Forever Appeal

My grandma has gone on, and I keep thanking God that I had a short time to be with her before she died. I went to stay with her in December. I walked into her room and a potent smell practically choked me. It wasn’t a nice smell. It was laced with a strong disinfectant scent. People talk about the smell that they associate with the elderly in their last years, and how uncomfortable and unappealing it is. There were a good many things that were unappealing about my grandmother’s slow release from this life. The things that didn’t appeal to her were the hardest for me to watch her struggle through.

She was 93. So many of her friends had died already. She felt she did not connect with the younger generations who remained. She was restless to join her generation beyond this life. She spoke of death often, always with apologies and assurances to me. She knew it made me uncomfortable, but, for her, it was a subject she needed to talk to me about. She thought of death continually. She welcomed it because she had hope of what was to come. She didn’t know why God had allowed her to live to such a great age when the others of her childhood were either dead or not cognizant anymore. There were times she became despondent, wrapped up in her loneliness. There were times when she lashed out in anger, frustrated she wasn’t capable of changing her situation. There were times when she made subtle jabs, irritated with everyone and everything because she felt powerless. Why could no one do something to help her? Why had God chosen for her to stay when the people she loved were in a better place…without her?

My grandmother was a tiny, tiny woman. Not even five feet tall. The spirit in that tiny body was Amazonian. She had so much will and determination. She used to tell me stories of how she’d decide to do something, and if her husband gave the okay, she’d do it herself. She painted half of their house one day, getting a friendly neighbor to help her, while my grandpa was at work. He came home, shook his head, and grinned at her. He adored her. She adored him. I never knew my grandpa. He died when my mom was ten. My grandma never remarried. She told me many times that she’d never had the desire to remarry.

Your grandpa and I had a grand marriage. We understood each other. I thought about remarrying, but I was satisfied. That’s all.

She said it many times because I asked her many times. I wanted to hear it. For her to feel so satisfied with that one love, that one beautiful union, showed me how much a woman could be in love. She had more than one proposal, more than one opportunity to embark on a second marriage, but that had not appealed to her.

Last year, she lay in a hospital bed, day in and day out. For a woman who liked to be with people, this was the most unappealing of all. She was tortured by quietness. An entire wall and a portion of another were lined with shelves overhead, where all her books were stored. She read and she read and she read. She read until she was sick of books, sick of television, sick of that room, sick of the food and the sleep and the peace and quiet. But she could not get up and leave. It took her great effort just to shift her body to one side or to the other in the bed.

I would come into her room and talk to her. I wanted to talk to her, but it required me to speak in a strained, raised voice because she could not hear me otherwise. She ached to do something, to be involved. She hunted for anything that might be bothering me, and then she would try to fix it. It would become a matter she couldn’t let go of, regardless of my attempts to tell her it was okay. But I realized it wasn’t okay to her because she needed to be needed, and she needed me to let her help me.

When I first walked into that room, I was overwhelmed with the smell, with the things I needed to do to clean and care for my grandmother. But I’ve had children. I know that love does not spring from doing the pleasing things; it springs from doing the unappealing things borne of frailty and dependence. I began to crave the touch of her soft, wrinkled skin. I rubbed her motionless feet, so tiny and curled. And when I asked, “Do you want me to keep rubbing your feet?” her weak, muffled voice would come from the pillow, “All day long.” For a short moment, I brought her something that appealed. And now, she is in a place where she knows nothing but all that appeals to her. For that is Who God is. He is the Goodness Source. Nothing appeals without Him.

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One Wednesday Night

Realm received a note the other day from a coworker who spent one Wednesday night with us months ago. This coworker—I’ll call him Alexander because I rarely get to call anyone Alexander, and I really like that name… What was I saying? Oh, yeah: So, Alexander doesn’t live here. He lives three states away. Realm, being the type of guy who doesn’t like to see another guy eating fried chicken from the grocery store deli or buying the very fresh and boring sandwich (call it a Panini or what you will, it’s still a sandwich), invited Alexander over to eat at our house.

I didn’t know very much about him when Realm invited him over but that he was from out-of-town and that he was on a diet similar to Realm’s: fresh veggies, low carbs, no sugar. He walked into the kitchen to greet me, and he was very polite. I was very nervous about what I was serving. It was my third week of making low carb dishes. I hoped the honey in my honey-mustard sauce drizzled over the baked ham wouldn’t be too bad of a diet no-no. Then I hoped my ham wasn’t a no-no! There are some religious groups, like Seventh-Day Adventists, who don’t do pork. Basically, I worried my way through the entire meal, even after he complimented me on the food.

