Sister to Sister: How about a Little Empathy?

When I hang a new calendar, looking over the spent and tattered one I’m putting in that file cabinet…the cabinet that now has a stack of gridded sheets that represent the business, the slammed schedules, the birthday parties, the travel. as well as the mundane housecleaning, cabin cleaning, and mending days of the past year, I always try and think about the big picture. Every little square in that twelve page card stock and pocketed book that I’m filing away was a day of movement. Every square was movement toward heaven or away from it. We live sadness and hope. We live purpose and appointments. We live fun and fervor. But we never live static. Each turn of the page is a progression toward eternity. What makes each square so precious is that one square will be the last one. 

…Which makes me think about empathy. With the passage of time in each of our lives, our experiences multiply. I mean, I used to have no clue about grandparenthood. (Who are all these crazies who are obsessing over a dimple or the color of a baby’s hair?) Now I know. I fully empathize because my realm of experience grew. That happened on one of the squares in 2014. I used to come up short in the empathy department for those who were caring for elderly parents. Not any more. That happened slowly on lots of squares in the past ten or so calendar records. Experiences have simply broadened my scope of empathy. It was never that I didn’t have sympathy for those in the sandwich generation. But empathy is a whole different thing. Empathy is what make you give grace and truly feel WITH another who is experiencing something you’ve known firsthand. Remember, empathy is what makes our Lord the GREAT high priest that He is. We do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Rather, we have one who has been tried in every point, just like we are tried, yet He did it without sin (Heb. 4:15). Empathy qualifies him to be my mediator and I am so thankful for His divine empathy. 

On that page, let me list a few scenarios of which I will not be critical this year. Experiences produce empathy. Empathy produces grace. So here:

  1. I will not criticize young mothers who are struggling in worship services to make toddlers behave. 
  2. I will not criticize young families who are occasionally late for Bible class.
  3. I will not criticize young moms who show up for Bible class on Wednesday night in jeans and a milk-stained t-shirt. 
  4. I will not criticize older people whose eyes occasionally close and whose head sometimes inadvertently bows during the sermon on Sunday.
  5. I will not criticize bragging grandmothers.
  6. I will not criticize grandmothers who buy too many baby clothes.
  7. I will not criticize the careful choices made by children about the care of aged parents.
  8. I will not criticize the families of faithful elders and preachers about matters of judgment.
  9. I will not criticize people who occasionally cry in public–people who others may classify as “emotional basket cases.”
  10. I will not criticize the eating and exercise habits of busy people.
  11. I will not criticize those who do not take every call at the moment it comes.
  12. I will not criticize busy people who lose keys, phones, glasses and other essentials frequently and who sometimes forget appointments.

There’s a little list of a few of the many decisions that experience has helped me make. Experience is my friend. Gray strands are my teachers. I know that our realms of empathy are not all the same. But the world might be a gentler place if we allowed the scenarios  and circumstances we’ve faced to teach us grace. Notice that I did not say “indifference to sin.” We have to care deeply about what grieves God. But empathy makes us also care deeply about the “infirmities” of His people. Experience makes us keenly aware that we might not know details that are crucial in decisions being made by others. Empathy makes us better people.  

Digging Deep: Five Days till We’re “In the Shadows”!

unnamed-8Others have tried and failed and, surely, I can’t put into words the exponential spiritual growth that occurred at Polishing the Pulpit this week. Suffice it to say that I’m so very thankful to be in these mountains the third week of August each year. I come to a spiritual peak in the times I share with these thousands of Christians in this beautiful part of God’s world. I’ll always be grateful to Allen Webster and the elders in the church at Jacksonville  for having the vision and zeal to make PTP the outstanding program that it continues to be. The fellowship is not even the main thing, but that alone is worth the trip!

14088443_10153700959231384_7422453908872177681_n

Countdown to the new Digging Deep study is at 5 days. The official beginning of the “In the Shadows” study is September 1st. I hope you can think of someone to invite to join us as we dig into what I think will enable us spiritually—to better evangelize and to more fully understand the purpose and importance of the Old Testament. So many of those we encounter in various churches around us are, on the one hand, confused by our insistence that we are no longer under the Old Law…or, on the other hand, curious as to why we study the Old Testament accounts so thoroughly and frequently. 

