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Church Retreat, 2016

Another church retreat weekend for Laws Mennonite Church is history.  It feels like I have some perspective on the weekend as I sit in my chair in my air conditioned house after getting some down time.

The weekend felt like it was terribly long — until today when it was suddenly over.  There was the usual scramble to divvy up the leftovers, clean the kitchen, and get the dining room/gathering place back in order, the cement floor swept and even mopped in places..

We heard a lot this weekend about this particular church camp and memories of times there through the years.  (http://www.campmardela.org/index.htm)  We had cooks there from Gateway Fellowship, previously known as Cannon Mennonite Church, where the whole idea of church retreats was first begun in this community back in the late 70’s by John Mishler.  We also had people with histories at Tressler Mennonite Church, who used Camp Mardela for Church retreat at some point in time.  And there were people there who have memories of family reunions that were held there, and even a family who sent a child there in the late 70’s.

Actually, I never really understood that this Brethren Church campground was something that could be utilized for a church camp, but we found out!  For sure!  The facilities are great — (but OH! Was it ever HOT!)  Our church does plan to go back to Mardella next year, only in late September. For years we’ve used Denton Wesleyan Family Camp but they have increased in price so much that it is cost prohibitive for our church, plus they gave our already “scheduled and deposited for” weekend away last year, and seemed to think that it wouldn’t really matter.  Because of how our church members plan their schedules around this event, it really made scheduling extremely difficult for us. In fact, it was enough of a fiasco that we decided to go somewhere else!

Last year we went to Redden Forest State Park, and that was okay on short notice but the facilities were inadequate as far as the lodging space and kitchen provision. So this year, the committee researched our options early on and we were able to get this.  We had originally planned for the last weekend in September, but out of consideration for some of our congregation who were planning for a family wedding that weekend, we asked to change it and this was the weekend that there was an opening.  Camp Mardela is nice as far as activities for recreation, playground equipment for the children, a well equipped kitchen and space for group activities.  It even has some nice lodging accommodations for reasonable prices. The lodging rooms have A/C so that was especially appreciated this weekend. The main gathering hall does not, though, so that was just a little bit hard on us “oldsters.”

We had nice activities planned — the kids decorated t-shirts, played in the sandy dirt, ate snacks, drank copious amounts of liquid, rode on the swings, merry-go-round and played carpet ball, four square and air hockey with the adults.  The camp even has a tractor and wagon for “hayrides” and we had made arrangements for that on Saturday evening.  Ms. Shirley had made the arrangements with the camp caregiver, and she asked Certain Man to drive the little old John Deere tractor.  They went across the lawn to the shed where it was kept and brought it around to the front of Kraybill Hall where we were meeting. (You can check it out here: http://www.campmardela.org/Facility/Facility_Kraybill_Hall.html)   I looked up from a park bench in front of the hall to see Daniel driving the tractor with the wagon on behind and the sole occupant was Ms. Shirley.

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“Well, look at that,” I said to my friend Loretta, who was sitting beside me.  “My husband has taken to hauling around another woman!”  But it wasn’t something to belabor or to be jealous about.  It was just another example of the kind of working together that made the whole weekend a whole lot easier and memorable.  CM brought the tractor to a stop in front of the hall, taking note of where the sand wasn’t as deep, and the people lined up to get on board.  The wagon was just big enough for all who wanted to ride, and ride! they did!

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So, yes, it was HOT, and yes, the yellow jackets did buzz around, and yes, we had some things that made our hearts exceedingly heavy.  But we did have a great time and such a wonderful message from David Yoder (from Dover) this morning to draw our hearts towards things that are Eternal, and principles by which to live.

. . . Church retreat weekend! Ah, me! The memories are wonderful! And the committee this year was stellar. (Shirley Miller, Jesse and Christina Yutzy Bontrager, Tyler and Amy Schrock) Our cooks, Carl and Sue Chupp, did a splendid job, and the food was delicious and adequate, the leftovers were not too abundant, and we were able to bless the Home of the Brave with some supper fixin’s!

There is just so much for which to be thankful!

My heart gives grateful praise.

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Sunday Evening at Shady Acres

Am I the only one who can hardly believe that summer vacation is over and school is starting again?  Wherever has this month/summer/year gone?  People, this is serious!  I’m getting old at an alarming rate.  I’ve been regularly told by my LITTLES that I’m “really, really old!” and I’m starting to believe it.

The other Sunday while we were discussing a younger sibling’s birthday, the discussion turned to how old each of The LITTLES was, and we discovered that we had a two year old, a three year old, a five year old and two seven year olds.  That was good for a couple of minutes of discussion, then Charis looked thoughtful.

“Grammy!” She said, “How old are you?”

“How old do you think I am,” I asked, because I always love to hear their responses and I’m never offended at their answers, only entertained.

“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “I think you are probably 77!”

Her friend, Amanda, a frequent visitor to the class said disdainfully, “Nah!  I think she’s 58!”

“Well,” I said, “I’m 62!  I’m going to be 63 on my birthday in a few months.”

“Oh,” said Charis, philosophically, “Well, Amanda and I were almost right.  We were each just one off!”

That made me laugh, of course, and I thought about how a child’s mind works, and how totally logical it seemed to them that anything in the 60’s would only be “one off” from something in the 50’s or 70’s.

My LITTLES have given me lots of pause to consider over these last months.  There was an especially impressive time on the Sunday that we discussed Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit.  I struggled with how to make this lesson real to this age spread, and wondered about how we could even begin to catch the importance of the Holy Spirit. One of the suggested activities was to tie red crepe paper streamers to a fan, and to explain how even though we cannot see the wind, it has an effect on the streamers.  It is a force that is very real, even though it is invisible.

