Friday, July 24, 2009

My Sweet Sixteen

I was 15 years old when I stepped into Logansport High School for a speech team meet. It was one of the first meets I had competed in and I was nervous. Hours had gone into memorizing, practicing and delivering my Drama. Standing outside the classroom, waiting for my turn to compete, I watched the other students hustling to their speech rooms. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the boy who would someday be my husband. I remember thinking he was the cutest boy I had ever seen. All memorization of my speech was forgotten as he smiled at me and introduced himself. My heart went weak when I looked into his brown eyes.

Somehow, in that moment, I knew he was for me ... forever. How is it that your heart knows these things?

Today marks our sixteenth wedding anniversary.

Fooled you, didn't I? Of course, my sixteenth birthday was sweet. That day, I was able to go on my first date with Jerry Willis. I wasn't allowed to go out on dates until I turned sixteen. We spent 8 months, from the time we met until my sixteenth birthday, writing notes and calling each other on the phone. We were from different towns, so we went to different schools. That meant, no seeing each other in the halls at school, no sharing classes ... The week I turned sixteen, we went to our first dance.

The distance between that first dance and today has been paved with better and worse. I am thankful for the worse and blessed by the better. The worse has brought us closer and made our marriage stronger.

All too often, I think two people enter into marriage with "rose colored glasses." You know the ones I'm talking about. The glasses that say your marriage is going to go down in history books as being the first where no one argued, disagreed or hurt each other. I wore those on our wedding day. Go ahead and laugh, I am. They came off the first day we argued. Imagine my disappointment when I found that Jerry Willis did not always think I was perfect. Go ahead, laugh again, I am.

I remember thinking that day our marriage was over. How could he possibly stay married to me and how could I love a man that didn't agree that I was always right? Lucky for me, Jerry didn't wear "rose colored glasses." He was somehow better prepared for that first argument. After my yelling and crying ... he sat me down and explained that disagreeing wasn't a sign of his love for me ending. We were going to have our arguments. That was just part of life together.

On the day of our wedding, I slid a gold band on his finger inscribed with 1 Corinthians 13:13 "And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." Since that day, my husband has unknowingly taught me the scripture that comes before that verse.

1 Corinthians 13: 4 - 8 " Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."

My husband's love for me is never failing. At the end of each day, I know I am loved.

I have a picture frame. It was given to me on my wedding day by the boy I married. A poem is penned on one side ... " To The One I love" ... " I cannot promise you a life of sunshine ~ I cannot promise riches wealth, or gold ~ I cannot promise you an easy pathway that leads away from change or growing old ... But I can promise true devotion, a love to last forever ~ All the happiness love can bring as hand in hand we walk through life together, I do love you ~"

I'm not sure of the author. So, I give credit to the person that wrote this poem. And, I give credit to man who has kept that promise for sixteen years.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Our Team

I watched as my oldest son and my husband loaded a weeks worth of clothes into our church van. What seemed like a hundred teenagers buzzed around that van and the church bus. Each person was loaded down with bags of clothes, cereal boxes and the ever present cell phone. The parking lot surrounding our church seemed to hum with activity.

It was early Saturday evening, our youth group was packing up for a mission work camp in New York. My husband and I had spent the day going over a list of necessities. That morning, I had busied myself with all the duties that define me as "mom." The typical reminders of what to pack and how much to pack.

As the bus was loaded down under its week long burden, I began questioning what we packed. Did we remember everything? They would be gone from home for an entire week. What if they needed something that I failed to pack?

As I watched those teenagers, I realized I just wanted to leave the parking lot and spend my evening as planned. Supper out at our family's favorite restaurant and watching a movie together. I wanted to ignore the fact that two of my guys were leaving before dawn the next morning. On a trip that would take them hours away from me and my other two sons.

As I sat there feeling a mix of worry and sadness, one of my younger boys asked "Hey Mom, is that a team?" I followed his pointing finger to the crowd of teenagers and adults busy passing duffle bags into the back of the van.

"What Bud?" I asked, confused.

"Right there. Is that a team?" My boy pointed with more emphasis.

Again, I looked from his finger to the crowd. In all my rambling thoughts and mix of emotions, I had missed what a small boy clearly saw. Our team.

"Yes, Bud. That's a team, our team."

