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Christmas Comes Early

Last week I expressed my desire to fully enjoy November before plunging into Christmas festivities, while acknowledging that many are already partaking in decorating and seasonal music. Well…things have changed a bit. The beautiful fall leaves have been falling. Santa arrived at our mall (presumably so families can have photos taken for Christmas cards). And, I have attended a Christmas production complete with a performance of The Christmas Song.

Let me explain. While I was a senior at Upper Sandusky High School, my government teacher used a few class hours to show us the 1946 movie It’s A Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. Mr. Baker told us that while the movie didn’t have anything to do with government, it had everything to do with life. The heartwarming story made an emotional impact on me (and explained why older students had spoken of a swimming pool under the gym floor). It’s a Wonderful Life has remained my favorite movie through the decades.

As the second weekend of November approached, I noticed a promotion in our newspaper for a college production of Merry Christmas, George Bailey. My husband read the story of how the students were to present a live radio performance of the adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life and agreed that it would be worth our time to see it. Was it ever! The young adults did an excellent job of voice acting the various characters and creating old fashioned sound effects with such things as a box of corn starch and a carousel of playing cards. Students took turns playing the piano, adding a live soundtrack. The program was a joy to watch and did justice to the movie that I’ve loved for so long.

Franciscan University is located in Steubenville, Ohio. Tickets are $4.

I won’t assume that everyone has seen It’s a Wonderful Life, or that you know where the movie originated (I didn’t). Movie director Frank Capra based the production on Philip Van Doren Stern’s short story, The Greatest Gift. The story and movie give us glimpses into the life of a man who dreams of accomplishing large things in glamorous places, but is consigned to remain in his hometown running his father’s Savings and Loan. The villain is a rich, selfish man who seeks to run the S&L out of business and own the town. At his lowest point, George Bailey (the dreamer) believes that he is worth more dead than alive and considers suicide. I’ll save a little something for those who haven’t seen the movie and just say that an angel* jumps into George’s life and works to convince him that life is the greatest gift, and that George’s humble life has been very successful. In fact, many lives had been saved or positively affected by George’s self-sacrificing actions. Cue the happy ending – and more Christmas music.

Christmas sneaked in a little early again last evening. As Dave and I watched our local news report, a story was told of Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes being given early to 250 kids who lost their homes and school two months ago during Hurricane Irma. The joyful sounds and smiles of the kids opening the boxes were amazing. You can see pictures here. And then the story got better. The boxes were packed and provided by a church in Texas where Hurricane Harvey had destroyed the pastor’s home. Noting that Pastor Mark Brumbelow and his wife are experiencing their own difficulty, the interviewer asked him about the ambitious Shoebox project. He told her that “You feel better when you help someone else.” He has discovered that it’s a wonderful life when you give.

Perhaps you have an opportunity this week to pack an OCC Shoebox. We did. I rounded up school supplies, hygiene items and books. My husband got involved by deflating a soccer ball and fitting it and a pump into each box. If you’d like to give a box, but can’t get out to shop, you can pack and pay for a box online.

Image result for kids displaced by Irma get shoeboxes

*Clarence (Angel Second Class) is an entertaining character in It’s a Wonderful Life who wears funny clothes because he’s behind the times, having died many years earlier. He accepts his assignment from Heaven to help George in his distress and succeeds in showing George the value of his life. I, for one, am grateful to God that He does send his angels as ministering spirits to believers in Jesus. (Hebrews 1:14) I remember thinking early in life that people become angels after they die and go to Heaven. However, the Bible makes it clear that angels are separate creations than humans. Luke 20:36 says that in some ways, we will be like the angels, but elsewhere we are taught that our bodies will be raised and glorified to be like the imperishable body of Jesus. You can read more about this at https://www.gotquestions.org/become-angels.html.

I’m even more grateful to God for His Son who dived into the sinful world as a baby to show us an incomprehensible love by dying in our place and reconciling us to our Father God. That truth makes my life worth living and secures the greatest gift, eternal life with God.

