Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Wart Family's 2017 Christmas Saga

The Wart family have moved to a new home, so they are still getting used to the place. Today when Grandma Sue started putting up Christmas lights, Angelina got so excited she began to run around and around until she became hopelessly entangled in little strings of lights! Mama Wart was concerned that little Angelina might fall and hurt herself and tried her best to untangle her daughter, 
but unfortunately, it was not so easy, and soon Mama found herself just as tangled up as Angelina. By this time the boys, Hiram and Harold, had noticed that being tangled up in light strings actually looked like a lot of fun, so they started rooting through the lights and rolled around on them until they were both tangled together in lights. They were snorting and laughing so loudly that Papa Wart woke up from his nap and came to see what all the noise was about. "What's going on here?" Papa snorted as he took in the sight of his entire family wrapped up in little white lights. "For heaven's sake, what is the matter with all of you? Hold still and let me get you out of this mess!" To Papa's dismay, the more he tried to untangle his wife and children, the more the light strings worked their way around him as well, and soon he stood there, staring at what had happened. Mama was about to cry, because she was just sure that Papa was going to be angry and snort loudly at them all. Little Angelina began to inch her way a little closer to Mama, and the boys were eerily quiet, which almost never happened. But then, the strangest thing happened! Papa did begin to snort, but they were laughing snorts! Quiet and slowly at first, but then working up into full-blown hog-sized laugh snorts that could be heard all over the neighborhood. His family stared at him in shock, as he was able to squeeze out a few words, "You should see yourselves! You look ridiculous! I have never seen anything so funny in my life! And look at me! I look as ridiculous as you do!" The boys began to giggle and soon they were snorting kid-sized laughs to match Papa's. The next thing they knew, the whole family was heard laugh-snorting by everyone within ear-shot, and as people stopped to listen, they could hear Papa Wart shouting, "Merry Christmas to all and to all a de-LIGHT-ful night!"

Monday, October 30, 2017

Lead On!

I have to preface what I'm about to say by assuring you that I am not a theologian. I don't know Greek and cannot tell you the detailed history of what was happening when the pages that became The Holy Bible were written. But I am a reader of the Bible and a believer that it is the inspired Word of God. I believe that The Bible is one of the ways that God communicates with us and reveals to us who He is.

As hard as it is for our finite minds to fathom, I think the Bible is pretty clear that God is God -- but Jesus is also God; and the Holy Spirit is also God. God is three in one, and yet, when I arrive in Heaven, I don't expect to see a three-headed creature sitting on a throne. I believe that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit will each be there entirely individual, and yet entirely one. Don't ask me to explain how that is possible, because I can't. I just know that the book I believe to be the Word of God says that is nothing is impossible for God.

So when the Bible says, "In the beginning was God," then surely in the beginning were also Jesus and the Holy Spirit. As I said, I am not a theologian, but my simple logic tells me this must be so. I can imagine that Jesus was happy in Heaven. He was one with His Father, He had community with beings who adored and praised Him. But there came a time when the Father knew He must make a difficult choice. He must ask His Son to sacrifice all that He was and all that He knew for the sake of beings who were unworthy of that very sacrifice. The beings the Father had created on earth to love and adore Him would be lost to Him for all time unless the Son was willing to make this sacrifice.

Of course, the love of the Father was also in the Son, so that love compelled the Son to be the sacrifice that would build a bridge between God and man -- the bridge that man had broken in the very infancy of his existence. But it was not just love that compelled the Son to descend from His rightful place beside the Father, it was also obedience. He was obedient because He trusted His Father.

