Christ In The Midst Of The Storm

When I was eleven, my stepfather took his own life. My mother was recovering from an operation and the grief she bore was impeding her healing. Thirteen days after my stepfather’s death was Christmas Day. I watched as my mother sat on a sofa in her gown, seemingly lost in her sorrow. I saw two of my uncles go to her and offer words of encouragement. She nodded as they talked to her, but returned to her somber demeanor after they moved away.

Christ knew what she needed and He sent me. I sat beside her and she looked down at me and tried to smile. Her eyes were haunted and filled with sadness. I looked up and said “Mom, you’ve got to be okay because I need you.” As she gazed at me through tears, I saw something new enter the dark brown eyes. It was resolve, and that was closely followed by determination. Afterward, she seemed to improve visibly each day. During her bereavement, Christ was there, and He saw exactly what she needed to facilitate her healing. What she needed was to be told how valuable and important she was to her worried child. It wasn’t long before she was her vigorous and feisty self again providing me with ample amounts of love and just the right amount of discipline (I can be feisty too).

Something else happened as well. A woman who believed, but had strayed from her commitment to God, returned to Him. And as I watched her carefully, it was through her faith and dedication that I believed. Where would my life have gone if not for her pain, recovery, and renewal of her faith? Where would I be if Christ had not whispered encouragement? Christ was there as He always will be during the tumultuous storms we face. If your life is in turmoil, call on Him, trust in Him, and let Him lead you out of the tempest. Those ever faithful nail-scarred hands are reaching.

Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. Romans 8:38

A REWARD FORTHCOMING (NOW RECEIVED*)

Miss Anna Mae was my mother’s best friend. They attended school together and were close during their entire adult lives. It was hard on Miss Anna Mae when my mother slipped into the grip of Alzheimer’s Disease. She had lost her own family and, as my mother drifted away, she lost her buddy as well.

For years she was the proprietor of the J. Stanley Adams Hardware Store which originally belonged to her father in Marion Station. She dedicated herself to that store and kept it open well into her eighties. I think she felt she was still honoring her father, but the store also gave her a chance to see and chat with people she knew. For much of her later years, I’m also sure she was often lonely.

Miss Anna Mae is now in the Genesis Center. She is 97 years-old. My mother spent seven years there before dying in 1995 and I vowed I would never set foot in the building again. A couple of weeks ago, I felt the need to break my vow and stopped to see how Miss Anna Mae was doing. I had not seen her in a few years. I find it difficult to visit Marion because of the “ghosts” that haunt me in my old home town.

My visit to Miss Anna Mae was a sad one. Her mind at this point seems trapped in the past. I tried to tell her who I was but, when I would mention my name, she would say, “I don’t know where he is now.” When I mentioned my mother’s name she said, “You know Agnes’ (my mother) mother died yesterday. Mary Howard (my grandmother)! It’s going to be hard on Agnes because she really loved her mother.” My grandmother died in 1975 and that seems to be the time period where Miss Anna Mae is residing now in her thoughts. However, when I started to get up from beside her chair, she immediately said, “Don’t go.” It made me realize that a small part of her was still here. When I did leave her room, I stood outside the door with tears creasing my cheeks.  In some ways the visit made old wounds fresh again.

If you’re saying “Howard, this is not only long, but it’s a downer,” here is the positive part. Miss Anna Mae was a life-long Christian. She is part of the rich fabric of the memories of my boyhood church. She faithfully played both the piano and organ for worship services. I’m sure she was playing “Only Trust Him” when I walked down the aisle on that most important Sunday. She followed Jesus as long as she could and I believe He is carrying her the rest of the way Home. I don’t know why she is still here despite her loss of memories, but I know it is God’s decision and not mine. When she does pass, I believe there is a little woman named Agnes that will be happy to see her in that far better place. I like to imagine they will walk down the golden streets and my mother will give her old friend a lesson on life eternal in God’s Kingdom. The world finally wore down Miss Anna Mae, but her faith has kept her soul intact. Her precious reward is forthcoming.

