Sunday, February 27, 2011

Firehouse II - Elvis Is In The Building

As we sat at the Firehouse (see my last post - Homeward Bound) eating establishment, I glanced around in curiosity at the memorabilia.  As one would expect given the name of the joint, there were fireman's boots hanging on a hook, along with some fire hoses, axes, etc.  In case I have been too subtle, this building was once an actual firehouse.

There was also an autographed note from Eddie Money encased under a glass frame on the wall.  (I never knew that Eddie Money was involved with fire fighting, but then there is a lot I don't know, especially about out-of-the-way dining establishments devoted to hosting Kiwanis or Rotary on alternate Thursdays.)

The floor was original pine six-inch rough board/planks.  It was at least 75 or 100 years old. I liked that. Nearly all the men in the place wore their hats (baseball caps with the bills bents, and edges frayed in true NASCAR style) while they ate.  I didn't like that.

Babies, several of them, wailed and cooed in the baby-carriers, which were placed on the dining tables, right along with the silverware and the napkins.  I didn't know what to think of that.  Must be a local custom as no one else seemed to think anything of it.

...and as we waited for our food to arrive, the fellow at the next table advised my husband that it might be wiser not to mention to anyone else that we were from California.  "Not everyone around here is as tolerant as I am."  * * *

Next morning, we drove into Tupelo and stopped by the birthplace of Elvis Presley.  His name is on signs beside the highway, streets bear his name, and then there is the small white house where he was born, the church he attended where he first learned to sing and play the guitar, and finally the museum.

I was never a huge Elvis fan (the church of my youth frowned upon his lifestyle and understandably so); but we were, nevertheless reminded during the 15 minute video that the only albums for which he won Grammys were gospel albums.

During the re-enactment of a church service like the ones Elvis attended in his youth, my husband smiled as he realized that I was silently saying the words of the various songs right along with the film.  The Old Rugged Cross, Let Us Have a Little Talk with Jesus, I'll Fly Away, and What a Friend We have in Jesus.  Oh, yes, I remember them all.

                                      * * *
The Tupelo tribute to Elvis was humble and authentic.  We later drove by Graceland, but we did not stop to go in.  It was tacky, artificial, even from the outside, and according to several I have spoken with who have visited the inside tour, it is very Hollywood and blatantly commercialized.

The two seemed to me to reflect the contrast in the progression of his life itself.  He began in a genuine family, a real church, and a humble job.  He ended, sadly, in a mansion, surround by sycophants, and deluded by his own celebrity.

His was a true cautionary tale of success on the world's terms.  It may offer much, but in the end, takes away everything worth keeping.      * * *

Lord, please help me to remember that success is a journey not a destination; and that the way we conduct ourselves upon that journey is more important than any recognition we may ever attain.

Dinner at the Local Firehouse

We are "on the road again" as Willie Nelson likes to sing, and what fun it can be!

Life is always taking an unexpected turn, even at home, but when you are on the road, it often takes wild turns on a dime.

Went into two truck stops to buy post cards to put in my scrapbook.  At both they told me, "Oh we don't sell those." And one suggested that the best place to buy local postcards was the hospital.  Huh???

Tried to buy David a strawberry milkshake at one place, but they didn't sell those.  They offered jamocha instead.  Surprising, but good.

Last night, we pulled into a little town near Tupelo, Mississippi and checked into a hotel that appeared to be new.  It is a chain we use fairly often so as I slid my "priority" card across the front desk the hostess asked where we were from.

"California."  I didn't elaborate, as we had been on the road for hours and I was tired.

Immediately her whole face lit up and she exclaimed, "California!  Really?  You are my very first customer from California."  She seemed to love just saying the name of the state that, to her, apparently was a fantasy as far away as the moon.

Not all the locals were as enamored with our point of origin as she was.  We went to dine at a local place she recommended as the "best in town."  It served deep fried catfish and hush puppies on the menu.

The waitress was wearing a T-shirt which read, "Hollister, California", so we smiled and said, "Are you from California?"

She looked shocked and said, "Oh, no.  I just ordered this shirt online."

Huh???  No disrespect intended, but I could see maybe San Diego, or Malibu, but Hollister?  It really isn't a "destination of choice."  To each his own.

Our food was a long time coming, so of course, David, ever the gregarious one, asks the fellow at the next table, "You from around here?"  He said that he was.

David then volunteered that we were from California.  The man looked almost as surprised as the waitress had, and just said sardonically, "You didn't tell them that before you ordered, did you?"

More on the Firehouse next time....

