Monday, May 30, 2011

Thank You

Today is Memorial Day—the day we officially honor our veterans by decorating their graves. Saturday morning I drove my mother to the various cemeteries where we have relatives buried. (For those of you who know I recently injured myself and cannot walk without some pretty significant pain, my friend Janice was also with us. She did all of the “leg work.”) Each year Mom and I take time to remember our ancestors and close family members who have already left this life. Each year we enjoy the flowers decorating the grave stones. Each year we proudly view the flags and briefly mention the sacrifice our soldiers have made to make sure the United States remains the land of the free.

It is a beautiful sight to see the flag displays at the entrances of the local cemeteries. Less than a mile from my house, there is a stately line of flags along the south side of the cemetery and a beautiful memorial with a single flag on the north side. It is an impressive sight and can be enjoyed by many as they travel down the highway to their recreational activities this weekend. I wonder how many give a moment of thought to what those flags represent—to the purpose of this national holiday.

This week my dear friend’s son was killed by an improvised explosive device while he was serving our nation in Afghanistan. Immediately the holiday weekend took a more serious tone. The meaning of this day of remembrance is intensified. I can express my sympathy to her and her family, but how do I express my sincere appreciation for the sacrifice they and so many other soldiers and their families have made so I can enjoy the “good life” as a United States citizen?

Thank You

Those two very important words seem so inadequate, maybe even inappropriate, today. But those are the only words which I can articulate.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2 NIV

Lord, thank you for our military personnel, both the living and those who have lost their earthly lives, who have fought so that we have freedom from a state sponsored religion—so that we can openly and freely worship you.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


I’d be complaining and telling God he is not being fair. I’d be like Job thinking calamity should not happen to me because I am a good person who worships God. I’d be desperately seeking ways to calm my troubled soul. But my good friend is relying on God and his strength instead of wallowing in self-pity. I am sure she has had her moments of asking why and telling God she is angry about the situation. But that is not where she has stayed.

Lorna has had a really bad week. Early in the week her elderly, ill mother went to be with the Lord. As the primary caregiver, Lorna has the bulk of the responsibility of planning for the funeral. Funeral planning for a parent is always difficult.

But worse was to come. On Friday the army chaplain visited her home. Her son had been killed by an improvised explosive device as he served our country in Afghanistan. No mother should have to plan a funeral for her twenty-five year old son. No one should ever have to plan a funeral for her son and her mother in the same week.

In a short email sent to people on our church prayer chain, she briefly stated her need for prayer this week. Her words speak of her faith in God—that she is relying on him for strength and direction. She wrote,

“We don't know about lots of things. But this I do know - and hold on to - that God is in control. He numbers our days. He cares deeply for us. The God who spoke this earth into being certainly has those who he created in His image in the palm of His hands.”

“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” Psalm 57:1 NIV

So even in the worst of times we are to rely on our faith in God.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Philippians 3:20-21 NIV

Lord, Be with this dear lady. Envelop her and her family in your protective love.

My Poor Husband

Okay. Okay. I have had too much time to think lately. Granted I have been thinking mostly about getting comfortable and managing pain. What has amazed me is how much a struggle it is to be nice. When I hurt, I want what I want and I want it right now. My patience is totally absent for anyone who does not do as I wish immediately. I could blame my impatience on the pain and lack of judgment caused by the pain medications messing with my mind. But would my bad behavior surface so readily if it was not deeply engrained? If at my core I was thoughtful, patient, and God-centered, my ugly behaviors would not be such a struggle. And why do my worst behaviors seem to emerge when I am with those I love most? Aren’t these the people who should see my best behaviors and be the recipients of my nicest comments?

Oh, my poor husband! I have tried. I honestly have tried to not be too demanding and to thank him when he meets my needs. However, I must admit when the pain is stabbing my leg, my words are a bit sharp and unappreciative.

“Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.” Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV

I suspect that unkind words said to people who love me and help me would qualify as being unwise, as living foolishly. As a matter of fact, several verses in Proverbs address the issue of a disagreeable wife.

“Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife.” Proverbs 21:19 NIV

So, since especially when I am out of sorts or do not feel well is the time my worst behavior displays itself, I need to let God’s love live in me. A woman with inner beauty is a blessing to her husband and to everyone she encounters.

“A wife of noble character is her husband's crown…” Proverbs 12:4a NIV

Lord, cleanse me of the selfish, self-centered behaviors I have displayed this week. Make me a beacon light of your love.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Osage Orange

The osage orange is truly a remarkable tree if for no other reason than it grows well in Kansas. Actually it grows too well. I’d almost call it a weed. Very few people appreciate this tree except for its use in a hedgerow for a field. That is why most of us call it the hedge tree.

In the hedge row it can pursue growth in odd shaped directions and drop those awful, sticky hedge apples (hedge balls in the farmers' vocabulary) all over the place. A few trees will become a thicket if the field they protect from strong winds is not regularly tilled. If you are wanting firewood that burns long and hot, hedge is perfect but beware of using it in a fireplace as it will pop embers.

We have a large male hedge tree in our backyard. It was there when we moved into our home on the edge of a small Kansas town. It has benefited from the irrigation system we installed and the fertilizer applied to the yard and garden. Recently we had Hummel Tree Service trim out the dead branches. What a difference that made! It is gorgeous and stately.

I have had some time to think as I have been slowly recovering from my back-hip-knee injury. What is important in life? What is just window-dressing? What is a total waste of my energy and time? Like that hedge tree, I need to have some dead wood removed along with some errant branches of temptation. Regular spiritual watering and feeding through Bible study, prayer, and association with Christian friends means I have a healthy relationship with Jesus. However, if I am to stand out as a well-formed, healthy Christian I must cut away that which does not belong in my life.

