Some Pretty Weighty Thoughts to End the Year

My plans for the blog this week went out the window. I hope to get back on track next week, but for now I wanted to close out this year thanking one friend – plus two –  in particular for their amazing and inspiring example. I wonder if God had me change my plans?

Let me explain….

Last Christmas our little church was brand new.  Redeemer Church had our first meeting in January 2012. One of our first outreaches involved putting together a group of vocalists to sing Christmas carols at two events in the area in which we were planting the church. Our rehearsal was held at the home of my friend, Liz. Our first “practice” was at the home of her dying neighbor. I certainly wasn’t surprised that Liz had gotten to know her neighbors well enough to know this dear lady was in her last days. Since I met Liz nearly 35 years ago she has consistently demonstrated a heart for others.

This Christmas Liz is the one fighting for her life. Only God knew what no one else did when we sang for her suffering neighbor that day. In a matter of weeks Liz would learn that the cancer which had been surgically removed two years prior had returned with a vengeance.

For the past eleven months Liz has courageously fought this vicious disease. With the help of family and friends, she has gone to more appointments than she can count: blood tests, chemo treatments, scans, follow up visits…over and over; week after week; month after exhausting month. There has been some encouraging shrinkage but not enough to suspend the treatments that leave her exhausted, among numerous other side affects.

Watching my friend suffer with grace has been no surprise. Liz’s sturdy faith and affectionate relationship with her Savior has been well established for decades. From her “what should I give Jesus for His birthday this year?” questions every Christmas to the numerous seasons of enduring trials and disappointments by crying out to God for help, I have watched her demonstrate a sweet and tested dependence on the One who rescued her from a life of sin in her teen years through the prayers of her mother.

Many things have struck me about Liz over this past year. But the one thing that I will carry with me is how eagerly she fights to think of others. A box full of candies for the nurses in the chemo ward (including some sugar-free options for those who can’t have processed sugar). Mary Kay samples left over from her business for those of us who got to help with transportation to her appointments. Thanksgiving and Christmas ecards for friends. A request for me to bring her daughter a bagel from Panera. Simple, thoughtful expressions of others-oriented kindness from a woman who is fighting for her life.

I don’t know what 2013 holds for Liz. But I know a miracle healing will happen. I pray she will be healed to spend more years on this earth leaving the fragrance of Christ in her wake.  But her healing may come another way. She has said that she knows how Paul may have felt when he said:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for [Frank and Joy’s] sake (Philippians 1:21-24). 

Please pray for Liz. The choice is not hers but God’s. For the sake of her husband and family (and especially her teenaged daughter) her remaining is certainly the best option. God knows. Her life is in His hands.
The “plus two” friends I would also like to thank are Lisa and Susan. I have also benefitted over the past year as I’ve watched them model sacrificial love and care for our friend. Only God knows the countless times they have reached out to spend time (for Lisa, at great expense); give money; call or text; pray; cry; bring or send surprises; clean; cook; laugh. Friendship comes in many colors but these two godly women shine as those who have incarnated the love, mercy, compassion and sacrifice of Christ to a sufferer. I want to be like them.
None of us know how many days we have left on this earth. Our days may be few or many.  But there will be A Day when we will take our last breath. It could be sooner than we think. Are you prepared for That Day? Do you know where you will spend eternity when you die? I don’t mean to be morbid — just lovingly honest. Liz knows that when she dies she will be able to finally thank the One who took her place on the cross and satisfied the just demands of a holy and righteous God. She is not perfect. She’ll admit that to you or anyone. The past year of suffering hasn’t been without understandable struggles and sinful reactions on her part. But she knows that every one of her past, present and future sins have been forgiven because Jesus Christ endured God’s justified wrath so He could forgive her — and declare her not guilty.
Whether sooner or later, Liz will be welcomed into heaven — an eternal home earned by her Savior.
Will you?
This time last year Liz was completely unaware that her life might be shorter than she anticipated. Without giving in to fear, aren’t we wise to make sure that we, like Liz, are ready to meet the Lord face to face?  Liz isn’t afraid to die because she knows she has been made right with God. In fact, a part of her longs to finally meet Him.
If you don’t know Him, talk to a Christian you know and ask them about Jesus. Or just stop now and pray. Tell him in your own words that you want to know Him. Ask Him to forgive you of your sin and thank Him for dying in your place on the cross. Give Him rightful ownership of your life. He loves you. He’s pursuing you. And 2013 could be a wonderful one for you. Not because it will be easy.  Let’s face it, being a Christian means being like Liz — someone who thinks of others more than herself.
Christianity isn’t an easy life. Why should it be easier for us than it was for the One who said we “must take up our cross and follow Him”?
Oh, if you don’t know Jesus, I pray this will be the year for you!

