Sunday, October 31, 2010

Glad bags and other little things

"One is grateful for little things, and that is surely a gain." ....
                 by  Dietrich Bonhoeffer - noted Christian martyr     and theologian - in a letter to his parents.

Gratitude seems to well up of its own accord whenever we are confronted with marvelous blessings and great mercies.  But, being the cranky little folks that we often are, gratitude can be in short supply when things don't well.

However, it is often, just when things are the most difficult, that it is most important that we learn to practice an "attitude of gratitude".  And it does require practice, because for most of us, it does not come naturally.

Just now, I am grateful for many small things.  Yesterday, I cleaned off the patio and began putting the patio furniture in storage mode for the coming winter.  We have had our first really hard rain here in Sacramento, and there is more in the forecast.  But yesterday was sunny and warm, and the cushions were dry-to-the touch, so it was time to dismantle one of my favorite spots for listening to the squirrels chatter, watching the hummingbirds, enjoying the flower beds, and just generally being glad that God is in His heaven.

And thus, when the Velcro straps were pulled apart, the tie-knots undone, and the cushions wiped off with a clean rag, it was time to put them into the storage bags.  And, oh joy, there actually was a box of them on hand in the garage and I did not have to go to the store just to buy some before I could finish the job.

How often have you had a task half-finished, only to discover that the one small screw you needed was nowhere to be found?  Or the one color of thread that would fix the tear so that it was unnoticeable was missing from the sewing box?  Or the recipe you were assembling was missing the one ingredient that you could not substitute?  And so, off to the store you went, whether you really wanted to or not.

I am telling you, I was grateful to find a box of Glad bags already on hand in the garage yesterday!  Really, honestly grateful.  I mean this thing could have gone a whole other direction.  An unplanned trip to the store would have meant I must first do something with my unruly hair.  And the gas gauge was reading nearly empty, so I would need to go by the gas station either coming or going to the store.  And......  and there you go.  One thing can lead to another and the whole afternoon is suddenly shot.

We tend to be so self-absorbed, and focused on either obtaining or maintaining our own comfort level, that it is easy to forget that many others are attempting to be grateful for "little things" in the midst of much greater difficulties.

One person told me on the phone this week that her grandson had come home after school smiling because he said, "God answered our prayers.  Not one person called me fat today."  He is nine, and yes, he is over weight, and has often been the object of the school yard bullies.  So he was grateful for even one day when no one called him names.

Another individual told his mother that he had "four straight hours of sleep" one night this past week.  He was so grateful, as the disease attacking his body has made getting more than an hour or so at a time nearly impossible.  These days I am irritable when I cannot get at least 6 or 7 straight hours, and tend to forget that for many years insomnia was my constant companion.  How could I forget that?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the line above from prison.  And yes, he was truly grateful for the little things.  Occasionally he could watch a small bird on a branch across the prison yard and hear its song.  He was allowed to receive letters from those who cared.  Here he was, wrongfully imprisoned for opposing the Nazi regime and for preaching the gospel, and yet he was grateful for the little things, even in those circumstances.
* * *
I am grateful for:
  •      a good cup of tea                                      Golden Rose Porcelain Tea Set
  •      a card from a friend
  •      sunshine on the October leaves
  •      the sound of rain on the sun room roof
     little things, to be sure.

How wonderful to be able to enjoy these things with a free heart and a glad outlook.  How much more important, however, to call to mind that there are those, in circumstances so much more trying than our own, who need our prayers and who are counting on us to hold them up before the Lord.

Who is counting on you to go before the throne and ask for God's hand upon them today?  Who is counting on me?
* * *

Lord, help me to be not just grateful, but also faithful, to pray for those whom you have laid on my heart, and brought across my path.

God bless you. .....Marsha Y.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Four Quaker Questions

I was reading Debbie's blog at Heart Choices where she shared seven good questions a friend had asked her recently.  She also shared her warm and candid answers.  This reminded me of a "get acquainted" exercise we used many years ago, whenever a group of us would get together to fellowship with those new to our circle of friends.  It was called the Four Quaker  Questions and went something like this:

#1 - Where is the first place you can ever remember living?

For me it was Mt. Carmel, IL. situated near the Wabash River which divides Illinois from Indiana.  My parents and grandparents, as well as various aunts, uncles, and numerous cousins all lived in or around this small town in Southern Illinois, when I was a little girl.   Rural Southern Illinois can be both beautiful and boring, by turns.  Sometimes you can drive for miles and never see anything but corn fields and grain silos. 
stock photo : Corn crop with farm silos and mountains in background
But other times, you come up over a little rise in the road, and suddenly there is a lovely copse of trees and perhaps a river or small creek, with an expanse of grass all around that looks like a park, but it is out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere.  And in the evenings there was the magic of fireflies, and the tuneless, but cheerful song of the katydids.

