Sunday, July 24, 2016

Nothing Except....From Misery to Mercy to Ministry - Part 2




We were newly-wed, twenty-one years old and in New York City for the Billy Graham Crusade School on Evangelism. One of the seminars was in an old city church and on the wall was a plaque with these memorable words:

Expect Great Things from God
Attempt Great Things for God - William Carey

Chuck and I  saw this exhortation as our unique marching orders from our God and we enthusiastically accepted the call. Yes!  We would do just what William Carey challenged us to do.  Nothing could stand in the way of our desire to do something "BIG" for our God.  Chuck was a new believer and I was newly dedicated to walk by faith, no matter how difficult the pathway. 

GREAT - yes GREAT - would be our impact.

So when God opened doors for Chuck to pastor a tiny, dying inner city Philadelphia church while he attended seminary, our answer was, "YES!"
 It did not matter that Chuck's salary would be below poverty level. We had Jesus! It didn't matter that this little church was dying. We would turn around this little congregation into a vibrant, living testimony to God's power and grace!  We planned, prayed and dreamed of the day this BIG, beautiful, stone building with enormous, glorious stained glass windows that told the story of Jesus, our GREAT Savior. would one day be packed!
  We would succeed in our passion to turn our world upside down for Jesus.  No matter that only 30 people were left in this once vibrant mission, established in 1903.  We had a call - Attempt GREAT things for God.  Expect GREAT things from God.  And surely, a GREAT BIG vibrant city church was God's will and we would make it happen!
Twenty-one years old.  Pastoring a church as a "one-year-old" Christian with no background as a Protestant.  Ah, yes, we would definitely turn things upside down.  But not exactly as we planned. 

God's definition of GREAT is often quite different from our own.

God's idea of great was to use that little congregation as our School Master. Something great was happening, but it was not in the size of the congregation. The greatness could not be measured with numbers. Something great was happening in our hearts. Three years later Chuck asked to be moved to a suburban church. Instead God redeployed us to another inner-city church - this one deeper in the city and far more dangerous.  In a neighborhood whose claim to fame was that it had the highest rate of day time gang killings.  A once white, prosperous, Polish neighborhood.  Now, numerous ethnic groups and skin colors.  Our children's best friends were Bindu and Sindu Babu, two little Indian girls who lived in an apartment that overlooked our postage stamp, fenced in concrete yard.  Women carrying grocery bags on their heads was a common sight. Such diversity made our move more exciting. YES, this time, we will do something GREAT for God in this tiny dying inner city church.  After we moved in to the huge old parsonage one of the leaders told Chuck, "This is three dying congregations that came together out of desperation. We're gasping for breath. The hearse is backed up to the door....." implying, "Good luck."

Our first Sunday in our new mission.  We should have been high on Jesus.  Yet, after I put the two babies down for their naps, I found my young pastor husband crying quietly as he sat on the front porch.  The promised "amazing music program" consisted of a powerful pipe organ and a choir of 3 elderly women.  One couple without white hair sat in the pews of the 500 seat sanctuary.  The other 27 were elderly, tired and almost hopeless as they listened to this new energetic, twenty-four year old preacher call them to action and silently wondered who this young guy thought was going to do all the work to accomplish his vision. 
"Go for it!" was their response. 

I didn't know how to respond to Chuck's soft words, "Sharon, there is so much work. Look at this community that needs Jesus.  I don't know where to start. The needs are beyond me. We are so alone. I don't want to stay here."

File:CareyEngraving.jpg
William Carey, 1761-1834
What does attempting GREAT THINGS FOR GOD look like in a dying church, a young pastor's family, a congregation of people longing for something more, desperate to hold on to the past glory, not sure what expecting great things from God looks like? William Carey, the one credited with this great quote was called  the father of modern missions and lived in the late 1700's.  I'm thinking that if he lived today, he would say that attempting great things for God was his mission statement and this one, also credited to him was his business plan: 

 "I can plod.  I can persevere in any definite pursuit.  To this I owe everything."







 Over the next few weeks, Elisha's question to the hopeless widow in 2 Kings 4:1 [See Part 1 for an introduction to this broken widow's story:  Nothing Except....From Misery to Mercy to Ministry, Part 1   took on life as we began to take stock of what little we had to offer in what felt like a hopeless mission. Chuck concluded, "If only I had two strong families who shared the vision of the Gospel...." But there didn't seem to be anyone who had the energy or the passion for Kingdom Building in this neighborhood.
Chuck's cry to the Lord, "The inner city is not where I want to be. What have You done bringing us to this place? I have nothing to give to this needy community. The needs are bottomless."

