Mid-June is upon us and summer is in full swing. One thing that summer means for my family is our vacation to Florida. When our children were small, we drove to the sunshine state for time at the beach and time in Orlando at theme parks. Now that the children are grown with children of their own, we still drive to the sunshine state for time at the beach and time in Orlando at the theme parks. The whole gang goes.
This year was no exception. We piled into rented housing, shared beds and bathrooms, and cooked gigantic quantities of food. We spent the days in the pool or at a beach. As always, there was one day in which we went to see some aspect of the Fantasy World created around Mickey Mouse. We took in the beauty of man’s imagination and the glory of God’s creation. We vacationed. We played. We lived and laughed together.
Each day could have been spoiled if we had allowed it to be. Babies are quite unpredictable; so we usually had one or another of them crabby, hungry, sleepy, or just plain mean. And then there was the combination of many adults weighing in on the day’s activities, which always generates many opinions. One or another of them (me excluded, of course) was always crabby, hungry, sleepy, or just plain mean. And, as with every other year, Fantasy World morphed into Reality World.
In spite of all the amenities that Florida offers, the real blessings of any of our vacations were never generated by the hype, the make-believe, the high-priced ticket, or the better-than-ordinary environment. The real blessings always came from the same things we have from day to day: the people we have in our worlds; the joy we receive from those relationships; the adventures we encounter in everyday life.
I used to dream of the day when my real world would morph into the fantasy. My prince would come; my ship would land in port; my pot of gold would be found at the rainbow’s end. Tomorrow would bring to me that long-awaited world of perfection. From a mindset like that, my day to day was something to be tolerated until the goal of the fairy tale was attained. Sadly, such a belief caused me to miss many of the joys right before me in pursuit of that illusive, ultimate joy.
Perhaps it was aging, maybe it was just living, and possibly a good dose of the Scriptures have all contributed to the change in my philosophy. I have grown to realize that joy must be found in what is at hand. The treasure must be unearthed from the ordinary and the fun must be created in the midst of the mundane.
The road trip to the sunshine state transpired again this summer as it has in so many years gone by. The craziness of many big personalities gathered in Orlando. Was it perfect? No. Was it fantasy? Hardly. Any chance it was the ultimate dream? No way.
Was it wonderful? Yes. Was it joyful? Absolutely. Was it fun? Surely. Vacation was living each day surrounded by what that day brought and finding the best in every situation. When the two weeks ended, I returned home to the daily routine of life, which is living each day surrounded by what that day brings and finding the best in every situation.
Perhaps Reality World can morph into the Fantasy World, after all!
Torrents of rain assailed the car. It seemed to come in sheets and in intervals. Part of the time, the bombarding would create such a thick veil of water that we could not see the car in front of us. Then a temporary lull would come causing us to think that perhaps the worst was behind. However, within moments the flood would begin again. As we traveled along Interstate 75 heading toward Clearwater, Florida we were experiencing the rains accompanying the first hurricane of the 2018 summer season. The weather report had forecast the rains, but telling us what to expect and experiencing the deluge were two entirely different things.
Inside the car, the atmosphere was also cloud-covered. Several days before, we had received a phone call from our sister-in-law that our niece had been tragically killed in an automobile accident. This vibrant, life-loving, beautiful 21-year old had just completed an evening shift and was heading home from work when she encountered a dump truck stopped on the interstate. Unable to break in time, she ran into the back of the vehicle. She was pronounced dead on the scene.
A police officer had come to our sister-in-law’s home in the midnight hours to bring her the news – news of hurricane force. Early the next morning, the rest of the family was informed. We were all immediately aware that there was no route of evacuation, no running from the storm. Whirlwinds of thoughts swirled in our minds as we rehearsed memories of days gone by. Our conversations turned to how to anchor down and prepare. Above all, we focused upon how to help our sister-in-law find shelter in the eye of the storm.
After the arrangements were finalized, we started our two-day trek from Illinois to Florida. We drove thirteen hours the first day and reserved the final four hours for the morning of the funeral. The early morning, storm-blitzed travel seemed to testify of the unsolicited event, the out-of-time moment in time, and the tumult of emotions. Nothing inside or outside of the car was like the ordinary climate of life. We were in the midst of a storm.
The service was being held in an Assembly of God church. We arrived about the same time as other family members – faces not seen for years, necks not hugged for too-long, kisses awaiting a reunion – these were exchanged. And all the while, the casket awaited us at the altar of the church. After only moments of the reuniting, our focus changed to the one who was separating. We had come together to say our good-bye.
