Saturday, October 31, 2015

Angels Rejoice

I tell you that in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!” In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. – Luke 15:7-10 (NASB)

Within days of starting my new job I knew Claudia was the reason I was there. I didn't know specifics until a few months had passed and she started asking me questions. Not just questions - QUESTIONS. What do you do when your co-worker comes in Monday morning and says, “I read the book of Revelation over the weekend”??? She asked tough, theological questions, and many days I would hide in my office thinking, “Please don't let her ask me anything today!”

The amazing thing was, no matter what she asked, God gave me an answer. My mouth would open and words came out, and afterwards I thought, “Where did that come from?” I think the Lord taught me more through Claudia, than she ever learned from me.

Claudia didn't like Jesus. Her past had left a bitter taste in her mouth, and many of her questions were trying to reconcile Jesus and his place in the Bible. But God has promised that if you seek Him, you will find Him, and she was certainly seeking. After several months she went with me to a revival service and prayed to receive, Jesus. Satan attacked her with doubts almost immediately, and since she lived 35 miles from me and no longer worked at my office, it was difficult to encourage her. Her letters asked still more questions, but I could tell with each one that she was truly saved and the Holy Spirit was working in her life. When she was dying from cancer, she wrote me a letter in which she gushed about her love for Jesus. They were words I never expected to hear from her, and I was humbled to see what God had done in her life.

What God taught me through Claudia was to let Him work. I honestly had my doubts as to whether Claudia would ever get saved, but God taught me to get out of the way. Let Him do the talking, let His Holy Spirit do the work. Many years later I learned something else about how God works.

Since moving I've kept up with things back home by watching the online newspaper. A few weeks ago I saw an obituary that brought me up short. More than twenty years ago I worked with a man - we'll call him Brad – who obviously needed the Lord. I witnessed to him when I could, but it wasn't long before he moved on to another job. Still needing the Lord.

I hadn't heard anything about him in those twenty years, though often the Lord brought him to my mind, and I prayed for him. And then I read his obituary. The opening words led to an outburst of joy.

“. . . went home to be with his Lord.”

Seven simple, beautiful words. And I rejoiced.

Someone asked me how I knew it was true. After all, it could be just something the family put in. I told them, I knew it was true. The Spirit confirmed with my spirit that it was true, and there was no doubting the joy I felt. I had questions, though. Questions that will only be answered in eternity. How long had he been saved? For years? Or did he get saved during his fight with cancer that the obituary mentioned? How had the Lord changed his life?

I don't know the answers to those questions, but I learned something else about how God works: It's not on our timetable. I didn't get to see the results of my prayers, but that wasn't what was important. Brad's salvation and his eternal life in heaven were what mattered.

Then I started thinking about all the other people I have worked with over the years. I never hid the fact that I was a Christian and active in my church. To some I gave a testimony, but never saw the fruit. What about Norma or Marilyn? They were in their 50s at the time, and it's been 30-odd years, so they've probably already gone on. Did they come to know the Lord?

And what of the others? The ones I never gave a word of testimony to. They far outnumber the people I spoke to. They knew I was a Christian, but was my life an adequate representation of the Lord I served? In many cases – far more often than I would like to remember – I know that it was not. What of those people?

As much as my heart rejoices in Brad's salvation, it also breaks for the people I failed. What do I do about that? Paul – who hunted and jailed Christians and stood by while Stephen was martyred – wrote in Philippians 3:13 “. . . forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.”

Just as I continued to pray for Brad over the years, I need to continue to remember the other people who have been part of my life in prayer and just let God work. Paul went on to say in verse 14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Like the woman who looked for her lost coin, I need to also keep searching. For the next Brad or Norma or Marilyn or Claudia that God might bring into my life. The angels rejoice over the finding of these “coins.” Our hearts should break so much for their lostness that we do not rest until we have found them. And then we get to rejoice with the angels.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Good Neighbors

And He answered and said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” – Luke 10:27

Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” I would add, “Better yet, good neighbors make good neighbors.” And I've had a lot of them. Of course, when you live in the country, “neighbor” takes on a new meaning. I count as neighbors people who lived up to two miles away. As Jesus went on to explain in the parable of the Good Samaritan, being a neighbor is a state of mind. Or should I say, heart?

I spent a lot of time with my neighbors. We rode our bicycles around the yards, up and down the road, even to the local market one mile away. My best friend Holly and I often rode the 3 miles to Rockwood. It was uphill coming back, so we always made Dad come to pick us up and bring us home. We spent a lot of time on the road. It was a secondary road with little traffic, so it became our playground. Either my mom or their mom knew approximately where we were, but in those days it wasn't necessary to keep a real close eye on your kids. Although I do remember there was a kidnapping about 25 miles away, and afterwards my neighbor's mom made us practice screaming, “No, no, no!” and running away.

