Mar 31, 2010

March 31, exceedingly happy day!

It was a feeling I'd never experienced before. Looking intently into the bassinet at that newborn baby boy filled me with such an overwhelming sense of love that I actually thought I could pass out. I was 31 years old at the time, and didn't expect to be so overcome with emotions for which there are no words to describe. I knew instinctively that I would defend this little one to the death if necessary. I loved him more than life itself. I never knew something so tiny could affect my life so much. My heart was bursting with a love I never knew before.

Thus began my journey into motherhood - 30 years ago today! Happy Birthday Andy!

My friend Rose recently posted about how fleeting life is. It's a subject I've had a lot of thoughts about myself lately. I have no idea how the last 30 years have gone by so quickly. I might be the mother of a 30 year old, but there are many memories that seem like they happened just yesterday.

For example:

*One day shortly before Mother's Day in 1982 I was running late and driving speedily to my Mom's house in the morning on my way to work. Andy was just two, and my Mom babysat him. I can remember the exact intersection we were pulling up to, the busiest one in our county. I got the red light and was frustrated because I knew I would be sitting there for the next six minutes. Andy was in the front passenger's seat (which was a legal thing to do back then) and suddenly he turned around and asked me softly, "Mommy, what is Jesus doing in the back seat?" I looked all around thinking maybe he had spotted someone walking along the road who had a beard, but I could see no one. It was pretty humbling to think that Jesus needed to visibly show up to get me to slow down.

One of my most favorite ages of children has always been "4" for some reason. I guess I just love the way they really start thinking through things, and so often, out loud.

Here are a few favorite "age 4" memories:

*One Friday night while we were driving home from Grandma's house, we heard church bells ringing. Andy confidently announced, "It must be Ash Friday!"

*It was Sunday July 29, 1984 and I thought Andy was upstairs taking a really good nap. We later discovered he had been giving himself a hair cut. I tried to explain that he shouldn't do that because he couldn't see what he was doing, and he could hurt himself. His reply? "Oh yes I can, I used the rear-view mirror." Up by the bathroom sink I found barber shears, comb, and a hand held mirror.

*In September of the same year, I took Andy to a specialist to have his tonsils checked. The doctor said he needed to get them taken out, so he showed Andy a little film to explain why he had so many sore throats, referring to "swollen tissues". The next morning Andy asked his dad if he still had that "kleenex" in his throat. We had no clue what he was talking about until he explained, "You know, the tissue." After thinking about the film a little more, Andy proclaimed, "that doctor must know an awful lot about how God made me!"

and my most favorite 4 year old memory of Andy:

*Later the same month, Andy told me he had had a conversation with God while he was in the bathtub. He said he asked God what kind of servant he wanted him to be, and God told him he wanted him to tell people about Jesus!

Andrew of the Bible, for whom our Andy was named, was the first called among the apostles to follow Jesus, and he is credited with introducing his brother, Simon Peter, to Christ. History records that Andrew himself spread the Gospel far and wide and eventually was martyred for his Lord.

Andy has lived up to his namesake and also to his very early calling by the Lord to serve Him by preaching the Gospel. He is now an ordained minister of the Gospel serving in a church in South Carolina as an Associate Pastor. You can take a peak at his bio here. His passion that he hopes to eventually pursue involves church planting.

Happy Birthday son! Even though you are making us feel "old" today, we love you and we sure are proud of you!

Andy and Ellie last March when he was best man in his friend's wedding

Here we are the day of Andy's ordination, Jan. 10, 2009

Our two precious grandsons from Andy & Ellie, Deacon & Owen

Mar 30, 2010

Where have I been all my life?

This past Sunday, my husband and I were introduced to yet another community organization in our county. We were invited to an open house by a young friend who has just committed the next two years of her life to serving on the staff. First Glance is a faith-based organization in the Kenmore area of Akron, Ohio whose mission is "To connect students and their communities to Christ and the Church through real, loving non-threatening avenues."

