Category Archives: Inspirational

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.

 

 

 

YOU’LL SEE IT WHEN YOU BELIEVE IT

Like many Christians my age, I grew up singing the golden oldie hymn, Trust and Obey. Even now, with little prompting, I can sing all the verses.

This old song, as well as others, taught me valuable spiritual truths.

I learned, for example, that Anywhere with Jesus I Can Safely Go, Faith Is the Victory, and Jesus Paid It All.

I know the messages in these songs are true because Scripture supports them.

But back to Trust and Obey.

Obeying was not particularly hard for me. Because I was taught the difference between right and wrong, and because I knew the benefit of being one and the penalty for being the other, I lived, though far from perfectly, pretty much on the straight and narrow.

But for me, trusting has been harder than obeying.

Obedience is a concrete term. It, or the lack of it, is demonstrable. I can wrap my arms, and my brain, around obedience.

Trust, however, is a less tangible concept. It belongs to that nebulous set of nouns that cannot be seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled. Trust exists within my mind and heart.

I have had trouble nailing down an answer to the question: Do I trust God?

Of course, I trust that He is, has always been, and always will be. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all life. He is the Author of everything good. He is love itself.

But trusting becomes a bit more difficult when I bring myself into this matter of trusting God.

Can it be true:

  • That He loves me just as I am?
  • That He cares about what happens to me?
  • That He sees me blameless through the curtain of His Son’s blood?

Though Scripture assures me the universal answer to each one of those questions is yes, I have resisted believing God’s “yes” applies to me.

That is because my brain is quick to remind me of my unworthiness. Unworthy people, I reason, should receive nothing good.

I could not “see” my way to believing God’s yes was for me.

Recently, Dan and I were discussing some project he hoped to complete. I expressed doubt that He would accomplish his goal.

He looked squarely at me and said, in a challenging voice, “You’ll see it when you believe it.”

(Of course, he meant to say, “You’ll believe it when you see it.”)

Within an instant of hearing him say, “You’ll see it when you believe it,” something shifted in my thinking about trust.

You’ll see it when you believe it.

Isn’t that the very definition of faith?

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead (Hebrews 11:1 TLB).

I wanted to be able to see that God’s yes is for me, but Jesus says, “No. I am asking you to believe it. When you believe it, you will see it.”

My trust problem disappears when I choose to believe, even when I cannot see.

God’s yes is indeed for me. It is for you, too.

And you will see it when you believe it.

A GOOD DAY?

I often ponder what I should do on any day to make it the best day possible.

It seems that people want that for me because I hear a dozen times a week, “Have a nice day.”

Many of the things we experience every day are beyond our control. You know what those things are: bad news, interruptions, and disappointments; and even good things like finding a good parking space and being given a McAlister’s chocolate chip cookie.

But I do have control over some of the things that make for a good day. I can choose to get up, clean up, and show up for the day ahead. I can try to accomplish some worthwhile things during the day, but not so many that the day becomes exhausting and disappointing.

I can get out in the sunshine on sunny days. I can read good books, think pleasant thoughts, and count my blessings in any kind of weather.

A day is generally about as good as my attitude toward the day.

Charles Swindoll was right when he wrote, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”

I have learned that my day is better if it includes exercise, preferably a nice, long walk; reading the Bible, praying, and contemplating God’s purpose for me; conversing with family members and friends; and maintaining a healthy balance of work and play.

A good day includes some time spent in creative pursuits. For me, this need is filled when I spend time writing.

A good day is made better when it brings with it unexpected pleasures, like a card from a friend or a visit with my grandchildren.

Addressing this issue from the opposite direction, I also know some things that will almost certainly guarantee a bad day. Allowing myself to indulge in bitterness, anger, and other negative feelings like jealousy and self-pity will ensure a bad day.

Staying in my pajamas and sinking down into my recliner to watch television nonstop, as enticing as those activities may sound, usually will not make for a good day.

Neglecting to take care of tasks that are my responsibility will contribute toward making a bad day.

Even more important, I will have a bad day if I fail to fulfill my responsibility to treat all people with respect and to nurture deeply the people I love most.

I read a story once about an old gentleman who had to move out of his house into a care facility. The administrator of the facility met the old man at the main entrance.

