A Little Child Shall Lead Them

The thing with life lessons is that they often come when you’re not looking and when you least expect them. And, much of the time, you don’t even realize a lesson was taught until you have had time to sit back and reflect on things later.

One of the first lessons I remember my granddaughter, Haley, teaching me happened on the evening of May 27th, 2008. Haley was all of 15 months old at the time and our family was standing on a hill in a cemetery.

The days leading up to this had been filled with tears, decisions, and shock. My husband, Gary, had passed away unexpectedly on the 16th from a massive heart attack. We had no warning. From all appearances he seemed to be in perfect health. Only those who have experienced first-hand such a loss can fully understand. No one got to say a final goodbye. No one got to say a last “I love you.”

This particular day was the first of our year-long list of family celebrations and holidays that we would have to experience for the first time without our husband, father, grandfather, and son. And it was hard. Impossibly hard. It was Stasie’s birthday. Although we had the usual cake and ice cream and a gift or two, very little celebrating took place. Before she left the house that evening, Stasie asked if I would go with her to the cemetery. We invited others and, knowing a typical spring storm was approaching, 7 of us quickly loaded up in 2 cars and drove the couple of miles to the cemetery.

As we stood on that hill reminiscing, a gust of wind took us by surprise. Fifteen-month-old Haley immediately raised her arms in the air and began laughing and twirling around. The 6 adults just stood there, frozen in place, looking at each other — all fighting the urge to react the same way, but keeping our feelings in check. Was this appropriate? Should someone try to stop her? Almost as if on cue, we all turned our attention from little Haley to Gary’s then 93-year-old mother. What was she thinking?

To our relief, we saw her smile turn to laughter as the wind continued to blow. Soon others joined, not only in the laughter, but in the joy of the wind as well — complete with raised arms and twirling around. To us it was like an infusion of God’s Spirit, reminding us that death is not the end but, rather, the beginning of a wonderful, glorious, carefree life.

As the sky grew darker and sprinkles of rain began to come, we left the hillside. Less than an hour later, after the storm had passed, we were blessed with a glorious rainbow — yet another reminder of a God who loves us and who cares enough to make his presence known, especially in our darkest hours.

So, thank you, Haley, for taking the lead and reminding us grown-ups how to live. Death’s sting has been swallowed up in Christ’s victory. Hallelujah!

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Ok, God . . . I Get the Point!

Living life around a three-year-old can be exhausting and entertaining, but it can also be educational. God seems to be using my grandson, Nate, to teach me a lot of life lessons lately. Take the most recent one, for example.

Nate and I were alone for a short time while his mom took his older sister to school. During the course of those 30 minutes, he brought a single piece of candy to me, asking me to unwrap it for him. As his grandma, it was tempting to give in to his request. But, knowing it was probably not the best “second” breakfast option and knowing his mom would strongly disapprove, I declined his request, promising him he could have it later. (As a side note, due to recent revelations of a heart health concern, we are working toward reducing his sugar intake severely. Much easier said than done this time of year!) Anyway, Nate apparently didn’t like my answer, because he promptly left the room and took it upon himself to unwrap the candy and eat it. I know because he came to me a few minutes later with chocolate on his sweet little sheepish-grinned face!

Now that he was thirsty, Nate then asked me to get him a drink. I told him I would if he could wait just a minute while I finished what I was doing. He obviously didn’t wait because the next thing I knew, I heard him frantically yelling from the kitchen, “Grandma, I need you!”

Wasting no time in getting to the kitchen, I quickly saw what had happened. This sweet little chocolate-covered-faced three-year-old had taken it upon himself to pour his own drink. The result: one cup on its side, juice all over the counter, and one little boy standing there frozen in place, not sure what to do. I thanked him for letting me know about the mess and reminded him that he should have waited. I then proceeded to clean up his mess while he (now more patiently) stood there waiting for his drink.

One lesson, twice taught, in the course of maybe five minutes. That morning it dawned on me that, very often, my responses to God’s answers to my requests are not much different than Nate’s responses were to me.

I don’t like it when I bring a request to God and he tells me I need to wait. On more than one occasion I’ve walked away and treated myself to it anyway. I’ve charged ahead with my own plan or agenda to make my request happen in MY time. Then, when everything backfires and I have a full-fledged mess on my hands, I run to God, yelling, “God, I need you.”

When that happens, I can almost hear God sigh as he lovingly takes my mess and begins the process of cleaning it up, all the while quietly whispering, “Cheryl, honey, we’ve been through this before — if only you could have waited just a little bit longer.”

A Hop, Skip, and a Jump

I have not liked that little quip since a memorable summer day when I was 8 years old. That was the day I learned just how far and physically taxing “a hop, skip, and a jump” could be!