That night, when we left the house for Bible study, Alexander rode with us. My kids fought over who would sit by him. I don’t know much about Alexander’s beliefs, but he told Realm afterward that he’d enjoyed the study.

In the weeks that followed, the kids asked repeatedly whether he’d be back to eat with us again. “He should come over on Sunday and eat, too. Then he could go to worship services with us two times!” my daughter said. I think she thought this was an offer that couldn’t be refused. But Alexander had to go back home, and he slipped out of our thoughts for a bit.

Recently, Realm learned Alexander was returning to town. He sent him a message that he should come over again for supper, that the kids had asked about him, and he hoped his work was going well. As it ended up, Alexander’s business trip was canceled. He messaged Realm, and this was one of the things he said about coming to our house that night:

“That will go down in history as one of the highlights in my life.”

Realm showed his message to me and had to explain it because I thought it was a strange joke when I read it. It completely flummoxed me. That night I’d been super nervous about whether my food worked with the diet, while Alexander wasn’t even looking at that. He was seeing our family gathered around a table, talking and laughing. He was watching us put away stuff quickly, grab our Bibles, and pile into the van. He was listening to us carry on various conversations on our way to the church building—little, insignificant thoughts and silly fights, I thought. But they were great big clues because they exposed our closeness, our regular communication, our peace.

THE WAYNE GIPSON FAMILY SAYS A PRAYER BEFORE T...
THE WAYNE GIPSON FAMILY SAYS A PRAYER BEFORE THEIR EVENING MEAL IN THE KITCHEN OF THEIR MODERN HOME NEAR GRUETLI… – NARA – 556611 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t realize sometimes what I have. I didn’t realize it when I was growing up around our family table, where my father sat at the head and we bowed our heads in prayer. The blessing of family comes from God. It is a blessing that is distorted when God is taken out of the center of it. It is a quiet haven that is destroyed when God’s words of kindness, real love, and commitment are ignored.

Alexander is divorced. His kids are almost grown, and he doesn’t get to see them often. There’s a part of him that craves the haven of home. We only have one life. That’s it. Don’t miss the haven. Even if you’ve missed it here, don’t miss the eternal haven with God. Seek Him. Pray to Him. He invites you to His table. Accept His invitation, and He will take you home with Him forever.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’
“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’
– Luke 15:17-26a

Notes from “Meeting the Commander in Chief”

He stood before me, blocking my view of the city we were to take. I did not know from which direction he’d come, he’d appeared so suddenly. His sword was drawn. The way he held himself spoke of power and authority. He was formidable in every aspect. His very presence might have made me doubt whether I could lead my men forward. But I did not doubt. Perhaps I was given the charge of taking this land for that reason: I’ve never doubted the success of my orders from the top…(Read more)

Joshua’s encounter with God became my springboard for writing the four Stories of the Valiant. Those three verses in Joshua are packed full of meaning. Joshua doesn’t know who the man is at first; but seeing he is armed as one who goes out to fight, Joshua confronts him. The reader can see from Joshua’s words that he’s not willing to assume anything, but isn’t going to retreat from the command he’s been given—to go in, drive out the Canaanites, and inhabit the land.

That’s faith. Faith is real and living. When it is planted, the believer must act upon it, changing his/her thinking to conform to what the believer knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the truth.

In Joshua’s case, he wasn’t expected to understand who he was speaking to. He didn’t know that the One standing before him in the form of a military leader was his Lord. But he did know what God had told him to do and was going forward with that. That’s what God wanted of him. Joshua didn’t need all the pieces to obey. He didn’t need to know everything about God’s plan for removing the Canaanites to confront the man he thought was standing in his way.

What is so incredible to me about this verse is that God, the Creator, allowed Joshua, the creation, to approach and question His position. Who of us has any right to do that? Yet, God has always allowed each of us to ask, “Are you for or against me?” And the answer has always been far above us, for who are we to have a side to defend? And God explains over and over to His children, “I am on my side.” Joshua understood and knew that he, Joshua, was on God’s side, too!

God, the Father, sent Jesus, God the Son, into spiritual battle for our souls. It was fought in a physical way when Jesus took on the lower form of man to be tempted in all points as we are. The war hung in the balance as Jesus perished on the cross. Death was defeated when Jesus, the perfect, sinless sacrifice, could not be bound by eternal death—because He is God, deity, “the brightness of the glory of God and the express image of his person.” He rose from the grave! The sin He carried with Him to the grave could not condemn Him to spiritual death because He did not commit any sin. That was the victory. He removed the sin, the sin that would condemn us to an existence separated from the presence of the Source of all Goodness.