So here I go: What is it in my life that seems unfair or is hard, or that I don't understand, or that I don't want to do because it hurts? Why do I often find myself face to face with the confusion of pain and sorrow? If God is the God of the impossible, then why doesn't He take this away from me? Why doesn't He put me where I want to be, or do what makes me happy, or remove whatever is causing my pain? Doesn't He care about me? Perhaps we should also ask, "Did He, does He, care about Jesus? Couldn't He have found another way for His plan to be accomplished without the pain that Jesus was forced to suffer?" I don't know the answer to that. All I know is that He did what He did because it served His Plan. Therefore, I choose to assume that He also does what He does in my life because it serves His Plan. He sometimes allows me to suffer and He sometimes gives me victory. It doesn't matter which way I go because I trust Him. I know He loves me. I know that whatever path I find myself on, whether or not I chose that path willingly, I am there because God has allowed it. If God has allowed it, He has a reason for it. In His time that reason will be revealed to me. Until then I am compelled to walk on in faith and believe He will give me the same victory that He gave to Jesus. Until then I must find a way to love even those who would do evil to me. I must see the world and the people in the world through His eyes and recognize that even in their imperfection, they are reflections of the same God that is reflected through me, in spite of my own imperfection.

The Bible compels me to strive for a life that reflects Christ; a life that is sometimes filled with pain and confusion and a lack of understanding. But it also compels me to live a life of faith. Faith that God is, was, and always will be in control, and that I can trust the promises of His Word to be true when they tell me He loves me, He will use all things for my good, and that He was willing to let His Son suffer to prove it to me. So when there are times I must walk through where I am to get to where He wants me to be, then so be it. Lead on. I know a victory awaits at the other end.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Beauty of Community

Recently I had the humbling experience of receiving a ceremonial footwashing by more than 100 women. As each one knelt in front of me and offered words of love and encouragement, they handed me a single long-stemmed rose. I was overwhelmed and moved to tears by this outpouring of their hearts. I was also left with a beautiful arrangement of roses in varied colors! When I got to my home and began to sort and arrange the roses in a huge vase that had been provided, I found that in the process of transporting them, a few stems had broken. I was determined that no matter what the condition, each rose would be proudly displayed in my home, so I carefully cut a few more stems to the length of the broken ones and gave these shorter stems their very own vase, where they could be a thing of beauty on their own.

As I often do, I saw God showing me a lesson in something as simple as a bouquet of roses. I began to think how like those roses women are. Each of us beautiful as individuals, but gathered together, we are a sight to behold! Some of us are strong and healthy, standing boldly for what we believe in and supporting one another. Some of us are broken and feeling lonely and worthless. But that is when the miracle of love is strongest, as a few of the strong reach down to the broken, surround them, and once again make them strong in the beauty of community.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sue's Blog

Sue's Blog
As we approach mid-October, I am reminded that the days between October 1 and Christmas Day always seem to pass by like the blink of an eye. Below is an article that I wrote a few years ago to remind myself not to let the stress of the holiday season blind me to the joy of what it is really all about.

Why Bother With Christmas?

“What night are we going to get together with the kids to have our family Christmas?” My husband asked as he walked through the room, barely stopping to hear my reply. Staring at the ink-filled squares representing my life for the coming month, I tried to formulate a reply, which came out more like a desperate plea for help. “From the looks of the calendar, I think we’ll be waiting until New Year’s. We have something going on every night in December. There are all the church group parties, our friend’s parties, our small group caroling, the ladies’ cookie exchange, the elders’ and wives party, the staff party, and then of course, the 12 Christmas Eve services. I don’t see any way we can get together with the kids in the middle of all this. For one thing, I haven’t had time to do any shopping, and after I find time to do that, I have to wrap everything. Somehow I have to get the decorations up before the pastors’ wives party, which reminds me – when can you put the lights on the outside of the house? And I need you to assemble the tree so I can decorate it!”

For families in ministry, this conversation may ring a familiar bell. For most people Christmas is a time for family, perhaps attending a Christmas Eve service together before gathering around the Christmas tree. For a pastor’s family, celebrating Christmas can hold a unique challenge as family time must compete with a myriad of church obligations. Our family has celebrated Christmas on Thanksgiving, on New Year’s, or anywhere in-between, but rarely do we have the time – or the energy – to celebrate on Christmas Eve.

