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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Story Week 3 Extra, This Year In Jerusalem

Passover Week arrived, my heart filled with hope. Perhaps, this will be the year my life will mean something to someone. Jerusalem’s walls are bulging with guests from all over the country, even more this year because of the man Jesus.

Ding, ding-aling. “Listen; someone’s come into the shop.” I whispered to the lump next to me. “This might be my call. Help me roll just a bit to the center, will you?”

“C’mon, Junior, you’re forever thinking it’s your call. Relax; when it’s your turn, it’s your turn.”

“Push, can’t you? Now, a bit to the left, I’m almost there.” My friend barely bothered, but it was enough. I was dead-center and waiting.

At last the Master, joyfully whistling, passed through the brightly colored curtain separating us from the storefront. Tipping a tad, I saw his huge, weathered hand reach into the large wooden bin. Oh no, not over there; over here. Please just look at me; I’d be perfect. I strain to have the Master hear my thoughts. He turned towards me, his thumb brushing my side. Finally, it’s my turn; my life will mean something this year.

As quickly as my hopes had sky-rocketed at the Master’s touch, they plummeted. The slight whoosh of cool air meant only one thing; the more impressive chunk had been taken instead of me. Would my life ever mean anything?

“Shalom, Isaac! What brings you back to my shop? Another unexpected guest?”

“Shalom, Abraham! Not one, but four more guests, important men from Galilee. My Master commanded me to plead with you for another set of four silver cups.” Hearing the exchange on the other side of the curtain revived my hopes. Four cups! I simply must be one of the four. Important men, he said. Yes, it’s my turn and I’ll be impressive as a challis in the hands of one such man.

“I see that look, Junior. Forget it. The Master will choose a large lump of silver, insuring the same quality and color for a set. Just relax. Your turn will come. You’re too small for four cups.”

I had to try. Pushing, shoving, all the while grunting and groaning, I finally made my way back to the top of the pile. Not a second to spare. My breath caught as the warm sensation of his gentle hand engulfed me, lifting me up to his eye. “Hmm, you’re a nice piece of silver. With a bit of work, I could make a beautiful…but, for such a family I’d better not chance the silver match.” The tender way his hand placed me back in the bin did nothing to soothe the painful rejection.

Late in the day, a young maiden’s voice broke the stillness in the storefront, calling the Master away from his workbench. Concentrating to make out her quiet words, I missed the familiar flap of the curtain. Next thing I knew, the Master lifted me out of the bin and placed me on his worktable. I glimpsed the poorly-dressed girl before she left. Everything happened so fast. A poor family? I would be placed at the table of a poor family for the Passover meal? It’s not what I’d envisioned for my life; I so wanted to be held by an important man amongst the religious leaders. Then, my life would mean something.

The intense heat of the white-hot fire startled me. As the Master worked, preparing me for his most elegant mold, I made myself focus on the family to which I would be given. Children? Oh, I did so hope they had children. Their lively voices made every meal a feast to be celebrated-- how much more the Passover. Yes, a family with children would be a good home for me. The Master’s hands smoothed and rubbed away every imperfection on the silver challis I’d become. Indeed, I was a sight to behold, if I did say so myself.

The laughter of children rang out, as the young maiden carried me into her home. Soon adult hands whisked me off and up steps. Men surrounded the table, speaking animatedly to a central figure, a Teacher.

After being filled with a rich, red Israeli wine, I was placed in his hands. I was astonished at the gentleness of his strong touch. When he stood, all speech ceased. Lifting the cup, the Teacher spoke.

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”(I. Corinthians 11:25 NIV)

Sojourner’s Note: Fifteen years ago, at a time I was feeling dreadfully insignificant, I cried out to the Lord. “I just want my life to mean something,” I pleaded with my Creator. Instantly, the above story jumped into my thoughts. From that point on, I was confident of one very important truth: God has a plan for each and every life, even when I feel like a raw lump of silver.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Story Week 3, Mischief Makers

Today’s post is the sixth, and final, in this Story Week. The stories are all from the writers’ “Advanced” Category and were entered in the Faith Writers Weekly Writing Challenge. Each week a topic is posted and writers have one week to come up with an article, story or poem that has no more than 750 words. Click on Faith Writers and check out the writers group, as well as how you might enter a story in the challenge.

The following story was written by a friend of mine, Pam Ford Davis, who entered it in the challenge under the topic ”Savory to the Taste.” Pam and her husband, Norm, worked for a season in a children’s home, from which came the following story. Pam has been a guest blogger in the past. Her article, “Cinderella’s Coach”, continues to be among the list of ten most popular posts. Pam has written a terrific devotional book entitled “Forget-Me-Nots,” and maintains several blog sites. You’ll find her links at the bottom of this story.

Mischief Makers

“Where’s the camera? Their parents will love this!” My five 12-18 month, “mischief-makers” at Harbor Learning Academy loved spaghetti days! I cringed, as I thought of the mess I’d be cleaning up later.

Their faces resembled Indians, painted for a war party. Not yet adept with spoons and forks, they fed themselves with their fingers. Delighted by the taste of sweet spaghetti sauce, they crammed in slimy noodles and silenced rumbling of empty tummies.

Not a routine lunchtime, as we were celebrating a birthday of a member of the class… Noah’s mom had brought tantalizing chocolate cupcakes for the entire room. I cleared away plates of leftover spaghetti and placed a cupcake in front of each excited classmate.

No word adequately describes a child experiencing the sugar rush of chocolate. Hyperactivity and pleasure collided and the results were not pretty. After getting their fill of the tasty treat, my children unleashed latent creativity.

Nimble fingers of Thomas, Noah, Grayson and Kayden searched out sticky tomato drenched spaghetti noodles, chocolate cake crumbs and frosting. With fanfare, they inaugurated finger-painting festivities. Instinctively knowing, I could tend to only one child at a time, they partied!

