lump of dust.  It’s the same with us, his many times great grandchildren and that makes us all the children of the living God.  So, what gives?  The events of this year, and especially the events of the past few days, make us pause and reflect on what on earth is going on.

You could say that there are many causes.  You could blame assault rifles and violent video games and the absenteeism of working parents who are too busy to take care of their children or to teach them the values that they themselves were taught, or were supposed to have been taught.  However, the fact of the matter is that many of God’s children either don’t know or have forgotten who they are.  They are not living like children of an awesome and loving king, God.  They’re living like derelict bums.  That is the tragedy.

It is as if the world has taken on two natures.  Part of humanity seems to be speeding towards God, hoping to find Him more each day, but increasingly more numbers are enticed by the glitz of a worldly life and are as a result speeding in the opposite direction, becoming more unlike Him every day.  To become more like God, one becomes more beautiful and more brilliant and if that’s true, then the opposite must also be true that those who are heading in the wrong direction are becoming more and more insane and hateful.  We can see that in the news on a daily basis.  Perhaps that is the meaning of “the valley of decision.”  We must all go through it and decide for ourselves which way we will go.

We have been greatly blessed in our family to have our parents and children and grandchildren finding God and seeking after Him.  We have discovered the immense power of prayer and how things absolutely change because of it.

Over the last few days, I can see how God grieves for the innocent lives snuffed out meaninglessly by one so selfish and callous.  Some call such people disturbed and say that there could be a personality disorder.  We have experienced a relative with what may have been called a “personality disorder,” but he didn’t pick up a rifle and shoot people.  In fact, through the power of prayer, he spent his last years on earth a happy and well liked person.  Prayer can do that.

This nation and this earth are in their valley of decision.  We need to turn our prayers to our greater family, the brothers and sisters with whom we share the same breath of life.  We are all brothers and sisters and it’s so sad that our brothers would hate us enough to want to kill us and more importantly that they would hate their own eternal Father.  They have no clue how much He longs for them to turn back to Him.  Above all, we need to maintain faith: faith that God will lead us if that’s what we’re praying for, faith that we will continue on this path, and faith that our children will find a way to reject this world’s evil when their day comes in that valley of decision.

Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision …  Joel 3:14

So, may we all spend this season joyously in that we know who we are, gratefully because we know who it was that saved us, and yet a little bit more soberly since we know that there is yet so much lacking both in us and in our country.  Let’s pray that we all in our nation and our brothers and sisters in other nations will humble ourselves as it says so beautifully in the Scriptures:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.  2 Chronicles 7:14

Thank God for the fleas

There is a line in “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom that is never too far from my mind.  While imprisoned in a concentration camp, Corrie’s sister insisted that they had to thank God for the fleas.  Corrie had a hard time with that but did it a bit begrudgingly to satisfy her beloved sister.  When you think of their situation, that took a lot of faith to carry on and even thank God for the fleas.  Eventually, they discovered that the Germans did not want to enter their particular barrack because of those fleas and that is what gave them the little bit of liberty that they had to teach others the Word of God.  With hindsight, Corrie was so grateful for those fleas and for the opportunity to help others at a time when they were in such dire circumstances.

God sometimes allows ‘fleas’ in different areas of our lives.  To us they look like dirty little inconveniences, problems, difficulties and heartaches.  However, our thoughts are not God’s thoughts.  He sees things from His eternal viewpoint.  It’s in the valley of decision and difficulty that the purest metals are forged.  Our darkest days have the potential to bring the greatest growth.  No one would voluntarily choose heartache, but we are all capable, by faith, of thanking God for the fleas in our lives and then of waiting patiently for the time when (and if) He chooses to reveal the reason for them.

It’s easy to thank God for our abundance and our all too apparent blessings, but have we thanked God for the fleas lately?  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and if there are fleas in your life, remember that God loves you with an everlasting love and is always doing everything He can to bring you closer to Him.

The Trouble With Advertising

We are surrounded by a non-stop, twenty-four hours a day barrage of advertising.  As Christians, why should this bother us?  Or should it?  The purpose of our lives is to live a life of “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Advertising is a constant distraction trying to grab our attention away from the things that are real and true and instead, get us focused on the natural, temporary things of this natural world.  The whole point of an advertisement is to get you to covet something enough so that you will spend whatever it costs to buy it.

