Category Archives: Inspirational

A GREAT RESCUE

I grew up in a rural area in the Ozarks.

My siblings and I knew our boundaries, and by today’s standards, they were wide.

I made multiple trips daily up the road to the general store my dad owned.

I walked to my Grandma and Grandpa Stephens’ house, which was about a mile away.

I made treks to the Bill Tyree Branch and to my friend Kay’s house.

Within those wide limits, my parents had placed specific restrictions.

I wasn’t to bother neighbors for a drink of water or the use of their bathrooms.

Since I was the oldest child of four, I was to look out for my younger siblings.

And I was never to go inside the house of Herbert and Peggy (not their real names), an old couple who lived in our community.

Herbert waved and said howdy from their front porch every time I walked past their house.

I helped Peggy pick her strawberries, because her old, bent back hurt.

One day as I walked past their house, Herbert called to me, “Come in for a while. I’ll let you play my organ.”

I loved getting a chance to play an organ.

My Aunt Freddie had one. I had spent hours pushing its knobs and pressing its keys. I had learned to play I Dropped My Dolly in the Dirt.

Aunt Freddie also had a hymnal, and I worked to learn to play Love Lifted Me and other hymns.

Anyway, when Herbert invited me inside to play his organ that day, I went with him.

I sat on the organ bench and played my Dolly song.

I don’t know how my mother knew I was inside that house.

I know only this.

Without knocking, Mom walked through Herbert and Peggy’s  door.

She stepped behind me, and with loving arms, she lifted me off the bench and took me home.

She rescued me from a child-molesting beast.

My mother’s actions reflect the message of the old hymn, Love Lifted Me.

The spiritual application of this story is hard to miss.

Out of great love for His children, God set limits for our protection.

I have crossed God’s boundaries many times and played into the hands of the greatest beast of all.

God knew I would.

So He sent One who, with loving and bloodied arms, would reach out and rescue me.

The old hymn speaks the truth.

 Love Lifted Me.

THAT OLD-TIME RELIGION

When I serve potatoes, I rarely begin with potatoes.

I begin with a box or a bag.

In my freezer are bags of hash brown potatoes and french fried potatoes.

In my pantry are boxes of potatoes au gratin and bags of instant potato flakes.

In my refrigerator sits a container of factory-made mashed potatoes ready to be heated in the microwave.

I do have a five-pound bag of “real” potatoes, a shriveling, budding mass of semi-solid ovals that will probably be thrown out.

That sums up my list of “potato” items.

In my mother’s kitchen, the only “potato” item was a ten-pound bag of raw potatoes, replaced weekly.

More days than not, Mom first scrubbed and peeled, and then fried, mashed, baked, or boiled potatoes. They were a staple in our diet.

But I seek speed and convenience in my relationship with potatoes.

In fact, I seek speed and convenience in almost every area of life.

You probably do too.

We want quick gas station stops and drive-through ATM’s.

We snatch information from Siri or Google to avoid visiting a library and doing research.

We zip in and out of grocery stores to buy foods our parents grew in gardens.

For the ultimate in speed and convenience, we drive up to a window on the side of a building, and someone hands out our dinner in a bag or box.

We’ve got speed and convenience down to an art.

We may even seek a quick and easy relationship with God.

We don’t have time for a relationship nourished with daily prayer and Bible study.

We go to church when we can, and we limit our intake of scripture to what the minister reads aloud each week.

Or we skip the drive and stream a church service online.

We utter our only prayer of the day after we go to bed, and fall asleep in the middle of it.

As for that old-time religion practiced by earlier saints?

Nah.

We don’t have time for that.

—————-

I am adding my usual autumn caution. NEVER drive through a deep pile of leaves.

PRECISELY

Facebook is a repository of both trash and treasures.

Almost every day I find there a golden nugget: a funny story or an inspirational quote that I forward to friends.

Other postings on FB make me cringe. Here is one from www.ign.com.

SUSIE LEE DONE FELL IN LOVE;
SHE PLANNED TO MARRY JOE.
SHE WAS SO HAPPY ‘BOUT IT ALL,
SHE TOLD HER PAPPY SO.