A lot of freedom came with life in the country. Jacy and Kellie Snyder and their niece Mandy and I spent a lot of time walking in the pasture and woods behind our barn. I don't recall ever telling Mom when we went off on one of our hikes. Those were the days.

The first leg of the hike was through open pasture. Somewhere along the way we would encounter the cows. When I was a kid we usually only had 4 or 5 cows, and they were quite docile. They stared bullet holes into us as we walked by and once in a while would follow us for a short distance, but unless we were offering food really couldn't care less about us.

There was that one time, though . . .

Cows can be dumb, but they do seem to have an internal clock, and usually headed back to the barn when it was milking / supper time. If they didn't show, someone would give a call, and it wouldn't be long before they would come strolling through the pasture. Every now and then, however, if they had an extra good patch of grazing or if they just decided to be childish and ignore us, someone would have to go find them. At that time my brother was milking 16 or more cows, and one day my nephew Glenn and I had the task to go get the cows. We found them at the far end of the pasture, nearly a half mile away. They needed some encouragement to head home, and Glenn “encouraged” them by running at them and yelling them into a stampede. Not a bad idea. UNLESS YOUR AUNT IS STANDING IN THE DIRECTION THE COWS ARE STAMPEDING. I had only seconds to react with my own yelling and arm waving and managed not to get trampeled.

But I digress. This is not a cow story.

More than half of our fenced-in pasture area was wooded. There was a makeshift road that could only be traversed by a tractor and farm equipment. Or a pickup truck if you're feeling brave. At the far end of the road was a large field that alternated between hay, corn and oats. We wouldn't be going that far, though.

But first we had to survive the “road.” There were two areas where runoff from a marshy area ran through. Depending on how much rain we'd had, these areas could have standing water, or more often 6 or 7 inches of sticky mud. At the side of the road some old boards had long ago been placed to cross the mudhole. The boards sank into the mud when you stepped on them, but they kept you from losing your shoes.

A short distance later there was a turn-off that led to the natural gas pipeline easement that went through our property. Then it was back into the woods and onto cow paths for the best part of the walk. If you've ever seen cows walking anywhere, you know that cows walk in single file (unless my nephew has stampeded them!). There's a designated leader, usually the pushiest one of the group, and the others dutifully follow. Whether it's in open pasture or through a wooded area, they almost always follow the same path. You would think cows would make a nice wide path. After all, look at the size of them. But their feet are relatively small, so the path might only be a foot across. It still made hiking much easier.
These are not my rocks (but I like the picture).
Unfortunately, we never thought to take pictures
of our little paradise.
Some tour guides we would have been.

From this point on, the path led down to a creek crossing. The cows waded through the shallow water, but our preference was to walk across the large rocks in the middle of the creek. We didn't always make it across. The rocks were the right size for several people to sit on and enjoy the sound of several miniature waterfalls. Really miniature: maybe only a foot drop, or several falls in a row of only a few inches. To us it was paradise.

On the other side of the creek and just off another cow path there was a gigantic wonder: a trailer-sized boulder jutting out from the ground. Years of rain and snow had made the top smooth, climbable, and a great place to have a picnic or just hang out. We thought our nature scene was so remarkable that we discussed having a park there and charging a fee for guided tours on the cow paths.

Many years later I looked for these magnificent vistas of my past. No cows had been in the woods for years, and the cow paths were grown over and barely discernible. I made it down to the creek and looked for my faithful rocks and waterfalls. The thing about running water, especially in a climate where the water freezes and thaws in the winter, is that it causes erosion. My rocks weren't so impressive now, and the waterfalls mere dribbles. And the trailer-sized boulder didn't seem so big anymore either. Are water and weather powerful enough to shrink my majestic rocks? Or was my memory playing tricks on me? People didn't carry cell phone cameras in their pockets in those days, and sadly I never thought to take pictures, so the only images that remain are those in my head - whether distorted or not.

I'd like to give a shout out to the wonderful country neighbors we always knew we could depend on for a helping hand. In many ways, though separated by several states, we know we still can. So here they are: the Snyder's, the Ansell's, the Berkey's, the Beener's, the Spangler's, the Schrock's, the Gerber's, the Pletcher's, the Lyon's. Many of the older generation, like my Mom, have gone on. In some cases total strangers now live in their houses, or the houses are no longer standing; but in my memory the houses still stand and the neighbors live on.