First Glance has been existence for about 10 years and currently has a small full-time staff and about 100 volunteers. Many of them are from local churches, some of them live in the local community, and a few are former students who have come back to give back. All of them genuinely love and care about the students they serve at First Glance and get involved in other aspects of their lives as well.

Having started out as a community student center, First Glance has broadened its scope and has several programs it offers to teens. These include recreational opportunties such as playing pool, indoor skateboarding, basketball, computers, just hanging out and eating pizza, groups for teen moms, teen dads, and other mentoring type programs. Currently about 250 students come through the doors of First Glance each week.

The program I want to tell you about today is called TEEN MOMS, which has been in existence for about 7 years now. The young girls who come are either pregnant or have babies. Here they are mentored weekly by experienced adult moms who not only teach them basic parenting skills, but give them practical instruction to learn many life skills. The youngest mom in the program right now is age 14.

One goal is to encourage every girl that comes to TEEN MOMS to either complete their high school education or obtain a GED. For those who graduate, specific job training or college is encouraged, and the volunteers do everything they can to help these girls achieve these goals.

TEEN MOMS meets once a week, and the girls are encouraged to come early and help prepare supper in the new and beautifully constructed kitchen. This way they are learning a very practical life skill. Child care is provided.

Each mom works through a parenting book and lessons are turned in weekly. The girls can earn "baby dollars" by doing a variety of things such as completing these lessons, attending school, getting good grades, holding a job, attending church, reading to their babies, etc. Their "baby dollars" earnings are entered into a checkbook register (teaching them yet another life skill) and can be spent at the Baby Boutique. This is a cheerful room full of (mostly donated) baby clothing, baby medical supplies, toys, and other equipment that looks just like a real store, and the girls write a "check" to pay for their "purchases".

Each week TEEN MOMS provides some kind of a hands-on activity or informational speaker such as a doctor, a nutritionist, or other health-care specialist. Mentors also teach the girls how to sew a baby quilt and keep an on-going scrapbook project for their babies. Other supervised times are provided during the week for the girls to come and exercise, work on their studies, just play with their babies in the beautiful and clean nursery, or help with cleaning the areas.

While some government grants have been obtained for First Glance, most funding comes from individuals or local organizations. In spite of extreme economic conditions, First Glance brought in enough money in 2009 to pay off the facility they have as well as acquire more of it for much needed expansion. We were extremely impressed with the beautiful renovations of an old building, as well as the cleanliness and orderliness of the entire operation.

By far, the most important aspect of First Glance is the changed lives of the students who come through the doors. The name "First Glance" comes from the idea that many of these teens have never had an opportunity to see faith in action. Their lives have been filled with anything but love, steadfastness, and hope. At First Glance, they are introduced to the Gospel in a way that meets them where they are. To quote part of the mission,

"In every interaction with the students, volunteers model Christ's love with the hope that they might find rest in Him. In conjunction with our mission, First Glance also works to encourage our students to attend an area church."

When my husband and I were driving home from the open house, I glanced at our GPS which showed we would arrive home in 15 minutes. Two things were not lost on us: first that we had to use a GPS because we were so unfamiliar with the area of Akron where First Glance is located; and secondly, that it was only 15 minutes from our driveway in the suburbs.

I would love to hear how God is opening the eyes of your heart to seeing Him at work all around you. He just showed me, again.

"Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." - St. Francis of Assisi

"Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." James 2:17

Mar 25, 2010

"When it comes time to die, make sure that all you have to do is die." -- Jim Elliott, March 25, 1957

Today I'm doing a rerun of my blog post from a year ago. The second anniversary of my father's death is in a few days, and I have a couple of posts that I will be rerunning about him. I hope they will be inspirational...