Implied in that cry was, "I am your servant. I gave you my life. Surely you have something more exciting for me to do than trudge through life in this dying community, all by myself."

Chuck's cries sound eerily like the widow in 2 Kings, when she reminds Elisha that her preacher husband, one of Elisha's guys, is dead,murdered by Elisha's arch enemy, Jezebel, implying Elisha must take responsibility for saving her family.

Elisha's response to the widow is not much different than God's response to us in those lonely days. 

Watch as the prophet Elisha seems to callously respond to a grief-stricken, hopeless widow's pleas for help from him and see if you can detect the similarities. She is about to lose her two sons. The widow's husband was one of the prophets murdered by the wicked Jezebel. Surely Elisha, God's representative should take responsibility for saving her penniless family. A creditor is coming to take her two sons as payment for her bills. She asks Elisha for help. She has nothing - or does she? Elisha asks her a critical question, one that we would do well to ask ourselves when life seems hopeless:

,"What do you have in your house?" Her response, "Nothing, except......"

Nothing, except......
What is the "except" in your house, your hands?

"Nothing....except....well, I have a little bit of oil." She most likely was thinking, "The oil is worthless, Elisha - not even enough to bake a loaf of bread.  And in fact, I don't even have flour for bread....so what can you do with that? Can't you just pay my bills so that my sons aren't made slaves?" Maybe Elisha could have paid the bills for her, but he had something better in mind, a life lesson that would not only pay the bills today but meet her needs in the future. Elisha was about to show this widow how to attempt something great for God and to expect something great from God.

And God could have magically filled that city church with like-minded, passionate about the Gospel families. But He had something bigger in mind for us.

The Widow starts to see hope in the mundane.

Elisha's directive in response to her answer had to be even more confusing, but this desperate woman immediately obeys his directions, "Go around and ask (beg) all your neighbors for empty jars.  Don't ask for just a few (expect something big and GREAT to happen!).  Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons (I LOVE that Elisha wants her sons to witness this miracle).  Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side."

She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons (this is a private, family miracle).  They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring.

Imagine the excitement growing with the filling of each jar!
When all the jars were full, she said to her son, "Bring me another one."
But he replied, "There is not a jar left."  Then the oil stopped flowing.  She went and told the man of God, and he said, "Go, sell the oil and pay your debts.  You and your sons can live on what is left." 
2 Kings 4:3 - 7

God's response to Chuck's hopeless cries was similar to Elisha's response to this broken widow. "Chuck, what do you have in your heart?"

Chuck's response: "Nothing except disappointment, despair, weariness....well, nothing except .... a love for Jesus and His people."

God's Response: "Start walking your neighborhood and extending that love to each person you meet. Extend that love to each person in this dying church. Tell them: 'God loves you and so do I!"

Such a directive seemed like spraying a destructive roaring fire with a water gun instead of a fire hose. But each day, I watched as Chuck said those words over and over again. The neighbors took notice of this young, vibrant pastor who spent time on the streets connecting with young people and before long, our home filled up with hope and laughter and transformed lives.

God was using this little dying church as our second School Master, teaching us that obedience in the mundane things is often the key that unlocks the "great things" God has planned for each of us.

 Elisabeth Elliot once stated:

“Does it make sense to pray for guidance about the future if we are not obeying in the thing that lies before us today? How many momentous events in Scripture depended on one person's seemingly small act of obedience! Rest assured: Do what God tells you to do now, and, depend upon it, you will be shown what to do next.” 

In my next post, this despairing widow will be a spiritual mother for us, as we pull "Teaching Moments" from her life. In the meantime, "Do what God tells you to do now, and depend upon it, you will be shown what to do next."

In His grip,
Sharon

PS Catch up on the introduction to the story of Elisha and the widow: Nothing Except....From Misery to Mercy to Ministry

Monday, July 18, 2016

Nothing, except....From Misery to Mercy to Ministry

 "I need help!  My preacher husband is dead! We're out of money. The bill collectors are coming to enslave my two sons as payment for all of our unpaid bills.  Please, help me!"


Though written thousands of years ago (2 Kings 4), this story, ripe with dread, need, and desperation, holds current applications that can transform the way we respond to impossible circumstances.

The Background
Elisha, the prophet has taken on the mantle of Elijah, the prophet. During Elijah's tenure, Ahab and Jezebel murdered God's prophets (I Kings 18:13, 18:4; 19:1) and it's probable that the widow who cried these words to Elisha, is the wife of one of the murdered prophets:

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord.  But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves."