Happy First Birthday, Little Blog

I started this blog last January. Hard to believe it’s been almost a year! A special thank you to those of you who visited here over the year. It’s humbling to know people out there actually read what I write. This blog was started primarily to put things into words for my grandchildren; things that are important to me from which I hope they benefit someday when they find the book(s) I’ll have printed with all the posts from each year. They’ll read about their Granma’s struggles, temptations, sins, passions, quirks and not-so-funny sometimes sense of humor (I laugh at myself way more than people laugh with me). And they’ll see pictures I took, mostly of them.

But it was for you, too. I wanted to create a blog where people who happen upon it would feel included in my crazy, wonderful life; a place where real life isn’t shrouded in always-pretty unreality. One of the things I have most appreciated is readers telling me I’m “real”. As Brad Paisley says, “I’m cooler on the internet” because I can be whoever I want people to think I am.

I am who you read about here. An aging grandmother whose kids mock far more than she deserves but whose grandchildren think is pretty awesome. A formerly infertile woman who calls family My People because they’re people and they’re amazingly, miraculously and adoringly mine. A wife who has been in deeply in love with the same cute man for over four decades of driving each other crazy at times. A pastor’s wife who loves it when people visit our church and sometimes don’t find out that’s my role until weeks later because I’m holding someone’s baby or helping roll up sound equipment cords along with everyone else. (That’s what happens when your husband starts a new all-hands-on-deck church when you’re old.) A flawed, weak Christian who is finding increasing joy in being honest about my struggles because there’s no shame in being the object of the forgiveness and grace the glorious gospel makes possible for sinners.

Please know that I pray for you. I love your comments and pray when the Holy Spirit squeezes my heart due to something through which you are walking that requires comfort or wisdom. That’s the great thing about little blogs like mine. While I’m happy when the hits are up because I know people were helped through a particular post (although several of the most popular posts were written by my kids!), I know this blog will likely remain small. That’s probably a good thing since the “real” me is probably a little more than some people could handle.  I’m glad you can.

Next week will be a light week and I’ll use it to finish up my series on people who have inspired me. I want to take a look at the last year and share mini-testimonies of those whose lives have affected mine in 2012. A couple of my regular readers will be in that list and I can’t wait to surprise you with how your life is making a difference. And during early January I want to share some of my favorite pix of My People. I know many of you probably skip those posts but, after all, they need to be in the book the Little People will find someday.

If you’re as busy as I am trying to finish prep for Christmas, I pray that you’ll join me in realizing it might not all get done. What will happen is the birth of our Savior will be celebrated Tuesday morning and the whole world — even those who don’t know Him — will incarnate the One who “so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him would have eternal life” by sharing gifts with those we love.

Merry Christmas!

A Surprising Reaction to the Connecticut Tragedy

I’m doing what I often do with my series…interrupting it.  I’ve been writing about people who have inspired me, then on Friday something horrific happened that resulted in the death of twenty children.

Understandably, Facebook and other social media exploded with outrage. Who wouldn’t be stunned and angered by someone walking into an elementary school and repeatedly shooting small children?

But I have to be honest. There were things about the outrage that didn’t set right with me.  This post may be controversial and I welcome your comments. The thing I’ve been mulling over since Friday is the frequent comments about homeschooling.