The conversation had been short but prophetic. His young eyes saw what mine should've seen from the start. That group of teenagers and adults formed a team of believers embarking on a mission. They were setting out to play a game they had practiced for in the month previous. Our youth pastor put hours into planning this trip. Youth group meetings revolved around schedules, packing lists and fundraisers. Then, there was the game plan. They went over salvation and bringing others to the saving knowledge of Christ. Each meeting included concentration on the game book ... the Bible.

It didn't matter what was in their bags ... it mattered what was in their hearts. Jesus. And that's what our team was all about. Taking Jesus and sharing Him and His love.

I looked across the sea of teenagers loading their possessions and found my oldest son. He's tall, thin and handsome. I sat in that parking lot looking at the young man that was my little boy. In my mind, I heard him answering my hundred questions of "did you remember to pack ...?" The answer was the same each time. "Mom, I packed my bible, my devotional and a pocket new testament."

I looked at my boy ... I know that God has shaped his spirit in a way that I could never even begin to measure. My son gave his life over to Christ on the day after 9-11. The day after a mark of history in our nation, my son and I knelt on his bedroom floor and I listened as he recited the sinners prayer. He made that choice on his own. I can't take credit for his strong convictions. Sure, there have been family members, friends and others that have influenced him. But, in the end, credit is due our Father and only Him.

And now, I was sending my son to the very city that launched his salvation. For some, New York holds pain from 9-11, a place where they grew up, a tourist spot they enjoy vacationing or maybe even a national symbol of survival after terror. For me, New York reminds me of 9-12. The day my son became a part of the team and now he's off recruiting team members in that same city.

If you're standing on the sidelines, wondering what it takes to be a part of the team ... stop wondering. Get in the game. Grab your play book, recite the game plan and follow the Coach.

This team doesn't have a limit on players allowed. All are welcome.

John 3:16 " For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Stand in the Gap

Ezekiel 22:30 "So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one." This particular verse is undeniable proof that our prayers DO influence our God.

When God calls us to stand in the gap for our nation, who will he find? Have you given up on prayer and any possibility that your prayers might change our nation?

So many people are facing trials during this economic crisis. Yes, I called it a crisis ... because that's what it is. Of course, that's just my opinion. But, I'm a "common man" type of gal. I live in a very small town, you might say it is a symbol of Middle America or the Heartland of America. We have the local market, small factories, theater in the center of town (not the big, fancy Kerasotes), the drive-in theater at the edge of town and a church on every corner. I can drive to work and wave at pretty much every person I pass ... not just because I'm friendly but because I know those people by name. You're a celebrity on the front page of the newspaper in my town when you win best of show in the cattle judging at the local fair. In my estimation, that beats any front page news in any other town.

My small town is hurting. I feel it when I go to the grocery store, the theater, my church and my job. The economic situation is weighing down on all of us. I went to see a movie with my husband and oldest son last night. The theater down town was near empty. Families that did come weren't buying popcorn and sodas. That's a rarity here. Friday nights at the movies used to fill our theater.

When I stop at the grocery on my way home from work, I pass neighbors and friends who don't have much in their shopping cart. It's not because they aren't hungry or that they don't have a family to feed. It's because they can't afford to pay for their needs. One of the women I know through my job shared with me that she couldn't afford to buy a tomato for her husband. She stood at the local market holding a green tomato and wanting to buy it for her husband. He was craving a fried green tomato. She put it back and went home.

Factories in my town are closing, going under the pressure of an economy that doesn't have a heart for the common man this great nation was built upon. If the local factories aren't closing, they're downsizing. Layoffs are a common occurrence these days. Our men are forced to collect unemployment and sit waiting for a call back from the factory they helped to support. Sure, they look for jobs but there aren't any to be found.

Why is this happening? We could spend days pointing fingers at the Democrats or Republicans. In fact, we have spent days doing that very thing. Each day, the news is filled with our politicians laying blame at the opposing party. Blogs are filled with facts, numbers and names ... each person pointing at political leaders to explain how we got to the point of crisis. After all, it couldn't possibly have anything to do with us, the general public. You won't find that here in my blog. Today, I'm pointing the finger back at ... us.