Recently, I had a ridiculous conversation with my telephone company.  I called them to ask them to stop sending me advertisements for more of their products and services.  I felt it was a waste of paper and money.  Hohoho.  How silly of me to want to save them some money.  After a long and drawn out conversation, the woman finally agreed to stop sending the offending messages and then in the same breath she said that she noticed that I qualified for a special package.  She rattled off all of the wonderful services I could get with this package faster than I could take in what any of it meant.  Then she boasted that I could even get this wonderful package for three dollars less than I was paying at the moment!  I said that if they were really intent on receiving less money, I’d be happy to oblige them and promptly signed up for the package.  As soon as that transaction was complete, she started in on something else.   I said, “Enough!” and hung up the phone.  In the end, it saved me three bucks, but I had to wonder about the sanity of these people.

Then just the other day, I had to call my cell phone provider.  For some reason I was receiving daily ads on my cell phone since the time that I had bought it.  My daughter had the exact same phone and didn’t get any ads.  I had tried several times to have these ads either stopped or blocked from my phone at different branches associated with my provider.  Nothing seemed to work.  So, I called the main number.  After punching in the usual string of numbers required to ‘access’ my account, guess what was playing as I waited on hold for the next ten minutes?  Yes, more ads.  The woman was finally able to find the cause of the ads – an app that someone had downloaded onto my phone.  Who put it there?  Not me.  It’s not a smart phone and I don’t have any data plan.  I just use the phone for calls and texting.   Anyway, the case was solved and … no more ads.

I think that for the most part, we are so accustomed to ads that we don’t even realize that we are constantly being assaulted by them.  Yes, it is an assault.  It’s a war out there to buy your business.  No matter where you are, someone wants you to buy something more.  As a  frugal Christian trying to live an uncovetous life here on earth, I think that I try to ignore it all but lately it really does feel more like a knock down drag out assault.  It takes a consciously herculean effort to ignore it.

When I go into a store, I have to almost put blinders on in order to stay focused on the particular item needed.  Some stores, especially the ones that give you carriages (imagine that, carriages in a clothing store!), seem able to persuade consumers to buy bushels of extra items even though they entered the store for just one thing.  Maybe it’s in the layout or some kind of subliminal message in the music they’re playing.

I believe that it is an issue for Christians because it keeps us thinking about natural things, natural desires.  It makes us discontent with the things that we have and creates a constant desire to always have more, more.  Most importantly it takes us away from our true purpose here on earth, which is to live the God life, the life which He put inside of us.  It keeps us from connecting with that part deep inside of ourselves that would raise us up out of this earth’s natural crust and help us to discover that we are truly children of the Most High.

Drought in the Midwest

The nightly news is replete with information about the record drought this summer.  It’s important to watch these stories because the reporters cover the story from a variety of angles. You can see many of the ramifications of such an historic summer.  As you watch the different segments of the story, it gives you ideas on who and what needs prayer.  The farmers, most definitely, but also the poor animals who are hungry and hot, the cows and the chickens.  Many professions are affected besides the farmers, including river boat pilots on the mighty Mississippi and other businesses that depend on it as a resource of some sort.  There is much to pray about this summer.

At the same time, we have to consider why this is happening.  Scripture tells us that the land is full of adulterers (it is) and that because of swearing the land mourns and the pleasant places are dried up (Jer 23:10).  In our modern world, our whole lifestyle is adulterated.  Even our crops are adulterated.  Scientists engineer the seeds that are sown in the ground and the companies that own the engineered seeds make sure that only their seeds are used.  God knows that the seeds were perfect and pure before all of the engineering.  He sees the bigger picture that the engineered seeds are not good for our bodies.  What is He to do?  He loves His creation but we are destroying, not only ourselves but others and the land with us.

The fertilizer required to maintain these engineered crops is running off into the ground water and in its turn is destroying the river that it runs into.  The mighty Mississippi carries this pollution into the Gulf of Mexico and vast regions of this beautiful body of water are now dead zones.  What is our Father to do?  You could say that instead of a green thumb, we have a black thumb that destroys everything that we touch.