As our church has grown, so have the number of Christmas Eve services. In our household, Christmas Eve has come to be synonymous with multiple services and spending Christmas at the church building. A few years ago, my husband discovered that many people were torn between attending Christmas Eve service and being with family. In an effort to allow them to do both, he began to offer Christmas Eve services on December 23rd, as well as December 24th. This addition has been surprisingly well-received and it seems every year the services for both evenings are packed with those who feel a special need to reconnect with the Christmas story and still have time to be with family. For us, it’s a time of great blessing to see so many people gather, knowing that many only have this one chance to hear of God’s amazing love. But finding time – and energy -- for a family celebration in the midst of all this has become an annual challenge, especially now that all three of our grown children are also in ministry, with families of their own -- and in-laws to factor in! Each year we juggle our schedules to try and find time to make it happen.

In spite of what could easily be termed “a hassle” by some, our family has found that the joy of Christmas is always there, waiting for us, no matter when we celebrate it. It may not be on Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning, or even on Christmas evening, as it is for many families. But the moment we gather together we are reminded why we make the effort as the real meaning of Christmas finds its way into our hearts.

I’ll never forget one special Christmas, as our family carved out some time to share in the Christmas celebration. We decided to dig out some costumes from the church props closet and prevail upon the children to perform a reenactment of the first Christmas. As you can probably imagine, a gathering of our three children, their spouses, and our 11 grandchildren is often accompanied by what borders on chaos, and this night was no different. It was an effort to corral squirming kids to decide which costume best fit whom, and referee arguments over who would play which part. When at last we found ourselves ready for the big event, my husband read the Christmas story from the Bible. As parents and grandparents we gathered around, watching the transformation of rowdy little boys into regal wise men and a dignified Joseph. Excited and giggly little girls suddenly became curious shepherds, glorious angels, and an extremely maternal Mary. One wiggly little baby was surprisingly willing to be still long enough to be the baby that brought the purest of all love into the world.

Amidst much flashing of cameras and parental pride, we were all struck by the importance of what really took place, not just on this make-shift stage, but on that long ago night. A night when another Father watched as His Son was cradled by humanity. These children whom we love were acting out a love of another kind, a love that brings us to our knees as we try to grasp the meaning of the words of the angel, “For unto us a Son is born.” As we watched our children in their rag-tag costumes posed before us, we were reminded once again that Christmas is not about a day on the calendar – it’s about a living God and a love that transcends our understanding.

This was the Christmas card we sent out in 2005. That little baby "Jesus" is now 11 years old and nearly every one of these children are taller than me! But this image will always be one of my all time favorites and hopefully these children, many of whom are already young adults, will never forget the time they were transformed into a living reminder that Jesus is the Reason for the Season!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Why I Decided Not to Host My Own Cooking Show

Today, as I was trying to make several different recipes at once for a special celebration of our family, I began to get frustrated because things just weren't going well. Then I thought about how I came to the decision to give up cooking (obviously, I was having second thoughts about that decision, because here I was, frantically trying to chop, stir, and layer, all at the same time). I remembered that when my children left home I needed to make a decision about cooking and considered the pros of cooking in a home with no children:
  1. I would get to lick all the bowls and spoons myself.
  2. I wouldn't have to share any of the finished foods if I didn't want to.
  3. I wouldn't have to listen to complaints about how it doesn't taste like so and so's mom makes it.
But then I had also weighed the cons:
  1. I would gain a lot of weight.
  2. I wouldn't have anyone I could force into cleaning up my mess (and I am a really messy cooker -- see photo).
  3. Most of the time I mess up the recipe and it doesn't taste like I used to make it.
So then I thought about my options. My first option would be to have my own TV cooking show -- this would allow me to:
  1. cook whatever I wanted, plus the ingredients would all be pre-measured and ready to pour into the bowl or pot or whatever..
  2. be as messy as I want because someone else would get paid to clean up my mess.
  3. not be stressed out about gaining weight because other people could eat part of whatever it was so that I wouldn't eat it all myself.
It didn't take long to rule out this first option on the mere fact that I am not that great a cook and probably even if someone agreed to let me go on the air, no one would actually watch the show.

So that left me with option #2 which was to give up cooking in any formal sort of way (hotdogs and grilled cheese sandwiches don't really count.). This would mean that:
  1. I could spend more time making reservations at restaurants around town.
  2. Someone else would get paid to clean up my mess.
  3. I could invite someone to dinner and they can eat whatever they want.
This is obviously the choice I made -- it's a no-brainer! Why, oh why, do I keep second -guessing myself like I did today? It always ends up with me being really tired, the food being mostly so-so, and nobody really caring that I made it myself! Sigh. 

