Friday, August 26, 2011

I Can Do All Things Through Christ Who Strengthens Me

Physically and emotionally exhausted, I continued to pick up broken glass and pieces of shingles from 87-year-old Virginia Bennett's yard.

She had been without a working toilet for three weeks and was waiting for a plumber when we knocked on her door.  Flustered by the interruption, she seemed hard pressed to accept our offer to help.  She had just received her noon meal from Meals on Wheels and wanted to finish it before it got cold, she knew a plumber was coming and now strangers were offering assistance.

Her home had received minor damage; her main concern was her small yard.  Three weeks had passed since the tornado, no one had been by to cut the grass since then.  She had young boys who were willing to cut the grass, but she was afraid they would be hurt by flying debris.

When asked for a rake, she couldn't remember if she had one; a member of our team was able to borrow two rakes from a neighbor and we began picking through the overgrown lawn.  Members of our team worked in her small front yard picking up debris and sweeping the sidewalk while others worked in the back and side yards.

When we felt we had done all we could, we were greeted by Virginia who wanted to offer us drinks and snacks.  She apologized for not having more, but insisted we take two small packages of pretzels.  As several of us sat on coolers on her front porch (her refrigerator had ceased working) she thanked us repeatedly for our efforts and for the efforts of all the volunteers who had helped her and her hometown.

After several hours in the sun, I was tired and moving slowly.  When we got back to the church, I had decided to lie down for a couple of hours before finding more work.  I went upstairs, came back down to tell the girls where I would be, and found Allyson doodling an a piece of paper.

I started back up the stairs and before I made it to the air mattress, I turned around and walked back down the stairs.  There was so much to do, and we had so little time left.  I went out to the distribution tent to offer my assistance.  Time passed quickly as I talked with people, helped them find food and toiletry items and then prayed with them.

 Before we left Joplin, several of us talked about what had taken place.  We talked about the devastation and the people who had poured their hearts out to us.  When one of our church members cried and said she didn't want to go home because there was still so much to do, Pastor Chris gently reminded her that one person can make a difference, but one person can not do everything that needs to be done.

Tonight, I was thinking about how I felt when we first adopted the girls.  I would rock them after hearing them cry out in their sleep, ("No!" "Don't!" and "Stop!" were common cries) and then I would cry realizing that while I was making a difference in the lives of two, there were so many children who were in abusive situations who wouldn't be spared a life of pain.  The weight of those thoughts wore me down.  At some point, it became clear to me that God had sent the girls to us.  And, it became clear that He wasn't asking me to save the world, one child at a time.  I was being asked to do the best I could with these two little girls, so that perhaps one day they could go out into the world and each could save two more.

I don't know what will happen, I don't know how God's Kingdom will be affected by the lives of Allyson and Kayleigh, but I do know that lives will be changed because of them.

In Joplin, we all experienced the need to do more.  My hope is that each and every volunteer will come to the realization that their actions will make a difference.  They have played an important role in furthering God's Kingdom and when they leave Joplin, or any other mission field, to come home, they can rest knowing they have done what they were called to do, and others will follow their lead.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Don't Chase Them Away

Have you ever looked around on Sunday morning and realized that a lot of teenagers are no longer attending church with their parents?  If you haven't, take a few minutes and see if a few names don't come to mind.

My girls have asked me on several occasions why certain parents don't make their children come to church.  Specifically, teen-aged children.  To them, it was a matter of discipline: "You live in my house, you follow my rules."  I wonder...

We've all heard it said that Christians drive more people away from the church, and God, than Satan does.  I've known that to be true for years.  My father was a perfect example.  Family members were unable to let go of the mistakes he had made as a teen.  These were "good Christian people" who had leadership roles in the church.  Yet, they showed no understanding of grace and mercy.  Yes, they believed the Bible to be God-inspired, infallible, and a guide to life.  BUT, they had a problem applying the truths from God's word.

My dad knew scripture and would bitterly quote it when referring to them.  "Judge not, lest ye be judged," comes to mind, as does "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

The idea that "we ALL have sinned and fall short" was always present as I was growing up.  It saddened me to know that the same people who were winning souls for Christ, were the very same people who could not accept those souls within the church.  I often wondered if witnessing to people had become an equivalent to the gunslinger's notch on the belt.  