Storms – who wants them? Who can avoid them? No one! The answer is that certainly no one can so protect his or her life as to circumvent every storm. Somewhere, sometime, or somehow every life will be touched by a storm. However, there is perhaps an even more appropriate question. Can we weather the storm? Have we made any preparations just in case hurricane season brings untoward events in our direction?
Our sister-in-law and our niece had been wise. Each had individually and in unity with one another they had known a life of grace because of Jesus Christ. They had accepted their Savior’s love and forgiveness. They lived for Him and planned to inherit an eternity in His presence. The funeral service stilled the storm, calmed the emotions, silenced the fear of the unknown. Songs, testimonies, reading of the scripture, and prayers were heard above the winds on that stormy day in Florida. Tears may yet flow, but the hurricane-level waters have passed. Rest in peace, dear Marissa.
We have a hummingbird feeder on the back deck of our home. One beautiful, red-throated bird carefully guards the source of nectar. He stands vigil to be sure that no other thirsty traveler stops at his station for refreshment. He attacks and sends to flight any who would try to infringe upon his private stash. Nonetheless, several other birds regularly challenge his proprietary rights and stealthily light at the trough. When discovered by Mr. Redneck, the intruders are aggressively chased away.
I have come to expect this territorial behavior of hummingbirds. My husband and I delight in watching as these small winged creatures dart back and forth across the sky chasing each other away from the nectar. At times, two contesting birds will circle one another spiraling high into the air as if engaged in a ballroom dance of well-rehearsed choreography. Other times they dive at speeds so rapid that the eye can barely catch the descent. They have us charmed by all their movements, not the least of which is their ability to pause their flight in an almost helicopter-style suspension while beating their wings so rapidly that the wings’ outline seems to evaporate into a blur right before our eyes. Oh yes, we are definitely fans of the hummingbirds.
A few weeks ago we noticed that our feeder was not allowing the sugary water to descend into the troughs where the birds insert their pipette fashioned beaks. My husband examined the apparatus and determined that the small hole at the top had become clogged and was not allowing any air into the tube. The chamber was acting like a vacuum, thus restricting the liquid flow. The birds had noticed it also. As we sat on the porch, Mr. Redneck approached within two feet of us and suspended himself at eye-level by flaring out his little tail to brake himself. After buzzing us for a short time, he darted off. Within moments, he returned, suspended, and stared us down again. After several such scoldings, we got the message and rose to fix the feeder.
While we applied our less than scientific repair of sticking an ice pick into the clogged hole, our guest of honor kept vigilant guard over his food source. I employed sufficient pressure until I had punctured the plastic dome. The vacuum seal was broken; air rushed into the dome; liquid poured forth into the trough. Did I say poured? I meant gushed. Liquid flooded the trough; jetted out of the beak-size holes; and emptied the feeder within less than five seconds – much to the surprise of both my husband and me. And what did Mr. Redneck do? He approached within two feet of us and suspended himself at eye-level by flaring out his little tail to brake himself and stared us down. I actually think that he shook his head at us in disbelief. Plus – he chirped. Our scolding had escalated to a whole new level.
Like amiable fans, we promised him that the feeder would be replaced expediently. We spoke comforting words, assuring words, repentant words. We promised that as soon as the store opened that morning, we would purchase him the new and improved model of the super hummingbird feeder. We were true to our word.
Matthew 7:11(NIV): “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children (or hummingbirds – translation mine), how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”
The hall must have been awe-inspiring to the two women who were granted audience with the King. They came from humble origins and had chosen a profession that was without honor. Down the grand promenade they walked, dressed only in simple apparel of the peasantry class; while on every side, they were surrounded with the elegance and decorum of the King’s Court.
There he was, arrayed in all his splendor and seated on his throne. That day, His Majesty was both their judge and the mediator of their justice. The women, prostitutes who had both recently given birth to sons, were acknowledged and asked to present their cases.
“My roommate gave birth to a baby boy,” spoke the first woman, “and I likewise gave birth to a son only three days after her.” Fear caused her voice to quiver as she addressed the King. “One night, she rolled over on her son, and he suffocated under the weight of her body.” Tears rolled down the woman’s cheeks as her emotion shifted from fear to grief. She continued to testify: “During the night, she exchanged her dead son for my living son. I did not discover the deed until the next morning when I awakened to nurse my baby.” Her words conveyed a cry for justice as she petitioned for her child to be returned.
“No, the living son is mine,” shouted the second woman. Anxiety, anger, and aggression filled the tone of her voice as she recounted a different story. Both women ceased to be aware of their auspicious surroundings but instead could see only the environment created by their own immediate needs.
