Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Shovel, Loppers and a Broken Axe

I don't really like azalea bushes. 
 AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 05:  Azaleas are seen in  ...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
That's not a good statement from a girl who lives in a city known as the "Azalea City,"  but let me qualify my statement. I like azalea bushes when they grow wild and free, as you might find them out in the woods.  I do not like them when they have been carved into symmetrical boxes or rounded globes.

That is what prompted the removal of the azalea  bush, or perhaps I should say tree, from the front of our house. It was nineteen years ago this week we moved into our house and I don't remember how tall the azalea bush was then, but it had grown to my height and nearly obscured one of our living room windows. 

Now it is gone.

My husband, using his bare hands,  a shovel, a pair of loppers and a broken axe, removed the huge bush.  Most people when removing a 100+ pound root ball, choose to tie a rope to it and pull it out with a truck or a car, but not my husband.  He did it with those strong arms of his.  I sat in amazement watching as he hacked away at it.  Surprisingly,  the best and most frequent tool he used was the broken axe.

The axe blade was sound, but the handle was split in two.  My husband completely broke the axe handle until it was more like a hatchet with one huge blade.  He used that to free the tangle of roots entwined under the azalea bush.

What a wonderful picture that was to me of our Lord. 

How often our lives present a tangle of twisted roots and thorns and all we have to offer Him is a broken axe.  We look at the mess we have made of ourselves and doubt that the Lord could ever use us in any way whatsoever.  Sometimes He must "break us" a little more before we can truly be useful, removing all that will not conform to His purpose.  Then in His strong hands and through the power of His might, our broken little axe becomes a mighty tool to accomplish His eternal purpose, not only in our lives, put also in the lives of others.  While we may often doubt our own ability, we must never doubt His.

 "Being confident of this very thing, 
that He which hath begun a good work in you 
will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:"
Philippians 1:6

 "For it is God which worketh in you 
both to will and to do of His good pleasure." 
Philippians 2:13

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Feet Under the Table

There were seven pairs beside my own, and they were all different.

One pair of sweet little feet wears clear Princess shoes.  One small pair dangling from the chair  wears tennis shoes.

Two large pairs meet the Scripture's description of "beautiful" because they are ministers of the gospel of Christ.  One pair travels into the courtroom on heels to plead her case and fight for the rights of her clients.

One pair wears the boots of a Marine and can stealthily capture you without your knowledge, until it happens.  The last pair wears heels or flip-flops and captures you with a camera lens instead.

Different feet, but all a gift.  The most precious gift I was given the night of my birthday was to have these seven people, all of whom I love dearly, rest their feet under my table.  To have my husband, all my children and grandchildren and our dear friend to share the evening with me was something I had desired so much and it gave me incredible joy.

There were gifts on the table --gifts I truly loved -- but the the best gift, the gift I will always cherish, were those feet under the table.  As we bowed our heads for prayer before we ate, I thought of how blessed I was to have these very special, very wonderful people in my life.  Each of them is so incredible in their own right, my heart was overcome with thanksgiving and love.  There was no way I could come close to expressing what I felt that night, not then and not now.

As much as I feel emotion toward that experience, it points my mind toward another supper with another family, yet to come.  There will be a day when the Lord Jesus shares a supper with His family and I know He is desiring that moment as we are.

Before the Lord's Supper He told the disciples,  "With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer," (Luke 22:15).  Now He waits, I believe with that same desire, to share the Marriage Supper of the Lamb with His children.  Perhaps He waits to see all His children's feet under the table as I did that night, to have them all home, safe and under His wings.  It reminds me of the last line in the hymn, "Brethren We Have Met to Worship":

Then He'll call us home to Heaven, at His table we'll sit down;
Christ will gird Himself and serve us with sweet manna all around.

"Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God." Revelation 19:7-9

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Friday, September 16, 2011

User Error

For three years I worked in my hospital's computer department.  I had been "loaned" to them, much as one department loans another an IV pump or a pulse oximeter.  It was a challenging and stimulating time during which I learned much that I use to this day.

One of my duties was to take calls from the nurses in the hospital on computer problems.  Over fourteen
laptopImage by utnapistim via Flickryears ago, our nurses were new then to computerized documentation and to dealing with computers on a large scale in their workplace.  When one of the laptops they used for charting would not do what they wanted it to, I would often hear the same thing, "It's broken."  No detail would be given because many of them just didn't understand it enough to give me any detail.

