Friday, May 18, 2012

The Rollercoaster--Then God

               As amazing as it is in today’s society, Michelle and Travis Swift were high school sweethearts and are still happily married even though they have had some disappointments and tough decisions to make. They elected to not have children because the doctors said Michelle would probably not be able to walk afterwards if she became pregnant because a pregnancy would put too much strain on her fragile spine.
                Travis and Michelle were very happy and content as a childless couple. But they saw how much Travis’ brother enjoyed his brood. So they decided to explore adoption. Little did they know this decision would become a four and a half year ordeal. Because they were a responsible couple and wanted to go about adopting in the best way possible, they consulted two couples who had successfully adopted children. Both couples advised them to go through a social worker. What an experience that was!
                The Swifts busily started making the necessary preparations. The home study was completed, reference letters were submitted, adoption money was set aside, and the nursery was made ready. When it unexpectedly came to their attention that a young couple was not going to keep their baby, they excitedly contacted the social worker.  Their hopes were high. It looked like a sure thing. Then suddenly it all fell apart, and the child went to another couple. Devastation.
                Time passed without a word from the social worker. Unexpectedly a call came.  A teenage girl was putting her child up for adoption. An interview with the teen and her mother was scheduled for the next evening. They arrived early to discover another couple was also being interviewed. However, after their interview Travis and Michelle were excited because it had gone extremely well. They were sure the baby would be theirs. But no. The baby went to the other couple. Devastation again.
                Because the process with the social worker had been so discouraging, they decided to investigate being foster parents with the intent to adopt through the Youthville program. At the first meeting with Youthville, it became apparent that the foster care/adoption program was not an option for them.
 Travis and Michelle had met with numerous frustrations and a rollercoaster of emotions. They had paid expenses and had spent considerable time pursuing the opportunity to raise a child.  Each possibility for adopting a child had resulted in failure. It seemed as though they were meant to be a childless couple even though they were sure the Lord had placed a desire for a child in their hearts. They asked themselves if they were truly hearing God or were they misinterpreting God’s answer to their prayers for a baby. They were more than willing to provide a loving home to a child in need, but no sign of this possibility was in sight. They grew increasingly mad and frustrated at God. Why had God not honored their good intensions and efforts? They could not bear the thought of any longer enduring the emotional rollercoaster of excitement then the devastating sense of loss. Their search for a child came to an end.
Because they believed parenthood was not going to happen for them, Michelle and Travis resolved to be the very best uncle and aunt they could be.  They sold their house in Wichita and happily assumed a larger mortgage in Benton where they could be close to nieces and nephews.  They were shaken a bit when shortly after moving Travis was laid off. But within two weeks he had a job. They celebrated their good fortune and settled into a routine. They did not know that church friends were still actively praying that an adoption would be in their future. Michelle and Travis had given up, but their prayer warrior friends had not.
 Unexpectedly a friend of the family contacted them. He was acquainted with a couple who had decided to make their soon-to-be-born daughter available for adoption. They were an older couple and had grown children. This couple had discussed raising the child, terminating the pregnancy, and putting the child up for adoption. They decided that adoption was the best option because of their health issues and financial situation. The family friend arranged a meeting at a restaurant, introduced the two couples, and left. After a few awkward moments, the two couples exchanged information. Before long, both couples realized that the baby girl was meant for Travis and Michelle. A lawyer was contacted and the necessary papers prepared.
Amazingly, the only concern of the birth parents was that their birth child would have a good, loving home. The birth mother even invited Michelle to attend the final doctor appointments of the pregnancy.  The birth mother repeatedly told Michelle that Michelle was the real mother and that she as the birth mother was only the oven. Michelle and Travis were in the hospital when Abby was born. While still in the hospital, the birth mother signed the papers, brought them to Travis and Michelle with a smile on her face, and enthusiastically congratulated them on the birth of their daughter.
As they reflect on all that happened, Travis and Michelle can see God’s hand in the whole adoption process. They see how God was preparing them for this very special little girl who has brought immense joy into their lives. They believed they would save a child, but now know that God had a special plan to enrich their lives beyond their wildest dreams with this very special little girl.

I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. 1 Samuel 1:27  NIV

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Plugged In

Flip on the switch
        Put on the righteous show
Not plugged in
        Out of contact with God

Seeking to give light
        But not connected to power
Associated with the world
        But no connection to power
Doing what I think is best
        But not connected to The Power

Flip on the switch
        Put on the righteous show
Not plugged in
        Out of contact with God

Fellowship with believers
        A dim light comes on
Daily reading His Word
        A dim light brightens
Dropping to my knees in prayer
        The light is shining

Flip on the switch
        Living a righteous life
        Spiritual power
Plugged in
        Living a life guided by God

Friday, February 24, 2012

Youthful Blessings

Spending time with teenagers can be challenging, rewarding, energizing, and sometimes discouraging. The discouraging part comes when a teen is unable to fully participate in special youth activities because of something that is out of the control of the teen such as the parent’s current financial situation. It is just not right. Our youth leaders work to make sure this does not happen.