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Homeward Bound

Tomorrow David flies in from California and the following morning we begin the drive home.  So much has transpired in these intervening four weeks: memories made, laughter shared, irritations surmounted, grief confronted, and a sense that I have done what I could.

Please do not misunderstand.  I did not accomplish all that I would have like to do, but then when do we ever?  But God allowed me to share faith and hope, resources and strength, from time to time with those desperately in need of both.

And God also put people in my path to share their faith and hope with me, an unexpected blessing.  Take this morning, for instance.  I went down the street to a local bank to get a roll of quarters for the washer/dryer here at the hotel.

As I approached the bank doors, a uniformed officer stepped out and smilingly asked, "Are you from California?" gesturing toward my car where the rear license plate indicated just that.


"What part?" he asked with apparently genuine interest.

"Sacramento area."

"You visiting or on vacation?"

"Visiting family.  We have a relative over at Duke who has cancer."

"Me, too", he said gently.  "My mother has cancer and has been treated both here in Charlotte and over at Raleigh.  I just told her this week that she needed to exercise not just faith, but outrageous faith.  What is your family member's name?"

"His name is K."

"I'll pray for him and I'll ask my church to pray for him, too.  Meanwhile, you try to enjoy this beautiful day.  God bless you."

A complete stranger, and a uniformed officer of the law, taking the time and trouble to share his faith and assure me that he and his congregation would join us in prayer.  Amazing.

I am once again struck by the contrast between life here in the South and where I live in Northern California.  People seem friendlier, more open, and a great deal more likely to talk about their faith with just about anyone.  They are not pushy about it, just open.

I have sometimes wished to move back to the Midwest or the South, where I so enjoy the openness and warmth of the people.  But today I was reminded that wherever we are, we can choose to be more open, even if it is met with skepticism, or in California, more likely cynicism.  We are a leery, jaded bunch out there.

I have more than snacks to munch on, as we head the Buick back to Sac.  I have food for thought.  * * *

Dear Lord, Thank you for those you put in my path this past month with words of encouragement and faith.  Help me to be faithful and willing to speak a word of encouragement to someone else.

Do you think that people in some parts of the country are more open about their faith than in other areas?  Has someone spoken a word of encouragement to you this week?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Orchids, Angels, and Pinheads


 Today I took a break from the hurly-burly of recent weeks and wandered off the beaten path.  Specifically, I wandered down a country lane called New Hope Road - something I can definitely use some of, these days.

The sun was shining and the gentle rolling hills on either side created an undulating peace as I meandered through the pines.  My destination, should I be so fortunate as to actually find it, (some in my family have remarked that I am directionally challenged - as in "turn me around in a phone booth twice and I am lost") was the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.  And bless my soul, with no trouble at all, I found it!  And did it ever bless my soul!

I had seen an advertisement laying on the counter of my hotel for days touting a remarkable display of orchids at this local garden attraction.  True, I had not come to N.C. to sight see, but rather to be of some help to family members in need.  However, today, no one seemed to need anything at the moment, and so off I went.  I am so thankful that I did.                                               

The front desk greeter at this beautiful visitor site told me that this year's orchid show contained about double the number of different varieties that they normally have.  In other words, I was visiting on a banner year.  They were not kidding.

The colors and shapes were almost beyond description, but you know me, I plan to give it a try.  First, I have never seen so many orchids in such amazing colors:  crimson, mauve, yellow, gold, magenta, white (in about 10 different shades), purple, maroon, salmon, melon, mustard, pink (in another half-dozen shades), blackberry, scarlet and finally one which was green!  Yes, green; green petals almost the color of it's stems with just a tiny yellow and white center.

And the points of origin:  Madagascar, Central America, India, Africa, North America, etc.  Then there was the multitudinous shapes at which to marvel.  Some were pointed, on the tips of the petals with tiny little tongues appearing to lap at the mist which was released periodically throughout the conservatory in order to simulate the humidity in which these wonders usually thrive.

Some were ruffled at the edges, like a delicately decorated wedding cake, with muted veins of contrasting colors running through the petals.  Gold petals sometimes displayed crimson patterns or dots, and pink petals showed white veins or splotches resembling a wildly talented abstract painting.  As it happens, I know the Artist, and He is, indeed, creative beyond all comprehension.

Near the end of the walking tour I read some interesting signs.  One informed me that all North American orchids are terrestrial, meaning they grow only in soil, unlike those from other places on the globe which may grow in water, soil, hanging from trees, etc.  Leave it to us Yanks, always planted firmly on terra firma.  We really need to lighten up a little.

