Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Meaning of Christmas

~Appeared in the Charleston Gazette, December 23, 2012~

The Meaning of Christmas

Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place,
which the Lord has made known to us. ~Luke 2:15

A man we hired to do some work in our home said to me, “I hate Christmas! I’ll be glad when it’s over.”

Stunned, I couldn’t let the remark pass without a response.

“We must remember the meaning of Christmas,” I said.

“Don’t start that religious stuff with me,” he answered rather curtly,

I felt insulted, embarrassed and hurt!  I was inclined to tell him to leave, or that I’d appreciate it if he’d show more respect for me since he was  in my home.  But, although it had taken me many years, I had finally learned to think before speaking.  After all, if I became angry, wouldn’t that give the impression that I wasn’t living my religious beliefs? 

So, thankfully, I managed to smile and remain calm.  In the end, he regretted his actions and apologized.

But after the man left, I thought about his attitude and his statement: “I hate Christmas!” And I felt sorry for him.  If he really feels that way, he’s missing so much.

How could anyone possibly experience Christmas without at least a degree of joy in his heart?

Without appreciation for the lovely Christmas carols playing continuously?

Without feeling like a child at the sight of colorful, sparkling decorations—brightly-lit trees shining from neighborhood windows, wreaths on doors?

Without a sense of love and charity?

Christmastime is a joyous season of goodwill and generosity—a time when the giving spirit is flowing freely. Everywhere, we see examples of people reaching out with kindness and love. We see compassion in their thoughts, words, actions and attitudes. We see expressions of generosity and thoughtfulness. Many are praising and encouraging others, or praying for those in need and sharing their own blessings.

Wherever you go, people greet you with happy smiles and the words, “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Holidays.”

The delightful aroma of spicy baked goods fills the air as mothers bake cookies, fruit cakes and other delights for their families and for sharing with neighbors and friends.

The ways in which charitable deeds flow are endless. Those who express loving generosity, not only bless others, but also themselves.

Long ago, three wise men followed a star and were led to Bethlehem. There they found the baby Jesus and were filled with joy. Reverently, they offered gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Today, people the world over exchange gifts on Christmas, but the greatest gift doesn’t come wrapped in a package.  It is the unconditional love of God.  This is the gift that Jesus Christ lived and taught. Love is the gift that brings life to both the giver and receiver.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we give thanks for His life, example and teachings and we acknowledge our birthright as children of the Most High.

I pray that everyone will open his or her heart to love Christmas and celebrate it by humbly giving and gratefully receiving the peace and love of God.

And on this day of rebirth and new beginnings, may we find in our hearts a willingness to do our part in making Christmas not just one special day in the year but a way of living life.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

My Hands Are Blessed

~Published in the Charleston Gazette - Sunday, November 25, 2012~

Do you believe in miracles?

A young mother I know was convinced that miracles are possible when she gave birth to a son and was told by doctors that his chances of survival were slim. She wrote a moving account of the experience. With her permission, I share Jolita Raine’s story:

On July 1st, four years ago, my son was born in Cincinnati. I don’t remember much about that morning because of the complications I was having with Mirror Syndrome. That’s when the mother’s symptoms mirror those of her newborn child. He had a condition known as hydrops, a life-threatening problem of severe edema in a fetus or newborn.

I desperately wanted to see my son, but I only got to see him in the Pod as they wheeled him out. The doctor came to see me and gave me an update his condition, which was not good. He said they didn’t expect him to make it through the night. He also said I could have him baptized if I wanted and that, later, they’d wrap him up and let us say our “good-byes.”

That was it! That’s all they had planned – just to wait until he died.

So I had my son baptized. And I prayed to God. “There is nothing we can do here, Lord,” I said, tears streaming down my cheeks, “He is completely in Your hands.”

They took me back to my room and, as I lay there waiting to say my good-byes, I talked to God again. “I may not understand it now, Lord, if you take my child, but someday I will. Just please don’t let him suffer.”

The minister who had baptized him came to see me and a nurse came to tell me my child was “still kicking.” We didn’t have to say good-bye just yet.

He made it through the first night. Then he made it through the second night. And many more. I visited him in the NICU. I will never forget the thumping noises of the oscillator or the beeping alarms of the monitors attached to him. I wasn’t allowed to hold him; I could only touch him. It was heartbreaking!

The doctors said there was no surgery to correct the hydrops. It was up to him to correct it himself.

When he began to improve daily, I started thinking of every day he was alive as a miracle! He eventually came off the oscillator and onto the nasal cannula. The time finally came, after he learned to eat a certain amount and was at a low oxygen level, that we were able to bring him home.

When the doctors and nurses sat down with us to explain what to expect, one doctor said, “He’ll run out of energy faster because his lungs and heart are not one hundred percent. That may cause delays in his daily life.” The thing I remember most is the doctor saying, “Keep doing what you’re doing.” My reply was, “We’re praying and we have a number of prayer groups praying for him as well.” He looked at me and repeated, “Keep doing what you’re doing.”

So, with appointments arranged for regular check-ups, and all the supplies we needed, including oxygen, we took our son home.

Coming home was a little scary! From time to time, I wished we were back in the safety of the hospital just in case something went wrong. Days and nights went by with monitors beeping while we constantly checked oxygen levels and monitored food intake. But within a few months, the doctor took him off the oxygen and after one more visit, he said he didn’t need to see him anymore. Sooner than anyone expected!

My son is now four years old. If you saw him you’d never know there was anything wrong with him. Besides the scars under his shirt from stents and drainage tubes, there are no signs of what he went through.

I look back now and remember that the doctors had no plan, but God did. I couldn’t hold my son at first, but God held him in His loving arms the whole time. No one at the hospital could cure him, but God could!

Some say that my son has a purpose. That purpose is clear to me. He is living proof that if you give your problems to God, He will take care of them. No matter what we have planned, it is His plan that we have to trust.

I don’t know how people cope with losing a child, or how they take care of children with special needs. I just pray that they look to God even when it seems that they are not in the comfort of His arms.

I would like to thank everyone who prayed for my son. And I’d especially like to thank my family: my husband, for the weekend trips to Cincinnati, my parents and sister for always being there when I needed them, my mother-in-law for babysitting and praying and my young daughter, Maranda. She didn’t always understand what was going on, but she brought a smile to my face when I needed it.

My son is on the go all the time – non-stop. I’m hoping I will never see him get worn out as doctors predicted. His middle name is Boot, which fits him perfectly since he is “still kicking” to this day.

When someone says, “You have your hands full!” I reply, “My hands are blessed!”

Thank you, God!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Making Joy Last

~Appeared in the Charleston Gazette - October 21, 2012~

Sometimes I get so caught up in the demands of everyday life that I miss the joy of spending time with my loved ones. But I can remedy that almost immediately by making time to interact with the people in my life. As we share the simplest daily activities like running errands together, watching a movie or taking a long walk, I am grateful for each gift of joy. Yet I know these joyful moments are fleeting.

How can one attain lasting joy?

If you really want the answer to this question, just observe a young child for a while. Children don’t even have to think about it. They get up each morning happy and excited about what will happen today. What’s more, most of them are enthusiastic about learning new things.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if adults were equally as excited about learning and experiencing new things? But the majority of us have become indifferent about the events life holds for us each day. We get up every morning and go through our daily routine without any real emotion – unless someone cuts us off in traffic, that is. Unlike children, we are fairly certain we won’t be learning anything new and exciting during our ordinary day, so we don’t expect it.

Perhaps that’s the key—learning to live with the expectation that something new and fascinating will happen each and every day. If only we could look at the world through childlike eyes and see things based on truth rather than appearances and remain open to life’s lessons as we gain a new level of understanding and awareness.

Or perhaps it’s as a friend tells me, “I carry the joy of the Lord into everything I do,” she says. “Whatever I’m doing, I’m happy in it.”

“To moan and complain is useless,” she adds. “And gloomy thoughts chip away at the vitality of the soul.”

Living in an awareness of God, as my friend surely does, fills us with self-assurance. Knowing we’re never alone; knowing that our body is a temple filled with pure energy and healing life and trusting our faith in God, we move confidently forward in that faith. And we are joyful.

God wants us to be happy, and He makes it possible. However, it is impossible to experience real joy unless you have invited the King of Joy, Jesus, to come into your life.

There is no peace in the heart of the transgressor and no joy in his soul.

But when we are baptized into His Spirit, evil loses its power to destroy us, darkness is dispelled and the broken spirit healed. Joy soothes the soul and lifts the burden from the grieving heart. The Spirit rejoices within you.

This is the joy we were promised—the greatest joy that can come to the human heart—for it is the everlasting joy of God.

Monday, October 1, 2012

See You In The Morning

~Appeared in the Charleston Gazette - Sunday, April 25, 2010~ 

It was almost Christmas when my friend passed away. She had been seriously ill for a while, but we’re never ready to let go of someone we care about. She was loved by many. She had two grown children, three grandchildren and numerous friends – and a sense of humor like no other.

I first met Dot twenty- two years ago when her son proposed to my daughter. The date was set for New Year’s Eve. The parents of the groom hosted a wedding rehearsal dinner where our families met and got acquainted, aware that we would forever be connected through our children and future grandchildren.

Soon after the wedding, the young couple left for their new home in Michigan – a long way from our home in West Virginia. Our new son-in-law had recently been transferred there with the promise that he’d be relocated closer to home in a couple of years. My daughter had never been away from home except for short visits with friends. I hated the thought of her living that far away, but knew I had to let go no matter how much it hurt.

They left on Saturday and by Monday morning, I was missing her terribly. As I sat by the window looking out at the cold, gray January day – watching the snow fall and wiping tears from my eyes, the phone rang. It was her! It was so good to hear her sweet voice. I could tell she was shedding a few tears, too. She tried to be cheerful, but it was impossible to hide her homesickness from me.

Before we hung up, she suggested I phone her new mother-in-law. That proved to be a great idea. Shortly after we said, “Good-bye,” I dialed Dot’s number. I knew right away it wouldn’t be our last conversation. She was easy to talk to and laughter came easily and often during our long chat. We found that we had much in common. We discussed our families, movies, books, and even religion and politics… two subjects we’re warned never to broach with anyone unless we’ve known them at least a lifetime!

After that, we talked often. When our kids announced that we’d soon be grandmothers, we had even more to discuss. We both already enjoyed that title, but this would be the first time we shared a grandchild. Months later, when we received news of complications that may cause the baby to arrive ten weeks early, the two of us and my younger daughter headed for Michigan. Driving all night, we arrived at the hospital about seven a.m. worried and exhausted.

My daughter had not delivered the baby, but had undergone an appendectomy. After much testing, her doctors had decided that her appendix may be the problem, and hoped surgery wouldn’t induce labor. But we no sooner got to her house, planning to clean up and get some rest, when the doctor phoned to say that labor had begun. Concerned, we rushed back to the hospital. Our grandson was born at 2: am, weighing only 3 pounds, 3 ounces.

His chances of survival were uncertain at first. It was a tearful time, but when his dad touched the tiny hand and it closed tightly around his finger, we knew that God had no intention of taking this child! Not only did he survive the premature birth, but also surgery for a heart defect soon after. Three years later, his little sister was born, without complication. Everyone was elated.

Our son-in-law eventually got the transfer he’d been promised, putting them only three and a half hours away instead of eight. They visited every holiday, sharing the time with each of us. We came to know and love our grandchildren as we watched them grow. Sometimes, Dot traveled with my husband and me to visit them and we enjoyed our time together, never running out of conversation or laughter.

Then one bleak January evening, Dot was alone talking to a friend on the phone when she abruptly stopped talking, prompting her friend to check on her. Opening the door as far as possible with the chain lock on, she saw Dot lying on the floor, unconscious. She quickly called 911 and Dot was taken to the hospital where it was discovered that she had an aortic aneurysm. Surgery took hours and waiting was stressful for her family. News of Dot’s illness spread fast and dozens of friends stopped by to inquire and offer best wishes.

Therapy and recovery were long and difficult but Dot was finally well enough to go home with her daughter. However, discovering that she felt uneasy leaving her mother alone while she worked, her daughter was forced to find a suitable Assisted Living Facility and move her mother into it. Dot was not happy about the move but had no choice. In time, other ailments plagued her – one right after the other until she ultimately landed in the hospital after a minor heart attack caused a fall and injuries. She never returned to the Assisted Living Home. Instead, she was transported to a Hospice House and died in early December.

Dot and I shared a great deal in those twenty-two years. There were tears of joy when our children married, anxious tears when we thought we might lose our premature grandson – jubilation when we didn’t – and celebration when his sister was born.

Dot came to see me in the hospital when I had a potentially serious illness. When I got home, she didn’t just send “a” get well card; she sent one every day for a week or more! She empathized when my mother died, and we each listened tirelessly when the other vented about things that will remain “our secrets” forever. We laughed, too – finding amusement in almost every situation.

I visited Dot a few days before she died. It was heartbreaking seeing her so frail. But her demeanor hadn’t changed. Ever the lady, she managed to smile, touch my hand and say, "Thank you for visiting."

I miss Dot, but there is one consolation: So real is the promise of the believer’s resurrection that the physical death of a Christian is called “sleep.” After Lazarus had died, Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awaken him." (John 11:11)

Remembering Dot, I sometimes whisper, “Good night dear friend. See you in the morning!”

Are You Ready To Graduate?

~Appeared in the Charleston Gazette ~ Sunday, September 23, 2012~

Our granddaughter, a college student, recently lost one of her best friends in a car accident. The details of the accident were horrifying and unbelievable. She’s been very upset since it happened and her mother is concerned about her. I tried talking with my granddaughter, but she didn’t seem to hear me. I felt helpless.

A lifelong friend passed away after a short illness. I found out about it when my husband showed me his picture in the obituary. I was shocked and couldn’t understand why this good friend didn’t let me know he was ill. I would like to have had the opportunity to talk with him – to tell him things I never got around to saying. I felt cheated.

A member of our church family – and a friend – passed away a few weeks ago. He had Alzheimer’s. His wife brought him to church for as long as it was possible and we watched his gradual decline from Sunday to Sunday. He endured, first, the humiliation and then the pain that this cruel disease inflicts upon its victims! I felt angry.

I’ve been trying hard to squeeze a layer of meaning out of this natural phenomenon called death, but so far, all I’ve gathered is: It hurts. And it leaves scars that never heal.

In his book, A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis wrote: “For in grief nothing stays put. One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats.”

Death does hurt. Not necessarily the person who gives up his life, but the loved ones and friends who must let him go. We are flooded with a torrential outpouring of emotion each time death comes near us. And it does seem to keep repeating!

However, in actuality, it’s not about us, is it?

As Christians, we are taught to deal with these feelings. “Death is a part of life,” we are told. “And, for the departed, the best is yet to come.”

In a book by William W. Orr, The First Five Minutes after Death, Dr. Orr explains: “The essence of a Christian’s death is that of graduation. Life has been a school. Lessons have been learned. Examinations have been given, but all is now past. In the perfect will of God, the believer has attained the experience and knowledge of important truths. He will be promoted to life—the exceedingly abundant life. The full and complete arrangements to transfer his soul into celestial realms have been concluded. This is an important event! The other side is glorious indeed! At death, there is an open door into immeasurable blessing, which only the power of God could make possible.”

There are many causes of death. Some simply grow old and die. For them, there is usually plenty of warning. To others, death comes abruptly. They die as a result of accidents, heart attacks, strokes, rapid cancer and a variety of other diseases. Death comes to infants, youth, and those in the prime of life—people of all ages.

No one knows when his time will come. This is the reason we should be ready at all times. This is why God expects us to live each minute as if the transfer into His glory might occur the next moment.

As a matter of fact, it may!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Remembering Sadie

When a friend phoned to tell me that her little dog was very ill and the vet had suggested she have her put down before the suffering gets any worse, I offered my sympathies and told her she shouldn’t wait too long or she’d surely regret it, as I once did.

Memories of Sadie came flooding back.

She was already six years old when we brought her home. I had just lost a Yorkie I loved and was certain I’d die if I didn’t have another right away! The breeder we always dealt with didn’t have any puppies but told me that she would have before long and I could get one as soon as they were ready to leave their mother. I didn’t want to wait that long, but agreed to do it since there seemed to be no alternative.

However, I had seen Sadie at the breeder’s house and fell in love with her cute actions. She seemed to be showing off for us. Mrs. Davis saw this and, after thinking it over for a day or two, called and asked if I’d like to take Sadie. I was thrilled!

From the time we walked in the front door with her, Sadie was “at home.” We put her food and water dishes down and she claimed them right away. She had been at the Davis home for six years, but it seemed she never looked back. We accepted her that easily, too. She was a member of the family from day one!

Sadie was six pounds of cute, bouncy, yappy Yorkie! And it was obvious she thought she ruled the house – her attitude conveying that to get into our house, you had to get by her first. And she definitely would not tolerate anyone who wore a hat or gloves. The yaps became more vicious sounding toward those who dared.

Since I fed her, brushed her and did most everything for her, she soon chose me as her “person.” Every time I sat down, she was there almost before I was, waiting until I got comfortable and then cuddling just as close as she possibly could. We watched TV together, took naps together and she wore her little body out following me all over the house on a busy day. When I had to leave the house without her, I was told that she very unhappily watched out the window the whole time I was gone – sometimes for hours.

We had eleven happy years with Sadie. During that time, my daughter got married and moved to Michigan – eight hours away. My husband and I took a trip to visit them about twice a year and, of course, Sadie came along. We’d put a pillow between us in the front seat and she’d curl up on it and sleep a good part of the way – at least until we stopped at Rax for a roast beef sandwich.

She seemed to know the minute we pulled into the parking lot. She’d sit up, look out the window and whine excitedly while my husband went inside and came back with the good smelling food. Oh, she just couldn’t wait for hers! I couldn’t get it unwrapped fast enough to suit her. Then she’d eat the yummy roast beef as fast as she could and as much of it as her little tummy would hold. Sometimes I feared she’d overdo and get sick... but she never did. When she’d finally stop eating, I’d give her a drink of water and take her for a short walk on her leash.

Once all that business was taken care of, we’d be on our way again. Sadie would settle down once more on her pillow and sleep the rest of the way.

We made many trips during the time our daughter lived away and my husband and I were getting a little tired of roast beef so, on one trip, we stopped for hamburgers. That didn’t work! When my husband came back to the car with burgers, Sadie sniffed the air, circled around a couple of times on her pillow and plopped down. She seemed to be saying, “No thank you!” I begged and pleaded with her, putting the warm burger right under her nose, but she just turned away and didn’t eat a bite... nor would she take a drink of water. That was the last time we tried that.

I’d like to say we lived happily ever after with Sadie, but that wouldn’t be true or realistic. Strange things started to happen when she was around fifteen. We’d hear a thump-thump-thump and when we'd investigate, we'd find that Sadie had fallen down the stairs. After seeing that she was okay, we’d laugh and accuse her of getting clumsy in her old age. Then one morning, she and I were sleeping in and I heard a thud and a small yelp. Checking to see what it was, I found that Sadie had fallen off the bed. She wasn’t hurt but a little dazed, I think.

After that happened a few more times, Sadie decided to sleep on the floor beside the bed. I eventually gave her a special bed of her own at the foot of ours.

A visit to the veterinarian one fall afternoon, told us what the problem was. She had cataracts that were so advanced that the doctor thought, considering her age, it would be dangerous to operate. Sadie was almost blind. But she adapted just as blind people do. We soon noticed that she took a certain route from the family room to her food and water dishes in the kitchen. It was always the same. She had it figured out perfectly. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought she was counting her steps.

I took Sadie almost everywhere I went. If I went to the grocery store, I’d leave the car running so the air conditioning would stay on for her. I’m not sure, with the car running, that she ever realized I was gone. Our family couldn’t help but chuckle a little.

She lived quite a while, but her overall health slowly deteriorated. Another trip to the Vet, at seventeen years old, revealed that she had liver disease. The doctor told me in his most serious voice. “You have a decision to make.” I said, “Oh no! How long does she have?” He said, “I wouldn’t wait too long. When the time comes, it will be painful.”

I cried all the way home. But, unfortunately, I did wait too long. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her, and making the decision to put her down was out of the question! So, as a result of my selfishness, late one night, Sadie curled up on my lap – a place she loved to be – and started whining... intermittently at first, but it soon became steadily worse until she sounded like a screaming woman! It was a horrible thing to watch! I finally called the emergency animal hospital and was told to bring her right away. I did, but she went into convulsions on the way and died on my lap. I’ll never get over it. I called myself stupid and worse for months!

I don't plan to get another dog. Giving them up is too painful. I can’t go through it again! However, I did adopt a beautiful cat that was destined for euthanasia. But I promise, when Liza's time comes, I will do whatever is necessary to spare her the misery that my sweet little Sadie had to endure because of my selfishness.

It's the humane thing to do.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Power of Words

~ Appeared in the Charleston Gazette ~ Sunday, September 2, 2012~

Words are powerful.

We must choose them carefully and think before speaking or writing them. Our words have the power to create peace or discord, inspiration or apathy, hope or despair. Therefore, we must be sure we select the ones that will create harmony and good will instead of dissension and malice.

Thoughtless comments that hurt someone else can make us feel terrible!

It was two years after my father died before my mother could say the words, “He died.” She kept saying, “He went away.” At first, I tried to be kind and ignore it, but then one day, I bluntly said, “Mother, Daddy didn’t go away. He died!”

I’ll never forget the hurt look on my mother’s sweet face. After many years, I still fight tears when that picture creeps into my mind. Sometimes, what we think is the right thing turns out to be “risky” at best. I think it hurt me more than it did her. However, she never said, “He went away,” again. Perhaps it was a good thing – forcing her to face reality. Or maybe it was cruel. I’ll never be quite sure.

That’s the bad thing about words. Once spoken, they can never be retrieved. How nice it would be if one could inhale them back to where they originated and erase them so they’d never be heard. But mistakes are a natural part of learning to live in this world—just as falling down is a natural part of learning to walk.

When I make a serious mistake, I sometimes find it hard to forgive myself for what I’ve said or done. Yet, I know I cannot make amends if I remain in a cycle of self-blame or criticism. So I must take responsibility for my actions and do my best to resolve the situation. After a heartfelt apology and a change in my behavior, I trust God to guide me. By His grace, I will be able to forgive myself - and perhaps, in time, the person I hurt will forgive me, too.

The Bible says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Prov. 18:21)

Words contain what you believe. If you are full of fear, your words will reflect that. If you are full of faith, your words will be full of conviction. You can choose to speak life changing Bible verses over your life or speak what you hear the world speak: gloom, doom and despair.

Understanding the power of words is essential to living a victorious Christian life. The key is to be consistent and persistent. This isn't something you try; it's a way of life.

