Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Assisting the Weak

God's Strength Revealed in Nature

Philippians 4:13
"I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

Yesterday, the 16-year old bent over his desk and drew random markings on it.  He paused, reread his test prompt for the final exam essay and then flipped his pencil absentmindedly through his fingers.

The clock ticked. I watched and waited.

He scribbled a mind map and wrote a few thoughts. Then, tired, he propped up his left arm, leaned his head in his hand, and continued to trace a pattern on his desk.

The clock ticked. I watched and waited.

He had told me earlier this year things were tough at home. On this, our first day back from Thanksgiving Break, I wondered what he had endured during those long days at home.

He sighed. He lay his pencil on his desk, rested his head in both hands, and doubled over from the weight of a personal grief.

I waited until I knew he couldn't finish the task he faced, and I wrote him a note: "What is going on with you today? Do you need to take this test another day?"

He read the note. Picked up his pencil to explain, "Crazy things happened at home last week. I'm distracted today.  I can't think of anything else but that."

As soon as I read the reply, I removed his immediate burden.

I can't help his home situation, but I can help him at school while he is under my care.  I picked up his test and will give it to him on a better day. 

Today, I discovered the rest of his story.  His grief is real and his burdens are great. He has the responsibilities of a person twice or three times his age. 

I will watch and I will wait, and when I can help him again, I will.
Lord, bless these children who must become old before their time. Let me always be watchful to know when I can assist them.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thirty Pieces of Paper

An Evening Star Shines Above Charleston, S.C.
November 2011

Matthew 6:8 NIV
"Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."

John called to me from the guest room where we have our computer and printer set up. "Lori, do we have any more computer paper? Mama needs to print out her ticket." 

His mom will leave for St. Louis in a week and wanted to get her papers in order.  It was 7:00, and we had settled in around the television for the evening.  I didn't know if we had paper or not, but I knew where our hiding places were.  We keep paper on a little stand beside the computer. Sometimes left over paper is placed on top of the stand.

I flipped through photo paper looking for a scrap or two of computer paper. Thankfully his mom only needed a couple pieces.  I looked all around for several minutes.  Finally, as I gave up, my eyes landed on a nearly empty pack of computer paper that had almost slipped behind the desk.

What a relief! John printed the ticket information, and we went back to our routine.

An hour later, we heard Allison calling, "Daddy, do we have any computer paper?"  She was trying to print a school project for a friend who didn't have a printer. It's due tomorrow.

John and I looked at each other and groaned as he got up to see what she needed.  Thirty pages!  I shook my head in disbelief as I listened to them talk in the other room.  John and I had just searched everywhere in there. How could he find thirty spare pieces of paper?  We barely had two for his mother.

After a few minutes I heard John laugh and come back into the living room.  He had found a stack of computer paper on top of the PC.  We hadn't seen it an hour ago and have no idea where it came from.

It was just enough to print thirty pages for my daughter's friend.
Thank you Lord for providing for our needs, no matter how great or small.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

OOPS! There She Falls

John and Allie Pause Before Placing Ornaments on the Tree
November 2011

Matthew 19:19 NIV
"Honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself."

John and Allison are putting the finishing touches on our Christmas tree.  Watching them work together reminds me of my childhood and helping my dad put up the tree.

Mom and Dad were good sports about the holidays and always managed to get the house decorated.  We kids would go with dad to a local tree lot to select a live tree.

I can remember being bundled up in my winter coat, snowflakes flying in the breeze, following dad through row after row of trees hunting for the perfect one.  Once we found one, the workers tied it to the top of the car, and homeward we would drive.

One year, when I was about ten years old, dad selected a pine tree. Gorgeous tree.  We decorated it with lights, ornaments, silver tinsel, and maybe even popcorn strands because sometimes we strung popcorn and hung it on the tree.

I was mesmerized by that beautiful tree once it was lit up. I stared at it for several minutes until I noticed an object on the tree I had overlooked.  A pine cone! A small pine cone was nestled on a branch deep inside the tree. 

For a kid from Ohio, the pine cone seemed exotic. Maybe I had seen one before, but I don't think I had ever noticed one on a tree before.  Curiosity overtook the common sense of youth, and I reached for the pine cone.  I tugged on it; it didn't budge.

