Who is Your Map?

January 29, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

Most of us live like we plan a trip.  If you were going to, let’s say Iowa (just because), and you were going to drive there.  What is the first thing you would do?

Get out a map, right?  (Some of us would have to figure out exactly where Iowa even IS… but that’s a topic for another day.)  We would get the map, determine where we are right now and then map out how to get to Iowa–the quickest way, the most scenic way, whatever fits what we want the trip to be like.

I want you for a moment to picture yourself doing this.  In your head, make that map.

Now, tell me that’ s not how you live.  You figure out where you want to go, the shortest route to get there, and make a plan to make it happen.  They call it setting goals, and everyone is very familiar with how important it is to set goals. Right?

But consider this.  If you were coming to my house, and I told you:  “Go south on Osage until you get to the red light, then turn left, go one mile.  There will be a road marker in the ditch.  When you go past that, turn left…”  Would you find my house following my directions?  Probably.  However, I have a much easier way for you to get to my house.  You tell me, “Staci, would you mind coming to get me and bring me to your house?”

The situation immediately changes (should I agree to come get you).  You are no longer worried about writing down directions, getting out your map, figuring gas mileage and how to get to Osage in the first place.  Right?  You just wait for me to show up at YOUR house, you get in MY car, and then you sit back.  As we travel, do you constantly say to me, “Oh, aren’t you supposed to turn here?  I thought we were going to go through Oklahoma City.  Are you sure you know where you’re going?  Maybe you’d better let me drive.”

Of course you don’t.

In fact, come to think of it, I had this exact experience when I went to Iowa to visit Dennis.  He and his wife met me at the airport (because I was afraid I would get hopelessly lost if they didn’t).  To get back to their house, Jane took their car, and Dennis rode with me–over the river, but again, that’s another story!  Trust me on this one, except for the bridge thing, I didn’t sit there saying to him, “Are you sure this is right?  I really think we should take that road.  This turn doesn’t look right.  Maybe we should stop and get a map.  I don’t think you know where you’re going.”

The metaphor shifted into overdrive two days later when Dennis and I traveled to a small Iowa town to visit his uncle.  Picture for a moment a twisting, windy road that you would suddenly have to turn off of to get onto another twisty, windy road with nothing but fields to mark your place on the earth.  It would’ve taken hours to write down the directions to get me from one little Iowa town to the other.  But because Dennis was driving, I didn’t even have to worry about what turn to take where because he knew the way.

Now.  I want to ask you a question.  Who is your map?  Or better yet, who is driving your life?

Like I said, most of us get out the maps.  We treat life as if we have to have all of the answers well before the questions have even been asked.  We want to know exactly where we’re going and EXACTLY how we’re getting there.  But God doesn’t work that way.

God is like Dennis.  He knows where He’s going.

Sure, you can be a backseat (or sideseat) driver.  You can question every step, complain about the route He’s taking, second guess the turns He makes, and even insist on driving because you think He doesn’t know what He’s doing.  Or you can sit back and go for the ride.  Putting your trust in Him that He will get you exactly where you are supposed to be and you can simply enjoy the ride.

Your choice.  Make it wisely.


Women Pastors

January 28, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

I don’t recommend the content of the movie “The Witches of Eastwick,” because it deals with all kinds of things I find somewhat offensive, like witches for one thing. However, I watched it upon the recommendation of a friend, and there is one line in it that is hysterical and thought provoking at the same time.


Briefly, the movie deals with three women who conjure up a man to keep them company because there just aren’t any decent ones where they live. Unfortunately, the man they bring into their midst is Jack Nicholson, who is aptly cast as Satan or one of his closest associates. After having their fun with him, the three realize the error in their ways and set about to get rid of him. I don’t know if you call that unconjuring or what; I’m not an expert in that field.


Needless to say Jack aka Satan does not go quietly into that good (or bad) night. He resists with his full demonic powers, which turn out to be quite substantial. The scene that produces the priceless line comes when the witches manage to create a windstorm that blows Satan into a local church, which just happens to be having services at the time.


When the crazed and completely disheveled Nicholson looks around, he realizes that he is completely out of place, and he tries to buy some time as he nervously backs out of the church as quickly as he can. Incoherently he babbles on about the three women who sent him there, and then with that patently evil smile that Nicholson does so well, he throws up his arms and shrugs.