On Palm Sunday of last year, my dad wasn't feeling well and hadn't been out of bed for a couple days. My husband and I went to visit him in the early evening, and I tried my best to persuade him to let us take him to the hospital. He laughed out loud: "that's the LAST place I want to go!" I knew it was a lost cause, and we eventually said goodnight. As I turned to leave, he spoke those coveted words, "I love you Jacque" as he gave me a wave of the hand. Honestly I don't know that I ever heard him say that before! I've always known my father loved me, but the words just about stopped me in my tracks. "I love you too, Dad!"

A few days later mom called to say dad really did need to go to the hospital and this time he didn't put up much of a fuss. We got him in the front seat of my car and all he could say was "I can't believe this is happening. Do you think we're doing the right thing?" The days following are mostly a blur and its hard to place the sequence of memories. Finally when it was determined that he would be released to in-home hospice care, he was so excited. He wrote the night nurse a note "no breakfast tomorrow, I'm going home!" He then asked if he was supposed to be preparing to die, and stated emphatically that he was not afraid to go home to die.

My father died the way he lived--peacefully and at peace with himself, with God, and with his family. There was nothing left he had to do but pass from this life to the next. God graciously granted him the dignity of a smooth transition as his family shared the final sacred moments.

Back in the '70's I bought dad a little plaque with this poem on it, attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and it was read at his funeral:

"That man is a success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much;
who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who leaves the world better than he found it,
whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem or a rescued soul;
who never lacked appreciation of earth's beauty or failed to express it;
who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had."

There will never be another dad like my dad. We all miss him terribly, but we know it is a temporary separation. The pain of loss we feel today will pale in comparison to the joy we will share in our eternal home.

I can't close this without mentioning that my husband's father also passed away on March 27, three years to the day before my dad. That's another story* for another time, but how fortunate that these anniversaries fall during the Easter season. We will always have reason to renew our hope in the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ as we remember our earthly fathers.

"...because I live, you will live also." John 14:19

* I did a recent post about my father-in-law

Mar 11, 2010

Quiet Time...

How do you make time for quiet time? I hope you have time to read a post on my other blog and share some ideas. Have a fantastic, faith-filled friday my friends!

"In the morning O Lord you hear my voice. In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." Psalm 5:3

Mar 9, 2010

Encouragement from the Psalms

I have been reading through the Psalms as part of a 3 month e-mail spiritual discipline I set up to do with 16 other ladies. These verses that I recently read have been particularly meaningful to me lately. I would love to here from you if they bless you today as well. There's just nothing like drawing strength from the Word of God!

"When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul."
Psalm 94:19 NIV

"Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous, and praise his holy name."
Psalm 97:11-12 NIV

Mar 8, 2010

On saying goodbye...and a few other memories

Today I remember my father-in-law on what would have been his 85th birthday. Harold Robert Stager, who we called "Bob" or "Papa", was a member of The Greatest Generation, and served his country during WWII while in the Navy aboard the USS Enterprise and survived a kamikaze attack.

I never learned too many details about my father-in-law's life. I was basically just told he didn't have an easy early life, but that he was always "the dependable" one. But I am grateful for the years that I did know him and I really miss him. I'm glad to know that our separation is only temporary.

Bob had been dying for about 10 years ever since he had a heart attack, open heart surgery, and became diabetic. The last three years of his life were the worst as he struggled with more and more "bad" days than "good" ones. He didn't feel well and he was often "ouchy". A quiet man by nature, he became even more so. He became less and less able to give anything of himself, and more and more critical of just about everything: his food, his Christmas gifts, whatever.

Fortunately for me, I felt accepted by him from the early days, when it seemed the offer of bribes for me to marry his son were never-ending. That became a life-long family laughing matter. But somehow I did feel his sincerity. He looked out for me like a father in those early days--listening to the sounds of my 1972 VW bug and fixing whatever was needed. We sort of "clicked" from the beginning, and it was an easy relationship.

One of the highlights of the early days was that Bob had the confidence in me to teach me how to water ski. I was in my mid 20's at the time. This was something way outside of my comfort zone. But he made it really easy. The pleasure he got from teaching people how to "get out of the water" was evident, and one of his many quiet ways of giving of himself.