PAPPY TOLD HER, “SUSIE GAL,
YOU’LL HAVE TO FIND ANOTHER.
I’D JUST AS-SOON YO’ MA DON’T KNOW,
BUT JOE IS YO’ HALF BROTHER.”

SO SUSIE PUT ASIDE HER JOE                                                                        AND PLANNED TO MARRY WILL,
BUT AFTER TELLING PAPPY THIS,                                                                    HE SAID, “THERE’S TROUBLE STILL.

YOU CAN’T MARRY WILL, MY GAL,                                                             AND PLEASE DON’T TELL YO MOTHER.
BUT WILL AND JOE, AND SEVERAL MO’                                                           I KNOW IS YO’ HALF BROTHER.”

BUT MAMA KNEW AND SAID, “MY CHILD,
JUST DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY.
MARRY WILL OR MARRY JOE.
YOU AIN’T NO KIN TO PAPPY.”

I did not cringe because I am a Holier-Than-Thou who finds no humor in silly rhymes.

I still laugh at Ray Stevens’ funny song, I’m My Own Grandpa.

This poem made me cringe because I was raised in the Ozarks, a place where, as in parts of Kentucky, West Virginia, etc., residents are termed rednecks or hillbillies.

Crude poems like this one are assumed to have come from such people: lazy, unintelligent, ill-mannered, cousin-marrying hill folk.

At one time I was embarrassed because I grew up in the Ozark Mountains.

Today I am embarrassed that anyone bears an ugly label because of where he grew up.

My ancestors were countrified, yes. But they were hard-working, intelligent, trustworthy people for whom I offer no apologies.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my paternal grandmother, Eva (Crotts) James.

Today I am writing about my maternal grandmother, Gracie (Shoemate) Stephens.

Just as my Grandma James’ life was a study in strength, my Grandma Stephens’ life was a study in precision.

Grandma Stephens sewed the straightest stitches in the county. Whether done by hand or by machine, her work was flawless.

Grandma made clothes without using “store-bought” patterns. She looked at a pretty dress worn by another woman, did some calculating, and made dresses like it for herself and her daughters.

When she was a little girl, Grandma was given a threaded needle to practice sewing, but the thread had no knot at the end. Every seam she sewed could easily be pulled out of the fabric.

When her stitches became even and her seams were straight, she knotted her thread and quilted with the adult women.

She showed the same precision in everything she did.

She made flowers from crepe paper and tissue to decorate family graves on Memorial Day.

The silky-smooth chocolate gravy she made had her 16 grandkids licking their plates.

Her cornbread dressing is a family legend. (I have that recipe in Grandma’s handwriting.)

Grandma would have needed to stand on her toes to measure five feet tall.

But she was a giant to me.

She had a keen intellect, was an avid reader, and held firm political views.

In fact, Grandma and Grandpa often disagreed politically.

On election day, Grandpa dutifully walked a mile down a dusty dirt road to the voting site to cast his vote.

An hour or so later, Grandma often traveled the same road and voted for Grandpa’s candidate’s opponent.

We teased them, saying they could accomplish the same thing by just staying home on election day.

As you can see, it is hard for me to write about Grandma without also writing about Grandpa.

My grandparents had seven daughters. No sons.

Five of the girls grew to be loving mothers themselves. One of them was my own mother, of course, and the other four my sweet aunts.

Grandma and Grandpa buried two baby girls, each dying of infections that are easily cured today by antibiotics.

My grandparents were churchgoers.

Their big, red-edged King James Bible had its chapters marked with Roman numerals.

I had to work hard to find chapter 62 of Isaiah in that Bible.

Grandma and Grandpa had access to a traveling library.

A librarian left books on loan at the general store. Then, after a few weeks, she picked up those books and replaced them with others.

Grandpa read every Zane Grey novel the little library offered, and Grandma read novels by Christian authors like Grace Livingston Hill.

They didn’t have much formal education, but they learned from their reading.

If Grandma heard someone say of a topic, “I could care less,” she said, “No, dear, you couldn’t care less.”

(Her habit of correcting grammar alone made Grandma a hero in my book.)