(And then there's that thing about gaining weight, which seems to be a factor no matter which choice you make....)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Tribute to Reba:
My Mother Lost Everything, But Gained What Really Matters....

My mother died yesterday, just a few days short of her 96th birthday. Three years ago, she moved from the home where I grew up. This was the home where she had raised her children; the home where she and my dad had lived for most of their married lives; the home where she thrived and made a difference in her community and served her Lord for over 60 years. The place where she waited to welcome her children home as they came to visit from the lives they had carved out for themselves after leaving her care. The place where she took joy in welcoming grandchildren and great-grandchildren as they stopped by on their travels across Kansas. She came to Arizona to start a new chapter in her life, knowing that it would be the last of many chapters she had lived. I was thrilled to know that for the first time in my adult life, I would have my mother living near me. My other siblings had all lived near her at some time after leaving home, but not me. She would often say things to me like, "you remember so and so or such and such, don't you?" I would have to remind her that I had not lived in my home town since I left for college, and no, I did not remember any of what she was referring to. The last three years I have grown in a relationship with my mom that I never had before. As a child, I saw her as demanding and critical, and yet, I always knew I was loved -- that she simply wanted me to be the best I could be. As an adult, living far from her, she was often my place of refuge. I could run to be with her when I needed an escape from the demands of my life at home. She was always there to let me return to being a daughter, and I could briefly escape the expectations of all the other roles I had to fill. When she moved to Arizona, of course, she continued to be my mother, and at times that was difficult for both of us. She had her way of doing things and I had mine. Quite often, I would defer to her ways -- sometimes out of respect and sometimes out of frustration. She began her life in Arizona splitting her time between my house and my brother's house. She basically came to Arizona because my brother and his family were moving here, and my siblings and I all agreed that she could not remain in her current situation without one of us close by. We tried to fall into a pattern of sharing her, but it became more and more difficult for her to settle in when she had to pack a bag every week and move from one house to the other. She was feeling lost, partly because "her stuff" was split between two homes, and partly because she didn't really feel like she was AT home in either of our homes. She missed having her own home. It was difficult for us as we tried to meet her needed expectations to be comfortable here, and eventually we all just settled into the compromise of doing the best we could with the circumstances we were in. I loved that I was able to spend time with my mom regularly, but it was hard knowing that she wasn't really happy. We would talk about it and many times we laughed and cried in the same conversation, as she did her best to try and make someone else's home her home. She was a great help to me because she loved doing laundry and cleaning up minor messes around the house. Most days she would have my dishes cleaned up before I was even finished using them! My mom was a woman who loved to work. She loved house work and she loved yard work -- both of which she had spent her life doing and had taken great pride in doing it well. Somehow, that gene did not pass on to me, so I was only too happy to let her do whatever her aging body would allow her to do. At times it was annoying, because if she was not able to do it, she wanted me to do it, and she wanted me to do it NOW. But that was her creedo; do what needs to be done, do it immediately, and do it well. Not a bad precept by which to live, if you think about it. But then the stroke came. Not totally unexpected, but certainly unprepared for. Suddenly, everything changed. No longer could she tolerate the stress of splitting her time between my brother's home and my home. No longer could she fold laundry or do dishes or write notes to the dozens of people that she regularly communicated with through the U.S. postal service. Slowly she began to lose control of all the things in her life that she loved to do. Slowly she had to learn to depend on help from others to do even the simplest of things. We began to work at finding humor in stroke recovery. Things like "if you can't get your pajama bottoms off and there is no one in the immediate area to help you, just pull the scissors out of the bathroom drawer and cut them off!" Or things like, "beware that you don't try to eat your finger because you mistake it for part of your toast!"  As days turned into months, it became obvious to both she and I that she needed more help than I was physically or emotionally capable of providing. So once again, she had the burden of letting go of the "new normal" that had been so hard to accept. She stepped into the life of a group home where, although she was loved and well-cared for, it was not her home. She had good days and bad days, as we all do, but for her, the bad days became increasingly bad as her health declined and her spirits sagged. She found joy in the relationships of those with whom she shared the home and initiated the formation of a daily Bible study for those who wanted to participate. She encouraged the other residents to trust in God, and she worked at taking her own advice. Time became both an enemy and an ally as each day was a gift, but also something to be endured. Day after day, she would proclaim her readiness for God to send his golden chariot to take her to His throne. Yet our time is not God's time. She was living in a time of loss. Loss of possessions, loss of physical health, loss of loved ones who passed before her, loss of control of everything in her life. She had to depend on someone else for her every need and also be willing to submit to their timing in completing those needs. Watching this happen to my mother was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. Knowing that it will most likely happen to me sometime in my future is the next hardest thing. Accepting the fact that God designed humans to enter the world with nothing and leave the world with nothing has become clearly focused for me. When I think of all the things my mom struggled to let go of when she moved to Arizona, then all the things she struggled to let go of to move into her group home, and finally how she had to let go of everything to enter Heaven, I am slammed with the perspective of all my possessions. I now have in my home possessions that were my great-grandmother's, my grandmother's, my mother's and mine. That is a lot of stuff that will eventually belong to someone else when I make my final move to Heaven. Some of those possessions are so cherished that I find it hard to imagine ever not having them. But I am at the same time hit between the eyes with the realization that none of it will matter when I see Jesus face to face. He really and truly is all I need -- in this life and the next. All the time spent on this earth is given to me to teach me that truth. There is nothing I possess that will have any usefulness whatsoever when I step into the presence of the Almighty God. I don't say that because I plan to rid myself of all earthly possessions and live in a cave until He comes for me. I truly believe that God wants us to take joy in the earthly life He has given us. But I now have a more full understanding of what it means to live in the world without being of the world. I realize that clinging too tightly to the things of this world is a waste of time and effort. I have learned from my mother that, as hard as it is, loss truly becomes gain in the end.
1 Timothy 6:7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