Next a sign told me that the smallest orchid is only the size of the head of a pin.  This sign was posted in front of a glass enclosed case, wherein I assumed there must have been an example of this dainty flower.  However, either it was not yet in bloom, or my bifocals are not powerful enough, because although I peered carefully, I could not spot these tiny blossoms. 

No matter, I believed they were there, somewhere, and just thinking of them made me smile.  I have read that during the last couple of centuries, certain theologians would debate whether or not, and if so how many, angels could stand on the head of a pin.  Something about them not taking up any space on the time/space continuum, or some such nonsense.

I could not see the pinhead sized orchid blossoms, and I don't care whether or not angels can stand on the head of a pin.  I am of the opinion that people who debate such things are, in fact, pinheads themselves.  I'm just saying.

But what I do believe, more so after this morning's adventure in orchid-wonderland, is that God created all things great and small.  That He intends for us to enjoy what we can, when we can, and when that is not possible, to give thanks for the strength to endure what we must.

Today - however - is not for endurance, but for enjoyment.  Just color me thankful!  God bless you - Marsha

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Conversing with Grace - In other Words

Nothing humbles and breaks the heart of a sinner like mercy and love.
Souls that converse much with sin and wrath, may be much terrified;
but souls that converse much with grace and mercy, will be much humbled.
                                 Thomas Brooks (1608 - 1680)

My first thought, upon reading the above, was "what a contrast to the famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards (1703 - 1756), 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God'."  

And yet, isn't that the dual horns of the dilemma we often find our human frailties hanging upon?  Whether to pay more attention to the reality of God's perfect justice, or to focus upon God's marvelous grace and mercy?

I grew up in an very legalistic church tradition.  We often measured ourselves (and one another) more by what we didn't do than what we did do.  One old cliche went:
             "Don't smoke, don't chew,
               don't run with those who do."
That put me in a tough position right from the get-go as my dad was a lifelong smoker, and I lived in the same house with him.  My mother was the church-going role model in our family.

Mom generally represented "perfect justice" in an imperfect way, of course, since she was only human.  But she always tried to be fair, did not play favorites between me and my sisters, and believed in making sure there were consequences for our behavior.  Mom was a solitary person and had, sadly, practically no sense of humor.

Dad, on the other hand, was a free-wheeling, hard-drinking, raconteur, who seldom missed a chance to tell a good joke or story, and had more buddies than you could shake a stick at. 

Late in life he joined AA and professed faith in Christ.  But he always struggled with addictions and poor behavior.

Our hostess today used a phrase that rang true for me, when I considered the actions of some, like my dad, who want to do well, but fail miserably.  "..useless, guilty, hateful...".

But however hard we may try to consistently be useful, there are times when we are all useless in a particular situation.  However, much we determine to live a life of obedience, there are always times when we must acknowledge we are guilty of sin.  And, however hard we may try to be kind, loving and generous, there will always be times when we recognise that "hateful" human weakness in ourselves that only the grace of God can redeem.

"...souls that converse much with grace and mercy will be much humbled..." - I read once that humility is one virtue you can never know whether you have it, because as soon as you think you do, you definitely do not.

We can know fairly well, whether we are being kind, or generous, or loyal.  But humble?  Not really.

So how do we "converse with grace and mercy"?  Here the word "converse" does not mean to have a conversation with, but rather it comes from the middle English meaning "to be familiar with" or "to occupy oneself with".

Rarely in my life have I felt more familiar with grace and mercy than in these past difficult, trying weeks.  And I am asking the Father to help me to occupy myself with His grace and mercy, rather than allow my thoughts to be occupied with fear, questionings, and futility.

Yes, God is a God of justice - perfect justice.  And yes, He is also a God of complete mercy, love, and grace.  Only He can balance them.              & & &

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment!
James 2:12-13 (NIV)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hollywood Holiness ?

Spoiler alert:  If you are a reader who is offended by fair criticism of the American church, you may want to skip this post.  I plan to be fair, and I plan to criticize.  Just wanted you to know.              &   &   & 

Sunday morning in North Carolina and I went to church.  Yes, I am over 2,500 miles away from my own home congregation. I went, not out of obligation, but because I truly like to set aside time at the beginning of each week to worship God and ask for guidance in my walk with him.  It helps - sometimes.

This morning, it did and it didn't.

It was a modern, community-oriented congregation of a few hundred attendees. The parking lot was manned by the church's volunteer parking attendees, all of whom had on matching T-shirts and wielded their parking wands conscientiously.

The door-greeters were friendly and they began on time (always a plus-point for someone who worked in a time-sensitive business role for years). So far, so good.