“I hope you will enjoy your new room,” she said.

“I already do enjoy it,” said the man.

“You can’t know if you will enjoy the room or not,” said the administrator, “since you haven’t even seen it.”

“Yes, I can know,” said the man. “The room itself will not determine whether or not I enjoy being there. I will determine that.”

Determine to enjoy this day, and you almost certainly will.

YOUR LIFE SONG

Some of my favorite Christian recording artists have experienced life-crushing tragedies: Danny Gokey, Jeremy Camp, and Steven Curtis Chapman are examples.

Because I know a bit of their life stories, their music has richer meaning. When they sing of grief, regret, failure, and struggle, they speak from experience. Their messages can be trusted because they know what they are talking about.

I have friends who have also been through the fire: friends who have lost mates or children; have suffered abuse; are physically, mentally, or emotionally scarred; or have lived on the edge of survival all their lives. Sadly, some of these friends have experienced more than one of these tragedies.

When these friends share their stories with me, they become authentic people. I get a glimpse into what made them the people they are. In a very small way, I understand them. And with every bit of understanding, I become more accepting.

These people have gained insights into life that I have not. They have walked through valleys I have been spared from walking. They know things I don’t. Many times, they exhibit strengths I don’t have.

Lately, I have pondered this saying from Rumi, a 13th century Persian theologian and poet: Your wound is the place where the Light enters you.

When Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:10, When I am weak, then I am strong (NLT), was he talking about light entering him through his wounds?

All of us are walking wounded. Some of us were hurt by others; some of us suffer from self-inflicted hurts. Each wound is an opportunity for God’s light to shine in, bring wholeness to the sufferer, and make one stronger.

Often, we wounded people don’t want to reveal our damaged selves to other people for fear they will reject or judge us. My experience is that the people who love me most are the people who know me, the unmasked me, best. In fact, it has been through some of these very people that God was able to shine His light into my soul.

Danny Gokey lost his young wife, Sophia, to congenital heart disease. Jeremy Camp’s wife, Melissa, died of ovarian cancer before the couple had been married a year. Steven Curtis Chapman’s little girl, Maria, was killed in a car accident in the family’s driveway.

These Christian artists are singing from this side of their heartbreaks. They have been through the fire and suffered deep wounds. Through those experiences, their faith has been strengthened and their determination to persevere has increased. Their music now blesses and inspires thousands of people all over the world.

In their weakness, these people became strong. Their life songs, though sad, have brought about beautiful results.

Don’t be afraid to share your story with people you trust. Your life song is waiting to bless someone.

 

 

 

SNAP!

My mother was a woman of many talents. When I was a kid, she always knew where to find any item I had lost. She remembered the words to almost every poem or song she had ever heard. She warmed up to even the coolest personalities in our little community.

She also raised four children in a house that relied upon a dug well, not a drilled one, for its water supply. This meant we had to treat water as the precious resource it really was. As kids, my siblings and I joked about having to take our baths in teacups.

Our family conserved water as if the next day we might be without it, which was sometimes the case.

Mom grew beautiful flowers inside and outside. We lived on a stretch of land my grandpa called “glade rock.” By this he meant its soil was essentially dust scattered across stone slabs. A horticulturist’s paradise it was not.

But my mother planted a vegetable garden each year. Often it withered up and died for lack of rain, but optimistically she planted one every spring.

She was tenacious

In the yard she grew irises, peonies, lilies, daffodils, tulips, and crocuses that she watered with used rinse water from her weekly washing. She grew lovely lilacs, white ones and, well, lilac ones.

Inside the house she grew ferns, vining plants, and African violets. Her violets, though never entered in a contest, were prizewinners. She had pink ones, white ones, and purple ones; white ones with purple edges, pink ones with ruffled edges, and purple ones variegated with white.

As any grower of these delicate plants knows, violets demand tender care. They require access to good sunlight and need just enough, but not too much, water. Withered blossoms must be plucked so new ones can grow. Dead leaves must also be removed.

But removing any part of an African violet requires the dexterity of a microsurgeon. If during the process a healthy leaf is accidentally tapped or bumped, even slightly, it breaks.

The snapping of a healthy African violet leaf comes as unexpectedly and unwelcomely as a paper cut. The sound it makes is one-of-a-kind, unmistakable.

