Saturday, October 21, 2017

DECLARATIVE LIVING



We were calendar-challenged, longevity-ites sitting around after lunch leisurely sipping our De-cafs and exchanging views about the merits and bedside manner, or lack of it, of the various -ologists each of us was consulting. 

"It seems the only time I go out and about is to keep my doctors' appointments. A pretty dull life otherwise,” offered one of our impromptu experts. “Where's the blessing of long life? Why am I still here? Declining health and limited strength—it's all downhill,” added another.

An octogenarian chimed in: “The younger generation is taking over and nobody wants to hear our accumulated wisdom. The Apostle Paul had it right when he wrote that it is 'far better to depart and be with Christ.' There's nothing left for us here anymore. To die is gain.”

Why would anyone choose to stick around on earth just to become useless and fragile and fade away while being a burden to others?” another agreed.

Don't take his words out of context,” reminded one of our younger girls, a mere septuagenarian. “Those verses in the first chapter of Philippians were Paul's personal letter from prison to his friends who were probably new Christians. He would have known that he really didn't have any choice because his life and the length of it was in God's hands. He would have been quite aged himself as he wrote this.”

Actually, Paul was simply exploring two alternatives. One was to be with Christ in His eternal state, and the other was to remain in the flesh longer. This result of the second, he wrote: “would mean fruitful labor for me...for your sake...more necessary for your progress and joy in the faith.” So Paul said he was convinced that he would probably remain alive to keep preaching and witnessing for Christ. History tells us, however, that he only had a short opportunity left. In a few short months he would be martyred and literally depart to be with Christ. Meanwhile, he was imprisoned, isolated, and spent his time writing letters.

Was this seemingly insignificant activity the important “fruitful labor” he imagined doing? It turned out that Paul's major spiritual legacy for the years, the centuries, the millenia to come was not primarily actively traveling around preaching but letter writing. And not with the ease of a computer or email or even a typewriter, but with painstaking efforts on scrolls while in a dank prison or under other adverse conditions. Did he know what a permanent impact his letters would have until this very day? He took his apparently small window of opportunity and God enlarged it and gave it permanence beyond his imagination.

I recently read an insightful meditation related to our discussion in wisdomhunters.com so I shared it with my fellow longevity-ites:


Am I living in such a way that in my joys and in my sorrows I intentionally and explicitly tell others of God’s faithfulness in my life? You and I have been given relatively just a few short years to live. While you still have breath, take time to tell of God’s faithfulness in your life, of His power and His loving kindness to you and those you love. Don't let your life be a missed opportunity to encourage and strengthen the faith of others, even those not yet born. Your faithfulness in life and death can be a story of God’s mighty acts that lives on for generations to come! Take time to write out the stories of God’s faithfulness in your life so that they can be preserved for future generations.”

That's a wake-up call to action for all of us but especially for us who are already in the autumn/winter season of our lives. That's exactly why we are still here, still in the flesh, no matter how old or tattered or fragile our “earth suit” has become.

The psalm-writing King David knew that very well and spelled it out clearly in Psalm 92:12-15. He said that God's expectation and mandate for us in advancing years was to “keep growing and flourishing and stay planted firmly in our faith and yield fruit in our old age” – and do what? “To declare that the Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” To intentionally speak up for God and leave no doubt in the minds and hearts of those dear to you and in your circle of influence that God is your Rock.

Why are we still here as the years tick by? The answer is simple: To leave a legacy with our family and friends and our circle of influence whether we speak to them, write letters to them like the apostle Paul, or write down in some user-friendly way a witness to your faith in God. “Let each generation tell its children of Your mighty acts let them proclaim Your power” (Psalm 145:4 NLT). Has God's goodness and mercy followed you in your ups and downs of life? Are you thankful? Are you blessed? Declare it!


You don't have to write a book or be a polished communicator. God expects of us only what we are capable of. Do you need help? My book below is available to you to order by email, leonachoy@gmail.com. I will walk with you step by step to leave footprints on paper as a legacy of your life to pass on a precious treasure to your posterity more valuable than a rich estate.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Personal Nostalgia


I ran across some nostalgic history depicted in this old photograph from 1952...65 years ago! where have all the years gone? 

I was still in my twenties and newly returned to the U.S. from living and in mission ministry with my husband Ted in Hong Kong and Singapore. Communist political upheaval in China prevented our going into the Mainland in mission work at that time.


Of course it was the first glimpse of the U.S. for our 3 little guys who had British birth certificates since they were born in Hong Kong which was then still a British Crown Colony. However the children traveled on my American passport.


