Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Life Lessons From a Farm

Our Farmhouse

Dear Friends,

Growing up on a farm prepared me for the twists, turns and tumbles of life. Lessons learned, mostly subliminally, informed my faith and formed my work ethic.

Growing Chicks:

My fondest memories involve the seasons. Each spring the mailman delivered cardboard boxes filled with chirping baby chicks. Oh so cute. But oh so much work. We spread straw on the floors of brooder houses, covered it with newspapers and then sprinkled finely ground grain for the chicks to eat. We set up jars of water and watched the bubbles rise as the baby birds dipped their tiny beaks into the saucers below.

But it wasn’t long until the chicks kicked dirt into the saucers and messed up the newspapers. And as they grew, the messes only increased. Once they could be let outside, we mounted chicken wire fences to confine them. Nothing was ever once and done. They required care and feeding from the day they arrived until the day we gathered eggs from them and still later sold them or “dressed” them for eating. Work! A lot of work!
Brooder house behind my brother Robert and me.

Growing a Work Ethic:

But growing chickens and farm animals showed me that to succeed, you must keep at it. My family never took vacations. Who would feed the livestock if we were not home? And that work ethic has served me well. As a teacher, it took time to help students learn and develop business skills. As a director of Christian education, it took time to develop programs. And as a writer, well, they say you must write a million words before you’re worth anything. It takes work! I must keep at it.

Tasting Bitter Herbs:

Another sign of spring was helping my mother hunt dandelion. The March winds whipped our coats as we ventured over the fields, eyes peeled for the serrated dark-green leaved plants. We pierced the soil with sharp knives, cutting off the roots to harvest the bitter herb. My parents and four siblings looked forward to eating the delicacy in a hot milk sauce. Not me. The greens were bitter. I enjoyed the “hunting” more than the eating. But I knew the vegetable was good for me, so I nibbled on a few bites.

I also enjoyed helping my mother bake cakes and pies. They called me the “I wanna” girl, and she always found some small task for my little hands. Our meals never ended without the sweets. I always came home from school to milk and cookies.

Me On My Wagon
Tasting Life’s Sweet and Sour:

Sweet and sour. In food. In life. There was the sweetness of watching nieces and nephews take their places around the family table. When our gang got too large to hold Christmas dinners in our home, we moved to our church for the event. Still, there was the sadness of losing relatives. My mother was the oldest of ten children, yet one after another, they succumbed, mostly to heart disease. And some of my cousins too. I sometimes wondered how my mother could survive the news of another death, but she accepted death as part of life. And so must I.

Sowing and Reaping:

In fall we gathered tiny seeds, small as grains of pepper, from poppies, and in spring we sprinkled them in rows. The seeds we sowed varied as much as the flowers and vegetables that grew from them. Some you planted individually and others you sowed in rows. Then you prayed for sun and rain to grow them all. First a little sprout would poke up its head, then a leaf or two unfurled. I loved hoeing the garden, pulling the weeds that grew faster than the vegetables, breaking up the ground hardened by the rains.

Sowing and Reaping into Young Lives:

How would I have developed parenting skills without performing such chores? It’s a day-by-day, watching and waiting experience. Raising children is much like that. You sow lots of love, caregiving, kindness and goodness into their lives. You try to weed out undesirable traits—greediness, anger, hostility. Then you hope and pray for God to work in their lives and bring about a harvest you can enjoy. 
Our Meadow

Watching Nature Takes Its Course:

A thunderstorm could wipe out tiny seedlings and affect the harvest of whole fields. I remember a rainy period that turned a clear trickling creek that meandered through our meadow into a raging brown monster that swept away the bridge that provided access to our lane. Of course, it had to be rebuilt by my father and brothers.

Watching Life Take Its Course--Overcoming Adversity:

Such things happen in life as well. We carefully build a reputation, advance our career and establish a comfortable way of life only to wake up one day and find someone or something has undone years of toil. So we rebuild. Just as painstakingly as the men of my family rebuilt our bridge.

