Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pray in the new year!

2:42 p.m. Today's project was to get a bag of dry 15-bean soup mix from Vons, along with many other festive fixings, and get those beans into a soaking bowl overnight. I am in the process of making French Market Soup, a delicious recipe from my beloved friend and spiritual mom Honey Simons, now retired in Oregon.
This soup is part of our mandatory meal for New Year's day, reminiscient of the traditional feasts of other ancient and modern cultures. My late mother always insisted that all southern black New Years' Day rules, regulations, superstitions and old wives' tales be meticulously observed. No wonder I can relate to the feasts of the children of Israel in Leviticus 23!
We used to have ham--symbolizing fatness and prosperity; black-eyed peas standing for coins; collard greens or spinach, a predictor of folding money; and cornbread, because you just have cornbread with a southern meal of this kind. (My dad could not think of a symbol for the cornbread when I called him just a minute ago). The kids were less than enthusiastic, eating one tiny leaf of the greens, and ONE black-eyed pea apiece to keep the peace! They could not believe that we ate those things at home during my childhood. The ham, of course, was always a hit, as were the cornbread and sweet potato pie.
At a loss to have a qualifying, yet kid-friendly meal, I turned to this delicious bean soup recipe. All I'd need to add would be fresh spinach salad and the cornbread, because the soup has pork, every kind of bean, and chicken thighs. It was a hit, and I still serve it every year.
Traditional meals serve up a sense of family and place that we are proud to pass down to our children. I'm not counting on the black-eyed peas for a start to my coin collection, any more than eating greens will line my wallet. The meal I'll serve tomorrow will be replicated all over the South in varying formats, providing humor and fun with the food. "A merry heart does good like medicine," Proverbs 17:22 says, and I'm always ready to make merry!
This year I'll add my own home-canned tomatoes and fresh cilantro. Since 2009 has been an amazing year of the Lord's provision and actively visible handiwork, not only in our garden, but in our finances, acknowledging His goodness with special remembrance today and tomorrow is fitting. Our family is even growing: we ended this year with a new daughter-in-law and two new great-nieces!
I Chronicles 16:34 says, "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! And His mercy endures forever."
Steve, our children, our extended family and I say AMEN!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Put your money where your mouth is

5:13 p.m. Today's project was to make several end-of year small donations to organizations and ministries that I believe are doing important work for health, research, combatting poverty, the preservation of our constitutional rights and freedom of religion.

My priority is to support organizations who preach and uphold the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but not all of my recipients are Christian organizations. Another priority is to fund 501C.3 non-profits, but some donations will not be tax deductible, because the money is used for political advocacy.

As I skimmed through my checkbook, I saw groups we support all year long, year after year: our church, Samaritan's Purse, American Bible Society, Focus on the Family, Prison Fellowship, Paralyzed Veterans, Riverside Police and Firefighters, The Word for You Today, Riverside Life Services, Heartline, Institute for Creation Research, Teen Challenge, the Harvest Crusade, California Right to Life. Like many in our community, we leave bags of clothes out for Lighthouse for the Blind, Vietnam Veterans, and Goodwill. The saddest part of the financial struggles we've endured has been a lessening of our giving for a good part of this year. It's a privilege to be able to contribute once again to causes we believe in. God is so good!

Some donations are intensely personal. Steve and I are very eager to see breakthroughs in Alzheimer's research, so we are sending the Alzheimer's Association a contribution. I'm a breast cancer survivor, so we gave to the Susan G. Komen foundation, and participate in Race for the Cure. As senior citizens who desire advocacy that reflects our faith and moral values, we've joined the Christian Seniors' Association.

American Christians have much to be thankful for, but also mounting concerns about the "free exercise" of our religion as guaranteed to us in the Bill of Rights. Vigilance is needed to preserve our constitutional rights on many fronts today. The American Center for Law & Justice, Pacific Justice Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and Citizens United boldly represent concerned citizens up to and including bringing cases to the Supreme Court. If we feel candidates for office merit our support and represent our views, we give to local, statewide, out-of-state, and national races. We can't be everywhere, but we can send small donations!
Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." But Jesus Himself said in Luke 6:38, "Give and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you."
Is your cause just? Do you want to see the gospel preached? Then help make it happen!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What to wear?

5:32 p.m. Today's project was to go to Glen Ivy Hot Springs Spa south of Corona off the 15 freeway. I had received a gift card worth $100 from Heather and her husband Nick for my birthday in August, but wanted to go over Christmas break.

Nick's mom Kathleen and his younger sister go regularly, so I thought I'd invite Kathleen to go, and Heather, too. Last night, as I looked through the brochure that came with my gift card, my eye fell upon the "What to Bring" section. Bathing suit, pool-ready shoes, towel, and terry bathrobe. Terry bath robe? They had pictures of people in the fluffy white robes like you see in those luxury catalogs that epitomize "the good life." Well, we don't even have a swimming pool, so we only put on those robes when we're in a nice hotel! I called Heather, and she didn't have one either.

What to do? I got up extra early so I could take off for Kohls by 9:00 a.m., giving me an hour before Heather and Kathleen arrived. There in the pajama section were fluffy bathrobes, the kind with the tie at the waist, midcalf length, in both of our sizes. I called Heather and told her that I had the robes, but we'd have to be the "minty-fresh" twins, due to the light mint color of our new poolwear. I hoped those would do!

In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus tells a parable of a king who had filled his banquet hall with guests he called in from the highways and byways when his invited guests refused to come. The wedding hall was filled with guests.

"But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have a wedding garment. So he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?' And [the man] was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
For many are called, but few are chosen."

I doubt that Glen Ivy would have thrown us out for having the wrong shade of terrycloth robe, but we wanted to dress appropriately. (And it turned out that other attendees were dressed in all kinds of cover-ups after all!)

But when it comes to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-9), believers in Jesus Christ will not be concerned about our garments! We, as the bride of Christ, "will be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints."

What is the righteous work required for entrance into Jesus' wedding feast in heaven? Jesus Himself answered the people who asked Him, "What shall we do that we may work the works of God?"

"This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."

I have believed...have you?

Monday, December 28, 2009

What's shiny and red?

7:16 p.m. Today's project was to enjoy a fun day with Steve, so we slept rather late, and then had a nice breakfast after our Bible study and devotion time. Steve watered the garden, and then we left, supposedly to get some grass seed and garden soil at Home Depot on Madison.

Daughter Heather and I had arranged for us to come by and pick up Steve's big Christmas gift which Nick hid in their garage. I had not arranged for in a timely fashion, obviously! It would not be easy to hide his gift, even in the morass of the garage. (Wasn't it just July when we had our $1 garage sale, organized by Mike and Shea?) And when Nick and Heather came over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, they came in one of their cars. My final excuse is that even though I could easily put the gift in my Jeep, I couldn't have easily sneaked out of the house on either of those busy days.
We got our garden soil, and headed over to Heather's. Steve walked behind us into the garage, and voila! Decorated with a big gold ribbon, was his brand new, shiny red wheelbarrow! He was delighted, and surprised by a gift that is sorely needed with all our garden work, as well as for reseeding the front lawn next March. Jesus said in Matthew 16:3, rebuking his listeners for spiritual blindness, "You know how to discern the face of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times." Do we think of the spiritual times we are living in, along with the practical knowledge of planting seasons? Not as much as we should! Nothing much has changed, has it?
I realize now the significance of the wheelbarrow for being so different from Steve's other gifts. It represents action and activity, reminiscent of his career in maintenance! Consider his other gifts: I gave him a digital scrapbook I'd made of our travels to stir up his good memories; Heidi gave him 2 wood construction kits, a car and a ship; he received some Thomas Kincaide jigsaw puzzles, a beautiful puzzle of Da Vinci's Last Supper; and a wooden Tangram set that can make 14 different puzzles.
Do you see a well-meaning, but not-that-fun pattern? Our children, their spouses, my dad and I are all trying so hard to help Steve maintain his cognitive function, from hearts of love and belief in the power of prayer and helpfulness. Are we fighting the inevitable? Are these efforts too pointed? Steve was grateful but looked a bit doubtful, if not overwhelmed, over by the tree on Christmas Day. He hasn't opened even one of the packages, other than looking through the scrapbook. Does he doubt he can finish the kits? Or the puzzles? Does he even think these things are fun?
We all love Steve so much, but there is a temptation to focus on curing or alleviating his condition rather than allowing him to enjoy these years while he can. As a teacher, and more importantly, his helpmeet, I do help him with his learning and memory skills, so he can feel comfortable and appropriate, but I don't want it to turn into "drills for daily living." Lord, show me the way I should go, and our friends and family also!!
Steve and I just got back from watching the fantastic 3-D movie AVATAR, even splurging on popcorn and nachos. It was fun, simply fun--and that's all right, because God, "who gives us all things richly to enjoy," (I Timothy 6:17) made a place in our lives for enjoyment of many kinds.
Even a red wheelbarrow!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Could complain, but I won't

3:57 p.m. Today's project was to serve Steve toast, banana and his meds sitting up on the edge of our bed because he is still sick with the flu-like symptoms he was hit with yesterday. I asked Heidi to save me a seat at 2nd service, because I was running late. No idea what is wrong with him, because he is not sniffling or coughing, and doesn't have a fever.

At church, the congregation received two items of really bad news. The first was that Pastor Chuck Smith, the 82 year-old founder of Calvary Chapel, suffered a mild stroke, but is expected to make a full recovery; we certainly pray that God will continue to use him, a true modern-day apostle of the church. We won't even know how many milllions of souls have been saved worldwide because of his vision , until we enter eternity in Christ! I know of two brand new Calvary Chapels even now: Foley, Alabama, led by Joe Aldrete from our CCMoVal, and Calvary Chapel Kaleo down in Brawley, headed up by our cousin Shane Herman, former head of the Calvary Chapel pastors in Romania. My prayers join those of thousands for Pastor Chuck to enjoy many more good years of ministry!

When I was a baby Christian, I would go up to the listening library at Calvary Chapel Riverside (now Harvest) and listen to Chuck 's sermon tapes. One I will always remember is from Ephesians 2:8-10, entitled "His Poema." The passage says, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship --poema, in Greek--created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (KJV) So precious is our callling as believers, shown to us by faithful teachers of His Word!

The second near-tragedy concerns a newlywed couple who were carjacked on their own driveway at gunpoint when they returned from a family Christmas celebration. They then had everything of value that they owned burglarized from their home along with their car. Praise God that they are okay! What will our young couple do now--to barely start out in life and have to start over again already! If I know our church body, they will be helped back onto their feet; if I know my God, those two will be comforted, blessed and joyful, because God has already "stretched forth His hand against the wrath of their enemies and His right hand saved them" (Psalm 138:7). Verse 8 is one they can tell one another: "The LORD will perfect that which concerns me: thy mercy, O LORD, endures forever: forsake not the works of thine own hands." And, Jesus says in Hebrews 13:5: "I will never leave you nor forsake you." Now that's the Word!

I've been doing Steve's chores the last two days, and getting a bit behind on my own tasks, but I certainly won't complain of inconveniences when others are suffering actual near-fatal losses at opposite ends of life. Steve will recover, and our routine will get back to normal, or I believe it will...but do any of us have that guarantee? Of course not.

Guess I'll just go with Hebrews 13:5!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Go or No go?

4:09 p.m. Today's project is to get the Jeep packed with Steve's and my white elephant gifts, the wrapped 1/2 pints of spiced yellow tomato jam I made for the family, and go to his older brother's home for a post-Christmas get-together. With Larry's current state of Alzheimer's, needing living assistance and no longer able to speak at the age of 57, this will be the last Christmas he'll enjoy recognizing famliy members. How I wish we the celebration could have been on Christmas Eve, as our family had all planned on! But at least Steve and I will go for dessert and games, because our kids all have other plans set a long time ago. We as Christians need to be "as good as our word," because Jesus said in Matthew5:37, "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' "

After an amazing Christmas Day full of family, gifts, a 4-course Mexican dinner headed up by Marisela, Kriss' wife, and a fun game of "Things" with all of the young people, I was the "last
(wo)man standing," cleaning my kitchen, setting up the vitamins and the morning's coffee. My bedtime was somewhere around 2 a.m., but we had no event to get up for. Steve let the dogs out around 8, crawled back into bed, and then we started the day as we always do, with our devotions, at 10:00.

Youngest son Steven went to a meeting with his bodybuilding diet coach, so we talked when he returned from Hemet. I felt led to ask Steven a question that had been kind of "rumpling around" in my spirit the last few months, ever since I saw his ministry to the youth in Fresno, and which had intensified when he revealed that he has been given the gift of healing: "Do you think that God has called you to full time ministry?" After all, everything but his church work has been an extreme struggle and characterized by lack: funds for school, clients at the gym, making his rent with two jobs, soon to be three. It's been one roadblock after another!

He said, "I hadn't thought of it." But speaking from experience, I countered, "Whether you think about it or not, God just goes upside your head and tells you what He wants you to do--quietly, but firmly. He decides, and He'll let you know." Steven pondered and then said, "I know God wants me to help people [as a physical therapist]..." "I'm not seeing any contradiction there," I replied. "Just pray about it." He went out to visit old school buddies, and will be leaving for Fresno late this afternoon.

Meanwhile, Steve was watching a Christian humor video, then helped me clear out a cupboard we think may have roaches--eww--and then said he wasn't feeling well, and went to possibly throw up. He then crashed and slept a few hours. I called his older sister and said we might not be there, and I'd know by 6 p.m. If we eat later, it will be some non-spicy chicken I'm baking right now. So I'll see shortly if Steve's dizziness goes away. Oops! He just threw up!
No matter what may be planned by humans, God chooses when to disrupt the plan and teach a lesson with it! Many times, I'll suspect what the disrupted plan is meant to convey; sometimes it's so direct that I can't miss it; other times, I won't find out until later; another time, the lesson wasn't even for me; still another time, I figure I won't find out until I get to heaven! Since I currently don't know why we are being prevented from attending this family gathering, I'll just be at peace knowing what Job says about God in Chapter 9:10-12:
He does great things past finding out;
Yes, wonders without number.
If He goes by me, I do not see Him;
If he moves past, I do not perceive Him.
If he takes away, who can hinder Him?
Who can say to Him, 'What are you doing?'
We won't be at the family gathering, but we'll have a few moments to see Steven off, and pray for his trip and eventual ministry! I think this is a good day to agree with God's plan--like it is every day!

Friday, December 25, 2009

They'll be home for Christmas

2:53 p.m. Today's project was to welcome the kids home with their spouses, and bless our daughter Heidi who lives with us at home. Since there are no little ones getting up at 6 a.m. and madly careening down the stairs any more, I slept until 7 o'clock, and Steve until 8.
Lots to do--devotions and prayer first, and then posting Psalm 34:8: "Oh taste and see that the LORD is good." I had to make up waffle batter, get my preassembled breakfast casserole into the oven and the bacon fried for a 9:30 breakfast, expecting Kriss and Marisela in from Long Beach by 10. Heather and Nick popped in a tthat time, as did my dad, so we had a breakfast together and visited. By 11:30, The LA Co. contingent arrived, with tons of fixings for a complete Mexican dinner.
We all received very thoughtful and useful gifts, from a mattress pillowtop pad for Heidi to sailboat and car hobby kits for Steve. I got a candy thermometer--no more waiting for that "soft ball stage!" A desk accessory of lovely cherry wood was a great gift, as was the blue necklace and earrings, and the handpicked goodies in the gourmet basket from Nick and Heather. The sibling gift exchange was very good, with some joke gifts, but all useful.
Sean came later, but he was very much a part of things right away. He and my dad have always been close, dating back to the days when I was a single mom and we lived with my dad. After opening his gifts, Sean and grandpa sat down right away to catch up. His sons Adrian and Xavier called to wish me Merry Christmas, and I was able to make plans to see them when they get back from Louisiana. I'm glad my daughter-in-law can take them to see extended family, since her mother Mary died in March, and there is a real hole in all of our lives now. But Booker, Kippy's dad , is doing well with the support of his church family.
Heidi is spending time this aftrnoon at Pavel's eating a Romanian stuffed grape leaves dish that took his mom all day yesterday to make. Funny about this season--
we cooks and bakers have all got very worn and dried up hands from washing pots, pans, and cookie sheets! But the results are so pleasing! Heidi will be back soon for Marisela's tamales.
Hard times have not skipped over our family. Most of the kids have good employment, and Sean is starting an auto repair business, so we are grateful for God's provision! "O fear the LORD, all you His saints! For there is no want to them who fear Him," Psalm 34:9 reassures believers.And God graciously covers the ones who've strayed from Him, in honor of our prayers.
There is no god like our God, all day, every day, but I feel especially grateful today, when I celebrate the day when "love came down. "

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Let's make the best of it!

12:50 p.m. Today's project was, and continues to be, to make the dishes we most enjoy on Christmas Eve, send plates of cookies and fudge out to neighbors and friends, and make the best of a huge letdown for our family.

We will be experiencing a very different Christmas Eve this year, because we won't be heading down to Orange with our dishes, treats and white elephant gifts as we have done for 28 years. We normally attend 5:00 service, and then enjoy an hilarious late evening with Steve's extended family at his late mom's house, now owned by a nephew. Circumstances came up that I only heard about on Tuesday, unleashing a torrent of phone calls back and forth, hurt feelings, attempts at changing the venue, and finally acceptance that all of us we won't be getting together. Pavel was looking forward to meeting everyone, and they him, but it will have to wait until another time. My kids are not able to make the substitue Saturday night gathering because of work schedules and other commitments. Steven will be back in Fresno by then.

I Corinthians 10:13 says, "No temptation has overtaken you except that which is common to man, but with the temptation, God will make a way of escape;" and Jesus promised us in John 16:33, NLT, "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world."

Our trial is minor compared to families I know who lost loved ones this year, others who've lost their homes, or those who have no family to be with at all. So the temptation and trial for us to overcome is allowing initial shock, disillusionment and anger to turn into bitterness and lingering resentment. Steve and I are challenged to model a trusting, God-honoring spirit for our grown children that doesn't deny the facts, but accepts and makes the best of those facts.

We are even now feeling joyful at a Christmas eve with our own kids! Last minute food prep, icing cookies, Steve walking the dogs and a few more presents for me to wrap caused this beautiful day go along fine, and the garden even yielded some fresh cilantro for the chili. I got a call that our doctor prepared a letter we had requested about Steve's condition; and the homemade toffee a friend makes in Oregon arrived, to be frozen for my daughters' birthdays in February. I talked with my dad, very much alive and well, who'll join us tomorrow.

That's a lot of praises for today, and I'm sure the service at church tonight will be glorious! The enemy can aggravate us and tempt us to forget what Christmas is ultimately about, but no victory for him today, because we will have a blessed day in the Name of Jesus!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

All creation sings

7:14 p.m. Today's project was to go to Long Beach's Aquarium of the Pacific with Steve, Heidi and Pavel. After giving out Christmas presents to the hairdressers who have been so helpful with my Mary Kay business, and sampling Irene's dynamite spicy deviled eggs, I was ahead of my 10:30 deadline to be home. Steven, who had arrived from Fresno during the night, called, asking me to stop off and get him several dozen eggs and some chicken. Since Pavel hadn't arrived yet, I went to Ralphs.

All went speedily and at amazing prices, until I got in line behind two tatoooed, bald, mean- looking young guys. "No problem,they're customers like anyone else," I thought. Was I wrong! The shorter of the two was trying to use "my kids' mom's credit card," he told the clerk, who replied that even if they had ID and it was his card, it had a zero balance when he ran it through the machine! Then out came the F-word and whining to the effect of, "It's for my kid!" but the burly clerk held firm, pleasant, but not budging. A female clerk probably would have called over a manager, but this gentleman had the situation under control, and the two guys left. I prayed for the safety of all concerned, and checked out, headed for home.

It's a shame to see bullying, whether in families or by hoodlums, but God's justice won't stand for it: "God is an honest judge. He is angry with the wicked every day. If a person does not repent, God will sharpen His sword; He will bend and string His bow. He will prepare His deadly weapons and shoot His flaming arrows." (Psalm 7: 11-13, NLT)

A more enjoyable aspect of our loving God is one that the four of us reveled in today at the aquarium--Creator of the universe! From the great blue whale pictured on the brochure cover above, of which a life-sized replica hung from the ceiling) to minute jellyfish and newborn seahorses, all of the biomes spoke of God's detailed and beauty-creating hand. Genesis 1:21 says, "God created great whales, and every living creature that moves, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind..." I said to Steve as we watched tiny sharks squirm inside their bone egg cases, with one side made of CLEAR bone, enabling us to see them, "You cannot look at this and tell me there is no God!" The huge variety of creatures displayed in this relatively small aquarium was mind-boggling. Think of what kinds of life, discovered and still undiscovered, are in the vast oceans!
Amazing as the creatures of the oceans may be, varied beyond human comprehension, think of the even vaster heavens! Psalm 19 says, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork."
Yet God has time for me, for Psalm 20:6 says, "He will hear from His holy heaven, with the saving strength of His right hand."
God has time for you, too!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Stir it up!

5:22 p.m. Today's project was to roll out, cut and bake our traditional frosted Christmas cookies. Six other kids of cookies and peanut butter fudge are finished, but this cookie is the one that gets our artistic juices flowing! I have to say that it went really well, not a single burned or raw one in the dozens! Thank you, Lord! He is so faithful, even in relatively trivial matters, although giving joy, creativity and good taste to family and friends is not a small matter, in my mind.

Heidi tinted the frosting --only real butter, buttercream frosting for this season--and kicked off the decorating with a character from her favorite cartoon, Sponge Bob. A big star cookie with a fat point was perfect for the character Patrick. Pavel made a nicely decorated star, and they added striped candy canes and a small Christmas tree. My favorite is the little church pictured here! Only 40+ cookies to go--time to call the neighbors over to do some decorating, our annual, ongoing "make and take" party. I have a commitment from Heather and Nick to come over tomorrow and do 10-15. Steve, Heidi, Pavel and I are slated to go the the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, so I'm personally running out of decorating time.

I often hear ladies say, "I'm not a baker!" as if that's a serious deficiency. Many women aren't, probably because their moms didn't bake, or never passed on their skills to their daughters. (In part, that's why we enjoy the Heart to Home ministry at church each year, where women can learn a variety of home arts. ) But think of it this way: I'm not a massage therapist with the healing hands of Kim and Shirley at Dr. Pena's office; nor am I a photographer like my Heather, a banker, sculptor, doctor, mechanic, interior decorator or professional athlete! God has given His people varied talents, and all have significance in His economy. No one is without usefulness in the kingdom of God!
The key is to diligently seek the gift the Holy Spirit has for you, and obediently use that gift to bless others! In II Timothy 1:12 Paul says, "Stir up the gift of God that is in you by the laying on of my hands." You may earn a living using your gift, if you are fortunate; my gifts tend to cost time and/or money but give back tons of enjoyment to myself and others and, I pray, exemplify a scriptural truth along the way.
Using your gift to its God-given extent will cost you education, time, money, effort, maybe a move to another locale, or a change of your living status. Failures, like bad batches of cookies, will occur. Scrape 'em into the trash, learn from your mistakes, make a call to find out how to "fix it," and keep on going! Know who you are in Christ, and remember that "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." (Romans 11:29)
As you stir up your gift, may it be a sweet savor to the Lord!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Heidi's heart

2:18 p.m. Today's project was to mix up a very complicated batch of caramel cookies, with homemade caramel, no less! It is Heidi's first official day off as a teacher, and she helped me with the first couple of steps.
Much as I love to cook and bake with my daughter, Heidi is taking on an much more meaningful task today, that of taking her dad Christmas shopping. When I gave her the cash, it was a bit awkward and could seem self-serving, but Steve would not want to leave his wife without a gift under the tree from him for the first time in 28 years. So they are now out together at Target, looking to spend a very modest amount for a gift Steve can choose himself.
Heidi, the elder of my two daughters, and the one who still lives at home, is also the most responsible and pennnywise of our five children. This makes her a good insurance and pension beneficiary, and she will be our executor when we finalize a living trust (wise for those of modest means as well as for the wealthy!). As a Sunday school teacher she has a Holy Spirit anointing for making the word applicable to 10-11 year olds; as a public classroom teacher, she is very structured in her thinking. She also has a very great affection for family and family traditions!
As recently as three months ago, Steve was able to drive to specific locations, like the two Ralphs stores near us, Petco on Van Buren, Ace Hardware in the Woodcrest area, and to Saturday morning Bible study at church, by himself. I had begun doing the driving for freeway trips and vacations, because traffic was getting very stressful for him, and not knowing where he needed to turn, or not remembering our destination, made for too many sudden, dangerous lane changes. When he rear-ended me at a stop sign in Long Beach, Steve voluntarily said it was time for him to stop driving. It was a big loss, not having my husband drive as he always had, but we are safer on the road now, even though I've been known to make a few zany moves myself!
When the Social Security administration made me Steve's financial guardian, I knew it was also time to have him just go with me to the store, another blow to his independence. But his attitude has been good, even relieved, the same as when he lost his last job and said, "I won't be working any more." Truly a great burden and strain was lifted from him that day. And far be it from me to add any more stress, when just daily living is very hard for him now. Our whole family is pulling together to support Steve, because my children take "Honor your mother and father" (Exodus 20:12) very seriously!
Heidi was the first girl born on the Kruckenberg side in a generation, and her arrival was feted with huge baby showers. My late mother-in-law and Auntie Doris went to "Germantown" in Orange County for a genuine dirndl jumper for Heidi. [We have a cute portrait of the two of us, with me in a matching jumper I created, still in the living room]. She and Steve have always been very close. It's been a privilege to watch this little doll grow up to serve Christ, her family, and children on both sides of the Border. She is a faithful and loyal friend to scores of Christian young adults, as well as a fixture at Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night Bible studies. With her good sense and consideration for others, I knew she'd make the time for her dad today, and they just got back, full of secrets, and ready to wrap!
Psalm 127:3 says, "Children are a heritage from the LORD; the fruit of the womb is a reward." I surely agree! One day Heidi will become a "joyful mother of children" herself. (Psalm 113:9) I can't wait!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bleached or unbleached?