Mischievous boys, and one outnumbered girl, smeared entree and dessert across the mural tabletop. I glared at the aftereffects of Picasso-like hand-prints. Intermittently, they tasted the tomato and chocolate concoction, savoring the spaghetti and celebrating with chocolate!

Nothing short of miraculous, I succeeded in cleaning caked spaghetti and chocolate from the table, and off each child. I changed their diapers, and got them in their cribs for nap-time. The ambiance of soft music filled the room, and I savored my solitude!

*Authors note: Creative non-fiction

Pam’s links:

****Have a great week!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Story Week 3, Healthy Lunch

Today’s post is the fifth in this Story Week. The stories are all from the writers’ “Advanced” Category and were entered in the Faith Writers Weekly Writing Challenge. Each week a topic is posted and writers have one week to come up with an article, story or poem that has no more than 750 words. Click on Faith Writers and check out the writers group, as well as how you might enter a story in the challenge.

The following story was written by a friend of mine, Camille Swanson, who  entered it in the challenge under the topic ”Junk Food.” Camille has written several books and maintains a blog, the address of which is noted after her story.

Healthy Lunch

I was literally standing still due to construction work on a highway. In addition to the traffic, there was a five car accident that needed to be cleared. Thankfully there were no fatalities.

While I was waiting, there were two cars that were in line with my peripheral vision. To the left, an SUV with three screaming children. The mother slumped forward, one hand on her forehead and the other on the steering wheel. To the right, a Mercedes. The silver fox behind the wheel looking straight ahead. The white-haired female passenger doing the same.

I was starving! I opened my lunch bag and grabbed some carrots. While munching, I thought...boy how I wish this were a chocolate bar or a chocolate layer cake with mocha- filling.

The apple looked boring, as did my tuna-fish sandwich on rye. I was in the mood for junk food. Something I abandoned a long time ago. The main reasons were age and health issues. But, I remember care-free junk-a-holic days as if they were yesterday. My sensible lunch at work was always followed by a decadent dessert.
Éclair, German Forest cake, cannoli, banana crème pie, chocolate crème pie.
Boy times have changed.

Eclipsed by thoughts of decadent delight I smiled. When suddenly… pounding on my passenger window. I moved clear out of my seat as the carrot fell from my hand.

A young woman's face met my gaze her tear-filled eyes narrowed, "May I please have your food?" she continued pounding.

I opened the window partially. "Excuse me? What is it you just asked?"

"My daughter is a diabetic and she's having an insulin reaction. Her sugar is low. I forgot her food bag on our table. She needs food. Please!" Her voice got higher in volume.

I opened the window completely quickly giving her the food bag. "Oh, of course...please take this. There's juice in there also."

"Thank-you, God bless..."

From my rear-view mirror I watched the tiny figure disappear into a white car. I began to pray for the little girl and the trusting frantic mom. She pounded on the window for her daughter's life. And out of all the cars, God sent her to mine.

Dear Lord, my Father, please help that mother minister to her child. Please let the child be okay. Oh my God, my Lord...You can do anything. You brought her to my window, I thank You for letting me be able to assist You. You used me as Your vessel providing the food and the means to help. Forgive me for thinking those silly decadent thoughts earlier about junk-food. I feel so foolish. Please help them both, I ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

I put on my Bible CD and listened to Matthew…Beatitudes for a little while. I was filled with peace.

Taking a peek in the mirror again I saw the tiny figure emerge. She walked toward me. Sitting up I opened my window.

“Is she okay?” My heart was thumping loudly.

“Yes. Yes, she’s fine.” She reached out to take my hand, “thank you so much. God showed me the car I should come to. He said I could trust you. And you had healthy foods. All good things for my little girl. No junk-food. So thank you!” Her voice cracked.

“Wow. I don’t know what to say…”

“Nothing needs to be said. You’ve helped. So thank you.” Her rumpled clothes were stained with tuna-fish and juice. She caught my eyes, “It can be hard getting her to eat and drink when she’s in that state. Sometimes my clothes get more then she does.”

“Oh, looks like we’re moving again. You better get back. Take care of yourself, and your daughter.”

“God does both. Thank you. May God shower you with endless blessings and bestow great favor upon you.” She waved before running off.

As I watched her get back into her car, I was filled with happiness. I realized that we never know when we are going to be used for God’s purposes. I smiled and looked upward. Lord thank You. Amen.


FYI: Type 1 Diabetes (Juvenile Diabetes)
• Juvenile Diabetes is a very serious disorder. As many as three million Americans may have type 1 diabetes.
• Each year, more than 15,000 children and 15,000 adults - approximately 80 people per day - are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the U.S.
• 85 percent of people living with type 1 diabetes are adults.
• The rate of type 1 diabetes incidence among children under the age of 14 is estimated to increase by 3% annually worldwide

Camille’s blog address, which is also where one can find information about her books:

****Story Week 3, Mischief Makers… Next Post

Friday, October 19, 2012

Story Week 3, The Gas Station Fill-Up

Today’s post is the fourth in this Story Week. The stories are all from the writers’ “Advanced” Category and were entered in the Faith Writers Weekly Writing Challenge. Each week a topic is posted and writers have one week to come up with an article, story or poem that has no more than 750 words. Click on Faith Writers and check out the writers group, as well as how you might enter a story in the challenge.

The following story was written by a friend of mine, Camille Swanson, who entered it in the challenge under the topic “Groceries.” Camille has written several books and maintains a blog, the address of which is noted after her story.

The Gas Station Fill-Up

She was crying when I first noticed her. Bright red hair hid a good portion of her face while she wiped away tears with a pink tissue.

In the back seat of her red car, a young child was holding a teddy bear crying, “Mommy I’m hungry.”

“Miss, are you okay?”

She turned abruptly wild-eyed and nodded silently.

Not wanting to intrude, I didn’t continue. But, my heart went out to the child who cried out again, “Mommy, can we get something to eat?”

“Baby, we have to wait a little longer…” She replied, while looking through her ripped brown purse glancing quickly at the pump and afterwards began to sob out of control.

