Category Archives: A Patchwork of Little Thoughts

The Lady with Ten Thousand Hats, and the Lady with One

Two beautiful ladies took flight from their earthly homes this week. One was the mother of a dear friend, Brian. Brian has struggled with the effects of treatment ever since being diagnosed with cancer at age twenty-six. He’s now exceeded all records for surviving his type of treatments! Brian’s mother, Arlene, feeling compassion for young victims of cancer, began crocheting and sewing hats for patients of all ages, and over the years supplied more than 10,000 hats to help counter chemo challenges for cancer patients throughout southwest Michigan. Arlene died at a “ripe old age,” full of faith and good works, and is home in heaven with her Lord!  The other lady is a generation younger—younger than I am— and hardly seems “old enough” to die! She was vivacious and full of life until very recently, when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Last month, when I took dinner over to her and her husband, she was wearing a hat just like the kind Arlene used to make, but otherwise she still appeared and acted completely normal. Today, just a few weeks later, she is gone. Shocking and sad.  Two ladies. Two generations. Two very different circumstances, and yet they shared a lot in common. Both lived and died well. Both left grieving loved ones behind. Both had learned the secret of peace in passing from this life to the next: They were looking unto Jesus as the author and finisher of their faith. 

Are you looking ahead and noticing that death is the inevitable end of life on this earth? Whether or not you have a terminal illness at this point, if you—like me—are over sixty, it’s probably occurred to you that none of us are going to live in our present bodies forever. After all, as we grow older, who would even want to continue inhabiting these increasingly fragile and limited frames forever? Or, what about religions that teach an endless cycle of reincarnation? Groundhog Day or not, I am thankful God “numbers our days,” promising a discreet (though unknown) amount of time on earth before we are transported to be with Him, either as our Savior or as our Judge.

If you’re resting in Jesus as your Savior, then praise God! If you are unsure what will happen after you die or feel unprepared to face God, then may I invite you to look to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation? God alone can fill that black hole in our hearts with light. He alone can give us peace and assurance. Only His Holy Spirit can cause us to be born again into eternal life within the kingdom of God. Will you look to Jesus?

“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”
(—Helen Howarth Lemmel, 1863-1961)
O soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Saviour,
And life more abundant and free.
(Chorus):
Turn you eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion
For more than conqu’rors we are!
(Chorus)
His word shall not fail you He promised;
Believe Him and all will be well.
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Reflections on Christmas Trees by Grace Truman

Have you got your Christmas tree up yet? Traditionally, we set up a tree on the weekend after Thanksgiving and take it down when we ring in the new year. Decorating a tree is one of my favorite things about the holidays, because every ornament has a story. We have bulbs that belonged to both sets of our parents, clumsily painted ornaments made as gifts from our children during Sunday school days and as home-school projects, and gifts from friends. Our latest additions include a hand-blown glass ornament from Venice (sent by our kids who were stationed in Italy for three years) and two beaded hearts given to us over Thanksgiving by one of our grand daughters. Every Christmas tree tells a story, don’t you think?

I have a sweet friend in my writers’ group who wrote her reflections on Christmas trees, and I liked them so well that I asked permission to share them:

“DISCLAIMER: What follows are my personal preferences.  I am not implying that ‘my way’ is right and others’ preferences are wrong.  We are each free to make our own choices—hopefully in accordance with the principles of Scripture.                                                       Choose Real

“Growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I was blessed to be surrounded by nature and blessed to have a father who loved both the Creator and His creation.  Following in my dad’s footsteps, I grew to love the outdoors as much as he did and spent as much time as possible outside. We didn’t have much money, but we did have five acres of property.  Huge white spruce trees grew on our land, along with numerous young trees. Every year, when Christmas drew near, we would walk around and find the best six or seven foot spruce for our Christmas tree.  This created my preference for a real tree. My husband shares this preference.

“Choosing real carries over to the rest of my life.  I love unpainted wood and things made from nature. I don’t like artificial sweeteners or flavorings, silk flowers, or anything plastic.  I choose not to dye my hair or wear makeup, although a friend says that if the barn needs painting, we should paint it.                                                  Choose Homemade

“At one of my bridal showers, my best friend gave me six Christmas tree ornaments that she made.  They still go on the tree every year. After my husband and I were married, money was tight, so I made a treetop star out of cardboard and tinfoil for our first Christmas together.  That, too, still goes on the tree every year. Through the years, we have received more handmade decorations from friends and family. There are beautiful cross stitched ornaments made over thirty years ago.  There are ornaments made by my late sister and a friend who now has dementia. There are knitted, crocheted, tatted, and penny rug decorations. The ornaments our son made in elementary school are on the tree, along with the popcorn string our family strung when he was little.  We, as a family, also made tree decorations from cinnamon and applesauce and salt dough. When I hang each ornament on the tree, I think about the person who made it. We do concede to store bought lights, though.