God loves His creation the way He created it.  If you were God, what would you do to get the land to return to the way it should be?  So far, everything that mankind has tried hasn’t worked.  No one takes the naysayers and the protesters seriously.  Therefore, God HAS to send a strong message to the ones who are the most instrumental in its destruction.  What if the drought in the Midwest is actually a blessing?  An intial thrust of change in the way things are done?  God is certainly drawing attention to this most critical area of our country and showing us the value of this rich farm land.  We need to return it to its pristine beauty of only a few short centuries ago.  It is entirely possible to reverse what we have done to the land.  God always gives us a way out.  He tells us multiple times in the Old Testament that if we turn our hearts to Him, He will hear and heal our land.

God’s way is the perfect way.  His garden was the perfect one.  We can turn back the clock of destruction by turning back to our Father and letting His way be true.

Why does God allow evil?

God hates evil, so why does He allow it?  Since God is only good, He can only allow it as long as something good will come from it either immediately or in the long term.

After living several decades on this earth and going through many experiences, I think that I am qualified to say that sometimes we humans don’t know our upside from our downside.  Sometimes we get the goofiest ideas and we adamantly persist in the idea that we’re right.  Our goofy ideas are going to lead us into a pit.  Our kind and loving Father can only look at us in amazement and sigh.  Then He has to set about arranging situations to get us back on the real right path.  His methods at times are intended to shock us out of our stupor.

That’s a very simplistic way of looking at it, but we cannot see how to navigate our way in this dark world.  God has to constantly rearrange us.  Sometimes difficult circumstances are the only thing that will lead us back to Him.

On a grander scale, it’s the same with humankind.  We, of our own selves would ultimately destroy ourselves with our ignorant ‘knowledge.’  We use our brains for all kinds of research that ends up creating things that will kill us better.  Nowadays, we have engineered seeds, engineered everything, ‘new and improved’ things that God originally created perfect.  How can you improve on perfect?  We humans think we can.  Foolish.

As a consequence, we can only see the error of our ways when our own foolishness turns around to bite us in the proverbial butt.  We can only reject evil and choose good, if we see the consequences of evil and make a conscious choice to act positively in our lives.  As a result, the consequences of our bad choices surround us.

Even people who are not religious are able to see what’s wrong and make decisions to do good.  They see the wrongs in this world and they decide that they will help out their neighbor or contribute to a cause.  A lot of good happens because someone read about trouble somewhere in the world and people want to help alleviate some of the pain. A lot of people are realizing that some things were better before technology made them more ‘perfect.’   Each one of us has inside ourselves the ability to make our own choices against the evil that we see both in ourselves and in our world.

In the end God does not so much allow evil, but rather He wonders: why do we?

Who is my neighbor? Who is my brother?

Luke 10:25 – 29 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?  He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?  And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.   And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.   But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

We all love the answer Jesus gave, the story of a  man who was injured.  The religious people passed him by and only a Samaritan man, who was considered unworthy, stopped to help.   The good book also says that God gives to all life and breath and he has made of one blood all nations of men.  He has also decided when and where they would live on this earth.  Why?  So that they would have the best chance that they could possibly have to find God.  (Ac 17:25 – 27)

So, who is my neighbor?  Who is my brother?  When we were children, in our all white neighborhood, we used to tell Polish jokes.  We also used to make fun of certain other nationalities.  Then I began to teach English to a variety of foreign people.  Over the years of my career, God has allowed students from almost every nation to sit in my classroom.  There have been multiple misunderstandings due to differences in culture, but as the years go by meeting students from all over the world has become  a treasure to me, a wonderful lifetime lesson in finding out who my  brother and my neighbor are.  Over and over I had to face the very people that I used to make fun of.  As children, we sometimes would insult one another by calling one another a certain race of supposedly small people in Africa.  Then one day I found myself face to face with a student who came from that very tribe, which is properly called the Batwa and whose people are lovely and actually not all that small.   I had to admit to God that I had been prejudiced and spoke about things concerning which I had no knowledge.