#2 - What kind of heating did the house have where you lived when you were six years old?
Item image

I remember the old pot-bellied black heating stove in the middle of the living room.  We brought in buckets of coal from a supply that was kept in a shed attached to the house.  One winter, when the coal supply was low, I remember, while getting ready for school, breaking the ice on the surface of the water in the bathroom sink, so that I could wash my face and hands.  We let the water drip all night in order to keep the pipes from freezing and bursting.

#3 - Where were you when you first accepted Jesus as your Savior?

We lived in the country near another small town in Illinois.  My mother and two sisters and I used to walk to a little country church about a mile from our house.  It was called Swearington Methodist Chapel.  One evening, in May, 1959, they asked anyone who wanted to accept Jesus to come forward.

Because I was a very stubborn young girl, I balked at going to church that evening, and had taken a library book with me, so that I could read and "tune out" the speaker.  But I could not block out the still small voice of the Spirit speaking to me, and I gave my heart to the Lord that evening when I was twelve years old.

White church no. 1
Many years later, in 1991, I had the opportunity to drive down that country road to see if the small, white, clapboard church was still there.  When we got to the place, there was smoke rising from the charred remains of the structure - it had burned to the ground the night before.  How strange that it should have been there for all those years since that important night in my life, and then be destroyed the night before I could revisit it.

#4 - Who was the person who most influenced you to want to be a Christian?

My mother was that person in my life.  She was a church pianist for over 40 years, she taught Sunday school nearly all my growing up years, and she made the floral arrangements for the alters for many years as well.

But more than these activities, I watched who and what she was.  She read her Bible daily, she faced real hardship with faith and courage, and she was generous to a fault, but always privately.  She truly knew how to give without others knowing about it.

She was not perfect by any means, yet she was the most steadfast example of a believer that I have ever known.
& & &

If someone were to ask you the "Four Quaker Questions" what would your answers be?  Would it help the other person to learn more about who you are and what you value? 
Have a good day. ...Marsha Y.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Less is More - In Other Words

"I know a lot less about God,
but the things I know about God,
I know a whole lot more, for sure.”
Steven Curtis Chapman on Larry King Live

 I just read Scraps and Snippets where Jennifer is hosting this week's conversation on the Chapman quote above.  What both Steven Curtis Chapman and Jennifer state in common is that there are some things that happen in this life that we will simply never understand, even when we are believers.  Some things are simply beyond our human comprehension.

It does not mean that God does not have a plan, but it does mean that we do not understand the plan in some tragic instances, and it most certainly acknowledges that we do not have to "like God's plan" in every instance.

It comes down to the old issue of whether we are supposed to "give thanks for everything" or be willing to "give thanks in everything."

In the first case, sorry, no, can't do it.  Thanks ? my child dies, my spouse betrays me, my friends forsake me, I fail the Lord.....  sorry, no, don't think so.

But can I learn, like the Apostle Paul did, that in everything I can learn to be content, and to be thankful in every situation?  Yes, that is possible.  Easy?  No.  Automatic?  No.  But possible, through His grace and sustaining love?  Definitely, yes.

As is the case with Jennifer, I too, like many of you have sustained some life-altering losses, which left me broken, and stumbling around wondering why God had allowed it all to happen.  During those dark days, I would often recite to myself the verses from Job, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  Bless be the name of the Lord."  (Job 1:21)

Two weeks ago we learned that my nephew, 39 years old, has bone cancer and is given less than a year to live by his doctors.  This is another hard thing to accept, even while we continue to pray that if the Lord wills, he can be healed; but if not, we will be able to do as Job did.  The word tells us that "In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing."  (Job1:22)

God does not cause sin and suffering.  We have Satan to thank for that - and our own human rebellion.  But God can, and will, take our suffering and turn it into something useful, and even positive,  when we allow Him to do so.  There is an old Bill Gaither song that says it best.... "All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife, but He made something beautiful out of my life."

I could not agree more with the Chapman quote.  I "know" much less than I thought I knew many years ago, about God, about life, about what should and should not be.  By this, I mean I am far less certain in my own thinking, less dogmatic in my opinions.  But those few things that I do know, well, as someone I knew used to say, "I know that I know that I know."