Elisha's response:  What do you have in your house?

Let's imagine this widow as a normal, emotional woman who is about to watch her sons dragged away into slavery from which they will never escape. Do you think that Elisha's question satisfied the widow's expectations?  Implied in her plea to Elisha is, "YOU need to fix this. My husband was a faithful servant - YOUR servant. You owe him this, Elisha."

Did she feel his response minimized her need, her right to cry out in despair? Maybe Elisha came across as indifferent to her anguish. I wonder if the widow refrained from lashing back with, "Do you think I'm an idiot, that I haven't used everything possible to save my boys? What kind of a question is that!"

Elisha doesn't join her despair party, but instead challenges her to get a  grip, and consider carefully the blessings God has entrusted to her.  He assumes that there is still something in her house that God can grow into a miracle.

Right in Front of Our Eyes
Sometimes a solution is right in front of our eyes, but we can't see it through our tears or frustration.  Our dishwasher door refused to close.  I made sure the racks were hitting the back of the dishwasher and confirmed that nothing was in the way.  I concluded the latch was broken and made an appointment with a repair man.  He immediately pulled out the top rack and removed a glass pot lid and said,"Here's the problem."  I stood behind him and shook my head "no" to Chuck.  I KNEW that was not the problem.  The repairman then closed the dishwasher door.  All done.  Yes, I was embarrassed.

Sometimes a solution or at least part of the solution is right in front of us but we need someone else to show us the way.  Elisha forces the widow to view her circumstances through a different grid.  Did she initially shake her head "no" at Elisha's calm response to her desperation?

 She had to reboot her thinking to get her mind and emotions aligned with Elisha's direction.  She responds, "I have nothing.....except a little oil...."

Elisha was about to show this widow how to attempt something great for God and to expect something great from God which we'll unpack in our next post.

Teaching Moments

In the meantime, there are some life-changing teaching moments in this story, not only for the one struggling but the one who can help.

Teaching Moment #1:  When in need, ask for help.
We sense the widow has no one to turn to except for Elisha and she does. She admits she needs help. How many of us wait until the point of desperation to humbly ask for help?

Teaching Moment #2:  Know Your Limitations
Elisha knew his limitations.  He couldn't help her, but God could.  His question, What do you have in your house starts to help the widow to re-evaluate her circumstances.  His question challenged her with: Are your really without hope?  Has your crisis blinded you to one blessing, one thing, one hope? And ultimately, has God really abandoned you? In the middle of my own frustration melt-downs, those questions initially frustrate me more, but when I take a deep breath and listen carefully, I begin to see that perhaps there is something hopeful that I missed.

Teaching Moment #3:  Choose to listen and act
Elisha's question is like a glass of cold water thrown in the face of a hysterical woman.  Widow, stop, think.  This is an opportunity for God to do something amazing.
But she had to listen to him and put aside any frustration or anger toward his simple solution.  She allows him to lead her to a place of hope.

Teaching Moment #4: Nothing is small in God's hands
What we have may seem insignificant in the face of the crisis, the lost job, the broken marriage or wayward child.  But Elisha's question challenges us to take inventory.  What do I really have in my house, my hands, my heart?  Submit it all to Him.  My time, my relationships, my work, my home.  My treasure.

The widow listened when Elisha in essence challenged her with, "This is terrible, yes.  But is there really no hope?" In my next post, we'll see that she also acted in response to his direction.

Teaching Moment #5:  With God nothing is Impossible
Initially all the widow can see is nothing.  The despair, hopelessness, her son gone.  But maybe Elisha raised his eyebrows at her first response, "I have nothing..."  And maybe just that look forced her to think again and then a light slowly goes on.  Hope starts to dawn.  "Well, ok, I have something, a little oil...."

Teaching Moment #6:  From Misery to Mercy to Ministry
We see Elijah slowly, methodically moving her from misery to mercy to ministry.  He doesn't deny her problem.  But he helps her to see her circumstances through a different grid.  She begins to believe that maybe, just maybe, God will transform the mundane into the majestic.

This widow moves from misery: I have no one to help me, I have nothing, no one cares about me....why does everything bad happen to me...

To Mercy - Well, I have little oil... Instead of no hope, well maybe.....her attitude starts to change.

As we continue the story, we'll see God expanding that little bit of hope into a miracle of ministry.