After many years of such experiences, God has allowed me to see his nature in all of my wonderful students.  At times they don’t get along.  Their cultural differences are too great in subtle ways that they don’t recognize and sometimes won’t admit even when someone points it out to them.  The Hispanics are quick to answer and the Asians prefer to wait a moment.  Is either one wrong?  No!  They are just different.  Imagine if God’s world were only like Oz, everything just green.  It would look lovely, but think of all the other colors that we wouldn’t even know that we were missing.  Our God is a great God.  We are created in His image.  His image is not just flat or one-sided.  God has an infinite number of exquisitely wonderful qualities that are displayed in His creation.  If we could begin to appreciate those differences in each other and celebrate them, we would not only get along a whole lot better, but also we would begin to know our Father and Creator.  We would become rich in our experience and wisdom.  We’d really learn to live Jesus’ words about loving our neighbor.

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

People love what they talk about.  We all know this to be true.  When a person talks about themselves all the time, it makes us feel uncomfortable because they seem to be full of themselves.  When someone talks incessantly about sports, we understand that that person really loves sports.  They wouldn’t do that if they didn’t love it.  Someone who loves cooking will undoubtedly talk about it all the time.  If we take that further, we can examine ourselves and know what it is that we love.

I have to begin with myself.  If I talk about myself all the time, I love myself and am not considerate of others.  Do I speak all the time about my work?  Do I only talk about my children?  What is it that occupies my mind all day?  What I take the time to talk about is inevitably what is on my mind during the day.  Is my mind on God?  Does God and godly things come out of my mouth easily?  Or am I talking constantly about my trips to the mall and about the latest things that I would like to purchase?

I have known quite a few different kinds of religious people.  Some spoke of God religiously, showing that they really loved religion and appearing to be religious more than God.  However, I also knew a person who spoke genuinely of God and godly issues with a very soft and humble spirit of love.  I was and am sure that person truly loved God.  It made me think about what is on my mind.  What does my mind stray to when I’m driving to work or taking a walk?  When I have problems, do I consider how God feels about them and frame my conversations with that in mind?

Life in God is always interesting.  There’s always a new revelation around the corner.  There’s always something more to be learned about life here on earth and how God leads us through our daily trials.  When my mind is on God, it comes out of my mouth.

You’ve got a friend

It is one of my life’s goals to trust God with all of my heart in spite of the troubles that beset us in these sometimes difficult days.  With Hurricane Irene bearing down on us and the weatherman doling out constant warnings of trouble, my mind has been preoccupied with worries and making preparations for the upcoming storm.  It’s important to be ready for any eventualities but recently I bought a little plaque that says, “No worries” just to remind myself that God is indeed the one to trust.

Yesterday, I watched the weather report several times and it was starting to affect me a lot.  I came out of work and got into my car.  I turned on the radio for a bit of relaxing music for the drive home.  It was James Taylor.   “If the sky above you grows dark and full of clouds, and that ol’ north wind begins to blow, keep your head together and call my name out loud; soon you’ll hear me knockin’ at your door.  You just call out my name and you know wherever I am I’ll come runnin’ to see you again.  Winter, spring, summer or fall all you have to do is call and I’ll be there.  You’ve got a friend.”

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  (Ps 46:1)  Thank you, God.  Thank you for your constant presence and your Comforter.

Time is a blessing

Time: Time is a blessing that some do not receive and yet others are blessed amply with it.  My own parents are now 90 years old and have been much blessed with time.  When they were little, the world was in a great depression.  If we could transport ourselves back to that time, we would be able to feel how people felt then.  We would see through our own eyes that the grownups then did not know how long that terrible time would last.  The only thing that they could do was to live through it and persevere.  It took faith to make it through those days.  It took faith for that generation to help those who were even less fortunate than they.  It took faith for them to know that even if they gave away some of what little they had, things would work out.  Many of that generation took huge steps of faith to make it through those days.  They sent children off to live with relatives hoping that one day they would be able to bring them home.  They continued living their lives, keeping hope as a candle alive and brightly lit in their hearts.