  My mother lived by the motto: If you think you may have broken an African violet leaf, you have.

 She applied this proverb to more than the tending of her houseplants.

Her goal was to hurt no one, not her friends, her sisters, or her children. Her ears were ever cocked, listening for the snap indicating harm had been done.

If she suspected she might have wounded one of the people she loved, she reacted as if she indeed had. She couldn’t run fast enough to make an apology and restore kinship.

She knew that, unlike leaves on violets, relationships can be mended if addressed quickly and with love.

Never doubt that she pruned her kids. She diligently plucked from us any hint of disrespect, disobedience, and every other ugly thing.

But as she removed what was bad in us, she meticulously protected what was good.

And she never broke us, emotionally or any other way.

At a restaurant recently, I watched a bully who was masquerading as a dad. He snapped at his young son, “I’ll beat that kind of attitude right out of you.”

This man needed the lesson of the violet leaf.

We all do.

MOVE THE POTS

As my grandchildren often remind me, I am not a good backer-upper. I proved this last summer when I backed over a decorative pot at the edge of our driveway.

Last night my husband said, “The way your car is parked, you could easily back over the pots by the driveway again.”

“I promise you I will not hit those pots,” I said, heading out the front door.

He laughed.

“You’re going to move the pots, aren’t you?” he asked.

“You bet I am,” I said.

Sometimes it is safer to remove an obstacle than try to avoid it.

A friend of mine, a very responsible Christian man, began visiting a gambling casino. At first, he wagered only small sums of money, but the habit grew on him. Eventually he realized he had a big problem.

He tried taking less money with him to the casino and tried limiting himself to staying only one hour at each visit. But he easily overcame those restrictions and continued betting as heartily as before.

Finally, he went to the casino manager’s office and asked to have himself restricted from entering the casino. Security team members would thereafter remove him from the premises if he came through the door.

Figuratively, he moved the pots.

Another friend obtained a high interest rate credit card. She planned to use the card only occasionally and to keep the amount she charged on it low.

Gradually, however, she bought several items of expensive clothing and jewelry and charged those purchases to the card.

When she realized she had run up a large debt, she determined to use willpower to pay off the credit card debt and stop charging purchases on the card. She failed.

Finally, she cut up the card, and as soon as her debt was paid, she closed her account.

This woman also, in a manner of speaking, moved the pots.

Sometimes we have too much confidence in ourselves. If I am careful and diligent, I can avoid those pots, get control of my gambling, or change my expensive buying habits.

 It is important to know when we can trust ourselves and when we cannot.

 Life usually teaches us this lesson by allowing us to fail a few times.

A married woman wishes she had changed jobs when she realized she was sexually attracted to a coworker. She did change jobs later, after the affair, and after the damage had been done.

A teacher wishes he had stopped eating lunch in the staff lounge when he realized it was a hotbed of gossip. He did stop eating there after another teacher, tainted by baseless rumors, lost her job.

A former heavy drinker wishes he had avoided restaurants that served alcohol. He did avoid those restaurants after receiving a DUI conviction and having his driver’s license suspended.

The decorative pots beside our driveway are inexpensive and easily replaced. But marriages, sobriety, integrity, financial stability and the like deserve protection at any cost.

If you suspect you are heading for a collision that could destroy one of those treasures, don’t trust too much in your own ability to avoid it. Move the pots.

These look much prettier in the spring with flowers in them.

WHO’S THERE?

Later, I wished I hadn’t seen it.

Dan and I were off for a vacation by ourselves, the first one we had taken after our children had been born. Being history buffs, we planned to visit Gettysburg, Colonial Williamsburg, and Washington, D.C.

Our first night on the road we stayed at an unimpressive, old motel attached to a truck stop somewhere in Appalachia. Being novice travelers, we had failed to make a reservation.

The morning after we stayed in that old motel, we ate breakfast at the truck stop. At some point during our meal, the door opened and two women walked in. The younger of the two women carried a baby. They sat in a booth near ours.

Everything about this threesome shouted poor. The women were shabbily dressed, their hair was unkempt, and the blanket around the baby was soiled. As Dan and I were about to finish and leave, I glanced at the booth where they sat.