Then, as service began, we went dark.  I do not mean that they dimmed the lights a bit; I mean the congregation sat in such complete darkness that those arriving late had to be ushered to a seat by someone using a flashlight to locate empty seats.  It reminded me of going to the movies when I was a child, before they had the floor runner lights.

As the house lights went down, the stage lights went up and the band began to play.  I love worship music.  I have loved it since I was a little girl singing full-throated hymns and anthems with the congregation, hearts lifting right along with the melodies.  We clapped to the rousing choruses, and we bowed our heads in humility when we sang the doxology.

It did not surprise me that I did not know their songs, as different regions of the country often favor different music;  and thus, I did not sing.  But it did surprise me that no one else sang either.  That is other than those standing on the stage. Or should I say grand-standing on the stage?

The congregation stood as one when the music began and I felt the little frisson of expectation I always get when God's people worship. But as the lead guitarist riffed and the lead singer posed and fist-pumped the anticipated worship did not follow.

Worship is so necessary to God's people, and according to his word, necessary to God as well.  "Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.  Bring an offering and come before him; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness."  (II Chron. 16:29 NIV)

This is not a suggestion from God, it is a command.  We should not take it lightly.  I am not suggesting that this well-meaning congregation took it lightly either; but I believe they have taken it amiss and they are hardly alone in doing so throughout America.  We face the same struggle in my own church.

My middle son has made a living as a professional musician for nearly twenty years.  He lives overseas and plays five-star resorts with his band.  He is not famous nor will he likely ever be; but he does recognize staging, lighting, performance art when he sees it. When he visited the states he accompanied me to church and was blown back in his seat. 

"Whoa, Mom.  Church has sure changed here in America."

One of my primary concerns, and I have several, is that my nightclub-playing son would be more and more at home on the stages of many churches, and those on church platforms would be more and more at home on the same bandstands where my son makes his living.  In my opinion, this is not a good trend.

Back to the worship leader at the service I attended.  He gave clues as to when we would be expected to participate, and only once did that include singing along with the band.  He helpfully informed us that the offering would be "received during the first song in the second set".  The second set? 

That is a term used by musicians playing live entertainment.  You generally have a first set (group of songs played/sung), a 15 to 20 minute break, followed by the second set.  Then the band is done for the evening. By then end of this "second set" the floor was vibrating with the drums and the rack-mounted strobe lights flashed in syncopation with the music.  I could not quite locate the disco ball, but it must have been there somewhere in the dark.  My son, the drummer, would have felt right at home.

When did performance art, however well performed, become a substitute for the worship of a congregation of neighbors and friends who come together once or twice a week to celebrate God's goodness in their lives?  When did entertainment replace heart-felt worship of the One who redeems us from sin?

It was Super Bowl Sunday the day I visited this church, so perhaps it was more glitzy than is their custom; but I doubt it.  One pastor mentioned a "casting agent" of his close acquaintance who had assisted him and his staff to produce the commercial they showed us, after he impressed upon us that he:
a) knew a casting agent, indeed perhaps had one personally, and

b) that the video we were about to view was, in fact, professionally produced and had been entered into a national competition to win a million dollars.

Alllll righteeee then.

After the offering had been collected (catching me by surprise, because I did not see the basket coming in the dark), the senior pastor took the stage.

First he did a couple of take-offs on the Packers v. Steelers (it was Super Bowl Sunday after all - and my pastor at home is a Cowboys fan, and I have forgiven him for that, so I could hang with the friendly rivalry being bandied about).  This, however, was followed by a reminder that this service was being carried live, via the Internet, "all over the world" (really?) and that we should all feel blessed to be part of it.  Duly noted.

He then carefully stepped to his mark for the cameras, and never moved more than a couple of feet in any direction thereafter, wherein I deduced they were working from a fixed camera station.

I am not opposed to theatricality - my husband and I enjoy a good concert or play from time to time.  My concern is that the church has adopted Hollywood theatrics as a pitiful substitute for pursuing the kind of spiritual worship God requires of us.  I am pretty sure He has heard plenty of slick renditions and well-modulated deliveries; but I suspect He may be looking for a humble heart to bow before Him to say, "Thank you for your faithfulness.  I bow before your holiness.  I am grateful for your grace and forgiveness."

As one well known song says, "I'm coming back to the heart of worship...I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing we've made it."

Well, we saw two more spiffy videos and listened to a well-crafted and Biblically-based message (I told you I would be fair) and then we were dismissed to attend our respective Super Bowl Parties (this from the pulpit).

I decided to skip the VIP table, although I had been assured that if I would only stop by, I would receive a free T-shirt as thanks for attending today as a first-time visitor.

I really didn't need another T-shirt, but I sure could have benefited from some worship.  Sadly, I left without that either.