She detested steamy romance shows on television.

TV couples depicted sharing a passionate kiss looked to her “like two people fighting over a piece of meat.”

Grandma was one of those people who didn’t realize how funny her stories about herself were until her listener(s) laughed out loud after hearing them.

One story was about the day she tried to ignite her gas oven’s pilot light with a match.

I can picture her now, stooped low in front of her oven, waving a lighted match under the appliance in search of its pilot light.

The next second, her tiny body landed about five feet behind where it had started, seated on its bum in the next room.

Another one of Grandma’s funny stories is documented by a photo.

A black snake had been stealing eggs from the henhouse.

Grandma tied a fishhook to the end of fishing line, pushed it inside an empty eggshell, and put the eggshell into a hen’s nest.

Mr. Snake bit, and he was caught.

Here Grandma displays her trophy. (This picture is blurry because the snake was swaying, and because the photo is a copy of a copy.)

When Grandma and Grandpa’s girls were little, their house burned. The family was not at home. The only things that survived the fire were a few pieces of furniture and the clothes drying on the line.

A neighbor drove a flatbed truck through the countryside and collected donations of clothes and household items so the family could get back on its feet.

Mom wore to school dresses she had seen classmates wear, but there was no shame in that.

Times were hard.

Grandma and Grandpa planted a big garden every summer. Vegetables were canned or frozen.

Fruit was sliced into pieces and dried on flattened flour sacks on the roofs of the tool shed and smokehouse.

Grandpa worked for years at a sawmill. He came home each evening toting the empty gallon jar he had used to carry drinking water. His blue work shirt was whitened all over by sweat stains.

His lunch he carried to work in a lard bucket: two sandwiches made of biscuits and ham leftover from breakfast.

Not every man was willing to do the hard work required to provide for his family.

Grandpa described such a man this way. “Let’s just say if he had a third hand, he would have needed another pocket to put it in.”

The wives and children of these lazy men benefited from the food and firewood Grandpa took to their houses so they could eat and stay warm.

Grandma was a seamstress and Grandpa was a whittler. They were both masters of their crafts.

I have samples of their work: quilts made by Grandma; and a cedar spoon, fork and knife whittled by Grandpa.

I remember Grandpa smelling of cedar, Lava hand soap, and Old Spice aftershave.

I sat often in Grandma’s kitchen with my eyes closed, identifying by scent the spices in her spice drawer.

Grandma made wonderful meals, but she was no short-order cook. Family and guests ate what was put on the table.

If someone complained about not liking the food, Grandma remained seated and pointed to a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread on a kitchen cabinet top.

In a conversation with relatives recently, I heard one of them remark that Grandma was not especially affectionate.

That statement stopped me cold.

“What?” I thought. “Grandma wasn’t affectionate?”

But upon reflection, I now realize Grandpa was the hugger, the one who swept grandbabies up in his arms and kissed their slobbery, chubby faces.

It was Grandpa who, every weekend I was home from college, came by to see me on Saturday morning, often rousing me out of bed at 10:00 o’clock.

Mom, my baby sister, and I lived with my grandparents when Dad was serving overseas in the Air Force.

Our presence stretched the seams of their little house because my mom’s three younger sisters were still living at home.

There Grandpa existed as the only male among seven squawking, high-strung females.

I remember standing beside their huge brown radio each morning, listening either to a man quoting cotton and soybean prices or to Elvis Presley singing Blue Suede Shoes, depending upon which adult had chosen the station.

I stood by that radio because it sat near the window through which I could look out and yell to my teenage aunts, “The school bus is coming!”

Grandpa spent half his earnings on Bobby pins, saddle oxfords, and face cream for the big girls, and storybooks and crayons for my little sister and me.

But on the day the three of us moved out because Dad had left the military and bought us a house, Grandpa said to Mom, “The only reason I’m letting you take these two little girls away from here is because they belong to you.”

He would have kept us forever.

And Grandma would have too. With fewer hugs and kisses maybe, but with no less love.

A friend who lived near me said she locked herself inside the family car whenever her grandfather visited, so he “couldn’t get at her.”

