Gift Ideas - Handmade and Other

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Yeah, Though I Walk: Chaos and Fear

Ouch!! I looked down at the soft flesh on my inner forearm at the line of red that began to appear. Summer on the farm brings a plethora of kittens and this one was a little wild and not willing to be held. The scratch on my arm was evidence of her displeasure at my attempts to catch her. That scratch left a scar that can still be seen today, a physical scar that reminds me of the scars left on many lives later that night.
I emerged from the hayloft with my bleeding arm and in need of some tending. In the driveway in front of our green farmhouse, adults and teens milled around as cars arrived. Laughter and conversation filled the air as teens chose seats. One high school girl invited her younger sister to ride in the car near her, a choice that she would be grateful for the rest of her days. Before long the cars were loaded with laughing, excited youth, eager to be on the road for their evening trip to an area amusement park. One by one the cars pulled out of the driveway and headed south.

Mom tended my arm and she, Dad, and I went about our evening activities. We had supper and then watched tv. A peaceful, normal evening. The green phone hanging on the wall in the kitchen shrilled and the peace turned to chaos. At first the details were confused and the information scant, but as the evening wore on the details became more clear, an accident with serious injuries had occurred.

My Uncle, driving a large Suburban, filled with teens in the days before seatbelts were law and long before the 55 MPH speed limit or even 65 MPH speed limit, had had an accident. One of the tires had blown. He was able to keep the vehicle upright and able to take it to the shoulder where the real mishap occurred. A large road sign had been upended and he was unable to avoid hitting the concrete base, the car rolled. A young woman, sitting in the middle of the front bench seat was thrown from the car and killed instantly. She was a junior in high school. Another young woman’s hand was crushed when the car rolled. A young man had a concussion. My Uncle was lucid and mobile immediately after the accident, able to talk to rescue workers, however he too had suffered a significant head wound and was taken to the hospital in Scranton.

In the days to come I was upset and frightened by the chaos and sadness around me. I was just 8 years old. My parents went to the hospital to be with my Dad’s brother and his family and I slept with my two sisters in their room. They talked about the accident and spelled words I shouldn't hear that described the scene. My sister and her boyfriend went to the funeral of the young woman who was killed. They were somber and very sad. There was so much I didn’t understand, but I felt the fear and the sadness in the adults around me.
We went to church one morning, My Uncle had been in a coma and his life had been hanging in the balance. The call came that the family should come. Most of us attended the same church – my father and all three of his brothers, my siblings, and many cousins. The brothers all left and church felt a little empty that day.  

I don’t remember just which day My Uncle died, whether it was that Sunday or soon after, but he did die. A man only in his forties, his first grandchildren just toddlers or infants, some of his children married, some still at home. His passing left a huge hole in our church, in our extended family, and in his immediate family.

I remember the day of the funeral, August 17, 1972 – the day my first niece was born and the day of his son’s birthday. I think it was the first funeral I attended. So much sadness, his body in the casket at the front of the church. The trip to the cemetery where he would be laid to rest near other family members who had gone before him.

At that age I did not understand death or grief. I understood that the adults around me, including my older siblings, were sad. I felt the chaos of sudden death and trauma, the heart wrenching pain of abrupt loss. I felt fear.

A short while after My Uncle died, I was on the front porch of our house and fell and hit my head on something. As head wounds do from even a small cut, it bled heavily. I was terrified. I didn’t understand about brain injuries or head trauma or concussions. I understood that My Uncle had hit his head and that he died. I was certain that I was going to die too. I ran screaming into the house and into my mother's arms, a place of comfort and solace. 

As a young child, sudden death meant chaos and fear to me.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Geocaching and God's Will
Have you ever gone geocaching? It's a treasure hunt using a gps. People hide an item, then enter its location into a website using gps coordinates. Other people search for it.

Determining God's will for our lives can feel a little like geocaching, like we're going on a treasure hunt. The hard part is, sometimes the coordinates aren't so clear and we're not sure how to find it.

I have wished that God would speak to me like He spoke to Moses or David or Job. I have also wished that he would write it in the sky or on a billboard or send someone to tell me clearly what I am to do. However God doesn't usually use these ways of communicating with us. Yet, God does want us to know His will and does make a way for us to do so.