I have new neighbors now. Both the physical kind and the biblical kind. But the neighbors of my childhood will always have a special place in my heart. We had no need for fences.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Story of the Dead Dog

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou are with me: thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

There was a big, white dog that lived in my Mom's room for several months. I never had to feed it, never had to walk it, never heard it bark. In fact, I couldn't even see the dog. But Mom could. Many mornings I walked into her room to get her up, and she would tell me about the big, white dog. I told her there wasn't a dog in her room, but she would say, “Yes, there is. I see it.” After a while I stopped arguing with her.

Mom had her first serious stroke in May 2014. I think she'd had some small ones over the years, because she would lose certain abilities, often from one day to the next. But with the stroke in May, she lost her ability to feed herself, to stand on her own, and some ability to communicate. As the year went on the losses continued to grow.

She had other hallucinations, even before her stroke. They usually occurred when she was running a fever or fighting a UTI. Human instinct is to try to clear up the delusions. Some of the things she told me I thought might have been dreams that she thought were real. I tried to tell her that, but there was no convincing her otherwise. I found that the best thing to do was to change the subject. There was a lot of changing the subject after Mom's stroke.

Mom didn't always respond to us when we talked to her, but as we waited while she sat on the potty, I would talk to the family member who was helping me that day, and she listened. We knew she listened, because every now and then she would say something that was right on topic. Often if we were talking about needing to pick peas or beans or tomorrow, she would say, “I'll help you.” And we knew that if she were physically able, she would have.

That was probably the most difficult thing about Mom's illness. She was a hard worker. She loved to cook and garden and grow her flowers. I've taken over all of those hobbies. Working in the yard and garden during her illness was my therapy. I've also become the pie baker in the family, so when I get a craving, one or more of the other households reaps the benefits.

Mom lost most of her ability to express emotion with her stroke. It was months before she laughed, and the source of her amusement was her great-granddaughter. Nothing could brighten Mom up like a visit from McKayla, who was 1 ½ - 2 ½ years old during mom's illness. She came with her mom nearly every morning to help get grandma out of bed. She loved to push the button to lower the bed and learned to pull the blankets back. She knew the routine, and woe to us if we tried to depart from it. McKayla also learned that I usually had “lots” in the house. That was her word for chocolate, and she rarely left the house without asking for lots.

My favorite memories are the glimpses I got of the mom I knew before the stroke. When the children from church came at Christmas to sing carols, Mom sang with them! On another evening we had just put her to bed, and I was talking to my sister-in-law about making chili for supper. Mary Ann commented that my brother Ron didn't like it. I was surprised – I know mom made it often as I was growing up. So I asked mom, “Didn't Ron eat chili when you made it?” She said, “Sure, he did.” And it was her clear, lucid voice talking.

One other night after she was in bed I was looking for a band-aid. I couldn't find any in the bathroom, and knew there were some in her room, so I slipped in. When I saw she was awake I told her I needed to get a bandage for my thumb. She said, “What's wrong with it?” Again as clear as a bell. I told her I had a paper cut. She said, “Oh, that gets sore.” As the 11 months of her illness went on those moments became few and far between.

And the white dog? One morning it was dead. She told me when I walked in her room. “There's a dead dog in my bed.” After a few attempts to convince her otherwise, I told her I would call my brother to bury it. That seemed to satisfy her. When my brother came to the house, the first thing she told him was about the dead dog in her bed. He said, “I took care of it.” We never heard another word about that dog.

In February of this year I began attending a Caregiver's Support Group - Lunch with Ray. We don't really have lunch, but usually get some of Ray's delicious cookies. We meet at Sunnyside Baptist Church the 1st Wednesday of each month. At the moment the time is 10:30 a.m., but we're considering adding an evening meeting for people who work. It's a great ministry, and if you live in the Toccoa, GA area and are a caregiver, or know a caregiver who needs information or emotional or spiritual support, this is the place to be. Even if your loved one is in a nursing home or doesn't even live in the same state, you still have the burdens and concerns. We've received some great legal and financial information. Not to mention fellowship. Check the facebookpage for updates and information.

It's been six months since mom passed, but I continue to go to the meetings. It's a morning out, there are good cookies and great company. Most of all, it's an excuse to see Mr. Ray Whiten, our fearless leader and a beautiful saint of God. Even if you don't have any dead dogs in anyone's bed, you'll find the group worthwhile. We all need a helping hand when we're going through the valley of the shadow of death with someone we love.