I had thought about this lesson a lot over the week before, and had decided that the streamers and the fan were a good idea.  While I was pondering what else I could do to emphasize the lesson for the LITTLES, I saw some of those small windmills on a stick sticking out of an end bin at Walmart, and had a flash of inspiration.  This was something that the children could hold in front of the fan and see how a fast they would go in a strong and forceful wind and they could take them home at the end of the class period and it could be a reminder.  I pounced upon the stash and procured the five I needed and felt like God had provided a small miracle and burst of inspiration especially for me.

Sunday morning.  Certain Man helped me to carry the large fan up to the classroom and I attached the red streamers to it.  When the class started, the kids were so excited to see the fan, and of course wondered what in the world we were going to do.  The windmills were held in reserve until after they had a chance to hear the story and I could turn on the fan to show them how the streamers worked.  They were duly impressed.  They gathered around and tried to catch the dancing and swaying streamers and laughed and talked and jostled for a place in the strong breeze.

Then I brought out the windmills and gave each of them one.  This was high attraction. The fan was very large, and there was plenty of room, but it didn’t take long before there was more than friendly competition for what was perceived as the best place, and whose windmill was spinning the fastest and there was much stomping about trying to have the most air.  I contained the commotion for quite a while, encouraging them to give each other room, to share the space, and to not shove.

When it seemed that they had all had adequate exposure, and enough time to watch their windmill spin merrily around, I said, “Okay, kids.  Let’s take our windmills back to our seats.  You may take them home with you and play with them there.”  And I turned off the fan.

You would have thought that I was depriving them of their personal oxygen supply.  There was great disapproval and grumbling until one enterprising youngster said, “Wait!  Look! You can blow on these windmills and they will still turn!”

Immediately there was great huffing and puffing while the five of them attempted to make their windmills turn under the power of their own breath.  In comparison to the fan, the windmills barely turned but the five of them were so occupied with the fact that they were moving that they barely noticed that they were about to hyperventilate.

And that was when the Spirit of the LORD spoke to my heart.  I stood there, watching my beloved LITTLES, and it was almost funny until I felt like God said to me, “That’s just what you look like to ME!”

“Excuse me?  Is that you LORD?”

“That’s just what you look like to me when you step away from the mighty power of the Holy Spirit and try to produce results in your own power.  It’s every bit as ridiculous, and it’s far more futile.  So often you try to do or say things in your own strength, and it really doesn’t go anywhere because it’s not of me.  Pay attention, Daughter.  This lesson wasn’t as much for your LITTLES as it was for you.”

I really can’t tell you much about the rest of that class period.  I had so much to think about.  There were so many thoughts and pictures running through my mind.  Pictures of times when intentions may have been good, but the power source just wasn’t right.  Pictures of times when the Power was blowing, but my little windmill was off on a shelf or looking for another breeze.  Times when I just didn’t get it at all, and was depleted and tired and almost “hyperventilating” from trying to reproduce in my own strength what I could have gotten from the Power that was far greater and not only promised to me, but readily available.

My LITTLES took their windmills home, and I hope that they remember something about that lesson.  But even if they never do, I will!  It sits in my heart, a cherished lesson for this teacher of LITTLES, who desperately needed it in this time and in this place.

My time with this group of LITTLES is coming to an end.  Today is my last scheduled Sunday for teaching.  Next Sunday is our Church Retreat weekend, and the following Sunday is the beginning of our new quarter.  How very much I shall miss them!  But this is a good move.  A young couple will team teach and they have relationships in place already within the class.  I am content, as well as certain that this what should be.  Certain Man and I want to do a little traveling (yes, ME, TOO!) and I am looking forward to a bit less chaotic Sunday mornings.  We’d like to have more Sunday company, and I also am greatly looking forward to being a part of the Older – (Ahem!) Mature Women’s Sunday school class.

And so, my heart gives grateful praise for the blessings of my life.  I am so blessed.  May each of you see the blessings that are yours as well.

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Sunday Morning with The LITTLES

They came into the classroom, full of joy and smiles and LIFE. I looked into their eager faces and mentally reviewed my morning. It was going to be busy, to say the least. And lately, they’ve been so talkative. (Which I absolutely cannot resist. No matter how hard I try to stay on the subject, if I think there might be something one of them needs to say, or some sort of childish wisdom or insight, I cannot bear to shut it down.)

We gathered around the table, and sorted out the chairs and who got which one.  There was an extra again this morning, so the routine of “who sits where and on which color chair” was disrupted a bit, but finally, everyone was settled and ready.  A few months ago, as I was considering the whys and wherefores of Sunday School for these children, I realized that what was most important was that they have a sense of GOD in THIS PLACE, and so we’ve been talking about the fact that “God is here, in this classroom!  He sees us and He loves us.  He is our friend!”  And we follow that by singing the old song that my first and second grade teacher, Sadie Bissey, taught us so long ago:

Into our class
Into our class
Come into our class, Lord Jesus
Come in today
Come in to stay
Come into our class, Lord Jesus

So, this morning, as we were sitting around the table, I asked them the question that I’ve been asking them over the last few months.  “Who is here in our class this morning?” I asked them.  “Who is right here with us today?”

“Jesus!”  “God!”  The answers chorused around the table.

“That’s right,” I smiled at them.  “God is right here with us today.”