I walked over to her, “Your little girl looks like she wants a snack, coincidently so do I. I tell you what, I hate to eat alone. I’d consider it an honor if you both dined with me.”

She began to shake her head no…but after hearing her little girl cry, “Mommy I’m hungry” she agreed, albeit reluctantly.

“I have a gift certificate for gas. I don’t need it; perhaps you might want to use this for your amount.”

“I don’t know what to say, I…” She shifted in place while she bit her lower lip. Her Windex-blue eyes dripped a lone tear onto her faded-yellow blouse akin to a Rorschach blot.

Yes will do just fine.” I smiled.

She paid with the gas certificate and followed me to the Oasis Diner, just two miles down the road from the gas station.

As we walked into the diner, we exchanged introductions. “I’m Barbara Zare.”

“I’m Val Sullivan, and this is my daughter Stacy.”

“Well hello Stacy, hello Val. Let’s get something to eat shall we? I’m starving.”

“Me too!” Young Stacy ran up the steps with Teddy in her arms.

We sat down in a corner booth and while Stacy was finishing her hamburger and fries, Val opened up to me.

“I was evicted last week. We’ve been living out of my car. I have no family, and no job. Well, my mom died five years ago…and my husband left us. I don’t know what to do.” Her hand holding the coffee cup trembled, so she placed it down on the table instantly. “I’m a nervous wreck. My poor daughter…we haven’t been able to buy groceries for some time. We’ve been eating at the mall, sampling the free food. And, we’ve been, sleeping in a commuter parking lot overnight. Well, she’s been sleeping; I stay awake and watch all night.”

“I’ve an idea. There’s an elderly lady who’s in need of care. She’s been looking for someone to do her errands, clean and cook. She’d even go so far as to have the right person live-in. She’s a very sweet widow. Would you be interested?”

Her eyes sparkled as her face lit up with a smile enhancing her beauty, “Yes, I would!”

“Mommy you look so pretty when you smile.”

She hugged her child. And, looked at me and in a quiet voice said, “thank-you.”

“As a matter of fact, why don’t you order Stacy an ice cream? I’ll call her now.”

“Can I have ice cream?” She clapped her ketchup laden hands.

“May I? And, yes you may.”

The widow agreed to see her. We arrived in no time and walked up to the mahogany door and rang the bell. “If it works out…you start immediately.”

The door was opened by her nurse Joanne, “Hi, go right in, she’s in the living room. Goodnight.”

Stepping into the beautiful huge foyer, we walked into the living room; I started to make the introductions, “Hello. Mrs. Jansen, this is…”

The widow dropped her tea cup as she gasped bringing her hand to her mouth.

“Are you okay Mrs. Jansen?” I looked at her with concern.

“You…it’s you!” She pointed at Val.

Val stopped in her tracks holding her daughter tightly.

“Valerie, is it really you?”

“Huh?” Valerie stared at her.

“What’s this about?” I asked.

She handed Valerie a picture. Her eyes widened, “Why do you have a picture of my mom?”

“Sweetheart, that’s my daughter. Your mom and I had a fight so many years ago. She left when you were two. I prayed one day you and your mom would return to me.” She sobbed as she held out her arms.

Val, the identical image of her mother, embraced her grandmother, as the picture of her mom smiling and looking happy…watched.

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: John 5:14

Author’s Note: This account is based on a true story.

Camille’s blog address, which is also where one can find information about her books:

****Story Week 3, Healthy Lunch… Next Post

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Story Week 3, Love Feast

Today’s post is the third in this Story Week. The stories are all from the writers’ “Advanced” Category and were entered in the Faith Writers Weekly Writing Challenge. Each week a topic is posted and writers have one week to come up with an article, story or poem that has no more than 750 words. Click on Faith Writers and check out the writers group, as well as how you might enter a story in the challenge.

I entered the following story for the topic “banquet”:

Love Feast

Stepping out of the Dining Hall to scan the barren, rugged road yet again, we heard our cooking staff’s exhortation, “They’ll come. Don’t worry, they’ll come.”

At forty-five minutes past the mealtime, the little benches were still empty. For a month we worked long hours to prepare every detail, but would anyone come? Would fear keep them away because our skin is white?

“Well, let’s go fetch a few of them with the car. Maybe they’ve forgotten the meal’s today.” Who was I kidding; we’d just told them yesterday. If I hadn’t eaten for most of the week, would I forget that a meal was being prepared for me the following day? Not likely.

Our African cook in the passenger seat, we managed to snatch a few of the invited guests from the streets and drove them back to eat. While settling them at their places on the new wooden benches, our day guard called to us.

“Look! There’s the Briquetterie bunch. They’re coming!” We rushed out to see them rounding the corner. Led by the stern-faced Benoit, age five, the rag-tag pack of three-year-olds from his neighborhood high-stepped right into the Dining Hall. No one uttered a single word to any of us, in spite of our cheerful, welcome greetings. All heads remained bowed, each one silently skittering over to their spot on the benches. Did they even notice that the brightly-colored green and white checkered, plastic tablecloths matched the gingham curtains on the windows? The windows had been installed after punching a hole in the cement warehouse we turned into our Dining Hall.

The courage of the pint-sized legion, marching determinedly through the streets, must have popped the cork in the bottle-neck of fear, because very soon these children were joined by others. Several had swollen bellies, sad faces, and brittle hair tinged with orange tips, indicating serious protein-deficiency malnutrition. Others had sunken cheeks and thin, little limbs. Those who appeared malnourished but not in serious trouble wore such ragged clothing; one little girl quickly slipped onto the bench in only a faded pair of tiny panties.

Three dozen guests stared down at the plates of food set before them; nobody moved, nobody spoke. The staff stood and I addressed the children, “Okay, kids, thanks for coming. Now, we’ll pray, thanking the Lord for the food provided for you today, and then you may eat. You may not eat out of anyone else’s plate. You’ve your own plate; and you may have more, if you’re still hungry. There’s a snack here for you to take in case you get hungry later. There’ll be another meal for you at this time tomorrow.”

