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My Pop

Tue, 2014-12-09 16:00
Photo: Dreamstime He always smelled like mixed nuts. He drizzled olive oil on top of his spaghetti. He wrote me short letters on his old typewriter and used to send me dollar bills for “some ice cream” when I was in college. He played the flute beautifully and looked manly doing it. He and my dad and brother have the exact same walk. He was always proud of us and I love that I knew it even at a young age.

He always called me Jo.

He was left-handed and wrote with a hook that created a horrible chicken scratch—but I can spot his writing a mile away. He laughed easily at us kids and took joy in simple things—like the cafeteria at his retirement village that he loved. He volunteered constantly at his church—doing financial things and helping with music. I remember him building things—measuring and marking things with a pencil he'd sharpened with a knife. He took great joy in my brother and I and our activities.

He was pretty hip to the new and different ways we live and the choices we've made. But we couldn't get him to do email no matter how many times Dad tried to teach him.

He played golf every week until just a few years ago, but continued to play tennis twice a week with other men young enough to be his children. Three weeks ago, at 96 years of age, he fell out on the court and broke his hip.

Beginning of the End

We've talked a lot in the last days about what might happen. What if the hip doesn't heal well? Is this the beginning of the end? He's in such great shape for his age that we began worrying that he would spiral downhill but possibly live for a long time uncomfortable and immobile. He would've hated that.

He fell asleep Sunday night and when the nurse went to check on him at 4 a.m., he had passed away. We probably won't know the exact cause of death — blood clot or heart attack, most likely.  But we are thrilled. I know that seems strange.  But after the initial tears yesterday, all I could be was thankful. Thankful he didn't suffer for a long time. Thankful he was living fully to the end. And thankful for my memories of him, my last grandparent.

Because of our transient military life, he never met my youngest son or daughter or got to know my kids well. And for that I'm very sad. But I'm so, so happy and proud that he blazed on to the end. I've spent a lot of time over the last days thinking about my own life, my own health, and whether my current path will lead me to the same kind of glorious end. I think I may need to make a few changes.

Maybe more nuts, olive oil and tennis.

We'll miss you until we see you again, Pop.

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By Joelle Yamada. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Don't Look Back

Sat, 2014-12-06 16:00
Photo: Dreamstime What would it take to put your family first? How would you change your daily routine? Where would you live that would be most conducive to your children’s spiritual health? Would you be willing to make sacrifices that might cost you your job, your home, and even friendships? What are you willing to leave behind in order to provide the best for your kids? If you wrestle with questions like these, you are not alone. There’s someone in the Bible who struggled to put family first.

Lot, the nephew of Abraham, chose to live with his family in a beautiful place. The climate was perfect, the job opportunities plentiful, the shopping was perhaps the best in that region. But Sodom was a city so evil that God planned to destroy it. Genesis 19 tells the story of two angels visiting Lot to encourage him to leave Sodom and save his family. When Lot spoke with his future son-in-laws, they thought he was joking.

Lot’s family was strongly tied to their home in Sodom. They could not imagine letting go of their house, their friends, their wealth, their life! Lot was in a quandary. He seemed frozen in confusion. His feet struggled to move, but he must. Except that these angel visitors literally took them by the hands and led them out of town, they would probably have stayed and been destroyed.

Took Hold of His Hand

“And while he lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. So it came to pass, when they had brought them outside, that he said, ‘Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed’” (Genesis 19:16, 17).

Perhaps you have a difficult decision to make regarding your family. Maybe you need to make a hard choice. If you have prayed and feel clear about making a change but hesitate, there are two lessons to learn from our friend Lot. The first is to remember that God is by your side. The Lord is just as merciful to us today as to Lot and his family. It is a startling and moving picture to see God’s angels reach out and take the hands of Lot’s family and with a firm grasp lead them to safety. Can you imagine holding the hand of an angel?

Second, don’t look back. If you have studied, prayed and are quite clear about putting your family first, don’t mull over what you leave behind. It won’t help you or your family. We all will have our moments of wonder about decisions we make. But remember Lot. He appears to have finally made the right choice, but living in the wrong place ended in the loss of his wife and scarred his daughters. Don’t wait too long to put your family first. And when you make them a priority, don’t look back.

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By Curtis Rittenour. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW KING JAMES VERSION © 1982.

The Ripple Effect

Tue, 2014-12-02 16:00
Photo: Jeroen Koomen I sat down at my computer the other day and did a search for a pastor I had known as a child. What is he doing now? I wondered. Of all the pastors of my childhood, he had made the biggest impression on me. I still remember clearly one of his sermons (one of the very few that I remember from my childhood days in church). 

As I thought about that, I began to think back and remember some of the people that had made a tremendous impact on my life as I was growing up. Some of those that came to mind are still cherished friends. Friends that I know I could go to anytime and they would be there with advice and friendship. Some though, would probably have to think awhile to remember who I was and how our paths had intersected.