Daddy Ted unfortunately had to stay in Singapore for another year to finish his teaching contract at the Seminary there.  My Dad had recently suddenly died at age 59 and my Mom in Iowa was in poor health so, as an only child, I felt the need to return from overseas to help her. 


The children and I made the trek back to Cedar Rapids on a Dutch ship from Asia through the Suez Canal to England and then by the old QE II ocean liner to New York and by train to Iowa. It took 30 days in all!



Imagined captions and comments from the four of us in the photo as we arrived back in the U.S.
        Rick (at right) "This is all a big joke, right?!"
        Cliff (at left) "I want my Daddy!"
        Gary (on lap) "                    "  I'm not talking yet.
    Mom Leona (No comment. My expression tells it all! I felt like a zombie)

Our oldest was only three years old and the youngest was five months. Those were the days "before Pampers." Two of our little boys were in diapers and required bottle feeding. (After baby Gary was born, Cliffie decided he wanted a bottle again and reverted to diapers!) Neither ship had laundry service or a nursery or any assistance so I had to manage alone 24/7 -- including washing cloth diapers in the tiny ship's cabin basin and hanging them all over our windowless cabin on a lower deck to hopefully dry. 

Honestly, I don't remember exactly how I managed!? Be thankful for all the conveniences and comforts and labor saving devices and luxuries available to raise babies and kids today! I compare their ages with the ages of my great-grand-kiddos now and ask their parents to imagine themselves in my shoes in the mid-twentieth century. 

Duh! I remember almost nothing about the entire ocean voyage. We left from a tropical climate and arrived to a blustery winter snowstorm at the end of November in New York. The kids went from sun suits to snowsuits, and as a result colds and coughs and pediatric appointments the entire first year.
Let's be thankful for all the conveniences and comforts and labor saving devices and luxuries available to raise babies and kids today!

Moral of the story? God will help you through anything! No exceptions! Trust me, I know. When you are young, you think nothing is impossible and you can do everything. Thankfully, as you grow in maturity you find out how much you need to lean on God in every season of life and through all the ups and downs that inevitably come with raising families--and in just living. Time does erase the hardships and even negative memories.

The bright side: Eventually the babies grow up and have babies of their own and then the babies have babies and give you the great honor of becoming a great-grandma!  I have become a happy camper, rejoicing in God's generous gift of longevity, thanking God for all the rich decades of life I've lived through and the incredible opportunities God has given me to serve Him. I count my blessings by the ton!
 

* Read more stories in Leona's autobiography Czeching My Roots. Order by email:  leonachoy@gmail.com.

Monday, October 9, 2017

RENEWING MY SPIRITUAL FEATHERS

 

 “They who wait for the Lord (hope in the Lord) will gain new strength (will renew their strength); they will mount up with wings (sprout wings) like eagles (soar as with eagles wings), they will run and not get tired (not grow weary), they will walk and not become weary (walk and not grow faint).”Isaiah 40:31 (Combined New American Standard Bible and The New American Bible, and Amplified Version)


Below are some QUOTED INSIGHTS from my Bible research as I explored the above verse in various commentaries.


“[Shall renew their strength] The Hebrew word commonly means to change, to alter; and then to revive, to renew, to cause to flourish again, as, e.g., a tree that has decayed and fallen down (see Isa 9:10; and Job 14:7 – 9. Check out this excellent comparison). Here it is evidently used in the sense of renewing, or causing to revive; to increase, and to restore that which is decayed. It means that the people of God who trust in him shall become strong in faith; able to contend with their spiritual foes, to gain the victory over their sins, and to discharge aright the duties, and to meet aright the trials of life. God gives them strength, if they seek him in the way of his appointment—a promise which has been verified in the experience of his people in every age [and at every season of human life].


“[They shall mount up with wings as eagles] One translation is 'They shall put forth fresh feathers like the moulting eagle;' and in the note on this passage, 'It has been a common and popular opinion that the eagle lives and retains his vigor to a great age; and that, beyond the common lot of other birds, he molts in his old age, and renews his feathers, and with them his youth.' 