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Commitments, Questions, and Wonders of Nature

On this last Sunday of August 2017, I’m sitting barefoot on my deck reflecting on the week that has just passed. Perhaps you and I have had some similar experiences and thoughts during those days.

Sunday, August 20 – At church, I was reading a list of adult classes to be held this fall.  What caught my attention was the very first class, one to be held at 8:15 a.m. on Sundays for men only.  It was the ONLY class to be held at 8:15 on Sundays!  I’m not one to make quick decisions, and we rarely arrive at church before 9:00, but the calling was clear. So, I committed to lead a class for women only at that early hour beginning September 10.  Regular readers know that I’m a fan of Love & Respect Ministries and have taught their “Respectfully Yours” course to wives so many times that I may be able to do it with my eyes closed.

Monday, August 21 – I had made no preparations for the Great American Eclipse and anticipated a normal day at home alone. When morning tasks and lunch were over, I saw an on-line video on making an eclipse projector from a cereal box. . Dave had just emptied his Cheerios box, so I whipped up the viewer and headed outside, feeling slightly embarrassed about my neighbors seeing me having fun with my projector alone.

I stood with my back to the sun and moved the box until the sun shone through the pinhole in the foil, casting a TINY image on the box bottom. There was a little dark dent in the sun! I spent the next couple of hours checking on the progress of the eclipse, chatting with Facebook friends about their viewing experiences, and sharing my cereal box with the paper carrier. He and I talked with our backs to the sun while the moon moved across the sun. We noticed the slight change in temperature as it grew noticeably darker in our Ohio location. A neighbor from two doors down walked over to give us a quick look through his eclipse glasses.

Later, I called my mom to see how her day was going and tell her about my fun. She had watched eclipse coverage on TV and was happy to see reports of large gatherings of people where “no one got shot.” I agreed. The eclipse brought people together to share wonder.

Tuesday, August 22 –  Instead of playing outside with neighbors and a cereal box, I needed to drive to Wheeling for medical tests. At 56, there are more and more potential health issues that need to be monitored. One cropped up in 2016 when I saw my doctor about some shoulder pain and had x-rays that revealed abnormalities in my lungs. Some physical therapy helped my shoulder, but now I’ve added a pulmonologist to my list of doctors.  I have no symptoms and last year’s blood work and scans did not bring an explanation, so I did follow up breathing tests on Tuesday.  That evening, my husband and I enjoyed our walk uphill through the neighborhood and witnessed a breathtaking sunset. It was every bit as awesome as Monday’s eclipse. Wonder!

Wednesday, August 23 – In the morning, I continued to pray for a nephew in his 30s who had open heart surgery on Monday. In the afternoon, I gathered materials and made photocopies in preparation for the Understanding the Bible class that will begin on September 6. Summer is slipping away.

Thursday, August 24 – Our summer project of redoing a bathroom got to the point where we needed our plumber to hook up water to the new toilet and faucet. That happened on Thursday morning. After lunch, I drove a few blocks to our Council of Churches Food Pantry to work with others from our church. Twenty-five people came through to pick up food for their families. I am usually assigned to working behind the counter, selecting and bagging frozen meat for the clients. This week I had the opportunity to interact with each one as he or she chose several bread items. Seeing some of their physical problems and hearing of a few of their hardships was heartbreaking. Life is hard. I hope each one was half as blessed by the food as I was by the giving of it.

Friday, August 25 – I spent the beautiful day getting a haircut, having lunch out, and hitting some clearance sales at our mall, while being aware of the growing concern that Hurricane Harvey could devastate eastern Texas. Harvey made landfall as a category 4 hurricane at 10 p.m. central. That began a trial for many people that continues as I type this on Monday afternoon. Another nephew and his family are waiting at this moment to be rescued by a boat. Many prayers being said.