The youth leaders at The Benton Church are gifted at involving the youth in meaningful fundraising events. The benefits to the youth are that they learn responsibility, they learn the value of doing a job well, and their parents can afford to let them be involved in special events. Sometimes a youth will join after the fundraising events are over. Or the youth may be getting very little help from their parents and need extra money-making opportunities. For those youth, a last minute smaller project is often arranged by the leaders. One teen helped in fundraisers and added fifty dollars received for Christmas gifts, but still was short of funds. An anonymous donor had provided four hundred fifty dollars as scholarship money to assist any youth who found themselves in this type of situation.  One special project was provided by the Butler County Conservation District who asked for six youth to serve at one of their dinners.  One of the ladies at that dinner was so impressed with those six teens that she donated two hundred fifty more dollars for youth activities. Instead of sitting at home feeling rejected, through the scholarship donations and the extra money-making opportunities, several youth were able to fully fund their trips and will be a part of the fellowship and fun on the mountain in Colorado. What a blessing.

One teen confided to the leaders that going on the trip would be impossible because of the cost. During the conversation, it was revealed that things were very bad at home. One of the problems mentioned was that the pipes in the home had frozen and burst so the water had to be turned off.  When leaders learned of this need, an anonymous donor was found, who even though he had already donated scholarship money for the ski trip, he volunteered three hundred dollars to be used toward repairing the plumbing in this house.

One of the youth had been attending youth group off and on. More off than on. Part of the reason was that his home life had been volatile lately. His parents had separated and recently divorced. This teen really wanted to be a part of the ski trip even though it would be almost impossible to get the necessary permission form returned and the money paid in time. The youth leaders worked with the parents. The teen is thrilled. As a result the parent volunteered to pay half the ski trip expenses for any youth who still needed some financial help.

The sporting clay shoot event each fall is another example of generosity. Last fall a gun valued at eleven hundred dollars was donated. It was an important drawing card. Through the work of youth to conduct this event and the active participation of church members and friends, these teens cleared two thousand dollars.

One family donates five hundred dollars every year to provide for the various cost of running a youth program which not only is fun, but also emphasizes responsibility and learning about God. Yes, youth go on a ski trip, but they also participate in 3-In-One Christian Camp, Kansas Christian Ashram, a YWAM mission trip, and various service projects in the community.

Whether it is bidding at the Youth Chili Feed and Auction, preparing Wednesday evening supper, providing transportation, or donating money and merchandise, each and every person’s generosity is important to the success of the youth program whose main goal is to expose youth to Jesus Christ and biblical principles in a safe environment.

We give a special thank you to our youth leaders: Don Hoover, Jarod Pirtle, Jeffrey Schiesser, Katy Schiesser, and Mike Wallace. We appreciate the dedication of Aubrey Pirtle and Dana Schiesser who are our regular “kitchen moms.”

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hand in the Candy Jar

Appearing so inviting
        bright rainbow colors
                delectable shapes
Calling to my taste buds
        solid pieces
                creamy centers
Drawing me to appealing
        nutty caramel
                milk chocolate

All deceptively good
                then craving more
My hand stuck in the candy jar
        greedily grabbing hold
                yearning for new satisfaction

Holding onto sins leaves me
                desiring more

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why Should I Forgive?

Do you write comments in the margins of your Bible? I do. This morning I ran across a comment in the margin that caused a flash of negative emotion. I suddenly and intensely remembered the destruction that the acrimonious dissolving of a relationship with a close Christian friend caused. I think the extreme hurt I experienced is a result not only of the former emotional closeness but also because of the sharing of our spiritual lives. This former friend’s name and a comment were scribbled in my Bible beside this verse.

“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8  ESV

A flood of emotions engulfed me. I remembered the hurt and the time of difficulty. It is such an ingrained part of our human nature—to bring up the hurts and to nurse them. I wanted to focus on me and my feelings, my wants, my desires. That is why at times I have struggled with mild depression and anger. How can I expect to not be angry and depressed if I choose to spend time rehashing old hurts and rationalizing my behaviors? I am sure that by now, my side of the story only vaguely resembles what really happened. In my mind, my behavior has been justified and the other person’s behavior has been vilified. What have I gained? Nothing but the negative experiences caused by anger and depression. You would think that by making the events look better from my perspective would make me happier not sadder. That is not the case. The more I think about those sad events and sanitize my actions, the more I feel the strength of the negativism the breakup of a Christian friendship created. Scripture has instructions for dealing with other Christians.

 “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up...” 1 Thessalonians 5:11a  ESV

“…Be at peace among yourselves.” 1 Thessalonians 5:13b  ESV
“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” 1 Thessalonians 5:15  ESV

So if I want to follow God’s directions, I must choose to forgive and let go of the bad memories.  I must purposefully choose to focus on the good traits of Christians and the endearing memories. I must, at a heart level, seek only what is good for my former friend.  