Joshua’s story shows what it is to seek always to be on God’s side, to give up the things that keep us from His presence, and to learn to do what pleases Him. Just like He did for Joshua, God welcomes us into His Presence to bow in worship and ask for counsel from Him to take on the life battles we face. To be allied with Jesus Christ, the King of God’s Eternal Kingdom, is to be assured of that victory and to expect the fulfillment of the promise of spending eternity in the presence of God. It is a relief and thrill to know that putting on Christ means never being on one’s own side in the battles that rage both in the heart and in the world.

And that’s what I came away with when I read about Joshua and his meeting with the Commander of the LORD’s army. Three little verses brought thoughts to mind that gave me a better glimpse of God’s love.

For The Last Man Standing

Story 4 – Stories of the Valiant

When you are at peace with two peoples who are at war, you must choose your side.

He came from the mountain in the plains of Esdraelon, running for his life. He came to me for refuge because of the peace between our families. I left my tent and called to him, “Captain! Come. Come in, and don’t be afraid.”

He entered my dwelling and fell upon his knees, shattered by the chase. He was out of breath, and his eyes darted about in terror. In them I could read what he was thinking: His armies were gone, every man of them killed. He was the last—their captain, he was the last!

I drew a blanket over his huddled figure. He looked up at me with his wild eyes, sunk into his drawn face, and said, “Please…Give me water. I am…so thirsty.”

I could have given him what he requested, but I placed the skin of milk in his hand instead, the cream risen, smooth and silken, to the top. He drank of the milk until his thirst was quenched, and I covered him once more.

I heard it in his sigh: His weakened body was giving way to the lulling effects of the rich cream.

“Guard the door,” he slurred, commanding, “That way if they come seeking me, you will stop them and tell them you haven’t seen me here.”

Sleep claimed him then.

I stood at the entrance as he slept and withdrew a spike that secured the cords of my house. Approaching him softly, my hammer in my right hand, I heard his heavy breathing. Nothing could have pulled him out of that torpor. Nothing.

I drove the tent nail through his temple and into the ground.

“Come,” I called to his enemy, when he came in search of the dead captain. “I will show you the man you’re looking for.”

It was I to whom the LORD sent the last man standing. To me, Jael, was given the honor of taking down Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army and the enemy of God’s people.

Sisera, the captain of the armies of Jabin, king of Hazor, went to Jael, the wife of a Kenite, for refuge. She killed him with a tent nail to his temple after giving him milk to drink when he requested water (Judges 4:15-22).  Deborah, the judge of Israel, prophesied to Barak, the captain of the Israelite army, that the honor of the battle would not go to him–that Sisera would be delivered into the hand of a woman (Judges 4:9). They sang of Jael in Judges 5:24-27, and how she killed Sisera.

Confronting the Vengeful King

Story 3 – Stories of the Valiant

“My lady! My lady!”

“What is it?” I asked the young servant who was out of breath.

He huffed out, “It’s the master. He’s yelled at the messengers of the Hunted King who came to ask that they be given food from the feast. My lady, they were a wall to us shepherds and protected us and the sheep all the season. They were very good to us, and your husband, that son of Belial, has set certain death upon our heads!”

I dropped my work and ran, telling the servant who followed behind me, “Gather the donkeys. We cannot waste a moment!”

I went directly to the baskets, loaded with food for the celebration, and took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five cooked sheep, five bags of parched corn, a hundred clusters of the sun-kissed raisins, and two hundred lumps of pressed figs. While we loaded them onto the donkeys, I prayed. Would it be enough? Would any offering to the Lord’s Anointed be enough to excuse such treason?

I knew the answer, and my hands shook as I took the reins to set off for the camp of David and his warriors. David, of whom the women sang, “King Saul has killed his thousands, but David, his ten thousands!” Was there any hope of stopping the massacre that would come upon us all?

I told the servants, their donkeys laden with food, to go in front of me. Perhaps if he and his men saw the food first, their hunger would persuade them to listen. Perhaps then their fury might be placated.

But I had no real hope. My husband had acted as he always does—selfishly and without thought for the consequences. The consequences for this would be annihilation of every male in our household. What had begun as a celebration of our bounty was soon to be a day of mourning and loss. As I rode, the tears spilled down my cheeks. What could I do? What could I do?