“Women,” he says from near the door, “did God make a mistake, or did he do it on purpose?”


Add the word pastors after the word women and a lot of us can almost identify with Nicholson’s perplexed exit line. “Women pastors: did God make a mistake or did he do it on purpose?” More and more churches these days are faced with hiring a woman to pastor their congregations. It’s either that or go without a pastor. Some churches are too conservative (substitute stubborn if appropriate) to acknowledge what is happening and even consider a woman. Other churches accept women grumbling about women’s lib and liberals in general.


I won’t go there right now, but here’s a surprise, I do have a theory, and I think it is buttressed to some extent by scripture. For the most part I don’t blame women for what is happening. I blame men. Sure, there are some women who are taking church leadership roles as a sort of power trip to prove that they can run things. That is hardly a uniquely feminine phenomenon. Men have done that for centuries.


My theory is that women are stepping in to fill the voids in our pulpits because men have abandoned their roles and responsibilities to do so. If more men valued serving God in churches, fewer women would need to. Women have simply had the courage and the calling to step into the breach when men have run the other way looking for safer and more lucrative endeavors. Don’t blame the women for that; look to the men.


We have only to look to the Bible to see an example of how God uses what He has, to do His will. For generations the chosen Hebrew nation was promised a Messiah. When he finally came in the form of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, they looked the other way because Jesus didn’t fit their preconceived notions of what the Messiah should be. Imagine that. God didn’t create the Messiah to fit our notions; He created and sent Him to us to fit His notions. How dare He?


When the Hebrew nation refused to fulfill the covenant it made with God that made them His chosen people, God simply moved on to the Gentiles and the bold Hebrews that broke with the mainstream. The Messiah became their Messiah and a new covenant was formed with everyone but the Hebrews. They are still welcome, of course, but only on God’s terms.


Could that same thing be happening today? Is it possible that God is giving women a chance to be pastors because men, like the chosen people who rejected the Messiah, have abdicated their responsibilities and, in effect, rejected their calling? God calls those who respond. If they don’t respond, He finds someone who will.


His will and His plan will not be thwarted, no matter what.


January 27, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

I have a malady, which is frequently associated with aging. I am the last part, but my malady doesn’t come from getting older. I’ve always had it. One of my good friends calls it “Sometimers.” Sometimes I remember things and sometimes I don’t.


I remember the important things like my wife’s birthday (February 12, Lincoln’s real birthday) and our wedding anniversary (Fourth of July, another holiday. Do you see a pattern?) I had a near photographic memory in school, so I didn’t have to learn anything; I just took pictures of notes and chapters in the books and scanned them directly from my head to exams. Unfortunately, that quality isn’t quite as sharp as it used to be. Some of my pictures come out a little blurry these days. Cameras don’t last forever, you know.


But sometimes I simply forget. For example, before we went on a trip to visit my daughter I wrote out all the bills and mailed them. Imagine my surprise today when I went through the foot stack of mail and found a very cordial note from one of my creditors asking ever so nicely, “Did you forget something?” The note went on to thank me for returning the top half of their statement, but pointed out that no check had been enclosed with the statement. I remembered distinctly writing that check and it was written down in the check register. I even subtracted it from the balance. However, before I called the business office in righteous indignation (as I have been known to do), I opened the check book and there was the check, all written out but securely attached to the pad of checks with no particular place to go.




I sent the check this afternoon with a conciliatory note apologizing for my “minor” oversight. I write more and more of those notes these days, but not because I’m aging. Let’s reemphasize that while I still remember. I also almost forgot to put the finishing touches on this blog and post it. Almost. I was talking to my cohort in blog when I remembered I hadn’t put this up yet. Fortunately again, just writing her an email reminded me I needed to actually post this or it would be like the check I never sent.


Almost oops!


I got to thinking. Shouldn’t we all be thankful that God doesn’t have Sometimers like we do? He always remembers us and everything else and He certainly has a lot more to remember than we do. We can count on His memory even when we don’t know why or how He does it. He remembers us like He knows the individual hairs on our heads or the sparrows that fall.


I don’t know about you, but I am so grateful that God never has to say, “oops.”