In-The-Shadows-Digging-Deep-Banner

I really believe that it will be impossible to complete the study this year without, in the end, understanding the value of the Old Testament to Christians while still being sure that it has been fulfilled and is no longer binding on us, as law, in any respect. That’s why I think it’s a great idea to invite your friends who may not have made the distinction in covenants to study along. I hope you will take the time to at least message a few friends or post the study on your Facebook wall.  Lots of women are studying as a class this year, as well.

14040157_10153701053211384_3537453542881798692_n

Now, about the Digging Deep study guides….You may order those at any time here: http://thecolleyhouse.org/store#!/Digging-Deep/c/20688312/offset=0&sort=normal. You’ll also find there the new Comfort Colors Digging Deep t-shirts that Ben Giselbach designed for us this year. The graphite and mint green made a great combination this year. You might want to take a look. (We had to remove the bundle we had offered earlier because our tumbler supply has been exhausted.) Note that all t-shirt orders must be completed by September 1st. This deadline enables us to have the shirts printed quickly and be able to mail them out in the first few days of September. 

Remember, also, that you may download the complete no-frills version of the study on the same page as well. We invite you to do that at any time with our compliments. The main objective here is to get the Word into the hearts of women, so be sure and do whatever best facilitates that. Don’t forget the podcast occurs monthly toward the end of the month. We hope you can join us for that hour live. We update the dates for that via the Facebook page “Digging Deep in God’s Word”.

Thank you for giving me the chance to study through the scriptures each year with you. I cannot tell you how huge a part of my life Digging Deep has come to be. And that’s a good thing. (Sometimes, though, I have to be careful to let my husband know that I love him even more than I love Digging Deep!)  So get ready. Get set…14063715_220885821642921_2281945772074807030_n-1

 

PTP! Let’s do this!

13912888_10153675854961384_3576400400912032462_nAs I write, I am trying to head out the door to attend one of the finest teaching programs I’ve ever experienced. Throughout the last year I have listened to 177 full length classes on the flash drive I brought home from last year’s Polishing the Pulpit. (http://polishingthepulpit.com) just while driving in my car. I’m spiritually richer just for the listening. I know more about the Bible and how to apply it. I have more teaching tools. I am glad I can listen in the  car after the gathering has dispersed. But to get to go and enjoy the fellowship of 4000 Christians while attending some of these lessons in person is a blessing in the vestibule of heaven, itself! 

The other night, while visiting the church in Jacksonville, Alabama I met a lady from the community who came also, to visit their Wednesday Bible study. When I met her, she related to me that someone in the community—someone to whom she had mentioned that she really wanted to know God’s will for her life—said “You should go over to the church of Christ. They have the best Bible studies over there.” Now I do not know who this person was. She was apparently not a member of the church. She had just become impressed with the reputation of Bible study that the Jacksonville church has. 

That was a breath of fresh air for me. God’s people should work hard to maintain that reputation. I’m sure I’ve heard at least a hundred times in my lifetime “The church of Christ used to have the reputation of being the people who knew the Bible. But that day, sadly, has passed.” Well, if it’s passed, I say, let’s bring it on back!

At Polishing the Pulpit, that’s the goal. You will start to believe that we can regain that reputation when you circulate through classes and connect in conversations  and go to the how-to sessions on everything from teaching tots to planning mission trips to food preservation for disaster outreach to learning some basics about the Bible languages. And the  fellowship at this great program!…It’s simply a foretaste of heaven. The children’s program alone is reason enough to make the trip with your family. They get to wander though a life-size New Testament village and soak in the accounts of that Book! I hope you will make plans now for next year, if you’re not traveling to Sevierville,Tennessee this weekend to attend,