I pulled a little harder, but still it held on tightly to the branch.  Undaunted, I gave it a tug for all I was worth.  Right then, I remembered I was tugging on a newly decorated Christmas tree precariously balanced in a small tree stand filled with water.

Before I knew what happened, the tree tipped over in my direction. My hand still on the pine cone, I was powerless to stop gravity from operating.  The tree hit the floor with a thud just as dad turned a corner to come into the room.

I had no idea dad could move that fast, nor me for that matter.  As he hollered, "Lori, what have you done?!" I tore through the living room headed for the safety of my bedroom.  He bent over, tore off his slipper and flung it out of frustration in my direction.  I ducked. It hit the clock on the wall, knocked it off, and it never kept proper time again, as I recall.

Dad finally calmed down, and I never tried to take a pine cone off a Christmas tree again.  Needless to say, the pine cone never came off that tree.  I think it must have been bolted on there!

Christmas memories like this make the holidays easier for me when I miss my dad.  I can laugh now about that moment, but at the time, it was quite traumatic. However, my dad eventually forgave me. 

I watch Allie and John tonight as they arrange the lights and ornaments on the tree. I pray for a lifetime of good memories for her as she remembers helping her dad.
Thank you, Lord, for memories of those we love.

                                                     Dad, Teri and Me 1963
           Dad and Me 1960

Friday, November 25, 2011

Love in a Box

John, Allison and Teona Put up the Tree
December 2010

Luke 2:10 KJV
"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people."

Russell climbed up the ladder leading to the attic hunting for boxes. THE BOXES. The ones we pack with love and care each January as we put up Christmas decorations for another year.

"Careful, Russell--I think that's the box with the glass ornaments," I advise as I hand a box to Allison in our fireman's bucket brigade of passing boxes to each other and placing them in the house.

"Lights!" he cautions as he hands me a bag.

"Inside or outside?" I ask as if I am an expert on lights.

"I don't know," he explains, "We'll have to test them all anyway."

Okay. Shows what a novice I am at this. He's been testing lights for probably twenty years as he helped John each Christmas.  My job has always been to stay out of the way and not step on the strands of lights as they are spread throughout the house from our electrical sockets.

He finally reached the large box we'd been looking for. The Christmas Tree.  Allison has impatiently waited for this moment.  She's already turned on Christmas music and is ready to put the tree together.  Some years we get a real tree, but this year we're using the one we have.

Once the tree is up, shaped and has fallen out a bit, John's mom and Allison will start hanging lights and the ornaments. Most of our ornaments have a story behind them, including a red glass bulb with "Merry Christmas" written on it from the 1950s. 

It was John's favorite childhood ornament, and he insisted on hanging it every year on the tree.  Several years ago, we had a live tree that shifted in its stand, which caused it to lean and crash.  Glass ornaments shattered, including John's childhood favorite.

He has a sentimental heart, and it was emotional to see the old ornament shattered.  I felt terrible for him, so I hatched a plan.  I searched for six months online until I found the same ornament for sale with the original set it had belonged to.  I bought it for him in July that year and kept it a secret until Christmas. He was amazed I had gone to that kind of trouble for him. Each year now we hang the replacement ornament on the tree and put the shattered fragment of the original on the fireplace mantle.

This is Christmas for me. The shared family experiences. The love.  The homemade ornaments from school that have held together for two decades or more.

Our boxes stored in the attic each  year are overflowing with memories of love.

This Christmas we may not have as many presents under the tree, but we'll have an abundance of love in our home.
Thank you, Lord, for this time of year when we celebrate the birth of your son.

Peace, Love and a Merry Christmas

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

All Good Gifts Come From Above

God's Strength Will Sustain Us

Philippians 4:6-7
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. What a wonderful concept in our modern age: Set aside one day of work to formally give thanks to the Lord for the blessings of our lives!

Today I have checked FaceBook statuses to see my friends traveling to various locations around the country to be with their family.  We'll travel to John's mother's house tomorrow, where we'll share thanks for our blessings with his family as we sit around a table overflowing with a feast prepared with love.

