Short Stories Series: Three Stories about God and Giving

I know, no stories for a long time, and then three at once, and no pictures either. So use your imagination. You have one.

Story One

The first story is one that Robert Morris tells. He is a televangelist who writes and speaks a lot about his experiences with God as a giver. He will say with confidence that he has never been able to out-give God and this is one of the stories that he uses to illustrate that.

He wanted to give his wife a gift for her birthday and asked their daughter to find out what his wife wanted. After the daughter had talked with her mother she reported that she had been sworn to secrecy. Robert was determined to reward his oft self-sacrificing wife so he told his daughter she was released from her promise. His wife had talked about a certain purse that she knew was more expensive than she would ever buy for herself, and she really didn’t want her husband to buy it for her either. She figured he might try if he knew. That was why she made her daughter promise not to tell.

Robert says he was floored when he heard how much the purse cost. He evidently didn’t or couldn’t buy it and he felt sad and was wondering what he should do. A widow lady in his church enters his story next. She came up to his wife and gave her a gift. It was the exact purse that his wife admired and wanted. God’s message to Robert was simply “I wanted my daughter to have this gift.”

Hearing this remarkable story, I was struck with the thought of how it would feel to receive uncommon extravagance from God, how I would feel loved and valued. To feel like the daughter of a king…

Story Two

The second story is about my own experience with giving. I met Darnelle when he was about ten years old. He was in a struggling, single parent family, and we developed a friendship centering around music. I was teaching piano at the time and he wanted to learn so I gave him lessons. Over the years he was frequently in our home, mostly in times of need. He seemed to always be out of work, sometimes homeless and sleeping in his car, when he had one. We gave him money, helped him buy cars, fed him, and gave him shelter and prayed for him. Nothing helped for very long. Every call from him eventually got down to asking for money, and finally I was done. I said no. Rather than helping him, it seemed we were enabling bad decisions.

Recently, even though we now live thousands of miles from Darnelle, I received a text from him. As usual, he was stranded and out of money, on his way to a new job. He just needed enough money to get there. I didn’t see the text until an hour after he sent it and when I replied to it, there was no answer. He often used someone else’s phone when he didn’t have one so I assumed that was the case.

Two days later, the husband and I were praying, and it occurred to me to ask God for wisdom if Darnelle should somehow connect with us again. Sure enough, I got a text. He was desperate and asked me to “walmart-to-walmart” him some money. I didn’t want to stand in line forever at Walmart. I didn’t want to feel like I’d been “suckered in” one more time, but I knew I had prayed about this. I didn’t doubt that he was in some kind of need. God has been generous with me and I felt that he was asking me to be obedient and help Darnelle one more time. I sent the money, not because Darnelle had asked, but because God had asked. Everything belongs to God, including my money.

Story Three

The third story is, again, about giving. And about God. I have a daughter who is getting married, in a pandemic year when everything is a little bit crazy. She is a hardworking equine veterinarian and barely has time to wash the manure off her clothes, much less plan a wedding. But, she made time to try on dresses. The lace, tulle, and frills (at extravagant prices) transported her to a different vision of herself as a beautiful bride. In contrast, her practical self was staring at her school loans and numerous bills. She said “no” to the dress and tried to be satisfied with something less.

We had conversations about this decision. I knew it was not in her nature to spend thousands of dollars on a dress to wear once, ONCE. She wanted reasons to feel good about the lesser dress she was planning to wear and I gave her some. I told her she could choose to be satisfied with whatever decision she made. I told her that I was praying and trusting God to bless her, “his daughter”, with her heart’s desire for this special time in her life. And I truly felt that those were not just words. They were God’s message to her.

With the time growing shorter and tension mounting, Julia was feeling the weight of things that weren’t getting done, weren’t turning out quite as well as planned, weren’t what she had hoped for. I got another call. Things were more hard than happy. Right in the middle of the disappointments, I could see the dress, and I didn’t know what to do except to keep praying for her.

On the same day that I said okay to God and gave Darnelle $100, someone precious gave Julia a gift of a beautiful dress. It was one she had tried on and loved but didn’t feel she could buy.