I do understand that we must use modern tools to reach a modern world.  But I fear we have confused the mechanics with the mission, and that we have blurred salvation with a sales pitch.  The church at large does not need my approval, nor my approbation.  Likewise, I have an HDTV and dozens of cable channels.  I don't need entertainment.  But I truly need the church to be the church, the body of Christ.     
                    &   &   & 
Do you think the modern church is too secular, or is merely trying to stay relevant to the current generation?

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.  John 4:23-24

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Blessed Relief !!!

"The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.  ...  The Lord is with me; he is my helper. ..."  Psalm 118:6-7

Many years ago, there was a commercial on TV for an antacid concoction, showing a glass of water with two tablets being dropped into it, with a jingle that went ...

         "plop, plop, fizz, fizz
           0h, what a relief it is...".

It seemed as if that commercial ran umpteen times every day, day after day, so that every one could sing it by heart.

One day, my sister found her three-year old sitting on the toilet, singing his little heart away, "plop, plop, fizz,fizz, oh what a relief it is..." and when she told me about it, we laughed until we cried.

He is thirty-nine now, and has been in intensive care here at Duke Medical Center for the past week.  Three surgeries in the past seven days, and three other diagnostic procedures - four times under general anesthetics in six days - an almost unheard of amount.  And I overheard one senior nurse say she had never "seen a pain medication setting on an IV as high as the one she was setting" for him. They were pushing all they could through him -just short of stopping his heart.

But - oh, what a relief it is - yesterday's procedure went well; better than well, the surgeon told me it went better than they hoped for.  They have gotten more of the tumor out than they expected to be able to access, and they believe he has a fighting chance, now, through radiation treatment.

Yes, he still must have yet another surgery next Tuesday; skin grafts to close open wounds in order to get ready for the radiation therapy.  And yes, there are difficult months of treatment ahead.  But just 48 hours ago, one surgeon told us that there was essentially no more help to be had - nothing more they could do.

Ah, but you may recall my post from just days ago. The Helper and His Assistants ...  only God is truly our Helper.  All others are just his assistants.  We respect their skill and appreciate their talents, but we do not mistake their source of comfort for our Source of Comfort.

And so, today, we pause.... for some blessed relief, and to give continuous thanks to the One from Whom all blessings flow.

Thank you for your prayers these past few weeks.  We needed and appreciated them more than you can know.  We still do.  God bless you - Marsha

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Helper ... and His Assistants

Still here in North Carolina.  Duke Univ. Medical Center is an amazing place - such dedication, such expertise, all displayed with gentle southern charm and mannerisms.

If the situation were not so serious, it would be delightful just to observe such professionalism in action.

Hospitals are all alike, at least in some ways.  Too much time, too little information - too much food offered, too little appetite  - too many long, long hallways, too little energy to keep trudging up and down them, day after day.

And yet, how thankful we are for those who have invested years of their lives to learn to do the things that can create opportunity for healing and health.

That is, however, all they can do, even with all their marvelous expertise.  Health care professionals (my own mother was one of the finest) can only create conditions and treatments which allow for healing and health.

But our Maker is the only one who can heal and keep us healthy.  We forget that sometimes, when we are desperately focused on whatever the next treatment is supposed to accomplish. & & &

Help us, Lord, to remember that you alone are our Helper.  All the others, dedicated as they are, are only the Helper's assistants.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Until Next Time .....

Thank you for your prayers in  recent days.  Tomorrow they plan to transfer my nephew to Duke Univ. Cancer Center.  He is currently in intensive care in a local hosptial.

I have been away from home for two weeks now, and I do not know how much longer I will need to be be here in N.C.  Living in a hotel creates an odd since of displacement, but it also reinforces the transitory nature of our sojourn here in this life, until God calls us to our permanent home with Him.

The following verses are my "until next time" sign off.    God bless you - Marsha

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; stuck down, but not destroyed.   ...

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.  Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
                                                        II Corinthians 4:7-9,15-18

Friday, February 11, 2011

Spots and Wrinkles will be off line for a few days.

Thank you for your prayers. ... Marsha

" The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."  Galatians 5:6b

In the Right Hands

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, "You are my God."  My times are in your hands. 
Psalm 31:14, 15a

My times, my travel plans, my worries and fears are ALL in His hands.

Aren't we glad He has big hands?

Those of you who stop by today, may I ask for your prayers for my nephew who will be having emergency surgery today?

His condition is very serious and we do not yet know what the next steps may be.  But God knows our "times" and our needs.

God bless you - Marsha

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Eavesdropping Respectfully

... if they will not sign the repurchase agreement ...

