Archive for July, 2008

We Can All Do Something

July 31, 2008

I am kind of between “volunteer assignments” for a couple of weeks.  Being the type of person who gets bored easily, I started to think about what constructive thing I could do with these several weeks.  I don’t have a lot of money or a lot of talent.  Then I got to thinking about how Mercy Ships needs patient care kits for their patients.  Their patients arrive at the ship with literally nothing more than the clothes they are wearing, so the kinds of things American patients bring to the hospital with them have to be provided by the ship.  To help with this kind of project doesn’t require much.  Articles for the kits are sometimes provided by organizations, but the bags themselves are sometimes hard to come by.  However, if you have time on your hands, you can easily sew a 14-18 inch bag.  There are lots of simple patterns in Walmart for tote bags.  If you want to line your tote, you can, but if you have fairly strong fabric, you can finish off the edge with bias tape or blanket binding, or just hem it.  Handles for your tote can be cord or fabric you have sewed onto the edge of the tote.  You can also make drawstring bags.  Just make them 14 to 18 inches across and deep, sew a hem at the top and thread in some cord.   I just bought enough fabric remnants to make 15 bags.  They cost me an average 60 cents per remnant in the remnant bin at Walmart.  You can decorate your bags any way you like.

If you want to fill your bag, you can put in the little comfort items you yourself like when traveling.  Toothbrush, toothpaste, a bar of soap, comb, hand held mirror, some wet wipes, lip balm, lotion–that sort of thing.  No need to add a towel or wash cloth–those are provided on the ward.  If you want to make a bag for a child, you can decorate it with children’s themes and add a small stuffed toy.

When you are ready, you can mail your bags filled or unfilled to:

Mercy Ships   P.O. Box 2020   Garden Valley, TX  75771

This could also be a great idea for a group project–or a scavenger hunt to get the “filler” items.  We can all do something.  Meanwhile, check out the website

Prodigal Children

July 31, 2008

What is a prodigal child?  Its that one who just marches to his or her own drummer, who insists on always doing things their own way, even when they pay a painful price for it.  Its the one who marches up fools hill with much bravado because they just have to see for themselves whats up there.  To quote Will Rogers:  Some people can learn from the experiences of others and some just have to touch the electric fence for themselves.

The older I get the more it seems to me the majority of parents have a prodigal child…at least for awhile.  Is there any way to prevent it?  I think not.  It seems the more strict the parents are, the more the prodigal will rebel against their rules.  The more the parents let go of the child, the more the child acts out to get attention.  The more emotionally close the family, the more the prodigal rebels to establish independence and “cut the cord.”  Now I think I have included all kinds of parents, so I’m not sure there’s anything you can do to prevent the rebellion.  You just have to do the best you can to prevent a crackup while they’re still under your roof and you’re still legally responsible for the consequences.

The big break with the prodigal will probably catch you off guard.  If they have been defying your rules for some time they may suddenly announce they are moving in with somebody else.  It will probably be a living situation that concerns you.  Or they may pick a fight, storm off and come back later to pack up their stuff.  This more often occurs if you had once been very close.

Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from them much.  They are trying to establish their independence and reminders of their recent dependence on you make them uncomfortable.  They may even, for a time, break all contact.  While that will surely break your heart, give it time and don’t give up hope.

Don’t be surprised if they do things that seem to you to be foolish, irresponsible, utterly selfish, or even downright immoral or illegal.  Let them go–if they experience consequences, those are the best teacher of all.  You probably won’t see or hear much from them while they’re doing all their unwise things.  They know how you feel…you taught them well.  Your disapproval, though unspoken, makes them uncomfortable.

In the story Jesus told, the prodigal son was wasting his inheritance on alcohol and prostitutes.  It was foolish, selfish, immoral and illegal.  His rebellion covered all the defiant bases.  The father waited a long time, and there was no communication.  Some of us can identify with that.  That young man had to hit rock bottom.  Then he realized what he’d lost and he repented.  The father, who never gave up hope, welcomed him, and the relationship was restored.

