Sister to Sister: Conversations about Malignancy

Here’s a snippet of the shocking conversation as I sat that Sunday morning on the second pew, as a visitor. The lady next to me, a member of that congregation,  a middle ager and with her husband, spoke very casually:

The lady: “Yes….My daughter lives in Little Rock with her husband.”

Me: “Well, How are they enjoying that area?”

The lady: “Well, I’m not sure. I think my daughter may not be well. She might have cancer.”

Me: “Well, is she going for treatment? Has she been diagnosed?”

The lady: You know I’m just not sure about her condition or what she is doing about it.  I’m not sure if she is going to see her physician or not. I don’t know what type of cancer she has or how large the tumor is.  I need to ask her again. We also have a son who may be sick, too. I just can’t remember what he said about his condition, either. Oh dear.  Honey, what is the name of that condition he has? Can you remember? (Looking over at her husband).

That was not exactly the conversation. But what would you think if it was?…That this mother was insane?… That she had been traumatized at some point, becoming cold and calloused about her own children?…That she was simply unfeeling and very different from the Christ we had all gathered to memorialize that Sunday? 

Here’s the real conversation:

The Lady: “Yes. Our daughter lives in Little Rock with her husband.” 

Me: “Well, where do they worship there?”

The Lady: “You know I am not sure. I can’t really recall what kind of church she said they are attending. I need to ask her again.

Me: (a little shocked). And you have more children?

The lady: Yes. Our son….He lives in Florida….Now he goes to some other church, too…I think he does. Oh, Honey, can you remember what kind of church he goes to?” …Oh…I’m trying to think…”

Just then the service began and I tried to pick my jaw up off the floor and frame my startled mind to worship the God of the Universe…the One who spoke the world into existence and yet knows how many hairs are on the head of this woman’s daughter….And He knows where that head is bowed on any given Sunday, if it is bowed at all. He knows if this woman’s son and daughter have a spiritual malignancy. He knows and offers the cure.  But until this woman becomes more keenly aware of the eternal urgency of the spiritual welfare of her children, she will never be helpful to them in battling the spiritual cancer.

I was a visitor. Granted, I do not know the ins and outs of the relationship this couple have with their children. I do not know how recently the conversion of this middle-aged couple occurred. I do not know if their children have had a chance to hear the pure good news. But I know that, if this woman is emotionally and mentally stable, and if she loves the Lord and His church, she will quickly grow into knowing about, caring for and sacrificing for sin’s cure for her children. She will be plugged in to the treatment plan and she will be offering them the resource that will save their spiritual lives. 

The difference between the cancer conversation and the one that really happened that morning? The first has to do with the speck in eternity that is our lives and the second has to do with the infinite remainder of eternity (and we really can’t even use the word “remainder” when we speak of infinite time. The remainder is still infinity.) The first has to do with a mortal body that houses the soul. The second is about the soul, itself—the essence of every human being. The souls of her children—who they are—is what this woman knew very little about. I pray that I may always know my children. 

The second conversation, the real one, is far and away–infinitely–more important.

 

  

Are You Dying for a Piece of Cake?

photo courtesy https://www.army.mil/birthday/

Last Sunday, while visiting a congregation of God’s people in Columbus, Georgia, I met a soldier–a brother in Christ– with a remarkable story. It seems that, while he was stationed in the Middle East, the United States Army’s birthday (June 14th) rolled around and several units were assembling at an undisclosed location to have a festive morale-building celebration in honor of the occasion. A giant cake was ordered for this birthday party and it fell the duty of this soldier to go and pick up the cake. So he got in his assigned vehicle, a Hummer, and made the trip to retrieve the biggest cake he’d ever seen.

All was well until he found himself under enemy fire on the return trip. Panic struck this soldier as deadly missiles were barely missing the Hummer. In the seat beside him where his partner was supposed to be sitting, armed and ready…in the place where the weaponry to defend his very life was normally positioned was… cake–a giant cake.