2:06 p.m. Today's project was to participate in a marvelous worship service today at church, and sing with full abandon as our worship team led us in Christmas carols and "hymns and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19a) that give us comfort and cheer all year long.

We had noticed on our way to Calvary Chapel that the westbound 60 freeway was backing up badly, due to an apparent paving or patching job going on. So Steve and I determined to get the flour I needed at WalMart on Moreno Beach Drive after church, and then come home to Riverside on Alessandro, gas up the Jeep for the week, and stop by CVS to pick up his Aricept Rx and get pictures printed of Pam's birthday breakfast.

I'm not a poor kitchen manager, just today running out to get flour. I had had misgivings since yesterday about the sugar cookie dough I put to chill in the fridge. I had bought King Arthur white, unbleached flour, a very good brand, expecting that it would be a pale ivory (in contrast to the bright white of the bleached kind). Instead, while it was as light and fluffy as white flour should be, this unbleached flour looked more like whole wheat without the texture of the bits of germ! [No objection to whole wheat--that's only kind of rolls or bread I ever make!]

Since I already had the sugar and butter creaming in the KitchenAid, there really was no turning back, and I had two other kinds of cookies to bake. I wouldn't have been so short of time--in my hurry-up world, that means only having 3 hours!--if I hadn't enjoyed a nice relaxed visit with my Mrs. Heather Love at her house, where I'd dropped off Steve's Christmas surprise to be hidden in their garage. So I wrapped up the double batch of cookie dough in my this-year's favorite baking product, Reynold's non-stick foil, and put it in the fridge. I did use the unbleached flour in my pecan-jam cookie bars, which cooked up to a delicious light beige color, and made another 3 dozen mint meringues.

Back and forth my brain went as I got ready for church this morning, from the sensible "just use it, the frosting will cover up the cookies and they'll probably taste better" to the perfectionist nitpicky "Sugar cookies aren't supposed to be brown!" On and on, round and round I went. Caving to the fear of unlovely cookies, I bought the bleached flour today. I froze yesterday's batch for future use and the new batch is chilling in the fridge. Weak sauce, as the kids would say, letting tradition rule the day!

This is the kind of thing I torment myself with, go to the right, or go to the left, bleached or unbleached flour... It's a good thing the Lord has given me a strong measure of faith for things of eternal significance: the salvation of souls; praying for my husband's well-being, even healing; energy and means to help the hurting; encouraging and exhorting my now-raised children; studying and teaching His Word; standing for what is right in civic matters; "giving a cup of cold water" (Matthew 10:42) in Jesus' Name to whomever requires refreshing.

We all have a silly streak, and undoubtedly waste time on temporal activites and undertakings that Solomon calls "vanity" in Ecclesiastes. And believers know, as II Peter Chapter 3 proclaims, that "it's all gonna burn." But God knows our frame. He remembers what we're made of--dust, easily blown around! (Psalm 103:14 paraphrased)

Only what we do for Jesus Christ will stand the test of time!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Breakfast for nine

4:45 p.m. Today's project was to meet up with eight of my sisters in Christ at Mimi's to honor our friend Pamela Judge on her birthday. She was completely surprised to see all of us and her big pile of colorfully wrapped gifts.
Most of us have gotten to know Pam after she developed cancer, and became part of a group from Calvary Chapel Moreno Valley who take her to the many appointments scheduled for her. There have been a number of destinations, but currently Pam goes daily for radiation at the beautiful Loma Linda facility.
Despite her serious condition, Pam has a wry sense of humor and catches the ironies of daily life. She is soon to be a published author of a short story and poetry collection. At first I didn't know what to expect when I got a call from church, but once we got together, we both enjoyed our visit on the drive back and forth, as well at lunch later on. The dizziness that once plagued her has finally been healed, praise God, so Pam can drive herself unless tiredness overtakes her, which I am sure is a constant battle. She has an eager and willing group of drivers who literally lined up to volunteer for Monday and Wednesday of Christmas week--unbelievable, only possible in Christ!
Pam received some very thoughtful and creative gifts: a handmade card, lap quilt, angel figurine, Thomas Kinkaide puzzle, a puzzle mat, books, Christmas CD, and colorful Christmas socks. One especially cool gift fit Pam's beach -themed apartment perfectly: a bright red beaten metal angelfish table piece. The lip balm and lip mask I gave her will help with the dryness she experiences from radiation treatments.
Our birthday girl was very overwhelmed with the love and friendship she received today, a culmination of the joy and inspiration many of us have received from her, in her battle against late stage cancer. No one knows the exact ending of her story, but I don't know the exact ending of my story either! But in Christ, may it be a story well enacted and told!
In Isaiah 46:9, 10 God says, "I am God and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me. Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.' "
Let God be God, but let us love and serve one another!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The day started off well

3:52 p.m. Today's project was to attend the Moms' Morning Bible study at Charise's home. I had been eagerly looking forward to this, because the young moms are studying a very inspirational Sally Clarkson book on biblical mothering. Joanna and Charise had attended a moms' conference last February and came home inspired to begin the book study. Their weekly gathering is a real answer to months of prayer and planning.
This morning's chapter focused on Proverbs 22 , the training of children from their earliest years. While Joanna opened discussion on verses 6, 15, and 29, her little Emma toddled back and forth, eventually settling nicely at a tot-sized table with her Cheezits. Jason, Charise's husband, along with a babysitter, watched the bevy of little ones for us. But he won't be available for long, because he starts a management job with Starbucks soon! What an answer to prayer!
We began with stating the obvious--that children are immature, and their thinking and behavior reflects that. Foolishness is indeed bound up in the heart of a child, and we parents are to correct it. Period. This is a parent's responsibility; these at-home moms are prayerfully committed to setting a godly example, but they don't have to do it alone. The Lord is with them, and with all of us believers who decide to "go for it!" as Joanna put it, to decide that God is really who He says He is, in any and all circumstances. God also provides flesh-and-blood older moms as mentors and examples, following Titus 2:3-5: "The older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things--that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed." As my young friends walk the walk today in their homes, I am delighted to be able to pray for them, encourage them with humor and love, and not reminiscence too much, I hope!
From Charise's, I headed over to Home Depot on Perris Blvd. to look into a last-minute surprise gift for Steve--a new RED wheelbarrow! $49.97 is pretty reasonable, so I just have to hide it over at Nick & Heather's until Christmas. I'll need to get my inventory out of the Jeep tomorrow afternoon, put down the seats, head on over there, and hide my prize.
At home, Steve and I had a good lunch, I got a little business taken care of, and then headed out to the beauty salon. Though I was expecting a relaxing, 1 o'clock hair color appointment, my hairdresser was met with a buzz-saw of interruptions and late clients, so I had a pedicure next door while my color was "taking", and did not leave for home until a quarter of 4!
Yikes! I still had to get two lemons and do my lemon bars, another family favorite for Christmas. I got Heidi to pick them up, and when we both got home, nerves were raw, and the inevitable back & forth ensued. Poor thing, she did admit tearfully that she was hurt and sad because on a day when teachers were giving each other homemade gifts and treats, she got nothing. It's hard to be the new person, and part-time at that, on a teaching staff. I've been there, and you just have to hold your head up, smile, give out cards yourself, and look to the Lord for other blessings in your life. her students agave her some nice gifts, telling her, "You're an awesome teacher!" Isn't that what counts anyway?
Heidi did get a card from the principal, who in a Grinch-like fashion, told her that she'd now be on the supervision schedule! HELLO? Heidi does not even get a lunch or any prep time for a very demanding remedial curriculum that she teaches after a morning at another school. She is made to teach an extra half- hour that the grade level could do themselves and give Heidi a chance to prepare her lesson. It may be time to pray about talking to the union in January. I don't like their politics, but they do represent their members well.
Meanwhile, back to my day, there was an urgent text from Steven about more ParentPlus loan funds needed for college; an unexpected bill from Mercury car insurance; and the ringer was off of Steve's cell phone, or he could have plucked some lemons from our back yard instead of my having to ask Heidi to buy some! Did I mention dinner? That was a long way off, for sure. And a life insurance agent set to arrive at 7 p.m.!
All has been resolved, including the lemon bars; the insurance agent just arrived; and once again, no matter how agitated I get, God loves me and I realize that "God will perfect all that concerns me."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fresh baked and delivered!

