Encourage One Another (April 26, 2015)

I am blessed. I have a wonderful friend. I haven’t seen her in years, but we keep in touch through the wonder of technology, and occasional snail mail, and she makes it a point to let me know when she hears of me doing ministry – often when it’s something I don’t think of as ministry. Those little kudos mean so much to me – the encouragement, not the praise. It’s the shot in the arm I need when I wonder if what I’m doing really makes a difference.

I think back to the story of Abraham. when he was 99 years old and God told him I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. Genesis 17:5 I don’t write about Abraham’s doubt, I write about the fact he wouldn’t live to see it come true. We often do or say things that are exceedingly helpful, but we don’t see the fruits of those words or actions. But we need to say and do them.

I have a divorce in my background. Brad and I will celebrate 39 years of marriage in October, but I was married once before. My ex-husband and I are very good friends, and he is part of our family. But we weren’t good spouses. I shared that fact with a woman in the church in Bishop many years ago, just an idle conversation. Several years later, when her husband left her, she told me how much it helped her that I had told her about my divorce. I had absolutely no idea those were the words that would help someone. I like to think it’s the sermons I learned to craft so carefully, the thoughts I share with you each week, the prayers I’ve shared in hospital rooms and sanctuaries, but it was a story about my shortcomings.

Everyone needs encouragement. Everyone needs a cheerleader. I tutor children in a combined first and second grade classroom who need help with reading and math skills. One of my pupils is a child who clearly doesn’t receive much attention at home. When I complimented her on something, I said “But of course you’ve heard that before.” In all honesty she replied, “No, I haven’t.” The compliment was over something so small I can’t remember it, but the fact she’d never heard it before was a shocker. This is a child who needs affirmation to take that scared, anxious look off her face. I pray that as she grows older she will become confident and successful, and remember that her teacher and tutor believed in her. I have only another month or so to do the best I can.

There are so many lonely people, so many people shut away, isolated, fearful, perhaps unable to communicate. This is the season of rebirth and rejoicing in the risen Christ. This is the time He walked on the earth, showing himself to his disciples and preparing them for the great commission. Let us prepare ourselves to do the same.

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Dear Father/Mother God, Help us remember we are all your children, and we all need encouragement. Help us to be that person to someone who is feeling lost or overwhelmed, knowing that we might never see the fruits of our actions and words. Thank you for the brave people who step out in our behalf each day, advocating for those of us who need their stamina and determination. We

Bless the Beasts (April 19, 2015)

Like many ministers, I have a difficult time with self-care. I would rather be taking care of someone else than thinking about myself, and that’s not a good thing.  And so I have Kirby, my service dog.  Kirby tells me if I need medication, if I’m overly tired and need to lie down or go home, or if I need to get out of the sun.  He alerts on my arm or gives me a special bark.  We worked with a special trainer and my previous dog, Jake, helped him learn his job.  And nearly every time I am out, someone asks me where they can get a vest like Kirby’s for their dog.

This is a problem.  Kirby has been trained for his job.  We take extra care to make sure he is healthy, because he is a working dog.  Of course he receives all his vaccinations, and flea, tick and heart worm medication.  He also receives medication for Cushing’s Disease, a malfunction of the adrenal gland, and is on a special diet.  And we are constantly reinforcing his training.  He’s not just a pet.

Our city and county have a medallion regulation for service dogs.  They are supposed to be registered either with the City of Eureka or Humboldt County, and this requires that they are licensed, that a physician certifies their medical service, and that the owner specifies what service they perform.  The medallion is free of charge once the requirements have been met.

I’m glad for the medallion because it gives business owners the right to ask people to remove animals without medallions from stores and restaurants.  People in Humboldt County love their animals, and they want to bring them everywhere.  It’s not unusual to see a chihuahua in a dress in a shopping cart (I hate to think of the sanitary aspects).  We’ve been threatened by a pit bull with a studded collar, whose owner stated he was a service dog.  When we asked what the dog’s service was, he stated “protection.”  Fortunately, the store manager made him leave.

Too many people think a dog that makes them happy is a service animal, and that I should tell them where to get a vest so they can bring them shopping.  I’ve tried explaining to them what makes a service animal, and been called some pretty awful names.  But now I just ask, “Oh, does your dog have a medallion?”  If they answer “No,” or don’t know what I’m talking about, I just tell them I’m sorry I can’t help them.

I talk to many business owners about the dog problem, and find that most of them don’t know about the medallions.  I only found out when I went to license my dogs when we moved here.  So now I make it my mission to let business owners know.  Most of them feel helpless because they believe they have to allow every dog in if the owner claims it’s a service dog.  When I tell them they can ask to see the dog’s medallion and refuse admittance if the dog doesn’t have one, they are relieved.  They are tired of dogs that urinate, defecate, menace other customers, and destroy property.