Words are so important, that we are going to have to give an account of what we say when we stand before the Lord Jesus Christ. (Matt.12:36-37)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

You Never Know What's Going To Happen

~Published in the Charleston Gazette, Sunday, August 12, 2012~

While I was visiting a friend a few days before she passed away, she suddenly looked into my eyes intently and sadly said, “You just never know what’s going to happen.” Her simple statement had a great impact on me – not so much the words themselves, but the emotion with which she delivered them. I’ve thought of her and that statement many times in the six years since her passing.

We had been friends and neighbors for many years. Our children played together and attended the same schools. After they were grown, we talked often, sharing recipes and political views and news about our married children and grandchildren. Life was good. Then a routine visit to her doctor turned out badly and, after much testing, the doctors stunned her and her family with a devastating diagnosis.

Today, as I was thinking about my friend and considering life's fragility, I felt anxious and vulnerable. Then my grandson, sixteen, made a surprising statement. At first, I considered it just a typical teen-ager’s remark, and laughed, but then realized he was serious and that his quote had merit. He said: “The only thing I dislike about my life is that I can’t control what happens.”

And just like that! I was grounded again. “Of course none of us can control what happens in our lives,” I told him. “We aren’t supposed to. We must trust that God is in control, surrender our lives to Him and then, with our final destination assured, we can concentrate on enjoying the journey – one day at a time.”

Life is filled with unexpected surprises, some treasures, others challenges, but if we approach every situation with absolute faith in God, we find our doubts and worries are short-lived. When change occurs suddenly or dramatically, we must remind ourselves that we are never alone. God is with us and within us! While circumstances are temporary, God’s love is eternal and enduring. The power of God in us is constant and unchanging.

We may feel that our life is just perfect the way it is and we’re not ready to make a change, but if we keep an open mind, sometimes there is a blessing even in uncertainty.

In an ideal situation, we’d learn to manage the endings in our lives with appreciation for all that has been and to see the beginnings with an expectancy of good unfolding.

Change doesn’t’ have to involve struggle. If we trust God to provide all we need in each moment, we can accept change with open arms and move forward with ease and grace. We may even find ourselves saying, “Thank you, God, for the gift of new opportunities.”

As my friend might say, “You just never know what’s going to happen.”

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

~This appeared in the Charleston Gazette - Sunday, July 15, 2012~

In the greatest sermon ever preached, The Sermon on the Mount, which begins with The Beatitudes, God reveals His definition of happiness. We believe this because the word “blessed,” as used by Jesus, is interchangeable with the word “happy.”

But unfortunately, the word “blessed” has been altered by today’s society. If things are going well, the bills are paid, the health is reasonably good and there are no conflicts at home, one might feel that he is blessed. And indeed he is! But only a child of God knows what it means to be truly blessed. The nonbeliever has no idea what a real blessing is because the biblical definition of blessedness, or happiness, is much different than that of our culture.

Today’s beatitudes might sound something like this:

   Blessed are the beautiful, for they shall be admired.

   Blessed are the wealthy, for they shall have everything they want.

   Blessed are the popular, for they shall be well-liked.

   Blessed are the famous, for they shall be followed on Facebook.

But The Beatitudes, as we know them, are found in Matthew 5: 3-12.
   Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

   Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

   Blessed are the meek,
for they shall possess the earth.

   Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they shall be satisfied.

   Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

   Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

   Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.

   Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Profound in meaning, The Beatitudes guide, teach and show us the values that Christ cares about. These values, if followed, will not only bring a believer into a state of peace and happiness, but also right into the Kingdom of God after his or her journey on this earth is finished.

Jesus began His Beatitudes with: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Some have mistakenly interpreted this verse to say, “Blessed are the poor.” But that’s not what Jesus said. The word “poor” Jesus used is speaking of a person who is destitute and completely dependent upon others for help – but not financially. It has nothing to do with your bank account. Jesus was speaking of those who see themselves as they really are before God: lost, hopeless and helpless. Apart from Jesus Christ, everyone is poor in spirit, regardless of his education, wealth or accomplishments. Poor in spirit means that we come to God, conscious of our sins and our utter lack of righteousness. It means that we have absolutely no hope of salvation without Jesus Christ. It means that we realize we are full of sin and in desperate need of God's grace. And the poor in spirit realize that these can only be obtained by absolute faith in Jesus Christ.

If you want to be happy, you have to see yourself as you actually are. You have to repent. And you have to desire to change your life.

As Henry Ward Beecher said, “The strength and the happiness of a man is based on finding out which way God is going, and going that way, too.”

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Special Fourth of July

~Published in the Charleston Gazette - Sunday, July 1, 2012~

As far back as I can remember, the Fourth of July was a big day at our house. My parents came from a generation of proud Americans who weren’t ashamed to demonstrate that pride. To them, Independence Day was special and should be celebrated to the max—all day long! It was my father’s favorite holiday.

When I was young, he made sure everyone in the house was up early. There was chicken to fry, fresh vegetables to cook, watermelon to put on ice and ice cream to be consumed. This was the only day of the year that I was permitted to start the day with an ice cream cone, and have as many as I wanted throughout the day, as long as it lasted. He’d order up a three gallon container packed in dry ice and buy several dozen cones. It was his pleasure to dip ice cream into cones all day long for anyone who wanted it. All the neighborhood kids came by for the special treat.

After I was married and had children of my own, we celebrated, too, but not as lavishly. We had picnics, grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, lots of beverages and yes, ice cream. But our celebrations didn’t come close to being on the same level with those long-ago “fourths” of my childhood!