... your mother knows where we are and ...

...if we stick with our travel plan and just keep ...

...a lovely day and I thought we could ...

A writer only knows how to do one thing thoroughly in a public dining room - eavesdrop.  I do it respectfully (huh?  respectful eavesdropping - oxymoron??) and, one hopes, inconspicuously.  But I do it - and I must admit, I do it with a certain amount of relish.

To a writer, good listening is like good reading; it expands your horizons in unexpected ways.

Yesterday, I was in the business center printing out a coupon (I do have my laptop, but no printer with me) to get a discount at the Firestone Auto Center.  My husband is of the type and stripe that he doesn't care where you are, if you are going to spend good money, at least get a decent discount on whatever you are spending it on.  He told me on the phone the evening before, "Marsha, it is ten dollars, after all."

You would have thought that ten-spot was the key to financing our retirement; but I digress.  The coupon/printer requirement was what occasioned my being just out of sight of the two businessmen who were having a quick breakfast before hitting the road to Xanadu for the day.  I was around the corner from them where I was unseen but could hear them - one of my favorite spots in life, unseen but listening intently.

Traveling salesmen.  The jokes are too numerous to even begin, so I won't.  The eager beaver, high energy (or too much caffeine, hard to tell) cliches fit these two to a T.  Bulging cases, not really what you would call a briefcase, more of a sample case/carrying case/ trundle-bucket affair blockaded them into their space in the dining room.

Territory is always important to a salesperson, and they had staked out theirs.  Newspapers were folded as though to be read later, although the client call list was clearly what had their undivided attention.  One, whom the second called B.,  whipped out his cell phone and dialed.

I have always been amazed at the chutzpah, temerity, the sheer grit and gall it must take to do cold calling.  Many years ago, during one of my early jobs managing a private medical practice, it was my unfortunate duty to have to make collection calls two days per month.  Granted collection calls are not quite the same as cold calls, but they are close enough to leave a similar yucky taste in my mouth.

I hated those days with a passion and established an elaborate set of rituals and rigid structure through which I would drag myself to this most unwelcome task.  It did not just require self-discipline, it cried out for silver bullets, wooden stakes, and titanium underwear.  In other words, it was tough sledding.

But this guy, old B., he just flips open his phone, hits speed dial and he is off like a filly at a derby.

"Hi, this is B. We spoke briefly last Tuesday.  You were really busy at the time, but suggested that we might be able to talk further this week.  Just touching bases to see when might be a convenient time to have that follow up conversation."

All this was delivered in a cheerful cadence as though he were stopping by an old friend's place for a cuppa' Joe.  It was only when he abruptly said good bye and hung up that I realized he didn't even have the live person on the phone.  He had summoned up all that bonhomie for a voice-mail message! 

Undeterred, B. hits the next number with lightening speed, and once again launches into his spiel.  "L.  good to talk to you.  S. referred me to you, said you might have some thoughts on our new product launch."
... B. listens to the other party .... "You do?  Great!  What day works best for you?" ... brief listening ... "Next Thursday at two would be perfect.  I'll look forward to meeting you then."

Snap!  B. turns to his road dog and says with what can only be described as an air of triumph, "Told you I would get one of them!"

Cold calling, telemarketing, all those irksome interruptions in our lives, who could do that for a living?  I'll tell you who does it.  During the years when, as the ruling compensation czarina at a mid-sized technology company, I refereed disputes between sales people over territories, lead generation logs, commission structures, etc., the men and women who engaged in this kind of activity were just like you and me, with various kids, cats, mortgages and car payments:  people depending upon them to bring home the bacon.

They just brought more chips to the dip, more life to the party, more energy to the job than about anyone I've ever run into.  Granted, some of them were smarmy weasels who required my best restrained efforts to not smack their humongous egos into the middle of next year.

But all in all, they were folks who liked the hunt, the thrill of the chase, the chance to land the big one.  Incomprehensible to me.  Of course, I just hunt and peck for my bacon now.  My smoked hams are securely, we hope, in the smokehouse for whatever duration the Lord sees fit to allow me to continue to cook them.

But today, as I gaze out my hotel window, and see two more road warriors holding steaming cups of coffee, unlock their company car doors, I am moved with something almost like compassion.

If no one sold anything to anyone, how would any of the rest of us have a bed to sleep on, a cup of anything to drink, a paper to read or pretty much anything else with which to function on this pot-holed journey called life?  Sales folks may irritate me, or arouse my suspicion upon occasion; but this morning they command my respect as they head out on the road, ready - and mostly able - to deliver the goods.