Saying Goodbye to Guido

January 26, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

Three things to set the groundwork for this piece:  First, the majority of the info you are about to read came from a six-year-old drama king.  Second, said drama king started kindergarten last fall.  In their classroom they had a bearded dragon, which is pretty much a forearm length iguana (I know, reptile lovers will quibble, but I just want the non-reptile lovers to get a picture of this thing).  Third, I do NOT like reptiles of ANY kind–snakes, lizards, etc. give me the shivers.

This particular kindergarten “pet” definitely qualified as a reptile, so when I visited the classroom, I stayed well away from the tank it was in.  As a long-time friend of the teacher, we had several conversations about Guido the Bearded Dragon throughout the year.  Then last Sunday she told me that Guido was not doing well (you can imagine my reaction).  He was so weak that she was having to (brace yourself!) feed him baby food with a syringe because he was no longer eating on his own.  Guido had been a gift from a young lady who had had him a long time.  He was very old, and the teacher was worried that the end was near.

Sure enough, on Friday six-year-old drama king got into my van after school.  “Mom, it was the worst day of my whole life!”

“Why?  What happened?”

“Well, Mrs. Scott had to take Guido to the vet (at which I’m thinking Why would she do THAT? What could a vet do anyway?), but this morning we found Guido in the tank, and he wasn’t breathing anymore.”

Like a good mom, I was sympathetic.  “Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, it was bad.  I had to get a box.”


“And Alyssa had to get a cloth.”

I’m now picturing this kindergarten class of 23 springing into action over the funeral preparations for a dead lizard.

“We got everything, and Mrs. Scott put him in the box.  Then Will took him out, and there was this BIG hole, and Will dropped the box and Guido into it.”

I don’t know something about this picture struck me as quite touchingly funny.  I know it shouldn’t, but, have you ever been so into picturing the story a six-year-old is telling that you just kind of get amazed at how perceptive and SERIOUS they are about life?

“So did the whole class go out for the funeral?”

“Uh-huh.  Everyone.”  (In their cute little church uniforms, 23 kindergartners standing around a hole in the ground, I’m quite sure that was quite a sight.)

“Did you say any prayers?”

“Mrs. Scott did.  She cried.”

“Did you sing any songs?”

“Well, the only song we all knew was ‘God Bless America,’ so we just sang that.”

(Go ahead, try not to laugh!  I was about to lose it.)

“Really?  Well, what about Father Waldo, did he come to the funeral?”

To which my precious little six-year-old drama king replied, “Mom, he dug the hole!”

Come to find out, I’m not sure all of that was exactly accurate, but that’s how it’s in my mind now, so I’ll leave it at that, and add just two more little pieces of this story.

First, upon talking with the teacher, I found out that they had a little wake service prior to the burial.  She took Guido out of the tank, put him on the cloth in the box, and set the box on a small table.  Then each child was allowed to go by the box.  She said, “Some chose to touch him, others didn’t, but they all got to say good-bye.  Then we took him out and buried him.”  She said, “I swore I wasn’t going to cry.  Father Waldo had given me a little prayer book to God bless the cats and dogs, and I added bearded dragon.  Then when I got to those words, I just cried and cried.”

My son, stood next to me as the teacher told the story, and he very solemnly nodded at each word.

“When it was all over,” she continued, “we came in and had a birthday party for one of the little girls, and we talked about celebrating life and how we celebrate it in different ways–sometimes with birthday parties and sometimes by saying good-bye to really good friends.”

I think those are very wise words to live by.  I just wish we did a bit more celebrating of life every day, in every way, with every person we meet.

Maybe then we would all feel as loved as Guido the Bearded Dragon was by a bunch of kindergarteners who learned a little about death and a lot about life that day.

If you’re looking for great info about new books and great authors, check out our friend’s blog at http://www.writer-to-reader.com/  It comes out Monday through Friday and gives you a heads-up on where to find awesome authors and books!

Vitally Important Pieces

January 23, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

If you’ve ever watched basketball, I’m betting you never said, “Wow! Look how important the little pinky is to everything the players can do!”  I sure never did–until last Friday.  My middle daughter played her first fourth grade game.  She played a grand total of 7:24.  That’s one quarter plus 1:24 in the second quarter.  And she was good.  Very good.  She could dribble with both hands, switch off, fake out.  She was fun to watch.  And then, 7 minutes and 24 seconds into her basketball career, she got caught in traffic, someone pushed, she tripped.  At first I thought it was a knee, and it was.  But even after her knee looked better as she sat on the bench with her dad, she didn’t go in.  After the game, I found out why.

