Hope

I believe the Holy Spirit brings people to mind for a reason. Sometimes I take it as a sign that God wants me to pray for them or to reach out and see how they’ve been. Other times, it’s God’s way of telling me that we’re about to cross paths for a very specific reason. Like a few days ago when I thought about a family friend and, before I had a chance to pick up the phone, she called me to say that she was at a convenience store and one of the employees was thinking about coming to Chicago.

“A woman I know has stage four colon cancer and her local doctor told her that she has maybe six months to live,” my friend said. “She’s too young to just give up and is thinking about coming to Chicago for a second opinion.”

“Does she know who she wants to see?” I asked.

“Someone told her about the Cancer Center of America but she doesn’t know when the doctors there can get her in.”

My friend was hoping I would help the employee with transportation once she found a doctor who could see her. Imagine her surprise when I mentioned that I had the number for an amazing colon surgeon programmed into my phone.

My daughter Katie was with me a short while later when the colon surgeon’s nurse called me back with instructions to pass along to the person in Nebraska.

“After she calls the main number to register, have her call the cancer center to schedule an appointment,” the nurse said.

When I got off the phone, Katie mentioned how nice it was that I was helping a person I didn’t know.

“I’m just doing what I would want someone to do if I were in her shoes,” I said. “Everybody deserves hope.”

“Literally,” Katie said with a smile as she reminded me that the name of the person at the cancer center who was waiting for the Nebraska woman to call…was Hope.

 

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7

What Matters Most

On Labor Day weekend, Bill and I attended an outdoor music festival where rock bands Starship, Survivor and Boston performed in front of a crowd of 6,000 people. It was a beautiful night as a record number of concert-goers claimed their spot in front of the stage. Because one of my brothers worked for the company that was sponsoring the event, our seats were in a section reserved for employees and their families.

It was a jail cell as far as Katie and Hollie were concerned because they didn’t want to be there. Listening to music that Bill & I grew up with was not their idea of fun, but it seemed silly to let extra tickets go to waste while our girls watched television back at the hotel.

To make the experience more bearable, Katie got out her iPhone and handed one of her earbuds to Hollie. For the next hour, I watched as both girls tuned out the 80’s by infusing a continuous dose of alternative rock into their ears.

“When can we go back to the hotel?” Hollie asked after Starship had finished on stage.

“Why don’t you wait until Survivor is finished playing?” I suggested.

I wanted the girls to hear Eye of the Tiger (one of the only songs they knew), but when the band kept playing songs they didn’t know, I decided to put Katie and Hollie out of their 80’s misery and called my mom to pick them up.

I had just returned to my seat after walking the girls to the gate when I heard that one of the members of Starship had collapsed back stage. Event staff did a great job of keeping the news quiet until the concert was over, but my youngest brother’s VIP pass put him so close to the action that he heard the wife of one of the members of Boston confirm that Mark Abrahamian, the lead guitarist for Starship, had died at the age of 46.

“I don’t know how I’m going to tell my husband,” she said. “He’s been a friend of our family for years.”

“Mark wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, ” the woman continued. “He died doing what he loved.”

Her words raise the question: If today was our last day on earth, would the people who know us best be able to say the same?

In my last post, I confessed that I had gone most of the summer without writing. What I didn’t say—and would like to add—is that with every week that passed, I felt less confident about my calling.

Does God really want me to be a writer?

Isn’t there something easier that I can do?

I am notorious for getting sidetracked with projects around the house, largely because organizing comes easy to me and blogging does not. My latest accomplishment was cleaning out our pantry; and although I smile every time I walk into the clutter-free space, I also know that it came at the cost of other projects.

Missionary C.T. Studd must have felt the same way when he said: Only one life, ’twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.

For me what will last are the things that I do for other people. Bill and the girls were frustrated with not being able to find things and so I did something about it. The fact that the work came easy to me was just a bonus. It was also a reminder that I don’t always have to be outside my comfort zone to be in line with God’s; because it’s not what we do, but who we do it for, that really matters most.