Thankfully, this brother, after a couple of very near misses, escaped the fire and made it safely back to his battalion. The party began and the cake was cut. Thus, my opportunity on Sunday to meet him.  But this big, brave and  brawny soldier almost died for a large piece of birthday cake.

It occurs to me that we sometimes take great spiritual risks for pieces of cake. The devil is attacking and sometimes we let our guards down. Sometimes in the place of spiritual ammunition gained from study of the Word, we have worldly pleasure and entertainment. Sometimes in the seat of conviction, we have  the religion of convenience. Sometimes our spiritual lives are risked for something as small as a night of fun with friends or a date with a guy who is fun, but not holy. Sometimes we risk our chances to make it home safely for wealth or prestige. I know that, even if a man should gain the whole world in exchange for his soul, it would be a very poor trade indeed (Matthew 16:26). But I fear that, very often, many are selling out for so much less. We go spiritually bankrupt for a piece of cake. We are destroyed by enemy fire because we let the cheap “cake” of this world get in the “seat” where the tools of our spiritual warfare should be. When we do this, unlike the soldier, we will not make it safely home.

Maybe it’s time to rearrange priorities and put the important, eternal things back in the place where they belong.

 

From the Archives: All Dirty Uniforms Welcome!

softball-340488_960_720Question:When ball games, work, or other activities in which our young people may participate require them to leave mid-game, mid-practice etc…in order to make it to the services of the church, is it a wrong thing for them to wear their uniforms to worship services or Bible classes?

Answer:

Are you kidding me? What better statement to the church, the world, the Lord and the devil can a young person make than the one he wears to that service! He says “I was involved in what many people consider to be the most important part of life: sports. But that’s not the most important thing to me.” She says “ I’ve had to make it clear to those on my team and to my coach that my participation in this activity is a distant second to my faithfulness to the assemblies of God’s people.” It is a statement that so many of our adults need to hear.

When our young people wear ball uniforms to worship, my husband stands from the pulpit and makes a very clear object lesson from the young people who sit there in that attire. He says something along these lines: “We are so blessed to have young people of faith who chose to be at the gospel meeting tonight. Look at these guys in their uniforms. They left the field at the bottom of the seventh inning. They don’t know whether their team has won or lost. But there is one victory they are determined to win and it is the most important one. We are privileged to have men in uniform in our midst. And it’s a blessing to get to clean up a little dirt if it falls from the cleats of these guys. I know you will tell them how proud you are of the choice they made tonight.”

I have, unfortunately, heard of those who have criticized these young people for wearing uniforms to services. How could any church member get his conscience’s consent to discourage a teen or child who has made such an extremely difficult decision by criticizing the wearing of the uniform? I would be afraid of the wrath of Diety who called a little child to him and said “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven…But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for Him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the sea.”

For every one of these children who show up in uniform there are generally several adults who made conscious choices to be elsewhere that Wednesday night or during that particular service of the meeting. Perhaps our time would be better spent addressing the decisions of those who are failing to seek first the kingdom (lovingly helping them arrange priorities), than addressing whether or not the kids who made courageous decisions to fly in the face of negative peer pressure are spic and span when the first song begins. May their souls always be clean. May their lives always be unspotted. But let all dirty uniforms be welcome!

Coconut Oil for MY Pantry

Coconut-Oil-WebClearly, I was distracted. I’m not sure you can be clearly distracted, but I was…let’s say…strung out. I had Ezra, my 17-month-old grandson with me, so that’s automatic happiness and automatic craziness. I was headed to an out-of-town meeting with some folks. Glenn was driving me in a horrific rainstorm and so I was looking at my iPhone; reading some email and Facebook prayer requests and requests for counsel about some marriage issues. The house I’d left behind had laundry all over the hall floor and toy trucks and helicopters and mermaids and crumbs everywhere. All over the bedroom floor was unpacked luggage from earlier trips. There was unread mail and unpacked shopping items on the counter (Wish that was all that was on the counter.) It had been a day for squeezing in stuff I did not expect. In fact, I had done a few of those kinds of days back to back.