In His grip,
Sharon

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Law Enforcement: The Families Behind the Badge

The headlines scream the stunning news far too often: Officer killed in the line of duty. What happens to the families of these brave men and women? How long do they search for the whys, why did this happen to us? To our loved one? Why would God let this happen? What about law enforcement families who lose their loved one in an off-duty death? In this interview,  Law Enforcement: The Families Behind the Badge  by MARKINC Ministries,  Chuck and I ask these questions and more of two adults who were children when their law enforcement dad and his partner were killed by gunfire outside of their police station. Along with their transparent answers, you will also hear from the sister of a law enforcement officer whose off-duty death showed her the unique grief and loss of a law enforcement family, no matter the cause of death. We are confident this transparent and practical interview will not only encourage law enforcement families but will help those who love them better understand their grief journey. 

The current events in our country stir up the grief and pain of their loss and some of the impact is just now coming to the surface as they learn of other law enforcement families experiencing the same devastating loss. Almost one million men and women leave their homes every day with the sole purpose of providing protection for the people of the United States. It is a high and hard and extremely risky calling. How many of their family members kiss them goodbye each day, pushing back the fear that this might be the last time they see their loved one alive? While most of us ask, "When will you be home?" with every expectation that our family member will come home how many law enforcement family members secretly ask, "Will you come home?" 

Law Enforcement: The Families Behind the Badge 

LISTEN OR DOWNLOAD FREE OF CHARGE


Law Enforcement: The Families Behind the Badge


Listen for a glimpse into the hearts of our law enforcement families and please pass on this interview that offers help and hope to our law enforcement families.

In His grip,
Sharon 





Thursday, July 7, 2016

Another Year


A few days after the fatal car accident that took the lives of our sixteen-year-old son, Mark, and his friend, Kelly, a friend called to tell us that someone had placed two white crosses on the side of the road at the accident scene. We didn't know the builder of those crosses until years later. The crosses reminded us of our theology. This life is not all there is. At that moment their physical bodies died, Jesus stepped in to usher them into a Place where they would not need faith. Because everything they believed was now a reality.







Chuck and I visit those crosses on Mark's birthday, Easter, Christmas and July 6, the anniversary of Mark's Homegoing. The first year, 1994, we "accidentally" met up with Kelly's parents, who like us, were placing flowers on her cross. We formed a circle, held hands and prayed, asking our God to keep all of His promises.  As time took its toll on the original wooden crosses, our son-in-law, Greg, replaced them, using a material that would last. Another friend regularly weeds the area surrounding the crosses, extending respect and honor to us and the memory of our son and his friend.
As is our custom, Chuck and I placed flowers on Mark's cross again this year, the 23rd anniversary of his Homegoing. To our surprise, another "secret angel" had been there before us and written the names of Mark and Kelly on their crosses.  Who is this person? We may never know, but clearly, it is someone who still remembers and cares.

Hard as I try to pretend this day is like every other day, several days before the anniversary tears are quick to come. How I long to see our son. Twenty-three years ago, I refused to believe I would one day be that woman who mentioned she "lost a child" ten years ago, fifteen years ago......because I knew I would never survive the grief for that long. And yet, here I am.

I struggled to find new words to describe my grief. Instead, I shared an old blog post The Train is Coming. And words written by me in 2010 comfort and encourage me to once more choose to believe that God is sovereign and I can trust Him:

The train of grief is coming, The vibration of its thundering speed and  the faint, lonely whistle in the distance warn me.  Yes, it is coming.  I know it is useless to try to outrun it.  Yet, I have learned over the past 18 years that the train can also bring strange comfort and treasures. Today I remember how Jesus thanked God for the bread and wine at the last meal He would share with His disciples, knowing a cruel death awaited Him within hours of that meal.  Picture the peace He displayed as He thanked God for the provision of sustenance, His disciples not realizing the thanks was an act of surrender to God's purposes for Him.  I picture myself at that table and Jesus looking into my eyes and firmly exhorting me: Do this in remembrance of me. He knows my circumstances,my anguish, my longing for what was. Yet my big brother reminds me that thanking God for the blessings He gives us, no matter the darkness, and perhaps especially in the middle of the darkness, helps equip me for whatever may be coming. Jesus thanked God for blessings in the middle of anguish and by thanking God, He surrendered to God's sovereign love. Thanking God recognizes that He is our Refuge, Rest, Rescue and Rock. He is giving me the secret for surviving the coming collision.  (The Train is Coming)

The names of our children on "their crosses" reminds me that God continues to give me "treasures in the darkness, riches stored in secrets places so that I might know He is the Lord my God, the One Who calls ME by name. " (Isaiah 45:2-3.) He knows my name, just as He knows Mark's and Kelly's.
July 6, 2016

And so, yes.....

