Monday, November 25, 2013

My First Thanksgiving Turkey Was Picture-Perfect

~Published in the Charleston Gazette on November 24, 2013~
On Thanksgiving, my memory transports me to my childhood home and the aroma of roasting turkey, sage dressing, candied yams, pumpkin pies and yeast rolls; the busyness of my mother in a warm kitchen; the gathering of family members laughing and enjoying each other's company; and my father's visible delight with the entire event.

My mother was an excellent cook. The eldest of five children, it was normal for her to help her mother with the cooking, cleaning and looking after her younger siblings. By the time she was married, at 18, she was adept at housekeeping and cooking.

But, for some reason, she never taught me to cook. I had chores to do, but when I offered to help with a meal, she said something like, "I'm in a hurry" or "You can help by staying out of the kitchen."

Is it any wonder, then, that when I married, at 18, I could barely boil water? My young husband loved to eat. He must have been terribly disappointed. However, he ate whatever I managed to put together and rarely complained.

His mother blessed me with a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, and I learned to make some decent meals and showed a particular flair for baking. Still, I'd never be a culinary artist.

We'd been married three years when my parents announced they would be in Cincinnati visiting my elderly grandparents on Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law was recuperating from surgery, so there was no chance of getting an invitation to her Thanksgiving table. We'd be on our own for the first time on this major holiday, just the two of us and our young son.

Opening her purse, my mother handed me a wad of papers. "Here are some notes that will help you with your dinner. I've written step-by-step instructions for everything, starting with the turkey and stuffing."

"I'm not sure I can do it!" I said, butterflies already forming in my stomach at the thought of making a turkey and all the trimmings.

"You'll do just fine," she said. "I've even included a list of things to buy at the grocery store."

I baked a pumpkin pie the night before the big day. That wasn't too difficult. After breaking up bread and corn bread for stuffing, and chopping onions and celery, I decided to turn in so I could get up early and get that big bird in the oven.

My husband and I were up before daybreak. We had a lot to do and, although I was a little excited about cooking my first holiday dinner, I was also nervous.

I was thankful to have help handling the 21-pound turkey. We washed it well, greased it with cooking oil, salted it inside and out and placed it in the pan. No fancy roaster, this. It was a dark blue enamel pan with no lifting rack to hoist the turkey out when it was done. But we'd seen our mothers do it many times with two large forks and were sure we could do it too.

Once it was in the oven, temperature set to 325 degrees, as the instructions ordered, it was time to make the stuffing, peel and cook potatoes and prepare other vegetables.

As the aroma of roast turkey began to float through the house, memories of other Thanksgivings flooded my senses. I felt happy and sad at the same time.

Those are the holiday memories of my childhood, I thought. I'm making new memories and traditions with my own family now. There's room in my heart for both.

Checking the turkey gave us a surprise -- it was coming along nicely. It looked moist, a little brown and it smelled heavenly. I basted it carefully and put it back in the oven. It was about halfway there, we surmised.

Finally, the table set, vegetables cooked and fruit salad ladled into individual bowls, we waited for the turkey so we could use its rich broth to moisten the sage dressing.

"It's been over four hours," I said. "According to Mother's notes, it should be done."

I opened the oven door, and my husband lifted the hot pan out of the oven and placed it on the table beside the huge platter that awaited.

As we surveyed the turkey, our eyes widened.

This bird was a masterpiece! Perfect! Golden brown like the ones you see in magazine ads. I smiled. Now to get it out of the pan.

Placing a large serving fork in each end of the turkey, my husband prepared to lift the large bird out of the pan and onto the platter. But in midair, something happened. A wing fell off. Plop! Greasy broth spattered the countertop.

"Oh, no!" I said.

About that time, the other wing went. Then a drumstick. And another. There was no stopping it. It was like a landslide. Every bit of meat on that turkey slid right off the bones into the broth. We had turkey soup!

My smile turned to tears. "I should have known I couldn't do it!"

Ever the optimist, my husband said, "It'll be fine." He picked up a small piece of the displaced poultry and tasted it. "Mmmm," he said. "It's delicious! C'mon, let's put it on the platter. We don't even have to slice it."

We laughed.

Somehow, I finished the dinner, we ate and actually enjoyed it. I was grateful our son was too young to understand.

That night, my mother phoned. "Well, how was your first Thanksgiving dinner?" she asked.

"Wonderful!" I said. "My turkey looked like a magazine ad, and it was so good; not dry at all."
"See? I knew you could do it," she said.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Thankfulness in Everything

~Published in the Charleston Gazette, September 1, 2013~ 

Even as intense mid-summer heat and barometric pressure wreak havoc with my sinuses and my head throbs – today, I count my blessings.

Yesterday, I saw a doctor after waiting and worrying for a month about a potentially serious health threat. I asked a friend to say a prayer for me and she kindly agreed. By mid-afternoon, we were praising God and His mercy. All my worries had been unnecessary! It was suddenly a lovely day and I was thankful for my many blessings! An incident like this always reminds me of a Robert Browning poem called Pippa’s Song:

The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven --
All's right with the world!

As a child growing up, I often heard my mother quote the last two lines of this poem. After a while, I understood that, when she said these words, something good had happened or soon would.

It’s so easy to be thankful and in good spirits when things go our way. Sometimes we feel we are in God’s favor. But what if things had not gone so well for me at the doctor’s office?  Suppose the news had been bad. Would I still be grateful? Or would I be murmuring and complaining and questioning God’s reasons?

Probably the latter. It’s human nature.

Can we change that? Can we learn to be thankful even when things don’t always go the way we’d like? Do we have the grace to stop complaining and questioning God’s motives – the courage to accept what He deems right for us?

We must.

The Bible commands, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV).

Even in the midst of trials we can thank God, because we know that He has promised to be with us and that He will help us. We know that He can use times of suffering to draw us closer to Himself: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance" (James 1:2-3, NIV).

When the prophet, Daniel, learned that evil men were plotting against him to destroy him, "he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before" (Daniel 6:10, NIV).

I don't know what difficulties you may be facing right now, but God does; He loves you and is with you by His Holy Spirit. That’s why it’s important to develop a spirit of thankfulness even in the midst of trouble and heartache.

We learn so much more in times of sorrow than in times of joy. Consider these words by Robert Browning Hamilton: “I walked a mile with pleasure, she chattered all the way, but left me none the wiser for all she had to say. I walked a mile with sorrow, and not a word said she… but oh, the things I learned from sorrow, when sorrow walked with me.”

If affliction causes us to learn, then we must be grateful to God for it.

When we suffer, yet keep praising God, it gives Him glory. And if God is being glorified in our life, can we not thank Him, even though we may not feel thankful at the time?

Real faith is not receiving what we want from God. It is graciously accepting what He gives us.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Knowing the Will of God

~Published in the Charleston Gazette, June 30, 2013~
Some people say discovering God’s will is like trying to catch a butterfly that’s always just out of reach. Others feel it’s like fishing – casting a lure and hoping for the best. Neither guarantees that we can know God’s will. But, thankfully, the Father gives believers His Holy Spirit to reveal His purpose for each one.
Scripture is our principal means of communication. The Bible is our instruction book for living. It is a vital revelation for all believers, and its precepts and ideals clearly give us the answers to most questions about the will of God.
Communication with God requires a regular time of reading the Bible with an open heart and mind. We sometimes find this difficult. The busyness of our lives leaves little time to study the scriptures or spend time with God. Many Christians say they are concerned about knowing the will of God, but how many of them spend even five minutes a day asking Him for wisdom and direction?
While God speaks primarily through His Word, He also speaks through the Holy Spirit to our consciences, through circumstances, and through other people. Once we commit our lives to God and the Holy Spirit comes to live in us, it’s difficult to do wrong because we have this nagging influence inside that lets us know when we are about to do something we shouldn’t. We’ve all heard the still, small voice.
By applying what we hear to the Scriptures, we can learn to recognize His voice.
Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). These are the sheep who hear and recognize His voice, because they know Him as their Shepherd. If we are to recognize God's voice, we must belong to Him. And that means following His direction.
But when life becomes complicated, we sometimes struggle to handle our problems ourselves or we rely on the opinions of others. It’s easy to feel that the quickest way to fix things is to ask the advice of fellow Christians, or even unbelievers who seem wise. Our instinct is to withdraw from the source of stress or pain. At such times, our need to remove discomfort from our life can take precedence over the Lord’s plan. We assume He could not possibly want us to feel this way so we take action and then hope we are in His will. This places the emphasis on ourselves rather than on God’s purposes.
However, God causes "all things to work together for good" in the lives of His children, even though the things that happen sometimes do not seem best at the moment. To clarify this, C. S. Lewis used the illustration of a dog whose leash got wrapped around a pole. As the dog pulled to get free, the owner found it necessary to move it in precisely the opposite direction in order to free it from the pole. We are often like that dog, straining to do things our way instead of waiting for God’s will, but our heavenly Father loves us and knows what is best for us. Therefore, the path to our ultimate release will sometimes be painful, but we can delight in His will, knowing the glorious destiny that lies ahead of us.
If we want to know and experience God's will, we must communicate with Him regularly through prayer and Scripture. Living a Christian life apart from a steady diet of His Word is impossible.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Gift From God

~Published in the Charleston Gazette, Sunday, April 28, 2013~
As we exercise our physical muscles, we strengthen them. As we use our mental skills, they are increased. It is not surprising then, that the same is true concerning our faith. The more we use it, the more it is strengthened – the more it grows.
Faith acts as a silent prayer that never ceases.
Yet, we may, at times, consider our faith to be weak. While we can fortify it through prayer and the reading of God’s word, we must also make certain that our faith is accurately directed.
An acorn holds within it the promise of a majestic oak tree, but no potential for an apple tree. The kind of faith seeds we plant determines what will mature in our lives as well.
Ask yourself these questions: “Where am I placing my faith? Am I focusing on those things I want to see growing in my life, or am I focusing primarily on my difficulties?”
“When things go wrong in my life, does my faith falter? Do I whine and complain and blame God for what is happening to me? Or do I realize I’m just going through a season of difficulty and know that this, too, shall pass?”
When troubles threaten to overwhelm us, we have only to release anxious feelings and pray with a sense of peace and positive conviction—to become still and imagine only the best possible outcomes. As we practice this “intentional” faith, our mind and heart are at ease and our trust in God grows ever stronger.
During a dry season, a tree’s roots grow deeper to reach water. Likewise, in times of difficulty, our devotion grows deeper as we seek a relationship with God.
Our faith does not lie in the trouble that surrounds us; our faith lies in God!
Jesus said, “Go, let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour. Matthew 8:13
Our faith is a gift from God. It never leaves us. It is with us at all times ready to be applied in the right ways. It is an inner knowing that arises from our connection to the Holy Spirit. Faith does not mean always being strong, but it gives us the courage to take the next step, knowing strength will come.
We may not always understand the reasons our life unfolds the way it does, but we know that if we trust God, events and circumstances will come out for our highest good. Still, faith does not mean always getting exactly what we want, but being confident that our good is available in every situation. Even if the end result does not appear in the way we expect, it will be the right one for everyone concerned.
When we hold on to faith, hope replaces doubt and all things work together for good. Even though our faith, at times, may be as small as a mustard seed, it can never be too small. It is an absolute connection to God and His ultimate promise of well-being. Whether we possess a tiny grain of faith or we see our faithfulness as a mountain of possibilities, it sustains and nourishes us.
When we choose to live by faith, we are calm, confident and at peace. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spring is a Time for Reflection

~Published in the Charleston Gazette - Sunday, March 24, 2013~
Spring rains bring relief from the harshness of winter and new life awakens from the drowsiness of the dormant season. There is an awareness of freshness and abundance—a sense of bounty—as we welcome the divine blessings available to us now.
As I look out my window on this sunny March day, I see trees budding, grass greening, a large forsythia bush on the verge of blooming, and golden daffodils reaching for warm sunshine even as they are blown about by chilly March winds.
I see multitudes of purple violets speckling my lawn. And I smile. I’m remembering long ago days when my young children brought me bouquets of the velvety wildflowers as soon as they appeared each spring. I’d make a big fuss over them, hug the giver and place the delicate flowers in a small vase of water and display them in the center of the kitchen table.
Later on, they brought dandelions – not the most beautiful flower by far, although you might have gotten the impression it was if you’d been an observer and heard my oohing and aahing when a small child proudly presented me with a dandelion bouquet. It, too, was put into a vase of water and placed on the kitchen table and it was easy to appreciate the cheerfulness of the bright yellow flowers.
Ah, how grateful I am for these beautiful memories! It pleases me that they recur every spring, right on schedule.
Spring is the most gratifying season for those who take the time to experience it fully.
There is nothing quite like the smell of an early morning rain in springtime. As rainwater penetrates the earth, it releases a distinctive scent that is evident only in this season. I love taking an early morning walk just to breathe in this unique fragrance.
Do you know what it’s like to step outside and be met with the sweet perfume of freshly cut grass glistening with dew; or to awaken to the sound of birds singing outside your window before dawn?  Pay special attention to the intensity of their twittering. It’s like an early morning concert.
These are only a few of God’s blessings that we may enjoy after a long, cold winter. I’m sure there are many more. But we must remember that the most significant occasion during spring is Easter—the time when we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
It is the key to the Christian faith and symbolizes the eternal life that is granted to all who believe in Him. It gave indisputable proof that He was the Son of God and that he had conquered death at last.
Millions of Christians observe Easter by recognizing His resurrection from the dead and by honoring His glorious promises.
Watching the rebirth of spring floods my heart with joy as it corresponds perfectly with the time we celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord.
It is a glorious time of reflection and gratitude!

Monday, February 25, 2013

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

~Published in the Charleston Gazette, February 24, 2013~

It was early December – late 1940’s.  
In a remote coal camp in Southern West Virginia, two young children played together while their mothers enjoyed pleasant conversation as they crafted items for a Christmas bizarre at their church.
Two days later, the little boy, six-year-old Jason, came down with a high fever. When the usual remedies didn’t lower the fever, Jason was rushed by ambulance to a Charleston hospital. After many tests, it was concluded that he had polio.
Polio, (poliomyelitis) is a contagious, historically devastating disease. At the height of the polio epidemic in 1952, nearly 60,000 cases with more than 3,000 deaths were reported in the United States alone. However, with widespread vaccination, polio occurring through natural infection, was eliminated from the United States by 1979 and the Western hemisphere by 1991.
When they heard the news about Jason, the little girl’s parents were, of course, sorry and concerned about Jason, but also were very anxious about their own child, who not only had played with Jason a few days before, but was seen drinking from the same cup that he had.
What could they do except wait and pray?
And that’s what they did. An around-the-clock prayer vigil was set up at the small community church for the two children and, in fact, for every child everywhere who might be plagued with this debilitating disease.
Nevertheless, in about a week, the young girl contracted a fever and cried pitifully with pain in her legs. Her father went for the doctor, who immediately came to the house, examined her and administered medication. He then sat right by the child’s bedside instructing her mother in using cold compresses to keep the fever under control. This was an all-night vigil by the doctor and parents, but when the morning sun peeked over the Appalachian Mountains, the child’s fever had broken and she was asking for food.
It was believed that she had indeed been afflicted with a light case of polio, leaving her with only a slight deformity in one leg. Jason survived the disease but had to wear a brace on one leg for a while. However, he grew up and lived a normal life.
At a time when many children were dying of polio and others were being severely crippled for life, why did these two children seem to get off relatively easy.
I’m sure their parents weren’t the only ones who prayed. Doesn’t every parent pray for his child’s well-being?
Since the beginning of time, people have posed the question, “Why does God let bad things happen to some people while others seem to live unscathed lives?
In 1981, Harold S. Kushner, a prominent American rabbi wrote a bestselling book called When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  It is dedicated to the memory of his young son, Aaron, who died in 1977, at age 14, of the incurable genetic disease progeria. Since it was published, the book has been translated into twelve languages – an example of the number of people interested in this subject.
Some people prefer the question, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” And may even be tempted to try the “other” road. When that happens, we should remember that the other road is a dead end (Matthew 7:13). In truth, the narrow road before us through Jesus is the only road that leads to eternal life. That should be our joy and our comfort.
We need not concern ourselves when good things happen to bad people or when bad things happen to people who seem undeserving of them. God allows things to happen for His reasons, whether or not we understand them.  We need to keep our focus on our Creator and enter into His presence every day through the reading of His holy word. There we will find truth, contentment, spiritual riches and eternal joy.
Above all, we must remember that God is good, just, loving, and merciful even when He sometimes allows trials and sufferings to come into our lives. 


Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Changed World

~Published in the Charleston Gazette, Sunday, January 27, 2013~
A family member phoned last night, rather late, and said he was coming by to drop off some things. My first impulse was to unlock the door and continue reading my engrossing book, but on second thought, I decided that wasn’t a good idea.  

What if a stranger decided to walk in? 

Oh, how times have changed! When I was growing up, we never would have worried about such a thing. We didn’t even lock our doors. In the summertime, at night, we used the little latch on the screen door and left the big door open all night. We had to. It was hot and we had no air conditioning. Besides, there was nothing to fear. We lived in a small town where everyone knew everyone else and we took care of each other. 

Imagine leaving your doors unlocked now. Mine are usually locked – even in the daytime. My children have their own keys. I wish we didn’t live in such an untrustworthy world. 

As a child, I walked quite a distance to school, sometimes alone. In those days, no one ever thought of a child from an ordinary family, like mine, being kidnapped or harmed in any way. In a small town, like the one I lived in, everyone looked out for all of the children – not just their own. It was a much safer world then. 

My friend and I used to spend Saturday afternoons at the movies eating popcorn, watching a movie, sometimes more than once, and interacting with other friends from school, who spent their Saturdays the same. It was great; something to look forward to every week. We'll never forget those Saturdays of our youth! 

Nowadays, mothers deliver their children to and from school and accompany them everywhere they go. There are some who still ride school buses, but when they step off the bus in the evening, their mothers wait nearby to take them home.  

Some of my most enjoyable times occurred on the way home from school in the afternoon. I shudder at the thought of all the fun I would have missed if my mother had picked me up! 

There was a soda fountain in our town reminiscent of the one on “Happy Days.” As we sauntered home from school, my friends and I stopped there most evenings for a coke, a milkshake, an ice cream soda, or just plain enjoyment. Lots of good things happened there. While the jukebox played my favorite songs, I sometimes met a new friend or engaged in a flirtation with a boy from school. And when I was in high school, many Saturday night dates were made sitting at the old soda fountain sipping a coke.  A few times, I was asked to write my phone number on a napkin for someone who may want to use it later. 

Yes, it’s a changed world. 

I suppose my parents thought the same thing when I was growing up. If there’s anything we can count on, it’s change. But no matter how things fluctuate, the era we grew up in – to each of us – will always be the best!


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Just Do Your Best

~Appeared in The Charleston Gazette, Sunday, January 6, 2013~

As we move into a new year, we see before us a clean slate - an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past year – and the majority of us vow to make the most of our new beginning.

Upon reflection, some of us may feel that it’s vitally important to discover the real meaning of our existence, especially those who are older. Typically, until now, we’ve simply been too busy living to think about such things. But now that our children are on their own, our lives have slowed from a mad dash to a stroll, and we find that we have more time to reflect on life’s purpose and wonder if we’ve done anything worthwhile, or if it was all for naught.

We still have hopes and dreams but sometimes doubts creep in, causing us to question the validity of our ambitions.

When this happens, we must look beyond any so-called limitations such as age, resources or timing and remember that our dreams are God inspired.
And He has blessed us with the talent to create and accomplish whatever we set our minds and hearts to achieve.

Deep within each of us is a center of peace—a quiet strength that gives us the power and energy to pursue our dreams. We each have unique abilities and strengths. One person may create a striking work of art; another, an exceptional computer program; another, a melodious piece of music, and yet another, a cordial home that others take pleasure in visiting. Our work is an expression of who we are as we use our mind, physical capabilities and actions to create something of value in the world.

Still, possessing a talent goes much deeper.

The ability to make others feel special, to help someone, to show compassion: these are talents, too, and are available to us at every stage of our life – not just when we’re young. But since our society doesn't hand out praise or monetary rewards for gifts of character, we think because we don't possess some obvious ability like singing or playing a musical instrument, we don't have talent. Instead of looking at the gifts we have and using them to the best of our ability, we get caught up in comparisons and disqualify ourselves because we weren’t blessed with the same talents God gave someone else.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of Heaven and Earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’"

We must never let our perceived inadequacies be a handicap. Give them to God and they will become His opportunity to demonstrate His power operating through us. He would never have a chance to help us if we were always self-sufficient and capable of meeting every challenge.

He has a way of turning our lives in directions we didn't even know existed. And He often works through us to accomplish His goals. By surrendering to Him, we can see amazing things in ourselves and go well beyond the potential anyone thought we had.

Just do your best and God will do the rest.

Happy New Year!