Are bogus service animals a problem where you live?  I fear we’re coming to a place where national regulations might be enacted.  If so, I hope they will be common-sense, like the ones here in Humboldt County.

“who teaches us more than the animals of the earth”  Job 35:11

Dear Lord,  Thank you for the gift of animals who love us and care for us.  Help us to treat them with care and respect, and never ask more of them than they are capable of doing.  Great us wisdom and patience as we interact with our animals and with each other.  Amen.

Blessings Abound (April 12, 2015)

Last Friday I received a blessing.  A package arrived with something wrapped in purple tissue and purple ribbon (I love purple!).  When I opened it, I discovered a beautiful lap quilt in green, blue and purple batik fabrics.  It was made for me by a friend from high school who lives in Pennsylvania.  I didn’t need the enclosed card to know that it had been made with lots of love and care (and prayers!).

It wasn’t exactly a surprise.  A couple of years ago Joanne and I were part of a “pay it forward” challenge, where we pledged to make things for other people.  I was the lucky recipient of her generosity, and I in turn made things for others.  Joanne was afraid that I had given up any hope of receiving my quilt.  I hadn’t.  It had come at just the right time.  I had noticed that I was becoming cold sitting in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, and I needed something to put over my lap and feet.  The timing of this blessing quilt was perfect – God’s timing.

But the best part of the “pay it forward” project wasn’t the quilt I received, it was the things I made for other people.  I made quilts for two new babies, and I had such fun choosing the fabrics and making up the designs.  I crocheted rose petal hats for three other baby girls, and smiled when I saw each little girl in her hat.  It was a joy to make them and give them away.  Two teenagers in our church received wristlets – fancy gloves without fingers.  They were delighted, and so was I.  And I made a Batman helmet for one little boy, and a Cars hat for his brother.  Again, I don’t know who derived more pleasure – the recipients or me.  The real joy, the real blessing, was in the making and giving.  As I created each item and gave it away, I prayed for the recipient, and I was joyfully at peace.  I wished I could spend all my time doing just that, making things for people as I prayed for them.

Today I received another blessing.  The young men who help us with our yard work for Teen Challenge, a program that helps young people conquer addiction and learn marketable skills.  They are very nice fellows, and I enjoy making coffee for them when they come every other week.  This morning they told me they wanted to bless me and brought out some solar lights shaped like dragonflies, butterflies and hummingbirds for my back yard.  Last night when I went out to bring in the bird feeder trays, my yard was aglow with six beautiful lights that changed color from red to blue to green.  I couldn’t stop smiling, and called my husband out to see how lovely the lights were.

I don’t share these anecdotes to brag about the blessings I received, but to tell you that the best part of blessings is giving them.  I love making coffee for the yard crew, and getting to know each of the young men who are turning their lives around with the help of Christ, counseling and employment.  I love making things for other people to enjoy, and picture them using the items I fashion.  I pray for them as I work on the project, whether it’s a quilt or a hat.  God gives us all gifts that we can share.  We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” Romans 12:6

When we share those gifts we witness to the love of Christ that lives in us, and we draw others to Christ.  We are the living testament, the only Bible some people will ever read.  The blessings that might come our way in return are a lovely surprise, not to be expected, but welcome reminders of God’s love for us.

Dear God, We thank you so much for the gifts you bestow upon us.  We ask you to help us share those gifts with others, freely and abundantly, always in the spirit of your love.  Amen.

When to Say “No” April 5, 2015

A couple of weeks ago I volunteered to sing one of my favorite hymns in Spanish at our church’s Mexican luncheon, a fundraiser for our mission trip to Mexico to build a home.  I haven’t played my guitar for awhile, and I thought it would be nice to accompany myself.  I learned to play guitar many years ago, when I was in high school, and I played all through high school and college, and as a young mother and through my adult years, until carpal tunnel problems forced me to quit.

A few years after surgery I tried playing again, and I will never be able to play as well as I did when I was younger.  The surgery was not a great success, and my hands can’t take much stress.  After I had to start using a wheelchair, I found my guitar was much too big.  I gave it to a lovely young lady in our church who sings like an angel, writes songs, and is learning to play guitar. I bought a half-size guitar, which fits my chair better, and went to work.  And that was a problem.