I don’t presume that God spoke to the generous benefactor in an audible voice, or that he even presented himself as God. I’m pretty sure the generous benefactor knew nothing about the backstory of Darnelle and obedience in my life. But I have seen and heard that God is always at work in ways that are so complicated they can only be described as mysterious. Somehow he can bless Julia, he can bless a man stranded on I-95 with no gas in his car, and he can bless me with answered prayer, all connected with the same circumstance. I know he will also bless the person who cared enough to dress a bride in a beautiful dress.

A 2020 Celebration

I’ll bet with all the memes and jokes about 2020, you are surprised that I’ve found something worth celebrating this year. But I have! I’ve actually found many things worthy of celebrating and writing about.

Today I had a great report from a cancer screening test and I couldn’t wait to celebrate by taking a long, long walk. It felt so good to swing my arms and stride along. I had not been aware of being anxious, but apparently I was. The relief made me feel lighter than air. I had asked for my health to be protected, knowing that is not always how things work. Good health is not the ultimate sign of God’s approval, and he even works his purpose through the death of his most loved persons. I guess when you have the intelligence to create life, to restore and make anything brand new, and when you plan to eventually resurrect all who’ve died anyway, you think a bit differently about death in general. Nevertheless, I admit that I struggle to keep God’s perspective in mind at times. And I particularly don’t like cancer.

For me, there is no better way to celebrate than to move, to see, to experience the natural world. I could give you the short story – it was a beautiful day and I saw a deer and two snakes. Or I could show you with my pictures, which I love to do. August is the last month of summer. Everything here in the north is maturing and getting ready to die or go dormant in a very few weeks. The colors are different, the grasses and flowers are going to seed. You can feel the progression of life cycles that are expertly designed to show us things about God, if we will look, and think about what we see.

The irresistible trail (a miracle, not a single mosquito or deer fly did I swat.).
Hospital trail, Beaver Pond Loop, where rest stops are furnished with urinal and chamber pot, naturally.
Beaver Pond, with beaver lodge in the distance.
There is a snake in here, but you have to look really closely. I nearly stepped on it before it crawled off the path. Adrenalin moment.

If you put away thoughts of COVID19, politics, natural disasters, and riots, I’ll bet you can find something to celebrate in 2020 too. I’d love to hear about it.

Waving Goodbye

It’s kind of a rule with some, that you wave goodbye until the people leaving can’t see you anymore.

It’s 2020, the year of the pandemic and other notable events. Our “pod” as I’ve come to label it, has been decreased by four significant persons. With that comes the strangeness of loss, and of uncertainty. What is life going to be like with all these changes?

Our small community consisted of my mom, my brother Dennis and his wife, their two children, myself and the husband. It expanded when my sister-in-law’s parents moved into a newly built house down the street. My brother designed it as a retirement home for him and his wife- for “someday”. But for now it was going to be convenient for Mary Pat’s parents to be close, so she and Dennis could help them when needed.

Unfortunately, it was Mary Pat who needed the help. Breast cancer returned with a vengeance. It has been only eight months, and now she is gone. It has been a difficult last few weeks. Both sides of our families have gathered to help and to mourn. Houses have been full. Schedules have been disrupted, and it was hard. She was at home when she died and we were with her. It was a little like waving goodbye until she could no longer see us.

Our pod also included a trio of women who we call “the sisters”. They have become like family to us over the last 25 years, included in our family reunions, our weekly sabbath gatherings, and countless festive occasions. Michelle is the elder sister, being almost 94. Judith and Susan are in their 60’s now, adopted as young children from Vietnam. Retiring from their daycare business led them to buy a house in a warmer climate and they have been planning their move for months, it seems.

Our “pod” plus a few extra visiting family members.

Nevertheless, there has been a lot of stressful preparation during this last week before their trip. They left this morning, with another one of my brothers driving a Penske truck loaded with the things they needed to set up housekeeping. Moving is always a big, stressful affair, especially when you have been a long time in one place. It is safe to say that the week’s work has left us all tired and a bit emotional. We are praying they have a safe trip. We waved goodbye this morning.

I know I will recover, but right now I am somewhat disoriented. There has been so much to do in so short a time. I didn’t feel like writing even if I’d had the time, which I didn’t. I move toward simple tasks, with clear cut goals that take my mind to a different place for a period of time; organizing a closet, doing a puzzle, cleaning the kitchen, taking a walk.

