I’ve Known Who You Were For Awhile

February 26, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

The other night our parish school had a fund raiser.  Many parents as well as general supporters of our school showed up.  I knew many if not most of those in attendance either directly through the school, from the church, or through organizations I’m a part of.  There were, however, many that I didn’t know by name or in person.  A lot of these were new parents to our school, or parents of children from different grades other than my children’s.

Toward the end of the evening, a gentleman stepped up with these words, “Hi, Staci.  I’ve known who you were for awhile, but I’ve never actually introduced myself.  I’m a writer too.”

Now, I guess this is confession time or something, but I’m a terrible chicken.  I would never have the courage this fellow parent displayed.  You see, if there was another writer, I would watch them from afar, but I would not have the courage to go up and introduce myself.  In fact, I’ve literally been dragged by my husband to go meet someone I greatly admired, the whole way saying, “They don’t want to talk to me.  They don’t even know me!”  (Of course, that’s the POINT of introducing yourself, but little things like logic rarely have much power in those situations for me.)

So I greatly admire this man who stepped up and introduced himself.  We talked for a little while about writing, what he writes, what he’s published.  It was an interesting conversation as I think writers are some of the most courageous people on the planet.  Putting your heart and soul on paper for others to read and judge takes soul courage.  Telling others that you put your heart and soul on paper also takes soul courage because then they say, “Oh, what do you write?”  And whatever it is that you write is never what they like to read, or they think that’s somehow not a good thing to write what you write (I heard that for YEARS with Christian Romance… giggling, “What’s that?”).  But I love to talk to fellow writers because I feel honored to be a space of encouragement for them, a fellow writer saying, “Way to go!  Keep it up!”

But what struck me about this man was his opening statement, “I’ve known who you were for awhile now.”  It just so happens that his son is in my son’s class.  We’ve been at the Thanksgiving party, the Christmas party, the Valentine’s Day party… with our children.  It’s quite possible that he’s seen me in other places too.  Substituting perhaps in his other son’s class or at a school function.  I’ve been at the school for a long time, and so has he.

In his words though, God showed me that I’m not living this life in a vacuum.  Others see me… others know who I am, even if they don’t come up and introduce themselves to me.  Others see me and how I treat my children and my husband.  Others see me at church or at school.  Others see me on the ‘net and in my books and living my life.

There was a time that would have made me worried about what they were taking away from my actions about me and about my commitment to God and His Kingdom, that they were judging me, and I was always coming up short.  However, God and I got straight a long time ago that He’ll worry about the world’s judgments.  I just have to take the steps He’s asking me to take and keep pointing others to Him in what ever way He leads me to.

Still, it is something important to remember that there are people who have “known who I was for awhile.”  I’m not living in a vacuum, and my witness is not just about pretty words and nice phrases.  It’s about how I’m living day to day, minute to minute.  What I choose to make important, what I choose to spend my time, talents, and treasure on, what my heart says about who I really am, what my words and actions say about where I am with God.  Those are the things others see in me… and in you.

Think for just a minute about what your life says about your relationship with God.  If someone walked up to you today and said, “You know, I’ve known who you were for awhile…” would there be peace in your heart or fear about what they’ve been seeing?  Now might be a good time to appraise how you are seen through others’ eyes–even others whom you’ve not yet met.  Not so you can see how they are judging you, but to see if you are being the a witness to God’s grace and glory and love in your life and actions… not just in your pretty words and nice phrases.


A Rant

February 25, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

Forgive me in advance today but I am going to do something that I rarely do in this forum. I’m going to rant. I can’t help it.

 

I feel like sometimes these days I’m standing in the middle of the mob in Jerusalem listening to the people cry out “Give us Barabbas.” Maybe it’s because today is Ash Wednesday and I know this is the beginning of the story that ends and also begins there , or maybe I’m just fed up with the lynch mob mentality that seems to pervade our society today in almost every aspect of it.

 

I’ll just give you a few examples. First, let’s look back to our former leader, President George W. Bush. He wasn’t my favorite President, but he certainly deserved more respect than he got from everyday people, late night talk show hosts, and especially the high minded journalists who seem to have forgotten that their job is to give us the news, not their personal opinions and biases.  I don’t care what  Ms Couric or CNN or Fox News thinks; just tell me what happened, and if you have to ask questions, at least have the courtesy to wait for an answer before you pursue your own personal agenda and ask your next loaded question.