I believe that God has lifted His protective hand from our nation. We have spent too many days living our own lives without care or concern for the product of our actions. We've become a nation filled with consumers looking for the next best thing to make them happy. All to often, we search for something that to fill the void in our heart and lives. Only to find that the void is a specific shape ... God shaped. Only God can fill the void in our lives. We can't fill it with material items. Sure, we might feel better for a while but soon we'll find that the next best thing really wasn't the best after all.

So, how do we face the trouble we're in? How do we survive the crisis of our economy? I believe that God is searching for men and women willing to stand in the gap and pray for our nation.
When He calls, where will you be?

I feel that Ezekiel 22:30 is profound. It lets us know that He wants to hear our prayers, He wants to save us from our corrupt nature. For me, the final words of this passage are convicting ... "But I found no one." In a nation built upon Christian values and the fact that there is one and only one God, surely He will not look and "find no one."

I challenge each of you to respond to His call with Isaiah 6:8 "Here am I! Send me."

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Quiet Things

Love is in the quiet things. A gentle kiss good morning, a whispered "I love you" from a child's voice, a clean kitchen when you didn't have to ask for it ...

His name was Theodore Hugh Fleming. Hugh (or Hughie) to all of his friends. By the time my sister and I came into his world, Hugh's hair was already graying and his face showed a good measure of wisdom in wrinkles. My sister, Mary, and I were lucky to grow up right across the yard from our Grandpa. He lived in a large two story yellow house. To be honest, as much time as I spent in his home, I can't tell you much about anything outside of the kitchen. You see, my Grandpa was a professional chef and anything Mary and I wanted could be found in that kitchen. My favorite was Chop Suey. This was his specialty and we loved Friday nights when he would make up a big pot. Mary and I would wheel our little red wagon across the yard and pull the pot back home.

I have lots of memories but what I remember the most is the way he loved Mary and me.
Love can be measured by huge bouquets of flowers, expensive jewelry or other flashy gifts. But, those are all loud things. My grandpa loved us with quiet things.

Grandpa didn't have alot of money but he saved up his dimes all year and then put them in coin wrappers for our Christmas gift. He showed up to all our ballgames (Mary and I were cheerleaders in high school). All our friends loved Grandpa. You could pick him out of the crowd in a heartbeat. He was the one in the plaid pants and striped shirt. I guess some kids would've been embarrassed for their Grandpa to show up in that outfit. Not me and not Mary. We loved it. That was Grandpa. Most kids might tell you that their Grandpa smelled like cigar smoke, pipe tobacco or after shave. Not my Grandpa, he always smelled of something cooking. Another thing that I loved.

He'd show up on our doorstep early summer mornings with fresh picked cherries from the tree in his front yard. Most times there were fresh caramel rolls or funnel cakes to go along with the fruit. Corn cakes were another favorite.

Grandpa always had a big garden. I remember his knobby fingers and the way they looked when he snapped green beans from the garden. He picked all the green beans and left the buckets on our doorstep for my mom to can. I think that was his quiet way of loving my parents. They didn't have to pick all the beans. He did it for them.

Just a year after I was married and had moved to Nebraska, my Grandpa's house burned to the ground. Thankfully, he wasn't home when it happened. But, when he found out that his home was gone ... he cried and said he could never go home again. Grandpa didn't cry often, so this was huge for all of us. We saw a side of him that rarely came through.

The night he passed away, we all gathered around his hospital bed. We prayed and sang a hymn. Mary and I told him we'd be back the next morning. Grandpa couldn't talk, his voice was gone. Gently, he shook his head "no." It only took a few moments for us to understand that Grandpa knew he wouldn't be there the next day. He lifted my hand to his lips and kissed it.

That was the final quiet way he showed me his love.

In remembering Grandpa's life, I realized that our society has pushed quiet love into the background. Society has decided that love must be measured by the flashy things. But that's all wrong ... real love is quiet and not boastful. It's gentle and doesn't require any acknowledgement.

My husband and I moved home from Nebraska and built our house on the very spot where my Grandpa's house stood. The view from my bedroom window is the one my Grandpa enjoyed from his back door. I watch the sunrise from my front porch and know that I am looking over the very field my Grandpa saw each day.

This morning, I sat on my front porch and had a cup of coffee. It was early, a thin layer of fog blanketed the field across the road. I sat there for a long time, enjoying the morning and missing the quiet man that I was blessed to call Grandpa.

1st Peter 3:4 "Rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God."