I'm sure there were many times over the next 30 years when there was some disapproval, but I always knew he basically respected me. Maybe he was just glad his son was my problem now! But I can only think of two times he hurt my feelings in all those years. For a man who was notorious for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, that seems pretty miraculous. Often times during our visits over the years, while my husband and my mother-in-law would engage in what you might call "aggressive fellowship" about politics or religion, Bob and I would sit quietly and playfully roll our eyes at each other.

I was always flattered that he liked my pumpkin pies, which I make every Thanksgiving. I always sent an extra pie home with him and I knew he really appreciated that little thoughtfulness. I always felt this very old-school man gave me credit for being "domesticated." Though I can't recall any really deep and meaningful discussions we ever had, our relationship was good and I think we met each other on a very practical level, with a mutual, if unspoken, respect. I was flattered, for example, when after he got sick he asked me once to cut his hair.

I think I saw my father-in-law "come out" a little when our older son traveled for a year with a Christian music ministry. The group frequently traveled through our area, and Papa was always donating boxes of pastries to the cause. The man who wasn't prone to wander very far from his retirement chair became interested in attending the local concerts.

I will never forget one of the last Christmases we had together. As the family was gathered around, this man of few words quite unexpectedly announced that he had something to say. He proceeded to apologize for the way he had acted the previous Christmas when he was not feeling well and was quite cranky. It was the only time I ever heard the words "I'm sorry" come from his mouth. But I saw him in a new light that day.

Bob's 80th birthday came while he was in and out of the hospital that last month of his life. I remember I made him a card that said "80 isn't old if you're a tree". He chuckled, but barely. He despised being in the hospital, losing his freedom and his dignity.

By the time he got to that last week, we knew the time was short and so did he. My husband took the week off from work. My mother-in-law spent the days at the hospital and we stayed the nights. I felt strongly that no one in his situation should have to be "alone". It was a bitter-sweet time of watching and waiting, praying, crying, and coming to grips with the reality that we were losing him. We never told my mother-in-law that one night a nurse came in and suggested we agree to a drug to help his breathing, but could accelerate the shutting down of his kidneys. She explained it is a drug that is only given "near the end" and would make it easier on him than drowning from the fluid build up in his lungs.

During those final nights together, he rarely spoke, but he did allow me to moisten his mouth with wet sponges, and put a cool wet cloth on his forehead. I don't really remember all I said to him, but I remember it was right and it was enough. I remember telling him what great care my mother-in-law had given him. I remember asking him if he ever thought he'd live to be 80. I remember we prayed over him.

My husband cried a lot during those final nights, for what was, and for what wasn't. Of all things, a hospital cleaning lady came and prayed with us. The final night of our watch was Good Friday. Bob had been moved to a lovely private room. My husband and I slept off and on in chairs in the darkened room with him. At one point, through the shadows, I saw him slightly lift his head and he looked directly at us, as if to say "why are you still here?" I was haunted by whether or not he was annoyed, but we refused to leave him alone. I think he would have gone that night if we hadn't been there. But it wasn't quite time.

On Saturday, my mother-in-law was with him all day, then on Saturday night we and our kids came to say our last goodbyes. I don't remember what all was said, but it was right and it was enough. Mom Stager was very tired and desperately wanted us all to leave with her, so we did. She returned to the hospital early the next morning alone and held his hand while he passed, and thus ended a 59 year marriage. It was Easter morning. How appropriate.

For my part, I came away with a deep sense of gratitude for the privilege of our spending that last week of nights with him. I know I said everything I needed to say, and many people don't have that opportunity. I've never had more of a deep sense of satisfaction and peace for anything I've ever done. God was most definitely present, showing His grace.

And so we lost the first of our four parents. It was a foretelling of things to come that I could barely think about. But the sweetness of God's presence with us was a profound reality, and I knew that memory would carry us through more transitions.*

*As it turned out, I lost my own father three years later to the day. We still have both of our mothers, who are in their 80's. They live in the same seniors condo building only a few miles away from us.