The story Jesus told was ultimately a story about God.  Because all God’s children have been prodigals for a season, He knows how you feel.  Tell Him all about it, and ask Him to protect and care for your child.  You may not know where your child is, but He does.  You may not know whats going on, but He sees it all.  Ask Him to change your child’s heart.  He’s the only one who can do that, and ask him to keep your heart hopeful and loving and free from bitterness.  Only He can do that.  Then follow the example of the father in the story.  Keep watch faithfully, and lovingly until your older and wiser prodigal returns home.  If you have let the Father work in your heart, you’ll be able to extend a heartfelt welcome without bitterness or any desire to say “I told you so.”

A Hard Saying in the Bible

July 29, 2008

“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose”  Phillippians 2:12b,13

Christian theologians and ordinary people have often questioned this verse.  “If salvation is by grace through faith, how can you work out your salvation?”  They may shrug it off as a poor translation, or file it away as a question they’ll ask in heaven, but they don’t have an answer.  If I were writing a bible paraphrase, I think I would substitute the word “live” for the word “work”.  I think in our current English idiom, “live” better communicates the meaning.  “Live out your salvation.”  Salvation is, after all, a holistic concept, beyond the narrow definition of “getting to heaven.”  It certainly includes the concept of a changed life, and  being made over in the image of Christ.  We must be made ready for heaven–certainly God’s work, but done with our cooperation.  If we are saved, we are also saved FOR something.  As an old pastor used to say “if you are only saved for heaven, you might as well drown in baptism.”  We are saved to become more like Christ and we are saved for certain works that God has prepared for us.  Therefore we need to live like it.  We strive to be what He has called us to be and do what He has called us to do.  We “live out our salvation.”

America in its Adolesence

July 29, 2008

Sometime ago I had written a post about America, as a nation, behaving in much the same way as an individual behaves in adolesence.  Lately, I’ve been reading some relatively recent commentary on American history and learned I’m in good company.  A number of historians are looking at civilizations having life stages similar to that of human beings.  They go through the “new” period where growth encompasses everything, a time of adolescent identity seeking, a season of healthy maturity and then a decline.  There are some exceptions, notably China and India which are some very old cultures undergoing a resurgence, but are they truly the same culture they were or  are witnessing the birth of new cultures in those geographic locations?

America is experiencing the following symptoms of adolesence: it is self-absorbed, it lives in the present, it is hedonistic, and it is still seeking its cultural identity.

America is self-absorbed.  One only has to look at the space given to world news in our media.  To get coverage of world news having any depth or breadth, one has to go to foreign sources.  To the average American, the world is all about us.  America lives in the present.  One has only to look at the national debt to see we have yet to develop an adult view of financial reality.  We want everything now, but we don’t want to pay for it.  We’re hedonistic in that we want the right to do as we please regardless of our own good or the good of society.  And we are still seeking our cultural identity.  We have tried one ideal after the other and haven’t yet synthesized the set of ideals we will live for.  Our latest ideal is “tolerance” which is really a very passive one and is directly linked to the hedonism we’re also involved with.  When any critical thinking is rejected as intolerant you see the adolescent rejection of boundaries.

What will happen?  With individual adolescents, either a slow exposure to reality pushes or a significant emotional event catapults the individual into adulthood.  We’ve had some exposure to reality–terrorism, the weak dollar causing inflation, a long tedious struggle in Iraq, and the housing bust.  We’re being pushed.  God forbid the nation also has a significant emotional event.


July 28, 2008

Why do we think God only gives us what we need?  Why do we think God only gives us things that are good for us, like orthopedic shoes, braces for our teeth, medicine and “healthy food?”  Why do we not think that God will sometimes give us something that delights us, something we enjoy doing, something exciting to discover?  Why do we think the God who invented the smile never smiles with us?