I know that God loves me, that Jesus died for me, that my sins are forgiven and that He has prepared a place for me.  More than that, I do not need to know.  God Bless You .... Marsha Y.

Friday, October 22, 2010

If Nothing Comes to Mind ...

About McDonald’s  We were sitting in that icon of Americana, Mickey D's, drinking huge tumblers of sweet tea.  The sun was shining, but it was not too hot to enjoy the sights, which is what we had come to do.  Look around.  Soak it up.  Take it all in - here in Mt. Airy, N.C., the actual town upon which the fictional Mayberry of Andy Griffith fame was based.  This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Andy Griffith Show, and the little town was taking full advantage of the public relations boon.

You cannot get there all that easily, in that it requires a jaunt off the main I-85 interstate, going east about 10 to 12 miles.  But they are bucolic miles and even though the speed limit is seldom above 45 MPH one simply does not mind.  Rolling hills, stately old trees, and over every other crest something that you seldom see anymore - at least not here in Northern California where I live - a lovely little white church with a tall steeple and sitting next to this is almost always a small, very old cemetery.  From time to time we stopped and snapped a picture of one too quaint to pass up.

We milled around the three blocks of "downtown Mayberry" (Mt. Airy) and it was easy to confuse fact with fiction because many of the stores are named something which includes the word Mayberry.  Pictures of Andy Griffith and his pal Don Knotts (that is Andy and Barney for those of you either too young to remember or who did not follow the show) abound on nearly every store front.  We passed the Snappy Lunch Diner, and Floyd's Barber Shop. 

But we didn't linger too long as we were really looking for the main historic attraction, the recently placed bronze, life size, statue of Andy and Opie which stands in front of the Andy Griffith museum.  However, this site was not on the main square, which we circled twice while looking for it. (Tried to import a picture of it, but apparently the picture is copyrighted and it is not allowed to be copied here.)

Having found the object of our desire, we were ready for a break when we got an unexpected treat.  Coming around a corner, just as we were driving by, was the same squad car that Barney used to tool around in, so proudly and innocently.  It is now being used to ferry tourists around this minute metropolis.

I love to sit and listen to the conversations flowing around me, whenever I am in a public place.  In Italy, several years ago, I enjoyed letting the Italian language flow over and around me, as much as I appreciated seeing the great historic sites.  Here the language was the same as mine, but sounded very differently, coming as it did with a pronounced southern accent.  It made me smile just to hear it.

This is when I heard what stuck me as one of the truest, and funniest, exchanges I had run across in years.  A husband and wife at an adjacent table were talking about some family member (it was unclear what the exact nature of the relationship might be) who had recently started a new business and had a new baby at, apparently, nearly the same time. The logistics alone boggle the mind.

The wife was just astonished at, and strongly disapproving of, the temerity of this female relative.  What could she be thinking, starting a business at the same time she delivered a new child?  Good grief, had the woman no common sense?  Did she not realize the the potential for either bankruptcy for the business, as family duties interfered; or equally possible - according to Mrs. Know-It-All - irreparable harm done to this tiny addition to the family, while mom was tending the business?  It was - according to her - an outrage, and somebody ought to tell her so.

She then peppered her spouse with questions such as, "Don't you just think this whole situation is ridiculous? I mean, what can she be thinking?  Don't you think someone ought to talk some sense into her? "  And on and on it went.

It was abundantly clear that she was anticipating some appropriately disparaging response from her husband, who had thus far replied with nothing more than the occasional, "Uh huh.  Humm.  Well... ."  Strictly noncommittal.

Mrs. K-I-A finally exploded with an exasperated, "Well, say something."

I should mention that the object of this verbal onslaught was a very tall, very large, middle aged man who appeared to have large dose of the patience of Job.  It was equally clear that he had listened to all of this before, and not just once.  He was unmoved.

As she continued to pelt him with insistence that he make some verbal comment upon this whole "ridiculous situation", he finally opened his mouth.

Without so much as a raised eyebrow, much less a raised voice or an irritated tone, he said, "Well, Momma, if nothin' comes to mind ", (pronounced m-a-a-h-h-n-d - as if mind rhymed with pond or wand) "what am I supposed to say?"

Indeed!  Oh, if only more of us had the sense to say nothing, when nothing comes to mind as either necessary or appropriate.  If only we could learn to keep our opinions to ourselves and our judgments in check.

I got tickled.  My sister, returning from refilling the buckets of sweet tea we were consuming, looked puzzled when she saw that "look" that means "Marsha is about to blow."  We hurried out to the parking lot, where I shared with her the exchange I had just overheard. 