 

The same thing happened just across the river to the former Governor of Illinois, whose name I can’t spell. To this day I haven’t heard one real accusation backed by any evidence that any court would recognize as valid that he did anything wrong. The worst thing that I heard in all the news reports was a taped telephone conversation (which in my opinion may have been illegal) where he made some imprudent comments about a vacant senate seat. Yet, based on absolutely nothing Governor B was impeached and removed from office and again, the journalists and late night talk show hosts led the way with one-liners and stories full of clever phrases which contained little, if any substance. Since when has it been a crime to act like a politician and solicit campaign contributions and peddle influence? Gee, I’ll bet nobody in Springfield, Illinois or Washington D.C has ever done that before.

 

And now the same group of upstanding and right thinking individuals is trying to run the man appointed to fill President Obama’s seat in the Senate out of office. Why? Because he may have supported the former governor too much and not answered one of their trick questions cleverly enough. Never mind the fact that he was duly appointed and seated by the members of the Senate.

 

It isn’t happening only in politics. The woman who elected to have eight new children recently to add to the six she already has, is also a favorite target lately. Granted, it may not have been the wisest or even the most responsible thing to do on her part. However, the people that seem to making the most noise and raising the most self righteous indignation are the same people who would have rallied to her support if she had elected to terminate the pregnancies rather than see them to term. Why is it nobler to abort than give birth?

 

Leave the poor woman alone. Please. Leave all of us alone for that matter. I don’t want some New Age, faddish ground swell of pseudo intellectuals with delusions of grandeur and empty souls telling me how fat is too fat, how green is green enough, or that global warming is here when we have had the longest and coldest winter in recent years where I live. Nonthink of the masses is not a moral compass I want to take direction from, and I’ve never thought being anywhere in line with the lemmings was desirable, even if I was first in line.

 

I can’t help but hear the words of the old Fanny Crosby hymn:

 

Take the world, but give me Jesus;

In His cross my trust shall be,

Till, with clearer, brighter vision,

Face to face my Lord I see.


The Pollen of the Holy Spirit

February 24, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

Do you ever think that there was a mix up at the hospital when you were born and somehow your parents got the wrong baby? Sometimes I do.

 

I was raised in the Presbyterian church. It was a chance of birth. My father had never really gone to church all that much and my mother’s family had always been Presbyterians. When I was growing up the doctrine was traditional reformed theology, and the training was sound. We went to confirmation classes for a year and memorized lots of Bible verses, among other things. Then in 8th grade we joined the church. To this day I am grateful for that training. I still remember lots of the verses and they have sustained me many a time.

 

However, Presbyterians are sometimes referred to as the “Frozen Chosen”, and there’s a reason for that besides good natured teasing. They would rather implode than outwardly show any emotion in a church service. You can get them to laugh at really funny stories told at the proper time in the sermon, and these days you can even get them to applaud every now and then as long as you don’t mind the sound of one wooden hand clapping. In short, the Presbyterian watch word is that the service should be conducted “decently and in good order.” Those are actual words in the Presbyterian Book of Order, which is kind of the rule book for what should and shouldn’t be done.

 

My problem is, I am just not made that way. Skip the reference to decent and good order for a moment, since that clearly is not me. I am an emotional person and time and time again I feel as if I have to stifle those emotions during a church service or I will be viewed as some sort of Pentecostal spy in the sanctuary. Sometimes I just what to shout out Amen or Hallelujah, you know what I mean? The only thing that saves me is that there are less and less statements in church these days that would elicit that type of response. I hope that isn’t too subtle.

 

On the other hand, evidently the Holy Spirit forgot to read the Book of Order. Last Sunday, just when I was feeling a little disconnected with all things spiritual and looking for the way back, an old hymn closed the service. I’ve sung it maybe a hundred times over the years, but Sunday was different. As I started to sing it, all I could hear and feel were the words coming right back at me.

 

“Open my eyes that I may see Glimpses of truth thou hast for me;

Place in my hands the wonderful key That shall unclasp and set me free.