Mar 7, 2010

He Giveth More Grace...

Here are the words to a beautiful hymn. Though written in a previous century, the words are timeless. The author, Annie Johnson Flint (1866-1932), knew first hand tremendous sufferings her entire life. But God gifted her with abilities to write poems and hymns that undoubtedly have blessed and encouraged thousands of souls, including mine. I hope it blesses you today as well!

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials he multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

Mar 6, 2010

spiritual battles and the beauty of holiness

I had a really "down" day yesterday. I spent it alone in my house and with barely the energy to do basic tasks I needed to get done. My enemy Satan was busy accusing me all day long, whispering his deceitful lies, reminding me how ungodly I really am, how often I fail in my commitment to live for Jesus. I really haven't had this fierce of a spiritual battle for a long time. It was one of those days you want to look to the sky and scream, "Where ARE you, God??"

I knew what the problem was. I was feeling quite alone in the stand I have taken regarding the moral issue going on in my family. Today is the day of the "celebration" that my husband and I declined to attend. I've posted about it twice already, and not without some consequences.

I remembered a Bible story from the Old Testament (II Chronicles 20) where King Jehoshaphat realized Judah was about to be beseiged by massive foreign armies that he felt powerless to face. Being a king who feared the Lord, he called for a day of national fasting and prayer. Jehoshaphat himself led the prayers in front of the Lord's temple. The Lord's Spirit then empowered a priest to speak forth this message of hope and encouragement:

"Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, 'Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you." (verses 15-17)

The people believed and were so encouraged that the next morning singers when out before the army, in the beauty of holiness we are told, boldly declaring,

"Give thanks to the LORD,
for his steadfast love endures forever." (verse 21)

As it ended up, when the men of Judah went out to meet the enemy, all they needed to do was to stand still and watch what God would do for them. The Lord caused so much confusion among the enemy troops that they turned and fought each other until they were all slaughtered. And there was so much plunder, the men of Judah couldn't even carry it all away. They returned home and continued to worship God, and Jehoshaphat continued to reign in peace.

Last night my husband and I had a chance to be with some godly friends who encouraged us to stand strong in what we already knew to be truth. We talked about the holiness of God and we wondered together how we could stake our lives on believing Him and His Word and not stand for what He stands for. Obviously, we can't.

What makes His holiness something beautiful? God's holiness, for one thing, is light. It is good, sacred, timeless, worthy of praise. And it is love in it's purest form, love that endures forever. When His Word tells us to be holy, because He is holy, (I Peter 1:16) it is because He wants all those beautiful things for us as well. Throughout our lifelong sanctification process, God provides the power to carry out the command.

God reminded me yesterday of the story of King Jehoshaphat and how the battle was not his to fight, but the Lord's. He does not leave us fighting these spiritual battles all alone. I woke up this morning thinking about the beauty of holiness. God is for us, He really is. His laws are perfect and just and righteous altogether. And they are for our ultimate good. As believers, we have no reason to feel we are alone... there are times when we just have to stand still, and watch to see what God will do as He fights our battles for us.

Mar 2, 2010

electric girdles and gracious hostility

"Singing in Church" by Norman Rockwell

I always get a good laugh from reading these church bulletin bloopers. So if you can use a laugh today, or know someone else who can, here you go:


The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.
The sermon this morning: 'Jesus Walks on the Water.' The sermon tonight: 'Searching for Jesus.'

Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.
Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community. Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say 'Hell' to someone who doesn't care much about you.
Don't let worry kill you off - let the Church help.
Miss Charlene Mason sang 'I will not pass this way again,' giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.
Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. Thus ends a friendship that began in their school days.
A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow.
At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be 'What Is Hell?' Come early and listen to our choir practice.
Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.
Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.
The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment, and gracious hostility.
Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM - prayer and medication to follow.
The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.
This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.
Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 A.M. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B.S. is done.
The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.
Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.
The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.
Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance..