Category Archives: Inspirational

HIS IMAGE

My mother loved birds.

She was a country girl all her life and could identify the birds of north Arkansas by their sights and sounds: mockingbirds, blue jays, redbirds, mourning doves, chickadees, whippoorwills, and others.

Shortly after Mom died in November 2016, I received in the mail a little package from my cousin, Sandy.

Sandy is an artist.

Inside the package she had mailed to me was this little hand-painted, stone redbird.

Sandy had included a note in which she wrote, “I was walking along the road the other day, saw this rock, and thought, I see a redbird in that rock. I’m going to paint it and send it to Debbie.”

How thoughtful of her! And how creative!

I love my little rock redbird and keep it on my desk by my computer. It reminds me of both my bird-loving mother and my kind, artistic cousin.

I cannot imagine seeing anything in a rock. I do not have the artist’s eye.

But in addition to reminding me of my mother and my cousin, this little keepsake reminds me of a Biblical truth.

When God created me, He made me in His image. And His image is total goodness.

That image of God in me gets hidden sometimes. Influences from sin, the world, and my own mortal nature mar it.

But that image is there. God is ever working to bring it forth and make it evident for others to see.

What an honor it is to know I am made, in some mysterious way, in the very image of the Creator and Sustainer of this universe!

If I allow God’s Spirit within me to do His work, God’s image will shine forth from me.

That requires both my willingness and cooperation. I must desire that image to be apparent in my life.

If I want it passionately enough, God will make it happen.

May you be blessed this week as you allow God’s image to be seen in you.

I THINK HE WAS RIGHT

My mother possessed a great sense of humor.

In other posts, I have written funny things about her:

  • Her use of the mixed metaphor, “grabbing the mule by the horns.”
  • Her goofy antics (pushing through Wal-Mart a cart full of reduced-price tennis shoes, thinking she was navigating her own cart).
  • Her tumble down the little hill in her back yard when shooing a squirrel away from her flower bed.
  • Her kitchen snafus (forgetting to serve the dressing she made for Thanksgiving dinner, and failing to prebake a pie crust before pouring in the cream filling).

In all these situations, I didn’t laugh at my mother. I laughed with her. She could see the humor in her own mistakes.

One day she and I were discussing some random topic, and Mom said, “Well, Jesus taught (such and such) . . . and I think he was right.”

After a few seconds, we both started laughing.

Of course whatever Jesus taught was right. He doesn’t need our affirmation of His words.

At least, in my mother’s and my opinion, He doesn’t.

Not everyone, however, agrees.

Many people today are eager to explain away or completely disregard Jesus’ teachings.

They also claim God’s moral laws outlined in the Bible no longer apply.

The writings of the Gospels, according to them, are partly fiction.

The admonitions about righteous living found in the Epistles were only for people who lived in the Apostle Paul’s day, they say.

All people choose someone or something to be the authority for their lives.

My mother and I chose the Bible.

What have you chosen?

WAITING

When I was growing up in rural Arkansas, my dad owned a general store. It wasn’t an impressive place, but it offered most of the things people needed.

It sat just up the road from our house. Every day at noon Dad walked home for dinner. (In the south, daily meals are labeled breakfast, dinner, and supper.)

No “hours of operation” were ever posted at the store, but everyone knew when it was open.

One old man always wanted to buy his groceries between noon and one o’clock.

He did not drive to the store and park his car there. He knew the store was closed.

He drove to our house, where Dad was eating dinner.

Mr. Grump didn’t park on the side of the road by our house. (We had no driveway.)

He drove his old-timey, heavy, black car up to the verge of our yard.

There he sat, scowling, waiting for Dad to open the store especially for him.

From behind our living room curtains, my siblings and I watched him: an angry old man, hunched inside a gangster car, its shiny grill aimed right at our front porch.

We pivoted our heads to glance at Dad and then at the man in our front yard.

Everyone waited.

Nervously, we kids waited for what might be an explosion.

The old man waited for Dad to leave his hot dinner on the table and open the store for him.