Silently now I wait for Thee, Ready my God, Thy will to see;

Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine.”

 

There are two other verses, but by the final line of the last refrain, I was starting to lose it. That line says simply”

 

“Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine.”

 

I couldn’t have been raised frozen at that point. How can you beg the Holy Spirit to open your heart, and then not be moved to tears when he does? When I walked out of the service someone asked me if I was okay. Evidently they noticed the watery, red puffiness in my eyes.

 

I said, “Sure…allergies.” They nodded like they understood because everyone in the Midwest has allergies. What I should have said, if I had been totally honest, was “Allergies…caused by the pollen of the Holy Spirit.”

 

I pray that the Holy Spirit dusts us all with His pollen today.

 

Amen?

 

 

 

 


Words & Actions

February 23, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

Think for just a moment about the people you really trust.  I don’t mean those that you tolerate or that you associate with.  I mean those you really, REALLY trust.

I want you to think of the reason that you trust that person.

Now, trust is different from love, especially if love to you is just a feeling and not rooted in something deeper.  It’s true that there are people who “love” someone else but do not trust them. (How they do it is beyond me, but I’ve seen it, so I’m not going to question their sincerity.)  So, for a moment separate in your head those you truly trust with those you “merely” love.

Got it?

Good.

Now I want you to think for a moment about WHY you trust that person.  I don’t want, “Well, they did such and such for me.”  Think deeper.  Think across the board.

Why do you trust that person? How do you know you can count on them no matter what?

I believe deep trust comes from one root cause:  Their words and actions are in complete and total sync.

If they say they will be there at two, they WILL be there at two.  Every time.  Without exception.  Unless the planet stops spinning.

If they say, “I’ll take care of it.”  You don’t have to lay awake at night, wondering and worrying if maybe you should step in and do it for them because you know that last time they said they would and then at the last minute…

Now, for a moment, I want you to think not just of those who would be there or who would get the job done, but those you truly trust with your heart.  That person or group of people that you can really share YOU with, no holds barred, no fear of what they will say or who they will say it to.

Do you have someone like that?

I hope you do.  I’m VERY fortunate to have several people like that.

I know there are people out there who bemoan the fact that they don’t.  They have been let down and shellacked more times than they want to think about.  They don’t know who to trust or how to trust.  It’s a sad way to live.

The other day a very good friend of mine, who I’ve ironically never met said something interesting to me.  We were talking about being real with each other and how nice it is to be able to pick up the keyboard and just let it all out.  She said, “I really like what you had to say about being real with each other. The thing that is so fundamental in being ‘real’ is having someone who lets you be (or sometimes forces you to be).”

Upon reflection, I think what she’s saying is, “You showed me how to do that by letting me be real with you first.”  And I think that may be the exact reason I have so many people I trust.  I don’t regard life as some kind of a game that we get to the end of having won or lost.  I regard it as the privilege of making connections.  Really deep connections start not by trusting another person, but by being someone they can trust.  Every time.  No matter what.

To be someone that they can trust, your actions must follow your words.  Not when it’s convenient.  Not when you feel like it.  But every, single time.  Tired.  Sick.  Hurting. It doesn’t matter.  You either are someone others can count on, or you’re not.

The question for today is:   Are you?


What March Can Teach Us

February 19, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

I’m sure you’ve noticed it’s not March yet, but here in the Texas Panhandle, March has a way of coming early and staying late.  It could be worse.  I could still live in Lubbock where during bona fide March, the sky actually turns red from all the clay kicked up from the wind.  Every February, I get to thinking how lucky I am that no matter how bad it blows here, the worst the sky gets is a sickly brown-gray.  Believe me, that’s an improvement.

It may be that you’ve never lived in the Texas Panhandle, so you don’t know the benefits–like the wide prairies with no trees to block your view for miles, or the brilliant, incredible sunsets, or the friendly folks.  If that is the case, you are missing out.  But in the eight weeks of March (taking 2 from February and 2 from April), you would probably think I need my head examined for saying it’s a lovely place to live.  Yes, the wind is bad.  Really bad.