We (Mom and all four of us kids) had gone to visit one of Mom’s sisters (and, by extension, our cousins). We were so excited — especially since Mom had promised we would also later be going on down the road to her other sister’s house, complete with — you guessed it — more cousins!

As time slowly ticked away, we became more and more anxious to move on. But Mom and her sister seemed to be finding an endless array of things to talk about. Time was wasting! We had places to go, cousins to see, games to play!!!

After what I’m sure was no small amount of begging, Mom suggested that if we wanted to go so badly, we could walk there. We were stunned! Seriously???!!! We had never done that before and weren’t too sure we wanted to do it now. But the desire to play with our older cousins won out over our fear of traveling that stretch of road by ourselves.

So, with a bit of fear and trepidation, yet armed with encouragement from our mothers that it was “just” a hop, skip, and a jump, six of us ranging in age from 8 to 4 began our adventure on foot down a country road, complete with gravel, lots of dust and a dense wooded area on our left that was more than a little unnerving.

After walking a few minutes, we began to question if our mothers had ever walked this stretch of road before. It was certainly a lot farther than “a hop, skip, and a jump.” We proved it. I can’t tell you the number of times we literally did a hop, a skip, and a jump. Never did that sequence land us at our desired destination.

Several minutes later, as we were growing tired of walking, we realized we could now see the end of the wooded area up ahead. We knew we were getting close! Just the excitement of that thought alone gave us the incentive to speed up and start running. But, when we got to the end of the woods, we were faced with a fence row that appeared to be a mile long! How had we not noticed the fence row before? Discouraged, our run slowed down to our former pace while more questions began to fly around at record speed. What had we gotten ourselves into? What should we do? Should we turn around? Should we keep going? Should we just sit down at the side of the road and wait for our mothers to come along in the car?

One quick glance back and we knew turning around was not an option. We had come too far to turn back now. Besides, it had been scary enough walking past the woods once; not one of us wanted to do that again! Waiting was not an option either because by now two out of the six of us needed to go to the bathroom. So we continued trudging on, the only thing keeping us going being the vision of fun and games dancing in our heads.

Eventually we got to the end of the fence row and to the corner of our cousins’ front yard, at which point we all took off running! We were never so happy to see their house as we were that day. As we were running diagonally across their yard, guess what we saw off to our right? Yep! It was our mothers pulling into the driveway in the car. Their trip? All of a couple of minutes. Ours? More like 30 or 40! Only to arrive at the same destination at the same time.

A couple of practical lessons come to mind as I reflect back on that summer adventure. First of all, never seriously believe someone if they say it’s just “a hop, skip, and a jump.” It’s a matter of perspective. And your perspectives may be miles apart — literally!

Another lesson to be learned: practicing a bit of patience could save a lot of wear and tear on a body! I suspect our games of “Red Rover” or “Red Light, Green Light” or “Freeze Tag” would have lasted a lot longer that summer evening had we been patient enough to ride with our mothers instead of taking off on foot.

Which makes me think about God’s desire for me to be more patient in most areas of my life. I am slowly, but surely, learning to resist the urge to take off on foot every time I’m tempted. Sad as it is to admit, I’ve had to learn the hard way that it’s better to wait patiently for God. It’s just that it’s so much easier said than done. After all, I have places to go, people to see, and things I want to do!

The Parable of the Ketchup

“Mommy, do girls eat ketchup?” my then three-year-old daughter asked.

To say her question caught me by surprise would be an understatement.

“Why, yes, honey, girls eat ketchup.”

“Then why don’t we?”

Good question. Valid question. You see, I do not like ketchup. I do not like it on my sandwiches; I do not like it to dip my french fries in. I do not particularly like it baked on top of meatloaf, although I can tolerate it providing it’s not too much. If it is, I will scrape off as much of it as I can because, let’s face it, meatloaf is just too good to pass up. But that’s beside the point.

My daughter’s question took me by surprise because it never occurred to me that, for the better part of three years, she had sat at Burger King or McDonald’s or Wendy’s and watched her brothers and dad dip their french fries in ketchup, but had never once done so herself because her mom didn’t. And my heart sank.

It sank even further after her celebrated first dip of a french fry into the ketchup resulted in a “yum-yum” moment.

My thoughts ran wild.

“How long had she been wondering why boys could eat ketchup and not girls?”

“How many times had she sat there longing to taste the ketchup, but too timid to ask?”

To think I had unknowingly deprived her of something she obviously liked and enjoyed pained me. “Are there other things I’m unwittingly depriving her of?”