The King arose. All voices hushed. The court’s silence shattered the first mother’s eardrums. She could barely breathe as the weightiness of the moment pressed in upon her soul. Finally, the King spoke. He was prepared to announce his verdict. “Bring me a sword,” commanded King Solomon.
The entire court and the women watched as the King brandished the sword. Who would suffer the fate of his judgment? They waited. They watched. “Divide the child in two, and give half to the one mother and half to the other,” Solomon decreed.
Without taking time to think, pausing to reflect upon consequences, or waiting for the King to invite her to speak, the first woman cried out, “O, my Lord, give the living child to this one who is not his mother. Please, do not kill the boy.”
“Let it be neither mine nor hers,” resounded the second woman.
Solomon recognized the true mother. One showed pity to the child; one lacked mercy. One petitioned for life; the other demanded death. One conveyed a loving heart; while one revealed a covetous and callous soul. One sought the blessing of the baby; the other sought only the satisfaction of her own grief.
How grateful the first woman was as her son was returned to her arms. Again her voice quivered but this time overcome with emotions of gratitude. She thanked the King. She turned to exit the grand hall. Her eyes no longer surveyed the beauty of the palace. She was preoccupied with the beauty of her child’s face. She no longer felt like the ostracized and lowly class. She belonged. She was rejoined to her son.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the honored mothers who have laid down their own wishes to seek the well-being of their children! May the grandest King of all, Jesus, reward you with His benevolence for the love you have bestowed upon your children.
The cry for help comes in different forms. Sometimes, you see it when the eyes are downcast and tears cascade down the cheeks or because the shoulders are drooped and the hands hang limply at the side of the afflicted one's body. At other times you hear it when the troubled person cries out for help because the suffering soul cannot be silenced in its moment of distress. Whether spoken silently or spoken audibly, the cry comes. The cry can be heard. Those who are arrested by the cry hear the call to action. Love demands and love responds. Help is on the way.
Recently my grandson came upon a season of crisis. Challenges without and stress within produced a difficulty that rose beyond his ability to overcome without the aid of others. Graced with a family that is tightly woven together with the cords of love, he was immediately surrounded with help. Who of us has not been thrust into similar circumstance? I remember my bad accident that demanded the ER, surgery, healthcare givers, and the support of my family. I recall this past year's hurricane in Florida that threatened the security of my daughter and her family and that necessitated temporary housing, assistance with the basics of life, and emotional support. The cry for help comes at one time or another from each of us and to each of us.
The Bible tells the story of a man named Jairus. He was a ruler in the synagogue: a man of influence, a leader of the people, a helper of the multitudes. He had doubtless heard his share of tormented cries arising from challenging circumstances. The present day had brought him to his own calamity. His daughter lie severely ill and, apart from immediate intervention, would soon die.
Jairus lifted up a cry for help. His was an unconventional call but the emergency demanded it. Jairus knew about a healer in the town whose name was Jesus. However, the rulers in Israel had not approved of or affirmed this man. Jairus' companions would condemn their preeminent leader violating protocol, departing from the agreed-upon propriety, and breaking from the religious correctness. But Jairus could not stifle his cry. The muffled silence demanded by his position could not be suppressed. The aggrieved father sought out the healer and fell at his feet in worship. "I pray thee," the needy man cried, "come and lay your hands on my child that she may be healed."
Jesus heard the cry. Jesus agreed. The crowd was large because the multitudes had heard of Jesus' miracles and also sought him for his boundless mercies. But Jesus followed Jairus. Jesus was motivated by his cry. Along the route, word came that the child had died. Those who carried the news suggested, "Don't trouble Master anymore; your daughter is dead."
One can hardly imagine the emotional pit into which those words must have cast Jairus. Could he even hear or comprehend the words which Jesus uttered, "Be not be afraid; only believe."
This journey toward wholeness may have begun by the promptings of a father's desperation but the momentum shifted. Jesus went from being led by the needy to leading the needy; from being persuaded to help to persuading that his help was the answer no matter the level of desperation. Love had placed the demand and the greatest love had responded. Help was on the way.
The story ends with the child being raised from the dead. Jairus' daughter received an even greater miracle than the cry of her father had requested. Whether the synagogue leader would be accepted by his peers or not did not factor into the joy released when Jesus answered his cry. What a story! What a truth! Our cries for help only initiate a process. Our helpers stand ready to walk alongside on our road to recovery and insure that we reach our victory. To my grandson and to all of us whose life's journey brings us to an edge of calamity, may we be surrounded with those who aid. May Jesus journey with us. May we find new life at the end of our difficulty.