What did that mean? I wondered when I was a little girl.

Today I know exactly what that meant, and I am beyond furious.

Life isn’t fair.

Why was I born into a wonderful family who treasured me, and she had a grandpa who was a piece of scum and a family who tolerated his vileness?

The answer to that question is unknowable.

But I do know this.

I couldn’t care less where a person comes from.

It’s the people a person comes from who make all the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

CAN I BORROW THAT A SEC?

When a friend asks to borrow a tissue, I say, “Here, take one. I don’t want it back.”

While a handkerchief is loaned or borrowed, a tissue is not.

Cautions against borrowing and lending go back centuries.

In Act I, Scene III of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius counsels his son Laertes, “Neither a borrower nor lender be.”

The oft-quoted Benjamin Franklin warned: He that goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing.

But we borrow and lend all kinds of things: cups of sugar, lawnmowers, umbrellas, cars, and money.

Yet, a few things we refuse to lend, even though they may be “lendable.”

My favorite refillable pen, I do not lend.

I have a beautiful old bowl that belonged to my Great-Grandma Shoemate. It is pink and may be Depression glass. Whether it is or isn’t, I won’t lend it.

I own a hardback copy of Praise the Human Season by Don Robertson. It is one of my favorite novels.

My mom “bargained” with a neighbor to buy the book for 25 cents. (The neighbor didn’t want the book for herself but didn’t want to give it away.)

The book cost my mother 25 cents, but it is worth much more than that to me.

In fact, I will lend that book only to people I would be willing to lend $1,000.

And, of course, some things should never be lent or borrowed: identification cards, urine samples, and spouses, for example.

Surely the most unlikely thing to loan is a grave.

Yet, the body of Jesus was placed inside a borrowed tomb.

In the Old Testament, an Israelite was required to make restitution if he borrowed an animal, tool, or other item and then lost or damaged it.

In 2 Kings 6, an account is given of an incident in the life of the prophet Elisha.

He and students of the School of the Prophets were building a new meeting place near the Jordan River.

As one man worked to cut down a tree, the iron axe head he used fell into the water.

“O no, my Lord,” the man cried out. “It was borrowed.”

Had the axe head belonged to the student prophet himself, its loss would have been great. But since it was borrowed, its value was increased.

Under the Old Law, the appropriate response for the borrower of the axe head would have been based upon the following verse.

Exodus 22:14: If a man borrows anything from his neighbor, and it is injured or dies while its owner is not with it, he shall make full restitution.

Some commentators suggest that replacing a borrowed axe head in that day would be equivalent to replacing a borrowed car today.

Many fights, divorces, and lawsuits ensue when adequate restitution is not made.

Restitution is defined as the act of restoring, as in restoration of something to its rightful owner.

Restitution is a common theme in the Bible.

Read Exodus 22 and Leviticus 6 for examples of God’s laws governing restitution under the Old Law.

The New Testament records a beautiful account of restitution in the story of Zacchaeus.

Luke 19:8-9:Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

An article found at www.gotquestions.org  sums up the exchange between Zacchaeus and Jesus this way:

From Zacchaeus’s words, we gather that 1) he had been guilty of defrauding people, 2) he was remorseful over his past actions, and 3) he was committed to making restitution.

From Jesus’ words, we understand that 1) Zacchaeus was saved that day and his sin was forgiven, and 2) the evidence of his salvation was both his public confession (see Romans 10:10) and his relinquishing of all ill-gotten gains.

Zacchaeus repented, and his sincerity was evident in his immediate desire to make restitution. Here was a man who was penitent and contrite, and the proof of his conversion to Christ was his resolve to atone, as much as possible, for past sins.

The same holds true for anyone who truly knows Christ today. Genuine repentance leads to a desire to redress wrongs. When someone becomes a Christian, he will have a desire born of deep conviction to do good, and that includes making restoration whenever possible.

The idea of “whenever possible” is crucially important to remember. There are some crimes and sins for which there is no adequate restitution.

In such instances, a Christian should make some form of restitution that demonstrates repentance, but at the same time, does not need to feel guilty about the inability to make full restitution.

