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Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas: The Magi and the Star of Bethlehem

    “We three kings of Orient are; bearing gifts; we traverse afar; field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star. O star of wonder, star of light, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light.” Such familiar words but I have only recently come to know just how profound their meaning. The Magi were a group of men referred to as “wise men”, “scholars”, and even “kings”. There were different groups of Magi and some were those involved in occult practices, from where we get our word “magic”. Some of the Magi were not astrologers but astronomers. The difference is that the astrologers use the stars to predict the future; whereas, the astronomers study the stars to discover what God was showing them. The familiar three, whose exact names vary depending on which culture consulted, are believed to have been from the Eastern Group.  Balthazar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia and Gasper of India were Jewish men who worshipped the true God. They were watching the configurations of the planets and stars because they believed that God would send them a sign of great importance. Like all of the Jews, they were expecting the Messiah to come one day. They were not telling fortunes but trying to understand what the God who made the stars and planets was trying to tell them. They were convinced that the Star of Bethlehem would lead them to the place where they would find the Messiah. They had been waiting for this sign for a long time.
     There is a marvelous DVD out there that will show you in graphic detail just what it was that the Magi were looking for and what they found. You can see for yourself at the following website:

Mr. Rick Larson, a lawyer not a preacher or astronomer by profession has seriously studied this event in response to the Lord’s leading.  Some amazing facts have emerged. The quick summary is noted here:
     3 BC at the time of the Jewish Festival, Yom Kippur (September): The indication from astronomical configurations was that the King of the Jews (Jesus) had been conceived by a virgin.
     2 BC (Nine months later… June): An extremely unusual astronomical event occurred and made it clear to these three Magi that it was time to leave Babylon (near present-day Bagdad) and head out towards the Star that had risen in the East over Judea. They believed with all their hearts that this was the sign that the baby had been born who would be the King of the Jews, the Messiah. They wanted to worship him.
     Months later they arrived in Jerusalem and began to inquire just where the child was-- the King of the Jews. When King Herod learned of their search, he called for the Jewish leaders who let King Herod know that the event was expected to take place in Bethlehem. King Herod met with the Magi and asked them to get back to him as to the exact location of the baby king so that he, too, could come worship him. Of course, he had no intention of worshipping Jesus but God took care of that in His own way and that is yet another story! Back to the Magi…
     The Magi found that they did not need a map or any directions to find the place where Jesus and his parents were staying. Looking up to the sky they saw the brightest star that they had ever seen. They followed it to Bethlehem and, as the Scriptures said, the Star stopped right over the place where Jesus was! The day that the Magi found the Baby Jesus and presented their gifts to him? Why, December 25th, of course! No kidding! The Jewish people used a different calendar than we do so that date does not have the same significance to them as it does to us but, still, one can believe with confidence confirmed by science that the very First Christmas that was celebrated with the gifts from the Magi was on our own December 25.

****Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas: The People, Conclusion

     Central to the First Christmas photo would be Mary and Joseph with Baby Jesus. Jesus was already mentioned in Monday’s post, “Christmas: The Reason for the Season", so let’s take a look at his earthly parents. Mary was a devout Jewish girl, probably a teenager, who lived in the Galilee with her parents. Joseph was a carpenter who loved Mary and was, also, a devout Jew. Mary had been promised to Joseph. When their engagement period was completed, they would be married in a lively, fun and full of great food and dancing Jewish wedding! Every girl and boy looked forward to that day. But, sadly for the girl’s dreams, it would not play out that way for Mary. Before the wedding plans had been completed, the Angel Gabriel visited Mary to give her God’s plan… for the world but, closer to home, for her immediate life. God had chosen Mary to carry the baby that would be conceived by His own Holy Spirit. It was necessary to bring salvation to the world. Mary knew, for sure, just what a wrench that would throw in the works of her own life but her commitment to the Almighty God settled her response. “According to Your word, O Lord, be it unto me.”(See the account in Luke 1 and 2) Of course, she did what any of us would do when hearing that this was not the only unusual event going on in her family: In about three months, elderly Elizabeth was going to have her first baby! Mary headed straight for Elizabeth’s house, where she stayed for the first three months of her own pregnancy. No doubt Elizabeth was a great help to Mary.
     Meanwhile, Joseph is as surprised as everyone else to learn of the new baby boy Zechariah and Elizabeth have just had. Mary is full of joy and sharing the details. When Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant, herself, he is so hurt. How can this be? His love for her would not permit Joseph to even think of stoning her and, in fact, he wanted to spare Mary the social pain of disclosure, if he could. He planned to just quietly divorce her/break the engagement and no one would need to know why. Then Joseph had a visit from the Angel himself! What an incredible revelation the Angel brought Joseph! Mary had not been unfaithful to him after all. Joseph should believe her and trust her. He should proceed with the marriage as planned, though, of course, there would not be that week-long celebration now. God was in the whole thing and Joseph could trust God. This was an important assignment God had given the young couple and God would help them through all the difficult times.(You can read about Joseph’s struggle and encounter at the end of Matthew Chapter 1.)
     The Shepherds outside Bethlehem were given quite a privilege the night Jesus was born. Usually shepherds were so often “unclean” because of their work in the field with the sheep. It would be pretty hard to keep away from the excrement or anything dead that the law said would defile them. Of course they would not be permitted in the religious ceremonies or Temple services if considered “unclean”. It was not often that the shepherds were keeping their sheep near any city because a large flock could really affect the local air fragrance, you know. But, this was a special time of year and those sheep were special sheep. They belonged to the priests and it was their order that kept the sheep near Bethlehem around the time of the Passover. (Yup, that would not be in December … we will get to that later.) It is fantastic to realize that the Lord God had the angels just over those shepherds’ heads, declaring the best news the world would ever hear—right there sitting in their filthy, smelly clothing. But, that was not all; God encouraged them to go see the Baby Jesus just as they were right then! Sure enough, the shepherds headed out and found the Baby Jesus. No one told them to get out or called them unclean. Even as a baby, Jesus was there to unite and not divide those who worshipped the Father God!
     The “Three Kings” from the Orient are often in the Nativity set or drawings but, in truth, they were not in the picture with their gifts until Jesus was about six months old. They visited Jesus at his house and not the manger but I don’t mind having these three characters in the Nativity scene, do you? It is a good reminder of that First Christmas, even if it was not the first day of Jesus’ earthly sojourn. (More on that later.)
     Lastly, most scenes also picture the Angel Gabriel—and a few more angels if your Sunday School has more children than speaking parts for the drama! There is little doubt that there was, indeed, an angelic presence near this very special manger the night of Jesus’ birth!