Lord, give me the ability to choose to remember the good times. Create in me the mindset of building up and seeking the good for all of my fellow Christians. Give me a forgiving spirit when others do not meet my expectations.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Guns and God—Breaking the Mold

“Do you want to get a Kansas hunting license? Then come on over to The Benton Church for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism (KDWPT) hunters education course.” That was the invitation this fall. And what an event it was!

Why would a church allow a hunting course to be taught in the church building? Because hunting is a family activity in our community. It is an excellent way for fathers to build relationships with their sons (yes, mothers and daughters enjoy hunting too). The actual course is taught by KDWPT approved instructors, but local volunteers are needed for a successful event.

Ken Taber saw the need for a local hunter education course. He checked the church calendar for availability, secured permission to hold the event, and arranged for the instructor. Of course he enlisted the support of his wife Kim. Ken’s friends Don Hoover and Todd Crouch were eager to help him in planning and conducting the event. Naturally there were doubters who said no one would attend an event in our small town. Wrong. Our location on a major highway meant easy access, and The Benton Church was glad to promote our location to the outlying communities

One of the disadvantages given for holding the event in Benton was the lack of fast-food restaurants in our town.  The closest one is over fifteen minutes away so people would have very little time for lunch on Saturday. However, that was no obstacle for the Tabers. They sought donations for lunch and refreshments. Dustrol in Towanda and Ditchwitch in Wichita provided money for food as did the church and some friends. For the free lunch Saturday, tacos with all the fixings were served. Kim’s mother, Mike Erikson, Laurie Pfeiffer, Barb Crouch, and Aubrey Pirtle helped with cooking and serving food. Snacks and bottled water were available for breaks in the sessions.

Because Ken and Kim wanted people to feel comfortable in the church setting, they made sure class members were greeted in the parking lot and volunteers were available to assist at various times throughout the event. Karsten Reilly, Don Hoover, Curt Ghormley, Jeff Schiesser, Joel Fox, Todd Pfeiffer, and others provided help with technology, security, training assistance, and answering questions. These church members not only provided help for the event, but they witnessed to the people present. It was not an in-your-face witnessing but the very relational, friendly type of conversations which take place each Sunday between services. Some of the people had not been inside a church in many years. The church men could easily talk with these people about hunting and sprinkle in some information about church activities and praise to God. Both the ladies and men who volunteered were skillful at putting people at ease in strange surroundings. Several Benton Church middle school church youth were attending the course. These young men confidently worked to make the visitors in their church feel welcome.

Serving others is natural for Kim. Because she is a teacher, Kim was asked to read the test to a couple of boys who were difficulty with reading.  This course was not about reading skill. It was about knowing how to hunt safely. So Kim took the boys to a location where she could read the test to them. The boys were able to demonstrate that they knew the material well.

Over one hundred people were at this event because parents bringing children chose to stay. They saw how our men controlled misbehaviors in a friendly relational manner before the behaviors became a problem. They saw church men and women having a joyful time serving others.

Quite often God works in ways which seem illogical to us. People who seldom, maybe never step inside a church, found being in a church building to be a pleasant experience. This event demonstrated that Christians are relational and caring. It was promoting family activity. God provided an opportunity for the un-churched to have contact with Christians who are not stuffy do-gooders but are real people who love to have fun.

Jesus prayed to God the Father, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” John 17:15  ESV

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Losing My Mind

I fear losing my mind. Alzheimer’s is a very prevalent disease on my father’s side of the family. As the disease progressed and eventually took my father’s life, I experienced  frustration with my inability to do anything to prevent my father’s mental deterioration. All my mother, brothers, and I could do was to make him as comfortable as possible, to provide safe surroundings, and to demonstrate how much we loved him.

Alzheimer’s is such an insidious disease because the brain actually deteriorates. I’ve seen pictures of the brain of a person with this disease. The affected brain has holes which are left when surrounding brain tissue stuck together in an unnatural manner. It is impossible to restore the brain matter which has been destroyed. I fear this?

I try to keep up with the latest information about how to avoid Alzheimer’s as there is no known cure, and it tends to run in families. The current information is only about how to retard its development and to slow its destruction of brain tissue.

Current advice says to control cholesterol, control weight, control blood pressure, eat fruit (especially berries), and exercise. Sounds like living a controlled, healthy life. Self-control is one of the lessons God’s Word teaches.

 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” Titus 2:11-12  ESV

Not only does advise for slowing or avoiding Alzheimer’s involve living a physically healthy life, but it also admonishes us to live a mentally healthy life. It has something to do with our ability to keep mental pathways healthy and to retain the ability to build new connections in the brain if old ones become unavailable.  The advice of brain experts is to think, problem solve, and learn to do new things.  Suggestions generally include doing crossword puzzles, learning a new language, and learning to play a musical instrument for which you have no skill. In other words, keep learning. Actively involve your brain.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness.”  2 Peter 1:5-6  ESV

I see no guarantees, but if I remain active, have a healthy lifestyle, and avoid gluttony I may stand a chance of greatly delaying if not totally avoiding the Alzheimer’s curse.

So, I intend to follow God’s plan for living.

Lord, thank you for giving me workable and sensible guidelines for living this life well. Give me the willingness to do as you direct.