Restitution is to be a result of our salvation—it is not a requirement for salvation. If you have received forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven, whether you have been able to make restitution for them or not.

That is because grace is neither lent nor borrowed.

It is God’s enduring gift to His undeserving but ever grateful children.

 

BACKWARDS

My family and friends know I am a fan of Neil Diamond’s music.

Whether I am a fan of Neil Diamond the man, I can’t say. I don’t know him.

But I know his music well. All his music. The lyrics to every  one of his  popular songs.

I can name that tune in three notes.

This morning I put five Neil Diamond CDs into my player so I could listen as I cleaned.

After listening to Play Me, I picked up the remote to press the back arrow and hear that favorite again.

What I heard was the beginning of Brooklyn Roads. A good song, but not the one I wanted.

I tried again.

I pressed the back arrow twice. This time I got Crunchy Granola Suite.

 What is wrong with this crazy thing? I thought.

After pressing the button more times and hearing the beginnings of several songs, I studied the remote in my hand.

I was holding it upside down.

Backward was forward; forward was backward.

When I was a little girl, I once watched my Uncle Jake drive home backwards.

He shifted his vehicle into reverse, used his mirrors, and backed all the way home, about a mile. We lived in the country where the dirt roads were crooked, rutted and hilly.

We could drive miles on that road and not meet another vehicle. That made his backward driving less risky, but still.

They say if you play a country song backward, the singer gets his house back, his wife back, his truck back and his dog back.

If you’re familiar with the writings of Shel Silverstein, you know he’d be bound to write a poem about backwards. Here it is, courtesy of www.poemhunter.com.

 

BACKWARD BILL

Backward Bill, Backward Bill,

He lives way up on Backward Hill,

Which is really a hole in the sandy ground

(But that’s a hill turned upside down.)

 

Backward Bill’s got a backward shack

With a big front porch that’s built out back.

You walk through the window and look out the door

And the cellar is up on the very top floor.

 

Backward Bill he rides like the wind

Don’t know where he’s going but sees where he’s been.

His spurs they go ‘neigh’ and his horse it goes ‘clang,’

And his six-gun goes ‘gnab,’ it never goes ‘bang.’

 

Backward Bill’s got a backward pup.

They eat their supper when the sun comes up,

And he’s got a wife named Backward Lil,

‘She’s my own true hate,’ says Backward Bill.

 

Backward Bill wears his hat on his toes

And puts on his underwear over his clothes.

And come every payday he pays his boss,

And rides off a-smilin’ a-carryin’ his hoss.

 

Living backward may work well for Bill, but it is a misery when practiced in one’s spiritual life.

A backward-living Christian tries hard to be good before she receives the Holy Spirit’s power to do good.

She demands to see a thing before she believes it, rather than believing by faith that she will see it.

She seeks to be first when Jesus assures her such groveling will cause her to be last.

She craves what her friends have instead of being thankful for her own blessings.

She determines to work her way to salvation when Jesus says, “The work is finished.”

SIXTEEN GRAHAM CRACKERS

In public, people often mask their emotions. They smile and say they are fine. They chat and then walk away.

Heather, Ellen and Tom do this.

And they always look to be the same. Steady ships sailing on the river of life.

 

The Heather I see at the grocery store is not the real Heather.

The real Heather’s boyfriend is becoming abusive. He hasn’t hit her yet, but he has jerked her arm so hard it hurt and shoved away from his car.

Heather fears she may be pregnant again. She can’t have this baby.

I would be a lousy mother, she thinks.

Heather cries and says, “I swore my first abortion would be my last one, but what else can I do?”

The Ellen I smile at during church is not the real Ellen.

The real Ellen is a cancer survivor. She lives every day fearing the disease will return.

Ellen’s husband has checked out. He comes home from work, eats dinner, and then falls asleep in his recliner watching reruns of NCIS.

The two of them exchange only four or five sentences a day.

Ellen cries and vows, “One day I’ll get the courage to leave him. I’ll find a man who understands my fear.”

The Tom I view standing on the sidewalk is not the real Tom.