It was then I realized, perhaps for the first time, just how much my daughter was watching me — even down to my eating habits. If she was so observant to notice I did not dip my french fries in ketchup when everyone else at the table did, what other things had she noticed — large or small? Had she noticed my speech? Had she noticed my choice of friends? Had she noticed my work ethic? Had she noticed my habit of Bible study and prayer?

In thinking back on this video memory from 20+ years ago, I now have other questions facing me.

Am I observing my Heavenly Father as closely as my daughter was observing me? Am I trying to mimic His life in order to be a reflection of Him?

Just as my daughter did not understand the ketchup on the table before her was something available to her, I wonder what blessings I’m leaving on the table because of wrong assumptions or misunderstandings. What blessings am I missing out on because I mistakenly believe the blessings I see in the lives of others are not available to me? What hopes and dreams are going unfulfilled because I mistakenly assume they’re for others, not me?

So, today I promised myself I will no longer continue to sit back and “stare at the ketchup” I see others partaking of. I will hold unswervingly to the hope I profess, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23). I will be an active participant by boldly approaching God’s throne of grace where I have already received one blessing after another (John 1:16).

I will acknowledge God’s blessings of the past.

I will rejoice in God’s blessings in the present.

I will anxiously await God’s blessings in the future.

“But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.” (Psalm 71:14)

Early Morning Wake-up Call

One morning last week, I woke up earlier than normal and was not happy about it. It wouldn’t have been too big a deal except for the fact I had gone to bed a lot later than normal — I mean A LOT later! After 30 minutes or so of seriously trying to fall back to sleep, I surrendered and got up to begin my morning routine, knowing that my afternoon was going to be a long one!

As I began my Bible reading and journaling, my mind wandered and began replaying a mental video of something that had happened nearly 29 years ago — something I had not thought about in a very long time. I paused to take in the scene.

Christmas, 1984. My husband and I and two young boys had made the trek from our home in Tennessee to visit our families in Indiana. One afternoon as the boys, ages 2 1/2 and 1, were napping on the couch, my father-in-law parked himself on the floor directly in front of them. After watching them sleep for the first few minutes, he then spent the better part of the next hour gently kissing their foreheads, wrapping their fingers around his, patting their backs, and holding their tiny little feet. As the mother of these 2 busy bees, I sat there anxiously praying that he would not wake them up. They desperately needed their rest and I desperately needed mine! My father-in-law, however, desperately needed to shower them with his all-consuming love and affection. It was almost as if he couldn’t stand even these few minutes apart from them.

I can picture him now, excitedly rubbing his two hands together in anticipation to nap time being over. He had things he wanted the boys to see; things to do. In his delight, he didn’t want to waste a precious minute with his two young grandsons. Oh, to be loved like that!

Then it hit me! Is it possible I am awake because God, in his great love and affection for me desperately had something he couldn’t wait to show me? Something he couldn’t wait to share with me? Something so exciting that it couldn’t wait a couple more hours? Had God spent the 3 hours I did manage to sleep waiting at my side until he couldn’t wait another moment? Had God been holding my hand as I slept? Had God curled my fingers around his forefinger, admiring this creation of his? What an exciting thought!

So I promptly opened my Bible and began reading where I had left off, settling on a verse I just know God placed there years ago for me to discover that morning. Although the verse God gave me that morning was from Jeremiah, let me share another one with you that will speak to all of us no matter the circumstances of our lives right now: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1) What love this one daughter felt during that early morning hour!

By the way, I did fall back to sleep for another hour. And what a peaceful, restful hour that proved to be!

And my father-in-law? He passed away a short 6 weeks later, not able to fight the pneumonia that had settled in his already diseased lungs.

Thank you, God, for giving me this mental video some 29 years ago to be replayed in this early morning hour, reminding me just how much you love me. Thank you, God, for your all-consuming love and affection for me.

People Watching

Had a chance to do some people-watching Saturday, and it proved very interesting. I was helping my sister with a garage sale. My job: money-handler. Her job: price dickerer. I realize that’s not technically a word, but that’s what she did — negotiate a price that allowed both parties to walk away happy (or at least satisfied).

Let me introduce you to some of the people we met. There was the tall, thin man in cowboy boots who sounded every bit like you’d imagine a cowboy should — slow, steady words in a deep, base voice. He was ecstatic (at least as ecstatic as a cowboy can be) over his purchase of a couple coffee cans full of miscellaneous nails, screws and drill bits. He mentioned twice that that $1.00 purchase saved him a trip to Lowes. Glad we could help!