Surely it cannot be much. I am a good person living a good life.

"Ouch." There goes the branch of self-congratulatory pride. Okay God, let’s get the painful work done.

So what needs to be pruned?
  • The time wasters—those things which really do not matter
  • The things I do to boost my ego
  • My pridefully stubborn behaviors
  • My self-direction
  • My thoughtless behaviors towards others because I am too self-absorbed
“...That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.’" James 4:6b

Lord, continue to show me the deadwood in my life. Remove the errant branches. Prune me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Puny Me

I am puny. Not that I like it nor want that descriptor attached to me. But I have to accept it right now.

From the first second I woke up Friday morning, my life changed dramatically. Thursday was a good day. I felt good, my days were happening reasonably close to what I planned, I was exercising, my yard looked good, I was keeping up on the housework and meal planning, and I was enjoying some hobbies. That all changed Friday morning when I heard Ray say, “Sandy, it is ten minutes after six.”

I was sleeping in an odd, contorted position, jumped at the sound of Ray’s voice, jerkily rolled, and came to rest in another very odd position. Pain poured through my body. Somehow I stumbled to the bathroom and then to the bed. Pain was running through my body but seemed to be centered in my hip even though my knee appeared to be rotated inward. So I "self-diagnosed" that I had a hip out of place, called the chiropractor, and arranged for my dear friend Roz to transport me to the 9:15 appointment.

The pain was excruciating, but the guilt of not being able to help Ray get his mother up for the day was worse. During a good day it takes two people to get her up. Friday morning she did not feel well and her blood pressure was unusually low. But somehow, Ray managed all by himself. At one point he came into the bedroom, gently smiled at me, and said, ”God is testing me this morning.”

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship…” 2 Timothy 4:5a NIV

The hip was not out of place by the time I reached the chiropractor. Maybe it slipped back in as I dressed. Maybe it never was out. Who knows? All I remember is the excruciating pain. The chiropractor’s instructions to ice the painful area and the administration of an ultrasound treatment did help a bit but by early Saturday morning, I was calling Janice, another special friend, to transport me to the emergency room. I actually told the x-ray technician she was running a torture chamber. I did say it nicely because I know her and respect her. I was trying to lighten the situation as I had been bawling and panting uncontrollably from the pain of lying on the x-ray table.

No broken bones were discovered which was not a surprise to me. Unless waking up in an odd position can break a bone, I had done nothing to warrant a bone injury. I was given a prescription for pain pills and told to contact my doctor on Monday. Monday morning another dear friend, Rita, took me to the doctor. He confirmed that it is not a bone issue, gave me some instructions, and prescribed more pain medication.

From my waist to my knee on my left side was a mass of pain Friday, Saturday, and most of Sunday. By Monday I had improved enough that I could recognize specific areas of injury. The major areas of pain were confined to specific locations in my left buttock, hip, leg, and knee. I realized Monday morning that my knee was numb which concerned me because numbness may mean nerve damage. By Monday afternoon it had become obvious that the worst pain was caused by muscle spasms related to the position of my leg. With that discovery, I am able to start walking using a walker as long as my body is flexed at the knee, hip, and waist. I truly look like a little old gray-haired lady when I go from the recliner to the bathroom.

I am very thankful for my Christian friends and neighbors. It has been such a comfort to know I can call on them anytime when a need arises. My heart has been profoundly encouraged by their calls and offers to help.

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:13 NIV

So to all our friends, please know it is unbelievably calming to experience your concern and generosity during this challenging time. Your love has motivated Ray and I toward having a positive outlook and inspired us to follow God’s direction.

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV

Lord, thank you for the reminder that you are in control. Thank you for forcing me to recognize the many ways you care for and bless me each and every day (even during the challenging days).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Putting on the Show

We had tree problems so I called Hummel Tree Service for a solution. It was fascinating watching the three men take down a large tree in a small area, grind the small branches into mulch, cut to size the large branches and trunk, stack the logs in a trailer, grind down the stump, rake up debris, and leave the area in better condition than they found it.

While watching the process, I started thinking about how the life of that tree parallels my spiritual life. It is important not to stretch this kind of comparison to the point of being ridiculous, but this time the visual helped me understand my spiritual life better.

One of the trees was putting on a show of being healthy, but it really was a hypocrite. It looked good from the west, but from the east the rotting interior was obvious. As that tree was cut down, a squirrel came scurrying from the interior. In reality, that "pretty" tree was hollow, decayed, weak, harboring a squatter.

“The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” Isaiah 29:13 NIV

That tree knew how to put on a good show. It looked good from the side I normally viewed it, from the side it wanted me to see. But inside it was rotten, void, empty.

How often do I put on the good show for others? I know how I am supposed to behave in most situations to be considered socially well-adjusted. I do not mean to be a fake, a hypocrite. I mean well, but if I am not regularly nourishing myself with God’s Word, my core will become rotten, unable to distinguish behaviors which are pleasing to God from behaviors which are pleasing to my selfish nature. Self-rationalization takes over instead of seeking God as my source of strength. The interior rot accelerates. No matter how hard I try to hide my sin from others, I will be unsuccessful. Eventually the rot will become exposed, even on the good side which I allow to be seen. Sin cannot be concealed or camouflaged forever.

This rotten-to-the-core tree even had a squirrel as a squatter. When my core becomes empty, hollow, that vacancy leaves room for sin to take up residence.

So I have two choices when I find my core hollow and sin seeking to lodge itself in my life. Either I can continue harboring unrepentant sin, or I can genuinely seek God’s forgiveness, guidance, and direction in overcoming the sin which has invaded me.

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires…For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. Romans 6:11-12, 14 NIV

Lord, make me aware of any sin which takes up residence in me. Give me the strength and desire to eradicate it using your guidance and power.