Wednesday, November 18, 2009

She Gave All She Had

Last week was our turn to teach the Pre-K-K class for Sunday School. It's a lively group and we always enjoy it. Sunday, we had about 20, but they were so busy it seemed like more. The lesson was about following directions, but it seems like the Spirit was teaching a different lesson in the heart of one little girl.
About halfway into the morning, we take time to sing and praise the Lord and to take up the offering. I invited the kids who'd remembered to bring their offerings to go to the plastic bucket we use and put in their money. As they headed back to their seats, little Brielle came and looked up at me.
"I don't have any offering," she said.

"That's okay, Brielle, you can bring it next week." I replied and she scurried back to her chair.

A few moments later she found me again. This time she was holding a long pink balloon, one of those you can twist into animals and hats. She'd had it all morning and it was now only half filled with air.
"Here," she said brightly, a wide smile on her face, "This balloon is for God!"
Together we took the balloon over and put it in the bucket. I'm sure it made Jesus smile to see a bright pink balloon on top of all the pennies, quarters, bills and envelopes already there.

"I think God is very happy you gave him your balloon," I told Brielle as she happily took her seat again. One little girl gave all that she had that morning, joyfully and with all her heart because she wanted to give to God.

"... and a little child shall lead them."

Lord, may I be as cheerful and generous and pure a giver as this little one.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

This is exactly the kind of book I was hoping to discover on my journey of "The Year of Reading Dangerously"

The Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson

"'Yada Yada' to perceive, understand, acquire knowledge, know and discern." What a perfect name for a prayer group! When Jodi Baxter makes the decision to go with her boss to the Chicago Women's Conference, she has no idea the changes God has planned for her life.

"What do an ex-con, a former drug addict, a real estate broker, a foreign college student and a married mother of two have in common?" asks the back cover. But when this group of women, plus a few more, randomly winds up in the same prayer group, God starts connecting hearts in ways only He could. If you're a woman, you know what I'm talking about. One minute you're thinking you have nothing in common with that older woman sitting across the room and the next minute you realize you're sisters under the skin. It's this feeling that Neta Johnson does so well that makes "Yada, Yada" such a special book.

I wrote previously about a book in which I had trouble identifying with the main character. In this story, I was with Jodi from page one. As I became involved in the Yadas, I fell easily into longing for a closer walk with God, more vibrant praising, and especially a more powerful and positive prayer life. When you read the prayers of the Yada Yada sisters, you'll want to jump up, shout "Glory" and try a few of them yourself--at least I know did. I can honestly say this book has made a positive impact on my prayer life and I'm praising God for it. What could be better than being entertained and learning to walk closer to God at the same time? This is exactly the kind of book I was hoping to discover on my journey of "The Year of Reading Dangerously"

Full of good humor and compelling characters, along with some surprising twists and turns, this is one prayer meeting you don't want to miss.

P.S. Although I had hoped not to reread any author until the year was over, I confess I've already begun the second book (Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Down)--I just couldn't resist!

Quaker Summer

Haven't blogged about the "Year of Reading Gloriously" lately but I'm still on track and have finished a couple of books, am into a third. As the holidays approach I've been super busy letting everyone know about "Christmas Miracles" a new book written and compiled by Cecil Murphy and Marley Gibson and others (including my friend and boss Twila Belk). Please check it out at There is also a fan page if you're on Facebook.

A good friend recommended Quaker Summer by Lisa Samson to me last summer and I finished it in early October. From the back cover:

"Heather Curridge is coming unhinged. And people are starting to notice. What's wrong with a woman who has everything--a mansion on a lake, a loving son, a heart-surgeon husband, and soapstone countertops--yet still feels miserable inside? Yet when Heather spends the summer with two ancient Quaker sisters and a crusty nun in a downtown homeless shelter, she suddenly finds herself at a crossroads."

This pretty much sums it up. I had a really difficult time relating to Heather. In the book she says, "Every year I think there must be more to life, and every year, despite a new car or a trip to a new land, new milestones and triumphs in my son's life, or a redone deck, a pool, a spa, or entertainment system, I take stock and think once again, I was made for more than this. But I love my stuff." Hmmm. I am not a person who is preoccupied with buying things and I had some real problems even imagining Heather's affluent life-style.