Still, following the Amen, nobody moved, and nobody spoke. What control these little ones exhibited! The steaming mound of rice, dripping with spicy, savory reddish-orange sauce and beef chunks, wafted their aromas right into the young, downcast faces.

Finally, the chief cook leaned over the smallest member of the somber assembly and held a ball of saucy rice to the child’s lips. Bingo! In went the ball, followed immediately by the child’s own fast-paced balling of food into her mouth. Watching the joy of the little girl broke the resolve of the rest. Every hand formed the balls, practically inhaling the food. Finished; the whole crowd was out the door in a flash, catching the take-home snack on the run. Never a word spoken by one child.

For children whose intake amounted to small bits of bread torn off some adult’s morsel or a few balls of dry rice, being presented with the above meal, definitely, constituted a banquet for them, “an elaborate, sumptuous repast”*. Young men in their neighborhoods warned the children not to be taken in by the whites, lest they end up in a car crossing the border on their way to slavery. The kids were just too hungry to care.

Over the days that followed this first banquet, we saw the numbers swell until we were serving more than five dozen children. Nevertheless, for the first weeks, the whole bunch ate in complete silence, before bolting out the door. When we added the local spoons to their place-settings, we heard only the rapid clacking of metal against plastic.

For more than five years now, the children have come to the Lord’s banqueting table. Their cheerful chatter and laughter fill the Dining Hall as they continue to learn the genuine truth behind the daily banquet: His banner over them really is love.**

*The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company
**From Song of Solomon 2:4.

Author’s Note: This is a true story.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Story Week 3, Little Ears, Little Lips

Today’s post is the second in this Story Week. The stories are all from the writers’ “Advanced” Category and were entered in the Faith Writers Weekly Writing Challenge. Each week a topic is posted and writers have one week to come up with an article, story or poem that has no more than 750 words. Click on Faith Writers and check out the writers group, as well as how you might enter a story in the challenge.

I entered the following story for the topic “funny”:

Little Ears, Little Lips

Chatting our way through the silent opening of the automatic door, Allison had seventeen-month-old Timmy in tow. I glanced back and saw Suzie lagging behind. Once inside the store, we turned to watch the three-year-old run back and forth across the electric eye pad, giggling and clapping with each swing of the door.

“She’s just fascinated with electric doors. Fortunately, Timmy has yet to see the draw.” Patiently waiting for the little girl, while holding on to a squirming Timmy, Allison gave me an impressively uninterrupted run-down of the latest family adventures. “Okay, Suz, time to come through. Mommy’s got stuff to do today.” Noticing Suzie’s move to obey, we turned to head for the appropriate aisle. We’d not gone far when we heard Suzie addressing a shopper.

“Those nasty rings. You try washing them out, scrubbing them out. You’ve got ring around the collar!” Shaking her head, Suzie was looking up at a man coming through the electric door, struggling to turn up his collar. The blossoming redness escaped his neck, crossing his cheeks.

Suzie’s reenactment of the oft-seen commercial for a detergent had totally taken him by surprise. Actually, all of the people within hearing distance were in stitches, except Allison who was glowing beet-red as she handed Timmy off to me. Profusely apologizing to the embarrassed customer, Allison pulled at the pretty little blonde’s arm, turning to rejoin Timmy and me.

“Is this a common occurrence?” Chuckling and trying not to laugh right out loud as the clerks and other shoppers had done, I moved Timmy to my other hip.

“Oh, pretty much. The only question is which commercial message she will pull out of her repertoire. I don’t go into stores with the kids all that often, as you might imagine. I feel like the clerks are holding their collective breath every time they see us coming, anticipating what Suzie will drop on the next unsuspecting customer.” Allison reached for Timmy, swinging him up and over the shopping cart to buckle him in.

“You can help me find some good carrots to buy, Suzie, maybe some cucumbers, too.” Veggies weren’t on my list but it seemed a safe department for this little treasure trove of commercial messages. One can never have too many carrots, right?  Any stranger lurking near the carrot bin might just be spared her dramatic introduction. Suzie eagerly took hold of my hand and danced her way to the produce section.

Before long, Allison and I had both completed our shopping. Mercifully, Suzie focused her attention on the colorful, new box of breakfast cereal I had bought for her, temporarily distracted from the collars of the adult patrons.

Later, when Allison and I were enjoying that mid-morning cup of coffee, Suzie voiced a request. “Mommy, we’re thirsty, too. Can we have a cup of Maxwell House; it’s good to the last drop and we won’t settle for anything less.” Face appropriately solemn, right hand on hip, left hand shaking the index finger to accentuate her request, Suzie struck an impressive no nonsense pose.

“Well, you are mixing your commercials here; but no, Miss Priss. You and your brother may not have a cup of coffee of any brand. However, you may have a cup of milk. Run and get your tea cups off the folding table.” Both children spun around and were soon back, tiny teacups in hand. Allison filled each vessel and carefully set it in the waiting hands. Holding the plastic teacup out, watching the gentle swaying of the milk’s surface with each step, the two slowly, deliberately inched their way back to the child-sized table.

About half an hour later, gathering up my shopping bags and purse, I made my way to the front door. Passing through the living room, I saw Suzie with her arm around Timmy’s little-boy shoulders. They were just silently walking around the room. Abruptly Suzie stopped and turned to face Timmy, keeping her arm in place.

“Laura, have you tried those new Playtex, deodorant tampons yet?”  Suzie’s question to her brother took me by such surprise; laughter escaped my lips like a firecracker. When they twisted around to see who was interrupting their play, I saw furrowed little brows, eyes squinting, and a thin line where smiles had been seconds earlier.

“See what I mean, Marie? It could have been so much worse than ring around the collar!”

Remember: what little ears hear in the home, little lips just might freely share when least expected!

This true story took place in the 70’s, though all names have been changed.