The train is coming. But the train will not destroy me for I am learning to thank God for His provisions, His blessings and to surrender to His purposes.  
The train is coming. But I am not afraid.  (The Train is Coming)

In His grip,
Sharon

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mommy's Gardenias and Almost Discarded People

"Should we schedule the funeral right now?"  My startled response to Chuck's question lasted only a few seconds.  He had just bought me a large gardenia tree for Mother's Day.  Gardenias are one of my favorite flowers. Their beauty and scent are comfort food for my soul because of my mother.
I can't remember a time when my mother did not have a gardenia bush in the sunniest window of the house. No matter how small the gardenia started out, once it entered her home, it grew to need a huge tub.  As a mother of seven children, I'm pretty certain Mommy didn't baby them.  I'm also pretty sure she didn't spend money on fancy plant fertilizers or bug sprays. Yet somehow, they thrived under her care.  Perhaps it was the summer vacation plants experienced when my father planted them in the yard each spring in a bright sunny corner, where no one had to remember to water them. But they didn't all stay healthy all the time!  One year a tub ended up in a damp, dark basement because, well, it looked like a pot of dirt filled with dead sticks.  The gardenia bush was dead. That spring my father pulled up the tub into the sunshine because he saw a few green leaves trying to break out.  By the end of the summer, that gardenia bush was in full bloom.  When we asked my mother how this resurrection took place, she responded, "Every time I was in the cellar, I just threw water on it whenever I passed it by, hoping maybe there was still some life left." 

The scent of gardenias takes me back to those childhood days and more times than I can remember, I have succombed to the temptation to give one a home.  But alas, Chuck was right.  My success with gardenias was zero. This time, I was determined to succeed.  But oh my, Chuck's question wasn't too far off the truth. This poor plant.  It has gone through haircuts that left only the main stem in place - causing Chuck to shake his head in dismay and ask, "Can we throw it out, now?"  And then the black sooty stuff and the little bugs......the year the leaves turned yellow and  the many, many buds that fell off just before bursting open.  But bury it,throw it out? No way.  My mother's history with gardenias gave me hope - there's still some life left in this stick!

Today I began to see that Mommy's care of her gardenias and especially her strategy for bringing back to life that dead looking gardenia is a glimpse into the way she handled "discarded people."  My siblings and I often smile and shake our heads in wonder at the broken people who found their way into her heart and home.  How she cared for them by finding a "sunny window" where they could feel the warmth of God's love or maybe threw some water on them as she passed by - drops of life-giving attention....not much, but just enough to communicate, "You're important to me."  She wasn't your stereotypical mushy, gushy, lovey type of spiritual mother that I sometimes think we try to emulate. She had her own style and it worked.  I don't even think she had to try - she just was herself. When my friendship with a particular girl cooled, the girl kept stopping by - not to see me but to talk to my mother. There Mommy sat in her sunny kitchen, swinging her leg, listening, listening, listening.....but it wasn't just teenage girls.  Somehow she engaged people and entered into their lives.  My father recently told me about a young pastor who often stopped by when my mother suffered congestive heart failure.  I said how nice it was for him to shepherd her as a shut in.  My father chuckled and said, "He wasn't coming to be her pastor.  He was coming to be mentored by her.  She counseled him and encouraged him.  They were real friends."  Flash - a picture of this then young man, sitting at her kitchen table, talking, laughing, and leaving refreshed and energized for God's calling.  What was her secret magnet that caused a busy young pastor to sit at her feet every week?  Whenever Chuck faced a huge obstacle in ministry or life, he relished time with my mother.  When he faced a painful ministry crisis, she regularly sent him handwritten scriptures, encouraging him to resist the urge to fight back or defend himself. My family is filled with men, young and old alike, who highly regarded her wisdom.  Perhaps one of her secrets is that she respected my husband and all of her sons-in-law and her sons.  And they knew it.

Perhaps that's why they enjoyed not only her wisdom but her ability to find laughter even in hard places.

But back to my gardening. I'm happy to report that my gardenia tree has never looked healthier.  This morning I discovered one of the most beautiful, largest gardenias I've ever seen.