How do we find the gps coordinates for God's will for our circumstances?

1. Genuine Desire - Cultivate a genuine desire to know what God wants us to do and a willingness to obey Him when we know. Part of the process of cultivation is to come to a place where we have surrendered our own will and desires and we only want what God wants.

2. Study the Bible - As we search for God's will, a good place to begin is searching Scripture. The Bible reveals right and wrong, truth and lies, God's character, and man's character. As we come to understand these things, they serve as a filter. When we are faced with a difficult decision, we can ask which options are most closely aligned with what God has revealed He desires of us.

3. Pray - Prayer is a conversation with God in which we talk to Him and also listen for His response. What do we listen for? Thoughts He sends to our minds, a prompting of the Holy Spirit through words from the Bible, advice from people I trust that rings true, desires of the heart that surface. In that quiet place of prayer, what is God saying to you?

4. Wise Counsel - While the first people that come to mind might be a pastor or spiritual director, others may have much to offer as well. Skilled professionals may be able to offer advice based on their training and experience. Friends who have learned lessons in the School of Hard Knocks and have gained wisdom from their experiences may also offer wise counsel. Counsel from those who share a love for God is helpful, for they are more likely to understand the underlying desire in our search for an answer. However that does not prohibit God from using the expertise of non-believers to also direct us.

5. Desires, Dreams, Abilities and Gifts - God has created each of us uniquely with desires, dreams, abilities, and gifts. As we search for God's will, we want to pay attention to those longings and capabilities. God can use those to direct our path as well.

6. Consolation and Desolation - Consolation and Desolation are terms used by the spiritual fathers and mothers of Christianity. Consolation is an inner sense of life, peace, and rightness, of God's favor. Desolation is an inner sense of death, unease, that something is not right, that God's favor is not in this. One way to get a handle on these is to make a decision and sit with it. Pay attention to how you feel. Do you have a sense of consolation in your soul after you have made this decision? Do you have a sense of desolation? This is a powerful way that our souls communicate to us.

7. Circumstances - One of the most exciting aspects of finding God's will is seeing circumstances work together in an inexplicable way. We've prayed, we've listened, we've sought counsel, we're aware of what our soul is hearing from God, but nothing happens and we're waiting. Waiting. Then suddenly, circumstances start to come together in a way that goes beyond coincidence or human contriving and we know that God's hand is clearing the path He wants us to walk. And there is confidence that this is the path God has for us.

When have you known you had discovered God's will for you?
What confirmed to you or helped you know this was His will?

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Ready Heart
          How do we valiantly survive the trials of life?

            Times in my life have been so full of trials and tragedies that I have dreaded what may be coming next and I have been afraid.  I have wanted to run, to find a safe cave where I can take all the people I love and keep us all safe and unharmed.  I find myself repeating Jesus’ words from His prayer in Gethsemane, “Let this cup pass from me.”
            I didn't want to face any more pain or suffering. I wanted life to get back to “normal.” I tried to bargain with God, but of course that was futile. I tried to hide, to protect myself, but that didn’t work either. I wanted this cup to pass from me and the more I tried to make that happen the more miserable I felt.
            Jesus moved forward in His prayer. So must I. So must we. He surrendered.  He prayed, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” I too, we too, must accept the pain and hardship and surrender ourselves to God.
            I was gripped by the opening scene of “The Passion of the Christ.” Jesus prays in agony in Gethsemane. His surrender is powerfully portrayed. Later, he stands stripped of his clothes, chained to a large rock about to be beaten and scourged by the Roman soldiers. The first blow has not yet fallen when He says,“Father, My heart is ready.” As I continued to watch the movie I was captivated by Jesus’ steely determination to keep going, to face all that his trial and execution entailed. He faced His suffering with courage, with strength, with confidence, with resolution, with steely determination. This is how I long to face life. I want to face life with courage, with confidence, with passion. How do I get there? How did Jesus do it?
            He had a ready heart. He had an intimate relationship with God the Father. He let go of His own desires and embraced God’s will, and then pursued it in passionate obedience. He saw beyond the pain. He saw the purpose. He had the right perspective.
            So often my perspective becomes skewed and I look at the pain, the suffering.  I get focused on the difficulty. I forget to look up. I forget the truth of Psalm 121:1-2 “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” When I forget to look up, I get stuck in the mire and muck. When I look up to my Helper and Maker, when I surrender to Him, when I obey Him I can look difficulty in the eye and say, “Father, My heart is ready.” I can valiantly, courageously survive the trials when I focus on Him.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Test and A Testimony