****Story Week 3, Love Feast… Next Post

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Story Week 3, Positively Enjoyable

I’m traveling this week so taking this opportunity to post a few of my stories from the Faith Writers Weekly Writing Challenge. A topic is given and the writers have one week to come up with no more than 750 words in a story, poem or article, fiction or nonfiction. Writers are in one of four categories: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Masters. This week’s stories are from the Advanced category. I hope you enjoy the posts. If you are a writer, or have a desire to check out your writing potential, just click on the Faith Writers link. No cost to check it out. You can even submit one article, poem, or story each quarter in the Weekly Writing Challenge without cost. Can’t beat the price to try!

Challenge Topic was “Diet” for the following story:

Positively Enjoyable

Dieting isn’t a team sport, but it could’ve been if Mom wasn’t such a party-pooper… or in this case, a diet-dumper. “Awe, c’mon Mom. It’s your kind of diet. Listen; it says right here no exercise is necessary to lose five pounds in five days.” We all knew that exercise was a four-letter word to my mother. We didn’t even mention weight loss programs boasting a plan that included the e word. “I’ll be your partner; Dad can partner with Anne. I bet we can beat ‘em. Not only that, but we’ve chosen your favorite: peanut butter covered in chocolate! How ‘bout it; are ya in, Mom?”

“Uh, you go ahead, Honey.” Mom never looked up from the morning newspaper, spread across her lap. Alas, I knew the tone; we were on our own. Well, never mind, Dad’s enthusiasm made up for our missing dieter.

After distributing the individual boxes included in the Family Plan, Dad unfolded the instructions that he found on top of the 15 wrapped meal-in-a-bar goodies. “Okay, girls, here we go. This morning we can have one of these delicious, chocolate-covered peanut butter bars and one cup of black coffee. There’s no snack this morning and for lunch, uh, it’s another bar and half a cup of skim milk.” Dad had the biggest, toothy smile on his face as he glanced up from reading the instructions. “Don’t forget to drink your water –eight glasses of 8-ounces each by bedtime.” Did Dad notice our smiles turn down as he handed each of us a regular coffee mug, instead of our lovely, pint-sized cups? “Only one cup this morning, girls.” Guess he did.

“Daddy, I don’t think Europeans can drink their coffee black. I mean, Anne’s been drinking her coffee with cream and sugar since it was in her baby bottle, ya know.” Diet bar halfway to his mouth, Daddy moved his gaze to Anne. Brow narrowing ever-so slightly, eyes squinting as he considered the dilemma.

“Okie-dokie, well, she’s a guest so let’s make an exception, shall we?” Exception made, back to breakfast. We all sipped our coffee, rather than chugging it and nibbled the bar, instead of woofing it down. Who were we kidding? Eating slowly didn’t make us feel less hungry when we pushed away from the breakfast counter.

For five days, all of our proteins and fats were provided by the meal-in-a-bar, which was consumed three times a day. With the excitement similar to unwrapping Christmas surprises, my father began each morning by reading off the real-food bits allowed that day.

Day 2 was much the same as Day 1, with the exception of one raw carrot at dinner, which we cut into several small sticks, and half a cup of juice for a snack. By the end of Day 2, Anne complained of a little tummy-ache, but we both thought it was likely just hunger. My stomach made so much noise that Mom laughed just to look at me.

Day 3 ended with a minor crisis. Anne’s tummy-ache had increased and her poor mid-section ballooned like a mini-blimp. The addition of half an apple for mid-morning snack and a cup of tossed salad for supper, had quieted my growling tummy; but it was clear, Anne needed to drop out. She’d already gained two pounds. And Dad? The old cliché happy as a clam springs to mind. He meticulously weighed and measured every teensy bit of real food the instructions allowed, punctuating each bite with mmmmh’s or slurps.

On Day 4 dear, old Dad startled me from daydreaming about what I planned to eat on Day 6, when chocolate-covered peanut butter bars were only a memory. “How ya doin’, Punkin? Ready for breakfast?” I nodded and Dad poured the coffee, followed by the day’s instructions. Just one more day, I told myself, while listening to Dad’s mmmmhhing over his peanut butter bar.

Day 5 dawned and I leaped from bed to join Dad for this final day of meal-in-a-bar dining. The weigh-in would not be until the next morning so the winner would be declared tomorrow. Funnily enough, for the first time, Dad wasn’t whistling or humming as he set up the coffeemaker. I, on the other hand, sang and danced around the kitchen.

Final results in pounds: Dad, -7; me, -3 ½; Anne, +3… and Mom, -2. Yes, Mom; she discovered it’s no fun to eat alone.

Conclusion: Enjoying the journey may result in a more positive finish than merely enduring the discipline.

A true story

****Little Ears, Little Lips… Next Story Post

Friday, October 12, 2012

Simon and the Holy Spirit

Monday’s post, The Bible and the Holy Spirit, gave a list of questions often asked regarding the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The link provided in that post offered an excellent article to answer all of those questions and more. To end the week, I wanted to focus on a Biblical example of why someone had not received the Holy Spirit, even though he really wanted to receive. The issue was not related to his accepting Jesus and the Gospel message; he had believed and had even been through the waters of baptism. The issue spoke to his motivation.

This is the situation we find in Acts Chapter Eight:

It was the day they stoned Stephen for proclaiming the Gospel message. While the church leaders were burying Stephen and mourning his death, Saul of Tarsus joined in the persecution of the Believers. Saul went from house to house, dragging the Believers out, and throwing them in prison. Only the apostles remained in Jerusalem, the rest of the Believers fled to the rest of Judea and nearby Samaria.

Phillip went to the region of Samaria and began preaching. God anointed his words and signs and wondrous miracles were demonstrated as Phillip prayed. People were healed of long-time illnesses and delivered from evil spirits. Many, many people responded to the Gospel message and were baptized.

One man in the crowd was especially fascinated by all he had heard and seen. This man was Simon the Sorcerer. The fact was that people used to show that stunned amazement and awe whenever they watched Simon perform his miracles and tricks. He had walked among the people of Samaria for a long time and declared his own greatness. The people had to agree when they watched his magic and called him a great man and said that he had divine power.

