The Dogwood Has Bloomed

The dogwood has bloomed. The tree sits on a corner along the street I  follow to get to my bank. Every year I anticipate the arrival of the flowers, waiting for the splash of white blossoms to stir my heart as I hurry down the thoroughfare.

Not only is the sight breathtaking, it reminds me of the season into which we are about to enter. The most important day in the earth’s history is about to be celebrated, the remembrance one that affects every person on the face of the planet.

Two thousand years ago, God had sent his son to earth. After thirty-three years here, Jesus was about to fulfill his destiny. He traveled much of Jerusalem with his band of followers, teaching people about the kingdom of heaven, healing their diseases, restoring their loved ones. He’d made enemies and gathered many friends.

The Sanhedrin feared him because he spoke against the false teachings for which they were known. He threatened to upset the delicate balance the Jews maintained in the presence of the Roman occupation. They looked for opportunities to remove him.

He knew their hearts. He understood their thoughts. He sensed them watching him. He ate with publicans and sinners. He healed on the Sabbath. They were waiting to accuse him when the time was right.

Passover was coming. Jesus would enter Jerusalem to celebrate with his disciples. No one but him can know this would be the last time he would enter the city. His enemies waited. They plotted. They watched. Soon they would act. God’s plan was about to be fulfilled.

Acts 16:31 says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” In the violent acts that would follow, everyone would gain access to eternal life. The innocent would be slain, the guilty redeemed, the key to heaven placed within everyone’s grasp. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, it would be only a matter of time.

 

This is the first installment in a three-part series leading up to the celebration of Easter.

 

Carrying Another’s Burdens

I thought I was going to slip out of winter this year without being hit by one of the inevitable viruses that seem to affect most who reside in the wet and cold Willamette Valley. But not to be left out, I developed a persistent cough two days before “spring” arrived and began the downward spiral toward a full-blown cold. So much for sneaking by.

I’m the chief cook and bottle washer at my house. That fact alone makes me extra vigilant when risking the health of others around me. A nasty virus could potentially affect many people. My 94-year-old neighbor takes supper with us. Our son, who lives nearby, prefers the company of his nutty parents rather than a lifeless computer screen. Finish the list with my daughter and husband and the potential to infect four additional people exists. A great responsibility.

My son, though, is an excellent cook. When he learned of my plight, he took over in the kitchen. He is familiar with most of the recipes I had included on my menu planner and assembled them for me. He also is great on cleanup detail. I slept through two nights of meals, secure in the knowledge my people were being cared for.

The Bible tells us in Galatians 6:2-3: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” I wonder if when God spoke those words He meant a son would step in and cook for his mother when she is ill. I’m not a commentator nor a Bible scholar, but from my perspective what my son volunteered to do certainly bore my burden. He blessed me with a simple kindness, but the act multiplied in the numbers of people he fed.

Who is looking to you today for help carrying their load? The need might be as close as your neighbor’s kitchen sink.

The Simple Shamrock–God’s Tool for Truth

This post first appeared in FaithHappenings.com March 17, 2015

Did you remember to tuck your shamrock in your pocket this morning? Do you know the three-leafed clover was once used to teach the concept of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? If your memory hasn’t been nudged by these clues, it’s St. Patrick’s Day, named for the patron saint of Ireland.

Born the son of a Roman British army officer in the 4th century, Maewyn Sucat was captured by a band of pirates who landed in South Wales and sold him into slavery in Ireland. He spent six years there, mostly imprisoned, until he made his escape to Britain on a getaway ship.

Now free, he adopted his Romanized name Patrick, joined a monastery in France, and studied under St. Germain. After twelve years in training, Patrick became a bishop and dreamed that the Irish were calling him back to Ireland to tell them about God. With the Pope’s blessing, he returned. Patrick used the three-leaved plant, the shamrock, to explain the Trinity to the Gaelic Irish. The number three was a significant number to the pagan culture, which had several triple deities, a fact that aided Patrick in his evangelization attempts. A tireless preacher, Patrick made many converts, even among the royal families.

