Saturday, February 26, 2011

Servant Hood

Servant hood

Isn’t it funny when God calls us to do a task we seem to think he actually means someone else? Like God makes mistakes? LOL!

God told Abraham’s wife, Sarah, that she was going to have a baby, through which Abraham would become a father of multitudes, a father of a great nation. What did she do? She laughed out loud because of her age and decided that God actually meant for her to give Hagar to her husband to have the promised child! (Genesis 18) Do we all have our own personal version of this story? Really God, you want me to do what?

Last summer I spread the amazing story of a time God called me to do something & I thought it impossible; I tried to pass the task on to someone else. During a hot midday event at Grace, I was sitting under a tree waiting for a breeze while giving out books as part of a church program called Project Read. A woman who I had seen regularly throughout the summer came to me with a request. We had spoken limitedly on previous occasions since I knew little Spanish and she knew limited English. She asked me to help her get an air conditioner for her mobile home so her children could sleep at night. I was stunned. I was giving out books not air conditioners! I got her address and phone number and told her I would see what I could do to help. OK- so my first thought was that someone at the church needed to help her. Before I went home, I drove back to the church and took the note to the church secretary & asked her to find someone to help that family. Later that evening while Darrell and I were comfortably settled in our Lazy boy chairs watching TV we had a phone call from our friend Curt, “Hey, what do y’all want me to do with that old air conditioner you gave me – I bought a new one.” Again, I was stunned! Of course, we knew what to do with it! I called the church the next day to get Gloria’s information and we contacted her and took it to her at Shady Oaks a.s.a.p. When God called on me, I had mistakenly thought he meant someone else – I had almost missed out on a miracle!

One Sunday, Rick Mang was preaching about his early days as a minister. His congregation had many needs and, although that was his job, he could not be there for every person who needed someone to listen to their problems. He talked about the Stephens Ministry and how that serves the needs of many of the people in our church community. He also called for people from our congregation to apply for the next training class. I thought, yes that sounds like a good program and I hope some good people sign up for it. The song at the end of the worship service was “Pass It On” – I knew it by heart!; the theme song of a Christian musical that I performed with my youth choir in the early 70’s. God was speaking to me and telling me that he was not waiting around for the “good people” to sign up; I should not “Pass on” the job to someone else. Just do it – and He will take care of the rest. I did and through this experience I have been blessed beyond measure!

In my Stephens Ministry training, I was drawn to a classmate’s stories of her granddaughter. She was always bringing her name up in prayer requests and worrying over her troubles at school. I contacted a few friends at the girl’s school and asked them to watch for her and help her if they could- here I go passing the buck again! I kept thinking about and praying for Tabitha. During this time frame, my previous extra-curricular commitments at school had ended and my previous Stephens Ministry assignment had ended the formal relationship so a tiny idea popped into my mind, “Maybe she needs a tutor – maybe I should offer to tutor…” I sent her grandmother and email and this was her reply:

You are an answer to prayer. Tabitha is failing miserably and desperately needs help. I have been crying out to God night and day for an answer. So, YES, she would like to meet with you once a week.

I start tutoring next week….

Matthew 19:26 With God all things are possible.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Honor Your Parents

My Parents

One of my favorite current TV shows now is The Good Wife. A side theme developing in the series is the teenage daughter’s search for God. The mother is sarcastic and uncomfortable as she fumbles along with her daughter’s questions, admitting to be an unbeliever herself. These scenes are thankfully far from my own reality. I am so blessed to have been born into a family of believers – faith runs far back into our roots. My earliest memories involve a cloud of love surrounding me – this cloud is made up of family members, family friends, simple times sharing meals and holiday events, and church.