He was sitting at the end in his usual spot, and he looked around curiously.  “He’s not here today!” He said with a note of disappointment.

“Ah, but He is!” I told him.  “He’s right here with us!  Even when you can’t see Him, God is with you.  He’s here.  He’s with you when you are in trouble.  He’s with you when you have work to do and helps you.”

“We did lots of work,” he told me earnestly.  “We had to to do really hard work pickin’ up stuff in the yard.  And God didn’t help us at all!”  He shook his little head sadly.  He obviously had some feelings about this.

I pondered a bit and then suggested, “Maybe He did!  Maybe you just didn’t realize –”

“Nope,” he said decisively.  “He didn’t.  We did it all by ourselves!”

Oh, Lord Jesus!  How often have I been so sure that I was alone trying to do jobs that seemed big and hard?  And when I got done, I was sure I had done it “all by myself” when, in fact, I was under the protective oversight of a loving parent, who enabled and gave strength and tempered the job to my abilities.  Thank you for the reminder through one of my LITTLES that we don’t know the half of how your presence surrounds and enables and LOVES us in our “hard work” and never leaves us until the job is done.

Hebrews 13:5b-6a (NCV) “. . . God has said, ‘I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.’  So we can be sure when we say, ‘I will not be afraid because the LORD is my helper’. . .”

For this promise, for my LITTLES, for shelter on this stormy Delaware evening (and so much more!) my heart gives grateful praise.

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The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . .

Matthew 13:33:  “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”(NLT)

I looked at the proposed lesson for my LITTLES and wondered what in the world I could do to teach this lesson in a way that would help them remember the gist of the lesson.  There were two parts to the scriptural background; the verse about the yeast, and also the two preceding verses about the mustard seed. The word pictures and the activities that were suggested were good activities, but how do I use up a whole class period discussing “The Kingdom of Heaven” with children this young?

And just what is the Kingdom of Heaven in our lives, particularly as it would relate to these verses?  A  small seed, planted, growing into a great bush?  Or yeast, leavening a large measure of flour, completely losing its identity as it bonds with the other ingredients, yet it affects the whole batch of dough, and effects change in unmistakeable, cognitive ways.  What does this mean to me, for Heaven’s Sake?  And how can I make it real for my LITTLES.  I mean, they totally missed the lesson about the sparrows, and this is far more obscure than that.

So I thought and thought, and finally decided to bake some bread with them.  From scratch.  I would ask them what they thought the Kingdom of Heaven was, and we would talk about what it means to do things the way Jesus would do them, and how when we are kind and share and obey and tell the truth, how that “grows” inside our hearts and makes us happy.  I would ask them how it made them feel when other people were kind to them, and shared with them.  What it looked like when other children were disobedient or told lies or were mean, and whether that made them want to be their friends.  And we would bake bread and this time, I would constantly talk about the Kingdom of Heaven and what it means, and how it is like the yeast.  And maybe, this time, they would remember.

So we started out class period by meeting in the basement, and donning our aprons.

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We had two extra children, but that was just fine.  And everyone entered into the discussion before getting to the actual mixing of the ingredients.  But once we got started, there was no turning back!

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Most of the ingredients, I had pre-measured, so they each got a chance to add something. Here, we are softening the yeast in warm water.

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Here Victoria stirs the yeast while we get ready to put the sugar in.

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Judah dumps in the salt.

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The boys watch the yeast to see if it’s growing.  They get a good understanding of what it smells like, too.  (I don’t think anyone spit, coughed or sneezed in it, but I can’t prove it.  I can say with a great deal of confidence that it did get breathed on!)

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And then we stirred . . .

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and stirred . . .

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and stirred!

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The yeast had been rising all this time, and now it was time to add it to our bowl.

Then it was time to talk about what that yeast was going to do to that bowl of dough.
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(And they all listened carefully!)

And then it was time to add more flour and stir some more!

Then we finally got it pour out onto the table


. . . and every child got a chance to work the dough.  For videos of each child, go to https://www.facebook.com/maryann.yutzy and scroll down.  This was one of the best parts of the whole morning!

And then it was into the pans to rise.  Of course we had to check on the progress!  Sure enough, the dough was rising!


And then it was into the oven:  Whew!  That’s HOT!  But if you put your little hand on the outside of the oven after it was shut, it wasn’t hot at all.  That’s pretty exciting!

 

And then they waited and waited, and finally, the bread was brown enough and we took it out of the oven.

 

Oh, so exciting!  They each got to choose a loaf that was “theirs” and then they buttered the tops and lined up so protectively by the one that was “theirs.”


By that time we had survived the singing of the “blessing song,” when we sang to each child and during which I put my hands on each head when we say their name.  It was when I was doing that,  that we found a tick on one of the children’s heads.  Well, that caused it’s own excitement while Mom and a nurse and eventually Dad came to assist in the removal.  This tamed the excitement somewhat, and eventually, long past the ringing of the bell marking the end of Sunday School, we talked one more time about how the Kingdom of Heaven was like a small amount of yeast that we put into a measure of flour (and salt and sugar and shortening and milk) that made the dough grow and grow until it was enough for nine loaves of bread.  We stood together on  the tile floor in the Gathering Place of Laws Mennonite Church and gave thanks.

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“For all good gifts, thy Grace imparts–
We thank thee, LORD, with humble hearts!”

After the church service, they came to claim their loaves, and to gather bread for giving away and thus ended another morning of teaching my LITTLES about The Kingdom of Heaven!

Will they remember?  I don’t know for sure, but I think they just might!
If not now, then maybe someday.