Her little finger.

Now really.  I’ve never once thought about a little finger being of supreme importance in a basketball career.  Good legs, quick hands–yes.  Little finger?  Not so much.  But let me tell you, you can’t do anything with a little finger injury!  You can’t pass.  You can’t shoot.  You can’t dribble.  You can’t catch a pass.  You can’t even play defense very well if you’re trying to protect the thing.

So she sat out the game the next day.  We soaked it.  We popcicle-sticked it.  We wrapped it.  In two days it was feeling better (I think she had pregnancy amnesia.  You know, when you want another child SOOOOO bad that you somehow develop amnesia about how bad the prior pregnancy was… Something like that.  Because she convinced herself she was going to play.)  We tested it out, and being the mother who doesn’t want to coddle and baby her children if they don’t want to be, I let her play.

And she did.  Hurt finger and all… for one half of a game.  Twelve minutes. She dribbled with both hands, passed, and even shot, got fouled, and had to shoot two free-throws.  But it was clear the finger was hurting.  So they took her out at half-time.  Then another girl on the team got hurt, and with only six, they needed my daughter once again.  So she went in for 45 seconds.  Then she picked up a dribble and the player for the other team grabbed it, a fight for the ball ensued, and when the ref finally got them to hear the whistle, all I heard was my daughter screaming in pain.

That was, in all likelihood, the end of her basketball career.

Three doctor visits later, it was determined that she mostly likely fractured the growth plate at the base of her little finger.  She’s out four weeks–the length of the season, to which she said, “That’s really okay, Mom.  I would be afraid to go out there again.  I don’t want to get hurt again.”

Now this may sound like a rant, so you can take it or leave it–but when did children’s sports become a blood-bath?  We played three basketball games.  Fourth grade GIRLS, and TWO of our 7 players are now making the doctor rounds with X-rays and MRIs.  And it’s not just us.  I went and watched 7th and 8th grade boys play a week ago.  By the end of two games, they had destroyed three pairs of glasses and two ankles.  How is this even fun?

I know it is for some kids, but for the majority, what’s the point?  Are we teaching our kids that taking out the opposing team is not just okay but the point of the game?

Worse, I think this applies not just to basketball but to the way too many now are “playing” life.  They teach their kids to do “whatever it takes to win.”  The problem is, like my daughter’s pinky, these children–our children are vitally important pieces of the puzzle–OUR puzzle.  God’s puzzle.  And so are each one of us.

Are you playing life making the vitally important pieces vitally important?  If not, maybe it’s now time to start.

Inlaws and Cold Weather in Charlotte

January 21, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

I know that joy comes in the morning, but why is it that you always spill the big glass of water in the middle of the night? At your daughter’s house. All over her hardwood floors?


We’ve been visiting our oldest daughter for the past several days in Charlotte, North Carolina. We come down here frequently this time of the year to get away from the Iowa winter, which this year is on a record setting pace for nastiest in a long time. We have had snow on the ground since November and the coldest temperatures I can remember in a long time. Last Thursday when we left it was 18 degrees below zero air temperature. The wind chill was 30 degrees below zero. But we missed the realcold; the night after we left it was 29 degrees below zero (one degree short of a record), with a wind chill of minus 50.


So when we pulled into Charlotte and they had winter weather advisories out because it was going to get down below 32, we laughed and got out our T shirts and shorts. It seemed downright balmy to us.


The only problem was that somewhere between Iowa and North Carolina I picked up a bug of some sort, so for the last two days I have been trying to get rid of it. At night I have gotten so dry that I have been keeping a large glass of water on the small night stand next to the bed in my daughter’s guest bedroom. The first two nights were uneventful. However, last night when I looked at the glass, I thought to myself that I had been fortunate so far, but I was beginning to push the fringes of my luck more than a little.


