“Bless you,” my husband said again. It was fall, and as I eagerly awaited the myriad of colors from our acre of trees, I knew I could also count on the return of allergy season and the occasional “bless you” from my husband. My morning devotional was Psalm 103:1, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” (KJV) There was the word “bless” again. But instead of being a phrase said at a sneeze, it was being used in reference to the Lord. How can I be a blessing to the Lord?
I immediately felt a sense of inadequacy as I read. Bless the Lord? Why—I sometimes struggle with ways to bless those around me. I thought about how God had blessed me over the years—family, friends, joyful occasions, financial resources, and simple necessities of life. How could I possibly bless Him? I searched the scriptures and joyfully realized that the Lord has given us many ways to bless Him.
1. Psalm 16:1 By putting our total trust in Him as our protector and deliverer we submit to His worthiness. He is blessed as we hide in the shadow of His strength.
2. Psalm 16:2 By declaring that the God of the universe is the Lord of our lives we acknowledge our dependence on Him. He is blessed by our childlike faith.
3. Psalm 26:12 By believing that He is the source of our stability in a world of uncertainty we place our trust in Him as our Heavenly Father. He is blessed by our confidence in His plan for our lives.
4. Psalm 34:1 By lifting up our hearts in praise we demonstrate our love and adoration for Him. He is blessed by our recognition of His worthiness to receive all praise.
5. Psalm 34:9 By giving Him first place in our hearts over anything the enemy tries we recognize His sovereignty. He is blessed by our surrender to His perfect will for our lives.
In Luke 24:53 (KJV) we read, “(they) were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.” We may not be able to be in a temple daily to bless God, but we know that our body is a temple, and we can bless God daily by the way we worship Him. He longs to bless us. He longs to have a relationship with us. As we bless God, He is able to release His blessings to us.
God gives us a wonderful opportunity to grow closer to Him. These days, “bless you” has a deeper, more fulfilling meaning to me, and allergy season isn’t quite as bad.
“I am so mad, I’m seeing red!” Ever heard that? Ever said that? I have. As a young mother rearing two daughters, I “saw red” more than I should have. Red is sometimes thought to be a color of anger, hence the term “seeing red.” When I feel that way, I give off signals. I look tense. My voice changes its tone, and I appear irritable. When I declare this statement, I’m revealing a mood that is not flattering to me or fair to my children.
At one time, a flare up could occur without warning. It may have arisen from tracks on a freshly cleaned carpet. Or possibly, it was triggered by the orange drink dripping down through the refrigerator.
It was during a particular case of “red-itis” that God reminded me to look at the daily aggravations and interruptions of life in a different light—through His eyes. I had been increasingly uncomfortable with the way I was handling daily irritations, so this became a matter of prayer focus for me. I asked God to help me learn His way of handling them.
As I reacted again to an irritation, I could actually feel my face getting warmer, my heart pounding faster. But instead of my normal reaction to the irritation, I became calmer as I imagined a new scene. Instead of seeing myself frustrated and angry, I saw Jesus on the cross. The red became His blood, lovingly shed for my sins--for all of the times I have caused Him to be disappointed with me. I pictured Him offering me forgiveness for my mistakes, and His love holding me close when He should be angry with me.
I took out my Bible and looked up references that related to this. Ephesians 1:7 (NIV) states, "In him we have redemption through his (Jesus’) blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” He reminds us that we must do the same with others. In Luke 6:37 we read, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
I was reminded that the fruit of the spirit includes patience and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Therefore, the more I practice walking in patience and love and react to the difficulties and challenges of everyday life using these spiritual resources, the more clearly I demonstrate the love and forgiveness that Jesus’ death released to all of us. That is exactly what I started to do. This mental picture helped me to see love when daily irritations and aggravations arose. They helped me to be thankful for the blessing of having my two beautiful daughters. I concentrated on how much I loved the child who was just “being a child.” I learned to give a prayer of thanks for the interruptions. That meant that I had a child to love, and who loved me.
This makes red not a color of anger, but of love and forgiveness. Now, when I feel tempted to “see red,” I am reminded of Jesus’ love and patience. I am reminded also that as a parent it is important to show an unconditional, constant, forgiving love. What a lovely color red can be!