Here are a few:

  • “That’s it; I’ve been contemplating homeschooling and now the decision has been made.”
  • “So grateful my homeschooled kids are here with me today.”
  • “Folks, it’s time to take a serious look at homeschooling.”
  • “Thought about not homeschooling next year until today.”

People respond to shock and grief differently. Those who posted these and other comments were likely reacting to the horrific news of what happened in Connecticut with an understandable desire to protect their beloved children from the same fate. Those who frequent this blog know I homeschooled all seven of my kids from 1st through 12th grades and am a unapologetic advocate of parents considering educating children at home when school choice becomes a consideration.

But here’s the question I’ve been asking myself: How would the parents of the children who died respond to home educators making these kinds of comments the day their cherished little ones were shot dead in a classroom?

I’ve been moved by the outpouring of sympathy and grief on social media for these devastated families. What a powerful demonstration of compassion and care! Most of the comments I read were distinctly void of self-focus.  And if you were one who made comments like those above, please know I am not criticizing…just musing.

One of the criticisms of the homeschooling movement is that we think we’re better and more devoted parents because we teach our kids at home. (Frankly, in my early years as a home educator I was tempted with these kinds of self-righteous thoughts.)  But the fact is the Bible never defines parental love (or protection) by education choices. Rather, it defines love in any relationship as incarnating Christ to others: demonstrating and mirroring the gentleness, patience, truth-telling, compassion and unselfishness (among many other things) He has shown to us in our relationship with others.

The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us there is “a time for everything”, including a time to mourn. I think that time is now. Mourning is hard because it has to keep the focus on the hurting person. Keeping our thoughts on the pain of others means we can’t think about ourselves and if you’re like me, that takes self-control. I, too, found myself thanking God this weekend that I’ve never had to bury one of my children and I don’t feel badly about that. But I wonder if the parents of those twenty children who will attend funerals with small caskets this week would feel comforted by inadvertent (and most likely unintentional) suggestions that if they had taught their child at home they would still be alive.

Could this be an example of a deeper issue for those of us who homeschool our kids? Is there a subtle assumption that teaching our kids at home will protect them from bad things that happen to those who don’t? Please listen to someone who thought this way thirty years ago. Yes, I thought that home education would protect my kids from going down paths that public school kids traveled. I can’t say I kept them home to keep them from being shot (who can imagine the horror?!?!). But Benny and I thought we would be protecting them from the kind of worldliness and compromise that plagued us and most other churched kids we knew. Then our kids grew up and guess what? The temptations that are “common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13) bubbled up in their own sinful hearts and we were having conversations about lust, deceit, arrogance and disrespect — and we found out they were listening to some of same kind of music lyrics that resulted in us literally burning our albums back in the 70’s because of distinctly unchristian themes. (Yep, believe it or not, a bunch of us really did this back then!)

If you’re a parent I would certainly encourage you to make a prayerful and faith-filled decision about how to educate your children. It is, after all, one of the most important choices you will make for them.  However, if homeschooling is or becomes your choice, please don’t fall into the trap of thinking it will protect your kids from all things (or even most things) bad. I don’t mean to be insensitive, but there’s a greater chance of losing a child to disease or injury than to a gunman in a public school.

Loving parents will do anything to protect their kids. I’m sure the parents of those twenty precious children would have jumped in front of a car — or a bullet — to keep their child from being hit by it.

Those of us who are homeschooling probably need to consider how our words and attitudes can affect others, not only when government school tragedies happen but also in every day interactions with those who haven’t made our same choice. I know I don’t appreciate it when people make subtle, or not so subtle, generalizations about the benefits of government and private schools over home education. Gratefully, my kids are old enough to have silenced people who were concerned they wouldn’t be “properly socialized” or be able to do well in college because Mom certainly wasn’t qualified to teach them.

For all of us, maybe it’s as simple as thinking before we speak and “esteeming others as more important than ourselves” (Phil 2:3).

Now that’s a series I probably need to consider. I would have lots of what-not-to-do examples for that one.