3:24 p.m. Today's project was first, to bake two of our family's favorite Christmas cookie varieties: "Craisin" (dried cranberries)- white chocolate chip-oatmeal, and mint chocolate layer cookies, more like an iced cake cut into squares. The mint-chip meringues are nicely sealed up and tucked away in a 3 section snowman tin. Lemon squares, a new caramel cookie, and Christmas iced cut-out cookies are still to come, but today was a good start!

The next project, somewhat unplanned, was to deliver a box of Harry & David fruit, nuts and cheese to our daughter's and thus our, in-laws, John and Kathleen Love. We had already sent an amaryllis flowering plant from the same company to Nick and Heather, delivered to their doorstep. It's fun to surprise others with packages that say, "Open immediately!" Adds to the general holiday excitement, which I just can't get enough of.

I hastily wrapped the box while Steve put towels and sheets into the washing machine and got into the Jeep. We had had a great day together, keeping busy with me baking and him dismantling the inoperable wheelbarrow with a sledgehammer. I love the way men can work out their energy with that heavy tool. During my three school board campaigns, I enjoyed not only the security of the sledgehammer in my car as I campaigned in all areas of Riverside, but managed to work off my nerves each time I pounded my signs into the ground! Good for building that upper body strength, too. 1992, 1997, 2001--good times, especially since God had called me to that work of ministry to our city's schoolchildren. There were a few scary times, with our family even being threatened, but we stood up even more. For Jesus said in Luke 9:62, "No one having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." Whatever our ministry is, we need to carry it out, see it through!

We made a roundabout trip over to John's house, crisscrossing the railroad tracks in the Jurupa/Streeter/Grand neighborhood, and gave our gift and got to admire two recent wood pieces he had completed, one made of eucalyptus, one of carob. John then showed us how he uses a laser to pinpoint the location of the drill that is hollowing out a pot or jar. "Now we know a secret of woodworking," I joked with him.

Back on the streets at 3:08, we ran into one after school crowd after another all the way home! Horrible traffic on Central until we crossed the 91, when it finally loosened up.I try to get my errands done and get back home by 2:30, to avoid that very situation, but only God controls everything! The best we can do is prayerfully plan and "cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you." (I Peter 5:7)

Earlier in the day, the doorbell rang, and it was our Dewey Pest Control technician here to check the rat traps up in the crawl space. He's done a fine job, and gets over here immediately if we complain of that too-familiar "dead rat" smell. Good thing I had some Mary Kay men's and women's gifts ready to go, because he brought us a Christmas card from his family. It made me think of all those people who make our lives easier and more pleasant, like the newspaper carrier, who gets a gift each Christmas, my speedy and talented hairdresser, who also helps me promote my business. We can each think of those who serve faithfullyand should be remembered at least once a year. As Christians we do give to ministry and missions as our top priority. But the local people we do business with are deserving of recognition too; it's a good witness.
Speaking of a good witness, we were treated to a wonderful Bible study--a live call on speakerphone-- explaining the birth of Christ and how to build your family's Christmas traditions around Him, making Christ the Center of our seasonal activities, at the MK training center in Redlands. Many of the traditions the National Director described were things Steve and I had done with our small children and some, well, it's never too late to start something new, if we can all be in one place at the same time with our kids and their spouses!
I am so grateful for the opportunity and means to give to others, whether my time, gifts, or food, for it is in Jesus' name that I do it. All that I make, bake, or take is from Him--may I always remember James 1:17: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The triple-braided cord

3:46 p.m. Today's project was to spend a quiet day at home with Steve, and get back into the garden. It had been a while since I'd checked on the scallions and tiny flowers, not to mention weeding and thinning out the carrots. A picture of my nephew Jeremy's full-grown beets got me going, but since I planted my winter garden a couple of months after he did, I'd be wasting my time being competitive. But his success does egg me on! I teasingly asked him if he was planning to make sugar or pickle his beets! Or feed them to his nonexistent horse...

While bending over the plants, I was grateful not to have had another attack of the heartburn that kept me up during the night, gasping for air. When will I learn that with a little opening in my esophagus that lets the acid go up into my throat, I shouldn't eat later in the evening, and definitely not overeat as we all did at the Piecemakers'/Mens' study Christmas potluck last night?! There was a great blessing in the fact that Steve went, too, and was very comfortable reuniting with the men, and is excited to begin attending again in January! So we can go on Tuesday nights together like we did before he became uncomfortable about getting sleepy and not being able to follow the discussion. Now that a year has passed, we've made friends with lots of couples through our camping trips, people know about his Alzheimer's and are very helpful. They give him time to get out his thoughts, as well as respect, affection and support. We are part of a fine fellowship at Calvary Chapel Moreno Valley!
Once outside, I remembered that we need to create three more rows in the garden, so we can have a larger, separate area for the varieties of tomatoes we plan to grow. Last summer we were disappointed when the tomatoes completely overshadowed the bell peppers, serrano chiles and watermelon. The tomato vines blocked out any sunlight trying to shine on them! Steve and I went over to Home Depot and picked up 3 cubic feet of garden soil to spread out over the compost aging there. The plan was to have Steve put the 80 lb. package into our wheelbarrow, but he discovered that it was "inoperable," after almost 30 years of use in the yards of our two homes. Poor guy had to actually carry it around from the front driveway to the garden--not easy, but Steve graciously did it.
While he went on his daily walk with the dogs, I did the shoveling duty, glad to see how the partnership of marriage exemplifies cooperation, mutual support, and maximizing each spouse's talents. I design and do "the vision thing" (as President George H.W. Bush called it back in the '80's), and Steve carries out the actions to make the plans reality. Whether gardening or wallpering, we make a good team.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, New Living Translation, "Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken."
Jesus Christ is the third person in every Christian marriage--indeed, as far as I am concerned, He is First!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Your opinion, please!