However, when Phillip preached, the people listened and believed. The miracles performed during the preaching times and wherever Phillip went, turned the people’s attention away from Simon and on to Phillip. Actually, even Simon was fascinated at Phillip’s words and God’s power working through him.

As it turned out, though, it was not just the works Simon saw that grabbed him. Philip’s message also gripped Simon and soon he, too, joined the ranks of the Believers. Simon was baptized with the rest of the people when they all were immersed in the waters of baptism.

Seeing what was happening when Philip prayed, well, Simon couldn’t help but be drawn to Phillip. Simon stuck like glue to Phillip’s side. Everywhere Phillip went, there was Simon, tirelessly attentive.

When news of Phillip’s ministry reached Jerusalem, the apostles sent Peter and John over to Samaria. When Peter and John learned that the new believers had been baptized with water but had not yet received the Holy Spirit’s in-filling, Peter and John began to pray for the people to receive. One by one, the newly baptized Believers began to receive the in-filling (Baptism) of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the apostles’ hands.

Simon saw the change come over the people who received the Holy Spirit and he longed to have the power to do the same. Herein, the heart of the man was exposed. He didn’t want the wondrous joy of the Holy Spirit in his own life. What Simon wanted was the power to pass it along to other people. Since he had made his money doing magic tricks for a long time, Simon saw the real potential for financial gain should he also have that power.

Acts 8:18-19 reads: When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

Simon was a businessman and thought everyone the same. He offered to pay the disciples for the power to do what they were doing. Not a good idea. Here is Peter’s response:

Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” (verses 20-23)

Boy that would have had me on my knees repenting big time! Not Simon, however. He just didn’t’ get it. Instead of repenting, he begged the disciples to pray for him that God wouldn’t do anything to him. What a thick skull this guy had! All he had to do was repent himself and God would forgive him. Why not just do it? Because repenting for Simon would have meant that he could no longer make money by sorcery. He was not willing to repent, which means turn around and fly right, in the vernacular of today. Sin was just too profitable to Simon; he refused.

Of course, having the wrong motive doesn’t just mean things as obviously wrong as wanting to make money off the Holy Spirit. It can be more along the lines of wanting the Baptism in the Holy Spirit because someone else has it and you don’t want to be left out. The only reason a person should seek the in-filling or Baptism of the Holy Spirit is to have more of God. It says I am fully surrendering my life to God, to use in any way He chooses. The Holy Spirit is given to help me do what it is that God wants me to do. If a person is not really interested in following God to the fullest, God will know and the giving of this gift will wait until the motives are right.

If you didn’t get a chance to read the article “About the Baptism in the Holy Spirit”, here is the link again. It is the best article I have read on the subject and should answer a lot of questions. Again, I do not know this pastor and have never been in his church. All I know is that he has written a terrific article that is full of truth, giving explanations that are easily understood. Okay, here is the link:

If you are just joining the posts concerning the Holy Spirit and my own experience, you might like to get caught up by reading the following posts:

The New Men
Learning More About the Holy Spirit
Midnight on the Second Pew
A Concert to Remember

Well, that should give you something to read this weekend!

****Have a good weekend!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

After the Conference

Liz and I enjoyed our group of high school girls during the conference, sharing a lot of favorite Christian songs Liz played on her guitar. Of course, the kids loved that. There were serious times, too, as we shared our testimonies and Bible stories. As with most girls that age, sharing their own concerns proved more threatening. By the end of the conference, only two girls had the boldness to indicate an interest in spiritual things in front of their peers. That’s pretty par for the course and doesn’t mean the others weren’t interested, necessarily. Based on the way both of us had felt at their ages, we pressed on to give the information requested by the two to the entire group. Nobody yawned and nobody got up to leave. Interested or not, they listened. Who knew what the result might be later on… only God.  In any case, the girls did seem to have had a good time and that was important, too.

Actually, they had received a lot more than we could have imagined; or, at least, they expressed that to the right people. Liz and I were packing up our room, the conference was over and we readied ourselves to head home.

“Sojourner, could I see you for a minute?” Reverend Vance was speaking to my back, having called to me on our way to the car.

“Sure, how did the rest of the conference go? It seemed like our kids had a good time but can one ever really tell with teenagers?” I laughed and waited for Reverend Vance’s reply.

‘”Everything went very well. Thank you to both of you ladies for your participation. Your girls were very positive about the experience. In fact, that’s why I have a favor to ask of you.” Liz and I smiled, waiting for the request. Actually, both of us wanted to jump up and down for joy at this confirmation of what we had hoped.

“If I can help, I’ll be glad to do it. What do you need, Reverend Vance?”

“Well, I know it’s short notice, but would you be able to do the sermon tomorrow morning?” I reckon he saw the sudden blast of anxiety that spilled out my eyes, as my eyebrows shot heavenward because he had to stifle a laugh before continuing. “I know you can do it. The kids said you never used notes or anything and had such interesting things to say. I hadn’t planned to do this but another one of the staff had also heard from the girls and asked me to make the request. It seemed fitting to me, since we had just held the youth conference at the church. Asking one of the youth counselors to share the platform just felt right to me. What do you say, Sojourner? You can take all the time you like and can speak on whatever you have on your heart.”

“Of course, she wants to do that, Reverend Vance!” Liz didn’t give my stunned silence a chance to respond. She was so excited at the request. I, on the other hand was struck mute. “I know Sojourner will have something just right to say and the people will see it was a good idea, first time or not.”

Turning his gaze back on me, Reverend said, “And, you, Sojourner. What do you think? Are you willing to try?”

“I… I… I’ve never done anything like that, Reverend Vance. What if I stand up to speak and can’t get any words out or something?” They both laughed like this was an absurd possibility but I knew better. It was entirely possible!

“Well, you do your best. I’ll be right there to step in if you choke up. I know your girls would really be proud to see you up there in front of the congregation.”