Life in 2020 has not been what any of us expected, and certainly not what I expected for my family. It has been an exercise of faith, and like most exercise, it has been strenuous. It doesn’t always feel good while it is happening, but there is a sense of it being worthwhile and useful. I have felt God’s watchfulness and his care in many ways. He has listened to my questions and complaints, and received my anger, confusion and exhaustion with great patience. I have felt loved.

I hear you, Mary Pat. You weren’t afraid and I won’t be either!

This is one of my favorite pictures of Mary Pat that was handed out at her memorial. It is testimony to her faith in God’s goodness, and mine as well. When you know God is good and in charge, there is no need to be dominated by feelings of fear. The crazy weirdness of 2020 becomes opportunity to exercise faith, grow stronger in trust, and remain hopeful. That’s where I’m at. I will not be afraid, just sayin’…

What She Saw

“What is that?” She said it several times, as we tried to tell her it was the ceiling fan that she was looking at.

She had been at home for two days since being admitted into hospice care, and really hadn’t said anything coherent for longer than that. The pain in her head had been overwhelming and made it hard to talk. Even thinking seemed to hurt her. But now her eyes were wide open and she was looking up from her bed and asking what she was seeing. And clearly it wasn’t the ceiling fan.

“Wow, oh wow!” Over and over, with awe and surprise she said it in a way that made us wish she would say more. “Oh, my gosh!” This she said not with fear or dread but with an expression that she would have used for an unbelievable sunset or some other one-of-a-kind experience.

It had been excruciating watching her, such a beautiful, generous, loving person, go through the agony of cancer treatment. Even worse, when the treatment stopped working and the pain increased, along with uncontrollable and incapacitating symptoms, we wondered how God would explain why it was happening this way. All along, we kind of knew God wouldn’t explain but would just say that he knew and he was there. It was hard, mostly because we always think we can understand. We’re reasonable people.

At last she had seen something and it occurred to me that she was now much closer to understanding than any of the rest of us. She was seeing something that took away fear, and seemed to give her peace. Maybe what she saw made all the pain make sense, or at least made it worth going through. She seemed thankful, and at rest.

And now, I’m very curious. And I’m thankful and more convinced than ever that God will prove himself good.

Things I Love About God

I can’t remember if I’ve posted this before, but since I’ve been thinking about God a lot lately, now is a good time. We are having hard happenings in our family. Cancer has struck again and the loss hurts. But our faith is meant for times like this and we don’t grieve like those who have no hope.

Things I Love About God

1. He makes his own decisions, is not anyone’s puppet or genie.

2. Ultimately, no one spoils his plan. No one.

3. He is pure genius in so many ways – his creation of time, for instance.

4. He is love, and made me capable of loving.

5. He made me with emotions. I can know pleasure, joy and also loneliness, depression and need.

6. He gives me hope that he can fill every need I’m capable of feeling.

7. Restoring is his passion.

8. He lets us have surprises.

9. He is mysterious and has secrets.

10. He makes me think, unless I am too tired and then he just loves me.

Soul Medicine

This created world… When I cannot write, I wander away from the house and look. I can’t help but think that God is sending messages to counteract confusion, fear, anger, and despair, if people will look. These things are here in my world to make me examine, wonder, hope and lose myself and my anxious thoughts for a moment, at least. I am so thankful. For sight and things to see, for hearing and sounds to hear, for mobility, for safety. I may not have these things always and that is okay, for I have them now. I wish I could package them up and send them to everyone who needs beauty, and peace, everyone who wishes for something to be grateful for. But this is the best I can do.

The most amazing thing is that you, and I, and all people, ALL PEOPLE, are the masterpiece of his creation, and all this beauty was put here for us. If we could only look into each other’s eyes and see something far more beautiful than anything in nature. “Made in his image” is how he put it, and capable of so much more than we are doing now. I feel the sadness in this, but I don’t think there is a problem that God doesn’t have an answer for.

Yes, It’s Time for This!

People, the perfect thing to do while social distancing is planning your spring garden! At least, it’s one of the many perfect things. I am always super excited when I get in garden mode.