Dad simply waited to finish his meal and do whatever he usually did during his dinner break. Probably he visited the bathroom and checked on his hunting dogs in the pen at the back of the house.

Then, with a nod to the waiting shopper, he walked back to the store, the black car trailing him.

It strikes me today, reflecting on this memory, that we are all waiting.

Like memories, some of our waiting is short-term. We wait for the toast to pop up, and for the commercial to end so we can resume watching our show.

Some of our waiting is long-term. Right now, we are all waiting for this virus to run its course and leave us in peace.

Some of us wait nervously, fearing the worst.

Others wait angrily, personally affronted and wishing someone would make the world spin to their liking.

But some push past fear and anger to keep moving forward. They keep, as nearly as possible, to their usual productive routines.

Patience cannot be overrated.

My dad, Bob James

1930-1995

He learned patience through the things he endured.

NO LIST

Writers like me are always looking for inspiration.

Many of my article ideas come from watching and listening to my grandchildren, as well as from observing nature and reading Scriptures.

This morning I was inspired by a bottle of laundry detergent.

I poured detergent into my washer, loaded the dirty clothes, closed the lid, and started the machine.

Then, as I began replacing the lid on the detergent bottle, I discovered I had started twisting it on in a crooked way. I had to take off the lid, align the grooves on the lid with the grooves on the bottle’s top, and begin again.

Then, as I twisted on the lid, I heard a satisfying “click,” which told me I had secured it properly.

I wish all misalignments in my life were so easily fixed.

Forever I am striving to secure that satisfying, all-is-as-it-should-be click in the following efforts:

  1. Get organized.
  2. Declutter.
  3. Finish what I start.
  4. Take better care of myself.
  5. Write more.

If I were to compose a list of new year’s resolutions, these items would be on it.

But I’m resisting the urge to do that this New Year’s Day.

I don’t need a list to remind me to work toward achieving those goals.

There is no chance I will forget to try to get organized, declutter, finish what I start, take better care of myself, and write more.

Those are the very efforts that occupy my mind, my time, and my life every day. Why write on a piece of paper the goals I couldn’t not work toward if I tried?

The truth is this.

No matter how hard I work at it, I will never hear that elusive click informing me I’ve achieved success. I’ve reached my goals. I’ve arrived.

No click, so no list.

This year, I resolve to love better. To love the way 1 Corinthians 13 instructs me to love. To love more nearly the way God loves.

Consider joining me.

STORIES

Our lives are made up of stories.

No matter how mundane the story seems, each one impacts us and the people with whom we share it.

When all my stories are put together, that compilation will be the narrative of my life.

My parents were married in 1951.

Dad was stationed with the Air Force in Kansas City, Missouri. These newlyweds rented, as their first home, a curtained-off portion of a basement in a house owned by a woman on Virginia Street.

A humble abode it was.

When I came along, surprisingly to me, Mom had a diaper service. How she and Dad afforded that luxury, I do not know. Maybe it was a gift.

Anyway, clean diapers were brought in and soiled diapers were taken away. I believe they also had milk delivered.

A deliveryman, be it of diapers or milk or some other item I don’t know about, was in Mom’s kitchen one day as she was washing dishes.

One item she placed into the draining tray was a sharp knife, and Mom stood it with the sharp point facing up.

The deliveryman reached for the knife.

He said to Mom, “You’re going to cut yourself, Sweetheart. Always stand your sharp knives in the drainer with the blades pointing down.”

Maybe you expected a different kind of story when I mentioned a deliveryman reached for a knife in my young mother’s kitchen.

But that is the totality of the story my mother told me when I was older.

Times were different. People may have been more trustworthy then. Calling a young woman “sweetheart” in the way this man did was not considered sexist or offensive.

How many times do you suppose I have thought of that man’s advice to my mother?

I have thought of it as many times as I have placed a knife in a dish drainer or into my dishwasher.

I always position the knife with the sharp end pointing down.

Possibly that man’s words prevented my mom or me from cutting ourselves badly.