The great majority of the time when I heard this, the issue actually ended up to be what is called "User error".  Which simply means the person using the computer did something wrong to receive the error message or lack of response they did. (I can't tell you how many times the problem was simply that the computer needed to be turned on.)

It was often impossible to convince the staff that "User error" could be the problem, however.  They believed and expected the computers to break, to malfunction and to just be ornery and hateful to them.  I learned it was futile to try to convince them of the "User error", so I would just go about fixing the problem.  They began to call me even when I wasn't on call.  In fact, even after I had stopped working in the computer department and returned to Labor & Delivery, one nurse in another unit called L&D one night to get my home phone number.

"She knows how to fix our computers," the frantic nurse told our L&D night shift nurse.  I was so glad our  nurse knew better than to give out my home phone number (which would have then been posted in nursing units throughout the hospital).  She protected me and I appreciated it.

The nurses would have been much better off if they had adopted the attitude that the computer doesn't usually malfunction, that it isn't really ornery or out to get them.  I have been able to help facilitate this attitude in L&D and I frequently hear "I don't know what I'm doing wrong" instead of "This computer is broken!"

Sometimes when we open the Scriptures we read things we don't understand or can't explain.  We are so much better off if at the very beginning we confess to the Lord that we agree with the Bible when it says,  that "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times," (Psalms 12:6).

We are better to believe the problem is not with the Scriptures, but with our limited understanding.  I have often heard it said that the Bible is the only book which comes "with it's Author", and we know the desire of the Lord is that we understand and apply His Word to our lives.  So if we find a passage that is difficult or confusing to us, let us follow the advice of the Apostle James:

 "If any of you lack wisdom,
 let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, 
and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." 
James 1:5 
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Bite

It all began very innocently.

We had recently moved into our house and I was laying sod in a portion of our backyard.  I picked up yet another square of St. Augustine grass, wiggled it into place and "Ouch!" I had been bitten on the back of the hand.

Living in the Deep South, I have had more than my share of fire ant bites, so I wasn't too concerned, I just went back to my sod.  Within a few minutes, however, the ant bite once again began to command my attention.  My hand was unusually uncomfortable in my glove and removing it, I was startled to see it swollen remarkably in only a few minutes.  

My hand ended up swelling up a couple inches.  It took more than one dose of Benadryl to stop the swelling, and it was a couple days before my hand returned to normal.  Once healed,  I did't give it another thought.  I should have.

A few months later, we went to the beach on vacation. Once we arrived, our children were anxious to be in the pool, so we unloaded our suitcases and took them for a swim.  We had noticed the carcasses of bugs floating in the water, but we  weren't aware they were fire ants -- I didn't know any ant but the queen had wings. (Apparently, during the spring and summer, winged fire ants go on mating swarms.  Shortly after mating, the male dies and the female becomes the new queen flying from 100 feet to 10 miles to start a new colony.)

We entered the pool, trying to avoid the "bugs". Then, "Ouch!"  I felt a burning bite to my hip.  Obviously not all the carcasses were of dead ants.

Within a minute or two I was on fire.  My scalp was burning, my hip was burning and I had this weird uneasy feeling.  Thinking perhaps I had gotten some chemicals on my hands, I went to the hotel room to wash off.  Before I could make it to the room, I started itching all over.  Not a friendly, mild itching, but a serious, frantic type itching.  I took a bath and thankfully had the presence of mild to take some Benadryl.  I believe that was the last of the "presence of mind".

By the time I stepped out of the tub, my hip was swollen to the point the place of the bite could not be seen.  Not only that, but a lovely red map had begun to break out all over my body.  I couldn't scratch hard or fast enough.  I felt awful and I felt sick.  I took another dose of Benadryl even though I had already begun to feel nauseated.  I felt feverish and the thermometer showed my temperature was climbing.  In spite of my sister-in-law's urging, I insisted I was "fine" and didn't need emergency care. I certainly knew the Lord's protection that day.   The only symptom I didn't have was trouble breathing.

  Once back home I relayed my story to a doctor at work who promptly wrote out a prescription for an Epinephrine-pen and urged me to make an appointment with the allergist now.  The allergist I then saw told me my blood level was eight times what it needed to be for me to be allergic to fire ants.  I'll never forget his next sentence.

"If you get bit again, you may die."