****Christmas: The Magi and the Star of Bethlehem…Coming Tomorrow

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas: The People

     If asked to recall the “people in the Christmas Story” you might find the image of the Nativity popping into your mind. Or, if you are like most of us, you will need to check the ceramic /porcelain figures put out on your coffee table or display at the front of your Sunday School room to be sure you didn’t miss someone! Even so, it is highly likely you will miss someone if you rely on the Nativity display alone! This familiar scene is so much like the posed family photo we have all come to know so well at holiday seasons. You know the kind, someone is missing from the group because he slipped off to the restroom but there were so many people in the house that no one missed Uncle Jake until the photo was emailed to everyone a week later! The Nativity scene is a very modern image, actually. In today’s photo fixing/touching up world of computerized family photos, one can add to the photo those who were not really there until months later! Uh, that would be the Magi who were a bit late for the manger party but did make the First Christmas on December 25 (I’ll get back to that a bit later.). Let’s take a look at the cast of characters the Lord God had hand-picked for this Christmas drama, a true story.
     Those playing an important role but not in the photo include the following:
     Isaiah, who had been dead for hundreds of years before Jesus was born, can be excused from the photo shoot, of course, but Isaiah should be remembered when reviewing the story because his role was an impressive one, indeed. Maybe we could put his face in one of the cloud-like hazes up in the corner of the photo? Okay, so what did he do? He had a job I would not have wanted but I am so glad that he was willing to be sent to give the words God had for the people. He would prepare them to readjust their thinking about the entrance of the Messiah to planet earth. One mention probably caused some raised eyebrows, for sure.

 Isaiah Chapter 7, verse 14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

     Uh, well, we’ve never seen that before so maybe there will be something really special about this boy, they thought. Or, equally as likely, they figured Isaiah had missed part of the communication scripted for him. How could such a thing happen! On the other hand, Emanuel means “God with us” so even the name draws our attention to God’s plan. Next Isaiah gives a bit more detail.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas: The Plan

     “If only we could just see God. If we could touch Him and look Him right in the face. Yes, then we could believe the things that are written. Then we would have no trouble obeying His commandments. We would know for sure if only…?” Perhaps, that is why folks throughout the history of mankind have been so quickly convinced to make a god out of wood, stone or metal. So, okay, they wanted to see God with their own physical eyes. God had a plan so it was possible for the span of one human lifetime. However, just as is true for our own sojourn on earth, the lifetime had a purpose, a mission. When that mission had been completed, regardless of what anyone may have thought, the lifetime sojourn on earth was over and the Servant returned to His rightful place in Heaven.
     Our original question was “Why Jesus and not Mohamed, Buddha or one of the millions of Hindu gods? Well, the answer is simply one of history and logic. Of all the created beings or things that man has ever strove to worship as his god, there is only one who was there in the very beginning, Jesus. Anthropologist and archeologists have found evidence that mankind as far back as the Neanderthals had a spiritual belief system—so, at least 70,000 years ago if not longer. Fast forward 60,000 years or so and agriculture begins to dot the landscape and add more gods for the people to worship. We can hit the fast forward button again and find Hinduism joined the scene around 4000-2500 BC. Some suggest that Judaism was next on the scene around 2000 BC, though one might find evidence that it was earlier. Next, Buddha was born into a Hindu family and the belief system known as Buddhism was launched around 560-490 BC. Jesus’ birth would mark a dramatic change in the way the world noted time. The years were now “in the year of our Lord” (AD) instead of BC, before Christ.* Mohamed was born around six hundred years later and by 622 AD, Islam had joined the world’s religions. No, if the plan should come out of the Creator’s drawing board, there was only one who was there before anything and anyone else, Jesus and only Jesus. None of the others had found a way to planet earth until Jesus, and the rest of the Creation Team, put him/it there. We know that wood and stone can be carved or chiseled to make images that people can set up on a shelf to worship, but we also know that they would not even be there as raw materials to carve or chisel if the Creation Team had not chosen to put them here in the first place!
Since the problem for the people was, clearly, one of obeying their Divine Creator, then it should be up to the Creator to come up with a plan. And what a plan it was! Jesus would leave Heaven and spend time on earth. They would see Jesus. They would touch Him. They would hear Him speak of the very precepts and commandments that Father God had always held as the way for them to keep their own relationship with the Godhead solid. Then, when the fullness of time had come, Jesus would also provide the sacrifice for them, the final sacrifice. It was for this ultimate purpose that he had come.
     Because they were expecting a fully grown, regal prince of a man to walk onto the stage, they were taken by surprise when Jesus’ life began just as theirs had, as a newborn baby. No that was not what the people had in mind at all when they thought about a Conquering King, their Messiah. They just could not get their heads around that notion.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas: The Reason for the Season

     Okay, so we all know from greeting cards, lapel pins and buttons, bumper stickers, plastic Jell-o molds, Christmas wrapping paper and even the carefully written phrase on colored package ribbon that “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season!” I get that but my question is this: Why Jesus and not Mohamed or Buddha or one of the three million Hindu gods that tower above the landscape all over India? Why is it that Jesus’ birthday is the one that influences the whole world and even changed how we record time? Yes, Jesus is, definitely, the reason for the season; but, why? Mohamed’s birthday is also heralded by his followers and includes a global celebration. In fact, the followers of Mohamed celebrate the birth of Jesus because they accept that Jesus was a great Prophet.
     Backtracking a little bit we find another question to answer first: Why did Jesus decide to make His own, personal, sojourn on earth so long after He participated as part of the Creation Team? In an earlier blog I shared the first verse in Genesis (Old Testament) and the first verse in the Gospel of John (New Testament) where we see that there is nothing at all on earth and God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are letting us in on the way everything was “In the beginning…” John continues with Jesus as the focus. Genesis goes on with the details of how the Trinity sculpted the landscape and filled it with everything we would need to live on earth. Wouldn’t you think He would just drop in to check it out when everything was still shiny and new? No, it doesn’t work like that. The Creation Team had decided that mankind, created in their own image, would have free will--the right to choose to obey their Creator’s rules or go their own way. The Triune God would not make the humans into robots who have no choice at all in the matter. Father God wanted to have relationship with the created human beings they had fashioned in the image of the Godhead.
     Take time to read the Old Testament but read it from the point of view of Father God, not just like a world history lesson. Over and over the people God has made are doing great and things are going hunky-dory. No problems. Then little-by-little things begin to change. The better things are, the less they remember God. The easier it is to just skip that Sabbath Day worship and those special religious holidays that hinder work one day a week or more if we are talking the Passover or Yom Kippur. The more they skipped participating in a special religious observance/festival or worship service, the easier it was to skip another one. Before long, they discovered that their enemies would make an alliance with them that could prove financially beneficial or allow them to expand their armies if only they would bow down to the gods of wood and stone. Uh, well… okay, why not? It doesn’t mean that we need to believe in them, right? Who would know the difference?
     Next the foreigners wanted to marry their daughters and, hey, how about letting us give our daughters to your sons, too. That would make us stronger in the region; that’s for sure. Hmmm, I’m not so sure about that one, they thought, because they knew that this kind of alliance through marriage was expressly forbidden by God. But, well, we are here and they are here so why not just join our families as well as our forces and make one huge happy people group in the land.
      Why not?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Psalm 32: You Are My Hiding Place, Conclusion

6 “Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them.7 You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

     So, what I hear David saying is this: Let those who consider themselves children of Almighty God, repent and stay right so that their sin is not keeping God from protecting and/or delivering them from trouble. God is not a “hiding place” for just anyone but only for those who desire to be faithful to God’s precepts and commands. Otherwise, God is putting on the pressure that was described in the verses before these two. It’s not that we are perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but God is looking at our heart as much as our action. If our heart, truly, wants to be right with God/to keep all of His precepts and commandments but we mess up now and then, God will hear our confession and forgive us. Then, God is, once again, our Hiding Place!