I hope I am half so competent in my endeavors today.  Travel safely - Marsha

Question:  Have you ever had a job selling anything?  If so, did you love it or hate it? 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Grief - Unobserved - A Counterpoint

(Note:  This month's selection is A Grief Observed.)

As you may have heard me say (or seen me write) before, C.S. Lewis is my favorite author.  His insights, phrasing, vocabulary, and simple sincerity speak to me in a way that no other writer quite does.

It is, therefore, with real enjoyment that I revisit a number of his works for this book club, despite the fact that this month's selection is a tough one for obvious reasons.  Grief is a difficult subject under the best of circumstances, and these are not the best of circumstances in our family just now. 

Lewis so accurately points out that "Grief still feels like fear.  ... Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen."

I have spent a good bit of time over the years hanging about in hospital corridors; and I am familiar with the sounds, the smells, the scenes one encounters in those hallways.  And yes, always and inevitably, there is a sense of hanging about waiting for something to happen.

Last spring, on Easter Sunday morning I received the phone call I had been expecting for some months.  My mother had had another stroke and was in the hospital.  For two weeks the doctors tried everything they knew to assist her.  I observed while Mom did all she could to cooperate with them, until she concluded there was nothing more to be done that would be effective.

Then she quietly asked us one morning, "Stop trying to fix me."  It was her way of saying, "Enough.  Stop the treatments because they are not helping and they are only prolonging the inevitable."

I was there each day, several hours at a time, watching her sleep, feeding her when she could eat a little, and talking with her when she rallied enough to be able to speak.

But I was not there at all times, 24 hours a day.  There is a grief that is unobserved - that each of us must process alone - as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  I did not observe as my mother decided to ask us to "stop trying to fix" her.  Only God was there as she arrived at that place of peaceful resolution.

Lewis asks in this book if we know, in fact, whether God is good.  He says we don't have much to "set against" the fear that if God can put us through such terrible sufferings, that he may not be a good God after all.

Ah, but then his honesty prevails and he says, almost as if embarrassed, as though he had temporarily overlooked this crucial fact, "We set Christ against it."

Yes, we do.  Yes, we must.  Yes, we can set Christ against our yawning fears, and feeble hopes and confused prayers.  He has triumphed over death and the grave! 

And the greatest grief in the universe was unobserved by humankind as the Father wept over the Son he had sacrificed so that we might have victory over death.

God is good.  And while our own griefs in this life may sometimes buckle our knees, and break our hearts, he truly knows what we suffer as he observes our grief and moves to heal us and make us whole - whether in this life or the next.

(D.J. Hughes at The Quiet Quill is hosting an online C.S. Lewis Book Club.  Please stop by and check out the blogs on this topic.  Feel free to join in.)

The Patience to Follow

Learning to wait on God's timing is a life-skill that I am still working on.  Some days I do better than others.

In one business I worked in for years, their unofficial motto was, "DO something, even if it's wrong."  They equated waiting with sitting around doing nothing.

We are like that sometimes.  We think DOing something is proactive; but that waiting is passive.

But waiting on God is not passive - it is active.  Faith in action is often found by waiting on God.  Trust-building is often found by waiting on God.  Good news sharing is often obtained by waiting on God.

Faith in action ....
Trust building ...
Good news sharing ...

All these are active reflections of our walk with God.  Waiting on Him is hard work, but He rewards those who willingly do such labor in trust and faith.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.
Psalm 40:1 NIV
God bless you - Marsha
Please stop by Deborah's at Chocolate and Coffee where she is hosting this week's In Other Words Tuesdays.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Grudge Against God

Hotel rooms are by and large impersonal places, wherein one reserves impersonal spaces, in which to obtain a little rest in the midst of a busy travel schedule. The one I am currently occupying looks a great deal like many other such rooms I have spent time in over the years.  

In this unremarkable place I am neither wife nor mother, aunt nor neighbor, counselor nor friend.  I am anonymous.  Yes, I am registered at the front desk under my own name, but no one knows me here.  I walk quietly unseen to the breakfast room, or to the lobby to pick up my complimentary USA Today.

And yet, it should not surprise me to be reminded this evening that my Father in heaven knows exactly where I am, now, this moment in both time and circumstance.

After another strained evening of spending time with the family I have come to visit, I returned to the hotel to rest.  I scrolled listlessly through the TV channels as I glanced at the books I had with me to read, and thought about jotting down some notes for this blog.

As some of you know, we have just driven from California to North Carolina to visit a family member who is very ill.  He is my nephew, and at 39 years old he is fighting a life and death battle with Ewing's Sarcoma.