How to Have a Happy Life

July 28, 2008

“As much as it is possible, try to make a big deal out of the good times and a little deal out of the bad times.”   Nonni

What We Never Tell

July 28, 2008

My neighbor had asked me to watch her son’s goldfish for a few days while they went on holiday.  Sad.y, I found it the next day, floating on top of the water in its bowl.  I’m sure everyone who saw me in Woolworth’s the next day thought I was crazy.  I stood before the tank of fish with a dead fish in a baggie trying to find an exact match.  I did, and the little boy who trusted me never knew his beloved “Finley” had been replaced.  Because of embarrassment, I didn’t tell his mother either.  “You’re a miracle worker” she said.  “I cleaned his bowl before I brought him to you, and I dropped him on the floor.  I couldn’t catch him right away, and I was sure between the fall, the rug burn and being out of water, he might not survive.  “You never told me.”  I said.  ” I was too embarrassed” she said.  I said nothing, and for some time afterward people brought me their sickly fish, but I could never revive any.

On the Border

July 27, 2008

I have written previously about my daughter-in-law Marie and her troubles with her son Brad and his wife, Sarah (my grandson and grand daughter-in-law).  After trying to plan a spontaneous family reunion when three of her four children would be in the same town on the same weekend, Marie’s daughter-in-law Sarah refused to be part of it.  She went on a rampage against Marie saying that Marie always made a villain out of her.  Then Brad became involved and it really got nasty.

Years ago, when Brad was dating Sarah, Marie observed the amount of anger Sarah displayed toward both Brad and the entire family.  Marie was very troubled about the impending marriage, sure it would be an unhappy one for her son.  She saw a family counselor for awhile, who agreed Sarah had problems and possibly a personality disorder.  The counselor thought Brad would benefit from some information on how to cope with emotional abuse.  Marie decided to share her concerns and information with Brad in confidence.  It didn’t go well.  In fact Brad has, over time, divulged to Sarah all that he and his mom had talked about prior to the marriage.  Obviously that sent the hostility level towards Marie through the roof.  For six years Marie tried to win over Sarah, by materially and verbally expressing support for the marriage and for Sarah.  Recently there seemed to be some minor breakthroughs, then hostility broke through again with the family reunion plans.

Brad wrote his mother several very angry letters, essentially demanding Marie “take back her accusations” about Sarah which she made years ago.  Trouble is, Marie doesn’t see herself as having made accusations.  She pointed out behavior which both she and Brad had witnessed and expressed her concerns about the impending marriage.  Once it was determined the marriage would go on, Marie shut up and got behind the plans.  However, Brad’s divulging of Marie’s concerns to Sarah put Marie in a terrible spot.  Brad has now issued an ultimatum to Marie–either she state she misjudged Sarah all those years ago, or they no longer have a relationship.  The problem is: Marie doesn’t feel she can truthfully do that.  The reason is that Sarah still displays public anger and public insults toward Brad, and to other members of the family.  Marie has never again said a word to Brad about Sarah’s behavior and can’t understand what is going on now.

I’ll admit this presents a quandary.  What can Marie say?  She can continue to be supportive toward Sarah,  she can say she is sorry Sarah was hurt all those years ago, but she can’t deny the truth of what she said then, because it is still evident today.  (I’ll attest to that).  It seems like Marie has been set up in a “no win” situation.   During Sarah’s first ever meeting with Marie she had said “How do you feel about losing your son?  He’s mine now and you won’t have a realtionship with him anymore.”  Marie feels this has finally happened, and she has been set up to where its her fault it happened.