And I pray God that it might be so!

Photo Credits:  Christina Yutzy Bontrager

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Simply Gifts

 

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Two years ago this morning on our Yoder family google group, a picture was shared that has warmed my heart over and over as I have thought of it. In many Mennonite Churches, the practice of Feet Washing is still practiced as part of our communion services. From my precious Daddy’s family of eight boys and three girls, only three boys and one girl remain. Two of my uncles live in Delaware, and shared the pastoral responsibilities of the Central Mennonite Church for many, many years. They are very different men, but are good friends. Both of them are aging.  Uncle Dan turned 90 in February and Uncle Jesse will be 85 in September. Uncle Dan lost Aunt Mary Lois almost 18 years ago. Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys are still living alone in their house at the end of Pleasant Cove Lane. Both men are examples of men who live their faith in shoe leather, and I love them both. My cousin, Naomi Miller’s husband, Rob, took this picture in their communion service two years ago, and it has been viewed over and over again. What a treasure! (Thanks, Rob!)

I love the family that I belong to.  On both sides, (my father’s and my mother’s) we’ve been blessed with a heritage that is rich and full and good. But in the things that we have that are so good, we are also charged with two things. One is that we are not to brag about the things that we have.  Listen to these “God Words” from Jeremiah 9:23-24  (New Century Version)

23 This is what the Lord says:

“The wise must not brag about their wisdom.
The strong must not brag about their strength.
The rich must not brag about their money.
The Mennonites must not brag about their heritage
Nor the Yoders and Werts (and Yutzys) their lineage.
(Whoops! It doesn’t say those last two lines. I put that in there!) 🙂
24 But if people want to brag, let them brag
that they understand and know me.
Let them brag that I am the Lord,
and that I am kind and fair,
and that I do things that are right on earth.
This kind of bragging pleases me,” says the Lord.

The second thing we are charged with is something that we often forget in the self centered society in which we live. It’s found in Luke 12:48b where JESUS says: ” . . . From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded. And from the one trusted with much, much more will be expected.”

May God grant that we who claim to be His People would live humble, unselfish lives. Serving others, loving others, giving to others, but always mindful that what we have has been given to us.  Gifts!

My heart gives grateful praise.

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“They Called Him Laughter”

It’s been a wild ride in the Sunday School Class that I call The LITTLES at Laws Mennonite Church.  When December rolled around and it was time for Christmas, I was so behind in the curriculum that it wasn’t even Christmas in the lessons.  There were numerous reasons for this — sickness, schedules that precluded a separate class for the children, and my deep desire to not “waste” any of the already purchased study aids and lesson plans.

But I cannot bear to not have a good celebration of the birth of our LORD, so I set about the first of December to write my own lesson plans, find crafts that  were pertinent and to wing my way through.  The thing I didn’t remember was that December 1st began the new quarter in our Menno Media’s SHINE series.  So as December hurried to its end and the New Year loomed, I realized that I was without new material and that I needed to get stepping.  So I did some thinking and praying and decided that I was going to start with Genesis 1 and tell stories from Genesis until March 1st when the new quarter would begin, replete with Easter appropriate stories and activities for my small fry.

And we’ve had a blast.  I purchased some big beautiful pictures from friend Karen’s bookstore and looked online for child friendly crafts that were not copyright protected and set to work.  We went through the story of Creation, the story of Adam and Eve and the fall of man.  We covered the story of Cain and Abel and then the story of Noah and the flood.  We touched briefly on the Tower of Babel and then marched Mr. Abraham right  on out of Ur of the Chaldees to Canaan and talked about The Promise made.  In today’s lesson, we were talking about the birth of Isaac, how it takes patience to wait for things to happen, and about how God keeps his promises. Children love to talk about babies and they love the idea of old people having babies.

“What would you think,” I asked Katie Burkholder this morning, “if your Great Grandpa Millard and Great Grandma Lura (Benner) had a baby?”

She paused to consider.  “I would think,” she said carefully, “that THAT would be really funny!”

“And Charis,” I said, “What would you have thought if Grandma Yoder had had a baby?”

She laughed out loud.  “That would have been really, REALLY funny!” she said.  And giggled again at the thought of it.

“Why would that have been so funny?” I asked.

“Because they are so OLD!” was the chorus.  (Nobody feel insulted, here.  I’m regularly reminded by this group that I’m really old, too!)

And so I told them that Mr. Abraham was older than any of those people.  He was a hundred years old!  No one could think of anyone who was a hundred years old.

“Why do you think you don’t know anyone who is a hundred years old?” I said.  They looked very thoughtful and then one of them said, “Maybe because they are already in Heaven?”  And of course, that was a good answer.

And so we began the story of Isaac and how Abraham had to wait so long to get his little baby.  “Have any of you had to wait a really long time for something you wanted?” I asked them.  They were ready with the usual “My birthday,” and “Christmas.”

“Anything else?” I questioned.  “Anything else that you had to wait really long to do and your thought you just couldn’t wait?

“Yes,” said Charis.  “I had to wait and wait to be born!  I really wanted to get out of there!”

“Me, too,” said Katie.  “I had to wait so long, too.  It was so long and I was uncomfortable!  I wasn’t born until August Twelff and that was a long time!”

“Grandma Yoder was so lucky,” chimed in Charis, getting tuned in to that thought.  “Her birthday was on the first day of January.  The rest of us have to wait way longer in the year for our birthdays to get here!”

Yes, well. Now you know.

