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Sunny-side Up

Okay, I confess! I haven’t always been an optimist. Since becoming a Christian and growing in the Holy Spirit, the Lord has trained me to think positively. As a child, I often worried. Now that “what if” process exhausts me.

With my back story now public, what follows will make much more sense. I’ve been telling people I’ve never experienced anything in my almost 66 years of life quite like the COVID-19 quarantine. That’s not entirely true.

My family lived eight miles from the west gate of what was first called Crane Naval Ammunition Depot. In 1948 my parents met on base and were civilian employees for a combined total of over 70 years.

Dad progressed through the organization, retiring as director of their massive railroad system that transported live shells and missiles. Then I didn’t understand the danger of those in-the-middle-of-the-night derailments. The phone rang, he’d throw on clothes and leave.

October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Dad began stockpiling canned goods and storing them in our one-story home’s 4 ½ foot crawl space. For 12 days, Dad had my mother, my four-year-old sister and me practice getting in and out of this dark, damp underground bunker.

Recently I asked my sister if she remembered those drills. Dad had been an Army sergeant, so yes, they were drills! “All I remember are cans and cans of stacked peaches.” I laughed at the thought of being literally stuck underground with mostly canned peaches. “We would’ve died by ant infestation!” Fortunately, the Soviet Union’s bomb threat ended October 28, 1962. Life continued cautiously but soon normalized.

Lessons learned? Combine hope with common sense. Then expect sunshine.

Spring is coming soon!

When I Teach, I Learn. . .

On Valentine’s Day I wrapped up a promised Christmas gift, one that my goddaughter requested. Since I had been a middle school teacher and because they were studying Southeast Asia, Miss Lain invited me to share about my trip to Cambodia in 2013.

I began cramming for my presentation by reviewing facts about Cambodia and designing a worksheet for students to fill in the blanks as I talked. To my surprise, I didn’t need to use PowerPoint but instead loaded the pictures into Google Photos where she could remotely access them.

Arriving at 7:45am, I reported to the office, signed in, and then waited in the classroom for her to return from a meeting with parents. That brought back my memories from the 1990’s of early morning meetings.

Most of the classes were well-behaved, but it was Valentine’s Day and a few teachers were handing out candy with Skittles, as always, the favorite. In contrast, Miss Lain’s surprise for her students was a 65-year-old, white-haired guest speaker.

Here’s what I learned or remembered from teaching 7 forty-seven-minute classes:

  • Thirteen-year-old student behavior hasn’t changed much since the 1990’s.
  • Approximately 5 students in each class were not born in the U.S.
  • Silence works well in regaining their attention.
  • They loved the photos and accompanying stories.
  • Today’s seventh graders ask good and sometimes difficult-to-answer questions.
  • Teachers must find ways to involve students to make a point, such as asking them to stand if they wore glasses and then explaining how they would have been arrested for that in Cambodia during the late 1970’s.
  • Six hours of constant talking and standing in front of teenagers is still exhausting!

God bless those of you who teach. Its rewards are priceless. In today’s mail, notes from each of Miss Lain’s classes thanked me for the presentation.

Gratitude is still alive and well in the hearts of our children even if it takes a special teacher to extract it! Perhaps that’s one of the more important things teachers teach.

In the Rearview Mirror

I blink! Another year passes. And another. In my seventh decade, time has shifted into warp speed. When I realized 2019 closed out a decade, I couldn’t help but reflect on the last ten years.

On January 1, 2010, I would not have known my parents would pass into eternity within the decade’s first three years. Neither would I’ve comprehended that our children would marry the loves of their lives and then grace Al and me with the most beautiful granddaughters in the universe. Too often I said they would never marry. “Al and I will never be grandparents!”

Thankfully I was wrong!

 I’m not going to make any New Year’s predictions for 2020 or for any decade to come. I truly don’t want to know the future this side of Heaven. If I’ve learned one thing in 65 years, it’s this: I don’t know what tomorrow brings so I will live in real time, praising a real Savior.

Jesus cradles my time and circumstances in his hands. How do I know that? From the past. He’s been faithful and I know He cares for me now and forever.

If you don’t have Jesus in your life, consider the fact that He died to give you eternal life. While time in this finite world matters, it’s not the end of your story. Nor is it the end of mine.

Look back but also look ahead. Your final destination is at stake.

Tower of Babel

Last week when I was praying for our country, the story of the Tower of Babel came to mind. The Holy Spirit-inspired Genesis 11 account described a whole world with one language and common speech. Sounds like real unity, doesn’t it?

These people decided to build a huge tower not out of stones but out of brick and mortar. Their reason? “So that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole world.” Sound familiar?