A new marriage, new careers, a new life together—it was a time of new beginnings. Now we were about to begin our first camping vacation together. It promised to be a special time for John and me. We had just graduated from college and needed some time to relax before starting our teaching jobs in the fall. Our tent-trailer was packed, and we were ready to begin our two-week adventure.
We rose early that August morning and drove from our home in Virginia to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The following day we made it to St. Augustine, Florida. It was already dark when we found a campsite.
As John set up the tent and camp stove, I looked by lantern light through my assortment of foods, deciding what to fix for dinner. While we worked, we talked excitedly about the days ahead. After we ate our meal, it was 10 P.M. We were both exhausted. From previous camping experiences, however, I knew I should clean up before going to sleep. The lantern on the picnic table gave off a warm, cozy glow to help me with my chores.
I had been working for only a short time when I glanced down at the lamp. I was startled by what I saw. Somehow, fire had “jumped” out of the lantern and was burning a small area of the plastic tablecloth covering the picnic table. I quickly smothered the flames. Perhaps I should have been more concerned by the incident, but I wasn’t.
Minutes later, before John went inside the tent to unroll our sleeping bags, he picked up the lantern to make the gas flame burn brighter. The next few moments were a nightmare. John was suddenly covered with flames. Because of a faulty cap (we later learned), pressure had forced the fire out of the lantern, covering John’s face, arms, and legs. In disbelief, I stood watching him become engulfed in fire. Numb with shock, I froze.
Thank God, John does not become easily panic-stricken. He threw himself on the ground
and rolled around until the fire was out. Then he stood up and kicked sand into the lantern and grass to put out any remaining flames. The fire extinguished, we stood alone in the darkness. John painfully voiced our thoughts, “I must get to a hospital.”
Normally, I would have had no idea where to find a hospital in a strange town. But because God knew our need ahead of time, I had noticed a sign as we entered St. Augustine--one that pointed to a hospital. As we drove, I could detect the unmistakable odor of burnt skin and singed hair, though it was too dark to see how John looked. When we arrived at the hospital a few minutes later the light of the emergency room illuminated a shocking sight. John’s face was a bright, blistered red.
We waited anxiously for the doctor to arrive and the diagnosis: second and third degree burns on the face, arms and legs. According to the doctor, more blisters would develop on the face, and scars would remain. My mind raced ahead to our September teaching jobs, scheduled to start in just three weeks. With burns and scars, how would John face all of those students, if he could teach at all?
We spent the night in the hospital. The nurse applied ice packs to John’s face, hoping to relieve the pain and begin the healing. I sat beside his bed, praying for God to spare my husband of any ugly scars or disfigurement. Prayer had always been a part of my life, even as a child. Yet as I prayed this time, I became aware of how seldom I had actually sought God’s will. Here I was again asking Him to do something for me. In that moment of crisis, I understood that God’s will, not my desires, not even John’s healing, was what mattered most.
It was then that I gave John over to the Lord for whatever His will would be. I surrendered myself anew to Him, too. My prayer for John changed to, “Lord, heal him, please; but, nevertheless, Thy will be done.” I began to totally trust Him, no matter what He chose to do with my life or with John’s.
John was praying, too. Recently, prayer had become a more integral part of his life, too, and, as he prayed that night, God revealed to him just how much He loved and cared for him.
Finally, morning came. To the doctor’s surprise, the predicted blisters had not materialized. In fact, John looked so much better that he was released before noon and with ointment for his face we were on our way. John looked so much better that we decided to continue our vacation. We continued to pray and to praise the Lord for all He had done. He had worked in both of our lives in ways we had least expected. He had brought me to a new surrender to His will and had drawn John closer to Him.
By the time we reached home a few days later, John was completely healed. In
fact, our family and friends were amazed to hear what had happened. Visibly, there was not one scar to suggest that John had been severely burned. God had worked a beautiful miracle for us by healing John. More importantly, he had taught us that we could really trust Him to be Lord of our lives. It was a new beginning with a new lesson—one I hoped we’d never forget.
Roy Rodgers and I had something in common in 1955. We both loved a car named NellyBelle. I first fell in love with it when I saw the cute guy who was driving it. Actually, I’m not sure which one I fell in love with first! The 1955 cherry-red Ford with its black convertible top and shining chrome definitely caught my eye. I pictured myself cruising around with its owner on a warm summer night, stopping by the soda shop for fries, burger, and a root beer float, hanging out with the other envious teenagers.