When the Order of St. Patrick was founded in 1783 it adopted blue as its color. But Irish nationalism prevailed and green emerged as the chosen color, associated both with Ireland’s lush, green countryside and Patrick’s use of the shamrock. Even though the day originated as a religious feast day in honor of the patron saint, it has now become an international event celebrating Irish culture with parades, dancing, special foods, and wearing green.

The man’s history is intriguing when you consider how God used a childhood event, Patrick’s capture and imprisonment, to give the man a heart for a pagan culture, utilizing a native plant to teach them about the God he knew.

In Proverbs 22:6 (KJV) parents are told, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Many learned about a loving, heavenly Father who sent his son, Jesus, to save mankind from eternal damnation by living, dying, and rising again, all because of one dedicated man and the simple shamrock.

Launching a Book–Part 2

This week I met the graphic artist hired to design my cover. When I say “met”, she appeared in a chat line thread on my Facebook page, along with my editor. Her picture was the size of a cheerio on the screen. I have no idea where she lived. Via computer and online messaging we discussed how the book should look.

When I earned my journalism degree, I studied graphic design. I knew some of the elemental properties a good page should have. But in my time, “cut and paste” meant using scissors, x-acto knives, and glue stick. (If you don’t know what those things are, consult Wikipedia).  Computers and their ability to manipulate graphic images had not yet appeared. We literally cut our pictures and text apart and pasted them on a ruled background printed in camera blue. The color guaranteed that the design lines would not be copied by the camera lens.

The process I experienced this week was far more sophisticated. I’d completed a template beforehand that listed the elements I thought the cover should have. I’d been asked to suggest other covers I’d seen that I liked and to search online photo banks for pictures I thought represented my story. I chose models in various poses who resembled my title character.

The graphic artist took my suggestions and created five different covers for me to consider. I was overwhelmed. They were all good possibilities, but one stood out from the rest. The tone of the page—the combination of colors, photos, and lettering—matched what I felt as I wrote the story. My editor had the artist flip the pictures to see if they worked better from that angle. In the end, the final composite pleased all of us. A new cover had been born.

An editor friend reported this week that his most recent box of books had arrived. He said he never tires of the feeling a new work stirs within.  I can truly say the process made me ecstatic. I looked at the cover and thought, “I’d like to read this book.”  Then I realized I’d written it. Reading the story would pass to you, my friends who have shared this journey with me.

A “cover reveal” will happen later, as the novel, An Anchor on Her Heart, nears its release date. I’ll keep you posted. Until then, you can dream.

Rascal Refuge

My husband and I have always owned cats. Or, as most cat lovers know, they’ve owned us. Someone once said that dogs have masters and cats have staff. That’s the way things are at our house.

One thing, though, on which I stand firm, is the absence of a litter box in the house. I relegated the nasty thing to the garage when my children were toddlers and it has never returned. The cats seem to appreciate the convenience when they are outside or it’s snowing. I’m grateful I need not deal with lingering odor.

That being said, the cats still need a place to sleep where the litter box is available. Garages tend to be cold, drafty places with cement floors and walls that are often not insulated. Not an amiable place to snooze. My husband, though, is a soft-hearted individual who would probably give up his bed for a suffering animal. He devised a cathouse where comfort reigns supreme.

When our dishwasher died, he removed all the outer adornments, including the motor, and kept the inner plastic shell. He then inverted the boxlike structure, turning the hole where the motor had been, outward. He added a light socket to the top of the old appliance, wired it for electricity, and screwed a bulb into the opening. To keep the cat off the cement floor, he lined the bottom with an old foam pad and discarded towels. The light keeps the interior just warm enough to be cozy. The cat disappears inside, the only evidence he’s there is a pair of ears that poke out when we open the garage door.

This morning, it seems, we opened the garage a little early for a Saturday. The cat’s ears poked out of his nest, then retreated. The furry feline didn’t emerge for another hour, this being his morning to sleep in. As his butler and maid, we honored his wishes and kept the noise down.

To quote a once popular movie, “Cats rule.”

 

Cookie Landing

The cookies arrived this week. The price is higher, the box size the same, the carrier a grandmother who is a friend of mine. Her granddaughter, an aspiring Girl Scout, lives out of town. I ordered from her because of the connection to the family. The cookies go in my freezer, waiting for drop-in company or to serve as a last-minute dessert when pressed for time. I opened the final box of last year’s stash only this week.