To put it mildly, I am not the smoothest, best coordinated person God created. Clumsy would be one of the nicer words you might use in describing me, and I’d take offense at that if it weren’t so accurate and verifiable. My wife will not allow me to be around sharp objects or power tools without proper supervision, and again, I would be offended but have the scars on my hands and arms to remind me that she is right.


So, last night in the dark when I stumbled back to our bedroom from the bathroom that is just across the hall, I felt my way carefully back to the bed, saying to myself don’t bump the night stand, don’t…and about the third time through the mantra in the dark, I heard the thud, and then the splash as a full 16 ounces of water splattered everywhere. My wife turned the light on and looked at me, quietly getting up and bringing me two towels from the bathroom so I could clean up. As she climbed back into bed, she said something encouraging like, “I figured it was only a matter of time.”


And, of course, she was right. Still, the whole episode left me with another deep question to ponder. How can slightly less than 16 ounces of water take more than 32 ounces of effort to clean up if you spill it?


Weather update: Charlotte had snow here two nights ago for the first time in five years. The final total was about 4 inches. In addition, the temperatures dipped into the teens last night, hardly anything to worry about in the Midwest, but very cold for here. So far, gracious as the people we have met here have been about most things, none have said y’all come back now, you hear, and bring us some more of that great Yankee weather. Who can blame them?

Inauguration Day

January 20, 2009

By Dennis Bates

I have steadfastly refrained from turning this blog into some type of political forum, and I will continue to do so. For one thing, it just isn’t the purpose for which this site was formed; for another, my blogging partner and I would never see eye to eye. That’s fine with me; honest debate and enlightened discussions are part of what makes this country great.


However, no matter whom you supported or who you voted for, this day, Inauguration Day, belongs to us and it is uniquely American. This is the day when there is a voluntary and peaceful handover of power from the defeated to the victor. In some cases it celebrates retention of power for the same reason. Such is not the case this year. There is a change this year, and whether you embrace it or fear it, the change in leadership has occurred.


This year’s change is an historic one, but I won’t dwell on that because all the other pundits and talking heads have been talking about it for weeks and will continue to do so. Neither will I address the stirring invocation by Pastor Rick Warren, who proved that our new President knew exactly what he was doing when he extended him the invitation to give it.


The impassioned inauguration speech also could be the source for comment, but if taken in total it could be construed as political commentary, and I promised not to do that. But I do want to comment on one small snippet from that speech, and interestingly enough it was specifically addressed to Muslims, not Christians, although I think it could have easily been applied to both groups for different reasons.


Check the transcript of the text if you want the exact wording, but a close paraphrase of that snippet went something like this: To all the Muslims in the world, you will be judged by what you can build, not by what you can destroy.


When you think back to the horror of 911 or the senseless bloodshed of suicide bombings, attacks on embassies , and the like, it is easy to understand how that phrase applies to terrorists who seek “salvation” and justification by murdering innocent people. It is nearly impossible for me to believe that people who claim to be peaceful and loving base those claims on brutal, senseless murders.


However, at one point in the New Testament when Jesus instructed his disciples he offered the following observation, which is again a paraphrase: He told those listening to him, you have heard that it is wrong to kill your brother and that is true, but he who hates his brother murders him in his heart, and that is just as bad.


Our Lord knew that unless we fixed our hearts, nothing changed. We overlook that as Christians far too many times. For purposes of this blog let’s limit our considerations to Christians dealing with other Christians. Even in those circles we have difficulties. As Christians, do we try to build up fellow believers, or are we spiritual terrorists seeking to destroy their doctrines, their traditions, their practices?


Why do the denominations who all claim to worship the risen Christ so furiously rage against one another? Why do they seek to discredit and find fault instead of give credit and find the commonality that allows us all to wrap ourselves in the magnificent grace that God has provided? I won’t go into specifics at this time or point at any particular denomination or group. We all fail miserably, and in our failures we leave openings for Satan to gain footholds.


If we as Christians spent half as much time loving each other as we do finding fault with each other; if the Pentecostals, Catholics, Methodists or any of the other dozens of denominations out there would come together to build on what we have in common rather than try to destroy each other because of our differences, then we would leave no openings for evil, and the world would be better for it. At least the people in this world, will judge Christians by what we build, not by what we destroy, and even though God is our ultimate judge, we are His representatives here and I’m sure He wouldn’t mind it if we represented Him better.