The churches of my early childhood were First Baptist Church of Royse City where my Dad, Benny Kohn, was the “song leader”, First Methodist Church of Royse City where I attended occasionally with my grandparents, Pack and Lois Fisher and Union Valley Baptist (or it might have been called Graham Point Baptist - I will have to consult a historian), a little white wooden building in the country of blackland prairies where my other grandparents were members, Bally & Ethel Kohn. Notice both my granddads went by nicknames – Paschal Wayne was “Pack” and Elmer Louis was “Bally”. The attendants tried to appease me with saltine crackers and Kool-Aid in the nursery rooms but I always wanted to be with my parents in the worship service. The sweet ladies in Sunday school taught me Bible stories with the large picture illustrations and encouraged me to recite my “memory verse”. I know my parents were challenged with teaching me to be still and be quiet for a sustained period of time, but I consider it time well spent – not only did it put me in a place of learning spiritual principles but it taught me sit and listen, an ability that helped me to do well in school.

The church that I attend today is a large congregation with 6 services each Sunday. I choose The Traditional service because I like the time and I like the music – they always include some of the old hymns that I’ve heard and sung my whole life. Familiarity and nostalgia can be comforting…It is Well with my Soul, Just As I Am, The Old Rugged Cross and many more.

Gratitude overflows in my heart for my 2 parents, Benny & Sue Kohn, who made attending church a regular habit for our family. They wisely chose places for me and my sister to be able to learn about the Bible and prayer and God’s grace, while their own lives have been models of service – serving as deacon, teachers, choir members, food providers, quilt makers, prayer team members. Unlike the fictional daughter in The Good Wife, my questions were answered and encouraged at home – I am blessed with parents who are believers!

“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Churches and Pastors and You

How devastated the disciples must have felt to have lost their spiritual leader in the context of a night and the next day – arrest, trial and death by crucifixion. Along with many others in my community, in the last weekend we experienced the devastating loss of our spiritual leader, the senior pastor of our church, Ken Diehm. Yet, we do need to be reminded that we do still have the presence of our original spiritual leader, Jesus Christ, and the comforter that he sent, The Holy Spirit.

How do you choose your church? Is it social/business contacts or does it promise financial gain? – does it challenge you to grow in spirit and serve in your community? Do you choose to find your spirit on your own instead of trying the context of a community of believers who are all flawed with their own sins? I have always searched for a church that would fit my needs to learn & grow & provide for my family.

When Darrell & I were newlyweds, we joined Plymouth Park Baptist Church in Irving. Darrell worked with the RA’s (Royal ambassadors that he had known from his youth) doing campouts and basketball games along with another sponsor named Jay. I worked with the GA’s (girls auxiliary) that I had known from my youth and met wonderful families and girls who were open to learning. Our pastor was Bo Baker and we met some great people there. Then we moved to North Richland Hills and spent a short stint in a Presbyterian church there before moving to New Jersey for Darrell’s job promotion with IBM. While working in the local schools as a substitute teacher, I was invited by a teacher’s aide that I saw often to come to her church – she was the organist & she knew that they needed a pianist (me). We joined Glenwood Baptist Church and grew close to the young pastor (David Hess) and various families. While visiting at home in Texas during the Christmas holidays, our historic church building which had lasted since its early days in the 1800’s burned to the ground on Christmas Eve. Being human, we were all heartbroken over the loss of a storied building, but we rebuilt and I was privileged to pick out the new parish piano at the show room at Carnegie Hall (I played at Carnegie Hall!) Lol! Jonathan was our adorable, young son who came with us on Sundays & everyone loved him!

Then we moved to Indiana & attended the First Presbyterian Church where I brought Jonathan to preschool classes during the week. After our short time there, we moved back to Texas and during our life in Colleyville we were members at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Bedford where we were attracted to the vibrant, engaging sermons of the pastor, Jim Collley. Jonathan and Travis were both baptized there and I always volunteered to do crafts at Vacation Bible School – among others, we met the Lamprich family there and one time my helper at VBS had been Byron Scott’s lab partner in college (our conversation must have transgressed to pro basketball).