The Test

On Tuesday, September 16, 2014 I got out of bed and went about my morning routine. I prayed and thought about what I had on my agenda for that day. I climbed into my car and pulled out of my parking lot headed to work. I navigated the normal traffic lights and turns and was coming down a straightaway into an intersection that I don’t like. It is a busy intersection with people pulling out of gas stations and others merging on or off the highway.

I saw the pickup driver pulling forward, I saw him looking the other way. I saw him pulling forward not looking my way, not seeing me. I hit my brakes. I hit my horn. He turned toward me, but it was too late. I considered my options. Could I swerve behind him? No, he was pulling a trailer and I would hit it and possibly roll the car or go airborne. Could I swerve in front of him? No, he was moving that direction. I realized I couldn’t avoid him and I watched the silver nose of my car hit the side of his brown pickup. I saw the metal crumple and felt the snap and jar as my body was thrown forward by the impact and then snapped back into the seat by my seatbelt. My car was pulled slightly to the left and pieces of it were strewn across the road. Something smelled hot and either steam or smoke drifted from the front of the car.

I felt stunned. Disoriented. Alone. Struggling to know what to do next.

My purse, lunch bag, work bag had been thrown onto the floor on the passenger side. I picked them up and looked for my phone. I needed to call 911. This needed to be reported. My hands were a little shaky.

An older white man approached from the gas station and started to come to the window. I saw him ask if I was okay. I reached for the window control to open the window, but he moved around to the other side of the car. I rolled down the window. He asked if I was okay. I said I thought so. A woman with dark hair pulled back in a pony tail appeared holding a cell phone. She said she’d called 911. 

A man with skin the color of milk chocolate appeared and everything else faded from my comprehension. He spoke to me, calmly, kindly,“You need to get out of the car. You’re in the middle of the road and you might get hit again. You need to get out of the car.”

I heard him. He made sense, but I didn’t quite know what to do. I wanted to do what he said, but I felt very lost and unsure how to do it.

“You need to get out of the car. Open the door.”

I released the seatbelt latch. I tried to open the door, but it didn’t open very well. It got stuck. He pulled it open, telling me each step of the way what he was doing. I gathered my bags.

I said, “I need my glasses. I can’t see without them. They flew off in the accident.”

He looked down and saw them between the seat and the door. He picked them up. “I have them right here. Come on, now, let’s get you out of the car.” He was so calm and so comforting.

I got out of the car and stood beside it for a moment. He handed me my glasses and I looked him in the eye. His eyes were the same beautiful milk chocolate color. Our eyes held and a peace and calm washed over me. He never touched me, but I felt so comforted by him. He offered to take one or all of my bags, but I said I was okay. He walked with me over to the side of the road.

The cellphone lady came over and so did a woman with light brown hair and skin the color of milk. She said her name was Mary. She said she was a nurse and that she had heard the accident from where she was at Dunkin Donuts across the street. Mary asked if I was okay and offered to let me sit in her car. I said I thought I was okay, but that I was pretty sure I was in shock and the adrenaline was flowing, so I wasn’t sure.

The driver of the pickup approached me. He apologized and said it was his fault. Mary asked him if he was okay. He was shaken too. He had pulled the pickup across the road and it was sitting on the shoulder just past the exit ramp. I felt a twinge of anger that she asked if he was okay, after all it was his fault, but then almost as quickly as the twinge of anger came, so did a twinge of guilt that I would be so selfish. He was just as deserving as I of concern.

I began to feel very shaky and weak, I wasn’t sure if I could hold myself up any more and told Mary that maybe it would be a good idea for me to sit down after all. Mary and cellphone lady walked with me over to the car and let me get settled in a seat. 