8 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”

     Don’t really know what is right in this world of changing standards? No problem! God promises to instruct us with His loving eye upon us! God wants us to succeed in following His precepts and commandments as written in the Holy Bible which contains His Word. He is not out to get us! God made us and, as the “manufacturer” He is best able to counsel us on what will keep us going with the best possible efficiency and health—body, soul and spirit.

9 “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”

     We are reminded that being forced to obey God’s precepts is not the best way. God wants a relationship with us so that we desire to obey out of our love for Him as our Father. I did obey my earthly father when I was a child but I also remember that there was no pleasure for me in that obedience when he had to force me by the promise of repercussions should I choose to disobey. Obeying quickly and the resultant smile on his face was a much better way to do what he wanted. The same goes for our Heavenly Father. He has a reason for his precepts and commandments; He knows that we will do better if we follow them. 

10 “Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.”

     Again, it is not just anyone who can be assured that God’s love surrounds them. It is those who trust in Him. Those who do not are in the category of those whose woes are many. That is not hard to understand because where does one go for help in time of trouble if there is no trust in the Almighty God—the One best equipped to help? Does that mean that God has nothing to do with the people who do not trust in Him? God created us all and does care about us; but, if we have chosen to runaway from His parenting and take a bus to our own way of doing things, He is not there to help us. He can see us but our choice to sin has put us out of His reach. We have chosen the way that ties His hands, the way of sin. Repentance will change all of that, though, so He is not abandoning us, it is we who are abandoning Him if we choose not to repent and follow God’s ways.

11 “Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!”

     David is concluding this song with a joyful declaration of truth. We need only be upright in heart to rejoice in the Lord—not perfect. Desiring to be right with God and doing all we can to stay there will, indeed, bring great joy to our days!
     As I checked out other passages, such as Psalm 119:114, I discovered a few more verses where God being our “hiding place”  or “refuge”  was always associated with being in right relationship with God. There was the opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. There was no refuge from the storms outside of a right relationship with Father God and that is, truly, something we all need to understand about God. He is not Santa Clause, just out to make us happy and give us good gifts. He is almighty God, Creator of the universe and all that it contains. He is tender but He is powerful. He offers mercy but he is also the enemy of wickedness. Father God has made us in His own image and it is His desire to gather us into His loving arms. It is us, in our independence, who may choose to rebel and follow the ways of the world instead of the Father.
     The great news is this: It is never too late to change! God will not tell you it is too late or He has forgiven you enough times already. He is waiting to do it one more time and welcome you into His special place!

****Have a good weekend!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Psalm 32: You Are My Hiding Place

     “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” (Ps. 32:7, NIV)

     This Scripture verse was used for the familiar chorus, “You are my Hiding Place. You always fill my heart with songs of deliverance whenever I am afraid. I will trust in You.” It is one of my favorites.
     While Emma Mae’s “Special place” was, indeed, a hiding place to keep her candy away from her brothers, the other two anecdotes were more in line with the “shelter or refuge” definition of hiding place.
     I knew that the chorus had been taken from one of the psalms but had to google it to find just which psalm it was. Then, I decided to put the verse in context to see what it was that David had in mind when he wrote this line in his song. I was thinking something like a praise song, focusing on the intimacy of God in relationship to His children. Kind of like comforting a child who is frightened during a thunderstorm. Unpacking the message was a surprise for me so I wanted to share it with you. Let’s take it from the top, as the saying goes.

1 “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 2 Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.”

     Who can argue with that, eh? It is truly a blessing to know that our sins are forgiven and, even more than that, God does not hold it against us! Once we have asked for forgiveness, it is given and God will never bring it up again!

 3 “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”

     That is exactly how it feels when we have done something wrong and God is pursuing us. He so wants us to stay on the path of righteousness that He is not about to let us off the hook and just go our own way. Why does He care? Because he loves us. We cannot have fellowship with Him if we choose the way of sin because God cannot look upon sin. There is no fellowship between the light and the darkness. If we continue to just do whatever we want to do, regardless of what the Bible says God desires of us, our hearts will get hard and we won’t care about the ugly feeling that comes to assail us over the sin. We will just turn away from caring what God thinks about anything we are doing in our lives.
     It doesn’t have to be a huge deal either, like murder or robbing a bank. It can be anything that is against what God wants us to be doing. I recall, clearly, a dear friend who had been sharing something negative about another person with a third party. It was a true statement but just did not need to be passed along so it was gossiping. My friend was in a particular time in her life where she was pleading with God to grant her the deepest possible relationship with Him and God took her at her word. As soon as she left the third party, she began to feel badly. She continued to feel badly about having shared the piece of information. In fact, by the time she got home she was eager to find the phone and call the third party! There were no cell phones in those days or she probably would not have put the key in the ignition before she called; she felt so badly. She asked the friend forgiveness for having shared the information with her and pleaded with her to not pass it along. The lady did not really know what to do with her request and wanted to just let her off the hook with, “Oh, it’s okay. It was a true statement anyway so it doesn’t matter.” But, of course, it did matter to my friend because it mattered to God. If she was to have the deepest possible relationship with God, she needed to let herself be sensitive to His Holy Spirit so that she learned to restrain herself from those carnal urges and keep her heart pure.
    Most of us can relate to how zapped we feel on those super hot days, right? It gets so hot here in the heat of the dry season that it is difficult to even breathe. David is saying that this is how it feels to have God pursuing him to make things right!