From that period of time, we pass on to the days when that generation was finishing high school and the world was plunging headlong into a world war.  For young people, the future is everything and yet as young people that generation did not know if they even had a future.  What kind of world would practice murder on such a grand scale?  Would all of their loved ones survive such a massive war?  Again, if we could transport ourselves back into that time, we would know that at that time, there were no answers available.  There was no way of knowing the future.  There was only hope and again, faith.  It took faith for them to carry on with their lives, to marry knowing that their young husband would soon leave to fight a war on another continent.  It took faith to hang on during those long years of separation.  Finally, the war ended, loved ones returned and hope was fulfilled, but not for all.  Somehow the world carried on and the post war years seemed like a happy respite from trouble, although even then, nothing came easily.  Faith continued to sustain the people of that era as they navigated their way through the tumultuous years of the sixties.

Through the years, nothing has ever been certain, nothing one hundred percent guaranteed.  However, faith carried many of that generation through and brought them to a lovely green pasture with a beautiful view of all of the fruits of their labor.  That is the blessing of time.  A person is allowed the pleasure of seeing his or her life dreams fulfilled and the hardships of life resolved.  Children grow up and encounter their own troubles in life.  Parents look on and hold on to their faith.  As time passes, situations work out somehow and you can see the marvelous hand of God and stand back in awe at what He has done.  Grandchildren arrive, even great grandchildren, and so the cycle continues, each generation needing to find their own measure of faith to hold them through troublesome times.  It is an outstanding blessing to live long enough to see new generations find their way, enter into constructive careers, begin happy marriages and take the first steps into their paths of life.  Yes, time is a blessing.  What a blessing at the end of a life to see life’s troubles resolved and multitudes of difficult situations resolve themselves in happy endings.

We all love stories with happy endings and faith will carry you through until you can see it with your own eyes.  However, even in the Scriptures, not everyone is given the blessing of seeing the end of a matter.  Many a servant of God could only maintain his or her faith through until the end of their part of the grand picture, leaving this world in faith, hoping that the eternal purpose would one day be fulfilled.  Sometimes we feel as though we are in the midst of Psalm 23.  “Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …”  Yes, surely we have all felt that way a time or two as we walk along this road.  Faith continues on with the second half of that verse: “I will fear no evil.”  It takes faith to continue walking and fearing nothing.  The lives of faithful servants offer hope to new generations of young people, that though their times of trial are just beginning, if they just continue on in faith as the previous generation has done, they too will come to the day when they will see the fruits of their labor and see the resolution of their life’s trials.   Living examples of faith from the past are an inspiration to us and offer us a very real hope.  The cycle continues and we become those living examples, passing on the faith from generation to generation.

A Word Fitly Spoken

Recently I went to a family reunion for my parents’ 90th birthdays.  About a month after that we went to a family wedding on my husband’s side of the family.  Giving each event a perfunctory glance, one might say it’s all about food, flowers, music, cake, cookies and a lot of chatter.  However, there is so much more going on.  The Scriptures encourage us to get together with the family of God.  Why?  These experiences with my natural family made the answer abundantly clear to me.

On the surface, a white bridal runner, home made Italian cookies piled high on the dessert table, luscious carrot cake with ivory frosting, champagne toasts and many clinkings of glasses while the young couple reward us with a kiss.  But beneath the white roses (with just a hint of pink), wishes of congratulations and happy smiles runs a current of issues: hearts that ache due to broken relationships.  Faces marked by rivers of tears now slightly dried from their recent rivers flowing down.  Hearts bruised from life’s fiery trials, looking for answers, praying for hope.

Amidst all of these hidden hurts, a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver (Pr 25:11).   We have in our hearts and tongues the power to heal a heart and give someone hope.  A measure of friendship lessens the depth of the creases where tears have worn deep crevasses.  One young life looking for direction, another looking for hope.  Even a quick prayer costs me nothing but my time and yet the results are enormous.  How can we know of these situations if we don’t get together with our brothers and sisters?  When we see each other, so much is going on.  Where the threads of our relationships have been torn, they are being stitched back together.  Patches are sown over places made bare from the daily wear and tear of life.  Restorations and connections are happening even under the surface.  God is not idle.  If we give Him just a bit of our time and effort, He’ll run with it and stretch it out to last a lifetime.  Especially in difficult times, much is accomplished.

Hebrews 10:25  Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.