The real Tom is seeing his psychiatrist later today to ask her to change his medications. He takes antidepressant and antianxiety pills, but they aren’t working.

Every morning, Tom’s first thought is to kill himself.

His job stinks and his wife has moved out. He lives in squalor. Trash litters the floors and furniture. The grass in his yard is eight inches tall but cutting the grass requires energy he does not have.

Tom cries and says, “Tomorrow I will clean the house and mow the grass. I’ll look for a better job. I’ll call my wife and ask her to meet me to talk.”

But when he wakes up the next morning, his first temptation is to kill himself.

Few people see the real Debbie. Everyone else sees my mask.

These few people know the intensity of my struggle with OCD.

An unstoppable, continuous loop of repetitive thoughts plays and replays inside my mind.

These thoughts push me to perform, organize, and count.

This morning, obeying my OCD urgings, I set out to wash both sides of every door inside the house.

My bed sat unmade and two piles of dirty clothes lay on the bathroom floor. My kitchen needed attention.

I cry and tell myself, “Only a stupid person washes doors when her housework and laundry are out of control. I am stupid.”

This sad thought drives me to the kitchen where I finish the last of the graham crackers.

My sister calls.

“How are you?” she asks.

“Awful,” I say.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“I’m standing in the kitchen eating my 16th graham cracker.”

“Sixteen graham crackers will never be enough,” she says.

She is right.

Food, no matter how much of it I eat, cannot fix what is wrong with me.

 

Food is not the solution to my problem.

An abortion is not the solution to Heather’s problem.

Leaving her husband and finding a new mate is not the solution to Ellen’s problem.

Suicide is not the solution to Tom’s problem.

I am thankful my sister cares about me.

She and other family members and  friends encourage me. They check often to see how I am doing.

I am stronger because they care.

I wonder.

Who cares about Heather, Ellen and Tom?

 

 

 

 

GRACED

Living in a harmonious relationship with God is the greatest goal to which we can aspire.

And here is the good news.

God offers us that relationship, and He offers it as a gift.

We do not earn gifts, nor do we offer to pay for them.

In fact, the relationship God and I share will be skewed if I am determined to earn His gift of grace.

When I became a Christian, God ascribed to me the merit Jesus earned by living a perfect life and dying a perfect death in my place.

At that point, the transaction was done.

I love to sing the song that declares: I owed a debt I could not pay. He paid a debt He did not owe.

Sadly, some Christians, especially those who grew up in critical and judgmental environments, live in fear that God will withdraw that gift the instant they sin.

My friend Jan calls this “windshield wiper salvation.” You’re in. You’re out. You’re in. You’re out.

As a child, even I, raised in a loving, nurturing home, virtually trembled in the pew when we sang the old hymn: There’s an All-Seeing Eye Watching You.

 But today, I put my trust in the words of 1 John 1:7: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

My relationship with God is a walk, not a performance.

During this walk, I will stumble sometimes and even fall. But, if I am walking in the light, God will never desert me.

God calls us to enjoy a rich, full life, free from guilt and confident of our salvation.

I hang on to the words of Romans 8:1: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

To new Christians and to unnecessarily guilt-ridden, long-time Christians, I offer the following words.

Live as if you have been forgiven, pardoned, redeemed, and saved because you have been.

When you pray, do not re-confess sins that were forgiven years ago. God is convinced of your sorrow over the lie you told or the sexual indiscretion you indulged in or the disrespectful attitude you showed toward your parents.

When God forgives you, forgive yourself. In doing this, you honor Him by showing you trust His grace to be enough.

Instead of spending your time in prayer bringing up past, forgiven sins, thank God for the wonderful new life He has given you in Christ.

Tell Him specifically what is going on inside your head and your heart. Talk to Him about everything.

If your heart is filled with sorrow, pour out that sadness to God.

If you are mad at someone, tell God the details.

Do you think He doesn’t already know about these things?

Acknowledge your agreement that His ways are right, His laws are for your protection, and it is your intention to stay on the path He laid out for you.

As you walk with God, speak every secret of your life into His listening ear with confidence that He will understand, forgive, and bless.

Make your life a celebration of the unity you enjoy with God through Christ.