Reluctantly, I agreed to try and Liz and I headed home. “What an opportunity! You can just ask God to tell you what He wants you to say tomorrow. I’ll pray for you the whole time; it’ll be fine. Just don’t try to come up with anything on your own and God will do His thing through you. I can hardly wait to hear what you will say up there!”  Same with me and I only hoped it was something from God and not just a mumbling stammerer trying not to faint.

The entire evening I tried not to think of the sermon but topics kept jumping into my mind at random. Some had possibilities but would take far more research than I had time. Besides, I really did think God would fill my mouth if I would only let Him and not get myself in the way. Curt and I prayed about it before going to bed, but struggling not to think about something seemed even harder than writing the sermon.  I was sorry he had to work in the morning so couldn’t be there with me.

In the morning I sang familiar choruses as I took my bath and prepared breakfast. Every time a thought crossed my mind, I just said, “I’m not going to think about that. God already knows what I will say and when the time comes, that’s what I’ll say!” Then the volume was ratcheted up on whatever song I was singing. At last it was time to leave for church.

The service progressed in the familiar order and, then, Reverend Vance introduced me. As I walked over to him, my adrenaline output took a giant leap off the charts. My cheeks were burning so I assumed they were also blazing beet-red.

“Take a big breath, Sojourner,” whispered Reverend Vance while the people shifted in their seats. I did as he suggested, asking if I could remain where I was instead of standing in the large pulpit perch.

“Hello, I’m happy to be here with you this morning. I hope you don’t mind that I stand here instead of up there.” I turned to look at the impressive pulpit and people laughed. Was that a good sign? The platform was still raised and away from the people but it felt more like the stage I used to stand on when I led the pep Assemblies at my high school; hence, a lot more comfortable to me. “Reverend Vance asked me to share whatever was on my heart this morning so I asked God to tell me what that was.” More laughter from the congregation. I wasn’t trying to be funny but pressed on, hoping they were just encouraging me to continue.

I took a long, deep breath and new that Liz was on the sidelines praying for me. Okay, God, I thought; it’s time for You to do Your thing. I’m going to open my mouth now. Please, fill it with whatever is on Your heart for these people.

“Life with God is like this…” God had instantly dropped a picture into my mind and I began sharing what I saw was his example. From that point on, I listened to the sermon as it proceeded out of my own mouth. It was an unusual sensation, to be sure! The people were as interested to hear it as I was, even though the sermon time had doubled from the usual twenty minutes on the schedule.

People actually clapped when I finished with, “Thank you and may God bless you with understanding of His message to you today.” Honestly, it took everything I had to not breathe out a loud sigh of relief but that’s how I felt. It was over! I hadn’t fainted and Reverend Vance hadn’t had to come rescue me. My mouth felt like it was full of cotton; I desperately needed a drink of water.

I started moving to the side stairs and Reverend Vance grabbed on to my hand and whispered I should wait for him. He wanted me to stand next to him at the door to shake people’s hands.

The final hymn sounded and off we went to position ourselves at the side of the front exit from the sanctuary. One-by-one the congregation filed out, shaking my hand and thanking me for speaking, as well as for helping with the kids. One man just wouldn’t let go of my hand.

“Well, Reverend Vance, whenever you need to be out-of-town or just need a break from preaching, you can call on this little lady to fill in for you. I could listen to her any time.” I thanked him and apologized that I’d gone over their usual time by so much. “Awe, that’s nothing any of us noticed. You had us too interested in what you were saying to check the clock.”

“I’ll keep that in mind and thanks for letting me know.” Responding to the man with a big smile, Reverend Vance gave my shoulders a quick squeeze.

“You can count on me, too, pastor. I loved hearing this young woman’s sermon. Come back anytime, Honey.” The lady gave a firm shake of my hand and moved on.

So many people echoed these sentiments that I began to be really embarrassed. My face warmed up every bit as much as my heart as the encouragement for Reverend Vance to have me come back continued. It was not at all hard to pass the praise on to the Lord, however, as I knew without any question I was as much a listener that morning as anyone in the congregation. I have no idea what I could have come up with on my own but I’m pretty sure it would have been more along the lines of a university first-year speech class assignment. My utter joy was that the Almighty God had chosen to use me to speak for Him that beautiful Sunday morning.

****Simon and the Holy Spirit… Next Post

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Clerical Conflict/Consequences: Reverend Vance

I’d heard the phone ringing as I bounded up the old wooden steps to our apartment; I wasn’t sure Curt was home. Crossing the threshold, I spotted Curt holding the telephone receiver out to me. “It’s for you.” Why was he laughing? “It’s the church secretary at the big Methodist Church in town.” My eyebrows shot up in that stare that says you’ve got to be kidding? He shook his head and the receiver at the same time. Grabbing it from his hand, I calmed my voice.

“Hello, this is Sojourner. Are you looking for me?”

“Yes, I believe I am. Reverend Vance has asked that I phone you. He said you used to be a part of the youth group in his church years ago. Do you remember Reverend Vance?”

Wow, did I remember him! He was the pastor of the church where my mother took us for Sunday School when we were little kids. He was the pastor when I asked him all kinds of questions during the confirmation classes he let me attend with my sister, though I was technically too young for confirmation. He was the pastor when I was the head of the junior high youth group, still asking him questions about God and the Bible and what we should believe. I would never forget Reverend Vance; he was one of my favorite adults of all time!

“Yes, I remember him? Is he the pastor at your church? I’d lost track of him since leaving the town where I was born.”

“Well, actually, Miss, Reverend Vance is the District Superintendent of this area. Do you know what that is?”

“Yup, that means he’s some kind of big cheese for the Methodists, doesn’t it?” I heard her stifle a laugh and clear her throat.

“Uh, well, yes; I suppose you could put it that way. Anyway, the district is holding a special conference for young people and Reverend Vance would like you to be one of the counselors. Would that be possible? I could give you the dates, if you are interested in checking your schedule.”