Mrs. Smith’s Writing Class

A pattern is developing. People I want to acknowledge as having a significant influence in my life don’t have names! Yesterday I talked about “Anne” — and today I want to introduce you to “Mrs. Smith.”

But before I do, let’s pause for a moment. God used two people at pivotal times in my life and I can’t even remember their names! What does that say about the potential impact you are having on others lives — and you don’t even know it?

Mrs. Smith taught English when I was a Groveton High School junior. I remember her long, brown hair. (Hmmm…I just recalled that I regularly thought it could use a trim.) She was friendly and engaging, and allowed our class to experiment with creative writing rather than making us diagram sentences (some of you are too young to even know what that means) and do book reports.

Nearly thirty years after that year with her, a pending move necessitated that I sort through some old files. I was surprised to find several papers I wrote for her — along with her comments in red. During those moments of reviewing creative writing assignments I wrote at age 16, it hit me: Mrs. Smith was the first person to encourage me to keep writing.

I didn’t remember that. In fact, I had forgotten about her. She was “back there”; one of the numerous high school teachers I had sometimes wearily endured. Years later, when my husband encouraged me to do some writing and publishers were surprisingly willing to hire me to do so, I never made the connection to Mrs. Smith. It took moving from my home of twenty years to remember her.

Doing this blog series is affecting me in a way I didn’t anticipate. Having two women leave their signature on my life in such poignant ways, yet not being able to remember their names, is producing a sense of awe at God’s faithfulness. You see, to most people you and I are nameless. For the most part, we move through our lives anonymously. In stores, schools, parks, malls, offices and even churches, we are “that lady” who spoke kindly to her fussy toddlers…held hands with her husband, even though we’re no longer young…was patient in line when everyone else was irritated and frazzled. We are “that co-worker” who offered to stay late so a workmate could attend their child’s school play or “that guy” who treated women with chivalrous respect.

Anne and Mrs. Smith taught me to have a vision for motherhood and see the value of putting my thoughts onto paper so others could know someone empathizes with their struggles and understands their joys.

But here’s the thing: their example and influence in my life wasn’t “noticed” for years. The seeds God used them to plant in my heart took many years to produce tangible fruit. And even more years for me to realize how God had used them.

Believe me — you are probably Anne or Mrs. Smith to someone. The way you live your life; trust God through hardship; patiently train your kids when you’re exhausted; serve your church; respect your weak and flawed husband (who has a weak and flawed wife); show up on time and work diligently in the workplace; and speak of God’s goodness and faithfulness — rather than regularly complain about your life — is probably impacting people around you without you even knowing.

Just think. One day years from now it may “hit” someone that they’ve been affected by your life in a tangible, life-altering way. Perhaps they’ll never write a blog post about you. But maybe they will love their kids or persevere through suffering or excel on the job or have a more devoted relationship with God because of you.

And it’s okay if they forget your name.

I’ll Call Her Anne

I met her in 1981 in Cleveland, Ohio. I don’t remember her name or what she looked like.

I’ll call her Anne.

Benny and I drove to Cleveland with our two small children to visit friends who had moved there to start a church. We were excited about spending time with our dear friends who also had children Josh and Jaime’s ages. But God had a surprise for me on that trip.

I had no idea I would meet Anne. She and her family had started attending the new church and were among a group who came over for an informal gathering at our friend’s home. I don’t remember much about the afternoon. But I do remember Anne.

While we were chatting her son (who, in my mind, is about age eleven) approached her. He didn’t interrupt but waited patiently for Anne to finish what she was saying to me before she turned to invite him to ask his question. I had never seen a child be so polite and respectful, and I made note of this interaction. Throughout the afternoon I observed equally impressive amounts of tenderness, affection and playfulness between this mother and her pre-teen son.

At the time my son was only three. Yet what I was seeing inspired me. I fast-forwarded eight years in my mind to when Josh would be eleven. I wanted the kind of relationship with my son that Anne had with hers. I wanted him to feel free to kiss me and tell me he loved me when strangers were present. I was inspired by the tender way they interacted and loved how easily they joked with one another. And I was struck by the respect this little guy demonstrated to his mom time after time.