The passage in Ps. 103:5, 'So that thy youth is renewed like the eagles,' refers to this fact. This was a common and popular understanding among the ancient biblical writers. The opinion was, that at stated times late in its life the eagle plunged itself into the sea and cast off its old feathers, and that new feathers started forth, and that thus it lived vigorously often to the hundredth year. In accordance with this opinion, the Septuagint renders this passage, 'They shall put forth fresh feathers [pterofueesousin] like eagles.' Vulgate, Assument pennas sicut aquiloe.
“The literal meaning of the Hebrew is, 'they shall ascend on wings as eagles,' or 'they shall lift up the wings as eagles;' and the image is derived from the fact that the eagle rises on the strongest, most vigorous wings of any bird, and ascends apparently further toward the sun. The figure, therefore, denotes strength and vigor of purpose; strong and manly piety; an elevation above the world; communion with God, and a nearness to his throne—as the eagle ascends toward the sun. 
“[They shall run and not be weary] This passage, also, is but another mode of expressing the same idea—that they who trust in God would be vigorous, elevated, unwearied; that he would sustain and uphold them; and that in his service they would never faint. This was at first designed to be applied to the Jews in captivity in Babylon to induce them to put their trust in God. But it is as true now as it was at that time. It has been found in the experience of thousands and tens of thousands, that by waiting on the Lord the heart has been invigorated; the faith has been confirmed; and the affections have been raised above the world. Strength has been given to bear trial without complaining, to engage in arduous duty without fainting, to pursue the perilous and toilsome journey of life without exhaustion, and to rise above the world in hope and peace on the bed of death.(From Barnes' Notes, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)

Leona’s comment: The Scriptures emphasize the need for deliberate detachment from sin and negative lifestyle (molting our tired, worn, old feathers) and greater attachment to God’s eternal truths and a holy lifestyle (renewing our spiritual strength.) Many biblical passages affirm the need for this double-edged action: “Put off the old man, put on the new nature; put aside the works of darkness, walk in the light, etc.” Practical lists of the “put offs” and “put ons” (attachments and detachments) are given to us so we are not left in doubt of what God wants us to do.

In our advanced years, most of us have accumulated a great deal from which we need to be detached, things that need to be put off by virtue of how long we have lived. We have a lot of molting to do! And fresh, new feathers to grow! 

But the rewards are wonderful: Youth renewed! Soaring closer to God! New strength and vigor for the rest of the way flourishing in the toilsome journey of life!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

LIVING IN THE “EVEN BEYOND”

I was only 65 years old. My unexpected lung cancer surgery for the removal of the large third of my right lung took place on October 8, 1990. Today is my anniversary of that date.

While in recovery, in answer to my question of what I could or should not do from that point to prevent a recurrence of cancer, my renowned pulmonary surgeon Dr. Jack Curtis, a Christian, to the best of my recollection answered the following: “Since we don't know the cause of your cancer and your lifestyle is already good, continue to live your life as God may lead you. It is in His hands whether you make it without recurrence to the five year mark or—even beyond. Nothing can abort His plan for your life until He has fulfilled His purpose for and through you.”

Through the goodness and plan of God I have been living in that extended bonus “even beyond” for the past 27 years. I am in my 92nd year. “I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will show forth (recount and tell aloud) all Your marvelous works
 and wonderful deeds! I will rejoice in You
and be in high spirits 
 Psalm 9:1,2 (Amplified Version).  Despite ups and downs, hills and valleys, joys and sorrows I have tried to faithfully use to the fullest my “renewed eagle time” (Psalm 103:5). Whatever spiritual fruit I have borne is for God's glory.

As a long time cancer survivor I have learned many lessons from God and I have written a book to help others who are experiencing illness: Hospital Gowns Don't Have Pockets. In thanksgiving to the Lord for His goodness and mercy to me, I want to give a free copy of that 314 page book to anyone who requests it by email:leonachoy@gmail.com. I would appreciate your covering the postage, if you can.

It is hardly possible that there is anyone who hasn't experienced some illness or accident (or eventually will) or doesn't have friends and family members who are struggling through some health issues. You may order multiple copies of my book—no limit—to give as a gift to others. Everyone needs this book sooner or later!

In this book I candidly share my initial fears and tears, trauma and drama, questions and apprehensions, learnings, doubts and joyful shouts. I walk with the reader from the first knowledge that something is “out of order” all the way through the recovery minefield. I wrestle with questions like Who caused my illness, God or Satan? What did I do to deserve this? Can God heal me? Will He? What if He doesn't? Can I “claim” my healing? Should I fight my illness and refuse it? Why does God seem so far away when I need Him most? Is my illness a friend or foe? Is there life after hospital?

I don't claim to have all the answers, but I put on my hospital slippers to walk with the reader through his illness adventure. And the two of us will walk with God and try to find His purpose in it. This book is for first-timers like me who suddenly face illness, also for graduate students in the schools of illness and pain. I include “Personal Workout” questions at the end of each chapter which makes it user-friendly for group discussion.

Monday, October 2, 2017

AUTUMN INTERLUDE

I'm taking somewhat of an interlude from my publishing schedule for an undetermined time while my most recent book WRITING FOR THE SUPREME EDITOR is out of my hands and in production. 

I'll run a mini-marathon again when what they used to call the galley proofs (now electronic printouts) arrive from the publisher before the signal is given for the on-the-press run. 