By Dawn Amsden Stark
I bought a wall clock a few years ago that I really loved, but quickly learned it didn't work quite right. It was one of those cute, decorative, big-hands, small-battery operated clocks. It fit my coastal chic décor perfectly, but was lousy at keeping time. Occasionally it would work as expected, but more often than not we’d look up at the wall and realized that clock was seriously behind schedule.
Over the course of time (no pun intended), we replaced the battery, tighten the screws holding the parts in place, and even bought a new set of hands to try and fix the problem. Nothing we tried fixed the clock. At some point, the hands just dropped and stopped even trying to move. The clock was simply not functional for the intended purpose of being a keeper of time. At a loss of what else to do, I pulled it off the wall.
When we moved into our current home I had just the space for that cute, albeit not functional clock. I really wanted to hang the broken thing on my wall just because it fit so perfectly. But, it had driven us crazy before because no matter how much you tell yourself it doesn’t matter that it didn’t work, you still expected the darn thing to keep time. Our brains are funny that way. We expect a clock to tell time, not just be wall décor.
Maybe it was time to seek some professional help to restore and reset this piece I loved. Maybe there was a master tradesman or artisan that knew exactly what we needed to make this clock function. Maybe somebody somewhere could help us repair the time.
There are only three clock shops in our entire community; clearly restoring beautiful and precious pieces is a by-gone tradition in our disposable world. Walking into this shop, only open a few days per week and only a few hours on those days, was like stepping back in time. From the stately grandfather clocks to the quirky wall-hanging cuckoos, clocks of every size and style were all syncing in a similar rhythm and all dancing together in the expected tick-tock sound.
As the shop’s aged owner walked towards the front to greet me, I was struck by one particular set of clock guts that were strewn all over the counter obviously in mid-repair. The hands were separated from each other, lying off to one side was the face, on the other side were some gears, and on the counter nearby was the clock body. To me, it looked like one big mess of parts. To the master craftsman, the one with the magnification spec in one eye and a lifetime of experience, it probably made a lot more sense - something more like a beautiful work of art in the middle of a needed restoration.
I showed the clock repairer my simple, yet cute, wooden wall clock. Immediately he diagnosed the problem: the clock’s guts were too small to function through the wooden frame and too small for the big hands on the front. The clock needed a bigger mechanism that would be better suited for the size and style of this piece. For $35 and a few more days of patience, he would repair our coastal clock so that it could function effectively.
In the midst of the loud tick-tocking, cuckoo-birding, step back in time moment it hit me: the master craftsman always knows what is needed to reset and restore each piece. Sometimes the master has to get to the core to the matter, by taking the smallest inward and hidden pieces apart, to reset the function. Other times, critical parts needs to be replaced with parts better suited for the environment in which they must operate.
None of the tinkering, simple-repairs by the adoring and well-intentioned clock owner could fix what needed to be repaired with this unit. There are situations when only those with a lifetime of experience and special skills can make the clock tick again. Sometimes, you have to leave your loved and super cute, yet un-functioning pieces, in the hands of a master. In those times, you walk away and trust that the Master will complete what he has promised and will return your clock better than it was when it first came into your hands.
Dawn's Blog can be found here.
My airplane landed in Cincinnati, Ohio around noon. I had been invited to teach in a local church-based bible school, so my suitcases and my mind were packed with the materials and information that would be needed to accomplish my mission. I am often a person on a mission: focused upon the task that is set before me, geared up for the primary purpose, and not easily derailed or side tracked by non-essentials. A young couple, who had been appointed to serve as my hosts, greeted me. I extended an initial, albeit cursory, salutation to the man and woman who would be my family-away-from-family for the following five days. They drove me to a small house that the church had purchased to provide temporary lodging for visitors.
Once inside, I took an initial, albeit cursory, look around the two bedrooms, kitchen, and living room that would be my home-away-from-home for the following five days. I quickly organized myself for the tasks that lie ahead. I hung up my clothing, plugged in my computer, and phoned home to say that I had safely arrived. By the time I finished settling in, darkness had fallen; hence, I had taken no notice of the property or landscaping on the outside of the house.
The next morning I awakened as the sun was dawning. I went to the front door and looked out. The scene was typical of pre-spring – still barren, brown, and flowerless. The color green was seldom to be found except of an evergreen tree growing here and there. Immediately to the right of the front sidewalk was some species of tree that stood about nine or ten feet high. As expected, no leaves hung on the branches. All that could be noted from an initial cursory glance were bark-covered branches stretching skyward without flora to cover their nakedness.