But I could certainly identify with her struggle to do what God wanted her to do instead of going her own way. God calls Heather so far out of her comfort zone in such an unmistakable voice it's hard to ignore Yet she actually waffles until the night she has a kangaroo (!) hop across the road in front of her SUV. Talk about God getting your attention.

This book has memorable characters, true to (yuppie) life struggles and even some action sequences although it's best quality is the call it gives to Christians get out of our safe little small groups and insulated lives and begin to serve, as Jesus did, the "least of these".

There was one bit of "action" near the end that truly disappointed me. After spending the entire book encouraging women to go to the poorer parts of town, to the halfway houses and homeless shelters, an incident occurs that I would assume might be a major source of undoing all the good that had come before. I don't want to include a spoiler, but let me share an experience of my own to shed some light on why I wish the author "hadn't gone there".

For a number of years I played in a conservative church's all ladies handbell choir. On occasion we were asked to play for a men's minimum security prison. Each time it was a struggle for some of the husbands to allow their wives to go into what they perceived as a dangerous situation. In the end, we all went (and if I remember correctly a couple of husbands went the first time) and got our socks blessed off by the loving attitude and appreciation of the inmates. After the first time, you couldn't have stopped any of the ladies from going and no one felt the least bit threatened.

I know I'm somewhat unusual in that I'm that crazy Christian that sometimes picks up hitchhikers, gives homeless men caught stealing my "stuff" a sandwich and some clothes, and doesn't think twice about worrying I'll get hurt if I go serve at a homeless shelter. So I was saddened to see that issue come up in this book.

But basically this story will challenge you to step out where God is calling you and put aside whatever is keeping you from taking that step towards real and meaningful service to the kingdom. Give it a try.

"Sometimes you have to go a little bit crazy to find the life you were meant to live."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Out of the Mouths of Babes…

“Didn’t Jesus help Papa, Grammy? Jesus will help us!”

Ok, your “grands” know the moment. You’re right in the middle of telling a real life cautionary tale to one of the little ones. Suddenly boom! Out pops a question that stops you in your tracks.

Last Saturday in the backyard with my lovely granddaughter Vallarie, we were having fun around one of her first experience with a “campfire”. She seems to be continuing a family tradition of being absolutely fascinated with everything about bright blazes. She kept asking me if she could put twigs, sticks or leaves in the fire. After a firm “NO” to each request, she would find a smaller twig, thinking that was the problem and ask again.
After about half a dozen such requests, we had a little talk about how fire was dangerous especially for children. To illustrate I began to tell her about the time “Papa” (her grandfather) got in trouble because he was playing with fire.

As a youngster living in dry southern California, he and some friends were setting small fires in a large field and trying to see how big a fire they could make and still stomp it out. Within minutes they had the answer –bigger than you think! The flaming field was soon filled with fire trucks, firefighters, and a furious field owner, not to mention angry parents and a very frightened and embarrassed little boy “Papa”. (Can you imaging the headline “Local Pastor’s Son Burns Down Vista”?)

“But didn’t Jesus help Papa, Grammy? Jesus will help us!” Vallarie interrupted emphatically. I had a little mental pause, but I can recognize a teachable moment when I see it and this one wasn’t for four year old Vallarie, but for 58 year-old Grammy.

“Well, yes, Vallarie, Jesus DID help Papa. He kept Papa safe from getting burned and Papa learned an important lesson. But, Papa still got in trouble for playing with fire.
Yes, Val, Jesus certainly DOES help us, all the time.” I said, silently thanking Jesus for helping me to answer her question.

Vallarie seemed pretty satisfied with that answer and so we got a stick and marshmallow and continued watching the wonder of fire. But for me the highlight of last Saturday was not the sharing the sweet experience of roasting a marshmallow for the first time, or the magic of watching the beauty of “sparkles” (as Vallarie called them) floating up on the wind. No the real treasure of the day was hearing the precious proclamation of a 4 year-old, the next generation learning and believing , that

“Jesus will help us!”

Thank You Jesus!
P. S. That is NOT a real fire in the picture!