A State Trooper came over to talk with me. I handed him my license, registration, and insurance card. He walked away while I notified  a friend about the accident. I told her where I was and asked her to reach my boss.

The State Trooper checked in again and told me to go to the hospital and get checked out sometime that day.  He also told me they would tow my car. I asked if I could make a request. He said yes, as long as it wasn’t 50 miles away. I said no, it was a place close by and next door to where I live. In my shock-induced state I had trouble remembering the name and pronounced it incorrectly. Thankfully the other State Trooper was familiar with the place and figured it out from what I was saying.  

The driver of the pickup approached me again and apologized with tears in his eyes. I told him that I didn’t hold it against him. I felt sorry for him.

Then the ambulance people arrived – two sturdy people, a man and a woman. I liked that they were sturdy. Since I’m not a little person, I felt safer with two sturdy people to do the lifting and caregiving. Since the State Trooper had told me to get checked out sometime that day,  I decided that was probably as good a time as any. I didn’t know how I would get to the hospital otherwise. So, for the first time in my life, I rode in the back of an ambulance to the hospital. My first time in the hospital as a patient as well. I called my boss, who is also my pastor, from the back of the ambulance and told him what had happened, where I was, and where I was going.

At the hospital a nurse and physician's assistant checked me out. They x-rayed and bandaged one knee that was swelling and gave me muscle relaxers and suggested something for pain and told me what to do to deal with the pain that would likely come the next day. My pastor and his wife arrived while I was being x-rayed and sat with me until I was released. They took me to the pharmacy to drop off my prescription and then took me on to the office. They suggested I go home or come to their house, but I didn’t want to replay the accident over and over in my head, and I felt okay. I chose to go to work.

As days turned into a week and I hadn’t heard more from the insurance company, I became more and more anxious about how I would pay for another car. The car I had been driving had been an answer to prayer. A decent vehicle that my nephew-in-law had found for me at a really good price. Cars like that don’t come along every day and I had no idea how I would pay for another one. I talked with God a lot. If He didn’t come through, I was sunk. I didn’t know what I would do.

Since I had never been in an accident like this before, I wasn’t sure how the system worked. I became more and more nervous and anxious about how much the insurance company would give me and how on earth I would find a car in that price range and before the rental expired. I began putting out feelers and paying attention to what was around me. Still, I was scared. I prayed. I prayed that God would show up and show off – show off His power, His ability to provide. I asked Him to turn this Test into a Testimony.

I got the offer from the insurance company Wednesday, September 24th. I had hoped for a certain amount, prayed for an amount almost double what I hoped for, and feared I would get only a pittance. I was floored when the adjuster named a price that was nearly $500 more than what I had prayed for – oh me of little faith!!! I was so happy I nearly did a happy dance. I had to share the good news with someone, so I told my pastor the good news. Little did I know that he had devious plot of his own.

The Testimony
The next day, he revealed his devious plot. He had asked the leadership of the church if it would be possible to help me out. He wasn’t sure how much it would be, but he thought the church would help. I waited to see what God would do.

On Friday, one of the leaders of the church, a man I have grown to appreciate and respect deeply, came in the office. He scolded me for not telling him about the accident, asked a bunch of questions and then told me that he was quite sure that they could match the amount from the insurance company. Oh. My. Word!!!!!!!!!! The tears of course filled my eyes and I couldn’t believe what he was saying. That bumped my car search to a whole new level. I began scouring the internet that weekend.

The following Monday my rental through the insurance company expired. My pastor and his wife loaned me her car until I could find another one. At each step of the way, I felt anxiety not knowing how the next step would play out. Waiting to see what God would do, thinking through my options. At each step of the way, He provided.

On Tuesday, September 30th (two weeks after the accident) I got another call from the church leader. More money than he had originally hoped had come in and I could bump up the price range significantly again. I scoured the internet again changing my search parameters to fit the new criteria.