P.S. I found the following notes that I had written at the time of Mom's move and thought it appropriate to add them as a post-script to the above tribute.

A few weeks ago I was driving across southwestern Kansas, something I've done many times in my lifetime, but this time it was different. Passing by town after town, each holding specific memories of people or events from my past, it suddenly occurred to me that I may never have a reason to pass that way again. I drove by the town that holds the graves of ancestors I never met and thought of stories about them that I have read in family history books. I passed by the town where my mother grew up; the town I knew as a child to be where my grandmothers both lived. I remembered days spent there as family members gathered for reunions. I passed the town where my cousins lived and remembered times I stayed at their home and met their friends.I passed by towns I traveled to as a teenager, cheering on our school teams in various sporting events. I passed by towns where boys lived that I met at church camp and remembered how it felt to have a crush on someone who never gave you a second glance. As I drove, the tears flowed freely down my cheeks. On each side of the road, I passed field after empty field, each one at rest for the winter. I marveled at the way the horizon stretched into the distance on each side of the road, remembering how we were always able to see the lights from a town 60 miles away on a clear night. Passing only an occasional pick-up truck and seeing the motorized sprinkler system that looked like mini-bridges spanning field after field, my mind was occupied with thoughts of change. Soon I would have nothing to draw me back to this place of memories. As I drew nearer to my childhood home and remembered that soon it would become the home of some other family, my heart was filled with emotion. The excitement of the coming transition, mingled with the anxiety of the change was nearly overwhelming.

I was on my way to help my mother with the final preparations to relocate to Arizona. She would be leaving behind a lifetime of memories and a home she had lived in since 1949. As hard as it was for me to face this challenge, I knew that her challenge was far greater. Her life was about to be reduced to a truckload of belongings. She was leaving behind the place she and my dad had spent their lives, building a business, raising a family, supporting a community and being part of a church family. She was leaving the graves of loved ones, including my dad, in a cemetery that she would no longer be able to visit when she felt the need to do so. This was a big deal. And yet, she was up for it. She faced it bravely and with few tears. Of course there were times of looking back with longing for what was lost forever, but still she marched into her new future with a strength that many women half her age would not possess.