Meanwhile, I'm literally taking some time off to savor full-bodied autumn with God's annual splendor symbolized by this welcoming bench afloat in the midst of a sea of color-splashed leaves.

How am I celebrating this interval? I'm inviting local friends, whom I fear I've neglected while I've been immersed in the protracted, self-imposed aloneness that is required to do creative writing. My invitation to them is to find a date to visit me for an hour or two of one-on-one leisure in my cozy kitchen some afternoon. I'll brew some tantalizing tea in my authentic Chinese blue teapot with two painted golden pheasants on its surface and offer some home baked goodies, if I can carve out time to bake them. 

We'll just catch up on our mutual lives which seem to be running a race faster than we can catch up with them. The sole purpose is to invest an interval of warm and fuzzy fellowship time while "the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock, and you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock...." (I can't believe I still remember memorizing that James Whitcomb Riley poem in fourth grade!)

This includes an open invitation to each of you, my special blog post friends, to come too, no matter where you live, whether in the next town or in a distant state. Fly in from Florida if you wish to experience the extravagant change of seasons again, which I'm sure you must be missing. I'll just add another tea bag to the blue teapot and ask fictitious Polly to put the kettle on.

I need this slice of uncluttered, unscheduled space for awhile and perhaps my friends do too. Because I'm a writer, of course I use computer keyboard analogy for my poem below from one of my recent books. My thumbs work better on the space bar than they do when I try texting on my smart phone!







SPACE BAR

I need to press the space bar:
my life is overcrowded.
I need better proportion
my words run together
I'm too complicated
not communicating
what I am
or want to be
nor displaying accurately
God's life through me.

I want some distance
some intervals
between myself and others
not a gap or abyss
but unaccommodating elbowroom
perhaps headroom
away from distractions.
I need space to sort out
where I am going
and where I've been
a comfortable interim
to look within.

Then I can go on.
A space is not a period
a finality or a full stop
only a *pausing place
an interlude, a transition
to open up the words of my life
so I can decide more wisely
what I want to say
and where I want to go
and what I want to be.

* Orders filled promptly for my book published last year, SELAH REFLECTIONS: Press the PAUSE Button. Order by email leonachoy@gmail.com

Saturday, September 30, 2017

MY KITCHEN “THINK TANK”

I'm only borrowing the term. I'm not discussing a research or advocacy group or organization for social policy, political strategy or economics. I may, however, adopt a little of its purpose “to solve complex problems or predict or plan future developments.”



Right off I'll explain that by my “think tank” I'm referring to a dishpan of hot, soapy suds in my kitchen sink where I sometimes do dishes. “Do dishes?” Some of the younger generation don't even know what that term means. Stacking dirty dishes into an automatic dishwasher and later pulling them out clean is all they have ever known. Not so when I was growing up. Besides, the automatic dishwasher was not yet invented!



Standing at the sink while sharing the washing of dishes, rinsing and drying them with a dish towel and replacing them on the shelves was a task I shared with my Mom. Sometimes it was reluctantly and under duress when I was impatient to run off and play with my friends. In my teens that changed somewhat. That task became a leisurely time of intimate exchange with my Mom when we talked confidentially about all sorts of things without the pressure of formal face to face, “Let's sit down. There's something we should talk about.”

With hands deep in warm suds sometimes my mountains turned into mole hills and “complex problems found a solution and future plans were developed” like the big time strategy think tank folks hope to achieve. Whenever I had a friend from school over, we shared the doing of dishes and we were in no hurry to finish them while enjoying our private giggling girl talk.



A good friend and I recently discussed the pleasing and positive aspects of hand washing dishes, although we both had the latest models of automatic dishwashers. My friend claimed that with her hands immersed in warm soap suds, she looked upon that unhurried time as the “think tank” interval in her day for quiet reflection and the counting of her many blessings and thanking God for them. In our often frenzied, over-committed lifestyle these days, why not look upon this largely bygone activity as an opportunity for a refreshing oasis to bring some quiet order to our lives several times a day, if we wish? Don't we all need such a window of opportunity to put everything in perspective?



It doesn't matter what brand of dish washing detergent we choose, of course. It may be Ocean Breeze, Sparkle, Lavender, Coconut, Aloe, Lemon, or old standbys like Palmolive or Dawn. As far as I know there isn't one that's called Drudge, Galley Slave, Chore or Bondage. There must be a reason.


The brand I remember from my childhood was called JOY! I wonder if that brand is still available? When our children were young, and then our grandchildren, they begged to stand on a stool and "help" by playing around in the suds pretending at washing dishes. They had fun!