5 “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”-- and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”

     Yes, how sweet is the forgiveness of the Lord! When, at last, we humble ourselves, confess what we have done and ask God to forgive us, He quickly forgives us and our spirit just soars. What freeing relief when we are out from under that burden of guilt!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Emma Mae’s Special Place

     Emma Mae* was just two years old but that wasn’t her biggest challenge. It was her brothers. Emma Mae and her mother were the only feminine presence in a house full of boys and a father with a bad temper. She was cute as a button, of course, but the boys just thought of her as a nuisance most of the time, since they were often charged with watching out for her. On other occasions, though, the brothers didn’t mind because whatever treat they were given by their mother, they could pretty much plan on eating Emma Mae’s, too! She was just too small to do anything about it. She tried to run away from them and she cried, of course. Their mother yelled at the boys but, in the end, it was always too late for Emma Mae.
     I think that the mother of the children who lived across the street from us must have been pretty overwhelmed with her life most of the time. There was a lot of shouting coming from their house. The children did not get to wash or change into clean clothing as often as the rest of us. Still, the kids were fun playmates. I often watched little Emma Mae trying to keep up with her brothers who seemed to delight in chasing her or running too fast for her to catch up.
     One day I noticed that Alvin and his brothers were eating suckers but Emma Mae was not. “Hey, Alvin, did you boys already take Emma Mae’s sucker away from her? You really shouldn’t do that. She should, at least, get a few licks of the sucker, don’t you think?”
     “I didn’t take nothin’ from her. Maybe she ate it herself already.” Not likely, but Alvin and the boys were all licking a sucker so if Alvin didn’t take Emma Mae’s, then one of the others must have been really fast at woofing the treat down to have taken Emma Mae’s already.
     As time went on I noticed this same pattern over and over. The boys would have a treat but Emma Mae would not. The strange thing about that was she did not seem to mind now. She wasn’t complaining or crying that someone took hers. I was intrigued. What could be happening here?          
     Emma Mae did not often cross the street to our front yard alone. Normally when she did it was to get some kind of help with something like tying her shoe or buckling a sandal that had come undone. Since there were three girls at our house I think Emma Mae rather liked to come across to our yard. One day Emma Mae presented herself to me, dirty tee shirt bulging over her little protruding tummy, yanking up at the shorts that one of her older brothers had outgrown but which she had not yet grown big enough to hold up without a little tug now and then. She was barefoot so I had no idea just what kind of assistance she was seeking from me. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Our Special Place

     Looking at the small pile of bits and pieces of scrap wood near the big double car garage my father had built a little while back, Butchy and I hatched our own construction plan. A tree house. I am thinking that I must have been nine years old when Butchy and I developed this special place for ourselves because my father would never have let us do this. He was not at home for a few months when I was nine because he was on one of those temporary duty assignments his military service sometimes asked of him. Of course, we asked my mother if we could build a tree house but, it is equally likely that she was busy at the time and did not take all factors into account when she said, “Uh, oh, yes, go ahead.” On to the next step.
     “Hello, Mrs. W,” the young 8- and 9-year-old wannabe builders chirped and smiled at the elderly lady standing in the backdoor of her home.
     “We have been noticing your big tree right over there and would like to ask you a question.” All heads turned to admire the large tree, heavy with green foliage at this particular time of the year. It stood tall and stately, very near the property line of young Sojourner’s own backyard.
     “Yes, it has been there for many years and gives me a lot of shade for the backyard.”
     “We can see that there are some lower branches that look really strong, too.”
     “Well, yes, that is how a tree grows,” she said, “It’s the higher branches that are smaller and weaker but those lower ones are strong, indeed.” At this point we briefly described our desire for a small tree house and our hope to build it in her tree. Not too big and not too high and, of course, we would be very careful not to hurt the tree branches. No, Ma’am, there would not be a lot of children running in and out of her backyard on account of that tree because the tree house was just for Butchy and me. No one else would be allowed in the tree house.
     I am uncertain just what made her agree to let us try. The oh-so-eager (and expectant) countenance on our faces? Or, perhaps, it was the confidence we just oozed as we reminded her that my father had built that new garage all by himself and, of course, he had taught us how to drive a nail straight into any kind of wood. It’s not like we did not know what we were doing, right? She must have been convinced because Butchy and I were carrying our bits and pieces around from our backyard to hers within a few minutes.
     We attached three small boards to the massive trunk of the tree right off as they would be our “ladder” into the tree house. That made it easier to get to those lower branches throughout the construction. The frame was attached to the lower branches.  We secured the short planks on leftover beams and, together, hoisted it up on the waiting frame. That was the hardest part, really. That platform made up the floor of the structure.
     It is at this point that we decided to try it out and ran to get our comic books and other things we wanted to keep in the semi-lofty refuge. Both of us had little sisters, age six years, who had observed the process all day and had hopes of being asked to climb up the “ladder” to take a peek from the platform. Ha! Not likely; this was our special place. Naturally, they voiced some objections but did not run home to get adult reinforcements immediately. They waited and listened to us “settling in” above them. We made all kinds of plans of walled sides and furnishings for the tree house which was, quite clearly, only in the early stages of construction and not anywhere near completion of those grandiose plans. We would work on it more tomorrow; but, for now, we would just enjoy that first day’s labors as we stretched out on the platform, reading our comic books.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Special Place, Scene 2

     I stepped down from the kitchen into the utility room and glanced to my left at the wall where the Maytag was sitting. Humph, I thought, as I stared at the white enamel machine. But, then, I saw it. There was a small space just to the left of the machine. I moved to stand in front of the tall, shallow closet on the adjacent wall, where I could check things out a bit better. The small space was framed by the side of the closet on the left and a wall at the back and right of the space. Interesting. I moved closer and discovered that Mom had stacked some blankets or cushions of some kind on top of a storage box in that corner. The door on the right of the closet could be opened, but just enough to grab whatever was wanted from inside, because the machine stuck out too far to completely open the closet door.
     Turning to my side, I squeezed in through the narrow space but found I had to retrace my side-stepping because there was not enough room to turn around once I was in front of the corner pile. The one-eighty completed, I slid back in to stand with my backside in front of the space. I stretched my arms out behind me to feel for the cushioned top of the pile and it seemed just about right. Slowly I raised myself up on tiptoes and slid my rear up against the top of the pile. Yup, scooting back, I could actually sit on top. It was a snug little place but it felt good. I imagined myself in all kinds of fantasy situations. When my mind found my most familiar western scene, I knew exactly what I would do. Lifting my leg up, I pulled off my boot so I wouldn’t scratch the Maytag. It was not much of a stretch in that cramped little space but, still, it was just right. I pushed my stocking foot against the Maytag, ankle and knee flexed just as I had seen the stagecoach driver on television do. Arms raised and moving-- an invisible set of reins in one hand and a long whip for the horses in the other, “Yee-haw!” I was driving that run-away stagecoach and needing to work fast to save the lives of my passengers from the possibility of an overturned coach, while getting away from those bandits chasing us!
     Truly, the wonderful discovery of this very special place made an incredible difference in my view of the Maytag. The space had not been there prior to the need to make room for the machines. The shifting had made a “refuge” from the storms of childhood for me.
     As time passed and seasons came and went, I enjoyed my special place often. I had had no idea that I was changing and would need some time alone now and then—just to think and re-group. To be honest, most of the time there was spent driving that imaginary stagecoach, usually with my cowboy hat atop my head and my six-shooters bouncing against my hips. Still, there were other times when I just needed to be alone, preferring to be “invisible” to my world.  I could do that in my special place. In fact, if I drew my legs up close to my chest, no one could tell I was in the corner unless they, specifically, came to look in the space next to the closet. No one ever did. I was quiet when I was there, even when I was driving a stage coach because I did not want anyone to find me there and interrupt my solitary time. I mouthed my commands to the horses and my retorts to those bandits.
     I went to my special place when things had not gone well for some reason. Sometimes I cried. There were even times when I had done something wrong and needed to work up the courage to tell my mother what I had done. I found courage in my special place, all alone. It was a place where I often talked to God. That worked well because I could just talk to Him in my mind and God would actually hear me. I could tell God all that had happened that day or what someone had said or done to hurt me. Sometimes I made plans while I was talking to God in my special place, too. You know, like trying to see if what I had planned would be a good idea or not. It didn’t take long to discover if I began to feel ugly in my tummy, the plan was probably not such a good idea.
     The introduction of the Maytag had resulted in a brief time of loss and regrets but led to a long time of comfort in my special place. I wonder how many times this kind of “loss equals gain” experience is repeated as we grow. Throughout our adult lives we are challenged with many changes, some good and others not so good. If we can step back and look over the “Maytag’s” in our lives, we may also find that God allowed the change to intrude because God knew what was ahead for us and just what we would need when those changes came. Sometimes, God is preparing His provision but the pain of it causes us to miss the joyful expectation. As the song says, “Oh, how He loves you and me!”