Saturday, August 26 – My husband and I spent the afternoon installing a lighted medicine cabinet, two shelves, two towel holders and our toilet paper holder. The bathroom project is nearly complete!

After dinner, as Dave was mowing the lawn, I started thinking and praying about this week’s blog topic. The eclipse had overshadowed some of the tragedies and crimes that come so often we can’t keep track of them.  But the Charlottesville showdown between white nationalists and counter protesters  of August 12 has remained in the news and on my mind. I wondered whether I could collect my thoughts about the controversy surrounding Civil War monuments and the current focus on racism in America. What resulted was a sheet of paper filled with over a dozen questions. A lot is being said. For now, I’ll do some listening and reading, keep praying and pondering, and strive to love my neighbor as myself. Today that includes making an on-line donation to the American Red Cross on behalf of the people of Texas.

The LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
Psalm 121:8

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Did you see the video?

On Easter Sunday, a videotaped murder was visible on Facebook for about two hours.  My title, though, is not referencing that video, but recorded interview segments with adult children of the shooting victim.

As anyone would expect, the family is deeply grieved from learning that their 74-year-old father was murdered shortly after their Easter celebration. Interviewed prior to the killer’s suicide two days later, a son expressed that he is angry and hurt and wants the killer to be brought to justice.  A daughter who was given the chance to speak a message to the killer said, “Turn yourself in…when you break the law, there’s a penalty for breaking the law.  And this man broke the law by taking my father’s life.”

What took the news anchor and, I suspect, many people by surprise was the additional statement made by all of the children interviewed, “I forgive him.”  The son who also said, “A boy needs his father, and I’ve lost mine”, went on to say, “I forgive him because we’re all sinners and we need the shed blood of Jesus Christ to save us, and I’m so grateful for that.  Turn yourself in.” A daughter stated that if presented with the opportunity, “God would give me the grace to embrace this man…I would want him to know that even in his worst state, he’s loved, you know, by God.”

How can this be? One said, and the others agreed, that they have no animosity in their hearts, but sadness for a man who was overtaken by evil and sympathy for his family.  This attitude is a testimony to the legacy that the deceased father and grandfather left behind.  As they were growing up, the children were taught by word and example to forgive those who do you wrong.  A daughter admitted that she could not do that now if she didn’t know God as her savior.  Even in this tragedy, she believes that her dad would quote Jesus, saying, “Tonya, forgive them because they know not what they do.” The Godwin family has made the choice to not merely listen to God’s word, but to do it.  They have chosen to live as their father did and, more importantly, to model Jesus.

In a world where evil and pain are prevalent and violence can be instantly viewed by the world via social media and news agencies, one can become fearful and love can grow cold.  Last night, as my husband and I were walking to our vehicle in a parking lot, a white car slowly approached and passed us. We admitted to each other that the thought crossed our minds, “We could be shot.”

But as I watched the interviews with the Godwin children today and considered their sincere words of forgiveness even as they grieve over the sudden and violent death of their dad, I have a sense of happiness for them.  The days ahead will be hard for all of them, but their hearts will be free from hatred and a poisonous desire for revenge.  They know and believe Jesus and are, no doubt, passing along the legacy of their father to his grandchildren. Tonya told the world via CNN, “The thing I would take away the most from my father is he taught us about God…how to fear God, how to love God, and how to forgive.”

The wisest man on earth penned, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10) We fear God because he is holy and just, the judge who is “able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12).  We love God because he loved us first and gave his son Jesus as a ransom to set us free from sin and death.  When random crimes are committed, we are, as we should be, angered.  Many seek revenge.  However, God, through Jesus, has taught and shown that forgiveness is his way.  His grace makes it possible, and forgiveness is rewarded with a peacefulness that transcends all understanding.  I believe the Godwins are experiencing that peace as they sadly bid their father farewell.