Why should I limit my adult JOY in this activity to my childhood? What matters is the attitude I bring to this household practice and the quality time I invest at my think tank haven that will determine my peace and pleasure either during a humdrum or a hurried, harried day.

Why not join me today? Let's make lots of suds and take a swish in that dish pan and see whether it might bring us into our own corner of peace? Most of the detergents tantalize us with the promise of softer hands. So what's not to like about that?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

WEARING MY FATIGUES

In deciding what to wear on a given day, my preference is “comfort clothes,” especially when I'm anticipating a work day at my computer in my writing studio. 

Although they are not the natty, patterned camouflaged design like military personnel wear, I still call them my “fatigues.” Mine are grungy sweat pants or cut off jeans and unmatched, having-seen-better-days sweat shirts that I should have discarded into the rag bag long ago. Nevertheless, they are my favorite wardrobe.

The army fatigues are really quite dapper, with a variable camouflage pattern or monochrome shades of green or brown meant to conceal them from the enemy during battle. They approximate the terrain in which they are fighting—sandy desert, tropical jungles, or treacherous mountain warfare. When I wear my leisure clothes, I also attempt to hide myself and blend into the background. 

My fatigues are my camo clothes too in the sense that I'm retreating to my own comfort zone. I'm not preparing for battle—so I haven't put on my battledress. Recall what happened to King David in the Old Testament story who left himself vulnerable by not wearing his battledress. He sent his soldiers out to war but didn't go with them to lead them as was his custom. He hung back and took it easy—and got into a heap of trouble with a view presented to him while taking a walk on his balcony. One thing led to another and the rest is unfortunate history. The negative reverberations in his family and the kingdom lasted for his lifetime. But I digress....
Battledress for soldiers varied through the centuries. In the Middle Ages when knights went into battle they were saddled with suits of heavy armor. In this age of high tech warfare, soldiers still do carry a lot of heavy communications gear, survival stuff and ammo but their basic apparel is lighter and usually made of cotton fiber. 

Fatigues have become battledress now, much more serviceable than the more formal dress uniforms worn for parades or other military functions. 

Imagine how unsuitable were the full dress uniforms the British soldiers wore when they tried to quell the revolutionary conflict with the New Colonies. Fatigues are worn both when soldiers are working at some assigned duty and when engaging in battle. 

I want to focus on the concept of fatigue with an analogy to practicing our faith. Faith Fatigue is not Failed Faith, however. We may still hold solidly to our Christian beliefs. However, lukewarm faith, which God dislikes, may gradually set in when the journey of life gets long and perhaps after we have been Christians a good while. The first flush of our initial fresh faith has become dulled. Our high emotional spiritual experience may have slowly receded and we find ourselves flagging in our eagerness for spiritual matters. 

In His message to the Church at Ephesus Jesus called Faith Fatigue “losing our first love” for Him. (Revelation 2:4). In the verses preceding, Jesus commended their perseverance and endurance, “...and you have not grown weary.” That is His expectation for each of us, and He gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to live it out as our normal Christian life. 

When our faith is fatigued and drooping, it may or may not be immediately evident to others because we are good at camouflaging ourselves. We blend in with a neutral background and no longer take a stand on issues that previously we defended with zeal. We drag our feet with Faith Fatigue. There are many facets to this kind of spiritual weariness including discouragement, loss, and the fluctuation of human emotions.

Being weary and being tired are not the same. Tiredness is generally thought of in a physical, bodily sense, as being exhausted by exertion or hard work. A hot shower, massaging our strained muscles and a good night's sleep often take care of our tiredness. On the other hand, to be weary is to be drained of one's energy and vitality through some kind of long, sustained effort, as in repetitive sameness. The feeling of weariness seems to go right down into our bones. It suggests a more permanent condition, mental and spiritual debilitation. Being weary is somewhat closer to the root meaning of fatigue. 

The Bible has much to say about the weariness of Faith Fatigue. In fact, the word weary is mentioned 41 times. Key verses are Isaiah 40:28-31. “God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth doesn't faint neither is weary...even the youths shall faint and be weary...but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, walk and not faint.”

We should watch our own walk with great care and build ourselves up in the faith so as not to succumb to Faith Fatigue no matter how long or rough or tedious our journey of life. Or how diligently we have been serving the Lord perhaps without being noticed, appreciated or applauded. “Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9). 

It is military protocol that soldiers cover each others backs and never leave a fellow soldier behind on the battle field. So we should look after each other when we see that our buddy has become weary, is fainting or wounded in the battle of life.


“Am I my brother's [or sister's] keeper?” Yes, of course! “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary” (Isaiah 50:4) How many weary and Faith Fatigued people may need my word spoken to them with a loving embrace, and a helping hand? I need to press on and be about my "Father's business."