I practiced too much.  The guitar has steel strings, which I haven’t yet traded for classical nylon strings, and I had to practice to harden up the tips of my fingers.  And I had to practice the chord changes, and the arpeggio strum.  By the night before the luncheon, I was playing pretty well.  But on Sunday my hands were cramping.  I tried playing, but it was painful, and didn’t add anything to the song.  By the middle of the second verse, I decided to go a cappella.  It was so much better.  Not worrying about the accompaniment allowed me to freely express the beautiful lyrics.

I was trying too hard to make it about me instead of about God by showing that I could sing and play.  God gifted me with a good voice; it didn’t need the guitar to make the song any better.  And by pushing my hands beyond their capability, I only hurt myself, for which I am still paying.  All I needed to do was open my mouth and sing, and let God’s glory come through the song.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3

For those of us with limited energy, or capabilities, it is important that we stop and think about where we are applying ourselves.  Is it really important that we accompany ourselves on the guitar instead of just singing?  Do we really need to sign up for another committee or volunteer for another activity or chair another group, or bring refreshments to another event?  I find it so hard to say “No.”  I used to think Ado Annie’s song (“I’m Just a Gal Who Cain’t Say No”) was written for me.  But God has patiently pointed out to me that I must say no.  I simply can’t endure the strain – physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.  If I want to give God my best, I have to learn to choose carefully what I can and will do, and not feel guilty about saying “No” to some opportunities.

Thank you, Lord, for the gifts with which you bless us.  Help us to learn to use those gifts wisely, and to take care of our bodies so that we can continue to serve you.  Help us to learn when to say “Yes,” and when to say “No,”  and to do so graciously.  Let us always be the reflection of your light and love in the world, drawing people to your kingdom.  In Christ’s name we pray.  Amen.

Inspiration or Example? March 29, 2015

Our Lenten journey is coming to an end.  In many of our churches we celebrated with palms, and then lowered our heads as the Passion story was read.  Our own journeys through the wilderness may or may not be coming to an end, but on the church calendar we are passing through a period of darkness and preparing for a time of immense joy.  Our Lord has overcome the pain and humiliation of the lash and the cross and even death.  He has shown us a new way to live, to love our enemies as well as our friends, to care for the very least among us as though they were the most exalted.

There has been much discussion among us who are blessed with disabling conditions of one sort or another about being “inspirations” or “examples” to other people.  Some people find either or both term objectionable.  It’s true, people who don’t know us or understand our lives can put us on pedestals and idealize our situations.  We don’t think of ourselves as heroes; we don’t wear capes.

I think back on my own life, before my first diagnosis, when I was still able to carry on a “normal” life.  I read “The Other Side of the Mountain” in high school, and I have to say I was moved by Jill Kinmont’s story.  A young woman, an Olympic athlete, paralyzed from the neck down in a tragic accident during a qualifying race fights to complete college, earn a teaching credential, and find a job as a teacher.  I didn’t have physical disabilities at that time, but I had a family that didn’t believe in me, and Jill’s story let me hope that I could do something important with my life, too.  Was she an example or an inspiration?  At that point in my life, she inspired me.  If she could succeed, so could I.

When my physical condition started declining, and I finally accepted my wheelchair, and then my medical leave, I was sad and confused.  I couldn’t understand why God had brought me so far only to drop me.  Perhaps it was payback for saying “no” to the ministry for so long.  Maybe I had just been aiming too high.  Not only was I in physical pain, and exhausted, I felt useless.  So I started to see someone, to talk with her once a week to sort out my feelings.  And she gave me an insight that really helped me.

She told me that other people were looking at me, and seeing something different.  She reminded me of that saying, “Your life is the only Bible some people will ever read.”  She told me that the fact that I got up every day and went out and about with a smile on my face, “was an inspiration.”  I had to admit I was confused.  I didn’t see anything “inspiring” in my situation, but my counselor explained that people who knew my story saw someone who had not let her circumstances defeat her, and was happy in spite of them.

If this was “inspirational,” so be it.  It didn’t make me a hero, but it made me a witness, and isn’t that what Jesus asks of us? I am not serving God in the way I had planned, but I am serving nonetheless.  And new opportunities arise almost every day.  Yes, I live in pain, but so did Paul.  And our pain cannot compare to that borne by Christ on the cross.  “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.”  Philippians 3:17

Being an inspiration doesn’t mean wearing a cape, or being a hero.  It means reflecting the light of Christ that has been placed within my heart.  I can do that.  It’s a pleasure.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.”  Matthew 5:14-15

Dear God, We thank you that you always have a use for us, that we can be your faithful servants no matter what our condition.  Help us remember that even if we feel at our worst, we can still give you our best, that we are still precious in your eyes.  As we remember the sacrifice of your Son this week, help us to trust that your will for us is what is best, and let us place your desire for our lives above our own.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.  Matthew 26:39   Amen.