To my surprise, I saw the older woman, possibly the grandmother, open an empty baby bottle and pour into it the remnant of the coffee in her cup. She screwed on a lid and they prepared to depart.

What? I wondered. Would that cold coffee later in the day be fed to the baby because there was nothing else to feed him? My thoughts flew back to our own children, well fed and well tended at home with their grandmother.

Dan and I left the restaurant and soon were gliding along on our way toward Gettysburg. But the image of that old woman pouring coffee into that baby bottle stayed with me. It is with me even now.

I was more timid in those days than I am today, more fearful of a rebuff. Today, at the very least, I would have ordered milk from the waitress, paid for it, and had it taken to their table for the baby.

Why didn’t I do something?

 

My sister Joni makes frequent mission trips to Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Haiti. She encounters wretched poverty in all of those places, but none of the others compare to Haiti.

Living conditions in Haiti were barely survivable before the massive earthquake that hit the country on January 12, 2010. The millions of people who live there today manage to stay alive despite having almost no shelter, no food, no clean water, no medical care, no education, and no organized political system.

I asked Joni, as soft-hearted and compassionate a person as anyone you will ever meet, to tell me a bit about her visits to Haiti.

She said, “Haiti is a very dangerous country to visit.  For safety, I stay with the other members of my group, and we are very selective in the places we choose to visit.”

Joni says her ministrations there are the equivalent of treating a severed limb with a Band-Aid. But at least one person is blessed when a caring woman, motivated by the love of Jesus, gently does what she can do to help.

She also said, “That country’s need is so great, it is overwhelming when viewed as a whole. I simply help the person God puts in front of me.”

I believe Joni’s philosophy of “helping the person God puts in front of me” should be the standard for all of us. That may mean assisting a neighbor whose house has been flooded, buying a winter coat for an old man who needs one, or tending to a child whose parents are lost in a world of drugs and alcohol.

It may be as simple as buying milk for a baby who needs it.

 

Joni works with Hope for Haiti’s Children. This photo of Joni with a little boy cared for by HFHC was taken in 2009 before the earthquake in 2010. When this picture was taken, the child lived with his family on the roof of a church. During the quake, the church crumbled into the street, killing many people, including a group of nurses who were studying there. Joni couldn’t bear to ask if the little boy survived the quake.

http://www.hopeforhaitischildren.org

Dorcas Women

Acts 9:36 NIV–In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor.

I know several women like Dorcas and want to tell you about one of them.

This Dorcas woman taught students in an elementary school for over 20 years. During that time she received many honors, for she was a compassionate yet challenging teacher.

It is no wonder she was honored. She was usually the first teacher to enter the school in the morning and the last to leave. Many Saturdays and Sunday afternoons she also was at school, preparing for her classes.

This busy woman also teaches Sunday school classes. She preps for hours to teach each class, decorates her classroom to represent the Bible stories she will tell, and invites her students to her house for parties.

In addition to caring for her family, spoiling her grandchildren, and spending entire days with her aging mother, this retired teacher searched out other ways to serve.

And that is when she met Sadie.

Sadie was an elderly, homebound woman who lived in a tiny apartment and owned literally nothing of value. She received her meals from Meals on Wheels and spent most of her time listening to tape-recorded sermons and gospel music.

The kind woman cleaned Sadie’s apartment every week; washed and braided Sadie’s long, thin hair; took her food and small gifts; and listened as the lonely old woman talked. Sadie craved conversation.

One day Sadie brought out an old dress the woman had never seen. It was well worn, even torn in places.

Sadie said, “I think this is the best dress I have to be put away in when the time comes.”

“Okay, Sadie,” said the woman, fingering the old dress. But she was thinking, You will not be put away in that old dress, Sadie.

A few weeks ago Sadie died. The woman grieved the loss of her good friend. She provided a nice dress for Sadie to be buried in and even went to the funeral home and braided Sadie’s hair. Then she spent several days cleaning her apartment.

“Who is this woman?” you ask.

I’m sorry. I can’t tell you. She asked me not to use her name.

I am honored to know this woman and others like her. They often do unglamorous work like helping old women bathe, washing their hair, and trimming their nails. And they do these good works with grace and kindness, preserving the dignity of the ones they serve.

Often no one else ever knows about it.