Nothing wrong with that! Or is there? God saw the pride they had in their achievements and what it would lead to. Because we are sinful people, our achievements basked in arrogance most likely lean toward evil, even if it’s subtle and seemingly justified by circumstances.

Call me crazy but comparing our nation and the folks back in that primitive time is overwhelmingly parallel. When I hear “Make America Great Again,” I understand that if America was ever great, it was because of God. One nation under God should mean we follow His goodness and precepts.

The political schism we are experiencing could be God letting us go our own way, drifting from unity into a self-created chaos due to our arrogant, Godless actions. Corporate lobbying, despicable labor practices overseas, and the elevation of power over public service have corrupted our democracy. Going back further, dislodging American natives, enslaving Africans, and using abortion as birth control add to our communal confession.

 Consequently, our self-made Tower of Babel is crumbling.

As the 2020 election heats up, meditate on the story found in Genesis 11:1-9. Then confess our corporate sins—ones that are biased, selfish, and stiff-necked stubborn—”for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

God isn’t Republican or Democrat! He is the God of All and His love extends past our differences. Most of all, He’s called us to love like He does—unconditionally! All of us need to confess our sins and pray for our country to commit to godly obedience.

To quote the great Jewish leader Joshua, “Observe them (God’s commandments) carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”

Deuteronomy 4:6

A “Beautiful” Day in the Neighborhood

When we moved to Hunter’s Pointe in June 1987, I was thrilled. At that time Center Grove was just beginning to grow, and it felt like we had shifted from urban to country. But most of all, I loved having an extra room downstairs to contain all the kids’ toys. No more tripping over Lego structures or baby dolls on the way to the kitchen!

Fast-forward 32 years and voila! That’s the same room our kids now fight over when they visit.

Most days in Hunter’s Pointe are typical suburbia—cyclists, folks walking their dogs, runners, mothers pushing strollers, and a constant to-work, come-home traffic flow.

This past Wednesday our neighborhood flooded (literally) confusion. While West Crooked Lane is getting a much-needed facelift, a broken water main created a river. Personnel from both the paving company and Bargersville Water Company literally met in the middle.

Our typical neighborhood now felt like a disaster zone. Orange cones and hardhat construction workers redirected traffic. Water surged into the ripped apart concrete streets. The crushed stone base sank swamp-like.

Upheavals like this precipitate instant life-changes—boil water, stay home, etc.

Such is life this side of Heaven! We’re often cast into chaos. We can be walking on level ground one moment when troubles surge. Then who saves us? It’s simple.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.

When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:2-3

Shattered

When Al was upstairs in the shower Sunday morning, a crash directly overhead interrupted my routine. Chest tightening while running, I feared my husband might have blacked out and fallen.

“Are you okay?” 

“Yes!” The water kept running.

By that time, I saw that the small antique mirror had fallen, lying within a footstep of drawing blood.

As I hurried to pick up the pieces, the thought came, “This is life. One minute it looks good, secure and well placed, and the next, it’s a mess.”

With Jesus as Lord of our lives, we don’t need to pick up sharp edges alone. Yes, this side of eternity, mirrors crash as rusty exhaust fans rattle and disturb the nearby landscape. Yet the Savior of the world sees the mess and understands our fear.

Jesus has lived among us—the shattered. He knows how to pick up the pieces.

There is one condition. We must trust Him.

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.”

– Hebrews 12:2-3 NLT

This Mystery

About two weeks ago, this plant started pushing through the soil in my front flowerbed. Dwarfed by the surrounding majestic Hoosier zinnias (Thank you again, Shirley Toney!), it looked like a long green skinny bullet jutting upward. For a few days, I wondered what weed the birds had planted for me.

The day it bloomed I was thrilled and a bit confused as to how it had gotten there since Surprise Lilies start from bulbs not seeds. Yet this mystery is one that I’m enjoying and savoring. Hopefully next year it will somehow multiply so that it doesn’t stand alone.

When reading my monthly World Challenge newsletter this afternoon, Gary Wilkerson quoted a verse that contained the word “mystery:” “God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27, English Standard Version

As Christians we may not know how Christ in us works, but we know His presence can counsel, comfort and lead us. Our dependence upon God through prayer ignites the Holy Spirit within us. While difficult to understand, we can depend upon His power.

The indwelling of the Spirit of God is indeed a mystery. But like many mysteries, the Holy Spirit is beautiful, strong, often surprising, and hopefully growing and multiplying.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.  He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’

– Jesus speaking in John 16:13-15, NLT.