Back to the subject of Isaac we went and we had some projects to complete and the story to finish.  My LITTLES did so well, catching on quickly to why his name was “Laughter” (after first thinking that it was because he was a happy baby and laughed a lot).  They helped to make an instant pudding snack while we talked about how hard it is to wait for something to happen.  The vanilla pudding was divvied up into four containers with lids and they worked on other projects while we waited for the pudding to firm up.

The bell rang before  we were ready, just like it usually does, and there was a mad scramble for the coloring papers and projects and snack bags and out the door the four of them tumbled on their way back downstairs to their parents.  I looked around the room, all in disarray with crayons and markers and glue sticks and cutouts and stars and snack remnants all lying askew about.  It made this Delaware Grammy smile,  and I heard “Isaac” lingering in the corners and all around the cheerful, well equipped classroom.

This Delaware Grammy, short on grandbabies, and at an age when most gals have enough little ones in their lives, finds it to be soul satisfying to have these precious four LITTLES each week, entrusted to my care, to learn to know their hearts, their individual personalities, to hear their observations and to listen in on their thought processes. Each of them fills a different spot in my heart, and they and their families and especially their parents often find their way into my prayers.  Such a happy privilege is mine!

Thank God for the laughter!

 

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“Classic Injustice Collectors”

It was an ordinary Friday Morning, January 22, 2016, to be exact.  I was straightening up my kitchen, doing meds and trying to make some resemblance of order on the counter where everything gets stashed, when a story came on NPR’s Morning Edition.  I was half listening, half off in another world when something caught my ear. For real!

The announcer was talking about acts of violence that were blamed on ISIS, when there  is no verifiable connection between the perpetrator(s) and the ISIS organization.  The phrase that caught my attention was this:  “The attacks dubbed as ISIS-inspired in this country have tended to be the work of what law enforcement officials call ‘classic injustice collectors.'”  (Dina Temple-Raston) (*See link at the end of this post if you wish to read the entire story) The commentator went on to say that these are people who have been nursing various resentments for years, and when someone or something happens to push them too far, they “re-invent themselves, using whatever cause will give them a greater sense of purpose as well as . . . publicity.”

“Classic Injustice Collectors.”  That phrase stuck in my mind as I reviewed some events that I’ve been spectator and party to over the last months, and with a pang I realized that it is that business of “injustice collecting” that often plays havoc in my life and in the lives of people I love.  As people of principle, it’s easy for us to accumulate the injustices of our world and the circles in which we move, and to have a sense of being called to bring justice. Especially if it is people we love.

Let me hasten to add that there are injustices of the world that we ought to address.  The poor, the prisoner, the alien, the defenseless and enslaved.  We should never hold back from doing what God has moved on our hearts to do.  But there are many other things that I’m reminded of with vivid (and regrettable) clarity.  There have been so many situations where I have chosen to let my feelings run away with me (“I’d rather be mad!”) or wanted my own way enough to withdraw (“If you don’t play my way, I’ll just take my ball and go home!).  Over and over again, it’s easy to think that people are being insensitive or intentionally hurtful when in fact they are just unaware of how a particular thing might be looking to us and might be unaware of what it is that we desperately want or need.

And yes, that can be hurtful, too.  To think that people don’t care enough to find out what it is that we need, or how we feel or where we are vulnerable can really add to our sense of inadequacy, unimportance or injury.  And so, we collect the injustices like it’s our job, tallying them up, holding them seethingly in our hearts and then, one day when no one, (maybe/probably not even ourselves) is expecting it, it all comes pouring out in the name of a cause that it somehow felt right for us to align ourselves with.  And people are surprised at our venom, confused by our alleged motives, frightened by our rampage and bewildered in the aftermath.  (Where did that come from, and why?)

I find this especially hurtful in the Family of God, but I’m suggesting it is nearly as prevalent here as in general society.  We are “Classic Injustice Collectors” with a spiritual twist.  And sometimes it’s so easy for me to justify what I am feeling with a Biblical injunction or instruction.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a part of a church family.  About how easy it is to carry a grudge quietly or to be so thin skinned that almost anything can set the wrong way with me.  And this morning, again, I was thinking about the words of Jesus when He said that we are to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, bless when we are cursed, pray for the ones who persecute us.  And the words in Corinthians when we are instructed to give up our rights for our brothers and sisters and that we are to forgive.

Forgive.  That’s the word right there.  The only way to living free of the bondage of having to collect is to forgive.  Where else in all the world is there a word that encapsulates a loosening of chains like this one?  I looked up synonyms for this word and some of them are extravagantly descriptive.  (“dismiss from mind”  “bear no malice”  “wipe slate clean”  “allow for”  “bear with”)  Words that would change the state of my heart as well as my outlook if I were to just live there!

I honestly believe that it’s impossible on our own.  And when I say, “that’s what GRACE is for,” I know it sounds trite, overused and simplistic.  But it’s still Truth.  God’s GRACE, extended so freely to us, is the means by which we extend grace to others, offer forgiveness, live in forgiveness, and empty out that collection of offenses.

We all have things that we feel we have to have, or we want deeply.  I really like it when I can feel understood.  Even if someone doesn’t agree with me, if they understand where I’m coming from, that feels good.  There are a few other areas that are very important to me, and I’ve written and re-written this paragraph as I’ve tried to defend myself against past charges.  It suddenly occurred to me that I was collecting offenses again, as I thought about complaints that have troubled me that I wish I could somehow straighten and disagreements over petty things that I’ve allowed to fester in this old heart.  Some of these are as old as our marriage.  Some are a recent as this week.  Will I never learn?