“Our preference for handmade shows during the whole year.  We decorate with Native American baskets, quilts, and original art.  I cook from “scratch,” using organic ingredients as much as possible.

“My husband sometimes describes people as “store bought” or “homemade.”  By that, he distinguishes between those who seem to focus on possessions and looking good, and those who care more about being genuine and loving others than their looks.

“There is a handmade magnet on my refrigerator that says, ‘Happiness is homegrown.’  I think true happiness comes from love for God and the people in our lives. One way to show that love is by the work of our hands.”

—Grace Truman

I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works;
I muse on the work of thy hands”
  (Psalm 143:5).

Don’t Discount Discount

For the past twenty-five years, we’ve always used Discount Tire to keep our cars rolling smoothly. If Discount sells you tires, they take care of your tires, repair your tires, air your tires, balance and rotate your tires, and let you know when you need new tires. We’ve always been very satisfied with their service and appreciate their help.  Also, it’s traditionally not been hard to get service there, so I was caught totally off guard (or should I say off balance?) when they failed to let me know my new tires had arrived. The tires were supposed to come within a week, so after about 10 days, I started calling  . . . and calling . . . and calling!  No answer. After a week of no answer, I decided to pay them a visit. There was a long line, but I waited patiently for my turn. “Yes, the tires are here, but we just haven’t had any time to call, and now appointments are running more than a month out. However, if you’ll come in at 8:00 am tomorrow (or maybe even a few minutes before), we’ll try to get your tires on while you wait…shouldn’t take more than a half an hour.”  That sounded good, so I arrived at 7:50 am, thinking I’d be first in line. In fact, I was already fifth in line, and by 8:00 am, there were nine plus more people getting into line behind me, some reluctantly emerging from their warm cars. The line zigzagged back and forth through the little waiting area, as it was below freezing outside.  They had my car done in not much more than an hour . . . just long enough for me to have a new appreciation for what a good tire company does for its customers, and the importance of having good tread on our tires so we don’t slide off the road in icy weather.  The wait also got me to thinking about how often I take my church for granted, expecting it to “be there” for me. It’s usually easy to access, and a good church (which mine is)—like a good tire company—helps keep me in tune so I don’t crash when the rubber meets the road of difficulties in my life. If you don’t have a church family, please, please, please seek one out . . . a place where the teaching is true to the Bible and the people are sincerely seeking to follow Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And, for those of us who are already part of a good fellowship, let’s not discount “Discount!” Let’s appreciate what a fantastic “deal” it is to have a church home who takes good care of us . . . and when the church is struggling under an overwhelming burden (like Discount Tire Company is in this icy weather), let’s bend over backwards to be patient, help out, and appreciate all the hard work and good service that’s happening every day!

So the churches were strengthened in the faith,
and they increased in numbers daily
” (Acts 16:5).

A Little Boy and His Fish

Remember last Saturday when I mentioned that we’ve never caught a trout in our lake? Well, I do want to share one sweet fishing tale anyway!  Even though our kids didn’t grow up fishing, my daughter-in-law, Carleen, did, and she’s not only a good fisherwoman herself, she often responds to the appeals of her small sons and takes them fishing on our lake. This happens most summers when they come to visit, so I can’t believe I don’t have more photos to document their adventures, but not too long ago, their third-born, Reid Solomon caught a little blue gill. He was ecstatic and prevailed upon his mother to let him keep it. Consistent with her magnanimous heart, she gutted the fish and prepared a little fillet for him, which they cooked up together. However, instead of relishing his small treasure by himself, he divvied it up amongst the whole lot of us (and we’re quite a lot!) so we could all taste a bite. Who could miss his generous spirit or fail to see the connection between Reid’s unselfishness and that of the little boy in John 6? If you’ve never read that story, let me share it with you here:

 “After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world” (John 6:1-14).

Some folks believe that the people themselves were so touched by the little boy’s example of sharing that they all shared what they had too. The Bible doesn’t really say how it happened, just that it occurred. Either way, it was miraculous that multitudes of people had enough to eat with a lot left over, and it all started with a little boy sharing his simple lunch, which Jesus blessed and multiplied. Do you ever feel overwhelmed, like, “What can I do to help with such unending needs?” All we have to offer is what we have, but that’s all God asks. He’ll do the rest.