What we wear on our temporary physical bodies isn't of eternal consequence; it is simply a matter of selecting the proper wardrobe for the occasion. We all need times of leisure and loosening the taunt strings from the sustained speed of daily life these days. We should select suitable clothing for such times. Even during leisure and rest and refreshment, however, we need to be battle ready and ever vigilant because the enemy of our souls is plotting at all times to ambush us. I must be prepared for spiritual warfare in my writing studio in my civilian fatigues as well. We need to keep on keeping on, to persevere through our periods of Faith Fatigue, to stay the course, to press on and obtain the crown of eternal life.

DESIGNER CLOTHES

What shall I wear today, Lord?
I have a closet full of clothes,
but I don't know what I'll face.
What appointments lie ahead?
Shall I wear blue denim or lace?

I just can't decide.
Lord, will You choose
my proper outfit?
I'm sure You will provide
whatever is in vogue and classy.
It will be fine with me.
I know I'll be a hit.

Well, thanks...I guess.
What You chose does match:
military helmet and boots
all in camouflage design,
coordinating accessories,
a belt of truth.
But a sword to use?

I can't really say
that I expected armor!
Something lighter perhaps,
chic and trendy,
even chosen in haste
would seem to have been
more to my taste.

But You know best
what or whom I'll meet
in the marketplace
and on the street
for which I'll need a shield,
breastplate and sword,
out on the field
of my day.

I feel secure now.
Come what may
I'll wear Your battle gear
more proudly than mink or sable
because this ensemble carries
Your designer label!

(Ephesians 6:10-18)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

MY IMPERIAL CHINESE "VAHZ"


When I looked in the packing crate my late husband Ted brought home one day a few decades ago, the contents appeared to be miscellaneous hunks of broken pottery. “Are you headed for the dumpster or the land fill?

 “On the contrary,” he assured me with a twinkle in his eyes. “This is a collection of valuable potential. Just wait and see!” Here's the rest of the story....

At one point in our ministry among international students on university campuses, one of our fellow staff members was a lady of some means who had been a world traveler. Through the years she had amassed many beautiful and expensive art objects. She was now downsizing to an apartment and hired some workmen to help her pack and move. “Be careful! This is fragile!” she shouted—too late—as they attempted to move an over three foot high, extremely heavy porcelain Chinese “vahz” (it was too elaborate and costly to be called a mere “vase.”) 

It had a massive lid which itself weighed about thirty pounds topped with a ferocious looking Chinese lion with its front paws on a ball in a traditional oriental pose. Despite the weight of this art object, it stood on only three claw-like legs with two more lions serving as handles on each side. Through careless handling, the lid fell off, the lion broke into pieces, and the entire “vahz” toppled and crashed to the floor.

To compound the grief of the owner of the Ming Dynasty original art object, a genuine registered antique, she had just signed a bill of sale for its purchase by the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. Now it was not only useless but no longer salable. Our friend swept up the pieces and filled a large wooden packing box with the discards. When my husband came by to offer his help in moving, she told him about the sad mishap and asked if he could arrange to have it hauled to the dump. He asked her if he could have the pieces and she readily assented.

In his spare time Ted painstakingly assembled the massive jar like a jigsaw puzzle and realized that although small shards of porcelain were missing, the major pieces were all there. Over the weeks, actually months and with lots of patience, skill, and TLC, he glued it together again with something far stronger than Elmer's glue, and improvised with a filler for the gaps in the object. When completed, although it will always bear the scars of its misadventure, it is nevertheless a beautiful, stately piece of art once more. 

We brought it along with us through the years from house to house wherever we lived in different states across the country. It stands proudly now more than fifty years later in the corner of the entryway to my home, Eagle Summit, in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

You can see the huge hollow capacity when you carefully lift the heavy lid. What did we use it for during the years of our ministry? We would pour a hundred pounds of white rice into it at a time and still there was room—we used a lot of rice for meals in our hospitality ministry among Chinese university students in the various cities where we worked. It was a secure place to store rice and keep it away from mice since the little rodents certainly couldn't lift the massive lid—especially with the scary menacing lion guarding it.

Our classical Ming Dynasty “Vahz” has become a conversation piece with people who ask about and admire it when visiting us. It stands solidly now as a witness of what God can do in our lives no matter how broken and unredeemable we may be or perceive that we are in any areas of our lives. Careless hands may cause our downfall. We may no longer think of ourselves as costly and of worth. Although God created us to be precious vessels in which He wanted to dwell by His Holy Spirit, we still have free will and it can happen that we become marred even while we are in the hands of the Master Potter, in the story in Jeremiah 18. We are not hopeless and hapless. He delights to “make us again” according to His perfect plan with His Tender Loving Care into new vessels of honor.