Little life stories may turn out to be significant or irrelevant. We don’t know, as they happen, what effect they may have.

But this much is certain. A steady stream of good life stories makes for a happy narrative.

My mother and me at our first home in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1952.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

When I was born in 1952, my parents named me Debra Gay.

I asked my mother why I was named as I was. Her explanation included the mention of Deborah Kerr, the actress. Mom had a friend named Gay, who, as her name suggests, was a joyful woman.

Thus, I became Debra Gay.

I meet Debras, Deborahs, Debbies, and Debs all the time.

A delivery woman last week visited with me on my driveway. Her nametag read Deb, so we discussed the popularity of that name among women of our age.

She said, “I never met a Deb I didn’t like.”

A clerk I encountered in a department store wore a Deborah nametag. When she saw my name on my credit card, she said, “Hmmm. My mother said when she decided to give me my name, she was ‘at least going to spell it right.'”

How was I supposed to respond to a comment like that?

My sister-in-law is named Lavana. She likes her name because it is unique. No one, upon hearing her name, ever asks, “Lavana who?”

I grew up in Northern Arkansas. There, women whose names ended in the letter a, often had their names pronounced as if they ended in the letters ie.

My paternal grandmother was Eva, so she was Evie. I knew an Elda (Eldie), an Ida (Idie), a Laura (Laurie), a Letta (Lettie), and an Alta (Altie).

Some people had common names, but because those people were significant to my family and me, we did not need then, nor do we need now, to use last names when speaking of them.

This is true of Duane.

Duane was a second or third cousin, or a second cousin once removed, or some such.

My siblings and I have known several Duanes, but, to us, that name always denotes the One and Only Duane.

Duane and his sister, Judy Ann, sometimes stayed with their grandparents, who lived across the road from us. (Their grandmother was Altie.)

When they weren’t living with their grandparents, they lived in Kansas with one or the other of their separated parents.

Duane was a hero to me.

I won’t say he could walk on water, but he could run barefoot on our rocky dirt road faster and more effortlessly than anyone else I knew.

Duane was also brave.

One day he swallowed a pokeberry, when all of us knew those purple berries were deadly. Their only purpose, as far as we knew, was to decorate the tops of mudpies or to force-feed to enemies. As if we had enemies.

But Duane survived the ingestion of that deadly pokeberry. Much to our surprise and relief, he did not drop dead.

Duane also used more colorful language than my parents allowed their children to use.

He introduced me to words like gnarly, squirrelly, and raunchy.

After an ice storm, I heard him say, “This road is slicker than snot on a glass doorknob.”

Wow!

Duane was also born in 1952. I am writing this on October 16, the 68th anniversary of his birth.

But no one is celebrating.

Duane died in a car accident before he reached even his 30th birthday.

I miss Duane and love him still.

What’s in a name?

A lot.

This picture was taken in our front yard around 1960. I am standing on the left, next to Duane. My sister Pam is next in line, standing beside Judy Ann.

NATIVE LANGUAGE

John 8:44 records this about the devil: When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

English is both my native and my only language.

But any language can be used for good or evil. People can bless or curse in English. They can encourage or discourage; build up or tear down; heal or wound.

Language can be used to brighten or darken a listener’s day.

James 3:10 reads: Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

Earlier in his book, James wrote it is easier to control powerful horses or to command great ships than to tame one’s own tongue. This small organ is capable, he writes, of igniting great fires.

Paul instructed in Col 4:6: Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Satan’s native language is not a language at all in the way you and I think of the term. He delivers his messages in German, French, and Portuguese, as well as in English.

Because his aims, according to John 10:10, are to steal, kill, and destroy, his native language is deceit.

God’s aims are to bless, heal, and deliver. His native language is love.

I communicate in English, but my language is defined by what is in my heart.

CRUSH THE HEAD

This week I read a story about a couple who were doing cleanup around some property they had bought. In the cleaning process, the wife encountered a rattlesnake.

The woman screamed and backed herself against the house. The husband ran to her and decapitated the snake with a hoe. Both people then went inside the house to calm down.