On Wednesday morning I realized that although I had been praying for God to provide, I hadn’t been including Him as I searched for cars. I prayed that He would lead me to “my” car. Later that day, I found a car that moved to the top of my list, a 2010 white Mazda 3 with only 43,000ish miles on it and within my price range. I showed it to my pastor/boss and he encouraged me to call. I called and left a message twice. No response. I was so sure this was “my” car, yet when I didn’t hear back all my fears and anxieties popped up again. What if it was sold already? What if . . . (fill in the blank)? On Thursday the call came. It hadn’t been sold. I set up an appointment to see it on Friday.

My pastor and his wife went with me and between us we looked it over from stem to stern, inside and out, under the hood and in the trunk. I think Pastor J even got under it at one point. We found a few little cosmetic things that needed tweaking. Then we went for a test drive. Pastor J gave it a run for its money – something I wouldn’t have had the boldness to do, but I was so thankful he did. It gave me greater confidence that I really was getting a good deal. I drove it too and liked how it handled. I put a down payment on it that day.

I drove my little white car home on Thursday, October 9th.

This has truly been a test. But it is a test that God has turned into a testimony and I thank Him for so many things:
  • The man who helped me out of the car and calmed and comforted me. 
  • That I wasn't more hurt than I was. When I saw my car the next day, I realized that I could have been hurt much worse.
  • That the pick-up driver immediately took responsibility -- not only to me, but to the police and to his insurance company. 
  • That so far, I haven't had to fight with the insurance companies.
  • For my friend that I called and for her husband who came to the scene of the accident and oversaw the transport of my car and getting it settled at the garage next door. 
  • For my pastor and his wife who came to the hospital and watched over me that first day, who helped me car shop, who loaned me their car, who instigated getting additional funds to help me get a better car.
  • For friends who called to check on me the night of the accident and in the days following.
  • For the rental car from the insurance company.
  • For people from the church who gave so generously and many who have spoken so kindly to me.
  • For those who gave me possible leads on cars
  • For Mary and the cellphone lady at the scene who offered a sheltered place to sit and who thought for me when I wasn't able to think so well for myself. 
  • For the church leader who helped orchestrate the gift to me and who gave me invaluable car shopping advice along the way.
  • For those who wrote and delivered the check to me.
  • For those who have prayed with me through this. 
I am thankful that God not only showed up, 
but also showed off His ability to provide for me and 
turned a test into a testimony!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Blessed Heart

Ah . . . ah . . . ah . . . ah-choo!!
          “Bless you!!” 
          We sneeze and someone blesses us. Routinely, glibly we say the words, but do we stop and think about what it means to be blessed? Do we recognize the blessings God has given us?
          There is a story I love about twin boys (although I don’t know the original source).  One was an optimist and one was a pessimist. Their parents were concerned about the direction their attitudes would take them in life, so they decided to teach them a lesson one year on their birthday. 
          The parents filled the little pessimist’s room with toys – every size, shape, description, color. They got the latest, the greatest, the most popular toys on the market. They filled the little optimist’s room with horse manure. (I don’t know who was responsible to clean it or for health care issues, but I’m glad it wasn’t me!!) They stood at the door to the little pessimist’s room, hoping he would be thankful, but before long he was complaining. The toys were too hard to assemble, they weren’t the right color or size. They weren’t what he wanted. Nothing pleased him. The parents peeked into the little optimist’s room, hoping that he would have learned to be more realistic about life. The little optimist was wandering around the room smiling and happy. When they asked what he was doing he replied, “With all this horse manure, there just has to be a pony in here somewhere!”
          Are you complaining about the beautiful “toys” you’ve been given or are you looking for the pony?
          Paul wrote the book of Philippians from prison, yet over and over he tells the church in Philippi to rejoice. His circumstances were not what we would call favorable or a blessing, yet Paul didn’t see it that way. He considered where he was a blessing because he got to see the Gospel spread because of his confinement. He rejoiced. He saw the blessings in the middle of a place where many of us would only see the horse manure.
         Have you taken time recently to count your blessings? Why don’t you take a few minutes to list some of your blessings? Write down 10, even 20 things that you are thankful for. They can be simple, general things like clothes to wear and food to eat to very specific things. 
Are you looking for the pony or complaining about the toys?