Two years of allergy shots, and I don't have to be scared of where I step anymore, only careful, and the Epi-pen is never far away.  I have actually been bitten since then with not even a swollen spot to show for it.

My point is, I would not have known the big reaction without the bite on the hand first, what is known as "sensitization".  That first bite on the hand -- and all the myriads of little bites before that -- is what ultimately what made it possible, when everything in my body and my environment where perfectly aligned for my allergy to form, to lead to the big reaction.

None of us comes to Christ without first having some form of "sensitization".  Perhaps someone shares the Gospel with us, or we hear or read the Scriptures.  Maybe it is that Mother or Grandmother, Father or Grandfather who has prayed for us day by day by day, but somewhere along the line, we have had our first contact with Christ.  This makes us ready, susceptible to that moment when every circumstance of our lives is perfect for us to make the decision to come to know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Let us remember, that while sometimes we may be part of the "big bite", most often we are the little bite.  Sometimes we are the one praying, or sharing a Scripture or giving a kind word or helping hand.  All things things work together to prepare that one for their "big reaction" to the Lord Jesus.

 "For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry," 
1 Corinthians 3:9

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I have a new pair of earrings.

They dangle and sparkle and have many different aspects to them.  We bought them while on vacation in the northeastern part of our state and were made by a local artisan in the area where we were staying.  They are the workmanship of her hands.  They bear the signs and imprint of her creativity and design, her thought and execution.  They are mine, but they were hers before they were mine.

The Scriptures tell us that as Christians, we are the product of a Workman as well:

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves:
 it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, 
which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."  Ephesians 2:8-10 

We are the workmanship of the Lord Jesus Christ.  

He has created us in "righteousness and true holiness", unto the Glory of God.  Our spirits, joined to the Holy Spirit through our faith in the Lord Jesus, have been created as "new creatures". The old things have been passed away and we have become new.  We are intended to bear the  signs and imprint of our Creator's creativity and design, His thought and execution, His sacrifice and His love.  Those looking upon our lives are meant to be able to tell the "Artisan" who has created us for we were "before ordained" that we should walk in good works that would clearly identify us as His.

May all who look upon us be able to tell the design of our Workman's and that we belong to Him.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Stormy Wind

It was thirty-two years ago yesterday and it was a night I don’t believe I will ever forget.  I just knew I was going to die.  

Hurricane Frederic was headed our way.

We had left our tiny little apartment to stay with my husband’s aunt, uncle and his Mom, but upon calling my parents, realized they had not gone to my sister’s house as I had originally supposed.  We decided to cross town to stay with them instead.  Even though it was still early in the evening the wind was already strong and my husband could barely keep his truck on the road. Even the traffic lights were already beginning to sway in the wind. 

As the night progressed and the wind increased, we listened to the forecasters on a little battery operated radio.  The well-meaning voices from the little box began to give updates to all of us listening in the dark. 

“Azalea Road Middle school has been demolished,” they said.  Why, that was just down the street!

Another update: “The Howard Johnson Hotel on Highway 90 doesn’t exist anymore!”  I could almost throw a rock at that hotel! 

My mind took as straight a course as the hurricane.  If those buildings didn’t exist anymore, and they were so close to where we were, surely we could not survive the night either.  The sounds from outside seemed to confirm the forecaster’s doom: the cracking of tree trunks and limbs, the sounds of winds that could only be tornadoes; breaking of the glass in the windows.  I was petrified.

Perhaps the thing that scared me the most was that my father seemed frightened, too, but not of the wind.  He was a man of the sea, water and wind did not frighten him, but fire did.  The candles we used to illuminate the house made him feel uneasy.  As a twenty-two year old, I did not understand at the time that if the house were to catch on fire, there would be no fire-fighters to come to the rescue.  We would be on our own until the storm passed.  My father paced up and down --and up and down-- the length of the house and his refusal to be still only heightened my own fear.

Frederic weakened slightly before it made landfall on Dauphin Island at 3:00am on September 13, with 125mph sustained winds, making it a strong Category 3 hurricane at the time.

The night passed, though, and we all lived through it. The weeping of the night was replaced with the joy of knowing that, even though there was much to be rebuilt, we were safe.

My husband and I walked the eight miles to our tiny little apartment – we walked because the windshields of our cars were cracked with rocks.  We walked because you couldn’t drive far, every road was blocked with huge oaks and tall pines, uprooted or snapped in two.   As we walked, we were amazed at the devastation which could occur in one night to our town.