I once was a Brownie. Then, that rank was the first step in becoming a full-fledged Scout. I wore the brown vest. I still have the membership pin. I also have mittens which bore the image of a young girl with blond braids dressed in uniform.

I have memories of selling cookies. In my day, we didn’t go to store fronts and sell from behind a table. We knocked on neighbor’s doors to pedal our wares. Those confrontations taught me how to memorize a spiel and deliver it with a smile. I must have been good at it because I remember I sold one hundred boxes and received a prize for the most sold in my troop. Good for my era.

Not as many Scouts go door-to-door today. Society has deteriorated in many neighborhoods to the point children are not safe in their communities. Playing outside or even walking home from school is no longer the norm. In my community the lineup of cars outside the main school entrance is tantamount to a parade as parents wait for the final bell to gather their kids.

Instead, the Scout girls man tables in the entrance lobbies of supermarkets and malls. Like ants on a picnic they descend, waylaying prospective customers as they enter the store. Safety exists in numbers, as well as in having an adult around, as the traditional cookie continues its reach into modern day culture.

Jesus loved children. When parents brought their children to him for blessing, the disciples shooed them away. But Jesus rebuked his followers in Matthew 19:14 saying, “Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” I can even imagine Him coming upon a table at the local supermarket and happily turning over coin for a box of cookies. What do you suppose might have been his favorite?

Comfort in the Familiar

Valentine’s Day landed midweek this year. My husband and I drove to the coast, one of our favorite places to visit. We’ve traveled this route many times—each curve of the road familiar, the line of trees along the shoulder the same, the waterways running alongside still carving out the path they’ve been reshaping for decades.

Comfort often comes in the well-known. Memories surface from previous visits. Like the wayside where my family often stopped for breakfast when I was a child because I became too carsick to continue without food. Or the little hole-in-the-wall restaurant my husband and I visited forty years ago and had a bowl of their homemade mushroom and potato soup. We both remember how delicious it tasted. That’s saying something since he doesn’t like mushrooms.

And yet, within the familiarity, comes change. We mourned over the giant trees still laying across the streams after the recent ice storm, their roots exposed, their trunks left to decay. The potholes along one stretch are bigger now. Maneuvering around them takes concentration. The stretch of beach near the jetty is overgrown with windblown plants and multiple rises of sand that block the view. Both of us recall when we could leave the parking area and run unobstructed to the water’s edge. Tides and time have altered the shore to the degree that this is no longer a pleasant place to stay long.

Walking with God is like our journey to the ocean. We remember the first years getting to know him. The things he did for us as he claimed us for his own. Our memories move on to the comfort we’ve found in his presence. Knowing that no matter what happens, God makes all things possible in his time. We are warmed by his words in Jeremiah 3:13: “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.’” We look forward to our tomorrows knowing life brings change and those differences may alter the landscape of our lives. But because God has walked with us in the past, we can trust him to be with us as we face the future. He will not abandon us.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

 

Bidding A Mentor Farewell

Not long after I married, I decided to pursue my life long passion of writing. Two initial successes in well-known magazines followed. To further encourage me a friend invited me to attend a writing conference with her.

The date was October 4, 1980. The speaker was Lee Roddy, a man whose writing career had moved from copy writer to radio network dramas to the sale of his novel to NBC, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. The story would become a prime-time television series for the network.

Later Roddy would write the Jesus film for Campus Crusade for Christ, which is now in more than three hundred languages and is viewed worldwide. Countless books are attributed to the genius of this man.

I don’t remember what Lee told us that day at the conference, but whatever it was I was moved to write him a letter. I posed the question about writing as a full-time pursuit. His response was to get creative in my thinking. Get beyond the obvious—magazines, books, newspapers—and find other avenues that could use what I had to offer.

Writing, he said, often requires a singleness of purpose. He asked what is keeping me from writing? What do I need to give up to devote more time to my calling?

Finally, he addressed the mixing of other money-making pursuits with the business of writing. He said many writers have to spend time like Paul did, making tents to survive while preaching the Gospel to those around him. A writer does the same.