My heart gave way as we rounded the hill to their camp. His warriors rose up and came out to meet us, already arrayed for battle. It was everything I feared. My husband’s actions had been the ultimate insult upon this great man, God’s chosen king.

Then I saw him. David. His handsome face was hardened with wrath and vengeance, and even in those seconds I could see the toll Saul’s relentless hunt had had on him. I slid from my donkey quickly and ran to him, throwing myself at his feet. I bowed my head to the ground, aware of the heat of the fierce fire in his eyes as he looked on me.

“On me, my lord! Let this reproach be on me! And let me, your servant—I beg you!—speak to you and please hear me!”

My breath caught in my throat, but I cried, lifting my head, “Please, my lord, think nothing of this man of Belial, Nabal. He’s just like his name means: foolish, and trouble is what he makes. But I, your servant, didn’t see your messenger when he came!”

Our lives were on the brink in that moment, I knew. And I’d hidden nothing from him, my king. I’d called out my own husband for what he was in the ears of his men and my husband’s servants. I knew what this king could take from me: everything. But he would pay more than I would; before our God, his own hand would be cursed with the blood of the innocent ones in my husband’s household. And that was what I told him.

“As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, seeing the Lord has stopped you in time from shedding blood and from getting revenge with your own hands,” I begged, “now let your enemies and those who seek your life be just like Nabal.”

I raised my arms, gesturing to the laden donkeys. “And now this gift, my lord, which I, your servant, have brought, let it be given to your young men who serve you.

“And,” I pleaded, “I beg you, forgive the wrong-doing of me, your servant!”

I praised him then for following our God, for doing what was righteous, and I feared less that he would lift his sword to me. I could see in his eyes that the fury was going out of him while I spoke the truth of what I knew of him—of dethroned Saul’s pursuit of him, how God would set him on the throne to rule over us, and how he would be found guiltless this day. Perhaps my words pleased him. Perhaps the look of me pleased him. I saw the admiration in his eyes and thanked my God that He had made me beautiful to look at and had tested me in the presence of my foolish husband many an hour that I would be ready to speak words of peace to this mighty man of God. These blessings of God prevented a great massacre that day.

Abigail pleads with David in I Samuel 25 verses 14-31. The women sing “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands” in I Samuel 18:7.

Thoughts on a Great Moral Leader

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! MLK was an incredible public speaker. He had a profound influence on his community, his state, and his country. In my opinion, history textbooks don’t portray the essence of his message or his understanding of the innate rights God has granted to humankind. King rose up and spoke against cruelty and injustice committed against Black Americans. He believed in acting out of love, and he believed that meant never backing down when an innocent citizen’s rights or freedoms were withheld or taken away.

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...
Martin Luther King on March 26, 1964 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve lived in southern states all of my life. King’s image in my formative years was that of a passionate man of hero status. Growing up, I thought everyone had the freedoms King fought for. I assumed everyone understood it is wrong to treat any man, woman, or child—created in God’s image!—as inferior to another man, woman, or child. Now I know that devaluing one innocent human life is the devaluing all of mankind as a worthless, disposable mass. King explained this within the context of society in a country: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We are all “tied in a single garment of destiny.”

MLK wasn’t a perfect man, but he didn’t let his mistakes stop him from using his influence for good. His Letter from Birmingham Jail is a chock-full example of his heart, his bravery, and his compassion. There was so much he’d seen and experienced in his life to make him bitter and angry, but he committed to acting morally in the face of injustice. His words inspired hope in his listeners, and they continue to inspire hope. It begs the question: If moral leaders inspire hope, what do immoral leaders inspire?

Monday? Again?

Yes, it’s Monday again. But it’s okay because this is not your plain old Monday. It’s “Thank God It’s Monday!” Really. Have you thanked God for Monday? Ever? Well, try it today and tell me how it goes.

I really am thankful. Without Monday, we’d have dreadful Tuesdays…which might bleed over into our Wednesdays. Saturdays would become Fridays…It would be tragic. And, if you think about it, Monday is a trooper. It takes the brunt of the bad moods every week. We wrestle with the inevitability of Monday as we get out of bed, and grumble about it to our friends and co-workers. Does it complain? Nope. It continues on its 24-hour trek like a good little soldier, and we don’t see it again for six more days.

While I thank God for Monday, I’m also glad I have a Creator of days to thank. I’m thankful He wants to be with me for eternity. I know I want to be with Him. When I envision Monday from the other side of the grave, then yes, I’m very, very thankful. It’s one more day to do things better, try a little harder, and give a little more of myself. I hope you’re having a fantastic Monday!