We laughed, we chortled, we ha-ha-ha-ha'd until there was a danger of leaking brake fluid.  We quickly agreed that this was a classic and would immediately enter the lexicon of family lore.  For the next few days, anytime we were confused about whether to turn left or right, one of us would look at the other and start "Well, Momma, if nothin' comes to mahnd"... at which point we would crack up all over again.

Silly?  Sure.  But it was a classic moment, and I still believe that the Apostle James knew what he was talking about when he admonished us to "Let your yes be yes, and your no, no ... ."  (James 5:12)

If nothing comes to mind, that is helpful, or positive, or encouraging, then surely, it is better to say nothing.  It is not easy to do, but it is worth the effort.  Have a great day. ....Marsha Y.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Painting and complaining - In Other Words

The spirit of complaint is born out of an unwillingess to trust God with today.  Like the Israelites, it means you are spending your time looking back toward Egypt, or wishing for the future, all while missing what God is doing right now." ... Priscilla Shirer

The church basement was gloomy and the corner kitchen was dark and dreary - not exactly the kind of place that was likely to foster lively fellowship.  After several months of struggling to host after service get-to-gethers in this dank atmosphere, some of us decided to pitch in and repaint the kitchen to try to liven up the surroundings.  On the agreed upon day only two of us showed up to do the actual work.  (Sound like any church projects you have ever been involved in?)

I was happy that the committee had chosen a sunny yellow with which to do the job;  so I enthusiastically popped the top on the first gallon of sunshine yellow, dipped in my brush and started slathering away.  I am, by nature, a fairly reserved sort of person, taking each task seriously.  But when it comes to painting, I don't know quite what happens, but I just get slap-happy and slosh away with grinning gusto.  (Maybe it's the fumes.)   

So there I was, over on my wall humming and swishing merrily along, exchanging occasional conversation with H., the only other woman who had showed up to paint.  She did not appear to be happy to find that there were only going to be the two of us working on the project, but she dutifully put on her paint cap and began.  Very quickly our conversation seemed a little forced, so I let it drop and continued to man the drop cloths and masking tape.  Pretty soon I heard a small sigh, then in a few moments another louder sigh; and soon a forceful huff of disgust.

H. says to me, "This is just so frustrating."

I replied, "Yes, it has obviously been years since anyone has painted this kitchen, so it is tough going."

"Oh, I don't mean the painting itself.", replied H.  "It's the fact that I know I have already lost my reward for doing it that really bugs me."
I wasn't quite following her line of reasoning, so I just asked, "How do you know that?"

"It's simple", H. responded.  "I have done nothing but complain since we started, and I am really resenting this whole thing."

One of my least attractive qualities is an undisciplined sense of humor, and when something strikes me funny I am apt to laugh whether it is the right moment or not.  I could not help it, I laughed and laughed.  She eventually gave me a wry half-smile, too.  Nevertheless, I was afraid to let her know why I was laughing.  But now, twenty-five years later I don't mind sharing with you what struck me so humorously about her comment.

First, it had not occurred to me that we should be expecting any reward for painting the church kitchen.  It just needed to be done and I wanted to help do it. I guess I thought any "reward" would be seeing how pleasant it looked when we held the next potluck.  Secondly, H. complained about almost everything, so it struck me funny that she should be so upset about "losing her reward" for this particular effort. 

H. complained about her husband's job, her kids school activities, her housekeeping duties, the rabbits her husband raised in pens in the back yard, the womens' ministry activities, the mens' lack of ministry activities, and ...well, you get the idea.

She sometimes would refer back to the time in their lives when she had a better house, her husband had had a better paying job, etc.  She missed those good old days.  (Looking back to Egypt.)

She would also talk longingly about "once the kids were grown and out of the house" and they could "do some things", etc.  (Wishing for the future.)

But I cannot recall a single day that she ever just looked around and said, "This is a good day.  God has been good to us."  Truthfully, I felt sorry for her, but could only take her in small doses.  However, she taught me, inadvertently, a powerful lesson that day in the basement.  Complaining ruins what could otherwise be a growing, learning, positive experience.  Further, it puts us in a place where God cannot bless us as He would want to, because after all, He cannot reward griping.  It wearies Him, and we need only look at the children of Israel to confirm that truth.

It has always amazed me that the Israelites even wanted to go back to Egypt.  I mean, good grief, they were slaves there!  Tote that barge, lift that bale, scrub that floor for someone else, all day every day.  What were they thinking?