That’s why the farmers wear their feed caps down over their ears.  It’s why Texas women are so famed for wearing so much hairspray, and probably the reason few still do.  A friend who had moved here once said, “Doesn’t it ever quit blowing?”  A mild breeze starts at about 20.  Wind starts anywhere from 30-40.  Wind-Y is in the 50-60 range.  And a good stiff breeze somewhere in the 70’s range.  (And yes, I’ve seen my share of those.  In fact, a small town not far from here had powerlines blown down and roofs off of buildings last week from “straight line winds.”  For those who don’t know, that’s what they call a tornado with no funnel. ;)

So, the Texas Panhandle is a great place to live to really understand a lesson God gave me a few years back.  I was reading about Job and about a tree with rocks.  The book talked about how a tree that has grown in rocks is susceptible to compromise because it has only got its roots in the rocks.  It hasn’t been forced to dig into the soil, so when the rocks are removed, the tree has no deep root system and it is easily compromised.

The rocks represent those things in our lives that hold us up (but that are not God).  Things like money and friends and power.  When those rocks are removed, if we haven’t dug all the way down into the soil of God, we’re in big trouble.

But I never thought about this.

Do you know why it gets windy in March?  Why March?

I mean the plants are just starting to grow again.  New life.  It seems God would’ve been smart enough to let them grow a little without pelting them with gusts and gusts of leaf-tearing wind.  ESPECIALLY because it hasn’t even really rained yet (okay, in the Texas Panhandle, it never rains, but that’s beside the question).  Why would God do that?  Wouldn’t He want to give the plants a big drink and get them on a good path BEFORE the trials and tribulations hit?

Ha.  But that’s where God is smarter than us!  See, God knows that AFTER April and May will come June and then July and then AUGUST.  Each month after the growing season will get progressively hotter and drier, so if a plant hasn’t put down deep roots, it will not survive.

So rather than rain and let the plants soak up the easy top water first, God makes life tough for them.  To get at water, the plant has to dig down deep.  To further encourage this, God sends wind and lots of it.  Now you know that if you’ve got a plant that is not anchored well, it will not last in wind.  So the wind FORCES the young plants to put down deep roots, to get to the water, and to get anchored from the ravages of the wind.

Then when the rains come, it can soak up everything from the top soil down into its deep roots.  Further, during the summer months, the plant can find water buried deep even as the top soil gets dry, so it can survive and even flourish.

So how about you?  Do you curse the bad times and yell at God because He hasn’t made everything easy?  Or do you learn to go ever-deeper in His love–past the rocks, anchoring in for those times you’re going to need Him most?

The truth is, you may have little nothing breezes where you live, but someday, your life may turn like the Texas Panhandle in March.  It may even be like Lubbock.  Now’s the time to get deep so you’ll be ready for those stiff breezes–or straight line winds–that come your way.


In the Middle

February 18, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

I grew up solidly in the middle of the Baby Boom generation. That doesn’t mean I was born in the middle because actually I was born near the very beginning in 1947, but I saw it all, experienced it all and now I am growing older with whatever ideals we have left from that era. People my age are neither Babies not Boomers any longer, and I’m not certain we’re handling it all that well, but that’s another story.

 

I was in the middle because my generation was really in the middle. The traditional values of our parents’ generation were gradually shifting to accommodate the new prosperity and American Dream that everyone said they were fighting for in WWII. That turned out to be both a good and a bad thing. The nation’s economy surged…almost exploded…and with major peaks and minor valleys the Middle Class became the well developed biceps of this nation ,supplying a good portion of  its strength.

 

Today those biceps has atrophied to some degree, but again, that discussion is for another day.

 

Church and church activities were still important back then and churches were full for the most part. For some reason the spiritual training provided was still relevant and a necessary part of growing a strong nation. Like so many my age we attended services on Sunday mornings, youth activities on Sunday evenings and maybe even a midweek service or prayer group. It never dawned on us that there were other things to do at those times.

 

Most of us attended membership classes in our early teen years where we memorized the books of the Bible, the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm and the Doxology. We also learned about the origins of our particular denominational preferences. I still remember struggling to memorize the first question and answer to the Westminster Shorter Catechism: What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

 

Those days passed and a lot of churches don’t  have membership classes anymore. Many of them don’t even have members. If I were to walk up to anyone under the age of 50 these days and ask them “What is the chief end of man?” I would get varying responses ranging from blank stares to shoulder shrugs followed by, “Beats me, dude.”

