Grandpa laughed at his own jokes.
Rather than weakening stories, Fred Stewart’s laughter strengthened them. He’d tell jokes in his straight-backed chair, arms folded, and his shoulders shook with laughter. Old jokes. Corny jokes. But he told them so well, I laughed too, even when I was a too-sophisticated college student.
Grandpa was a World War II veteran, a businessman of wisdom and integrity, and a valued member of church finance committees. He enjoyed walks in the California desert with my grandmother and took his two sons white-water rafting after he retired. I am blessed to be his granddaughter.
When his heart gave way in 1992, his memorial service packed the sanctuary, and my grandmother’s home filled with out-of-town relatives, including a ravenous women in her third trimester (me). The logistics of feeding the crowd could have compounded Grandma’s grief, but the people of the church reached out with tangible love and provided meals. They stuffed the refrigerator with lasagna, enchiladas, fried rice – and peaches.
Grandpa passed away in August. Peach season.
We received peach pies, cobblers, and jam. Bags of fresh peaches covered Grandma’s kitchen counter. The scent of peaches permeated the house. As the week passed and the fruit piled up, we struggled to suppress laughter when yet another friend presented peaches with pride and delight. After they left, the laughter came, and with the laughter came tears. Grandpa would have relished the humor, he would have told the story often and well, and he would have chuckled when he told it.
Whenever I see a peach, I recall the rosiness of Grandpa’s face when he laughed and the sweetness of the gifts my family received in our grief.
The gift of peaches. The gift of laughter.
Has the Lord ever given you the same message from different sources? It gives you goose bumps, doesn’t it? When God repeats something, it must be important.
My women’s Bible study has been studying “The Organic God,” a refreshing, powerful book by Margaret Feinberg. No, this is not about a tofu-eating, Birkenstock-clad Jesus, but about seeing God for who He is, in all the purity of His character. This week we looked at Ezekiel 16:49: “’Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.’”
Then today I prepared for my Sunday school lesson in Nehemiah and read: “’You warned them to return to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands’” (Nehemiah 9:29), and “’They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness. But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they put your law behind their backs’” (Nehemiah 9:25-26).
Arrogant. Overfed. Unconcerned. Sound familiar?
How can we follow the path of Israel’s restoration rather than Sodom’s destruction? We can look to Israel’s humble prayer of confession, acknowledging God’s sovereignty. “’In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong’” (Nehemiah 9:33).
In our land of prosperity and abundance – even in today’s economic crisis – these sinful attitudes subtly creep into our lives when we aren’t paying attention. Let’s be on the alert, humble ourselves before God, and cultivate concern for others.
The plastic bag held something white and lumpy. The label said “ground beef.”
Today my new refrigerator was delivered, but first I had to muck out the old one. Unpleasant finds included the freezer-burnt beef, moldy leftovers, and liquified veggies. They were once fresh and tasty and healthful, but I shoved them to the back, forgot about them, and let them rot.
How much more important to muck out my soul!
Jesus saved His harshest words not for those living in sin or even for those who crucified Him – but for those who claimed to be devout. “‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness'” (Matthew 23:27-28).
If I don’t regularly muck out my soul, good things can fester. A fresh love of righteousness can burn into a frigid judgmental spirit. A tasty joy for God’s Word can mold into sour legalism. A healthy confidence in God can liquefy into putrid pride.
Lord, shine Your light into my soul, show me sin and hypocrisy, and help me muck it out!
My ten-year-old son, Matthew, slid into third base. The ball arched high over the head of the third-baseman. Matthew scrambled to his feet and took off for home, legs and arms pumping hard. In one smooth move, he dropped into another slide and planted his foot on home plate right before the ball thumped into the catcher’s mitt. The umpire sliced his arms through the dust cloud. “Safe!”
With a giant grin, Matthew ran to his cheering teammates. His coach scooped him up, slung him over his shoulder, and whirled him in a circle. Four times at bat, and he’d scored three times.
Yet he never swung the bat.
This age division is the first where the boys do the pitching. Their skills are – shall we say – erratic. We see lots of walks and stolen bases, and very few strike-outs or hits.
Matthew’s ability to score without swinging seems funny because it violates all we know about success. Outside of Disney movies, dreams do not magically come true.
One of the reasons I wrote a book is because my grandmother never did. She had a gift with language, a deep knowledge of history, and longed to write a book. She turned 94 last week. She has Alzheimer’s. Her story will never come to be.
Unless we are ten-year-old boys, we will never score without swinging. However, we can look to how Matthew fulfilled his dream and stole home. First, he had the wisdom to listen to his coach and analyze the situation. Next, he had the courage to take a chance and risk failure in the hope of succeeding. Then he ran at full speed, ignored the conflicting screams of onlookers, and pressed on to the goal.
Do you have a dream? With wisdom, courage, hard work, and persistence, it may come to pass. And if it doesn’t? In the words of Mother Teresa, “God doesn’t require us to succeed; He only requires that you try.”
Marissa won the strawberry jam in the drawing! Thanks to all who left comments here or on Facebook.
Today I’m making strawberry jam. The kitchen is too warm, I have a reverse French manicure (red tips, anyone?), but the house smells wonderful.
Why do I do this each year? Strawberry in the spring, blackberry and plum in the summer. I figure it saves me a whopping hundred dollars a year. Woo hoo.