A Country Church Near My Childhood Home
So What:

Each of us grows up in different environments, and we come away with different impressions. I am who I am today in part because of the family and community who nurtured me and the experiences that shaped me. As I walked the fields of our farm, I often pondered the skies and thought about how the clouds would be rolled back at the time of Christ’s return. I grew to know and love the God of nature, the God I heard about in a little country church. I’m grateful for a family who nurtured me physically, mentally and spiritually. And I hope you are too.

Feel free to click on the link below and leave a comment about how your past has prepared and influenced your present.

Enjoy the journey God has laid out for YOU.

Shirley

Upcoming Engagements:
March 10-12 – Friends of the Heart at Women’s Retreat with Mt. Calvary’s Church, Elizabethtown at Christian Retreat Center, East Waterford.
March 24-25 – Friends of the Heart at United Methodist Women of the Susquehanna Conference at Best Western, Lewisburg.

                

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Book Review: Sacred Marriage - What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy

Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas

The subtitle says it all: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? According to author Gary Thomas, if we cultivate that attitude, we are better able to bear—and learn from—the daily exchanges that cause us anguish. He writes: “This book sees marriage the way medieval writers saw the monastery: as a setting full of opportunities to foster spiritual growth and service to God.”

According to Thomas, when you become disenchanted with your spouse, marriage offers you the unique opportunity to work on your own issues such as selfishness and self control. Marriage also allows you to model God’s ministry of reconciliation. We can learn to love by holding our tongues, admitting faults and apologizing to each other. I liked the way Thomas included illustrations from his own marriage throughout the book.

Thomas reminds readers that Jesus went against the culture of the day by lifting up women and keeping them in his inner circle of confidantes. Referencing I Peter 3:7, Thomas reminds men to make a special effort to be a good husband because if they fail, their prayers are hindered. He encourages them to think of God as their father-in-law.

Instead of dwelling on the negatives of marriage, Thomas encourages couples to view marriage as an entryway to sanctification and to counter negatives with positives. In other words, if a wife has been ciritical of her husband, she should instead encourage and praise him.

He writes: “The stronger we grow as spouses, persevering and pressing further into our marriage, the more we’ll develop the very character traits we need to become mature believers.” Just as God built a history with Israel through their ups and downs, so we need to build a history as a married couple, and as we embrace struggles, we build character.

In various chapters, Thomas examines various aspects of marriage, the spiritual, the sexual, serving one another. I loved this statement: “Christianity does not direct us to focus on finding the right person; it calls us to become the right person.”

Questions for Discussion and Reflection conclude the book along with detailed notes. With 14 chapters, it could be used for a Sunday school or small group study. A six-session participant’s guide with DVD is also available. Thomas’ website is www.garythomas.com and offers the participant’s guide as a free resource. 

Whether you’re married five days or 50 years, this book will inspire you to become the spouse God has called you to be.





Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Book Review: Chasing Daylight--How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life

By Eugene O’Kelly with Andrew Postman


Eugene O’Kelly was CEO of a major American firm when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 53. He immediately decided to approach death as he had life—with careful planning. This led him to leave his job and to choose a medical protocol that would allow him to make the most of the little time he had left. He died three and a half months after his diagnosis.

Rather than focusing on what might be, O’Kelly decided he would live in the moment, enjoying its beauty. He would not think about the past or the future. Instead, he would experience “perfect moments” and “perfect days,” periods of time that might previously have gone unnoticed in the busyness of daily routines but that now gave him a great deal of pleasure. Sunsets, conversations, outings.

O’Kelly also made a point of saying good-bye to his family, friends and colleagues one by one, telling them what they had meant to him and how they had enriched his life. As the title indicates, the way O’Kelly dealt with his impending death transformed his life in surprising ways.

I enjoyed the book because it reminded me that all of our lives are “terminal” and that too often we forfeit everyday beauty and pleasure by rushing about and not paying attention to each moment. Instead, we need to determine what is important to us and tend to it.