The scent took me back to our old kitchen once more where I saw Daddy pulling that big tub up the steps of our old, dark, dank basement and heard him ask,"El, look.  There's a few green leaves.  What do you want me to do with this?"  And my mother instructing him to take it out back into the warm sunshine where she could easily throw water on it when she stepped outside to hang up the tubs and tubs of wet clothes.   And suddenly vignettes of "her broken people," sitting at her kitchen table, chattering away and the young pastor, visiting under the guise of shepherding her but really coming for help and hope from an older woman flashed across my mind.    And then I flash forward to how much I miss seeing that leg swinging back and forth while I chattered on and on, confident I had her full attention and that she was fully engaged in my concerns and suddenly I realize - I was one of those "broken people." Just time with her was like a drink of cool water that would help heal the broken places in my life or help me process a difficult relationship or know the next step to take in raising our children.  Oh how I miss her.  The treasure of this lone gardenia, bursting forth  from the only bud on my large gardenia bush, today of all days, her birthday, turns my thankful heart toward God, thankful for all those mothering moments that continue to help shape me into the woman I am today.  What was her secret?  What was the magnet?  Living Water, sprinkled as she walked by or listened, listened, listened, listened. when a thirsty soul stopped by, under the guise of encouraging her.




How I long to know when to throw that Living Water on others as I pass them by or they stop by, just to chat..  Happy Birthday, Mommy.  We miss you.
In His grip,
Sharon

PS I wrote this post a few years ago on my mother's birthday, August 8. I share it again in honor of my mother on Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Widow's Journey - There is Purpose and Hope




About 700,000 women are widowed in the United States every year. Losing a spouse is considered one of life’s most devastating events. 
FREE Resource: A Widow's Journey - There is Purpose and Hope 
Many widows share that the loneliest time of the day is the dinner hour, when they sit at a table by themselves after many years of sharing that evening meal with their husband. In this interview, a woman who has experienced extraordinary loss in her lifetime, Carolyn Fredericks, shares her own grief journey after the death of her husband. This transparent interview will encourage widows and their families, that there is hope and purpose after the loss of a beloved husband. Carolyn not only gives us a glimpse into her own struggles but gives practical ways to face those lonely moments. She answers such questions as:

What about anger at your spouse, God, people who seem to forget you?
What about dating?
What if your spouse dies and you have unresolved conflict?
What if you learn something devastating about your spouse after his or her death?
What have you done to make something good come from the death of your husband?
And much more.

I asked two widows to review this interview before we launched it. Both responded that Carolyn is right on in her perspective and they are eager to share it with their families and other widows.

If you are a widow, we know you will find help and hope in this conversation. If you know a widow who is struggling, let her know that she can find help and hope by letting Carolyn come alongside of her through this interview. MARKINC Ministries is so grateful for Carolyn's willingness to allow God to use her life journey to offer help and hope to others.

In His grip,
Sharon

FREE Resource


A Widow's Journey - There is Purpose and Hope - Finding Purpose

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Grow Up, Not Old - God Must Have Smiled

I was 18 years old and  thought I was in love.  My boyfriend was deployed to Germany and when he came home in December he wanted us to get married.  I would return to Germany with him.  I announced my plans to my father (I chose this moment carefully - my mother was away on a retreat).  Instead of putting his foot down and telling me absolutely not, he calmly asked what I intended to do about my two year scholarship to Goldey Beacom Junior College.  With confidence, I responded: "I will attend until December and then tell them I don't need it any more."  Daddy smiled his little smile
There is that Smile, even in Old Age!
and said, "Sharon, when you applied for and won this scholarship, your acceptance of it implies that you plan to graduate.  If now you do not plan to graduate, you are lying to the National Secretary's Association.  They gave you the scholarship because they believe in your integrity, not just your skills.  You don't just lie with words, you lie with behavior. If you don't plan to graduate, you need to give it back to them so they can give it someone else."  Then he told me about how he and my mother eloped (during World War II and everyone knew they were eloping) and how being a military couple affected their lives.  One thing led to another and soon Daddy was talking about how severe financial problems forced him to move us to Newark, Delaware.  He said, "You know, at the time, everything looked like a disaster.  But if we had not moved here, we wouldn't have found the church and you kids might not have met Jesus....in other words, God had a plan for us.  He always has a plan."

The next week, I announced to my parents I wasn't getting married and moving to Germany. The romance was over.  I attended Goldey Beacom as planned.  That following December, the month I would have been married (at 18 years of age) I met my future husband, Chuck, the last night I was waitressing at a  local restaurant.