I remember a pastor’s wife I knew as a teenager and how her love and acceptance of our church family, which at the time had been termed “ultra conservative” by a previous pastor’s wife, had changed my whole view of what it truly means to be a Christian. I have no idea where she is now, it is likely she would not remember me at all, but Christ’s love that I saw in her touched my life and the influence of that remains with me to this day.

Leave Its Mark

It both thrills and sobers me to think about the impact we have on others, some that we realize and much that we never know. A favorite author compares our influence with a stone dropped in a still lake. The ripples from a small stone can extend till they cover the entire surface. An encouraging word, patience in spite of difficulties, a willingness to be real and authentic, a spirit of love and acceptance, can touch a life and from that life  touch literally millions of others as the ripples widen. Just so, a negative spirit, however manifested, will leave its mark on many.

Now that I have teenagers of my own, I rejoice when others come along beside them, take an interest in them and influence their lives in positive ways. As I look around at the young and not so young around me, I ask myself, “What impact am I making on those that I interact with daily and those that I may cross paths with for only a brief moment in time?” I pray that my influence on others will be such that the ripples created will continue on for all eternity!

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By Leslie Olin. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines

Living as I Wait

Sat, 2014-11-29 16:00
  Photo: Dreamstime My husband completed graduate school two weeks ago and we are in the waiting stage. Sending out resumes and inquiry letters. Waiting to hear back after interviews. Waiting to find out if we will need to relocate. Waiting to find out if a move will mean switching providers during the middle of my pregnancy. As someone with a planner’s personality, the past few months have been very stressful and full of uncertainty for me. I want to know where we will settle down, where we will raise our family, where we fill find a church, and how close we will be to our extended family. But for now, we wait.

The other day I took my 20-month old daughter outside to help me plant some potted vegetables on our porch. She eagerly threw handfuls of dirt into each pot and set the plants inside. Her face lit up with a huge smile when I let her help me lift the watering can and she saw all the water streaming out. After we finished, I sat and watched as she ran in circles around the pots, pointing to the leaves and saying “Bzzzzz!” when she saw a bug crawling on them.

Her joy in the simplest little things was contagious. She isn’t worrying about whether or not Mama will have supper ready for her in the evening or where she will sleep tonight. It doesn’t cross her mind to think about what will happen tomorrow or next week or in a few months. She lives each moment trusting fully that her mama and daddy will take care of her!

Happy Trust

In the middle of all this waiting, my daughter’s happy trust and exuberance for life is humbling to see. I’ve often read and quickly nodded along with Matthew 6:25-27, but it takes on a whole new meaning when you watch a young child’s practical example: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes… Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27).

Too often have I fallen into frustration and questioned God’s leading in our lives, rather than trusting as we wait. I have to stop myself and notice the happy moments we have right now: a husband home every day in this interim, a quickly growing toddler, and a precious life growing inside of me. Maybe we won’t find a job and settle down for three months or even six, but I won’t ever be able to reclaim this time. I want to love and live with a joyful trust like my daughter is showing me.

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By Danae Schilt. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Midnight Peace

Tue, 2014-11-25 16:00
Photo: Jeff Osborn It was the middle of the night and the only thing my weary brain could process was how exhausted I was. It has been a challenging day and now I was standing over the crib of my six month-old baby, trying to soothe her back to sleep again. I had lost track of how many times she had woken up that night. The usual routine and tricks of the trade just weren’t cutting it and I felt my last shred of patience deserting me.

I thought we had finally overcame this hurdle; achieved the goal of smooth and restful nights. I had read the books and tried to follow all of the advice. So why was I back here in this situation again? I fought back tears as I tried to quiet her sobs. “Just please go to sleep!” I thought lethargically. The night felt never ending, but I knew that morning would come too soon. A new set of challenges would be waiting and I would be ill-prepared to face them if I didn’t get any rest.

Somehow, her crying eventually ebbed and was replaced with restless tosses and turns. She would fall asleep for a few minutes and then wake up and the cycle would start all over again. We both were exhausted but while I would have given anything to be drifting off, she was stubbornly fighting it. I knew the poor night’s sleep she was getting would carry consequences into tomorrow. If only she would give in, I could finally sink back into my bed.

Frustration

As the minutes ticked on, my frustration grew and my patience shrank. I would throw little prayers heavenward every few minutes. “Please help her fall asleep,” or “Please let her stay asleep this time so I can get some rest.”

Suddenly the selfishness of what I kept demanding hit me. I was so wrapped up in my own needs I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I took a deep breath and made the conscience decision to use this time to praise God instead of demand relief. I thanked Him that I had a healthy baby, a bed to sleep in, and a home that provided us with shelter.