The book is published by McGraw-Hill; with only 179 pages, it’s an easy but thought-provoking read and is also available in audio.





Thursday, February 2, 2017

Our Words Make a Difference


Dear Friends,

Every Wednesday they trooped in after school, 12 to 20-some kids—hungry, sweaty, pulsing with energy. They devoured cookies and gulped down drinks. They were the elementary children of my neighborhood, and they joined my two boys for Good News Club, an after-school Bible club.

Last week I spoke at a women’s meeting at a church, and a woman introduced herself as one of those Good News Club kids. She said I had led her to the Lord back in the 1970s, and today she is active in the children’s ministry of her church. I could have cried. Sometimes we wonder if what we do or say makes a difference to anyone, and then we find that it does. In a big way.

In time a neighbor provided the snack for our Good News Club and a friend told the missionary story and led singing. Ministry is always a team effort. We listened to the children’s memorized verses, played games and told them stories of Jesus healing, teaching, loving. We tried to love the kids in the same way He loved.

At first we met in our living room. But as our group grew, we decided it was time to build what in those days we called a “rec” room in the basement, “rec” being short for recreation. I can still see the gold/brown patterned rug and hear the slightly off-key piano, a piece from my childhood home so large we had to cut out the bottom two steps to drop it onto the basement floor. My living room furniture was forever grateful when we moved club to the rec room.

Those were the days when teachers placed figures with flocking on the back onto flannel-board backgrounds as they told the Bible story. Sometimes I’d let one of the kids place the figures. They liked that. Ministry need not be high tech to be effective.

Week after week the kids came, from fall to spring, just like they went to school. What drew them? The other kids? The fun of competing to learn Bible verses and play games? The cookies and Kool Aid? I don’t know. But I do know we all long for love and community, and that is what we offered the kids—a place to hang out that included open arms and open hearts. Oh, I sometimes groused at them if they were unruly. But for the most part we got along just fine. And we were all a little richer for our time together.

I learned how to manage children, tell Bible stories and lead children to Christ. They learned to listen, to obey and to sit still for 40 minutes or so. It was a win-win situation, a microcosm of the church that I hope they all belong to all these years later.

A few years ago a former high school student came to me at a church supper and thanked me for encouraging her to join the yearbook staff when I served as advisor. She was a good student, and of course, I wanted her on my staff. I had no idea that she was just too shy to volunteer.

Our words count. They may make a huge difference in someone’s life. And faithful ministry—be in in Sunday school, choir, public school or through a myriad of other opportunities—gets the job done. God can very well get the job done without us, but he invites us to get in the game. He invites us to join with His people to tell and teach and share the good news that Christ has come. Let’s not turn down any invitations to play. Whose life might you touch with an encouraging word?

Have a blessed day!


Shirley

"So let's not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up." Galatians 6:9

To comment on how a word you've spoken made a difference in someone's life, click on the link below. And feel free to share this post if you feel it would bless and encourage your friends in Christian service.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Book Review: Is This the End?

Full Title: People are asking . . . Is This the End? Signs of God’s Providence in a Disturbing new World.

Dr. David Jeremiah understands our culture, and he has a way of boiling complicated issues down to the crux of the matter. Part One of the book looks at current issues such as the “anything goes” culture, immigration, the increase of intolerance and the apathy of America. In Part Two, Jeremiah documents the rise of ISIS and the resurgence of Russia before sharing his insight on the rapture and tribulation. I appreciated the interesting case studies he included throughout the book to prove his points.

Persecution, according to Jeremiah, produces godliness and suffering offers rewards.  He writes: “God can use your courage in little things to accomplish bigger things.” He discusses the hope of Christians along with the Christian’s responsibilities. I appreciated his overview of revivals that have touched nations down through the years and his thorough explanation of the history and growing isolation of Israel.

I sometimes find it confusing to reconcile compassion with law and order, so I found Jeremiah’s view on immigration very insightful. No matter where you stand politically, this book will shed the light of God’s Word on current affairs. A good, easily understandable read for anyone interested in making sense of our world today.