Our Ming “Vahz” was used to hold “the bread of life.” Rice rather than bread is culturally regarded as the indispensable staff of life among Asian people. Our “vahz” has become a vessel unto honor by virtue of what it contains, symbolizing our Lord Jesus, who called Himself the Bread of Life. The lions on our “Vahz” are an analogy to our Lord who is called the Lion of Judah.

None of us is just plain and ordinary to God. We are not lost in the shuffle of humanity that populates the world. We are not nobodies. He transforms us into living, creative art objects of His own design, fit to display in the Master's Kingdom by embellishing us with the gifts of His Spirit into His own unique designs. We each have our own story of redemption, just as the Ming dynasty artwork all over its round surface tells us stories, if only we could interpret them. 

In its broken condition, our Ming Dynasty “vahz” was no longer regarded as worthy of the Chinese Embassy's museum, therefore no money passed hands for its purchase. It was headed instead for the dumpster—as were we without Christ—but God through Jesus Christ paid a high price for us at the Cross. My husband Ted saw beyond its brokenness and had plans for the redemption of the “vahz.” God's plans for us are for good and not for evil, with a future and a hope.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Out-of-Control House Plant


It was a lovely Mother's Day gift from my Granddaughter, Kara, her husband Brian and their two little daughters...my great-granddaughters. The plant's name was "Tropic Escape Mandevilla" and we got along harmoniously together. 

The new plant provided gorgeous trumpet-like crimson blossoms and all the buds came to maturity and followed suit.  I provided admiration, appreciation, water and nutrition and plenty of full sun in my kitchen window overlooking the valley.

Then it seemed the plant decided that it needed a rest from all that energetic blooming and all was quiet for awhile. Blossoms dried and silently dropped off.

Without any warning my "Mandy" began to sprout long, thin shoots helter-skelter all over the plant. Some stringy-thingys were a foot long, even two feet. When the strings got near each other they naturally entwined. Some approached the venetian blind on the window and started to climb. I wasn't sure whether those stringy shoots were to be cut back or nurtured. I simply didn't know what Mandy wanted to do.

Naturally I Googled for help but the care growing instructions were a little confusing: "Trim back as needed."  Trim back what?  Leaves or stems? Or get my nippers and murder all the stringy-thingys? I'm still not sure. I don't want to hurt Mandy needlessly, nor do I want to just let her grow wild and unmanageable, if it isn't good for her.

Theoretically, I know about pruning in nature. I wrote a blog post about it almost ten years ago when I started this blog with an analogy to our spiritual lives. I believe the principle of pruning applies equally to the blooming plant in my kitchen. However, I'm still in limbo about what I should do with the stringy-thingys on my Mandy. I welcome advice from my blog post viewers!

 
“Every branch that bears fruit He prunes.” No exceptions. That’s what Jesus declared in John chapter 15. 

“But that hurts!” I argue. “Shouldn’t I expect His applause and commendation instead? After all, I'm trying to obey Him. I’m already bearing some fruit.”
That’s the law of the Vineyard. God the Father calls the shots. He is the Vinegrower, the Master Gardener, the Owner of the Vineyard and of the entire Orchard. He makes the rules. If I am already bearing fruit, I will get pruned.


Pruning isn’t punishment. It is Father God’s loving investment in me to move me forward to flourish, to bear still more fruit, then much fruit. But it seems as if in my summit years the pruning is on the increase!
God's pruning clippers are often disguised as adversity, hardship, loss, or detachment from the intrinsically good in order to bring forth the better and the best. Pruning is not willy-nilly child’s play. It must be precisely done by One who knows what He is doing. It requires skill and focused intent and gentle severity. On my part it may involve brokenness. But it is done for my future strength not the temporary weakness that I feel and perceive. God’s intention is to clear away the impediment of dead wood and the wild new shoots that wouldn’t result in sweet fruit.
Rather than resisting Divine pruning, I would do well to lift my branches to Him and welcome His loving, tender cultivation.

PRUNING

I delight to sprout new shoots!
I enjoy loud admiration from others
who try so hard to produce theirs
while I'm always pregnant with potentiality
and effervescent with possibility.

Along comes The Master Gardener

sharpening His nipper-clippers.
He starts lopping off and snipping
my upstart, grand productions.
I cry in agony to see
my precious creativity and spontaneity
treated so shamefully!

"Wild growth!" He proclaims.
"It detours the flow of My mainline life
to useless, spurious shoots."