2:12 p.m. Today's project was to attend a meeting at the Press-Enterprise with fellow Alumnae Panhellenic officers and chairwomen, since I have been appointed Publicity Chair for the next home tour in October 2009. I've held that position before, and it only gets busy in early September, and wraps up by October. If the information is not published in various media by then, it won't get done. Now that word is out that I'm retired, the group's president wasted no time getting me involved in the sorority women's charity, which raises scholarship money for senior high school girls. The group is heading into its 60th year, and I've been involved since 1993.
When I entered the huge, modern new building, I asked for the name I'd been given, and was escorted into the conference room. That's a bit much, I thought, for a meeting about Home Tour publicity with 5 of us and the local ad writer. Well, good thing I wore a nice pantsuit! There were a couple dozen prominent citizens, many of whom I knew, from public education, Cal Baptist, business concerns, and community groups like the downtown museum . I was delighted to chat at length with the retired head of the International Baccalaureate program from North High, who had known Kriss very well, and commented on seeing the notice of his recent marriage in the paper. Linda is just as lively and outspoken as ever, and judging from all the retired talent I saw in that conference room, Riverside will have its share of experienced, opinionated folk to deal with--hope city leaders listen well.
As the staff introduced themselves--V.P. of News, Managing Editor, Designer, and Metro Editor --I thought, they really want to know what we think, bringing out the big guns! So the focus group began. Prototype newspapers were taped on three walls, and we were all given small pads, pens, and the first version.
As a Christian, I do feel torn at times, lending precious hours to public service, since I voluntarily left elected office 4 years ago in favor of devoting time to ministry at Calvary Chapel. I certainly love my fellowship with other believers, not to mention my time at home with Steve, but I am grateful God provides places to use my testimony and reputation to witness for Christ . I don't necessarily get a chance to speak privately with individuals at these events, but when I do, I use the opportunity to share about what I do at church, in answer to the question, "What are you up to lately?" I especially find that sharing about the reason for my retirement makes people think a bit, too, about their own priorities. Or I would hope it does! When it comes to caring for family, scripture is very clear: "If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." (I Timothy 5:8) That's a designation we all want to avoid!
The focus process was explained thus: we would go through page after page of three versions of the P.-E., be shown what is different about each, and fill out a survey. Questions would be kept to the end, so no ideas would influence others. Even the version numbers, 310, 690, or 924, were crafted to be as random as possible, again, to avoid any priorotizing slant, like "1, 2, or 3."
Headings and the rearrangement of local and national news were discussed, mainly because in former surveys, opinion has stated that readers want a local paper for local news, mostly. Ads are mixed in with content, and obituaries are enlarged because they are moneymakers, something I'd not realized. I found all three versions to be a hodgepodge, and never did find the weather page. I have a similar awkward time each morning accessing what I want to read, because the format changes semi-yearly! So I end up reading very little of the paper before I go on with my day.
In the "further comments" area, I did mention content issues: one unflattering photo of a local young ballerina bordering on the obscene--couldn't the photographer have asked her to pose in a more ladylike manner? I also wrote about the lack of mention of a very prominent local college athlete who's about to be drafted into the NFL, a fine Christian young man and best friend of my son Steven. Hey--when you have the ear of a newspaper editor, it's no time to be shy! One content question concerned putting an ad page in between the op-ed and the opinion columns. What sense did that make, when a reader with a taste for those columns would want to consider them all together?
The unexpected thing for me was, that after we finished the survey and the floor was opened up for questions and comments, there was a very loud consensus from all corners of the room that the paper's arrangement is a mess! If the "A" section is headed World and Nation, what on earth is local news doing there? And if labled Local, why is San Bernardino included? (Keep in mind that the paper has four separate versions sent to various Inland Empire locales ). Another complaint heard was the lack of coverage of Moreno Valley or Jurupa.
We were told about the setting of the printing presses and cutting costs, valid points, certainly. But there is no excuse for cutting common sense out of the arrangement of news, even on a limited budget. Attendees probably wouldn't agree on much of anything else, but one thing was clear: if we are to support a local newspaper, it needs to be coherently written.
Some of us have a very high standard of quality for what we read, because we compare all things to the absolute accuracy, correctness, logic and readability of the Word of God. Only the Bible is perfect in every regard--impossible for anyone but God. But scripture is also clear about how people are to conduct their professional lives: "Do you see a man who excels in his work? That man shall stand before kings." (Proverbs 22:29)
Christians are told in Colossians 3:23, "Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men."
That's our standard of excellence!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Verdict: the right thing to do

6:34 p.m. Today's project was to meet my former colleague from Ina Arbuckle Elementary for lunch during her lunch break from jury duty. Cathe's jury is on a long-term trial, so she's had to arrange for a substitute 3-4 days a week for a couple of months now. On the plus side, whereas teachers get a 45 minute lunch, jurors get an hour and a half! So the timing was just right for us to get together for lunch and "chew the fat." I'm pretty close to downtown, so perfect all around.

Cathe and I had hit it off immediately in 2006 when I transferred to the school of my choice, Ina, the closest to my home, just across the bridge from Riverside off Mission Blvd. We had both lost a parent that year, and are just a few weeks apart in age. Along with Jodie, a single young teacher, the three of us formed a close-knit 6th grade team. The two of them brought me up to speed quickly, since I had been out of the classroom in administrative jobs the three years before. 6th grade is a tough group to teach in a low income school, with gangs operating in the surrounding apartment buildings--the older brothers of our students. WE had to be unified in discipline and mutual support!

Monday mornings, staff and students were treated to the weekend's grafitti; district crews were already cleaning it off the walls when we arrived. "WSR" (West Side Riva) was the tag we read most frequently. My first year at Ina, 2006-07, one student actually claimed a gang, threatened other students and Cathe. Thank the Lord, he was expelled. This young man, and other bad actors that have been expelled, whether for terroristic threats, drugs, or weapon possession, are all redeemable and could still turn their lives around completely, "for God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
That was my approach to young people during my teaching career, whether in Christian or public school. What is the greatest need any child has? To know they are loved. Jesus Christ is the "lover of our souls," and the source and foundation of all love in the universe! I have unabashedly shared the Lord, my testimony and our family's life with my public school students, including bringing my children to school to share their talents with my classes. Heather and Kriss shared flute, singing and drums at Pedley. Heidi, who is now a teacher in my beloved Jurupa, subbed at Ina and around the district. Students throughout my school and around the district love her.
The Lord showed me that because I'm a Christian, I am to testify as such, wherever I am. And who needs to hear about the love of Christ more than children from impoverished, unstable homes, often lacking adult support or supervision? I didn't offer altar calls, but actively encouraged believing students to invite others for special activities at their own churches. One boy who'd given me fits, came to school one day, pulled me aside, and asked if he could tell the class what had happended to him at a church retreat the previous weekend. Since we had a "personal experience" essay in the works, I told him to use the retreat as his topic, so he could put his thoughts in order and present it to the class. [I required all students to read their final drafts aloud for a portion of their grade]. The class was silent with awe as he told them, "It was like Jesus was standing right next to me!" He had been filled with the Holy Spirit, and was a changed young man!
The 6th grade social studies curriculum was another gift God gave to the children of California, because a very long section of their ancient history book was devoted to the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity. A prior section on Egypt had wonderful chapters on the Exodus and ancient Israel, including the prophets, the kings, Babylonian captivity and modern Judaism. Passages from the Bible are included in that history book as factual historical documents! My students made reports on the 10 commandments, watched "The Prince of Egypt" and viewed portions of "The Gospel of John" DVD for pertinent historical perspective. I'm confident that my several years' classes of students know that the Bible is true, God is real, and Jesus loves them! What other hope do they have? Or any of us, for that matter?!
People ask me if I miss teaching, and it's a mixed bag for me. Cathe's recounting the acts of little hoodlums, expulsions and internet harassment now prevalent at the 6th grade level make me sigh with relief. But I miss my colleagues and the wonderful children who do achieve and go forward despite the muck surrounding them in the community. I even miss the characters I had to alternately scold and hug, even lay hands on and silently pray for because they had so little self-control. I miss using my Spanish with the parents, too!
As Cathe's and my talk became more personal, she said, "If what's going on with your husband were happening to mine, I'd quit in a heartbeat--no question whatsoever! You did the right thing." It's true, I know it. But loving confirmation from a friend is always welcome, and that's what I received today, along with an update on the zany goings-on in the world of elementary school.
I'm thankful today for the long jury duty that caused Cathe to demonstrate Proverbs 17:17 to me: "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

God's promise

2:11 p.m. Today's project was to get to church on time, after a long and fabulous day of fellowship Saturday and then staying up reading too late--AGAIN! This time it was a Ruth Rendell mystery; last week it was Karen Kingsbury Christian fiction; before that, it was a long string of Amish inspirationals. I guess devouring novels is a tough habit to break when your degree is in English and Spanish literature.

For one class during my freshman year at UCLA, I had to read a book a day! One really builds up speed and "key information skimming" over the decades, making book buying an expensive habit, just to stay stocked up on bedtime reading!

When the alarm went off at 6:50, Steve and I were in denial until 7 and then had to get up. We could have dozed off again until 8 and then gone to 11:30 service, but with Home Fellowship at 5:30, and a 20 minute drive to get there, our afternoon time together would have been severely compressed.

As is often the case when you're tired and lazy, things were out of order. I hadn't made the coffee the night before as usual, so to comfort myself I thought, "Well, it will be fresher this way!" While Steve took his shower, I emptied the diswasher and realized that I'd have to make up our scrambled eggs, not having any ready to go. (I mix up two days' worth of a tasty mix of eggs and all kinds of add-ins, and scramble them very soft--the leftovers microwave beautifully the next day when we might have to go out in the morning). I don't like to have him eat cereal and toast on Sunday morning because he becomes too drowsy; protein holds him much better.

I didn't even have any boiled eggs, which would have tided me over, so I put two eggs on to boil, got my coffee with tons of creamer in a giant Starbucks Hawaii mug and went into the office to have devotions.

When I came back to the kitchen to post today's daily scripture, Psalm 32:23-24, on Facebook, I saw an amazing sight. It was raining while the sun was shining! Always handy with my camera, I filmed it out of our sliding glass door. For narration, I quoted my late mother: "When it rains while the sun's shining, the devil's beating his wife!" My younger sister and I would say, "Mommy, the devil doesn't have a wife!" I have no idea how we knew that, but Jesus did say in Mark 12:25 that angels don't marry, which would include evil angels, I'd say. Mommy would answer, "That's just an old Southern superstition!"