He admonished me to take care of the ministry and God would take care of the money.

This past week Lee Roddy, age 95, passed from this world to the next. Many writers mourned the loss, citing the myriad list of things they learned form this humble man. I will always be indebted to him for taking the time to write to me—someone he didn’t know, who didn’t really have a career yet, but  who had the audacity to ask foolish questions. His kindness will always be remembered.

I can only believe as he stands before the God for whom he spent his life writing, he will hear those wonderful words of Matthew 25:23: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

My Iranian Suitor

park-008This is NOT a political post.

Watching the news this week as reporters hashed and re-hashed the recent presidential order to prevent people from terrorist-infested nations entering our country, I was reminded of an incident that happened to me in the early 70’s.

A recent graduate from college, I had landed a job in a downtown office not far from a popular public park. To get away from the feel of four walls and canned air, I decided to spend my lunch hour on a warm bench.

I hadn’t been there long when an olive-skinned young man with dark eyes and unruly hair came and stood near me. In those days, terrorist was not a word we knew. As a college grad, I’d spent many classroom hours alongside peoples of other nations and skin colors. We all shared the same goal—get through school.

I said hello. He returned the greeting and launched into halting English, telling me his family was in Iran, he was here alone, and could we be friends and meet sometimes?   I was startled.  He hadn’t asked my name, nor had he given me his. But his phrase certainly sounded like a pickup line.

I was mindful of the verse in Hebrew 13:2 that says: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” By the same token he didn’t fit the profile of Emma Lazarus’ poem, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddling masses yearning to breathe free.” He knew what he wanted to say and do.

I proceeded to keep the conversation going, trying to answer his questions, and trying to make him understand I was only on a lunch hour. When it came time for me to leave, I wished him well and we parted amiably.

A few days later I headed for the park. No sooner had I sat down than he appeared. Surprised, I asked him how his week had been. He responded with pretty much the same conversation we’d had before. His request for us to be friends grew more insistent. I told him I was a Christian and my belief in Jesus Christ was basic to who I was. Any friendship we’d have would be limited by our different views. The relationship he was pushing for couldn’t happen. He didn’t seem happy.

At the advice of a trusted friend, I didn’t visit the park for several weeks. Something about this encounter left me uneasy. The young man was a little too insistent. I’d known others sweet-talked down a trail they didn’t intend to go.

Later that summer I returned to the park, no sign of my suitor in sight. Relieved, I ate my lunch in quiet reflection. Could I have done more? Made a difference? I’ll never know. I’d offered  a man who seemed lost the gift of friendship. It was all I had to give.

 

A New Era Dawns

white-house-6

Though our country is young in comparison to other nations of the world, the pomp and circumstance of a presidential inauguration struts all the grandeur of a republic conceived a millennia ago.

In Daniel 2:21 the Bible gives God the credit. “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding.” Think of that.

The solemn procession of the outgoing and incoming leaders as they travel in limousines to the staging area conjures up a dignity born in the reign of a king. The presence of past presidents, former congressional members, and honored guests gives the entire ceremony the feel of mystique, as if one misspoken word or whispered syllable will upset the balance of power.

But I like it. Something about the process ignites in me a sense of pride in who I am and the privilege that is mine for having been born into a country where freedom is the watchword. I enjoy a lifestyle alongside many others that, even among the poorest households, are the envy of most of the world. I can participate in the voting process, a lone citizen able to choose a leader. If the results are not to my liking, I am free to say so.

What bothers me are those who think they have the right to destroy private property and injure others when the leader they wanted didn’t win. Losing to an opponent is part of the way our nation does things. Though I didn’t support many of the policies of the last administration, I respected his right to rule. Had I protested, I’d have been considered racist.  I knew he’d have to earn the privilege again in four years, and in eight years, he’d have to move on.

In Romans 13:1-2 we are told:”Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which is from God. The authorities that exist have been appointed by God. Consequently, the one who resists authority is opposing what God has set in place, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

A new man has ascended to the helm, with new ideas, new goals, and different experience. I give him the right to prove himself. I know the scriptures teach that each leader is put in power because God allowed it. Stand back and let him be.