Selectively, but tenderly, He cuts back
my prized and puffy self-efforts.
Tearfully I watch them fall
and shrivel and wither and die.
I nurse my wounded ego
dismayed to see them go.
But in time I come to see
though reluctantly and painfully
the necessity and joy of submitting
to Divine authority
and providential priority. 

When ripe fruit finally bursts forth
from my remaining main-branch buds,
my strength and vigor thus conserved
God-life surges through my fewer shoots
because The Master Gardener chose
to prune my wild and wayward ways
and perform on me His loving, skillful surgery.




Friday, September 22, 2017

CHECKING MY BUCKET LIST

(Encore post from 4 years ago by request)
Whenever I approach a birthday...and there have been 92 of them...or any other milestone occasion in my life, I take a peek at what may still be on my “bucket list."



 Of course, when I was a child my little toy pail was full of childish wishes


In youth, with stars in my eyes, my bucket held dreams. In adult life it was full of goals and hopes and plans. In prime of life the bucket began to hold some concrete achievements.  

Now in my summit years, I would do well to examine what remains on my bucket list. Is my bucket empty because I've been there and done all that there is to do? Or have I given up on some things that were there from the beginning? Should I still press on to accomplish what's left in my bucket?

I was curious about the origin of the bucket analogy and did some online research. “The Bucket List" was the title of a movie about two terminally ill men and what they set out to do before they died. It came to mean a list of however many things one might want to accomplish before mortality closes the door. 

That is, before you “kick the bucket,” which is a slang term that has come to mean dying. In short, it’s a list, actual or imaginary, that you make of what you hope to accomplish or do or be in your lifetime. But where did the bucket aspect come from? One source traced it to the Middle Ages when hanging was a common form of capital punishment. The victim would be taken to an elevated scaffold with a noose around his neck. He would stand on an overturned bucket or pail. When the bucket would be kicked out from under him, his body would drop, the rope would tighten, and he would be hanged.

In a sense, since a bucket list is a list of goals to achieve or roles in life or places I would like to go, or things I would like to do, I should ask myself, “Who put those items in my bucket? Did I? Or were they the expectations of others?” As a Christian I should ask at any season of my life, “Have I consulted God for the contents of my life bucket? Or am I simply on an ego trip? Are there things that should not even be on my bucket list? Are there important things I have omitted?”

In rural China, I have seen two heavily loaded buckets being carried by one person. A long pole is suspended across the shoulders and two buckets in balance are hung on each end of the pole. 

It might take two buckets to contain all that some of us would like to accomplish in one lifetime. There is nothing wrong with having personal goals and wishes and desires and dreams. It is good and right to fill up one bucket with that kind of list. Nevertheless, I should balance it in the other bucket with a list of God’s priorities and purposes for creating me and calling me to become His child. One bucket may contain temporal desires; the other, eternal values and desires in sync with the will of God.

God isn’t about the business of raining on our parade or taking all the fun out of life. The Scripture declares, “God has given us richly all things to enjoy.” God created the world and everything in it for man and called it “Good.” In the Psalms we read, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Faithful to His promise, the Lord has given me a long lifetime of the desires of my heart. God’s storehouse of goodness and mercies has overflowed to me. Among His many blessings, I have traveled the world, I have served the Lord with gladness throughout the many decades, I have lived to delight in my children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren. I couldn't even count His blessings to me by the bucket—more like by the barrel!

The bucket list of how God wants to favor His children is a lot weightier and richer and a greater treasure than anything we could think of to put on our own bucket list of “to do’s or to be’s.” The nature of God is generosity, always giving us more abundance than we can ask or imagine. 

The question I ask myself is not, Have I accomplished all I want to do from my bucket list?” 

I can’t go wrong with continually praying, “Lord, I want Your will to be done in my life on earth as it is in heaven. If there is still anything left on my life bucket list that would please You, show me how to fulfill it!”

IN PURSUIT OF DREAMS

I still have some dreams, Lord
leftover dreams from early years
just hanging there in midair
whose strings I can't seem to let go
some goals that I can't meet
some desires of my heart of hearts
plans I can't complete.
I wonder now—
were they even meant
for fulfillment?

Perhaps some are my own
foolish fantasies, hot air balloons of self
launched from the platform
of my puny pride. Is my chief distress
that they'll come hissing down
to embarrass me
without accomplishment?

Lord, teach me relinquishment
to cut the powerful strings
of those inappropriate dreams
and self-ambitious things
to let them go and not despair
surrendered to Your sovereign care
and be content to leave them there
sacrificed beneath Your cross
incomplete and unfinished.

Yet—

If perchance the dreams are meant
by Your Divine intent
to come to actuality
for Your glory and not mine
inspire me, enable me, my Lord
to pursue them unrelentingly
if need be
all the way from here to Eternity!