****Our Special Place… Coming Tomorrow

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Special Place

     A kid does not always know when a good change is coming or that she even needs any kind of change; but, it doesn’t matter anyway, the change is coming and she cannot do anything about it one way or the other. This is exactly what happened to me when that Maytag entered our utility room --and my life.
     For the few years that I had been able to observe the process of washing clothing in the utility room of our small house, I thoroughly enjoyed the production. First the large round tub-like thing was rolled out of its storage place in the corner and filled with water and detergent. The clothing was carefully added, one piece at a time. It seemed to me that our clothing was small enough to just put it all in at the same time but my mother cautioned me that our white clothing would not stay white if I gave in to that temptation. Okay, well, I did not mind it taking longer at all! Once plugged in, the swishing began, Back and forth, back and forth. How I loved to see those suds bubbling up and the different pieces of clothing surface and dive with the turbulence of the machine. When it had washed in the suds long enough, the hose under the tub was released to drain out the dirty, soapy water. I will now skip to the end and my absolutely favorite part of the process here. Mother swung that wringer into place and began to feed one of my dripping, totally wet, little shirts between the revolving two rollers. I waited on the coming out side, aware of the squishing sound as my shirt made its way slowly through the two rollers. Each and every piece of clothing that traversed this path emerged flat as a colorful wet pancake and it thrilled me to no end. I just loved wash day.
     Next, the basin of wet laundry would be taken out to the clotheslines Daddy had hung right by our back door. Sometimes I sat on the grass near her to watch her hang things up to dry. It was a time I could talk to her, if I had anything on my mind just waiting for a quiet time to have a captive audience. But, even if I didn’t have anything special to talk over with her, I enjoyed the smell of the freshly cleaned laundry gently moving in the breeze, as one by one each piece was fastened to the line with a wooden clothespin.
     I so looked forward to the time when I would be old enough to really help do the laundry. I wanted to run that wringer myself, not just stand back and wait until the shirt had come far enough through the wringer to guide the “pancake’ into the waiting basin. I thought my mother would be happy then, too, because she would not have to keep telling me not to stand so close to the wringer or my fingers would get smashed. I was wrong, though, because such joy would never be mine.
     I did not know much about an “automatic washer and dryer” but what I did know I did not like. Not only did the clothing go inside the square metal machine that had no hose under it, but it had a lid that needed to be closed before the drum of the washer worked. What fun was that, I moaned. There was nothing to see at all for the entire process. One could hear the loud sounds of the machine as it cycled through the various parts of the process but, unless the hose at the back slipped off, there was not a single thing for a kid to see. Worst of all, there was no wringer anywhere! It had some way to throw the shirts and stuff  around so that they stuck to the sides of the machine when it was time to open the lid, but it was all over without any notice given to just how it happened. Drying the clothing was even worse. No sitting outside next to Mom. No fresh smell of a summer sun on the clean pajamas that night. Nothing of the old joy could be found as I watched my mother taking the wet clothes from the top of the washing machine and shoving them through the front door of the drying machine. The door was not made of glass, either, as it sometimes would be in the years to come. There was nothing at all for me to see or do in the entire process. Now, laundry day was just like any other day in the life of a kid—nothing special about it.
     Then, I spotted a space that I had not seen before in my sadness over the change and it made all the difference in the world—my world!

****My Special Place, Scene 2… Coming Tomorrow

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Marketing 101: A Wrench in the Works, Conclusion

     The two wrenches are beginning to have an effect on the weary laborers as Chapter Four progresses. They are afraid and tired. They see the job as way beyond their own abilities and failure seems to be staring them right in the face. Over and over they express concern for their safety. Nehemiah responds but, probably, not the way the people might have wanted. He just divided the workers into labor and security. Some would work and some would stand guard. Things got pretty bad and soon even the laborers were working with a trowel in one hand and a weapon in the other. But, still, they worked on! Fear was an ever-present companion but it did not stop them from doing the work. They would trust their God to protect them, as well as to give them strength. I think that Nehemiah is such a good example of practical praying. In Chapter Six verse 9 we read:
“They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’ But I prayed, ‘Now strengthen my hands.’”

Nehemiah knew just where to go for what he could not do for himself! God can and does strengthen us when we ask, just as He did for Nehemiah.

     Well, you can read the details of the rest of the story for yourself if you just continue reading but the gist is that the wrenches never gave up their efforts to create fear in the hearts of the people. They tried and tried to draw Nehemiah away for a “meeting” but Nehemiah saw through their plan to take him out and just never left his post at the wall. Once they even sent him a letter that had not been sealed, which meant that everyone could read what was written on the letter, accusing him of planning to overthrow the king, take his place and appoint people as prophets to declare that it was the will of the Lord that Nehemiah should be king. Treason, of course, and such an offense could get the authorities to kill Nehemiah for Sanballat and Tobiah! God was faithful to protect Nehemiah; nothing happened to him. The bad guys hired a prophet to try to get Nehemiah to sin against God in a sly way but he saw through their plan and refused. Still, Nehemiah continued directing the work and praying while the people carried on the construction on the wall.
     Jump down a bit in the sixth chapter of Nehemiah and let’s wrap up the “wrench in the works” part of this story. Chapter Six records the happy ending to the construction phase of the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Beginning with verse 15:“So the wall was completed… in fifty-two days.”
Wow and Amen! Continuing on to the response of those who had opposed the work as found in verse 16:
“When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.”