It reminds me to be hopeful. I have to wait for things to grow so it’s a futuristic activity and there is no better way to think about the future than to imagine myself out in the sunshine, digging in the soft, moist dirt and making all those straight rows of soon to be green stuff. Think birds singing, soft breezes, green grass (but not in the garden), blue sky, leaves on the trees. All that beauty that God wants us to enjoy.

And that is really the point of enjoying gardening for me. I feel like I’m worshipping God when I see and experience how crazy it is that a little pinpoint of a seed that I can hardly see grows into a carrot, or a bean. All he uses is water, light and dirt and a very smart self-sustaining program. God figured that out and those plants have been carrying out his plan ever since! Sometimes I think I get so used to seeing vegetables and fruits in the store that I forget that they are such high tech design.

Our retail stores were still open today, so I went for a quick trip to L&M where seeds were 40% off. I’m always conflicted when I see all the different kinds of every vegetable there is – they all look so good. I picked ones I thought would have the best chance of making it to full size before we get freezing weather again. Now I’m just going to sit and look at them for a few days, because they’re pretty – and the ground is still frozen.

In a few days I’ll start the tomatoes and a few others in starter soil – I’m going to use the plastic containers that I save from getting grocery store spinach. They make good little greenhouses. And I have some south windows where the seeds can get nice and warm and start to grow. I can hardly wait!

God likes gardening too – he planted a big one once. And he knew I would like it. Thank you, God.

Choosing Hope

January 26, 2019

Writing is difficult these days. Our family is going through cancer trauma and much of what I need to tell is too personal. Other things I might write about seem so trivial in comparison. That doesn’t leave much left.

It is easy to keep busy because we are forming a team, coming together to share necessary tasks and watch out for each other emotionally as well as physically. Only one of us has the serious physical suffering, but we all feel the shock as we try to help. Everyone worries about how everyone else is coping. Tears come easily and often. We cling to anything that reminds us of normal and we are often grateful for mundane tasks that occupy our minds and bodies.

We do have faith in our God who has said that it’s times like this that he carries us through. We are waiting to see how that looks. Now we are finding out what it means to have it be “well with our souls” while bad things are happening. Some days our “souls” are not doing so well and we realize that this work is not just physical, not just emotional, but very much spiritual.

Realizing that we live in a world that has gotten ruined in many different ways, we have done what we can to think about and prepare for the worst case scenario. As I went through my own worst case imaginings (which I am always doing – seems to be a habit) I found it kind of liberating to have faced the most feared things. It seemed to free up the energy and motivation to fight back.

When something comes upon me suddenly, unexpectedly, I spend more time with my fear than I do with my hope. There are those two different views to any perceived threat and I do have a choice about how much time to give to each of them. With God’s help, I’m choosing hope.

With God there is no rule about how these things must go. There is the possibility of surprise and blessing to come where I least expect it. God can take care of us in the darkest of places. Isn’t that what I’ve said – “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you (God) are with me”? Now I get to mean it for myself, and for someone else.

Another biblical phrase is “consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds”. I’m not yet at the place where I can say I’m glad our family gets to go through a trial. None of us are glad for this. It was not a chosen path, but since we are on it, much better that we accept the offer of Jesus, our creator and greatest healer, to go with us. How could we not? Once again, just sayin’…

Pep Talk for Myself (and maybe you)

Is something scaring you? Whenever I am threatened with something scary, and given time to think about it, it is a time of examination, a time of rehearsing what I have believed in less threatening days.

I think first of what I believe about God. I believe he exists and created everything out of nothing, can be everywhere, and knows all about everyone. As hard as that is to imagine, I have a harder time imagining him not existing – given all I see around me. I don’t understand how this works and I don’t have to explain it to anyone else, thankfully. I’ve never heard anything bad about God from anyone I thought credible.

Then I review what I’ve heard about me and God and our relationship – from an old and reputable source. The people who wrote down the information claim to have gotten it right from God. It’s mystical, but I don’t think that discredits it. Anyway, I believe that he wants me to be kind of like an adopted kid, one that he’s willing to devote himself to raising and loving no matter what.