How often do we love people to Christ only to dump them after a few weeks?  I've seen this over and over again as those new in Christ do not change their appearance (personal grooming habits), wardrobe, vocabulary (or some other glaring imperfection) fast enough to suit the mature Christians within the congregation.

None of us want to be judged, and yet, we are quick to pass judgment on others.  As adults, we know that we shouldn't jump to conclusions.  I remember being told as a child, "Don't judge a book by it's cover."  Perhaps you remember this one, "Don't judge someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes."

The next time I see teenagers talking during worship, I will smile and raise my finger to my lips to "hush" them and remind myself that I'd rather see them whispering in church than yelling in the streets.  The next time I see a boy with jeans that are dangerously close to falling off, or a girl with a top that exposes too much skin, I will try to remember that Jesus didn't shy away from the woman at the well.

I want to be more tolerant, how about you?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Raising Girls in a Narcisstic Culture

Raising teenagers has never been easy.  As hormones take over our sweet children, they become uncharacteristically moody and we must wait until their early twenties for them to be real  people capable of carrying on a conversation without heavy sighing and rolling their eyes.

Today's teenage girls are inundated with images that have the potential to destroy their self-esteem.  Pop stars in barely there outfits, teen television personalities flaunting their sexuality and in some cases, their parents are not only aware of the behavior, they are encouraging it!

Each new generation of parents worry about what their children are going to be faced with as they enter middle and high school.  "It's a lot worse now than it was when we were teenagers," is a common remark.  So is, "Kids today face so much more pressure and are exposed to so much more than we were at their age."  

I am certainly not discounting these concerns, but I am wondering if we should spend more time preparing our children and less time lamenting?

I have been talking to my girls for a couple of years about making a "husband list."  At fourteen, they are beginning to see the seriousness of issue.  "He has to be taller than me," is no longer on the list, neither is "He has to be cute."  So, what should be on the list?

We started with Job 31:4-30 and talked about personal qualities that were non-negotiable:

1. He must be a Christian who lives his faith, he has to "walk the walk, not just talk the talk."
2. He must be compassionate.
3. He must be generous.
4. He must be respectful of me and my family and friends.  
5. He must love me for me, not for who he thinks I will be.
6. He must bring my mother pink roses and banana cream pie.

Okay, that last one didn't make the list, but the first five are set in stone.  My hope would be that every young girl creates a husband list and starts with our list.  My daughters have each added to their initial list based on their personalities.  For example, one girl wants a man who likes horses, both girls want a man who likes music.

My frustration with my daughters and other girls their age is with their perceived need for a male counterpart.  My girls aren't old enough to date, but they still feel the need to have a boyfriend in order to fit in with other teens.  They feel lonely if they aren't in a relationship.  Why is that?

Have you ever watched television?  Find a show featuring teenagers that doesn't portray the unattached teen as a loser.   And of course, there are other pressures.  Girls feel the pressure to be popular, to be thin, to do well in school...  Again, these pressures come from television and other sources.

Deep within each of us, God has created a desire to be the best person we can possibly be.  The problem is, too often young women look to popular culture to define what best is.  The Bible clearly defines best in Proverbs 31: 10-31.

My challenge to you is this:  If you haven't talked with your daughter about what to look for in a husband, do it now.  Do it before she finds herself in a troublesome relationship.  I honestly believe the divorce rate could be drastically reduced if we talked with our daughters about choosing a godly man while they were young.  If you wait until they are actually dating, you may find yourself fighting a much harder battle.

How do you initiate the conversation with your daughter if she's not yet old enough to date?
How do you initiate the conversation with your daughter is she's already dating?

I will do my best to answer those questions in a future blog.  If you would like to see additional mother/daughter issues addressed, please comment below.  I'm wondering if you'd like to discuss how to prepare your daughter for puberty and how to talk with your daughter about intimacy.  

Blessings to you and yours,

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why Blog?

You may have heard it said that there are no new plots.  If I want to write a short story or a novel, I want my material to be fresh, unique.  What can I write about?