I only hope that I can face my unknown future with that same strength and trust in God's plan for my life.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Been Thinking

When was the last time you set your mind free? By free, I don't mean you did something fun or relaxing, I mean you did something that was mindless -- something you can do without thinking about what you're doing, therefore leaving your mind free to go wherever it wants to go. In today's culture our minds are constantly engaged. We go from device to device, and our mind is constantly required to focus. Perhaps you're thinking, "but I play video games, that's pretty mindless." Really? Maybe so, if you have absolutely no intention of winning, but I think most of us play to win, which requires us to pay attention to what's going on. Let me illustrate. 

I have a condition called Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) which takes over my body when I get relaxed and requires me to get up and move. I won't take time to try and explain it, but if you really want to know more you can Google it and find tons of information. Anyway, sometimes I get to the end of my day and I realize I have forgotten to take my RLS medication during the day, which allows me to relax and go to sleep at bedtime. You see, it is when I start to relax that the evil RLS activates and requires me to get up and move around, so I need to take small amounts of medication all through the day, keeping my body from allowing the RLS to activate. It's on such days of forgetfulness, which is probably due to being "connected" on one of my devices, that I have to do something which will require me to engage my mind so that I will not relax. I have one particular computer game that does just that, and whenever I am plagued with insomnia due to this condition, I know that I can play that game and it will require a connection with my brain to keep it occupied until my medication kicks in and helps me settle down. So in other words, playing games is not really all that mindless. Our brain is engaged in what we will do next so that we can win. 

Today, I was cleaning my refrigerator. Why, you ask? I know, its not something most of us do frequently. But here is the story leading up to the "cleaning of the fridge." My fridge basically died -- well, the computer board in the fridge died, so it had to be removed and sent off to be repaired, which meant the fridge was unusable until the part can be reinstalled. So, I had to move every thing out of my fridge and into the "spare fridge" in the laundry room. That was when I noticed that my kitchen fridge was absolutely filthy. I don't even remember the last time I cleaned the inside of it. While it was full, I really didn't notice the sticky, gooey shelves and the crumbs that had fallen onto the shelves and into the drawers. Once empty, however, it was painfully apparent that I had neglected it. 

Cleaning the fridge is a mindless job. As I removed shelves and drawers and washed and dried them, and wiped down the entire inside of the appliance, I realized my brain felt free. My thoughts were just wandering from thing to thing and moving around in my brain like they haven't done in a long, long time. I started thinking about how differently I live than the way my mother lived. My mother never neglected to clean out her fridge. It was a part of her job as a homemaker. She took her job very seriously and it included making sure every inch of her home got cleaned on a regular basis, keeping all our clothing clean and in good repair so that we always had something ready to wear, making sure the children were disciplined and kept their things orderly, having meals prepared and served at regular times and being supportive of my dad as he provided the means for her to do all this. I began to wonder if I really take my job as a homemaker that seriously. I have piles of things to be done here and there around the house, and for some reason I never seem to get to them. I sometimes go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink. I don't always make my bed. My husband sometimes has to remind me that he needs clean underwear, and "would you please do laundry?"

Thinking about that, I wondered why I'm like that. I didn't start out that way. I started out doing things the way my mom did them and tried to follow her example to keep my home orderly and engage with my children and prepare meals. But, at some point, that began to change, and if I'm honest with myself, I think that change started creeping in about the time I got my first "device." I discovered the world of the internet and it seemed so much more fun than taking care of my home and my family. It was a whole new world where I could explore and connect and shop and learn and create, etc. But I can see now it's a world that keeps my brain constantly engaged so it is never free to just think whatever it wants to think. It doesn't get a chance to ponder. 

Instead of filing a stack of papers, or washing the dishes, or folding the laundry -- all jobs that I can do while my brain thinks about other things, I tend to sit at my computer and focus on things that require my brain to be fully engaged. I didn't realize how taxing that was until today. It was almost like I could hear my brain "sigh" with relief when I started to clean my fridge. "Finally, she's doing something that I don't have think about!" 

So, here I am, writing about something that my brain conceived while it was free to think. Imagine that.