Steve had come downstairs in time to see the strange sight, and then went ahead and let the dogs out while I posted the video on my FB profile page. When he went out front to get the paper, there was a rainbow! Another dash for the camera. "The early bird gets the worm," (or footage), another old adage says, because I got a pretty good picture of the rainbow from our front porch. All of this took place before 8 a.m.

I cooked our eggs, we ate, I read the funnies, and had to step on it to get ready for church. Amazingly, we got there early, despite all the self-generated setbacks and antics I had participated in this morning--God is so merciful!

In Genesis 9:8-17, God established a covenant with Noah after the flood, setting His rainbow in the clouds. vv. 14-15 say, "And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh."

But do not get too comfortable, if you don't know the Lord! There won't be a flood--it's fire next time! 2 Peter 3:10 promises, "The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also, and the works that are in it will be burned up."

And here is the apostle's question that every person must answer for themselves: "Seeing that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking forward and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?"

I have an answer--confess your sins and accept Christ as your Savior today. There is no reason to wait, and definitely no time to lose! Please let me know if you want to make this decision.

Believers count on God's promises for so much of our daily lives. But here's the great promise our portion of 2 Peter closes with, after the most dire of warnings:

"Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. "

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Serving up sisterhood

4:22 p.m. Today's project was to assist two very dear hostesses--my daughter Heidi and friend and fellow Piecemaker Vicky Dunn--in blessing special sisters in our fellowship. I was truly honored to participate in celebrations at two ends of life: Shea Sheppard's bridal shower, and a Christmas dinner for our church's widows.

Shea has overcome serious struggles including lack of a home, job, and at one point, transportation. Steve, Heidi and I welcomed her into our home earlier this year, and we have benefitted from her sweet and humble attitude, hopefulness and trust in the Lord despite grievous trials. Oddly, we have had a very serious year of material lack ourselves, making us an illogical choice for a boarder who couldn't contribute financially! But man's wisdom cannot account for the work God intended to do in our circumstances. Eccelsiastes 11:5-6 says," you do not know the works of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not withhold your hand; for you do not know which will prosper..." Honestly, we did not know what to expect--but God did. He counted us faithful, and rewarded us accordingly, meeting our needs and more.

Today finds Shea one month away from her January 9th wedding to a wonderful young man, Mike. She has a new full time job, transportation, and is ready to begin a home of her own! God is so good! Proverbs 3:5 says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not upon your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths."

My daughter, Shea's maid of honor, organized an elaborate bridal shower, with loads of luncheon dishes, very clever games, and a loving welcome for everyone. Shea's future sister-in-law Melodie opened her lovely home, and Bea, Mike's mom, made a delicious punch and kept a good eye on baby Eva. I was able to help out as needed, which is fun for me anytime!

Thoughtful, funny, and outrageous gifts piled up, the bride is off to a good start, and we rejoice with her!
On to the evening! The "kitchen help" for the Widows' Might Christmas dinner is my peer group, the Piecemakers, lovers of home arts and the backbone of women's ministry. Vicky, Jill, Debbie, Barbara, Linda H., Christine, Linda D. and Stacy were busy getting salads on the table when I arrived--mistakenly thinking that the dinner began at 7 p.m., and that my 6:15 arrival time was for prep! Oh well...I had lingered at home to get Steve situated and see Heidi in the new dress we picked out for the Young Adults' formal dinner at church, also tonight. I put my cape and purse down and helped carry plates with everyone else. The widows, who ranged from middle-aged to elderly, looked festive and table conversation was lively. Vicky wore a vintage 1920's dress and her home was decorated in warm, artistic detail, true to form!.
We probably had "too many cooks" in the kitchen, but our tasks flowed smoothly and we even had time to eat some yummy salad and entrees after our precious guests were served. I do love these sisters of mine, and the support we give one another. We were laughing so raucously that our dinner guests wondered if there was a separate party going on! "It's just the help enjoying their Christmas!" I yelled back. If I might steal the cheer from North High football, "Ain't no party like a Husky party!Woo woo woof!" I say,"Ain't no party like a Christian party!" and I mean it.
There is no joy like the joy of a people who are saved, washed in the blood of the Lamb, who know their God and proclaim it among themselves and to whoever else will listen. When Jesus is in the midst, it doesn't matter if you're washing dishes, clearing plates, taking out trash or struggling with a sluggish coffeemaker, it's all good; in fact, God Himself calls it good. In Psalm 133:1 His Word says, "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for the brethren to dwell together in unity."
We sisters dwell together pretty "good," too!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Together one day

3:55 p.m. Today's project was to join the body of believers at Calvary Chapel Moreno Valley to say goodbye to John Ladd, a stalwart and steadfast servant in our church.
After an appointment with my hairdresser's for a shape-up, I drove out to Moreno Beach Drive in the light rain. Although there is certainly no more sadness for John, the dreary dark day suited the mood I was in. I couldn't help but think about other memorials I'd attended in the last year, one a baby a little over one week old with massive birth defects, a beloved middle-aged wife and mother taken away shortly after an illness. And John was only two years older than I am when he suddenly died of a heart attack last week!
Both life and death are in God's hands, a fact that gives believers in Christ great comfort. We also tend to ponder the apostle's exhortation in 2 Peter 1:10, "be diligent to make your call and election sure." John's widow and children are definitely sure that John was born again, loved and served the Lord and others with all his heart, much as they feel his absence. Debi, John's wife, went with her husband as an ambulance took him away; she left the hospital a widow.
Several reminisces were shared with the large congregation, of a man who took the time to coach and love a neighborhhod boy whose home had fallen apart; the diligence John practiced to set up their chairs, pray for, and greet the men at Tuesday night's men's Bible study. Hilarious pictures were shown and stories were told that gave us all a picture of a fun-loving dad, grandpa, and dedicated friend. We were reminded that the Christian life, though a privileged one for those who serve, is not "all work and no play." Good humor and plenty of adventure characterized John for all who were close to him! I wish I had had the chance to know him better.
Why are wonderful believers taken away? Why do the wicked prosper? That question has been asked and still cannot be answered by us mere humans, centuries after David wrote, in
Psalm 73 : 12,13, 16, 17, 27a, 28:
"Behold, these are the ungodly, who are always at ease; they increase in riches. Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence...When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me--until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end...for indeed, those who are far from You shall perish...But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all Your works."
Additionally, Isaiah 57: 1b-2 says, "Merciful men are taken away, while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil; he shall enter into peace..." We are marvelously comforted by scripture, and daily praise God for His Word, but we still have no answer to the ultimate question of why good people are taken from us--only God does.
Mercy Me has a song with these lyrics: "In the blink of an eye, that is when I'll be closer to You than I've ever been. Time will fly, but until then, I'll embrace every moment I'm given. It's the reason I'm alive, for the blink of an eye."
John Ladd embraced every moment he was given, to the glory of God.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wrapping it up

3:42 p.m. Today's project was to delve into our closets and collect coats, gloves, knit caps, sweaters and heavy shirts to donate to g
Goodwill downtown. We had received a bag and collection slip from a group we always donate to, the Vietnam Veterans, but their collection date is the 23rd, too late for the poor and homeless to benefit from coats in this cold snap. We'll give them a bagful of other items when that date arrives, and I posted their card prominently on the "business center" at the end of my counter.

It's always fun to reminisce about the era of my old coats and sweaters, and I treated myself to memories today, of a size 8 younger self that could fit into a gaudily decorated teacher's Christmas jumper just ten years ago... I would have preferred to give it to my teacher/daughter Heidi, but she has shrieked at the sight of it more than once, like, "how could you be seen in that?!" Ditto for my even more outrageous Christmas sweater, too big for me even now, that should allow the next wearer to put on a few layers under it. A more toned-down Christmas sweatshirt went into the box also. I still wear Christmas clothes and jewelry, let it be noted!

One very presentable coat is made of really heavy denim, wool lined, knee length with both zipper and toggle buttons. That coat has taken me into the mountains with Steve and the kids, and to every single Easter sunrise service for the last 25 years. The weight of it alone has caused it to stay in the closet downstairs the last few years, because warm and weight are no longer synonymous in this era of new lightweight, but cozy fabrics. Sigh...the passing of yet another era, my young motherhood years.

Fast forward to today, after our return from the Goodwill. I was looking looking for a project Steve could do independently so I could work on the computer and then go out to the garden. I showed him some small "white elephant" gifts, as well as gifts for the kids, and mentioned that the wrapping paper was located in the office catch-all closet (where he had stored it recently). While opening the metal closet door, he cut himself , so we got a tiny bandaid and went back to the table where I'd placed everything needed to get the job done. (Steve had been unable to find the Christmas bags or paper). Tape, scissors, pens for the name tags, all ready to go.