To me, the main appeal is a sense of connection with my foremothers. Thanks to modern technology I’ve never had to slaughter a chicken or weave my own cloth or draw water from a well. But making my own jam reminds me of a time I never knew, when life was simpler but a whole lot tougher.
Making jam also connects me to the characters in my novels, who canned out of necessity and patriotic duty during World War II. Putting up fruits and vegetables allowed women to save precious ration stamps for other canned goods and freed supplies of tin and food for military use.
Today we live in uncertain times. We’ve become so comfortable and pampered, we consider it a true sacrifice to give up our weekly pedicure or cut our daily latte from a venti to a grande. Perhaps it’s good once in a while to get our hands dirty – to plant our own veggies, sew our own curtains, or even (gasp!) brew our own coffee – to connect with the past, save a little money, and foster gratitude for modern conveniences. Who knows? Maybe reverse French manicures will become stylish.
Leave a comment, and your name will be entered in a drawing at the end of the week for a pint of freshly made strawberry jam.
What can I write about Easter that hasn’t been written before?
Every year we come to the cross, where we flinch at the nails our sins drove into the hands that reach out to us. We cringe at the angry stripes on the back that bears our burdens. We grieve the pain in the eyes that look on us in love.
Every year we come to the grave and mourn the cost of our cruelty, dishonesty, immorality, and selfishness.
But then every year we come to the empty tomb and marvel at the power that raised Jesus from death to life, that raises us to eternal life. We hear His soothing voice of forgiveness and feel His hand of peace on our heads. We rejoice at the love and mercy and grace given to us, and we savor the freshness of a story two thousand years old.
What can I write that hasn’t been written before? Not one word. And not one new word is needed when the ancient words say it all: “‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!'” (Luke 24:5-6).
Hallelujah! He is risen indeed!
Our sixteen-year-old son, Stephen, is learning how to drive. Yes, that’s hyperventilation you’re hearing. He’s doing a great job – far more calm and confident behind the wheel than I was at that age.
Lane changes are his weakness. Like all new drivers, he has a tendency to turn his body when he looks back over his shoulder, and like all new drivers, he has to learn to compensate – or we’ll all die a horrible fiery death! Breathe in, breathe out.
This past week I joined Facebook (see link to the side). Scrolling through photos of people I went to school with brought mixed feelings. When I saw some faces, I made that shrieky sound my teenage daughter makes when she sees her best friend. Other faces brought painful memories of being ignored or teased. Others brought shameful memories of sins I committed.
Looking back can be beneficial. Some memories should be cherished and enjoyed. Others remind us of how we’ve grown, or of lessons learned the hard way. However, we must turn only our heads, and only briefly. When we turn our whole selves and face backwards, we risk being lost in wistful nostalgia for better days, in soul-destroying bitterness, or in paralyzing shame.
Look back, but keep moving forward. “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:13-14
They say never to pray for patience or the Lord will give you trials to build your patience.
Well, I prayed for humility, and the Lord gave me a teenage daughter.
My lovely daughter, Anna, has the insight and wisdom of thirteen long years. If it weren’t for her, I’d never have known the correct way to carry a water bottle. Did you know there was a wrong way? Tragically, I did not.
Once when Anna left her water bottle on the parents’ side of the soccer field, I decided to bring it to her before the game started. I circled the field, savoring the crisp fall day. With each step I took, Anna’s jaw dropped lower and lower.
“Mom,” she cried. “How could you?”
“How could I what? I brought your water bottle.”
“That’s not how you carry a water bottle.”
The neck of the bottle hung between my fingers. Looked good to me.
Anna took it from my hand before I could do further damage. “You were swinging it.”
There you have it. Just when I thought I was still young and hip.
Anna rolls her eyes. She’s good at that. “Mom, no one says hip anymore.”
“I say hip.”
“So, what do you say?”
“We say cool.”
“I say cool.”
Again with the eye roll. “Yeah, but you don’t say it right.”
Yep, she humbles me. Just what I prayed for. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Today I’m gingerly sticking my toes into the online ocean as my website comes up and I start my blog. How do you come up with a topic for a first blog? Well, if you’re like me, you procrastinate and do something else. So I picked up my Sunday school lesson to write the devotion for the teaching team.
And the lesson was on Gideon (Judges 6-7). The coward’s hero.
Gideon cowered in a winepress, the youngest son in a tiny clan. Not exactly great leadership material. Yet the Lord called him to be a mighty warrior. Do you identify with Gideon? I do. When God called me to write, he called me into a task too big for my puny abilities and a role that requires more godliness than I possess.
So why did God pick Gideon? Why does He pick you and me?
First of all, I’m convinced He calls people because of their inadequacies. Only then can His power shine through. The world knows—and we know—that the task was accomplished by the Lord and all glory goes to Him. If His strength is perfected in weakness, then Gideon had the right stuff. And, um, so do I. Weakness? Loads of it.
But Gideon also had an obedient heart. Hesitant, yes, but obedient. Even his hesitancy has the taste of obedience as he wanted to be certain he was hearing from the Lord alone. But then the cowering farmer stepped out in obedience, over and over, tiny step by tiny step.
The Lord called Gideon a mighty warrior, and then He made him one. What is He asking you to do? Will you let Him?
Please join me in this journey. I hope to blog about the writing life, family life, and living in faith and obedience, watching His strength shine in our weakness.