This past year with furlough days, budget cuts, and a salary freeze, we have had stressful moments in our family budget.  Many nights have found me lost in prayer for the ability to afford eye glasses, haircuts, and a refrigerator to replace our old one. 

I remember about the lilies of the field and how they toiled not, but sometimes it's tough to imagine myself as a lily. I know He is aware of every bird that falls to Earth, yet I have a difficult time personalizing this to my situation.

I worry too much.  I try not to show it, but at times I am paralyzed with worry. 

In this time of thanksgiving, I need to refocus my fears onto my blessings.  I need to count them "one by one" as the old gospel song admonishes.

Faith, Hope, and Love.  I still possess these three.

However, we have cut back on our spending. Luxury items are discussed and weighed against greater needs in the household.  We have included Allison in our budget discussions, and she has started clipping coupons to help us out.  She feels empowered as she helps us save money.

Ultimately, God is indeed blessing our lives, and we don't need many material items when we have the love of God flowing through our family. 

I'm thankful every day for God's blessings, but I'm glad tomorrow is set aside to formally thank Him and to acknowledge all He is doing for us. 

I need the reminder that even if I don't feel like a lily, or fly like a bird, God is watching over me carefully and providing for my needs.
Thank you, Lord, for the reminder that all good gifts come from above.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

He Understands Me

God's Love is Displayed in Many Ways

1 John 4:8 NIV
"Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."

My seniors were mezmerized as they watched Mary Shelley's dark tale, Frankenstein, unfold. Victor Frankenstein had stiched together limbs from different corpses to shape his creature, who upon wakening, merely wanted to be loved. Instead, he was met with immediate rejection by his creator and the world upon which he entered.

My students felt empathy for the creature, who was alienated from society and reviled. It's hard to remember my teenage years, but I know the thought, "They don't understand me!" filtered through my head numerous times.

As I heard characters in the story admonish Victor that "only God can create life!" I thought about how blessed I am to have a Creator who embraces me and loves me. He comforts me in my weakest hours.

A loving God created me. And if I feel alienated and unloved in my life, it's an indicator that I have strayed from my Father.

Frankenstein's creature never had a chance to sustain the goodness that he inherently possessed. No one showed him love, the basic element we all need to survive. 
Lord, I'm thankful for the love you shower upon me everyday of my life.

Monday, November 7, 2011

No Shortcuts Allowed

There are No Shortcuts for Learning How to Play the Piano
Me at the Piano 2009

Psalm 81:12 NIV
"So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices."

"We don't have to do all the steps, do we?" demanded my sophomore.  I looked at her in disbelief from my spot in front of the room.  My jaw hit the floor with a thud.

The writing test assessment is tomorrow. I have spent the better part of a month practicing the steps for effective writing with these weak writers. Thesis, Brainstorm, Rough Draft, Final Copy--of course they need to "do" the steps.  Otherwise, why have we written three essays in the last two weeks and practiced the steps each time? 

The girl glared at me as I stammered an answer.

"Well, of course you need to do the steps, but I can't make you follow them. I'm not going to hit you or anything if you don't do what I've taught you.  But if you choose not to follow the steps, then good luck on your essay."

Shortcuts. The girl wants a shortcut to quality work. All the students in the class want my tacit approval to take the shortcut, but I refused to back down.

Unfortunately, she won't be the only one to try to pass by doing the least amount of work. Others will try to accomplish this assessment without the prep work as well. They aren't capable of squeezing out a passing grade. The weaker students need the steps.

"Well, I'm not going to do the steps!" the defiant girl concluded.  I can only imagine the negative impact she had on others in the room who will now also consider taking the shortcut.

I wonder how many times in a day negative people interfere with my ability to produce my best work?  How many times has negativity shot down my enthusiasm or squelched an idea?  Has my own desire to take shortcuts in life impacted others?  Have I ever been my defiant student?

God knows better than I about barriers to success that we put in front of ourselves. I know this girl is a talented enough writer to probably pass the test, but how many others will follow her lead and fail because they didn't want to take the time to do the work correctly?

Quality work demands quality time. There are no shortcuts to obtaining a desired goal.
Lord,  I pray that I will never be like my defiant student, one who would lead others to failure.