Learning to Focus at Church

Did you enjoy your Labor Day break? Are you ready for all the activities of fall?
I love this super short video! My friend (Jane A.) posted it on her Face Book page a while back, but I want my blog friends who aren’t on FB to be able to see it too. Such good advice! If you don’t have a church home at this point, this fall might be the perfect time to start going again. Growth, healing, and love are done best in community…even though no community is perfect!

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

P.S.—If you don’t have a church home and live in the Grand Rapids area, I’d love to have you visit our church, Calvary (on the Beltline). Let me know, and Alan and I can meet you there and introduce you to our Sunday school class if you have time! In big churches, being part of some smaller group—like a Sunday school class, the choir, or a life group—really helps a person feel a sense of belonging.

Unstoppable Enthusiasm

This summer we’ve had the privilege of seeing all our kids and grand children at some point. This is our third-born, Jonathan, who was kayaking out on our lake with his oldest daughter in the rain one morning. I just sat and smiled as I watched them from the window. There was no thunder or lightning, so it probably wasn’t very dangerous, but it was cold and windy. It reminded me of watching Jonathan and his brother Michael sitting in the pouring rain once at a Disney “Movie Under the Stars” night. We’d gone as a family to the Fort Wilderness campfire and to watch a Disney film on an outdoor screen—along with a big crowd of happy campers—but when it started to rain, almost everybody left to find cover back at their campsites, and the few stragglers who remained were huddling under the roof of the concession stand. As I watched Mike and Jon, sitting totally exposed, rain streaming off their hats, one of the other huddlers commented, “Look at those crazy kids!” Yep. I was lookin’!

I’m thankful for my crazy kids who do things that most people wouldn’t dream of doing. Jon (Dr. Armstrong) just started a new program at Moody Bible Institute last January called the Center for Global Theological Education, “CGTE” (referred to as “C-GATE”), with the mission of developing quality, college-level, Christian theological education in virtual reality classroom settings for anybody who wants it—worldwide—free of charge. Sound impossible? If I didn’t know Jonathan, I’d say “yes,” but knowing Jon, I just smile. And pray. If God be for it, who can stand against it?

And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

By the way, CGTE is already offering freeing virtual reality classes in a variety of biblical and theological topics. If your church would be interested in hosting one of these seminars, you may write Jonathan at jonathan.armstrong@moody.edu.

(P.S.—If you have extra time and would like to be a part of Jon’s ministry, please contact Jonathan. He’s hoping that CGTE will be one of the world’s most satisfying places for Christians to volunteer, and—of course—much of the work can be done remotely! If you want to check out what’s going on already, here’s the link to his website: https://aqueductproject.org/.)

 

Don’t Throw Treasures in the Trash!

I read recently about a masked thief in Denmark who broke into Copenhagen’s Cafe 33 and made off with a vodka bottle from a locked area, drank the vodka, and threw the empty bottle away. Because it was part of a 1,200 bottle collection and on loan from a Latvian car manufacturer, the store owner notified the police, who went in search of the empty bottle. Thankfully, the police found it and were able to retrieve the borrowed bottle from a  construction site in the area. Although the bottle was dented, the owner of Cafe 33, Brian Ingberg, was overjoyed to get it back, not only because it wasn’t his, but also because it was worth $1.3 million! The bottle had been fashioned from six pounds of silver and six pounds of gold crowned with a diamond-encrusted cap in the shape of a vintage car. Can you believe it? How did the thief fail to appreciate it’s beauty and value??

It made me stop and think about what I might be taking for granted or not appreciating properly, and the first thing that came to my mind is my husband. Hopefully, I’ll never drink him dry and throw him away, but he is a real prize, and I don’t always recognize his true value, which is far greater than silver and gold!

How about you? Got any family or friends who deserve more appreciation than you give them? What about our kids? Got any rebels who are driving you crazy?  When I am frustrated, I meditate on Luke 21:19, “In your patience possess ye your souls.” And, how about this one? “I. . .beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

Let’s treasure our treasures. May we never run them dry, throw them under a bus, or discard them as useless. God created each of us as a unique treasure. He “owns” us in a sense, and we are just on loan to one another. Let’s make sure that when the time comes to return our loved ones to God, we’ve protected them and cared for them.

Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not” (Malachi 3:16-18).