1.  Rich boy meets poor girl, parents dis- approve, but they conquer all in the name of love.
2.  Rich girl meets poor boy, parents dis- approve, but they conquer all in the name of love.

3.  Poor boy meets poor girl, they discover their love is stronger than any financial/medical/family crisis.
4.  Poor boy/girl befriends a lonely, older man/woman and receives a large inheritance in return.

Do you see where I'm headed with this?  It's been done before.  So, why should I write?  If I can't come up with an original plot why bother?

And, what about blogging?  What could I possibly blog about that hasn't been covered ad nauseam?  Family issues?  Parenting issues?  Faith issues?  Dealing with a chronic illness?  

Again, it's all been done before.  So, why blog?

I asked myself that very question when it was suggested I start a blog.  I came up with these reasons, and a few questions:

1.  I can write from a fresh perspective because my life's experiences are unique to me and while my potential readers will not have had the same experiences, they  may relate more closely to what I am saying than they would to someone else.  Does that mean my readers will all be middle-class farm wives living in the Midwest?

2.  Writing is therapeutic for me.  I find it easy to spill my heart onto paper, or the computer screen.  My hope is that if writing is therapeutic for me, reading what I've written will be therapeutic for others. Does that mean every blog should reflect my soul-searching?

3.  I love people.  Ask my family.  There are no strangers, just friends I haven't met, yet.  I can't stay in touch with everyone I meet, so I use blogging to keep everyone up to date.  Does that mean I have to include details on a daily basis?

I started blogging in December of 2010.  I truly didn't know what I was doing.  In July of 2010, I didn't even know what blogging was!  I wanted to give it a try, and wrote a few entries.  Christmas celebrations and family gatherings distracted me and I didn't write consistently, though I wanted to.  January brought the news we had dreaded - my mother-in-law's cancer was growing.  

I wrote as often as I could, sometimes I was just too weary to write.  When I did write, I was encouraged by my followers' feedback.  As they would cheer me on, I was motivated to write.  I can name four followers who told me (in person) that they were disappointed when I didn't blog for a few days, as they enjoyed "chatting" with me.

And, as for the questions I asked myself...
1.  No, my readers aren't all middle-class farm wives living in the Midwest.  In fact, very few are.
2.  I am still trying to develop a pattern for the content I want to cover, but it is important to me to be able to blog about humorous events, not just the events that shake me to the core.
3.  I try to write conversationally.  I picture my readers in my living room enjoying a piece of homemade pie and an ice cold drink.  I may not "hear" what my readers have to say, but I write as if I know what they want to ask. People rarely ask about the little stuff: what you had to eat, how well you slept, etc.  so, I'm not going to include the boring details.

How long will I continue to blog?  I'm not sure.  Probably as long as people let me know they are encouraged, amused, or motivated by my postings. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Few Words About My Mother-In-Law

No one ever called Wanda Fuhrman lazy. 

A few weeks ago, our son, Ross and his wife, Jennie, were making improve- ments to their new house.  I had been helping as much as I could, and at least once each day I would describe to Wanda the progress that had been made.  Each day, her response was the same, "I wish I could help.  You know, I love to paint.  And I'd love to help them with the clean-up."

It soon became apparent that I needed to be with Wanda more than I needed to help them.  Just before I started staying with her full-time, I went over to help.  Wanda didn't have the strength or the stamina to help with the remodelling, but she did find a way to contribute.  She prepared a meal for 12.  If you knew her, you know she didn't bring sandwiches and chips.  It was a meal.  Not only did she bring food, and a fruit drink she'd made herself, she brought plates, flatware and glasses.  She'd thought of everything we'd need.  This was to be the last meal she prepared. 

When your birthday came around, you were going to get something from Wanda's oven.  Accomplishments and milestones were celebrated with food from her oven, and she expressed her sympathy with food from her oven.  Just a few weeks ago, while she was still taking chemotherapy, she made cinnamon rolls from scratch for a friend's grieving family. 

Being tired and feeling sick were no excuse in her book.  There was work to be done and she was the woman for the job, right up until three weeks ago.