The next two weeks without power seems like ages ago now.  The constant whine of the chainsaws and the endless menus of barbecue, as everyone grilled what was thawing in their freezers, is now a fading memory.

 I don’t know what the purpose of that storm was, but I know the Lord had a specific purpose in it. The one thing I can be certain of is that Hurricane Frederic, in some way, even in all the destruction and fury leased upon our city, fulfilled the will of the Lord.  

For many it caused them to trust Him in ways they would have never trusted Him otherwise – especially for this young girl hearing her  neighborhood was being demolished!

“Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps:
Fire and hail; snow and vapour; stormy wind fulfilling His word:”
Psalms 148:7,8

Monday, September 12, 2011

Look for Me. . .

Sullivan Ballou was a Rhode Island attorney who immediately entered the military in 1861 after the beginning of the Civil War.  On July 14, 1861 he sat down at Camp Clark, Washington to write a letter to his wife, Sarah.

Here is part of Sullivan Ballou's now famous letter:

Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long.  And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us.  I have, I know, but few and small chains upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me -- perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed.  If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name.  Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you.  How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been!  How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness. . .

But O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights. . .always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.  Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again. . .

A week later, at the first Battle of Bull Run, Sullivan Ballou was killed.  Sullivan was 32 and Sarah was 24 at the time. His letter to Sarah had never been mailed, but was found on his person when Governor William Sprague of Rhode Island traveled to Virginia to retrieve the remains of his state's sons who had fallen in battle. 

Sarah never remarried even though she lived to be eighty.

Many hearing Sullivan Ballou's letter to his wife are touched by the loving sentiment.  How much more should we be touched by the sentiment contained in the love letter written to us by the Lord.  Every time we open His word, we should "look for Him".  His story is on every page, from the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation and every single one in between.  As one preacher has said, if we have not found Him there, we have not seen the passage rightly.

Not only that, but just as Sullivan Ballou told Sarah he would be the soft breeze on her cheek, the Scriptures tell us that the whole creation expresses the invisible things of the Lord, being clearly seen.  We should begin to train our eyes to see  and our ears to see these expressions of our Lord all around us so that we know that "soft breeze upon our cheek" is an expression of the love of God to us.

"Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.  For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:"
Romans 1:19,20

Friday, September 9, 2011

So Great!

I encounter this gentleman every now and then as I travel the hallways of the hospital going to the lab, to pharmacy or to wherever I need to go to pick up things for our unit.  He works in the housekeeping department and he is always friendly and cheerful.

One evening I needed to go to the Central Sterile Department.  It is just about as far away from our unit --both vertically and horizontally -- as is possible.  To get there, I must go down a very long hallway. I had just turned down this hallway and noticed him far at the other end.  As usual, he looked happy.  As my steps continued  I could tell he was humming a tune to himself and I vaguely recognized it as a hymn.

It is my habit, when greeting someone in the hospital, and being asked the ubiquitous question, "How are you?" to answer with the response, "I am great!"  But as this gentleman and myself grew closer, and his song became more evident, his mood infected my own to the degree that when he asked me the question I did not give my usual answer.

Instead I said, "I am so great!"  I know grammatically it was a strange sentence, but it perfectly captured how I felt. I had even drawn out the "so" as if it had four or five "o"s in it for emphasis.

He laughed at my response and said, "So great!  That's wonderful!"  Assuming my shift was almost over, when it was actually just beginning, he said, "I hope that bubbles over into your dreams."

"Bubbles over into your dreams."  It was my turn to laugh at his response.  We had by now passed each other and continued down the opposite ends of the hallway chuckling at each other as we went.  We had shared very little with each other, but that very little did so very much to our attitudes.  I know I felt even better than when I started, and I could tell he did too.

What we say, how we say it, even the way we carry ourselves without saying anything can change another person's day.  A look, a smile, a kind word, opening a door, helping to carry a load. . .it takes so little to do so much.  Often that is then multiplied and passed on to someone else.

We have the Lord of Love and the Lord of Life living in our hearts.  Let us let Him "bubble over" from us to others to day.  He multiplied loaves and fishes to fed the bellies of the multitude, let us allow Him to multiply the smiles and songs in us to fed the souls of individuals we meet each day in our lives.

"A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance:"
Proverbs 15:13