And so, tonight, once again, I turn a heart that knows the darkness of the suffocating blanket of offense to the light of God’s truth and the blaze of His Holiness.  May He shed light and truth and peace into those corners where old affronts and injuries (real or imagined) cower, awaiting the chance to rear their unseemly heads.  And may the freedom wrought by their dispersal be that which will lead more than this Delaware Grammy Home.

I’m not able to do this.  But I know the One who is.

For this and for so much more, my heart gives grateful praise.

 

http://www.npr.org/2016/01/22/463861480/what-does-it-mean-if-an-attack-is-isis-inspired

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Sing Me a Song of Heaven

I came to this past weekend and our annual church retreat with a sense of restlessness and even heaviness.  I have always loved our church retreat weekends.  And I was looking forward to this time together.  But I just felt grumpy and irritable . . . and sad.

The books tell us all about the seasons of grief.  And sometimes the thing that is the most noteworthy to me is how unpredictable it is.  There are stages, and I am so aware of this.  But experience has also proven that the stages of grief get all mixed up, and they may have a predictable pattern, but more often than not, there is a stage that pops up all out of the order in which it was supposed to appear.

And this past weekend, with its full moon and its busy-ness and the whole thing of a completely different venue for our church retreat, made my emotions and my heart feel so unfamiliar and wretched.  I was happy to help with things for retreat, and made sausage gravy and tea, took snacks and diversions, lent frying pans and drink dispensers and wasn’t at all resentful of any of that, but there was this unruly, childish inclination towards irritability that colored and clouded my enjoyment of the time together.  Things really were done decently and in order, but nothing felt quite right.

“I just need an attitude adjustment,” I told OGA, on our way home on Saturday night.  She thought that she was somehow responsible for the fact that I left early and was lamenting her life and needs and supposed impositions and pretty much everything in general.  “It has nothing to do with you, Audrey-girl.  I just wanted to come home.  I’m tired and sad and irritable and nobody can do anything to please me.”

“Oh,” she said in the darkness beside me.  And lapsed into silence.

“I miss my Mama,” I said then.  And started to cry.  I thought about how My Sweet Mama never liked going to picnics and church retreat and anything that was less than convenient when it came to eating and socializing.  She tried to overcome that, but it was rare for her to spend much time at church retreat on a good weekend, much less when she wasn’t feeling well.  But I could call her and tell her all about everything.  What we ate, who did what, what the activities were, who was there, who helped with the cooking, how the serving went, whether there were many leftovers, who did the work, who cleaned up, and always, all about the children and little ones and what they did for fun and mischief and amusement.  But on this weekend, there was no outlet for my observations, no one to comfort me in my sadness, no one to validate my feelings, (whether legitimate or not).  Mama was in Heaven.

Heaven.  I’ve thought more about that place in these last three months than probably ever before.  I thought about it a lot after Daddy died, and felt a sense of wonderment and curiosity about this uncharted territory.  But Daddy always pretty much could take care of himself, and I had no doubts that he took Heaven in stride and went about with his insatiable curiosity, discovering all sorts of things, filling in the spaces of all his questions, and meeting new people.  Yes, I didn’t think too much about how Daddy was doing in Heaven. But I did wonder about the place that we call “Heaven.”

“We say we know where Dad is,” said my brother, Clint, one day.  “We say he is in Heaven, and I believe he is.  But where is Heaven?  We can’t really say where Heaven is.  So in some respect, since we don’t know where Heaven is, we don’t really know where Dad is.”   That was an interesting observation to me, and I chalked it up to another one of the mysteries of the life beyond the here and now.  It wasn’t troubling nor did it cause disbelief.  It just was.

But since Mama died, I keep coming back to this thing of Heaven, and wondering what it is like.  Wondering, more specifically, what it is like for Mama.  I know she is healthy and whole and beautiful and happy.  I know she is with the LORD and Daddy.  I don’t think she misses us, and I know she doesn’t want to come back.  But does she ever think of us?  Does she talk about us to the ones already there?  Do we even figure into the equation of LIFE in that place.  And why does that even concern me?  Why does my heart lurch at the thought of her being so alive and happy and present with the LORD that life here is forgotten, swallowed up in victory?  Am I this selfish? Or am I wondering about how the things I give my life to will matter when I leave it all behind?  Or is this just yet another stage of the grief that dogs my days?

I came down to the kitchen on Sunday morning.  The weariness that pulled me back on my heels was that of a heavy heart and not enough sleep, coupled with the morning things pressing in.  Checking in on my ladies, I realized that Audrey had a potty accident in the night.  She had stripped herself of her soiled nightie and piled it and her protective bed pad into an odiferous mound on the floor of her bedroom.  She had soiled the sheet under the pad (how did she do that?) and had opted to put on a clean nightie and to wrap herself up in a blanket and finish the night on her chair rather than get back into bed.  She must have moved stealthily in the night because I hadn’t heard her on the monitor.  She was full of apologies and very embarrassed and sad.  My heart ached for my Audrey Girl.  Life was hard enough to cope with at this particular juncture of the Moon and Earth and she already was struggling mightily with feeling like she was a burden.  I looked at the disarray in the bedroom, and struggled with the whole thing of readjusting morning plans to allow for the catastrophe at hand, getting to church retreat in time for breakfast, and the contradiction of just wanting to sit down and do nothing.