My first memory of the woman who would later become my mother-in-law is still vivid.  At eight years old, I would run to the edge of our front yard to wave at the woman with the red bandana wrapped around her hair as she drove past in a grain truck.  Numerous grain trucks drove past our house during harvest, but I only ran to the road for one.  The one being driven by a woman. 

I, like many of you, was impressed by her.  Wanda Fuhrman was an accomplished seamstress, she kept an immaculate house, she tended her lawn and garden with extraordinary results.  She loved to send cards and prepare food for others. 

I had told Wanda she was the epitome of the Proverbs 31 woman.  As I read the scripture to her, I remembered a time when we were shopping and she took me into an expensive ladies clothing store.  My eyes were immediately drawn to an ivory wool jacket. While I had it on, she wrote notes on a small piece of paper.  Within a week, she presented me with a similar jacket she had made.  She loved to sew and she was masterful.

We did a lot of reminscing in the last few months.  As I took her to chemotherapy treatments and appointments for blood work, she  would tell me stories from her past.  Some were new, and others I had heard before.

Like the time she mailed a box of mashed potatoes to her Aunt Elsie. It was Thanksgiving 1953 and this was the first year Wanda had hosted the families.  And not just immediate family.  Grandma Strong's sisters were there with their families.  When Aunt Elsie questioned the amount of potatoes Wanda had prepared, Wanda assured Aunt Elsie that there would be enough.  Aunt Elsie was certain they would run out of potatoes and wanted to quickly prepare more.  Wanda insisted there would be enough, that she knew in advance how many people were coming and she had prepared with that number in mind.

At the end of the day, there were potatoes left over.  Though she never elaborated, I'm sure Earl instigated the idea of mailing the leftovers to Aunt Elsie.  But, he didn't mail them.  Wanda was the one who giggled in delight as she packed them for shipping.  Years later, Aunt Elsie would laugh and tell her version of the story. Not everyone saw Wanda's onery streak, but it was there.

She was also strong-willed.  If she wanted to get something done, nothing was going to stop her.  Not even cancer. 

I've always loved her angel food cake, as one of the grandchildren said, "It's what she's famous for." I've never tasted angel food cake like hers, it almost melts in your mouth. After waiting almost thirty years, she finally gave me the recipe.  I told her I wanted to practice until I was confident I could make the cake without her assistance.  Two weeks ago, she was ready to teach me the secrets. 

As she drifted off to sleep, I decided to make the cake myself.  I was following the recipe, when suddenly, out of nowhere, she appeared!  She was almost frantic as she said, "Why'd you start without me?  You can't do it that way!  You have to sift the flour and sugar first!"  As she was talking she flung her walker out of the way, tipping it over.  I began to laugh as she quickly rattled off instructions and reached around me to get what was needed.  We worked together to salvage the batter.  I was worried that I had ruined the cake, but it turned out perfectly. I rewrote the instructions so that the steps were listed in correct order.  I don't know if I'll always remember everything she told me,  but the image of her shoving that walker out of her way and gently pushing me aside will stay with me forever. 

Her tumor advanced at a terrifying pace.  While she wasn't able to do as much as she would have liked on Easter weekend, she did enjoy having family with her.  Marlin told her repeatedly to, "Sit down and rest."  The idea of sitting and watching everyone else do the work was unimaginable to her.  So, she did as much as her body would allow. 

No one will ever remember Wanda Fuhrman as lazy.

I asked God to heal her, and he said, "not yet."  I asked God to keep her free from pain, and he said, "not yet."  I asked God to take her home, and he said, "yes, that I will do."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nothing New Under the Sun

Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 (New King James version)

That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which it may be said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been in ancient times before us.

This scripture came to mind as I introduced the girls to a new chapter in their world history book.  The author of the textbook suggested that people have always faced the same problems.  People have found it necessary to find sources for food and shelter.  People have found it necessary to develop social and political organizations as their populations grew and they have found religious expression a necessity.

Until this past week, the girls have found history lessons to be laborious.  Suddenly, their opinions have changed. A lively discussion about how different generations have approached the same basic problems opened their eyes to the meaning behind the statement, "history repeats itself."  Until last week, they thought that statement only applied to clothing styles.