Earlier in the week, my sisters and I had made a firm decision to inject coconut oil into the food at my dad’s house to boost his short-term memory abilities. We’d read amazing things in places like this—http://www.naturalnews.com/039811_coconut_Alzheimers_dementia.html. Although we know you can’t believe everything  you read on the internet, we thought “What can it hurt?”  We’d also been trying to figure out how we were going to juggle things during the upcoming week of the gospel meeting where my Dad worships, which, coincidentally, occurs at the same time as our own gospel meeting at West Huntsville. He would need help with things like getting his dishes to the fellowship hall, parking, etc…so we were all about making a plan for that week.

Well, somehow, in the frantic fray of the afternoon, I got confused about the date of the gospel meeting at Jacksonville. So I proceeded to make my daily afternoon check-in call to Dad:

Me: “Hey, Dad. How are you doing?”

Dad: “Pretty good. How are you?”

Me: “We’re good. Are you getting ready for church?”

Dad: For church? This is not Sunday, is it?”

Me: No, but Dad, did you forget? It’s your gospel meeting!”

Dad: “To tell the truth, I guess I did forget. I better get up and get my socks on and go to that. I guess it’s at seven?”

Me: “Yes. It’s at seven. You still have time, But I’m worried about you. You do not remember going to the meeting yesterday?”

Dad: “No, I can’t really remember that, but, I’ll get ready and go. I’m glad you called me because I was going to forget all about that.”

So then, of course, I contacted Sami, my sister who had just left his house. No answer. I tried her husband…her son. No response. Finally I left a message on Sami’s phone…”Dad did not even remember that the gospel meeting was happening this week. Did you figure out someone to help him with the fellowship meals and the driving? Let me hear when you get a chance. Love you.”

A few minutes later, I got a call from Sami.

Sami: “Hey…but the meeting is not this week. Remember? It’s the first week in March?”

Me: “Oh dear. You are right. I have to go right now. Bye.”

Of course, I immediately called my Dad, who was hurrying, as much as a nonagenarian hurries, to try and get there by seven. Bless him. He was going to brave the storm to get to an evangelistic effort that I just thought was happening at the Jacksonville church of Christ. On learning that I was the one with the mental glitch, he said “Well, I didn’t think there was a meeting going on, but I took your word for it. Thank you for calling me back. I think I’ll go back to bed, roll back over and go back to sleep.”

Four lessons learned (or at least temporarily cognitively stored in short-term memory):

  1. When you truly trust someone, you just put aside everything you were thinking and go with the trusted individual . That’s, unfortunately, what my dad did. He trusted me. That was not the right thing to do, because I’m obviously fallible (and crazy). But that’s how we are with the heavenly Father if we really trust him, and it is the right thing to do.  We’re willing to ditch our own plans and do life His way.
  2. Love your sisters. It’s a group effort to successfully serve your father on earth. It is certainly a group effort to serve the heavenly Father. You need your sisters. They’ll help you keep life straight. Thank God for them every day.
  3. Focus on the Father. Sometimes things…even important things…can make you lose your focus and get mixed up about what’s going on with the most important relationship..the one with the Father.
  4. Don’t be trying to get the speck out of someone else’s eye when the beam is in your own eye (Matthew 7:3-5). That’s exactly what I was doing…going nuts over the fact that my dad was forgetting important things when it was actually me who was forgetting. Sometimes I do that with sin. The sin that drives me crazy in the lives of others is the very sin with which I struggle or even to which I fall. Keep trying to help others overcome sin, but be sure you always have the humility and focus to look inwardly while you’re helping others (Galatians 6:1)….

Maybe you need to get the coconut oil for your own pantry. It is going on my grocery list for my own pantry…today! If it doesn’t work, I hope you’ll visit me at the home.