 

That’s sad to the max, as far as I’m concerned.

 

We Boomers weren’t/aren’t saints. Neither were our parents or their parents. I honestly don’t get people who never inhaled or who were never curious enough to try at least once. (Metaphorically speaking, of course.) I don’t understand people who haven’t struggled with all the enticing things the world has to offer. I have, and as my good friend Staci would say, I’m not bragging, I’m just saying. I heard a Baptist preacher say once in a sermon, “Nobody ever said sin wasn’t fun; it’s just wrong.” I think that might be one of the most profound things I ever heard from a pulpit.

 

That background and my generation put me right in the middle in so many ways. I’m in the middle of those who never inhaled and those that still do; I’m in the middle of those who still try to preserve some old values and those who think that multi tasking sins makes you modern; and I’m in the middle of those who make everything an acceptable alternative life style and those who value the sanctity of life until it’s old enough to go to war.

 

It’s a confusing place, or in my advancing years I have forgotten that my generations had all the answers to all the questions, even before they were asked. I suppose in that way we Boomers are like a lot of other generations. The difference, however, is at least some of us remember many of the values from church training that shaped our lives, albeit imperfectly.

 

Where are those values coming from now?

 

 


Why?

February 17, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

Have you ever wondered why? I have and I’m sure lots of people have if they would only admit it. Why?

 

Why did God take seven days to create the earth? Surely he could have done it in less time since He is all powerful and all everything. Why did He wait so long to create people? Why the man first and then the woman from man? Why didn’t he use better materials than dust?

 

Why did He give man free will and then hold him accountable for exercising it? Why not just make him smart from the beginning. Why right and wrong? Why not only right? Why make man at all? We’ve been nothing but trouble since He created us. Why did He need us? Why did He need the hassle?

 

Why did He choose the Hebrews? Why didn’t they listen when he told them things and why did they keep straying away even after He showed them time and time again what would happen to them when they did?

 

Why did God allow Satan to exist to begin with? Why not snuff him out as soon as he showed up down here on earth? Why did God let Satan mess with Adam and Eve; why does God let Satan mess with us?

 

Why did He make us so we have to struggle so much; why not make it easier? Why sin and the biggest why of all: why did He let His only Son die to get rid of it? For that matter, once He did die, why wasn’t sin gone forever. Why is it still around?

 

The list of why’s is endless if you really let yourself get started. Better minds than mine have come up with elaborate sytems and theologies to address all these questions and hundreds more, but ultimately theyget to the end of their explanations and I haven’t read one yet that couldn’t be totally confounded with one more question beginning with the word “Why?”

 

 If you think about it, the question “Why?” is probably the first question a child asks when they learn to talk. We all asked it. “Why, Daddy?” Why do I have to go to bed now; why do I have to eat broccoli; why can’t I just go where I want to; why did my dog die?

 

Do you remember asking those questions, or, at least, do you remember having to answer them when your children asked them? I do. And if you remember, there comes a point in the endless litany of why’s where you finally just throw up your hands and give that answer we all promised ourselves we would never give: “Because I said so; that’s why.” It’s pretty much the answer of last resort and we give it for two reasons.

 

First, we may not know the answer, but if you tell a child that, his next question may be another why? They assume we know everything, and we hate to admit to them that we don’t. Second, we give it because we just can’t stand the single syllable question any more, especially since it will most assuredly be followed by the same question over and over again. Why begets why, begets why, especially when you are a child. There is only so much begetting any of us can take.

 

God answers differently and for far better reasons. When Job asked God why, ultimately God said He would tell Job why as soon as Job proved that he could give orders to the morning and show dawn its place. In other words, God told Job that even if He answered his questions, Job would never be able to understand God’s answers, let alone do what God could do.

 

I’m not suggesting that we stifle our imaginations or curtail our quest for understanding. Those are good things that help us dig deeper. Just don’t be surprised if ultimately you get to the same point Job did…the same place we all get, and we find that God’s best answer is “Because I said so.”

 

That’s the point where real trust and faith take over.


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