Coincidentally, I remembered reading an online discussion about Ecclesiastes 1:9.  Some of the comments were from people who misinterpreted the scripture and were using those misinterpretations to attack those of us who believe the Holy Bible to be divinely inspired.  I have been unable to find the comment thread again, but one comment went something like this: "Nothing new?  Are you serious?  We can invent nothing new because everything has already been invented?  So, we didn't invent the internet, it was already invented?  Where has it been?  What kind of idiot would believe this stuff:"

Isn't it interesting how people can take a scripture out of context to support their misguided opinions, and yet so quickly ignore scripture when it doesn't?

These two verses speak of universal truths.  All emotions, while new to us, have been experienced by others.  And, human behavior is fairly predictable.

As we deal with sickness and death, we can be assured that we are not the first to grieve.  Every generation before us has dealt with the loss of loved ones.  As we worry about rising cost of food, we can be assured ours is not the first generation, nor will it be the last, to worry about how to provide for the next meal. The same goes for shelter.  Each generation has searched for a form of shelter that will satisfy their needs and then begins searching for a better form of shelter as they become aware of the shelters others are utilizing.

The Ten Commandments address these universal truths regarding emotion and human behavior. 

1.  You shall have no other gods before me.
2.  You shall not make for yourself an idol...
3.  You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
4.  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
5.  Honor your father and your mother.
6.  You shall not murder. 
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8.  You shall not steal.
9.  You shall not lie.
10. You shall not covet...anything that belongs to your neighbor.

And yet, we must be reminded again and again.  In our quest for a better life, we get wrapped up in ourselves and our daily struggles without thinking about what we have done or thinking about what we know to be true.

We've all heard the saying "No one should remember you by how many hours you spent at work, they should remember you by how many hours you spent with family and friends."  Or course, we have to work, that's not the point.  The point is this: when your day is done are you satisfied that your family was well cared for, and have they felt your love?

Will you attend a loved one's funeral and wish you'd spent more time with them?  Will you wish you hadn't left words unsaid?  If so, you wouldn't be the first, nor would you be the last. But, while you have the chance, tell someone you love them.  Skip the mindless programs on television and visit someone you haven't seen in a while. 

The first chapter of Ecclesiastes is a reminder to all of us that life is happening right now and we aren't always going to like how it plays out.  Everything we feel, was felt thousands of years ago.  And while we cannot add a day to our lives through worry,  we can take a few seconds throughout our days to acknowledge the possibility that what we are doing may, or may not, be the best way to express our love.

A wise person told me on more than one occasion: "You can always make more money, but you can't make more time."  She was right.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thou Shalt Not Waste

I have been blessed by the grandmothers in my life, mine and Marlin's.  When we got married, we had three grandmothers and three grandfathers present.  Prior to our marriage, I had spent time with two great-grandmothers and my paternal grandmother.  Each of these women have played a role in creating the woman I am today. 

Now that I am a grandmother, I see the world a little differently.  Minor mishaps that would have upset me when caused by my children, no longer upset me.  More than once I have heard my children say, "Wow!  I'd have been in big trouble if I'd done that when I was little!"

And they are right.  Now that I am older (and most certainly wiser), I understand that some things are not worth getting upset about.  For example, if my kids asked for ice cream for breakfast, I would have refused.  And if my precious grandchildren ask?  Well, ice cream is a dairy product.  Of course, I'm going to let them have ice cream, I'm not going to deny them food from one of the four basic food groups. (Hopefully, their parents aren't reading this entry!)

In the last few weeks, Wanda (my mother-in-law) and I have been reminiscing about family members who are no longer living.  We have laughed and cried as one of us and then the other would recount a story from days gone by.  Most of the stories are about "Grandma Fritz."  (Marlin's paternal grandfather's nickname was "Fritz".)  Grandma loved being called "Grandma Fritz."

Actually, Grandma Fritz loved almost everything and certainly everyone.  Even though it's been over twenty years, I can still hear her laugh.  She loved jokes and while she could rarely tell a joke in it's entirety, she loved to try.  We'd always end up laughing with her as she fussed over her inability to remember an important element of the joke.