Well, that was for sure and what a major bit of rejoicing must have been going on amongst the workers that even their enemies recognized that God was on their side! God will often use that wrench in our works to help us to grow in our reliance on Him! Such a thing does not bother God one little bit.
     If you think that this is an isolated incident in Scriptures, back up a few books of the Old Testament and check out II. Kings 19 where King Hezekiah has a letter from Sennacherib that is of a similar vein to this story we just discussed. King Hezekiah takes the letter and lays it out before the Lord. Something like, “Do you see what they are saying about you, Lord? It is true that the Assyrians have conquered all of the other people and their gods had not been able to deliver them. Now they are ridiculing you, most Holy God. What are you going to do about it?” You can read King Hezekiah’s “prayer” in II. Kings 19:14-21, if you would like to know more.
     Actually as you read the Bible, you might want to look for the other wrenches, too. Just as is the case with our own lives, the Bible is full of examples of a wrench in the works of whatever God asks His people to do! It is comforting to know that God is also right there to strengthen our hands, as we walk/work through our mission.

***Have a good weekend!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Marketing 101: A Wrench in the Works, Continued

    Sanballat and Tobiah had tried, first, to frighten Nehemiah, the leader, of the rebuilding effort so that the work would not get passed the planning phase. Their taunts failed to hinder Nehemiah, however. Nehemiah pressed on and the people joined in resolving to rebuild the wall.      Okay, then, the wrench would need to be thrown in the middle of the workers. Workers, ha! What a joke, thought the two wrenches as they headed for the wall. They would just focus on the people doing the work. A rocket barrage of serious doubts launched right at the start of a new challenge we are undertaking can really implode our morale, especially if we are untrained workers. Attacks on our competence, being made to feel ignorant and humiliated in front of others, can all serve to demoralize us and weaken what abilities we do possess.  When we find ourselves out of our own comfort zone, we, normally, feel more than a bit on shaky ground. Our minds find thoughts such as these popping up at every turn: I’ve never done this before and I really might not be able to do it in the end. All this work for nothing and my failure will be seen by everyone. Who am I, anyway, to think I can do this kind of work? I am an accountant, not a body builder.

Nehemiah 4: 1-3 reads,”When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?’ Tobiah the Ammonite (Wrench #2), who was at his side, said, ‘What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!’”

     Uh, I don’t think so. Nehemiah was building that stone wall four meters (13 feet) thick; unless, of course, the fox was the size of a very large elephant who had managed to get his entire herd, simultaneously, to jump up with him—maybe, then, some of it would break down? Nevertheless, the people knew that they were not builders and yet they were trying to rebuild the wall. The heckling had to have some effect on them and their confidence. But, to their credit, they did not quit! (We could note here, however, that Nehemiah’s prayer for his enemies fairly well included a call for God to deal with the enemies as only God could! Paraphrased by Sojourner as “You heard those guys, God; get them good”!)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Marketing 101: A Wrench in the Works

     Nine-year-old Tommy was, most definitely, a wrench in the works for Young Sojourner’s new marketing idea. One cannot really know if he was just jealous and passing along his information to tease her or, if as his tone of voice might have suggested, taunting her because he knew he could throw fear into her heart with his words. How he must have delighted in her response!
     If you have ever had a “Tommy” in your “works” you will totally understand what was going on in the heart of eight-year-old Sojourner and her younger partners. Rest assured; you are in good company! “Wrenches” have been with us a long time! One of my favorite books in the Bible is the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. It is a wonderful story and I recommend it.  Boy, did they have a couple of mean “wrenches” in their works! The story went like this:
     Nehemiah was the trusted cup bearer for the King and, well, if anyone had chosen to poison the King’s wine, he would know it after Nehemiah had taken that first sip. Next cupbearer, please! What a job! Nehemiah had been there a long time with the King so when it came to the attention of Nehemiah that he needed a leave of absence from the wine cup, the King was willing to listen to him and send him on his way with all that he needed for the mission. Now, we are not talking harvesting the grapes for the wine here. We are talking a job way outside Nehemiah’s box! He was about to be the Big Boss of a construction company! What a ragtag group he would lead in this mammoth effort. They were not construction workers either! In fact, they were goldsmiths, perfume makers, merchants, jewelers, priests, and lots of men (and even women) who were not at all used to working with their hands because they were in administration. How would you like to build a stone wall with these folks as your laborers?
     Why would they care to do such hard physical work anyway?  The entire wall around Jerusalem had been trashed and the mountains of rubble had not been moved. Neither had the burned wood of the doorposts been replaced since the siege. The city was in ruins, basically, and most of the people living elsewhere in the midst of their enemies. Nehemiah’s kinsfolk had survived the Babylonian Captivity, returned to their homes in Jerusalem, only to find things had been totally destroyed.  The people were in great distress. Something had to be done about it! Most of the stone houses were also not inhabitable.
     Nehemiah had just arrived in town when word of his presence in the area reached the two “wrenches”, living in Samaria. Sanballat and Tobiah were so angry that anyone would come to the aid of the Jews!

Nehemiah 2:10: “When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.”

     Nehemiah rested a few days and then set out under cover of darkness to examine the collapsed wall. It was pretty tough going with the heaps of large stones everywhere. In fact, sometimes he could not get his donkey through the openings because there was just too narrow a space. Hezekiah had made that wall seven meters (nearly twenty-three feet) thick so it isn’t hard to see that when so much stone made up the rubble, well, it was like a short mountain range all around Jerusalem.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Marketing 101: Reflections