“Are you sure it is me he wants?” I was fairly sure Reverend Vance knew that I had chosen to worship in the Catholic Church as an adult, rather than switch back and forth with the Methodist Church. On the other hand, I would love a chance to share with him about my recent experience with the Holy Spirit. “How ‘bout we set up an appointment and I can come talk with him. I’d love to visit with him again and I’ll be sure it is really me he is wanting for the conference.”

The secretary was puzzled but agreed and set up an appointment. Shortly after the phone call I talked with the other students in my group at IVCF about the possibility of counseling at the youth conference. One of my Catholic friends offered to share the responsibilities with me, if the pastor would allow me to have another person along. That’d be great; I planned to ask.

“Come in, come in. I’m so glad you came to see me!” Reverend Vance held out his hand, his huge smile matched by mine. I grabbed his hand but pulled his whole arm towards me for a big squeeze. I looked up to see recognition in his sparkling eyes. He’d remembered this arm-hug was my usual greeting for him. Calling for his secretary to bring some cold drinks into his office for us, Reverend Vance escorted me back through the office door.

“It’s so good to see you again! So much has happened to me in the last few years. How much time do you have?” Both of us laughed, remembering my stories could take hours, once I got started. “No, really, Reverend Vance. Actually, I asked for this appointment with you because of the invitation to be one of the counselors at your upcoming youth conference. Do you know I am only a Catholic now? I don’t think I’ve been in a Methodist Church for a couple of years, at least. Is it really me that you want for one of your conference staff?”

“Well, no, I didn’t know that you’d made your choice and we lost. However, what I do know is that you were one student most intensely interested in matters concerning the Bible and God. If you’re still that way, I do want you to be one of the folks working with the high school girls. That’s just what they need. Do you want to do it?”

“Well, let me fill you in just a bit on that one area of my life and, then, I’ll ask you if you still want me to do it.” Pastor Vance was intrigued, pushing back to settle on a relaxed pose.

For most of the next hour, I shared my own story about being born again the previous year. This was followed up by the more recent experience with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Of course, my excitement was obvious and he couldn’t help but notice. I was moving forward and back on my chair as I spoke. My hands were as animated as ever. Reverend Vance had to remind me to slow down a bit when I spoke.

“Yes, I do understand.“ Reverend Vance was responding to my question, but I quietly waited for more. “I know exactly what you mean. I, too, have a story.”

The solemn look on Reverend Vance’s face tore at my heart. It was not the joyous account mine had been. Still, I wanted to know.

“When I was in my first year at seminary, we had time alone in the chapel any time we wanted. I took advantage of the opportunity and enjoyed the quiet and peace of the little sanctuary. One morning, I was praying and had an intense longing for more of God. You know, I just wanted to know all that I could of God. It was like a hunger that just wouldn’t be satisfied. This was true, I knew that; but it was the first time such a sensation had seemed to come from within my being. I remembered looking around to see if there was anyone else in the chapel before I spoke but, seeing it was empty, I asked God to give me whatever it was I needed to know Him to the farthest limits possible. I can’t describe what I felt; but, when I opened my mouth to continue praying, I couldn’t understand the words rushing out of my mouth. It was so fascinating that I tried to understand which language I was speaking. It was, definitely, a real language by the sounds and structure of the words, but it wasn’t one I had ever heard before this time. I stayed in that chapel for as long as I could, soaking it all in and wondering what was happening to me.” He looked into my eyes and I nodded for him to continue. I’d never heard this story.

“I made it through my classes somehow but didn’t hear a word or take a single note, probably. I found a fellow first-year seminarian and told him all about it. He warned me to not mention it to a single other person and, should anyone ask him, he planned to deny that I’d told him anything like what I had just shared with him. Apparently, the rumor was that another student in this seminary had been more open about what happened to him in the chapel. He looked and looked for someone to explain it to him. In the end, he was expelled. If I really wanted to finish seminary and get my credentials to preach, I’d need to forget all about what had just happened. He also said that folks had said they believed the other student to have lost his mind and that it was the majority opinion that only crazy people would speak a language they didn’t understand. Of course, I knew that wasn’t true but, then, I was beginning to feel like my life had just spun out of control. I’d not had anything I couldn’t understand happen to me prior to this experience. So, now I listen to you and I wonder… what would have happened to me if I’d found someone who believed me and wanted to help me understand it? I can see your enthusiasm and I remember what I felt for just a short time.”

“But, it’s not too late, Reverend Vance! It’s never too late. You can still ask God to forgive you for denying the Gift and He’ll give it back to you; I’m sure He will. Let’s ask Him right now.” I grabbed onto the hand nearest mine but he only gave it a squeeze and pulled it back to clasp the other hand.

“No, it’s too late. I’ll retire in a few more years. It’s too late now. Fear is a mighty powerful motivator, you know. The threat of losing my retirement pension, fear of being removed from my position in disgrace… I just can’t do it. It’s too late.”

I was so stunned and sad over my friend’s story. I had no idea and I suspect few people, if anyone else, had ever heard this story. Yes, in fact, he did still want me to be one of the counselors and yes, I could even bring my friend to assist me. He trusted me.

I want to let you know that not every Methodist seminary is like this one. Not every pastor in that denomination has had such an experience. I have a lot of Methodist friends who have experienced the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and dearly love the Lord. Please, don’t take this one example and generalize it to all seminaries for all time. Even this one seminary may not still hold this view. My point in sharing this story was only to make you aware that your own pastor may have had a similar experience but hasn’t shared it with you out of fear. His story also bears witness to the love of a marvelous Heavenly Father who looked down at the heart of a young man, praying alone in a chapel, and answered the cry of his heart. What is done with God’s answer depends on the one who receives, of course; but we can be in a position to encourage those who share their heart with us. Let’s focus on encouraging sharing, even if we don’t always understand. Search out the answers for yourself before just discounting anything you don’t understand. Be assured that God does want you to understand and will help you find His answers!

*Reverend’s name has been changed.

For the stories on my experience of being born again and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, check out these posts:

**** After the Conference… Next Post