He’s got this plan for a family that has a lot of complicating features, because everyone in it is different. It’s a lot like a super rich Dad who has decided to raise special needs kids, a whole bunch of them. One important difference is that he is incapable of making a bad parenting decision. His parenting style is “love them into loving back” and he doesn’t use guilting and shaming as tools. He has really wonderful plans for all his kids.

So what do I think about the scary situation? God might decide to yank me out of it – sometimes good parents do that. He might decide to hang on to me while we go through it together. It all depends on where he thinks I’m safest. See, I believe all this and have decided I’m in if he wants me.

Now I’m going to believe he hasn’t lost track of me. He hasn’t been distracted or forgotten about me. He has never made a bad, unloving decision. He has me in the best place, no matter what it looks like to me – and believe me, the way some things look do not make any sense. Except maybe after. Things don’t have to be good to turn out good.

Another thing to remember, (sigh) there’s an adversary, an antagonist, a bad guy, a predator who wants me to believe exactly the opposite of all this, and he wants to remain incognito himself. The minute I remember that he could be orchestrating things, I can just feel the power coming back to me. I get so mad I forget about being scared. I remember whose family I’m in and who is really in trouble. It’s not me.

This is the most simplistic way I can put how I’m feeling right now. I am so thankful for the peace and relief that comes in bad times when I remember these things. Oddly, sometimes it’s harder to watch someone else go through a crisis than it is to go through one myself. I just want to make all the bad stuff go away, right now!

Instead I have to know God isn’t just taking care of one kid. He’s looking out for every one of them, better than I could – although he might send me to do something for someone. Fortunately, I believe God wants everyone in his family and he tells his kids to treat everyone like they were a new brother or sister. There is no one more inclusive than God.

There is so much more to think about than there is time to think, and that is what makes life seem so interesting (and so short). Even in hard times, I’m glad to be here. Just sayin’…

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers how he made us. The Bible, book of Psalms 103:13-14

Autumn and Family

A past Thanksgiving in the place that is now my home.

I’m not sure I can blame it on the season, but there is something about fall that makes me miss my family in far away places. Sitting here at breakfast with the husband, I even miss our  family members that live down the street. Maybe I’m thinking longingly of Thanksgiving gatherings. Maybe it’s the thought that the long winter is coming and we should see people now, before travel gets risky. Maybe it’s because life is so obviously changing for all of us and I feel the need to KNOW how it’s affecting everyone.

We do a lot of sitting and talking. Good stuff.

Mom and I were sitting in her living room, doing our sunrise chat one day this week. She brought up the fact that many of our southern family members had moved recently. They were in houses she had never seen, so she didn’t know how to picture them at home. We started reflecting on how much better we know someone if we have visited them in their home – or at least we think we know them better. We know where they sit to relax, where they stand to talk on the phone, where they let their cat in and out, where they set the table for a meal. We know a lot of things, if we’ve been there. 

This topic is also on my mind because it was just a year ago this summer that we moved.  For quite a while friends and family didn’t know where to picture us. Even scarier, we didn’t know where to picture us. We were kind of floating and fitting in. A year into being Hayward residents, I feel like we are gradually setting our stamp on our home. There are beginning to be ways that it reflects who we are, our interests, our activities and priorities. As that happens, I feel the need to be known.

I am grateful today, for all the times I’ve been able to visit friends and family in their homes. I’m grateful for the times I’ve been able to host them in my abode. Those sharing times add to my awareness of their personalities. I know the ones who find minimalism comforting, and the ones who surround themselves with ALL their treasures. I know who is handy with tools, who loves creative touches, and who spends most of their time outdoors. I love knowing these things.

 And since this is Saturday sabbath, I have to consider that God is leading me to think about what I consider my “real home”. What will I find there and in what style am I getting ready to decorate it? From what I have seen of God (who I believe came up with the idea of home and family), the good things here on earth are meant to show us, in a small way, what he will let us experience in the future. He is such a hopeful God. 

I know not everyone is comforted by their knowledge of family togetherness. Some have never known a family. Some would like to forget what they know of family.  If that’s you, I want you to know that when it is done God’s way, family is wonderful. My family experience is not perfect – no one’s is, but even the hard and sad times have purpose. They create a holy longing for the perfection that will come when God makes bad things good again. I think it’s that simple, maybe. Just sayin’…