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Flat Stanley

When my 14-year-old asked me to drive her to school a few days ago, I immediately told her: “No.”

Katie is notorious for dragging herself out of bed so late that she and her sister barely make it to the bus stop in time. This morning was no different and I was not about to rearrange my schedule to ease hers … until I walked downstairs, took one look at the food on the table that would go uneaten, and decided to show a little mercy instead.

“If you make your bed before coming down for breakfast, I’ll drive you to school.”

“Really?” Katie asked, clearly relieved.

The one person who wasn’t happy was Hollie. Having called me a pushover on several occasions for going back on my word, she couldn’t see that holding a grudge is counterproductive to demonstrating God’s grace. Life is full of trade-offs; and sometimes we have to choose between sticking to our guns and standing for others who are unable (or unwilling) to help themselves.

Never was this more clear than in the scene from last week’s episode of The Middle where Axel shut his fingers in a door and needed his brother, Brick, to free them. Axel’s on-screen predicament made me think of the time I accomplished a similar feat while living in Nebraska. I can remember like it was yesterday: The girls were playing in the front yard; Bill was working in the garage; and I had just walked outside to see how everyone was doing. For some reason, the trunk of my car was open and I decided to close it from where I stood on the passenger side of the vehicle. Without thinking about how my right hand would be impacted as it rested on the top of the car’s rear quarter-panel, I awkwardly reached over with my left to push the lid down and felt a bone-crushing pain the second it locked into place.

Feeling a lot like Flat Stanley as I looked at the tiny opening that half of my thumb had disappeared into, I called out to Bill for help. Unlike Brick—who took his time responding to Axel’s cries—my roommate was quick to free me from the grip of my latest mistake.

Whenever I think about what would have happened if he had not been there to pop the trunk, I thank God for saving me from the unbearable pain and possible loss of my thumb.

James 2:13 says that “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.” I used to think that this verse was more about conviction than evangelism; but now I realize that people need love the most when they deserve it the least.  And if we want to have the mind of Christ, we first need to adopt the attitude where those who make their beds don’t have to lie in them because mercy triumphs over judgment every time.

Bad Ingredients

“I’m on the train,” Bill said when I answered the phone. “I should be home by 7:30.”

“Sure beats getting home at 1:30 a.m. like you did last night,” I replied.

My husband puts in some crazy hours during his busy season; and every year, there’s a two-week window when I wonder how long he can keep up the pace. During this stressful time, I try to be like the woman from Proverbs 31 where her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value because she brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

Part of the good that I bring—literally—to the table during busy season is a freshly made dessert in case Bill wants a late night snack before going to bed. Although my family might tell you otherwise, I’m not a terrible baker. As long as I follow the directions on the box or bag, nothing gets burned and nobody usually gets hurt by eating it.

Still, I known for my kitchen mishaps. Probably because the ones that I do have overshadow even my best laid plans. Like when Bill came home to find a pan of rice crispy bars waiting for him. I made them after noticing a forgotten box of cereal in the back of a cupboard earlier that day. Although the contents didn’t expire for several months, the holiday packaging should have been my clue that the outcome would not be worth my effort. What it was worth was a laugh when Bill took a bite out of one and said: “Call the Blackhawks to see if they want their hockey pucks back.”

“They’re not that bad,” I protested.

“I’m lucky I didn’t break a tooth,” he exclaimed before good-naturedly adding, “It’s good to be home.”

This type of banter is common in our household. As a firm believer in the saying “If you want to fight, keep it light”, I rarely take jabs seriously, whether poked in fun or out of frustration. According to John Gottman, this is a good thing because defensiveness is one of what he calls the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse because “defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner.” (The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, p. 31)

Hearing that this trait—when mixed with unhealthy doses of criticism, contempt, and stonewalling—can push even the strongest marriage toward an undesirable end makes me even more determined to admit my weaknesses before anybody else does.

Why?