Love the G’s

For us, summer officially began May 31 when our youngest granddaughter flew from San Diego with her parents to meet our extended family and several friends. The weather cooperated (Praise God!) and everyone seemed to enjoy our backyard party.

But since then, weather-dependent G’s—gardening and golf—have dominated our lives—a good thing depending upon the humidity and scores.Al and I divide the outdoor work with him mowing and watering the lawn and me planting, weeding, and fiddling with the flowers and vegetables. It works!

Hoosier Zinnias from Shirley Toney’s seeds

New this year I planted miniature and Hoosier zinnias, which for me, is a huge act of faith. Germination when I sow seems to be betting against the odds. But they came up. The butterflies love them, and their bouquets aren’t too shabby either.

Hibiscus from my front landscaping

Bravely I divided one of my front landscaping’s crown jewels, fuchsia hibiscus, to give to my neighbor Mary. She reciprocated, sharing Painters Pallet that is perfect for the small space near our garage. Another gardening guru Jan Ritter gifted me bee balm plants that added to the pollinator’s paradise. I traded her hosta.

Painters Palette from Mary Lasley

Summer indeed is fun! Especially when I can look out my front window and see my transplants thriving in Mary’s yard.

Mary’s new landscaping across the circle

Granddaughters, Gardening, Golf! And most importantly, GOD! I love the G’s in my life.

A Big Deal

Last week I did something while golfing I’ve never done before and probably will never do again. I shot a hole in one. But it wasn’t scored that way. Fetching my go-to club, a seven iron, I took a slow swing that ended with my favorite Volvik ball bouncing into the pond in front of Otte Golf Course’s sixth hole. I hadn’t done that for awhile. Tragically I lost a distinctive, but used ball.

Against PGA rules and protocol, I quickly called a mulligan and hit another ball, a light pink Lady Hagan with the breast cancer ribbon, which is now encased on my desk. This season all of my pink golf balls are salvaged, patiently waiting in tall grass for my husband and his golf buddies when playing longer courses to retrieve for me.

Determined to be better the second time around, I hit it solidly, saw it land near the flag, and then watched as it disappeared. “Did what I think happen, Mary Lou?” She nodded. “I’ve never ridden with anyone who has done that!”

Waltzing over to the other cart with longtime friends and golf buddies Janey and Mary, I began to jump up and down. “Joyce, its score is 3,” Janey said. Still it was worth a photo.

After my heart quit racing and a few hours passed, I began to think about this mountaintop moment. In the big scheme of life, hitting a small ball into a hole 70 yards out isn’t that big a deal. What is a big deal is that we keep trying to become better.

Even though He may not be checking our golf score, God expects us to be people who persevere.

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:4, NIV

Eva Kor’s Legacy

Al and Joyce with Eva Kor at CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors–www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org);
1532 South Third Street, Terre Haute, IN

Thursday, July 4, 2019, just a few miles and minutes from the former Nazi concentration camp near Krakow, Poland, Eva Mozes Kor passed away at 85. She had just led a group tour through Auschwitz—an ironic yet fitting last activity for Eva, an American advocate for forgiveness.

I met Eva 20 years ago at Greenwood Middle School where she, along with my army veteran father, explained their World War II experiences to the student body. When teaching the Holocaust in March 1999, I was finishing seven consecutive years of teaching 8th grade language arts with my favorite lesson plan, The Diary of Anne Frank. Can you believe this is no longer offered in the curriculum? Neither can I.

My father and my mother, also named Eva, had forged a close relationship with the woman who had along with her sister Miriam, survived Dr. Mengele’s cruel medical procedures focusing on twins. They encouraged her when she opened CANDLES, a Holocaust Museum and Education Center. I knew a lot about Eva Kor before I ever met her.

When in Poland during spring break 2003, I felt firsthand the evil aura of Auschwitz,  where Dr. Mengele conducted horrific experiments while attempting to develop the perfect Ayran race. There Eva and her sister Miriam, separated from their parents forever, became specimens to be pricked and probed. Only by God’s providence and the girls’ sheer determination were they able to survive.

Display at CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center

For years Eva carried the heaviness of her past. That changed after Miriam Mozes’ death from kidney cancer in 1993. Eva knew she needed to overcome her emotional scars and embrace forgiveness to honor her sister’s memory and release personal bitterness. Two years later, CANDLES was founded.

Through this and her extensive speaking circuit, Eva Mozes Kor left behind an amazing legacy, one that teaches all of us to overcome evil through forgiveness.

Fencing at the Nazi Concentration Camp Auschwitz

*************************************************************************************************************************************You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. ‘  But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.  – Jesus, Matthew 5:43-45, NLT