By the way, Marie is also being denied any access to the grandchildren.  Sarah said she doesn’t want Marie to “be a bad influence on them.”  For once this old Nonni is out of ideas

Dysfunctional Families part 5

July 23, 2008

I was reading the book of Proverbs the other day, and never cease to be amazed at the wisdom in there.  I also love the fact that this was a book Jesus read.  There is a tremendous amount in it which relates to families and relationships.  Here are just a few:

He who provokes his family to anger and resentment will finally have nothing worthwhile left.  proverbs 11:29

A wise man stays cool when insulted.  prov 12:16

A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words cause quarrels.  prov 15:1

A quick tempered man starts fights; a cool tempered man tries to stop them.  prov 15:18

He who covers over an offense promotes love.  prov 17:9

Its hard to stop a quarrel once it starts, so don’t let it begin.  prov 17:14

A fool gets into constant fights.   prov 18:6

Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight.  prov 18:17

It is harder to win back the friendship of an offended brother than to capture a fortified city.  prov 18:19

A wise man restrains his anger and overlooks insults.  This is to his credit.   prov 19:11

It is an honor for a man to stay out of a fight.  Only fools insist on quarreling.   prov 20:3

Throw out the  mocker and you will be rid of tension, fighting and quarrels.   prov 22:10 

(Hard to do if its a member of your family, but you can certainly throw what he says out of your mind)

Keep away from angry, short-tempered men, lest you learn to be like them and endanger your soul.  prov 22:24-25  (Again, keep his “stuff” out of your mind)

Be patient and you will finally win for a soft tongue can break hard bones (heads).   prov 25:15

As surely as a wind from the north brings cold, just as surely a retort causes anger.   prov 25:23

Fools start fights everywhere while wise men try to keep peace.   prov 29:8

Theres no use arguing with a fool.  He only rages and scoffs and tempers flare.   prov 29:9

A rebel shouts in anger; a wise man holds his temper in and cools it.   prov 29:11

A hot tempered man starts fights and gets into all kinds of trouble.   prov 29:22

Now I realize the source of my parent’s very Victorian manners.  I used to think their ways were repressed and perhaps psychologically unhealthy.  However, now I wonder.  They left a whole lot of things unsaid, but there was little conflict in family relations.  I wonder how unhealthy that was, really, for as quarrels escalate and feelings are hurt, it certainly raises the stress level.  And, as my mother used to say “the less said, the less regret”.  I wonder if “forgive and forget” isn’t the healthiest way to live after all.  For me its the easiest, for the older I get I’m finding “its harder to hold a grudge when you can’t remember anything”


Dysfunctional Families pt. 4

July 20, 2008

In the continuing saga of my daughter in law Marie’s family reunion, here’s the latest.  As you might remember, Marie had put together plans for a possible family reunion while her son and daughter in law were in town.  Her daughter in law had quite abruptly squashed it by refusing to attend or to allow the children to attend.  This seemed without any good reason.  Then Marie’s son, my grandson, got on the phone with her, and nearly blew her hair into the next county with a tirade accusing Marie of always putting his wife in a “bad place.”  He then told Marie he refused to see her or his dad (my son).  When she asked if he planned to see his siblings, he said “maybe”.  He and his family ended up seeing his siblings at the exact time the original family reunion had been planned…even though his wife (the daughter in law) had said she wouldn’t be available then–the original thing that had stopped the family reunion.  Marie and my son are in shock.  Their son (my grandson) called them back and told them they had never been good parents either to him or to his wife.  They, (and I) are at a loss to explain what brought all this on.

As a somewhat detached outsider, I’ve been thinking about what happened here.  The young couple is under a lot of financial stress at the moment, as well as under the stress of having several young children.  The wife was a professional before staying home with these children, and the husband is unhappy with his job and feeling stuck.  The last time I saw the couple, they were pretty cool toward each other, and my guess is that we have a situation similar to what I’ve seen politically in my long life.

When a country has a lot of instability and it looks like the government might topple, the government might start a war with a neighbor.  That has the effect of focusing the citizenry on their common enemy and off their unhappiness with their own internal state of affairs.  I suspect this couple has focused on a contrived fight with my grandson’s parents to take it off their unhappiness within themselves and their household.  Just a thought.