Total Abandon

12139968_10153059430706384_8136593055007130536_oWe were having lots of fun in New England…doing museums, little small-town festivals, eating seafood and, perhaps best of all, getting up late. We made reservations for the first three nights of our stay; first in the Boston area and then in Yarmouth on Cape Cod. The views we saw were more breathtaking than we could have imagined. But it IS possible to PLAN a spirit of abandon and that’s what we’d done in regard to reservations for the rest of our trip. We were going to just forget about clocks and schedules and firm destinations (after all, we do all of that when we’re home). This was going to be an adventure!

And so we were doing all of our favorite things: wandering down countryside roads in Northern Massachusetts and New Hampshire, scouting out quaint little antiques stores, snacking at 200-year-old country stores and taking pictures of covered bridges. We weren’t worried about being lost, because ”lost” in New England was more of a target destination for us than a routing mishap.

…Until we decided to do a few miles on an interstate to get a bit further inland and a little further north. (“Leaves should be peak if we could get about 100 miles further north.”) Well, that few miles on the interstate took hours. Slammed. It slowly began to dawn on us that our total abandon had better turn into a quick plan for housing that very night. Glenn remarked that the lights on the freeway resembled a giant and unending Christmas village. It registered with us, really for the first time, that we had, quite without intent, chosen the last holiday weekend of the northern vacation season and peak week for leaves and that half the southern population had chosen that weekend as well.  Upon investigation—looking around, telephoning and web searching—we found that the coast had virtually no hotel rooms left. If we found a room, it was going to be a real feat. We started considering options like “reconnecting with dear friends who’d moved up north” or sleeping sitting upright in that packed Kia Soul that we’d rented. Since watching that sunset and deciding that the state of Maine was going to be suddenly off the itinerary for us, I’ve garnered a new appreciation for a few things:

  1. I’ve thought about Mary and Joseph, who heard “no room at the inn” all those centuries ago. I was vacationing. They were not taking a trip of leisure. I was looking for a comfortable place to sleep. Even my car would have likely been more comfortable than the barn that finally lodged them. I was looking for a place to rest; not a place to finish labor without anethesia and give birth.  Little life emergencies often make me think about the Lord and how very much he sacrificed for me on a daily basis—even before the cross—beginning with the feeding trough in the barn. I wanted a clean place to wash up and rest and begin a new day of admiring the beauty that He created. He, the Creator, saw his first sunrise as the Son of Man from a filthy stable where all of the blood and the smells that our sterile nurses wash away in the moments after birth likely lingered on. I worried about where we would pillow our heads that night.  Mary must have been a little anxious about where she’d be and whether Joseph would be a good makeshift midwife for the Son of God.
  2. I’m a bit ashamed of what I believe my “needs” to be. That’s probably enough said about that. But it was surprising how thankful I could be for a room that I would have never “picked out”. We really throw around that word “need” in our very rich society. It was from that room that I read about my sister Roberta Edwards’ tragic death as she carried on the work that was her every day’s agenda for the orphans in Haiti. I need to feel shame sometimes.
  3. I’ve also thought about the “just and the unjust” a good bit. All of those people from all walks of life were traveling by the thousands to see the splendor of the changing leaves in New England. Our  personal “oohs” and “aahs” were often punctuated by comments about our God’s majesty, supreme creativity and grace to us. But, sadly, many, if not most of the leaf lookers, weren’t giving much thought to God at all. We heard them taking His name in vain repeatedly, saw them consuming alcohol and, in general, behaving like the world behaves. Certainly, when we went to praise Him with the churches in Lawrenceville, Masssachusetts on Wednesday night, in Providence, Rhode Island on Sunday morning and in Manchester, Vermont, on Sunday night, those places of worship were not experiencing the same crowd congestion as were the foliage and forest attractions. Jesus said “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).Perhaps we get to inherit the creation in a much more precious way than those who are not meekly walking with Him. Perhaps just knowing that it is our Father—the one who is loving and caring for us, the one who is hearing and answering our prayers—He is the One who made this display on the East coast of America in 2015. He is the One who does it every year. He is the one who makes every display of nature—every sunrise, every shooting star, that amazing expanse of surging water that we saw, the volcanic activity, the marvels of deoxyribonucleic acid and every other marvel in the human body—He is the ONE! It is His cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10) and His sun that rises on both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). And yet he cares for ME, even keeping a tally of how many hairs are on my head (Matthew 10:30). I would get to see the leaves even if I was unjust. But I am glad I am among the justified, so that through His grace I can see the One who made them!
  4. It’s important to have a reservation. It was a minor hitch when we failed to have a room in New Hampshire or Vermont. But, if we fail to have a reservation in the final destination of humankind, it will be the ultimate tragedy. A spirit of abandon about that destination is the worst tactical error one can make.