As I continued to pray, I felt God’s peace wrapping around me and my patience being restored. I was still exhausted but I no longer felt so frazzled and alone. I felt a reassurance that even though the night might be long and the following day even longer, God would be with me each step of the way, providing the strength to meet each challenge.

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By MiKaela Miller. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

The Sketch

Sat, 2014-11-22 16:00
Photo: Gary McCord I have three sons. They are all adults now, in their twenties or early thirties. The youngest is finishing college. Two are engineers. They were close as they grew up, despite a nine-year age difference between the oldest and youngest. Those two are in the Dallas area. The middle son works in Houston.

The middle son wanted to spend time with his brothers. He took a long weekend to drive up and visit them. It was during the State Fair, so the three of them went, a first time for all – even the ones who lived there.

They did typical State Fair things. (Apparently you can buy fried everything to eat.) Then they passed the caricature booths. The Houston brother was looking to bring something from the State Fair as a gift for his parents. A caricature of the three of them struck him as perfect. It would be unique, personal, and linked to the fair. His brothers agreed.

Soon they were standing in the artist’s booth, as the man began sketching out a color caricature of the three, together. A good caricature artist can knock out a sketch in 10 to 20 minutes. With three to draw, he told them it could take as much as an hour. They did not mind.

The booth was arranged so passer-byes could see the artist work. It is a way to attract business. After the artist had been working a few minutes, someone stopped to watch. Then another person stopped. And another. The longer he worked, the bigger the crowd grew. Some in the crowd started pointing. Others were smiling. Then the artist in the adjacent booth noticed the crowd. She left her booth to see what was going on. She stayed to watch.

Caricature

As the crowd grew my sons started wondering what was going on. My sons were the only ones who could not see the caricature develop. By the time the artist finished, the space behind him was packed.

Finally he showed my sons the drawing. All three laughed when they saw it. It was them.

It showed three grinning young men. They were obviously brothers, sharing the family chin and nose. Yet the artist had also caught their individual personalities. No one who knew them had to wonder which brother was which.

Raising children, guiding them to adulthood where they become independent, ethical, and moral, is the greatest challenge God gives to parents. With great challenge come great rewards. When my son gave my wife and me the original drawing, I realized how blessed the two of us were.

It was obvious why the sketch had drawn a crowd. It not only captured three brothers, but three comrades. Brothers, but also friends, sharing a joyful moment. Men to take pleasure in having raised. As we looked at it, it was if my wife and I heard God whispering, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Never Cease Praying

Tue, 2014-11-18 16:00
Photo: Stockxchng As I spoke with an elderly friend at church, he shared concern for his son and grandchildren. He and his wife worked and sacrificed to provide their children and grandchildren with Christian education. They set faithful examples of living and worshiping, but the world and apathy crept in and lured the younger generations away.

“Don’t stop praying,” I encouraged, and told him the story of “Cal,” a deputy sheriff I met years ago in California.

I was gathering data on the effects of alcohol on the fetus during pregnancy for a local university. Part of my hospital route was the County Hospital where I gave out post-delivery questionnaires. I sometimes had to wait outside the Maternity Ward until all the babies were returned to the nursery following their morning feeding.

Next to the Maternity Ward was the County Prison Ward. The deputy had a desk in the hall outside the door.

“Where you from?” he asked me one day.

“Loma Linda University.”

“You must be one of those church people. Well, I tell you, I am mad at God! I don’t go to church, but my sister did. She was one of the best, most godly people you ever saw. You’d think he’d appreciate that and keep her from getting cancer or at least make her well. But he didn’t. The best person in the world died last month and I want to shake my fist in God’s face.”

Tears Filled His Eyes

Tears filled his eyes and all I could think of was “I’m sorry.” If he didn’t believe in the Bible, what comfort could I give, so I just listened.

Eventually, in our snatches of conversation, Cal started telling me about his childhood. His grandmother was a key figure. Dad kicked him out of the house at age 12 and Grandma took him in. “She was one of those church-going ladies. She knew her Bible! She knew all those stories in there like…tell me the story about that guy, what’s-his-name, and the big fish.”

There was a glut of babies that summer and the nurses rarely opened the doors on time. Cal, meanwhile, asked the hospital chaplain for two Bibles. I had no Bible-teacher training but I prayed each morning for God to give me answers to whatever questions Cal came up with that day and to find the words in the Bible that he wanted me to find. And He did.

“That’s what my Grandma taught me!” Cal exclaimed after challenging me with another question. I watched his anger at God melting away. “My Grandma always prayed for me and my sister that we would be saved. I know my sister was saved because she loved God. I didn’t think I could be saved because I’ve lived a tough life—but maybe, maybe my Grandma’s prayers are working.”

Never cease your love, your forgiveness, or your heavenly petitions. They are your most important privilege and responsibility. God never throws out an earnest prayer!

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By Lois Pecce. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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