One day, while in the makeup section of Woolworth’s—splashing on the floral, classic scent of Evening in Paris, I glanced over to the lunch counter, and there he was having a soda with a mutual friend. I sauntered up to my friend Paul, not wanting to look too eager to be introduced. After those welcomed words, “This is John,” I realized that that my cherry-red convertible dream could become a reality. And it did.
John called me that same night, and we arranged to see the Fourth of July fireworks together in NellyBelle. I couldn’t slide onto that bench-type seat quickly enough, and the multi-colored fireworks never looked more brilliant than with Nelly’s top down.
Now, after fifty-one years of marriage, the strains of the songs “Barbara Ann” and “Johnny Angel” over the car radio still echo in my mind, bringing me back to a teenager’s dream. Thanks, NellyBelle!
As I closed the door to my classroom for the last time in twenty-five years of teaching middle school, I knew that I had learned as many, if not more, lessons about life and caring about others. These often restless, but always searching, students had changed me in ways I could not have imagined, nor would they probably ever know. Gratefully, I am not the same person that I was on my first apprehensive day in the classroom. What life lessons could eleven and twelve year-olds possibly teach me? Plenty.
I know that because God loves us, we are to love others. Children certainly demonstrate the importance of unconditional love and care. No matter what type of day I was having, the children’s optimism and care for me often overwhelmed any difficulties I might have. I learned to give back to them and others what they were so willingly and unselfishly sharing with me. If someone had asked me about student ethnicity, I couldn’t have answered, because they were all beautiful individuals in my sight—no differences, no distinctions. Unconditional love—isn’t that the way we were created by God to see each other? I learned the value of love and respect for every person.
I can hear Thomas’s words, even now, resounding down my memory’s halls. “Mrs. B., do you want to see what I found on the walk this morning?” he proudly declared, unfolding a tissue with a butterfly wing gently wrapped in it. “Do you have a magnifying glass to see it up close? At home I love to look at insects and birds.” A magnifying glass—an important tool for viewing the intricacies of life. But even more important than looking at life at close range, I learned from my students to look at life through the binoculars’ lens. Students are essentially idealistic and are often making choices that address future goals. I learned through those long distance lenses to keep goals in perspective and check them often. I understand, too, not to dwell with a magnifying glass on the imperfections of unfolding personalities, but to use my lifetime binoculars to view the final outcome that I hope for them to achieve. I am to do the same in my life. This lesson reminds me that I, too, am still unfolding and will continue to be as God refines me.
In Proverbs we learn that a happy heart is medicine for the soul (17:22). Laughter is a blessed gift from God. After some of life’s disappointments crashed over the sand castles of my life, my students reminded me often how to laugh again. They have a sense of humor, sometimes to the point of giddiness over the ridiculous. But I needed more of that, and received it from them as daily soul gifts. Those squeals of innocent happiness are like balm to the emotions, and I gladly applied it as we laughed together. It made teaching fun, the mixture of the learning and the laughing. Now, as I treat any “spiritual ailments” with the gift of laughter, I thank children for that lesson.
I have also learned to embrace change. I admit that it is sometimes with a loose embrace, even with a sad embrace, but from teaching I learned that to grow as a person and to do God’s will in life, I must embrace change. Some changes bring great challenges. Over the years I have not only taught students, but also student teachers. One of my tips for being a good teacher, I told them, is to be flexible—to be able to change. Is a lesson not working? Change it up. Are students struggling with discipline or learning issues? Change the way the subject is approached or improvise strategies to deter problems. Handling change graciously is crucial for my personal life, as well. Health issues and living situations change. Family responsibilities may become demanding. But to be a good steward of all of life, the pleasant and difficult, I need to accept change. That I have learned as a teacher.
Finally, I learned early on to depend on God in my classroom. Through Him I could demonstrate love, fairness, and concern for each child who stepped through my doors. The classroom is a cross-section of humanity. I have learned to trust God with the bigger world of my life, as well. Now I can write across my life’s blackboard, “Thank you, my sweet students, for sharing your lessons with me.”
I clutched my one dollar allowance as I rode my blue bike with multi-colored plastic handle bar streamers to Woolworth’s to buy my favorite perfume. I loved to hear the clickity-click of the cards that were in my spokes as I rode along. I was prepared for shopping with my white basket, painted with pink and yellow flowers adorning the front. The birds were singing, and so was my heart.