     Just this morning I realized the difference in the reactions Young Sojourner had had to doing something wrong in the last two anecdotes. In “Life 101: Truth”, even at five years old, she knew it was wrong to tell the teacher it was her birthday every Sunday. She so wanted to blow out those candles that she was willing to take a chance. No doubt she figured that the worse thing that would happen was the embarrassment of admitting it wasn’t her birthday after all. Worth the risk. However, when confronted, Young Sojourner responded right away and resisted the temptation to try again.
     In “Marketing 101” Sojourner did not even know, for sure, that what she had done was wrong. Nevertheless, she immediately tried to confirm the truth of Tommy’s accusation.  Even though Sojourner had been unable to verify that she had broken any law, she did not just “wait and see.” She took action to correct her behavior without a second thought. Why? Jail! The consequences of doing wrong were exponentially greater if it meant that she might go to jail. Selling more Kool-Aid was not worth the possible punishment that could be meted out! The old benefit/risk equation, you know.
     I wonder if we don’t do that as adults, too? When we just want to do something that might be  a slight bit over the line but, well, we just want to do it so we consider the possible consequences if we get found out. Would the pain of the punishment be worse than the pleasure if we just “Go for it?” When someone questions an action we have taken that we had thought was okay, do we seek to find truth or do we just take a chance that no one else will notice? Maybe the person questioning us is wrong. And, more seriously still, we know that what we are doing is not what God would like us to do but we throw caution to the wind and “Just do It!” These two phrases have often assailed us in all kinds of commercial advertisements over the years. Even bumper stickers tell us to forget the rules and just “Go for it!” or “Just do it!” suggesting that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks! If you want to do it, do it; you deserve the pleasure! But that is not what the Bible says. God’s laws are absolute and, since He never changes, the ethical and moral practices that were forbidden in the days of the early church are still forbidden by God today. There will be consequences for breaking God’s laws, though the shed blood of Jesus gives us a way to be forgiven of these breeches in God’s law. We need only to repent, change our ways and God’s word says that it is as though it never happened! What a comfort and relief. We don’t need to wonder if what we are doing is right or wrong now. Cultures and society may change over the decades and their acceptable standards change with the times; but, we need not wonder what God thinks about things in the year 2011. The Bible tells us plainly what God expects of us. I love that God’s laws and commandments do not change. It means that I can be expected to behave the same way no matter where in the world I am living and no matter what period of time I am living in! All of the doubt and uncertainties are eliminated. God never changes and neither do His laws! God understands our human weaknesses and because He is also a merciful God, He has made a way to make right what we have chosen to do wrong. The ball is in our court!

****Marketing 101: A Wrench in the Works… Coming Tomorrow

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Marketing 101, Scene 2

     Bursting through the front door of our house I peppered my startled mother about the rules for telephone pole signs. The street light poles had been steel so I had not been able to post any of my signs on them, but I had a lot of signs on the rugged wooden telephone poles. Did she know if we would go to jail? My mother did not think so but also did not know if one needed permission to post anything on a telephone pole. She had been born and raised in a country far away and had only been in America for about twelve years. Those kinds of laws were never a part of anything she needed to know. I would have to wait for my father to get home from work to ask him. But, could I take the chance that Tommy was right? Daddy would not get home until after 4:30 and, by then, we could really be in big trouble.
     I ran as fast as my little legs would go, ripping down sign after sign up and down the street. I kept a close watch out for any cars to be sure that no one saw who it was that had posted the sign. If I heard a car coming, I just stood, motionless, and stared at the sign as though I were reading it, an “innocent bystander”.” I just didn’t want to take any chances. Finally I was back at the Kool-Aid stand, weary but relieved to have recovered all of the signs before anyone else had noticed them. All the while my stressful drama was playing out, the Kool-Aid was being sold in the usual way and to the usual customers. It is great to have partners!
     About the time my heart rate had returned to normal and I could laugh with Suzie and Glenda about the possibility of the three of us going to jail, a black and white car, sporting a bar of red and blue lights on the roof, turned the corner. Since it was a dead-end street, there was nowhere else that they could be going; they were coming to our stand! Suzie was lucky because the stand was right in front of her house. She was inside in a flash. When the car doors opened I begged Glenda not to run and I prepared my defense with every possible explanation my mind could conjure up. By the time the two men were in front of me, though, I knew that there was no better explanation than to just admit that it was me who had done it; the little girls were innocent. I would explain that my mother was from Australia and did not know the rules about the telephone poles so she could not teach them to me. I would explain, further, that my father also wore a uniform, was a Company Commander in the Army and, though he probably, did know the rules he had not known I was going to do the stand today so did not teach me about the telephone poles either. I would promise not to ever do it again and ask them not to take me to jail. My heart was beating so hard and fast that I was certain that the men who wore those badges and guns saw my guilt before I opened my mouth. Imagine my relief when Glenda spoke first.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Marketing 101

     “What we need is to advertise,” I said to my partners in the Kool-Aid stand venture.
     “We have a nice sign right here,” my 5-year-old sister said, pointing to the colorful piece of butcher paper glued to the used cardboard, taped to the front of our folding table. Glenda and Suzie had helped decorate the sign that I had lettered to announce our prices: Five cents for a small glass and ten cents for a large glass. Both stacks of plastic glasses were on the table, next to the pitchers of ice-cube laden Kool-Aid that were already forming those familiar little condensation rivulets.  Sometimes Suzie’s mother was also interested in the venture and we would even have two flavors to offer our customers but, normally, it was just our mother who contributed the Kool-Aid packets and sugar. Often we had the stand set in front of Suzie’s house, though, so my mother probably thought it worth it to donate the materials if the other mother would donate the real estate to the business… that way the boisterous crowd of sticky fingers would end up near her house and not ours!
     “I know and you did a great job coloring and decorating the sign but it is only one sign. We need more signs.” We had sold Kool-Aid a couple of times already this summer, but our only advertising was that sign. People would see the stand and come over to get some Kool-Aid. Then they would go to tell others about it, which was good as far as it went. Normally, our Kool-Aid had sold out by the end of the afternoon and we divided up the little piles of nickels and dimes.  Though there was a certain sense of “success” at the end of the day, I just thought we could do so much more if the word could get out to a wider range of possible customers. Granted most of the “customers” could not have read a sign on their own anyway, but I reckoned if we had some advertisements out there, we would get more than the pre-reading crowd of patrons at the stand. In fact, I had served the driver of a couple of different cars when they back-tracked to come to our table.  It should be noted that the adult variety of partakers would, often, drop more than a nickel in the pot for their glass of Kool-Aid so we could even make more money with the same amount of raw materials had we been able to attract an older set of customers.
     “More signs? But, where would we put more signs? We have only one table.” Okay the junior partners were not catching the vision here. I tried to think where I had seen any kind of sign posted around the neighborhood and the lightning bolt finally found me! The telephone poles and street lights! There must have been one of them on about every corner in those days. Exactly! I ran the short distance home and grabbed up a stack of white paper and my crayons.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Life 101 Answers to Questions

Question 1: Sojourner, what do the numbers in your titles this week mean?

Answer: Oh, sorry! I have lived so much of my life in and around academia that I forget not everyone in the world uses these numbers! In the American university curriculum catalogues numbers are used to designate the level of a course. For example, the first year student taking English would sign up for an English 101 course. The next year he would sign up for English 201, followed by English 301 the next year, etc. Perhaps, in his third year, he would also like to take a literature course. This one may be designated as English 324 or some such number. It would not be the 301 because that is always the basic grammar and composition type course in English. So, when I wrote Life 101 with titles after it, it meant the beginning level course in that subject with the specific subsection of study indicated as “Change” or “Truth”. I hope that helps clear it up a bit?

Question 2: How did your own first day of school compare to this day when your sister left for the first time? Do all American elementary schools have this Sibling Visitation Day?