The days of my stay in Cincinnati unfolded, as did my knowledge of the young couple, my detailed observation of the house, and my awareness of the barren tree just outside the front door. Things are never what they appear when we only take the time to see the obvious, only look at the superficial, and only inspect the surface. The couple assigned to be my hosts were devoted parents, serious students of the scriptures, and faithful laborers in their local church. He was a computer technician, whose analytical mind was not only well-suited to his vocation but also perfectly fitted to sound reasoning and apologetics, aiding him in his theological training. She was a stay-at-home mom (a quickly vanishing group in our nation) who had poured her whole heart and life into family. Her stories were filled with home and hearth rather than now a day’s narratives of fast-lane and hectic-pace corporate America. The more hours I spent with them, the more I shared life – their life – life that could not be perceived without deliberate observation.
Intentional examination of the house revealed that someone had given careful attention to detail: eye-pleasing color coordination, well-planned interior decorating, and need-meeting amenities. But, the object that most arrested my attention was the tree in the yard. As I stood gazing out the front door at the brown tree, I noted small reddish-brown buds at the end of each branch. They were very small and only slightly red. They almost blended into the lifeless-looking condition of the tree. However, there they were for anyone observant and alert enough to see. They were trying to tell a story and attempting to proclaim a narrative. This tree was telling me that it had a past and was promised a future. This tree was declaring to me that what appeared to be lifeless was really life yet to be released in due season. This tree was making a promise to anyone who would investigate. What promise? Life can be discovered everywhere if you take the time to notice!
I smiled as I walked away from the front door of the house. How exciting it was to find life. I determined in my heart never to be too quick to discount something or someone who, upon an initial cursory glance, may appear to be dormant, lifeless, or even just unknown to me. The promise of new life is everywhere. Those who take the time to be observant will have the joy of experiencing life.
I seldom dig my heels in and determine to fight until I am the victor. I’m sure I had that skill set when I was younger: competing on the sport’s field, proving to my mother that my sister was wrong, determined to win the attention of some handsome boy. Thankfully, many of those types of conquests faded with age and wisdom. Plus, life has – in a measure – taken the fighting spirit out of me. I’ve been married for decades, and I long ago learned where I wanted to invest my strength. Then there was raising five children where I realized that the contest evolved daily and the goal line was a constant moving target. Add to all that a career of pastoring. A major unspoken rule in that occupation is that a minister of the gospel should not be picking fights with congregants!
A few months ago, the lover-not-fighter person that I have become reverted to a version of her former-self when I had to buy a new washing machine. My older model, which was the same brand and style used by my mother, finally died. This old faithful friend had served me for over 25 years and washed dozens of loads of clothes each week. She may have deserved to be put to rest, but I was very sad to see her go.
My husband and I set out to purchase a new machine. I soon discovered that there was no version of my old machine’s former self. No! She would allow me to tell her how much water to use, how long to run the wash cycle, when to pause and allow the load to soak. She executed my wishes, yielded to my commands, and followed my instructions. But the new machines - they follow the computer programming built inside of them by some expert who designed and manufactured them somewhere in a factory in a location that was definitely not my laundry room!
Now – if you detected a little bit of sarcasm in the above statement, you would be correct. I just wanted to be lord of my laundry room. Apparently the fighter in me was just lying dormant awaiting the right challenge; and the super-duper, computer-smarter, settings-shrewder, temperature-brainier, water level-cleverer, automatic everything washing machine entered my home and challenged me to a duel. The contest was on.
My first load was white towels. I pressed the pre-programmed setting that said “bright whites.” First, it had to sense the load size. That took 7 minutes of the tub turning a little to the left, then a little to the right, then a pause to think, then a repeat of the aforementioned process. Finally, my incredibly intelligent machine began to fill. That took another 7 minutes because the infilling would start and stop with little spurts of water only to start and stop and spurt again. Then at last, the actual washing began. But wait – there was not enough water to cover the towels. I stood for the whole 1 hour and 12 minutes of the cycle watching the stupid choices made by my incredibly intelligent machine. All day long, I washed all my laundry, stood looking into the machine, and watched every process; and then I began to plot how to outsmart my smart machine.
I have to admit that it took me weeks to plan and execute my strategies. This enemy was not easily subdued and this war was not effortlessly won. But I dug my heels in. I decided that extra weight would suggest that the load was fuller and needed more water. By weights, I mean a tried a plethora of items that were durable enough to endure the cycle but not so sturdy as to tear up the cloths. (Hint – large rocks from my garden were not a good selection).
From various experiments through a number of failures to final successes – I won! I outsmarted the machine. I am again lord of my laundry room and have returned to my lover-not-fighter status. Although, I must confess that I never walk past that machine without reminding it who the victor is.