Grandma Fritz loved to cook.  She was a great cook, but I learned very early in our courtship, not to sit by her at mealtime.  The problem?  No matter how much food you put on your plate, she didn't think it was enough and when she was supposed to dishing up food for her own plate, she'd add food to yours! 

She was used to cooking large meals, she'd cooked for harvest crews in the past.  She also knew how to get a meal ready for company on a moment's notice.  I was always amazed at how little was left over at the end of a meal.  But, if there was any food left over, it was saved for another meal.  If the remaining portion was very small, someone  would be coerced into eating it, but if there was no one willing to eat the last few green beans or the last chicken breast, it would be wrapped up and saved for Grandpa Fritz's next meal.

Wrapping up leftovers meant reaching into the drawer and removing a piece of previously used aluminum foil.  She kept several pieces in the drawer and knew how much could be covered with each one.  She'd pull out the necessary piece of aluminum foil and smooth it out before placing it over the food.  When she prepared those leftovers, she'd wash the aluminum foil, fold it, and place it back in the drawer.

Nothing was wasted.  Grandpa and Grandma had lived through the Great Depression and made every penny count.  Nothing was thrown away if it could be reused or repurposed.  Clothes were not thrown out because they were out of style or because they had a stain or flaw.  (Family would cringe knowing they could afford better, but refused.  I still remember Grandpa's dark brown polyester pants - decorated with snags - and his lavendar shirt splattered with stains.)

Grandma Fritz loved to feed Marlin and his cousin, Brian, when they were working at Grandpa Fritz's farm.  When I could, I would join them as the food was always delicious.  For almost thirty years, our favorite story about Grandma Fritz has been about a time I was not present, but I certainly wish I had been!

After working hard all morning, the guys came in for dinner (the noon meal, I have been trained to refer to it as dinner and not lunch) and they were hungry.  As they washed up, Grandma described the meal she had prepared.  Marlin and Brian were most anxious for dessert - Grandma had made a lemon meringue pie just for them!  Grandma's meringue was always blue ribbon worthy.

Grandpa and Grandma joked and visited with Marlin and Brian during the meal. Then, Grandma went to the back porch where she had left the pie to cool.  What happened next has been told and retold.

Marlin and Brian heard their grandmother swear for the first and only time.  Alarmed by her tone and her choice of words, they didn't know whether to run to her or to stay put.  They chose the later.  Soon, Grandma came into the kitchen verbally berating a certain outdoor cat who had apparently entered the kitchen and then left before detection.

Grandma placed the lemon pie, no longer a lemon meringue pie, on the counter and began to cut generous slices for each of them.  Quickly, Marlin and Brian decided they were no longer hungry.  And, they were quite certain they must return to the field immediately!  Before Grandma could put their pie pieces on a dessert plate, they were gone!

For years, we have laughed about that story and about how determined Grandma was to avoid wasting the pie.  No one knows for sure, but we all assume that Grandma Fritz served the pie to Grandpa Fritz at every meal until the pie was gone.

I"m not sure about Brian, but Marlin is no longer fond of  lemon meringue pie! 

Grandma and Grandpa Fritz, and most of their generation, had eleven commandments, not ten.  The eleventh being: "Thou Shalt Not Waste Food."  They knew what it was like to do without food, without gas, without tires.  They understood rationing in ways we don't and can't comprehend.  Their generation was determined to be ready if another "Great Depression" occurred.

What about us?  The Bible doesn't address wastefulness directly.  There certainly isn't an eleventh commandment that didn't make the cut.  But, if you read the Bible you know that God is disappointed in us each time we are wasteful.  And not just with food.  What about our talents?  our time?  our money/resources,  water, electricity?

God has blessed us and we tend to take those blessings for granted.  I'm guilty, and I'm pretty sure you are, too.  We laugh as we recall our parents telling us not to waste food, "You better eat that.  There are starving children in China (or Africa) who would love to have that food!"

As adults, we shouldn't laugh.  We should ask ourselves why being a better steward is not a priority.