Later, the husband went outside to remove the two pieces of the snake from the yard. The hoe was lying where he left it, near the head of the snake.

I was shocked at what happened next.

As the man bent to pick up the hoe, the snake’s head leapt forward and bit him severely. (Research has informed me snakes retain reflexes after death.)

The wife rushed her husband to the hospital, and he survived, though his hand suffered permanent damage. He almost died.

Reflecting upon that story, I thought of the prophecy concerning Jesus and Satan in Genesis 3:15. God is speaking to the serpent when He says: And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

Satan, the serpent, did strike the heel of Jesus, but Jesus crushed his head by dying and rising again to save you and me.

Satan threatens and torments us now, but his poisonous head has been crushed by the only One powerful enough to do so.

Those of us who are in Christ are delivered from the serpent’s death-inducing bite.

IN MY BOOK

Being a grammarian, I evaluate newscasters, billboard advertisers, menu writers, and others who are paid to speak or write for a public audience.

This is because professionals should perform their crafts with precision.

Just as I would not pay for work done by a sloppy housepainter or eat food prepared by a bad restaurant cook, I refuse to read material produced by bad writers.

That is, I would like to refuse to read it, but I find that impossible. It appears everywhere.

In my book, people who write badly should not be paid to write.

THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK

Many of us have mistakenly said to a parent or grandparent, “What a beautiful little girl you have!” Then, to our embarrassment, we are informed the child is a boy.

This is an easy enough mistake to avoid. Say simply, “What a beautiful little one (baby, child, kiddo, etc.) you have!”

Think also before addressing senior citizens with child-appropriate titles like “sweetheart, dearie, or honey.” Among my friends, the consensus is we dislike these titles.

One woman said when someone calls her a “cutesy” name, she feels labeled as helpless or stupid. She hears expressed something like this: “Here you go, honey. Now, go play with your doll.”

The young person who does this may be trying to show kindness or respect. Instead, the older person feels patronized.

Treat all adults, whatever their ages, as adults. Period.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

I recently listened to (via Audible.com) a book I highly recommend: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, by W. Phillip Keller. This is an old book, first published by Zondervan in 1970.

The author was born in Kenya to missionary parents and spent many years tending sheep. In this book, he astutely compares Christians, Christ’s beloved flock, to real sheep.

Passages in Psalm took on new and clear meaning for me as I read through the chapters.

In Chapter Four, He Leads Me Beside Quiet Waters, the author writes:

When sheep are thirsty, they become restless and set out in search of water. If not led to the good water supplies of clean, pure water, they will often end up drinking from the polluted potholes where they pick up such internal parasites as nematodes, liver flukes, or other disease germs.

And in precisely the same manner, Christ, our Good Shepherd, made it clear that thirsty souls of men and women can only be fully satisfied when their capacity and thirst for spiritual life is fully quenched by drawing on himself.

Over and over I saw myself in the behavior of rebellious ewes who failed to recognize their need for their shepherd’s guidance, deliverance, and provision.

Do yourself a favor and read it. The book is not boring or tedious. Instead, it will richly feed (and water) you with a clear explanation of David’s words in Psalm 23.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WRONG (AGAIN)!

I am a fan of James Taylor’s music.

I cannot say I am a fan of James Taylor, the man. I don’t know him personally.

To belabor the point, I can’t even say I’m a fan of all his music. I never listen to the last song, Steamroller, on his Greatest Hits CD. It contains vulgar lyrics.

But since first hearing Fire and Rain in the early 70s, I’ve been a fan.

Every time I heard that song, I pictured a young James, one with hair.

I saw him standing in the rain looking upon the smoking remains of a crashed plane. In that plane, his lover, Suzanne (a stewardess) had died.

“Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you,” James sang.

For 50 years I have been certain this was the theme of Fire and Rain: James’s true love killed in a plane crash.

I recently read James Taylor’s short autobiography, Break Shot, in which he writes about the first 21 years of his life.  He tells of writing Fire and Rain. He does not mention a stewardess or a plane crash.