It was a warm Saturday in 1958—a great day for a twelve-year-old. As I pedaled, I imagined the sweet lingering smell of roses in the Blue Waltz perfume and saw the heart-shaped bottle with the blue top. I had tested every bottle the week before, but this was the only fit for me to wear to the seventh grade dance. It was my first bottle of perfume, and it had to be the right one.
I parked my bike and raced inside to the perfume counter. My heart dropped. Where was it? I looked for the blue top. “Please,” I asked the saleslady in panic. “Could you help me find some Blue Waltz Perfume?” She looked through all the colorful bottles and titles—pink, amber, and blue ones with special names like Perfect Rose or Midnight in Paris, but no Blue Waltz. She saw the tear that ran down my cheek.
“Wait a minute!” she exclaimed. “Last night when we were closing, I saw a bottle under the counter that another clerk was saving for a customer, but she never returned for it. It’s yours.” I held out my dollar, and walking to my bike, pressed the bag with the sacred scent close to me. I opened the bottle for one intoxicating whiff before putting into my basket and pedaling home.
Are you a “long distance” grandparent? My husband and I have been in the past to our five grandchildren, and I had been praying that God would help us with the unique challenges we face. I was eager to get started on something—but frustrated because I wasn’t sure what. It wasn’t long until my prayer was answered.
I had read many grandparenting books, so when my friend Linda brought me back another one from a conference she attended, I gratefully accepted it. Would I learn something new? I wondered, as she handed me the copy of Treasures of a Grandmother’s Heart by Esther Burroughs (New Hope Publishers).
I eagerly read the book, but when I got to the chapter entitled “Nana’s Summer Camp,” I knew I had found my answer. The idea of providing a “camp-like” experience for our grandchildren (ages 3-7) where we could offer activities, family experiences, and lessons from the Bible captivated me. The excitement became reality as plans developed for the first camp. As we planned the camp activities, we personalized each day’s activities for our situation, incorporating the children’s ages and interests. This will be our third summer of “Nana Camp.” Again through the winter, I planned my theme (centered around a Bible truth) and collected appropriate materials. Now I can hardly wait until children’s voices fill our house and warm our hearts.
The joys of grandparenting are many, but our spirits especially soar when we hear from our daughters the various ways Nana Camp has impacted their children’s lives. This year our five-year old grandson, Andrew, even asked his kindergarten classmates, “Would you like to go to my Nana Camp? It’s really cool!” With thoughts of his precious sentiment echoing through my longing spirit, I can’t wait to hang my sign out, announcing that once again I have “gone camping!”
“There’s no place for me in the Lord’s service now, at my age and with my limitations. Let the young folks do it.” Have these remarks made their way into our conversations? Is age an excuse to drop out, or can we still be productive? Here are some service-extending suggestions.
Our service to the Lord does not have a retirement date. Many are waiting for a touch of kindness and the Good News of salvation through Christ. You still have a place of service. Why not take it today?
Waiting for the Prodigal Son
Waiting is never easy. We learn early that waiting is one of the most difficult parts of life. It is especially hard when we are waiting for a baby to be born, the results of a serious medical test, or a teen to return from a date. Perhaps, however, one of the most difficult times of waiting occurs when a loved one leaves home out of rebellion, breaking communication with those left behind. How can we handle these times and draw strength while waiting for reconciliation?
My friend, Linda, told me periodically how difficult it was waiting for her rebellious son to return home. She wasn’t sure where he was or what was happening to him. She was clinging to the hope that one day he would return and understand God’s forgiving love. Her daily prayers, and those of her friends and family, reflected this urgent plea. How often, as we talked, did I think about the prodigal son as reported in Luke 15:11. This impatient, wasteful son traveled to a distant land, away from responsibilities and parental restraints. Thinking only of himself and his immediate desires, the son asked for his inheritance and left, “Father, give me my share of the
estate” (Luke 15:12, NIV).
As the parable continues, we realize that the son found himself in a place of famine and in a situation that was a humiliating and frightening. Jesus, of course, related this parable to point out God’s love for the returning sinner. The son’s wasteful, riotous living had depleted his inheritance, and he lead an unclean life—feeding the pigs (verse 15)—the most unclean animal for him and his people.