Tell the Next Generation
God always has a plan.  The older I grow, the more I see how God uses disappointments and hard places in life - He's not surprised by any of them.  In the middle of the hard places God sends treasures, to turn our hearts toward Him, to remind us that He knows us and calls us by name (Isaiah 45:2-3). That's one reason I encourage women to journal, to keep a record, not just for herself, but for those who come after her, as a means to tell the story of God's grace again and again.  The writer of Psalm 78 declares, I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from of old - things we have heard and known, things our fathers have told us.  We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation  the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he had done.
Showing the Next Generation the Priceless Legacy of Family

The older I grow, the more I want to tell the next generation of "things hidden from old....the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done." The Apostle Paul, writing from a prison cell, tells Timothy that "the time has come for my departure" and in the next few verses Paul repeatedly declares the "praiseworthy deeds of the Lord."  He's writing from a prison cell, but over and over again, Paul reminds Timothy of the history of God's gracious care of Paul and that Paul confidently awaits the Lord's rescue from every evil attack. He's writing from a  prison cell but he was free! As we age, we may feel as though our bodies are prison cells, limiting us from doing what we wish or may have always done. Take a page from Paul's last words, recognize that there is still more to do, tell His story in your life to the next generation.

Speaking of keeping a record of God's presence, this journal entry took me back to the summer of 2004, when stress took up residence in our home, but God's grace clearly over rode all of it. Perhaps something in this record will encourage a reader to "trust and obey," trusting God has a plan.  And encourage you to "tell your story" of God's faithfulness, even when life was hard.

God Must Have Smiled

Done - in the mail.  Every writing deadline met. The final chapter of Treasures in Darkness is on its way to the publisher.
Only by God's grace and mercy and enabling could this happen.I  'm a little brain dead...but there is a book titled A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.  I think that about sums it up!  I've been writing this book for over three years but the real beginning was the night Mark died in 1993. 


Earlier this year I worked out a writing schedule, taking into consideration the expected early arrival of Heidi and Greg’s twins, and all the family/church needs. And  God must have smiled. 

Some writers work for at least an hour every day on their projects.  I typically will not write unless I know I have large chunks of time because once I get in the zone, I don't like interruptions and it takes me too long to prime the pump again. So I planned accordingly.  God must have smiled.

Our family planned, too. Before the expected late summer arrival of the twins, Melanie planned extensive, painful surgery for the end of June with the assurance that she would be able to help hold the twins when they were born by the end of July. God must have smiled.

Dan and Laura and baby Emma moved in, expecting their new house to be completed by mid-July.  And I smiled!  And so did God.

We expected Heidi to go on full bed rest in late May.  The doctor sent her to bed much earlier and our grandchildren began to see our house as their second home. 
Sweet Bedtime Rituals
My office became a bedroom for two of them.....large chunks of early morning writing time were wiped out by their presence......and God must have smiled.   

I tried to write during nap times and in between visits and would leave the computer wondering what in the world I had written - couldn't remember any of it.  And I know God smiled.

In spite of all the ups and downs of the summer, I met every writing deadline. Then the relatives came! Chuck’s nieces and two small children arrived for a vacation.  Our household increased once more. Every space filled with loved ones.

We expected Heidi to be in the hospital, maybe in July for a little while, instead, her doctors sent her to the hospital with preterm labor the end of June, the labor didn't stop.....and on July 7, I received the phone call while I was getting a perm.  Three stylists hurriedly pulled the curlers from my hair so I could rush to the hospital where our little twinnies were making an early appearance.  My heart raced and tears streamed as I pressed on the gas and pleaded with the Lord, "You are our Rock, Rest, Rescue and Refuge, Lord (Psalm 62)!  Our family needs you to be all of these to us right now."  Fear for the babies and our daughter filled my heart and scripture was the only defense I could trust.  And God must have smiled.
So, so tiny.













We welcomed Nathan and Abigail into our world.  
They were tiny.  So tiny.  And we all smiled and tried not to be afraid.

Melanie’s surgery was far more invasive and debilitating than she expected. LIttle grandson Markie moved in with us for a while. I had to accept that I could not help her but God more than provided for her needs through Grandmom Brenda who made their home hers.  Melanie was bed ridden when the twins were born and and very upset that she couldn't help out.   

 Writing, you ask?  A few minutes here, a few minutes there. Grandchildren were a permanent fixture at our house....trips to the hospital to hold our little twinnies were the norm.  And God must have smiled. 
The Best - Rocking the Babies

Heidi came home.....the babies would be home in a few weeks. Chuck and I planned a golf day as a break in the responsibilities.  While stretching his legs, Chuck dislocated his hip and was in terrible pain.....Required an ambulance ride to the emergency room....put back into place but lots of tenderness and discomfort.....