Answer: To tell you the truth, I have not one single recollection of my own first day of school! I can recall events that occurred during the school year, such as the first school play, but that first day just did not make any impression on me. Guess it was not nearly as traumatic for me as this one!
     I do not know of any other school that has a visitation day for the siblings, though some might. I never saw such a special day even at this school again so I wonder if it wasn’t more the specific teacher who wanted to do it than a school practice, per se. Nevertheless, it is a great idea and I wish everyone had the opportunity I had had to visit before going there.

Question 3: Did you get to blow out the candles at Sunday School when your birthday came or had they, as you argued, stopped doing the birthday thing by then?

Answer: Again, if I did get to blow out the candles in April, it did not make enough of an impression on me to be able to tell you for certain that “yes” I did get to do it when it was my real turn. It is equally likely that my mother had completely forgotten about the incident by the time she should have told me it was now my birthday!

****Have a good weekend!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Life 101: Truth

     “It’s your birthday today?” The Sunday School teacher was looking right at me with a questioning smile, but a smile nevertheless.
     “Yes, I am six today.” Behind this cherubic grin was also the hope that the teacher would not remember that I had said it was my birthday last Sunday.
     “Well, okay, come on up here and we will light the candles.” Out came the delightful little metal birthday cake with the holes for the candles all over the top. One by one the teacher placed the colorful candles in the pretend cake and began to light them. The class sang “Happy Birthday” to me. With one great breath I blew out all the candles to the cheering of my little classmates. What a wonderful feeling that always was!
     “I see that you already have the birthday button on your collar so we will keep this one for another person.” Still smiling I returned to my seat at the table.
     I was new to Mrs. Peterson’s* class and I just loved it. At this church it didn’t matter if your parents went there or anywhere for that matter, a kid could go to the class on Sunday if he wanted to.
     Mrs. Peterson’s five-year-old’s classroom was located in the basement of the church, just around the corner from the elementary grade classrooms. We were allowed to join them at the beginning of each Sunday session. The huge area held the chairs of all sizes, with the smallest chairs down front. After the singing and Bible Verse, we all went to our own classrooms.
As soon as everyone was in his seat at the table again, Mrs. Peterson asked if there were any visitors so we could learn everyone’s names. Then she wanted to recognize the children who had had birthdays during the week. I had never seen such a thing and the metal cake was such fun for us children. No way could we ruin the cake when we blew out the candles, even if we slipped and actually touched the cake. Of course, we could not eat the cake either but Mrs. Peterson always brought treats so it didn’t matter that it was not cake.
     If any child had had a birthday during the week, she asked him or her to come forward and stand in front of the birthday cake with the candles burning. The rest of us sang “Happy Birthday” to the child and, then, he could try to blow out all the candles in one breath. Of course the kids cheered when the flames were gone, even if all the candles did not go out on the first try.
     Next, the birthday celebrant was shown a little birthday pin to wear. It said “Happy Birthday to You” on it but it was not really the kind of “pin” that had a sharp end. It had two round disks that were joined with a thin bar. The writing was on the larger of the two circles but all of the ornament was very colorful. The teacher found a flat place on the garment and folded the birthday pin around it so that the larger circle with the lettering on it could be displayed in front and the smaller circle with a slight elevation in the center could be folded into the fabric to secure the button in place. A collar or neckline of a dress worked the best. Of course, it meant that for the rest of the day the child would be pulling on that place to try to see the upside-down lettering for himself! No matter, it was a terrific addition to our outfit! I loved my birthday pin and I didn’t care that she would not be giving me a second one this week.

One week later
     “Now that we have met our new friends, is there anyone who had a birthday this week?” When my hand shot up, Mrs. Peterson looked a bit more than perplexed. I reckon she knew that one mistake in the day might be normal, but three Sundays in a row? Suspicious. As for me, I was a little nervous but figured I should just “go for it”; one never knew, maybe she would let me blow out the candles again!
     “Uh, you had your birthday last week. Did you get the date wrong?” Great, right question! I nodded my head vigorously and pushed my seat back to head for the teacher’s side. She was a little less enthusiastic than the other two times but, still, out came the little metal birthday cake and the whole process was repeated to my great delight. Again, no birthday pin, but it was the candles not the pin I wanted anyway.
Later the same day
     “Hello, Mrs. Hawley. I am the Sunday School teacher for the five-year-old’s class and your daughter is in my class.”
     “Oh, hello, Mrs. Peterson. Yes, she loves your class.”
     “Uh, well, I was calling to ask you when her birthday actually is.” Mrs. Peterson’s hesitation did not seem to register with my mother.
     “She will be six on April 30.” Since it was only October Mrs. Peterson was looking at a LONG time yet before the real event would roll around!
     “Hmmm, Mrs. Hawley, I wonder if you could ask your daughter to wait until it is April to tell us it is her birthday.” Well, my mother’s confusion and surprise quickly turned to embarrassment.
     “Is she telling you it is her birthday now?”
     “Well, we have sung to her and she has blown out the candles for the last three Sundays so I just thought I would give you a call to see when we really should be doing this.” Mrs. Peterson was chuckling but my mother was not.
     “Okay, well, I am so sorry. I will tell her to not respond to the birthday question until I tell her it is the right Sunday.”
     I knew that things were not quite right when my mother called me in from play because it was no where near suppertime. I guess I knew I would be found out sooner or later but I was so hoping it would be much later. Once in the house I tried to explain to my mother about the whole birthday thing. I mean, what was the harm in it, really. No one else had a birthday and the kids just loved to sing the birthday song and watch someone try to blow out the candles. I was not taking more than the one pin so I was not really doing anything wrong, was I? After all, it was a very long time until my birthday arrived and maybe there would not be any pins left by then or, maybe, they would not be doing the birthday cake/candles then. This might just be my only chance to do it.
     While my argument found a tiny bit of merit in the heart of my mother, still, she was just not going to have me telling a lie to the Sunday School teacher. I learned that day that “not hurting anyone” and “making everyone happy” were not excuses for not telling the truth. The truth was absolute and she expected me to tell the truth, even if it might mean I would not get a birthday pin in the spring. Yes, I confessed to her, I knew that none of those times had been my birthday and, yes, I would wait until she told me to raise my hand in response to the birthday question.
     The following Sunday was a little tense for Mrs. Peterson as she voiced the call for children who had a birthday during the week. I was looking down at the table until she gave the call a second time and explained to the visitors about the birthday cake she was showing them. My eyes just sparkled at the sight of it! As my grin widened, Mrs. Peterson braced for the raised hand she just knew would follow that growing smile. But, when I opened my mouth to respond, the poor lady stiffened.
     “Guess no one had a birthday this week,” I said and Mrs. Peterson visibly relaxed with a lovely, kind smile.
                                                                                                                    *The name has been changed.

****Life 101 Answers to Questions…. Coming Tomorrow