Once, when my five kids were young – ranging in age from about twelve to four years old – my parents decided to show them what an old-fashioned Fourth of July was like. Before noon, they appeared on our doorstep with food and supplies. First, several containers of ice cream were placed in my freezer. Then, my mother started taking prepared food out of a big box. For starters, there was her traditional platter of crusty, golden fried chicken, fresh green beans cooked with new potatoes, corn on the cob, and several ripe tomatoes. When my dad kept going back to the car, I investigated and found that he’d taken two large tubs to our patio and filled them with ice. In one, he placed as many canned drinks as it would hold. Every drink you might imagine was in that tub. In the other, he placed his favorite—the one item that, to him, no fourth would be complete without—a big, round, juicy watermelon.

Shortly after we had stuffed ourselves with the wonderful dinner, my dad started dipping ice cream. I always monitored the amount of sweets my children had, but my parents ordered me (in a nice way) to leave them alone – that this was their party and the kids could have as many soft drinks and ice cream cones as they wanted! “After all, it’s the Fourth of July,” my father declared. My kids were in Heaven!

And finally, the watermelon – the last treat of the day – was sliced! My dad got the biggest kick out of watching kids consume the juicy fruit. When juice dripped off their chins and ran down to their elbows, he’d laugh heartily. I can still see the delight on his face!

My father has been gone many years, but it will always be impossible to think about the Fourth of July without remembering him. He left his grandchildren with many wonderful memories. There is no way any of them, even the youngest, could ever forget his kindness, the warmth of his smile or that very special Fourth of July!

Nor could I.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Father's Day

~Published in the Charleston Gazette on Father's Day - June 17, 2012~

Father's Day is an occasion to mark and celebrate the contribution your father has made to your life. Whether he is still with you or has already passed, whether you are young or old, I’m sure you have wonderful memories of your father.

I am happy to honor the memory of my father. He was one in a million! In my earliest memories, my father was always there – always smiling – a happy man.

I was an “only” child – and the apple of my father’s eye!

But a good father knows that he must model his parenting after God. He knows that the way he rears his children will have a direct effect on how the children view their Heavenly Father. If a father is overly strict, then his children will grow up viewing God as a harsh and judging God, but if he does not discipline at all then they will think God allows anything.

My father loved me but he disciplined me, too. And he started when I was very young. At only four years old, it seems I was misbehaving while we were visiting my grandparents. My father kept telling me to stop what I was doing but I ignored him repeatedly. Finally, he told me to sit on an ottoman nearby. I sat - bouncing back up shortly. My father pointed his finger and said firmly, “Sit down!” I did, but only a few seconds passed before I jumped up again. This time, he showed me he meant business by giving me a couple of rather hard thumps on the behind. Tearing up, I sat again, but in a few minutes, I bounced back up like a rubber ball. This time, my dad grabbed me by the arm, whacked my behind again and said, “I told you to sit down, young lady!” Sobbing and rubbing my derriere, I proclaimed, “Daddy, I can’t sit down!”

When laughter erupted throughout the room, the punishment was all over, but I never forgot the incident and was a little quicker to obey him after that painful episode.

As I grew up, my father was an integral part of my life.

He worked shift work making it easier for him to do the things for me that my mother’s eight to four job prevented her from doing. Therefore, I enjoyed some quality time with my father that others may not have had the good fortune to do with theirs.

When I came down with a cold or sore throat and had to stay in bed for a day or two, everything else stopped for my dad. He watched over me diligently, keeping a large glass of fruit juice over crushed ice beside my bed from early morning until I went to sleep at night. He sat beside my bed reading to me or just keeping me company. To this day, many decades later, when I’m ill, I revisit the memories – and yearn for my father’s pampering.

Besides obeying our Father in heaven, there is no responsibility more important for a father than providing the necessities for his family. But my father provided so much more than basic needs.

His continual good humor was contagious and the love he had for God and his family overflowed onto almost everyone he met.

He often quoted, Hebrews 13:2: Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

My father didn’t have to tell me how to live my life. I learned from watching him.

Happy Father’s Day!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Sacred Power Within

 Published in the Charleston Gazette~ Sunday, June 3, 2012~

 Time passes. Memory dims.

Someone mentions a site you visited or a special occasion you were involved in long ago, but, try as you may, you can’t recall the event. Precious memories of the past, once fixed in your mind, begin to fade and you fear they’ll soon be lost forever. As you ride in a car passing places you frequented when you were younger, it’s almost as if you’ve never seen them before. You find yourself struggling to remember things you thought you’d never forget.

Small tasks that were once second nature are next to impossible to accomplish, like opening boxes and removing caps from bottles. Arthritis has weakened the hands, as well as other parts of the body.

Oh, how quickly the hands on the clock circle toward the future you thought was far away -- and how soon you become your mother!

But you do not have to live a life of fear, doubt and worry. There is a sacred power within all of us that connects us to the presence of God. As you turn to the Spirit of God within, you rediscover your inner strength and your inherent center of peace. By releasing all worry and pain, both physically and spiritually, you find that you can be calm and secure in every circumstance, even as you age.

Circumstances do not have the final word. By faith, you accept each change for what it is: a new beginning. This is a time for greater strengths to be realized and expressed, for greater blessings to flow to and from you, and for greater fulfillment to be accepted and shared by you.

Some elderly folks think they have outlived their usefulness. Nothing could be further from the truth!

When I think about the person who had the most influence on my life; my thoughts always turn to my grandmother. She worked hard all day, every day, doing chores around the house: laundry, gardening, cooking, and taking care of children, yet she always had time to sit with her children and grandchildren on a summer evening telling stories and singing songs as they swung on the old porch swing. I’ve seen her wring a chicken’s neck without flinching so her family could have golden fried chicken for Sunday dinner, and then become a much gentler soul as she kissed the face of her sleeping child at bedtime.

She believed that everyone had some good in them, if you look for it. When I feel mistreated by others, I often remember her sweet face and the way she believed in people. She fed all who walked into her house and loaned money to some, knowing she may never get it back, but trusting that the good in them would prevail. Sometimes it did.