So, now our children have grown and gone to make their own homes and families. I went to church to teach them, now I need to go to continue to grow on my own. So where do I go? We moved to Grapevine & I felt like the church in Bedford was too far so I started checking out local places. The new church had to pass my test for accepting gays, not focusing on financial prosperity for the staff or its members, grounding themselves in the exact words from the Bible and reaching out to serving those in need in our own community. I had already canceled out Fellowship church from what had been experienced personally through friends who were members and from what I had read and researched on my own – I did not go. I tried First Baptist and on that day the minister preached against gays – goodbye. (Although he had done a really good job at a funeral for a former student who had committed suicide that year.) I tried Lonesome Dove Baptist because I loved Larry McMurtry’s story about how he got the name for his book –no. I tried First Presbyterian – they were nice but that was not the one.

My dear friend Cassandra was going through years of distress trying to recover from the death of her husband Mike. She went with a friend to an event called The Well at First Methodist Church Grapevine and she could not stop telling me about how wonderful it was – giving her hope and confidence in God’s love. Hmmm. She invited me to go with her to one of these events but the timing did not work out. One of the most intriguing columns in the local newspaper, The Grapevine Sun, was that of Cindy Ryan – she was insightful, funny and the associate pastor at this same church that had helped Cassandra. I checked out the church website and I found something called 10/10. That meant to spend 10 minutes each day in reading the scripture and 10 minutes each day in prayer – so I started doing that – it gave a positive focus to begin my day. Cassandra and I visited the Sunday service on Palm Sunday – it was awesome for me. Darrell came with me later and we joined and I have not wanted to miss a Sunday service since joining. Ken and all the other pastors were regular people who had a special calling to challenge us to think about how we carry on our daily lives.

Ken asked for questions constantly from the congregation. He wanted us to send him emails or call him or talk to him about what troubled us and he always responded, either in a personal message or in a sermon to serve a larger group. When we showed up to do our little acts of service, he worked with us. I volunteered on a fall community work day and was assigned to do a garden project where a family who had lost a child had donated money to beautify a place at the church to be a garden in his memory. Ken and Kendra worked along with me and several others digging in the dirt, leveling pave stones and creating a pretty place to commemorate the memory of a precious child. Ken told a story about someone who was surprised that he was a “regular guy”.

He pushed us and challenged us to think beyond the scope of our own comfortable lives here in Grapevine to help our neighbors at the nearest trailer park who mostly did not speak our same language, to help our fellow Christians in Kenya who were trying to help children who had lost their parents to AIDS, to help “any of the least of these my brethren” who crossed our paths. What a compassionate heart who submitted to God’s call to try to lead us all to the path of all truth! We are devastated to lose this leader who could take a Super bowl commercial about Darth Vader and translate it to show God’s love for all of us, his children. I will continue to reflect on his words in his blog of 12/31 which stuck with me and I will continue to follow his challenge to stop being a baby believer who settles for just drinking milk. This is Ken’s post from that day - the reading was  Hebrews 5:

The author of Hebrews expresses his frustration with the readers not growing up in faith. He uses the image that they are infants still drinking mild, when in fact they should be eating solid food.

What about you? Would the author be frustrated by your progress in faith? Or are you doing the acts of faith that help your faith mature? Those acts would include scripture reading, prayer, presence in worship, giving, serving others, fasting, participating in a Sunday school class or bible study....with the start of the new year it would be great time to put a plan in place for your spiritual maturing. The author of Hebrews expresses his frustration with the readers not growing up in faith. He uses the image that they are infants still drinking mild, when in fact they should be eating solid food.

I wanted to ask Ken more questions about this, which he would have welcomed – I never got around to it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