I get to talk with ladies about the meek and quiet spirit of I Peter 3. I’m discussing this year the subtleties of the devil’s tactics to try and “trip up” Christian women. I’m simulating a study with a Mormon and kicking off a year of Deep Bible study for women. I’m over-the-top excited about that. I’m talking about some bad reasons to stay in an unfaithful church, some ways to use social media for Him… and more. I love this opportunity to teach. It makes me work and learn and study that blessed Book…Its meat (Hebrews 5:12), Its milk (I Peter 2:2), Its bread (John 6:58) and Its water (John 4:13,14).  But even more, I love the opportunity to learn.  I am just one tiny little teacher (well…you know what I mean) in a vast program of many teachers far more qualified than I am. So, for me, it’s all about soaking it up! At PTP, you learn quickly that, the more you know, the more there is to know. That’s why you keep coming back. And the best part is, you have 358 days in between PTPs to glorify Him with the applications you bring back from those seven days. It’s kind of like a spiritual gold rush for Christians…only  the gold is really there and you really do become richer. And you can take the gold home and invest it, and, slowly, you become richer and richer toward God. Let’s go do this!

Sister to Sister: “He’s Family.”

13445308_10153545698711384_8626082806051738344_nIt caught me a little off-guard when the manager at Waffle House In Jacksonville, Alabama called me over to the counter to have a word with him. He asked for my phone number. 

Well, that didn’t sound right. What I mean is, he wanted an emergency number just in case any medical emergency ever comes up with my father who’s 93 and goes to Waffle House almost every single day….Sometimes, he goes two or three times a day. I was touched. He said “Well, he’s like family to us. That’s just how much we think of him.” 

They know what he orders and they give him a little extra of this or that. They open his creamers and his jellies because they know those arthritic hands have a hard time getting them open. They refill and pamper and “darlin” him till he’s full and then they open all the doors wide for his walker as he leaves. 

That’s how they define treating someone like family. And, mind you, I’m very grateful that they’re so very attentive and kind. They are extremely accommodating and most respectful.  And the fact that they cared enough to get the contact info struck a chord inside me. 

But, still, I’m glad that Dad has a real family. Real family, you see, does a whole lot more than taking breakfast orders, delivering the purchased items, and doing it with kindness and extra measures of respect and friendliness. All of that is so much more than you expect, as a customer, but still not nearly what it means to be “family”.  

Being family is doing everything in your power to identify and make sure all needs are met. Family is shared memories and hopes. It’s defending each other while holding each other accountable. It’s rescuing. It’s reminiscing. It’s communicating about the mundane and struggling together through the challenging. It’s being secure, even in your mutual vulnerability. In the Bible, it’s the Greek word “storge” and the absence of this kind of love is included in some pretty heinous sin-lists in the New Testament (Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3).

It’s interesting, in this context, that God calls us— the church—the “family” (Ephesians 3:15). Sometimes I fall so short of the calling of “family” in reference to my treatment of the brothers and sisters with whom I have the truest kinship…the blood kinship that comes from Calvary. 

I’m pretty devoted to my physical family. There’s not much I wouldn’t do for either of my sisters or my brother. I have a pretty constant anxiety about my father’s well-being. The way I miss my mother is deep and, at times, still excruciating. My husband is everything to me, My children and grandchildren are dear to me beyond words. They put the light in my eyes and the spring in my step. I am all about family.

Perhaps the manager at Waffle House really does think my father is like family. But, for me, family is a little bit more. May I work harder to be truly “family” to those who are my siblings in the family of God. May I strive to exhibit the same (or even a greater) care for the eternal family as I do for the physical family. And may I not allow the fact that I can’t keep up with the needs and cares and sorrows of that many people to stop me from doing my best to treat my Christian kin as family; one person…one opportunity at the time.

Mama’s K.I.S.S. #43–Cooking Times Four

Portrait of happy mother and her daughter cooking in the kitchen

As you know, if you’ve been reading, for quite some time, I’ve occasionally been running little installments called “Mama’s K.I.S.S.” I know that lots of readers could give many more and far more creative ideas than I can offer, but these installments are just a few tried and true and mostly old-fashioned ideas for putting service hearts in our kids.  This is number 43 of a list of one hundred ways we train our kids to serve. K.I.S.S. is an acronym for “Kids In Service Suggestions”.