Having a grandparent is a true blessing! And being a grandparent is a great joy! Grandparents share time and knowledge and instill a sense of stability into their families. “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12)

The love of a grandparent is akin to the unconditional love of God. It is a one-of-a-kind relationship!

Let us not be a society whose elderly are disposable. But let us recognize them as the worthwhile human beings they are, no matter what physical weaknesses befall them as they age.

“Youth is a gift of nature, but age is a work of art.” ~Garson Kanin

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Brighten The Corner Where You Are

~Published in the Charleston Gazette~ Sunday, May 13, 2012~
I don’t like cloudy days. An occasional one is not so bad, but when we have several in a row, I am quick to grumble and fret about the lack of sunshine! I know we must have rain but when it continues for days and I see nothing but gray skies, I begin to long for sunlight.

One day recently, while I was complaining about the gloomy day we were having, a song title popped into my mind. It’s interesting how God works, isn’t it? The name of the tune was Brighten the Corner Where You Are. I learned it in Sunday School when I was a little girl.

It occurred to me that this song is a message of truth for all of us. Even on the cloudiest days, we can brighten our surroundings by being lights of love and caring for others. There are many thoughtful, creative ways we can do this. We can share the love of God in our heart with family and friends. We can comfort them, encourage them and pray with them – and for them. By being the loving, caring people God created us to be, we will brighten our world and the lives of the people around us.

We are all unique individuals with our own skills and abilities. We should try always to bring special light and love to every experience. Through what we think and say and do, we can make a positive difference in this world. In addition, when we interact with people around us in thoughtful, caring ways, that kindness is multiplied, having a ripple effect as it radiates from one heart to another.

A few weeks ago, I received a card from a nice lady who told me she clips all of my Essays on Faith and sends them to a lady she knows who lives on a mountain all alone. She said, “It makes her so happy that I send her things to read.” Then she added: “And it makes me feel good, too. I love doing things for people!” This generous lady has found a way to brighten someone else’s corner of the world, and, in doing so, she, too, has been blessed.

As children of God, we are guided in the choices we make each day by His light of understanding. We instinctively know how to be loving and compassionate toward others. The light of God within us is a constant connection to all the wisdom we will ever need for offering support to our family, friends, and neighbors – and even to strangers.

We may never know all the ways we touch the lives of others, but we can be certain that each time we let the love of God work through us as gentleness and understanding; we give and receive something of value and meaning.

We all like to look good on the outside, but knowing that the beauty of Spirit is within us is essential to brightening the corner where we are.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


A Mother's love is something
that no one can explain,
It is made of deep devotion
and of sacrifice and pain,
It is endless and unselfish
and enduring come what may
For nothing can destroy it
or take that love away . . .
It is patient and forgiving
when all others are forsaking,
And it never fails or falters
even though the heart is breaking . . .
It believes beyond believing
when the world around condemns,
And it glows with all the beauty
of the rarest, brightest gems . . .
It is far beyond defining,
it defies all explanation,
And it still remains a secret
like the mysteries of creation . . .
A many splendoured miracle
man cannot understand
And another wondrous evidence
of God's tender guiding hand.


~Author Unknown


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Does God Want Us To Be Happy?

Published in the Charleston Gazette on Sunday, April 15, 2012~

Sometimes the good in my life seems hard to grasp. Dark clouds cover the sun for too many days and I feel I’ve lost my way for a while. But when I remember that I am a child of God and that He is always with me, things begin to change. As I stand firm in faith, light penetrates the darkness and I am lifted up! I see, hear, touch and taste the blessings of my life: I see young children playing happily, and hear the gurgle of a newborn baby; I touch the hand of a loved one, taste a mouth-watering meal and am reminded that my life is filled with joy every day.

When circumstances dishearten us and fear forces joy and courage from our hearts, we have only to reach out to God. He is always there to give us the help we need – if we ask.

According to the Bible, if we seek God and His plan for our lives, we will find happiness. In other words, happiness does not come from seeking it, but by seeking Him. The implication is if we search for God, happiness will follow. God created us to rely on Him and find our fulfillment, our contentment and our delight in a relationship with him.

C.S. Lewis put it this way: “God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.” Mere Christianity~

God wants us to be happy, but that does not mean He desires health, wealth, and good fortune for our life. Nor does it mean that He wants us to have a problem free life. The world associates good circumstances with happiness. God, in contrast, wants us to find happiness in every circumstance of life. But God’s Word does not promise us happy circumstances. True happiness lies in being content in God’s plan for our life.

If you are not a child of God, living your life according to His will, whatever happiness you realize is “of the world,” and is temporary. You may have power, money and fame, but none of it will matter unless you have a relationship with God. Your significant other, just like you, will gradually grow older losing his/her physical beauty and faculties. Eventually, one of you will depart this world, leaving the other to carry on alone. Your children will grow up and leave you to make lives of their own. Nothing stays the same.

The only thing that never changes is your relationship with God. This is where true happiness and contentment begin.

“Happy are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Psalm 144:15 NKJV).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Angel of Mercy?

  Published in the Sunday Gazette-Mail, February 19, 2012 

"People come into our life for a reason, a season or a lifetime." Most of us are familiar with this little pearl of wisdom that circles the Internet periodically. In fact, I just received it again today but, this time, it touched a nerve – unearthed a memory of a peculiar incident from several years ago.

I was admitted to the hospital because my blood pressure had reached unusually high levels. Medication wasn’t helping so my doctor thought it necessary to run tests in the hope of finding a reason – and a remedy.