In honor of my very special mother, Mary Agnes Scott (1912-1995) and her very good friend, Anna Mae Pennewell. I learned about faith and friendship by watching how they lived their lives.

*Anna Mae (Adams) Pennewell passed away on Wednesday, March 2, 2016.  I smile knowing she and my mother are renewing their friendship again in God’s Kingdom.

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.–1 Corinthians2:9 (KJV) 

FINISHING THE RACE

When I was in my teens I would jog toward the end of my lane to a big red barn. There, I would turn and sprint at full speed the 2/10 of a mile back to the turn into my driveway.

It was glorious. I would imagine I was an Olympic sprinter heading for the finish line. The wind was roaring in my ears, my legs were churning, my arms were pumping, and imaginary fans were standing and chanting my name. Perhaps, even my favorite girl of the month was in the crowd, watching and admiring my amazing accomplishments. I was the “Marion Flash” taking the world by storm.

Today, I am 100 pounds heavier, my right knee has no cartilage, and I can’t even run to the refrigerator. No one is amazed, and sometimes, it seems few know I exist. Age is the great humbler, but I have gained wisdom and am happy in the knowledge my Savior is still watching my race.

Even though I’m a shell of my former self in many ways, Jesus has not turned away. Perhaps to Him, the final portion of the race is most important. Although my sprint has turned into a stumbling marathon, each step I take brings me closer to the finish line and my face to face meeting with Him; the One who gave his life for my redemption.

He is watching YOUR race as well and is just as eager to meet YOU at the finish line. Whether you are sprinting or walking painfully, join me in planning a celebration there.  Those daydreams of old earthly glory will be long forgotten.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus . . . .”—Hebrews 12-1&2a

SURVIVING PIRANHA HOUR

“Piranha Hour!”  Ah yes, I remember it well, having experienced it often during my 33 years in teaching.  Sometimes I felt devoured by students or players and other times by demanding administrators and, occasionally, even colleagues.  

Sometimes I felt I needed a twin.  Imagine that!  “Mr. Roberts, I’ve had my hand up for five minutes.”  “Howie, you haven’t given me your room inventory yet and  I need it now.”  “Howard, you promised me you’d refill the ink cartridge in my printer.”   “Mr. Roberts, have you got our tests graded yet?”  I heard all those “demands” and many more just as you have.  Those with spouses and children experience more “piranha hours” than I do.

You know what though, God got me through mine and He even taught me to enjoy those times when people needed me most.  Although we may sometimes feel we are about to be consumed, I personally have found it’s better than the opposite extreme; not feeling needed at all.  Since I’ve been retired, I’ve experienced those feelings too. 

God understands about “piranha hours” when millions of believers are beseeching him with their requests, and sometimes, demands.  Certainly, Jesus did. I’m certain God much prefers the commotion to the silence, when we don’t call on him and I know he understands my feelings. “God’s goodness is spurred by His nature—not by our worthiness.  He knows the value of people” (Max Lucado)! So, when the demands are heavy, chill for a minute and think how special it is when people need you, and perhaps make God feel needed by whispering a soft prayer of thanks.  Blessings!

“…but the crowds learned about [what Jesus was doing] and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.   Luke 9:11″

ABANDON THE SAFE WAY

How often have you taken the “safe” way during your life? Yes, it’s easy to do. We don’t take the job we’d really love because we are afraid we might fail. We don’t pursue the ONE we really love because we are afraid we will be spurned and hurt. We keep quiet and don’t offer our opinions because we are afraid we will be criticized or ridiculed. You know, the SAFE way! But, is that living?

When God gave us the gift of life, He attended for us to take that gift and run with it. In other words, we are expected to LIVE life. The idea of Paradise at the end of our life is a comforting one, but we are NOT intended to prop up our feet and wait for it.

One of my final years coaching basketball, I had a very weak team ability-wise. They would play hard at the beginning, but as they inevitably began to fall behind, they tended to surrender. I challenged them. I told them when they saw me stop coaching, they could stop playing. One girl told me at the end of the season, “When I wanted to quit, I would look over and see you were still working hard and I kept playing. I wanted to be like you.” I was flattered, but truthfully, my challenge to them was also a challenge to myself. I didn’t want anyone to be able to say, “I saw you had given up, so I did too.”