God may have smiled.  But I didn't.  And neither did Chuck!

Then Abby Lynn got very sick with a life threatening infection....Forty eight hours of intense fear, unknowns, what if’s, the need to create stability for the other grandchildren…..responsibilities......and fear of losing our sweet little Abby Lynn.  
Granddad letting little Abby know she is loved.


And then the relatives came. Chuck’s nephew arrived for a week of vacation….When we told him his bed would be a sofa and reminded him of the chaos, he said, "I just want to be with you and family - I'm not coming to be entertained."  Family.  Ahh..

The crisis passed - good news about Abby but her road to recovery would be hard and long, both babies are so frail, so tiny, we now know anything can happen quickly. Vigilance intensified. None of us were smiling.

 I tried to write in between all of this.

What Did I Learn?
I'm getting tired just listing this stuff!  Any teaching moments along the way?  God had a plan. Psalm 62 became my mantra.  God is my Rock, Rescue, Rest, Refuge.  You, oh God, taught me to take a deep breath with each new stressful event and choose to believe,  You ARE my Rock, Rescue, Rest, Refuge.  I don't need to hope you would be those things.  I could believe that You already are.

Progress - Good Progress!
God smiles when we make our plans because He has a better one.  Laura and I began to understand why their house wasn’t ready.  They would have been moving in the middle of July but instead we acted as a tag team taking care of grandchildren and house responsibilities.   I needed Laura in our home.  I needed all of them.  Precious time with the grandchildren, hugs and stories and bedtime rituals, that feeling when you go to bed and everyone is home, safe and sound.  
My True Love!  Thankful for God's Plan!
Stabilizing moments of joy in the middle of difficult emotional struggles.

God knew I could not emotionally handle writing this book by spending large chunks of time on it.  So He graciously arranged for me to write it in the middle of lots of distractions, urgent needs that required my attention.  He supplied the physical and emotional energy to face each day.  He taught me that the miracle of the loaves and the fishes still happens today. It's in serving and obeying, even when it's hard and long, that God often answers the cries of our heart and meets our needs.  As I studied my journals for Treasures in Darkness I was often overwhelmed by the written record of God's intimate love for me.  My journals of the past ten years shouted that God is here right now, right in this room with me.  I wouldn't have remembered that in the midst of this summer if I hadn't been steeped in the writing project.

Many times I had to force myself to stop crying so that I could keep writing.  Some people questioned why I put myself through this.  I believe it's God's calling and it's for the sake of someone who needs to know He is faithful and can be trusted.  God reminded me that when He calls, He enables, He equips.  Little is much when God is in it.

This may sound strange but I had a hard time putting the manuscript in the mail. It's so personal.  But my friend, Oswald Chambers said something profound in My Utmost for His Highest, November 1 and it helped me send the manuscript on its way:

A Thoroughfare for the World
There is no such thing as a private life - "a world within the world" - for a man or woman who is brought into fellowship with Jesus Christ's sufferings.  God breaks up the private life of His saints, and makes it a thoroughfare for the world on the one hand and for Himself on the other.  
Our Twinnies - Healthy and Happy!
No human being can stand that unless he is identified with Jesus Christ.  We are not sanctified for ourselves, we are called into the fellowship of the Gospel, and things happen which have nothing to do with us, God is getting us into fellowship with Himself.  Let Him have His way, if you do not, instead of being of the slightest use to God in His Redemptive work in the world, you will be a hindrance and a clog.
    The first thing God does with us is to get us based on rugged reality until we do not care what becomes of us individually as long as He gets His way for the purpose of His Redemption.  Why shouldn't we go through heartbreaks?  Through those doorways God is opening up ways of fellowship with His Son. Most of us fall and collapse at the first grip of pain; we sit down on the threshold of God's purpose and die away of self-pity, and all so called Christian sympathy will aid is to our death bed. BUT GOD WILL NOT.  He comes with the grip of the pierced hand of His Son, and says -"Enter into fellowship with Me; arise and shine." 
If through a broken heart God can bring His purposes to pass in the world, then thank Him for breaking your heart.  My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers, November 1

Unfortunately, my heart is too sinful to thank God for breaking my heart, but I am thankful that He promises to redeem our pain.  And God smiles.

In His grip,
Sharon
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