The end of the story is that we did find rooms for the rest of our stay. They were not exactly the ones we would have chosen and they were not in the precise location that we’d have planned. They certainly were not at the price we would have expected to pay for them. But, suddenly, we were very grateful to God for a place to lay our heads. We told Him so. I’m planning to keep the reservation I have made in the place of eternal sightseeing…the place where I will at once never tire of the beauty and yet still find a rest (I Peter 1:4). Have you made your reservation there?

Sister to Sister: Do You Phub?

images-17A neologism, by definition, is a newly invented word and one of the newest terms emerging this week in English is “phubbing”. To phub (from two words: “phone and snub”) is to give attention to your phone when you should be paying attention to a significant other…say, maybe your husband. To “phub up” a relationship is to damage or destroy it due to ignoring important aspects like conversation while you scroll or communicate with others via that hand-held device.

We do this, don’t we? I know I am guilty of phubbing at times. A study at Baylor University recently revealed that phubbing is a significant cause of unhappiness in marriages and sometimes leads to bigger breaches of intimacy and to significant problems in relationships (http://www.foxnews.com/health/2015/10/02/phubbing-ruining-relationships-study-says/.

As I was talking this weekend to women about treasuring the sisterhood, I first thought about this neologism in regard to our sisters. Do we sometimes get so “into” the superficial relationships with people we almost never see and hardly know that we neglect to capitalize on the times we could be spending with our local sisters? I don’t know, but it would be a shameif we let that happen. While it’s wonderful that technology has broadened our fellowship in some ways that make it possible to encourage sisters in other countries, it would be sad to be encouraging to sisters in distant places while hardly knowing those with whom we regularly worship. I want to be careful to treasure relationships with sisters with whom I share local activities and local evangelistic efforts.

But as I think further, the ultimate tragedy would be if a person phubbed God. Is that possible? Can a person spend inordinate amounts of time phone trolling, Facebook scrolling, skyping and chatting with “friends” while failing to communicate and develop a relationship with God?  I think so and I think many people do.  Are there practical steps I can take to be sure I don’t let devices subtly take the time and interest that I should be giving to God?  Can I even disrespect God by slighting my husband while communicating with others via phone? I’ve been thinking about this and here are a few things I want to incorporate into my personal habits to make sure that I never inadvertently give God (or His delegated authority in my life) the leftovers of my communication time.

  1. When God is talking to me (i.e I am reading my Bible or listening to teaching), I will attempt to have my phone silenced or at least ignore any calls that are not emergencies, no matter where I may be.
  2. When I am talking to God, I will not allow my phone to interrupt that prayer time.
  3. I will reserve time for study and prayer every day as a priority over time spent on devices.
  4. I will not look at my phone during mealtimes with my husband, who is the one I am to reverence (Eph. 5:33).
  5. I will not text others while Glenn is speaking to me.
  6. I will not be on Facebook when my husband prefers that I be doing something else with him.  This  would be next to impossible for some women I know who are very much addicted to Facebook  or Twitter or Instagram. It may prove to be harder for me than I think. It’s my challenge for the coming days. I don’t want to be a phubber! (It’s funny….The term is so new that “phubber” autocorrects to “chubbier”. I don’t really want to be that either!)