It was late evening when I checked in. I told my husband he didn’t have to stay since they wouldn’t do much until morning. So, with a kiss to my forehead and a promise of seeing me tomorrow, he left. After I was comfortably tucked into a bed, a nurse came in with her clipboard and began asking the usual questions – the ones we’ve all answered when we’ve been admitted to a hospital. I’ve never understood why – in this computer age – they can’t just put your name in and pull up the information you gave the last time you were there and save everyone a lot of time. But they do it their way, so I smiled and replied to the same questions I'd answered many times before.

This nurse was pleasant, making the process as quick and painless as possible. In no time, it was over and we were having an enjoyable conversation. She told me she was a traveling nurse, which meant she was not employed by the hospital, but that she moved around from one to another, perhaps spending two weeks in each before moving on to the next. “Interesting,” I said. Then she said this was her last night at this hospital. She’d be leaving at seven a.m. I was disappointed, as we had hit it off immediately! She impressed me as one of the kindest, most understanding people I’d ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I wished she could be there for as long as I was.

After she left the room, I got acquainted with my roommate, vitals were taken, pills distributed, and I fell asleep early.

Later, I awakened needing to visit the restroom. Although I had been told not to get up without help, it was only a few steps from my bed to the restroom and I felt sure I could make it. When I did, I closed the door and locked it. And that’s the last thing I remember until I awakened briefly in a bed that had been raised so high it seemed I could reach up and touch the ceiling. There was a nurse on each side of the bed, everything was blurry and my eyes wouldn’t stay open but kept closing involuntarily.

Someone kept slapping my cheeks, calling my name and washing my face with a cold, wet cloth. When my eyelids fluttered again, I saw the nurse I’d met earlier. She was beautiful: she had such a sweet, caring face and a voice to match. “Stay awake, Peggy!” she said. “Don’t go to sleep. No! Open those green eyes.” I could hear a man’s voice in the background saying, “Get that blood pressure up fast or she’s going to ICU!” I assumed it was a doctor. I didn’t see anyone except the nurse.

At some point, I was stabilized and tucked in for the night. When everyone was gone, I lay there in the dark wondering what had happened. The last thing I remembered was going into the restroom and locking the door. How did they get the door unlocked? I wondered. As if she’d read my mind, the lady in the other bed said, “You’re lucky to be alive!”

Surprised, I said, “What happened?”

“Just after you went into the bathroom, that blonde nurse came in and was shocked to see that you weren’t in your bed. She looked at me and I pointed to the bathroom. She tried the doorknob, but the door wouldn’t open. “Locked!” she said. Then she ran into the hall and yelled for someone. In a minute, a man and two more nurses ran in and somehow they managed to get the door open. When it opened, you fell right into her arms. Two of them carried you to the bed. It took them a long time to bring you around. Your color was gray. I thought you were dead!”

“Thank you!” I said, not wanting to talk anymore.

My last thoughts before drifting off were: Some people believe God sends angels to protect us when we’re in trouble. The scriptures say He sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions and Daniel was unhurt; The Lord also sent an angel to break the chains and rescue Peter from prison. And Psalms 34:7 says – The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him and He delivers them.

Is it possible this nurse was on a mission?

I was awakened by a warm hand touching my face. A soft voice whispered, “Peggy, I’ll be leaving in a few minutes. I won’t see you again. I wanted to tell you I’m glad we met and I hope things turn out well for you.”

The room was dark, but I knew who it was. Without opening my eyes, I squeezed her hand, and, in my sleepy, weakened state I managed to say, “Thank you for saving my life.”

I'll always wonder... was this just a case of being in the right place at the right time—or was this angel of mercy sent by God?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Change is Inevitable

~Published in the Charleston Gazette, Sunday, January 15, 2012~

According to statistics, more people die in January than any other month. The odds a death that happens in a given year will occur in January are 1 in 10.89 higher than any other month. Moreover, it is also reported that more suicides take place in January.  We wonder why.

Some believe that the elderly, in particular, are able to postpone death until they have enjoyed some experience they have been anticipating, like Christmas or their birthday. After the exciting time has passed, depression often takes over; the person feels helpless, thinks he has no reason to live and gives up.

Suicide is altogether different. Though most of us may get depressed from time to time, we know that suicide is directly counter to the power of life that God has put so strongly into His creation. Everywhere we look we see life growing, even in the most hostile environments. This "survival instinct" is a gift from God. In fact, if He didn't bestow this gift upon His children, there probably would be no life on this planet at all!  Suicide, then, is directly contrary to the will of God. 

Many of the greatest saints and heroes of the Bible faced overwhelming depression and sometimes wrote that they wished they’d never been born. King David, (Psalm 13:2-4), the prophet Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 20:14-18), and Job, (Job 7:15-16) among others, all reached low points where they despaired of their very lives.

Job says, "So that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life. I loathe it; I would not live always: let me alone; for my days are vanity" (Job 7:15-16).

Yet, each of these men was blessed of God, and persevered through their trials as an example to us. Though they faced great suffering and injustice, they kept their faith in God and His goodness and in so doing, were sustained and led into abundant life.

It’s hard for most of us to understand why one would feel depressed at the onset of a New Year. We see it as a new beginning, another chance to set things right that may not have gone so well in the former year - an opportunity to change our lives for the better.

There is a season for everything. When we see leaves changing color in autumn, then letting go of their branches and falling to the ground, we can be sure that they’ll be replaced by new growth in the springtime. Just as nature changes, we must learn to release the past and welcome the present in whatever form it takes.

Unfortunately, we may occasionally experience a season of doubt, sadness or physical challenge. But remember, it is only a season. There will be a healing season, as well. Healing comes when we meet with God in prayer. Although we may not see the evidence right away, just as spring rains bring relief from the harshness of winter, a healing is taking place.

Change is inevitable. Day turns into night, people come and go in our lives and somewhere between the hellos and good-byes, we learn to be grateful for the blessings God grants us. We discover that perseverance is the rope that ties the soul to the doorpost of Heaven—and we go on living our best lives.

Suicide is an unthinkable alternative!