I finally pulled her aside and communicated what I had observed. I felt compelled to encourage this fellow mother who was several years ahead of me, and to share how her relationship with her son was painting a picture for me of what I desired with my Josh. (Only God knew that I would someday be the mother of four sons!)  I asked if she could give me any helpful advice on how to build a culture of affection and affection with him based on her mothering experiences.

Her advice isn’t nearly as important as her example. As I’ve mentioned on this blog several times, “more is caught than taught.” Her counsel was helpful — but not as helpful as what I “caught” from her that day.

Ok; I’ll be honest. The thing to which she most attributed the strength of their mother-son relationship was homeschooling. And because of what I learned from her that day, Benny’s desire to home educate our children was confirmed in our hearts as something we should attempt. Her reasons for homeschooling, however, had little to do with academics and lots to do with cultivating a strong relationship with her kids; the kind of relationship that could weather the tumultuous teen years to come.

Again — it wasn’t her advice that affected me most. At the risk of being viewed as tooting the home education horn, I have to be honest in saying that I would also attribute the relationship Benny and I share with our adult kids — and their strong connection to each other — partly to homeschooling, due to the sheer amount of time we all spent together over the years. We had to either learn to get along, resolve conflicts, ask forgiveness and love one another or we would have all been miserable! But Anne could have told me that the key to her compelling relationship with her son was that she stood on her head for fifteen minutes a day!

The reason why I’m including her in a series on people whose lives have affected mine isn’t because I ended up homeschooling. It’s because i met a woman who had a vision for motherhood that lured me to discover and embrace my own vision for the kind of mother God wanted me to be. I know godly mothers who aren’t homeschooling that have a sweet and loving relationship with their children. I’m not suggesting that homeschooling is the way to raise respectful, affectionate children who unashamedly love their parents, because I also know home educated teens who are disrespectful and whose parents long for a closer relationship with them.

Anne’s affect went far beyond how we chose to educate our kids. God used her to spark faith that my relationship with my children didn’t have to drift into just-like-the-world tension, disrespect and aloofness. If her 11-year-old son could respond pleasantly when she asked him to get her a glass of water then perhaps mine could, too. If she could spontaneously and playfully grab him as he passed by and kiss him without an “Awww, Mom” reaction of wiping her kiss from his cheek, then maybe Josh wouldn’t shun my affection once he was approaching my height when onlookers were present.

One day I was at a conference in a church out of state when a dark-haired woman approached me. She had listened to a recording of a message I had given on a motherhood-related topic where I talked about Anne. As the story unfolded, she realized she was Anne. What a special moment it was for me to personally thank her for her influence in my life many years prior. Ugh. I wish I could remember her real name.

So she remains Anne to me. And I’m still grateful to God for that trip to Cleveland where providence led to me to meet her. Today I have four sons who are grown men. We’ve gone through some hard times over the years when my vision for mothering sons and our patience with one another were tested. Yet God has been faithful. That seed He planted in my heart took root; grew; was pruned; endured storms; and is now producing fruit beyond my hopes and dreams.

Josh, Jesse, Joey and Jake — we all know Who is due the most credit for the love between us today. But someday I hope we get to all thank Anne…together.

Randy and the Laughing Box

Today I’m starting a series on people whose lives have most inspired me. I’m excited to share their stories with you.

I have a new favorite verse:  “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

As I approach age sixty, I’m finding that things are falling apart. The most recent issue is foot pain that has required lots of physician attention with little progress. But the good news is that a recent visit to Disney World resulted in Benny pushing me around in a wheel chair. I’ve never come home after a long day at a theme park with so much energy! (Poor Benny; I can’t say the same for him.)