What struck me about this parable as I connected it to Linda’s situation, was the parent’s response to the prodigal son. What did the father do while waiting, I wondered. How did he handle the wait? How do we handle the wait today?
We learn that this is not only a parable of a rebellious son, but also of a loving, forgiving father. Parents may have many fears when a child leaves even in the best of circumstances. A call home, a letter, or a visit helps to quell the fears. But what about the angry child--the one who leaves the household under difficult circumstances and does not communicate with the parent? How does a loving parent handle the fears associated with not knowing what is happening to the child? I believe we can learn four spiritual insights from this parable about what God wishes for us to do while we are waiting.
1. We are to continue serving the Lord while we wait, believing God for the safely and return of the child. In the parable we can see that the father had given the son his inheritance. Though broken-hearted I am sure, the father waited for the son to return, continuing in his own daily duties and responsibilities.
2. We are to keep waiting and watching for the lost one, with anticipation that God will restore. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him” (Luke 15:20). That part of the parable would indicate that the father watched the road and horizon for the son’s return. We should prayerfully keep our eyes on the Lord, trusting in His care and timing.
3. We are to be prepared to welcome the son or daughter as an individual of great importance and with much happiness and celebration. He “was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24). Jesus shows us that when the wayward one returns, we are to rejoice, as He does when one of his children turns from sin and comes “home” to Him. We are to offer the best we have--the fatted calf, ring, best robe, and shoes” (verses 23-24). God offered us His Son--the best that He had.
4. Finally, we are to accept the individual with compassion as a family member--with love and privileges, as God does us. It was a humbling experience for the returning prodigal. He wanted mercy and forgiveness. As the Lord offers the same today to us, so it is by His Spirit that we offer love and compassion to today’s prodigals. Our Heavenly Father knows our weaknesses and failures, and accepts us with love. So, by His example, we must do the same for those who
return to us.
“We’re home,” our adult daughter Lori said on the other end of the line. After the much anticipated phone call, we breathed a sigh of relief and prayer of thanks, as we have for so many years of these calls. It’s every parent’s joy to know that their children—no matter the age—are safely home.
Our Heavenly Father waits, too, with anticipation for the “call” from His child to receive His Son, Jesus Christ, as Savior. He desires that we will all arrive to our eternal home by taking that step. The Bible reminds us that all heaven rejoices when a sinner turns to Jesus.
But what about family or friends who have never repented or have wandered far from God with each turn on their earthly journey? When we travel and become lost, we get directions. In like manner, if we trust Christ as Savior, we can help others find the way. Perhaps their heart is restless for answers. Homecoming can be an especially joyous time to those who have been away the longest.
God has not left us alone to help others find their way. He says, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you," (Hebrews 13:5 NIV). We will find great joy in pointing the lost toward Him. Here are some Biblical guidelines to help you:
1. Pray for friends and family. Some may have never known the way; others may have forgotten it. Ask the Holy Spirit to draw hearts toward Him. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them,” (John 6:44).
2. Prepare to share your hope here and assurance of heaven. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” (I Peter 3:15). One way to be ready is to memorize Scripture. Another way is to give your testimony of repentance and salvation through Christ. Write, practice, and pray over it. Every story is meant for someone.
3. Demonstrate the joy of your faith so others will be drawn to what you have. Even in the darkest of hours we can speak of our faith in Christ and His grace that sustains. Nehemiah 8:10 reminds us that “the joy of the Lord is your strength."
4. Anticipate that God will send someone your way. Generally, discussions of eternal significance come when we least expect them. Perhaps a co-worker will strike up
a conversation, or you will receive a call that gives opportunity for sharing. Maybe a neighbor needs help, and you are able to share your faith. If we know Christ, we are commanded to share the Good News. Jesus reminds us, “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last,” (John 15:16).
5. Finally, In the course of witnessing or sharing scripture with someone, you may sense the Holy Spirit prompting you to lead that individual to accept Jesus Christ as Savior. Simply ask that family member or friend if that is the case and lead him/her in a prayer similar to this:
“Dear God, I know that I am a sinner, but I believe that Jesus died so that my sins can be forgiven. I accept this forgiveness and offer of eternal life. Thank you for forgiving my sins and help me to follow you from this day forward.”
Let us actively prepare to share God’s plan of salvation with unbelievers. How wonderful it will be when with confidence and joy we can say, “They will make it home safely.”