Apparently, those elements are not part of the Fire and Rain story.

As they say, “I would have sworn . . . .”

But, I was wrong.

On August 27th of this year, my dad, if he were still living, would have marked his 90th birthday.

In addition to Dad, several other of my relatives were born near the end of August.

My siblings and I sent group texts to one another on Dad’s birthdate. I mentioned in one of the texts that our Grandpa Stephens had been born on August 26.

“No,” typed my brother, Sam. “Grandpa’s birthday was August 25.”

“You may be right,” I typed.

Then our detail-oriented sister, Pam, informed us we were both wrong. Grandpa Stephens’ birthdate was August 28. She sent a photo of his tombstone as proof.

Wrong again.

I thought I could spray Windex on our flat screen TV and clean the smudges.

Wrong!

I spent half an hour cleaning off the Windex plus the original smudges.

I believed I could get a walk finished before the rain hit. Wrong. . . and wet.

Never does a day go by that I am not wrong about something.

If I am not careful, I get down on myself, call myself derogatory names, and doubt my ability to say or to do anything right.

At such times I must remind myself this is a ploy of Satan. His purpose, according to John 10:10 is to “steal, kill, and destroy.”

Why would I let him call the shots, tell me who I am, and what I can do?

He is not my master.

Christ is my Master.

That same verse in the book of John tells me Jesus came so that I “may have life, and have it to the full.”

About these facts, I am not wrong.

Don’t become discouraged with your tendency to be mistaken about small matters.

Just make sure you are right in your choice of a Master.

I WISH I HAD WRITTEN THAT

I haven’t written much lately, but I have come across two pieces on Facebook that I wish I had written.

I am sharing them below. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

My friend, Marilyn Hiser, reposted the first piece, which was untitled on Facebook.

Astrid Tonche

Have you ever noticed how in the scriptures men are always going up into the mountains to commune with the Lord?

Yet in the scriptures we hardly ever hear of women going to the mountains.

But we know why—right?

Because the women were too busy keeping life going; they couldn’t abandon babies, meals, homes, fires, gardens, and a thousand responsibilities to make the climb into the mountains!

I was talking to a friend the other day, saying that as a modern woman I feel like I’m never “free” enough from my responsibilities, never in a quiet enough space I want with God.

Her response floored me. “That is why God comes to women. Men have to climb the mountain to meet God, but God comes to women wherever they are.”

I have been pondering on her words for weeks and have searched my scriptures to see that what she said is true.

God does indeed come to women where they are, when they are doing their ordinary, everyday work.

He meets them at the wells where they draw water for their families, in their homes, in their kitchens, in their gardens.

He comes to them as they sit beside sickbeds, as they give birth, care for the elderly, and perform necessary mourning and burial rites.

Even at the empty tomb, Mary was the first to witness Christ’s resurrection. She was there because she was doing the womanly chore of properly preparing Christ’s body for burial.

In these seemingly mundane and ordinary tasks, these women of the scriptures found themselves face to face with divinity.

So if, like me, you ever start to bemoan the fact that you don’t have as much time to spend in the mountains with God as you would like, remember: God comes to women.

He knows where we are and the burdens we carry. He sees us, and if we open our eyes and our hearts, we will see Him, even in the most ordinary places and in the most ordinary things.

He lives. And he’s using a time such as this to speak to women around the world.

THE HISTORY OF APRONS

I don’t think most kids today know what an apron is.

The principle use of Mom’s or Grandma’s apron was to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few.

It was also because it was easier to wash aprons than dresses, and aprons used less material. But along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.

It was wonderful for drying children’s tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.

From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.

When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids. And when the weather was cold, she wrapped it around her arms.

Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove.

Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.

From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.

In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.

When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.

When dinner was ready, she walked out onto the porch, waved her apron, and the men folk knew it was time to come in from the fields to dinner.

It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that ‘old-time apron’ that served so many purposes.

 

Santa’s Clauset

@santasclausetinknox