I love the line from the Dylan Thomas poem: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” It’s what I’m doing when I work out regularly at Planet Fitness. Yes, the end will still come and yes my body will eventually break down, but until then I’m going to be one dangerous old dude.

And so my friends dare to DREAM, dare to HOPE, and dare to LIVE. God expects nothing less from you.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:13-16

My thoughts were originally inspired by John Eldredge’s book, Wild At Heart

LIKE SHEEP WE WANDER

It can be pretty easy to get swept downstream by the raging waters of sin.  Temptation is all around us.  Society seems to want to approve more and more of what God disapproves.  Isaiah 53:6 reminds us, “We all have wandered away like sheep; each of us has gone his own way.”

Whenever I’ve felt myself getting in over my head, thankfully, a strong hand has reached and pulled me from the drowning pools.  As I looked for the face of the Shepherd, I’m sure I saw a gently shaking head and a touch of sadness, but as I looked closer, there was something marvelous about those eyes.  Eyes filled with the most amazing and forgiving love.  Grace being given to the drowning lamb.

The same eyes that follow my meandering path are fixed on yours as well.  Your leaps and your falls are viewed by a loving Master and the same hand is reaching to pull you from the flood.  Take that hand and hold on for dear life; for Eternity.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” John 10:14-15

Does Heaven Have A Room (For Me)

When I was teaching, far too many young people passed through my door already feeling defeated by life. In the early days of my career, students were grouped by perceived ability in “major” classes. I once had to cover a “C” section English class. When I prepared to make the assignment, a student said, “I know she didn’t leave much work for us. We’re a “C” section. We’re the dummies.” I wanted to correct him, but was held back by the catch in my throat that just might expose an urge to cry. So young to be jaded and beaten down by life! If such an individual had already given up on the world, would they believe they had any place in God’s Kingdom?

When Jesus said, “My father’s House has many mansions and I go to prepare a place for you,” he didn’t leave out anyone. Notice he didn’t say “some of you,” “only the rich,” or even “only the righteous.” If we believe there is a place for us in Heaven, we must make sure no one feels left out. There is room for all.

Max Lucado has a friend named Joy who teaches in the inner city. One quiet little girl from a difficult background, once lifted her hand and asked, “Mrs. Joy, is heaven for girls like me?”

Max writes, “I would’ve given a thousand sunsets to have seen Jesus’ face as this tiny prayer reached His throne. A prayer to do what God does best: To take a pebble and kill a Goliath. To take a peasant boy’s lunch and fed a multitude. To take three spikes and a wooden beam and make them the hope of humanity. To take the common and make it spectacular!”*

Christians, we have a call to march and encourage! We must make sure no one feels abandoned. Young or old! Rich or poor! Lost or righteous! Remember the children’s song: “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight” Faith, forgiveness, and discipleship lead all in the same direction; an eternal home in our Father’s Kingdom, and hopefully, a feeling of importance in this world as well.

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for YOU. John 14-2

DROP THE GUILT

Yes, I admit it. There have been times I have felt God wouldn’t forgive me and probably didn’t want to hear my whining. There have been times when I’ve sinned and immediately felt the stinging guilt and it’s accompanying embarrassment. Many times, when I’ve been prepared to seek forgiveness, Satan has quickly clamored in and attempted to discourage me. Through his lying lips, or what passes for them, have come the words, “God’s not interested in your guilt. He’s tired of your excuses and you’d be better off keeping your remorse to yourself.” LIAR! That is one of Satan’s many names. God loves us beyond our limited imagination and if we come to him with remorse he WILL FORGIVE. Yes, more than 70 times 7 and definitely more than we deserve. He never meant for us to carry guilt like a heavy weight on our backs. He has the strength to gently remove the burden that Jesus already bore. Ask him! ALL FORGIVING, that’s MY God and . . . YOURS.