Somewhere in the middle of the whole mess, the thoughts about Heaven came crowding in. I had this sudden urge to know what Heaven is like.  I was pretty sure that it held very little of the present dilemma, but there was this deep, deep yearning for something explicitly definitive and descriptive.  I wanted to find Certain Man and crawl in close to his heart and whisper, “Tell me what you think Heaven is like.  What will we do?  How will we be?”  But he came in late from morning chores with almost no time to spare to get to retreat on time, and the words wouldn’t come.  I finished the tea for the noon meal, and he hurriedly loaded it and prepared to leave.  When he hugged me, his eyes clouded over and he asked, “Are you okay?”

It was the perfect chance, but the words stuck in my throat.  I finally said, “I’m just so grumpy and sad.  I’m really missing my Mama.  It doesn’t make any sense.  Mama didn’t even like retreat.  Why does this retreat make me miss her so much?”

He was understanding, and he didn’t dismiss my feelings, but we both knew he needed to get ice down to retreat for breakfast, and he was running late.  He sympathetically said, “Well, Hon, that’s just the way things are sometimes.”   And he was off to breakfast with the rest of our church family.

I decided to just get to the lodge in time for the morning service and the noon meal, and I methodically organized the morning, changed the bed, put the linens in to soak, gave Linda her shower and dressed her, checked and counted the day’s meds and fed breakfast.  Automatic things while my heart was turning over and over again the restless longing for another place beyond this terrestrial plane.

And then, curling around the edges of my brain swelled  an old, old song that My Sweet Mama sang when I was a little girl.  It embodied the longing, gave words to the ache, and gave substance to Hope.  I began to sing the song as I remembered her singing it.

Sing me a song of Heaven, Beautiful homeland of peace.
Glorious place of beauty, there all my trials shall cease.
Sing me a song of Heaven.  Beautiful Eden Land.
Dear ones are waiting for me, there on that Golden Strand.
Land where no tears are flowing, Land where no sorrows come.
Sing me a song of that beautiful land, my home, sweet home.

The music comforted me, even more than the words.  I could hear My Sweet Mama’s voice singing from somewhere in my memory, and I thought some more about Heaven.  One thing I so often get caught up on is that we’ve said so many things about Heaven that we don’t really have scripture to back up.  What we do have from scripture leaves lots of room for the imagination, to be sure, but the Bible says that we cannot imagine what God has in store for us.  Over these last months, I’ve clung to what the Bible says about Heaven and I’ve come to realize that it isn’t so much what is there that I long for as much as I long for what isn’t.  No more parting.  No more pain.  No more death.  No more sin, sadness and the brokenness that sin brings.  No more war.  No more bad attitudes.  No more restless selfishness. No more grief.

But there is one thing that it says will be there: Singing.  Praise.  Mama is singing.  How I longed to hear that voice again! It had been a long time since she did any singing here on earth, and I could imagine that it is one of the things about Heaven that she enjoys. And so it was, on this Sunday morning in late September, when it felt like I had to hear something from Over There, that My Sweet Mama sang to me a Song of Heaven.  She started to sing it decades ago, but it only really got to my heart after she was There.  And just when I needed it most.

Yes, Mama. I hear you.  Sing it!  And if you should be listening, I’m singing it, too.

Sing me a song of Heaven, when life shall come to a close.
There in the arms of Jesus, my spirit shall find repose.
Sing me a song of Heaven.  Beautiful Eden Land.
Dear ones are waiting for me, there on that Golden Strand.
Land where no tears are flowing, Land where no sorrows come.
Sing me a song of that beautiful land, my home, sweet home.
-Haldor Lillanas

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The Littles

We’ve started the new Sunday School year in our congregation.  Even before Mama fell in May, I had planned to take the month of June off from teaching The Littles because of family vacation and a Yutzy reunion.  With the passing of my Sweet Mama, it was easy to just let other people take care of things and to soak up time with my peers in an adult class of women.  I needed them.  I needed the time.  And it was healing and good.

But I missed my littles.

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We had many good times in the crowded room beside the kitchen at Grace Fellowship Church’s gathering place, where our church body has been meeting since the fire damaged out building on the corner of Carpenter Bridge and Canterbury Roads.  This picture was take the night we got together to pack a goodie box for another child.  It was only taken seven months ago (Actually seven months ago today!) but I cannot believe how much they have grown and matured in these short months.  Katie is a self assured kindergartener, Judah is talking and paying much better attention and Charis is more aware of the needs of her classmates and is less jealous of her Grammy’s attention.  All three are more participant.

The summer had passed so quickly, and I thought often and prayed that God would show me whether I should offer to teach the class for the year coming up.  We have some talented young blood coming up in our church, and teaching is a blessing that is often overlooked in the maturation process.  I know that not everyone is cut out to teach, but I also know that choosing to teach has been one of the ways that God has used in my life to encourage growth, personal study and reliance on HIM for wisdom and courage and strength and even results.  The blessings that I have reaped have been beyond what I have deserved.  And quite honestly, though I really wanted to teach this particular class again, I also didn’t want to step in and  volunteer when God had laid it on someone else’s heart to teach the class.  He may have had blessings abundant in store for someone else, I reasoned, and it would be wrong for me to grasp someone else’s opportunity.  And so, even though I thought the end of summer was coming quickly, I decided to hold my peace and wait and see.

Then one of our superintendents, Davey Burkholder, approached me last Sunday and asked if I would be willing to teach that class of Littles.  I was suddenly unsure of what I should do.  I asked for some time to think about it.  He said that was fine, and in the reorganization part of our Sunday Morning service, it was announced that they were looking for a teacher for the class and they asked for volunteers.

“Whew!” I thought.  “That will be a defining event.  If someone volunteers, I will know that it isn’t for me this  year.”