(arm)Strong Friendship

Where does the time go? Yesterday I was a young mom with 2 boys working the perfect part time job – teaching at Greencastle Middle School with a 10am-2pm schedule. Darrell was rising up the ladder of corporate America working as a personnel manager in a large IBM facility in Indiana. “Yesterday” was the mid 1980’s. Our close local friends were also displaced Texans, Tom and Gwen Armstrong and their children Courtney, Anthony and Ashley. Lots of happy times were spent at each other’s’ homes for sports watching and birthday parties, attending the famous Indy 500 race or at the local Windy Hill Country Club for golf, swimming, dinner or various party events. Tom was a fun loving, positive, generous man who was everybody’s friend; he was Darrell’s mentor at IBM – and he was battling kidney disease. Although the organ transplant gave him more years, it didn’t give him enough. After we had all moved back to the DFW area when IBM shut down the Greencastle location, Tom passed away, succumbing to the disease that we had all hoped for him to whoop. I will always remember his funeral in the little community church in Jasper TX where the greeters assumed that we were there to deliver flowers rather than to honor the deceased. Jasper TX is known to many for the past horrific racial atrocity – that made me wonder, what did he have endure personally when he was there growing up? Whatever it was, it left him no bitterness, only the desire to make the best life possible for his children. I remember his words about giving them first names that began with the letter A, so that teachers would think of them first whether listed by first name or last name. I always think of that comment when I look at my class rolls of student names. His beautiful wife has done a wonderful job of raising the children on her own.

As the years have passed we have still marked some memorable events together – birthdays, graduations, weddings, retirements – and now the rookie season of #13 for the Washington Redskins in the NFL. Gwen recently hosted a reception for family friends to visit with Anthony while he was home. What a treat to see them, talk to them and hug them all again! Anthony displays all the qualities that would make any parents proud – humility, gratitude, respect, work ethic, friendliness, helpfulness and kindness. Gwen looks vibrant and beautiful. Courtney is a grown man but amused us when he hurried over to ask her, “Momma, did you know that the Greens are here?” And little Miss Ashley “Bug” (as Tom used to call her) is happy and content wearing her red #13 jersey. I’m annoyed with myself that I did not get a new picture of her.

I cannot bring myself to ever say HTTR (Hail to the Redskins) but I can earnestly say, “Hail to friendship and to our children’s successes!”

Psalm 16:11 Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; In Thy presence is fullness of joy; In thy right hand there are pleasures forever.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cabin in the Woods

Some number of years ago I cosigned for a car loan. Travis was living in Colorado; Travis needed a Jeep. As we sat across the desk from the bank loan officer I had a great sense of amusement when she filled out her paperwork. “Do you own or rent?” “I rent.” “And how much do you pay for rent per month?” “$30.” Her jaw dropped and my giggles started. Travis rented a cabin on Sunlight Mtn. near Glenwood Springs CO. It had been used as a payroll office for miners 100 years ago and then also as a Pony Express mail stop. No running water or electricity, but beautiful views if you like woods, mountain tops and isolation.

Travis had met Chelsea McKinney a few years before when they were both students at Colorado Mtn. College. He knew she was “the one” but was waiting for the right time for them to start their life together (and it took him some time to win her over to his vision – he learned patience and perseverance.) When I first met Chelsea at Sunlight Mt., Travis was living in this cabin. Such humble living conditions!

Life progressed and when they married, Travis had moved to a small apartment in Carbondale. That served them just fine for a time – they had their cozy surroundings, their dog with the nearby dog park, good friends next door, walking distance to downtown…but they also had to share the laundry room, and had a loud, moody neighbor above them and sometimes the doorknobs fell off in your hands…during our visit last summer they both mentioned wanting to move to a new place. Travis told me there was a house nearby that might go up for rent; Chelsea was keeping her eye on rental ads.

I pray every day for my children: Safety, prosperity (enough to take care of themselves), love, satisfaction in their work and sometimes specific requests. I began petitioning for Travis & Chelsea to find a new place to live (thinking specifically of the place down the street that Travis mentioned). Well, they were given a new place to live that was way beyond my meager pleas. Chelsea found a place on Craigslist and the owners seemed to favor them over other potential renters and Uncle Robert left some money to his siblings and my mother shared her portion with her daughters and grandsons who lead to them having enough cash to pay their deposit and last month’s rent. God works in mysterious, glorious ways and answers our simple prayers with abundance beyond our dreams.

Matthew 7:7-11 “Ask and it shall be given you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks it shall be opened. Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish will give him a serpent? If you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good to those who ask him?”

I have no doubt that God’s benevolence gave Travis and Chelsea a new place to live. I got to see it in person for the first time on Christmas Eve and it was a beautiful place of love, peace and God’s majestic creation.