I’m sure you’ve thought of doing this with your kids, but it’s been a real benefit to ministry on several occasions for this family. Every time I make a casserole, a cobbler or a soup of any kind, I multiply all ingredient amounts by four, prepare the ingredients, and then spoon them out into 4-6 casserole dishes (depending on dish sizes), cover them well with heavy-duty foil, and freeze all of them except the one we are having for supper. I usually place the wrapped dishes in individual giant zippy bags to help guard them from freezer burn. I also label the bags with the name of the dish and the instructions for cooking or re-heating the dish. The casseroles and pies are almost always placed in the freezer before the baking, so you can just grab them from the freezer, thaw them and bake according to directions. Soups only need reheating. This is great math for upper-elementary kids, as they multiply the fractions of cups and teaspoons, and it’s great hospitality and benevolence planning for kids (especially daughters) of any age.

I know I don’t need to explain the benefits of this, but here goes. It’s cheaper to buy ingredients in bulk.  It greatly reduces cooking time because it only takes a few more minutes to make four casseroles than it takes to make one. When you do four meals at the time, you have one mess to clean up instead of four. 

But the biggest plus for me is being able to take a dish to a grieving family on the spur of the moment or to enjoy time with visiting family or friends instead of spending all my time cooking and cleaning the kitchen. It’s great to be able to have food on hand for Sunday dinners or fellowship meals. It’s great to be able to take a meal to someone who has just gotten home from the hospital or to someone who has a sick child. Best of all, your kids are watching and absorbing this active freezer ministry which just becomes a part of your family’s routine. It would be worth the price of my deep freezer many times over just for the consistency of hospitality and benevolence that it afforded our family. Of course we were still not even close to thorough or perfect as we took advantage of having a deep freezer. But still, it was/is a very helpful tool. 

Here are some dishes that work particularly well in the freezer. I’ve included the most recent recipe that I prepared and froze as well. It was very good! Thanks to Diana Shafer in Collierville, TN for sharing! It has already gone to a couple of octogenarians in their home in Tennessee and  to a visiting preacher-student family around our table.

These work well: 

Any kind of soup

Chili

Lasagne

Poppy seed chicken casseroles

Chicken, broccoli and rice casseroles

Most pasta dishes (especially if they are creamy)

Ground beef and vegetable casseroles

Dumpling dishes

Cobblers of any kind 

Dump cakes

Enchilada casseroles

Casseroles with crescent roll type crusts/toppings

Homemade Bread (Wrap well in a couple of layers of heavy duty foil or plastic wrap.)

(If a casserole calls for a cracker or potato chip or corn chip topping, add this after you remove it from the freezer.) 

                                                                                  Creamy Chicken

Ingredients:

4-8 chicken breasts or 1 chicken

1 pt. sour cream

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 8 oz. package Pepperidge Farm dressing mix (may use more)… (Also, I think I used a store brand and it was yum.)

1/4 c.milk

1 can cream of mushroom soup

Directions:

Cook chicken (boil or cook in microwave). Cool. Remove skin and cut into bite-size pieces. Line 9×13 dish with chicken. (But you can really use any size dishes. cc) Sprinkle with salt. Combine soups, sour cream and milk. Spread this over chicken.Prepare dressing mix according to directions on package. Margarine may be omitted if you do not like rich dressing. Use broth from chicken or chicken bouillon for liquid required in dressing mix. Spread dressing on top of soup mixture. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 45 minutes. May be frozen before baking.  (This is easy and so very good!)

 

Sister to Sister: Don’t Take This for Granted.

10007327_10152819889601062_7042397935088924019_oToday is surely a day when I should just go back to the archived files and throw something in here from an old manuscript or article. Tonight is Ladies Night Out at my house for the women at West Huntsville and the hymn “There is much to do. There’s work on every hand. Hark the cry for help comes ringing through the land…” keeps coming to mind. But the sweetness of fellowship and family in Him also comes to mind.

As I anticipate a time tonight with my sisters, I remember yesterday. As I was traveling to worship yesterday morning, my sister (in the flesh and in the Lord), Celine, called me and asked me to meet up with her to do some swap-offs (She had clothes for Ezra and I had Enoch’s birthday present), so we arranged to meet up at the Mexican restaurant for lunch. When I arrived at the church building, David Freeman hugged me and whispered in my ear the pew location of a sweet family from Missouri that I should go meet. I did. We’d never met, but we had so much to talk about that I had to hurry to find a pew for the opening announcements. When it was singing time, sweet five-year-old Amber, whose Mom, Nuris, comes alone with two small children, came stealing down the aisle to sit with me. She always brings a big hug and she busied herself doing her WINGS sheet, so she could stand in line and hug the preacher and get her sticker for “listening” during the sermon. (I do use the term “listening” very loosely!)