But I kept mulling it over and over in my head.  I asked Certain Man what he thought  I should do.  He didn’t know.  And he didn’t feel strongly one way of the other from what he said.  I asked Middle Daughter whether she had any advice for me.

“Well, Mom,” she said carefully, “I think that wanting to teach the class is a pretty good indicator of what you should do.  It’s something you enjoy, and if you want to, then I think you should!  I’m taking the year off from the young women’s class, and if you need me, I can help you out.”  And that pretty much did it for me.

So I waited a few days, then called and got the curriculum and found myself back in one of my favorite spots yesterday morning.  The lesson that we used on Sunday was one from the last quarter that hadn’t been used, and it was called “A song for walking outdoors.”  One of the activities that I decided to do was to take the three on a walk outdoors looking for different things that they could pick up in nature to put in their ziploc plastic bags to take home with them.  A flower, a leaf, a seed pod, bark from a peeling tree, a stone, berries. Grace Fellowship Church is located in an industrial park, and is surrounded mostly by concrete and asphalt, but there were stones, a few trees, lots of weeds, and  a couple of patches of grass.  Around a corner and past a chain link fence divider there were some landscaping bushes around another building that I hoped would provide some berries for variety.

I checked the time and then said, “Let’s go over there and see what we can find.  There might be something different over there!”  The three of them were delighted and we headed out across the asphalt patch that separated the us from the other building.

“We have rules,” said Katie confidentially.  “We aren’t allowed to go anywhere on this pavement over here without a grown up.”

“That’s a good rule,” I told her.  “You should never go anywhere without a grown up unless your Daddy and Mommy say it is okay.  And this isn’t a good place for you to go unless there is a grown up with you.”

“Yup,” she said happily.  “But you are a grown up!”

I laughed.  “Yes,” I said, “I guess I am!”

“You are a very old grown up.” She said. (Emphasis Katie’s.)

And I laughed again.

Oh, my Katie-girl!  If you only knew how it is.  Just yesterday, my own girlies were five years old and learning family rules.  The day before that, it was me.  I only turned around twice before I got “very old.”  But you and your brother and my granddaughter, all growing so fast, remind of once was and I feel the eternity of the spirit in these old bones.  You cannot imagine how it is to feel five years old in your heart, but almost 62 in a body that will not run and jump and dance to the music of our incredible world.   But I promise you this.  There is coming a day when this body will dance to the music of Heaven.  And my spirit, eternal and free, will be as young as yours.

And what is inconceivable to me now will be an actuality.

My heart sings grateful praise.

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The Feetwashing Tubs

When our church burned almost six months ago, one of the things that did not melt was our stack of tubs for feetwashing.

Our church family still practices feetwashing.  For those of you who are not acquainted with this tradition, it is usually held in connection with two of our communions a year, in keeping with the passage in John 13:4-17, where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.  In verses 14 and 15, Jesus said, 14 “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other’s feet. 15 I did this as an example so that you should do as I have done for you.”  We have chosen to believe that there is value in taking these words literally and beautiful symbolism in this act of humility, servitude and vulnerability.  Many, many sermons have been preached on what this really means, and I have found it incredibly precious in different ways at different times,

That being said, as we were preparing for communion this spring, Certain Man was under the impression that the elders were planning for feetwashing, and as the deacon, it is his job to take care of the physical preparation for the celebration.  So he stopped one evening on his way home from work and looked for the stack of eight, gray Sterlite tubs that we use for feetwashing.  He found them, alright.  For some reason, they were not melted as were most plastics in the church that terrible morning.  But they were blackened by smoke and dirty from water.  He brought them home.

“Hon,” he said.  “Someone has to clean these up.”  (“Someone,” I took it to mean, was his wife.)  They sat on the cupboard in my laundry room and I looked at them with distaste and dread.  I really didn’t want to scrub them up, but communion was only a week away and I knew I didn’t have much time.

Then the Elders decided that, given the shortened time frame, Sunday school being such a big part of our Sunday morning service, and us not being in our own place, that they were going to forego the feetwashing part of our communion this time.  And I, glad for the reprieve, did not scrub the tubs up.  They sat on my counter sometimes, in my laundry sink sometimes, sometimes being moved so I could work in the area that they were, and for some reason, they did not get any cleaner.  They just sat there and waited.  I kept thinking that maybe someone would get tired of seeing them and would do something with them, but it did not seem to be the case.  Last night I looked at them again (probably for the hundredth time at least) and decided that I would do something with them.  TODAY!

So this morning I drew a big sink full of water with bleach, fetched myself a magic eraser and set to work.  I watched the black spots come off, saw the smooth clear gray come clearer and clearer as the black water was rinsed down the drain.  I thought about our church and about feetwashing and how the brothers and sisters there are such an integral part of who I am and what I do.  I prayed for Alex and Joey and wondered what they would do differently that December night if they could do things over.  I thought about redemption and how, even though it seems so simple, it is never easy, and how, even for them, there is Grace enough, if they would only choose it.

The last tub was especially covered in soot and grime.  I thought about how washing these feetwashing tubs was something that came down to me being willing to do it, and I prayed that in this washing, God would reckon it as a way that I washed the feet of my sisters and brothers.

I took the tubs out, stacked them on the steps to the upper deck to dry.  They were so common in the morning sun, but so glorious in my eyes.  Another thing set wrong by the arson was back to order.  Slowly, one step at a time, things are getting done– not only in the building, but in our hearts.

And I give grateful praise.

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