Because awareness paves the way for acceptance and the knowledge that, whether my family has something to laugh about or something to eat, it will nourish them either way. In the case of my rice crispy bars it was the former when Bill went upstairs and, before turning in, made a reservation to take me out to dinner that Friday night.

As soon as I received the invitation in my inbox, I replied: “Should we order dessert at the restaurant or have some when we get home?

“I have a dentist appointment on Saturday morning so I guess either is fine,” he said before shutting down his computer.

Unlike my treats (which I threw in the trash before heading upstairs), my evening couldn’t have turned out better. Bad ingredients don’t make for a good dessert, but they do strengthen a relationship if you don’t take yourself—or your cooking—too seriously and trust that with a  little humor, even the worst mistake will turn out fine.

If you want to fight, keep it light and all will be well at the end of the night.

The Perfect Community

Every summer I tell myself that I am NOT organizing the annual block party and every summer … I do it anyway. If someone were to ask me why, I’d tell them: Because I can’t find a reason not to.

Circumstances allow it.

My husband supports it.

And the hassle I go through to find a date that works for everybody pales in comparison to the sense of community it creates for the people who live on our street. Community in the form of children playing tag in the empty lot a few houses down from ours. And a driveway full of adults dancing to music provided by my neighbor’s son, who is in a band.

Knowing that the outcome is worth the effort I put into it should be enough but, sometimes I just want to enjoy a night out without first having to organize it. Event planning was something I did a lot of when we lived in Nebraska. Because our church and neighborhood were both relatively new, many of the programs that I wanted to participate in did not exist. And so I spent countless hours spearheading everything from fall festivals to summer field trips, childcare coops to supper clubs, and ministry fairs to marriage retreats.

I was ready to taking some time off from serving when Bill and I flew to Chicago to search for a new place to live. His company was relocating us to Illinois and I saw our move as an opportunity to find a church and neighborhood where I could feel like I belonged without having to create the camaraderie.

The problem with goals is that they don’t always agree with God’s will. When this happens, we can accept the hand that He has dealt us or attempt to force our own. I begrudgingly chose the former when the house that had everything we were looking for was on a street where residents barely knew each other’s names. I also acquiesced after it became clear that God was nudging our family to join a smaller congregation instead of the mega-church that I had so wanted to call my own.

As I look back on those decisions and how they motivated me to organize the block party on our street and a newcomer’s ministry at my church, it’s clear that the perfect place for any of us is not the one that has everything we want, but the one with needs that only we are gifted to fill. And what seems like settling is actually submitting to a plan that is better than our own.

Thinking of the ideal in these terms makes me ashamed that I ever considered not having a block party. It also makes me wonder: What the world would be like if every move was based, not on what the new location can do for us, but on how we can make it better for others?

God wants all of us to live on the perfect street and to belong to the perfect church, but it’s up to us to create it. I was tempted to pass this lesson along at our last block party when I heard a man from another suburb say: “I want to live in Elmhurst. We don’t have block parties like this where I live.”

“You don’t need to live in our community,” I said to myself. “You just need to bring a little of it, to yours.”

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”

Proverbs 19:21


Going Overboard

It started with a Harry Potter board game that Katie had been wanting since Christmas. Next there was the hourglass sand timer that I thought would look great on Hollie’s desk. Although it was tempting to present these finds to the girls right after I bought them, I knew that it would mean more if I waited until Easter morning.  And so I kept accumulating items: Pez dispensers in Easter shapes that would make Hollie smile; a new type of nail polish in Katie’s favorite color; and two chocolate bunnies like the ones Bill received as a child (except mine were molded into the shape of runners because Katie was out for track).

By the time Easter arrived, I was surprised by how many things I had collected. While every item was hand-picked with one or both of my girls in mind, seeing the overloaded baskets made me wonder if I had forever hopped over to the commercial side of the holiday.  As I considered setting some of the gifts aside for another time, I remembered how much God loves to give good gifts to his children and concluded that anyone created in His image has a right (and a responsibility) to do the same.