Tragically, the killer gave way to the evil desires that reside in each human heart and came to his ruin. Regarding wisdom, the writer of Proverbs also said, “For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord.  But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death.”  (Proverbs 8:35-36)

I believe that, in an instant, Mr. Godwin left this world of sin and pain and was ushered into the presence of his Lord and Savior.  What a glorious ending to his Easter celebration on earth!  My hope is that the firm faith displayed by his family will inspire many in their city and all over the world to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”  Psalm 116:15

You can watch and listen to the Godwins HERE and HERE.

 

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Train Them Up

My ambition in 1978 was to become an elementary teacher.  At age 17, I headed off to Bowling Green State University as an education major.  While I never lost respect for the profession, after four quarters and some life changes, I decided to pursue a different degree.  As someone who has tremendous admiration for professional teachers and a deep desire to see children well-educated, I am finding current public concern about our public schools interesting enough to collect a few thoughts on the topic.

This week I have learned of the confirmation of the new education secretary for the United States, seen Facebook comments ranging from celebration to despair, and also been reading Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.  Vance, an Ohioan in his early 30s, explains in great detail the serious disadvantages of his life and what it took to overcome them and succeed. I highly recommend this book.  It is giving me insight into the lives of people who live around me and reinforcing some of my deepest held beliefs.

I am a product of public education.  My husband was educated in Catholic and public schools.  Our two sons attended and graduated from public schools with honors.  We all went on to finish college, and our oldest has made a good start toward his master’s degree.  I believe there are several factors that account for these accomplishments.  I hope to present them with humility.

  • All four of us were raised by hardworking fathers and mothers who saw raising their kids and being a home maker as their honor. Being available during school hours enabled me to volunteer in our sons’ schools, pick them up after school, prepare dinner, and have time and energy to help with homework or read together in the evening.
  • We were involved in church.  Speaking for myself and, I believe, for Eric and Kyle, our involvement in Sunday School, youth groups, and church service  was as integral in our education as was our schooling.  Dave’s Catholic upbringing laid a solid foundation of integrity and strong family values.
  • Good personal choices in life regarding time management, earning and spending money, and health kept us on track.   While I don’t deny that each of us has a good measure of God-given ability, I wholeheartedly agree with author J.D. Vance that effort leads to success.  In Hillbilly Elegy, he explains that the feeling that our choices don’t matter needs to be overcome.

Vance also discusses his mixed opinions about whether students should be provided with government vouchers that enable them to attend private schools, escaping failing public schools,  or whether the money should be poured into the public schools to improve their effectiveness.  In truth, no amount of funding or teaching expertise can overcome the sad and sometimes dangerous home life that many students endure. Without encouragement, discipline, and security in the family, the kids face an uphill battle.

My heart aches for broken and struggling families.  I’d love to see all of our communities and students thriving.  There’s not an easy fix, but here are 10 ways in which we members of the public can help:

  1. Vote for your local school levies.
  2. Take an interest in your local school board and vote for people you believe will serve well.
  3. Support and show appreciation for your child’s teachers.
  4. Show up for parent/teachers conferences.
  5. Be committed to your child’s well being, seeing that they get enough sleep, good nutrition, and time with you.
  6. Make reading at home a priority.  Read to them.  Listen to them read.  Perhaps, like Dr. Ben Carson’s mother, you should limit TV viewing and require your kids to read two books a week and write a report on each.
  7. Volunteer at a school.  See if your Ohio elementary school has a Project MORE program in which volunteers spend one-on-one time reading with kids who are struggling. Help out with field trips or parties.  Attend your child’s evening programs and sporting events.  Ask what you can do!   (My own part is making weekly visits to two 1st grade classes to share lessons from Winners Walk Tall about responsibility, respect, honesty, etc.  The Winners Walk Tall program was developed by a grandfather in Cincinnati to help keep kids out of gangs.)
  8. Support or start programs such as our church’s Bountiful Backpacks ministry that provides weekend food for needy kids.
  9. Donate books to your school’s library.
  10. Pray for teachers and administrators.

All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.  Proverbs 14:23

 

 

 

 

 

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