As soon as worship had concluded, the college kids behind me helped me pick up the crayons and Marie rushed up to me to talk about her planned devotional for ladies night out. This is Marie’s very first time to speak in front of her sisters and she has written out her manuscript about Dorcas. I am so proud of her. Then, hurrying to Bible class, I sat down next to Jan. We studied, among other passages, First John one, verse seven:

If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another; and the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanses us from all sin. 

The two great blessings of that verse are fellowship and cleansing. The blessings do not come independently of each other. They come in a pair—a set—of blessings.

Class was over and Jan and I visited a bit about the joys and challenges of helping parents who are growing older. She encouraged me. I talked with Betty about her grandson, Liam, and how he’s soaking up Hannah’s Hundred verses. I talked to Holly about new clothes and Hannah’s Hundred (again).  I talked to Maury about a Bible he couldn’t find and to Jennifer about a water bottle she was missing. I got the meat I’d purchased from Carter’s softball team from his mom, Kristi, who had meticulously wrapped it and wrapped it some more, so it would not mess up my car. I talked to Lindsay and Mrs. Glenna and then I bumped into my husband, Glenn, who told me that he’d invited people to lunch, too.

“Great!” I said…”We’ll need a big table, because I’m meeting the Sparkses, too.” Our table was for 17, in the end, and these sweet people, who were traveling through between the great Diana Singing and a visit with my dear friends, the Bakers, in Montgomery, were all mixed up with the Sparkses and it was a great time of fellowship.

It was the kind of fellowship that I take for granted. There were at least 43 people from our assembly in that restaurant. That is nothing unusual. Unless we are having a fellowship meal at the building, we pack that restaurant (and others) with groups of Christians. We are so busy enjoying it that we don’t even stop to think what a HUGE blessing fellowship is.

And then, sweet little Emily and Eva, who were born in Wisconsin (I think) and now live in Chicago, who were also sitting across the table from me, just looked around the room, got VERY wide-eyed and began pointing out all the children in that big room at the Mexican restaurant who were in their Bible classes. They could not believe they were just bumping into kids all around that they’d just met in Sunday School! Their mom said to me, “They have never known what it’s like to have Christians all around. We hope they can know that blessing one day.”

Today I am thanking God for that blessing that I, far too often, take for granted. It is huge. It is life-enriching. It is, most importantly, God’s way of keeping me accountable. I am so thankful for fellowship that comes with walking in the light. I never want to be without fellowship (II Thess. 3:6,7). (Our church family had to experience the pain of withdrawing that fellowship yesterday, as well. But it would not hurt so deeply to do that if fellowship was not so sweet to us. I am very much in prayer for the restoration of that sweet fellowship lost.)

I could go on, but I’ll stop there. The conversations with two women at our lunch table who had worked for the Lord in China, largely without this great blessing of fellowship…the baby shower preparation…all the ladies who came to encourage Tiffany and Curtis and little Raylee, before she’s even been born..the new college student and his mom (who is coming to ladies night out tonight!)…etc…etc…would take too much space. I just want to say that being a part of a family in Him is a huge blessing that I do not want to ever be without.

At the very end of the day, I was in a conversation with the wife of the great preacher we had for evening services. He is a student at Memphis School of Preaching and our congregation is helping with his support while he trains. His sweet wife, Erica, and I began to talk about sisters we both knew from different places in our big family. Then she made this comment that made me thankful for a whole new and relatively recent dimension of fellowship:

“There are so many women here  that I’ve never met, but still I know them because I have studied with them on the Digging Deep podcast.” Don’t you love that?! There is no reason to be a spiritual hermit in 2015. God has opened doors of fellowship that were totally unavailable for John when he wrote those words about walking in the light and having fellowship.

So today. let’s bask in the blessing. And let ME get busy getting ready for another helping of the wholesome blessing of fellowship!