As the day progressed, however, I found myself feeling self-conscious. People were extra nice. We were bumped to the front of some lines while others waited patiently for much longer. And we were able to effortlessly move to the front of the parade line where we had a front row view. I felt undeserving of the special attention because others deserved to be in a wheelchair. I just have a bad foot! Throughout the day I thought about Randy. My older brother of six years traded a chopped Harley Davidson and a peppy Camaro in for a wheelchair at age 21. He broke his neck in a tragic swimming accident on the same day in the same general area as did Joni Eareckson Tada. The similarities were stunning, but the difference is Randy died just six years later while Joni continues to live. (Her book “When God Weeps” is one of those that has most taught me a biblical perspective on suffering — I highly recommend it!)Randy’s years in the wheelchair were full of sorrow and suffering. There were times he wished he had died the day he dove into that quarry near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. But after long and trying months of healing and therapy in three hospitals, he came home. Home was a handicap-accessible house in Burke, Virginia to which God sovereignly led he and my parents; a home that Benny and I raised our children in before our move to Orlando in 2000.

Randy with us at our wedding in March 1973.

Randy with us at our wedding in March 1973.

Once Randy was home I laughed and cried more than I had in my previous 17 years combined. One morning I heard his voice over the intercom:  “Sheree, you home?”  Mom had left early that morning for an appointment so his normal morning routine had been delayed. “Yeah, I’m here; what ‘cha need?” “I need some help, sis. Can’t seem to get one foot in front of the other this mornin’,” he responded. I chuckled and told him I would be right there. Then I sat on my bed and cried. My big brother couldn’t even get out of bed alone…Then there was the day he asked me to take him to the mall. Me, the little sister who had only been driving a year, was now transporting him around in a large converted van with a wheelchair loading ramp. We made it to Springfield Mall and I rolled Randy onto the ramp, then into the mall. Not long after we started looking for the stores Randy wanted to visit, laughter broke out and it was coming from HIM! With his head leaned back and his mouth wide open, guffaws were flowing. But the laugh wasn’t his. It hit me. Randy had brought the laughing box!In a successful attempt to embarrass his baby sister, Randy had asked Mom to tuck a small box he found in a toy store into his jacket pocket. Because he could move his arms (but not his hands) Mom positioned it perfectly to allow him to hit it with his elbow at just the  right time.People stared enough back then when a teenaged girl pushed a paralyzed guy not much older than herself around in public. (This was before handicapped access and parking spots allowed wheelchairs to move freely in public places.) But then the laughing started. Loud laughing. Hilarious laughing. Laughing that went on and on. Needless to say, the stares increased. But before long, onlookers were chuckling. I don’t know if they were more humored by Randy, or by the clear embarrassment of the girl pushing him. But I cherish that memory to this day.

That day my laughter once again turned to tears. I went home and cried again. You see, Randy had pleaded with God to heal him. He even made a costly out-of-state trip with Mom to have a well-known evangelist pray for him. But his healing was not to be on this earth.

Rather than become bitter and angry at God’s apparent unresponsiveness to his suffering, Randy chose another road. He applied for a training school and became one of the first quadriplegic computer programmers hired by the Navy. He invited a fellow “quad” he met in the training school to come home with him to share his room in our basement.  Eddie became a beloved part of our family and is one of my Facebook friends today. Randy learned to “do wheelies” on the sidewalk in front of our house; contributed generously from his hard earned money to help Benny with church youth group projects; hosted lots of parties in our basement; and mentored and became a hero to our younger brother, Jon.

The day he died was one of the saddest of my life. I lost a brother and friend; someone who knew how to make me (and everyone!) laugh through suffering and perplexity. But I didn’t lose his godly example, which remains with me till this day. Randy was far from perfect. During his young adult years he did things he regretted that left Mom facing many sleepless nights. And there was the time when I was about eleven that he demanded I iron his pants — then nearly thrust my head into our aquarium when I refused. I did end up ironing those pants.

His suffering ended on September 27, 1975. I’m grateful that my brother had a relationship with Jesus Christ that was tested and proven during the six long years he spent in a wheelchair having to rely on others to do everything for him.

But laugh.

I was surprised to find THE laughing box on google images. Brings back great memories.

I was surprised to find THE laughing box on google images. Brings back great memories.

Today I ordered something online. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone in my family. Who knows when and where it’s gonna show up?
It’s in honor of Randy. The first person to teach me that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5: 3-4).