After several minutes, and my stopping by the table several times to unearth the items he needed out of his jumble, I heard a tearing noise, and Steve's frustration was painful to watch. This from the man whose gift wrapping skills were legendary--his perfectionism gave our family creatively decorated gifts under the tree every year. Oddly, Steve had wrapped two very large and awkward "white elephants" for Home Fellowship just two days ago! I quickly wrapped the gifts myself while he did some cleaning, so it was not a big deal. We then went out to walk the dogs, enjoying the cool breeze, togetherness, and the personalities of Bailey and Jada, frustration and irritation forgotten!
What a thief Alzheimer's is, as my old friend Honey Simons once said. It's tragic evidence of the fallen world we live in as well.

Jesus said in John 10:10, speaking of the devil, "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy." How well we know that in our home, where Steve has been robbed not only of memory, but of initiative, originality, perseverance and the ingenious solutions that he was known for in the workplaces and lives of so many people. The frustration has left him a virtually humorless shell of his real self, and an anxious, hunted expression has replaced the bright and inquisitive expression in his eyes. Gone is the joy in teaching the kids skills and the confidence in his ability to troubleshoot any mechanical problem he was presented with.

Steve and I still have a lot of fun together, and a thriving personal companionship that transcends mental processes. We pray and share the Word together, and he works very hard to participate in our Home Fellowship and family times. I noticed how hard he tries to stay engaged, even at the grocery store, as he helped me look for bubble gum today. He reads labels of products before putting them in the cart, whereas I just toss things in and am on to the next thing simultaneously. I was delighted to see him get a plastic produce bag open after just a little while, and he selected his own bananas. Even now, Steve lit the gas barbeque for his favorite meal, hamburgers!

As I go out after dinner to make sure the gas is turned off, I will be grateful that we have a long and happy marriage, and that God has given us the courage to go into a devastating future together in faith, and has provided all that is required to do it.
Philippians 4:19 says, "And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Faith is the language spoken here in this house--we believe, and we receive, all our needs daily. Verse 20 goes on to say, "Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A needle sticks to ministry

4:52 p.m. Today's project was to sleep in until 8 o'clock, because I'd been up until 11:30 last night, filling out financial aid paperwork online for Steven, and taking my mint chocolate meringues out of the oven.

I got Steve up and going, and we both had our morning devotions. No breakfast for me, not even creamer in my coffee, because a life insurance medical examiner was due at 10:00 to take blood and a urine sample for my application! She'd have a scale in tow as well, I bet, so the pressure was on to dress light and weigh as little as possible!

Not anyone's idea of a fun morning, but very critical for me. I'd been having months of disappointment in qualifying for insurance since I retired from the school district. Leaving the teachers' union meant leaving my life policy of $100,000, pretty much a minimum as it was, with Steve unable to work. I'm not getting any younger, either. I was persuaded by Select Quote's ubiquitous radio commercials to apply with them, but it took months for them to contact my doctor, surgeons, and oncologist from my 2003 bout with breast cancer. The lump was barely a millimeter in size, removed within 2 weeks of discovery--praise God for our HMO-- and every test since then, blood or mamogram, had come back negative. Last spring I had even had a thorough medical exam with fluids, taken for Select Quote.

The company they chose, West Coast Life, finally offered me a "rated," or more expensive policy with a company that drew the "survivor" line at seven years, when five years is considered a survivor for non-recurring cancer.

(Sorry about all these details, but I was a life insurance agent myself with Connecticut General, before getting saved and becoming a Christian school teacher in 1980).

I was pretty resigned, until the Lord had an agent contact us over Steve's policy. The agent came over, and I brought up my own quandary at the end of the appointment. Sean (the agent) quickly took my app, and I'm now on track to get life insurance at a standard--healthy people's--rate!

Psalm 28:7 says, "The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him and I am helped." Help is on the way!

About 9:50, there was a furious pounding at our bedroom door, but I couldn't answer because I was indisposed and the radio was blasting. I opened the door and looked downstairs to see Sherry, an examiner who's been to our home several times for assorted insurance brokers. Kind of a good, pleasant, people-oriented job, don't you think? And you could make your own hours for appointments, too. But I digress. I called out, "The appt. is for 10:00 and I timed myself for that," and she cheerfully answered, "It's 9:56." "So I have 4 more minutes," I laughed.

We caught up, talked a bit about Steve's plight and my retirement, and then proceeded with the questions: "Do you have AIDS? Are you a drug addict?" Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, (I Corinthians 15:57) almost all of my answers were a resounding NO. Seriously, I am very grateful not to be on any prescriptions or have any physical ailments. I didn't like sharing about my mother's unlawful death, but on the positive side, my dad is still alive and energetic at 82.

Now came the dreaded cancer questions, which I answered speedily, a sign of much practice. Sherry then had a surprise for me. "I have a consult with my surgeon tomorrow. They found two nodules in my left breast on a mammogram." We were on a whole new ground now...

Sherry asked me lots of questions about radiation, and my treatment choice--no chemo. She also mentioned that her husband had died of a strange, incurable cancer of the muscles 14 years ago at the age of 41. I gave her a card for this blog so she can seek some encouragement, and I promised to pray for her, writing down the details.

Since I had dressed for August (!), my weight was good, and all bodily fluids were properly extracted and stored. The exam was finished and my stomach was rumbling! But I knew why this particular examiner had been sent to our home--God knew her need, and gave her the confidence to make it known! As she left, Sherry said, "Pray for me! Just pray for me, please!"

I am, and I will!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The genes we pass on

2:27 p.m. Today's project was to pay the city utility bill, and praise the Lord as I drove downtown for providing the funds in His timing, and in answer to prayer! Both of our mortgage payments had cleared as well, hallelujah!

The finances came from two unexpected sources: a direct deposit from our annuity (which I'd requested in writing but hadn't thought about lately); additionally, my daughter Heather brought over 2 months' worth of payments to me for her Parent Plus student loan from her Brooks Photography School attendance.

Heather (featured with me in "switched" outfits) has resembled me physically since she was a tot; in fact, we were featured in a newspaper mother-daughter lookalike contest when she was three. We're about the same size, same blue eyes, natural hair color, and for good or ill, we both have very outgoing personalities! The party starts when Heather comes in the door.

Heather's current job, which requires "suiting up" for official events, is as an administrative assistant to Republican Assemblyman Bill Emmerson out of Rancho Cucamonga. A more senior staff member told me yesterday that Heather has revitalized the whole atmosphere in the office since she joined them, and they just "love her to death!" That's a lovely thing for a mother to hear, because we raised our family to believe that "The joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10) Joy and laughter, absurdity and uproar, were the hallmarks of our home. The Christian life, without qualification, is the most exciting life possible this side of heaven!

An unusual characteristic of our family was our involvement in local politics. Steve, the kids and I campaigned tirelessly for my three successful election campaigns for Riverside School Board on a "Back to Basics, " "Parents' choice" platform. The district was turned around as teacher union political control was broken, crude sex education was tossed, teachers could pray together during their lunch hour, and instruction in phonics was reinstated. We as a family attended many events and conferences, and the kids knew the major local political players. The Lord called me to public service, and 13 years later, called me to leave it, as I began spending more time in women's ministry and missions.

As is often the case with kids of well-known parents, mine vowed that they "hated politics" and claimed to be totally burnt out. And that's okay--they are free to live their own lives, just in the Lord, is my abiding concern. Heather, who married last year, has tended to lean to the liberal side, but we can agree to disagree fairly agreeably. The five kids never fail to vote, though!

Imagine, then, my surprise when she accepted a position with a Republican assemblyman! Steve and I enjoyed a good chuckle over that, even doing a little boogie dance of victory on hearing the news! Hee Hee! Yes, conservatism had seeped into the kids' subconscious brains! Our groundwork was not in vain, even though we have had to endure their protestations. Once they have kids, they'll become even more conservative, when high taxes taken from paychecks affect more than just themselves. Our oldest, the 34-year-old father of two and former business owner, is more conservative than we are!

Heather has risen rapidly in the Emmerson organization, representing him on Tuesdays in Grand Terrace; doing official photography; and creating event invitation layouts. Just yesterday, she was responsible for the advance work for Assemblyman Emmerson's visit to a Colton elementary school.

"Train up a child in the way (s)he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it," Proverbs 22:6 says. Heather's been bitten by the political bug--YES!

And I don't mind if Heather keeps on using the designer suit I once wore for my swearing-in to a third term of office! She does Mom proud.