Jesus talked about the relationship between his heavenly father and earthly parents in Matthew 7:11 when he said: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

No matter how big the basket, we cannot out give God. And if He chooses to work through us to bless others, who are we to stand in His way? Knowing this made it easier to justify my actions to Bill on Easter morning when he turned away from the camcorder he was operating to whisper: “What happened to just giving them chocolate bunnies?”

It was a question that needed no answer as I smiled at the girls and thought to myself: If you think I went overboard, wait until you see what God has planned for them (and all of us) one day.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. 
Do not say … “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”— when you already have it with you.

Proverbs 3:27-28


Passing Things Along

Shopping for bargains comes easily to me. I am, after all, a salvage man’s daughter. What doesn’t come easy (also thanks to my father) is letting go of purchases when it’s time to send them on to another home. It helps to know that, when I do give up something I haven’t worn in a long time but have been struggling to part with, it often becomes the very thing that will make another person smile. Like the time I parted with a pink leather jacket that I really liked, but rarely wore. It went to a single mom who I regularly sent clothes to. Because of her limited income, she would never splurge on something so unpractical. And when I gave it to her, she smiled and said: “I’ve been waiting for you to pass that along.”

Her words taught me a lesson that will never go out of style. They reminded me that my someday could be another person’s everyday. They also convinced me to go against my nature and commit to following the one-in-one-out rule every time I bring a new item into my closet. If you are struggling to do the same, it helps to remember that you may not be the best person for your possessions. And when you let go of something good, it opens the door for God to do something great by working through you to reach out to others.





Belonging By Association

I attended my first PTO meeting tonight. As I walked into the meeting after it had started, I was relieved to find an open seat next to the friend from church who had asked me to attend. The school owned several carnival games that would work well for a fall festival we were working together to organize but, the thought of asking to borrow these games made me nervous. I was not active in the PTO. In fact, I had never been to a meeting before and had declined helping with past PTO events because of family and church priorities.

Thankfully, I had a friend who was very involved in the organization. As I listened to her update members on projects she was leading, I felt proud to be sitting beside her. It was like I belonged at that meeting, not because of anything I had done, but because of who I knew.

This thought reminded me of another time I felt a similar sense of belonging. I was at the cataclysmic end of an awful business trip where nothing, not even the flight home, had gone my way. At my lowest moment, I cried out in frustration because I knew that, no matter how hard I tried, I would never get through life without help from others. At that moment, an inner voice broke through the silence to say that I mattered, not because of what I did, but because of who I was—a child of God.

We all have the opportunity to share this sense of belonging with others as we love family, friends, and even total strangers—not because of what they do for us—but because of who they are, people who matter to God. How wonderful that all roads, even those that pass through PTO meetings, lead back to God.

 

The Hole In Our Gospel


Sometimes you have to let go of something good, to make room for something great. That’s what author Richard
Stearns had to learn when he was asked to give up his dream job as a corporate CEO to become the president of World Vision. I loved reading about the many ways God worked through people and circumstances to convince Stearns to accept the assignment and God’s plan for his life. I also enjoyed the specific examples the author provided to show how World Vision is reaching out to the poorest of the poor to share God’s love.

On page 167, for example, the author wrote about a widow who lived with her children in a community perched
high up in the Andes Mountains. After meeting with this woman and hearing how she had prayed to God for help after her husband died, Stearns realized that people all across the world were crying out to God in desperation and each of us who claim to be His followers are to be His answer. (see page 167)

The Hole In Our Gospel is both an informational and inspirational read. One that challenges all of us to live out
1 John 3:18 as we love, not just with words, “but with actions and in truth.” Stearns made a compelling call to action on page 107 when he revealed that “anyone earning fifty thousand a year has an income higher than 99 percent of
the people in the world.” Knowing that the average American is wealthy by comparison serves as a statistical reminder of our ability and our responsibility to reach out to the remaining 1 percent.

This book is very well written and I recommend it to all who are looking to close the gap between what they
believe and who they reflect.

That’s all for this review. Until next time …