Well, the only concrete thing I ever read that they said they missed were the "leeks and garlic."  Excuse me?  I will trade a few savory veggies for a missed beating any day of the week.  There must have been more to it.  And there was.

Egypt, for all its woes, was at least two comforting things to them:
1. It was a known quantity.  They knew where the garlic grew and how to get it.
2. It was a unpredictable life.  You might get adopted by the Pharaoh's daughter and become a ruler.  Granted it was a long shot, but still, you never knew. So oddly enough, the past looked appealing, in a dreary sort of way.

Wait a minute.  A known quantity, but also unpredictable?  Isn't that contradictory?  Yes, but who said complaining was logical?  It is often contradictory, bearing little or no resemblance to what God is trying to show us. 

Wandering around in the desert, they did not know where or when they would camp next.  That was up to God.  There was no garlic in sight and life quickly took on a boring sameness - manna in the morning, and after bitter complaining, quail in the evening.  Strike camp, march through the heat and dust, make camp...start all over again.

Of course, they had the promised land to look forward to.  But that was in the future.  Who knew if that hope was real or imagined?
                                        & & && &

Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.(Hebrews 13:8)

I have family and friends in various 12-step programs.  One of the things they endeavor to teach their followers is summed up something like this:

Yesterday is a canceled check.  Tomorrow is a promissory note.
Today is the only cash you have.  Spend it wisely.

What they were really complaining about, as Priscilla Shirer points out in today's quote, was that they did not know when they would be allowed out of the desert, and what they could expect in the promised land.  And thus, they were unwilling to trust what God was doing for them each and every day.  Oh dear, I have been right there in that camp with them, more than once.

Fortunately for all of us, and for each of us as unique individuals, God's patience is as wide and deep as the ocean.  He wants to give us peace - even in the desert.  Let's spend today wisely.  God bless you. ....Marsha Y.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Rejoicing even at the airport

I began this morning in North Carolina, and I am ending the day back home in California.  And in between I had some of the adventures we all have when we "take to the air" to try to get anywhere these days. 

After arriving home and flinging a few things out of my suitcase to try to get myself re-oriented to home, I checked a few of the blogs I regularly read and guess what?  As they say where I just came from "God is always working on both ends of the line."

I just caught up with The Quiet Quill, where D.J. talked about the Word of God being relational.  I began this morning - at 4:00 a.m. N.C. time - reading "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near." (Philip.  4:4-5)  Then I thanked Him for the week that just was, and hurried to catch my ride.

I boarded the hotel shuttle for the Charlotte airport at 5:00 a.m. and before I knew it the young driver was telling me about his experiences attending private Christian schools until high school when he began at a public school.  He talked about the culture shock, but also listed the positive things he had learned from the transition.  I shared with him an old Keith Green song that said, "Just keep doing your best, and pray that its blessed, and He' ll take care of the rest."  He said, "I like that one."  But he acknowledged he had never heard of Keith Green (who died before this young man was ever born.)  I felt like a little old lady, but a content one.

Then I board another shuttle and the driver, a young lady this time,  says, "Good morning."  I replied, "Yes it is isn't it?"  She began to talk about having an attitude of gratitude, and about how she did not understand how people who had their health and their families could ignore God's blessings, just because something had not turned out the way they thought it should.  It blessed me just to be on a public conveyance and be able to discuss the Lord and how good He is to us.  Talk about culture shock!  Trust me, this does not happen much in Northern California - more's the pity.

While on a road trip this past week, I passed one church's outdoor bulletin which read, "Autumn leaves.  Jesus doesn't."  I smiled for a half an hour over that one.

In the past week I have been in four different airports, all of them large, bustling places with a ubiquitous coffee shop around every turn.  Newspapers call from myriad stands all over the place, but good news is often scarce.  This week, however, the whole world got to watch and rejoice while 33 miners were pulled from the black hole in which they had survived for weeks.  Thank God, from whom all blessings flow.

So I am home - and I have about a dozen vignettes to share with you about things I have seen and enjoyed and experienced.  Granted, it wasn't all rainbows and roses.  You cannot go through an airport these days without either being required to throw away something you didn't want to, or being induced to buy something you didn't mean to, or both.  Nevertheless,  I am rejoicing in being home from the airport!  Talk to you soon and have a wonderful day. ....Marsha Y.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Public and Private Faces

I am traveling this week and next and will not be able to comment on the quotes of the week.  But I look forward to doing some writing on this week's quote in the near future.

Until then - hope you have a wonderful week.   ... Marsha Y.