We also met the grandmother — or was she the mother? — of a 1st grade boy and 2nd grade girl who were “shopping” with her. I never did determine her exact relationship to the kids and it was hard to tell her age. In talking with her, however, I learned that “John” is in the same 1st grade class as my granddaughter. As soon as that connection was made, her shopping suddenly ended and she began a detailed account of her over-the-top plans for his birthday party later this month. Of course, my granddaughter will be invited because nowadays no one in a class is excluded from receiving an invitation. And, I received my own personal invitation as well (probably an effort to enlist my help in chaperoning all those kids)! Not sure what, if anything, she purchased. My head was too busy spinning with visions of cotton candy, trampolines, blow-up bounce houses, monkey bars with air mattresses beneath them, and of course, cake, ice cream and thirty 1st graders running helter-skelter all over the place!

Then there was the man who got a chuckle over my sister’s use of the word “dicker.” He apparently hadn’t heard that word in years and it took him back to his stomping grounds as a kid growing up in South Carolina. Not sure what he ended up buying either!

And then there was the man looking at (and purchasing) several tools. He would buy a couple of things, circle around and buy another couple of things. Then he continued to circle around again and again and again, buying things with every lap he made. He reminded me of a kid in a candy store. He had a little money to spend and wanted to make sure he got the most important things first. Either that or he just had a hard time making decisions! But he was funny and he was buying stuff, so we didn’t mind that he was creating a well-worn path in the garage floor.

The last one I’ll mention was the mother of three. She was from out of town and stopped by because of a last-minute, desperate attempt to find something to fill her time while her senior high daughter was taking an SAT test at a school nearby. She was honest right off the bat. She wasn’t shopping for anything. She just had time on her hands. Fortunately both my sister and I had been through the SATs with kids, so we could identify with her anxiety as well as the need to find something to do to pass the time. We didn’t mind that she walked away with nothing. It was a joy just to visit with her.

People. All kinds of people. All ages, sizes and shapes of people. Some interacting with us as they shopped; others choosing to remain silent and distant. All landing at our sale because of one little sign posted at the end of the street.

Out of all the people who came to the sale, these five stand out in my mind over 24 hours later. All left an impression of some kind — mostly good. I can still see their faces, expressions and mannerisms, and vaguely hear their voices in my head. Which makes me wonder. Was there anything I said or did that left an impression on them in return? If so, I pray it was good. Even hot, sweaty and tired, did my speech or mannerism reflect Christ in any way? Oh, how I pray it did.

People and choices. They seem to go hand-in-hand. Nearly everything we do in life is a choice we make. We choose to get up in the mornings. We choose what to wear. We choose to get the kids up and ready for the day. We choose whether or not to start the day with God. We choose to go to work. We choose to walk into the office with a frown or a smile with a cheerful greeting. We choose where to eat, what to eat, and how much to eat. We choose. And even if we find ourselves in the rare situation where a choice is made for us (be it good or bad), we still have a choice in how we react.

People and choices. There’s no living without them. So why not make the best choices possible and put your best foot forward wherever you go with whomever you meet? Remember, there are people watching you. And you never know when you could be leaving behind an impression of eternal significance.

The Security Light

I had yet another visual aid lesson a couple of days ago. It was after dark when I needed to make a quick trip into Knoxville. As I walked out onto my front porch and began to take that first step leading down to the driveway, I realized the security light did not come on as it should have.

“Probably another burned out bulb,” I thought.

So I slowly and cautiously stepped down. Second step, still no light.

“Yep, must be a burned out bulb. Seems like that needs to be changed much too often!” My thoughts continued.

So I slowly and cautiously took another step down. And another, gaining confidence as I went. Then, reaching the last step, boom! The light suddenly came on, illuminating my path and nearly scaring me to death. While I was thankful for the light, I was a bit frustrated that it hadn’t come on sooner. After all, it seemed to me the most dangerous and uncertain of my steps was the first one off the porch — not the one that landed me on solid ground.

As I drove and thought about a solution to the problem of the security light, I realized what a lesson in faith this was. Although I couldn’t see the first few steps I was taking, I trusted them to be there for me. Why? I had experience with these steps. The steps and I have a history together. These steps had been there when I needed them before. Why not now?

That’s the way it is with our walk with God. Very often we find ourselves in situations where it’s just too dark to see the next step in front of us. You desperately want to, but you just can’t make it out. Yet, because you have had experience with God in the past during other times of darkness he brought you through, you continue on. Because of your past history with God, you keep going forward. Maybe slowly. Most likely cautiously. But you keep going nonetheless. That’s the important thing — keep moving forward. Each circumstance we ever faced in which we stepped out in faith in God is yet another foundation on which we can stand as we take our next, often larger, step of faith.

I decided that night what I need to do with the security light is to get my ladder and re-position and tighten the screws so the light triggers a bit sooner.

As I pondered the life lesson to be learned, I decided what I need to do is re-visit God’s faithfulness in times past, grab His Word, and commit (or re-commit) a few key verses to memory. I think I’ll start with this one: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1, NIV)