His body is wracked with pain and distortion from the tumor and he does not look like the handsome young man I saw just months ago prior to his diagnosis.  And yet, his spirits are good and his faith is rebounding.

He had been a prodigal son in recent years, and he regretfully acknowledges this during our conversation.  Despite his suffering, he retains his sense of humor amid the pathos.  As we came around the corner toward his house yesterday he pointed to the street sign.  It read "Ewing St."

We then turned from Ewing onto Vine St. where he lives, and he said, "Look, you think God doesn't have a way of setting us straight.  I had to take Ewing to get to Vine - and Ewing's is the name of my cancer, but it has brought me back to depending upon the Vine for my life."  He said this with no bitterness.

                                        & & &
So as I scrolled through the channels I spotted a Western from a few years back, Open Range, and stopped to watch awhile.  A few minutes later, as the protagonists bury their friend who has been killed by a greedy robber baron, the character played by Robert Duvall says, "Lord, I'll take off my hat to you as we say some words over our friend here.  But I want you to know, I'll be holdin' a grudge against you for his passin'. "

I was immediately struck by the timeliness of the reminder that many of us will respectfully take our hats off to God, while at the same time carrying a grudge against him for things we believe he should have prevented in our lives or the lives of those we care about.

A grudge against God is a hard thing to carry.  It is heavy and unwieldy, and hinders all that we do or say in life.  We have all loved and lost, put our money in bags with holes in them, or trusted a friend who proved to be anything but one.  As Aaron Neville once sang, "everybody plays the fool, sometimes, no exceptions to the rule..".

The question then, is whether to carry a grudge against God for our circumstances, our relationships, or our choices.  Bad things do happen to good people.  And vice versa.

It is not for nothing that God's word warns us:

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Hebrews 12:15)

Bitterness is a self-administered poison that not only kills our own spirit, but defiles all our hopes, relationships, and dreams.

I choose not to carry a grudge against God.

I hope you are doing well in your own choices about whether to blame God for whatever disappointment or pain you are currently dealing with.  But if you are struggling in this area, know this:  God's grace is greater than your grudge against him.  That is, indeed, good news!
God bless you - Marsha

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ingesting, digesting and requesting

Carrots and Vegetables With Steak - Royalty Free Clipart Picture

The three of us have driven across six states in the past three days and we are half way across number seven.  This time and distance represents approximately 10 or 12 shared meals (3 women - times 3 meals a day - times one or two that we are not quite sure what they were, so we cannot decide whether to include them in the total).

As I believe I have mentioned, my traveling companions are both younger (much younger) than I am, and their respective tastes in cuisine run the gamut, from the standard (cereal, fruit, hamburgers, etc.) to the bizarre (Mountain Dew and grape nuts anyone?).

One of them can eat almost anything - does the term cast-iron stomach ring any bells?  This young lovely, however, chooses to eat mostly a few favorite foods.  She smilingly says, "I know what I like." The other is flexible in her dining preferences, but food allergies can complicate her choices.

And then there is the little old lady of the trio - me - and my basic motto when on a road trip, is that I CAN and will eat anything that can't outrun me.  I like to keep life simple.

I must tell you that what passes for customer service these days is distressing.  However, one either accepts the limp-wristed offerings from indifferent waitstaff, or one resists the reality of today's road trip and goes hungry.  I have not voluntarily gone hungry since the last time I had the flu.  In that instance, discretion was indeed the better part of valor.

One waiter asked where we were from.  He noted with careful respect that "we talked funny."  Ahhhem - this from someone who offered us a handi-wipe when we asked about condiments.

And then there was the lady who, completely unasked, told us painful details of her personal situation, while completely forgetting the silverware, the drinks, and several other dining details.  

When we inquired about the missing soft drinks, she responded that the machine was not working correctly.  Thereafter, she mentioned twice that she was considering "getting behind there and trying to fix it."  I am not sure, exactly, what these impromptu repairs were supposed to accomplish but they did not occur, as the drinks never arrived.

Since she was obviously under some personal stress, her inattention to our table would have been understandable, except for the fact that we were the only patrons in the entire establishment.  After our experience, we completely understood why.  After all, we just wondered in innocently off the freeway.  The local residents had obviously been forewarned or had sworn off the place.

Nevertheless, being the enabler that I am, I left her a decent tip because she clearly needed some help.  By the time we left that establishment, so did I.

And so it goes.  We may never have this particular opportunity to share time and the road together again across America.  But we will always be glad that we took the time and made this trip.  I am digesting new ideas, they are ingesting some old opinions and family sayings that help frame who we are as family.  We are each requesting God's traveling mercies as we complete our journey, hopefully tomorrow.  Until next time ...Marsha